They find a house in a better neighborhood. It’s nothing fancy, and it stretches their finances a little, but it beats the snot out of that hole they were living in. This one has a partially finished basement that will be used as a playroom for the baby and a small backyard where Dennis and Lauren make plans to put a swing-set one day. They begin preparing for the arrival of their little one as they add a crib and changing table to the nursery, find a cheap baby gate (the door to the basement is at the bottom of the stairs) and install covers over all the electrical outlets.
As the day draws closer, Dennis frets more and more about the type of father he will be, but the encouragement and support he receives from Lauren wanes. She is focused on her child, her baby, and has no time to deal with his perceived shortcomings. She is busy talking to her little one, giving it all the nurture, care and attention it needs. To distract himself from his worries, Dennis dotes on his wife and their child, doing all he can to be a good, caring and loving father and husband.
Finally, after months of preparation and anticipation, it is time. Dennis rushes them to the hospital and after eleven hours of contracting and yelling, of pushing and panting and of worry and agony (this from Dennis), their little one arrives. She’s perfect. Ten little fingers and ten little toes, and when the nurse asks what they will name their little girl, Lauren answers immediately “Catherine Elizabeth Anderson”.
Dennis can’t help but wonder why Lauren chose that name and why she hadn’t discussed it with him, but those questions melt away when his child is placed in his arms. His daughter. He immediately loves her with all his heart and knows he will do whatever it takes to protect her. She’s an angel and she deserves anything and everything she wants. It’s unfortunate that he won’t get a chance to watch her grow up.
Six months later and Lauren is at her wits end. Cat, as Dennis calls her, will not stop screaming. They’ve taken her to the doctor and had her checked, but apparently she’s just teething and there’s little they can do in the way of offering her comfort. Just teething. As though it were a simple exercise, not at all painful for both the suffering child and her powerless parents. All options have been exhausted and now Lauren is on the verge of a breakdown.
“Isn’t there anything you can do to shut her up?” she screams at Dennis. She’s not only angry because Catherine won’t stop yelling, but because she prefers Dennis over her. It’s perplexing and aggravating and it grates on her nerves. Why would her own daughter, the one she gave birth to, choose him over her? That sniveling, whiny pathetic excuse for a man? And with that thought, she’s had it. She picks up her coat and heads to the door.
“Where are you going?” Dennis asks her.
“I have to get out of here. I can’t take it another minute.”
“Okay. Do you have your phone?”
“Yes.” But I’m going to turn it off the second I’m out the door and tell you that it died, she thinks to herself.
“Alright. Well, just be safe. I guess I’ll see you later.”
“Yeah.” Lauren says, and then she’s gone.
He picks up his daughter, still screaming, and sits down with her in the rocker they found at Goodwill. It’s worn and it creaks, but it works and on days she’s not in agonizing pain, it soothes Cat. He’s hoping tonight there is some magic in it. Enough to help his daughter relax and get some sleep. Lord knows she needs it. They all need it.
As they rock the wailing doesn’t completely subside, but it does dwindle and for that he’s thankful. It bothers him as well, but he does his best to remember that his little girl is in much more pain than he is. He sees himself as her comforter and knows she feels the same way. He knows Lauren despises him for the connection he and Cat share, but what is he supposed to do? She’s his daughter too, and all he wants is to be a good father. And in that regard he believes he is succeeding.
As Cat continues to voice her disapproval of the invading teeth, Dennis pulls his phone out of his pocket and starts scrolling through Facebook. He doesn’t have many ‘friends’. Mostly coworkers and a few classmates from high school. Here’s one that says all conservatives are morons. Here’s another that says all liberals have their heads stuck where the sun don’t shine. Gotta love election year, Dennis thinks. He continues scrolling through, dimly aware that Cat has finally quieted down, when he sees a post that causes his breath to catch in his throat. It sticks there and he’s not sure he’ll be able to get it back. When he finally does he touches on the link that says “Do You Recognize This Woman?”
It’s his wife. It’s her to the life. The suspect, his wife, is wanted for several counts of murder, identity theft and assault. As he reads, the color drains from his face and his arms and legs suddenly feel too heavy. Thankfully he remembers that he’s holding Cat and lays her gently into the crib. Then he sits down again, just as his legs give out from under him. It can’t be. Can it? It’s at this moment he realizes he knows next to nothing about her. He doesn’t know where she’s from or where she’s been. He knows nothing of her personal history aside from what she’s told him. He continues to read and what he sees next erases any doubt in his mind. Paula, the owner of Russell’s Florist is listed as one of the suspect’s victims. There were several others, mostly men, but the connection between he and Paula was what finally drove him to action. No wonder she never let him go there for flowers anymore.
He jots down the number listed at the bottom of the page, turns off his phone and puts it in his nightstand. Now acutely aware that he needs to get a move on, he grabs the diaper bag from the hallway and stuffs as many diapers and clothes and as much formula as he can into it. There is already a bottle in the bag if he needs it. Anything else he can grab later. He gently picks up Cat and puts her jacket on her. He doesn’t want to wake her, but considering the alternatives he’ll live with it if she starts hollering. He lowers her into her car seat and buckles her in, then heads for the door, hoping it’s not for the last time.