I SPENT A full week in the hospital recovering after the procedure. It had been an agonizing decision to make, but I had no regrets now that the procedures were over and had gone so well.
I saw Kendra walk in, “Ready to go?”
I nodded, “They just finished giving me the last packet of bills…”
“Don’t worry about those, Aubry Harris and SafeFoods will be covering all of your care expenses… and much more when all is said and done.”
I nodded, “I just don’t want them to get off easy…”
“I promise you they won’t. I know you talked with the federal prosecutor yesterday, but everything I’m hearing is that they are making this series of charges as serious as they can.”
“I just don’t know if a jury in this state will even convict her,” I told her.
“I’m sure they will,” she said just as a nurse came in with a wheelchair, followed by Doc, or rather Holly as she had insisted that I call her the past few days.
“Haley, I heard a patient was trying to escape?”
“You heard right, but this time there’s paperwork allowing it…”
Holly laughed, “Good!”
She watched as I stood up and hopped into the wheelchair. I had a set of sweats and a long-sleeved shirt on for the trip home. “Here, don’t forget her!” Kendra said, putting Rings in my lap.
I’d been unconscious for two days following the initiation of the procedure while it was completed, and then the nanites were siphoned out of my blood. When I woke up, I discovered Rings and a get-well card sitting next to my bed from Addy simply signed ‘Love, Addy.’ Other than giving a deposition to the prosecutor, she had all but disappeared completely.
I pet the top of the stuffed animal as I was pushed out of the room and debated giving her to someone at the hospital to give to a kid… Somehow though, I was too attached to her to let her go.
“You sure you don’t want to come straight back with us for a few weeks?”
I shook my head, “No, I promised Amanda and Fred that I would go stay at their place for a few weeks so they can keep an eye on me. Amanda wants to make sure there are no weird side-effects still.”
Kendra bit her lip, but nodded, “You’re not worried that she…?”
I laughed, “I’m safe there. Safer than in a courtroom apparently…”
“I doubt anything like that will ever happen to you again,” she told me as we reached the automatic doors to the outside.
"I'd like to think that would be the case, but honestly unless I grow another foot or two, it's always going to be a possibility in a state like Ames. That’s what has me more annoyed than anything, Kendra, it’s just completely unfair how easy it is to have your rights taken away here!”
“More reason to get you back to New Haven…”
“Not until after we finish Beth’s case,” I told her.
“You sure you don’t want to just oversee everything from home?”
“Very,” I told her. “I still have a score to settle!”
I hobbled my way into the door that David had opened in their car. A simple backless booster sat on the seat, and I was able to belt myself in fine on my own, even as muscles twinged a bit still. I petted Rings’ soft fur absentmindedly all the way to Amanda and Fred’s, and soon enjoyed a surprise ‘emancipation’ party. With everything that had gone on it had almost been easy to forget Judge O’Connor’s order that had been a complete overturning of my Maturosis ruling. I had been ruled to be an adult capable of everything, and another order was made from him stating that no Maturosis order was to be allowed against me ever again in his circuit, without approval from him.
That night I enjoyed drinking a single beer with David and Fred, after Fred assured Amanda that one wouldn’t hurt me a few days out from the procedure. It had been a glorious confirmation that I was indeed an adult again!
Almost as glorious as using the real toilet had been throughout the day, was the dry Pull-Up that greeted me the next morning!
WEEKS PASSED BY quickly, and I soon found myself entering the courtroom for a second shot at Beth’s case. “All Rise!!” The Bailiff introduced Judge Nathaniel Manasco, a tall gray-haired man with a scruffy beard who looked like he could have been Santa Claus at Christmas.
Kendra was back in New Haven, but David had come out to join me.
“I have been informed that there is the possibility of a settlement being discussed?” He asked, getting down to things once introductions had been made.
“Yes, Your Honor, we would like to ask for a continuance of twenty-four hours so that we may meet with the plaintiffs one last time?” A new lawyer named Elliot Naples said.
“Mr. Benson, do you believe this is in good faith?”
“Your Honor, we’re willing to listen to what they have to say. To be honest I don’t know what the offer that they’re going to make is?”
“We plan to make some generous offers, Your Honor. With the shift in leadership at SafeFoods, our shareholders just want this incident behind us.”
“Very well, we’ll meet back here again at fourteen o’clock tomorrow to either give my approval to the settlement or begin jury selection.”
We made our way out of the courtroom and Elliot looked down at David and me, “Can we use one of the conference rooms here?”
“Sure, we’ll hear you out,” I told him.
We were soon sitting across from Elliot and SafeFoods’ new CEO, Ivy Nickerson.
“Doctor Nickerson?” I asked in surprise.
“Surprised? I heard that I may have gotten this job because of you…?”
I shrugged, “I mentioned your name thinking you would be a more responsible person to be in charge of SafeFoods. Hopefully, it works out for you?”
“Certainly seems to financially, I’m going to leave these discussions mostly to our attorney and CFO though.”
“I’m Lynn Manchester,” she said to us.
“So, other than seeing a decent human being as your new CEO, I’m more than a little bit unhappy with your company right now. So, let’s get down to brass tacks, what’s your offer?” I asked.
Lynn looked taken aback by that, “Now…”
“Offer,” I said, “Or we leave it in the jury’s hands.”
She sighed and nodded at Elliot, “We understand you have a total of three hundred plaintiffs that have signed onto your suit, correct?”
I nodded, “Those are the ones we’ve identified so far. From your records though it appears that you had nearly a thousand participants in the studies?”
He grimaced, “That’s true…”
“So, let’s assume one thousand victims need a settlement fund,” David said, “Please keep that in mind with your offer.”
“We’ll set aside a relief fund of five hundred million dollars,” Elliot said.
I laughed, “That’s a joke! With a thousand victims that doesn’t even hit five hundred thousand apiece! And that’s with us not taking a share at all for our firm’s pro bono time! Five hundred thousand doesn’t even pay for the medical care, daycares, and other supplies that each of these individuals now needs for the rest of their lives. Nor does it fully offset the income lost by them that would have provided for families and children. There were plenty of mothers like Ashley Fehler who could have contributed more to their families in the coming years.”
“What do you think is fair?” Doctor Nickerson asked.
“Ten million per victim,” I told them. “That ensures proper care for their lifetimes, maybe a chance to research a cure of some sort, and serves as a punishment and a deterrent against any company ever experimenting on unwilling subjects like this ever again.”
“But that would be…”
“Yes, Mrs. Manchester, ten billion dollars seems more appropriate. Additionally, there needs to be one hundred million dollars in a settlement made to Benson and Stein to cover our lost expenses due to your former CEO. If you cover that, we won’t seek further damages from SafeFoods on behalf of my associate here.” David said.
“Let the two of us talk for just a moment?” Doctor Nickerson asked.
I nodded, “We’ll step outside for a moment.”
Outside, we waited. “Think they’ll go for it, David?”
“Depends on how serious they want to get past this scandal. I think it’s cheaper than they’d get off from the jury at this point.
A little under thirty hours later we were back in the courtroom with Judge Manasco, “Both parties are in agreement to this settlement?”
“Yes, Your Honor,” I said.
“Yes, Your Honor,” Elliot said.
“In that case, I certify it as a court-sanctioned settlement. You are not seeking this to be a sealed settlement, Mr. Naples?”
“No, Your Honor, SafeFoods has a very long road ahead of itself to regain the trust of its customers. This is a step along that road and we feel that hiding the settlement would be of no value to the shareholders.”
“Very well! The court is adjourned!”
I turned around and saw Beth’s dad standing there. I walked up to him and shook his outstretched hand. “Thank you,” he said to me.
“I’m only sorry that there seems to be nothing that they can do for Beth…” I said sadly.
He shrugged, “You’ve only had a short while to come to that conclusion, I made that conclusion two weeks after they regressed.”
“I won’t let them stop looking for a cure…” I told him.
“I don’t think there is one, unfortunately. Even if they cure the chemicals that bonded to their brains, it’s too much damage… At best they might be able to re-learn things… but I’m not even sure that’s possible now.”
I felt tears in my eyes, “What now?”
“Well, I’m taking Ashley and Beth back to New Albany. I’ve bought a house up there and hired a woman who I think is trustworthy enough to be a nanny for them. She’s kind and won’t be mean to them at least…”
He held his hand out again, “I so wanted to be able to call you my son-in-law, I hate that this happened. Thank you for not letting them get away with it.”
I shook his hand and watched as he left.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, David said, “Now that we have that done, ready to go back to New Haven?”
“Set a flight for tomorrow?” I sighed, “I have a stop I need to make before I leave.”
He nodded. “You’re going back to Amanda and Fred’s tonight, right?”
I nodded, “Yes, sure you don’t want to stay with them?”
He shook his head, “I’m happy in the hotel honestly. I’ll text you with information on when I need you to pick me up at the airport.”
I nodded, “Thanks,” I said.
I navigated my way through the courthouse and out to the rental car that was waiting for me. I felt nervous walking around the Bigs once more without my own ‘mommy’ for protection, but it was slowly becoming normal again to do so. I drove back out to my childhood home first. There was one last small box that I hadn’t sent back to my home in New Haven yet, as I wanted to carry it on the plane with me to make sure nothing happened to it.
I pulled into the driveway and could see the ‘For Sale’ sign standing proudly there, with a ‘Sale Pending’ board hung beneath it. I skipped using the garage at that point and walked up the front steps to discover an envelope waiting with ‘Cam’ written in neat script taped to the front door. I nervously looked at it and it felt like all it contained was a small letter. I opened the door and carefully used a key to slice it open, finding a letter that dropped out along with a cashier’s check that I didn’t look at too closely.
I really am bad at these letters, I’m sorry this is the second one you’re getting from me… After everything that has happened with my mom and Dani… I just can’t come see you yet. I wanted to be in court with the SafeFoods case this week, but honestly, I’m not sure I can look you in the eyes now with everything that happened. I’m still dealing with my own recovery yet too... I’m so ashamed of my small part of things, but mostly very ashamed to come from a family who is so awful!
I made a bargain with you towards the end of things that you held up, so I’m holding up my end too. The cashiers check enclosed should cover the buy-in that Kendra said she needed you to pay in to be a full partner of your firm. They both agree it’s long overdue, so hopefully, this will help you move past some of the damage we’ve done to your life.
More than anything I want you to know that I have, and always will love you. You are a precious person and I wish our lives could have been simple enough that I could have said ‘yes’ years ago. I know we both would have been much happier now!
Take care of yourself,
Tears streamed down my face, and I noticed that the check was made out to Benson and Stein for eight hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars.
I wiped away tears with the sleeve of my dress shirt and continued upstairs to my room where the one small box still sat. I carefully looked inside the box that I couldn’t bring myself to ship.
Inside were a few mementos of mom and dad, but most preciously the engraved poem from a woman who would likely never write poetry again.
A dream to grow, a dream to be together.
Inches, just inches, sent our paths askew.
May this be a token and a tether,
For our memories of love, in inches.
I felt tears run down my face as I thought of the broken dreams that seemed to follow me everywhere that I went.
I couldn’t take sitting there any longer, I turned, took one last look at the staircase I had grown up climbing, and carried everything out to the rental car for my next stop.
This was a place I’d promised myself I would come to on this trip…
But I hadn’t when I’d arrived, and then I didn’t have another chance – though I guessed Addy would probably have brought me there if I’d asked.
I walked up to Mom, Dad, and my baby sister Cassie’s joint tombstone with a bouquet of flowers I’d stopped to buy. I cleared out some dead flowers that looked to have been left by some other visitor besides me. Dad and I used to come out once a week when Mom first died, then it became once a month… and by the time he died, it was just once a year. Neither of us dealt with our grief very well when Mom died, but I’d never really thought about how much it hurt him to have lost them both. As a child, everything was about me really…
“Hi Mom, Dad, Cassie,” I said aloud after I put the flowers in. “I don’t know why I can’t bring myself to visit much… but with moving across the country there’s been even less opportunity to do so. I just needed to see you all, I guess, and say I love you… I’m like the most cursed person in the world though, everyone around me seems to die, get regressed, or leave me. I don’t know that I’ll ever have a family like you all again, and it hurts…”
I sat and spoke to their graves for an hour, before finally saying, “I’ll try and come back someday, but I’m getting out of Ames safely while I still can… I love you all…”
I walked back to the car in tears and half-worried when a tall woman noticed me and looked at me with concern. I just kept moving, climbed into my car, put the seatbelt on, and drove back out to Amanda and Fred’s for one last night before I had to say goodbye to all of them too.
Well there are two more chapters and an Epilogue to come - I'll post those on Sunday. Thank you all for reading! Especially as things begin to wrap up please let me know what you think!!! I love seeing your comments and thoughts more than you can know! Thanks!
NxK · Feb 11, 2022LOVING IT! I hope things turn to more positive then they seem. Waiting with bated breath for Sunday. Thank YOU for writing this wonderful story!
SCGuy19 · Feb 12, 2022Wonderful chapters. I really hope that Cammie and Addy reunite with each other and start over with their new relationship. I'm looking forward to Sunday so very much. Keep up the great work on this wonderful story. Will you be writing another story soon?