When Zoë Osborne was sixteen, her world changed. 

            She had previously lived in security.  Her father made more than enough money to provide for his family as a Bay Street corporate lawyer.  Her mother was one of those vibrant women who embraces her children unconditionally, runs charity events and bakes cookies.  The Osbornes lacked for nothing.  Zoë was a straight-A student, Neal excelled at sports.  They themselves joked that their lives were a cliché, albeit a happy one.

            Then it changed.  It was in March, when the weather could shift between spring and winter with little warning.  She had been sitting on the plush chair in the living room, cuddled into the armrest, reading The Grapes of Wrath for school.  She had been alone in the house.  Her father had taken Neal and Alex to their hockey game.  Jason was at a friend’s house, working on a class project.

            The boys had been staying at their house.  Mr. Shelagh had a conference in Vancouver, and her aunt had gone with him for the trip.  This night, the night of the change, they were returning home.  Mrs. Osborne had driven out to the airport to pick them up.  They were supposed to pick up dinner and meet everyone back at the house to hear about the hockey game and trip.

            Zoë had been engrossed in the book, and so it took her a moment to realize the phone was ringing.  She put the book face down on the chair, to keep her page.  The nearest telephone was in the kitchen.  She took it off the receiver, leaning against the doorframe and staring out the window.  The icy weather had turned to rain since she’d sat down to read, dark trickles of water ran down the glass as she looked out at the night.

            “Hello?”  She said.

            “Hello, is this the Osborne residence?”  The voice at the other end was impersonal and unfamiliar.

            “Yes it is.  May I ask who’s calling, please?”

            “This is the Metro Toronto police department.  Is Mr. Osborne available?”

            Zoë wrinkled her forehead.  “I’m sorry, he’s not in at the moment.  Can I take a message?  Is this in regards to a case?”

             “No, miss.  It’s extremely urgent, is there any way to get in touch with him?”

            Zoë glanced at the clock above the stove.  It was almost seven-thirty.  The game would be ending soon.  “He should be home by eight.  You could call back then, unless you’d care to leave your name and number?  My mother should be home any minute, if you’d care to speak to her.”

            There was a pause.  Zoë felt an odd shiver cascade through her stomach and spine as it went on, as if the party on the other end of the line was hesitating.  In the back of her mind, she knew that this person was hesitant to tell her bad news.

            “Miss, it’s very important.  Are you certain there’s no way to reach him sooner?”

            “I suppose you could call the arena.  My brother is playing at Kew Gardens, if you really need to contact him that quickly.”  Zoë’s fingers had started playing with the phone’s cord, almost involuntarily.  Pulling and tugging, fretting. 

            “Thank you, miss.  I’ll try to call there, otherwise you said by eight?”

            “Yes, that’s right.  Though we expect my mother any moment.”

            There was a pause for a second time.  “Thanks again.”

            Then came the finality of the dial tone.  Zoë hung the telephone back in its cradle.  She wrapped her arms around herself, sinking back into her chair after setting the book down on a nearby coffee table.  She watched the rain fall, shivering.

            At five minutes to eight the front door opened.  Neal and Alexander bustled in, toting their hockey bags and wearing wet winter coats.  Mr. Osborne was a step behind them, in a long brown trench coat. 

            “Take your stuff to the laundry room, boys,” he directed, as he rooted through the hall closet.  Neal gave Alex a prod and got him moving.

            “Hi, Daddy,” Zoë said quietly.

            “Zoë, have you seen my umbrella?” He asked, barely glancing at her.

            “It should be on the top shelf, on the left.”          

            “Ah, thank you!  Here it is.”

            “Daddy, are you going back out?”

            He looked at her.  “Yes, I got a phone call at the arena.  I didn’t get many details, but I have to out for a bit.  Sort this all out.  Will you be all right here?”

            “I think so.  Will you be gone long?”

            “I don’t know, dear, I’ll call once I know more.”  He turned to the door, about to go out.  “Has your mother called?”

            Zoë shook her head.  “Not yet.  I’m worried.”

            “Their flight was probably late, what with the rain.  Nothing to worry about, dear.  Help the boys find something to eat, and I’ll call in a bit to check in.”

            He was out the door before she could say anything else.

            The next time she saw her father, he was coming back in through the same doorway after midnight, his hair dishevelled, his dress shirt and tie rumpled.  Zoë was waiting on the couch under blankets, unable to sleep.  She saw her father sag against the doorway, and this moment of weakness made her certain.

            “Mom’s dead, isn’t she?”

            It was the first time she’d ever seen her father cry.

            Eventually, after the crying and before the funeral, she had heard the details.  How rain had slicked up the ice on the highway, how a car had slid into the wheels of a transport truck, which had subsequently slammed into Mrs. Osborne’s vehicle.  She and her passengers were killed instantly, the car itself an unrecognizable mess. 

            But forever afterward, Zoë remembered that she had known with that telephone call.  She had known something was wrong.  Death entered her secure little world, and destroyed it, over a telephone wire.

            She never did finish that Steinbeck novel.

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