The next day, Bettina and Simon drive over to the apartment to get a change of clothes for Lana.  Jax knocks on the door and comes into the hospital room.  Good morning, he tells Lana’s mother.  Good morning, Jaxton.  May I talk with Lana alone?  Sure.  Lana’s mother smiles at him, and gets up and leaves, and closes the door on her way out.  Jax takes her seat.  Hi, Lana.  Hi.  You’re not going to make this easy on me, are you?  Jax says grinning.  I’m all ears, Jax.  Lana quips.  Make the check out to Winsome Capital, LP-LLC.  Alright.  Other investors are going to be limited partners.  You’re going to be my general partner.  Thank you Jax, but I just want to be passive capital.

Marry me, Lana.  Jax tells her.  No.  Lana tells him flatly.  Lana, Jax sighs, I’m going to keep asking until you say yes.  Jax, I appreciate the buy the dip sentiment. She sighs.  What I’d give to be back at my place with my guitar now.  Smuggle me out of here?  No.  Jax tells her flatly.  You’re going to have a parade of well wishers and the doctors need to release you.  They’re trying to make me into a pill addict. Not going to happen, Lana tells him.  You hurting?  Lana shrugs.  Will you walk me to the nurse’s desk?  I don’t want to negotiate from a position of weakness.

Hi, I cannot see your name badge.  Monique.  Monique, thank you for taking care of me.  You’re welcome, Lana.  My friend Bettina is coming back with my health insurance information and some street clothes.  Please let the attending know that I want to be released by noon.  I’ll pass that along.  Thank you.  One more thing? The nurse nods, and then adds: yes, Lana?  What do you think of Jax’s beard?  I approve.  The nurse says, smiling at Jax.  Thank you, Monique.  Lana tugs Jax’s elbow, and he turns her around to walk back to her room.

Sam’s here. Jax tells her.  Excellent, Lana says grinning.  Things are looking up. Her fiance is with her.  Even better, Lana exclaims.

Sam and Lana hug each other in the hall.  I’m so glad you’re here, Lana tells her. Don Ramon, Jax, please don’t go anywhere, but give us a couple minutes alone, alright?

An orderly in scrubs stares at Ramon in awe, and then comes over.  Doc!  Ramon turns and looks at him.  I was there at the opener you did for Parkway Drive. Antihero, that song changed my life, man.  You guys live your music; I’ve never seen a performance like that ever.  Thanks.  And the black and white video you guys uploaded - I had to buy a new mouse for my computer.  I broke the old one hitting the like button so many times. Ramon breaks out laughing and claps the orderly on the shoulder.  You’re a funny guy; you remind me of Simon.  All the bass player is good for is bringing the guitarist beer, Ramon quips.  The orderly breaks down laughing.  I can see him saying that.  I gotta go; it was great meeting you, Doc.  And the orderly heads off with a big grin on his face.

I’ve got to ask you something.  Jax tells Ramon.  You want my autograph?  Jax chuckles drily.  When is your brother showing up?  Lana has tied his hands.  He wishes her to untie them, and is waiting for her to call him.

Sam pops her head out the door and tells them to come in.  She’s now wearing Lana’s scrubs, and Lana has on Sam’s jeans and blouse and sunglasses.  Get in here quick and shut the door, Sam tells Ramon and Jax.

Now – Ramon, you’re going to bring Lana back to her apartment.  Comfort me by putting your arm around my shoulder, Lana tells him.  He does, and Lana leans into him with her head down, and puts a hand up to her face.  I’m so happy to be getting out of here, Lana pretends to wail.  Sam and Ramon laugh.  You can’t do this, Jax tells her.  Watch me, Lana tells him, and then she and Ramon go out the door.

Sam!  Jax exclaims.  Help me with the blindfold, she tells him.

Bettina and Simon see Ramon and Sam walk out the lobby.  Sam!  She yells. Ramon and Lana keep walking.  Bettina runs after them, and Simon joins her. Sam!  Ramon stops, and Lana buries her face in his chest, and pretends to sob. Ramon looks over at Bettina and Simon as they come up.  Now’s not a good time, he tells them, and the press is coming.  We’ll talk later, Bettina tells Sam, and rubs her back, and she and Simon turn around.  He puts his arm around her, and she leans against him as they walk back to the hospital entrance.  She’s carrying a bag with Lana’s things.

Ramon gets the door for Lana, and then hops in.  They both break out laughing.  Escape from Chateau D’IF! Lana exclaims.  Where to?  Mexico?  Ramon asks with a grin.  My apartment.  I want to sleep in my own bed.

***

We’re back, Bettina exclaims, as she and Simon come into the room.  Did you see Sam on your way in?  Jax asks drily.  I did.  And wow, she really looks like Lana now.  She must have come straight from the movie set.  She was really choked up, Simon admits.  Sam’s such a sweetheart, Bettina declares.  NO, SHE’s NOT.  Sam says, taking her blindfold off, and grinning at Bettina and Simon.

***

Tia, let me speak to Raul.  How is she, Ramon?  Tia asks.  How are you, Lana?  He asks her in Spanish.  No complaints.  It’s so good to be free again.  I was suffocating in that hospital room.  What?  Samantha switched with her.  We even fooled Bettina, Lana says brightly.  Tia sighs, and then starts to chuckle.  Raul’s in a meeting with a senior official.  See that he gets a note.  I’ll do that; it’ll make his day.  I’m glad you made it, Lana.  Thank you, Dona.  We’ll talk more soon.  Go with God.  And Tia disconnects.

How are you doing, Lana – really?  She sighs.  I’m really looking forward to sleeping in my own bed.  Do you know how to pick locks?  No.  Then I’m going to be locked out of my own apartment until Bettina shows up.

His phone rings.  It’s Bettina, he announces.  Should I answer?  I wouldn’t if I were you, Lana says chuckling.  He presses ignore.  Ten seconds later he gets a call from Samantha.  Hola, mi amor.  Do you have a bump key?  He asks her.  On the key chain, it’s the only brass one.  I see it.  I’ve just changed into your clothes, Lana. I’m bailing.  I love you, Lana tells her.  Tambien.  Sam disconnects.

How is Raul?  Lana asks.  He believes that Kostamo has first claim on you now because of what you did for him.  They drive in silence.  I understand, Lana says softly.    No, you don’t, Ramon snaps.  Lana, you have to untie his hands.  You must leave father and mother and forsake all others if you want Raul as your husband. Lana doesn’t say anything for awhile.

Ramon, if I was your only daughter, and I ran off with a man who you’d never met, how would that go over?  Ramon doesn’t say anything and they drive in silence.  Thank you, Lana.  Ramon tells her.  I’ve been blind.

For what it’s worth, he’ll want Samantha’s movie to wrap before taking you out. Makes sense, Ramon agrees.  He’ll probably hit you at a concert, the cinematic shot from the balcony, with some tweeker as a fallguy.  His goal has always been to factionalize The Syndicate.  If your engagement didn’t work, well, try, try again. Dude kept missing notes; I can play better than that. Ramon says in a stoner voice. He and Lana laugh.  What do you think I should do, Lana?  I don’t know, Ramon. Al Pacino is so implacable in The Merchant of Venice.  He wants his pound of flesh.  I’ll have to see it, Ramon says.  Just be forewarned - the ending makes me cringe.  I’ve had the system rigged against me too during my day in court.

Speaking of – do you still want your badge back?  Yes, but it’s not a priority.

I will make one concession for Raul, Lana allows.  I no longer wish to be married in the church where I was baptized as an infant.  Why Lana?  Ramon asks.  Last night, Pastor Larry stopped by to pray with me; Sardis is my church now.

Lana, how is Raul supposed to get your parent’s consent?

Ramon, how are you going to get Samantha’s uncle’s blessing?

Tell me about your vision, Ramon says, changing the subject.  The good news is that one day I might be able to see the faces of my children.  I’m sorry, Lana. Ramon says softly.  What happened?  She sighs.  They were wearing vests, so I made sure they were dead as I went through them.  We cleared the room.  Of course our ears were gone.  I picked up the car in my peripheral, and shot my Glock dry.  The glass from the storefront window got me.  I covered my eyes and went to the floor and then it was lights out.  They think a knocked over table shielded me from the blast.

Were you scared?  There wasn’t time to be scared.  My mentor taught me that confidence in my skills brings coolness under fire.  It all seemed like it happened in slow motion though.

What’s the first thing you remember when you got up?  I hurt all over and my head was throbbing and my mouth was dry.  Did you know you were blind?  No.  Bettina just told me that the surgery was a success and that I shouldn’t take the bandages off my eyes yet.  Then Rolf came in and stole the air out of the room.  You know how charismatic he is.  What did he do?  The unexpected.  He kissed me on the forehead and took my hand.  And told me that he’d just talked to the surgeon and had great news.  That my optical nerve was undamaged.  Then he says now for the bad news.  Mr. Ed, the talking horse, has the empty feed bag blues.  And everyone burst out laughing, it was so random.  Ramon gives her a puzzled look.  Mr. Ed was a black and white TV show from the 1960s, Ramon.  Bettina asked if that’s what he was watching when Jax and Simon came to get him.  And he said that Mr. Ed was singing that his filly didn’t want him to come around no more, because all he had was appetite.  It was so funny.  Then he tells me that it might be awhile before I get my sight back.  That there was a heli coil procedure that was in early stage development.  What is a heli coil?  I think it’s some kind of surgical metaphor.  I’m blind?  I asked him.  And he said blinded.  A verb of the transient tense.  And then he told me to get up and put some clothes on.  That Kostamo needed to talk to me.  I think he was telling me not to lay around feeling sorry for myself. It some doing.  Bettina found me a set of scrubs, and off we went.  I barely made it back to my hospital room, I was so tired.

Did Kostamo ask you to marry him?  Ramon, I’m still a strong independent woman in my mind, even if the facts on the ground suggest otherwise.  It’s going to take me awhile to adjust to my new situation.

***

Sir, you’re going to want to listen to this…

A day later, Samantha’s uncle plays the mp3 recording in the conference room, his lieutenants listen in to the bugged car conversation between Lana and Don Ramon.

Daughter – ducats.  Daughter – ducats.  The old man repeats.  I think Lana Radley is the most fascinating woman I’ve never met.  He looks at Levi.  Bring her here.

<Flashback>

Ummm, Bettina says wincing, as she approaches Senator Johns.  Can I talk with you for a minute, sir?  Hey, big fan, Sam says, as she shakes the Senator’s hand and grins at Bettina, and then heads out of the room.  Who was that?  The Senator asks Bettina.  That’s Samantha.  She’s starring as Lana in this new Arnold movie, Predators II.  While Simon and I were gone, they switched places.  Sam’s fiance took Lana back to our apartment.  And he’s ignoring my calls.  The Senator gives her an exasperated look.  Do you want to see Kostamo while you’re here, sir?  Might as well, he sighs.

How are you doing, Kostamo?  The Senator asks five minutes later.  Better when they release me.  I’ve been waiting for hours.  The Senator grins.  Lana beat you out of here.  What?!?  The mayor exclaims.  She and her actress friend Samantha switched places, and her fiance escorted her right out the front door.  Simon and I saw them in the atrium, but Lana just turned her face and pretended to sob into his chest, and he told us, not now.  It was so well done.  Kostamo gives them his Cheshire cat grin.  Did Sam make it out?  She put on the clothes I brought for Lana, and waltzed right out the room, deliberately bumping into PJ.  Sorry, that’s President-elect Johns for those of you who aren’t in the know.  Everyone grins at Bettina.  I thought you suspended your campaign, the mayor questions.  I’m not a debater, the Senator admits, and my platform is out there.  If I get the party’s nomination, of course I’ll accept.

You better get home, Kostamo tells Bettina, Lana will be locked out.  Simon and Jax are racing back to our place with the keys.  I’ll give you a ride, the Senator says. Thank you, but I’ve got to make sure they have Lana’s insurance information, and see that all the admin stuff gets done.  Just leave it with me.  Kostamo says, I’m stuck here anyway.  I’ll take care of it.  Thank you, Bettina tells him, and gives him a kiss on the cheek, and then leaves the room with Senator Johns.

***

Simon and Jax see Sam’s car parked at the curb, and get out and quickly head inside.  No one is in the stairwell.  The door is unlocked, and they go in and find Ramon at the kitchen table, reading a cookbook.  Lana’s sleeping, he announces.  You were pretty smooth there, Doc, back at the hospital, Simon tells him.  Ramon grins and shrugs.  How did you get in?  Sam has a bump key.  I’m waiting for her to arrive, Ramon announces.  Do you wish me to wait outside?  He asks Jax.  No need for that, Simon replies quickly.

How was Lana?  Jax asks.  She does not complain, but I think she is in much pain. Did she talk to your brother?  Simon asks.  Raul is in a sensitive meeting.  A note was brought to him that she is back home.

Bettina and Sam show up a half hour later.  Bettina tries Lana’s door.  It’s locked. Any ideas?  Bettina asks the others.  We’ll be waiting over at your dad’s, Simon tells her.  My work here is done, Sam tells them.  Lana knows I love her.  I’m going back to my movie set.

Two days later…

There’s a knock on the door.  The guitar and singing stops.  Who is it?  Simon and Jax.  Bettina opens the door and steps out into the hall with them.  I tried calling, but your phone is off, Simon says.  Here’s the deal.  Lana doesn’t want people gawking at her in her own place.  So it’s eyes wide shut and a blindfold if you want to come inside.  No peeking.  I’m game, Simon says.  Jax shrugs.  Close your eyes then and come on inside, while I go find something to make a blindfold.  They step inside and Bettina closes the door behind them.  Simon and Jax, Lana.  Bettina announces.  Hello, Lana says from the couch.  How are you doing, Lana?  Simon asks.  I’m adjusting, Simon.  I want to take you for a walk later, Lana, Jax tells her. I’d like that, but Bettina would have to get me ready.  It’s going to be difficult for me to be spontaneous, Jax.

What’s it like?  Simon asks.  The hardest part so far is that I don’t have any sense of time, which is a burden on Bettina.  But Toni brought us a helper.  Ayuda, what time is it?  6:43pm.  A voice says from the computer speaker.  Ayuda, what is the weather forecast for this evening.  The computer tells them.  Ayuda, play some Nickelback.  Someday comes through the speakers.  Bettina comes back into the room with two improvised blindfolds, which she puts on the guys.  A bottled water?  Bettina asks.  Please, Jax says.  Sure, Simon agrees.  Thanks.  Now go back to playing and singing, please.  Ayuda, silence, Bettina commands.

Lana feels Bettina sit back on the couch next to her, and she starts strumming her guitar softly.  Lana sings “No Fear in Love”, and Bettina joins her on the chorus.

When Lana stops playing, Simon picks up the chorus acapella, and Lana restarts strumming softly, and they sing the song again, with Simon joining in the chorus. Thank you, Simon.  Lana tells him when they’re finished.  You’re beyond gifted.

Bettina, would you get me ready?  Jax and I are going to go take Runt for a walk to the playground.

Ayuda, play Beauty in Tragedy by August Burns Red.  Simon announces.  Ayuda, louder.

Ten minutes later, Lana and Bettina come back out into the small living room of their apartment.  Ayuda, quiet, Bettina commands.

Okay, you can take your blindfolds off.  Bettina tells them.  Lana’s hair is done up in a high ponytail, and she’s wearing dark sunglasses and workout clothes.  You look great, Lana.  Jax tells her.  Thank you, Lana says softly, and Bettina beams at Jax.  Simon, let’s go for a ride, and leave them alone.  She hands him the keys to the Mustang.  You drive.

The press photographs Simon get the passenger door for Bettina, then hop in the driver’s seat, and take off, as Lana and Jax cut across the lawn to the neighboring complex.  They come outside five minutes later with Runt on a leash.  The press swarms them as they walk the sidewalk.  The dog stopping to smell and pee on a tire.  Lana, Jax – a few questions, a reporter shouts.  Where is Ted, Bettina’s cameraman?  Jax asks.  Here!  Bettina’s replacement shouts from way in the back. Get up here.  Jax tells her.  And the press parts so they can come through.   Alright Cassidy Meadows, one question.  Jax tells her.  Are you two back together? Yes, Jax says grinning widely.  Great question.  The cameras film Lana reaching down with her left hand trying to find Runt.  He puts his head under her hand to be petted, and she smiles down at him as she pats his head and then scratches behind his ear.  The dog lets out a big yawn of contentment.  Lana, do you have anything you want to say?  A reporter asks her.  Lana shakes her head no, and tugs Jax’s elbow to move along.

A few cameramen parallel them on the street as they walk to the playground.  You didn’t correct me, Jax finally says.  Don’t mistake silence for consent, Jax.  Now, how was your day?  It just keeps getting better, he says.  I stopped over and talked with your father and mother...we’re good.  Yes, my mother likes you.  And my father is at a loss for what to do with me - any port in a storm.  I have their consent, Lana, that’s what matters.  Marry me.  No.  You’re softening, I can tell. Jax says smugly.  Lana laughs.  Such a value investor.  She reaches over with her other hand and pats his shoulder.  So if your parents now see me as a white knight, how do you see me?  As my portfolio manager.  We had this talk, Jax.  Take me to the monkey bars please.  Jax leads her over there.  Which support am I holding? Left or right side?  Bars run to your left.  Find the dog some shade, Lana orders, and give me some space.

Jax goes over to the shade of a tree and sits down with Runt and watches Lana workout.  He sees her crank out eight deliberate pullups.  Then do twenty pushups. She finds the support again, and does some hanging leg tucks.  Then she does some more pullups, and finally drops back on the ground and does a frozen V sit. Jax releases Runt, and he runs over and slurps Lana, who lets out a little shreek. Then laughs and hugs him.  Control your dog, mister.  She yells.  I’ve lost my bearings.  Lead me back to the monkey bars please, she tells him.

Fifteen minutes later, after she’s finished stretching on the grass, she tells him to lead her over to the water fountain next to the restroom.  Are there any women nearby that can take me into the bathroom?  Cassidy Meadows.  Jax says, and motions her over.  Lana needs your help.  Lana comes out a couple minutes later, with her quick dry shirt soaking wet.  Thank you, Lana tells her when she’s brought back to Jax.  Ready to walk back?  Yeah.  Feel better? He asks.  Much.

Now, to continue our conversation from earlier, Jax says, winking at the reporter who is standing nearby with her cameraman filming.  When should we set the date?  Jax, the world is full of eligible single women who aren’t blind and homicidal.  Pick up a rock and throw it and you’ll hit one.  Cassidy Meadows bursts out laughing.  Lana stops walking.  Jax, you need to tell me when there are people within earshot; I’M BLIND, she hisses.  Sorry, Lana.  Jax apologizes quickly.  Cassidy, give us some privacy, Jax tells her.  Take me home.  Gladly, he says in an amorous tone, and I’ll carry you over the threshold while I’m at it.  Lana sighs.

The clip of Lana’s workout at the park and her being “attacked” by the St. Bernard, and her witticism makes the Channel Five late news.  Tia and Raul watch it together.  She is a strong woman, Tia says.  And she still has her sense of humor.  She will be even more sought after now.  Do you think they are back together?  Raul asks.  No.  She just didn’t want to make a scene in front of the press.  You should be at her church service tomorrow.  It’s too soon.  What are you thinking?  I’ll escort her at Don Ramon and Samantha’s wedding.   Are you going to call her?  She has my number if she wants to talk.