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       Forgotten, p.25

           Catherine McKenzie
 
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  I agreed to go, spent the next twenty minutes dictating, then synched my Dictaphone with my computer, sending the file to Jenny.

  “Can you have this finished by the time I get back?” I asked her as I buttoned up my coat. “And I need you to password the file.”

  Her eyes flitted briefly away from her Facebook page to meet mine. “Sure, no problem.”

  “I still don’t get why he’d steal the painting himself,” Sunshine says now.

  “Maybe he couldn’t find anyone he could trust. Or maybe it was the thrill of it.”

  “I guess . . . Stop the car!”

  I brake, checking the rearview mirror to make sure no one’s behind me a fraction too late. A man in a black Mercedes slams on his brakes and swerves to avoid me, applying his horn liberally. I catch a flash of his finger as he passes within inches of my bumper.

  “Sorry about that. I wasn’t paying attention.”

  “No problem. Why did you want me to stop?”

  She straightens her wool hat. “Because we’re here.”

  “We are?” I realize we’re in front of the gates to a cemetery. My mother’s buried within.

  A chill runs down my spine. “What are we doing here?”

  “We’re going to visit your mother.”

  “What? Why?”

  “She was part of my vision.”

  I feel queasy. “I’m not sure this is a good idea.”

  “I know, dear. Well, let’s go, we don’t want to be late.”

  “Late for what?”

  “You’ll see.”

  I sigh internally as I put the car in reverse with minimal fuss. I back up far enough to pull into the entrance. The front gates look imposing.

  “Are you sure it’s open?”

  She nods. “I called ahead.”

  I put the car into first. The gates swing open like the automatic doors at the grocery store. I press the accelerator lightly, being cautious, since the road doesn’t appear to have been plowed since the last snowstorm.

  Maybe it’s the change of season, but nothing looks familiar. I’ve only been here once, the day of my mother’s funeral. It was warm then, and bright. And of course, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going as I followed the hearse through the groves of trees and rolling grass.

  “I don’t remember where to go.”

  “Just follow this road.”

  We drive in silence for a few moments, our location staying our tongues.

  “Park at the top of the hill.”

  I give the car a bit of gas. The wheels begin spinning halfway up the hill, and we stop moving forward. The smell of burning rubber fills the car. I try the brake, but it has no effect. We come to rest at the base of the hill and skid off into the ditch. My hands are shaking.

  “I guess I should’ve listened to the car-rental company and got the one with the four-wheel drive, eh?” Sunshine says with a wavering smile.

  “Not part of your vision?”

  “I don’t get practical information like that, I’m afraid. Anyway, off we go.”

  “Shouldn’t we do something about the car?”

  She flings her scarf over her shoulder. “It’ll keep. Come along, now.”

  I grit my teeth and follow her out of the car, leaving the hazard lights blinking. I climb up the bank of the slippery ditch, buttoning my coat against the cold. We trudge through the snow to an area that feels vaguely familiar. We get to a cleared path, and now I recognize where I’m going. My mother’s grave is up ahead, past a large stand of trees. Their dark branches are highlighted by a dusting of snow.

  “Sunshine, is this really necessary?”

  “Shh. We’re almost there.”

  My hands feel cold and stiff inside my gloves. I want to turn back, but something propels me ahead.

  Sunshine disappears behind the black trees. I take a few last strides and catch up with her. She’s standing at the foot of my mother’s grave, looking down at a bunch of dried-out yellow roses half buried in the snow.

  “We’ve missed him,” Sunshine says with uncharacteristic bleakness.

  “Who?”

  “Your father.”

  “This is about my father?”

  “I saw him so clearly.”

  “Sunshine, please tell me what’s going on.”

  She grimaces guiltily. “I was meditating this morning, and I had a really clear vision of this place.”

  “And my father was here?”

  “Yes. He was holding a bouquet of flowers.”

  I walk toward her. Even faded, the roses are oddly vivid in this black-and-white world.

  “Are you playing some kind of trick on me?”

  “Oh, Emmaline, how could you think such a thing?”

  “I’m sorry. I just . . . I don’t know why you brought me here.”

  “I thought it might bring you some peace, of course.”

  Of course. How could running into my father leaving flowers to the woman he abandoned years ago without a backward thought bring me anything but peace? Was he even really here?

  I realize with a saddening certainty that I don’t want to know. What I do know is enough, and it’s time to let go of the hurt that I’ve been holding on to for so long. It’s time to say goodbye, not just to my mother but to my absent father too.

  “I wish you wouldn’t,” I say. “Try to bring us back together, I mean.”

  “Why not, dear?”

  “Because I have to choose whether I want him in my life. You can’t do the choosing for me.”

  She raises a hand to my cheek. Her fluffy mitten tickles my skin. “I wish I could.”

  “I know. Thank you for trying. But I think . . . I’m going to let him be where he is, wherever he is.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “Yes. For now anyway, yes.”

  She sighs. “Well, should we head back to the car?”

  I look at the curve of my mother’s headstone. I remember picking it out a few days after she died, but I’ve never seen it in place.

  “Will you give me a second?”

  “Of course.”

  Sunshine crunches away, her boots squeaking through our footprints. When she’s out of sight, I turn and crouch down. I take off my glove and trace my fingers along my mother’s name, Elizabeth Kara Tupper. She kept my father’s name to the end. BELOVED FRIEND AND MOTHER, it reads, WE WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER.

  You hear that, Mom? I will love you forever. And I forgive you for making me leave. I’m still not sure I get why you did it, but I don’t think that matters anymore. Not today, anyway.

  I’m about to follow Sunshine when I remember. Something I’ve been carrying around, waiting for the right moment to let it go. I reach into the bottom of my purse. My fingers touch its cold, smooth surface. I pull out the rock crystal and repeat Sunshine’s words under my breath. “Heart, head, life.” I squeeze it tightly and place it gently on top of the headstone.

  I stand up and brush my cold tears away. I join Sunshine where she’s waiting for me beyond the trees. She smiles at me like I’ve just taken my first shaky steps.

  “Ready?”

  “Yes.”

  “Do you think Dominic might help us out of here?”

  “Why don’t we try AAA instead?”

  Chapter 27: A Woman Scorned, a Woman Changed

  Two hours later, Sunshine’s car is sorted out and I’m heading back to the office, feeling like a weight has been lifted. It isn’t until I swing open the heavy glass door to the lobby of my office building with a whistle on my lips that it hits me. This is how I used to feel all the time: competent, excited, ready to take on the day.

  You’d think I’d know better by now.

  “Jenny, is that memo ready?”

  She looks up from one of her messaging conversations, confused. “Sophie’s working on it.”

  “What did you say?”

  “Sophie said you wanted her to look it over before you finalized it.”

  My heart starts to poun
d. “When was this?”

  “About an hour ago. I’m sorry, she seemed so certain. I mean, you know how she can be—”

  Her bottom lip starts to quiver, but I don’t have any time to comfort her. I rush to my desk and bang my mouse against it to revive my computer. I can hear the murmur of voices from Matt’s office through the wall. With barely working fingers, I type in my password and work through the network to the memo. I click on it and get prompted for a password. I type mine in. Damn! The password’s been changed. That little bitch. Will she stop at nothing?

  On the edge of hyperventilating, I leave my office and hurry down the hall. My old office is empty, but I can smell Sophie’s perfume—that mix of Chanel and brimstone. She’s got to be around here somewhere.

  But where?

  Oh fuck. She couldn’t have. She wouldn’t dare.

  I turn on my heel and nearly sprint toward Matt’s office. The door is closed, the glass wall fogged so I can’t see what lies within. Something tells me that the voices I heard through the wall earlier hold the answer to where Sophie is and what she’s doing.

  A bad, bad answer.

  As I near his door, I try to breathe normally, trying not to look like an escapee from a mental institution. Though I might be headed there after this.

  Nathalie’s sitting at her desk with her earphones on, typing away. I tap her on the shoulder to get her attention. She pulls the earphones from her ears.

  “What’s up?”

  “Who’s he in there with?”

  “Sophie and Craig. They’re on a conference call.”

  Thump, thump, thump.

  “Who are they talking to?”

  “Why are you asking?”

  “Please, Nathalie, I don’t have time to explain.”

  “I put him through to Connor Perry.”

  Connor Perry is the VP Legal at Mutual Assurance.

  I walk toward Matt’s door.

  “You can’t go in there!”

  I put my hand on the knob and turn it. I fling open the door as dramatically as I can. It smacks into the wall loudly. If this is the end, I might as well go out with a bang.

  My gesture doesn’t go unnoticed. Craig and Sophie both jump in their seats, and I get a flash of Matt’s angry eyes, a look I haven’t seen in a while.

  He raises his palm toward me, stopping me in my tracks.

  “That’s about the size of it, Connor.”

  An indistinct voice issues from the phone on Matt’s desk. “Great work, guys. You really knocked it out of the park on this one.”

  Craig shoots me a guilty look, but Sophie’s all business. “Thanks, Connor. Happy to do it.”

  They say goodbye and Matt ends the call.

  “What’s going on?” I ask, my voice trembling.

  Matt leans back in his chair, folding his hands above his belt. “Sophie, Craig, can you give us a moment?”

  “Of course, Matt,” Sophie says in her cat-that’s-got-the-cream purr.

  “Maybe I should stay,” Craig says.

  “No, Craig, thank you. That will be all.”

  They leave the room—Craig a little reluctantly—closing the door behind them.

  “Sit,” Matt commands.

  I perch on the edge of his low, low visitor’s chair. “What was that call about?” I ask, though I have a pretty good idea.

  Matt gives me that dark, baleful look again. “Why didn’t you tell me Victor Bushnell stole the painting?”

  I clear my sandy throat. “Because the police haven’t confirmed my findings yet, and I wanted to be absolutely sure before we took this any further.”

  “That’s not acceptable, Emma. I told you to keep me in the loop, and instead, I had to find out from Sophie what was going on in my own file.”

  “Only because she was snooping,” I say before I can help myself.

  “You know I don’t have any patience for your petty little grievances with Sophie.”

  “I know, Matt. I’m sorry. And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you as soon as I found out, but—”

  “No buts. It seems I was mistaken to give you this much responsibility right away. It seems you’re not the person I thought you were.”

  “Please don’t say that. You can trust me. I’m the same Emma I’ve always been.”

  “The Emma I knew would have come into my office full of excitement, bursting to tell me what she’d found the minute she uncovered it.”

  That does sound like me. Why didn’t I do that?

  “Okay, maybe you’re right, but think about what I’ve been through. Can you really blame me for being cautious?”

  “I don’t buy that. The cautious thing would’ve been to keep me apprised of what you’d discovered. Something else is going on. Would you like to tell me what it is?”

  He watches me intently as my brain whirs. Can I tell him I was hoping that if I solved this case, I’d get on the express train to partnership? That I was also kind of hoping that when I got there, my old life, my old self, would be waiting for me? That I’d finally get that happy ending I’ve been expecting ever since my life turned to shit? No. I can’t say that out loud.

  If I say it out loud, it will never come true.

  “I was only trying to make sure we really had the answer before I made a big fuss.”

  He purses his lips. “Still sticking to that story?”

  “Yes.”

  “That’s too bad.”

  My stomach falls. “What does that mean?”

  “I’m not sure yet.”

  I leave Matt with my confidence shaken but with a firm purpose. If this is the end of my career, I’m not going down without a fight. Or at least a catfight.

  I stop briefly in my office to grab my Dictaphone. Moments later, I slip into Sophie’s office and close the door behind me. I flick the switch that turns the glass from see-all to hide-all. I may be spoiling for a fight, but that doesn’t mean I want an audience.

  Sophie turns away from her computer screen as the light in the room shifts. Her eyes shine with triumph. “What are you doing here?”

  “You know what.”

  “If you’re looking for an apology, you’ve come to the wrong place.”

  “Don’t treat me like an idiot. I know you’re never going to apologize.”

  “Then what do you want?”

  Good question. Can I ask her to step outside without sounding like a character in a bad B movie?

  “I think I’m entitled to an explanation.”

  “I thought you were the big brain around here. Can’t you figure it out for yourself?”

  “Do you think I’d be here asking you if I had any clue why you do the things you do?”

  She lets out a sinister laugh. “Well, then, why should I tell you?”

  I study her for a moment. I can tell a direct approach isn’t going to get it done. So instead, I deliberately release all the tension from my body and sit in her visitor’s chair. This chair is her all over. It looks sophisticated and welcoming, but it isn’t. The rim hits my shoulder blades, and the seat doesn’t give an inch.

  “You should tell me because I give up.”

  “Excuse me?”

  “I give up. You win. Whatever we’re fighting over, you can have it.”

  She looks at me suspiciously. “I don’t believe you.”

  “What’s not to believe?”

  “You know why we’re fighting, and what we’re fighting over.”

  “Craig?”

  Her lips curl into a snarl. “Of course not.”

  “This office?”

  “That was just the icing.”

  “Then what?”

  She hesitates. “I would’ve been made partner a long time ago if it wasn’t for you.”

  “How do you figure?”

  “It should’ve happened two years ago, but no, the Management Committee wanted to wait until they could name you too because they saw us as equals.”

  “I didn’t know that.”

  “Of course
you did. You’re always taking things from me. Steven. Craig. Matt.”

  Steven is the ex-boyfriend I hooked up with all those years ago at the firm’s Christmas party. And she’s got it backward about Craig, but . . . “Matt Stuart?”

  “Do we know another Matt?”

  “No, but I still don’t get it. What does this have to do with him?”

  “It’s not just him, it’s you and him.”

  “Me and him? There’s no me and him.”

  “Oh yes, there is. There has been ever since you showed up, the little bright-eyed, bushy-tailed summer student.” She raises her left hand, brushing away the tears that have suddenly appeared with her knuckles. “Ever since then it’s been Emma this and Emma that, and why don’t you get Emma to work on that with you, Sophie? It’s not fair. I’m just as good a lawyer as you are, better even.”

  “But what did you expect me to do? Say, ‘No, Matt, I’d really like to work on this case, but I think you should give it to Sophie’?”

  “Of course I didn’t expect that. But you didn’t have to rub it in my face.”

  “When did I ever do that?”

  She gives me a hard look, and I feel a twinge of guilt. She might be right. I knew I’d replaced her as Matt’s favorite. And I took some pleasure in it, particularly as the years went by and her animosity grew. But still, is that any reason to actively seek to destroy my career? Especially when it’s so precarious as it is?

  “Okay, maybe what you’re saying is true, but that doesn’t justify pulling the stunt you just did.”

  “I don’t have to justify myself to you.”

  “You don’t honestly think you’re going to get the credit for solving the Mutual Assurance case, do you?”

  “Of course not. But with you out of the way, well, then there’ll be nothing in my way.”

  “This was just a way to get Matt to stop trusting me so you could make partner?”

  “Yes.”

  “Huh.”

  “That’s all you have to say?”

  “Yeah, I think so.”

  Her eyes narrow. “Then get out of my office.”

  “Fair enough.”

  I stand to leave, letting Sophie’s malevolence bounce off me. There’s nothing she can do to me anymore.

  “Thanks for telling me, Sophie. Believe it or not, it helps.”

 
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