A finger burying its way into her back jolted Helen awake. The whisper echoed in her ear.
“I think someone’s in the kitchen.”
Helen clicked on the bedside lamp and rolled over to face Beth, her granddaughter. The fifteen-year-old scooted away, the patchwork quilt tucked under her chin. Helen nodded. “Do you want to come with me to make sure everything’s locked? Might help you sleep better.”
Beth shook her head, eyes focused on the sheets.
Helen sent up a silent prayer. “I’ll go see.”
Robe slung over her shoulders, Helen ignored her house shoes as she trudged to the closed bedroom door. She managed to have her eyes open by the time she reached the kitchen. She flipped the light and checked the back door, though she knew it hadn’t been tampered with. No crime in her neighborhood for thirty years, and the only recent incident in the town of twenty-two hundred had been kids shoplifting candy at the lone grocery store. Nothing like the city Beth had run away from.
Helen moved to the window. She wanted to be able to tell Beth she had checked everything.
Fourth night in a row. First the living room. Then the enclosed back porch. Last night, the attic. Helen didn’t care how many nights she had to check the house in order to sooth Beth’s fears, but the lack of sleep was starting to wear on her aged body.
The first night Beth had come to stay with her, the girl had locked herself in the guest bedroom. After the second night, Helen had offered to let Beth sleep with her, which she refused. The third night, after Helen roamed the attic, she had returned to bed to find Beth in it, eyes wide and staring at space.
Kitchen secure, Helen made her way through the living room to the front door. Only five days ago she learned her only grandchild had run away from home. A day later, she received the call from a social worker, asking Helen to house the teen. Beth’s mom, Helen’s daughter, was in jail on drug possession charges. Beth, who Helen had not seen since age six, was at a hospital receiving after rape care.
The dead bolt, never used until this week, rested in place. Another prayer sent up, Helen turned lights off as she made her way back to the bedroom.
She paused at the guestroom. All of her daughter’s childhood belongings were stored in its closet. A memory vaulted into Helen’s weary mind. She went into the room.
Minutes later, she reentered her own bedroom to find Beth staring into space again. Helen held a stuffed animal close to her heart and sat on the edge of the bed next to her granddaughter. She wished she were allowed to brush the wild strands of auburn hair from Beth’s eyes.
Helen pinched her lips, staying off the tears. “Everything’s locked down tight.”
Beth’s eyes didn’t move.
Helen lifted the stuffed animal, a brown and white spotted dog, into Beth’s view. She wiggled it back and forth to make his ears flop. “Your mom called him Floppy. Kept him in bed with her every night ‘til she was seventeen. Said Floppy was her guard dog.”
No response. Helen laid the soft-coated toy by Beth’s arm and stood. Moving around to her side of the bed, she turned the lamp off and slipped in next to Beth. A distance greater than the king-sized bed wedged between them.
Sleep had drifted close when Helen heard the voice whispering again. It rang with doubt. “You’re praying for me, aren’t you?”
Helen throttled her tears. “Every waking moment.”
Silence. Then, “Grandma?”
“Yes, Baby Girl?”
“If it sounds like someone’s in the house again, I’m going with you to look. I think I’ll sleep better.”
Even in the dark, Helen could see Floppy pressed against Beth’s cheeks, his worn fur absorbing her tears.
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