Case, Armitage

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Chapter Ten

The following morning Ava woke up early and met her friend in the kitchen. “Oh, what are you doing up so early?” Kate asked. “I’m coming into work for a bit to talk to Mr Nikita,” Ava explained. The regular routine imposed itself once more with one difference – Ava, following doctor’s orders, ate a proper breakfast. “I made you some chopped up fruit and natural Greek yogurt. Doctor’s orders,” Kate said as she handed a bowl of freshly sliced berries and apples to her friend. “Thank you, you didn’t have you,” Ava said with gratitude. “It’s my pleasure. Take you medicine as well, the antibiotics and the iron tablets,” Kate reminded her friend.

Kate and Ava once again got into Kate’s car and drove the twenty-minute route into the city and easily found a spot in the staff carpark. “Oh, and before we go in, I just thought that you should know, everyone in the office found out,” Kate said guiltily. “What? How did they find out?” Ava responded, surprised. “I might have told them,” Kate said, quickly jumping out of the car before Ava could get cross. “You knew I wouldn’t like that,” Ava said to her friend outside the car. “I know, but I just wanted people to be aware, and I want you to know that people really do care about you, even if you don’t believe it.” Ava sighed in minor frustration and understanding at her friend. The familiar brown carpets welcomed Ava back into the office, the motel-art paintings on the wall were still crooked, and the elevator buttons still sticky. The two friends went their separate ways as Kate went to her desk while Ava continued down the long hallway to Mr Nikita’s office. Before she reached it, she felt someone coming up next to her. “Ava! How are you doing?” Ava’s colleague exclaimed. “Hey, Carly, I’m fine, thank you.” Ava was more than slightly shocked; her existence had never mattered to the middle-aged receptionist, but then she remembered that this particular middle-aged receptionist loved gossip, so Ava’s injury would have been filling her up with anticipation for the past two days. Ava forced herself to be thankful for Carly’s false kindness. Yes, it was obviously artificial, but it was support, nonetheless. The young journalist continued to walk down the hallway, watching every man in a suit walk by. She reached for the door that usually gave her butterflies, but not today. Today, she feared nothing.

Knock, knock, knock, Ava’s knuckles rapped on the door. “Yes,” Mr Nikita responded unenthusiastically. His eyes widened however when he saw Ava enter the room. “Ms Hayes!” he exclaimed, standing up. Standing was something he had never done for one of his employees in his life. “Mr Nikita, how are you?” she smiled. His evident happiness at her presence her helped put Ava at ease. “Please, sit down.” Ava sat in the chair opposite her boss. “How are you?” he asked, concerned. “I’m doing okay, I just got out of the hospital yesterday, so I’m still recuperating,” the young woman explained. “I heard you had quite a rough fall, at the asylum I understand,” Mr Nikita said. “That is correct sir, although there is nobody to blame but myself. I felt slightly unwell before the incident and should have taken that as a sign there and then,” Ava explained. “But you didn’t. And although in this instance I wish you did, this is also why I hired you for this project - because you keep pushing, and fighting, like a one-man army. Or one woman, I should say,” the man laughed as he corrected himself. “Well, I understand sir. I suppose I just came in to say that the doctor has recommended that I take a couple of days off, so today being Friday, if I could come back on Monday, that would be great,” Ava proposed. “Yes, of course, I understand. If you’d like, you can come back on Tuesday, I won’t have any of my employees uncomfortable at work. It not only impacts them, but it also has an impact on this company’s reputation. And mine.” Mr Nikita said. “I understand sir. I’ll see how I’m feeling after the weekend and let you know if I need the extra day,” Ava said. “Thank you. By the way, if you don’t feel comfortable continuing with this project, I understand. It won’t affect your future portfolio, there are many other opportunities that will arise,” her boss continued. “Oh, no thank you sir, I am more than happy to continue with this project. I just need a short break. I’ll be doing some paperwork at home, so I’m not on vacation,” Ava explained.

Ava signed herself off and exited the building, after agreeing with her boss to do minimal work at home with a view to returning to the office on Tuesday. She made her way down the corridor to the main office area and walked over to Kate’s workstation. “I’m heading off now but thank you for everything! Perhaps we can catch up this weekend?” she whispered, as not to disturb the other workers. “Yeah, no problem. And please Ava, please, eat. Eat your little heart out and take the meds!” Kate ordered. “I will, I promise. I’m about to go and have some brunch now,” she said. “Some of the girls and I are going to George’s after work today. Do you wanna come?” Kate offered. “I would love to, but I don’t want to do too much at the moment, until I feel totally recovered. There’s also something super important I need to do.” Kate looked at her friend with a jokingly judgmental expression. “I mean it, it is important. But I’ll go out next Friday if you’re going out,” Ava said to placate her friend. “Okay,” Kate said, allowing herself to be convinced. “Love you!” the pair said in unison. The young journalist walked down the busy city streets of Detroit, looking around at the people walking to and from their destinations, at the cars driving in and around the streets. Ava felt as though she was seeing it for the first time, as though all of the time spent at the Armitage Asylum had changed her idea of civilization. She stopped at a local cafe, one that she and Kate frequently visited. She sat and ordered a coffee and avocado toast from the menu, reading a magazine as she consumed her meal. The smell of the toasted bread and coffee brought happy memories, including the time she made Kate laugh so hard the water spilled out of her nose, and all the times she was in such a bad hungover state that the only cure was to come here with her best friend. She reflected on all the things Kate had done for her. Nobody else in the world had ever treated her with such kindness. She felt sad for a brief moment, as though Kate’s generosity was being wasted on her, as though she wasn’t worth the favor. Ava suppressed this feeling and left the cafe to walk in the local park. People with their dogs were out and about, and young kids were playing tag with each other, their innocence lightening Ava’s mood. She sat down on a bench and contemplated the decision she was about to make. She nearly stood up to walk straight back home, but then remembered, there are always a million reasons not to do something. She reached in her pocket and pulled out her phone. Without any hesitation, she went into her contacts list and made her selection.

The phone rang until someone at the other end answered. “Hello?” the other end said. “Hey mom.” The silence stretched along the phone line. “How are you?” Leanne asked. “I … I’m good, I suppose,” Ava responded. “How are you?” the journalist asked her mother. “I’m doing fine, thank you.” Ava, knowing her mother, would have to be the one to break the ice, to ease the tension even if it meant pouring gasoline on the fire that had already been smoldering. “Look, I just thought … you and I both know that this can’t continue. And we can’t have these discussions over the phone where you can just hang up and go on with your day,” Ava said. “You think I just go on with my day after we fight? Ava I-” “Mom this is exactly what I’m talking about! I’m not doing this anymore. I want to meet up with you so we can talk face-to-face. Things need to be said, and things need to be sorted out.” Ava surprised herself with her confidence. She had always been too afraid to confront her mother like that. Not that she was afraid of being hit or yelled at, but challenging her mother was not an easy thing to do. There was another period of silence and, once again, Ava had to break the ice. “Mom, do you remember my friend, Kate?” Ava asked, knowing that was she was about to say would make her mother uncomfortable. “Yes,” Leanne responded blankly. “Her mom died of cancer when she was seventeen. The last communication they ever had was an argument. They said terrible things to one another. Kate can’t even remember what the fight was about. Not saying I love you to her mom, is her biggest regret.” Another pause lengthened on the phone. “I don’t want that to be us. But it can’t just come from me. I am giving you the opportunity that so many people, including Kate, yearn for.” She could hear a slight sniffle on the other end of the call. Ava was about to apologize and console her mother, but she stopped. She tried to channel Kate’s strength. The silence on the phone call was deafening until Leanne responded. “Okay,” she whispered. Ava nearly burst into tears. “Okay, I think that you should come down to Detroit, and I’ll make you lunch,” Ava said, trying to swallow her emotions. “Okay. I will be there tomorrow, at your house. At midday,” Leanne said. “Okay. I’ll see you then,” Ava said, her mood visibly changing. She hung up the phone and in the middle of the park stretched her arms up into the air and laughed out loud. Despite the fact that her mother hadn’t actually yet visited, the fact that Ava hadn’t apologized for something that she didn’t know what she was apologizing for, as she had throughout her whole life, was a stepping stone. Ava sat back on the park bench and rested her head back. She closed her eyes and absorbed the sun, letting the vitamin D seep into her pores. The heat was comforting, like a blanket of well-being, but her head had begun to ache, and Ava reluctantly left the park and took the bus home. She arrived at her house and saw how dark and … lifeless it felt. She walked through all the rooms of her house and opened the windows, letting the fresh, cool air in to circulate throughout the place. Most of the windows hadn’t been opened in months. Ava felt as though the house was being cleansed and detoxed by allowing oxygen in.

For an afternoon snack, Ava made herself a small bowl of fruit, mindful of eating something healthy and satisfying. She cleaned the few dishes that sat by the sink before rubbing in more of the prescribed ointment on her head wound. The rest of the day she spent completing a small amount of paperwork before putting on a movie that always lifted her spirits when she was feeling anxious. Pretty Woman was light and easy to watch and took her mind off how nervous she was to speak to her mother the next day. There was so much that had to be said, years of bottled-up words that Ava had been so reluctant to say.

Saturday morning arrived and Ava was up by seven. She enjoyed toast with avocado and a glass of water for breakfast before heading to the supermarket to shop for ingredients for lunch. A chicken casserole seemed appropriate enough. Her mother used to make it for her and her sister when they were younger; but of course, Ava would today change the recipe, to ensure that no negative assumptions would be made by Leanne. Garlic bread as well, Ava thought to herself as she walked down the aisles of the supermarket, everybody likes garlic bread. Ava arrived home a few hours before her mother was due to arrive. While the chicken roasted in the oven in a tray full of vegetables, Ava laid out her best tablecloth and set the dining table with cutlery and her nicest china. Ava received a text from Kate, “Hey, are you sure you don’t want me to come over?” the young woman smiled at her friend’s concern. “No, thank you!” Ava responded, to which an instant reply came through. “Not even as a bodyguard? You could pretend I’m your private chef?” Ava laughed once more. “Thanks, but no. I’ll let you know how it goes. She’ll leave one of two ways and that’s the problem.” Ava sat on her couch flicking through a magazine to take her mind of the anticipation of her mother’s arrival. Knock, knock, knock. Ava took a deep breath as she got up to answer the door to her mother who turned at the sound of the latch to look at her rather blankly. “Hi, mom! Please come in,” Ava said with more enthusiasm than she really felt. She opened her arms to hug Leanne, whose response was fairly lukewarm. She entered the house and hung her handbag on the coat rack.

“How are you, honey?” Leanne asked blankly. “I’m alright thanks, I’m doing alright,” her daughter answered. Leanne walked into the lounge room, looking up and down as if making an assessment, despite having been inside the flat numerous times. Ava watched her, and realised she actually wanted her mother’s approval. “How has work been?” Leanne asked, her back towards Ava. “It’s been pretty good, although I do actually have some things to tell you that aren’t exactly the best-” Ava cut herself off as she realised that her mother wasn’t paying attention. Ava knew that her mother would still be holding a grudge not only from the minor argument they had a week ago, but also from the uncomfortable phone call from yesterday. Ava wanted to blurt out everything all at once, but realised it would be better to let her mother get settled before starting the real conversation. “Are you hungry? We can eat straight away if you’d like. I just need to dish up.” Leanne agreed and seemed relieved to have something to do. Ava gestured to the dining table and Leanne made herself comfortable while Ava dished up their lunch. “Oh, I’ve converted to veganism,” Leanne said, taking one look at the chicken casserole. Ava was dumbfounded. “Since when?” she asked, sensing the falseness of her mother’s words. “Well, about two months ago I watched a documentary about the barbarity of intensive animal farming and after doing some of my own research, I came to the conclusion that animal products will no longer be part of my diet,” Leanne explained. “You didn’t want to tell me? Even when I said that I would be cooking lunch?” Ava said with increasing outrage. “I didn’t feel like telling you,” Leanne responded, looking the other way. “So, you just thought that I could just embarrass myself by cooking you a meal that took three hours?” Ava walked angrily back into the kitchen. She took a deep breath and told herself that right now wasn’t the time to get het-up. “You could just eat the vegetables and rice, they’re slow baked in olive oil and are really nice. Remember when-” “No, the juice from the chicken would have spoiled the vegetables and rice,” Leanne snapped. Well, what the hell do you want me to do now? Ava thought to herself. “You know, I actually have a salad that I made. It’s in the fridge. Would you like to have that?” she offered, trying to contain her annoyance. Her mother nodded. “That would be fine, thank you,” she said. Are you pleased now? Ava thought to herself as she gave the salad a fresh sprinkle of lemon juice and olive oil before placing the bowl on the table. The pair began to eat their separate meals. Ava was pleased with how delicious her casserole was, the amount of effort she put in to make the seasoning perfect, the chicken tender and the vegetables crispy but soft, and the rice flavorful. She had been so excited to present it to her mother. The young woman lifted her head up to look at her mother. She looked as though she was eating alone, her back straight as a ruler, not moving her head while slowly lifting her fork up to her mouth, obviously trying to avoid ruining her garish red lipstick. It looked as though she didn’t want to admit that her daughter’s salad was in fact scrumptious. Ava could feel the awkwardness between them, the tension in the room, and she tried to think of something to talk about. She noticed that Leanne’s hair was looking extra touched-up today. “Did you get a haircut recently?” Ava asked, trying to sound upbeat and casual. “Two weeks ago, perhaps.” Leanne answered blankly. “I like it, I’ve always liked your haircut. Not many women can pull off the short hair look, but you manage to make it look stunning,” Ava smiled widely. Leanne smiled tightly in brief acknowledgement. Finally, Ava had had enough.

She lifted her arm up and dropped her fork, loudly on her plate, frightening Leanne and forcing her to look up. “I’m not doing this anymore.” Ava leant back in her chair, shaking her head. “Not doing what?” Leanne responded, placing her fork gently on the napkin next to her plate. “This!” Ava said, waving her hand between the two of them. “I can’t do this! I can’t keep having this weird relationship with you!” Leanne chewed her mouthful of salad, narrowing her eyes as if to show that she thought her daughter was being ridiculous. “I’m tired, mom. I’m tired of walking on eggshells with you because I’m afraid of hurting your feelings, because your passive aggressive behaviour makes me feel like everything is my fault. Well guess what? All of the arguments that lead to weeks of absence between us at a time, isn’t always my fault!” Ava raised her voice, realizing what was about to happen. “Now you stop right there. Whenever we argue, it’s because you always have to be the one who knows everything about everything! I avoid you because I don’t want to fight with you!” Leanne exclaimed. “That is bullshit! I do not have to be the one who knows everything. People are allowed to have different opinions on things, Mom, so whenever you say something and I disagree with it, it’s called a god-damned conversation!” Ava raised her hands. “This is what I mean, Ava Grace Hayes! It’s not because we have different opinions, it’s because you just want to dispute everything I say!” Ava copied her daughter’s mannerisms, mocking her. “Mom! You are ignorant! I wouldn’t be surprised if you weren’t vegan in the first place, you just wanted me to fail on purpose so that you could feel better about yourself! This is an example of your bullshit passive aggressiveness! You didn’t even say thank you for cooking you a meal that cost a shit load of money to buy ingredients for and took three god-damned hours to cook!” Ava yelled, her eyes wide open. She felt the adrenaline in her veins, her heart pumping in her chest and her temples throbbing on the sides of her head. “Don’t you talk to me like that! I am your mother!” Leanne aggressively pointed her finger at Ava across the table. “Well, you’ve hardly ever been one!” Ava said. And the nanosecond after these words had left her mouth, she felt regretful, not because it’s not the truth, but because it was the truth, but she knew that this would shatter her mother. “What is that supposed to mean?” Leanne said softly but with suppressed anger. “Mom, I know you work hard, and have worked hard, your whole life. But you haven’t been there for me!” Tears begin to gather in Ava’s eyes, she just said something she had never told anybody before. “Are you kidding me Ava? I have done everything in the god-damned world for you!” Leanne responded with shock. “Mom! When dad died, you never asked me about it! About the fact that I witnessed a person … my own father, shoot himself in the head right in front of me!” Ava yelled. Leanne sat still in her chair, her jaw slightly ajar, not knowing what to say. A million thoughts travelled in and out of Ava’s head. She could feel her palms beginning to sweat. “You never asked me about dad! You never even spoke about him! You just sent me off to god-damned psychologist after psychologist after psychologist!” Ava continued. Her mother’s expression remained fixed. “News flash! I didn’t want a psychologist; I didn’t need a psychologist!” Ava paused for a moment, she could feel her emotions beginning to take over, her chin started to crumple, and she let out a sob, no longer caring about how she looked in front of her mother. “All I ever needed, all I ever wanted, was for my mom to hold me, and to tell me that everything was going to be okay!” Ava scrunched her fists on the table, tears now freely streaming down her cheeks and dropping onto her shirt, gasping between sobs. She had never told anyone this, not even the nine psychologists she had been to. In fact, the supposed psychological help she had gotten over the years only made her a professional at masking her emotions.

Ava looked across the table at her mother. Tears had started to well up in Leanne’s eyes as well, her jaw was still ajar, her forehead creased as she pulled her brows together. “Well think of my perspective Ava! How was I supposed to approach my own kid who witnessed their father’s suicide? How?” Leanne yelled. “Ignoring it was the worst method you could have used!” Ava said, wiping her left cheek. “Well, I’m sorry you weren’t at the centre of the universe!” Leanne yelled. “Center of the universe? Are you kidding me? I didn’t want to be the centre of the universe! I just wanted you to show me that you cared sometimes!” Ava responded. “I had other things to worry about as well! Your sister for an example! She was there as well! She saw her father’s brain and blood splatter on the window she was looking out of like someone threw a red-tinted water balloon!” Ava gasped in shock, widening her eyes at her mother’s statements. “I know! Believe me, I know! You wanna know why I know? Because I had to spend my whole childhood worrying about her!” Ava leant forward in her seat. “I spent every school day making it my priority that she ate her lunch, that she was getting all of her schoolwork done, that she wasn’t hurting the teachers, the students, or herself! I made sure she would fall asleep at night after you read her favorite bedtime story!” Ava grabbed her fingers as she counted off the occasions. “Well boo-hoo Ava! You did what every big sister does! But don’t flatter yourself too much, because after a while you got bored, and only cared about yourself and you’ve been like that ever since!” Leanne hissed, leaning forward herself. “Caring about myself? I was a child! I was failing high school because I couldn’t think! I couldn’t focus! I couldn’t breathe! I had to put all of my attention on my studies so that I wouldn’t end up being just a housewife like my mother!” Ava said, hoping her insult hurt her mother. “Bullshit Ava! Yes, I will admit, you were failing in school, but not because you cared about anyone else! Because you too focused on spreading your legs for anyone who called you pretty!” Leanne yelled. Ava was taken aback, shocked at what her mother said. “I had sex with guys because I wanted to feel loved even for just three minutes! I wanted someone to care about me even if it was for just three minutes! I worked my ass off to be able to skip a grade, so that I was able to get a good life!” Leanne sighed and rolled her eyes. “I was desperate to leave home because you put all of your attention on your god-damned appearance and all of your time on Kiara. But what about me mom? What about me?” Ava sobbed. “You were selfish! You just wanted to leave so that you could go and live your own glamorous life!” Leanne snapped back. “You have got to be joking! I left because I was living by myself for my whole life anyway! I was better off living by myself than living with people who act like I’m a god-damned piece of furniture to ignore!” Ava yelled. “And glamorous? Seriously! Look at my flat!” Ava moved her arms and looked around as if to point out her home. “There are cracks in every wall, the kitchen is a piece of shit, the shower’s water is rarely even lukewarm, the paint is peeling, and it constantly stinks of rising damp. And yet I would much rather live in a dump than in pain!” Ava gasped for air. “You are a drama queen! You always have been! Just like your father!” Ava was enraged as her mother said this. “How dare you say that about dad?” Ava rose to her full height, standing up and pointing at her mother. Leanne appeared slightly intimidated by Ava’s now dominating appearance. “I don’t care that you never loved dad, but I did! And I’m furious every second of every day that he’s gone!” Ava could barely get the words out through her tears. Leanne stood up; the roles reversed as now Ava was the one being intimidated. “Don’t you ever say that! Don’t you ever say that about my husband! How could you think that I didn’t love him? I have loved him since I was twelve years old!” Leanne was sobbing as much as her daughter, her heavy mascara streaking down her cheeks. Ava started to regret her harsh accusations. “I loved him! But now I hate him! He left! He god-damned left! He left me alone as a parent and he knew that I was struggling! He left me to spend the rest of my pathetic life looking after Kiara and I have no god-damned idea how to look after someone with her problems! He left me to pick up the pieces that will never get put back together! I never got to say goodbye! His kids never got to say goodbye! I never got a note, or a message or anything! He just left! And for that, I hate him!” There was a slight pause as Leanne caught her own breath. It was clear that this was a volcano that had waited to erupt for a very long time. The older woman clenched her fists and convulsed out of anger and sadness. Ava stared at her, shocked, stunned, clueless as to what to do next. “If I could have five minutes with him, I would punch him in his beautiful face and tell him what a god-damned asshole he is!” Ava was still stunned. She had never heard her mother speak like that; she had never seen her mother act like that. Leanne paused for a brief moment once more, before collapsing to her seat and burying her head into her arms, sobbing and moaning with utter despair. Ava stared at her, not knowing what to say or do.

Leanne’s breathing finally started to slow down, her sobs began to settle. “Then, after I tell him how selfish and horrible, he is for what he did, I would wrap my arms around him. I would squeeze him so tightly. I would whisper in his ear, I love you, and I wish you were here. And I miss you so, so much, Tommy. I would cry in his shoulder, and he would console me like he used to. Then we would dance, one last time. Only then, after being able to say all the things I am desperate to say, then maybe, finally, I would be able to let him go.” Leanne began to sob again. She picked up the cushion from the seat next to her and pushed it hard on her face, and screamed into it, scrunching her fists as she clung to the fabric. Screaming, over and over again. Ava was still standing on the other side of the table, staring at her mother, afraid, not knowing what to do. All of her anger was gone, vanished. Now she simply felt sad. And guilty; guilty for being so consumed by her own emotions for all these years, and assuming that she knew how her mother felt. For the first time in her life, she now truly understood what her mother had been feeling for the past fourteen years. Ava, still crying, slowly walked over to her mother, unsure of what her next move should be. She squatted down next to her mother’s seat, the older woman still wailing into the cushion. Ava, hesitantly and gently touched her mother’s arm, then slowly took away the cushion and tossed it to the side, revealing her mother’s face now washed clean of the heavy makeup by her tears. Leanne clung to her daughter and pressed her face into Ava’s shoulder. Ava hugged back and started to cry. For as long as either of them could remember, this was the first time they had an honest, meaningful hug, the first time they truly connected. Ava could feel her mother’s rapid heartbeat. This made Ava cry even more. She knew that she had to truly savor having her mother in her life. Despite the sour, difficult relationship they’d had up until now, Ava prayed that as shattering as this conversation had been for both of them, that they would come out the other side with a renewed understanding and respect for each other. She hoped that Leanne was feeling the same thing. The mother and daughter held each other for what felt like hours until their sobbing slowed down and finally ceased. “I’m so, so sorry Ava,” Leanne said as she gathered herself. “No, mom, I’m sorry. I had no right to say-” “You had every right. I’m so sorry that I wasn’t there. I’m so sorry.” Leanne began to tear up again. “Mom, you and I both know that you could have done more, okay? But in that time, in that moment, you did what you thought was best. What more could I ask for?” They embraced each other once more before standing up. “By the way, I’m not really vegan,” Leanne guiltily admitted. “I knew it!” Ava laughed and she fixed her mother a bowl of food.

The pair sat on Ava’s couch, both in a much quieter state of mind than earlier in the day. “Look, I know I didn’t talk about dad that much, and you were so young when he died. So, you of course saw him as a superman, but you were too naive to know what he was really like.” Ava got nervous as her mother was about to explain her father from her perspective. “Okay, what was he really like then?” Leanne smiled. “He was superman.” Ava exhaled with surprise and relief. “He was the best man, the best husband, the best father I knew, or have known since.” Ava’s chin began to crumple once more as her mother explained. “He was so caring and hardworking, and funny. You very much took after him in that respect.” Ava was more than flattered at her mother’s words. “He was stubborn. Just like you. Liked things to be precise, just like you.” Both of them laughed. “Now Mom, I need something from you,” Ava said. “I really, really want to see Kiara.” Leanne was obviously intrigued by this. “Really?” A smile spread across her face. “And I phoned the facility, but they said that her availability was all booked out… by you,” Ava said awkwardly. “Right, well I’ll phone them and cancel some appointments.” Leanne tapped her knee as she said this. “Really?” Ava asked. “Of course! You can see her anytime; she’s your sister. And she does ask about you and believe it or not she is remorseful for what she did,” Leanne explained. “How about I see her today, on my way back home and I’ll just make sure that she’s totally okay with it,” Leanne suggested. “That would be great, thank you so much.” Leanne helped Ava with cleaning up the kitchen, before gathering her things to leave. “Mom, I know that it was technically the worst argument we’ve ever had, but it was also the best conversation we’ve had, I think. In a really long time.” Ava said as she opened the front door to let Leanne out. “I know. I said some ghastly things and I’m so sorry, Ava, for everything you’ve had to go through growing up,” her mother said with sincere regret. “We both said some things, and we’re both sorry. But I’m really glad you came, and after I’ve seen Kiara, how about you and I will go out for a coffee?” Leanne drove away and Ava watched her car disappear down the street. She beeped her horn as she drove around the corner. Ava slowly walked back inside her flat; she looked around and the atmosphere felt different - a weight had been lifted, and despite the terrible things she and Leanne said to one another, Ava was starting to see her mother from a different perspective. She acknowledged the sacrifices she had made for so many years in an effort to make her and Kiara’s lives the best they could be.

Ava sank onto her couch and picked up her phone, scrolling once again through her contact list until she found the name she was searching for. “How did it go?” Kate asked anxiously as soon as she answered her phone. “It went…” Ava searched for the right word for a moment. “It went great,” she decided. “I think we made quite a breakthrough,” she smiled as she answered. “Well? Can I get any details?” Kate pressed. “All in good time! I need to recover from the afternoon, then I’ll fill you in. There’s a lot to digest,” Ava sighed. “But I can say, if I ever get into a real relationship, or get married, I want them to love me as much as my Mom loved my Dad.” Ava sniffed back her tears which were a mix of joy tinged with sadness. “You will Ava, I promise you,” Kate said, empathetically. “Thank you, my dear friend,” Ava said sincerely.

The sun disappeared below the horizon as dusk advanced. Ava made herself pasta and settled in front of the television. A horror movie was showing, which didn’t exactly put Ava in the right frame of mind to consider returning to the asylum. She paid close attention to the dialogue of each character; a woman, an innocent woman was framed for a murder she did not commit. She was dragged into the police station, struggling to escape the clutches of the two large police officers. “It wasn’t me! I didn’t do it!” the woman in the film screamed. Ava became more involved with the movie, she felt sympathy for the woman. She reminded her too much of the young Casey Lehin. “She will be admitted to the psychiatric hospital,” the man in charge ordered. “But sir, she isn’t insane. She should be sent to the prison,” one of the police officers said. This sparked something in Ava’s mind, and she suddenly leapt up from her couch and sprinted into the kitchen, looking through her handbag that sat on the bench, searching for a particular notebook. “Where is it, where the hell is it?” She rummaged through the stationery draws in her study, but … nothing. “Come on, come on!” she muttered aloud. Ava ran into her bedroom; a deep breath and sigh of relief when she saw it, the purple covered A6 sized notepad sat comfortably on her bedside table. Her memory was fuzzy, but Ava thanked herself when she found the list she wrote down just several days beforehand. When she was talking to Lillian at the abandoned hospital about ex-patients, the young girl had mentioned several names. Ava had made a note of them with a view to researching them when she had time a bit later. She took her notepad and went back into the kitchen, where her laptop was. She opened up her device and logged in, anxious to investigate and hopefully reveal the people that could take her project to a whole new level.

Ava began her search by starting a simply on Google, hoping for any basic public information. Louise Salcovik was only on Detroit’s funeral notices; she passed away just one year ago. As for Frederick Robertson, there was no record of him at all. She could have been making up names for all I know, Ava thought to herself. Her endorphin-high began to ebb as she slowly typed in the last letters of the last name on the list, Christine Hampton. Several links were displayed but there was one in particular that caught Ava’s eye - Hampton Law Firm. Ava instantly clicked onto it with curiosity, though an additional layer of dread fell upon her as the law firm showed only photos of a young woman, with thick brown hair, a bright, white smile, and wearing what looked to be an expensive jacket. The short paragraph on the website mentioned Lawyer, Christine-Lee Hampton. Ava sighed with disappointment, believing either Lillian simply made the names up, which was rather out of character but not beyond the realms of possibility, or these people simply got lost in the system or were so insignificant to society they didn’t rate a mention. Feeling a bit discouraged after such an energetic start, Ava decided to put the matter to bed before doing so herself. She took her prescribed medication and rubbed a generous amount of ointment onto her cut, which she could feel was healing rather well.

Sunday rolled around, and early in the morning Ava answered the front door to the one and only, Kate. “Come on in, I’ve just put the kettle on,” Ava said, rubbing her face. “Okay, I’ll make us a coffee.” Kate walked to the kitchen while Ava sat on the couch, and they chatted to each other from across the small open area separating the living area from the kitchen. “How is work, by the way?” Ava asked. “It’s kind of boring to be honest. I’m just covering a whole bunch of small stories, like young local prodigies and stuff like that,” Kate explained. “Do you find it interesting?” Ava asked. “I mean, I’m interviewing fourteen-year-old track athletes. I don’t think it’s good for them to be honest, because now they think that just because some small-time journalist is interviewing them for a small-time newspaper, that they’re the next Usain Bolt.” Ava laughed at her friend. “I mean seriously, some of these kids are genuinely unbearable,” Kate said. “You seem a little down; are you feeling bad about what happened between you and your mom yesterday?” Kate walked over to the couch and placed two cups of coffee on the small table. “No. I mean yes actually, a lot happened. I’m surprised you couldn’t hear it from your house. We just screamed at each other, but in the end, it was actually for the best,” Ava explained, mentally going over yesterday’s incident once more. “That’s good, Ava, if it really does help to clear the air between you both. God, I would give the world to argue with my mom again,” Kate said, looking at the ceiling. “I know, and I actually told mom about your story, to make her realize that I was giving her a chance to reconcile, when there are so many people, like you, who would kill for that opportunity.” Ava sipped her coffee thoughtfully. “I don’t know, I guess - the other day I was talking to Lillian, and she seems to be so engrossed with the hospital, I haven’t asked her many details actually, but I feel like she knows everything about it,” Ava said. “Is she an ex-patient or something?” Kate questioned. “No, no, she’s only twelve. The place closed down in ’98. Anyway, to cut a long story short, she mentioned several names that I wrote down, and I spent three hours last night trying to track them down, but I couldn’t find them. I think they would be a great addition to my project but … oh well.” Ava inhaled and exhaled deeply with disappointment. “Ava. Are you kidding me?” Kate almost yelled, jolting Ava out of her reverie. “Do you know who I am? I could quit my job and become an FBI agent if I wanted to,” Kate stated, proudly. “What’s your point?” Ava said. “I can find anyone, and I mean anyone, trust me,” Kate assured her friend. “Um… okay, I suppose I could give you a go! Here, this is the list of the three people, but Louise Salcovik is dead so no luck with her. As for the other two … I have no idea.” Ava pointed to the notes she had made on the pad of paper. “Alright, tomorrow I’ll do some research. The system has easy access to all kinds of documentation, and I know people who are good at finding people.” Ava responded by pretending to be terrified at what her friend just said. “Just trust me, and I’ll tell you any information I can find.” The pair finished their coffee and conversation and Kate left for the day promising to start her investigation the following day for Christine Hampton.

Late that evening, when Ava was getting ready for bed, she heard a notification from her phone. She put her toothbrush away as she picked it up. Her phone unlocked to reveal a text message from Mom. Ava nervously tapped on the icon, realizing that this could determine whether or not her sister wants to see her. “Hello, I saw Kiara today. She wants to see you; she wants to know if you’d see her tomorrow? Love - Mom.” Ava smiled at how her mother signed off, as though it was a letter, then a wave of excitement and delight overcame her. “Yes! Of course, I will!” Ava texted back. She danced in her bathroom and squeezed her fists with excitement. Her sister truly wanted to see her.

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