Dr. Emily Rogers was exhausted from the day at work. She could barely open the door to her apartment in downtown Ottawa. As she entered the living room, Emily glanced at the table clock in her living room. It showed 1 AM. It was not surprising to her. This had become a standard time for her to come home from work. She was determined to get a few hours of sleep before going back to the office at 7 AM.
As she placed the heavy pile of paperwork on the table, a brown envelope slipped out and fell on the floor. Emily had forgotten about the envelope she had received from her late father's lawyers. Emily had deliberately not opened the envelope for over a month now. She knew the contents of the package. It was her late father, William Rogers's will. William had passed away about a month back, after fighting a long-time illness. She did not really care how much money he had left for her. Emily picked up the envelope and placed it on the desk. She changed into her nightgown and dropped on her bed, praying for her body to fall asleep.
The last three weeks were very tedious for everyone at her office. Emily was an epidemiology expert at Health Canada. She led the team of research on the new strain of influenza virus that had caused havoc in the world. Her first task as the leader of the project was to identify how the source of the outbreak in Canada. Her team identified an elderly man in Muskoka, who was in contact with a tourist from Italy. Her team quarantined the source person and then tracked who that person had been in touch for three weeks before he was diagnosed. The tourist had returned the next day to Italy, so it was not Emily's department's problem to deal with. Emily had used all the tools required in contact tracing, which she had only read about in books in her doctoral studies.
Emily had wished to lead a project of a large global scale all of her professional life. But as this wish turned into reality, she had a feeling of melancholy rather than the gratification of being in that role.
Emily laid on her bed, gazing at the ceiling. All she could think of was the report her team had published today. The new strain of the virus was proving to be challenging every day. The transmissivity of the virus from human to human was unprecedented. Today her team had claimed that about fifty to sixty percent of the world population was vulnerable to the new infection. Emily was trying hard not to think about the work. She tried counting sheep in her head to make her fall asleep. But even after reaching one hundred and fifty, she was wide awake. Emily got up from the bed and procured the brown package she had received from her father's lawyers. She opened the package and saw there is a smaller white envelope inside. It was a handwritten letter from her late father.
Emily felt a sudden warmth in her chest. She had not thought of her father since the crisis broke out at work. His handwriting made Emily feel the presence of her father. With a heavy heart, she started reading the letter.
As she reached halfway through the letter, she sat up straight. Emily was shocked at the statement she had read in the letter. The news she had just received from her dead father's letter was very much troubling at best.
At first, Emily thought she was fantasizing. She was exhausted and was probably reading into words. Emily went through the letter at least twenty-five times. She started looking around the room hopelessly.
After pacing the room for twenty minutes, Emily called her step-mother, Lyla. It was 2:30 in the morning, but she did not care. Her step-mother answered the phone after five rings. Nowadays, Lyla was alert with worry, due to the role Emily was playing in global tragedy. She always slept light and kept her phone very close to the pillow. In her sleepy voice, "Hi, Emily, is everything okay?"
Emily took a long time to reply, "Hi Mom, sorry to bother you so late. Do not worry, I am fine, well, kind of. I want to talk to you about Dad. Can you wake up, please? This is important."
Emily could hear Lyla taking a deep breath. In full consciousness, Lyla said, "So, you found your father's letter."
Emily was dumbfounded at her step-mother's response. Completely bewildered, Emily yelled at her, step-mother, "You knew this the whole time?" Lyla alarmingly replied, "No, sweetheart, I found out two days before William died. Please trust me."
There were no words spoken between Emily and her step-mother for the next five minutes.
With a sense of begging in her voice, Lyla finally broke the silence, "You know, honey, it was not my place to tell you such an important fact. I am truly sorry, but William made me promise it as his death-wish. I think he only told me so I can explain this letter to you." Lyla realized that she was probably stretching by giving excuses to Emily. She wanted Emily to understand Lyla's position but not by disregarding Emily's feelings.
Emily did not respond to Lyla's plea for forgiveness. She kept breathing heavily in anger. Ten minutes later, Emily calmed down and comforted Lyla. "I understand you, Mom. I am having a hard time not getting angry at Dad if I can still call him that."
"Of course, you can still call him that. No matter, he was your father. He has loved you all his life. He tried and succeeded in making sure you never doubt him. He was scared you would disown him if the truth came out."
"I know. I am focusing very hard on the best part of Dad's life. It is pretty shocking to know this now. I was not expecting a challenge in my personal life when my professional life is going through hell."
"Please promise me, you will take care of yourself, honey. When all this ends, I still want you by my side. I do not care about the labels on the relations, I want to spend my later years celebrating with you."
"I promise Mom. I will also try to visit this weekend. It looks like we could use a couple of drinks."
"I would very much love that kiddo. Let me know, and I will stack up. Take care, and love you."
Emily hung up the phone, saying, "Bye, Mom. Love you."
Emily knew she had just lied to her step-mother, now her only living relative in the world. She was not going to just casually let this go. Emily was already planning to pursue the truth further. She needed to travel to China immediately to uncover the complete story. She would, though, need a solid reason to convince her superiors of why she was abandoning her job in Canada and travelling to China. Luckily for her, the first outbreak in the world was registered in China.
Emily glanced at the clock. It was 5 in the morning. Once again, sleep had eluded her, but today her mind was fixated on a new problem. With a tentative plan in mind, Emily started to get ready for work.