By Karin Rumie
This Story Was an Honorable Mention in Our Contest
Tamara stood frozen as the paramedics lifted the gurney into the ambulance. She was sixteen again, in her mother’s bedroom, the empty vodka bottle on the nightstand, orange pills scattered on the floor.
“Ma’am.””A voice startled back into reality. She was a grown woman now, standing on the sidewalk of Lily’s house.
Oh My God, Lily.
The girl was talking to one of the paramedics, who placed a hand on her shoulder. She stared into the back of the ambulance where the body, covered by a sheet, lay unattended.
“Ma’am, are you related to the girl?” asked a police officer.
“Lily’s in my counseling group. I offered to bring her home after our sessions on the days her mom works late.”
“Do you have any next of kin contact? Someone who can take care of Lily?”
She shook her head. Lily’s father had died almost ten years ago. As far as Tamara knew, there was no one else besides the mother.
“She can stay with me tonight. For as long as she needs.”
The one night had turned into two weeks, then a month.
“Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?” her boss Angela said, handing her a letter of reference for Tamara’s fostering application. “It’s one thing to have your baby girl morph into a teenager, but to have one move in overnight?”
Angela had raised three girls, so Tamara took her question to heart. After all, she knew nothing about being a mother herself.
And yet, Lily’s presence had given her a kind of peace. She had even stopped taking her antidepressant. At first, she wanted to be alert enough to comfort Lily when she woke with nightmares. But after a few days without the pills, she noticed her depression only by its absence.
One night, she’d gone into Lily’s room to find her in front of the closet, examining one of her ex-husband’s shirts.
“Is your husband dead?” Lily asked.
Tamara thought about the last time she’d seen her ex-husband at the lawyer’s office. There had been no hint of remorse as he signed the divorce settlement, taking the bulk of her savings. His pregnant girlfriend had waited outside.
“I keep meaning to pack those up for Goodwill.”
“My mom never got around to packing my dad’s things, either.”
When Tamara got home from work the next day, she’d found a box in the hallway, the words “Looking for a New Home” written in permanent black marker. Her ex’s folded shirts were inside and something else underneath. She lifted the shirts to find the starched pink scrubs Tamara had seen Lily’s mom wearing.
One afternoon, after a shoe-shopping trip to the mall with Lily, Tamara received a call from a friend who clerked for the family court judge.
“Listen, I’m not supposed to tell you this,” she’d lowered her voice then. “Lily’s grandparents just petitioned for custody. It’s the father’s parents—apparently they were estranged from the widow. They’re driving from Florida as we speak.
Two days later, Tamara helped Lily pack her clothes as they waited for her grandparents. Lily seemed to take the news of moving to another state with a family she’d never met with the aplomb of someone used to having the rug pulled from under them. It was Tamara who fought back tears.
“I guess you’ll need to pack a few swimsuits.”
They talked about Tamara taking a vacation in Miami next summer. Lily promised to call every week.
Two years from now, Tamara would be rocking her own baby girl—Lily Grace—to sleep in this house. A miracle baby she’d never expected to have after the miscarriages and failed IVF treatments that defined her first marriage.
Lily never would call, but the grandmother would email once in a while. Two years from now, Tamara would remember Lily with the detached fondness a teacher may feel for a favorite student.
But, right now, as she watched Lily get into her grandparents’ car and drive out of her life, Tamara was crushed under the weight of her want.