It all happens so fast I can barely keep my thoughts together. First, a woman a good ten years older than me – her face looks haggard, her clothes are rumpled as if she’s been in them for several days and has slept in them, her hair is a wreck – comes out with the girl I’d seen earlier and assumed was with the woman I left inside with my daughter.
“Come on, Beth, we need to get home before Daddy gets back,” the woman urges the young girl trapped in the teen’s awkward body.
On their heels, the girl that checked me out dodges past the woman and “child” with another girl the same age, another employee. I only catch a snatch of their conversation when my head begins spinning like a top.
“I know, wild, huh?”
“So this woman just slaps down a hundred and asks to have Yolanda put a tag on it for the difference?”
“Yep and asks her not to mention it to anyone.”
The clerks don’t see me and I’m left sitting here in shock.
Nothing makes sense anymore. Why would that woman do this? Why would she pay a hundred dollars on a jacket she’s not even sure I would buy and for a complete stranger? What was her motivation if that poor disabled girl I assumed was hers, clearly isn’t?
Unsteadily I push myself off the bench. It’s time to find out what’s gong on. How could I be so naive to leave my daughter with a complete stranger? The door opens again and out spills my daughter. She clutches a small bag, her face wide and bright. I ignore her for a moment, straining to find the woman. I need answers. I need a better description to alert the police.
“Mom? Mom?” Courtney shakes my arm. I blink at her. “Did you hear me?”
“Look at this necklace and earring set. Isn’t it perfect?” She holds up the plastic case.
“You need to take it back,” I say, barely looking as my hand clutches around her forearm.
“Why?” She struggles free. “I bought this myself!” Her voice goes up an octave.
“With money she gave you,” I accuse. I’m half out of my mind with rage.
“No, Mom, from the money I’ve been saving.”
Her statement takes me by surprise. The rage leaves my head and I’m left staring at her.
“It’s so sad,” she says as she links her arm with mine and gently steers me to the parking lot.
“What is, Courtney?”
“That woman. She had a daughter who would be sixteen today. But her daughter died before she was even born.”
My foot falters but Courtney steadies me as we continue on to the car.
“She said that she has more kids, but they’re boys. And although most of the time she’s happy and content, there are days like today when she misses her daughter the most.”
Tears roll down my face and it’s not until one falls off my chin that I even realize I’m crying. “So that’s why,” I say.
“She bought that jacket for you.”
“She did?” Courtney’s own step wobbles.
I nod, forcing a smile as I look to my baby girl through my tears. I brush my fingers over her face. I look back hoping to see the woman. She never does appear.
“Bittersweet,” I say and unlock the door.
“No, Mom,” my daughter says in a soft, gentle, older and wiser voice. “I think we just gave her a bigger gift than she gave us.”
As I stand looking at my daughter, she smiles. “Happy sweet sixteen, baby girl.”
By Kathie Leung
(c) 2008 – 2009
All Rights Reserved
In Loving Memory of
December 10, 1992