I Looked Away
Here’s another free written fireside short story for you. We have gathered around the virtual campfire once more to share another tale, and this is the end, so here are all the previous parts if you’d like to read the full story
The final part of
I Looked Away
Oh my God, you self-centred dickhead! He had taken and terrified Megan and life was still all about him.
The blades of a helicopter began cutting through the air nearby, the sound rising in volume.
She’d spent years aching over the fact that he’d thrown her off and left her and Megan behind, and now he’d come back into their lives with this stupid stunt. The wind the chopper generated blew pine needles up into her face. There was a narrow clearing by the sheds they must have used to cut the logs and it was manoeuvring to come down there.
Madeline turned and picked Megan up, clutching her in her arms. It was bullshit that he couldn’t have kids. Some doctor he’d probably paid a fortune to had told him lies to ease his oversized ego. He could have kids, she had his kid in her arms. But if he chose to look past the hair that was the same color as his, with a curl that exactly matched the one over his left eye, and fingers that were the exact imprint of the slender fingers he had used to play guitar strings, with ease, then it was his loss. She didn’t want anything to do with him, and Megan was better off without a dad.
“No, she isn’t yours, you’re right!” She yelled over the swirling sound of the blades as the helicopter came down. “I thought she was but I had a one night stand. It was a hundred to one, but then I had her tested, the other
guy knows about her, he’s accepted her. You’re right she isn’t yours, so you didn’t need to take her, I’ll happily sign anything you like to say she has nothing to do with you or your father.”
The fight and the anger just seemed to drop out of him. Something had gone wrong in his head. This was crazy. She pitied his wife.
Thank God he’d let her down. Thank God, she was not with that guy. She’d had a lucky escape.
“Put your hands up in the air!” A cop, dressed in black, wearing body armour, held a gun aimed at Donnan.
Madeline clutched Megan’s head and turned her face to her shoulder so she didn’t watch.
“Get down on your knees.”
While the cop shouted, Garrett walked towards Donnan too. “It’sokay, baby,” Madeline whispered in Megan’s ear as Donnan dropped to his knees, devoid of any fight now.
Garrett looked over at her. “Go back to the jeep.”
“Lie down flat on the ground and spread out your arms.”
Donnan lay down and Madeline turned away, just as he’d turned away from them years ago. Megan was her child, no one else’s, she had been from the day she was born. She didn’t need a father.
“Mama.” Megan’s arms wrapped around her neck.
Donnan was a stupid selfish asshole, he could have adopted even if he couldn’t have had a kid, he could have simply asked her to reject the money, but now he’d be going to jail, and he’d never be allowed to adopt, and he wouldn’t see his wife, and he couldn’t spend his money, and he would never know the one child that he did have – justice was served right there.
She didn’t look back, even when she heard a motor boat arrive too… nor when she heard the police officer start reading Donnan his rights.
She hugged Megan so tight, she was probably hurting her, but she couldn’t control herself.
She opened the door of the jeep and climbed in, out of the rain.But then she began shivering, violently as Megan cried and Madeline rocked her in her arms.
The driver’s door opened. “Miss Buell.” It was Judy, the female ranger. “I’m going to drive you back to base, then we can get you checked over Megan, and get you dry.” When she spoke to Megan, Megan did not look up. She had never been scared of strangers, but she would be now.
“Hang on,” Judy said, then she reached into the back of the jeep. “I thought so, here’s a blanket, wrap it around you both.”
It was one of those bright silver weird things, but Madeline wrapped it around them both and then held it tight about them, as if the stupid blanket could pull them back together. It would take a lifetime to recover from this.
When they got back to the base, a doctor checked Megan over and they were asked question after question by a policewoman, then finally, at about midnight, one of the policeman said they would drive her home.
When Madeline walked through the door into her familiar living room, relief swamped her; Megan’s toys were neatly stacked in her box in the corner, and the sofa was still in the same place, and the TV was still on the
cabinet by the wall. It was as if they had dreamt that stupid camping trip. It had been a nightmare.
She made Megan hot milk with maple syrup, and she made herself a strong coffee, then they had a hot bath together, sitting in the warm water, and she hugged Megan as she ran the soapy cloth over her skin. Then when she
got out she wrapped Megan up in a warm towel, dried herself first, then dried Megan and then she got into bed, letting Megan sleep in her bed.
Megan kept jolting and stirring in her sleep. Then she woke at about three, screaming. Madeline simply held her until she slept again. But Madeline couldn’t sleep, the image of Donnan, gripping Megan as she cried was
too vivid in her head…
Two weeks later
Madeline’s cell phone rang. She was waiting outside the kindergarten, she’d cut her hours at work now so that Megan didn’t have to go into the after club. They missed the money, but they could get by and if Megan had been her number one priority before, now she was number one times a hundred.
She looked at the screen. She didn’t know the number. “Hello.” Who? She was as wary of everyone as Megan these days, and she jumped at the stupidest things, like a cat running out of a bush.
Whoever it was at the end of the call, coughed. It was a man. It
was a masculine cough.
“Hi, I… Look this is not at all part of my job, but… It’s Garrett. I… If you’re up to it, I’d really like to come visit. It would be great to see Megan and know how you’re doing. It’s just I have the memory of that other child in my head, and I’d like to fix it with a new one, of seeing Megan looking safe and happy…”
Madeline hesitated. She hadn’t seen him after she’d got back into the jeep, Judy had sat with her through all of the police questioning and helped to keep Megan calm. She ought to see him just to say thank you, if he had not thought about driving out to the old logging site, then who knows if she would have seen her daughter again.
“You’re quiet, sorry, I know it’s really unprofessional of me to call.”
“No. It’s okay you can come over.”
“When is best?”
“Saturday, afternoon, about one. If you wait until Saturday then that will give me a chance to get Megan used to the idea, she’s nervous of strangers, especially men, for obvious reasons.”
He sighed. “Yeah, for obvious reasons. How is she doing?”
“Okay, she’s back in kindergarten, but she’s still in my bed at night, but we’re coping, and the police victim support have been really good, they’ve put us in contact with people who can help.”
“I’m glad. She’ll be okay, you’ll both be okay, but it’ll take a while. You’ll do it though, because you’re a damned good mother, Madeline Buell. I’ll see you Saturday at one.”
“Don’t you want my address?”
“I have it, you gave it to me when we took your details at the campsite, it’s how I have your number too.”
“Oh. Yeah.” She hadn’t even questioned how he knew it. “I’ll see you on Saturday.” When she ended the call her heart thumped oddly. She had a lot she owed the man for.
“Mama!” Megan came running out of the door like a little bullet and Madeline leaned down to hug her hard.
Garrett stood outside Madeline’s house with a bunch of flowers in one hand and a teddy bear, the spitting image of the one he’d found on the ground by the boat out by the old logging site, in the other. He was nervous. He’d managed a hundred emergencies in his life and now just knocking on a woman’s door was turning his belly upside down.
The door opened. He took a breath in then cleared his throat. “Hi.” She gave him a smile. It was a sweet smile. Yeah, he could see she was still suffering, her smile didn’t reach her eyes. But she was smiling, and she
looked a dozen times prettier when she did.
The last time he’d seen her she’d been wearing soaking clothes that had clung to her skin, and her hair had been plastered to her head, but today she looked like she had dressed up for him. His heart did a little fricking skip. She had on a pretty pale pink dress, and matching lipstick.
“Oh, the flowers are for you.” He held them out
Her fingernails were painted the same color as her lips.
“And I have this for Megan.” He held up the teddy. Madeline’s eyes widened with what looked like horror.
Shit, had it been the wrong thing to do? “Sorry–”
“Is it the one?”
“Oh no, sorry, it was ruined, but this was so similar.”
She took a breath. “Sorry, it freaked me out. Just… memories. But I think she’ll like it, she’s cried a lot of tears over what happened to her teddy. Tell her it is the one, though, tell her you rescued him, like you rescued her, that’ll make her feel better about it.”
She opened the door a little more. “Come in.” Then she looked across the room. “Megan, Garrett, the ranger who helped me to find you, is here.”
The little girl was playing on the floor in the far corner of the room, her blond curls a mop which fell forward over her left eye. She was alive and healthy, breathing. The vision made his bones ache with relief. He could still see Noah. But he’d saved this girl. “Hey Megan, I have this for you, look who I found safe and sound.” And smelling very new, but kids didn’t notice that sort of stuff, or at least his nephews never did.
The child stood up and ran over to get it. Tears made her eyes shimmer as she ran forward. “Teddy!” She did look like that other guy, he hadn’t imagined it, but her eyes were like her mother’s.
The child was upset but she’d still spoken the polite acknowledgement; his first instincts about Madeline had been so way out. But that was partly why he was here, because in his head he needed to make amends, and yet the feelings in his chest were nothing do with any professional need. He’d seen something in this woman, something that made him feel strong enough to break every professional code and use her private details to call her up.
“So what do you like,” Madeline asked, “coffee, juice? We baked you cookies too.”
He smiled, as again his first perceptions were smashed to smithereens. “A cookie would be nice and a coffee would be great, thanks.”
“Well then take a seat and I’ll get them.”
He swallowed against the dryness in his throat, then sat down on the sofa near Megan. “So what game are you playing?”
Madeline’s hands shook as she put four spoonfuls of coffee grounds into the pot. God he was hot. She hadn’t even noticed when they’d been looking for Megan. He was tall and broad like a tree trunk, and she could hear him
talking to Megan in a calm easy voice, the guy was a dream.
She spun around and nearly dropped the pot.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you, it’s just Megan looked uncomfortable with me in there, so I thought I’d come in here and see if you needed a hand.”
“I’m fine, but help yourself to a cookie.” The kettle whistled as it boiled.
She took a breath and glanced back at him. “I was glad you asked to come over. I wanted to say thank you, if it hadn’t been for you perhaps I wouldn’t have found her.”
“She is his kid though isn’t she?”
The heat flared in her skin as he took another bite of a peanut butter cookie.
“Don’t worry, I didn’t tell anyone and I’m not going to, if that sucker couldn’t see that he had everything he could have possibly wanted right under his nose, then I am not going to let him have another chance at it. But I’m sorry, your past choice in boyfriends was a bit shit, that guy was the biggest dick I’ve ever met. I can’t believe he made a choice to terrorize a kid just to get back at his fucking dad. The police told me that not being able to have kids had given him a breakdown or something, but, whatever, he’s still going to jail.”
Madeline laughed, probably for the first time since Megan had gone missing, he wasn’t talking to her in the role of ranger. “Yes, she is his, and yes, my choice was shit. I had really bad judgement in college, he may not have
taken any kids before but he’s always been a spoiled brat.”
Garrett laughed for a moment, but when it died away his expression turned serious. “Madeline…” His voice dropped an octave or two. “I guess you could say this is really inappropriate of me, but…” he swallowed and his adam’s
apple bobbed. “I got to know you a little that day, and I saw a woman I liked.” He swallowed again. “This is so unprofessional of me to approach you, but I’d like to get to know you more, if you’re interested, and you’re available.”
Oh good Lord. She swallowed too, she had never been asked out by anyone the calibre of Garrett. “I’m available…”
He stepped forward then and his hand came up to the back of her head, right before he pressed one swift kiss on her lips. Then he pulled back and let her go. “Are you free next Saturday, we could do something then maybe?”
“Yeah.” Fate was a strange thing; how could the worst moment of her life have meant that she had met the best man she’d ever known in her life?. She laughed, and it rang from a little deeper in her belly. If she hadn’t have looked away…
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