Lucy Cadell arrived at work several minutes before her official start time. She didn’t like the tight ball of stress she felt in her stomach when she was running late or barely on time.
She knew working the overnight shift was unlikely to get her noticed by the head nurse or any of the administrators at the nursing home, but felt like it was the best shift for someone who had a sincere desire to give extra care to the residents who needed it.
Her supervisor had offered to recommend her for a day or evening shift, but the night shift was the easiest shift to work while she was taking classes. She hoped her time working as a nursing assistant in the long term care facility would help secure her choice of nursing positions after she completed her courses.
When Lucy clocked in and got to the floor her charge nurse was waiting to brief the nursing assistants before they started rounds. They got the usual updates: which residents were constipated, which had irregular vitals, and which ones were agitated or combative throughout the day.
“Oh,” added the charge nurse as an afterthought, “Helen has been lethargic today. The aides on the evening shift said she hasn’t been her usual, friendly and outgoing self. So keep an eye on her to make sure she is doing okay.”
“Got it,” said Lucy. Helen, or Mrs. Chase, as she preferred to be called, was one of the residents that she cared for on a regular basis. She hoped everything was okay. She knew she shouldn’t have favorites, but Mrs. Chase was so polite and respectful and appreciative that she had to admit that she had a soft spot for the sweet little old lady.
When Lucy started her rounds she stopped in Mrs. Chase’s room first to see if she needed anything. As soon as she entered the room she knew that her favorite resident didn’t have much time left. She had been a nursing assistant for a little over a year, but she had seen enough residents pass away to recognize the smell of imminent death in the room. She held back the tears that threatened to announce her discovery and asked Mrs. Chase if she needed anything before she checked on the other residents.
“I would love a cold drink of water if you have a moment, dear.”
All residents had a pitcher of ice water in their room that was replaced during each shift. Lucy knew Mrs. Chase’s water would not be as cold as she liked it, so she grabbed the pitcher and said,” I’ll be right back.” She hurried to the ice machine and filled the pitcher with fresh ice water and grabbing a clean cup and straw on her way back to Mrs. Chase’s room.
Lucy casually walked into the room like it was normal practice to run to the ice machine and get fresh ice water at the beginning of her shift. She poured Mrs. Chase a fresh glass of cold water and helped the sweet old lady take several joyful gulps of the liquid.
“You’re an angel, dear!”
“It’s no problem at all, Mrs. Chase. I’m going to go do my rounds and I’ll be back to see how you are doing, if you are still awake.” She knew Mrs. Chase would still be awake. The elderly lady seemed to sleep even less than the residents on the Alzheimer's wing at night. Lucy was always happy for the company at night.
Lucy finished her first round of the evening and stopped back into Helen’s room. She was sitting up with her pillows behind her back staring into space. When Lucy entered the room she seemed to come back to awareness.
“How are you doing tonight, dear?”
Lucy had to smile at the irony of the question. Mrs. Chase was literally hours or even minutes from the end of her life, but she was still concerned with how Lucy was doing.
“I’m doing well, Mrs. Chase. Thank you so much for asking. How are you?”
“I don’t think I’ll be here much longer.”
Lucy was surprised, but she didn’t want to confirm the horrible truth that she believed Mrs. Chase was about to die. “Oh? Why do you say that, Mrs. Chase?”
Helen motioned to the photograph on her bedside table. “Do you see Samantha there?”
“Yes, Mrs. Chase. She was your daughter.”
“She was actually my stepdaughter. She died decades ago. I have seen her several times today.”
Lucy felt a chill move up her spine. The hairs on her arm stood up and she fought to maintain her professional demeanor. “I didn’t realize she was your stepdaughter,” she replied.
Mrs. Chase looked into Lucy’s eyes for a moment as if she was struggling to make a decision. At last she took a deep breath and seemed to relax. She allowed her consciousness to drift off to another time and place and began the story she had likely waited her whole life to tell.
“I met Mr. Edward Chase when I was in my early 20’s. He was ten years older than me, but he seemed so stable. He had his life figured out. He had a good job, house, two cars, and everything else a responsible family man should have. He had been married with two young children, but his wife had died a couple of years earlier.
He said he missed her, but he knew she would want him to get on with his life and find new love with someone who would be a wonderful mother to the children he had, as well as any future children he would have in the future. He seemed to want to have more children, so I didn’t worry that he already had two children. I believed there was enough love in his heart for me and any children he and I would have together.
When he asked me to marry him I felt like I had won the lottery. He already knew how to be a husband. I believed I would step into his life and take the role of his loving wife and be the mother figure his children needed. I was not expected to work outside the home. All I had to do was take care of the house and children. It was a dream come true for a young woman with traditional values.
Everything changed the day I met the children. Edward’s son Ethan was an absolute angel. He missed his mother terribly, but he believed that I would be his new mother.
Samantha, however, was Edward’s little princess. He treated her like a priceless porcelain doll. He refused to deny any request she had, no matter how frivolous. She would throw tantrums when she did not get what she wanted he would cave, rather than discipline her for her ridiculous behavior.
I soon discovered what I believed to be the reason for his worship of her. I found an old family photo where the children were very young. My whole perception of the world shattered the day I realized that Samantha looked just like her mother, Camille. Samantha could say or do anything she wanted because she looked like her dead mother.
I know it is wrong to hate a child. But from the moment I made that connection I could not stop the hatred I felt for that child. I don’t think the hatred was limited to the fact that she looked like Edward’s dead wife. I realized that in my entire life no one had ever loved me the way Edward loved her.
My father was affectionate at times, but his focus was always on seeing that I grew up to be what he considered to be a “good woman” who could feed and clothe a family. I was never indulged and doted on the way Samantha was.
I also realized around the same time that Edward never loved me. He had told me he did because he wanted to get a new maternal figure for his children. But nobody in my entire life had ever looked at me with the worshipful gaze Samantha got from my husband.
I continued to play the good stepmother that I knew I was supposed to be, until one day Samantha got sick. She became very sleepy and didn’t run around making a mess of the house the way she normally did. I breathed a sigh of relief at first because my day was so much easier with her being quiet and sleepy. However, I started to worry that I would be blamed for whatever was wrong with her.
I questioned her in her half-conscious state enough to realize that she had eaten one of my allergy pills, believing it was candy. I panicked, worrying that my husband would blame me for the child finding an ingesting my allergy medication. I hid the medication in the garage in case she ever mentioned it.
Samantha was sleepy and lethargic for the rest of the day. My husband praised me for taking such good care of her when she was feeling sick. Once the medication wore off, though, Samantha was back to her usual overactive, messy, annoying self. I wished that she would find the medication again and take some more.
Then I came up with an idea. I started to add small amounts of it to Samantha’s food. She rarely vomited, but she became lethargic and started to sleep a lot of the time. The doctors did not know what caused it, so I just kept taking care of her like the ‘caring stepmother’ that my husband thought I was.
I kept drugging Samantha’s food until one day I gave her a little too much. I never meant to kill her. I was enjoying all of the praise I got from her father and all of her doctors, but I accidentally killed her. They said her little heart just stopped.
I went into a deep depression for a while. Most people thought I was upset that my stepdaughter had died. But I missed all of the attention I got for taking care of her.
I found out after she died that I was pregnant with my first child. When I told Edward, though, he didn’t care. All he cared about was that his little princess was gone.
With all the stress, I eventually lost the baby. Edward started drinking whenever he was not at work. I continued to care for Ethan so I would still have ‘someone.’
Edward eventually drank himself to death In all these years I have never told anyone what I did to Samantha. I know you probably think I’m a monster, and you’re right. But I needed to tell someone what I did. I know I will not be here by morning, and I don’t know where I will go next, but I had to say everything out loud.”
Lucy thought she should deny thinking that Mrs. Chase was a monster, but she was so shocked that she couldn’t think of a response to the old lady’s confession. She just looked wide-eyed at the old woman as she took a deep breath, smiled with what could only be described as relief, and exhaled for the last time.
Lucy thought she should go tell someone that Mrs. Chase had passed. However, she had just witnessed a decades-old murder confession and she didn’t know yet what she should say to anyone else.
Mrs. Chase had unburdened herself in her last moments. But she had passed the burden to Lucy, who now must decide what she should do with it.
Lucy walked to the door, looked back at the dead woman one last time, turned out the light, and closed the door. She would report Helen’s death during next rounds. For now, she just needed a little time to process everything she had just heard.
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