Jack stood over Steven's limp form on the ground. His brother was face down coughing and wheezing, struggling to breathe.
He was unnerved by an the eerie sense of deja vu. It was an uncomfortable reminder of that best forgotten. The scene had been acted out once before and ironically the cast was the same.
He helped the stricken man sit up and queried, "Steven, are you okay? What happened?"
Steve's eyes widened at the sight of his older brother hovering over him. He was fortunate that his brother had shown up just in time. Had Jack driven his attacker away? Once again Jack had come to his aid.
There was a sudden flash of images in his mind's eye. He had been rendered helpless that night too. He'd had no strength from the beating he'd taken at the hands and feet of his assailants. Tiffany had screamed. She was standing at the edge of quarry where Eddie had disappeared into the abyss below.Steve tried to push himself away. "It was you!" he exclaimed.
Then with the others standing around, Hunter had locked his arms around his neck and had applied painful pressure. Helpless, he had listened and had agreed to the football star's demands. It was then that they had made that damned pact, a pact that none of them had been there that night, and that Eddie must have been there alone.
There it was - the origin of the guilt he had been suppressing for ten long years! It hadn't been the fact that he'd failed to help his best friend. No! He had tried to protect Eddie. He had lived with the burden of guilt because he had not had the courage to speak up, to tell the truth and to end the charade then and there.
Then when they had all dispersed, there was one, only one who had helped him.
Startled, Jack replied, "Me? What do you mean? You think I attacked you?"
Steve shook his head, "No. It was you ... That night, it was you who helped me." He tried to stand but could not. He stared into Jack's eyes looking for a sign of acknowledgement. "You were there that night! You know what really happened."
"Oh my God!" Tiffany cried out. She looked up from the body next to the disturbed grave. Backing away from the lifeless body she answered their bewildered stares, "This isn't Hunter."
Sam stepped up and looked upon the face of the man. He nodded and glanced at Tiffany and said, "Well, yes ... and no."
Tiffany's mouth and lips formed the questioned word 'what?' but no sound came forth. She turned to each face of those present. Her querulous countenance was met with blank stares of surprise except, for the faces of Sam and Agnes Nolan.
"God almighty, girl," Agnes scolded. "Don't you even know your own father-in-law ... Hunter Jameson ... Senior?"
Tiffany hung her head as she replied in shame, "I ... I never met Hunter's father. He didn't approve of me. I wasn't good enough for his son. Because I was ..."
"Pregnant?" said Catherine finishing the girl's reply. Though she didn't approve of her conniving plans, she couldn't help but feel pity for Tiffany.
"Isn't it true, Tiffany," asked Sam, "That the good doctor, Hunter Senior, was very disappointed in his son's career pursuit? That he wanted Junior to follow in his foot steps and become an optometrist too?"
She nodded in silent defeat. She didn't know how this man knew so much about her and Hunter, but everything he had implied was true. She cleared her throat and spoke as if she were on trial and had been sworn in, "Hunter wanted to play football. He dreamed of playing for Kentucky and going to the Pros. He didn't want to make eye glasses."
Sensing that she was about to burst into tears, Catherine produced some tissues from her pocket book and placed her arm around her shoulder. She hugged her in gratitude and remembering that someone had once told her that confession was good for the soul, she continued, "I only spoke to his father once, over the phone. He accused me of faking my pregnancy ... that I was trying to trap his son into marrying me."
There was disdain in Sam's voice as he picked up her story, "Of course when you and Hunter went ahead and eloped, the good doctor disavowed his son and cut him out of any inheritance."
Sam heard the approaching footsteps before the others were aware of the man's presence. He wondered why the man had waited so long to make his appearance. In any event, he was finally playing his hand.
"How touching. How quaint and charming all your secrets are," said the man.
"Well, well," responded Sam. "If it isn't Mitchell Alyson, the honorable mayor of Soddy-Daisy himself."
( to be continued ... Echoes of Eddie -27)