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Her blue eyes stare up at me, full of trust. So naïve, so innocent. No idea of the injustice of this world. Her tiny hands reach for my hair, fingers closing around the blonde curls. I brush my hand over her own blonde curls, trailing my fingers around her beautiful ears, down her soft shoulders, coming to her fingers and loosening them to free my hair. Four months ago, I didn’t even know her, now she’s the love of my life. Her face fills my dreams; her soft coo is always in my ears.
Suddenly she smiles, and I smile back. She has her daddy’s smile, that’s for sure. That smile that could make my heart stop and my stomach flutter, is now permanently imprinted on this beautiful baby. Such a beautiful smile. I wonder if she makes him smile like that. I wonder if that smile has the same effect on her as it does me. I wonder if she knows that his smile doesn’t mean what she thinks it does. I wonder if she knows that his smile is just a part of a bigger lie.
A baby begins wailing and I remember Abby’s not the only baby here; this is a daycare after all. Gently, I put her back in her crib and tend to the other babies. The others are cute, but not beautiful like my baby. Gradually the room calms down and I make my way back towards my baby, my Abby. I’m almost there when a baby two cribs down begins to cry. I sigh. Deep breath. I remind myself why I wanted this job; it pays and I can see my baby all day.
“I’ll get him,” Tamah says. “You’ve changed diapers all day. Sit down for a minute.”
“Thanks,” I breathe. Scooping Abby out of her crib, I pull the rocker out of the corner and sink into the faded blue cushion with relief.
“It’s almost 5:00 and we’ve still got seven left. We better get rid of one before 5:00 because I’m not staying late again today, and you can only have six by yourself.” She chats casually as she changes the diaper. “You holding Abby again? Girl, you’re going spoil that baby.”
“Look at that face, Tamah. You can’t say no to that face.”
She glaces at me and laughs, “well, we don’t have to deal with her at home, so what do we care? You spoil that baby as much as you want.”
The half-door creaks as a mother walks in. I settle Abby back in her crib and walk to gather another sleeping bundle from his crib and hand him lightly to his mother. He stirs a little and begins to fuss.
“It’s alright, Sweetheart, Mommy’s here.”
At the sound of her familiar voice, he quiets, looking up and smiling at his mother.
Walking to the closet, I grab the black and green diaper bag. I slip his bottle inside and hand it to the mother, who shifts her baby to reach out and grab it and makes her way to the door.
Tamah finishes disinfecting the diaper-changing area and opens the cabinet. Pulling out her purse, she turns to me.
“I’m out of here, Girl. And on time for once. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I bid farewell and she’s gone, leaving me with five babies and Abby.
Slowly the numbers dwindle, as parents come one by one to retrieve their children. By 5:50, it’s only me and Abby. Reluctantly, I place Abby in the crib and begin to shut down the room. Wipe off the tables, sweep the floor, empty the trash, extra bottles and cups in the sink. I bend to lock the bottom cabinets and hear the door creak one last time. Footsteps pad across the carpeted floor until they reach her crib.
“There’s my baby girl,” a voice coos. A voice that sends shivers up my spine no matter how many times I hear it. “How was daycare today? Did you have a good time?”
Steeling myself, I turn to face the voice. She stands in front of me, still dressed from work in a suit and heels. Her perfect blonde curls make mine look limp and dull; her clear blue eyes make my green eyes look faded and aged. Her perfect posture befits her as a lawyer, while my slumped shoulders make it apparent that I’ve bent over too many cribs today. She’s the obvious choice. She’s has everything. Everything. She has him and Abby too.
“Tell Ms. Jacqueline you’ll see her tomorrow, Abby,” she coos in her too-sweet voice.
“Bye-bye, Abby,” I coo back, my own voice a sickly sweet echo of hers.
I watch as she carries Abby off, buckles her into the car seat in the back of the Mercedes, and drives away.
I should be in her place. Abby should have been mine. She could have been. She would have been, if she hadn’t come into the picture. If she hadn’t come along, he wouldn’t have left me. I know he wouldn’t have. We could have been happy if she hadn’t come along. We would have settled in to our marriage after a few more months. In a little while, we would have decided to have a baby. And Abby would have been mine. As it is, she could be mine. If I were to take her and carry her around Wal-Mart, everyone would assume she was mine. She’ll grow up to look like me too, only prettier and with blue eyes.
I should resent Abby as much as her mother. I should hate her. If he hadn’t got her pregnant, maybe he wouldn’t have left. I should hate Abby for what she did to me and my marriage. But I can’t.
I had no idea when I applied for the job that this was Abby’s daycare. But as I walked in that first day, and saw her in the crib, instantly I knew she was my baby. I cooed over her all day and Tamah laughed.
“Her momma’s not gonna like it if you spoil that child,” she told me.
But I didn’t care; this was my baby. And then, at 5:55, her mother walked in. And suddenly, I realized. But it was too late. I had already claimed her and there was no going back. In a way, once I knew, it made me love her even more.
At first, I assumed her mother would be uncomfortable with the idea of me being with her baby all day. But after days of not saying anything, I realized: she didn’t know. She honestly had no idea who I was. And why should she? She didn’t find pictures of me in his brief case and memorize my face. She didn’t see me at the bookstore and casually follow me around, seeing if I would meet anyone. Even my name was different. After years of being called Jacki, I suddenly couldn’t handle it; it reminded me of him, so I switched back to Jacqueline. So how could she know? She couldn’t. And he never picked Abby up from the daycare. So I was just another anonymous worker as far as they were concerned. Which is the way I preferred it to be.
No one knows. Not even Tamah. It’s my secret. And I intend to keep it for as long as I can. This way, I can silently watch over my baby. Until that day. That day I’ve planned for so long. The day when everything is ready. The day when I’ve finally saved up enough money to support us. When I have enough money for a plane ticket to take us away from here. The day, after Tamah’s gone home and Abby’s the only baby left, when I scoop her out of that crib for the last time, and settle her into the back of my Honda, into her carseat that’s been waiting in my garage for months. The day when I quickly drive out of the parking lot and turn left, taking the long way home so I don’t pass her on the road. The day I drive away and never return, taking with me what should have been mine and indeed is mine. The day I no longer have to share what’s mine with her. That day. My heart beats a little faster thinking about that day. It cannot come soon enough. On that day, Abby will be mine forever, just like it should be.