I tapped my pencil against the side of my desk. I could feel the other students glaring at me, but I couldn’t help it. My test was finished, but I couldn’t get out of my seat yet. The teacher told me to wait until the bell rang to turn in my test. She told me to check my answers. But, I already did. Twice. I looked up towards the clock that was hanging over the doorway: class wouldn’t be over for 20 more minutes. I let out a huge sigh and looked over to my left. My friend’s eyebrows were furrowed and her forehead was resting in her left hand. Her right foot was tapping against the floor and I could see the frustration spreading across her face. I turned to my right and saw the same image on the boy my friend had a crush on. I didn’t like him very much. He would always pull my braid at recess and kick dirt on my friend. I guess I lost track of what I was doing because before I knew it, my pencil went flying out of my hand and landed near the foot of a kid who sat two desks in front of me. I leaned over to see if I could get up to get the pencil, but my teacher was already standing next to it. She picked it up, put in on my desk, and shook her head at me while she turned to walk back to her seat at the front of the class.
I left my pencil where she put it and turned my attention to the windows that lined the classroom walls. There were bluebirds building a nest in the tree outside and squirrels climbing through the branches. I was watching one of the squirrels scurry up the base of the tree with a nut in his mouth when I saw this man peeking around its trunk and staring into the classroom. He was pale skinned with curly dark-brown hair that stood up a few inches on his head. His eyes were hidden by dark sunglasses, but even though I couldn’t see them, it felt like he kept looking at me. What was this man doing outside my school? He didn’t look like a teacher I knew or any of my friend’s parents.
The bell rang and I put my test on the teacher’s desk. All my friends and I walked out of the school’s front gates. My friends waved goodbye as they climbed into their parent’s cars and I started to walk home. I lived a few blocks away, further than all my other friends, so I always walked by myself. I made a left then a right then another left. After I passed the brick house with the white picket fence, I knew I had 15 minutes until I was home.
A black car sped past me, but stopped only a few inches from where I stood. The man I saw from school jumped out and ran towards me. I dropped my backpack and turned around to run, but before my feet could leave the ground, the man had already covered my mouth with one hand and lifted me off the ground with the other. He had to take his hand off my mouth when he threw me in the car and I started to scream.
“LET ME GO!” I shouted over and over.
I kicked and scratched at the man, but no matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t strong enough to get away.
“LIZA!” he shouted over my relentless screaming,”Shut. Up. Everything will be okay.” He tied my wrists and ankles together and placed a piece of tape across my mouth. He laid me on my side and told me not to worry. Then, he changed his shirt, jacket, put on a baseball cap, and slipped on a pair of prescription frames. I guess no one saw what happened because no one came outside.
He drove for a long time in silence. He went right, right again, left, then he made a u-turn, then I just started to lose track. The car jerked to the right. The ground beneath the tires became really rough and rugged. Finally, the car came to a stop. In what seemed like one flawless movement, he unclicked his seatbelt and gently pulled me from the backseat of the car. He untied me, removed the tape, and just stood quietly in front of me.
“I’m sorry,” he said as he scooped me up into his arms and headed towards the front door of the cabin that the car was parked right in front of. He kicked open a door and sat me on the couch. He pulled up a wooden chair and sat right in front of me. He seemed nervous, like that boy taking his test. His foot was tapping against the floor. Why did this strange man take me? I could tell he was sad and scared, but I’ve seen movies where bad guys get scared and still hurt people. Was he a bad man who wanted to hurt me?
I stared at him really hard. Maybe I had seen this strange man before. Our eyes met and I saw a kindness in them that reminded me of playing on the porch on Saturday mornings when I was four. But then, he got up to peer through the blinds behind me and I followed him and saw it. There was a birthmark on the back of his neck.
He spun all the way around and smiled. My uncle lived with us for a few months when I was really little and the last thing I remember about him was him leaving. My mom and dad got into a huge fight one night, since uncle James moved in they started to fight all the time. I was always told to go to my room when they started to argue, so that night I cracked my door a little so I could listen. After mom was done yelling at dad, dad went into my uncle’s room and they started yelling. Then, I heard my dad cry. After that, daddy came into my room and put me on his lap. It was hard to hear what he was saying because he was crying too much, but when he took me by the hand and led me to the front door, I saw two suitcases. I started crying really hard and latched onto my daddy’s leg. My uncle peeled me off, picked me up into his arms, kissed me on the forehead, and said goodbye. My daddy gave me a big hug and told me he would come back for me one day. Then, they walked to my daddy’s white car. Mom stood next to me, she was crying too, and we waved goodbye as they drove off. Those twin birthmarks were the last things I ever saw of my dad or uncle. Then, my mom took my hand, closed the front door, and walked us back to her bed where we slept together that night. That was 6 years ago.
“Look Liza, “ my uncle started, but was interrupted by the back door swinging open.
My uncle rushed to sit beside me and grabbed my hands. His face was stern, but excited.
My dad walked around the corner. I ran to him and jumped into his arms. He swooped me up and pressed his face against mine. His tears were damp against my face. I stayed in his arms for what seemed like hours. We sat back down on the couch and I squeezed in between my dad and my uncle. Then, a knock came from the front door. My uncle sprang up from the couch and looked through the peephole. He cracked the door open and spoke in some sort of code. I watched as my mom slid through the doorway. She had two duffle bags in her hands and a smile on her face. She threw them on the floor and ran over to hug me. She turned to my father and kissed him.
“James, start the car,” my mother said while tossing a set of keys to him. My uncle disappeared out of the back of the house.
“Take these.” She picked up the duffle bags and passed them to my dad who disappeared as well.
“Mom, what’s going on?”
My mom kneeled before me, her hands on my knees. She started to cry. Her words came out in broken segments.
“You have to go with your dad for now. I can’t take care of you for a little bit, but after this, we will be a family again. I promise.”
“But mom, I don’t want to go.”
“I don’t want you to go either, but you have to. Please. For me?”
She wrapped me into her arms and held me tighter than she ever had before. She just kept crying. I cried too. Then, she said
“I love you. I do.”
“I love you, too”
I heard footsteps coming from the back of the house.
“Dianna, we have to go. Now.”
My uncle grabbed my mom by her arm. She stood to her feet. They walked towards the front door and both flashed me a fleeting glance as they turned to exit. My dad ran into the room, passed by me, and ran to hug my mom. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but they were both in tears as they gave each other a kiss. Then, my mom and uncle jumped into the black car I was brought here in. My dad turned back to me, scooped me into his arms, and took me out back to a white car. I buckled myself in the back, he turned on the radio, and we started to drive away.
“Daddy, where are we going?”
We drove for hours and hours in silence, only stopping to eat and use the restroom. Finally, the car stopped and the stillness of it being put in park woke me from my sleep.
“We’re here sweetheart,” he said when turning to face me in the backseat.
He opened the door, took me by the hand, and led me through the white front door of a yellow cottage-style home. He gave me a short tour of our new home and showed me my room. It was decorated with bright colors. There were stuffed animals on top of the comforter and in the corner.
“Daddy, I love it!” I shouted while jumping up and down on my new bed.
“Good, “ he said coming to sit down, “we need to talk.”
I fell onto the bed and crawled under the covers.
“Well,” he started, “We had to change some things about us. Like, when I talk to people, I have to tell them my name is Derek and when you talk to people, you have to tell them your name is Megan. Our new last name is James.
“Yes,” he chuckled, “like uncle. And, when you tell people about your family, you have to say that your mom moved away when you were little and her name was Shannon.”
He hung his head and took in a deep breath.
He leaned over and kissed me on my forehead and walked out of my room. He cracked my door to let the light from the hallway shine in, just like he would do before I went to sleep every night. I closed my eyes and sang the lullaby my mom used to sing me.
Baby mine, don’t you cry, Baby mine, dry your eyes, Rest your head, close to my heart, Never to part, baby of mine.
Little one, when you play, Pay no heed, what they say. Let your eyes sparkle and shine, Never a tear, baby of mine.
From your head down to your toes, You’re not much, goodness knows. But, you’re so precious to me, Sweet as can be, baby of mine.