Chapter 31

On Monday the doctors removed the pins in Frank's arm and put on a hard cast. Frank still used the sling to relieve the weight of the cast. It covered most of his left arm and part of his hand. There were openings for his thumb and fingers. Getting dressed was now a chore. A difficult undertaking. An undertaking fraught with complications and challenges.

Tonight, two days after getting the new cast, Laura Hardy held a pair of scissors over one of Frank's best dress shirts.

"Are you sure, you want to wear this shirt tonight?" she called.

"Yes, mom." Frank was in the hotel bathroom. He lifted his chin and carefully shaved. One handed. It was a lot easier said than done.

"It's one of your best shirts, Frank. I hate to ruin it. You look so handsome in it."

Frank poked his head out of the bathroom and grinned. "Why do you think I want to wear it tonight?"

"I know this dinner is special, but …"

"C'mon, mom. How often do Joe and I, and Nancy, receive medals from the police department? Dad's even flown in for this."

Laura Hardy smiled at her son. His strong jaw was half hidden in shaving cream. How had he grown up so fast? He was man now.

"Okay, Frank. If you're sure." Laura Hardy lifted the shirt sleeve and prepared to cut it.

"Just do it, mom. I can always buy another shirt."

The scissors cut through the fabric like butter. The cuff end of the shirt fell on the bed. Laura Hardy tossed the useless piece in the trash and sighed. That was that. Now, she needed to sew a hem on the raw edge.

Thirty minutes later Laura Hardy buttoned the last button on Frank's shirt. She straightened the collar and stood back to admire her oldest son. "There you go. You look very handsome."

Frank reddened slightly. "Thanks, mom."

"Your father and Joe should be here any minute. Your father can help you with your tie."

Laura Hardy gathered up stray clothes and towels. Frank checked his appearance in the mirror. Did this tie go with this shirt?

Laura Hardy watched her son as she tidied the room. He was tall and rugged. So like his father. Not only in looks, but in personality as well. Level-headed and intelligent. And if she wasn't mistaken, he might be smitten with a certain young lady.

To Frank's back, she said, "It's been an interesting week and a half. Taking care of my grown child and helping him dress himself."

She hung the towels in the bathroom and made sure her voice was loud enough to carry, "Mind you, I don't want to make a habit of caring for you."

She heard Frank laugh. "Trust me mom, I don't want to make it a habit either."

# # # #

The banquet hall was crowded when Nancy, Hannah, and Carson Drew arrived. Nancy wore a simple, but elegant sheath dress. She and the Hardys were being honored tonight. Along with Detectives Rivera and Hagan.

Nancy felt at cross purposes. It was odd getting an award for catching her mother's killer. Out of all the cases she'd solved, this one had been the most difficult. It had touched her personally and emotionally. Nancy wasn't sure she had fully come to terms with how she felt. The healing had begun, but it was not complete.

Nancy thought of her mother as she surveyed the festive room. Glowing candles and sparkling chandeliers. A sea of smiling people dressed in evening clothes. Some lifted long stemmed glasses in a toast. Everyone was happy. A killer had been caught and now the people celebrated. Lives had been lost, but think of all those that had been saved.

Hannah rubbed Nancy's arm. "You okay, dear?"

"Yes." Nancy blinked away the dampness in her eyes.

"You seemed rather far away there for a moment."

"I was." Nancy leaned against Hannah. "I was thinking about why we're here."

"Ahh, yes." Hannah took Nancy's hand in hers and held it tight.

Carson Drew stepped up to the women. "How we doing, ladies?"

Hannah spoke for both women, "Contemplating the why we're here."

Carson Drew saw the sorrow in his daughter's eyes and said, "For closure. After twenty years, I can finally sleep at night. The nightmare, I've endured, has finally come to an end. And I owe that to my wonderful daughter."

"Oh, dad." Nancy brushed the corners of her eyes.

"No," Mr. Drew warned, "no tears tonight. We're here to honor you and everyone involved in the case. Your mother would want that. She and I are very proud of you." He kissed the top of Nancy's head.

Nancy smiled up at her father. "Thanks, I needed that."

"Oh, look." Hannah pointed. "The Hardys are here."

Carson Drew adjusted his tie and jacket. "I'd say it's time we joined them. Ready, ladies?"

He held out his elbows. Nancy and Hannah each took one and the three walked over to greet the Hardy family.

# # # #

Nancy sat between Frank and Joe. The brothers were soon teasing each other. It was a welcome diversion for Nancy. The brothers' playful teasing of one another soon brought her out of her sadness.

The dinners arrived and as Nancy spread the cloth napkin across her lap, Frank leaned over and whispered, "You look beautiful."

She blushed shamelessly. "Thanks, Hardy. You look pretty darn good yourself."

And he did. The dark tones of his shirt highlighted the richness of his mocha colored hair and eyes.

After dinner, the mayor took to the stage and gave a short speech. He detailed the Ray Gordon case and the heroic efforts of the police department and three private investigators. The mayor thanked everyone involved for bringing a serial killer to justice. Finally, he presented the honorees with Meritorious Service Awards. First Detectives Rivera and Hagan. And then Nancy, Frank, and Joe.

The evening officially came to an end. Laura Hardy insisted on some pictures. This was a momentous occasion. It must be captured on cell phones. It took poses to find just the right one befitting all three detectives. Laura Hardy even managed to corral Rivera and Hagan. She proudly snapped a group shot of the five detectives.

Finally, Joe sighed, "Mom, you've taken enough pictures for one night."

Laura Hardy laughed and patted her son on the shoulder. "You're probably right. The camera is going into the purse now." She dropped it into her handbag.

Nancy suddenly found herself hugging the Hardy family and saying good-bye. They had an early morning flight. They were tired and needed to finish packing.

Then Frank pulled her aside. He turned to his family. "Mom, Dad, I'll catch up with you in a minute."

Laura and Fenton Hardy exchanged knowing looks.

Frank waited until his family, and Carson Drew and Hannah had all left.

At last, he was alone with Nancy. Only the service staff remained, clearing tables.

"I meant what I said the other night," Frank said and took Nancy's hand in his, "about the detective agency. I'll be back soon to look for places to set up shop."

"I can start looking tomorrow." What else did she have to do?

"That would be great." Frank looked down at their hands. Folded together. A natural fit.

"Nancy, I .. I wanted to say one more thing."

Nancy took a shallow breath and waited.

Frank lifted his head and his eyes locked on hers. His gaze was intense and penetrating. It conveyed his feelings. He wanted to know her … completely.

A tingle slid across Nancy's shoulders.

"Nan, you said you'd give me a chance."

Nancy felt her heart flutter. "I did. I do." She was in a twitter. Her thoughts a bit muddled.

He put his good arm around her waist and leaned in for a kiss. She rose on her toes and met his lips. The kiss was long and tender and sweet. It spoke of yearning and desire.

Where would this relationship go? Only the future knew.

# # # #

Nancy knelt beside her mother's grave and placed a bundle of flowers on the shimmering grass. It was a bright, sunny day.

"I miss you, mom. My heart aches. My arms long to hug you."

Nancy hadn't been to her mother's grave since the day she'd passed out. The day Frank had carried her to the rental car.

There were many things Nancy wanted to say. Many things she wanted to tell her mother. But where to begin?

She thought for moment and decided.

"Ray's in prison. He'll never get out. He'll never hurt anyone again."

Nancy brushed a tear from her cheek. "I can't imagine what you went through, mom. It .. it must have been awful."

Nancy folded her legs under her. The day was a warm. Thin wispy clouds drifted across the sky. Nancy looked around. She was alone in the cemetery. She ran her hand over the plump grass and enjoyed the gentle breeze. The cemetery was peaceful and calm. A good place to mediate.

A smile danced upon Nancy's lips as a new thought came to her. "I do have some happy news." Her eyes swept across the cemetery, across the board fields of grass and over the headstones.

"I've met someone special." She pulled at a blade of grass.

"He's a lot like dad. He has dark hair. And dark eyes. He's tall."

Happy memories of Frank crowded her mind. The few kisses they'd shared. The way he'd looked at her. The way his smile made her feel.

"To be honest, I met him five years ago. But I never imagined he would be a part of my life."

She took a deep breath and savored the crisp air then released it slowly. For the first time in many days, she felt content.

"In a way, mom, I think you led me to Frank. Or … maybe you led Frank to me.

"Fate has a funny way of working out doesn't it?"


A/N: And so the story comes to an end. As I said in the previous chapter I decided to change N,J&F's background stories so there is no 'next' story in this universe. I do have other stories I'm working on and one of them may soon be posted here.

A final thank you to all the wonderful people who left reviews. I appreciate them more than I can say. ;)

Thank you anonymous reviewers. I don't know if it was one person or more. LOL

A special thank you to ILoveMom and Lexi for their reviews. And a big thank you to everyone else who dropped in and left a review. They are all appreciated. :)