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In the dark: In Principio

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Before Linda Monroe went to work at the hotel (she only went there twice a week), she took her time drinking her coffee and reading the newspaper. Still filled with awfully biased articles. Though she couldn’t care less about these children, she was glad the media wasn’t pushing the story aside. She’d rather read about those kids than that demented pocket squirrel, anyway.

She checked her mailbox. She wasn’t normally one to do so, but she had been expecting an important letter. It was weird: she walked to the mailbox with dread and was relieved when she saw no letter addressed to her, but she already feared what the next day would bring.

Today was that day. The letter had arrived.

Linda took it inside. Before she opened it, she checked whether her sons were awake, and if they could walk into their open concept kitchen and dining room when she would open the letter. But it was still relatively early for a day where they didn’t have to go to school, which was about half-past nine in the morning. Only around ten would the first boy walk into the kitchen to eat his breakfast and then do whatever the fuck he wanted to do.

Linda opened the envelope. It had been folded neatly, and she unfolded the letter. Her eyes rested on the header, displaying the name and logo of the Hatchetfield mammography center. The implication alone was enough to make her hands tremble.

Stop it. You’re Linda Monroe. You are not afraid of a little examination.

But it wasn’t some little examination. Weeks ago, she thought she felt a lump in her breast. She went to check, just to be safe. It had been a while since she’s had this examination.

But when her eyes darted over the piece of paper, she could already feel in her heart what her mind could not accept yet.

She was sick. Furthermore, she was unable to come to terms with this. Again, the universe showed its bias towards her. Why did everyone else have their perfect fucking lives without tragedies? Why was it always Linda Monroe who needed to be fucked over?

Linda could not cry. Because she did not want to - and because she physically couldn’t yet. Not yet. Not while she was still in denial about the deadly tumor residing in her right breast.

Linda had gone to the hotel. She didn’t often go there - she’d hired people to run the place for her – but she needed to get out of the house. Usually, she went to her office to relax, to read some emails, maybe yell at her employees if things didn’t go her way. In general, keeping up with everything that was going on with her business.

Today, however, she did none of that. She quietly went to her office. She did lash out at the girl behind the front desk, but she didn’t care and maybe that was better - now, they wouldn’t figure that something was ever wrong with her.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Instead of checking her email or looking at the canceled bookings, she sat at her desk and stared at the ceiling, she walked around in frustration, and was all around restless. She could do so much, but she could start nothing. How important were these things compared to what she was forced to go through?

She took her phone. Her favorite picture stared back at her. That Linda was at her happiest point in life. That Linda still wanted the world and knew she deserved it. That Linda had no idea what the future would bring.

She was furious at the universe. But she was also aware she would never be able to pull through this shit on her own. And now she was far away from everyone she loved and cared about, she felt more comfortable taking her phone and calling Gerald.

She didn’t want sympathy. Not yet. She now just wanted to let someone know so they could talk about it.

The only person she wanted to talk to was Gerald. Her hands were shaking, though she didn’t want them to. If they shook, maybe her voice trembled, too, which she would hate. She didn’t want Gerald to hear her shaky voice.

But Gerald did not get the chance to hear her shaky voice as she broke the news. It went to voicemail. Maybe it was for the better - he may not work as well if he learned it during work hours. Besides, Linda still had other things to work on, too.

If only she could focus enough to even sit still long enough to open her mailbox without her thoughts wandering.

Luckily, someone walked into her office that could take her mind off of things. Her secretary could not stop him, but was too afraid of Linda to step into the office. She must already be preparing to get shit all over her because she let Tom Houston walk into the office unannounced.

“Linda Monroe,” he said in some sort of introductory manner. This interruption made it easier for her to become the person she presented to the world.

“Tom Houston!” she said. “What the hell brings you here? Don’t you have a kid to find?”

It was easy to hurt someone when you were hurt yourself. She was still Linda Monroe, after all, so it came naturally. Tom, though he hated the comment, stayed on topic.

“You are the last one who saw Max Houston,” he said. “Where was he?”

Linda was stunned. That is why he decided to storm into her office?

“It’s been over thirty years,” she said. “I don’t remember everything that happened back then.” She glanced at him, up and down, and then shrugged casually. “I did prefer your brother over you. He never had anything bad to say, unlike some people.”

Her gaze was fixed on Tom Houston. She had no idea how he viewed himself, but she saw him as a giant ass who had grown up, but not grown out of bad habits. What he’d done to her, what still gave her nightmares, she could never forgive him for.

“Did you know that your mom had an affair with my dad?” Tom asked. Was he trying to move the conversation to a different topic?

If her mother had an affair, Linda didn’t know about it. She was much too busy raising herself to care what her absent mother was up to.

“How is that relevant to the first question?” Linda wondered. She gave Tom some time to answer, but he remained silent. This was the silent confirmation that Linda could bring the conversation back to where he’d started it, and she slipped back into her arrogant self.

“If this is what you want to talk about: I believe it should’ve been you,” she said, and she meant every word. “You should’ve been taken instead of Max. The world would’ve been a much better place. At least your brother wouldn’t even entertain the idea of tying a young, defenseless, vulnerable girl to a tree in the scariest part of the forest and leave her there for fun.”

Tom shook his head. This is not where he wanted the conversation to go. Linda couldn’t tell if he didn’t want to defend himself or if he really thought it was a good idea to hurt Linda like that. Or was he annoyed she brought it up?

“We were kids, Linda,” Tom said. “I’m sorry that happened—”

“It comes too late.” Sorry should’ve come the day after, not thirty years late.

“Kids make mistakes, and so did we,” Tom tried to defend himself. He sighed. “You made a mistake, too, as a kid. If you hadn’t reported the so-called rape to the police—”

“You still believe that outrageous lie?” Linda said. She got shit at school for reporting Tom to the police, for saying that he raped a girl. But Linda never went. She only knew that the rumors went around. People avoided her. They hated her more than they already did.

“Do you even realize it is a lie?” she asked him. Tom didn’t understand - of course he didn’t! He believed what he thought was the truth and discarded everything else.

“But Harriet saw you at the police station,” Tom said, frowning.

“Harriet said a lot of things that aren’t true,” Linda said. “Really, how blind are you? She would have done anything, anything, to split you from Jane, to have you for herself. Have you never noticed?”

No, because Tom was also blind to everything that didn’t fit into his life, such as Harriet being a bad person. But Linda could see his eyes widen, his thoughts going wild, and she reveled in the fact she shook him to his core.

“You’re starting to realize now, aren’t you?” Linda said. “Finally.”

Tom shook his head; he was fully in denial. Linda decided to continue.

“You ruined my reputation because someone else told you I called the cops and you didn’t care to ask me if it was true. That blind trust, Tom, is even worse than anything you did to me.” Linda sat down on her chair, giving the air of being unbothered. “Now get out of my sight. I have work to do.”

“I’m sure you do,” Tom said. If he tried to sound sarcastic, that was lost in his confusion and shock. He walked out of the room and apologized to the secretary, because he knew Linda well enough.

She didn’t plan to yell at the poor woman, though. Despite this cathartic conversation, something else was still on her mind.