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Authors: Mitzi Pool Bridges

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BOOK: Find My Baby
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“She was a good girl, if a little headstrong. Good in school, popular, pretty. I made sure she wore the latest fashions and had everything the other girls had whether I could afford them or not.”

“You worked and she played,” Kayla whispered.

“Not quite like that, but close. Meri was twenty years younger than me. After our parents’ death, there was just the two of us. She was my responsibility.” Her aunt paused before continuing. “Meri was quite talented. She could draw anything. I still have some of her work. I think you inherited her gift.”

Kayla smiled a little, thinking of the time her mother had taken up painting, even sold a few canvases. But her mother didn’t stick with anything too long. She’d grow bored, flit from one project to another, one job to another, and one town to another.

“I wanted to pursue art in college, but I wanted to teach, too. So I took all the art courses I could afford. I graduated this month.” Kayla laughed without humor. “While I was held prisoner.” She wiped at her eyes. “I didn’t get to walk across that stage.”

“I’m sorry, Kayla. But you have your degree. No one can take that from you.” Aunt Nester patted her hand. “I wanted Meri to go to college, major in art and perfect her gift. She had other plans. When she was sixteen, she met your father. A desire to go places and do things must have sounded romantic. Meri couldn’t wait to graduate high school and marry him.” Nester sniffed. “He came to me more than once begging for money. I wouldn’t give it to him. But I did visit Meri and offer to help. She wouldn’t take anything from me. I can still see her; head high, a look on her face that defied me to contradict her. She laughed and told me everything was fine. I knew it wasn’t. There was no food in the apartment. And she still wore the same clothes she’d had when she lived at home.”

“Sounds like her,” Kayla murmured.

“They left town soon after that and I only heard from her sporadically over the next few years. When I did, she bragged about her fun life and how they were seeing things she’d never thought to see, how exciting it was. When you were born, I thought she’d stay put. I was wrong.

“She came back to town shortly after your birth. Your father had left her by then, and died soon after. I thought she came back home for help; that the two of you would be back in my life.”

“Her pride,” Kayla offered. “It prevented her from coming to you.”

“It was foolish pride. I loved her. She was my sister. I took one look at you and loved you, too. We could have had a good life.”

“Mother would never admit she’d made a mistake.”

“No, she wouldn’t, but we all make mistakes, every single one of us. And if we can’t forgive ourselves, then no one else can.” Aunt Nester paused. “Meri stayed in town for a couple of years. I really think she was trying to make it on her own. Maybe to prove to me she could. But she couldn’t, and it broke my heart. Every time I tried to get her to move in with me or accept my help, she denied she needed anything. Then I met Paul. I’d never dated much. First, because I had a job and was busy raising Meri, then it seemed I was too old. So when he asked me out, I was surprised. I only went out with him to see what it felt like.”

Nester’s face softened as she gave a slight smile. “He grew on me. The first thing I knew, he asked me to marry him. I said yes and arranged a small ceremony. Your mother wouldn’t come.” A sad look came over her aunt’s face. “Then I did something I shouldn’t have. I enlisted Paul’s help to talk your mother into moving in with us. He was more than willing. He loved children and we couldn’t have any. We went to the small apartment you lived in at the time, told Meri we would add on two rooms and a bath if she’d move back home. She refused. Then Paul sat down and wrote out a check. He told her if she wouldn’t live with us, we would buy out her half of the house since it originally belonged to our parents. It was only right. Legally it belonged to the two of us.”

“She tore up the check,” Kayla said. “I remember.”

Aunt Nester twisted her hands together.

“Yes, and she told us not to come back,” Nester said with tears in her eyes. “Walking out of that dreary apartment and leaving the two of you was the hardest thing I ever did.”

“We left town after that.”

“I know. Even though Meri told me not to come back, I couldn’t stay away. But when I did, you were gone, and the apartment manager didn’t have a forwarding address.”

“I don’t remember where we went. We moved a lot.”

Nester patted Kayla’s hand. “I wanted you so badly. You and your mother.”

“I’m sorry, Aunt Nester. I don’t know what drove Mother. We fought all the time. I’d beg to stay in a town she’d grown tired of. I was so glad when I graduated and went to college. Finally, I could stay in one place.”

“It couldn’t have been easy for you.”

Kayla shook her head. “I worked all the time. Otherwise I couldn’t afford college, not even with grants. Sometimes I held two jobs and couldn’t take more than two classes. Other times I held one job and took four. It was hard, but I knew what I wanted. My first love was drawing, so when I could afford it, I took courses in art. It took seven years, but I did it and I did it on my own.”

“I’m so proud of you and what you accomplished.”

Aunt Nester went to the kitchen to check on the soup. Kayla followed. “All my life I dreamt of staying in one place, making friends. But Mother wasn’t happy unless she was on the move. After I married David and found out I was pregnant, I vowed to give my child the stable life I never had.”

“David? Was that your husband? What happened to him?”

“He didn’t want our child,” her voice broke. “The moment I told him about the pregnancy, he changed. I don’t know why. He was killed in a car accident before we came to terms with it.”

They went back to the sofa and sat down; Kayla thinking of how different their lives could have been.

Finally, Nester cleared her throat. “Kayla, the money for Meri’s half of the house has been sitting in the bank drawing interest since that day twenty years ago. It’s yours now.”

Shocked, Kayla looked at her aunt. The figure Aunt Nester quoted might not mean much to some. To Kayla, it was a small fortune. And it would help her find Sam.


Sunday turned hectic. Luke and Rosie were in and out of Aunt Nester’s all day.

Luke tended to a few odd jobs. Then the two friends put their heads together and made dinner. Though she had no appetite, the small amount Kayla ate tasted good. But food seemed to stick halfway down her throat. Still, at her aunt’s and Rosie’s insistence, and buoyed by Luke’s coaxing, she managed to eat a little.

Kayla envied the two women their relationship. She’d never stayed in one place long enough to make friends. Much less one she could rely on as these two relied on each other. Not even after she’d married David. They would settle down in a college town only to move after a few semesters. No amount of begging could change his mind. They’d ended up in Houston a little over a year ago. Kayla vowed then to stay here. After David died she promised herself she would never uproot her child.

After dinner, Luke started questioning her again. “Does anyone know where you are?”

“Only the police and the three of you.”

“How did you get here?”

She sighed. Hadn’t she told him this before? “I found a cab a short distance from the police station. I had no idea where to go. Then I thought of Aunt Nester. I had the taxi driver drop me off at Wal-Mart. I didn’t want anyone to know where I was.”

“Where did you get money for a cab?”

Kayla chuckled. “Mom always told me to keep a little mad money in my shoe. She said you never knew when you might need it. I had a twenty stuck under the lining.”

Aunt Nester gasped. “That’s what I used to tell Meri all the time. Be prepared for an emergency.”

“Then I have you to thank,” Kayla said.

“You walked here?” Luke brought the conversation around to her story.

“I did. But I was careful. It was early in the morning. I didn’t see a soul.”

“I still don’t understand why someone didn’t report you as a missing person. Someone from your job or from the University.”

“I told you, Luke. My job as student teacher was almost over when my doctor told me to take it easy. I had to quit. Who else would even notice?”

It sounded pathetic. No close friends, no loving parent who would miss her, no one. But she’d been happy with her life until that fateful day.

“Okay. Here’s the deal,” Luke said. “Stay put. As long as you don’t go anywhere, you should be safe.”

Sure. Just sit and do nothing. She didn’t think so. “I have to look for Sam.”

“Where are you going to look?”

She didn’t answer. So he left with another warning. “I’ll check on you tomorrow. Just do as I say and you’ll be safe.”


Early Monday morning, Kayla was alone and nervous. She paced the living room, tried to formulate a plan as she waited for Aunt Nester to get back from running errands. Important errands if Kayla was to start her search for Sam. There was no way she could do as Luke asked. But now, alone in the house, she wished Aunt Nester would hurry. She told herself that the kidnappers couldn’t find her here, but her heartbeat quickened at the possibility.

She had one thin clue—a book of matches. But she had to do something besides pump her breasts every three hours.

Luke told her Sam could be thousands of miles from here by now. Every hour, every minute that went by, her chances grew slimmer of ever seeing him again, of ever holding her precious baby again.

All her life, she’d drawn on her inner resources.

Now was no different.

She would find him.

The back door slammed. Her hand went to her heart. Would she ever stop being so afraid?

“There you are,” Aunt Nester said, entering the room. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, Aunt Nester. Did you get everything?”

“Here.” She thrust an envelope bulging with twenty-dollar bills at Kayla. “If this isn’t enough, there’s more.”

She gave the older woman a hug. “Thank you,” Kayla breathed, fighting the urge to break down and cry. “I don’t know what I’d do if it weren’t for you.”

Aunt Nester cleared her throat. “Nonsense.”

Kayla took the bag from her aunt’s hand. “I’ll be right back.”

Two hours later, Kayla found her aunt in the kitchen.

“Is that you, child?” Aunt Nester asked, her eyes as big as the saucer in her hand.

Kayla laughed. “I don’t look the same, do I?”

“Not even close,” her aunt said in awe.

“The man who tried to kill me knows what I look like. Not now. What do you think?” Arms out, she turned in a circle.

Aunt Nester went to the table and sat down. “With spiky blonde hair you don’t look like yourself at all. Though you still look like your mother, no one will recognize you.”

Kayla’s mouth tightened. “But I’m not like her, Aunt Nester. I’m more like you.”

“Do say?” Aunt Nester said with obvious pleasure.

“I do,” Kayla smiled. “You’ve lived in this house most of your life. I’d love that. You put down roots, real, honest-to-goodness roots. And you’ve worked hard all that time. I’m not afraid of work. Since I turned fourteen and lied about my age, I’ve taken jobs I hated, worked hours no one else would. I had a goal—graduate college. That degree is mine now. And that’s not all,” she continued, her voice firming with every word, “I’m going to find Sam.” She glanced at her aunt’s long wrinkled face, her work-worn hands. “You’re going to love him, too, Aunt Nester. He’s so beautiful.”

Tears welled in Aunt Nester’s eyes. “I don’t know what you have in mind, young lady. But be careful. You’re dealing with people willing to kill.”

Kayla did her best to ease her aunt’s fears. “I promise I won’t take unnecessary chances.”

“You realize just walking out that door is a risk that your kidnappers will find you.”

“You’re at risk too, Aunt Nester. If they find me here... In a way,” she breathed. “I hope they do. I’ll be that much closer to finding Sam.”

“Be careful, Kayla.”

“You’d do the same.” Seeing the concern on her aunt’s face, she added, “But I’ll be careful.”

“You promise?”

Kayla nodded, put her borrowed purse over her shoulder, and gave her aunt a kiss. “Where are the car keys, Aunt Nester? It’s time I get started.”

Her aunt’s car was fifteen years old, and as big as a tank, but it drove like a dream.

Thirty minutes after leaving the house, Kayla pulled up in front of Howard’s Club.

She sat for a moment and looked around. Not exactly the high rent district, but not skid row either. The bar was a small place, tucked between a cleaners and a Cut-N-Curl. The houses in the blue-collar area were small, but neat.

Tiny blue lights flickered in a picture window that advertised a sports bar and grill. A small Help Wanted sign sat in the right hand corner.

A stroke of luck. If it held, she’d take that sign out of the window. Her heart beat rapidly as she pushed open the door and stepped inside. It took a few seconds for her eyes to adjust in the dim light. A television was hooked high on the wall at each end of the room. Booths lined the right side, a long bar the left. In the center, chairs and tables were placed closely together. Only a couple of booths were occupied.

A woman, about her own age, with shoulder length blonde hair, was wiping the bar with a towel. “Can I help you?”

“I’d like to see the manager,” Kayla said, her heart in her throat.

“He’s in the back.”

Kayla looked again. Curly blonde hair accented a perky face with a mouth that held a generous smile. Kayla couldn’t help but smile back. Tilting her head toward the window, she said, “I’m applying for the job.”

“Great. We need the help. Wait here.”

In minutes, a man came from the back. He was tall, but stooped, his gray hair in contrast to his unlined face.

“You’re interested in a job?” he asked with a smile.

Kayla nodded. “I am.” She stuck out her hand. “Kayla Hunter,” she said.

“John Henry Howard,” he said holding her hand firmly in his. “And this is my niece, Jackie. The job’s not easy. Right now we’re slow, but a little later on the place will fill up.”

BOOK: Find My Baby
12.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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