New project. Short one I think. Here are all of the sections I’ve posted.
The brakes on Nicole’s patrol car squeal as she brings it to a stop in front of the unmarked building. It’s an old three-story white house with black shutters, and three cars are parked in the gravel driveway. From the outside, there is nothing to indicate this is an emergency shelter for children.
South Hadley is well outside Nicole’s jurisdiction, but all the same, I’m glad she’s here with me. The sunlight flashes off her badge as her shoes crunch in the gravel. We walk to the front door, and I feel tension in my chest. Nicole knocks, and I cross my arms over my chest. The sunlight is glaring down, hot against my shoulder, but I’ve been in worse.
The front door opens. A woman stands there, forty or so, with ill-fitting clothing. She looks tired.
“Can I help you?”
“I’m Officer Banks. This is Zoe Welch, she’s here to pick up her sister.”
The woman’s eyes dart to me, scanning over my Army uniform, then back to Nicole. “Miss Welch… my name is Linda Whitney. Come in, please. You’re … younger than I expected. I was led to believe you’re a Sergeant in the Army?”
I shrug. “I am. Or was—I was discharged yesterday.”
She leads us into an entry room. It’s bare, with refinished pine flooring, white walls and plain furniture.
“Please, wait here, and I’ll go get her. Um… do you have any identification?”
I open my functional purse and pass over my Army Reserve identification. I don’t have a current drivers license—I’ll have to take care of that, even though Nicole told me I have a couple of months since I’m a returning soldier.
Linda frowns, looks at the photo on the identification, then back at me, as if she doubts it is really me. I don’t know why. Without a word, she passes the ID back and I tuck it away. She walks out of the room, shutting the door behind her with a loud thump.
“Wicked friendly, isn’t she?” Nicole asks.[ Her tone is dry as dust.
or something else that’s dry]
“I guess,” I say. Another time I might have laughed, but right now it’s hard to have any kind of sense of humor. I’ve barely slept since I was awakened in the Hardy Barracks in Tokyo nearly forty-eight hours ago.
Sergeant Welch. I regret to inform you your parents were killed in a freak accident.
I have to hand it to Captain Wilson and the Army—they moved quickly. My first question when I learned my parents were dead was: where is Jasmine? Mom and Dad were both only children, and my nearest relatives other than Jasmine are some distant cousins in California. Once we established that Jasmine was in a foster home, the Army granted me an immediate hardship discharge and flew me home. I skipped almost all of the normal out-processing—Captain Wilkins and my First Sergeant stepped in and took over everything so I could be on a plane as quickly as possible.
I sway a little on my feet as the door opens and the sourpuss woman walks back in. Jasmine enters the room next. She’s downcast, hair hanging in her eyes, and wearing a clean but threadbare dress.
“Jasmine,” I whisper, dropping down to one knee.
Her face whips up and her blue eyes widen, then in a blur she runs toward me, crying out the word, “Zoe!” in a choked, grief-stricken wail. Eight years old, Jasmine is about four and a half feet tall and weighs sixty pounds. She hits me hard and I almost fall backward as her arms grab me and she begins to sob.
“It’s okay, Pipsqueak,” I whisper. “It’s okay.”
But it isn’t okay.
The accident was bizarre enough it made the news all over. I’d read the details. A truck full of premium commercial ovens hit a pothole, swerved across the road and rolled, throwing a one-ton stainless steel gas range at my father’s 1961 Austin Healey Sprite, a car which was probably smaller than the oven that hit it. Mom and Dad were killed instantly.
I don’t know if things will ever be okay again. But I lie to Jasmine and hug her tight, and I squeeze my eyes closed as tightly as I can, because if I don’t I’m going to start crying.
“We’ll need you to sign some paperwork…” says Miss Annoying.
“I’ll take care of that,” Nicole says.
“I’m afraid you can’t, she has to sign the papers.”
Nicole says, “Ma’am, is this really necessary?”
I look up and say, “I’ll sign. Whatever you need.” I stand, lifting Jasmine with me. Moments later, the woman is shoving papers in front of me, including one indicating I’ll have to have a custody hearing in four weeks.
“Why is a custody hearing necessary?” I ask. “She’s my sister.”
The woman says, “Of course. It’s really a formality, but the state has to officially grant you custody. Don’t worry about it, really.”
Nicole mutters something unpleasant under her breath. I finish signing the papers, then wait until Linda goes off to make copies. Minutes later, we’re back in the sunlight and getting into Nicole’s cruiser.
This is copyright 2014 Charles Sheehan-Miles all right reserved. Thanks please don’t copy it.