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April 28, 2010
Nicole double-checked her husband’s steady breathing before backing out of the darkened bedroom into the hallway and cautiously closing the door. The sliver of light cresting upon the faded blue comforter illuminated Jack’s peaceful face in the last moment; the beginning of a scruffy beard, his once proud chin receding into his neck, and his dark hairline following suit. She tiptoed down the carpeted stairs and into the kitchen where her duffel bag was packed and waiting; her canvas ticket to freedom. She had only thrown the most essential possessions into the bag: an address book, cell phone charger, change of clothes, wallet, laundry detergent. In a move requiring incredible stamina, Nicole set aside a separate bag containing her wedding and engagement rings (which she had removed from her finger), a diamond necklace Jack had given to her after a lucky night at the tables, and some family silver.

The larger, newer bag sitting adjacent to the duffel bag was a soft powder blue, and bulging slightly. Nicole had spent extra time making sure that this bag was packed perfectly for the most precious cargo she would be traveling with; her six-month old angel Hailey. Hailey waited patiently on the table, swaddled in her fleece blanket and snoozing placidly. Her raspberry mouth moved slightly as she slept, as if she were murmuring incantations.
Unknown to her, she had been held by her father for the last time, spit up on his shirt for the last time, gazed wonderingly up at his face for the last time. Her mother was acutely aware of the consequences of taking a daughter away from her father, but aware of what could happen if Hailey were left with Jack. Uncomfortable conversations and some teenage angst was a safer risk than allowing Jack to gamble away lunch money or make Hailey that little girl who always waits for her father an hour after ballet class ended.

Nicole shook herself and concentrated on the task at hand. She had to make it out and away from the house without waking up Jack, but not because she was afraid of his anger or violence. She knew that once she saw the betrayal and grief flashing like lightning in his bottomless ocean eyes, her own thunder would fade. She would forget why she was leaving her faithful husband of seven years, a comfortable home, and the luxury of being with Hailey all day all for the prospect of independence and a new start. She knew she had to pull the door shut and never look back, make a decision and execute it without second thoughts.
Just pretend it’s the wedding all over again, she thought bitterly. No contemplation or planning, just a convenient 24-hour wedding chapel in Vegas and an opened (and emptied) bottle of Absolut.
It was time to get moving. Nicole had arranged with the surly cab driver to be picked up a few blocks from the house on the corner of Aband Avenue and Desert Path at half past two A.M., and according to the glowing oven clock, it was already past two. As quietly as possible, she retrieved the stroller from the closet, unfolded it, and slowly lowered Hailey into its deep cocoon of cushion. She stirred in her sleep at the movement, yawned that perfect little mouth once, made some magical baby sputtering noises, and then returned to whatever dream she was lost in. Her mother balanced one bag on one end of the stroller and slung the other over her shoulder.
To avoid the excessive noise of the garage door and the automatic light on the front door, the only option was to exit by the back door. Nicole carefully eased the stroller and bags down the few concrete steps leading down to the hardly grassy backyard, firmly locking the door behind her. The yard was more of a swimming pool-sized expanse of sparsely covered dirt. Weeds and rodents had made the ground their home more than lush grass or flowers had, and the result was many holes and sunken ground. Jack had promised to fix it up before Hailey learned to walk, but Nicole had come to learn that a promise made while watching football is hardly a promise kept.
The stroller was difficult to maneuver over the rough terrain, yet the jostled Hailey slept on. Nicole tried to imagine that this was some kind of new fitness regimen – “Move by Moonlight” – but it felt more like sneaking over the Berlin Wall, the gouges in the ground grenade scars. When she breathlessly arrived at the driveway in one piece, the stroller rolled gratefully over the pavement as smooth as could be, continuing on to the street.
The house miraculously did not erupt with screaming sirens and lights flashing to announce the missing members. In Nicole’s bloodshot eyes however, it seemed to sag slightly in the center, where the bedroom she has shared with Jack and the nursery were located. She straightened her back and forced her gaze forward. It was too late to go back now, and she knew it would be the biggest mistake of her life. She could handle the professional and social repercussions of being a single mother. She could handle the reproachful looks from mothers when they took in Nicole and Hailey, and the absence of Nicole’s ring. It would all be worth it, she was sure of it. It had to be.
With each step, she could feel her fate being sealed. Nicole bent down to kiss her sleeping daughter on her forehead. Sealed with a kiss.





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