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Bonnieby Iris Johansen
“WHAT STAR IS THAT, MAMA?” Bonnie lifted her hand to point at a brilliant orb in the night sky. “Its shining so bright.”
“Thats not a star, its a planet. Its Venus.” She cuddled her daughter closer on her lap. “Ive told you about Venus, Bonnie.”
“I guess I forgot.” She leaned back against Eves shoulder in the big rattan chair. “Or maybe its because everything seems so … different tonight.”
“Different? We sit out here on the porch almost every night, baby.” It was a precious time for both of them. After supper, they came out on the front porch and looked at the night sky. Eve had even bought a book on astronomy so that she could point out the constellations to Bonnie. “Whats different?”
“I dont know.” Bonnies gaze never left the glittering night sky. “They just seem … closer. As if I could reach out and touch them. As if they want me to come and touch them.”
Eve chuckled and gave her a hug. “Maybe thats what you should do when you grow up. Would you like to be an astronaut and go from planet to planet?”
Bonnie giggled. “That might be fun. Like Star Trek. But I dont have ears like Mr. Spock.”
“It could still work.” She smiled as she leaned her head back and gazed up at the sky. “But those stars are very far away, and you dont know what youll find there. Would you be afraid, baby?”
Bonnie was silent, her eyes fixed on the stars.
“I wont be afraid, Mama.” She turned her head and looked Eve directly in the eye. “And dont you be afraid either. Ill be fine.”
Eves smile faded. There was something in Bonnies expression that was making her uneasy. In that instant, she didnt look like her seven-year-old little girl any longer. Bonnies expression was serene, oddly adult.
Nonsense. It had to be imagination. “I wont.” Eve gave Bonnie a kiss on the tip of her nose. “Because I think well keep you here on Earth. No skipping from planet to planet. Your grandma and I would miss you too much.” She tugged at Bonnies ear. “And youre right, your ears dont look at all like Spocks.” She hugged her again. “And now its time for your bath. Didnt you tell me that your school picnic is tomorrow? Run in to Grandma and have her start your bath, and you decide what to wear.”
“Just one more minute.” Bonnie put her head back on Eves shoulder. “I dont want to leave you yet.”
Eve didnt want to leave Bonnie either. That instant of uneasiness was still with her. Why not stay here until it faded away. “One minute. Youre not the only one who has school tomorrow. I have to study for my English Lit test when you go in for your bath.”
“But tonight is special, tonight is … different,” she whispered. “Dont you feel it?”
Every day, every minute, was special with Bonnie. From the moment Eve had given birth to her, she had been the center of her world. But maybe there was something strange and beautiful about their closeness tonight. Something that Eve didnt want to give up until she had to do it. The thought brought an odd sense of panic. “I feel it.” Her arms tightened around Bonnies small body. “Yes, I feel it, baby.”
* * *
BONNIE CAME RUNNING into Eves bedroom in her yellow pajamas with the orange clowns all over them. Her wild red curls were bouncing, and her face was lit with her luminous smile.
“Mama, Lindsey says her mother is going to let her wear her Goofy T-shirt to the park tomorrow for the school picnic. Can I wear my Bugs Bunny T-shirt?”
Eve looked up from her English Lit book open on the desk in front of her. “Its not can, its may, baby. And you may wear Bugs tomorrow.” She smiled. “We wouldnt want Lindsey to put you in the shade.”
“I wouldnt care. Shes my friend. You said we always had to want the best for our friends.”
“Yes, we do. Now run along to bed.”
Bonnie didnt move. “I know youre studying for your test, but could you read me a story?” She added coaxingly, “I thought maybe a very, very short one?”
“Your grandmother loves to read you stories, baby.”
Bonnie came closer, and whispered, “I love Grandma. But its always special when you read it to me. Just a short one…”
Eve glanced at her Lit book. Shed be up until after midnight as it was, studying for that exam. She looked at Bonnies pleading face. Oh, to hell with it. Bonnie was the reason Eve was working for her degree anyway. She was the reason for every action Eve took in life. Why cheat either one of them? “Run and choose a storybook.” She pushed her textbook aside and stood up. “And it doesnt have to be a short one.”
Bonnies expression could have lit up Times Square. “No. I promise.…” She ran out of the room. She was back in seconds with a Dr. Seuss book. “This will be quick, and I like the rhymes.”
Eve sat down in the blue-padded rocking chair that shed used since Bonnie was a newborn. “Climb up. I like Dr. Seuss, too.”
“I know you do.” Bonnie scrambled up in her lap and cuddled close. “But since its such a short book, can—may I have my song, too?”
“I think thats a reasonable request,” Eve said solemnly. The two of them had their little traditions, and every night since she was a toddler, Bonnie had loved to share a song with Eve. Eve would sing the first line, and Bonnie would sing the next. “Whats it to be tonight?”
“‘All the Pretty Little Horses.” She turned around on Eves lap and hugged her with all her might. “I love you, Mama.”
Eves arms closed around her. Bonnies riot of curls was soft and fragrant against her cheek, and her small body was endearingly vital and sturdy against Eve. Lord, she was lucky. “I love you, too, Bonnie.”
Bonnie let her go and flopped back around to cuddle in the curve of her arm. “You start, Mama.”
“Hushabye, dont you cry,” Eve sang softly.
Bonnies thin little voice chimed. “Go to sleep, little baby.”
The moment was so precious, so dear. Eves arms held Bonnie closer, and she could feel the tightening of her throat as she sang, “When you wake, you shall have cake.”
Bonnies voice was only a wisp of sound. “And all the pretty little horses…”
* * *
SHE SHOULD GET BACK to her studies, Eve thought.
Not yet. She couldnt pull herself away yet. Bonnie had been so loving tonight. She had seemed to be reaching out for Eve.
She stood looking down at Bonnie curled up asleep in her bed. She looked so small, she thought with aching tenderness. Bonnie was seven, yet she looked younger.
But sometimes she seemed to have a wisdom far beyond her years. She had always been a special child from the moment Eve had given birth to her. Bonnie was illegitimate, born when Eve was only sixteen. Her passionate affair with John Gallo had lasted only four weeks but had given her Bonnie.
And she had thought that she might give her up for adoption, Eve remembered wonderingly. Gazing down at her daughter it seemed impossible to even contemplate. From the moment she had seen her in the hospital, she had known that they had to be together forever.
Those teasing words theyd spoken on the porch had only underscored the fact that Bonnie would be growing up and leaving her someday.
She didnt have to think of that yet. Bonnie was still her baby, and she would have her for years to come. Until then, she would cherish every moment as she had done tonight.
She bent down and brushed her lips on Bonnies silky cheek. “Sleep well, baby,” she whispered. “May all your dreams be beautiful.”
“Dreams…” Bonnies lids lifted drowsily. “Dreams are so wonderful, Mama. You can reach out and touch…” She was asleep again.
Eve turned, and the next moment, she was silently closing the door to Bonnies room behind her.
“Shes asleep?” Eves mother was standing in the hall. “I would have put her to bed, Eve. You told me you had that test tomorrow.”
“Ill be okay, Sandra.” Shed called her mother Sandra since she was a child. Sandra had been sensitive about appearing older, and so she had never been Mother to Eve, always Sandra. It was just a sign of how much she loved Bonnie that she accepted her calling her Grandma. “I needed a break anyway.” She smiled. “And I dont get a chance to put her to bed every night.” She headed back down the hall toward her room. “I wish I did.”
“You go to school. You work to support her. You cant do everything.”
“I know.” She stopped at the doorway and looked back at her mother. “But I was just thinking how lucky I am to have her.”
“How lucky we are,” Sandra said.
Eve nodded. “I know how much you love her.” And Eve would have had an even rougher time keeping Bonnie if it hadnt been for her mother. She had been with them since Bonnie had been born. “She has a school picnic at the park tomorrow. I told her she could wear her Bugs Bunny T-shirt. I wont be able to be there in the morning. But I should be able to be there by noon after I take my test. Youll be there until I get there?”
Sandra nodded. “Of course Ill be there. Im intending to stay all day. I wouldnt miss it. Stop worrying, Eve.”
“I just want her to have family there. Other kids have fathers, and Im always afraid shell feel…” She frowned. “But were enough for her, arent we, Sandra?”
“Ive never seen a happier child.” She shook her head. “And this isnt like you, Eve. You never question a decision once its made. Youre not like me, who wobbles back and forth every time the wind blows. Even if John Gallo hadnt been killed in the Army, you wouldnt have wanted him to have anything to do with Bonnie. You told me yourself that it was only sex, not love, between you.”
That was true, and Eve didnt know why she was suddenly worrying about Bonnies not having a conventional family. It was just that she wanted Bonnie to have everything that other children had, every bit of security, everyone to care about her. No, she wanted more. She wanted her to be surrounded by a golden wall of love all the days of her life.
And she was, Eve thought impatiently. No one could love Bonnie more than she did. More than Sandra did. She was being an idiot to start worrying about something that probably didnt bother Bonnie at all. She had never once asked about her father. She seemed perfectly happy with Eve and Sandra.
“Go study,” Sandra said. “Stop worrying about tomorrow. Bonnie is going to have a wonderful time.” She turned away. “Im going to bed. Good night.”
“Good night.” Eve sat back down at her desk. Dont think about Bonnie. Think about English Lit. Getting her degree was a way to protect Bonnie and give her all the things that she should have. This is what she should be doing.
And ignore this nagging feeling that something was wrong. What could be wrong?
Sandra was right. Bonnie was going to have a wonderful time at the park tomorrow.
* * *
“Lets go over it one more time,” Detective Slindak said. “You didnt see anyone approach your daughter?”
“I told you.” Eves voice was shaking. “There was a crowd. She went to the refreshment stand to get an ice cream. One minute she was there, the next she wasnt.” She stared blindly at the three police cars parked next to the curb, the people standing around in groups, whispering and gazing at her. “Shes been gone for three hours. Why are you asking me questions? Find her.”
“Were trying. Does your daughter often wander away from you?”
“No, never.” She stared at her mother sitting on the park bench with another police officer. Tears were running down Sandras cheeks, and she was leaning against him. “We were at the swings. My mother gave her money for an ice cream, and she ran to buy it. We could see the refreshment stand, so we thought it would be okay. She said shed be right back. She wouldnt have just wandered away.” But if she didnt, then the other explanation was where the nightmares began. “I talked to the man at the refreshment stand. He remembered her.” Everyone always remembered Bonnie. Her smile, the way she lit up everything around her. “He sold her the ice cream, then she ran off into the crowd.”
“Thats what he told us, too.”
“Someone else must have seen her.” The panic was rising. “Talk to everyone. Find her.”
“Were trying,” he said gently. “Were questioning everyone. Ive sent men to search the entire park.”
“They wont find her here. Do you think I didnt do that?” she asked fiercely. “I ran all over the park, calling her name. She didnt answer.” The tears were beginning to fall. “I called and called. She didnt answer. Bonnie would answer me. She would answer—”
“Well try again,” the detective said. “Were exploring every possibility.”
“Theres a lake. I taught her to swim, but what if—”
“Its an ornamental lake, just a man-made token. Its only a drop of four feet in the deepest spot. And weve interviewed a father and son who have been sitting on the bench by the lake all afternoon. They would have seen her if shed fallen into the water.”
“She has to be somewhere. Find her.” Thats the only thing she could say. Thats the only thing that made sense in a world that was suddenly drowning in madness. Bonnie had to be found. All the radiance and love that was Bonnie couldnt be lost. God wouldnt let that happen. They all just had to search harder, and theyd find her.
“Were sending out another search party,” Detective Slindak said quietly as he gestured to the officers starting out toward the trees in the distance. “Weve put out an all-points bulletin. You cant do anything more here. Let me have an officer drive you and your mother home. Well call you as soon as we hear something.”
“You want me to go home?” she asked in disbelief. “Without my little girl? I cant do that.”
“You cant help more than you have already. Its better that you leave it to us.”
“Bonnie is mine. I wont leave here.” She whirled away from Slindak. “Ill go with the search party. Ill call her name. Shell answer me.”
“She didnt before,” Slindak said gently. “She may not be there to answer.”
He hadnt said “or she might be unable to answer,” but Eve knew it was in his mind. Cold fear was causing the muscles of her stomach to clench at the thought. Her heart was beating so hard that she could barely catch her breath. “Shell answer me. Shell find a way to let me know where she is. You dont understand. Bonnie is such a special, loving, little girl … Shell find a way.”
“Im sure that youre right,” the detective said.
“Youre not sure of anything,” she said fiercely. “But I am.” She started at a run after the search team of officers heading for the trees. “This is all a mistake. No one would hurt my Bonnie. We just have to find her.”
She could feel the detectives gaze on her back as she caught up with the search team. She knew he wanted to make her stop. He wanted her to behave sensibly and let them do their job. But it was her job, too. She had brought Bonnie into the world. In the end, that made it only her job.
Ill find you, baby. Dont be afraid. Ill fight off anything that could hurt you. Wait for me. Ill always be there for you.
No matter how long it takes or how far I have to go, Ill bring you home, Bonnie.
Copyright © 2011 by Johansen Publishing LLLP
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