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From Book 2: A path We All Must Follow. Lanie is haunted by many ghosts, but Chelsea is the first one that isn’t a family member (beloved or not) but an actual friend. One that she had actually been starting to trust and build something with.
The evening air will be cool and still, with thunder rumbling in the distance. Head in her hands on the bench, the Chief will stare at the plain markers in the hospital graveyard. Weariness and grief will hold her down. Although fives years have passed, Lanie will still act as though her loss is as fresh as the day it happened. Like she wakes up every morning on one of the worst days of her life. Some days she feels the same way, Chelsea Wallstead will realize as she watches Lanie. With a mother so determined to live in the past, Chelsea will wonder if Emma even knows that it’s been five years since her father died. When will time start again?
Why does everyone she ever thinks she loves always turn on her, die, or need to be left behind? Has she done something wrong? Is she under some sort of curse?
I never promised that life would be easy.
“And that’s not very helpful,” Chelsea will mumble, glaring at the grass in front of her. Despite her mood, she will keep making her way toward her friend, and brush her shoulder when she reaches her.
“Are you praying again?”
Lanie won’t even bother to look up as Chelsea vaults lightly over the back of the bench. “You know I don’t pray.”
Chelsea will pull back her shoulder-length brunette hair, then stick her hands into the pockets of her orphanage uniform. “Oh, please. You talk to God all the time. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”
“Leave me alone, Chelsea.”
Taking Lanie’s hand, Chelsea will look deep into her eyes. She’s prayed about Lanie all night, and will know that she has to say something to her today. “Now, I know you don’t mean that. What’s got you so turned inside out? I know you only come here when you’re feeling sorry for yourself.”
With a sigh, Lanie will flop back against the bench, and squeeze Chelsea’s hand back. “I just don’t know what I’m doing anymore. What’s the point of any of this? The board is never going to approve my Yemen project after we lost all these volunteers. There’s only so much I can do to keep those snakes off my back and away from the kids.”
Chelsea won’t say anything, just tug Lanie down to her shoulder, and hold her in both arms. It’s been difficult for the fierce girl to open up about everything she’s been through. But honesty, Chelsea will have no idea what to say. It will probably not be helpful to comment that at least Chelsea feels slightly better about her own problems.
“They still have the stalker story from the emergency board meeting. It wasn’t technically a lie, Lanie.”
“It did happen, just maybe not when and how you implied. How are you supposed to explain it to them? You left Canada as a scared teenager, and you really did believe someone would come after you and kill you.”
“I shouldn’t have believed Sean. I would never have gotten tangled up in my grandfather’s crap.”
“How could you not believe him, though? You were seventeen, and in love, and he had you under his power.”
“It shouldn’t have taken me two years to get over him and realize he was bluffing.
“He was a master manipulator. He knew how to keep you dependent on him.”
Chelsea will understand that Lanie can’t see it that way, though. No matter how many times they talk this through, she will still think that everything is her fault. So, Lanie will keep her head down, and keep going. Chelsea will burn at all that has happened to hurt her. But does she even know half of it? Why can’t the corporate slimeballs see that Lanie’s doing her best?
Well, they assumed that Basso Ferami’s Towers Foundation would always be a paper charity. They haven’t counted on his morally incorruptible granddaughter.
“If those sorry excuses for leaders can pretend to be humanitarians and play dirty games, than so can you,” Chelsea will finally decide.
“I’m stuck, though. Pulling rank hasn’t worked for months. They claim to have counterevidence to everything I have on them. That can’t be true, but we’re approaching mutual destruction now, and I’m not sure if I want to go there yet. My own funds have been reducing the corporate endowment, but they still aren’t satisfied. If they go down, I’m going down with them.”
“Well…you could always stop.” Even as she says it, Chelsea will know what Lanie will say.
“I can’t walk away from Yemen. Just like I couldn’t walk away from Afghanistan or Columbia. You’ve seen the pictures of those kids, Chels. How can I standby and do nothing?”
“Then maybe Yemen should be your last one.”
Chelsea will try to think of a way to be helpful. The assassin stalker thing hasn’t reached the boards’ cold hearts for the last couple of years, but apparently they are over that, now too. If dead babies were delivered to their doorsteps, would they still be so cold? If they could see what she and Lanie see nearly every day for months at a time? They don’t care about the pictures. Or even the videos. Until they feel the life drain out of a baby girl with a fatal head injury, or touch the ribs of a skeletal, hollow-eyed boy asking for just a crumb of bread, will they care?
“The emergency board meeting thing will only work until the fiscal year starts again.” Lanie will heave a deep, soul-weary sigh.
Pressing her cheek onto the top of Lanie’s hair, Chelsea will laugh without much humour. “Yeah. If they find out who you’re really afraid will find you, they’d laugh until their toupees fall off.”
A wry smile. “That’s exactly what I mean.”
Sure, they will think it’s funny. Of course, they won’t understand this terrifying nightmare. How Lanie is paralyzed at the mere thought that someone who’s name she doesn’t even know will one day track her down and make her answer for what she thinks she’s done wrong. Lanie’s ghosts are many and varied, but this is the only one that Chelsea thinks might have the power to break her. Considering what little she knows, Chelsea will worry that Lanie might not survive.
“Are you still holding out on them?” Chelsea’s tone will be darkly humorous.
More than a few of the scumbags will join Lanie’s side and sway the others if she were willing to provide the special favours that had been part of the deal while her grandfather was still alive.
Lanie’s mood won’t lighten. “Not on principle. I’ll be too tempted to kill them after, and then we won’t get anything done. If nothing else, it will be an excuse to get rid of them. But what I really want is to go to sleep and never wake up, Chelsea. That’s what I really want to do.”
Chelsea will get it. Chelsea always gets it. On top of being terrified, and trapped, she is tired as well. Tired of all of it, especially the travelling. She always hated flying. Especially after an attack. There are days when she will stare out at empty deserts in war-torn countries and will be struck by the conviction that she is living in a parallel universe, or a dream. But her mother won’t listen. No, Mom is determined to block out the past by staying as far away as she can and keeping her head down. Even if it means rarely talking to her only daughter. Her only family left.
But Chelsea will push that thought away, and keep thinking about Lanie. Lanie has it so much worse, and it will always be a comfort, in a twisted way. Things can always be worse, and Chelsea will be happy that at least she doesn’t have a constant pall of death hanging over her.
“Do you ever feel like you’ll wake up one day, and be in your real life? The simple, uncomplicated life?” Chelsea thinks every day about going back to New York when her mother is finally done grieving her dad and can face their home again. But Emma Wallstead has a long memory when it comes to grief, and Chelsea has the feeling that she might have to make the trip alone, and lose her last remaining parent.
Lanie will twirl a lock of Chelsea’s hair. “Well, mine was never simple, as you know. But yeah, I get it. Just staying in one place for a few years. No charity garbage.”
“Coffee dates with girlfriends. A normal job in a normal place. I could work in a normal daycare.” As much as she loves the children she cares for them, sometimes the sadness is just too much. Too real. And she has no idea when it would end.
“I could let my accountants and lawyers manage that stupid corporation. Or let them burn it to the ground.” Lanie will grin briefly, but it won’t reach her eyes.
“Except the charity isn’t fake anymore.”
“Okay, fine, I wouldn’t let them burn it down. But I think I’ll retire after Yemen. I can keep a low profile. Maybe move to some mountains.”
Chelsea always loved the mountains. “We could buy a house with a private lake. Skate on it in the winter, swim in the summer, and never have to see another living soul if we don’t want to.”
Maybe she will even have a family…
No. She won’t think about that. She won’t risk adding more people that she could lose.
Lanie will back off with a huff of muggy air. A storm will come soon. “I could really use some snow right now. I wish I was back in Ukraine.”
Lanie will sigh with heartrending wistfulness. “Definitely not. The kid is there, remember?”
“Right. But you’re not stuck here like me. My mom said she picked this place because she hates snow. But really, it’s just a good place to hide from your past.” An idea will come to her. “Hey, don’t you have a safehouse? It shouldn’t be possible for him to find out about that, right?”
“Maybe, but if I started living in it long-term, something would eventually give me away. If only I knew who he is. Where he is. He could show up any day.”
“Don’t worry too much about it, Lanie. It could happen in ten or twenty years, or never at all.”
“But how can I live like this for that long? Wouldn’t it be better to just get it over with?”
“Yes. Just get it over with. We can do it together.”
“No. If I try to look for him…no. I can’t risk being found.”
Suddenly, there will be a distant boom. Yelping, Chelsea will jump to her feet, and Lanie will whip her head around. Chelsea won’t be able to see anything. The sound won’t be particularly loud…
With narrowed eyes, Lanie will try to peer into the distance, but the admin building and the hospital will obscure her vision. “What was that?”
Before Chelsea can answer that it’s probably just something backfiring on the farm, her radio will crackle, “There’s been an explosion at the orphanage! We’re under attack. All hands on deck. We need defense, fire and rescue, stat!”
They will stare at each other for a second, then they will both start running. “Which are you going to do?” Chelsea will shout as they run and Lanie barks instructions into the radio.
“Fire! Most of our guys quit. Remember, don’t go in until everything is clear!”
“I’m not going to let anything happen to those kids!”
Though her mind will doubtless already be running through her strategy, Lanie will pause, reach out and yank Chelsea to a stop. “Chels. Promise me that you’ll listen this time. I’ve lost almost everyone else, and I can’t lose you too.”
“Just don’t let my mom come as a medic. Tell her to stay at the hospital and triage.” Pulling her arm free, Chelsea will call over her shoulder as she sprints away. “Be careful! I’ll see you on the other side!”
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