Charlotte, North Carolina, 2008
“What’s going on?” Candace Johnson sat up in the bed and waited. Either the cellular company had dropped the call or her friend was on the line, probably twirling a lock of hair, her mind elsewhere. She fired off, “Pamela, are you still there?”
“I’m here,” Pamela shot back. Her friend let out a deep sigh. “There’s a lot I’m trying to process right now. It’s late. Let’s talk tomorrow.”
Tomorrow. “You’re kidding me, right?” Nothing rattled Pamela Coleman, but only a few minutes ago Pamela had called with a shaky voice, saying, “We have to talk.” There was no way Pamela could leave the conversation hanging until the morning.
“I’m tired, Candace. To be quite honest, I may not be thinking straight.”
Candace pulled the covers up closer to her body. It wasn’t unusual for them to talk until the wee hours of the morning, but she knew not to push her friend. “Where are you, anyway? Are you still at the art gallery reception this late?”
“No, I’m on my way home.”
“All right, girlfriend. I hope you get a good night’s sleep. There will be no excuses tomorrow. I expect you to spill everything.”
“I hope I can. You get some sleep, too.”
The dial tone buzzed in her ear for a few seconds before she hung up the cordless phone. Sleep. That’s a joke.
Out of habit, Candace slipped out of the bed and walked over to the window. She lifted one of the blind slats to peer out onto the street. It had been over a year and a half since the police department had provided protection for her family during the night. Now it seemed the police no longer cared. Other cases took priority, she guessed. Maybe it was all her imagination, overcome by grief and loss.
Rain pelted the roof and windows. The kind of rain that could coax a person into a deep, restful sleep. Candace wished. A full night’s sleep had become a lost luxury, but she would try to close her eyes. As she climbed under her favorite quilt, uneasiness settled over her mind. Again. Another long night awaited her.
She could blame her sleeplessness on the late-night pizza session with the kids, but she knew better. Even Pamela’s ominous call didn’t help matters. It was the past that kept her staring at the ceiling, walking beside her like a maddening visitor, just hanging around, with no signs of departure.
Stealing her sleep, her peace.
She gripped the quilt, hugging it close to her body. Her aunt always said, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Candace didn’t care about being strong. She wanted answers.
She stared into the darkness, beyond the clock, to where the glow illuminated a man’s features. The photo was barely visible, but Candace had it memorized. In her mind, she could see Detective Frank Johnson dressed in his uniform. Though his smile was serious, his deep dimples still made an appearance.
Almost seventeen years of marriage. Her protector.
Seemed like everyone these days told her the same thing. “Frank would’ve wanted you to move on.” How could she? Her Frank believed in justice. In the end, her husband received none. That haunted her.
She did need to get herself together. Her children had been through enough. She didn’t need Rachel and Daniel worrying about their mother. More than anything she wanted them to enjoy their youth. She didn’t want them to experience the pain she struggled through at their age from losing a parent.
So Candace meditated on the rain, willing her eyes to grow heavy.
Her eyes flew open, and then she smacked the pillow. Even as she resolved to put the familiar memory out of her mind, questions lingered. Why now?
Almost thirty years had passed since that night. It seemed like every now and then Mama decided to visit her in a dream. Images of the beautiful, troubled woman who birthed her often were like a bittersweet reunion. But sometimes he would show up, too.
Candace was no longer afraid of him. She’d made sure to track down his whereabouts after Frank’s death just to be sure her childhood bogeyman had not returned. She knew he wasn’t a threat to her anymore.
Still, she knew sleep would not come tonight. She refused to close her eyes. Like that night long ago, it felt like God had stopped by to shake her around like one of those snow globes.
Where would the pieces of her life fall like those flakes? Candace wasn’t sure she wanted to know.
Candace focused her thoughts on the earlier phone call. Pamela, what do you have to tell me tomorrow?