She gazed down at her nephew sleeping soundly in his crib as her sister quietly moved about his bedroom gathering clothes, diapers, and other necessities.
“Enjoy your innocence while it lasts, little one,” she whispered, stroking his cheek. Just then he sighed deeply, rubbed his head on the blanket, and made a sucking motion with his mouth. She held her breath, waiting to see if he was going to awaken. But after a couple more sighs, she heard his breathing return to normal and he was again still. She pulled the blanket up over his chest and followed her sister down the hallway into the master bedroom.
“I still can’t believe we’re going to drag a sleeping baby out on such a cold night . . .” She wanted to add, “just because your husband is a self-centered, abusive ass,” but she stopped herself. This was neither the time nor place. She had to focus on getting the two people she loved most in the world to safety. There would be plenty of time later to sort out how her sister would reclaim her home — and sanity.
“So is he at the usual place?” she asked as she watched her sister pack a bag for herself.
“Did you call there?”
“Who’s bartending tonight? Gary?”
She plopped down on the bed as her sister disappeared into the bathroom, emerging moments later with a few toiletries in her hand. “I have all that stuff at my house, you know.”
Her sister didn’t respond, but placed the items in a small overnight bag. “O.K. Let’s put the baby seat in your car.”
Just then the telephone rang, startling both of them. Her sister threw the bag down on the foot of the bed and quickly picked up the cordless receiver from the nightstand, silencing the ringer hurriedly lest it wake the baby. Looking down at the digital display, she cringed.
“Mom,” they both said at once.
“Don’t answer it.”
“Well, if I don’t, she’ll call your house.”
“Good point. Answer it and tell her we’re baking cookies.”
“Hi, Mom, whatcha doin’?” Her sister’s attempt to sound cheerful would never fool anyone, much less their mother. “No, everything’s fine. Why?”
She rolled over onto her stomach, grabbed a pillow, and put it over her head.
“Yup, she’s right here. We’re baking Christmas cookies.” Her sister poked her in the ribs, eliciting an involuntary “Youch!”
“Hey, I told you to grab a potholder, you goofball,” the older daughter improvised as she rolled her eyes and put the pillow back over her head. “Sugar cookies. I’m going to bring them on Christmas Eve.” She waited impatiently, the pillow still over her head as her sister politely engaged their mother for a few more minutes. After a few obligatory “Uh huhs” and “Unh huhs,” interspersed with a couple of “Really?’s” and an unenthusiastic “wow,” she was relieved to hear her say, “O.K., Mom, I need to go start the next batch now. I’ll give you a call tomorrow then,” and finally hang up.
“Holy crap, of all nights,” she muttered as she got up and strode toward the garage to retrieve the baby’s car seat from her sister’s vehicle. Halfway there, she remembered: Paul had taken her sister’s car because his was in the shop.
“Hey, I think we have a little problem here,” she declared, turning to meet her sister, carrying her own bag and the baby’s, in the middle of the kitchen. “He has your car. Is the baby carrier in it?”
Her sister froze, her eyes wide in panic. “Oh, no . . . ” The two of them rushed toward the garage and were relieved when her sister flipped on the light and they saw the car seat on the floor. “Oh, thank God . . . he took it out before he left.” Her sister nearly burst into tears at the site of the baby carrier.
She picked it up and continued out to the driveway where her own vehicle was parked. Yet again, she refrained from giving voice, in her sister’s presence, to her thoughts. But she had long suspected that Paul’s indiscretions included not just ever-increasing levels of alcohol use and extended absences from the family home. She was fairly certain that he had been unfaithful to her sister. As she buckled the car seat into place, she muttered to herself, “Pretty hard to pass yourself off as single with a baby seat in the car, huh, big guy?” She shook her head in disgust, wondering for at least the zillionth time how her sister — as between the two of them, the one with all the potential for success — had ended up in this contemptible situation, married to a man she deemed a pathetic excuse for a husband.
She re-entered the house and found her sister back in the baby’s room trying to quickly put him into a one-piece jumpsuit with a hood. “Hand me the sucky,” she whispered, nodding toward the dressing table. She brought the bright-colored pacifier over to the crib and offered it to the sweet little sleepy boy, who took it and began sucking contentedly without even opening his eyes just as her sister pulled the zipper up under his chubby chin.
“All right,” she sighed. “Now let’s get this guy into my car and head downtown to find your car . . . ”
To be continued . . .