Howard could hear rapid breathing on the other end of the line until he finally heard a deep sigh and then his wife’s voice. “Howard, you need to get back here immediately,” her voice was quiet and strained, “please, it’s important.” Howard’s heart sank. Something wasn’t right. Ann’s voice sounded scared, but there was no panic or distress in it. She sounded as calm as if she was calling him about the groceries he needed to pick up. “Ann, honey, what is it? Is it Scotty? Is he alright?” His mind was racing through different sceneries where Scotty was lying lifelessly on a cold hospital bed or being rushed to a surgery or –

His thoughts were cut with his wife’s firm answer, “Yes, yes, he is fine. Just get in the car and come here as quickly as possible.” She hung up. Howard stood motionless and waited for the sudden rush of adrenaline to pass. When he could feel his heartbeat slowing back closer to it’s usual 60, he made sure his keys were still in his breast pocket and rushed out of the door.

The route to hospital took forever. Or that’s how it felt to Howard. Traffic lights were all showing red longer than usual, rush hour was earlier than ever before and somehow every single car was driving the ring road moderately under the speed limits. When he finally pulled to the hospital’s parking lot, he mentally thanked every god he had ever heard of.

Ann sighed in relief as she finally saw his husband emerging from the car. She let the blinds fall back to cover the window and rested her forehead against the soothing coldness of the glass frame. She walked to the other side of the room and kissed his sleeping son’s cheek. A small smile formed on her lips as she watched her son’s chest rising and falling as he breathed softly. A loud knock on the door brought her back to reality. She strode to the door, unlocked it and peeked from the narrow opening. As she saw Howard’s familiar beard, she opened the door completely and pulled him in, quickly turning the lock.

“Ann, what on earth is going on?” Howard panted and wiped his sweaty brow. “Howie, I don’t even know where to start,” Ann said with a shaky voice. She made sure Scotty was still sleeping, lowered her voice and continued, “Remember my Aunt Maggie? The one who bequeathed me the money when I was younger? Well, the thing is… I wasn’t being completely honest about that and… I…” Ann could see Howard was having hard time following her story. She didn’t know how to continue. How could she ever make Howard understand? But there were no time for delays or second-guessings so she opened her mouth again and began from the very start.

Howard sat on the hard plastic chair of the hospital room, staring the dusty corner behind Scotty’s bed without really seeing anything. His hands were lying limply on his lap as he listened his wife’s story in complete disbelief. She told him about her youth – how the desperate need for money had driven her to work as a street dealer under a notorious drug lord.

“I – I don’t know what I was thinking. I needed the money, I had the college to pay for and no one would hire me and I had tried everything until my friend Ruben took me to this guy and –” Ann’s voice cracked and she wiped the tear from the corner of her eye before it could fall. Howard watched her steady herself as she continued with her eyes closed, “It wasn’t bad at first. I delivered few packages here and there, sold small amounts of it on the streets to kids… Things like that. Nothing too bad. Then one day I heard about this 14-year-old child who had died from overdose. That was when I finally decided I couldn’t do it anymore. So I left. And… Howard, please, try to understand. I needed the money… So I took it all. I stole every last dollar I could find and left. I changed my name and did everything to make sure they couldn’t find me. I met you and got Scotty and I thought they had forgotten about me.” Her voice broke and and she buried her head in her hands.

“So they were the ones who tried to kill Scotty?” Howard couldn’t even recognize his own voice anymore. Ann nodded and spoke in repressed voice, “One of them called me after you left. They know where we live, Howie. They are going to kill us all.”

Howard stood up and cracked his knuckles. “Do you think you can carry Scotty? We need to get back to the house, find our passports and leave the country tonight.” His voice was steely as he began gathering his son’s magazines beside his bed. Ann lifted his head, wiped his tears and nodded firmly. “Yes. I’ll carry him.”

The sudden stop of the car woke Scotty. He yawned ja glanced around the car sleepily. He watched his father get out and run to unlock the front door, disappearing inside the house for a moment until he came back signing them to come in. Scotty got up and walked to the door, still feeling a bit concussed. His dad had found two big suitcases and now both of his parents were rushing around the house and throwing things in them. “Are we going on a trip?” Scotty asked excited. His mother, who was just in the middle of going through the living room drawers, looked at him and smiled, “Scotty, honey, go upstairs and take all the important things you’ll need.” Scotty took the bag her mother was offering and walked to his room.

As he was trying to decide between his new red remote-controlled car and the Buzz Lightyear action figure, his mother rushed into the room. “Go under your bed. Now. And don’t come out no matter what.” Her voice sounded like Scotty had never heard before. She grabbed him in a tight hug, kissed his forehead and pushed him towards the bed. “Scotty, I love you so -” A loud bang interrupted her sentence. Scotty watched her mother go completely pale. “Hurry. And promise me to stay there.” Her mother watched him hide and made sure he couldn’t be seen from the door. She gave him one last look before exiting the room and closing the door softly.

Scotty listened to his mother’s receding steps. He heard people speaking somewhere off the distance, but could not make up what they were saying. Then he heard his mother’s panicked scream. “No, wait, you don’t have to –” There was another loud bang that echoed through the house. After that, all Scotty could hear was silence and the sound of his heavy breathing. He didn’t know how long he lied there, but somewhere between his constant crying and sobbing, he fell asleep.

When he next became aware of himself, it had gotten dark and his room was filled with blinking red and blue lights coming from the driveway. He could hear several heavy steps climbing up the stairs. His door was opened and he saw a pair of black boots entering the room.

“Hey, buddy. It’s alright, you’re alright, you can come out now. We got you.”

Maija & Julia

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