Taken Twice

Taken Twice

Status: Finished

Genre: Flash Fiction

Houses:

Details

Status: Finished

Genre: Flash Fiction

Houses:

Summary

When an earthquake destroys Amy's building she has no choice but to go with the janitor of her building. He tells her that her father is dead. As their relationship grows Bob convinces her to change her name to Mary, after his deceased daughter. Mary loves her new life and forgets her old one. Then one day her real father shows up.
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Summary

When an earthquake destroys Amy's building she has no choice but to go with the janitor of her building. He tells her that her father is dead. As their relationship grows Bob convinces her to change her name to Mary, after his deceased daughter. Mary loves her new life and forgets her old one. Then one day her real father shows up.

Content

Submitted: May 07, 2017

A A A | A A A

Content

Submitted: May 07, 2017

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Taken Twice

Deborah Tadema

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright by Deborah Tadema

All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

Surrounded by broken glass and concrete, an eight-year-old girl in pigtails and pajamas stood routed in one place.  Her face was smudged from dried up tears as she searched through the fleeing crowd for someone to rescue her.  No one heard her call out.  No one looked her way.  Excruciating pain shot up her arm that hung at her side.  Tiny bits of glass embedded themselves into the soles of her bare feet.

“Help me!” she cried out between gasps.Dust, paper and clothing floated down around her.  She coughed and searched through the haze for a familiar face, seeing only the terrified looks of strangers scrambling to get away.  Dizziness set in so she cradled her arm with her good one.  Leaning against a large chunk of concrete, she held her breath until the pain subsided.  Her whole body trembled.

“Help me,” she cried again and watched as the flying debris and dust settled, turning everything grey.

The chaotic scene unfolded in front of her just like in the movie she watched with her father last week.  Only this earthquake was real.  This time she wasn’t sitting on her father’s lap, safe and far removed from it. No pretending it was only a dream.  She couldn’t put this in the back of her mind and make it disappear.

Amy was still in bed when she felt the first rumble, and thought it was another heavy truck going down the street.

“Just a few more minutes,” she had begged the empty room as she snuggled deep down under the covers.

The next rumble made her bed shake.  Amy scrambled out and reached for her clothes with a trembling hand.  Her only thought was to find her father.  Her mother had died of cancer three years ago.

She felt her heart race as she reached for the dress her dad set out for her the night before.

But, she didn’t have time to put it on.The floor twisted and lifted up from under her.  Her dresser danced across the room.  Windows popped and glass flew inwards.  Amy remembered seeing the sky as if she were a bird flying through the air.  And then, nothing until she woke up in the middle of the street.

“Help me,” she screamed.

She lifted her eyes to their tiny apartment.  It stood exposed and wide open like the side of her dollhouse.  The kitchen table and chairs were missing.  She pictured a large hand replacing them and arranging them just so.  Their couch hung precariously on the edge, teetering.  It could be pushed back inside.  Her father’s dresser was tipped over, clothing scattered throughout.  Her room stood vacant.  Like she was never there.  As if she didn’t even exist.Like she felt now.

“Help me, please.”

Her stomach growled.  Hunger pitted at her belly.  “Daddy!  I’m here, Daddy.  Come get me!”

She watched a mother carry a young boy across the street.  The boy pointed in her direction.  The mother kept going without turning her head.  A man climbed over a pile of wood and bricks.  She called to him.He gave her a glassy- eyed look and stumbled around the corner. 

She clutched her arm tighter, not noticing that the cut on her forehead had stopped bleeding.  She blinked and turned.  Her eyes widened when she saw a man watching her.  A single tear streaked down her cheek.  She smiled slightly.

“Help me.”  Hope filled her bright blue eyes.

“I can’t, sweetheart.  My foot is caught under this beam.”

He bent down trying to lift it off.  Amy turned her attention to the hydro wires snapping and cracking nearby.  It reminded her of popcorn in the microwave.

“What’s your name, sweetheart?”

The man stood, red faced and breathing hard.  The janitor of her building.  Her father had warned her about him. 

“He smells of beer and sweat all the time,” her father told her, several times.  “I hear that he just got out of jail.  You stay away from him.”

“Amy,” a small voice told him. 

“My name is Bob.  Nice to meet you, Amy.”  He scanned up the street.  “We live in the same building, don’t we?”

Amy nodded.  He was in their apartment last week fixing a dripping tap.  Her father made her stay in her room until he left.  It was the only time she saw her father talking to Bob.  Usually, he avoided him, and took the back stairs when Bob was out front of their building.Her father complained that a man like that shouldn’t be allowed on the streets.  She had nightmares about the janitor tying her up and leaving her in the dark damp basement.  He would laugh at her and tell her ghost stories until she screamed.  She could hear the boiler start up with its huffing and banging like a monster of the underworld.  Fingers would grab at her.  Beings like the zombies she saw on TV would run around in front of her in the blackness.  She would wake up shaking and sweating. 

“He gives me the creeps,” Mrs. Beasley from across the hall told her father one day.  “Always sneaking around.”  She watched the top of the stairs as if expecting Bob to come up at that precise moment. 

“I know what you mean,” her father answered.  “But, he is good at fixing things.  And the super seems to like him.”

“Well, I just think we better keep an eye on him.  I'll watch Amy while you're at work, if you want me to.”

Amy watched Bob struggle with the beam.  For a few minutes, she didn’t think about her painful arm.  What if my dad is wrong about him?

Bob gasped and fell backward out of sight.  Amy suddenly felt abandoned.  Tears ran down her face.  Is he dead?  She gulped and tried to steady her shaking knees.

“Bob?  Are you there, Bob?”

She heard a faint groan.  Bob pulled himself up and sat in the dirt.  “I got my foot out.”  His face lit up with a huge smile.  “Now, I have to see if I can stand on it.”

Amy nodded and held her breath as he hauled himself up on his good foot.  She could see sweat glistening on his eyebrows as he concentrated on setting the other foot on the ground.

“So far, so good, Amy.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Ya.  It does.  But I don’t think it’s broke though.”

He shifted his weight and gritted his teeth.  She saw him sway and grab onto a steel bar.  He stood looking at the ground and didn’t move.  His chest billowed in and out in a slow rhythm.  She could see him shiver.  His face turned grey.

“Please, Bob, help me.”  A silent prayer played over and over in Amy’s head.  She couldn’t let him go now.  He was her only hope of getting out of here. 

Color seeped back into his face.  He looked over at her.  “Here goes.”

He put a tentative step forward and chuckled.  “It works.  Amy, it works.”

Bob walked around in circles, slow at first.  Then building up speed until he could walk normally on it.  He stopped; stood straight and tall and gave a triumphant whoop.  From half a block away, Amy laughed with him.

He was a good man.  Amy just knew it.  Her dad was wrong.

Bob put his hands on his hips and surveyed the jumbled mess between them.  “Seems like we’re in a bit of a jam here, doesn’t it?”

He looked behind him.  It would be very easy to climb out that way.  From what she could see, her street was far worse than the next one.  He could just keep going and leave her there.  And not come back.  She wouldn’t blame him after the way she treated him.  Ignoring him when he said “hi,” to her.  Running past him in the hall, head down and pretending he wasn’t there.  She saw the hurt in his eyes when she did things like that to him.

“Men like that pretend to be your friend.  Then before you know it, they do bad things to you.”  Her father’s voice haunted her.  What bad things?  Was Bob the type of man that would hurt a little girl with a banged-up arm?  She didn’t what to believe it.  He didn’t look mean or scary to her.  He just looked sad. 

To her surprise, he made his way toward her.  She leaned back on the concrete and waited as he climbed and twisted and turned, inching his way ever closer.  His booted foot crunched the glass that surrounded her.

“Hi, Amy.”  Kind brown eyes squinted down at her.

She wanted to throw herself into his arms and hug him.  She wanted to kiss his scruffy face.  Instead, she shook his hand with her good one and smiled up at him through tear-filled eyes.

He made a sling from a cloth he found and wrapped her arm.  Picking her up, he cradled her and headed back.

“This is going to be tricky, Amy.  Just hang on.  I’ll get you out of here.”

He didn’t smell of beer, and she knew he had been sweating.  The odor of gas and rotten garbage was far worse.  She snuggled into him as they zigzagged towards the end of the street.  Bob lifted her over a tree stump, jarring her arm.  She cried out and fought the dizziness that threatened.  Ever so gently, he set her down on the hood of a car and gave her a quick hug.

“Sorry, Mary.  I’m so sorry.  I didn’t mean to hurt you.”  His whole body shook.  A tear slipped down and splashed on Amy’s cheek.  She wiped it away.

He sat beside her, breathing heavy.

“My name is Amy.”

He straightened and looked at her confused.  “What?”

“You okay, Bob?”

“Oh, ya.  Amy.  I’m sorry.”  He looked past her, as if plotting the next part of their course.

“Who's Mary?” Amy asked him when he reached for her.  His arms dropped to his sides.  He studied her face as if remembering every detail. 

“My daughter.”  He seemed to deflate but continued.  “She died.  In a car crash.”  His head shook back and forth.  “My sweet little Mary.”  Sobs shook his whole body.  Amy reached out and squeezed his arm.

“After that,” he sniffed, “my wife left me.  I gave up.  Lost my job, then the house.  Lived on the streets for awhile.  Then I got the job as the janitor in your building.  Started to get my life back on track.”  He sighed heavily. “Now this.”

“We need to keep going, Bob.  It’s not that far now.”  She didn’t want him to give up now.  They were too close to freedom.  “Only a little further.”

At the end of the street, the debris thinned out and going was easier.Bob set her on her feet.  “You let me know if your feet hurt and you can’t walk, okay?”

Amy nodded and turned toward the hospital on the next block.  Bob took her good hand in his and smiled down at her.

“You are a brave little girl, Amy.”

 

***

 

Injured and sick were lying all over the front lawn when they reached the hospital.  Most of them moaning and groaning on makeshift cots.  Doctors yelled at the nurses, who ran from one patient to the next.  The smell of medicine and death drifted through the air.  Amy remembered those smells from when her mother lay dying in the same hospital.

It looked as if the earthquake missed most of the hospital.  Only one corner of the three-story structure was caved in.  But she knew that there could be a lot of damage inside.

Amy’s eyes blurred.Her head spun.  She saw Bob’s arms reach out to her just before she blacked out.  It was nighttime when she opened her eyes again, she was laying on a cot under a tree.  Amy could hear the rustling of the leaves above her in a light breeze.  How come this tree is still here? she wondered.  Why wasn't it broken up in the earthquake?

The doctors and nurses were still tending to their patients, even in the dark.  Flashlights were being used now and looked like fireflies flitting around the yard.  Bob knelt down beside her. 

“What happened?” she asked in a groggy voice.

“You went into shock, Amy.  That happens sometimes when the body goes through trauma.”

She looked down at the bandage on her arm.  “They fixed it.  It doesn’t hurt anymore.  Now, can we go find my dad?”

“No, sweetheart.  Not yet.  You can’t feel your arm because of the medicine they gave you.  They want to keep an eye on you for a bit before you can go.”  He brushed the hair out of her eyes.  “Go to sleep now.”

Amy couldn’t stay awake if she tried.  The drugs took over and she drifted into a deep restful sleep.  Hours later, she woke to find a nurse hovering over her.  Amy waited until she was done taking her temperature and checking her bandage.She drifted in and out for the next three hours, finally waking up to a damp morning.  Amy watched the sun rise above the big grey building.  Bob walked toward her carrying a bag.

“Hi, sweetheart.  How are you doing this morning?”  He sat down on the damp grass

beside her and opened the bag.  Amy’s stomach growled at the smell of the hamburger and fries he pulled out.

“Here, eat this.  Then we can go.”

“Are we going to find my dad, now?” she asked between bites. 

She noticed that Bob had cleaned himself up.  His shaven face and trimmed hair made him look years younger than she first thought.  He wore a clean pair of jeans and a new shirt.  He watched her with a sad expression until she was finished her breakfast.

“I tried to find your daddy yesterday.  No one has seen him.  I think that he may not have made it, Amy.”

Amy shook.  Her breakfast threatened to come back up.  “But, he was at work.  He wasn’t where the earthquake hit.  What do you mean?”

“The earthquake took out the office building where he worked too, Amy.I’m sorry.”

Tears overflowed.  She wanted her daddy to come and get her.  She wanted her mother to hold her again.  Now both of them were gone.

Bob held her instead.  “It'll be okay, Amy.  I'll look after you.  I'll be your new daddy.”  He lifted her up, carried her across the street and put her into the back of an old Buick.  “We can become a new family, Amy.  You and me.”

Amy cried as they drove across town.  They stopped at a bank, Bob going in by himself.  He was only in there a few minutes when he came back out, shoving some bills into his wallet.  A deep frown on his face as he approached the car.  They drove slowly out of the city.  Sleep took over until they reached a small town and Bob pulled the car into the lot of a self-storage place.  He drove slowly along the rows of big orange doors until he found the right number then stopped.

“I won’t be long, Amy.  Just need to get a few things.”

She wiped the tears from her eyes then nodded and sat back to wait.  Bob fumbled with the lock then pushed the door open.  Several boxes were piled into the trunk.

“We’re all set now,” he told her when he jumped back into the driver’s seat.

They went to a restaurant for supper, but Amy couldn’t eat.  Her stomach hurt too much.  Later, they booked into a run-down motel.  Bob took in a couple of the boxes and opened them.  “Here, try some of these clothes.”  He held a dress up to her.  Kneeling in front of the boxes, he held each item up to her while she marveled at the brand names.  Clothes that her father could never afford.

“Where did all this come from?”

Bob stopped folding a pair of pants.  “They were Mary’s.”

Amy sat on the edge of one of the two beds while Bob sorted the clothes into two piles.  One for the clothes she will be wearing, and one for the clothes that were too big for her.  For now, she'd have to wear shoes that were too big for her, until he could afford to buy her new ones, he told her.  “Are we going to find my dad?”

He stopped and narrowed his eyes.  “I already looked for him.  No one had seen him.”  Then, angrily, he told her, “Get that through your head.  He’s dead.”  He got up and threw the clothes back into the boxes.

Amy ran into the bathroom and slammed the door.  Leaning with her back to it, she slid to the floor and cried.  “He’s not dead.”  There was no funeral.  She didn’t get to see him in the coffin.  They didn’t bury him like they did her mother.  She didn’t tell him goodbye.  The knot in her stomach made it hard to breathe.  Tears soaked the front of her blouse. 

After a bit Bob knocked on the door.  “Amy?  Amy, you all right in there?  Listen, I didn’t mean to get mad at you.  But, you have to know the truth.  He is dead, Amy.  I’m sorry.”

 

***

 

A month later Bob bought her a new pair of running shoes, ones that fit properly.  He tried joking with her to make her laugh.  But, she just couldn’t.  Amy felt like she was walking under water and was following him around in a daze.

“Wouldn’t it be fun to get your hair all done up?”  He asked her cheerfully as they walked past a hair salon.  “Wouldn’t you like that?’  Amy nodded and was lead inside.  Her dull brown hair became curly and blond.  She liked her new look and smiled for the first time all week. 

“Can I keep it like this?”

“You sure can.”  Bob seemed to enjoy making her feel pretty.

They kept heading north, staying in a different motel each night.  Amy had no idea where she was.

“We have to stay here for a few weeks, Amy.  I need to get a job now.  We’re out of money.”  He leaned in closer to her as they sat in a burger joint.  “Tomorrow I'll start looking.”

It took him a few days, but the corner gas station needed a mechanic.  While he was gone, Amy played on the swing in the park, watched TV in the motel room or read the textbooks Bob said she needed to learn.

One night Bob moped around more than usual.  He looked at Amy with a sad expression.  “I want to ask a favor from you.”  He fidgeted with the sleeve of her blouse.  “Do you think you can call me Daddy?  We are essentially a family now.  Bob seems like I’m just a friend.  That would make me feel very happy if you could call me Dad.”

Amy sat back on her bed and watched his eyes glisten over.  The memory of her old dad seemed to be fading; like the memory of her mother.  Both had been tucked away in the back of her mind and surfaced less all the time.  She realized that she hadn’t cried for her other daddy in a long time.  She shook her head.  Bob was more like an uncle.  Not a dad.

Bob hung his head.  She saw the tears slide down his face and drip onto his folded hands on his lap.  His shoulders shook.

“Okay.  Daddy.”  Amy felt sick at hurting his feelings.  Her stomach did a flip.  She just wanted it to stop.

Immediately, he crossed over to her bed and took her into his arms.  “This doesn’t mean you have to give up on your other dad, even though he is dead.It’s just that,” he sighed and stroked her hair, “beings we're a family now, it will be easier.  And I do love you like you are my real daughter.”

Bob smiled down at her.  “Thank you.  Now I feel that you truly love me, too.  Do you love me?”

“Yes, Dad.  I love you too.” 

He sat back on his own bed.  Amy watched him shift around.  “There is only one more thing I need from you to make me really happy.  Will you do one more thing for me?”

“What?”

“From now on I want to call you Mary.  Can you pretend to be my real daughter?”

Amy’s eyes widened.

Bob wiped his face with his sleeve.  “If you really love me, like you say you do, you would do this one thing for me,” he told her in a low voice and wrapped his arms around his middle.  “Then I can pretend she never died.”

“But, I’m Amy.”

“That’s what your other daddy called you.”  He started rocking.  “Now that I’m your daddy, I want to call you Mary.” 

He gave her a stern look.  She felt afraid for the first time since she met him.  What would he do if I said no?

Amy backed up against the wall, shaking.  Scattered around the room were new clothes and toys he had bought for her.  A scooter stood just inside the door.  Her skipping rope hung on the doorknob.  She was living a new life now.  The Amy she was didn’t exist anymore.  What harm would it be to let him call me Mary?

He was still glaring at her when she turned her attention back to him.

“Okay.  You can call me Mary.”

 

***

 

Two months later, Bob surprised her with a bunch of gifts wrapped up in bright colorful paper.  “Happy Birthday, Mary.”He pushed through the door and set the packages on the floor.

“But, it isn’t my birthday, yet.  It’s in October.  That’s when I turn nine.”

“Ah,” Bob laughed.  “But today is Mary’s birthday.  So we celebrate today.  Amy doesn’t exist anymore, remember?”  He kissed her forehead.  “You have to remember these things now.  Today is your birthday, and you are now ten years old.  Remember that.”

Mary looked at all the gifts.  If she opened them, would that be saying good bye to Amy, forever?

Bob folded his arms, knitted his eyebrows together and waited.  Did she want to make him mad at her?  So far, he hadn’t hit her, but, something told her that if she pushed too far, he would.  Finally, she shrugged her shoulders.  What difference would it make, if that’s what he wanted?  She was Mary now.  Amy was another girl that she didn’t know anymore.  Amy didn’t play soccer or baseball.  Mary did.  Her new daddy taught her.  He took her to an amusement park and to the theater.  They went to the park often and played catch.  He pushed her on the swing.  Her other daddy just went to work, cooked supper then read to her before she went to sleep at night.  She glanced down at the brightly wrapped packages and opened the gifts.

 

***

 

Mary watched her dad look around nervously when they drove up to the booth where a uniformed man came out and asked a lot of questions.  A flashlight was pointed at her.  Bob had to open the trunk of the car.  Satisfied, he let them pass.

“We're in Canada, now, Mary.  Soon we'll find a new home and settle down before you have to go back to school.  That's why you had to read those books I gave you.  Don't forget, you'll be in a higher grade then if you were Amy.  You're smart, Mary.  I know you can do this.”

Bob kept driving north until they found a tiny village beside a small lake.  The money he made as a mechanic was gone, his credit card was nearly full.  They rented a cabin and he got a job cutting down trees. 

That September, Bob was able to enroll her into school using Mary’s papers from her previous one even though they were a few years old.

“The rest of her papers were destroyed in the earthquake last summer in Wichita, Kansas,” he told them.  They nodded.  It was in the news.  Pictures on TV showed the devastation of five city blocks.  The school had been destroyed.

Mary overheard the principal talking to another man.  “If we don’t get the enrollment up, this school will be the next one they will close.” 

 

***

 

Eight years later, Mary took a milk carton out of the fridge.  The picture of a missing girl

on the side of it looked just like Amy.  The girl she knew a long time ago.  It said that her father was looking for her.  She tried to picture him in her mind but couldn’t.

Her hand shook, spilling some milk on the floor.  Her head spun.  Mary sank into the chair and cried.  How could he be alive?  Why is he looking for me now?  After all these years?  She sat up straight.  Dad had lied to me.  No!  Bob had lied to me!  Jumping up, she shoved the carton back into the fridge and slammed the door.  Banging her bedroom door, Mary threw herself on her bed and stayed there when Bob called her for supper.  That night, she thought about Amy instead of going to sleep and wondered what she would be doing now if she was still her.  She couldn’t picture anything different than what it was before the earthquake.  Her life then had been dull and predictable.  Now, she went swimming and skiing and fishing.  Yesterday, she went hiking in the woods with Bob and some friends.  They had a campfire afterwards and roasted marshmallows.She loved the outdoors and preferred it to the city.  Amy liked the city.  She only went to school and the library.  Amy was boring.

Mary thought of her sixteenth birthday party a month ago.  Bob surprised her with a puppy who laid at the foot of her bed now.  Amy was never allowed to have any pets.  It seemed that Amy wasn’t allowed to do anything.  As the years passed, she had thought of Amy less often.  Now, it felt like she was just a girl she knew a long time ago.  Mary had moved on without her, into a new exciting life while Amy was stuck in the past as a little girl going nowhere.

 

***

 

She was at her friend, Lori’s house, sitting on the front porch, when they saw the new boy walk past.  Lori closed her eyes and pretended to swoon over him.

“That’s Ryan.  He moved in the old house next to the post office.”Lori had been talking about this new guy for the last week.

Mary rolled her eyes, “Are boys all you think about?”  But she watched him too.

“Are you going to the school dance on Saturday?”

“No one has asked me yet.  Are you going?”

Lori shook her head.  “I was hoping that he would.  But, I don’t think he knows there is one.”  She grabbed her friend’s arm.  “We can go together, and maybe meet someone there to dance with.”

“I”ll think about it.”  Mary pulled away.  “I have to go now and rustle up something for supper.  Dad will be back soon.”

She walked down the street and met Ryan coming out of the grocers.  He smiled at her and stopped.

“You're Mary, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”  She noticed the way he eyed her up and down.  He had the brightest blue eyes she had ever seen.  His blond hair waved in the slight breeze.  His shirt bulged from his muscular arms.  Tight jeans hung low on his hips.  Mary brushed back her own blond- dyed hair from her eyes and squinted at him.

“I want to ask if you would go to the dance with me on Saturday.  That’s if you don’t already have a date.”

 

“Sure, I’ll go with you.”  Butterflies flitted around in her stomach at the thought of her first real date.

“Good.  I’ll pick you up at about seven. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Mary walked the rest of the way home in a fog.  He was supposed to ask Lori.  What was she going to tell her best friend?  After supper that evening, she thought of Ryan.  The way he looked at her gave her an uneasy feeling.  Yet, he was so good-looking that all the girls were eyeing him.  She called Lori.

“He just asked me, in the middle of the road.”  Mary told her.  “Before I knew it, I had a date.”

She heard the hurt and disappointment in Lori’s voice.  “I’m glad you have a date, Mary.  I guess I will just stay home.”

“Why don’t you come along with us?”  Suddenly, Mary wanted to back out.  This wasn’t worth breaking up a friendship over.

“You don’t think he’ll mind?”  Lori sounded excited again.

“If he does, too bad.”

Lori was waiting with Mary when Ryan pulled up in an old pickup truck.  He scowled at them when they jumped up beside him.  He didn’t talk much on the drive into the school but he did dance with both girls.  Lori was dropped off first.  Instead of taking Mary home, he turned down a dirt road that lead to an old mining camp.  Mary shivered.

“Where are you going?  Take me home.”

He kept driving until the road ended then stopped and put his arm around her.  She cringed when he kissed her.

“Come on.  Like you’ve never done it before.”  He grabbed her jacket.

Mary punched at him and managed to get out of the truck.  She ran back down the road.  He tackled her.  Landing a well-placed kick left him doubled over on the ground.

“You won’t get away with this, Mary.  You wait and see.”

For several days after, she didn’t see him in town.  After school one day, she took her puppy down the trail behind her house.  He stepped out from behind a tree. 

“I know who you are.  Your name isn’t Mary, is it?”  He gave her a smug little smile.

“What are you talking about?”

“I saw your picture on a milk carton.  You haven’t changed that much.  You have the same light blue eyes and pouty lips.”  He stepped closer.  “I can see that scar on your left cheek, even though you try to hide it with makeup.”

“You’re wrong.  I’m Mary.”

“I’ve looked into it, Mary.Or, should I call you Amy?  The girl on the milk carton disappeared about eight years ago in that earthquake in Wichita, Kansas.  You remember the earthquake, don’t you, Amy?  Yes, I can see it on your face.”

“What do you want from me?”

“Why, you.  Amy.”

She tried backing away from him.  He held her arm.  The puppy yelped when she tripped over him.  Ryan pulled her into him.

“You'll do as I say or I will tell the police about you.  Then your pretend father will go to jail.  Is that what you want?”

How could she betray Bob after all these years?  After all he had done for her?

“What do you want me to do?”

“Are you that naive, Amy?”  His eyes traveled up and down her body and lit up while he licked his lips as if tasting her.  “Take off your clothes.”

“No, I will not.  You don’t know me.  You don’t know who I am.  You’re wrong.”

“Oh, yes I do, Amy.  I know all about you.  You ran away from the earthquake with that pervert, didn’t you?”

She slapped him across the face.  He punched back.  Mary screamed.  Ryan caught her and threw her to the ground.  She held back the bile in her throat when he started pawing at her.

Mary heard a sickening thunk that sent Ryan into a slump.  Bob bent down and pushed him off her.She took his hand so he could pull her up.

“Are you all right?”  He looked at her with concern.

“He knows about me,” she told him in a shaky voice.  “He threatened to go to the police.”

Bob looked into her eyes.  “Is that what you want?”

“No.  I don’t want that.  You're my father.”  Holding his arm to steady herself, she indicated the woods around them.  “This is the life I want.”

Bob hugged her and whispered that he loved her.  She clung to him until she stopped shaking.  They both looked down at Ryan.  He hadn’t moved.  Bob bent down and checked his vitals.  When he stood up, the colour had drained from his face.  “He’s dead.”

Both of them looked around in panic.  Mary vomited into the bushes.

“Quick,” Bob told her, “help me dump him into the lake.  They’ll think he drowned.”

Mary helped her father drag the body and dump it over the cliff.  They watched as it sank into the black water below.

 

***

 

The police searched the entire area a few days later, after Ryan was reported missing.  Divers combed the bottom of the lake.  Three days later, his body was pulled out.  Four days after that, Bob was arrested for his murder.  Mary was taken to the police station and questioned.  They took her fingerprints and picture.  She did not give up her true identity.  She wouldn’t tell them anything.

A strange man came to see her.  “I’m your real father, Amy.”  He looked old and tired.  His hair had turned grey.  Deep lines etched his face around his eyes.  He sat slumped in the chair in front of her.  She saw only a faint resemblance to a man she used to know a long time ago.  “I hope to get you out of here, soon.  Then we can go back home.”

“I am home.” she spat at him.  “Bob is my father.  Not you.”

“And where do you think you are going to live now?  Bob is going away for murder.”

“I’m old enough now to live on my own.”

“Yes, you probably are.  But, how do you expect to support yourself?”

She just shrugged her shoulders.  “I’ll get by.  And if you take me with you, I’ll just run away.”  Mary sat forward in her chair.  “I don’t know you anymore.  Can’t you see that?”

She watched him.  He sat looking at the floor.  “I've waited a long time to see you again, Amy.  You are not the little girl I raised.  I surely don’t know you anymore either.  But, you are my daughter.All the blood tests confirm it.  The color of your eyes confirm it.  Your features are just like your mother’s, you know?  I can’t let you go again.  I need you in my life, Amy.”

***

 

During the trial, Mary walked around in a cloud.  They wouldn’t let her see Bob.  She couldn’t even talk to him on the phone.  She clammed up and wouldn’t talk to anyone.  The judge gave Bob eight years for kidnapping and a life sentence for murder.  She sat in the courtroom, stunned and confused.

“Bye, Mary,” he called to her just before the door shut after they led him away.  “I love you.  Remember that.”

He was gone before she could answer him.

Her father took her back across the border the day after the trial.  She sat in the front seat quietly grieving for a dad she had just lost.  Mary ached for the life she left behind and wondered about the life she should have had with her real family.  The man beside her was a stranger, would remain a stranger to her.  She vowed to herself that as soon as she was able, she'd find Bob.  She'd visit him in prison and never leave his side.

Mary petted the puppy on her lap as tears raced down her cheeks. 

 

***

 

Her real father's name was Cliff.  He was an insurance broker and now lived in Flint, Michigan.  “We'll cross the border at Sarnia,” Cliff told her as they drove south on highway 69.  “But we can't make in one day.  I think we can get as far as Orangeville tonight.”

Mary ignored him and watched out the side window, picturing Bob's smiling face after she'd hit a home run in a baseball game with their friends.  She saw him in their small house, cooking her spaghetti because he knew that was her favorite meal.  Then his worried eyes watching her when she showed him her picture on the milk carton.  Every month there was a new picture of a little girl or boy on one.  It was a new program the federal government had started a few years ago.  It said on the news one time that seventeen of the missing children had been found.  Mary wondered if they felt the same way as she did.  Did any of them want to go back home?  To a family they didn't know anymore?  To be uprooted and leave the only life they knew?

Her puppy, Buster, squirmed in her lap.  She wiped a tear from her eyes and turned to Cliff.  “He needs to pee.” 

Cliff frown at the puppy, a mutt with big soulful eyes.  His hair was long, black and tan.  Buster whimpered.  “Okay,” Cliff finally said.  “While we're at it, we can grab some lunch.” 

 

***

They parked in front of a restaurant and Mary took Buster over to the bushes so he could do his business.  As she stood there waiting she thought about running away.  She could go back to her little house in the woods.  Work in one of the local stores.  But then she dismissed that idea.  Even if she did find a job she wouldn't make enough to live on.  And most of her clothes, and her guitar were in the trunk of the car.  She vowed to keep that guitar forever.  It was Bob's gift to her on her last birthday. 

She left Buster in the car while she and Cliff went in to eat.  When they came out Buster had jumped into the back seat and chewed Cliff's jacket.  Cliff lifted it up and swore. 

“You know how much I paid for this jacket,” he yelled at her.  “It's real leather.”  He whipped it at the puppy.  Buster yelped then scrambled to the far side of the seat. 

“Don't hurt him,” Mary yelled right back.  “He's just a puppy, for Christ sakes.”

“Don't you swear at me, young lady.”

Mary lifted her chin.  “Or what?  You going to send me back where I came from?”

Cliff held his fists at his side, breathing in and out slowly as if controlling his rage.  Then in a softer voice he said, “Get in.” 

He didn't wait for her.  Cliff got in and started the car.  Mary jumped in just before he backed up.  His foot was heavy on the pedal as he headed back onto the highway. 

 

***

 

The first motel they went to wouldn't allow animals in the rooms.  Cliff became agitated all over again, muttering to himself as he stormed back to the car and slammed the door after he got back in.  “That dog has to go,” he said.  “He's nothing but a pain in the ass.”

Mary held Buster tighter to her chest.  “He's not going anywhere.”

“I hate dogs.”

“I know.”

“You know?  You remember?”

“Yes.  You wouldn't let me have one when I was little.”

Cliff nodded.  “You asked for one that Christmas.  I remember.  The last Christmas...”  Tears came to his eyes and he looked away.  “I missed you so much.  Looked everywhere for you.  Put out ads in the papers, hired a private investigator.” 

“You did?”

He nodded, watched her eyes as he said, “I never stopped looking for you, Amy.  That's how I found you.”

Mary faced the front, wondering what she should tell him.  That she forgot about him?  That she was enjoying her life too much to even care about him anymore?  That Bob was her father in all ways except in blood? 

Cliff laid a hand on her arm.  “I know this is going to be hard on you, Amy.  I'm just glad that Bob was good to you, and that he didn't...didn't abuse you in any way.  Physically, that is.”

“You saying that he abused me emotionally? Mentally?”

“Well, yes he did.  I found out about his dead daughter, Amy.  You were her replacement.  It wasn't you he cared for all these years, but his real daughter.”

She slapped him.  Hard.

Cliff recoiled then grabbed her hands, holding them tight.  Buster jumped into the back seat.  “Stop that,” he yelled. 

“Or what?  You'll spank me, like you used to?  Send me to my room and not feed me supper?”

“Damn you, Amy.”

“Quit calling me Amy.  My name is Mary.”

“You're Amy.  That's the name you were given at birth.  That's the name you were baptized with.”

“I was baptized?”

“Yes.  As an Anglican.”  Slowly he let go of her hands.  “I still go to church.”

“I haven't been in church since, well since forever.”  She sat back against the door and frowned. 

Cliff turned the car on and pulled out of the lot.  “We need to find us a couple of rooms tonight.  There is a lot we need to talk about.”

 

***

On the third try Cliff found a motel that allowed dogs.  Mary took him into the room with her.  She filled his bowls with food and water then took a long hot shower.  It was too late for a talk.  She was too tired and worn out.Mary watched television and then went to bed at ten.  In the morning she met Cliff downstairs for breakfast.  He kept the conversation light, wanting to get back on the road. 

It was raining when they loaded the car and headed toward London.  Mary read a romance novel as Cliff drove silently down the road.  Buster was content to chew on a rawhide bone that Cliff gave him.  When she asked him about it, he said, “To keep him out of trouble.” 

That day they stopped in Port Huron after crossing the border into the United States.  Cliff seemed less on edge and began to smile at times.  That evening he came to Mary's room and sat in the wobbly chair by the little desk. 

“I need to tell you a few things, Amy.  I remarried six years ago.  You have a little brother.  His name is Ricky.  He's five.”

Mary stared out the window.  “And your wife?”

“Her name is Glenda.  She's a few years younger than me.  Seven to be exact.  She's waiting to meet you, Amy.”

Mary noticed how he kept saying her name, as if ingraining it into her mind.  Tears swelled up in her eyes.  She never thought of him getting married again, or having another child.  Where would that put her second, after his son?

The silence stretched after that.  Cliff eventually broke it when he said, “It's a lot, I know.  You have a brother now.  He just starting grade one this September and you'll be going to high school.”

Mary thought about when she started school in northern Ontario.  Bob had given them Mary's papers.  She had skipped a grade to put her at the right age that Mary would have been.  And she'd been smart enough to pull it off. 

“What do you want to become when you graduate?” Cliff asked.

Mary shrugged.  “I thought I'd become a forest ranger.”

“A forest ranger?” Cliff nodded as if trying to accept her choice.  “Not a lawyer, or start your own business?”

“You don't think I can do it?”

“Oh, I'm sure you can do anything you put your mind to, Amy.  It's just that I never thought you'd want to be out in the boonies, chasing bad guys through the wilderness.”

Mary smiled.  “I love the wilderness.”

Cliff shook his head.  “I guess.  But I own my own insurance company now.  I was hoping you'd come work for me.”  He smiled at her.  “Maybe someday you could take it over.”

And then he'll turn around and give it to Ricky, she thought.  “I'll think about it,” was all she said. 

 

***

 

They made good time the following day and drove into Flint in the evening.  Mary held Buster tight as she stood on the front yard looking at her new home.  Cliff came up beside her and held her arm.  “Glenda has your room all ready for you, Amy.  She's just as nervous as you are.”

He guided her up the steps and into the house, closing the door behind them.  Glenda rushed in from the room on their left.  “Oh, my,” she said and gave Mary a quick hug.  “You’re a pretty little thing, aren't you?”  She was tall and thin.  Her blonde hair hung loose to her shoulders.  Blue eyes danced with sparkling specks of silver.  “You're just as tall as I am.”  She gave Buster a pat and laughed when the puppy licked her face.  “I like you too.”  She turned to her husband and Mary saw how they looked at each other. 

Cliff leaned over and gave his wife a kiss.  “Miss you,” he said.

Glenda smiled at him, with a look that promised something special for him later.  “Missed you, too.  Now us girls are going to go upstairs while you bring in the luggage.”  Glenda turned and headed toward the stairs.  Mary glimpsed the amused look on Cliff's face as he turned and went back outside.

“I painted your room purple.  I hope you don't mind,” Glenda said as they walked down the hall.  “If you don't like it we can change it.  It's no big deal.”

Mary stopped when she saw her room.  It was a teenager's dream.  Poster of her favorite rock bands were on her walls.  A radio sat on her dresser.  A computer was on the desk in the corner.  Another guitar leaned against it.  Mary was at a loss for words as she stepped into her room. 

Glenda stayed in the doorway.  “I hope you like it.  I hope that we can be friends, Amy.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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