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All the little pieces, p.8
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       All the Little Pieces, p.8

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  Then the head-banging started.

  That particular milestone wasn’t in the ‘What to Expect’ books. At least not to the extreme that Maggie did it. Walls, floor, high chair – anything that was in proximity to her head was in grave danger whenever she got frustrated, which, by the age of three, was often.

  Pediatrician #1 suggested putting Maggie on Adderall, a drug for hyperactivity, after a five-minute exam. But drugs were something Faith couldn’t see putting a three-year-old on. After garnering a few other second opinions, none of which were consistent and all of which subscribed to medicating toddlers, she’d found Dr Michelson, who explained that ADD or ADHD – or whatever acronym it was that might be causing Maggie to put holes in walls with her head and jump into pools even though she couldn’t swim – couldn’t be accurately diagnosed until a child was six or seven. He’d suggested a gluten-free diet, occupational therapy, and patience. Lots of patience.

  The circle drawing turned to palm smearing. And for the grand finale, Maggie giddily smacked her hand into the ice cream, so it splashed back up on her clothes and hair. She started to walk around and around the table, shaking her head. Dancing to music no one else heard.

  Faith grabbed the stack of napkins from her purse. ‘Did you run away from Mrs Wackett and Ms Ellen? What did we talk about?’

  ‘No running.’

  ‘That’s right, Forrest – no more running.’ Maggie might have taken too long to learn how to walk, but once she did, she went straight to running and never stopped. Jarrod had nicknamed her Forrest Gump because she didn’t stop until she got tired, which was … well, never. Faith handed her the napkins.

  Maggie’s face went dark again. The napkins fluttered to the floor. ‘Don’t call me Forrest Grump.’

  Faith tried not to laugh.

  ‘It’s not funny.’ Maggie smashed the ice-cream cone which she still held in her hand face down on the table and crossed her arms. Jarrod had named that look the Incredible Sulk.

  Faith had seconds to defuse the bomb. ‘You’re right; no one should call you names,’ she said, picking up the napkins. ‘That’s not nice. Please wipe your hands.’

  ‘Like Melanie.’

  ‘That’s the new girl?’

  ‘It’s an ugly name.’

  ‘Why don’t you like her?’

  ‘She called me a name.’

  ‘What was that?’

  ‘She said I was a weirdo and that no one wanted to play with me ’cause I play weird.’

  Faith felt something stab her heart. She crushed the empty water bottle with her hand. ‘That’s not nice. I understand why you got upset, but you can’t hit her.’

  Maggie turned to run off to the ball pit, then stopped midway and ran back. ‘Are you mad?’ she asked, looking at Faith strangely, her head cocked.

  ‘I’m mad that someone said something mean to you. And that you won’t listen to me or Mrs Wackett.’

  ‘You was mad yesterday,’ Maggie said slowly, as if she wasn’t sure she should proceed. As if there was another thought floating around in her head and she was toying with throwing it out there by testing the temperature. ‘Really, really mad …’

  Faith swallowed hard. Perhaps it was the guilt hangover that was making her paranoid. Maggie had been asleep the whole time in the back seat – she’d checked on her. ‘What are you talking about?’ she asked, hoping to disguise the anxiousness in her voice. ‘Are you talking about at Aunt Charity’s? When we had to leave Aunt Charity’s? What are you talking about?’

  Maggie squirmed in her shoes uncomfortably and looked around the gym.

  ‘Yes, I was mad at Aunt Charity’s,’ said Faith. ‘My feelings were hurt, the same way yours were when Melanie called you a name you didn’t like. Do you want to talk about it?’

  ‘I don’t like it when you’re mad,’ Maggie said, her eyes wide and tearing up, her lip puffing. ‘You’re scary, Mommy.’

  But before Faith could pull her close to ask her what she meant by that, the tears were gone and she was off running, squealing with delight as she dove into the ball pit face-first.

  15

  She was in bed when she heard the rumble of Jarrod’s garage door opening, followed by the chirp of the alarm being unset and the slam of the door. Then the rattle of pots being manhandled and cabinets opening and closing. The ding of the microwave. A plate clinking when it hit the sink.

  ‘It’s me!’ Jarrod finally called out, in case Faith was hiding in a closet, frying pan in hand, waiting to give it to the ballsy burglar who was busy fixing himself a snack before heading upstairs to raid the jewelry box.

  ‘Hey there, honey,’ he said with a smile as he came into the bedroom eating a Yodel a few minutes later. He walked over to the bed and kissed the top of her head.

  ‘Hi, yourself,’ she replied, muting the TV. ‘It’s almost eleven. You’ve had a long day.’

  ‘Did you get my text?’

  She nodded.

  ‘We wrapped twenty minutes ago.’

  ‘Did they settle?’

  He nodded. ‘The wife broke. She was what was holding everything up. She wanted the beach condo in Hollywood and my client didn’t want to let it go. But money always talks; he stroked Mrs Valez numero uno a check for three hundred thousand, signed over the house and half the pension, and that was it.’

  ‘Oh,’ she replied softly. ‘Is there a number two waiting in the wings?’

  ‘We’ll see,’ Jarrod answered charily, realizing too late that he had walked into the wrong neighborhood. He was a divorce attorney with a practice that thrived on the break-up of relationships and sometimes he forgot how his flippant comments could sting. ‘How was your day?’ he asked, stripping off his tie, trying his best to turn around and get out of the conversation.

  ‘It was OK. How many years was this one?’

  ‘Sixteen. No kids, though.’

  She nodded absently, watching TV that had no sound. Faith had often wondered if there was a number in marriage that a couple could make it to where they were finally safe from divorce. A buoy to swim for. Ten? Twenty? Fifty years? After Jarrod left the PD’s office for what was supposed to be the civil practice of family law, she realized that no number was magical, no marriage was safe, and that there was nothing civil about divorce: when someone wanted out, they could be as emotionally ruthless and cold as the gun-toting stranger who wanted your watch. Before Jarrod began to dismember relationships for a living, Faith was a much more romantic person, a naïve person, believing in forever and always. She used to think that she and Jarrod would be different from other couples, that they wouldn’t have to rally back from the stresses that put more than 50 per cent of marriages under because they wouldn’t put themselves in a position that required a rally. She used to think that if she just observed her vows, if she did all the things she promised she would, that one person alone could hold the whole marriage together. When his intern, Sandra, called crying and distraught last year, two days after the firm’s Christmas party, she’d guilelessly thought it was a wrong number, that Sandra had somehow dialed her boss’s house by mistake – maybe a butt dial or she had hit the wrong name in her contacts. She kept telling her to calm down and speak slowly, even soothingly calling her ‘honey’ because she was having a tough time understanding what the girl was saying, which turned out to be quite true – she had a tough time understanding how her husband could sleep with his twenty-four-year-old law school intern when everything about their marriage had looked and felt perfect to her. It was like living on a sinkhole – the ground had given way that morning without warning, and in a five-minute conversation it had swallowed life as she knew it whole. There was no proverbial crack in the dam, no pre-existing, marriage-threatening conditions that were exploited by a sexy intern on a mission to snag herself an associate’s position and maybe a husband of her own. Even Jarrod couldn’t offer an explanation for why he’d cheated – only an apology. He kept promising her their buoy was still out there, somewhere, but she couldn
’t see it.

  ‘We’re good,’ Jarrod said kissing her on the head again. ‘No worries.’

  She nodded. ‘Are you hungry?’

  ‘I had something downstairs. I see you went to Pasquale’s.’

  ‘I picked up a stuffed shell for you. Maggie had ice cream.’

  Jarrod shook his head and went into the closet to change. Ice cream for dinner usually meant a red-light day.

  The news at eleven started and she turned on the volume as the comely anchor excitedly started to list the night’s upcoming top stories. The Explorer was back parked in the garage, the laundry was cleaned and put away, and UPS would be delivering her cell and her purse by 10:30 the next morning. This was it – the last newscast of the day to assure her that everything not only looked like it had yesterday before she had left for her sister’s, but that everything was actually OK.

  ‘A fiery crash on I95 kills three people on their way home from a Christian retreat and shuts down lanes on I95. We also have a breaking story that is coming to us live out of Loxahatchee. The body of a young woman has been found in a canal in western Palm Beach County …’

  Faith sat up. So did every hair on her body. Her heart clenched.

  ‘So how was Maggie today?’ Jarrod was back, standing in front of her and blocking the television while he removed his cufflinks. ‘Do I want to ask?’

  ‘Red light.’

  ‘I figured.’

  Behind him, the anchor started talking about the doomed retreat.

  ‘What happened?’ Jarrod asked.

  ‘She ran outside of the classroom; shoved a girl; wouldn’t stay in time-out – take your pick.’

  He frowned and blew out a measured breath. ‘Did you call Dr Michelson?’

  ‘We’re seeing him Thursday.’

  ‘The therapy’s not working.’

  ‘I wouldn’t say that; it takes time.’

  ‘If medicine will make her better …’ he started.

  ‘Not till she’s seven.’

  ‘What is with that number, Faith?’

  They’d had this conversation before. He knew her answer, but continued to ask the question, hoping she’d come around. Hoping that, as she saw Maggie fall behind academically and socially and watched her emotional outbursts grow worse, she’d ease up on the anti-drug stance. While Jarrod was well intentioned in his belief that medicating Maggie would help her be like the other kids, there was no guarantee it would. No one knew exactly what was wrong with her yet, much less how to fix her.

  ‘Her brain is still developing and she hasn’t even been officially diagnosed with ADD. Putting her on psychotropic drugs right now to chill her out would be to make life easier for us, not her.’

  ‘You took psych back in college, Faith. Medicines are always being tweaked and improved; maybe things have changed.’

  ‘Her issues are difficult for the people who have to work with her all day long, so you don’t have to worry about it. I didn’t complain about my day or hers; I simply told you what happened.’ She tried not to sound abrupt.

  ‘They’ll ask her to leave St Andrews. That one was a favor.’

  ‘Then we’ll leave.’

  He sighed and walked into the bathroom. She had won. Again. It didn’t make her feel good.

  She watched him go. Since the affair, he gave in to her on most everything, especially on matters that concerned what was best for Maggie. Other men might buy their wives expensive jewelry or a car to say they were sorry for cheating. Her present was control. And an acquiescent husband.

  ‘So how was your sister? What happened last night?’ Jarrod called out from the bathroom, trying on a new subject.

  Her stomach flip-flopped. She’d rather debate how best to treat Maggie’s emotional issues. But before she could answer, the anchor was back on TV, struggling to contain a mega-watt smile behind a concerned frown, all set to deliver the tragic, breaking news coming out of a wetlands preserve in western Palm Beach County.

  16

  A field reporter in a yellow rain slicker stood before a cluster of flashing police cruisers. ‘Trudi, I’m at the Grassy Waters Preserve, a nature preserve and park in West Palm Beach, where a few hours ago a couple out walking one of the nature trails made a grisly discovery. The nude body of a woman was found in the water, right off this path behind me. Because of the tropical storm, the Preserve didn’t have many visitors over the weekend, and that might be a blessing, as it could have been a child who made this discovery. Police have confirmed that the body is that of eighteen-year-old Desiree Jenners of Wellington, who was reported missing Saturday night by her family. Detectives are not releasing details on the cause of death, other than to say that the body had been in the canal less than a day, and that this is, in fact, a homicide investigation.’

  Faith clenched the sheets beside her.

  ‘Desiree was last seen leaving the Wal-Mart where she worked with a white male believed to be her ex-boyfriend, Owen Walsh. Detectives with the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office are asking the public for help in locating Walsh, who has an extensive criminal record and an outstanding warrant out of Miami-Dade County. If you have any information about the disappearance of Desiree Jenners or the whereabouts of twenty-five-year-old Owen Walsh, please contact the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office.’

  It was like watching a horror movie: she wanted to throw the covers over her head so she wouldn’t have to see what she knew was coming next. But she had to know. She had to. She twisted the sheets around and around her wrists, so that they bound her to the bed.

  The split-screen picture of a smiling Asian girl and her dog and the mug shot of a stocky, brooding redhead appeared on the screen then with the names DESIREE JENNERS and OWEN WALSH. Faith exhaled and fell back into the pillows. The emotional roller coaster had recovered from another drop. But as quickly as it had come on, the feeling of relief was palliated by the realization that she’d been checking Internet newsfeeds all day and had seen nothing about any missing girls in Florida. Nothing at all. Not even the mention of this girl Desiree, who had apparently gone missing for several days before her body was found.

  Were all missing people reported missing? And did all persons who were reported missing make it on the news? She knew the answer: obviously not. Just as every crime didn’t make the news, neither did a report on every person who didn’t come home. Newscasts would be two hours long and newspapers would be a lot thicker.

  If pretty, unimportant Desiree Jenners from the upscale town of Wellington didn’t make the news when she went missing, why would the disappearance of a tattooed, pierced, probable drug addict raise eyebrows? The answer was, it likely wouldn’t. Ignorantly believing no news was good news, Faith had kept wishing all day long for tomorrow to get here so that she could know for sure that the stranger from last night was fine.

  The smiling anchor was back, along with the weatherman who wanted to talk about the beautiful weather pattern that was finally moving into South Florida. Faith watched as he and the anchor chatted cozily about what they would be doing outside with all this newfound sunshine. Now she understood that no news was simply that – no news. It didn’t mean the girl from last night was safe; it didn’t mean she wasn’t. What it meant was that Faith would probably never know what had happened to her.

  Jarrod walked out of the bathroom at that moment and she unwrapped her sweaty hands from the tangle of sheets and turned off the TV and her bedside light.

  She’d never know who the girl was, or where she came from, or why she was out there, barefoot and limping in the rain with those men.

  17

  ‘So was Charity surprised?’ Jarrod asked as he turned off his light and climbed into bed.

  Faith nodded somberly, her thoughts still on Desiree’s smiling face alongside that of the man who had likely murdered her and left her body to rot in the water. ‘Yes,’ she answered softly.

  ‘Why’d you come home last night? Everything OK?’

  She could tell by the hesitant yet che
ery way he’d asked the question what he was really worried about – that she’d maybe popped back without warning to see if he was home alone. That she still didn’t trust him after all these months.

  ‘Charity and I had words so I left.’

  ‘A fight?’

  ‘No, just words. She was all smushy with Nick and that was hard to watch, considering what an ass he’s been to her. There was no room at the inn, anyway: T-Bone and Gator and God knows who else were camping out on the couch; I wasn’t in the mood for a slumber party. And I had things to do at the bakery.’

 
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