“We’ve found her.”
I almost drop the phone. “What did you say?” I’m almost too scared to believe the lady. It’s been a week since she went missing; there’s no way she could be found. And what if she’s…? I stop. I can’t think like that. I try to focus on the lady’s answer.
“Your daughter has been living by the river. Several have seen her go to the soup kitchen.”
I breathe in and out. She wasn’t kidnapped. Not dead, hopefully not hurt…she’s fine.
“One of our men found her yesterday night, building a fire under the bridge. It looked like she was doing fairly well for being homeless…enough food and a few blankets.”
I want to throw the phone against the wall. Homeless? She is not homeless! She has a home right here, with a warm bed and a caring mother and everything! How dare she say homeless! I hate how the lady’s voice sounds so composed. There is no feeling in her words. How can she not have any sympathy?
“Where is she now?” That’s all I can ask, my voice clipped. “And why didn’t you tell me this last night?” It would have been one less sleepless night.
“We will be at your house at approximately ten minutes. Have a good day.”
I hear the click of the phone. Have a good day? Does she think the past week has been good days? She hadn’t even bothered to answer why they hadn’t phoned last night!
I drop into a kitchen chair, trying to calm down. What matters is that Bridgette is coming home. Who cares about that stupid lady? What matters is Bridgette.
The next ten minutes are agonizing, but finally I hear the ring of the doorbell. I jump up and swing open the door. A lady that I swear is no more than 100 pounds is at the door, smiling hollowly and clutching the hand of Bridgette, who looks like this is the very last place she wishes to be. Her free hand is shoved in her pocket and she’s scowling.
Besides that, though, she looks okay. Her hair isn’t brushed, her clothes are wrinkled, but she doesn’t look starving or cold. I throw my arms around her and give her a tight hug. I feel her entire body go stiff.
I let go, tears in my eyes. “Oh, Bridgette, I’m so sorry,” I say.
“For what?” she replies, and her voice is low. “You didn’t do anything.” She wrenches her wrist from the overly-skinny lady and walks into the house, past me and into her room. I stare a moment afterward, wondering what to do. Should I follow her? Or stay and talk to the lady?
“Most children who run away are not happy to be home… on the outside,” she says, “but inside they are grateful to be warm and fed. Don’t worry about her.”
I hope she knows that is exactly what mothers do–worry. How can I not?
Instead, I give a strained smile and thank her for bringing my daughter home. She turns and walks to her car, and I close the door as quietly as I can muster.
I let out my breath–I hadn’t even realized I was holding it–and lean against the door. I don’t know if it is a sigh of relief or anxiety or what. “Oh, Lord, help me,” I mumble, wondering how much I even want his help. God could have helped a long time ago. A week ago his help would have been well-received. Or maybe even a few months ago, when Josiah left me…left us.
But now, what is the point? I think to myself. God isn’t listening, or caring, or doing anything to help me out. I am stuck by myself, once again, to figure out how to mother a sixteen year old. I hadn’t signed up to be a mom, at least not yet! I’m only 34.
Banging my head against the door one more time, I head to Bridgette’s room. I quickly wipe my eyes with my fingers, hoping my mascara doesn’t run, and enter.
* * *
This was originally supposed to be from a writing prompt (“Write a story that includes: a gingerbread house, a stolen key, and a surprising phone message”), but I got sidetracked and wrote this instead. I’m actually kind of liking it, and I can see it turning into a longer story or maybe even a novel, so I might expand on this short story. Hope you enjoyed!