I Love You, Jilly Sanders, page 17
Flynn hesitated, but reached over and stuffed his hands into Kane’s front jacket pockets. He pulled out his hand and opened his fist. The rings gleamed in the palm of his hand, the diamond catching the last filtered rays of sunshine coming through the cabin window.
Tage gripped Jilly’s arm. She reached up and placed her hand over his.
“Now,” she said, and her voice only shook a bit, “unless you want me to walk out of here and go straight to the police, I think you better bring Shye to us.”
She didn’t know what she would do if Flynn refused, didn’t know how she had managed to put the rings in Kane’s pocket after he had destroyed her very notion of herself as a person. But maybe that was the reason in itself. If she failed now, after Kane’s rape, she would never recover.
Flynn’s fingers curled around the rings, his fist hard. He looked at Kane.
“You’re not going to believe her, are you?” Kane asked.
Flynn held up the rings and looked at him with contempt. “Do you suggest we kill them both? Was that the grand ending to your plan? Don’t you think killing them might bring the police here about as fast as these two young people walking out and going to turn you in for robbing them would?” He threw the rings at Kane and they bounced and skidded across the wooden floor. “I always suspected you were stupid,” he said, “but I really didn’t think you were that stupid. How could you risk everything this place stands for?”
“I didn’t take those rings! She planted them on me when—” He broke off and glanced about the room. Everyone was staring at him.
“You keep those rings,” Jilly said softly. “I don’t want anything to remind me of what you did to me.” She looked hard at Flynn. “Keep them for payment for Gwen and Shye, and make sure you tell him—” She nodded her head toward Kane —“to not come around any of us ever again.”
“She won’t do anything,” Kane shouted. “She’s afraid to bring the cops in here. She probably stole those rings herself.”
“She’s not lying,” Tage said, his voice so quiet and certain a hush fell over the room. “Those are her grandfather’s rings.”
Time seemed to pull itself up into a physical thing as they all stared at Flynn and waited. His lips pinched together, and he glared at Kane.
Slowly, he shook his head, and Jilly tensed, wondering if he would strike out at either her or Kane. But after a long moment Flynn simply straightened his shoulders, his mind made up.
“Bring them the child,” he ordered.
Traveling with Shye slowed them down considerably. She wasn’t any trouble, but she was little, so they took turns carrying her, passing her back and forth as their arms grew weary and weak. Gwen had been right: Shye didn’t appear at all phased by the idea of leaving the commune with two strangers. She chattered nonsensically from the time they stepped out of the cabin until she’d fallen asleep in Tage’s arm.
“I wish I could rig up something so I could carry her on my back,” Tage said. “She’s even heavier when she’s asleep. Who’d ever think a wiffet like her could feel like a bag of cement?”
Jilly kept walking. “Do you want me to carry her?” she asked.
“No,” Tage said, his voice exasperated. “I want you to talk to me. What happened back there, Jilly?”
“We got Shye,” she said, but she stopped and pulled the young girl’s hood down further over her face. The air was getting colder now that the sun went down.
“We’re not going to be able to sleep in a car with her,” Jilly said. “I was thinking we could stop at the gas station and ask R.C. if she knows of a cheap place we could get a room for the night.”
“I’ve still got ten dollars,” Tage said. “I don’t know what kind of room that will get us, but it can’t hurt to try.”
She knew she was hurting his feelings by ignoring his repeated requests to tell him what happened, but she couldn’t bring herself to say anything yet. She still felt wounded—and she didn’t want Tage charging back there and confronting Kane. They had to be far enough away before she would be willing to say anything.
They came to the gas station a couple hours after they set off; it had taken them longer on the return trip because of Shye. Tage looked as though his arms were about to fall off when they went inside and he sat down at a booth near the deli.
“Well, what have we here?” R.C. said. She walked out from behind the counter to get a better look. “I’m glad you kids stopped back in. I was worried about you going off up there by yourself.”
If she only knew, Jilly thought, she’d have been more than worried. She smiled wanly at R.C. “We picked up this baby girl for her mother. She’d left the commune a few months ago, and they wouldn’t let her take her daughter.”
R.C. shook her head, dismayed. “That’s not right!”
“No,” Tage agreed. “That’s what we thought, too. So we came to rescue her. We couldn’t tell you before because . . . well . . . we weren’t exactly sure what was going to happen.”
Shye blinked and struggled to sit up in Tage’s arms. “Ohhh . . . pretty,” she said when she looked at R.C.
Apparently R.C. was unused to having such an effect because the older lady blushed a dark red that contrasted radically with her purple turtleneck sweater. “Well, now. . .” she said, “if she ain’t the cutest thing in the world.”
“Smart, too,” Tage whispered to Jilly when she crossed the room to tug off Shye’s jacket.
Jilly tried to return his smile, but failed. She turned around, sighing. “We were hoping you would know of a place we could get a room for the night,” she said to R.C. “We’ll never make it home tonight.”
“We don’t have much money,” Tage added.
Shye tumbled down from his lap and toddled over to R.C. “Up,” she demanded, lifting her arms toward the woman. R.C. bent down to scoop her up.
“Why don’t you stay with me? I’ve got a fold-out couch in my living room, and the three of you will fit nicely there.” Clearly, she was enchanted with Shye, who just as clearly reciprocated her feelings.
“That’s awfully nice,” Tage said. “We’ve only got ten dollars, but we’d be happy to pay you.”
R.C. walked over to the door and flipped the open sign over to closed. “Who said anything about paying?” she said. “It’ll do me good to have some company.”
They rode to R.C.’s house in her rusted Jeep and she fed Shye chicken noodle soup and told her a story until the child’s eyes drooped with sleep.
“You just take those cushions off from there,” she said, nodding toward the couch, “and pull on that little handle to open the bed. I’ll tuck her in and let you all get to sleep. You must be about done in.”
Jilly felt R.C. might have made the understatement of the year—maybe of the entire century. Her eyes burned, and she longed for nothing except the sweet relief of sleep.
But once she was in bed, Shye curled up in the middle like a caterpillar, Tage on the other side, she couldn’t even close her eyes. Every time she did Kane’s face appeared and she felt the bruising grip of his fingers against her wrists. She thought
Tage was asleep until she heard his voice in the darkness.
“It’s a good thing we left the rings there, although I don’t know how you got them into Kane’s pocket,” he said to her. “He won’t dare come around again; he knows we’ll turn him into the police for stealing.” He was silent for a minute, but when she didn’t answer, he continued. “It helps our story that I gave the pawn shop clerk Kane’s name instead of mine, too. If he does come around, that’ll at least give us some evidence he tried to sell the rings.”
Jilly swallowed, wanting to answer him, to talk to him, but her throat felt cracked and bruised.
“How did you manage to put those rings in his pocket?” he asked.
She swung up and slid her legs out of bed. “Do we have to talk about this now?” she asked, her voice thick and unnatural sounding. She felt Tage get up, the thin sofa
He walked around the bed and sat down on the edge next to her. “What did he have you do?” he asked.
Jilly sighed and pushed the heels of her palms against her eyes. She felt Tage’s arm come around her shoulders and she turned in toward him, leaning her forehead against his collarbone. “I thought,” she began, her voice muffled against his shirt, “I thought saving Shye would be like saving myself, you know?”
But he couldn’t know, she realized. He didn’t know anything about her search for her mother, and he didn’t know what Kane had really taken from her. She felt his thumb rubbing the ridge of her spine in comfort.
“We did save Shye,” he whispered. “She’s going home to her mother.” He sighed. “But I don’t know how that could have saved you. I don’t know what you need to be saved from,” he said.
She opened her mouth, but then closed it and shook her head.
“Did Kane—” he hesitated. “Did Kane do something to you, Jilly?”
She pulled away and bent down to bury her face in her pillow.
“Tell me,” Tage demanded. “Or I’m going back there—I swear to God—and I’ll pound it out of him!”
Jilly sat up. “Be quiet!” she hissed. “And you can’t go back there; we might lose Shye if you do!”
“Then tell me!”
“If I tell you,” she said, glad for the dark so she couldn’t see his face, and he couldn’t see hers either, “you have to promise me you won’t ever go back there. What’s done is done, and sometimes the only thing that will help is to move on . . . .
That’s something new I’ve learned.”
“What are you talking about?” He instinctively captured her hands in the dark.
“First promise me you won’t go back,” she said. “Promise!”
She could sense his reluctance before he said, “Okay. I give you my word.”
Haltingly, without elaboration, searching for the words to use to convey what happened, she told him. She felt his hands tightening around hers, pushing her fingers together, and she welcomed the pain. It helped her to focus, to get through this confession that somehow felt like her fault.
“Oh my God,” Tage whispered, his voice a horrified sigh. “Oh my God!” When she stopped talking he pulled her into his arms, his hands gentle as the wind. “I’m sorry. I’m so Goddamn sorry. I didn’t mean it—” his voice broke “—when I told you to just do whatever he said—I never meant—”
And then she was comforting him, too. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I know what you meant then. That’s not why I did it.” She reached up and touched his face, knowing before she felt the tears that he was crying. “I couldn’t have stopped him anyway.”
“I could have,” Tage said fiercely.
“No,” Jilly said. She shook her head. “You couldn’t have stopped him, either.”
“I’m going to kill him,” Tage said, his voice so flat and certain her heart stopped beating momentarily.
“Why?” she whispered. “What good would that do? Things would only be worse . . . for everybody.”
“I don’t care!”
“You do care. You care too much; that’s part of what makes you, you. Besides, you promised,” she reminded him. “You promised.”
“That doesn’t count,” he said. “That—”
“It does count. Your word might be the only thing I have left, Tage.” She leaned into him. “Don’t take that away now, okay?”
She felt him tense in the darkness and knew he wanted to argue with her.
“Let’s get some sleep,” she said. “Could you—Would you hold me for a while? Just until I fall asleep?”
In answer, he reached over and scooted Shye toward the outer edge, then helped Jilly into the middle and lay down beside her.
She rested her cheek against his chest, and once again she heard the steady drum of his heart. She wondered if her mother ever held her this way, close enough to feel the beat of a heart. Longing, sharp as a silver blade, pierced her. She wanted her mother now, wanted the comfort of a mother’s unconditional love. The sound of Tage’s heart helped to lull her to sleep, but not before she made up her mind: when she got back to Otto’s nothing was going to stop her; she was going to find out once and for all if Jane Sandra was her mother.
They arrived home late the next afternoon. Jilly felt as though she’d been gone for a million years, felt as though everything had changed, and yet, here—where her heart was—things had remained the same. She realized now, for the first time in her life, what people really meant when they said it was good to be home.
Tage had been quiet on the trip home, and she had been too wrapped up in her own thoughts to pursue conversation. Still, she couldn’t help but wonder as she gazed at him out of the corner of her eye, if he thought differently about her now. She did know he couldn’t seem to meet her eyes.
Cat saw them first and stepped out onto the porch yelling and crying. Otto came out next and then Gwen, who froze up on her tippy-toes as she gazed down the driveway. She looked as though her heart was caught somewhere in her throat, and her hand hovered in the air near her chest.
As they drew closer, Jilly saw the tears, fragile as glass, standing in Gwen’s eyes. “Shye?” Gwen said, and her voice quavered. “Is that you, Shye?”
And then Shye was in her mother’s arms and Gwen was crying and laughing at the same time, exclaiming over the girl, telling her how much she had grown. “You look like a little princess,” she said.
“I do?” Shye asked. She stared around at everyone, her eyes wide with wonder.
Jilly saw Otto take out his bandana and wipe at his eyes; Cat’s smile lit up her face.
“It’s so good to have you all home,” Otto said.
“He’s been worried sick,” Cat told them. “Every day, after he read his journal, he’s said we should never have let you both go. He was so bad, he had Gwen and I worried sick, too.”
Gwen held Shye in her arms. “We started thinking about everything that could go wrong,” she said. “We let you leave too quickly—but now, now . . .” She broke off and nuzzled her nose against Shye’s.
Tears blurred Jilly’s vision as she looked at the two of them. “I—I’m glad we went,” she said. She felt Tage’s hand on her shoulder. He gave a light squeeze.
“We’re back now,” he said. “And Shye’s safe.”
“I say we have a little celebration dinner,” Cat said. “And you can tell us all about it.” She moved toward the door. “Do we have to worry about Kane coming back here?”
Jilly shook her head. “He won’t be back,” she said. As Cat stepped inside, Jilly heard the sound of a baby crying. “Ariana! Oh,” she exclaimed as she turned to Gwen. “I really missed her.”
“Would you go get her for me?” Gwen asked. She looked at Shye. “Would you like to meet your little sister?”
“Shishter?” Shye said.
“Yup,” Gwen said. “And both of you are going to live here with Mommy. Would you like that?”
“Whosis Mommy?” Shye asked, wrinkling up her small forehead.
Gwen smiled at her. “I’m your mommy, sweetie,” she said. “I’ve always been your mommy.”
Shye looked up at her, and reached up to run her fingers down Gwen’s nose. “Okay,” she said. She was agreeable to anything.
But Jilly could see what saying those words meant to Gwen . . . what it meant to her to have Shye know for certain Gwen was her mother.
Ariana let out another gusty cry. “I’ll bring her right down,” Jilly said.
They all went inside, and Jilly went upstairs to get the baby.
Ariana had grown in the three short days they’d been gone. Her eyes were bright buttons of blue-green, changing to the color of Kane’s. The thought turned Jilly’s stomach, but as she reached down and picked up the squirming bundle all thoughts of Kane disappeared. Her feeling for Ariana was the same as what she was beginning to feel f
“Did you miss me, too, baby?” she cooed. Ariana stared up at her wide-eyed. “You did, didn’t you?” She could have sworn she saw Ariana smile. As if the baby were a rose, Jilly sniffed the soft folds of her neck. Ariana smelled of baby soap and baby powder, of sleep and innocence, and everything good and right in the world.
Lovingly, she carried her downstairs and put her into Gwen’s arm. Shye was kneeling on the couch beside her mother, and she peeked over at the baby.
“Tha’s a nice one!” she said to her mother.
Gwen laughed. “She sure is. And so are you!”
“I’m going to take a bath,” Jilly said. “I won’t be long, and then I’ll help with dinner.”
“Take your time,” Cat said. “Tage went home to clean up, too, but he’s coming back to eat.”
She hadn’t even said goodbye—hadn’t even seen him go. She walked up the stairs, but she heard Cat ask Gwen if she thought something was wrong. Gwen’s answer was lost, though, as she reached the top of the stairs.
Could she ever get it back? she wondered. Could she recapture that feeling of anticipation and joy at being here and being alive? She looked over at the attic doorway and instead of going into her room she pulled open the door and went up the steps.
The oatmeal canister was still sitting by the top of the stairs. Otto must have returned it to that exact spot after he’d gotten the rings out. He would have, she thought, because he’d want to remember where it sat. She grabbed the can and pulled open the top. The papers were still inside, and she had to empty them out to get to the letter at the bottom. Carefully, she pulled out the envelope and tore off the return address. She stuffed it into her pocket and then put everything back. The tiny slip of paper burned against her thigh as she went down the stairs.
She’d known the address was there, waiting for her, but she’d been afraid to find out the truth.
She’d been terrified and not really known it, terrified of being rejected again by her own mother. That fear, in part, had allowed her desire to search for her mother to slip-slide into a place where she comforted herself by saying there’d be time later. Now, though, she knew the passage of time could change things irrevocably, that ‘time later’ became ‘time lost.’