The loud crash caused five year old Elena to wake with a start. She sat up and looked around trying to make sense of what caused the car to stop.
“Mommy?” she called tentatively.
She was answered only by the stillness in the car. It was dark. Disoriented and frightened by the ominous silence in the car she unbuckled herself and slipped out dragging her favorite blanket with her—but it was scarier outside in the white fog. She looked around undecided on what to do until she noticed the faint outline of a large tree rebelliously growing closer to the road than his fellow foresters.
She walked over to the tree and crawled over a large root shooting outward toward the road before curving back on itself and around creating a perfect cradle for the five year old to snuggle into. She settled in wrapping her blanket around herself for warmth. “My best friend” she whispered to the tree and waited.
By the dim light of the full moon, she huddled in her blanket staring out into the iridescent fog unaware of anything but the faint outline of their car, waiting for her mother to get out. Her head grew heavy and her eyes closed; she pulled her blanket more tightly around her small frame and fell asleep.
Voices woke her up, strange voices shouting to each other. She stayed huddled in the cradle of the tree where she felt safe. The fog was thinning exponentially with the rising sun and she could see the rescue workers bustling around the car yelling over a loud noise, the cause of which she couldn’t tell.
When the noise finally stopped and two firemen lay her daddy down behind the car, one of the men looked at him, shook his head, and then left him alone. Two other men placed him on a bed with wheels, put a sheet over his head before lifting him in an ambulance.
Movement under the car caught her attention. She peered underneath to see her brother lying on the ground. It looked like the firemen were trying to wake him up, but he wouldn’t move. Two men picked up his sleeping body and put him on another bed. When he came into view behind the car, a fireman was pushing on his chest. They put him in the ambulance as her daddy.
The ambulance drove away with the siren wailing down the highway. It was very loud and she covered her ears until she couldn’t hear it anymore.
As she watched it drive away, another man took her mommy out of the car not far from where she was sitting. Elena wanted to run over to her but the blood on her face scared her. The girl shrunk against the tree watching quietly. The men placed her mommy on the road and poked her arm with a needle. Elena stared wide eyed at the tubes that they attached to her arm.
Suddenly her mommy woke up, hesitating momentarily before asking between struggling breaths, “my baby…where’s my baby?”
“Your child is in the ambulance with your husband ma’am, we got him.”
“No…my baby’s…still in the car, please…please my baby, don’t leave my baby” but the men wouldn’t listen, they kept telling her that she was in the ambulance—but it was her brother in the ambulance with daddy, not her.
The man put a mask on her mommy but she shook her head saying something, but her voice was hard to hear.
She grabbed the man’s jacket with what strength she had “she’s only five…find her!” she implored gasping harder before she laid back down and went to sleep.
Those were the last words she said before the man put her on one of the funny beds and rolled her to another ambulance—the last words she would ever hear her mommy speak.
The girl watched wide eyed as they rolled the bed to the waiting ambulance, her mommy coughed and the mask turned red. The man holding it took the mask off and turned her mommy onto her side away from her, then hurried and put her into the waiting vehicle.
As soon as her mommy was in, one of the firemen searched the car. The empty booster seat confirmed that there had been a second child.
As he searched the area she sat quietly waiting for him to find her. Her heart raced when he discovered her sitting by the tree.
Relieved he walked over to the frightened child looking her over as he neared, searching her face for signs of injury or shock.
“What’s your name?” he asked gently, kneeling on one knee while mentally assessing her.
“Lynete Elena Corsey,” she told him, but her voice didn’t work very well and she couldn’t talk very loud. The fireman held out his hand, but Elena shook her head, afraid to take it. She wanted her mommy.
Looking back briefly at the waiting vehicle he guessed the child’s concern. “You’re mommy is in the back of the ambulance, you can ride in the front with me, I’ll let you turn on the siren.” He said in a gentle voice. A father himself, it was difficult for him to contain his emotions for the bleak future of this little girl sitting alone.
Not waiting for her response, he slowly picked her up keeping her wrapped in the blanket, then carried her to the waiting ambulance, placed her in the seat next to him and buckled her in.
“This switch turns on the siren, push it up.” He pointed to a switch next to the radio.
Elena flipped the switch then quickly covered her ears to block out the noise.
“Here, let’s put these on,” the driver said covering her ears with large earphones. He adjusted them to the smallest size he could manage, and though they were still too large, the sound was muffled enough that she looked at him and smiled.
The ambulance drove slowly around the wreckage. Elena saw the demolished front of an unfamiliar vehicle. Red dripped down the bottom of a big hole in the front window.
She stared wide-eyed at the smashed doors on the side of her car and wondered who painted the red spider web on the window where Daddy always sat—paper was for painting, not windows, or doors, or walls. Mommy taught her that lesson when she got the paints for Christmas last year.
Elena watched out the window as they sped down the highway. The morning mist hung tightly to the trees; it looked like a soft, white film clinging to the branches.
Stopping at the door in front of the emergency room the driver got out, opened the back door and pulled out her mommy. Several people rushed out to help push it into the hospital. She unbuckled herself, forgetting her blanket, climbed out and followed them into the hospital.
They put her mommy in a room with curtains all around; there were a lot of people rushing in and out. Elena watched standing just inside the curtained wall.
A nurse, nearly running into the child, moved her gently aside, “Sweetie, you can’t stand here, some one’s gonna knock you down, go find a chair to sit on.
“Someone grab this child” She shouted as she passed a big desk in the middle of the room.
Elena looked around; there was nowhere to sit by the bed, however she found a chair in the hallway, scooted it to the curtain outside hermommy’s room, and sat quietly, unnoticed by the busy staff. She looked at the other rooms with curtains wondering where they put her Daddy and Randy.
She waited quietly looking around at the different rooms; most of the curtains were opened enough to allow her to see the occupants.
On the other side of the big desk she saw a big black man lying on a bed with bandage around his head and over one eye; the part over his eye looked was red and looked wet.
Every time one of the nurses went to the man’s bed a woman sitting beside him said mean words—words Elena never heard before. The nurse frowned and made a face whenever she left the room.
Elena stared wide eyed at the mean woman. The nurse noticed her staring and closed the curtain all the way; but she could still hear the mean woman.
Elena decided she did not like the woman, and wondered if the bandaged man liked her.
In another room a woman held a baby who was crying and crying. The baby wore only a diaper and had red spots all over him. She wiped a cloth on the baby’s face, but it made him cry more.
Once, the woman looked up, saw Elena sitting in the chair and smiled gently. She timidly smiled back before then turned her head toward a noise from another one of the rooms.
Directly across the hall was another little girl not quite as big as Elena. Her mommy was sitting on the bed holding the girl on her lap. Her cheeks were red and Elena could tell that she was very sick. Her mommy held a funny looking bowl in front of her mouth and she threw up—the noise that drew her attention to them. Elena swallowed and felt sick whenever the other girl threw up.
Elena peeked behind the curtain where her mommy lay. Machines beeped loudly; she heard the doctors talking to each other, but she didn’t know what they were saying.
Suddenly everyone stood back, “Clear the airway… CLEAR,” he shouted.
After shouting two more times, the room went still.
“Mark the time as 1223 the doctor said quietly. Her mommy must have gone to sleep; everyone was finally coming out…
Dr. Garrett was the last one to leave. He looked at the child and felt somehow responsible for her. He received the report that her father died at the scene of the accident and her brother died on the way to the hospital. His heart ached for the little girl, waiting for the family that would never be there for her again.
He stood in front of her chair holding out his hand.
She looked up into his sad face.
“Do you want to say good-bye to your mother?” he asked tenderly.
Elena’s eyes widened. She remembered when mommy told her to say good-bye to grandma, and then grandma never came to visit again. Tears welled up in her eyes. “Do I have to?” she whispered.
The doctor guessed what she might be thinking and knelt down and spoke softly “I won’t force you to go in there, but she’s not going to wake up. You should see your momma and say goodbye; I’ll hold your hand the whole time, if you want me to.”
“Can I hold Randy’s hand?” she asked hesitantly.
“No, baby…” he brushed the tears off her cheek with his thumb “your daddy and Randy…” the doctor choked on the words. Unable to contain his emotions, one small tear ran down his own cheek. He covered his face with one hand then slid his fingers across his eyes before regaining his composure.Clearing his throat he whispered, “They’re not going to wake up either.”
Elena looked at the doctor. She nodded her head, scooted off the chair and took his hand. Together they went inside the room. He picked her up so that she could see her mommy’s face.
She looked at her mommy sleeping in the bed. She knew that it was her mommy, but the comfort of her presence wasn’t there. It felt the same way when mommy took her into the big room to look at her grandma, before they took her away.
“Bye Mommy” she said obligingly unable to understand why her mommy wouldn’t wake up.
She looked up at Dr. Garrett. “Who’s going to take care of me?” she asked.
He didn’t have a lot of experience with young children, but he was sure that most didn’t grasp the permanence of death. “Don’t worry, we’ll find someone to take care of you. Let’s find you a place to stay for now though, shall we?”
Elena nodded as he set her down, and then followed him to his office.
A nurse stopped him on the way.
“Dr. Garrett, you’re sister-in-law just walked in, it looks like Jes broke his arm.”
He sighed, looked thoughtfully toward a woman standing next to a young boy Elena’s age; then looked at the contorted face of the child holding his right arm protectively to his chest.
“Would you take Elena to my office to wait for Amanda? I’ll go check the boy’s arm.”
Elena watched as Dr. Garrett walked over to them; the boy’s eyes red from crying. He noticed her looking at him and insolently stuck out his tongue.
Without reacting, Elena turned and followed the nurse to the small office behind the big desk.
“Wait here,” the woman told her pointing to a chair next to a desk in the middle of a small room.
Elena climbed into the chair, leaned back and stared at the square tiles on the ceiling.
After a while, her eyes drooped and her head slowly ascended to her chest. Finally, the doctor came in followed by a beautiful woman with dark green eyes and hair the same golden color as Elena’s.
Kneeling in front of Elena’s chair, she took the girl’s hands in her own. “Hi,” she said softly. Her voice was low and melodic, it was almost like she was singing.
Elena looked at Dr. Garrett who nodded reassuringly. “Hi” her voice was quiet, hardly a whisper.
“My name is Miss Amanda; Doctor Garret is my husband. Will you tell me your name?” she asked, though she already knew.
She spoke in a very small voice “Lynete Elaina Corsey.”
Amanda reached in her purse and pulled out a small packet, opened it and took out a towelette. “How old are you Lynete?” she asked while gently wiping Elena’s face.
Elena held up her hand, fingers spread wide.
“Wow! You’re five, that’s a very special age.” The woman said, throwing the towelette into a small trash can beside the desk.
“What did your mommy call you? Did she call you by your big name Lynete, or did she use a nick-name?”
Elena nodded her head wide eyed, but said nothing, then quickly spouted, “Randy called me ‘Nutty’ I don’t want to be called Nutty.”
Amanda looked up. Michael mouthed the word ‘brother’ to her and she understood instantly. “Alright,” she chuckled, “we won’t call you Nutty, how about we call you Lyn?”
“Okay” she yawned.
“Well, Miss Lyn, would you like to go lay down in a soft warm bed for a while.”
Nodding her head she scooted out of her seat, took Michael’s hand and followed him to the car. After buckling her in, he followed his wife home and carried the sleeping child to the bed in their guest room.
Lyn woke the next morning disoriented, scared and wanting her mommy.
Shadowed memories from the previous day swirled through her consciousness; tears stung her eyes as she reached for her blanket, oblivious to the significance of how it came to be there.
Daddy said be brave she reminded herself then held her breath and counted to ten, willing the tears to stop.
As she regained her composure, childhood curiosity manifested; she rubbed her eyes and looked around the unfamiliar room.
She sat on a bed with a patch quilt like the one grandma used to have. She wondered for a moment if she were at her grandma’s house; but mommy told her that she couldn’t visit grandma any more—besides, it didn’t smell like grandma’s house.
Her stomach growled and she looked at the slightly opened door. She was still scared and wondered if her mommy was out there. She slid off the bed, slowly opened the door and saw a bathroom. She went in and looked around; this wasn’t grandma’s bathroom either.
She exited the bathroom and wandered quietly down the hall. She passed several pictures on the wall and stopped at a photograph with the boy from the emergency room in it. Dr. Garrett stood with two other men holding the biggest fish she ever saw; the edges of Lyn’s mouth lifted unconsciously at the smile on the doctor’s face.
All three men looked similar with the same big grin and the same light brown hair. The two boys looked very different from the smiling men and each other.
One boy had white curly hair down to his shoulders; the pleasant look on his face made her feel happy; her eyes crinkled with her widening smile as his picture gazed out at her.
The other child—the boy from the hospital—had black curly hair that created a disheveled halo around his face. His left eye was bruised and swollen and his left wrist was braced from his hand to the middle of his arm.
He gaped at her with an impish look on his face; she grimaced at the memory of his rude gesture in the hospital.
Distracted by unfamiliar voices she turned toward the sound and continued down the hall until she could tell what the voices were saying. She felt scared again as she peered around the corner to see the doctor and Amanda talking.
“The Child Protective Services agreed to let us keep her until they find her family” Dr Garret spoke pleasantly.
“She’s such a sweet little thing. I hope that it doesn’t take long. I hate to see her so alone.” Amanda’s melodic voice eased Lyn’s fear and she stepped out of the hall.
Doctor Garret put his arms around the woman “Manda, I can’t picture her being alone with you around.”
As he bent to kiss his wife, he noticed Lyn watching. He kissed the woman quickly and reluctantly pulled back.
Amanda looked over following the direction of his gaze.
“Looks like we’ll need to be more discreet for a bit,” he mumbled under his breath.
Amanda ignored the comment and turned toward Lyn. “Hey sugar face, are you hungry?” she asked, unwrapping herself from her husband to face the girl.
Lyn nodded her head.
“What would you like to eat?”
She looked at Amanda without saying anything.
Amanda raised her eyebrows waiting for a reply that didn’t come.
“Ok… let’s see what we have.”
Lyn nodded silently.
Amanda looked over to her husband; he shrugged his shoulders slightly and flashed an encouraging smile.
Amanda walked over to the refrigerator and opened the door.
“We have eggs?” she looked at Lyn who shook her head.
“Hmmm” she searched through the fridge looking for something that a child might eat.
Again she shook her head.
Lyn thought a moment then shook her head again.
“Cereal?” she glanced at the child still shaking her head.
She closed the door and walked to the other side of the kitchen and opened one of the cupboards.
“Pancakes?” She grimaced as Lyn continued shaking her head.
“Macaroni and cheese?”
Amanda glared at her husband who had his hand over his mouth hiding a grin.
Lyn paused again then shook her head once more.
Amanda said starting to feel discouraged at the same time pointing an accusing finger at her husband. “Apples?”
Lyn looked at the doctor who was semi-successfully holding a straight face.
“Jelly toast, please.” She finally said without answering the last question.
“Just toast?” Amanda was surprised and unsure whether that was an appropriate meal for the girl. She looked at Michael questioningly… he shrugged his shoulders pursing his lips, failing at keeping a straight face.
“Ok, toast it is,” she shrugged and put two pieces of bread in the toaster.
After putting the jelly back in the refrigerator, Amanda sat down with Lyn at a small table that stood in a small room next to the kitchen.
“When will I go home?” Lyn asked softly taking a small bite from her toast.
Amanda’s expression softened as she explained “we’re trying to find your family. When we find them, you will go to their home.”
Lyn looked down thinking.
“Did mommy go home without me?” she asked, not looking up, instinctively knowing that she didn’t want to hear the answer.
Amanda’s heart twisted. How can she tell this five year old so that she could understand.
“Sweetie, you’re mommy and daddy and your brother didn’t go home…” Amanda paused unsure how to explain to the child about the permanence of death.
“Did they go to heaven with grandma?” Lyn whispered remembering how her mommy looked in the hospital.
Amanda knelt by Lyn’s chair. “Yes, they went to heaven with your grandma,” Relieved that someone had explained death to her.
Tears welled up in the child’s eyes, “why didn’t they take me with them? Don’t they want me?” she whispered as she bowed her head; the tears streamed down her cheeks.
Amanda took Lyn in her arms, “No, that’s not it… your mommy and daddy love you; they want you to grow up; to live and be happy.”
“But… but… they… took… Randy… and… not… me.” She sobbed.
Amanda started rocking, “Aw honey, we don’t get to choose when we go, and we don’t get to choose who goes with us; we just go.” She looked at her husband for support. She didn’t know anything about helping a grieving child.
Answering her silent question he said “Marilyn is our child psychiatrist—I’ll call her.”
He waited until Lyn calmed down then bent down and kissed Amanda on the cheek, then kissed Lyn on the forehead and lifted her chin to look into his eyes, “We’ll figure this out together, ok?” he didn’t know what else to say.
Lyn sniffled and nodded her head.
“Amanda!” Michael called from the kitchen.
“In here Mike” Amanda responded from the back bedroom.
The smell of fresh paint wafted down the hall as Michael approached the guest room that Lyn had been sleeping in since she arrived several months previous.
The floor was covered with plastic and the room had a fresh coat of pale blue paint on the walls. Amanda was finishing the final color of a rainbow that started from the bottom corner of one wall and ending at the bottom corner of the adjacent wall.
Lyn was in the closet with a small paint brush diligently painting her own rendition of the rainbow.
Michael took in the scene before looking at the face of his wife. “Does this mean what I hope it means?” he asked with a grin.
“If you’re hoping that we have a little girl…!” Amanda beamed with joy.
Michael hugged Amanda kissing her briefly, and then looked at Lyn who stopped her work to watch the excitement. “Does she know?”
“I thought that we should tell her together,” Amanda’s excitement evident in her voice.
He walked over, picked Lyn up and swung her around.
She grabbed his neck, brush in hand, to hold on, giggling with enthusiasm.
“How about it Lyn, would you like to be a part of our family? Would you like us to be your mommy and daddy?” he asked carrying her over and placing his free arm around Amanda.
Lyn was confused “what about my mommy and daddy?”
“Of course you’ll still have your mommy and daddy sweetheart: they will always be your mommy and daddy; but since they can’t take care of you, we’ll be like your second mommy and daddy. You’ll live with us and we’ll take care of you” Amanda explained.
“Will I call you mommy and daddy too?” she wondered.
Not anticipating these questions, the couple looked at each other concerned.
“Well,” Michael answered “if you want to call us mommy and daddy, that would make us happy, but if you want to call us by our names, that would be fine also.”
Lyn sighed and looked sideways “I will need to give it some thought,” she said.
Michael raised his eyebrows and looked at Amanda who was desperately trying not to smile at the child’s remark.
“You do that; then tell us what you decide, okay?” Amanda retorted.
Lyn’s brow furrowed “will I get a brother… like Randy?” she wondered.
Amanda looked at Michael knowing that the only way that she could have a brother is by adopting another child; something that they had not considered.
“I don’t know about a brother,” Michael stated “but you’ll have Donny and Jesse, they’ll be your cousins… they’re kind of like brothers—but you don’t have to live with them.” He finished conspiratorially.
“And they won’t call me nutty?” she surmised.
“If any one calls you nutty I’ll take out their tonsils, how’s that!” Michael promised rubbing his nose to hers.
“O.K.” Lyn said resolutely then turned to Amanda and whispered “what’s tonsils?”
The adults laughed then Amanda answered, “Tonsils are part of your throat, sometimes they get sore and the doctor takes them out… then you can’t talk for a week!”
Lyn looked wide eyed at the doctor and covered her throat “You won’t take out my tonsils will you?”
Michael laughed gently, “Only if I have no other choice,” he promised.
“Now, how about some dinner? I’m starving!” Michael suggested, putting Lyn down to finish her painting.
Amanda grinned. “You’ll have to clean-up first.” She rubbed the back of his head and showed him a handful of green paint.
“No,” he moaned automatically feeling the wet spot that Amanda was talking about. He closed his eyes. “The shirt too?” he groaned.
Amanda pursed her lips and nodded her head, “Mm… hmm.”
He looked down then glanced sideways at Lyn as she put the finishing touches on her rainbow. “This is what it’s all about isn’t it?”
Amanda grinned wide, “Welcome to parenthood dad!” Hugging him around the neck, she kissed him with all the passion that she could put into the fleeting moment they stole while Lyn’s attention was elsewhere; carefully avoiding the wet spot on his shirt.
“My place; ten o’clock—clothes optional,” he whispered in her ear.
“That sounds like a date,” she whispered back then turned to Lyn. “What do you think? Shall we call it a day and get something to eat?”
Lyn placed her brush in the nearest paint bucket and brushed her hands quickly back and forth, “That sounds like a date,” She said, repeating Amanda’s last phrase.
Amanda looked at Lyn surprised then back at Michael wondering.
Michael just smiled and walked out of the room to get cleaned up.