Tess was always amazed at how dark and morning could happen at the same time. One of those mysteries that bothered her as a child. Morning and night together. Though she soon discovered that for most of life, they could easily coexist.
“When you wake tomorrow, we’ll do what we practiced today sweetheart,” Her mother’s soft smile and whispered words covered an urgency six year old Tess only felt, as if some kind of smoldering secret was taking place. And in a way it was.
“Remember,” she’d continued, “Don’t tell a soul, especially not your daddy.” Her mother’s long slender finger had moved to her lips in a shush sound Tess was so familiar with. So many secrets lay in this house. So many quiet voices late at night, arguing, but not loud enough to hear, just loud enough to make her wonder if the voices were part of a dream that she couldn’t quite finish.
Tess’s pink suitcases lay waiting in the trunk of the car, packed to the limit with clothes, and hair brushes and Flowers, a stuffed skunk her father had given her for Christmas last year. He wanted her to call it Stinky, laughing at the connection, but Tess with a stubborn streak that claimed her own rights, dubbed him Flowers, and kept him at her side every moment of the day.
“It’s not natural the way she clings to that thing.” Her father‘s complaint eventually made its’ way to every argument. “What’s the matter with her anyway?” His eyes slits of frustration when he watched his daughter.
“Maybe if you were home more,” her mother’s inevitable next sentence that started the voices hushed and angry again. An anger they tried to keep from Tess. But not very well.
A soft tap on her bedroom door. “Are you ready sweetie. Follow me, but be quiet. Really quiet.“
As Tess made her way down the long staircase, her mother was pulling the car out of the garage. Soon they were driving in the dark of the morning, down the highway, at a speed Tess wasn’t used to. She sat huddled under the seatbelt, afraid to ask any questions.
“Just go back to sleep” her mother said. “We’ll be there before you know it.”
Where, Tess wanted to ask, but felt the heaviness of sleep hit her eyes. Flowers was safe in the suitcase. That’s all that mattered. And in the middle of her mother’s tension, she felt a kind of peace.
The sun was just starting to show its face across the morning sky when they finally pulled into a driveway. The lights from the house were on full blast, and Tess could smell pancakes coming from the open door.
“You made it safely dear,” a woman with big inviting arms hugged her mother and then came for Tess. “So this is her.” Tears rolled down wrinkled cheeks. The woman’s hair was uncombed, but a streak of red lipstick crossed her mouth, as if put there in a hurry.
“This is her momma.” Tess stared up at the woman, not sure what to do.
“This is your grandma Tess,” her mother introduced her. “My mother, the grandma you haven’t met yet.”
“Are you sure he didn’t follow you dear?” The older woman’s voice was hushed again, the sound so familiar to Tess.
“I’m sure mom. He was out cold. Didn’t get in till after 3:00. He’ll wake up to quite a surprise, if he even notices we’re gone.”
“Well, I can’t believe you did it, but I’m awfully glad you did.” The older woman looked at her granddaughter. “Wow,” she smiled big. “So this is Tess.” She took the little girl by the hands and stared into her face. “She’s beautiful. And to think...” Her voice trailed off.
“It’s okay mom, we’re safe now. He won’t come looking. He has other interests now anyway.”
“He may come for her one day, you know that dear.” The grandmother pulled Tess into a giant hug.
“And I’ll deal with that when it happens. Now, bear hug,” she put her arms around the two most important people in her life and squeezed.
The morning sky under evening dark will always be a dichotomy to Tess... even in her older years, as she looks back on the day they left her father. She still never really understood why. Just that the answer lay somewhere in the hushed voices of the night.
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