This story is by Jane Acorn and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
When the office door of the Second Chance foundation opened to let in a new visitor, the first thing Lionel Forrester noticed was the young woman’s limp.
Remorseless guilt crashed his lungs and he gasped for air. Lionel’s neat little office painted in calming seashore colors shimmered in his peripheral vision. Vertigo whirled his insides making him wobble as he surged up to his feet.
The metal legs of his chair screeched scraping the cement floor just as that car he mangled with his RAM truck five years ago.
The bluest eyes he had ever seen were staring at him for the second time in his life. All the times Lionel had imagined pleading for absolution brought him nothing but a nauseating self-disgust; all the pretty words he had thought of scattered in the face of reality. Was it really her?
He could not change the past. He could not run any longer either.
The young woman was frowning at him. She glanced behind her as if deciding whether she should leave right away. Cold sweat dampened the back of his shirt. He couldn’t let her go! He had to clear his throat twice before he was able to speak.
“Please, take a seat,” he rasped, then propped himself on his well-used oak desk littered with self-help and life coaching pamphlets. He gestured to the two chairs facing him – seats pushed under the desk – that could hardly be pulled out in the crowded office before hitting the opposite wall.
The woman blinked several times focusing on his face, frowned again, then limped hesitantly the half-step required to reach one of the chairs in front of his desk and grabbed its back.
“Do you understand how this works?” Lionel slowly sat back down. He was exhausted from the double shift at his day job and hoped the incivility didn’t discourage her.
“No,” she whispered and slowly shook her head looking him straight in the eye. Her fingers whitened as she squeezed the life out of the chair’s top rail.
Lionel frowned. “Uhm … In a nutshell, it’s like this. You tell me about yourself, your situation… why you need the money. I decide if and how much I will give you. After that it’s up to you how to spend it. No repayment or paperwork required.”
“Not you!” Her face abruptly contorted with rage and she pushed the chair away rattling the desk and causing a pamphlet earthquake. “I don’t need anything from you!” She turned and quickly hobbled out.
Lionel scrambled awkwardly around his desk and out of his office into the tiny reception. His part-time secretary was blinking open-mouthed at the slammed door.
He didn’t answer, slamming the door on his way out.
The dusk was falling and Lionel couldn’t see the woman. He thought he heard steps nearby and rushed to the side street around the corner trying to catch up. In the evening gloom he saw a feminine figure limping away.
The woman paused and looked back at Lionel.
And he failed to avoid the blow to the stomach.
As he crumpled to the garbage-littered pavement, he heard quickly departing steps and thought that he deserved nothing less. A just exchange: his life for the lives of her family. The image came easy to him: the silent scream of the instantly crushed man bleeding in the driving seat, the hopeless instinctive recoil of the woman riding shotgun covered in broken glass, and a young girl in the back seat staring at him in shock. His truck’s windshield framed the picture in his mind.
“Give me your money!” The sour smell of stale alcohol hit his nose and Lionel coughed almost losing his consciousness from pain and lack of oxygen. He turned his head up and looked into the face of a man who leaned over him resting one hand on the handle of a baseball bat. It could have easily been him, he wheezed at the irony. Good quality clothes worn without the benefit of a wash covered a body focused on one goal only – finding the next swig.
“Come on, man, I don’t want to hurt you!” The man picked up his bat and poked Lionel’s ribs with it. “But I will if you are not reasonable.”
“No… cash…” Lionel managed to say.
“I’ll take credit, no problem!” The guy guffawed at his own cleverness sending off another wave of sour liquor smell and leaned in to pat Lionel’s pockets.
“Police! Keep your hands where I can see them!”
Lionel’s assailant dropped his bat and ran, but was swiftly cut off by a police cruiser on the other side. In no time he was handcuffed and locked in the back seat.
“Sir? How bad are you hurt? Shall I call an ambulance?”
“No need,” Lionel slowly pulled himself up. He was sure he’d have spectacular bruises in the morning.
“You were lucky there was a concerned citizen to call us. Otherwise, we might not have seen you in time.” The police officer helped Lionel up and back to the bigger street with better lighting and a bench. “I think I’ll call an ambulance anyway. Just to be safe. Ma-am, please, remain at the scene. I’ll need to take your statement.” He turned away to make a call.
Lionel looked up and saw the woman he was after. She was hugging herself and shivering, glancing at him then away.
“Please, take a seat,” Lionel begged softy.
She shook her head resolutely and turned away.
“Well then, the ambulance is coming. Can you tell me what happened?” The police officer pulled out his pe and a notebook.
Lionel smiled sadly at the woman and sighed. “Yes, officer, I have a lot to tell you. I would also like to tell you about a car accident I caused a while ago. Uhm… a hit and run.”
He felt a small soft hand taking hold of one of his nervously twisting hands and finally felt at peace.