This story is by L.S. Beddes and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Cameron Call saw her everywhere: the teenage girl skateboarding past him, the bartender with crazy hair, or the woman belting Kesha songs by the subway. Yet Cameron knew that none of these were his daughter. It had been close to three years since he had seen Emma Jane, so while he was unsure if he would recognize her, he was certain these weren’t her.
As he walked out of the subway into the setting sun, he saw Emma Jane’s mother everywhere too. He saw her in the sun’s warm glow and in her favorite flowers, anemones, that were blooming in random cracks and crevices.
The apartment complex on 134 B Street loomed in front of him. After walking up two flights of stairs, saying hello to Katherine, and fumbling for his keys, Cameron swung his apartment door open. He washed his hands. Over the running water and buzzing lights, he heard his son’s voice coming from the shut door of his bedroom.
“That’s your only option. What else can you do? Listen, Dad just got home, I gotta go.”
Cameron turned off the sink. “Shadow, what do you want for dinner?”
Shadow walked out with a goofy grin. “You want me to make ramen again?”
“If you want to buy another bowl,” Cameron said with a laugh. “I still can’t believe you tried to microwave it without any water.”
“Hey!” Shadow protested. “You didn’t say anything about adding water!”
They ended up making ramen and ate, breaking up the silence with jokes or stories from the day. Though he felt his wife’s presence often, Cameron saw her best through Shadow. His laugh, his eyes, were hers. She’d been gone for four years now. They missed her terribly.
Shadow clutched his chest, wincing. Cameron snapped back to reality.
“It’s happening again?” he asked.
“Yeah, but its fine,” Shadow said through gritted teeth.
Cameron sighed. “Okay, but you have to promise to tell me when it isn’t. We’ll fix it soon. Promise.”
Shadow smiled, relaxing a little. “Yeah, heart transplant never sounded so good.”
Shadow’s smile disappeared. “I forgot. I got another letter from Emmy today.”
Emma Jane? Since running away, Cameron had only caught word she was even alive twice. Both instances were through the form of a check in the mail, addressed to Shadow. It included a short note wishing him well, never a return address, or an explanation how she got the money.
“Anything new? Is she okay?” Cameron hated the urgency in his voice. Near desperation.
Shadow wouldn’t meet Cameron’s eyes. “She loves her day care job. That’s it.”
Cameron sighed, once again disappointed how little he knew of his daughter’s life.
Shadow finished eating and went to his room while Cameron cleaned up dinner. He sat down in the darkened living room with memories of Emma Jane swirling in his head. He turned on the TV to banish the thought of her when he heard a knock on the door.
Cameron groaned. No one ever had a good reason to knock on his door this late at night. He went to the door and glanced through the peephole. It was a young woman with short hair dyed silver and purple. Her face was covered in piercings and smudged makeup.
He opened the door. The young woman gazed up at him in awe, and immediately he knew.
Tears streamed down her caked face. “Hi daddy.”
Cameron, overcome with a swell of emotions, pulled her into a tight hug. She stiffened, arms stuck to her sides as her crying evolved into sobs. He let go and looked at her. She had a tattoo on her shoulder, white anemones wrapped around her skin and down her arm, likely in honor of her mother. Yet this was not his daughter, not as he remembered her.
After many minutes of observing his sobbing daughter, Cameron sat down. “What are you doing here?”
Emma Jane wiped her eyes. “I miss you, and Shadow. You don’t understand, I wish I could have come back sooner.”
“You’re right. I don’t understand. I’ve been so worried about you. Why come back now?”
His daughter wouldn’t meet his eyes. “I came because… well- I need some of the money I sent you back.”
Cameron tensed. “How much?”
“Four thousand dollars.”
He felt his face flush. “And why do you need such an outrageous amount? You know where that money is going. While you’ve been out prancing around heaven knows where, Shadow’s gotten worse.”
“Dad, I know. Don’t you think I’ve tried to find every other possible solution?” Emma Jane’s eyes filled with tears again. She looked afraid. “I wouldn’t be asking unless I really needed it.”
Cameron stood up and glared at her. “Get out of here, now! Coming back just for money.” He sat back down, realizing that he was yelling. He hated yelling. Subdued, he said, “Just get out of here.”
She was crying again, small shoulders shaking, head in her hands. Cameron felt a hand on his shoulder. Shadow had snuck in.
“Dad, Emmy needs the money. She’s in trouble. I had to convince her to come ask you. I want you to give it to her.”
Cameron stood up and turned around. Shadow was crying. He inched closer to Cameron, “If she doesn’t get this, she’s going to die.”
Red with fury, he pushed Shadow back, surprising them both. Shadow fell to the floor. Cameron was yelling again. “If she gets the money, you’re going to die, Shadow. Don’t make me choose between my two kids.” He turned to face Emma Jane. “It’s not even a question. I won’t give it to you. If this is about rent or food or something, we can help you. Just stay with us.”
“You don’t understand,” she said in a soft voice. “It’s not that. Dad, people are after me, and if they find me… they’ll kill me. They threatened me, the day care… I don’t know what else I can do. I owe them the money.”
This hit Cameron. Was it true? It couldn’t be. “I’m sorry Emma, but I can’t give it to you. Stay with us. We can protect you.”
He glanced back to Shadow, still on the floor. Twitching. Gasping for air. Eyes rolled back.
“Oh no. Emma Jane, get Katherine, call 911.” Cameron started CPR. Emma Jane ran out, got Katherine, and disappeared into the night without another word.
Seconds later he was in the hospital, watching his son’s shallow breathing. The doctors informed Cameron that Shadow went into cardiac arrest. He wouldn’t survive if he didn’t receive a transplant.
After many sleepless nights next to Shadow’s hospital bed, one of the doctors pulled Cameron outside. “I’m sorry Mr. Call, but we can’t find a heart in time.” Three days later, Shadow died.
In the weeks following the funeral, Cameron became obsessed with finding Emma Jane. He searched for her desperately, asking everyone he met if they had seen her, until he found her in the newspaper. She was shot dead in her apartment, on February 23rd, two days after Shadow’s passing. Forensics concluded that she died two weeks before she was found. When inspecting her apartment, they found remnants of cocaine, and her bed tagged in black spray paint- work of a gang.
Cameron was defeated. He saw them all now, but more than anyone, he saw his wife. Her pain in the dying anemones. He had failed her.
The four thousand dollars Cameron so desperately wanted to give Emma after Shadow’s passing went to her funeral arrangements. Katherine visited Cameron often, cleaning and trying to console him, but nothing could give him comfort. Cameron had failed them all.
A week after Emma’s funeral, Cameron turned off the lights in his apartment and sat dead on the couch. Life was meaningless. Would he rejoin his family if he died? Would they want him?
Without fail, Katherine knocked with determination on his door. He grudgingly let her in.
“Cam, I’m worried about you,” she said. When he didn’t respond, she continued. “You probably didn’t know that I had a son. He passed away at three years old, drowned in the bathtub. I was gone just for a few minutes. I came back and found him- I couldn’t do anything to bring him back. I hated God. How could He allow this to happen to me?” She was crying.
Cameron spoke, his voice hoarse. “Are you trying to help me feel better?”
“No,” Katherine chuckled, wiping her eyes. “I’m trying to teach you what I learned when I lost my son. Death is not the greatest loss in life. An even greater loss is what dies inside of us when we lose those we love unexpectedly. Don’t let your hope die.”
She was hugging him as he sobbed. His wife, Emma, Shadow; he saw them everywhere, and he realized he never wanted to stop seeing them. They were his hope, and he wouldn’t let them die again.