Chapter Five: A Shock

"They really did a number on this place, didn't they?"

Madeleine glanced around her, a frown touching her features as she took in the chaos of her Aunt's front room. Papers and books were strewn everywhere, and large gashes had been ripped in the curtains, making them hang down from the windows in shreds. "Tante Regine, having seen it, I'm not surprised you were upset. I'm really, really glad you weren't here. Looks like whoever did this meant business."

"Yes. The police said it is not the first burglary like it in the area." Regine said soberly. "Whether they will catch them or not they aren't sure...apparently there isn't a lot of evidence to go on. They think it was the work of a professional - someone who probably has done time for this kind of thing before and has learnt from the weaknesses that got him caught first time around."

"That sucks." Madeleine looked sympathetic. "Have you spoken to the insurance people yet? I mean, your television, computer, all of that stuff is covered, right?"

"Oh yes." Regine nodded. "And Russell's medals - I was afraid for them, but they weren't taken. Spilled out all over my bedroom carpet, but none are damaged and none are missing. The officer thought all this mess was to help cover up clues to who did this. They've taken what information they can, but it isn't much. Half a foot print outside the window and that's about it."

Madeleine came to put her arm around her aunt's shoulders, hugging her tightly.

"Are you staying with Shana again tonight?" She asked softly. "Because I don't want you stopping here. Not with all this. You know that if necessary, you could come crash with us. Noone would mind, in the circumstances."

"I appreciate it, cherie, but Shana has said I may stay there for the rest of this week, until I get this place back to more like itself." Regine assured her. "Now I've confirmed with the police exactly what is missing, they will hopefully get some leads if anything suddenly appears on the black market. But computers and things, these can be replaced. I am not worried. Not about those things."

"It's still an invasion of your privacy, though." Madeleine said quietly. "Are we allowed to move things? Tidy up a bit?"

"Yes." Regine nodded. "I had the all clear to do that just an hour ago, so we can begin to do that. I appreciate your help, Maddy. It means a lot."

"What else would I do?" Madeleine demanded. "You've done enough for me over the years, you know."

A stricken look crossed Regine's face at this.

"Perhaps not." She murmured. Madeleine turned, looking startled.

"What do you mean?" She asked. "Tante Regine, is something up?"

"Yes." Regine sighed heavily, taking her niece gently by the hand. "All of my credit card statements are missing and my financial paperwork was also stolen. I've called the right people and got cards cancelled and so on - that's not a problem. But Maddy...Maddy, your papers were with those. Everything I was keeping for's all gone. I'm so sorry," As Madeleine's face drained of colour. "I feel like somehow I've let you down."

Madeleine sank down onto the end of the sofa.

"Gone?" She murmured. "But...everything?"

"Everything." Regine nodded. She sat down beside her niece. "Maddy, I am sorry. If I had kept it in a better place..."

"This isn't your fault." Madeleine spoke numbly. "You didn't ask to be robbed. Oh, but Tante Regine, that means...somebody has them. Someone out there knows everything about me. Things not even Luca and the others know."

She drew a shuddery breath into her lungs.

"What if they realise that? What then?"

"They are not financial documents. With any luck they will discard them as irrelevant." Regine squeezed her niece's hand. "There's nothing to be gained from them, after all."

"No?" Madeleine turned apprehensive dark eyes on her aunt. "Tante Regine, I'm in the public eye. So are you. People know we're kin. It doesn't take much to make that leap. If whoever has them realises what they have..."

She swallowed hard.

"They could sell it to the press." She whispered. "And then there'd be nowhere to hide."

"Oh, Maddy." Regine hugged her niece tightly. "I am so so sorry. I thought they'd be safe..."

"I told you, it's not your fault." Madeleine struggled to keep her voice level. "Did you know this last night? That they were gone?"

Regine was silent for a moment. Then, reluctantly, she nodded her head.

"I knew you were performing, so I did not want to tell you over the phone." She said quietly. "It was the first thing I checked. When I realised everything had been taken..." She faltered, shaking her head. "But I knew I must speak to you. As soon as possible, and alone. So when you said you'd come today, I knew that was the best idea. To tell you here, when noone else would overhear."

Madeleine fell silent, closing her eyes as she digested everything.

"You realise how much trouble I could be in if this hit the front pages?" She said softly. "Rory will be livid because I didn't tell him - and I guess that'd be grounds for dismissal, if he so wanted. Luca and the others...they'll never look at me the same way again. Nobody will. Everything I've worked so hard to will all be over if that hits the press."

"Perhaps it won't." Regine said gently. "Perhaps we worry too much, Maddy. They were looking for valuable things - things to sell."

"And this is something they could sell." Madeleine pointed out. "To the highest bidder in the tabloid market."

She chewed on her lip.

"I think they know precisely what they have." She added unwillingly. "They didn't take Russell's medals, even though they could have pawned them. But they took my papers, even though they could have just left them behind on the floor if they didn't want them. They knew."

"Mad, you don't know that."

"But what if it's right?" Madeleine asked hopelessly. "Oh God, Tante Regine...what's going to happen to me now?"

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

"So, how's Carrowville, then?"

Nancy frowned, curling herself more comfortably on the big windowseat, cell phone to her ear as she listened to her sister in law speak. "Are Robin's family nice? Where are you staying? How are the preparations going for the party?"

"I don't know how to describe it, Copper." Nancy admitted. She paused, glancing around the attic room that she had adopted as her refuge to take her best friend's call. Busy with boxes, furniture and dust, it was also surprisingly bright and comforting, with the spacious window seat at the far end and Nancy had quickly made herself at home. It had once been a bedroom in it's own right, that was clear enough, and enough of the original decor remained to make it a pleasant room still, despite the clutter. "We're staying at Mary Jane's house...that's Robin's sister. I guess it's all right. I mean, her house is nice..."

"Nancy, are you all right?" Copper's tones were gentle, and edged with concern. Nancy sighed.

"I don't know." She acknowledged. "I mean, I think Robin made a mistake bringing me here. And I'm almost certain I made a mistake in coming. It's all so foreign somehow - you know how I hate things that aren't within my control. My relationship with Robin is already uncertain enough in that sense. Now I'm being taken home to meet the family...I just don't think it was such a great idea. I feel...out of my depth. That's the honest truth."

"Are his family not nice, then?"

"Oh, they're fine." Nancy leant up against the glass, idly glancing down to the front below where Robin was talking amiably with Mary Jane's neighbour. "His sister couldn't be more friendly, and his mother seems really sweet. It isn't that so much as, well, everything. Like I said, it's hard to explain it coherently. It's just a feeling."

"Like you're walking in a ghost's shadow, perhaps?" Copper suggested. Nancy pursed her lips.

"Yes." She owned. "Exactly that. Thank you, Copper. At least you know what I mean, even when I don't. I know Robin said he's over Sian and that it's behind him but...being here, I don't know if he is. It's all a reminder, in some ways, and though he says it's fine, there are moments when he doesn't seem quite so sure. Then there was yesterday."

"What happened yesterday?"

"Robin took me out to show me Carrowville." Nancy responded. "Or at least, his favourite bits of it. We ran into Sian's elder brother while we were walking - Copper, he looked at me as if I was the devil. Seriously. As soon as Robin introduced me as his girlfriend, this guy was looking daggers into me. I didn't even have to speak."

Copper was silent for a moment.

"It's probably not you he hates." She said at length. "Or that he even hates at all. It's more likely that he doesn't know how to deal with Robin moving on, that's all. Don't let it get to you, Nance. He was probably just startled, that's all. He hasn't seen Robin in a while and we both know that the guy who came to Los Angeles isn't the same guy as the one who you're dating now. He's mellowed, and come to terms with his past. I would think anyone who knew him before would be surprised by the change."

"Possibly." Nancy acknowledged. "Do you think I'm overreacting, then? I just feel like I'm going to go to this dumb party and get stares and whispers and all of that. I don't want to be the pariah, Copper. That's not why I came."

"Have you talked to Robin about how you feel?" Copper asked. "If you're homesick, maybe you should."

"No...I'm not going to bother him with it." Nancy sighed. "Copper, whatever else I feel about him since we got here, this is his home. He knows literally everyone and everywhere. It all makes sense to him - it's like seeing someone in their natural habitat. If it hadn't been for Sian, he'd be completely relaxed and at home here. I don't want to wreck his homecoming by whining."

"Well, it's your call." Copper said gently. "But if you're serious about the guy, he needs to know how you feel about his hometown."

"I don't hate Carrowville." Nancy responded. "I just don't fit into this world and he does, that's all. Guess I hoped coming here would make us closer - well, that was the impression he gave me. Instead it's the opposite. I'm stuck up in Mary Jane's attic calling you back home while he's out greeting the neighbours. I don't know. Maybe it was a mistake. Or maybe this whole thing is a mistake. Right now I don't know."

"Well, don't do anything rash." Copper advised. "Stick it out and see how it goes. I'm sure people don't hate you and I know that if you told Robin you felt out of place, he'd try and do something to help you feel more at home. Just give it some time and see what happens. Okay? You'll be home soon enough, anyhow...and it will all be behind you."

"True." Nancy acknowledged. "Okay. I'll do my best. Thanks, Copper. I'm sorry to bug you."

"Believe me, you're not." Copper said ruefully. "There are men here relaying the kitchen floor and believe me, I was glad when the phone rang and I could get away from their constant questions. I wish Aaron was home - I'm useless at the technicalities and I've no clue how big our kitchen floor surface is in cubic feet."

Despite herself, Nancy laughed.

"Sounds like fun." She said. "All right. I'll let you ring off and call Aaron to ask him, then. Thanks again for listening, Copper. I dunno what I'd do without you, sometimes, putting my brain back together."

"No problem." Copper assured her. "But if you're really upset, Nancy, do talk to Robin. If he loves you, he'll hear you out. Okay?"

"I'll see." Nancy replied. "Bye, Copper. Take care - I'll see you soon."

She terminated the phonecall, setting the cellphone down beside her and turning her gaze back to the front lawn below. Robin had finished his conversation with the neighbour and, glancing up, he saw her watching him. A smile touched his face and he raised his hand in a wave, opening his lips to speak, but Nancy could not make out his words. She climbed up onto her knees, reaching above her to open the quarterlight.

"What was that?" She asked.

"I was gonna go into the centre and pick up some groceries for Mary Jane." Robin repeated. "Do you wanna come?"

"It's all right." Nancy flashed him a smile. "I think I might take a walk of my own - explore a little by myself and see what I can find. I'll be back before dinner, don't worry - I'd just like to see something of Carrowville through my own eyes."

"Sure." Robin grinned. "All right. Just don't get lost, okay? You don't know the town like I do, and I don't want to play hunt the Nancy before the night is out."

"I promise." Nancy assured him. "I won't be long. I'll see you later on."

Robin raised his hand again to indicate his agreement, then turned on his heel, heading down the main road towards the town centre. Nancy watched him for a moment, then pulled the quarterlight shut, scrambling off the window seat and pocketing her mobile phone. She pushed open the door of the attic, heading slowly down the stairs.

"You know, noone's been up there in a while."

Mary Jane's voice startled her and she swung around, casting her companion a sheepish smile. "Not since Robin went to the city, in fact. That was his room, when he lived with us before. Junk room now, as you've probably seen. What took you up there?"

"It seemed peaceful." Nancy admitted. "I wanted to call home and didn't want to be disturbed. I'm you mind?"

"Not at all." Mary Jane eyed her keenly. "Robin's headed into town...did he tell you?"

"Yes." Nancy nodded her head. "I was going to take a walk myself, do some exploring on my own."

Mary Jane pursed her lips.

"You know, you remind me more and more of my brother when you say things like that." She said, amused. "They do say birds of a feather flock together, but you know, my kids are creeped out to hell by the attic room. Say it's haunted and they won't set foot up there. My husband hates it. I've never liked the draft. But Robin used to say what you did - that it's peaceful. And then he'd trek off for a walk into the wilderness, alone and unarmed except for a pen and some manuscript. I'd not see him for hours. Then he'd come home with a new song and that would be it. Isn't it funny?"

"Do you really think I'm like Robin?" Nancy looked startled. Mary Jane spread her hands.

"I don't know you well enough to answer that." She said carefully. "But then, it takes a while to get to know my brother, too. I don't think you're the clone of him, nothing like that. But I can see what brought you together. You both like to be yourselves - individuals, following your own paths and expectations. Am I right?"

"I guess you are." Nancy pinkened slightly. "Though I hadn't thought of it in terms of him and I before."

"Are you sure you know where you're walking to, honey? I don't want you to get lost."

"I'll be fine." Nancy nodded. "I'll just head out the way Rob took me yesterday. Really, I think I need to see the town for myself. I mean, I've seen it through Robin's eyes - but I want to appreciate it for myself, too. Build my own idea of Carrowville. I've got my camera in my room - I'll grab it and head out. I want to take pictures of the park, anyhow. It's lovely there."

"Yes, it is." Mary Jane agreed. "Well, have fun on your travels, then. I have to head over to my Mom's to talk about party arrangements, but I'll no doubt see you later, all right?"

"Yes." Nancy agreed. "Thank you, Mary Jane. I'll find my own way out, don't worry."

She cast the woman a smile, then hurried to the room which had been hers since they arrived, ferretting through her bag for her purse and her digital camera. She slid them into the pockets of her jeans, reaching for her jacket and slipping her sneakers onto her feet. By the time she left her room, Mary Jane was nowhere to be seen and, secretly glad of the solitude, Nancy slipped down the front steps and out of the door, pulling it shut firmly behind her.

For a moment she paused, remembering which way they had walked the day before. Then she set off, taking the opposite direction from the one she had seen her boyfriend going. This was as much a walk to clear her head as it was a sight-seeing trip, she told herself, and it would do no good to encounter him en route.

As she reached the end of the road, she became aware of eyes on her and she turned, seeing a small girl of about six or seven watching her from the front garden of her house. As they met gazes, the girl giggled, then turned on her heel, running back into the house. A short time later, the girl's face appeared at the front window, accompanied by those of two other children. Despite herself, Nancy bit her lip. She was a stranger in this town, and she stood out like a sore thumb.

Setting her teeth, she made her way resolutely down the street, refusing to pay any attention to the children or their stares.

"People stare at you funny in Los Angeles too." She muttered. "God knows I've got enough weird looks in my life before. I'll ignore them. If they want to stare, well, it's their problem."

She crossed over the road, turning down the next street towards the big wrought iron gates that marked the entrance to the town park. It was busier today, she could tell that at a glance as she stepped through the gateway onto the white pathway. A family were picknicking in a distant corner, paying her no attention at all, and a man was walking his dog along the side of the lake. For a moment Nancy watched his dog tease and yap at the flustered waterbirds, then she turned her back, making her way towards the oak tree where they had sat the day before. Leaning up against the trunk, she pulled her camera from her pocket, taking a few snaps. Whatever her mixed feelings about the town, she liked the park's gentle atmosphere and despite herself, she felt comforted by being here.

"As if its safe." She murmured. "Among all the stuff I don't understand."

"You know, he used to bring my sister here as well."

The voice startled her out of her reverie and she swung around, meeting Anton's impassive gaze. Instinctively she tensed, sliding her camera back into her pocket.

"Excuse me?" She said, forcing herself to keep her tones level. "Were you talking to me?"

"Sian." Anton's lips curled into a hollow smile. "He did tell you about Sian, I presume?"

Nancy drew a breath of air into her lungs, composing herself. Slowly, she nodded her head.

"Yes." She said quietly. "I know about Sian, Anton."

"Did he tell you how they were high school sweethearts?" Anton demanded. "How he stalked her around the halls for a year to get her attention - how he asked her to marry him, right here, in this park? Beneath this tree? Do you have any idea how far you're trespassing by even being here?"

"I know about Sian." Nancy repeated softly. "And no, I didn't know Robin proposed here, but it's not the sort of thing we tend to discuss. I'm sorry you lost your sister, Anton. I really am. But this is a public park. I'm not trespassing anywhere."

"Are you sure?" Anton raised an eyebrow. "You're far does that thought go, Nancy? As far as Mary Jane's house? As far as the bedroom? You'll forgive me if I don't quite believe your sincerity. Seems to me like you're more than benefitting from her absence."

Nancy's cheeks flushed hotly at this.

"What are you trying to say?" She demanded. "I'm not taking anything from Robin that he hasn't given me freely. If you have a problem with me, will you just spit it out and quit messing around with words? Where I come from, people speak direct. They don't play around with snide innuendos."

Anton seemed momentarily taken aback by her words. Then he shook his head.

"Fine." He said quietly. "I take issue with Robin bringing his city slut back to Carrowville. I have issue with the way he's treating my sister's memory...flaunting you all over the place. Bringing you to his sister's house. Pushing you into Charlotte's birthday party, as if you were part of the family. Sian would never have tossed him away so quickly. She wouldn't have forgotten him as easily as he's obviously forgotten her."

"I'm not a slut." Nancy spoke coldly. "Nor did Robin bring me here to 'flaunt' me. I came because his family wanted to meet me. Mary Jane invited me, if you really wanted to know. She wanted to meet the woman who'd brought her brother out of his mourning rags. So if you have a problem with it, take it up with her. Not with me."

"Is everyone in Los Angeles completely self-serving and heartless?" Anton demanded. "You couldn't even begin to compare with my sister, so don't think that you could. She was the love of Robin's life - he said so, countless times. He swore there'd never be anyone else. Do you really think he cares so much for you that you'd replace her? You're just compensation. A passing fancy. You'll never match up to Sian - whatever you do."

"Sian is dead." Nancy said acidly. "Robin has been widowed for almost four years. By remembering her, nobody is asking you to give up your chance to be happy and share your life with someone you love. You seem to expect Robin to give up all his chances of doing so just because you haven't got to grips with Sian's death yet. I don't care if you hate me. It's not your opinion that matters to me. I didn't come to Carrowville to try and smarm my way in with the people here. I came because Mary Jane asked me, and because it was important to Robin that I come. That's because he loves me. He's over your sister...and the sooner you accept it, the happier you'll be."

Anger flickered in Anton's eyes.

"You'll not be welcome by anyone in this town, once they've heard the sort of person you are." He said bluntly. "When they see exactly how little you respect Sian's memory."

"Forgive me, but I'm not going to waste time over a dead girl I never even met." Nancy snapped back. "I care about Robin, and how he feels. I don't care about her or about you or how you feel. I don't know you and after today, I've no desire to meet you again. I've met some obsessive screwballs in Los Angeles, but you need to get over yourself."

She turned on her heel, stalking off across the grass. Behind her, she could hear Anton calling her name, angry and impatient, but she ignored him, determined not to let him see how badly he had shaken her.

Once out of his range of sight, she paused, leaning up against the wall of a nearby building and taking a deep breath.

"Well, I didn't imagine it." She told herself bitterly. "No doubt by the time Robin's Mom has her bash, the whole town will know what an ungrateful, selfish bitch Anton thinks I am, and they'll turn on Robin because of me. We should never have come here. It's all too soon - for him, for me, and definitely for them. I knew this was a bad idea!"

Prologue: Flashback: University of Connecticut, Winter 2009
Chapter One: Starcrossed
Chapter Two: Tante Regine
Chapter Three: Flashback: University of Connecticut: Winter 2011
Chapter Four: The Poem
Chapter Five: A Shock
Chapter Six: Nancy Confesses
Chapter Seven: Flashback: Break Up
Chapter Eight: Blackmail
Chapter Nine: Conflict
Chapter Ten: Flashback: Assanti Meddles
Chapter Eleven: Pay Off 
Chapter Twelve: Stefana Gambles
Chapter Thirteen: University of Connecticut: Finals Week
Chapter Fourteen: Cracks
Chapter Fifteen: A Tiny Piece Of Truth
Chapter Sixteen: Flashback: Forever Changed
Chapter Seventeen: Secrets Will Out

Chapter Eighteen: Fall Out

Chapter Nineteen: Flashback: A New Life

Chapter Twenty: Darren Admits

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