The Bodyguard - Katherine Center

One

MY MOTHER’S DYING wish was for me to take a vacation.

“Just do it, okay?” she’d said, tucking a lock of hair behind my ear. “Just book a trip and go. Like normal people do.”

I hadn’t taken a vacation in eight years.

But I’d said, “Okay,” the way you do when your sick mom asks for something. Then I’d added, as if we were negotiating, “I’ll take one vacation.”

Of course, I hadn’t realized it was her dying wish at the time. I thought we were just making middle-of-the-night hospital conversation.

But then, suddenly, it was the night after her funeral. I couldn’t sleep, and I kept thrashing around in my bed, and that moment kept coming back to me. The way she’d held my gaze and squeezed my hand to seal the deal—as if taking a vacation could be something that mattered.

Now it was three in the morning. My funeral clothes were draped over a chair. I’d been waiting to fall asleep since midnight.

“Fine. Fine,” I said, out loud in bed, to no one.

Then I belly-crawled across the covers to find my laptop on the floor, and, in the blue light of the screen, eyes half-closed, I did a quick search for “cheapest plane ticket to anywhere,” found a site that had a list of nonstop destinations for seventy-six dollars, scrolled like I was playing roulette, landed randomly on Toledo, Ohio—and clicked “purchase.”

Two tickets to Toledo. Nonrefundable, it would turn out. Some kind of Valentine’s Day lovebirds package.

Done.

Promise fulfilled.

The whole process took less than a minute.

Now all I had to do was force myself to go.

* * *

BUT I STILL couldn’t sleep.

At five in the morning, just as the sky was starting to lighten, I gave up, dragged all my sheets and blankets off the bed, shuffled to the walk-in closet, curled up on my side in a makeshift nest on the floor, and conked out, at last, in the windowless darkness.

When I woke, it was four in the afternoon.

I jumped up in a panic and stumbled around my room—buttoning my shirt wrong and kicking my shin on the footboard—as if I were late for work.

I wasn’t late for work, though.

My boss, Glenn, had told me not to come in. Had forbidden me to come in, actually. For a week.

“Don’t even think about coming to work,” he’d said. “Just stay home and grieve.”

Stay home? And grieve?

No way was I doing that.

Especially since—now that I’d bought these tickets to Toledo—I needed to find my boyfriend, Robby, and force him to come with me.

Right?

Nobody goes to Toledo alone. Especially not for Valentine’s Day.

It all seemed very urgent in the moment.

In another state of mind, I could have simply texted Robby to stop by after work and just pleasantly invited him to come with me. Over dinner and drinks. Like a sane person.

Maybe that would have been a better plan.

Or led to a better result.

But I wasn’t a sane person at the moment. I was a person who’d slept in her closet.

By the time I made it to the office that afternoon—just as the work day was ending—my hair was half-brushed, my shirt was half tucked in, and my funeral pantsuit still had a program with my mom’s high school graduation photo on the cover folded up in the jacket pocket.

I guess it’s weird to head in to work the day after your mom’s funeral.

I’d researched it, and the most common bereavement leave from work was three days—though Glenn was making me take five. Other things I’d researched as my sleepless night wore on: “how to sell your parents’ house,” “fun things to do in Toledo” (a surprisingly long list), and “how to beat insomnia.”

All to say: I wasn’t supposed to be here.

That’s why I hesitated at Glenn’s office door. And that’s how I wound up accidentally eavesdropping—and overhearing Robby and Glenn talking about me.

“Hannah’s going to shit an actual brick when you tell her” was the first thing I heard. Robby’s voice.

“Maybe I’ll make you tell her.” That was Glenn.

“Maybe you want to rethink it entirely.”

“There’s nothing to rethink.”

And that was enough. I pushed open the door. “What are you rethinking entirely? Who’s going to tell me what? Why exactly am I going to shit a brick?”

Later, I’d glimpse myself in the mirror and get a specific visual for what the two of them saw in that moment as they turned toward my voice—and let’s just say it involved bloodshot eyes, half my shirt collar crumpled under my jacket lapel, and a significant amount of tear-smeared