Fake it ‘til it feels right again. Or run as far and as fast as possible to get away from it. Detective Ann Logan, if she could even call herself a detective anymore, ran along the trail, gravel crunching beneath her feet. Lodgepole pines towered overhead, blocking out most of the stars in the early morning sky. According to her Garmin watch, she was on mile three, but the nightmare images from the Salida Stabber case threatened to break her mind further than they already had.
She pushed faster. Sometimes it only took one mile, sometimes five, sometimes a sixer of Elevation Brewery’s Little Mo’ Porter. Though, on her therapists recommendation, she tried not to go that route unless absolutely necessary. Ann ran deeper into the San Isabel National Forest. Running on a trail less than a mile from where the incident happened was her feeble attempt to toughen up.
The usual nightmare had woken her at three a.m. and left her shaking under the sweat chilled sheets. It was the version in which Bruce, her old partner, and Chase McCoy, the Salida Stabber, came back from the dead, half decomposed, maggots everywhere. Even though Ann didn’t believe in zombies, or spirits, or anything like that, the dream wormed its way under her skin where it ate away at her sanity. Little by little.
She hit mile four, and still her mind wouldn’t let go. Five then. She kept going, following the bouncing light from her headlamp. The trees whispered around her, critters out foraging rustled the bushes near her feet. Ann didn’t run with music. Just her thoughts and her breath.
A tree root arched over the trail in the beam of her headlamp. Ann jumped too late. It snagged her foot and sent her sprawling onto her stomach. Something crashed through the bushes to her right. She turned her head. What looked like the tail of a person’s khaki jacket dashed behind a tree. She scrambled to her feet.
“Hello?” she called. She held her breath for a few seconds to listen. The bushes behind her rustled. She spun around. The light beam caught the barest glimpse of a hand on a tree trunk before it slipped out of view. Ann touched the grip of her personal weapon — a Kimber Micro DC — in the holster strapped around her ribs, but the thought of drawing it, of holding the cold aluminum in her hand, made her heart do that hard double beat it did sometimes to remind her of her brokenness.
“Is someone out there?” she yelled. “I’m a cop and I’m armed, so if you’re out there, you should stop messing around.” She clenched her jaw. Good. Anger, not fear.
“Help,” a faint female voice called. Ann wasn’t sure if she really heard it. “Help me.” There. It came from her right. Ann marched into the woods, pausing to listen and look every few feet. When a scream came from straight ahead, she took off running.
One hundred yards later, Ann burst through the trees into a clearing and skid to a halt. She backed into the shadows and turned off the headlamp. It wasn’t just any clearing. Smack in the center stood the Salida Stabber’s warehouse. Around the other side would be the fire road she sneaked up that night over six months ago. She crouched behind a low shrub.
The Stabber had murdered his victims inside, then took them elsewhere to be found. Until the last one. Ann took deep breaths to slow her respiration. She hadn’t been back to this site since that night, even though the scene had been released shortly after processing.
Ann pulled her cell phone from the pocket of her running jacket to report a Code 1. The dispatcher said a car would be there soon.
Ann made her way around the clearing to the back of the building, then crept along the wall to the first window and peeked inside. Dark and vacant from this vantage. The low light didn’t help much either.
Someone was inside. Ann slid around the building to the front door and finally drew her weapon. The grip felt foreign in her hand. She hadn’t shot a gun since she killed the Stabber in this very location. The thought of it made her stomach clench.
Ann pushed the door open and reached inside for the light switch. She flicked it and the lights overhead came to life.
“Salida PD. Is anyone here?”
No sound. She peeked around the door jam, scanned the area. Empty. She approached the table where the Stabber’s last victim, Victoria, died.
Blood stained the surface.
Without looking, Ann knew another stain marred the floor behind her to her left where her partner, Bruce, bled out.
“Ann,” Bruce’s voice said behind her. “Look at me.” No. She didn’t want to look over there. “You know you have to look. We always have to look.”
Ann turned her head with her eyes closed. When she opened them, Bruce lay on the ground. Maggots poured from the wound in his gut, out of his mouth and eyes and ears.
“You did this to me,” he said, maggots crushed between his teeth as he spoke.
“No,” Ann backed away with her palm covering her mouth. She gripped the edge of the table, and a hand grabbed her wrist. Ann jerked away and took three quick steps from the table.
“You did this to us,” Victoria said in the same voice as the cries for help. She rose from the table and pointed at Ann. Bruce sat up, too, and got to his feet. Victoria slid off the table. They both came toward her.
Ann couldn’t move. She couldn’t speak.
Chase McCoy rose from the other side of the table where he’d fallen that night. He grinned his sadistically perfect smile.
“Hello, Ann.” His lips didn’t move. Maggots squirmed and wiggled out of the gunshot wound in his forehead. Ann swung her gun toward him.
He laughed. A sound that haunted her day and night. “Look how your hand shakes.”
They were the Stabber’s last words before she shot him. His last words before he fell to the ground, and Ann went into condition black. Total immobilization.
The girl died in front of her eyes.
That night, another gun went off. Not Bruce’s. Chase McCoy’s.
Ann shifted her eyes to maggot infested Bruce shuffling toward her, then bolted to the door. She burst outside and smacked right into dickwad Officer Anderson.
Why did it have to be him to respond to her call?
“Well if it isn’t Miss High-and-Mighty Detective Logan,” he said, giving her a little push away from him. Anderson hated her for making detective. He’d taken the exam four times. She only took it once. “What’s the hurry, Big Shot?”
Ann couldn’t let him see her broken down. She straightened her posture and lifted her chin, but when she spoke, her voice quavered.
“Everything’s fine… All clear.” She holstered the Kimber. “Can you give me a ride to my truck? It’s at the trail head down the road.” She didn’t make eye contact. Asking this small favor was hard enough. From the corner of her eye, Anderson looked her up and down. Though Ann’s entire body was covered, she was painfully aware of how tight her running clothes suddenly felt.
“Yeah,” Anderson said. “I can give you a ride.” He hooked his thumbs in his belt and popped his hips forward just enough.
Ann ignored it and headed for the car. Anderson let out a low, quiet whistle. Ann took off her jacket and tied it around her waist despite the chill in the air. She opened the passenger door and Officer Dawson smiled up at her.
“Hi, Ann,” he said with a small wave and a grin. His smile faded. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” Her voice came out a strangled whisper. She closed his door and climbed into the back, thankful the passenger seat was taken. Thankful Dawson was there. His presence would halt any additional sexist remarks Anderson might have in store. Anderson got in behind the wheel and picked up the radio.
“Adam five, Code twelve,” he said to let the dispatcher know he’d left the scene and was back in service. After a few minutes down the gravel road, he pulled up next to her truck.
“Thanks,” Ann said. She got out and hopped into her old Ford pickup and watched in the side mirror as Anderson pulled away.
The tremble started in her hands. She gripped the wheel to stop it. It spread up her arms, across her shoulders, down her body, into her legs. Then she broke out in uncontrollable sobbing. Ann let loose a vocal cord straining wail.
PTSD with Survivor’s Guilt. The words crawled through her mind. Not fit for duty. Never fit for duty. Not after this.
“Shut up,” she bawled. “Just shut up.” She hit the wheel with her palms, fisted her hand and punched it, but stopped when she accidentally hit the horn. When she grabbed her keys from under the seat and tried to stick them in the ignition, her hand shook too hard.
Get it together, Logan.
She tried to get the key into the ignition again when a tingling sensation spread over her skin, the way it does after being outside in the cold. Ann rubbed her arms, but there were no goosebumps. She looked down at her forearm. The veins just beneath the surface glowed blue-white. She rubbed at the skin again, but the glow didn’t go away. She lifted her shirt, then her pant leg. Her whole body glowed. Ann jerked the visor down and looked in the mirror.
Illuminated blue lines followed the path of her veins, even on her face and neck. It pulsed at her carotid artery. The tingling intensified. It burned. She fumbled the door handle, got the door open, and stumbled out, and dropped to her knees. She closed her eyes against the agony and let out a low wail of pain.
Protect her. A voice whispered in her ears. She opened her eyes. The light filled her vision, blinding her. A thin black figure appeared in the distance. It came closer until it evolved into the silhouette of a girl — long, curly hair stood out around her head. Her eyes glowed the same blue-white. Her hands moved and she lifted something, a book, the pages gilded with the light. The book flew toward Ann. Scribbled words filled the pages. One of them flared, blinding Ann even further.
The word, the book, faded away to darkness along with the pain and the glow. The signs at the trail head reappeared along with the dark tree line. Ann took in shallow gasps, unable to fill her lungs. Gravel dug into her knees.
The skin over her heart still burned. The early morning air chilled the rawness. She peered down at it. A mark had been seared into her flesh. Ann scrambled to her feet and yanked the side mirror toward her. At first she thought the two-inch-long, raw and red brand was an Egyptian Ankh, but when she climbed back into the truck on trembling legs and got a good look at it in the cabin light, it sort of resembled a Jesus fish standing upright. Three bands encircled where the lines met and became the tail.
“What the fuck?” Her voice rode on gasping air.
That didn’t happen. Stress induced hallucination…
She must have pushed it too hard out on the trail. None of this happened. She’d confirm with Dawson when she got to the station later. But there was no mistaking the physical evidence. She rested her forehead against the steering wheel and sat that way until the sun came up. Only then did she realize she’d fallen asleep. Or passed out.
The keys still jangled in her hand, but this time she stuck the right one in the ignition.
Ann had never experienced anything like that. It all seemed so real. She sat up and angled the rear-view mirror at her chest and slowly pulled her collar aside. Yep. Still there. She tilted the mirror back up, avoiding eye contact with her reflection.
She wasn’t ready. She knew that. The psych evaluation she failed last week told her so. Besides, once Anderson started running his mouth… she’d never live this down. She didn’t know how much he saw when she was in the warehouse. Ann’s Lieutenant would understand. He already thought Ann was back too soon, and after the warehouse and the glowing light thing… he was probably right.
Ann turned the key and drove out of the parking lot. Home was only a few minutes away. Ann called her Lieutenant on the way, explained she needed more time. He responded with understanding and concern and gave her two weeks. Longer if she needed it.
In a matter of minutes, Ann pulled up and parked outside her apartment building. She shuffled to her front door where a box about two feet square sat on her doorstep. UPS was on top of it today. She’d never received a package so early. But on closer inspection, there was no postage of any kind. Just her name scrawled on the top in black marker.
Ann squatted next to the package and examined the outside, then picked it up, took it into the living room, and set it on the coffee table. She pulled out her pocket knife and opened it up.
The first thing she noticed was the smell.
Teresa Hart sprayed furniture polish onto a rag and wiped the dust from the crib. “Dusting day,” she sang and hummed a lullaby.
After wiping down the nursery furniture, she rearranged and fluffed the stuffed animals at one end of the crib. On the other end, she folded back the pink and white blankets. She stood back and admired how inviting the crib looked, waiting for the baby to be tucked inside.
“‘Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’” She kissed the cross hanging from a chain around her neck and left the basement.
At the top of the stairs, she closed and locked the door with the key she wore on her wrist, then went into the bathroom to make herself beautiful for her husband, Derrick. She met her clear blue eyes in the mirror and wondered when the lines had formed around them. When did her scowl become so permanent? Someone once told her the lines on one’s face were a road map to the life the person lived.
Hair perfectly coiffed, makeup expertly applied, she went into the kitchen to pack lunch for Maggie, their adopted six-year-old. By the time she finished the peanut butter and jelly sandwich it was already seven fifteen and Maggie hadn’t come downstairs.
Teresa went to the bottom of the stairs and called, “Maggie, you’re going to be late.”
Teresa returned to the kitchen and turned on the coffee pot. When she turned around, Maggie stood behind her. Her long dark hair stuck out from her head in frizzy ringlets, a stark contrast to Teresa’s smooth blonde hair. That mess would take twenty minutes to comb out.
“What took you so long?” Teresa asked.
“I didn’t sleep very good,” Maggie said. She yawned.
“You didn’t sleep very well.” Teresa corrected her. “Here’s your lunch. Your backpack is in the living room.”
Maggie went around the breakfast bar into the living room and pulled her backpack onto her shoulders. She started toward the kitchen entry.
“Maggie,” Teresa said. “Where’s my hug?”
Maggie shuffled back to Teresa, gave her a half-second hug around the waist, and headed back toward the front door.
Derrick’s footfalls came from the stairs. Teresa watched from the kitchen. He met Maggie in the foyer. Her face lit up.
“Hi, Daddy,” she said. She hugged him tight. She looked up at him and whispered, “She forgot breakfast again.”
Teresa sighed. Rearranging her morning routine to make the child lunch every morning was hard enough, but breakfast, too?
Derrick said something about the muffin store in a low voice, and Maggie smiled and nodded. He pulled her hair into a ponytail. When he glanced toward the kitchen, his mouth turned down at the corners.
“Wait outside on the front porch, I’ll be right out.” He came into the kitchen while Maggie went outside.
“Good morning,” Derrick said. He pulled a travel mug out of the cupboard and filled it. He turned to Teresa. “What’s wrong?” He asked. His tone suggested what’s wrong this time?
Teresa busied her hands with the dishes in the drying rack. Derrick touched her wrist and stopped her. She didn’t look at him.
“What’s wrong, honey?” The softer tone, the nicer one. He was pretending to care.
“Maggie doesn’t like me,” she said.
Derrick shook his head. “Not this again.” He put his mug on the counter and crossed his arms. “Why do you think that?”
“She doesn’t hug me like she hugs you,” Teresa said. “She rarely makes eye contact.” What else? Oh yes. The most important. “She never calls me Mommy.”
“Don’t be silly,” Derrick said. “She’s just getting used to us.”
“She’s been here for three months,” Teresa said. “How long until she settles in?” How long until I get used to her?
Derrick shrugged and said, “I need to get to the clinic. I have an eight a.m.” The usual excuse to not deal with things. To leave the situation. To leave her. Harmony was a fifteen-minute town. It took him five to walk Maggie to school, another ten from there to the clinic.
He brushed a kiss across her cheek and grabbed his briefcase from the living room.
“Derrick,” she said, her voice cracking. “You know what today is, right?”
He shook his head. So easy for him to forget now that he had a replacement daughter.
“The baby... Our baby’s... anniversary... of her death.” She held the tears in, but her voice hitched.
“Oh, Teresa.” Derrick came back to her, hugged her. “I’m sorry. I forgot. I know how important it is to you.” But not to him. He kissed her forehead and released her, turned to leave but stopped. “You know...” he said, then paused.
Teresa knew what he was going to say. He was going to tell her to get over it. That’s what it always came to. He didn’t understand. He didn’t know what it was like to grow a human in his body only to have it ripped away. But he reached for her again and awkwardly held her by the shoulders. His voice softened.
“It’s been seven years. Maybe you should... I don’t know... call your therapist. Start seeing him again.”
He wants me medicated.
“Or you could come back to work. Perhaps some... normalcy... would help.”
“It was so easy for you to move on, wasn’t it?” Teresa said in the voice she used when she wasn’t sure if she really wanted Derrick to hear her. “So easy to be normal again. To forget our baby.”
“It was never easy, Teresa.” His nostrils flared. “I just...” He lifted his hands, then dropped them. “Never mind. I have to go. I don’t have time for this.”
She stood in the kitchen and listened to the front door open and close. At least he didn’t slam it this time.
Teresa scurried to the front room and looked out the window. Derrick and Maggie strolled down the sidewalk and out of sight. His smile was for her now. Teresa sat on the love seat. Across from her, an upright piano sat against the wall. Pictures in silver frames sat in a cluster on top of lace doilies from Bruges, from another time, another life. Pictures of them, together. Happy. Smiling. Care-free. She and Derrick.
Tucked in the middle, partially obscured by the music stand, captured for the rest of time in black and white, was Teresa holding the baby. They had the same fair skin and pale hair. She was only seven weeks old.
A tear welled in Teresa’s right eye but didn’t fall. She went to the bathroom and snatched a tissue from the box on the counter and dabbed, careful not to mess her makeup.
Mommy... A distorted voice, like a child talking into a fan.
Teresa whirled and peered out into the hallway. Across from the bathroom, the basement door stood wide open. She checked her wrist for the key and found it still there. No one else had a key. She knew she locked it. She always locked it. The only other way to unlock it was from the inside.
She slid to the door and peered down the darkened staircase.
A shadow drifted by at the bottom. Prickly chills washed over her scalp.
“Who’s down there?” Her voice cracked. “Maggie?” It couldn’t be Maggie. Maggie didn’t call her Mommy. Maggie left with Derrick. No one else was home. Her mouth went dry.
Teresa took one step down the stairs and stopped. She didn’t want to be the idiot bimbo in a horror movie. She backed out into the hallway, closed the door, and locked it, jiggling the handle to ensure it was secure.
The water heater... the furnace kicking on... wind in the ducts... rats... She’d call an exterminator.
Glass shattered in the front room. She spun toward the noise.
No, the sound came from the kitchen. A glass in the sink. It must have fallen over. To the kitchen. Everything seemed in order. She looked in the sink and relaxed. A glass had tipped over. Derrick must have used it to take his vitamins. She turned on the water and washed it.
Mommy... The voice again. Or was the running water playing tricks on her ears? She shut off the faucet and listened, holding her breath. Her hand went to the cross at her neck.
The clock on the wall ticked off the seconds. Ten... twenty...
Mommy... From the front of the house.
Teresa nearly shrieked. Small, slow steps back down the hall. She stopped at the doorway and peeked into the front room.
The picture of her and the baby lay on the hardwood floor surrounded by pieces of glass. The other pictures remained untouched in a circle around a now empty space where the portrait had been.
There had to be an explanation. She just couldn’t think. Not with a mess on the floor. She knelt and picked up the larger pieces but needed a broom. She took one step toward the hallway and tripped over something soft and yielding.
Teresa gasped. The antique stuffed bear she’d had as a child stared up at her.
She lifted him to eye level. What was he doing here? Derrick had put Big Bear in the garage. He’d wanted to throw the stuffed toy out, but she begged him not to. It hadn’t been in the house since...
Since the baby died.
“Mah-mee,” Big Bear said in the voice she’d heard.
Teresa dropped him. He landed face down. The pull string on his back slid inside his body. She let out a relieved laugh and tucked Big Bear on the love seat and arranged the pillows around him.
The voice came from behind her. Not distorted. A child’s voice. Crisp and clear. Not from the bear’s old voice box.
Teresa turned around and froze.
A girl in a frilly white dress stood in the doorway. A black ribbon held her long pale hair away from her face. Dark eyes peered up from beneath a fringe of blunt cut bangs.
“Mommy,” the girl said in a sickly sweet voice. She cocked her head. “Why did you kill me?”
The scent of a reptilian terrarium mixed with death filled Ann’s nostrils. Packaging peanuts hid the contents. She had to find the source of the smell, but at the same time, she didn’t want to just plunge her hands into unknown depths. She pushed away a thin layer of peanuts and uncovered a leather bomber jacket with a paper bag tucked inside the collar. The jacket was her dad’s. Part of the Bram Logan signature style. Ann pulled the paper bag from the jacket and unfolded the top flap. She opened it and peeked inside. Nothing dead and rotting. She dumped the contents onto the table. A passport and wallet.
She pulled the jacket out of the box and the smell of decay intensified. Ann reeled and covered her nose.
Jesus fuck, there better not be a head in here.
Ann scooped the Styrofoam peanuts out. Two parcels remained at the bottom. One, a plain brown package about six by six inches, tied shut with a piece of thick twine, the other five inches long, roughly cylindrical, wrapped in newsprint. She tugged the corner of the newspaper and one of her mother’s angel figurines, which were usually lined up on the mantel at the house in Harmony, rolled out.
The angel held a little girl in a protective embrace. Ann set the figure on the couch next to her and lifted the other package, fumbled with the twine, and unwrapped it. A blue velvet jewelry box, and incredible stench. Good Lord. Her stomach twisted.
Ann opened the lid. Her mouth filled with saliva. She dropped the box and ran to the bathroom, heaved what little she ate before her run into the toilet, and rested her head against the roll of toilet paper.
Hallucinations, glowing veins, burn marks, now this. Cold sweat broke out under her eyes and across her upper lip. Ann wiped her forehead on the back of her arm. She got the first aid kit from under the sink, rifled through it, and found a jar of Vick’s Vapor Rub. She dabbed some under each nostril and returned to the little box of horrors.
One, two, three. She opened the lid.
Even though Ann’s mother died thirty years ago, Bram Logan never took his ring off. Not even now. Her dad’s ring finger, still wearing his custom-made wedding band, had been crammed into the neck opening of a decapitated rattle snake. The snake’s body coiled around the inside of the box like a macabre necklace, finger resting in the center.
Ann’s brain worked to make sense of what she was looking at while desperately searching her memories.
Is it really a finger? What was the last thing she said to her dad? It can’t be his finger. When was the last time they spoke cordially? Christ, it’s his finger. When was the last time she hugged him, saw his smile, heard his laugh, gave him the time of fucking day?
Her rational mind forced its way to the forefront. She needed a print to be sure it was his. She snapped the box shut, and, as her lungs took in short bursts of air and she worked to not break down completely, dumped the rest of the Styrofoam out. There had to be an explanation. A ransom letter. A business card from the mob boss in Harmony.
Harmony didn’t have a mob.
She grabbed her cell phone from her armband. Call it in. Take everything to the station. Start a case. Find him now.
Instead, she called her dad. His voicemail box was full. She hovered her thumb over her Lieutenant’s number in recent calls. Maintain control.
No body, no murder. Not entirely true, but she had to tell herself something.
The right thing to do was call the police, she knew this, but at the same time, she didn’t want someone like Anderson assigned to the case. That greasy haired fucktard would screw everything up. Ann didn’t understand how someone so incompetent could be a cop.
Who else could she call? Six months ago she would have called Bruce... She took a deep breath. Maybe someone in Harmony had seen her dad. She sat up straight. Sheriff McMichael, her dad’s best friend. She didn’t have his personal number, but she could easily call the Sheriff’s Department. She did. He wasn’t there. Too early. She left a message with the bored sounding dispatcher, then scrolled through the rest of her contacts.
Joey Rigsby, professional hacker. Worked for the CIA for a while even and never let anyone forget it. Not a good secret-keeper, so it hadn’t worked out.
She shook her head. No. She didn’t leave things great with him either.
That’s your way, isn’t it? Burn your bridges until you have no one left. What now?
She examined the outside of the big box again. Someone packed it, someone delivered it. There had to be prints. She ran out to her truck and grabbed her kit, dusted the box and the contents for prints, but there weren’t any. She examined every packing peanut, every nook and cranny inside the box, every inch of each item for any clues. Nothing. It was like the box had been packed in a clean room.
She lifted the angel figurine. It was definitely one from the house in Harmony. When she was six, she thought the angels needed faces. This was the one she started on. Her dad caught her before she could draw the second eye, but he let her finish it anyway.
Summon your angel, Dad. I guess that really worked, didn’t it?
It was his phrase, summon your angel. All her life he used it to remind her she had a guardian angel that would protect her.
Ann scoffed. Angels, right. Protection, sure.
Her dad was in law enforcement. He was a world traveler. He was careful and smart and observant. She rubbed her thumb across the angel’s face. She had to go home. After nearly fifteen years, she had to return to Harmony, Colorado.
Teresa backed up until her legs hit the love seat. She sat down on Big Bear, and he groaned something in his mechanical voice.
The girl came closer. “Mommy,” she said. “Why. Did. You. Kill. Me?” She annunciated each word as if English wasn’t Teresa’s first language.
“I... I don’t know what you’re talking about. How did you get in here? Who are you?”
The girl put her small hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow at Teresa, an expression Teresa, herself, had used many times with Maggie. Teresa’s mother made the same look throughout Teresa’s childhood and beyond. Disbelief. Disappointment.
“Once upon a time, Mommy,” the girl said, shaking a finger. She took a step toward Teresa, and Teresa pulled Big Bear onto her lap.
“Don’t call me that,” she said. “I don’t know you.”
The girl only laughed. “Once upon a time, you had a baby, and you were so sad.” She exaggerated the words, drew them out. “Then you killed me, and here I am as I would be if I didn’t die. Aren’t I so cute?”
“It was an accident,” Teresa whispered. “I only left for a second. I needed air. I needed...”
“Why did you replace me? And on my birthday, too.” She crossed her arms and pouted.
Maggie had arrived three months ago on what would’ve been the baby’s seventh birthday.
“I didn’t... I never...” Teresa cringed behind the stuffed bear. “Daddy decided, not me.”
Partially true. When they couldn’t get pregnant again, Derrick brought up adopting a child. Perhaps he didn’t trust her to be around babies. He never believed her about what happened. He never said those words, but she could tell. She only said yes to please him. To make him happy. All she ever wanted was for him to be happy.
To love me again.
“Never mind that now,” the girl said. She pranced toward Teresa and shoved Big Bear off her lap, then lay her hands on Teresa’s. “Here I am, and maybe I forgive you.” The girl grinned.
Teresa searched her face, the dark eyes. Derrick’s eyes. The pointed chin. Her chin. The pale hair. The dress... white and lacy and frilly. It was a replica of the dress she buried the baby in.
“Tiffany?” Teresa said, testing the name she hadn’t said in so long. The name she refused to even think. Giving the baby a name in her thoughts made it hurt that much more.
The girl nodded.
“How is this possible?”
“I have a friend who lives in the abandoned funeral home. He is glorious in all his power.” She grinned.
Teresa pulled her left hand free and held the golden cross at her neck. Tiffany placed her hands on Teresa’s knees.
“He will give us another chance to be together. We just need to help him.”
A second chance. Teresa’s heart fluttered at the idea. “What do I have to do?”
Tiffany stomped over to Big Bear.
“If you love me, you’ll do anything to have me back.” She kicked the bear onto his side. “Say yes and we can be together again. Don’t you want to be with me?”
Bring back the baby. Then what? Would it be like nothing ever happened? Would it repair the damage? Would Derrick love her again?
The little girl, Tiffany, watched her, her dark eyes penetrating Teresa’s soul, gouging and digging into her. She wanted to say yes. So often she said no. Back when she was naive and stupid and believed her life would be perfect if she just followed the rules. Graduate from high school, get married, buy a house, have a baby.... No one ever told her the next step. Not even her mother, who ingrained the first four rules into her brain to such a degree she felt if she didn’t follow them she would be a failure. A complete failure.
The baby died... Doesn’t that make you a failure?
She looked at the girl standing before her. Seven-year-old Tiffany. Teresa cocked her head. “Why does your friend live in the abandoned funeral home?”
Tiffany stomped her foot. “Mommy, say yes.” She clenched her little fists.