Absolution by Amanda Dick
Jack McKenna is a man with two very distinct pasts.
One ended with a car accident involving his girlfriend, Ally, and a split-second decision with horrific consequences. Desperate to escape the guilt, he carved out a new life for himself. Four years spent hiding in the shadows, punishing himself for not having the courage to go back to her. Then, out of the blue, a phone call forces him to face up to everything and everyone he left behind.
Ally Connor’s life was split in two - before the car accident that shattered her spine, and after Jack’s sudden disappearance. Abandoning her when she needed him most, she fought hard to make it back from the brink. The face she shows to the world is strong and courageous, but behind the mask, the pain is burrowing deeper.
But fate had more in store for these two broken souls than either could have imagined. A funeral, a homecoming and a journey of self-discovery that would change both their lives - if they let it.
Suddenly, the secrets they want to hide from each other are the very secrets that could make them whole again.
Ally looked up to find Jack standing in the doorway. She froze. She had been lying to herself, she realised too late. She wasn’t ready for this, not by a long shot.
“Come inside,” he said, his desperate gaze holding hers. “Please?”
He had changed out of the torn shirt and jacket, and stood before her in jeans and a dark blue t-shirt. He looked very much the worse for wear, his eye swollen slightly, an angry-looking cut on his cheek.
Her heart pounded against her ribcage. She fought the impulse to turn and make her way back to the car. He moved aside and she maneuvered herself over the doorstep and into the hall. She wanted to cry. It felt wrong, like they were trespassing somehow. She wished like hell that Tom was there.
“I wasn’t expecting you,” Jack said quietly, closing the door behind her. “But thank you, for coming.”
He stood facing her, shoving his hands deep into his pockets. Had his eyes always been that shade of green? They seemed darker, heavier somehow. God, what was she doing here?
Her hands gripped the handles of her crutches even tighter. The questions bolted out of her before she could stop them.
“Why’d you do it? Why’d you leave like that?”
The silence seemed to buzz in her ears, seconds stretching out.
“Why do you think?” he whispered, his eyes brimming with tears.
“That’s not good enough,” she shot back, tilting her chin in defiance. “I need to hear you say it – you owe me that.”
He ran a hand through his hair. “You’re right, I’m sorry. Look, I… this could take a while. Come through to the living room, I’ll get us something to drink.”
She frowned, afraid of losing her resolve if she moved any further into the house. Before she could answer though, he walked into the living room and she had no choice but to follow.
She had last been here two weeks ago, for dinner. The house looked exactly the same, except for the glaringly obvious fact that Tom was missing. Her heart ached for him. If he were here, he’d be the buffer she felt they desperately needed now. Without him, it was too raw.
Jack poured the drinks, his back to her. To his left, on the side table, was an almost-empty glass that he topped up. Clearly, it wasn’t his first drink today. She couldn’t blame him.
He turned back to her, holding a glass in each hand, indicating the couch. “Shall we sit down?”
She ignored the couch and headed for the small dining table at the end of the room instead. She wanted to put something solid between them, hoping it would help her concentrate. She could feel his eyes burning into her back as she lowered herself into a chair, leaning her crutches against the table beside her. He set the glasses down on the table and pulled out the chair opposite her. She cringed as the chair’s legs scraped against the hardwood floor. Silently begging her trembling hands not to betray her, she reached for her glass and took a quick sip.
Tom had been the one to teach her about whisky – the good, the bad, the difference between blended and single malts, when to have water with it and when to have it neat.
“What do you remember about the accident?” Jack asked quietly, dragging her back to the present.
A black void where her memories should be.
She stared into the glass she held with both hands on the table in front of her. “Nothing. I don’t remember a thing. Callum told me what happened, after.”
“What did he say?”
“That it wasn’t your fault.” Why did she sound so frightened? She cleared her throat, mustering up the courage to look across the table at him. “He said there was nothing you could have done, that the other car came out of nowhere.”
He nodded slightly, his expression guarded. She waited for him to elaborate but he didn’t. She seized her chance, before she lost her nerve completely.
“I want to know why you left like that, if it wasn’t your fault. Was it because of what happened to me?”
He shook his head and she tried to distance herself from his obvious pain. She couldn’t afford empathy if she was to get through this. She needed answers.
“Was it? You were gone when I woke up from surgery, Jack. You knew what happened to me. Did you leave because of that, because you didn’t want to be with me? I want the truth. I can take it,” she lied.
He shook his head, swallowing back tears. “No.”
“No, I’m not, I – “
“You’re lying!” she cried, anger bursting forth.
“No! I’m not lying, I swear to you,” he insisted desperately, leaning forward. “I left because of me, because of what I did!”
“What the hell does that mean?”
He looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Something was going on behind his eyes that she couldn’t read and she frowned, searching deeper.
“I was driving. It was my fault.”
“So you left because you felt guilty?”
“I left because I was scared.”
“I was scared too – I woke up and you were gone!”
Breaking it down like that, so simply, hurt much more than she expected. All the things she couldn’t say – the fear that had overwhelmed her and pulled her under and nearly destroyed her – manifested as tears, overflowing and running down her cheeks.
“I’m so sorry,” he said brokenly, staring at his hands on the table. “I thought you’d hate me… I thought you’d all hate me.”
“So you just decided to run away instead?”
He didn’t answer, and anger and betrayal overwhelmed her as his face blurred.
“I wish I could take it all back – I wish I could change everything,” he whispered.
“I know. I’m so sorry. I should’ve stayed, I should’ve – “
“I’m not interested in hearing about what you should’ve done,” she snapped. “I know what you should’ve done, but you didn’t, did you?”
Jack looked devastated but she couldn’t help the words that came tumbling out.
“I lay in that hospital bed, counting the holes in the ceiling tiles, thinking about all the things that I would never be able to do again, and I kept thinking that if you were there, it would be okay – that you being there would mean that everything was going to be okay. But you weren’t.” She steadily held his gaze, binding him to her as surely as if she had used ropes or chains. “I hated you for that. I hated you for leaving, I hated you for not even saying goodbye – for not having the guts to talk to me before you left, for being such a coward.”
Tears spilled down his cheeks, but she wasn’t finished.
“Why didn’t you call? Or write or email – why didn’t you at least try? Did you even think about me at all?”
“I never stopped thinking about you,” he whispered, chin quivering.
It was on the tip of her tongue to call him a liar again, but something was wrong. He stared at her, and for an instant, she saw through the mask. Buried so deep it was barely visible, was the truth, and when she saw it, it took her breath away.
Amanda Dick is a night-owl, coffee addict, movie buff and music lover. She loves to do DIY (if it's not bolted down, she'll probably paint it, re-cover it or otherwise decorate it) and has tried almost every craft known to man/womankind. She has two sewing machines and an over-locker she can't remember how to thread. She crochets (but can't follow a pattern), knits (badly) and refrains from both as a public service.
She believes in love at first sight, in women's intuition and in following your heart. She is rather partial to dark chocolate and believes in the power of a good vanilla latte.
What lights her fire is writing stories about real people in trying situations. Her passion is finding characters who are forced to test their boundaries. She is insanely curious about how we, as human beings, react when pushed to the edge. Most of all, she enjoys writing about human behaviour - love, loss, joy, grief, friendship and the complexity of relationships in general.
After living in Scotland for five years, she has now settled back home in New Zealand, where she lives with her husband and two children.