“Alright, Munchkin.” Harper smiled warmly at her son as she spoke. “Time for Mama to go to work.”
Phoenix stuck out his bottom lip at her words. “Pway, Mama! Pway.” He said sadly, still holding the little yellow car.
As much as the sight of his disappointment broke her heart, she couldn’t help a bit of relief too. Phoenix was growing more and more attached to her lately — something she’d been looking forward to for a long time.
Harper shook her head slowly. “Mama can’t play anymore right now. But I bet Gammy would love to!”
The little boy’s brown eyes lit up at his grandmother’s name. “Gammy! Gammy!”
With a smile, Harper scooped her son into her arms and carried him downstairs.
Her father had taken Tomato to the dog park that afternoon, but she found her mother working on the computer in the study.
“Have a great day at work, sweetie.” Hope said sweetly as Harper put Phoenix down in front of her.
She watched with a smile as Phoenix followed her mother down the hall toward the living room. Harper followed along behind them at first, before turning into the kitchen to grab her car keys from the counter.
Before she could, however, she felt a slight buzzing coming from the pocket of her jeans. Harper pulled out her phone, her smile widening at the sight of the prison’s phone number on her screen.
Play it cool, she told herself as she lifted the phone to her ear. Don’t give it away! “Hello?” She asked, though she knew exactly who it would be.
“Hey, Harper.” Ivy’s familiar voice replied. She sounded so tired. But then, that was how she’d been sounding most days.
“Hey, Ivy. What’s up?”
“Not much… Just missing you, I guess.” Her voice was so soft, Harper had to strain to hear. “It’s silly, but I kinda just needed to hear your voice.” She let out a small laugh.
Harper felt a bit of relief at the sound. “I miss you too… Like crazy! How are things going in there?” As always, Harper tried her best to sound chipper.
“They’re okay.” Ivy gave her usual reply. “Same old, same old, I guess.” There was a beat of silence. “Sorry for bugging you… I know you’re probably super busy!” It was clear that Ivy’s cheerfulness was just as forced as hers has been. “Like I said, I was just kinda having a sentimental moment or something… Wanted to talk to you. Maybe bug you for one of your stories?” She asked almost hopefully. “It’s been a while.”
Harper’s heart sank slightly. “I’d love to… But I’m actually headed out right now. I’m closing down at the library tonight.”
Ivy failed to completely hide her disappointment. “That’s fine. Like I said, I know you’re busy.”
“Hey, but next time we talk, I promise I’ll have a good one for you, okay?”
She could hear the smile in Ivy’s voice. “Alright, deal.” The other girl paused for a moment. “I should probably let you go… But I’ll talk to you soon?”
Even better than that. Harper wanted to say. “Definitely… I miss you, Ivy.”
“Miss you too. So much. Bye, Harper.”
Harper couldn’t help but smile as she returned her phone to her pocket and finally grabbed her keys from the counter. As always, hearing Ivy’s voice hurt so much… But it was hard not to feel excited at the prospect of seeing her again.
She’d received the director’s response yesterday morning. The letter had worked. He’d approved her request to visit Ivy at the prison.
The day after tomorrow, she’d finally see Ivy’s beautiful face again. She’d get to hold her in her arms. And, above all, she’d get to finally tell Ivy the truth. That she loved her.
It had been so tempting to tell Ivy the good news as soon as she’d heard. Maybe give her something to look forward to? But instead, she’d opted to keep it a surprise.
Harper couldn’t wait to see the look on her face when she walked in the visitors room… She just hoped that Ivy’s reaction to her confession would be something to look forward to too.
A strange wave of anxiety washed over Harper as she stepped through the heavy front doors of the brick building. It felt so strange to be returning to the prison as a visitor. A guest. Part of her had been expecting that it would feel good to be back there as a free woman. But instead, it was just… odd.
The tangled web of nerves and excitement in Harper’s stomach grew even stronger as she approached the front desk. Maia was the one on duty that morning. She’d always been one of Harper’s favorite guards, ever since her first day there.
“Um… hi.” Harper greeted the other woman awkwardly.
Maia glanced up from the computer screen in front of her. To Harper’s surprise, her face fell instantly at the sight of her. “Oh… Harper. Nice to see you again.” Why did her smile seem so forced? “Director Mayer told us you’d be coming. Would you mind waiting for a second?”
Harper shrugged slightly. “Sure.”
She watched as Maia pulled a small walkie-talkie from her belt, muttering something that sounded like “She’s here,” into the receiver.
The reply was much too garbled for her to make out, but the guard seemed to have understood. Maia glanced back up at her, returning the radio to her hip. “He’d like to speak with you in his office… Come with me.”
She rose to her feet then, beckoning for Harper to follow.
Harper’s brow furrowed slightly in confusion. What could this be about, she wondered? Maybe I need extra screening or something, since I’m a former inmate… She chose not to ask any questions, and merely followed the guard down the hall to the director’s office.
Director Mayer was waiting by the door as Harper entered. He was never one for smiling much, but today, he seemed even more serious than usual as he extended a hand toward her. “Miss Rosebrook, you’re looking well.” He shook her hand firmly as he spoke.
“Thanks.” Harper’s voice shook slightly with nervousness… But these nerves had little to do with seeing Ivy again. Something about the director’s demeanor was making her uneasy. “And, uh, thank you again for letting me come see Ivy.”
The man cleared his throat uncomfortably at her words. “Yes, um… Would you mind taking a seat, Miss Rosebrook?”
Her heart was racing in her chest as she did as she was told. What the hell is going on?! “Director Mayer, what’s this about?”
“I just have a few questions I’d like to discuss with you… Miss Rosebrook, when was the last time you spoke with Miss Allen?”
“Um, two days ago… Just for a minute or two. She called when I was on my way out.”
Director Mayer jotted something down on a piece of paper in front of him. “And did she say anything… odd? Or sound any different than usual?”
Harper shook her head, a sickening, twisting sensation slowly creeping its way into her stomach. “Please, Director Mayer. I know something’s wrong.” She fought hard to keep her voice steady. “What is it?”
A soft sigh passed his lips. His expression was suddenly pained as he replied. “I’m afraid there’s no easy way to say this… Yesterday afternoon, Miss Allen was found unconscious in one of the bathrooms… The hospital tells us it was an overdose.”
Harper could no longer breathe. It was as though all the air had been knocked from her lungs. “W-what?!” She managed to gasp.
“They say it was heroin.” He continued uncomfortably.
“B-but… But that’s not possible!” Her breaths were coming in shaking gasps. “She was clean! She hasn’t used in over a year! And where the hell did she even get it from?!”
“We’re still trying to figure that out, Miss Rosebrook.” Director Mayer replied gently. “That was why I wanted to speak with you… Any information you may have would help with our investigation.”
“Where is she?!” Harper cried, banging her fist against the arm of the chair. “I don’t give a fuck about your ‘investigation’! Just tell me what the hell’s happening! Is she okay? Is she still in the hospital? Can I go see her?!”
But Harper knew the answer before he even opened his mouth to speak.