Tess: A Fiction Friday Series III
Tess turned her head instinctively. Even though she'd been living as Tess for almost five years, she found herself reacting when she heard her real name. It was a habit she hadn't been able to break.
Across the crowd of children in khakis and plaid skirts she saw her childhood best friend, Amy. Amy waved her arms. Tess smiled back, keeping an eye on the line of cars crawling along the drive in front on St. Mary's Episcopal School. Tess looked down at her own pleated skirt, white stockings, and mary janes.
I remember this. A sinking feeling came over her as she tried to shake the cobwebs from her mind. She looked up in time to see the big, white truck pull to the head of the line.
She heard her name again.
"Kadie. Over here." The man in the truck was calling through an open window. He had kind, dark eyes and a reassuring smile. He propped his arm on the back of the bench seat and leaned toward the passenger side window. Kadie took a step back.
"It's okay. Your mom sent me."
Kadie hesitated for a second before convincing herself that this must be Roger, or was it Robert, her mom's current boyfriend of the month.
The details were vivid in her mind. She had relived this day, this moment, this decision countless times. She remembered the crisp autumn air, the yellow leaves crunching under her shoes, the wary look on Amy's face as she waved good-bye, and the blue jay feather that blew under the truck as she opened the door. She remembered the man's smooth voice and the rough feel of his hand against her cheek.
"Thirsty?" He handed her a styrofoam cup. Kadie took a sip of the tepid water.
"Don't be shy. Drink up, Kadie."
She wasn't thirsty, but she gulped down the water, sitting the empty cup back in the cupholder. The man pulled the lever on the steering wheel and pressed on the gas. Kadie's stomach tightened and she dug her nails into the sticky, vinyl seat.
"You don't remember me, Kadie. You were too little when your mom took you away."
Kadie tried to focus on the yellow line stretching out in front of the truck's hood. She was afraid to look at the man, knowing deep down that climbing into his truck had been a mistake.
"Look how much you've grown."
He grazed his knuckle over her cheek, ran his hand across the shoulder of her white cotton dress shirt, pausing to finger the ruffle at her sleeve, before running his calloused palm down her arm. He took her hand in his, covering it completely. Kadie looked down at his tanned skin, unconsciously counting the dark, course hairs on the back of his hand. She watched as goose bumps rose on her own arms. She smelled the distinctive scent of Old Spice cologne and tasted salt in her mouth. She struggled to keep her heavy eyelids from closing. The trees lining the quaint suburban street became orangish blurs as the truck rushed past.
"Who are you?" Kadie managed to squeak out the words as she struggled to hold back a sob.
"I'm your daddy, sweetie. Your real dad."
Tears trickled down her cheeks and the world around her began to spin. She remembered his hand on her thigh and seeing two boys taking turns on a tire swing in front of one of the big, brick houses. A shower of reddish leaves covered the road.
Tess opened her eyes and immediately felt an ache in her wrist. She sat up slowly, letting the dank smell of mildew wash over her. She recognized the damp cinderblock walls, the thin cot, and the bars lining one side of the small room.
"Kadie. You're awake. You should eat something."
She recognized Jane's voice and saw the shadow of a thin woman beyond the bars. Tess let her eyes adjust to the dim lighting and rose from the cot. She started across the cold, concrete floor. Something pulled at her left leg. Tess looked down to see her leg shackled to a rusty chain.
She crossed the room, dragging the heavy chain behind her. Jane held out a tin plate. Tess could see a large black bruise across Jane's cheek. The woman had changed little in the last five years. She was still bone thin with stringy brown hair matted around her shoulders. She moved with a skittish demeanor, making stiff movements in her worn house shoes and a threadbare cotton dress. Tess noticed a wet noodle clinging to the hair around her face.
Tess reached for the plate. Jane looked down, refusing to meet her eye. Tess could see the familiar sadness in the woman's face, but she also saw relief. Jane cared about her, but she cared more about the reprieve Tess's return would bring her.
"You should never have left."