She was running for her life
“Jessie! What do you think you’re doing?”
She jumped at the sound of her mother’s voice her first thought was Mia. Seeing her playing quietly in her crib made her heart stop beating as fast.
“Get your lazy ass up.”
“I am.” What else could she say? She’d been working until two am this morning and it was only eight, but her mother didn’t care. Everyone needed to be up when she was up, which meant her mother didn’t pass out drunk last night, pity.
Head filled with cotton she sat up and swung her legs off the bed. Mia stood in the crib smiling at her, making her day better.
“Hi, baby girl.”
“Mama.” She frowned for a minute then shrugged it off. Mia was over a year old and should be talking more. Her doctor said she’d talk when she wants, but that wasn’t making her feel any better.
“Let’s go downstairs and see if there’s any food for you in the house.”
Leaning down she kissed her before picking her up. Their room was the brightest in the house because of the posters she bought of cartoon characters. They were placed all over the walls for Mia to make her smile and stimulate her brain.
She plastered a big smile on her face as she looked at her bed that was a mattress and a box spring on the floor. At least she had a box spring. Stepping out into the hallway she ignored the dirt and the stench. She could clean as much as she wanted but every morning it looked and smelled the same and now that she was working the mess on the floor accumulated faster than she could make it disappear.
Pretending it wasn’t there, she walked down the stairs and into the kitchen. The once yellow walls were faded and dingy, but her mother always said ‘we don’t live here because of the walls.’
“Well I’ll be, the princess has finally risen from her bed. You’re not going to sleep the day away as long as you live in this house.”
“Mom, I work until two am in the morning. Then I have to walk home.”
“You should be ashamed taking my granddaughter to that place of sin.”
“That’s rich coming from you. The day I couldn’t get a babysitter when I was looking for a job, I came home to find you gone. You had Mia lying on the counter of the bar while all the drunks tried to take a turn holding her.”
The crack of a palm across her face was loud in the silent room.
“You remember who I am. I’m your mother, and you won’t talk to me like that. Unless you want to find your ass on the street and I’ll take care of Mia.”
“If you ever lay a hand on my child I will kill you.”
Her mother looked weak, but she wasn’t. It was a game she played to get others to take care of her. So, when she fell clutching her chest, Jessie ignored her and went to the refrigerator. She would have sat Mia down first, but she didn’t have a highchair, and Mia was still too little for the regular chairs.
“Mia’s beautiful. She’ll fetch a high price.” She was still lying on the floor, but Jessie could see the calculating look on her mother’s face.
You knew this day was coming.
It happened to your sisters. Why do you deny it?
She won’t wait.
Kiss our daughter goodbye.
“They’ll be coming for her. I want you to stay home, make sure you give her a bath and dress her real pretty. Now that you know what’s happening, I’ll find another man with good genes to knock you up.”
“And if it’s a boy this time?”
“Doesn’t matter they like boys too. Don’t feed her I don’t want her to look fat.”
Jessie turned around and left the kitchen.
“I better hear the water running.” Her mother’s voice followed her down the hallway.
This time she paid attention to her surroundings. They lived in a house that should have been condemned. There were two hungry guard dogs that she kept away from Mia and the floor was covered with their feces because her mom didn’t clean.
She also felt, what good was a guard dog if it was running around outside when it should be protecting the inside. The one thing she would say about the dogs was they ate better than her and Mia, mostly because she tried to feed them to keep Mia safe.
Entering the bathroom, she turned on the tub but didn’t put the stopper in. The house was old enough to have a tub but not a shower. Then she stumbled into her room and closed the door. Her daughter smiled up at her with familiar blue eyes. She sat on the bed and hugged her close tears in the corner of her eyes.
Today would be the last day she ever saw her.
“Mama.” Her tiny hand went to her face touching her tears.
No! You don’t get to give up like this.
We’re talking about Mia, the only bright spot in our life.
What happened to I’ll protect her forever?
Rethink what you just said.
It was a reasonable request, but the last voice made her shake. It was the part of her that scared her the most. It forced her to stand up to her mother when she wanted to lay down and disappear. It kept her working even when she was threatened every day and woken up at eight am.
It was also her sanity in a world that shouldn’t exist, and it was alien. She had carefully asked the people around her and the ones she used to go to school with if they had an alien voice in their heads. No one seemed to have a voice in their head like this. So, she shut up about it and pretended it didn’t exist.
It wouldn’t let her pretend ignorance now, not when their daughter’s life was in danger.
“How do we get out of here?”
We need a duffle bag. Only take what you need.
She started packing mostly for Mia with two outfits for herself and a change of shoes. The first time she got paid she bought a baby carrier. Mia was so small she fit in it perfectly. Now she put her in and adjusted it over her stomach. She needed to be able to keep her eyes on her daughter. The duffle bag was swung over one shoulder.
Moving to the door, she cracked it to make sure no one was in the hallway before she slipped out. The water was still running in the tub. She crept down the hall to turn it off. She didn’t want her mother coming to check on them.
We have to go out the side door.
What if we fall?
We could die, our child could die.
How long do you think she’ll live if they take her away from us?
The side door was located on the second floor. No one used it. When opened there was a small two-person porch for standing not sitting made of wood, that had fallen into disrepair long before she was born.
Would the door even open? She unlocked it and pushed. Nothing happened. She used her weight against the door, it was the reason her mother never gave her away, too fat. She’d laugh about that later right now she needed to get out. One good thrust of her hip made the door squeak loudly. Her heart thumped in her chest as the dogs came to investigate. She waited for them to bark, but their loyalty was with her and the food she fed them. Fidelity, what a new concept. One of the dogs began picking his way down the steps helping her to stay away from the weaker sections.
Where would she go to? A shelter? How would she work if she was living in a shelter? Who would watch Mia?
Does it matter as long as she is alive?
That was the voice of hope. She didn’t talk much so she must think she was desperately needed. When she made it to the bottom of the stairs, she stood in the thick trees that hid that part of the house. A beautiful gun metal gray Mercedes pulled up to the curb in front of the door. Her time was up.
She waited until the two men in suits got out and went inside. Throwing her shoulders back she pasted a smiled on her face as she did a fast walk out of the neighborhood waving at anyone she saw to avoid suspicion.
Where are we going?
I don’t know, ask her.
All the voices in her head turned to look at the alien who was sitting down with a file in her hands sharpening her claws.
Jessie flinched and walked faster. Homewood wasn’t that far away from Second Avenue the main street in the neighborhood next to hers. If she could only make it there. She caught a glimpse of a gun metal gray car behind her and began to run. If they caught her, she was dead, and Mia was gone.
Hot air met her as her breath was blown back in her face. Her side flamed with pain as she ran. She was on Second Avenue cutting down a side street when the car came into view behind her.
People were sitting on their porches, but not one of them offered her help or even asked if she needed help. She didn’t blame them even people in better neighborhoods knew when to mind their own business. The car was tracking her slowly, they knew she didn’t have any place to go. Up ahead should have been a street but it looked like a dead end.
She kept running, looking for the street that used to be there. One look behind her showed a gun being held out the window. They were going to kill her. She hit the barrier that looked like it was a solid wall stumbling and trying desperately not to fall on Mia.
“Help! Someone, please help me.” She was on the street where she worked, she kept running until the club came into sight, until Cole came into sight.
Then she stopped, dropping to the bottom step that led to the club. The tears she had been holding inside flowed quietly. No one, not even her should have to worry about the life of their young child.
Cole walked down the steps. There was a loud growl that made her wonder if the dogs followed her. She should look, but she couldn’t stop clutching Mia and rocking back and forth. She wasn’t stupid, this was just a breather, they would eventually find them, and when they did, they would take Mia unless she left the city.
“Cole.” Seeing him brought a relief she couldn’t deny. Even in the midst of what she was going through he had been there for her the last couple of months.
He was the bartender where she worked as a waitress. He kept an eye out for her and always made sure Mia had everything she needed. They all did including the patrons of the club. Yet, there was something about Cole. He kept everything calm when it felt like it might spin out of control at any minute.
“I need to leave the city. They want my daughter.”
“Who wants Mia?”
There was that growl again. It sent a shiver down her back making her uncomfortable and hot at the same time. The hot part was coming from Cole. Every time he touched her she heated up. Then he would lift Mia up and place her over the wide expanse of his chest and to her embarrassment she would get wet every time. Seeing him holding her child treating her like she was precious was the hottest thing she ever saw.
We’re in danger, no thinking about getting laid.
Leave her alone we’re safe for now.
Anger and confidence were fighting among themselves as usual. They were both right. He was much too good for street trash like her, but that didn’t stop her from wanting him.
“Jessie, who wants Mia?”
He placed his hand under her chin and raised it. She knew her eyes were tear stained and she wanted to look away from him. How could she admit that she was such a lousy mother that she allowed them to be in danger?
She shook her head because saying it out loud was more than she could bear. If she uttered the words to tell him the story of her life, she might start to scream and never stop.