Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Write in the MYSTERY genre (04/05/07)
By Debbie OConnor
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Julia Mathews checked on her sleeping daughter and sighed. She almost missed him, but he was hardly a source of security. Even when he was here, he wasn’t here, she remembered.
She went to her room and paced. Should I report this? What do you say, “I’d like to report that someone is sending me Scriptures and gifts?"
She decided to wait. She knew no one religious, but whoever was sending the gifts knew her tastes. It couldn’t be coincidence that they’d picked her favorite stores.
Julia felt she was being watched as she walked to lunch that afternoon. She checked her surroundings, keeping her hand on her mace-laden keychain. Later, she felt the same sensation as she picked Olivia up at school. She told herself it was nonsense, but she was nervous.
There was a knock on the door two days later. A deliveryman held out an enormous stuffed Panda. There was no note.
A month later, Julia caught a glimpse of a familiar face in the crowd. She must be mistaken. He’s thousands of miles away, in California…isn’t he?
She called her lawyer. “Yes, Jack’s back in town. He told us not to tell you…afraid you’d feel uncomfortable. As long as he kept making up his alimony and child support payments, we didn’t feel it was necessary to burden you with particulars.”
Her heart thudded painfully. “Is he okay?”
“He says he wants to show you that he’s turned his life around, that he wants you and Olivia to be happy.”
Five years, she sighed, glancing at a photograph of their smiling, snaggletoothed daughter. He’s never even seen her.
Julia tried to push Jack out of her mind. Then, she rehashed every horrible thing he had done. She added all the new envelopes that came unopened and learned to ignore the feeling that he was watching, but she couldn’t ignore his reflection in her daughter’s eyes. She had to see him.
The sign in the window of the run-down building read Second Chance Ministries. He was supposed to live here, but she barely believed it.
She sneaked inside silently. A familiar voice led a small group of men singing hymns. She found a dark corner and sat down to watch, thankful that no one noticed.
Jack’s eyes were closed—his uplifted face effused joy. Most of the other men appeared rough and troubled, but one or two shared his rapturous visage.
Julia had a strange, overwhelming desire flood her. She wanted something. Jack? Maybe…but there was more, something indefinable, that she craved.
She slunk out unseen and went home to open the rest of her letters. The last was personal and signed.
Julia trembled as she read. Jack wasn’t asking her to trust him; he was asking her to trust God. She dialed his number with difficulty and almost hung up when he answered.
“Jack?” she whispered.
“Jules?” His voice cracked.
“Yes,” she hesitated. “Can I see you?”
Julia covertly examined her former husband’s face as he entered. It was lined and grey hairs peppered his temples. With a surge of compassion, she realized that the last five years had taken a toll on him as well as her.
Jack sat down and openly searched her face, “I can’t make up for what I’ve done, Jules. I’ve lost you and I don’t know my daughter.” His voice trailed off and tears filled his eyes. “I hit bottom four years ago. When I was at my most desperate, I found help in an unlikely place.”
“Where?” she asked.
“Jail,” he replied. “I spent six months there for repeated DUIs. I was forced into rehab and did a year of probation. It saved my life.”
“During my incarceration I met people who gave me hope…they seemed to be lit with joy from the inside.”
Julia nodded, remembering Jack’s face as he sang that morning.
“I became a Christian and rebuilt my life. I saved to make things right with you financially. When I had something to show for it, I returned. I sent the Scriptures and gifts because I want you to have what I’ve found.”
Julia’s heart throbbed. “What’s that?”
She nodded. “I believe you. I…I spied on you today,” she confessed.
He looked surprised but pleased. “What did you see?”
“You were singing. You looked happy. It touched me…it made me want…”
“What, Julia?” he asked, leaning in to hear.
“More,” she whispered.
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