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But that familiar old feeling was so strong. Like she was running on a treadmill and giving it everything she had, and still going nowhere. Figuratively, anyone. Beyond the fact that she had come home and since then had literally gone nowhere. It didn’t seem to matter how many hospitals she built, how many orphanages, how many schools. They were drops in a bottomless bucket.
Still, all over the world, as she sat there feeling depressed, there were babies left out in the streets to die, covered in flies and maggots; preschoolers forced to work in deadly factories, gradually chopped to pieces in one accident after another; and families who had to travel hundreds of miles if they had a prayer of getting any sort of life-saving help for their dying children. Once, she had thought she could make a difference. Now, she just wanted to finish up in base number nine and be done. She couldn’t take it anymore. She’d just make sure that the others had enough money and resources to do the job, but she couldn’t stay in the field.
After what happened to Ben, the treadmill had completely broken apart. Darkly, she glared up at the ceiling. “If only I was an all-powerful, supposedly loving magic genie who could wave a wand and save them all in one shot. Or keep them from suffering in the first place.” These last couple of weeks, she couldn’t keep from provoking the Voice. She just got so angry she couldn’t help it.
There’s only one way to rescue them. Give people a good enough reason to turn from doing things their own way.
She clenched her jaw and rolled her eyes. “Right. Well, that doesn’t seem to be working out very well, now, is it?”
I’m not finished yet.
“Yeah, well, neither am I. At least I’m actually doing something.”
There was no answer. Just an imperious, detached silence.
Each of those drops in that unfillable bucket were so precious, and she relished the times when she could be there to see their impact. It almost made up for the children that died. And if she didn’t do it, who would?
She had to go back and finish this. Now that the reno was done, she was free to do what she had to do.
But why not work from home for a while? It would be the last thing they would expect her to do. Hmm. She would need to complete a few more upgrades on the house, then.
In our line of work, a slip could get you killed.
Lanie made her way back into the house, humming all the way as plans ran through her head. “And it’s one, two three strikes you’re out at the old ball game.”
She worked in the office closet for a few hours, drilling and sawing and hauling spare planks of wood from the garage. She was done before the sun went down, and was left with nothing else to do but sit in the silent, haunted house once again.
The problem was this: the more she thought about leaving, the harder it was to make a plan. Every time she was about to arrange it, a hopelessness would come over her that was as sticky as tar. She kept making excuses to herself about laying low, about being unable to handle another plane ride after only two weeks passing since her last one. But deep down, she knew what it was. It had taken everything she had to walk out of that hospital when they got back, and now, she didn’t have the energy to fight herself to get any farther away. Ben was still in such critical condition. For two weeks she tried to prepare to go to HQ in Europe to keep coordinating the Asia work until the board was back in session, no matter the consequences. Yet after everything she had gone through to save him, the thought of just taking off again felt impossible.
It was crazy. Who did she think she was? He didn’t need her. He would be fine. She, certainly, was better off without him. He had Jake, his guardian angel, after all. The little story she had written in her head about how things might go between her and Ben was better left in Qalcad, near the warehouse at dusk. Where he’d offered her his heart, and she’d had no choice but to crush it. Not knowing that seconds later, he’d make the ultimate sacrifice for her.
If he woke up, she’d be the last person he would want to see. He could never find out what she had done.
Out the back window of the living room, the flowers were starting to bloom in the backyard, reminding her of the uneasy truce that her grandfather had negotiated with her mother’s family, one that she had to maintain while she cleaned up the mess that Ben had made in Qalcad. Even though she didn’t know the full extent of the treaty, she knew that it would mean war if they discovered what had really happened to her mother. Her grandfather had asked her so many times how she had disposed of the bodies. She’d insisted she’d taken care of it, terrified what would happen if he found out the truth. Despite everything, her teenage heart had been unable to bear the thought of her parents winding up like all the others. And now it was too late to do anything about it – not only was her grandfather long dead, just like them, but the garden was mature and thriving, and no one had any reason to disturb it.
She sighed in frustration at that garden. So many buried memories. So many flowers representing each time her mother had stood up for her, going on about how she had to honour the choice of husband that her family had made. How things would be even worse for all of them if she upset Lanie’s father.
In a way, it was better that her parents were dead, but still, Lanie couldn’t help wondering if there could have been hope for her mother some day, if it had only been her father who died that day. Would it have been possible that Zarah could have been saved? Could have been restored to a semblance of the woman she used to be, back when she used to dance and smile and plant flowers for non-death related reasons?
Lanie really couldn’t say. She’d thought things would be better after her grandfather died, too. And in a way, they had. It had bought her time. Years and years of time where she had the organization under her thumb and could finally make some real changes. But now, that hold was loosening, and she had to regroup. It would take something even more shocking than the loss of their patriarch to put an end to this once and for all. As long as no one discovered what was in the garden, or the truth about the plane crash. Whether or not she was directly responsible for the bodies, her enemies would have more than enough ammunition to blame her. While a lot was expected in her line of work, family was everything, and betraying family was an unforgivable sin.
There was no way she could leave the house unattended indefinitely, not with all the secrets. She had to come back at least a few times a year, just to see that nothing had been disturbed. If she could finish up in Asia, then she would be able to rest. She could come here and try to make some semblance of a life for herself. Although she longed to live out the rest of her days on a beach somewhere. Somewhere like New Zealand, where there was no violence, only fuzzy kiwi birds and endless mountain glades and beaches. But first she had to be free, or she would be hunted forever.
The thoughts were sniffing the air, creeping their way out of the cracks in her mind. They could smell blood. Just like they had that fateful night by the river with Ben. The night that had been the catalyst to her plan with Miles and Jake. Almost a month ago, now.
Maybe it was her brief stint in the Westvale hospital that was getting her down. Like everything else in this blasted town, it brought back so many bad memories. And now, it had been more than two weeks since she’d stepped out of the house.
Feeling the strange call to the attic once again, Lanie climbed the stairs and laid down on the floor, the letter from her first and really only relationship only a few metres away. With a can of Bartlett pears in one hand and a fork in the other, she continued contemplating the view from the windows. She would hate herself later for the sweet indulgence, but the habit was nearly impossible to resist when her stress was this high.
On all sides, windows. To the east, the driveway, front yard and street. To the north, the top of the garage, the backyard garden, and an empty expanse of wilderness. To the south was the edge of town, with the park, church, and courthouse. And in the west, the mountains of Kananaskis framed by endless sky and the glittering Elbow River. This place had felt magical when she was a kid. It was quiet, quaint, and fairy-tale-like compared to their home in Toronto. They always looked forward to visiting. Until everything went wrong again.
She slurped syrup from the depression at the base of the fork. The pears definitely smelled…musty. Just like her life. Just like her small, useless, empty life. How could she have possibly believed that coming back here was a good idea? It was too early. She was never here in the spring or summer. It was just too colourful. Roses and lilacs and tulips, oh my. The colours hurt her eyes. She preferred her off-colour, highly preserved fruit
Hope you’re having fun out there, she muttered to the garden as she ripped the blinds shut, dimming the space. She would eat her Bartlett pears straight out of the can in the manner of the orchestra going down with the Titanic.
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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13