It Had to Be You | Chapter 27 of 49

Author: Susan May Warren | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2865 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 18

EDEN CREPT BACK into the newspaper office without Charlotte popping her head out, taking her to task for her overlong lunch break. What a fool she’d been to sneak in with the press corps, thinking Jace would be glad to see her, that his eyes might light up.

If anything, he’d looked downright furious that she’d invaded his world. Like she didn’t belong there.

Which she didn’t. Clearly.

And clearly she’d been fooling herself about Jace and everything she’d supposedly seen under that playboy exterior.

Give him a taste of success and he turned into exactly the man she’d originally thought he was.

She felt soiled, the redolence of bus exhaust on her clothing, and scoured by pitying eyes that had watched her misery as she climbed aboard public transportation and tried to hide her chapped face.

She’d taken a taxi to the airport, thinking maybe Jace would drive her home. See, that’s what happened when a girl assumed.

When a girl stepped off the sidelines.

She should have known that, somehow, Jace would make her a spectacle for ridicule.

“Hey, where’d you take off to?” Kendra moved over to her cubicle as Eden hung her coat over her chair, tried to focus on the screen. “Charlotte was looking for you. Said to tell you to come into her office when you returned.”

Eden blinked, wishing she could shake Jace’s smug smile, the way he’d tucked Haylee close to him as if she belonged there, from her brain. “I had to . . . run an errand. The bus was late coming back.”

“Are you okay?”

Eden pressed her hands to her face. Her skin still felt hot, and maybe she should have composed herself more. But she couldn’t stand there as the rest of the team took the microphone, players who would recognize her. Who would know that, with Owen off the traveling roster, she’d shown up for one purpose.

“What happened?” Kendra, beside her now, frowning. “You’ve been crying. Did you get bad news? Is Owen okay?”

“Owen is just fine without me.” In fact, they all were, weren’t they? Without her butting into their lives. “You were right when you said Owen was taking up all the available space in my life. That I was obsessed. I need to get my own life.”

“Huh?”

She drew in another long breath. “I never should have involved Jace Jacobsen in my search for John Doe —a search that is probably a bust anyway. I can’t get ahold of anyone at that number, and it’s probably not even his family. My imagination is my downfall. I thought maybe I could help him . . . help myself . . .”

Kendra gave her a sad, tired look.

She might have given herself the same weary expression. This was what happened when a person tried too hard to find significance. To change her life. She should probably admit that obits was where she belonged.

But Kendra was shaking her head. “Your imagination is what makes you good at this job, Eden. You’re the one who taught me to look beyond the facts to find the real story. You see the potential inside everyone —that’s your gift.”

Kendra’s phone rang, and she disappeared behind her cubicle wall.

Her words, however, curled around Eden, soaked in.

She stared at the story blinking on her screen. She’d interviewed the funeral director, discovered that the deceased had the same mail route for thirty years. A small detail, but it deserved notice. She could wrap an entire world around the idea of a mailman showing up, rain or shine, every day for thirty years.

Yeah. Maybe she did see the potential . . . or duped herself into believing it.

“Eden!”

She turned to see Charlotte headed her way and got up. “I’m sorry I was late —”

“I need you on a story.”

Oh?

Charlotte handed her a pink telephone slip. “Russell Hays asked for you by name. It’s some retired state senator, and his family wants a full story on the remembrance page. But I think there’s more here, and Hal says you’re always looking for a great story. So head over there and interview them. I’m holding a slot open for Saturday’s edition if you can get it in tonight.”

Eden took the note.

The editor paused. “The truth is, I’m not sure what to make of you, Eden. Despite the fact that you don’t seem to want this job, you’re rather good at it.”

She looked at Charlotte.

“Eden, there’s a call on line two for you,” Kendra said.

Eden picked it up, hating that her heart fell when a woman’s voice answered.

“Eden, this is Becky Norman, over at the hospital. We met a few times when you were in John Doe’s room?”

“I remember.”

“I know this is unorthodox, but I thought you should know that his brain activity is starting to diminish. I think you may be running out of time to find his family.”

No.

No, they weren’t. God couldn’t do this to her, not today.

“Please go into his room, Becky, and tell Hudson that I’m on my way to find his family.”

Charlotte frowned at her as she hung up. “Eden —”

“No, Charlotte. Don’t you get it? I don’t want to be good at this job —I’m supposed to be a reporter.” She shoved the note back at her editor. “This is not my life!”

No. Her life was more. Bigger. Her life had more significance than chasing the shadows of dead people. Or cheering on people who discarded her at the taste of success. “I quit.”

Charlotte took the slip, her mouth a tight knot of disappointment. “Fine. Go.” She handed the slip to Kendra without a word, then headed back to her office.

And Eden tried to ignore the terrible roaring in her heart.

She didn’t want this job, did she?

The sun was just dipping into the western skyline when Eden disembarked from the bus at her stop. The tow truck met her there, and although the old Taurus fought to surrender its repose, it finally shivered to life.

“You need a new battery,” the mechanic suggested. Yeah, well, maybe she needed a lot of new things.

Hobbies. Friends. Goals. Career. Life.

She wiped her cheek as she merged onto 94, heading northwest for St. Cloud.

The GPS on her phone directed her to a small farmhouse outside the city, where the pastureland lay rumpled under a fragile layer of snow. She drove up the dirt driveway and parked in front of a white two-story home that needed some Tom Sawyer attention. Under the glowing outside light, she noticed paint flecking off the clapboards, and an old entryway listed to one side as if hoping to make a run for it. A rusty blue Buick sat in front of a large, empty barn, the scent of livery and hay drifting from the open door, haunting the air.

Eden wrapped her coat around her and stepped up to the front door, stomping through the snow of the unshoveled walk, glad she’d changed into her standard UGGs and parka.

No need to be fancy anymore.

The bell echoed, deep and bold, as if it might have been holding its breath, waiting for release after years of dormancy.

Eden shivered as the wind picked up snow and ghosted it into the darkness.

Footsteps, then a woman appeared. Maybe in her early forties, her dark hair caught up in a messy ponytail, she wore what looked like a pair of pink scrubs, a gold cross around her neck. She held open the storm door. “Can I help you?”

“Hi. My name is Eden Christiansen, and I’m with the Minneapolis Star Tribune . . .” She took a breath. “No, actually, I’m just here as a private citizen, looking for the family of Myron Hudson Peterson.”

She tried to read the woman’s face, not sure.

“That’s my son.”

The words had the power to shake Eden even as she pulled out her phone. “I hate to ask in this manner, but . . . this is all I have for identification.” She brought up a picture she’d snapped at the hospital and showed it to the woman. “Is this him?”

She saw the answer in the woman’s expression, the way she pressed a hand to her mouth. “Is he . . . is he dead?”

“No, he’s still alive. He’s in a coma, though.”

“Where is he?”

“The University of Minnesota hospital.”

A pause, then, “Come in, please.” Her hands were shaking, and Eden could barely suppress the urge to take them in her own.

She held the door for Eden, then walked past her toward the kitchen. Eden stood in the family room, stalled by the cascading sense of time. She’d walked into the seventies —dark paneling encasing the room, with a threadbare blue floral sofa and a couple gold velvet rocking chairs centered around a redbrick fireplace. History lined up on the mantel in a collection of framed photographs. She picked up one, recognized a younger version of the woman in shorts and a T-shirt, her arm over a younger version of John Doe, smiling, holding a medal strung around his neck.

“Sophomore year. Hudson and his four-by-one-hundred team went to state, got fifth place.” She was holding the phone to her ear, and as she turned away, Eden heard her talking to someone, calling in sick.

Eden felt a little sick for her.

She put the photograph back and picked up another, this one with Hudson and an older man dressed in overalls and a gimme cap.

The woman walked through the room, rubbing her bare arms. The place collected the chill of the hour. “That’s his grandfather. He was so proud of Hudson. I’m so grateful he didn’t see his dark years.” She opened the closet in the hallway.

“His dark years?”

She pulled out a coat, her hands still shaking. “Oh, he had so much potential, our Hudson. He was a gifted runner, and we just knew he’d get a number of scholarship offers when he graduated. But it all fell apart. And then this —” Her voice trembled. “Just when he put it all back together.” She stood there for a moment as if trying to figure out what to do. “I need to go.”

“Of course.”

Eden fought the urge to press her for more of the story. She followed the woman outside and got in her car, strangely unsettled. She’d done it —found Doe’s family —and yet . . .

The Taurus didn’t even cough. An hour of driving and the battery still couldn’t muster the strength to start?

She got out as the woman climbed into her own car.

“Do you need a ride?”

Eden nodded.

“Get in,” she said, and Eden settled into the plush, aged velvet of the old Buick. The car, like the house, needed work, but the entire place seemed well-loved.

“Olivia,” the woman said as she backed around Eden’s clunker. “I’m Olivia Peterson.”

“Nice to meet you.” Eden would have to call AAA, but for some reason, sitting here beside Olivia felt almost . . .

Complete. As if she were meant to accompany this woman back to her son.

They pulled onto the highway, the moon starting to rise in front of them. A sprinkling of stars winked against the plane of night.

“Can you tell me what happened?” Olivia asked.

“I don’t know exactly. I found him in the hospital almost two weeks ago, and they had him listed as John Doe or you would have been notified earlier. He was found in Frogtown about a week before; I suspect he was mugged.”

“He’s been alone all this time?”

Eden wanted to deny it, but she nodded. “Sorry.”

“No —I’m just so glad someone tried to find out who he was. Did you say you were with the paper?”

She smiled. “No. I’m just a friend.”

Olivia said nothing. Then, “I was trying not to worry. He seemed like he was better, and I didn’t want to hover. I’ve done that enough.”

She looked at Eden as if for absolution, but Eden had nothing. “Tell me about him. Hudson. He ran track?”

“Yeah. He was amazing. I went to all his track meets —embarrassed him terribly by running the length of the bleachers during one of his races, like I would somehow help him win.”

She gave a sad laugh, caught in the memory. But it ended in a trembling sigh. “He’s my only son. His daddy died in the military. We got married straight out of high school. Young, I know, but we were so much in love. I was still pregnant with Hudson when he died. I named him Myron after his father —something I’m not sure he appreciated.”

“And Hudson? Is that a family name?”

The conversation seemed to bring her out of her panic. “No, that’s after Hudson Taylor, the missionary. His dad and I planned on being missionaries someday, but . . .” She lifted a shoulder. “I went home to live with my parents, and Hud and I never left. He grew up hauling hay and feeding cattle and running a tractor, and he was my entire life. I loved him. Too much, really.”

“How can you love a child too much?”

Olivia glanced at her, her eyes glistening. “When you don’t let go. When you can’t bear for them to make mistakes, so you hang on to their wings, and when they leave the nest, they fall instead of fly.”

She passed a car, stayed in the fast lane. “He just had so much going for him —and I couldn’t bear for him to destroy it.” She set her cruise control. “In the end, that wasn’t my decision.”

“What happened?”

“A stupid mistake.” The silence stretched between them as she seemed to consider how to frame her words. “It was junior year, the state meet qualifier. He and his four-by-one-hundred team had trained for years for that moment. Not just because it was for state, but because the rest of his teammates were seniors. They had all forgone the one-hundred-meter-dash event to save their stamina for this one race. He was the first leg, the fastest sprinter on the team. I remember standing there in the grass, just outside the track, lined up with his block, holding my breath as he took his mark. And then . . . I don’t know what happened, but for the first time in his sprinting career, he flinched. Just a slight movement off the blocks. It’s called a scratch, and according to state high school rules, he was immediately disqualified.”

“You’re kidding. No second tries?”

“Nope. His entire team had to come in off the track. He crumpled right there in the grass. I’ll never forget it, the sight of my boy weeping in the middle of the field. And I wasn’t the only parent crying. It was terrible. His teammates came around him, and they were so kind. But Hudson never forgave himself. And it made it worse when one of the seniors on his team joined the military. He hadn’t landed a college scholarship like he hoped, so he joined up, went to Afghanistan, and was killed in a roadside bombing.”

“Oh no.”

“Hudson unraveled. He blamed himself. I tried to tell him that his friend made his own decision, but Hudson couldn’t hear it. He dropped out of high school, and suddenly my boy with so much potential vanished. Instead he became this man who hated life. Violent, angry. He started drinking and fighting, and too many times I picked him up from a bar or at the police station. I thought he was going to kill someone . . . or himself.”

She merged onto 694 as they approached the city.

“What did you do?”

“I didn’t know what to do. At first I kept hovering. Making his breakfast, doing his laundry . . . being his mother. My father had died or maybe he would have figured it out, but . . . well, it took Hudson coming home wasted one night and throwing a lamp across the room for me to realize the truth.”

“What?”

“I had to let him go. It didn’t mean I stopped praying, but I did have to be willing to let him fail.”

She ran her fingers under one eye. “I told him that I would always love him. That he’d always have a home with me, but that he had to start respecting himself —and me —if he wanted to live there. Three days later, he left. It was the hardest thing I ever did —watching him tear out of the driveway, knowing I might never see him again. With everything inside me, I wanted to run after him. But I had to let him walk alone so he’d stop leaning on me and start leaning on God.”

Eden wrapped her arms around her waist, wishing Olivia would turn up the heat.

“And it wasn’t just for him, either. I’d let him give my life meaning. But that wasn’t his place. I, too, needed to learn to put my hope in God and let Him fill those empty places. And as I did, I discovered that I stopped being afraid, started seeing how much God loved me —and my son.”

Olivia turned off 694 onto 94. “I prayed he’d be a missionary, but I forgot that in order to do that, he had to have his own encounter with God. And I had to remember that God loved my son as much —more —than I did. The best thing I could ever do was let him fail, stop being his savior, and let Jesus do that work.”

She went under the Minneapolis tunnel, then merged toward the hospital. “And then the most amazing thing happened. He found Jesus. And everything changed. He came back to me. Just showed up at the farm one day, whole, healthy . . . redeemed. He’d started working with some inner-city kids and a homeless shelter, and for the first time I saw what Myron and I had prayed for. A man with a heart after God.”

She focused on the road for a moment, then said, “Can I ask you something?”

Eden nodded.

“What made you want to look for my boy’s family? What made you want to find me?”

The memory of Hudson lying on the bed, peaceful yet alone, flooded back at her. Pity? Compassion? No . . . hope.

“I think God nudged me off the sidelines and into his life.”

Olivia nodded as she pulled into the parking garage. She found a space and turned off the car. Sat in the darkness for a moment. “I’d really like it if you came with me, Eden.”

Eden reached out and found her hand. “It would be my privilege.”

dingbat

Jace couldn’t erase the look on Eden’s face from his memory, no matter how long he talked to Haylee. They’d headed back to Sammy’s, in case he might find his friend there, but Nell hadn’t seen him in days. Just to make sure, Jace had gone up to his apartment.

It remained how Sam had left it two days ago.

When Sam had talked crazy, nearly done something to derail his life. Not unlike Jace, who’d let his anger drill a hole clear through his brain. His heart.

He still couldn’t bear to talk to her, but she hadn’t called him either. And why would she? Especially after he let Haylee take a picture with him and post it online with a “J-Hammer Tells All” promo for her ESPN blog post.

He should have talked to Eden before jumping to conclusions. Just like he had with his dad. He was impulsive, and . . . why did he immediately assume that Eden would betray him?

Jace took out his phone, scrolling down to her number. Hovered his thumb over it. And what, exactly, would he say? The shame made him put the phone away. Even if she had written the story, she didn’t deserve his behavior. He felt like a bully.

Instead, he’d track down Sam. And maybe, on his way, check on John Doe. He wasn’t sure if it had all been a game to Eden, but if she didn’t show up at his bedside, Doe would be alone.

The image of her at Jace’s own bedside in the ER, angry and fierce, rushed back at him. What had she said? She wasn’t a fan; she was family.

He leaned against the cool steel wall of the hospital elevator and closed his eyes, feeling that word seep into his chest. Family.

Eden was family —his family. Or he’d wanted her to be. The woman he woke up to every morning. He could almost see her hauling hockey gear from her van, him holding the sticks as they ran after their towheaded sons. And a daughter. He’d like one, like Eden, feisty and smart. So smart.

The image seemed so real that he didn’t realize the elevator doors had opened until an orderly on the other side alerted him.

Jace stepped out of the elevator, shaken from the vision.

Hungry for it.

Betrayed by it.

He heard voices from the end of the hall, turned the corner, and slowed, puzzled by the crowd gathered outside Doe’s room. Young people sat on the floor or leaned against the walls. Some of them praying, others chatting. A few texting.

“What’s going on?”

A kid with long, stringy hair under a wool cap peered at him. “Are you here for the prayer meeting?”

Huh? Jace frowned at him, then turned to enter the room. The door was open, people standing in the entrance, some sitting on the empty second bed. He excused himself as he moved through the crowd.

And then he spied Matt Conners. Parked on the other side of John Doe, his Bible open, reading the Psalms. He looked up as he saw Jace.

“What’s this?” Jace noticed a woman in scrubs —probably a nurse —holding Doe’s hand.

“Hey, Jace,” Matt said. “Nice to see you again. We’re here to pray for healing. Wanna join us?”

He had no words.

“Jace Jacobsen? Are you the one who helped find Hudson?” This from the woman standing beside the bed. She was petite, with dark hair pulled into a messy ponytail, her eyes tired. But she smiled at him, warmth in her expression.

“Yes —who are you?”

“I’m Olivia Peterson. Hudson’s mom.” She held out her hand, taking his in a firm grip. “I had no idea he was hurt or I would have been here. Every day.” She turned to the boy in the bed, and it tugged on Jace, an old, familiar memory.

Hudson hadn’t moved, his eyes closed, his vitals still monitored on a screen behind the bed.

“How did you find out?”

“Eden Christiansen found me. She drove out to St. Cloud tonight, just as I was leaving for my shift at the nursing home. She told me what you did.”

Eden. A bloom of renegade warmth filled him at the thought of her finishing their search. But he couldn’t wrap his mind around it.

Unless . . . “Did you know she works for the paper?”

“Oh yes. But she mentioned that she was there as a private citizen.”

He drew in a breath. “Is she still here?” He looked around in case he’d missed her. But he couldn’t imagine walking into a room and not spotting her.

“No. She said something about a story she had to write.”

A story. Yes, see?

“Apparently she pieced together what happened,” Matt said.

Jace noticed how Olivia turned back to her son, ran her hand down Hudson’s face.

Matt looked at Hudson too. “I remember when he first came to us. He showed up for the basketball program. Hung around for the Bible study and the food. I think he was taking classes at a local Bible college, but he hung out at the community center a lot.”

Olivia just kept holding his hand, such a look of love on her face that it could undo Jace.

“One night, I found him in the gym. Just . . . running. He’d get to the line, crouch as if he might be on a starting block, and then leap forward.” Matt held the Bible to his chest. “I never figured that out.”

“He was practicing his starts,” Olivia said quietly. “He spent way too much time hating his mistakes, even hating himself. I suppose sometimes they came back to haunt him.”

She said nothing more, and finally Matt continued. “He eventually collapsed on the floor, hot and sweaty, and I couldn’t help it —I had to ask. He said that every race is a new one, and he was making sure he started right.”

“Matt mentioned he was interested in track,” Jace said.

“He was one of the best hundred-meter sprinters,” Olivia said. “But he never had a chance to be a champion. Not until he lost everything he dreamed about.” She kissed his forehead the way she might have when he was a young boy. “And then he became the champion God wanted him to be. He finally stopped caring about winning —or losing —and learned to surrender.”

The words wheedled inside Jace.

“Hudson decided that he could start every day and be the man he wanted to be. One day at a time.” She pressed his hand to her chest. “He finally, finally understood grace.”

Jace glanced around him, noticed the room had gone silent. A couple of the girls were crying, a few of the guys examining their shoes. “Do you all know him?”

Nods.

“He tutored me in algebra,” one girl said.

“He shot hoops with me after school,” a young man said.

Olivia was smiling at them, her eyes shining.

“I’m so sorry this happened, Olivia,” Jace said.

She reached out and took his hand. The gesture startled Jace, and for a second, he didn’t know what to do.

“You know, Hudson was one of your biggest fans. He’d be honored to know that you had watched over him.”

Jace’s throat thickened. He swallowed past the burr in it, looked away.

“It’s a mother’s greatest privilege to give birth, to raise a child. But a woman’s greatest honor is to look at her son with pride and know that she’s helped him become a man.”

She sank down on the chair next to the bed. “They say he has no brain function. I can’t believe this is it. He had so much life left in him.”

Her words reached inside Jace, took hold, and the question spilled from his mouth before he realized it. “Olivia, I apologize for even asking this, but . . . is Hudson an organ donor?”

She stared at him a long moment, pain, even shock on her face. “I . . . I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

Jace felt Matt’s eyes on him. Oh, he shouldn’t have asked that 

But then she looked at him, something of desperation in her eyes, and he took a chance. He reached for the other chair and sat down. “Can I tell you about my friend Maddy Newton?”

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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