Dan was seated between Rainer and Logan at Big Buns, one of his favorite burger joints. They did eventually calm down enough to explain to Jeff what some of his responsibilities would be at Iodex.
“Hey, I was just thinking, since we’re apparently getting married tomorrow, can you both come to the Haydenshires tomorrow night for everything?” Jeff interrupted Rainer’s instructions on how to check into the Iodex complex. Clearly, he was a little distracted.
Chuckling, Rainer nodded. “Sure, Em and I will be there if you want us.”
“I live there, so,” Logan shrugged. “Ad has to work though.”
“She’s an obstetrics medio right?” Jeff quizzed hesitantly.
“She is and because I am awesome, and kind of your new boss, you’re going to agree to stay with Dan and Fionna for the next few nights and that way my kickass wife could give Becca a checkup because we will both be other there Friday night.”
“He is not your boss, but that is a good idea,” Dan assured Jeff.
“Mentor Vindico, I just can’t let you put us up. I already feel like I’m taking advantage.”
“You have to. Logan said so. If you don’t, I’ll have to listen to him whine all afternoon. Don’t do that to me, man. Iodex officers always have each other’s backs,” Rainer goaded.
“Shouldn’t I check with Becca about staying with you and about the checkup thing?” Jeff appeared desperate for a lifeline.
“You definitely should ask her about the checkup and strongly suggest to her that you two stay with me and Fi. Seriously, it’s fine. You’re not putting us out. We want to help,” Dan urged again.
After their burgers disappeared, Rainer pulled Jeff to the side walking him several paces behind everyone else on the way out. Dan saw Jeff shake his head several times but Rainer was persistent.
Stopping at the counter to purchase Fionna some of Big Bun’s chipotle pesto sauce, which was her favorite, Logan joined Dan at the registers. They continued to glance Jeff’s direction hoping he’d allow Rainer to help him.
But when Dan saw Jeff’s eyes goggle and his mouth drop open, he knew something was amiss. Following his gaze to the back of the restaurant, shock worked through him as well.
Seated in the very back booth was none other than Chancellor Wilshire. Seated across from him was a woman with long brown hair.
Dan couldn’t see more than the back of a hunter green blouse she was wearing, but he knew that Mrs. Wilshire had distinctly grey hair just like the Chancellor’s.
“Are you freaking kidding me?” Logan spat under his breath. “As if Dad isn’t getting enough phone calls about this constantly. Now, he’s gonna parade it out at restaurants ten miles from campus.”
“Let’s just get out of here. I doubt your dad wants anyone confronting him yet,” Rainer directed everyone out.
But before they could make their escape, the woman stood and raced towards the door almost bowling Logan over in her trek. “I can’t believe you did this, Dad,” spewed from her mouth before she made her exit.
“How many kids do the Wilshires have?” Rainer asked as they headed back to Dan’s car.
“Five,” Dan sighed. “They’re all a little older than me. That was Lauren, their youngest.”
“Wonder how many of them he’s confessed to over burgers,” Logan spat.
“Sensitivity doesn’t seem to be his M.O. as of late,” Rainer pointed out.
After his last class, Jeff met Dan outside of his office. “I know I keep saying this, but really, you don’t have to put us up. I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve already done for me.”
“Jeff, if I go home without you and Becca then my wife will be thoroughly disappointed. And here’s one of the best pieces of advice I could ever give you, if it is at all within your power not to disappoint your wife, don’t.”
“Are you kidding me? I’ll take your advice all day long. Keep it coming, please.”
Offering him a half grin, Dan tried not to be flattered. “Just let me grab my stuff. Do we need to go by your mom’s and get your things?”
“No, I don’t want you to go out of your way. I can get my stuff later. I told Bec she could just wear my t-shirts. Her folks won’t even let her come get her clothes. She only has the stuff she snuck out with this morning.”
“I plan to have a little chat with Governor Sapman,” Dan promised.
“You think you could get through to him?”
“If I can’t, I’d be willing to bet the Haydenshires can. If they can’t I’ll get Dad to go in with Governor Haydenshire and double team them.”
“I hate I’m doing this to her.” Jeff sounded utterly heartbroken.
Dan offered him a kind smile. “Technically, you aren’t the one that won’t let her back in her house. So, now you have a less than great situation, but what you do with that is all up to you. You want to make something better, then fight for it.”
Becca appeared from her last class, glowing crimson and biting her lip nervously. “Thank you so much for letting us stay with you, Officer Vindico. I can’t believe my parents won’t even let me come home to get my stuff.”
“It’s no trouble. Fi loves taking care of people. Now, where’s your mom’s apartment?”
Jeff immediately relieved Becca of all of her books. “You sure you don’t mind taking us by there?”
“Not at all.”
“Why don’t I just go by your mom’s and get your stuff, and you ride with Officer Vindico?” Becca volunteered. “Riding in his Ferrari is the only thing that’s actually made you smile in like two weeks,” she tried to whisper discreetly.
“It’s way out,” Jeff confessed.
Dan wondered momentarily if he didn’t want him seeing where he lived.
“Way out in Triangle,” he explained uncomfortably.
“If you don’t mind my taking you, it’s not that far,” Dan pointed out. “Fi and I live in Arlington so,” Dan shrugged.
“Always. Becca if you want, I can give you directions to the house and you can go on or you can follow us.” Dan led the kids towards his car.
“I’ll follow you. I don’t just want to show up at your house. I mean your wife is Fionna Styler.”
Dan chuckled. This was going to be different, that was certain. He didn’t point out that it was a waste of gas, and he was beyond certain she had a gas card that her daddy paid the bill on, a gas card he’d probably cancelled when he’d thrown her out.
One problem at a time, Vindico.
As Dan unlocked the doors and withdrew his shielded cast from his Ferrari, Jeff walked Becca to her car in the student parking lot. He couldn’t quite hide his grin as he eased into the passenger seat.
But uncomfortable silence drown the car as Dan headed off of campus. “Am I allowed to ask how you met Fionna Styler?” Jeff quizzed hesitantly.
Figuring that was as good a place as any to jump off, Dan smiled. “I met her at an Angels after party at Anglington’s bar the last challenge of the season.” He let his mind recall that night as he drove.
“Cool,” Jeff offered distractedly.
“It was that.” Dan agreed with a wry smile. “Off topic, but I have a question for you, what do you think of Mentor Sherman?” Dan genuinely wanted the opinion of a student, and he wanted Jeff to loosen up a little.
“I won’t say anything. Just tell me the truth.”
“My God, he is such a loser,” Jeff huffed.
Dan cracked up. “I knew I liked you.”
“He teaches my Mathematics and Computer Energies class, but he has no freaking clue what he’s doing. Half the time I teach the class for him. And he’s always like, ‘I’m best friends with Rainer Lawson and Logan Haydenshire, and I’m like, dude, I was friends with Rainer and Logan before they graduated. They were friends with you because Logan’s a really nice guy. They are cool. You are not.”
Still laughing, Dan could hardly believe that it had only been a year since Logan and Rainer had graduated. “Sounds like you’re excited to be working with them again.”
“Yeah we hung out a lot when they were in school. Rainer was the head of Ioses order, so I saw him a good bit. He was always with Emily though.”
“Yeah, well, they’ve sort of been attached at the hip since they were toddlers.”
“Yeah, I know. I was supposed to go to their wedding with Bec, but I took a subcontracting job on the weekends so I had to miss it. You and Mrs. Vindico were in the wedding though right?”
“We were” Dan pulled onto the interstate and made certain Becca’s car was still behind them. “And my daughter was their flower girl, so she has experience, like I said.”
“Oh, and hey, speaking of your daughter, you don’t have to worry. I’ll just sleep on your couch or whatever. I’m used to it. We won’t do anything at your house.” Blood pooled Jeff’s cheeks.
Putting all of the puzzle pieces together with the help of his Visium predilection, Dan finally figured out that Jeff was worried he wouldn’t want Aida knowing they were sharing a room. “Jeff, you’re not sleeping on my couch. Aida won’t care one way or another. Children are taught prejudices. They don’t come pre-installed. We have a guest bedroom. You desperately need a good night’s sleep. You’re marrying her tomorrow are you not?”
“I am. I can’t wait. Becca’s actually really excited despite everything.” Jeff pointed to the interstate exit to Triangle.
“I know this probably isn’t how she had it in her head, but you know women tend to like knowing that you’re going to be there.”
“I’m going to be there. My dad never wanted to have anything to do with me. He stopped paying child support when I was like four. I’d never make Becca go through this alone. I’m gonna be there for my kid. I love them both.”
“Then you’re already ten times the guy your father is. And I really don’t care what you and Becca do, Jeff. I’m pretty sure she can’t get more pregnant. I’d rather not hear it,” he offered wryly making Jeff glow purple.
Dan pulled into the ancient apartment complex and drove to Jeff’s mother’s apartment in the very back.
“I’ll hurry,” Jeff assured.
“I’m good.” Dan watched as Jeff and Becca headed into the apartment.
True to his word, they returned less than three minutes later carrying most everything he owned in two torn duffle bags. Jeff offered three times to drive Becca’s car for her, but she insisted that he ride with Dan.
“Jeff he’s your hero. Ride with him. You’ve been the best guy ever with all of this. You were so brave to talk to him, and to my parents and they were so mean to you. I love you. I want you to smile again. You were so bummed when he resigned, and now you get to hang out with him.”
They hadn’t realized that Dan had lowered the windows. He wasn’t supposed to have heard that.
“Hey.” Jeff wrapped her up in his arms. “You’re my hero, actually, and you said you’d marry me so I’m pretty much the happiest guy around.”
Becca beamed as she laid her head tenderly on his shoulder. Dan stared down at his phone. Watching them made his heartache.
“Let’s go. Maybe I can help Mrs. Vindico do something. I want to help however we can.”
Jeff was silent for a minute Dan debated asking him about Chancellor Wilshire and what they’d seen in the restaurant that afternoon, but he still wasn’t certain how silent Governor Haydenshire wanted him to be on the subject.
“So, uh, I read online about you taking down Wretchkinside’s son in Paris.” Jeff’s energy was frantic as he broached the subject.
Dan nodded. “That was pretty much the worst vacation ever.”
Jeff chuckled. “Yeah, but what an idiot? I mean messing with Mrs. Vindico and your little girls. He had to have a death wish or something.”
“Well, I assured him when we arrested him that if he ever tried something like that again he’d get his death wish.”
Jeff appeared deeply impressed. Once again Dan found himself quelling his ego.
“It’s okay if my mom comes to the wedding thing tomorrow right?” Jeff’s thoughts seemed to come in confusing bursts. Dan suspected it was due to exhaustion.
“The Haydenshires wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“I need to get Becca a ring.”
“You have any money for a ring?” Dan wondered if he was finally crossing a line. It wasn’t any of his business, even if they were staying with him.
“I’ve been saving for her a ring for a while, but I also tried to help my mom pay the bills. And apparently I need rent money now, too. I hate to get her something from a pawn shop, but that’s really all I can afford.”
“My ring came from a little open air market in Kauai. I think we paid seventy-five dollars for it. I’ve never taken it off, and Fi has her mom’s wedding band. I’d say just like the wedding, it’s what it means to you not how much you paid for it.”
Jeff studied Dan for a long moment. “Yeah I know, but that engagement ring you gave her had to cost you a bundle.”
Dan couldn’t deny that. Pictures of the ring had been in every Gifted paper or magazine on the planet. “Okay, so life’s a little easier if you get your girlfriend pregnant in your thirties instead of your twenties. But doesn’t mean this can’t be done.”
“It would be impossible without the internship. I really can’t thank you enough.”
“Like I told you, Fi and I would really like to be there for you and Becca. This is going to be a long hard year. Could I ask you something and you keep it between you and I?” Dan hoped Governor Haydenshire would forgive him this. He wasn’t certain when he’d have another chance. His gut said to take the shot.
“Of course,” Jeff vowed.
“It has to do with what we witnessed at lunch. Have you heard the rumor about Chancellor Wilshire?” He kept Jeff in his peripheral vision, watching his body language.
“I was in one of Mentor Bryant’s classes last year. Trust me, it isn’t just a rumor. I’ve known about it a long time.”
Stunned disbelief rocked through Dan. “They did something in front of her class last year?”
“Not exactly, but everyone knew. He was always coming in at the end of our classes. They were just a little too close, you know. I could tell something was up.”
“You’re gonna make a great detective, and an excellent Iodex officer.”
“Just because I figured out they were having an affair? Nah. I mean, I hope I will be an excellent officer. That’s what I’ve wanted to be forever, but everyone knows about Wilshire. It wasn’t great detective work or anything. They pretty much flirted out in the open all the time. I know I’m only twenty or whatever, but when you marry someone it seems like that should be forever. Why can’t people just be in it for the long haul, even if it’s difficult. Life’s always got challenges. The grass is greener where you water it and all that.”
Dan pulled his car in the garage and offered Jeff his hand. “A great detective and officer, and probably even more importantly, a good man.”