In the beginning, it was pitch black.
And there was pain. But distant, like a memory. Or a threat, prowling the far reaches of the darkness.
Weightless. Suspended in the void. No up, no down. Nowhere.
Beyond the blackness, time passed. Snatches of sound began to drift in. Patchy. Disconnected. A rhythmic, pneumatic sigh. Hollow beep. Voices murmuring words without context.
“Count … three …. ”
“Family …. outside ….”
” …. dead …. ”
A warm touch, tenderly reaching through the darkness. A whisper. Close, very close.
“… going to be all right … fine … listen … mother now.”
Listen to your mother now.
Hours crept by. Mental synapses sputtered dimly to life as the brain began to reboot. Thought sparked, flickered, died. Cut in again. Shorted out. Coalesced laboriously, one syllable at a time.
The memory came together in fits and starts—a kaleidoscope of disjointed fragments and gaping holes, arranging, then rearranging, until the pieces finally fell into place. At long last, a scene unspooled against the blackness, like a movie in a darkened theater.
• • •
“A police reporter, Amanda Joy?” She shook her head, giving her blue eyes that where-did-I-go-wrong roll that still managed to make me feel like I was a scabby kneed five-year-old tracking mud across the marble floor. “Call me an optimistic old woman, but I was hoping you would choose a more … well, a more dignified profession”
“Come on, Mom. Nobody would call you old.”
“Don’t change the subject.” But she was pleased. I could tell by the slight smile and the way she lightly touched her glossy black chignon as she glanced around the crowded restaurant.
Lunch at the extremely pricey Henri’s was Mom’s idea, billed as a girls-only celebration of my brand-new college degree. If I had been in my right mind, I would have shut my trap and gone along for the eats and used Dad as a buffer. Told him and let him tell her. Less flack for me that way. But under the influence of that post-commencement high and further intoxicated by raspberry grilled salmon, basmati rice, and steamed vegetables, telling Mom about my new job seemed like a good idea. Now I was in for it.
“We were discussing your poor choice in career tracks,” she reminded me.
“I’ve wanted to be a reporter since I was sixteen. You know that.”
“Yes,” she said, deliberately studying her flawless manicure. The violet nail polish matched her off-the-shoulder silk blouse. A delicate bracelet—diamonds strung like tiny, winking stars—glittered when she flexed her wrist. Her eyes lifted again. “But I had deluded myself into thinking that was a phase. I hoped you might grow out of it.”
“Before or after I got my degree in journalism?”
She shot me a look. “Don’t rub it in. I was wrong, and I admit it. Still, if you’re determined to be a reporter, why not choose a more conservative approach for once in your life?”
“Like what, for example?”
“Oh …” She considered briefly, head tilted to one side. “Like the society page.”
“Mom. This is me, Amanda, remember? Can you honestly see me in three-inch heels, playing nice with the rich and famous?”
“You would break your neck,” she sighed.
“If I didn’t die of boredom first,” I agreed, forking up a hefty bite of Henri’s world-famous Chocolate Thunder Cake.
Her unlined forehead creased in thought for a moment. When her expression brightened, I braced myself.
“Politics! It’s perfect! And if you were assigned to cover the Assembly, you could see your father more often. I’m sure we can make it happen! Hal must have some media connections who would hire you in—”
I pointed my fork. “Nice try, but no. I mean it, Mom, stay out of this. If you and Dad have your way, I’ll be a talking-airhead by morning. One more rich kid living off her connections. Nobody would take me seriously, not even me. I want to make a difference.”
“But a police reporter? Good heavens, Amanda, nobody likes those people! They’re ….” She hesitated, obviously searching for a sufficiently damning turn of phrase. “Brash. Tactless. Headstrong and reckless!”
Trying not to laugh, I held my arms out to my sides. “Remind you of anyone you know?”
That earned me a glare and a ladylike growl of frustration. “I blame your brothers for that.”
“You wish. Jim, Kev, and Bri didn’t force me to act like one of the guys. The truth is, they couldn’t keep me from tagging along.”
“Maybe,” she conceded reluctantly, then her gaze filled with concern. “This could be dangerous, Amanda. Please reconsider.”
• • •
I should have listened to my mother.
“I’ll tell her you said so.”
A man’s voice, quietly amused, quickly swallowed by the resurgent void. Touch again, a gentle but insistent prodding.
“Oh, no you don’t. Time to wake up, Ms. Gregson.”