Funny Story

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In the back of her mind where sanity had been sequestered, Alex wondered how she had gone from writing about the war effort and government corruption after the Towers fell to staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. Twice. In one week. Metaphorically speaking, the life of a journalist was spent moving from one possibly dangerous encounter to the next, but somewhere in transition, Alex began actually placing herself in front of the firing squad.

What she saw today wasn't a criminal or the next big spread-though the story would be Pulitzer Prize winning. Instead, it was a woman teetering on the brink of terrified hysteria, eyes wide and dark. Fear like this was made. It was instilled in a person, driven in like nails in a coffin. Nothing Alex did or said would prove her intentions, good or bad. So she did what she did best when the story seemed to hit a dead end: she changed the paradigm.

"I'm going to be straight with you, Rebecca," Alex said, once again feigning calm when she was rapidly sweating through her blouse. "I know who you are because I hired a private investigator. We found you through an old MIT newspaper clipping of the day you took Em as your protégé. From there, the research was fairly easy."

"Why?" Rebecca shook, voice barely above a whisper. The gun, however, remained rock-steady.

Alex let a breath out slowly, daring to cross her arms. "Because I wanted to know the woman responsible for raising Leanna. I wanted to unravel the mystery of why you were down here. Suffice to say, it's in my nature to uncover things."

"You had no right."

"You're right. I didn't. And I would have kept this between my PI friend and myself had Leanna not came to my home three days ago terrified and bleeding."

If Rebecca lost any more color, she would become transparent. "Why was she...what happened to my daughter?"

"You happened," Alex accused. Rebecca sputtered, trying to find traction, but Alex was better equipped. "Your lies almost ended her life. She was called Topside to retrieve an order from one of your Insiders. An order placed by Jeremiah Taft. Yes, I know his name, too. The package was a brick of marijuana and anti-chorea medication Lucas Pine lifted from a pharmacy. Lucas was being followed by the police who suspected him of drug trafficking. Leanna intercepted Lucas, and they were in turn intercepted by the police. Lucas has been placed under arrest for assaulting an officer while trying and succeeding in making sure your daughter escaped."

The knowledge closed around Rebecca like a snap-trap. Swaying, the older woman lost her grip on her gun, the weapon clattering to the floor. Alex feared she might collapse, but instead, Rebecca sank into the first available chair, losing her bravado in the process.

"How long?" she breathed, eyes focused on the floor. Alex guessed what the question was referring to.

"A few months. We've met sparingly since my return Topside."

Rising, Rebecca moved unsteadily across the room. It took several tries through the shaking of her hands to get the glass of water to her lips and the pill down her throat. When at last she could properly breathe and think again — the medication quick to move through her system — some time had passed. Though it all, Alex remained standing and quiet, watching.

"What are you to my daughter?" Rebecca asked, returning to her chair.

And here it was. The unavoidable but unwanted question.

I don't know! Alex wanted to shout, because it was the truth. She didn't know what she was to Lee other than a friend. But that wasn't true. Not when they'd shared a kiss is a dusty basement. Not when her heart fluttered at the thought of her, and her body throbbed at the need for something more carnal. So where did the lines cross? Where was the line, was probably a better question.

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