Convicted (Consequences)

By: Aleatha Romig

The woman stood silently, concealed within the shadows of the tall trees. With the Iowa wind rustling leaves above her head, she watched in fascination as children ran around the well-kept playground. Although many youngsters vied for position on the ladders and ramps, her attention centered on the beautiful, dark-haired little girl and blonde headed little boy playing in the sandbox. She’d seen the children on numerous occasions—always from a distance. She knew the little girl was almost two and a half years old and the little boy was almost two years old. Steeling her shoulders, she decided today was the day she’d finally voice her appeal—face the barrier to her goal—and make her request known.

The children wouldn’t know who she was or why she was there. There was no doubt, the woman with the eagle eyes of a mother and aunt—the woman watching the children’s every move, wouldn’t only know her—she wouldn’t hesitate to send her away or call the authorities.

Inhaling deeply, New York Times bestselling author, Meredith Banks, stepped from the shadows into the sunlight. As the proximity of her goal increased, so did her anxiety. This wouldn’t be easy. Emily Vandersol had made it crystal clear that she didn’t want the children exposed to the media circus. That circus had already exposed too many family secrets—secrets which, for their sake, would’ve been better left hidden.

As Meredith neared the park bench, Emily’s ever present scan of the crowd zeroed in on her, and their eyes met. Before Emily could protest, Meredith rushed to the park bench and touched Emily’s sleeve. “Emily, please let me speak. Please...let me finish their story.”

Momentarily looking away from the children, Emily stared toward Meredith, her green eyes burned with emotion. Her back straightened as her hushed words overflowed with intended harshness. “You’re not allowed to be this close to me or to her. I have a restraining order against all members of the press.”

“I know, but I’m not just the press—I’m Claire’s friend—I was”—Meredith added thoughtfully—“Please—I want the world to know the rest of their story.”

Emily leaned closer as her perturbed tone hardened. “Don’t you think you’ve told enough? One day, I’m going to have to explain your book to her. Don’t you think you’ve done enough damage? Or maybe it’s just the money you want. I’m sure revealing more private information will sell more books.”

Meredith didn’t like Emily’s tone. Although she knew she deserved it; she wouldn’t let it stop her quest. After all, engaging Claire’s sister in any conversation was more than she’d accomplished in the past. “I hope you know this isn’t about selling books. Claire approached me with her story. We had an agreement, and I followed through. I’m not denying that her story’s made me a fortune. What do you want me to say? I’ll donate all proceeds from the rest of their story to Nichol? I’d gladly do that, but we both know she isn’t lacking for money.”

Emily looked up as the dark-haired little girl came running toward them. Undaunted by the visitor, Nichol spoke loud and clear, “Momma”—shaking her little head, she corrected—“I mean, Aunt Em, Mikey’s not sharing. I want my...”

Meredith stared, mesmerized by the young girl’s features. Her long, dark hair was pulled into two pigtails which swung side to side as she ran. Her light complexion emphasized her pink sun-kissed cheeks, and her deep brown eyes shimmered in the sunlight. Meredith recognized the intensity of the young girl’s stare, the perfect combination of her parents; however, the determination and diction in the small voice unquestionably came from her father.

This was the closest Meredith had been to Anthony and Claire’s child. With all of her heart, Meredith wanted to pull the little girl into her arms and hug her tight—anything to help make Claire’s daughter’s world a better place.

While Emily rectified the situation between the children, Meredith pondered the events that brought them all here today—the events that changed Nichol’s life forever. Meredith remembered the Claire Nichols of the past—the carefree young woman who skipped class at Valparaiso to spend the day at Wrigley Field. She recalled the woman who recounted horrific details of a life she never wanted or deserved, and she recollected the last time they met—almost three years ago.

Claire had arranged their meeting. She wanted to discuss Meredith’s first book My Life As It Didn’t Appear. Claire desired to stop the publication.

Momentarily, Meredith recalled Claire’s countenance—finally happy and obviously in love. While they ate lunch in Chicago, Claire opened up, talking about her change of heart, and confessing her pregnancy. It was a step of faith on Claire’s part. Her pregnancy hadn’t been publicly announced, yet during that luncheon, Claire entrusted her long-time friend with her special news. Undoubtedly, it could’ve been a great coup, but Meredith wouldn’t leak the news. She’d done that to her friend once before, and the repercussions of that deception would haunt Meredith forever.