The little girl lay sunken in the overstuffed sofa mesmerized by the cartoon characters. Her left thumb lingered secure in her mouth, while her right arm cradled her favorite dolly.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” The thundering voice of Riley’s father drowned out the noise of the cartoon. Riley’s eyes darted toward the crack in the master bedroom door.
“Because I knew you’d react this way!” Her mom’s sharp voice was almost as unnerving.
Riley’s eyes followed Daddy’s movement toward Mommy.
“React what way? You mean like this?” The back of his hand swiped hard across his wife’s face, sending her reeling back into the dresser and tumbling to the floor.
Riley scrambled off the couch and ran into the kitchen with dolly clutched tightly. She shoved open the pantry door, tugged it shut behind her and huddled in the corner.
“Shhhh. It’s okay Bella. We’re safe in here.”
* * *
Monica bent over the bathroom sink and rinsed her face. Bloody water swirled around the drain. Peering into the mirror she examined the wound on her cheek and wondered if she would need stitches. Always the left hand, she thought. Ironic that his wedding ring, of all things, would send her to the ER.
She needed ice.
Taking a step for the bathroom door, she paused and winced. Her hand moved to her back, where it had thrust into the dresser.
Dave was gone now. He would undoubtedly return in a few hours with a dozen pink roses. He would be charming. He would apologize.
And she would forgive him.
Monica hobbled through the bedroom, the living room and into the kitchen. She opened the freezer and began to reach for ice.
“What did you do, Bella!”
Monica paused and looked around. “Riley?”
Then she heard a thump, like something hitting the wall nearby. Then she heard it again.
“I don’t know why you make me do this!” The screaming continued, as did the thumping.
Reaching for the pantry door, Monica turned the handle slowly and nudged the door open.
There on the floor sat her little girl . . . hitting her dolly’s head against the wall.
“Shut up, Bella. Stop crying!”
“Riley! What are you doing?” Monica crouched down next to her daughter and took hold of the doll.
Riley looked up at her mother with her big blue eyes. But these were not the eyes of Monica’s sweet baby girl. The innocent, carefree expression that Monica loved in her four-year-old child was replaced with something . . . something different.
Monica clasped her hand over her mouth.
She recognized the look in her daughter’s eyes. She had seen it in the eyes of RIley’s father . . . just before she crashed into the dresser.
“Bella made me mad again.” Riley crossed her arms and glared at the doll in her mother’s hand.
Monica eyed the doll and looked back at Riley. “Umm . . . again?”
“Yeah. She makes me mad sometimes.”
And then, in an instant, Riley’s expression changed. With eyes still locked on the doll, her baby blues softened, her furrowed brow diminished. Anger turned to sadness, and even remorse. She reached for Bella.
Her voice was now soft and tender. “Can I have her back?”
Monica, bewildered by the whole event, placed the doll in Riley’s hands.
“Bella, don’t cry. I’m sorry.” The little girl drew the doll close and hugged her. Riley’s upper body twisted back and forth, as if to console the doll. “I love you, Bella.”
Wide-eyed, Monica stared at the scene before her. And then her crouched body crumbled to the floor where she sat, propped up by one arm. Tears began to trail down her cheek.
“What’s the matter, Mommy?”
Monica stroked her daughter’s head.
“Mommy . . . what’s the matter? I told Bella I’m sorry, so it’s okay. You don’t need to cry.”
Monica sniffled and wiped her face. “No, honey. It’s not okay . . . come here.” She cradled her baby girl in her arms and clung firmly. “We have to go. We need to pack up some things and go.”
“Go where, Mommy?”
“We’re gonna go stay with Nana for a while. Does that sound like fun?”
Riley tilted her head up. “What about Daddy? Is he coming, too?”
Monica locked eyes with her daughter’s baby blues. She stroked her chin.
“No, honey. Daddy isn’t coming.”
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