TW: Mention of suicide.
“Congratulations, you’ve won an all-paid holiday to Colombia for 5 days, completely free! Sign up now to claim it now!”
Ciara sighed after reading the text message, these spam texts were getting clever and sneaky by the day. This had been her third text this week while her email had been bombarded with it almost every day!
The first time she read this message, her face lit up by the idea. For a second she let herself enjoy that fantasy. Heading into Colombia, bathing in the sun while she enjoyed her time by the beach. Perhaps pretending to be someone else when she snorkeled underwater and watched the corals. Someone a lot more fun.
Instantly her breath felt lighter in her lungs, her aching shoulders relaxed as if she was physically there. Free from all her responsibilities, little tremors passed through her body, filling it with excitement.
“Stop!” She told herself, snapping out of her little dream. No way she won such an opportunity. Worst case scenario someone would lure her in and then trap her into human trafficking. Or a drug mule.
Ciara was in her early 20s, still trying to find her way through life. Some days she enjoyed being the Kindergarten teacher she was, other days she wanted to be a lawyer or a successful book blogger. But being in the public eye scared the crap out of her and her online persona was born from that same fear. Her book blog was under a pseudonym. Even though it wasn’t quite successful, she enjoyed her moments of interacting with like-minded people in the community.
It was when the same message was sent to her Goodreads profile, her attention was captured. Her jaw tightened, forcing her gums to take the impact. The searing pain was endured through her mouth. Something she should’ve taken care of a while ago but NHS’s long waiting list made her endure it anyway.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t touch” She taught herself after watching a few American films.
With all the anxiety that sank in the pit of her stomach, she checked the sender’s profile, Frank C.
He seemed to have created a new profile with zero books read. What was happening? She was certain no one could hack into her phone or laptop by just replying to the person back on Goodreads. With her heart dancing against her ribs, she replied to Frank C.
Frank C: Congratulations, you’ve won an all-paid holiday to Colombia for 5 days, completely free! Sign up now to claim it now!
Periwinkle: What do you mean? Why are you stalking me?
Frank C: We aren’t. We’re just providing you with the opportunity to obtain what’s yours.
Her brows knit together at the response. Were they truly behind her? How did they even find her? Especially on GoodReads.
She glanced around her bedroom as if someone else was lurking in the shadows. Her heart continued to palpitate.
Periwinkle: What’s the catch?
Frank C: “No catch, Miss Stalestrome. It’s a rare opportunity that has come knocking at your door. Why would you turn it down?”
His argument did seem convincing. Even when he seemed to be pressing. What did she really have to lose? It was just 5 days. With Spring Break around the corner, she could manage to miss school during the time period. It seemed like luck was finally on her side.
Periwinkle: Okay… Send me all the details.
She replied vaguely. Internally she was excited but Ciara had to maintain her cool. Her mind had to be in the right. She still had to investigate all their intentions before heading out.
Ciara spent another week going through all the details Frank C had provided before heading out. She could’ve canceled the trip last minute. Everything was paid for but she never signed a contract or made an agreement of sorts.
The idea of being in control gave her some mental peace.
Her air tickets were all in business class, heading out from London to Cartagena. She was rather impressed by her accommodation. A 7-star hotel’s presidential suite right in the heart of the city! She was getting the best of the best, but what could really go wrong?
Her sparkling smile dropped into a crease, situated in the Presidential suite, between all the glitz and glamour was a middle-aged man. He seemed out of place. His skin was withered from age but Ciara suspected there was some illness involved too. He smiled warmly at her, almost as if he had known her forever.
“Sorry, sir. I seemed to have the wrong room.” Ciara whispered, glancing down at her single black keycard in her hands. “Stupid technology, amiright?” She chuckled nervously while taking her steps back.
The bell boy stood awkwardly outside of her room with her bags. He exchanged a confused look between the two. It wasn’t just the language barrier but also the tension in the room, thick enough to cut through glass.
Before the bell boy could say anything, the man replied.
“No, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, Ciara.” His hoarse voice which lacked any malice made her shiver anyway.
“I’m… sorry…?” Her voice betrayed her, showcasing her fear for the stranger to see. She hadn’t even introduced herself to him. How did he know about her?
With a heaving breath, he cleared his throat. “I figured I could use some company. It only seems fair for an all-expense-paid trip. It is such a bargain, I tell you.”
All blood was drained, her tan skin turned pale as if she were a ghost herself. “I-I am sorry, sir. I don’t do such entertainment there’s been a mistake of some sort!” She blurted, picking up her pace towards the door when his laugh surrounded her instead.
It was a comforting laugh as if the air had been picked up around her, lifting into a warm hug. She embraced it before chuckling herself.
Oh good. Seems like a prank. Okay, where are the cameras? You got me!
“I am sorry, dear. You are a fine-looking woman, but a tad bit young for my taste.” His voice was laced with a playful tone.
Her breath came back in control, turning back on her heels to glance at the man.
“Then what it is that you would like from me?” She asked suspiciously, tightening her coat around her slender body. Even if the man seemed weak, she couldn’t trust anyone. Internally she cursed her stupidity for falling for something like this.
Her hazel eyes landed on his blues, they were warm and kind. She let her guard down, finally exhaling a deep breath. Something in her action made him smiled brightly.
“C’mon child. Are you famished? Because I am. I am Arne, by the way.” He offered, forcing himself to his feet.
Arne winced as he tried to get up. His frail body now required more strength than ever. He faked a smile towards Ciara but she saw it through him. He was indeed sick.
With a few smiles, tension disseminated.
Arne gestured the bell boy to leave Ciara’s bags to the first floor of his Presidential Suite. Seemed like his Spanish was just as good as hers.
The two of them hit off instantly, falling into each other’s step as their conversation never ended. He was a diamond businessman, having his business set up in D.R. Congo. Ciara understood how he could afford such a lavish lifestyle but he never told her why she was there.
“Never been married?”
“Never… I was too busy being selfish…” He whispered, Ciara could observe the pain in his eyes. There was a storm building behind his ocean-colored blues.
Four days they spent together, eating, drinking, and chatting. Their routine felt simple and even though she hadn’t really known him, the thought of their time together ending soon made her uneasy… Or rather sad.
He felt like a father to her. Someone she had lacked her entire life.
On the very fifth day, Ciara hopped down the stairs from her room on the top floor to meet him, but instead, his bed was made.
“Where is Arne?” She questioned, confused. “Did he leave? I thought we were having breakfast together?”
A somber expression was over Frank’s face. “I am sorry, Ciara…” He said sadly before handing her a letter. A letter that might change her life forever.
“My beautiful Ciara. I can’t believe you have grown up to be such a beautiful woman. My heart has truly been rejoiced to be reunited with you again. I regret not reaching out to you earlier…”
She started reading it out loud but her eyes betrayed her, tears pool in them. What was happening? How could Arne have known her?
“I know I have put you through a lot, and my selfish way will increase your burden but I have to do this. For the past 21 years, I have thought of you every day. I regretted leaving you and your mum but I had to do it…”
A heart-wrenching sob rippled through her throat followed by the bucking of her knees, forcing Ciara to fall. None of this could be true. What was he saying?!
Her tears smudged his penmanship. She wiped them away with the sleeves of her white shirt before continuing to read.
“I am dying… Or I might already be dead when you read this…”
That’s when Ciara’s eyes widened to why she was in Colombia. Euthanasia…was legal here… She couldn’t bring herself to read any further with her tears fogging her vision but Ciara paddled through.
Her mother said her father died before she was born but the new information was getting harder to process. Why did her mother lie to her then?
“I am happy you chose to take your time with me for which I will forever be grateful. I will love you always, my child. I am sorry for not seeing you earlier. In my last moments, I realized how much you mean to me. I had been blind, my whole life in search of money and meaningless relationships. Now that I am dying in my 40s, I understand how short life is. I shouldn’t have wasted it away. If I could turn back time, you would be my precious belonging, molded by my love and your mother’s nurture. Even in my end moments, your smiling face consoles me. If there is an after-life. I will be waiting for you. I hope that Sally forgives my actions. I will love you always, Ciara…