Read Twelve Days Online

Authors: Teresa Hill

Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Love Stories, #Christmas Stories

Twelve Days (9 page)

BOOK: Twelve Days
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Rachel's voice broke. She had to work hard to clear her throat.

He'd been so big and tall and handsome, quiet when she got him alone, intense, sexy in a way she was just beginning to understand at the time. But kind to her, protective of her, gentle with her. Sometimes she thought her heart would burst from happiness, just to think that someday she might be his.

Her parents had been horrified—their daughter was smitten with that wild boy who had to be up to no good. But nothing they said could convince Rachel to forget about him.

She and Sam hadn't dated much. She hadn't been allowed to date until her sixteenth birthday. But she saw him at school. They'd arrange to meet at the edge of town and go for long walks along the river, and they'd talk about everything. He loved listening to stories about her family, and he told her how much he wanted out of Baxter. He was actually very smart, though he didn't often let it show. People had wrongly judged him, and he took stubborn pride in showing them exactly what they expected to see in him.

People also blamed him for her pregnancy, as if she hadn't gone eagerly into his arms, as if everything everyone had always said about him was coming true. But she'd been happy then, despite how scared she was. Because she knew he was a good man. A very good man.

And now he was leaving her.

"Are you okay?" Emma asked quietly.

"I'll be fine," Rachel claimed, looking over at the rocking chair. This could have been like any other day in her life recently. She could just let life knock her flat on her back and not get back up. Instead, she had children to take care of. She was going to give them a good Christmas and have a few more days with Sam. She wasn't going to let herself think beyond that.

"Let's go find Zach," she said.

* * *

The boy followed Sam around like a lost puppy desperate for attention. He didn't even look where he was going, sometimes stepping all over Sam's heels, and he was way too eager to please. He'd smile up at Sam with those puppy-dog eyes and that quirky little grin, and sometimes he still looked afraid. That part got to Sam every time. Zach was still afraid but not enough to leave Sam alone.

"I thought Rachel was taking you to buy clothes this morning," Sam said.

"I got clothes on." Zach shrugged, as if he didn't care in the least. "She made me wash behind my ears and brush my teeth and ever'thing."

Sam stared back at him, seeing himself at Zach's age and someone else entirely. Someone else Sam had loved and lost. Any instinct he'd ever had about how to deal with kids seemed to have deserted him in this moment. He didn't like feeling so inept.

"So... where's your mother, Zach?" he tried. If he couldn't deal with them, maybe he could find out where they belonged.

"I'm not s'posed to tell," the boy whispered.

"Why not?"

"She told me not to."

"Who told you not to tell?"

"My mom."

"Before she left you at the motel she told you not to tell anyone where she was going?"

Zach nodded solemnly, looking a bit upset. Damn. Sam truly didn't want to upset him. But it was for the kids' own good and Rachel's. Rachel who looked so perfect, so content with a baby in her bed in the morning. Rachel who'd finally noticed he was sleeping somewhere else and said something about it. He almost thought it would have been easier if she'd never noticed.

Sam looked back at the boy, thinking the kid just had to go. All of them had to go before Rachel started thinking that maybe these children would stay and that everything would be better. Neither one of them could afford to think like that, and he could question a lost little boy if he had to, to protect Rachel.

"So, your mother... What else did she say, Zach?"

"That she's comin' back. We were s'posed to wait for her. Right there. Because she's comin' back."

Sam doubted that. "Has she ever left you before?"

"With Emma, y'mean?"

Sam suspected Zach got left with Emma a lot, and Emma was great with him. But she was just a little girl herself. "I mean has your mother ever left you anywhere and not come back? Not for a long time. Like days?"

"When she went to get Grace out," Zach said.

"Out?" Sam grinned in spite of himself.

"Of her tummy. Grace grew in her tummy. From an egg," Zach whispered. "You know, kinda like a chicken. I don't understand it all. But they had to go to the hospital to get 'er out."

Like a chicken? Grace would love hearing that someday. Zach laughed a bit. He was a cute kid when he laughed.

"So, that's the only time your mother ever left you? Overnight?"

Zach nodded. "She's a good mommy. She's comin' back. Maybe we should be there. Don'cha think? How's she gonna find us if we're not there?"

"I bet Miriam left a note or something, Zach. If she comes back, Miriam will tell her where you and Emma and the baby are."

"I love 'er a lot," Zach said solemnly.

Sam nodded, his throat going tight again. He hadn't been much older than Zach when his own mother died. He remembered being bewildered and so eager to please, to find a place to belong again, and worrying that he never would. Damned if that fear wasn't coming true now. Soon he'd have a room over a garage and not much else.

Sam started to wonder where the children would go, too, after Christmas. Miriam couldn't have been serious about splitting them up.

"What's your mother's name, Zach?" he said with new urgency.

"Mommy," he said.

Sam sighed. "What's her last name? You know, when people say Mrs. So-and-so, what do they call her?"

He refused to say a word.

"It'll help us find her, Zach. You want us to find her, don't you? Then you should tell me everything. Where did you live? Before you came here?"

"Lotsa places," he said.

"In Ohio?"

"I think so."

"What town?"

"I dunno."

"Did you ever memorize your address? For school? Have you ever been to school, Zach?"

Zach shook his head. "Is that bad? Am I gonna get in trouble?"

"No."

" 'Cause Emma has to go to school. We get in trouble when she doesn't."

Sam nodded. He wasn't surprised she had missed a lot of school. And he wondered what he could get Emma to tell him. She'd know so much more.

"Zach," he tried one more time. "If you'd just tell us what you know, I promise we'll do our best to find her."

"She's gonna come back," Zach said stubbornly.

"I know she said that, but..."

Tears welled up in the little boy's eyes. "She's comin' back!"

"What are you doing to him?" Emma yelled and ran to Zach's side. She put herself between Zach and Sam, like a mother defending her child—she probably thought Zach
was
hers—and attacked. "You made him cry!" Emma put her arm around the little boy. "What did he do, Zach?"

Zach sobbed. "He made me talk about Mommy."

Emma glared at Sam. "He's just a little boy."

"Emma, if you know where your mother is, you should tell us so we can find her."

Unmoved, Emma didn't say a word, just stood there holding Zach against her side. Sam looked up and in the open doorway saw Rachel with the baby in her arms, looking as angry as Emma. He turned back to the children.

"She told you not to tell, right?" Sam said. "Before she left you at the motel. She told you she'd be back, too, but she didn't come back, and now we need to find her. Do you understand that? You need to help us find her."

"Sam! That's enough!" Now Rachel planted herself between him and the children, telling Emma, "Take Zach to the house, okay? I'll be right there."

The girl nodded, in tears herself now.

"Everything will be fine," Rachel reassured the girl. "You'll see."

"She's coming back," Emma said, her lip quivering, her expression forlorn.

"Emma," Rachel said, trying to undo the damage he'd done, "we're going to take care of you. You'll be fine here. I promise. Now I need to talk to Sam. Please take Zach into the house and let him eat his breakfast. I'll be right there." Emma nodded. Rachel turned to the boy. "Zach, Emma and I were worried about you. We didn't know where you were."

"I was with him," Zach said, pointing to Sam.

"Well we didn't know that. You shouldn't come out here without telling us. You shouldn't leave the house at all without me or Sam or Emma, okay?"

" 'Kay," he said solemnly.

"Go inside with Emma and eat." The two of them left, and Rachel, looking like a warrior woman, wheeled around to Sam and said, "What did you think you were doing?"

"Trying to find out where they belong," he said. "If they have a home, that's where they should be."

"So you're going to interrogate them until they crack? You had them in tears, Sam. Do you want them gone so badly?"

"No. I said they can stay, and I meant it. But there might be someone out there looking for them. Did you ever think of that? Someone might be worried half to death over them by now."

"I'm sure Miriam is checking. She doesn't need you to give them the third degree. They're little kids, Sam. They have to be so scared."

"Which is why they should be with people they know, people who love them—"

"If such a person exists," she said.

"Yes, if there is such a person, that's where they should be."

"Why don't we let Miriam worry about that."

"Miriam's not here. We are."

"And we're taking care of them. That's all she asked us to do. We need to give them a place where they feel safe," Rachel said. "You make it sound like you can't wait to get rid of them."

"That's not it," he insisted.

"Did you ever really want children?" she said.

"What?" Sam stared at her.

"Children. Did you ever really want them?"

"I wanted our baby," he said.

"Did you?"

"Of course I did, Rachel."

But Rachel didn't look convinced. She stood there holding Grace tighter, Grace who snuggled against her so trustingly, so innocently, just as the baby had entrusted herself to Sam that morning when he'd found her awake and crying in her crib.

She'd had big, bewildered tears rolling down her cheeks, and her arms were thrust out rigidly at her sides, her hands balled into fists. She was kicking her feet and working herself into a frenzy, no doubt because no one had come to tend to her.

He'd stood there practically choking on his own breath and thinking that surely if he waited long enough someone would hear her and come get her. So that he wouldn't have to touch her and wouldn't have to think of the other baby girl who'd come into his life so briefly and torn his heart apart.

But no one had come, and she'd gone right on crying and kicking her little feet until he picked her up, with great trepidation and very little skill, not that she seemed to mind. She settled against him with the kind of trust that tore at his heart once again. She was still taking big, gulping breaths that shook her entire body at first, but she snuggled against him like a cat and then started making breathy mewing sounds.

The slightness of her body had scared him. Her scent had been somehow familiar, and he couldn't put her down fast enough, but the impression of her there lingered long after she was gone from his arms. She'd made him think of his precious daughter, whom his wife didn't even realize he'd wanted desperately and still missed?

"She was our baby," Sam said.

"You wouldn't still be in this town if it hadn't been for her. Or for me."

"Maybe. Maybe not."

"You always wanted out of here, Sam. You couldn't wait. You told me so all the time."

"Maybe when I was teenager," he said, not understanding what this had to do with anything at the moment. "This wasn't the nicest place for me to be then."

"And you couldn't wait to get away."

"I guess I couldn't," he admitted.

"You must regret that you never did."

"I really hadn't thought about it," he said, honestly perplexed. Did she regret everything that ever happened between them? "Rachel, everything was different then."

Even now, when he was leaving Rachel, he wasn't planning to leave town. He'd spent years building his business and his reputation. And even if he and Rachel weren't together, he couldn't imagine not seeing her every now and then. He wondered if it wouldn't hurt as much to see her once he was gone.

"I thought you must have so many regrets," Rachel said.

"About what?"

"Being stuck here all this time."

Was that how she felt? Stuck? "This is where our lives were."

"I know, but..."

"What?" She thought he really cared where they lived? Not as long as he'd been able to be with her.

"If it hadn't been for the baby... we wouldn't have gotten married—"

"Wouldn't we?" he asked, an old, familiar ache of insecurity gnawing at him again. He doubted he'd ever have presumed to ask if she hadn't been pregnant with his child. He wouldn't ask now if she'd agreed only because of the baby. It didn't matter anymore. Soon they wouldn't be married at all.

"You would have left here, if we hadn't gotten married," she said. "You would have gone to college and been an architect. That's what you wanted."

"It's what a teenage boy wanted, Rachel," he said softly, thinking about that long-ago dream. "I'm not that boy anymore."

"Still, I... I wasn't sure you ever wanted the baby. Not like I did."

He gaped at her, putting the whole issue of their marriage aside and thinking—as he never let himself do—of their daughter. Their precious baby girl.

He still hurt. His heart hurt. He still had an image of her in his mind, one that came to him at the oddest of times, a memory so fleeting and yet so clear. Once upon a time, they had a daughter. His and Rachel's. She'd been tiny, born two months too early and under the worst of circumstances, and through the tears in his own eyes, he'd seen her, lying so helpless and so very still in an incubator at the hospital in town. He'd known from that first look that there was no hope, none at all, and he could only imagine what she might have looked like one day, had she been born under different circumstances and lived.

BOOK: Twelve Days
12.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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