Can’t Breathe by Heather McGhee
The judge’s gavel landed with a solid plunk.
It was over...all over. Robin sank down into the wooden chair under her and stared at nothing. This was the end to five years of her life...five years of waiting and fighting, and it was finally over.
She tried to smile and nod as her lawyers congratulated her, but she couldn’t. This negligence lawsuit controlled her life for the past five years, and she’d just been awarded several million dollars for her loss, her disfigurement and her brevity. Yet, she’d gained nothing.
The stale air in the courtroom suddenly became unbearable, and Robin dashed to her feet, ready to leave, yet afraid of what her life would be like once she did. Outside, the moist April air met her as her team of lawyers battled reporters and and news cameras -- and the usual crowd of on-lookers, eager to get a glance at the woman who’d become a celebrity freak-show almost overnight. She was quickly ushered past all that to a Towncar that waited by the curb. Robin kept her head down, her brown hair astutely hiding the scars that warped the left side of her face. It didn’t matter if she flaunted the ugliness or not. Half the country knew about her, had seen her face, sent her letters of sympathy, hounded her for interviews and solicited her for reconstructive surgery.
Robin hated her scars, but she kept them. Everyday, they reminded her of what she would never hold in her arms again. Every hour she remembered the pain of the fire that consumed her after the semi-truck rammed into her car. And every second of those memories was not nearly as painful as the sight of her baby girl, mangled beyond recognition, with no life left in her body.
The trucking company wanted to settle out of court. The trucking company wanted to bury the whole incident in a drawer. Robin wouldn’t let them. They took her little girl. They had to pay.
But she did not walk into that courtroom that morning looking for money. She wanted revenge and justice and something to fill the hole in her chest, other than five years -- the nineteen hundred, eight-one days -- of torment that resided there. She wanted her Lucy back, and they couldn’t give her back.
She met with her lawyers at their office, signed off on the remaining paperwork, and drove off, alone, heading west to a place where Lucy now slept. Lucy needed to know it was all over. Her little girl -- killed on her fifth birthday -- needed peace. Robin didn’t know if she could give that to her, but Lucy deserved to know.
Brent Poole pulled off of the dirt road in his cruiser. The disturbance call had been nothing more than a woman complaining that her husband was a fat, lazy slob. It was days like these that he thanked God he wasn’t married. Who would want to go through that every day?
The small county road led back toward town, and Brent was glad to finally be done with the day. This had been his last call of the afternoon. His eight hour shift as a Sheriff’s deputy was done with, and there was a recorded Packer’s game and a cold beer waiting for him at home. He’d speed if he wasn’t a part of law enforcement. There were standards to uphold, after all.
A few miles down, he spotted a small, rattletrap of a car on the side of the road and a woman with her head stuck under the hood. Brent sighed and pulled over behind it. Ignoring a lone female stranded in the middle of nowhere wasn’t in his genes. If his momma heard about it, she’d tan his hide.
“Afternoon,” he greeted the back of the woman after emerging from his cruiser and cautiously walking up to her. Just because she was alone and having car trouble didn’t mean she wasn’t dangerous. As he got closer, he noticed her hair first off. It was a strange brown color, encompassing lighter streaks and darker shades and strong hints of red, but it all meshed well together and actually looked natural.
Her head came up and she turned to him. Brent’s breath caught in his lungs. Old, faded scars stretched from her left temple down her cheeks and the side of her neck, disappearing under the collar of her white blouse. Sweet Jesus, what the hell happened to this woman?