Convicted, стр. 113

Claire nodded.

“We’re all happy your hallucinations are gone.”

“Memories,” Claire corrected.

Emily pursed her lips before she continued, “Honey, I worry about delusional thoughts. Your doctors and I believe some of this has been occurring for a long time”—she patted Claire’s hand—“You have a history of irrational decisions. I don’t want you making decisions now that will later come back to upset you or Nichol.”

Claire continued to plead her case as Emily recited her concerns. It was a different version of their same discussion. Unexpectedly and without warning, the door to Claire’s room opened behind her. She didn’t need to turn, she didn’t need to see. His presence overwhelmed her—filled her and the room with electricity that only seconds earlier didn’t exist. According to the law of conservation, energy can neither be created nor destroyed, which meant the electricity was already present; nevertheless, when the door opened, she felt unbridled power surging through her veins. There was only one person—one man who held that kind of power. Seeing the astonished look on Emily’s face, Claire knew she was right.

Without thought or concern, Claire stood. Closing her eyes, she turned toward the doorway confident of who she’d see when her eyes opened. This wasn’t a hallucination or a memory—it was real. Although Emily’s voice pleaded for Claire to listen, she didn’t hear her sister’s words. There was nothing and no one else at that moment other than her husband. The rest of the world ceased to exist, and she was powerless to do anything other than surrender to his gaze.

They were the eyes she’d dreamt about—the eyes she saw in pictures of their daughter. They were the black holes which years ago swallowed and consumed her heart and soul.

Did she move? Did he? There were noises, but the words being spoken weren’t coming from either one of them. They didn’t need words. Over the course of the years, there’d been too many words—words they remembered—and ones they sought to forget. At this moment, none of them mattered.

In merely a split second, Claire took him in—prison had changed him, to a degree. His black mane now held more hints of white—new lines appeared around his eyes—and the hardness in his expression was replaced by something stronger, yet more serene. No matter the differences, he was still her husband—he was still Anthony Rawlings.

Their bodies nearly touched when the scent of his cologne filled the air. She inhaled the intoxicating scent she’d imagined over the years and melted into his embrace. Her face rested against the lapel of his silk suit as her body molded to his. Closing her eyes again, she relished the sensation of his muscular chest and beating heart. They still hadn’t spoken, yet the volume of the room around them had increased exponentially. His hand reached for her chin and brought their eyes together. It was the blending of brown and green—light to dark and dark to light—it was their connection—and it surpassed all other obstacles.

“I’ve dreamt of those eyes.” The sound of his deep baritone voice brought a smile to her face.

“As have I.” Suddenly, Claire worried and looked away. Did he know about her break with reality? Did he know people thought she was crazy?

“Look at me.” His commanding tone required obedience. Claire looked back up. “I’ve missed you so much. Why are you looking away?”

“Do you know? Do you know what they say about me?”

His eyes lightened and his cheeks rose. “I know—I love you.”

“They think I’m crazy.”

His hands which held her tightly caressed and soothed her back. “I think we’re all crazy. That doesn’t mean that I’m leaving here today without you. My love, you’re coming home.”

She caught her breath and tried to comprehend. Slowly, the rest of the room came back into focus. Apparently, they weren’t the only two people on earth. Her normally empty room overflowed with people. Emily stood to the side, with tears in her eyes and an anguished expression, as she spoke on her phone. Brent and Courtney were there, and Brent was talking to another man, showing him documents. Courtney was hugging herself, smiling, with tears running down her cheeks.

Finding her voice, Claire sought the reassurance of Tony’s gaze, “I’m leaving here? How?”

Brent nodded at the other gentleman and stepped toward Tony and Claire. Claire reached out and squeezed Brent’s hand. “I’m so thankful you’re...”

Brent smiled and said, “Me too—if I weren’t alive, I couldn’t be the one to tell you”—he grinned toward Claire. His eyes sparkling with new vitality—“I wouldn’t be the one to help you.”

Claire remembered him telling her one time, how he’d always wanted to help her—not hurt her. While holding tight to Tony’s hand, she smiled at his clandestine reference.

Brent continued, “As long as Tony was incarcerated, Emily was your listed next of kin and held your power of attorney. I’m holding the judgment by Judge Wein, your husband is, once again, legally your next of kin. Until you’re completely cleared medically, he has the power to make your medical decisions including your release.”

“I thought I was here because of an insanity plea?”

Brent shook his head. “Originally, that was true, but you were cleared of all charges by self-defense.” He looked to Emily and back. “You’ve been kept here for your safety; however, I’ve obtained statements from your doctors substantiating your mental health. Soon, you should legally be able to make your own decisions. In the meantime, with Tony’s signature, you can go home. There are some hoops we need to jump through—therapy you must agree to complete—but we’re not leaving Everwood without you.”

Turning toward Emily, Brent continued, “You can choose to fight—if you want. I’m sure John will be here soon; however, I can assure you—I’ve left no ‘T’ uncrossed or ‘I’ undotted.”

The aguish in Emily’s expression broke Claire’s heart. Barely able to bring herself to let go of Tony’s hand, Claire walked to her sister and wrapped her arms around her neck. “I know you’ve been doing what you thought was best, and Emily, I love you for it, but now it’s time for all of us to move forward.”

After a moment of obvious internal turmoil, Emily said, “John is on his way, but we’re not going to fight.”

“Emily, there’s one more thing,” Brent said as he handed her another document. “This is from the Family Court. Anthony and Claire Rawlings have been granted full custody of their daughter, Nichol Rawlings. They will be assuming the roles of custodial parents—soon.”

As they listened, Tony’s arm tightened around Claire, and she smiled up at him. It was more than she’d ever hoped—more than she’d dared to dream. “We’re going to be a family again.” Her words were a mere whisper that only Tony could hear. Feeling the warm grasp of his large hand around hers was confirmation enough. The terrible ordeal was over.

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Never have plans for the future as you never know how things will turn out .

—Nigella Lawson

Claire clung to Tony’s hand, listened to the voices, and responded appropriately. As long as she held on—as long as they touched—she knew he was real. The Everwood administration required them to meet with doctors and administrators before granting Claire’s release. With Brent’s legal documentation and Emily’s concession, these meetings were Claire’s last hurdle to freedom.

She watched in awe as the Tony from her memories argued for her release. There was nothing about the man in the Armani suit with the gelled back hair and perfect diction that hinted toward ex-con. Tony personified affluence and business success. He sounded like a CEO. Never once, despite what a doctor or therapist said, did Claire doubt Tony’s ability to fulfill his promise—she’d be going home.