Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Read Chapter Two of The Angel's Guardian!

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Chapter One


BEEPING. IT came in and out of her consciousness like a quiet alarm clock. She wanted to turn it off, but then remembered: she didn’t have an alarm clock.
But if she didn’t have an alarm clock, why was one beeping?
The question nagged at her like a hangnail. She tried waking up, but found she couldn’t. Every time she tried the sleep came and dragged her back down again, and she’d lose herself, and the beeping would go away. But always it returned, and she’d remember the last time she tried to wake, and vowed to try even harder.
This time she succeeded. She tried opening her eyes, but found she could only do it partway, as though her eyelids were too heavy. Frustrated, she tried pulling them up with her fingers, but discovered she couldn’t lift her hands! She struggled and fought, but couldn’t lift them!
The beeping quickened. (Why would an alarm clock quicken?) She heard a female voice: “Get her back under.”
It was a stern voice, cold. Not unlike her mother’s.
The beeping went away again.
She woke slowly. She felt very hot, and complained. Another voice, neither stern nor cold, answered: “Let’s get this blanket off you …”
She felt a weight lift off her chest and legs, and cool air descend down on them. It felt wonderful. She tried lifting her hands, and found she could. She touched her cheeks. They were wet with sweat.
The kinder voice said, “Here. Let me help.”
She felt a cool, damp cloth touch her face.
“Thank you,” she groaned.
And then it all came back.
She opened her eyes. The nurse—a young woman probably only five or six years her senior—smiled down at her.
“How are you doing, Elizabeth?” She had a heavy southern accent.
Elizabeth gawked down at her body. Her belly was no longer round, but flat. She looked up.
“Where’s my baby?”
She lay curled in a ball and sobbed.
The nurse hadn’t answered her question, even after Elizabeth screamed at her to, but left her alone after saying, “I’ll get the doctor …”
Elizabeth screamed and screamed.
Where was her baby? Where was it?
But no one answered. “Oh, God!” she cried. “My God, my baby, my sweet baby …”
Many minutes passed. No one came to comfort her or tell her what had happened to it.
“Miss Finnegan.”
A male voice.
She turned her head. A doctor stood at the foot of her bed. She could scarcely see him through her tears.
“Where is my baby?”
“I must ask that you keep your voice down, or we’ll have to sedate you again.”
She couldn’t shake the unspeakable image of her newborn infant in the landfill with her stuffed toys.
“I’m sorry,” said the doctor, “but it isn’t your child.”
Elizabeth was too shocked to speak. She could barely draw a breath.
“You’re a minor, Miss Finnegan, barely sixteen years of age. You do not have the legal right to your child; your parents do. On your mother’s orders, when you went into labor we sedated you and performed a cesarean section to deliver the infant, who went immediately into foster care. You may be experiencing pain due to the stitches. If you cannot restrain yourself—”
Her cry of anguish silenced him and echoed down the hallway. She shrieked incoherently. Nurses rushed in and put restraints back on her. While she writhed and fought them, they produced a hypodermic needle and jabbed it into her IV. Moments later she was unconscious. The doctor’s cold, uncaring face was the last thing she saw.
She woke in a different room.
No more beeping.
Her belly hurt.
She gazed up at the ceiling. It was dark in here, almost gloomy, and smelled of Clorox.
She glanced left, right. She was in a small private room. There was no nightstand or bathroom, just a silver tray on a stand and a desk, both left; to the right a blue-tiled wall.
She wasn’t tethered to an IV.
The door was five feet past the foot of her bed. A small rectangular window in it provided the light, which was cold and white. The adjacent wall was bare and the same blue tile.
Her belly hurt. Her baby was gone.
And Owen … Owen. Dead. He was dead.
The ring he had given her was gone too.
She gazed down at her person. Tears streamed down her cheeks. The thin sheet covering her came up to her breasts, and was tucked neatly and unruffled, as though she hadn’t moved. She tried moving, and found that the tucking was very tight. She struggled to free herself, but not too vigorously, because her belly hurt even more when she tried.
A thick plastic cable was tied loosely to the left slide on her bed. It ended at a bright red button. She grabbed the cable and pushed the button repeatedly.
A loud female voice sounded out above her head: “I’ll be there in a minute. Please be patient.”
The intercom clicked loudly and fell silent.
She groaned through her tears. Her belly … its emptiness felt solid. It pressed angrily on her spine and made her heart skip. She shook with grief, and struggled to hold to her sanity. She could feel it fraying and slipping away.
Her baby was gone. Her parents took it from her. It was gone. She would never get to know it, or raise it, or love it, or even know what its face looked like. Was it a boy or a girl? Was it healthy?
Did it cry for its mommy?
She gazed down at her breasts. They were swollen and ached, and were ready to feed it.
Her baby … her baby …
Gone forever.
Owen. Gone forever, too.
She wept and wept, and the nurse didn’t come, and she felt her soul dying, and images of her beloved belongings in the dump, and her baby too. Nothing was hers, nothing …
She wanted to die. She wanted to kill herself. She could no longer bear the agony of this life, its unending heartbreak, its despair, its injustice.
Her belly hurt. It hurt so much that when she gulped, she could feel it twinge in her navel. She grabbed the button and punched it without thought.
The door emitted a loud electric clicking sound and swung open. A nurse stood under the doorjamb.
“That button is not for your personal amusement!” she scolded. “Now what do you want?”
Elizabeth swallowed back the grief long enough to say, “My stomach … hurts. Badly.”
The nurse put her hands on her hips, as though at a child who had been caught lying again, and then approached the bed and gruffly pulled the covers down past Elizabeth’s thighs. She pressed on Elizabeth’s stomach. The pain was so severe that Elizabeth yelled and slapped her hands away.
The nurse straightened, put her hands back on her hips. “I’ll get the doctor,” she said with an impatient sigh.
Elizabeth waited an hour for the doctor to show. By then she was vomiting blood. She saw him walk in, and then she fainted.
She woke in the same room. The same cold white light barely held the gloom in check. Its sterility echoed in the wounded chasm of her being and returned as indifference.
Beeping. The same as before.
Not an alarm clock. She looked over her left shoulder. A heart monitor glowed green above her bed. It changed every few seconds: 81 … 78 … 80 … 84 … 81 … 77 …
Her arm had been rehooked to an IV. Clear liquid dripped into her veins.
Her belly didn’t hurt anymore.
But her heart ached more than ever. It renewed and refreshed her tears.
She sang weakly:
Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing, fresh from the world
She thought of her baby, of her violin and her song ... and Owen. Sweet, sweet Owen.
She cried for death.
She had practiced her violin diligently each Wednesday and Saturday for three years. Without her parents’ knowledge, she had gone back to Claremore Junior High and had sought out the music teacher, Mr. Clayborne. Mr. Clayborne had always been very nice to her. She told him she was in the church school now, but wanted to know if he could teach her a little violin now and again. He readily agreed, and so once a week, on Wednesday, she got on her bike and hurried to CJHS’ music room, where Mr. Clayborne waited. There he taught her scales, chords, progressions, and many other things. An hour later, sometimes more, she’d leave him with thanks and pedal quickly home. Her parents never suspected what she was doing.
She couldn’t practice with them anywhere near, as they’d inevitably scream at her to stop. If she persisted, her father would slam open her bedroom door and whip her. And so she practiced in his tool shed, but only on Saturdays, as that was the day both he and her mother went into Tulsa for “errands,” which often took several hours. When Elizabeth asked what the “errands” were and why they never produced groceries, her mother screamed, “It’s none of your damn business what we’re doing! If you are going to be a Nosy Nelly, I’ll send your father to talk to you! Do you understand me, little girl?”
The tool shed was dark. It made the notes sound as though she were listening to them through headphones. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she’d spy spiders sitting in their webs, listening to her. Her father had abandoned this shed; his tools lay scattered about on benches, and were covered in dust and rust. Like the swingset, she felt bad for them, and so she cleaned them and talked to them. She felt bad for the shed, too.
She knew she could practice in her room, but didn’t want to. She wanted to be here for her inanimate friends. They were her audience, and she’d pretend they were listening, and then chastise herself: who was to say they weren’t listening, and the spiders too?
So she played for all of them, and wished them well when she left them, with the promise of returning in a week. Even without her violin she could hear her song in there, in the dark, and that brought an uneasy peace. That was enough.
After leaving the shed one day, she heard: “That’s not bad.”
It was a boy’s voice. It came from the other side of the fence, through a knothole.
His name, he told her through it, was Owen. He was seventeen and her new next door neighbor in the big house adjacent to hers. He had heard her playing many times but only now decided to talk to her. She went to the alley next to both houses where she could look at his face and talk to him properly. He met her there, and they talked for a long time.
Months passed. Always he was waiting for her at the knothole; always they would go to the alley to talk.
She fell in love with Owen. Sweet, sweet Owen.
They started meeting after midnight. She would climb out of her bedroom window and sneak through the back yard to the gate, and then down the alley to the gate to his back yard.
Owen was an only child, and had no father. His mother often worked the graveyard shift at the local slaughterhouse. She was something called a “comptroller” and did the slaughterhouse’s books and was paid really well. It didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that Owen’s house was parentless most nights from ten until seven, which was so heavenly that Elizabeth struggled to believe it was real.
They made love for the first time a year after meeting. She got used to spending the night in his bed. She’d leave him at five, well before his mother returned, and an hour before her own parents got up.
She didn’t give up her violin. Her tool-shed practices seemed to take on a passionate life of their own, as though her love for Owen gave the bow and strings some strange power, something beyond anything she’d ever felt before. He joined her when he could (he had since taken a part-time job at a local pizza restaurant), and always clapped enthusiastically when she finished. Elizabeth’s two younger brothers, Jeff and Nick, nosy and insufferable, were, mercifully, taken to her aunt’s on Saturday during her parents “errands.” Elizabeth offered once to babysit them (and give up her practice and seeing Owen that day), but her mother snorted with derision and said, “And let you fill their heads with whatever crazy notions you’ve got brewing in there? I don’t think so.”
Her life was desolate save for her violin and Owen. There was nothing else she wanted to live for.
When she discovered she was pregnant, she made plans to run away. She knew if her parents found out they’d beat her to within an inch of her life. Owen wanted to run away with her; she refused. He had a good relationship with his mom, and was a good student at school. Several colleges, including the University of Oklahoma, had offered him an academic scholarship. She refused to let him jeopardize that.
She met Owen’s mother. She was a very hawkish-looking woman who was very upset with the news, but said after calming down: “We all make mistakes. You seem like a bright young girl. Owen has told me about your parents. He assures me that talking to them would physically endanger you. Is that true?”
Elizabeth nodded. Shame kept her staring at her feet.
“I didn’t raise my son to be a sloucher or a dead-beat,” said Owen’s mother. “He’ll help you. I’ve called my sister in Austin; she has offered to put you up through term. We will face any crises as they come. Would that be acceptable to you?”
Elizabeth nodded again, tears in her eyes. She couldn’t bring herself to believe a parent could be so kind and caring, and felt stinging anger that it had taken her so long to find one who did.
Owen emptied his savings account for her: almost eight hundred dollars. His mother helped as well: another eight hundred. Elizabeth packed her belongings and her violin, and at 3 A.M. on a stifling July night crawled out her bedroom window. She was almost four months pregnant and beginning to show. She went to the toolshed one last time and said goodbye to it and the tools and spiders inside it. She thanked them for their friendship.
Owen’s mother drove her to the Greyhound stop. Owen sat in the back seat with her. She kissed him and cried in his arms next to the bus after she got her ticket.
“My aunt will take care of you,” he said out of earshot of his mom, who had gone back to the car. “She’s a Christian in the true sense of the word.”
He kissed her again. “When the baby is born, I’ll come for you. I want to marry you, Elizabeth. I want to raise a family with you.”
He produced a small diamond ring from his pants pocket and gave it to her.
Elizabeth could scarcely see it through the tears. “I can’t take you away from college!” she cried after letting him put it on. “That would be so wrong, so unfair!”
He shook his head. “I’ve already started the paperwork for a transfer to the University of Texas. I’ll be there after this first year at OU. My aunt will put us up for a while, and then we can find an apartment. We can get married and live in married student housing. I’ll get loans and a job and do whatever it takes. I love you, Elizabeth.”
Owen’s Aunt Madelyn looked just like her sister: like a hawk in human form. Like her sister, she was unfailingly kind and helpful. She got Elizabeth enroll in an after-hours high-school program and helped her with the forms for government assistance and medical insurance.
She didn’t mind if Elizabeth practiced her violin. In fact, she enjoyed it.
Elizabeth missed her spider and tool friends, and the shed.
She didn’t miss her brothers. She didn’t miss her parents.
Owen was true to his word. He wrote three times a week and completed the admissions paperwork to the University of Texas for next year’s fall semester while waiting on their acceptance letter. In the meantime, he reported, he would visit her during Christmas break.
Elizabeth kept daily count: it was only two months away. She was eight months along and ready to pop.
She didn’t think of her family, not once, not until Owen brought it up. In a letter that came in late October, he reported that her house had been put up for sale and that he had heard “through the grapevine” that her folks were divorcing. They hadn’t searched for her; at least no public ones searches were announced. There were no posters in windows or lampposts with her photo on them, no articles in the newspapers, no television coverage. It was as though Elizabeth had never existed.
She never saw or spoke to her brothers again.
She went for a walk to a nearby park just three weeks before she was due. Owen was on his way from Oklahoma.
His grandfather had recently willed him his 1968 Camaro. Owen had written her very excited, announcing that he would drive to Austin and that he couldn’t wait to show it off. She held his letter and the accompanying photos as she swung gently to and fro on a swingset she visited frequently.
She felt a sharp, cold pain against the back of her head, and then she felt nothing.
When she woke up, she was back in Oklahoma, in the hospital. She was in early labor. Her father had found out where she was and had driven to Austin. While she sat on the swingset, he had snuck up and knocked her unconscious with a lead pipe. He kept her drugged in the back of the family stationwagon all the way back to Oklahoma. By the time she got to the hospital, she was severely dehydrated and had a serious concussion, and was in real danger of losing her child. Her father literally dumped her onto the hospital’s curb and sped away.
He was arrested crossing the border into Arkansas. The police were looking for him, but not just for kidnapping and assaulting her. He had brutally assaulted Karla Boyd, Owen’s mother, and then had run Owen off the road in Texas after a high-speed chase, killing him instantly when his Camaro slammed into a concrete median.
Elizabeth cried and clutched her vacant belly.
Hours passed.
The door opened. It was the nice nurse. She had a tray of food. She approached the bed and put the tray on the slider and pushed it up to her chest. She smiled consolingly and then went to check her IV, then checked her vitals.
“I want to say something to you,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s right, but I don’t really care.”
She hesitated. “You’ve gotten the royal shaft, and a lot of nurses are very upset at how you’re being treated. A few of us are going to speak to the head of the ward to get you moved down to a regular room.”
“Where … where am I?” asked Elizabeth.
“You’re in the mental ward,” said the nurse, looking ashamed. “The top floor. You don’t belong here. A lot of the nurses feel the same. We would’ve been just as angry as you were if what happened to you happened to us. It’s obscene.”
“I agree,” came a male voice at the door.
The nurse swung around.
The doctor standing in the doorway had thinning, curly red hair, gold wire-frame glasses, and a long face. Before she could speak, he said, “Thank you, nurse. I’d like some time to speak to this patient.”
She hurried past him and away.
The doctor stepped in and turned on the lights. Their sudden brightness made Elizabeth squint. He grabbed her chart at the end of the bed and took a long look at it, then at her.
“My name is Dr. Ronald Grier,” he said. “I’m here to get you moved to a regular room out of this ward. I’ll get a wheelchair sent up in just a bit.”
He set the chart on the bed and came around to her left side. He grabbed the chair at the desk and put it next to her bed and sat.
“I want to say how sorry I am for all you’ve gone through,” he said. “But … I’m afraid, Elizabeth, that I’ve got more bad news.”
He held up, then said, “I’m so sorry, but you won’t be able to have any more children. There were complications during the last surgery and your ovaries had to be removed. I think it’s because of your kidnapping and treatment back to Oklahoma by your father. The truth is, I can’t be sure. I wasn’t here when all of it took place, and the doctors here have been less than helpful.”
Elizabeth sobbed. He didn’t say anything more for a while, but stood and retrieved some tissues, which he handed to her.
“I’m from the University of Texas Medical Center. I was sent here at the urging of Madelyn Stores, your aunt, and a court order mandating that your care be given by me.”
“She’s not my aunt,” blubbered Elizabeth, shaking her head. “She’s …”
She couldn’t go on.
Dr. Grier nodded.
“She cares about you. She’ll be here in a day to collect you and take you back to Austin. She wants to take care of you. The court has also granted you emancipation. You don’t have to return home or see your mother again—”
“She’s NOT my mother!” raged Elizabeth. “She’s a monster! A monster! A MONSTER!”
He reached for her hand and held it as Elizabeth shook.
“You’re in safe hands now,” he said after she began to calm. “You’re in my hands, and in Mrs. Moss’ hands. We’ll see that you get the best care available.”
He didn’t leave her, but stayed until she stopped crying. When she got hold of herself, he said, “We’ll get you moved out of this room shortly.”
He gave her hand a tight squeeze and left her alone. When he walked out he propped her door open and then barked at a passing nurse: “Leave this patient’s door open! If I come back and find it has been closed, I’ll personally sue your ass and the entire department’s, you got me?”
The nurse was one Elizabeth knew. She was cold and mean—but not in front of Dr. Grier, who had her nodding with fright. “Of course … of course …” she mumbled.
Dr. Grier held his icy gaze on her, then stalked off.
They moved her out of the mental ward to a private room several floors below. Dr. Grier gave her a long, careful examination. Before he left, he said, “I forgot. I brought you some company …”
He hurried out for a minute. When he returned he was holding a large plush blue whale. He handed it to her. With fresh tears streaking her cheeks, she thanked him.
“Mrs. Moss will be here tomorrow,” he said. “She phoned ahead. You’ll be released after tomorrow’s exam. I want to make sure the bleeding has stopped.”
He gave her a pained smile.
“It looks like that whale and you are going to be very close friends. I’m going to have the nurse give you a light sedative to help you sleep. She’ll be here shortly. In the meantime, if you need me, just press the button, all right?”
Elizabeth nodded, the plush whale securely in her grip.
“I’ll see you tomorrow morning,” he said, and closed the door behind him.
She held her new friend and thought of her swingset and her old plushies. She squeezed the whale and wept into its big, soft body. She thought of Owen. She thought of her baby, and her mother, who had never bothered to visit her or talk to her, and how her father was now a murderer and kidnapper.
The nurse came in and pushed a needle into the IV. Elizabeth had never seen her before. She seemed nice. She checked her vitals, then left her alone.
Elizabeth knew she would not sleep, even with sedative coursing through her.
She thought of her violin, which was back in Texas, and then she thought of her song. She tightly closed her eyes and forced herself to imagine herself playing it. She tried feeling each note as fully as she could. She sniffled and cried and clutched the blue whale to her chest, and tried singing the melody quietly to herself.
Throughout her life, she had always wanted to be special, to be somebody. For sixteen years there was nothing to indicate that she was, that she ever would be.
Until just then.
That moment, as she concentrated on the song with the whole of her being, it came suddenly to life. Like a flower seeing daylight for the first time, it bloomed widely and swiftly inside her, a rising, triumphant symphony of blinding grace and power. It went beyond what she had ever learned of it and filled her entire being.
It was the light of Heaven turned to music. The violin sang like victory through her, chasing away the grief and desperation. She was certain that it could have been played by no other than one of God’s highest angels. It pulled her out of the quagmire of her grief and catapulted her into skies free of doubt and pain, and then beyond them to where the stars mated with the very life force of the universe. It gave a promise and a pledge: that she, Elizabeth Barbara Finnegan, would heal, and in so doing, would find herself and her reason for living. She need only hold to this moment, hold to it for all she was worth when the depthless shadows returned, and to those days when she would be forced to walk through them once more.
The melody pulled her higher, ever higher. Up here a heady sense of rest overcame her, and she floated free. It felt almost as though she could breathe … forever.
She was asleep a moment later.

Chapter Three