Dark Redemption - Charlotte Byrd
I arrive in Minnesota to surprise her. She hasn't been returning my calls and it's a total long shot. I don't know if she's not interested anymore, or just busy or occupied.
Her mom's surgery didn't go well and the last time we spoke, she cried into the phone and then hung up and didn't answer any more of my calls.
I don't know where she's staying. When I get to the hospital, they tell me that a lot of people tend to stay in the apartment hotel just across the street. Once I'm there, Jacqueline is not very difficult to find as the woman at the front desk confirms that she is staying here but refuses to give me the number of her room.
I sit in the parking lot for hours wondering if I'm just going to make a fool of myself. Probably, but still, I can't pull away.
I have to see her.
I have to talk to her, even if it's a foolish thing to do.
Right at twilight, I see a woman walk across the parking lot weighted down with a stack of books in her arms. Her hair's pulled up in a messy bun. Her skin is pale, but her eyes are vibrant with a wild expression that’s difficult to describe. She doesn't see me as I walk up and I again, hesitate, debate consider leaving.
When I get her attention, however, everything changes.
Days pass and I'm still here. I call off work. I reschedule a meeting and I stay with her. Then she gets the bad news about her mom's condition.
Now, there’s nothing we can do but wait. Jacqueline sits for hours in the hospital room, taking the occasional break to go for a walk. I insist on these excursions to clear her head, to get her body moving, to engage with who she is as a person and not just a daughter in grief.
We walk and we talk about everything and anything.
I tell her about my childhood. I tell her about my mom, my brother and his wife. She tells me about her own father and the disappointment that he has been. She tells me about her dreams of finishing her journalism degree and getting a job in a magazine or TV news.
We talk and we walk, we walk and we talk and our connection seems to grow deeper and stronger.
The following morning after the scare at the hospital, I wake up and see Jacqueline sitting with my laptop on her knees.
"What are you doing?" I ask, rubbing my eyes and stretching my arms above my head.
"What is this?” she asks, her eyes full of rage.
I lean over.
Jacqueline brings the laptop to my face and points at the email from the Danick Clinic.
I swallow hard.
I knew that I shouldn't have given her the passcode to get in, but it seemed so innocent.
"What are you doing with my laptop?" I ask, trying to turn the conversation onto her.
She glares at me.
"Mine ran out of juice. I wasn't snooping around. I opened it to look something up, your email popped up, and this is the first one I saw.”
I open my mouth to say something when she cuts me off.
“Why are they talking to you about paying for my mother's medical bills?"
I shrug and avert my eyes.
“Did you pay her bill? Were you the anonymous donor?"
Swinging my legs over the edge of the bed, I pull on my underwear and reach over for the jeans that are laying on the floor.
"I can't believe that you did that. You didn't even know me then. Why are you ..." She shakes her head, walking from one side of the room to another, trying to figure out at what point she told me about her mother being sick.
My head starts to thump, the blood pumping through my veins clenches up my heart. The problem is that the only reason I knew about her mother was that she told her friend, Allison, over FaceTime messages, which I should not have had access to.
"Look, you mentioned it and I looked into it," I lie.
One lie has to cover up another and another, but I can't possibly tell her the truth.
"What are you doing?" Jacqueline asks, staring at me as I button my shirt.
She pulls on my shoulder to turn me to face her.
"Why are they contacting you?" she asks, glaring into my eyes.
"I told you, you had mentioned that your mom was sick."
“No, I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did,” I lie. “You mentioned the Danick Clinic, you mentioned what