THE SEVENTH CROSS

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YOUR MOM NEEDS YOU

“Your Mom needs you!” Four simple words in a text from an unknown number. Instant panic. Within moments Joline was on the phone. No answer! Cell phone. Nothing! Grandma and Grandpa. Nothing! Texts back to the unknown texter. “Where’s my Mom?” No response.

What do I do? Joline was beside herself. Her Mom always answered her call or text immediately. Now there was nothing but silence. Instant decision. “When’s your next flight leave for Seattle?” And then “we have one seat available for the flight leaving at 10:30, otherwise we have a flight leaving at 1:00.”

“I’ll take it, the 10:30.” And she proceeded to give the operator her information. “Let’s see. It’s 8:30 already. Joline always had an emergency bag ready to go. 10 minutes later and she was on her way to the airport. A quick call to her boss and she was cleared for takeoff. Every call/text she attempted was futile. She tried not to panic anymore than she already was, but this was not like her Mom. God, if her Mom tried to call or text her and couldn’t get through, she freaked out. Joline was fast approaching freak out status as well!

Where does one’s imagination go when one is stressed? Always to the bad stuff, of course. And she couldn’t even reach her grandparents. Maybe something had happened to one of them and her Mom was with them at the hospital? And of course, knowing her Mom, she wouldn’t want to worry Joline so she wouldn’t have called her until she knew for sure what was wrong. Or maybe it was to do with Jason! Please God, not that!

For a brief second she had forgotten about the text. She flipped back to it “Your Mom needs you.” Instant goose bumps, and she shivered involuntarily. “Please God, protect my Mom.” Joline had been raised as a Christian, and she was a believer, but it seemed like the only time she chatted with God was to ask for something. And here she was again.

And of course she couldn’t call during the flight, and she certainly couldn’t concentrate on anything else. “Joline” to herself. “Relax. Breathe. It’s all going to be fine.”

But she wasn’t so sure about that. Why would someone test her and not even reveal who they were? A sense of foreboding came over she could not shake. Could this have to do with the photos? She, the calm, cool one was calm no more. And finally, they arrived. Patience, patience. Of course, being stuck at the back of the plane is excruciating even at the best of times, and the line moved as if a bunch of zombies. Patience, relax, patience. Finally!

Still no answer anywhere. She was sure she was pushing the cab driver to break every law there was, but she needed to get to her Moms place now! Oh my God! She had completely forgot to phone Jason! But then how could she? She’d just implicated him in who knows what.

It was as if they had all disappeared. Finally here! She handed the cabbie a 20, no change, thanks, and she bound up the steps to the front door. No use ringing the bell, as she reached for her keys. Thank God her Mom had insisted on her keeping a set, in case of emergency, you never know!

As she scrambled to get the key into the lock the door suddenly opened and she came face to face with . . . she didn’t know.

“Who are you? Where’s my Mom? I want to see my Mom now!” This was getting weird real fast!

“Joline, come in. I’m Claire, your aunt.” And with that, she turned on her heels and beckoned for Joline to follow.

Which she did, silently. Not another word exchanged until they had both sat down. “Alright, what the hell’s going on? Is my Mom okay?” Joline could feel the tears welling up in her eyes. “Tell me, please!”

“Your Mom, and your grandparents are fine.” Joline sank back into the sofa, and gently began to cry. Tears of relief, but then Claire continued. “Your Mom and grandparents have been taken to a secure location. I’m sorry for the obscure text but I knew it would get you here as quickly as possible. I’ll take you to them now.”

“What are you telling me? Secure location? My whole family? What about Jason? You never mentioned Jason.” And suddenly she was feeling ill. “Tell me now! I have a right to know!”

“Yes you do. Jason was arrested a few hours ago.”

“What? Is my Mom . . . Arrested for what?”

“Murder.”

“Did you just say murder?”

“Yes, 6 murders.”

“I knew it!”

“That’s why I’m here. I’ll tell you everything later. Right now all you need to know is that your family is fine. I’ll explain. Please try and relax. Your Mom is going to need you but I needed to talk to you to explain a few things first.”

“Does my Mom even know you’re here? She told me that you abandoned us! Why are you here?” This was crazy!

“Okay, let’s go. I’ll explain as much as I can on the drive over. We’ve got to get out of here before they see us.”

“What? Before who sees us?”

“The press. Let’s go, not that way, out the back. I parked down the back alley.” Straight out a spy novel, an old one at that. All Joline could do was shake her head. “This is crazy!”

“Okay, heads up. When I say “move,” you move. NOW!” And with that they slipped out the back gate, jogged a block down to the waiting vehicle, and sped away. Claire kept checking the rear view mirror and finally, after several blocks, she breathed a sign of relief and proceeded to tell Joline the rest of the story.

Joline felt as though she were in a nightmare and she was unable to wake up. On and on, Claire spun her tale, but alas, this was no tale, and Joline was thrust back into a reality she could not have envisioned. And in a few minutes from now, she’d be face to face with her Mom and grandparents. With everything Claire had just told her, she could not begin to imagine what the three of them must be going through, especially her Mom!

“We’ll be there in about ten minutes. Do you want to stop for a few minutes to compose yourself? Your Mom is having a really tough time. You’re going to have to be stronger than you’ve ever been. I know you can do it! I know you better than you think!”

“Okay, pull over for a few minutes. Let me make sure I have this straight. We’re hiding from the press right now, right?”

“Yes.”

“And my Mom knows you’re with me right now?”

“No. She’s heavily medicated at the moment. That’s why I’m trying to prepare you. Her whole world has just collapsed around her. She kept calling your name. That’s when she collapsed and I knew I had to get you here right away. She’s fine. She’s stabilized. But, I need you to be as calm as possible. You’re it. I’m not leaving either of you, ever again.”

Joline couldn’t wrap her head around Claire. Where did she even come from? No matter. She was here and she was helping her Mom. And her grandparents. We’ll deal with the other stuff later.

And then it was time. As soon as her grandparents saw her they rushed to hug her. Not a word was spoken, for what seemed like an eternity, and then her grandma whispered to her “your Mom needs you, but honey, she’s not doing well, steel yourself.” And she led Joline to the bedroom door.

Joline gently tapped on the door, then entered, “Mom,” softly. “It’s me, Mom.”

Not a word, and then she heard a faint whisper ” Joline?”

“It’s me, Mom.” and Joline joined her Mom on the bed. Not a word was spoken as she drew her Mom as close to her as she could, just like her Mom used to do to her when she was a child, when she had bad dreams, or a cold, or just needed some loving. Roles were reversed but that was okay, because now her Mom needed her.

They lay like that for an hour, neither speaking. Janice trembled as she sobbed and Joline would pull her ever closer. She felt her Mom’s forehead for any signs of a fever, and she encouraged her Mom to take a few sips of water.

She had never seen her Mom like this, never even imagined such a scenario, and yet here she was. Finally, she heard her Mom’s breathing regulate and her gentle snoring signalled Joline’s return to the living room to join the others.

All eyes were upon her as she gently pulled shut the bedroom door. “She’s asleep.”

They all expected her to say something but there was nothing to say. “We didn’t talk. I held her until she fell asleep.”

“She didn’t say anything?” Gramps.

“Nothing. She cried; she took a few sips of water. That was it.”

“Grammy, Gramps, are you okay? I’m so sorry I wasn’t here earlier!”

“We’re fine. But we were really worried about your Mom. And you.”

“Me?”

“We were so scared that some reporter would find you before we could talk to you. That’s when Claire decided that the best way was to contact you was the way she did. She knew you’d probably be freaked out but that you’d make your way here the fastest way you could. She was right.”

To Claire. “Couldn’t you just have called me? At least I would have known what was going on.”

I thought about that. But we had the situation well in hand by that time, and I knew your family was safe. That was the most important thing. If you hadn’t left a message on your Mom’s phone that you were on your way, I would’ve called you again. As soon as we knew you were on your way, we knew no one would catch up to you before we did.”

“Are you some kind of spy or something? I thought you were dead. I’m confused. Why are you here now?”

“Okay, stop. I owe you an explanation. I owe all of you so much more than you’ll ever know. And I will explain everything. And if you don’t ever want to see me again after this, I’ll understand.”

Granny and Gramps chimed in “you’re not going anywhere! We lost you once, we’re not losing you again! End of story!”

But of course it wasn’t. There would be many discussions over the coming days. There would be anger. There would be tears, both of joy and sorrow. Claire’s past would be revealed in such a way that it would bring them all to tears. And she would speak of her brother, and of her mother, and . . .

But now it was time to speak of Jason. She would speak to them as a reporter. Facts, figures. I need to do it this way so you understand what has happened here. I need to stay dispassionate for the moment. I need to tell you everything I know right now, and also tell you what to expect over the coming months. Nothing I have to say is easy, and you’ll have the spotlights of the world on you. You are going to have to pull together like never before. Fortunately, you are a close family, and you’re strong. You’ll need to be. And if you’ll allow me, I’ll be here every step of the way!” Claire took a deep breath, and was about to continue when the bedroom door opened. Janice stood there staring at them and then, as if in slow motion, slowly slipped to the floor. Claire rushed to her side, and they gently helped her to the couch. Janice tried to speak but the words were unintelligible. “Grab a pillow and a blanket.” They made her as comfortable as they could but it was obvious that simple medicine was not going to mend a very broken heart!

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