This is as much of Laura’s story as I have so far.
It was as if the wind was helping her leave. A storm brewing in the west brought dark clouds and the scent of heavy rainfall. Laura paused at the corner of her street, the wind pushing her thick mahogany hair into a tangled mess around her face. She let the heavy suitcase slip from her fingers and just looked, really looked, at the world she had called home for all of her sixteen years.
Rundown houses, overgrown lawns, broken toys and bits of garbage that danced in the clogged gutters filled her with sadness. Once, this street had been bright and cheerful. The residents, though not rich by any means, took pride in their homes. That was before the factory closed. Before families were turned out unable to pay the rent. Before husbands took to drink and wives worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. Before children became influenced by bad crowds and violence found its way into this quiet suburban area.
In the distance, Laura could still hear her father screaming obscenities at her. Or perhaps he had turned his abuse onto one of the remaining children. Or her mother. Hot, angry tears began to stream down her face again and she felt her body shift back toward the direction she’d come. How could she abandon her mother, her sisters? The wind changed direction and suddenly her father’s words were filling her ears with their poison.
“Worthless little slut! Don’t you question me! Get out! Get out of my house!”
She sucked in a shuddering breath and picked up the ratty old suitcase her mother had unearthed from the piles of junk in the basement. She’d helped Laura stuff as much as she could in it and managed to pass her some money before her father chased her out of the house, drunk and angry. Laura had pushed past him to give her mother a quick hug goodbye and a whispered I love you before turning away from everything she’d known.
Eyes no longer innocent but far from worldly scanned the dusty, ditch lined street. She smiled and began to walk.
The hot, dry air smelled of baking bread. Laura leaned back against a rickety wooden fence and lifted her face to the blazing sun. She still wasn’t sure what to do with her life but in this moment everything felt right.
Stifling a yawn she flipped her body around and lay her chin down on her arms. The soft waving fields of ripening wheat went on forever. Golden oceans of movement lulled her into absolute tranquility. A smile played upon her lips. She doubted her father expected her to find peace so far from everything she ever knew.
Her steel grey eyes lifted and observed the vague outline of the mountains in the distance. Her former life was on the other side of those mountains now. She wondered how her mother was doing. She prayed her sister, Beth, managed to stay on their father’s good side. At only fourteen she was much too young to be on her own.
At the thought, a sudden harsh laugh escaped from Laura’s throat. Only a few weeks previous she would have believed sixteen was much too young to be out on her own. Straightening up, Laura grabbed the ragged straw hat she’d found in a thrift store and put it on her head. The woman at the general store had said the next Greyhound would come through this evening. She didn’t want to miss it since the next one wouldn’t come by for another week. Her finances wouldn’t support that delay.
It was only by chance she’d ended up here at all. She’d traveled by instinct, grabbing rides with kind strangers, until she’d arrived at a small town a few miles away. Upon her inquiries for employment, a local mentioned the mines up North were experiencing a boom and needed young people to work. She couldn’t work in the mine (no one would hire a teenage girl for work like that) but the towns in the area needed store clerks, waitresses, and hotel staff to serve the new arrivals. The Greyhound came through weekly to pick up travelers at the next town over, he would be happy to drive her that far.
Puffs of dust rose under her feet as she retraced her steps down the dirt road towards town. She smiled remembering the woman’s look of disbelief when Laura said she’d go for a walk to pass the time. It was possibly the hottest day of the year and few people chose to willingly venture outside unless necessary. Laura had felt bad sitting in the café attached to the store when she didn’t have the money to buy anything. The money her mother had stuffed secretly in her pocket wouldn’t go far if she wasn’t careful. Besides, she enjoyed being outside, even in hot weather. Rain or high cloud was more familiar back home.
Sweat dampened tendrils of hair clung to her neck. She lifted up the heavy weight, hoping a cool breeze would dance along her skin but the air was still. Her small lace-edged handkerchief did little to stanch the steady trickle of perspiration down her nose. She scrunched her face, shaking the droplets off and sighed. Perhaps there was something for cooler temperatures after all.
The weathered siding of the small café and grocery store appeared on the horizon. Laura fingered the coins in her pocket, debating whether or not to buy something cold to drink. The thick fuzzy feel of her parched tongue made her decision. She quickened her steps, thoughts of an icy bottle of Coke quenching her thirst pulling her along.
As she climbed a small rise before the road dipped down a gentle incline into town she caught a whiff of exhaust on the breeze. Her feet stumbled as she reached the apex and saw with horror the Greyhound pulling away.
A large beige cloud hung in the air as Laura ran down the hill. She stumbled on a rock and rolled the last few feet. As she lifted her head to watch the Greyhound disappear down the rugged dirt road she moaned.
“No. No.” The words trickled from her lips slowly, in sync with the ooze of tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Excuse me? Are you all right?” A kind, grandmotherly voice floated through the dust cloud. Laura peered through the haze and observed a middle aged woman standing near. Her graying hair swirled up into midnight colored flyaway curls about her face as an errant breeze swept through, dissipating the remainder of the grime hovering in the road. She recognized the woman from the café across the street.
Rubbing the tears away, spreading the dirt into warrior-like patterns upon her cheeks, Laura pushed herself up.
“I’m…I missed the bus. Is another one coming soon?”
The woman stared off into the distance then shook her head. “I’m afraid not. It’ll be a few weeks, maybe a month. We’re an irregular stop.” She extended a hand towards Laura. “Why don’t you come with me? We’ll get you cleaned up.”
Laura smiled. Her initial disappointment at being stuck in this small town diminished. “Thank you. That would be nice.”
In the café, she directed Laura to a small bathroom to wash up. By the time she finished there was a plate of food waiting at the counter and a tall glass of lemonade. Laura’s stomach growled in anticipation but she held back.
“I don’t have much money…”
The woman stopped her with a wave of her hand. “Don’t worry, dear. You look like you’ve missed a few meals. Eat up.”
“Thank you. I’m Laura.” She added as she began to eat. The ham was so tender it seemed to melt in her mouth. It tasted like home.
“Nice to meet you, Laura. I’m Isabelle. Welcome to Tulameen.”
Isabelle slid a plate with a generous slice of blueberry pie in front of Laura. The uncomfortable feeling in her stomach of being too full was pushed away as the scent of warm spiced fruit reached her nose.
“So, where were you headed anyway? That bus hits numerous small towns as it meanders through the canyon.”
Laura shrugged. “I don’t really know. I’m looking for work. Anything.”
Isabelle considered her for a moment. “I’ve been meaning to take someone on. You know anything about serving food?”
A smile spread across Laura’s face, her relief evident. “No, but I can learn.”
“Works for me.” Isabelle held out a hand and Laura took it in a firm grip. “Now, you’ll need somewhere to stay in town.” She paused, lips pursed in thought. “Miss Evelyn had a room to let. When you’re done, head down the street to Coalmont Road. You’ll see a small blue house on the corner. Tell Miss Evelyn that Isabelle sent you.”
“Thank you. For everything.” Laura reached down to grab her bag. For the first time since leaving home she felt safe.
Isabelle waved her off. “Don’t thank me yet. I’m a horrible boss.” She gave Laura a wink.
With a light heart and a full stomach Laura stepped through the door of the café. The sun beaming down temporarily blinded her and she walked full on into a wall. At least it felt like a wall. Stumbling back, trying to keep her footing, Laura felt a strong hand grip her wrist and steady her.
“Whoa, ma petite! Where’s the fire?” The male voice was full and rich like strong coffee with cream. Laura felt a tremor of heat pulse through her body at his touch. The heat traveled up her body to settle upon her cheeks.
“I’m sorry! The sun, I didn’t see…” She raised a hand to shade her eyes and took her first good look at perhaps the most amazing man she’d ever set eyes on. He towered over her small frame, his broad shoulders straining the seams of the thin t-shirt. Her gaze shifted to his face and locked onto large eyes the color of melted chocolate. Crinkles of amusement popped up as he smiled down on her.
“No worries.” His head tilted in curiosity. “You are new in town, yes?”
“Yes. I’m Laura.” She untangled her arm from his grip and resettled her bag. Her body felt unsettled, her only desire to move away from this man. His eyes became hooded as he watched her step back and a smile ghosted across his full lips.
“A pleasure to meet you, Miss Laura. My name is Aiden. Perhaps we shall meet again.” He turned away and entered the café, leaving Laura staring at the space where he just stood.
Laura winced at the crash of porcelain hitting tile. From the corner of her eye she could see Isabelle glance over her shoulder then return her attention to the customer at the counter. Laura closed her eyes a moment then went to find the broom.
Waitressing was proving to be a much tougher job than she ever thought. It always looked so easy whenever she’d gone to the local diner back home. But then, the women working weren’t sixteen, all elbows and knees, adjusting to new centers of gravity.
A shadow cast across the scene of destruction. Laura glanced up to find Aiden watching her. He was always around it seemed, a look of amusement glittering in his eyes, a flutter of excitement in her stomach the immediate response.
“Isabelle asked me to come help you out.” He held out the dull metal dustpan, pitted and stained from years of use. Laura continued sweeping, ignoring him as best she could until all the shards were collected in a neat pile.
“Thank you,” she said, hoping it sounded sincere. Aiden made her so jumpy she’d been keeping her distance. An eyebrow rose in response and she felt a blush begin to stain her cheeks.
“I get the feeling you don’t like me, ma petite.” Aiden crouched to hold the dustpan steady as she swept.
“I don’t know you.” Laura kept her tone light. He grunted in response and dumped the mess into a garbage can.
“Then we’ll have to rectify that.”
Head pillowed on arms, Laura stared up into the glorious clear blue sky. She’d never seen such magnificence, never felt so calm and relaxed.
“Beautiful day, no?”
Aiden’s smooth, dulcet voice broke the stillness. Laura tensed but forced herself to relax. She kept silent hoping he would keep on his way. She liked Aiden, a lot, but had no idea how to channel her tumultuous infatuation. A flush of heat wafted over her as he settled down lengthwise beside her, her heart thumping a staccato.
“What are you doing, so far from town?” He smiled at her.
“Just counting crows.”
Laura pulled the thin sweater closer about her shoulders. The dusty heat of summer was trickling away, replaced by the drizzly mists of fall. She realized she’d need to talk to Isabelle about ordering in some warmer clothes from the Sears catalog. Tulameen’s remote location meant buying things wasn’t as easy as in the city.
A gentle breeze rustled the leaves above her head. She sank back against the trunk, wincing at the ache in her joints. Being on her feet all day, carrying platters overloaded with food, and mopping the linoleum until it shone was back breaking work. The majestic view before her made it worth it.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Laura jumped, smashing her head back. She glared as Aiden slipped silently through the brush nearby to lean against the trunk.
“Are you always so sneaky?” She blurted. He always seemed to bring out the worst in her.
Aiden just shrugged. “I had an…interesting childhood.”
“What does that mean?”
“That to be safe, I had to be invisible. And if I was seen, I never gave over everything. A part of me was secured away, safe from harm.”
“So you never let anyone get to know the real you.”
“No, I am a stranger, even to myself.”
Laura propped her chin up on the mop handle and stared aimlessly out the café’s front window. She could hear Isabelle humming as she wiped the long Formica counter. Another day done.
The sound of honking drew her eyes up to the sky. A long v-shaped formation of Canada Geese flew by, on their way to warmer climates. A shadow ghosted through her peripheral vision and she shivered.
“Isabelle? What’s the deal with Aidan?”
“He’s a strange duck, no doubt about it. Pushes folks away mostly. This is the most I’ve ever seen him in town since he moved here.”
Amusement glittered in his eyes. “You ‘like’ me. Well, that is a relief.” He leaned across the counter and grabbed Laura’s hands. “I’m happy to hear that, ma cherie.”
Laura pulled her hands free, her face flushing. “Stop that! You’ll get me in trouble.” She glanced to the other side of the diner where Mrs. Sanchez was serving a customer. “I need to get back to work.” She straightened her body and pulled out her notepad. “Now, what can I get you today?”
He gave her a curious look and shrugged, pulling the small menu from the stand on the counter. “Bacon and eggs. Dry toast. Oh, and a cup of coffee.”
“Coming right up.” Laura jotted the information down on her pad and turned to go to the order window. She could feel his eyes following her every move. Her cheeks began to burn.
“Will you stop,” she hissed as she passed by, her hands loaded with plates. He just winked insolently.
“Not until you promise to come hiking with me. You’ve been in Tulameen for a few months, yes? And seen what? The diner, the general store?”
Laura stopped in front of him. “Alright, alright! I’ll go on a stupid hike with you!” She spun on her heel to hide the happiness spreading across her face. His frank admiration was something she’d never encountered before. The boys she’d known either steered clear of her, knowing they’d never get what they wanted, or were too shy to speak to her. She didn’t want to act like a child but she also didn’t want to be too forward. Her mother’s sage advice for dealing with boys flashed through her mind.
Be true to your beliefs. If a boy is serious, he will respect you so maintain your principles above all else.
She stole a quick glance at him and felt a goofy smile tug at her lips. Now that he had secured her promise he struck up a conversation with Mr. Miller, the owner of a farm just outside of town. She let herself admire his strong profile a moment before getting back to work.
He stood at the base of the trail and stared into the shadows, indecision written across his face. Laura crouched behind a tangle of blackberry bushes, careful not to be snagged by the thorns, her hand covering her mouth to limit the giggles threatening to erupt.
She shifted her weight and glanced back towards the trail head. He was gone. Frowning, she stood and looked further up the trail. The path went right past her. She couldn’t have missed him.
A sudden snap of a twig and Laura felt herself swung around. She let out the laughter she’d been swallowing at the familiar voice that sent shivers down her spine.
“Ah, mi amour you aren’t that clever.” He stroked a finger down Laura’s cheek and whispered, “Come, let’s walk.”
He led her down a steep trail hidden behind a copse of birch trees. The sound of rushing water reached Laura’s ears. She hesitated. He turned back, his eyes questioning.
“The water. I-I can’t swim.”
“No worries. I will keep you safe.”
Laura wrapped her arms about his waist and buried her nose into the hollow of his throat. “I know.”
The tangled brush opened up to a small overhang. The water flowed around, eating away at the red clay bank.
“Welcome to my altar. Welcome to serenity.”
“How do you live out here, all alone. Don’t you miss having people to talk to?” Laura looked out over the rushing water. He wrapped his arms around her and leaned towards her ear.
“I speak to Nature. We hardly ever argue.” A snort burst out of Laura’s nose. His arms tightened in response. “I have all I could ask for out here. Food, shelter, clothing…” One arm disengaged and Laura watched as he parted away the vibrant green leaves on a nearby bush revealing a tight bunch of blood red berries.
“No matter how it tries, civilization cannot match the succulence of fresh picked, sun warmed berries,” he whispered as he slid the juicy morsels between her lips.
The sound of bird song filled Laura’s ears. She stretched, her muscles feeling tight. A poke in her hip brought her fully awake. Confused, she sat up and looked around. Goose bumps trailed down her bare arms. The early morning air was still chilly, despite sunlight bathing her with a golden glow. The creek rushed by, its crystal clear water tumbling and dancing across the pebbles littering its bed. She shivered, pulling the rough woolen blanket tighter around her body…and stopped at the sight of her dress, neatly folded on top of her shoes.
“Oh my god…” The words escaped her lips with a groan. Trembling, she edged closer towards her clothing, the blanket shifting and threatening to expose her. She stretched out her arm and felt the blanket catch on something. It slid down her torso, revealing pale skin that had seen little direct sunlight.
“Shit.” The curse tumbled out before she could stop herself.
“Ma cherie, such language!” He stepped out from the shadows of the trees, a playful grin on his lips. “I never would have imagined such a word coming from that sweet innocent face.”
Laura lifted her gaze in horror, the flush of embarrassment creeping up her body until her cheeks burned with shame. She quickly dropped it away and scrambled to wrap the blanket around her.
He stood for a moment, just looking at her, a faint gleam of amusement in his eye. He kneeled beside her and drew her close.
“I’m sorry, Laura. I should not tease you so. I’m not offended by the word, far from it.” He lifted her chin up with his finger and met her gaze. Tears filled her eyes and spilled out, cooling the heat upon her cheeks. She shook her head.
“I’m not a whore! I’m not! I shouldn’t…I didn’t…” Her jumbled words sank to a whisper. “I need to go.”
She struggled to get up but his arms tightened. “Laura! Of course you are not! I don’t understa-“ He paused as realization hit. “Oh, ma petite, this was your first time, yes? I’m sorry, I should have known.” He buried his face into her hair. His voice was no more than a murmur but it echoed in her head. “You will never be a whore, my love. Never say such things.”
The tinkle of the bell attached to the entrance broke the silence. Laura glanced up from her station and smiled at Mr. Potts before returning her attention to the salt shakers she was refilling. He lifted a hand in greeting to her and addressed Mrs. Sanchez, the café owner.
“Good morning Isabelle. How’s business?”
Mrs. Sanchez slid a cup of black coffee to him. “Busy enough I suppose. How is our resident postman?” She leaned against the counter. “Must be something if you are dragging around a huge bag like that.” Her chin nodded towards the leather satchel slung over his shoulder.
“You‘ve guessed it.” He placed the bag on the counter. “Had a huge mail delivery this morning. Normally I’d just pop it in your boxes but I noticed some of the postmarks are pretty old. Looks like this batch was delayed.”
Mrs. Sanchez nodded thoughtfully. “That mudslide in Manning, along the Crowsnest, a few months back?”
“Probably. Anyway, I brought the whole lot. There’s quite a bit for you, even a few pieces for your new girl.”
Laura’s ears perked up. She hurried over to Mr. Potts. “For me? Oh, I hope it’s from home. I thought for sure my mother would write once I told her where I was but it’s been so long.”
Mr. Potts flipped through a thick pile and finally extracted two letters. Laura clutched them close, trying to absorb a sense of home through the worn crinkled envelopes. Mrs. Sanchez flicked her fingers playfully at her.
“Off you go. Take a break and read those.”
Laura grinned and dashed over to an empty booth. She recognized her mother’s handwriting on the first and eagerly ripped open the envelope. It had been postmarked three months ago and the date on the top of the letter was even earlier.
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She set the letter aside, her mind lingering on the unpleasant memory of her last day home. Her father’s horrible accusations made her stomach clench. At the time they were completely false. But now…
Her cheeks burned with the memory of her time with Aidan. Was she no better than what her father thought? Laura ground her teeth and reached for the second envelope bearing her sister’s hand.
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The clenching in her stomach built to a tumultuous roil as her heart began to skitter in fear. She pushed out of the booth so quickly her feet became tangled and she tumbled heavily to the floor. The sudden crash brought Mrs. Sanchez rushing over.
“Laura, what is it? What’s wrong?”
“I have to go. I have to go home.” Laura stumbled to her feet, the letters gripped tightly in her hand.
“Of course, dear. Are you ill?” Mrs. Sanchez held Laura’s chin firmly as she scanned her face. “You’re deathly pale.”
“No, it’s not me.” Laura glanced at the letter in her hand and felt the tears roll down her cheeks in torrents. What if it was too late?
Laura trudged up the steps of the Greyhound, pausing at the top and scanning the busy sidewalk. Her stomach clenched and disappointment roiled inside, filling her mouth with a bad taste. Fighting back the tears threatening to ooze down her cheeks she worked her way down the aisle, her battered suitcase banging against her calves.
She’d thought for sure he’d at least see her off. He was angry she was leaving but still…no good bye? No final kiss? The afternoon she’d spent nestled in his arms by the side of the creek filled her mind.
Was it all for nothing?
She slid into a seat, pressed her forehead against the cool glass, and sighed. The argument played over in her mind like a broken record.
“Why do you put yourself through this? Just reading the letter brings sadness to your eyes, a sickness to your face!” He stepped closer, ripping the letter from her hands. “Stay with me, please Laura. Let your past be what it is, the past.” His eyes were so pleading, Laura felt her resolve waiver. And then her mother’s face as she said good-bye filled her mind.
“No, I have to go. She needs me too.”
Laura slammed the door behind her and dashed to the toilet before the contents of her stomach ended up all over the floor. As she kneeled before the porcelain bowl she could hear Beth and her father arguing in the hall.
“Laura’s ill, Papa. Please let her stay until she feels better. Mama would have…”
“Don’t tell me what your mother would’ve wanted. She’s dead!” The wall vibrated as he slammed his fist into it. Laura froze in fear. “I’m still angry you sent that letter to your sister, Beth. She’s not welcome in this house!”
“Papa, Mama wanted to see her. It was a dying wish…” Beth voice trailed off. Laura could hear the heavy steps of her father retreating down the hall. His reply drifted back, barely loud enough for Laura to hear.
“Tell that worthless excuse for a daughter that she has one day and I want her out of my house!”
Laura felt her stomach contract. The tears began to flow down her cheeks as she retched. There was a tapping on the door.
“Laura? Are you okay?” Beth’s voice was hardly more than a whisper. Laura pushed herself upright and struggled to the door, flipping the lock open before collapsing. Beth entered quickly and closed the door behind her. She crouched down. “I’m sorry about Papa. Do you think you’ll be well enough to leave tomorrow?”
Laura shook her head. “I don’t know. Sometimes I feel okay but others…” She began to cry harder. “Why does he hate me so much? We should be together, he needs his family…” She brushed the tears away. “I miss Mama. This isn’t fair, why did she have to get sick? Why not-“
“Shhh, don’t say that.” Beth pressed a finger to Laura’s lips. “He doesn’t know what he says…the grief…”
Laura felt her rage build. “Don’t make excuses for him Beth. It’s a waste of energy.” She pulled herself to her feet and shuffled to the sink to wash out her mouth. Random thoughts flitted through her mind. Memories of her mother, memories of him, life away from this house…She stiffened and looked at Beth through the mirror.
“Beth, how long have I been home? I’ve lost track.”
Beth screwed up her face in thought. “Uhm, a month maybe? Why?”
A month. She did some quick calculations and felt the blood drain from her face. Beth grabbed her shoulders, worry furrowing her brow.
“Laura? What is it?”
“I need you to go to the drug store for me. Don’t let Papa know.”
“Okay, but for what?”
Laura met her sister’s gaze. “I think I’m pregnant.”
Dull thuds vibrated through the rafters. Laura counted them in her head, fighting off the lethargy that was inevitable from a life with little natural light. Three knocks, a pause, and two more. It was safe.
She pushed back the bolt. The attic’s access door swung up, blinding her temporarily as light from the hall filled her weary eyes. Her sister, concern creasing her face, watched Laura climb down the rickety ladder.
“He won’t be gone long. You should be quick.” She shoved a plate of food into Laura’s hand.
Laura nodded, her arm curving protectively around her expanding belly.
The water etched trails of heat down Laura’s body. Eyes closed she dropped her head full into the trickling drip of the ancient shower and let the salty tracks upon her cheeks mingle with the fresh.
Was he thinking of her as he wandered those woods of their past, a past that felt years away but was in fact only a few weeks.
She remembered how soft his hands were on her skin, how lyrical his words were in her ear, how heartbreaking the look in his eyes was as she waved to him from the bus.
Yes, he cared.
A knock on the door shook Laura from her memories. She stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel tightly about her body, the threadbare terrycloth clinging to her widening hips. The mirror, a spider web of cracks erupting from one corner, reflected a pale visage she didn’t recognize as she shuffled to the door.
The click of the lock echoed in the small space. Her sister pushed inside, a murmur of apology on her lips and shut the door.
Laura stumbled back, taken by surprise. “Wha-?”
Beth placed a hand over Laura’s mouth, silencing her. “Shhh. He’s here.”
Beth’s words sliced through the air. Laura’s heart skittered in her chest. Her fear oozed down and possessed the new life within her. Her frantic baby kicked in retaliation.
The voice, angry and unsteady, blasted through the house. Beth moved towards the door and shouted through.
“Yes Papa? I’m in the shower.”
Lumbering thuds drew nearer until the voice roared from the other side of the door.
“My keys! Need m’damn keys!” A bang accompanied each word. Beth jumped back.
“On your dresser, as always Papa.” Her visibly trembling knees belied the calmness of her voice. A grumble of assent and the sound of footsteps shuffling down the hall was the only response. Laura let out the breath she’d been holding and met her sister’s worried gaze. A flicker of a smile twitched Beth’s cheek before she turned her attention back to the door.
The shuffling steps returned, accompanied by some swearing as their father’s early morning imbibing resulted in crashes against the walls.
“Be late, Beth. Don’ wait up,” he slurred, slamming his palm against the bathroom door once more.
“Yes, Papa.” She turned to Laura. “Well, that was an invigorating start to the day.”
The tapping on the trap door was incessant. Wearily opening a single eye Laura gauged the distance between the only access for fresh air in the attic and her eventual route to freedom from this claustrophobic, smothering tomb. Her now massive pregnancy made movement arduously slow and awkward. Every inch ached, even her bones.
“Go away.” Her voice rasped from disuse and limited access to water. The knocking increased.
“Laura?” Beth’s muffled voice filtered through the cracks around the ill fitting trap door. “Laura?!” Her sudden panic was amplified by the pounding on the door. “Open the door! Laura, please!”
The pounding subsided to a dull roar in Laura’s head as she slumped into a fetal position. Her baby protested the compressed position of her rib cage on her womb by kicking furiously. A flicker of coolness gusted across her forehead.
“Hot,” she mumbled. Hands gripped her shoulders, pulling her upright.
“Laura? Open your eyes Laura.”
The voice overlay the grotesque visions dancing in the raging fires that raced through her veins. Icy skin rested against her face.
“Dear God, you’re burning up. Laura, we’re getting you to a hospital.”
Laura nodded before sinking into the fiery hells of oblivion.
“I’m not sure. When I found her she was burning up.”
Laura struggled to focus on the voices floating through the air above her. It sounded like Beth but who was she speaking to? A murmur and Beth spoke again.
“Soon, I guess? She hasn’t been able to have proper doctor care…”
Laura felt herself floating. A tightening sensation around her fingers lifted. She forced her eyes open to see Beth peering down at her.
“I’m here Laura. Okay? We’re at the hospital. You’re sick.” Fear pinched Beth’s face. “Can you hear me?” Her face disappeared from Laura’s field of vision but the tightening returned around her fingers. Laura squeezed back.
“The doctors need to check you, make sure the baby is okay…Laura?”
Agonizing pain raged through Laura’s body as her lower body became drenched in fluid. She screamed as a vice clamped down on her abdomen. A man in a white coat was by her side, hands pressed along her belly.
“Her water has broken, she’s in labor.” The doctor turned to Beth. “You’ll need to step out of the room, Miss.”
“No!” Laura croaked, tightening her grip on Beth’s hand. The nurse stepped in and took Laura’s other hand.
“There there, dear. You’ll be fine. Let’s have this baby and your sister can come right back, okay.” Her soothing voice blanketed Laura in a sense of calm. She felt Beth’s fingers slip free.
Another contraction stole Laura’s attention away from Beth’s retreating figure. She cried out, her body twisting and contorting on the bed. Another nurse took hold of her free hand while a third positioned her feet into stirrups at the end of the bed. A flurry of activity swirled about her but Laura could only think of the pain ripping through her. As the pain ebbed away she felt herself sliding away. At the edge of consciousness she could hear the voices, distant and removed, discuss her as if she wasn’t there.
“She has a fever.”
“Start a saline drip”
“Contractions less than a minute apart.”
“The baby is crowning.”
Through it all the pain was unending. Laura struggled to stay focused on the here and now but her mind kept drifting. To memories of Beth, of her mother, of Isabelle…but mostly Aidan.
“Ai-i-i-i-i-d-a-a-a-a-a-a-n!” Her scream echoed in the stark hospital room coupled with a loud tearing noise and then an ear piercing shriek.
“Congratulations. It’s a girl.” The nurse brought forth a bloody mess wrapped in a sterile white blanket. In a fever induced haze Laura stared uncomprehendingly at this squirming mass presented to her. A tiny face screwed up in anger, miniscule fists shaking, and lungs that could put an opera singer to shame.
The eyes opened and locked onto Laura’s own. She felt herself begin to shake as the fever clamped down and then everything went black.
Grey skies greeted Laura as she opened her eyes. The clouds that were building the night before coalesced into a sea of darkness, shutting out any hint of sunshine. She padded softly over to the window, pressing her flushed cheek against its cool surface. She was so hot. She wondered if she was getting sick. The room was icy cold, the wood floors biting her bare feet.
Movement on the street below caught her attention. A flash of red and blue disappeared behind a stately oak tree that graced Miss Evelyn’s front yard then reappeared suddenly down the street.
“Aiden.” Laura didn’t let the oddness of his vanishing act sink in as she grabbed her robe and dashed down the stairs. The house was eerily silent. Miss Evelyn was always puttering around doing something. Laura pushed the thought back. She’d worry about Miss Evelyn later. She needed to speak to Aiden. The overwhelming need pull her along.
She burst out the front door, almost tumbling down the few steps to the porch, as she darted down the sidewalk. Aiden’s distinctive red and blue plaid lumberjack coat disappeared around the corner of the street.
“Aiden!” Laura picked up the pace, running as fast as bare feet on gravel could. She winced as a sharper rock tore into her heel but refused to slow. “Aiden!” Her voice broke into ragged sobs. A gust of fog crept across the street, shrouding Aiden from view. Laura stumbled to a stop as the fog grew to thick to navigate safely through.
“AIDEN!” She screamed into the mist. A hand on her shoulder made her jump.
She whirled around to see who stopped her. The mist was suddenly gone. Laura stared up at a dingy white ceiling. She pushed herself up and locked eyes with Beth.
“What…where am I?” Laura scanned the room, her eyes wide with panic. Beth lunged at her and wrapped her arms tight around Laura’s body. She began to tremble.
Beth loosened her grip and eased back. Her face was white and her eyes hollow with fear. She tried to smile but tears began rushing down her cheeks.
“I was so scared, so scared I’d lose you too.” Beth buried her face in Laura’s shoulder and sobbed. Laura laid a hand along her back, rubbing in slow gentle circles, just like their mother had when the girls were younger. As she let her sister cry out her fears she realized her body felt different. Her stomach was pressed up tightly against Beth’s side.
“Beth.” She whispered. “Where is my baby?” She sucked in a deep breath. “Did it…was it…what happened?”
Beth began to cry harder, her nose rubbing against Laura’s shoulder as she shook her head ‘no’. Laura pushed her away, cupping Beth’s tear ravaged cheeks in her hand.
Beth chewed her lip before answering. “I don’t know. They took her.”