Fiction Feature – Forgotten Promise, Part 4 of an Original Short Novel

March 12, 2003

The Voice is pleased to introduce a brand new fiction feature.
To kick off the column, we have a special treat – Forgotten Promise, an original short novel by Carla Johnson. For part one of this story, see: http://www.ausu.org/voice/articles/articledisplay.php?ART=429

After the last installment we will begin running a piece of student fiction each week, so start sending in your submissions. Any form of creative writing is acceptable, including short stories and poems.

Part four :

Laura proceeded to explain about the adoption certificate that she had seen, leaving out details about who had given her the document. Adam seemed irritated that she hadn’t shared this information with him. But after all, he hadn’t called in more than a week! Laura stated as much,

“Well, you hadn’t called, and I don’t like to call you. But”, she added, ashamed suddenly – after all, it was his daughter too, “I should have told you. We did agree to always compare notes.” She didn’t add that Aaron’s involvement had complicated things somewhat for her. Adam had no right to be jealous anyway.

“Laura . . .,” there was a sudden break in his voice. “I’d like to see you.”

.

Why, Adam? There is no point. We’ll talk as soon as we have more information, but that’s as far as it can go.”

“Alright, Laura, I understand. But on Saturday, I’m taking my housekeeper’s granddaughter to West Edmonton Mall. She’s a good kid, very lonely, and I promised I would take her somewhere if she had a good report card for Grade I. Please. . I’d like you to come with us.” The naked hope in his voice stabbed her.

“Well . . . ,” she hesitated long enough for him to know he had the advantage.

“We’ll pick you up at 10:30.” Then he hung up quickly, not giving her a chance to refuse. She mused for a moment. Why would Adam be taking his housekeeper’s granddaughter anywhere? He must have a soft spot – or perhaps it was regret at not being able to enjoy a child of his own. As she thought, she remembered a conversation they had after she first arrived, in which he described his housekeeper’s granddaughter as a “bright, artistic and sweet child, one who needs something more than her grandmother can give her.” Remembering those words convinced her that going with Adam on Saturday would be appropriate. Her experience and training had shown her that children needed all the attention and love they could get. Obviously this little girl was someone special to Adam. She looked forward to seeing what kind of child had touched Adam’s heart.

Saturday dawned full of sunshine and promise of summer. Laura felt a pang as she remembered the warm, breezy mornings she had enjoyed breakfast with her parents on their deck, watching the surf crash over the beach. Life in Vancouver had not been so bad.

Her inquiries into her parent’s source of income had not yet revealed much. The bank manager was unwilling to provide too much information, but indicated that it was a trust fund set up by some external source, payable until death. Blood money? The thought popped into Laura’s head involuntarily. Was there a connection between the unknown person from Edmonton who had taken her child and the large trust fund that had supported them in a comfortable lifestyle in Vancouver? It seemed reasonable. Answers must come soon, she reassured herself. “I feel very close. I feel my daughter within reach. I know she must be here and soon I will know the truth.” These thoughts and feelings overwhelmed her until she heard the rumble of the Caddy promptly at 10:30. “Must be a special occasion” she thought, noting that Adam was punctual as always. She left her room and walked towards the parking lot. As she approached the Caddy, she was brought to a surprise halt. The child in the car was Melanie, the girl she had met in the park. The “Adam” Melanie had spoken of was “her” Adam after all.

They greeted each other like old friends, much to Adam’s surprise, until Laura explained how they had met. He digested the news silently, his manner somewhat distracted. However, Melanie’s good spirits soon dispelled any ghosts, and the day proved to be a magical one. It was the kind of day Laura had always dreamed of. A day a real family would enjoy together. Every smile she and Adam exchanged, every accidental touch – Melanie’s innocent gaze – they all conspired to push reality far away.

All too soon, it was suppertime. Melanie’s choice, of course, was ‘MacDonalds’. As they enjoyed their hamburgers and fries, Adam’s eyes met Laura’s. A sudden electric shock rocked her. She blinked in consternation. Did he feel the same way she did about the day they had just spent together? It seemed so. Laura’s defences were fast falling away.

Melanie asked for permission to go and play in the indoor playground, and ran off happily. Laura reluctantly watched her go, somehow afraid to be alone with Adam.

“Laura!” he spoke quietly but commandingly. She looked up at him. “Thank you for coming. It meant a lot to me, and to Melanie.”

“I was glad to come. Melanie is a lovely child, and I’ve enjoyed being with her.” Laura replied.

“Only Melanie?” he asked. Laura looked up and met the electric gaze. “No. Not only Melanie. I’ve enjoyed being with you too,” she was forced to admit.

“Me too,” he replied, then added, “It’s almost like . .”, then he broke off, changing the subject all at once. “Laura, I’d like to ask one more thing of you today. I want you to come with me to see my mother,” he paused as Laura opened her mouth to object. “No, Laura, before you turn me down, hear me out” He took a deep breath. “Mother has changed. I know she treated you badly, but she’s learned her lesson, believe me. She thought Vicki was everything she ever wanted for me, but she very quickly changed her mind. Since Dad died, she’s been so lonely. I’m all she has. She’d love grandchildren, but as I already told you, Vicki doesn’t :.,” he broke off briefly, then continued, “Mother isn’t the same person. I’ve told her about us, and she asked to see you. It would mean a lot to her, and to me. Please, Laura.” His voice was quiet, humble.

Laura hesitated. Her memories of Adam’s mother weren’t particularly pleasant. Mrs. Jacobs had made it so clear that Laura would never marry Adam if she had any say in it. Yet … people could change, do unexpected things. Her parents had. It was time to forgive. “Alright, Adam, I’ll go with you,” she answered.

“Let’s collect Melanie and leave, then.” he stated, and got up.

“Now? You mean .. go see her now?”

“Yes, what did you think I meant?”

“Oh, nothing. It’s O.K. I guess.” In reality, Laura had been hoping for time to brace herself mentally.

“Mom loves to see Melanie, and Melanie really enjoys going there too. She’s expecting us at 7:00, so we should leave now.”

Again, his arrogant assurance that she would agree to accompany him. Laura refused to let it bother her; it had been a wonderful day, and nothing was going to ruin it. And as for this visit, well, she would just make the best of it.

It seemed strange to be close to her old neighbourhood once again. She was lost in memories of good times with Adam. Happy times, loving times. The empty, lost, lonely times hadn’t touched her here, for she had taken them with her to Vancouver. Adam seemed wrapped in thought as well. He again wore that worried, distracted air.

“Something’s happened,” Laura thought. Well, perhaps he would confide in her soon. Even Melanie seemed touched by the strange atmosphere, and sat quietly, looking out the window. Then she broke the silence.

“There it is!” she said, excitedly, “Grandma Jacob’s house!” Laura again revised her opinion of Mrs. Jacobs. She must really have changed to inspire such excitement in Melanie!

Adam’s mother answered the door on the first ring, obviously waiting for them. Her welcoming smile was for Melanie first, as she gave her a warm hug. Then she looked up at Laura. She smiled tentatively and reached to hold Laura’s hand in both of hers. “Thank you for coming”, was all she said.

Melanie’s obvious enjoyment in Mrs. Jacobs’ company eased the tension as they sat in the elegant living room. “Angie has gone home already, but she baked your favorite cookies”, she said to an excited Melanie. “Come with me and we’ll bring them out, along with some tea”, she invited. Laura was forced to admit to herself that Mrs. Jacobs had changed for the better.

As they disguised their nervousness in the routine of having tea and cookies, conversation remained on general topics. Mrs. Jacobs asked about Laura’s work and expressed proper sympathy at the loss of her parents; but what was foremost on their minds was not spoken of. After an hour, Adam got up. “Laura, I’m going to take Melanie home since she has school tomorrow. Perhaps you would stay here with Mother and wait for me.” Laura was about to refuse, eager to escape, when Mrs. Jacobs spoke.

“Yes, of course dear, Laura will stay here with me. We have years of catching up to do!” It seemed obvious where Adam had inherited his habit of ordering people around. Laura sat back down, acquiescent. “Time to bite the bullet!” she said to herself.

The moment Adam and Melanie left, Mrs. Jacobs cut straight to the heart of the matter. “Laura, dear, first of all I want to say . . .,” it seemed difficult for her to form the right words. “It’s hard to admit when you are wrong. I was wrong about you and Adam. I’m sorry. I hope : you can find a way to forgive me.” Adam had said almost the same words. It was time to have things out in the open.

“I won’t deny that you hurt me.” Laura wasn’t letting her off the hook too easily, “But I’ve realized that I must learn how to forgive many people, including my own parents. The most I can say right now is that I’m trying. I’d like the past to disappear. All I want now is a future for me and my daughter.”

“Yes dear. Adam told me. I hope you don’t mind, but he told me everything. He wanted my help. I’d like to offer it to you as well. Whatever way I can help you both, you have only to ask.” She paused, her voice becoming unsteady, then she added, “She’s my granddaughter too.”

Laura nodded and looked down at her hands. She had never expected this once cold, rude woman to one day admit any relationship between them. Laura was learning that others had deep, intense feelings about what had happened. Things were never as they seemed on the surface.

After that a comfortable camaraderie filled the room. Laura found herself confiding in Mrs. Jacobs, telling her of her feelings about her own parents, confessing her inability to understand why they had done what they had. Mrs. Jacobs’ words were an unexpected comfort.

“Sometimes, we as parents try too hard. We have dreams. We dream that our children will be everything we wish, the culmination of all our hopes.” She gave a little laugh. “It rarely turns out that way, of course, but we keep trying to make it happen. I think your parents chose the way they believed would be the best for you to find the dream they envisioned for you. They, as we all do, believed that if your child always follows the path you lay for him, he will always be happy and successful in life. You strayed from that path. They tried to find a way to put you back on.” With that, they both sat quietly for some time, each given to their own private thoughts.

Adam’s arrival broke the mood. He stood at the doorway uncertainly, “Well, it looks like you had a nice visit”, he stated, rather lamely.

Laura couldn’t help but laugh. Trust a man to be a master of understatement. “We said things that needed to be said,” Laura said, glancing over at Mrs. Jacobs and sharing a secret smile. “But I think I should be getting back now, if you don’t mind.” They said their goodbyes, with promises to speak again soon.

As they drove, Adam seemed restless, wanting to tell her something, until finally Laura lost patience. “O.K., Adam. Spit it out!” she ordered, then softened her tone. “I know something’s bothering you. I know you. Please, tell me.”

His jaw tightened. “I spoke to Vicki this morning. I served her with a petition for divorce. As I expected, it wasn’t a pleasant scene.”

“Oh, Adam, I’m sorry.” Laura couldn’t think of anything to say to somehow comfort him.

“It’s alright. I expected her to react that way, but still : I guess Vicki feels that somehow, she’s ended up being a loser. I was a prize she won, and she was determined to keep me. You know Vicki – if she owns something, she will never give it up. Her father brought her up to believe she could always have her own way, that she could always control people. But this time, there’s nothing she can do. I’ve made up my mind. She can have everything. I just want my freedom. More than that, I want :,” he suddenly pulled over to the curb and stopped the car. Laura looked at him uncertainly.

“I was waiting for the right time, but maybe this is it. Laura, whatever happens, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I’ve never stopped loving you.” He made no move to touch her, just gazed at her with eyes glowing with desire.

His words were not entirely unexpected. Laura had been unable to deny the feelings that still lived between them. He obviously had had the same problem. Yet, could she live with what he had done? “People change,” she reminded herself. Adam had changed. So had she. Was there a chance for them?

“Will you : will you give me a little more time?” was all she managed. “So much has happened :” Her heart and body yearned for him to hold her, cover her with the security of his embrace, kiss her until her crazy heart promised him anything. But Adam sat very still and made no move towards her, as if afraid to touch her. Then all at once he grabbed her in a tight embrace and kissed her fiercely. Just as suddenly he let her go and started the car again, leaving her reeling.

“I have all the time in the world”, he stated, and put the car in gear. Laura leaned back against the seat, somewhat dazed. What had just happened? What had she promised? Their love had not won out under test seven years ago, how could it do so now? But she put no voice to her thoughts.

When they were close to her motel, Adam spoke again. “When I talked to Vicki this morning, she said something odd. She was screaming and raging, and I didn’t think much of it at the time. But now I wonder if maybe she really could make trouble :”

“What is it, Adam”, Laura asked, reaching her hand to touch his arm gently.

“She said . . let me think what exactly her words were : she said, ‘Don’t think you’ve won. You don’t know what I have. I will still win. You can leave me but I’ll always have the best of you.'” He paused, thinking. “That was about it, and it didn’t worry me much then. Now I wonder what she was talking about. Vicki can be : very vindictive. I can’t help but worry that perhaps she could make things difficult somehow. I just don’t know how, nor what she was threatening, for that’s what it was, a threat.”

Laura rubbed her hand softly along his arm, feeling his distress as acutely as if it were her own. “I don’t know what she could have meant either, Adam. Divorces happen everyday, and she can’t stop you if you really want one. Other than taking you for everything you own financially :”

“I don’t care about money,” he spat out angrily. “She can have it all. It’s all just blood money anyway. I just don’t want any unexpected surprises.” Then he lapsed into silence.

Laura dropped her arm and sat up straighter. What an odd choice of words! She struggled to remember the echo of those words in her own thoughts recently. But her train of thought was interrupted as they drove into the parking lot.

“I wish this day didn’t have to come to an end, Laura”, he spoke, as he stopped the car, his voice soft and caressing once more. “But I hope it will be just one of many in our future together.”

“Please don’t rush me, Adam”, she pleaded. “I’ve got a lot to think about right now. But”, she softened, “It was a wonderful day, and Melanie was a treat. Thank you for taking me.” She opened the door and got out quickly before he could act on the obvious intention in his eyes, but he was too fast for her. He jumped out, and had reached her door in seconds, his hand on her arm as he helped her out. “Ever the old-fashioned gentleman!” she thought. But his intentions were far from gentlemanly.

“Don’t I get a good night kiss?” he growled. Before she realized it, he had wrapped her in his embrace, and her lips met his in wild abandon. It was like no goodnight kiss she had ever received, and she was trembling when he finally released her. When she leaned back towards him to continue the embrace, he pushed her firmly away. “Goodnight, Laura”, he said. “If I don’t stop now, I’m coming in, and I don’t think you want that.”

“How do you know what I want?” Laura thought, still dizzy from his kiss, her heart pounding. But she agreed with him. It would be too dangerous to continue. It was not time. “Goodnight, Adam,” she said softly, as she pulled away from him and turned to her door. “My love”, she added, almost to herself, as he turned on his heel and walked away.

Laura’s sleep was tormented by vivid dreams. Morning came too quickly, and with it an early shift at the hospital. Aaron greeted her with excitement. “Laura, I’ve thought of something! I’ll check it out on my coffee break and let you know later.” By now Laura knew better than to pressure him. He obviously liked to keep people in suspense. Coffee break came and went, and both were kept busy in emergency. Finally, shortly before lunch, Aaron cornered her.

“I think we’re on to something. We have a supper date in the restaurant across the street, if you’re free. Meanwhile, come to lunch with me in the cafeteria and I’ll explain everything.”

After they were settled in a quiet corner, Aaron leaned forward, his face aglow. “I got thinking about where we might find a connection between the hospital and the baby’s home. Most of the time when the baby is born in the hospital we keep records. As we already saw, that didn’t apply when your daughter was transferred here and adopted. But I figured there had to be a way, somehow, that the hospital would retain some kind of contact, some kind of record. I thought about standard policy when the baby is born, forms that are filled out, and so on. But what about after the baby leaves? Most parents just continue with their own personal physician, and only return to the hospital for emergencies. But suddenly I remembered!” he paused irritatingly.

“Aaron, please, go on. Don’t keep me in suspense any longer!” she begged.

He looked contrite. “Sorry. Anyway what I remembered was – The Public Health Nurse!”

Laura let her puzzlement show. “The Public Health Nurse? What do you mean?”

“Well, we have a system here in Edmonton where all birth records go to the Public Health Nurse. She then contacts the parents shortly after they return home from the hospital to arrange a home visit, just to make sure everything is all right”, he explained.

Light was filtering through. “So what did you find out?” she asked.

“One of the nurses I worked with when I interned is a Public Health Nurse. I called her and asked if she could help me. I explained the circumstances surrounding your daughter’s transfer here, and when it had happened. She wasn’t Public Health Nurse then, but her supervisor was. Anyway, to make a long story shorter, she put me in contact with Mrs. Murray. When I asked her about the chances of her remembering a specific child, she said it wasn’t likely. But when I mentioned the date, Vancouver, and adoption, it rang a few bells for her. She said she definitely remembered the occasion, but would have to think for a bit to remember details. When I suggested we meet later and treat her to dinner, she jumped at the chance. So what do you think?” he finally paused for breath.

“I think you are wonderful, Aaron. Maybe I shouldn’t get my hopes up too high, but this seems so promising. If she actually remembers the home visit!” Her face shone with pleasure. “I just don’t know how to thank you, Aaron.”

“Don’t thank me yet. It could be a false lead. But it does sound good. At the very least, I get to have dinner with you again!” he added, smiling boyishly.

Laura smiled back. His charm was infectious. Now all she had to do was get through the next few hours till supper.

Read The Voice next week for the conclusion of Forgotten Promise.
For submissions for the upcoming Voice student fiction column, contact voice@ausu.org.

Carla Johnson grew up in Western Canada. She loves to read and tell stories to her cousins and younger sisters; and especially loves creating mystery romance stories because love is like that. If she could change the world she would do it through peace, love and song. Her favourite pastime is baking goodies for her family and friends, riding her bike, traveling to new places, and staying up waaaaay past everyone else’s bedtime. She is not related to Johnson & Johnson product providers although she avidly uses most of them.

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