Hell And Back(10)

By: Natasha Madison



“Someone needs to take a bath or else you’ll get eaten by bugs when we go outside to the backyard.”

“No outside, Momma.” She shakes her head left to right, her hair sticking to her chin.

“Love bug, we’re going to go outside to see how Mr. Jackson cut the grass and then we’ll come back in and bake some cookies as a thank you for doing all this for us.”

“Scarby outside, Momma.”

I pluck her out of her booster seat and head upstairs to start the bath. “It is scary outside, but how about we hold hands? We can do it if we do it together.”

She looks up at me, her brown eyes so fearful and confused, I don’t know what else to say to reassure her.

As she plays with her ducks in the tub, another new thing we bought, I tidy up the bathroom while mentally making a to-do list.

Once she is dry and dressed, I sit her on my bed with a couple of picture books while I get started on dusting the house.

People live here now. We live here now. We will thrive in this house now.

I tie the bed sheet curtains to the side, letting the sunlight shine in. I run downstairs to get the cleaning products and bring them all upstairs. Maybe forcing her outside today will be too much.

One step at a time. I start to work first on the room Lilah sleeps in. The closets are almost bare since most of Nan’s stuff was given away to goodwill.

There are a couple of boxes shoved on the shelves. Reaching up, I pull a box down. The dust floating off the top just about chokes me. Placing it on the floor, I open the box. A gasp immediately escapes my mouth.

I’m assaulted with every single one of my childhood accomplishments. Every picture, every letter, every report card, every single award. It’s a much-welcomed reminder of a happier time in my life.

I grab the other box and opening this one knocks me on my ass. There are hundreds of pictures of me. Well, not just me, but Nan and me, my friends and me. My childhood memories come flooding back to me. The teenage years and horrible hair choices make me laugh. Then, finally, the last picture taken right before I left for college.

I can barely recognize the girl in the picture. Carefree, the only thing on my mind was to get out from under Nan and be my own person.

I wish I could say I would go back, but if I did I wouldn’t have Lilah, and I wouldn’t trade her for anything.

“Lilah, come and look at these pictures of when I was a little girl.” I hear her plop off the bed, her feet padding softly against the floor as she runs into the room.

She plants herself right on my lap, fitting herself in between my crossed legs. “You small?” She looks up at me.

“Yup, I was small just like you.” I rub my nose on hers. “This is me and my Nan.” I show her the last picture we took. “She would have loved you. She would have braided your hair and made cookies with you, and she would have protected you.” A tear escapes at the thought she will never sit and do those things with her.

“Momma, you sad? You have ouchies?” She carefully gets off of me, looking for my ouchies.

“No, honey, no more ouchies. Ouchies all gone,” I tell her. “You want to go downstairs and eat some pizza?” I remember Jackson dropping it on the table and leaving quietly so as not to wake Lilah.

“Pee-sah?” she asks, confused.

“You’ll love it, I promise. After that, we can make cookies. Would you like to do that?”

“I wan pissa and cookees.”

The afternoon flew by after heating up pizza for Lilah, which she now says is her favorite food ever. We carefully got Nan’s recipe box out of the cupboard and made her famous chocolate chip cookies.

The house smelled like so many memories of arriving home after school and her having them waiting for me. Of sitting at the table with cookies and a glass of milk while telling Nan all about my day at school. It never got old no matter how old I got.

Lilah finally went down for a nap long enough for me to start on dinner.

She ate the chicken I made with mashed potatoes but made sure to let me know she liked the pizza better. I sat at the table, my eyes always finding a way to look at the house in front.

After I washed all the dishes, I set a plate down and filled them with the cookies we made today.

“Okay, baby girl, let’s go see Mr. Jackson so we can thank him. Okay?”

“Shoes?”

“Yes, baby, get your shoes.”

I assess myself in the mirror to make sure I look somewhat decent. My stomach flutters, and my heart is beating erratically, not knowing how he will take this.

Making our way over to his house, I notice there are two cars now parked in his driveway. It never even occurred to me he might be with someone. He could be someone’s husband. He could be someone’s something.

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