Fiction Feature – Forgotten Promise, Conclusion

March 19, 2003

This week marks the conclusion of our original short novel, Forgotten Promise. Let us know what you thought, and if you would like to see this type of feature in the Voice again.

We are still seeking student fiction for our upcoming fiction column. Send your stories, poems, plays, or any other short fiction to voice@ausu.org

Conclusion

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.

As she returned to her ward, she thought, “Should I phone Adam?”. The remembrance of last night overwhelmed her. Maybe it would be better to wait; he might think it was just an excuse to call. But then she paused and looked inside herself. So what if it was an excuse? She really wanted, needed to hear the reassuring warmth of his deep voice. Unhesitatingly, she stopped at the nearest pay phone and dialed his number.

“Hi, Adam, it’s me”, she stated breathlessly. There was a short pause. Maybe he didn’t know her voice? Her heart plummeted. Then he spoke, “I was just thinking about you. How are you, Laura?”

“Great! I mean, good. I’m at work.” She stopped, suddenly shy and fumbling for words.

“I know. I was waiting till you got home to call you. I’m hoping to see you tonight.” The seductive tone in his voice made her knees weak.

“I . . Uh, Adam. I mean, yes, I would like to see you too. But first I have to tell you my wonderful news.” Quickly she explained what Aaron had found out, and that they were meeting Mrs. Murray for supper after work. Adam didn’t seem to be paying attention to what she was saying. Then he interrupted, questioning, “Aaron? Who’s Aaron?”

Adam, jealous? Choosing her words carefully, she explained who Aaron was, and how he had been helping her. The new, tenuous bond between them didn’t need any further tests right now. Adam seemed mollified by her words. He hesitated, then asked, “Would you like me to join you at dinner?”

Laura was silent for a moment, turning over possibilities, then discarding them. “Much as I would love your company, I really think it would be best if I went alone, if you don’t mind. I don’t want to intimidate Mrs. Murray, it’s too important that she remember what she can. But can we meet after, and I’ll tell you all about it?” She felt weak in anticipation of being near him again.

“You’re probably right, it’s best to do it this way. And yes, of course we can meet. I’m having dinner with mother. Would you like to join us there after?”

Laura agreed and said a hurried goodbye, realizing that she was going to be late getting back.

All through that afternoon, in spite of her eager anticipation, she felt guilty pangs each time she crossed paths with Aaron. He kept giving her that conspiratorial look. It worried her that he knew nothing of Adam. While she didn’t really think his intentions towards her were serious, he deserved to know that there was another man in her life. To allow him any misconceptions about where she stood emotionally would be unfair. Laura made up her mind to speak to him before they left for dinner.

He was waiting for her when she came to the front door, and gave her a brief hug. “Well, let’s hope for the best!” he exclaimed, as he led her to his car. As soon as they were settled, she spoke. “Aaron, There’s something I should have told you before. My daughter … well, she has a father”, she finished quite lamely.

“Of course she does!” He responded jauntily, then noticing her discomfort, changed his tone. “Her father : he’s here in Edmonton?”

“Yes. I’ve been : I mean, he’s been helping me. We’ve been working together to try and find her. He didn’t know anything about it until I came here”, she offered, hoping to ease the explanation. “The thing is, he’s married. I mean, he’s getting a divorce, but it’s nothing to do with me.” She broke off. ‘Ha! liar liar’ her heart chanted. ‘It’s everything to do with you’. She continued, “I should have told you. I’m sorry, it didn’t really seem to matter before.”

They had pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant, but Aaron made no move to get out of the car. Then he turned and looked closely at her. “You still love him.” he stated. All she could manage was a small nod. He didn’t say anything for a moment, then reached over, placed his hand under her chin and gently turned her face towards him, smiling reassuringly.

“I knew there was some reason that the famous ‘Grant- charm-that-sends-maidens-swooning’ seemed to have no affect on you! He must be really something for you to pass up a golden opportunity like me!” His mocking words effectively hid any other emotion he might be feeling and Laura was forced to smile back.

“You really are wonderful, Aaron. And the best friend I could ever hope to have. Thank you.”

“I am your friend. Remember that, O.K.?” at her nod he released her and opened the door. “Well – let’s go for it!”

Mrs. Murray was already waiting in the bar when they entered the restaurant. She proved to be a tall, well-endowed, motherly woman, whose Irish heritage became immediately apparent the moment she spoke,

“Well, and it’s a pleasure to meet you I’m sure. The good doctor told me all about you, and I’m looking forward to helping anyway I can. Of course, I canna give you any confidential hospital information, just what’s in my memory.” Her smile was warm and friendly, and Laura felt even more hopeful.

However, information was not that easily obtained. Mrs. Murray loved to talk. It seemed apparent that she was going to thoroughly enjoy dinner with them before she allowed any important tidbits to escape her memory. Laura was frustrated at first, but then resigned herself to the fact that it was a small price to pay for valuable information.

Mrs. Murray reminisced about many things, and the thousands of babies she had seen. She spoke of her four grown children and her two grandchildren, and all of their accomplishments. It didn’t seem necessary for Laura or Aaron to speak – Mrs. Murray had the floor and was milking every minute. She was also enjoying the supper, attacking the food and wine with relish. Aaron caught Laura’s eye and winked at one point. Patience!

Finally the waiter brought coffee, and Mrs. Murray stopped for breath. She smiled at their expectant faces. “Well now, children, I know you want to pick my brain.” She turned to Laura. “If anyone ever tried to separate me from one of my children, to be sure I would kill. So ask me what you want to know.”

Laura glanced at Aaron, and he plunged right in. “Mrs. Murray, on April 7, 1987 Laura had a daughter, born in Vancouver General Hospital. As near as we can determine, the baby was transferred here, possibly three or four weeks later, after having been adopted by a single woman who lived here in Edmonton. Do you remember ever visiting a baby that might fit that description?”

Mrs. Murray apparently was lost in thought for a moment. Then she began to speak. “I think the reason it stuck in my mind was, first of all, it was unusual for a single woman to adopt a baby. Most went to couples. Also, the baby coming from Vancouver was, not rare but uncommon. I remember it was around the May long weekend. I was thinking I had to get my garden planted that weekend; you know I always compare babies to planting a garden. The darlin’s are like little plants that we have to nurture and guide so they grow straight and strong.” She seemed to notice Laura’s restlessness suddenly, and made an effort to get to the point. “Anyhow, I went to visit on Friday afternoon. I canna remember the lady’s name. I’ve tried, but it just doesn’t come to me.” She glanced apologetically at Laura.

“That’s alright. Please tell us what you remember.” Laura tried not to show her impatience.

“Well now, I remember thinking, as I drove up to the house, that this baby had the luck ‘o the Irish! Her adoptive mother was obviously verry rich. A beautiful house, with a view of the river valley. And the inside! When I walked into the door it took my breath away.” She seemed to realize she was becoming sidetracked again. “Well then, when I met the baby’s mother, I was surprised. She wasn’t young. I didna’ think they allowed adoptions to older women. Well the baby was beautiful and healthy. Everything was as it should be. There was another woman there too, a younger one. She said verra little until I was ready to leave. Then she said something to the older lady that made me think that the younger lady was mistress of the house and the older lady just worked for her. I thought that was strange, too. But it looked like the baby would be well taken care of, she had a lovely room, and it looked like no expense would be spared, so I figured it would be O.K.” Then she stopped.

Both Aaron and Laura looked at her expectantly, but she didn’t speak again, just sat with a faraway look in her eyes, a half-smile on her lips.

Laura prompted her, “Is that all you remember?”

Mrs. Murray broke out of her reverie. “The only other thing I remember is the babe’s name. It stuck in my mind because it was the name I gave my youngest daughter.” Again she paused, irritatingly.

“What was the baby’s name, Mrs. Murray?” Aaron prompted, trying to control his frustration.

“Melanie. Her name was Melanie.”

A sudden buzzing filled Laura’s head. Could it be possible? No. Adam wouldn’t do something like that. But wait. It wasn’t Adam. Vicki? Was she capable of such a thing? Laura knew the answer. The shattered pieces of her life began to fall into place. She jumped up from the table. “I must go. I have to .. I have to. I can’t believe it!” was all she could say.

“Laura, wait!” exclaimed Aaron. Let me take you where you have to go!” He threw several bills on the table and quickly reassured Mrs. Murray, “It seems you’ve been a great help. Thank you. Please take care of the bill for me.”

He then rushed off after Laura, leaving behind a curious, bemused Mrs. Murray.

He caught up with her outside the restaurant. She was standing there in dazed confusion when he grabbed her arm. “Laura, whatever it is, I’m here. I’m your friend, remember. Let me help you.”

She turned to him blankly. Then her eyes cleared and she seemed to recognize him. “Please take me to Adam”, was all she could whisper.

He managed to get an address out of her before she lapsed into dead silence. He drove as quickly as he dared, afraid of the way Laura was reacting. What could have put her into this state of shock?

Laura was, indeed in a state of shock, but not in a medical sense. It was the clear revelation of the truth that had left her stunned. In her mind she continued to piece evidence together. Her parent’s sudden, easy departure from Edmonton. The money, the trust fund. Her father’s last words. The house in the river valley. Vicki’s threat to Adam. The easy way the adoption was handled. Money was involved of course. Money. It always came back to money. Adam had sold out to Vicki. Her parents had sold her baby. No, they did it out of love. Love. Then she thought of Melanie. Melanie – that beautiful little girl was hers. Hers and Adam’s.

Melanie’s grandmother suddenly intruded into her thoughts. No, Melanie’s adoptive grandmother. No wonder she had seemed afraid of Laura. The picture. Who had sent the picture? How could Adam have not known anything? Was he in on this, with Vicki, using Laura? Immediately she was ashamed of her foolish suspicions. He was a victim, just as she was. Melanie was a victim. Laura hoped that her young life had been happy. Had her “grandmother” been good to her? She had seemed sharp and angry at Safeway. Why was Melanie so quiet and withdrawn? Laura’s heart contracted painfully. “Oh, baby”, she promised, “I’ll do everything in my power to make up to you what you’ve missed.” Adam. Adam had been good to Melanie. Had it been some primeval instinct, telling his subconscious the truth? Perhaps. But whatever reason, Laura gave a prayer of thanks. Adam had been good to Melanie. Adam and his mother. And now, she and Adam would make things right.

Aaron squealed up in front of Mrs. Jacob’s house, prompting someone to look out the window. Laura opened the door, then turned back to Aaron. He really was her friend. “Thank you Aaron. I can’t begin to tell you what you’ve done. Thank you.”

With that she ran towards the house, where the door was already open, Adam waiting for her, framed by the light. She ran into the strong circle of his arms and as he drew her inside, started to incoherently stammer the story. Somehow, as her words tumbled over each other frantically, he understood. She felt his embrace stiffen in tightly controlled rage as comprehension dawned. “The bitch.” Was all he said. “The evil, wicked, bitch.”

He released Laura gently and headed for the front door. Fortunately his mother had retained her senses. “Stop, Adam!”, she ordered. “You can’t just storm in there and grab Melanie. You have to do things the right way. Legally she has been adopted. God knows, she may have affection for the woman who pretended to be her grandmother. You can’t traumatize her in your anger. And you must deal with Vicki; successfully break any hold she might have over you. You’ve waited this long, a few more hours won’t make a difference. Let’s plan this properly.”

The flame in Adam’s eyes calmed at his mother’s words. She was right, of course. So they sat down and in mutual shock and disbelief, planned the best course of action. None of them wanted to put into words what they felt inside. It was too incredibly unbelievable. That Vicki could have done this, right under their noses, so to speak! But their shock was tempered by another emotion. The search was over. Melanie had been found. Now they had to make sure they never lost her again.

Finally it was decided that Adam would call his partner, Jerry, and take him along as an impartial witness, unknown to Vicki if possible. His confirmation of the confession they hoped Vicki would make would go a long way in any conceivable court action. Much as Laura wanted to go along, she realized the wisdom of her staying put.

Adam’s main concern was how to get Vicki to admit what she had done. “If I confront her, she’ll just deny it, and we have no proof.” He rubbed his forehead with his hand in frustration. “There has to be a way!”

“Why don’t you appeal to her ego?” Mrs. Jacob’s suggested gently. “Compliment her on her cleverness. Act like you know all the details. Bluff her.”

Adam’s eyes lit up. “You’re right, mother. I think that will work! But I’ll make sure Agnes is there as well. Then I can watch her reaction too.”

“Agnes?” Laura looked questioningly at him.

“Melanie’s grand : I mean, adoptive grandmother. We still don’t know how she fits in. But she has been working for Vicki since Vicki was a baby, and I don’t doubt that her loyalty would lead her to any extreme for Vicki’s sake.”

By now it was past nine, and time suddenly became of the essence. Adam called Jerry, and in hushed tones briefly explained the situation and what he needed from him. It was arranged to meet in front of the house in 15 minutes.

Adam embraced Laura once, tightly, confidently. Then he kissed her hard. “We’ll win this together, love. I promise.” Then he was gone, leaving her watching helplessly at the front door as he roared away. There was nothing left to do but wait.

Mrs. Jacobs was a silent support in the hour that followed. Nothing needed to be said, for it was plainly written in their hearts. They drank cup after cup of tea, and minutes began to seem endless. Laura took to pacing, running to the window at the sound of any passing car. “What could be happening?” She wondered. But her confidence and trust in Adam kept her sane. He would handle it. He would be successful.

When the telephone shrilled shortly after eleven, both Laura and Mrs. Jacobs nearly jumped out of their skins. Laura ran for the phone, Mrs. Jacobs beside her. “Yes? Adam?”

His voice sounded strange, strangled. “Laura. They’re all gone.”

“What do you mean, they’re all gone?” she demanded. She looked up at Mrs. Jacobs, fear in her eyes.

Then he explained as quickly as possible what had happened. “Everything went as planned. Vicki’s ego got the better of her, and she taunted me, laughed at me for what she had done. She admitted that her father had paid your father to leave. She admitted that together they had set up the trust fund. She wasn’t going to accept responsibility for Melanie, though, until I dragged Agnes in. When she tried to put everything on Agnes, the woman got angry. Agnes told the rest of the story and confirmed what we believed. Then I called Jerry in, and Vicki realized he had heard everything. She just went crazy, screaming at us. In the middle of this Agnes got up and stormed out, yelling that she was leaving permanently. I ran after her and asked, ‘what about Melanie?’ She yelled, ‘What about her? The kid’s been a bloody nuisance. Keep her!’ And then she was gone.”

His voice broke a little, but he continued, “When I came back to the front room, Vicki was gone too. But worst of all, when I went to look for Melanie, she was gone. It looks like all the screaming woke her up. None of us noticed, but she must have been in the next room listening. I don’t know how much she heard, but her coat and shoes are gone. She’s run away.” The last words were spoken in a choked voice, as if he was crying. By this time Laura was close to tears as well.

“We’ll be right there”, she assured him, glancing at Mrs. Jacobs’ nod of agreement.

“Jerry and I are going to search the grounds first. Hurry.” The connection was broken, and Laura and Mrs. Jacobs lost no time in getting on their way.

As they drove, Laura explained what had happened. Mrs. Jacobs gasped audibly when Laura relayed Agnes’s cruel words about Melanie, and her lips tightened in anger. A few minutes later they were in Adam’s driveway. He came around from behind the house and enveloped both of them in a hug.

Laura pulled away. “I’ve thought of somewhere I believe Melanie might be, Adam. The park where I first met her. She said she liked to go there. It’s not far – I think we should try there first.” Laura didn’t want to voice the terror she felt in her heart at the thought of her little girl lost somewhere in the dark, at the mercy of whoever might come along. It was late, and the river valley was a dark haven for anyone lurking with evil intent.

“Let’s go then”. They wasted no time, the car in gear and moving as they jumped inside.

Minutes later, they were at the edge of the park. The three of them ran past the rim of trees to the open area where the playground was. Laura almost cried out in relief when she saw the small, forlorn figure sitting on the swings. She was going to run on, but thought better of it. “Oh, Adam. She must be so confused and frightened. We have to be careful.”

Mrs. Jacobs nodded. “I’ll wait here. Adam you go along first. She is comfortable with you. And Laura you go too. She’s your daughter.”

So Adam slowly approached Melanie, making lots of noise so as not to startle her. Laura lagged several feet behind. When he was almost in front of the little girl, he crouched down to his knees. Melanie refused to look up.

“Melanie”, he spoke softly, “I’ve come to take you home.”

After what seemed an eternity, Melanie slowly looked up into his face. Laura still hung back, afraid of saying or doing something that might alienate her child.

“Adam?” Melanie’s voice was very small. “Was it true what she said?” There was a small, angry emphasis on the word “she”.

Adam kept his gaze steadily locked with Melanie’s. “Yes, Melanie. Everything “she” said was true. But what your :,” his voice choked at the word, “grandmother : said. It wasn’t true. She loves you very much.”

Melanie looked down again, then shook her head slowly. “No, I don’t think she does. But : I don’t care.” Her small chin quivered, then she shyly peeked up at Adam again. “I … I always used to pretend you were my real father.” A stray tear rolled down her cheek as she tried to smile a little.

Adam could stand it no longer. He leaned forward and pulled the small form into his arms. She hesitated a moment, then her tiny arms reached around his neck, her cheek pressed tightly against his, his back heaving in silent sobs. Tears flowed freely down Laura’s face as she stood apart, unwilling to intrude.

Finally Adam released Melanie and stood up. He took her small hand in his and said, “Come, Melanie.” Then he turned towards Laura.

Melanie was leaning close, trustingly to Adam, her hand tight in his. Then she turned to face Laura as well. Slowly, tentatively, she reached out her other hand towards Laura. Laura took hesitant, stumbling steps towards her daughter, then clasped the small, cold hand into her own. She looked up through her tears to meet the eyes of her beloved Adam. He blinked back the wetness in his own eyes and smiled lovingly at her.

“Let’s all go home.” His voice pulled her towards his embrace. The three of them stood close, holding on to each other for a moment. Then they turned towards the rim of trees where Mrs. Jacobs waited patiently.

At last Laura spoke. “Yes, Adam.” She paused and again they locked eyes in a silent embrace. “Let’s all go home.”

The End

We hope you have enjoyed this Voice original short novel by Carla Johnson. If you have any poems, short stories, or other short fiction that you would like to submit, contact the editor at voice@ausu.org.

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