“The children are playing so gaily together today,” Carla mused, watching the kindergarten class from her parked car window.
She absently ate her lunch, smiling in between bites at the innocent antics of the little ones. Holly, the daintiest of the bunch and her favorite, was sitting alone, as usual, this time beside a small daisy patch. Every now and then she would look up from the necklace of flowers on her lap, a wistful expression on her darling little face.
“Don’t worry, Sweetie. One day soon they’ll be sorry they didn’t include you. Your mama will invite them to your birthday party. Won’t they be surprised when you sit on your princess throne and get all the attention!”
The school bell signaled the recess’ end. The teacher’s aide helped the lame child into the miniature wheelchair parked behind a neighboring tree, and trailed behind the scraggly line of reluctant students returning to their classroom. Heading back home, Carla reviewed her mental “to-do” list: shop for birthday game prizes and decorations, pick up the children’s shop lay-away, order Cinderella cake, meet the realtor.
Months earlier, Carla had been seated in the doctor’s office awaiting the results of her ultrasound. She stroked her belly softly, daydreaming about breaking the news to Charlie that after ten years of trying, God had finally granted their prayers with a successful pregnancy.
“Mrs. Steele?” Dr. O’Donnell’s brusque voice interrupted her reverie.
“I’m sorry, Doctor. I didn’t hear you come in.”
“There’s no easy way to tell you this, my dear, but you are definitely NOT pregnant.”
“But I am! It’s really different this time. I have morning sickness, the smell of fried foods makes me nauseous, I’m six weeks late . . . my clothes are already tighter and—”
“Carla, as I told you last year, it is impossible for you to become pregnant. Did you ever call the adoption agency I recommended?”
The annual conversations had continued much the same over time with different doctors, hospitals, and fertility clinics, all delivering the same news—there would be no baby. No infant to live in the picture-perfect nursery with the expensive brightly colored toys, the designer clothes, the painstakingly softly stenciled walls. NO BABY.
Carla had ranted at God then. She resented this cross He chose her to bear, contemptuous of her husband’s feeble attempts to comfort her and envious and spiteful to her pregnant friends and co-workers. But, that was the old Carla Steele. She was different now. She didn’t blame God or Charlie for leaving her, and felt no more hostility toward them.
For, now she had the promise of Holly, whom she had renamed Hope. The moment she saw the little girl, Carla’s heart had melted and in a short time, she had fallen in love with the neglected, lame little darling. Precious child. Perhaps God had not left her after all and this was His gift to her, a settling of accounts of sorts between them for all the pain she had suffered.
The most difficult challenge had already been overcome. One white lie of introducing herself after the last school Open House as Holly’s new aide to Joe and Edda Clemons as they exited the building; in disguise, of course. Friendly, but obviously of limited means, judging by the clothes they wore and the car they drove. One day they would thank her for intervening to provide Holly with the best of everything.
In another disguise, Carla had purchased some property three states away and had interviewed and hired a retired certified pediatric nurse as a future nanny for the child. She would give Hope conscientious tending while Carla worked part time at a local bank . . .
The heart-rendering pleas on national television for the return of little Holly finally broke through the fantasy world Carla had created. But before she could make amends, these same loving parents died of injuries from a fatal car accident. And, although nothing could completely cloud the great joy and precious memories between Carla and her little girl, the new mother could never erase the guilt and shame searing her soul.
The Amber Alert for Holly Clemons died off after a few months, the posters for exploited and missing children age-enhancements a far cry from actual dye-haired 8-year old Hope Steele, who could be seen on her new school playground, romping and skipping along with her classmates after a successful hip replacement by an exceptional pediatric orthopedic surgeon.
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