Friday, October 6
Bryan groaned and pressed his hands against his lower back, stretching before tackling the couch. The massive piece of furniture was one of the last in the moving van, but he wished they'd done it first. His entire body ached.
"You okay?" Katie, his wife, asked.
"Yup," Bryan lied. "Just getting ready for this."
Katie eyed the couch with obvious displeasure. "Maybe we should wait for tomorrow. We aren't going to be able to get the van back until then, anyway."
It was a tempting idea, but Bryan wasn't sure he wanted to leave anything outside. Not that he really needed to worry in this cookie-cutter cul-de-sac, but it was the principle of the thing. "Come on, honey. Let's get the couch in, and then it's just boxes from there. We can do it."
"Box!" a small voice demanded from the end of the van.
Bryan smiled as Bridget, their six-year-old daughter, scrambled up the ramp and ran toward them, giggling at the faint echoes her sneakers made. "Here, princess," he said, sliding a small box out of the stack. "Get that one to the kitchen, okay?"
"Okay!" And she was off again in a swirl of brown pigtails.
"I can't believe she's still going," Katie said, shaking her head. "I usually can't keep her attention long enough to get her room clean!"
"Yeah, well, she's excited." Bryan bent down and gripped the end of the couch. "Ready?"
"No," she replied as she bent down to get the other side. "One, two, three!"
Bryan winced as he heaved upward. The couch was reluctant to leave its resting place, but they managed to get it up. "You okay?" Bryan grunted.
"Yeah," was Katie's clipped reply. They shuffled and stumbled as fast as possible toward the end of the van.
"No, down, put it down!" Katie shouted. They barely managed to get it down before she dropped it.
"What happened? Are you all right?" Bryan asked, panting.
"I lost my grip," Katie replied, leaning against the back of the couch.
They remained silent for a moment, panting, then Bryan looked at her. "You ready to try again?"
Katie nodded and fiddled around at the other end, trying to find the best grip. Bryan waited until she nodded again before grabbing his end. "One, two, three!"
They had to put the couch down three more times before they reached the door, but they finally got it into the living room. As they collapsed on either side of the monstrous piece of furniture, Bridget cheerfully bounced between them, first jumping on Bryan's lap, then on Katie's.
"Let's never move again," Bryan said.
Katie nodded. "Deal."
"Moving day, moving day," Bridget chanted, then bounced off the middle cushion straight into Bryan's belly.
"Oof!" Bryan grunted. "Slow down, princess. Daddy's tired."
"Are we gonna live here forever?" Bridget asked as she examined the pocket on Bryan's shirt.
"I sure hope so," Katie said. "If we move again, you'll have to take the couch for us."
"Hey, that's a good idea," Bryan grinned. "You move the couch, and we'll get the rest."
"I can't get the couch!" Bridget giggled, giving him a playful shove. "It's too big!"
"Too big, huh?" Bryan abruptly knocked her sideways onto the middle cushion and began tickling her belly. "I thought you were a big girl!"
Bridget squealed, laughing and squirming. "Mommy, help!"
"Tickle him back," Katie replied.
Bridget rolled off the couch and launched a speedy offensive on Bryan's prominent midsection. He roared and tackled her, resuming his tickle attack on the floor.
After a minute of high-pitched laughter, Katie stood. "Okay, you two, let's go. We've got more boxes to bring in."
"Tickle!" Bridget shouted, trying to get Bryan again, but he stood up.
"Come on, princess. Let's get those last boxes in, and then we can get your bed put together."
Bridget paused in a moment of indecision, then shouted, "Yeah! Boxes!" and dashed out the door.
"Oh, for that kind of energy," Katie sighed.
"Hey, come on," Bryan smiled, putting an arm around her as they went toward the door. "She didn't have to carry any furniture."
When they stepped out into the neatly manicured front lawn, Bryan paused at the sight of a woman standing beside Bridget. Bridget was chattering away.
"Bridget," he called, striding forward.
Bridget looked up with her best innocent look. "Yes, Daddy?"
"Oh, I'm so sorry," the woman said. "Of course, Miss Bridget, you shouldn't talk to someone you don't know if your mom and dad aren't there."
"I know," Bridget sighed.
Bryan stuck out his hand. "I'm Bryan McCarthy. This is my wife, Katie."
"I'm Trina," the woman replied, wiping her hand on her blue sweatpants before shaking. "It's nice to meet you. I wanted to come out and meet you earlier, but I was a mess."
Bryan politely decided not to comment. Trina's sweatpants looked like they'd seen better days, as did her grubby sweatshirt. Her dark hair had been pulled up in a bun at one point, but most of it was out by now and flew from her head at various angles. "It's nice to meet you, too. Have you been in this neighborhood long?"
Trina turned and pointed to a dusky gray house on the other side of the cul-de-sac. Like their new home, it was two stories with a large porch and a neat yard. "I've been there for, what, a couple years now? It's a really nice area, and I was just telling Bridget there are lots of kids around her age here."
"Oh, that's good," Katie said, smiling. "Do you have kids?"
"No, none of my own. I never married. Well, I should let you get back to work. It was great to meet you, and welcome to the neighborhood."
"Thanks," Bryan nodded.
Bryan waited until Trina was gone, then glanced at Bridget. "You know better than to talk to strangers, kiddo."
"But she was nice," Bridget protested. "She wasn't a mean stranger."
"You need to listen to your father," Katie scolded. "Even if a stranger is nice, you sill need to come get one of us if someone you don't know starts talking to you."
Bryan climbed into the van as Bridget started protesting again. "Bridget," he said, a warning tone in his voice that made her reluctantly drop the issue. "That's better. Now come get a box. I think I see that box you put your barbies in."
With that, all traces of pouting vanished. Bridget scrambled up the ramp. "Box!"
Saturday, October 7
Bryan wandered into the kitchen to find an obstacle course of boxes. Katie looked up apologetically from the table on the other side of the room. "I couldn't find the plates."
"Right," Bryan mumbled as he squeezed between two rather precarious stacks.
"Hi, Daddy! I got waffles!" Bridget cheered.
"It's a good thing we took care of the freezer foods last night," Katie added, "or all I'd have to give her would be coffee."
Just as Bryan had nearly reached the coffeepot, the doorbell rang.
"I got it!" Bridget shrieked, jumping up from the table and leaping over boxes toward the entryway.
Katie gave Bryan a helpless look, and he began working his way back across the kitchen. "Bridget, slow down! Don't open the door until I'm there, okay?" He sighed as he heard the door open and Bridget's exuberant greeting. Bryan shook his head and stepped out into the entryway.
"And Daddy put my bed together and I helped Mommy get the blankets on it and we're gonna put rainbows on my walls," Bridget rattled on as he reached the door.
Trina smiled. "Wow, that sounds like a lot of fun!" She saw Bryan. "Oh, hello, Bryan. I just stopped by because on Saturday mornings, I take all the kids down to the park. It's only about half a mile away, and it gives the parents a break. Would Miss Bridget like to come?"
"Yeah!" Bridget squealed, jumping up and down.
Bryan paused. "Uh..." He glanced back toward the kitchen. "Hey, Katie?"
He heard the sound of her groan, then shuffling and scraping noises as she fought her way out of the kitchen. "What is it?" she asked as she stepped into the entryway. Her eyebrows rose at the sight of Trina at the door.
"Trina was telling me that she takes the kids from the neighborhood to the park on Saturdays," Bryan said. "She wanted to know if Bridget would like to join them."
"Yes, yes, yes!" Bridget chanted, still jumping. "Can I go? Can I?"
"Well," Katie said hesitantly, "maybe next time."
"Aww..." Bridget protested. "I wanna go!"
"I understand," Trina said politely. "Listen to your parents, Miss Bridget. They know what's best."
"Trina!" a high voice squealed from outside. "Trina, is it time to go yet?"
Trina turned, and Bryan could see a group of children gathering on the sidewalk. A portly woman in neat business apparel was chatting on a cell phone while being towed toward the group by a rambunctious child.
"Just a minute, and we'll go," Trina promised the kids, then waved to the woman. "Good morning, Ann."
Ann waved distractedly.
"Is she going, too?" Bryan asked.
"Her? No, it's just the little game she and Mr. Billy play. He always pretends to make a fuss about leaving her."
Ann hung up the phone and glanced over at them. "Oh, so you're the new family," she said, smiling as she strode up their walkway. "I'm Ann Morrison, and this is Billy. We live with my husband, Harry, in that house over there." She pointed toward a green house nearby.
Bryan quickly introduced his family. "It's nice to meet you."
"Same here," Ann replied. "So, are you sending your Bridget off with the others? I can't even tell you how good it is to get a quiet morning once a week."
Katie shook her head. "We're waiting for next time. You know, we're new here, and we just don't know people all that well..."
Ann shrugged. "Well, I can understand that, but you're going to wish you had. Trina is a wonder with these kids. She's been our babysitter ever since she moved in."
"Please?" Bridget begged, her eyes widening to anime proportions. "Please, can I go?"
Bryan paused, eyeing Trina. They would be able to get a lot of work done around the house if Bridget was occupied. "So... she's really trustworthy, then?"
"Let me put it this way," Ann said. "My brother lives just ten minutes away, but whenever Harry and I have to leave town for a long time, we leave Billy with Trina, not him."
Katie glanced back at the pile of boxes behind her. "Well..."
"Please, Mommy? Please?"
"Okay. But you stay close to the others and listen to Trina, okay?" Katie ordered.
"Yay! Okay, I will, bye!" Bridget shouted, darting out the door.
"Hey!" Bryan shouted after her. "Get back here and put your shoes on!"
"Whew," Katie sighed. She took a long drink from her glass of ice water, then pressed it against the side of her face. "I think I'll go collapse now."
"I second that motion." Bryan dropped into the seat across her at the kitchen table and looked at the pile of empty boxes in the corner. "But we got a lot done, at least."
"Yeah," Katie mumbled, looking over at the piles of boxes yet to be unpacked.
"Hey, come on. It took us weeks to get the house packed up. We aren't going to get it all settled in a day."
"I know, I know." She took another drink. "Of course, it goes a lot faster without someone underfoot all the time."
"Speaking of which, when were they supposed to be back?"
"I don't know." She looked at her watch and stood up. "I would've thought they'd be back by now."
"Maybe we should drive down to the park," Bryan said.
"I'll ask Ann about it. She'd know."
"Right." Bryan finished his water, then followed Katie out the door.
Katie was standing in their yard, watching a massive group of kids doing the hokey-pokey in the middle of the cul-de-sac. Bryan quickly spotted Bridget's bobbing pigtails in the group as they shook their heads about.
"I guess they got back already," Katie said. "We must have good soundproofing in the kitchen if we didn't hear this."
Bryan couldn't help but laugh. The kids were singing the song as loudly, and as off-key, as it could possibly get.
"That's what it's all about!" they cheered, then there was a pause.
"What do we put in next?" one girl asked.
Trina paused, then spun around and bent slightly. "You put your bottom in!"
The kids squealed in laughter as the joined her. "You put your bottom out, you put your bottom in..." The 'shake it all about' line was barely audible over the giggles.
Katie shook her head as they finished the song, still laughing. "Bridget, come on! It's time for lunch!"
"Now, missy," Katie said in her I-DARE-you-to-argue-with-me tone. Bridget reluctantly turned and trudged over to them.
"Miss Bridget's mommy is right," Trina said. "It's probably lunch time for all of you."
Bryan watched as the kids scattered to their own homes, then glanced at Katie. "Do you mind taking care of her lunch? I'm gonna..." He nodded toward Trina.
"Sure," Katie replied.
As they went back to the house, Bryan approached Trina. "Thanks for taking her to the park."
"Sure. Like I said, I take the kids every Saturday morning. Miss Bridget's welcome to join us whenever she likes."
Bryan hesitated. It was strange the way she referred to the kids. "So you said you don't have any kids of your own?"
"Nope. But I love kids - I always have. I started babysitting as soon as I was old enough to get the license."
"Ah." Bryan glanced around. "So, um, what do you do?"
"I work at the local elementary school. It isn't far from here, just about a mile or so. What grade is Bridget in?"
"If she wants to walk with us, she can."
"The other kids. Most of them all go to the same school, so we all just walk together."
"Oh. I see." Bryan glanced back at his house. "So, uh, how long have you worked at the school?"
"I just started this year. I really love it there. Kids are great, you know?"
Bryan nodded. "Yeah, until they get stubborn."
"Oh, I just love it when they express themselves. I think it's great."
"Ah. So, what did you do before that?"
"I was a receptionist for a while, but it was really boring." Trina shrugged. "So what do you do?"
"Sales. The company transferred me here, which is why we moved."
Bryan glanced back at his house again. "Well, I should get going. Um, nice to talk to you."
"Nice talking to you."
When Bryan got back into the house, Bridget was still in the process of telling Katie all about the park around bites of microwaved chicken nuggets. Katie stood up as he came into the kitchen. "Bridget, why don't you work on your food and tell me the rest later? Daddy and I need to talk."
"Okay," Bridget replied, cramming another nugget in her mouth.
Katie pulled Bryan just outside the kitchen. "So?"
"She seems okay. She works at the elementary school."
"What's she do there?"
Bryan paused. "You know, she didn't say."
Katie frowned. "You'd think that someone who works with kids all day would want a break from them."
"Well, I guess she just likes kids."
"I don't know. It just seems a little strange."
"Yeah. It's kinda weird how she calls the kids 'Mr.' and 'Miss,' you know?"
"Exactly. I mean, it was nice to have a quiet morning, but..." Katie glanced at the kitchen again. "I think we should get to know this Trina a little better before we let Bridget go off with her again."
Monday, October 9
Bryan pulled into the driveway, smiling as Bridget jumped up from the toys she'd been playing with in the yard and ran toward the car, waving eagerly. "Hey, princess," he said as he climbed out. "Did you have a fun day?"
"Yeah. Then Mommy said she had a headache and it was time for me to play outside."
Bryan chuckled. "I believe that. Why don't you play a little longer, then you can help me make dinner, okay?"
As Bryan reached the door, he glanced back at his daughter, who was already reabsorbed in her toy ponies. A movement caught his eye and he glanced across the street. Trina was standing in her window, her arms folded. What chilled Bryan was that her eyes seemed to be on Bridget. He stepped back off the porch, watching Trina . She glanced up at him and hurried away from the window.
"Actually, honey," Bryan said slowly, "why don't you come inside now? Bring your toys, okay?"
"But I'm playing," Bridget pouted.
"You can keep playing inside. Just grab your toys and come on."
"Can I go play?" Bridget asked, her nose pressed against the window.
Bryan peeked out over her head and saw a group of kids playing baseball outside. Several were close to Bridget's age. "Sure, kiddo. Just play nice, okay?"
"Yay!" Bridget cried, running to the door.
"Put your shoes on!" Bryan reminded her.
Once she was gone, Katie came to his side. "So, what's up?"
"You looked really worried when you came in, and you were distracted all during dinner. What's up?"
Bryan looked outside again. Trina had come out of her house and joined the game. Bryan frowned. "When I got home, I think she was watching Bridget."
"Trina. I saw her standing in her window, and it looked like she was watching Bridget playing in the yard. When she saw me, she left."
Katie frowned, looking out the window as Trina pitched a slow ball to Bridget. "Are you sure?"
"That's pretty weird. Maybe we should ask Amelia."
Bryan gave her a look. She knew that his guilty pleasure was reading the popular advice column each day, and often teased him about it. "Come on, hon. Be serious."
"I am!" She looked up at him. "It's not like she's done anything wrong, but it's all so weird. She works with kids all day, and then she wants to play with all the kids. And then she was watching our daughter... I mean, it's just creepy. Maybe Amelia will have some advice for us."
"Maybe." Bryan glanced at the baseball game again. "I think I'm going to stand outside and watch."
Katie gave him a squeeze. "Thanks."
A few other parents were hanging out on the sidewalk, cheering their kids on and chatting with each other. Bryan angled toward the group.
"Oh, hey, you must be Bryan," a skinny man said, holding his hand out. "Ann told me about you. I'm Harry, Billy's dad."
"Nice to meet you," Bryan replied, shaking his hand.
"I'm Clarence," another man said. "Welcome to the neighborhood."
As the others introduced themselves, Bryan kept an eye on Bridget, who was happily perched atop a sand bag that was standing in for third base.
"Don't worry," Clarence said, clapping him on the back. "Your kid's doing good."
"Thanks," Bryan replied. "So, uh, you been here long?"
"Almost seven years. We moved here just before Angie was born," Clarence said, motioning toward a scrawny girl behind first base.
"I see. So you know Trina pretty well?"
Clarence nodded. "Yeah. She's been Angie's babysitter pretty much since she moved here."
"What exactly does she do at the elementary school?"
Clarence paused, eyeing Trina. "You know, I'm not sure she ever said. Mostly she just talks about Angie."
"Ah." Bryan glanced at the game to see Bridget make a run. "Hey, good job, Bridgey!" He turned back to Clarence. "Do you know where she was before she came here?"
"Uh... No, I don't think she said."
"Do you know her last name?"
Clarence was silent for a moment. "I... I can't recall." He glanced at Bryan. "We've known her for so long, you know? She's just... Trina."
"Hey, you aren't one of those paranoid types, are you? One of those parents who think everyone's out to get their kids?"
Bryan shook his head. "No, I'm just trying to find out a little more about her. I mean, Bridget seems to like her, and we just want to make sure."
Tuesday, October 10
Bryan pulled into the driveway and climbed out of the car. He waved at Bridget, who was jumping rope on the sidewalk with Angie and some other little girl he didn't know. "Daddy, Daddy, I can do double dutch!" Bridget shouted.
"Good job, honey," Bryan replied. His eyes fell on Trina's window again. She was standing there, same as yesterday. This time there was no mistaking it: she was watching the kids. Bryan felt his heart thud against his ribs. "Bridget, come on inside."
"But I'm up to twenty-five doctors!" Bridget protested over the other girls' counting.
"Come on, Bridget," he replied, his tone leaving no room for argument. "Now."
"Fine," Bridget grumbled.
"Bye, Bridget," the other girls called as Bryan hurried Bridget into the house.
Katie looked up at him. "What is it?"
"Why weren't you keeping an eye on Bridget?"
Katie looked startled at Bryan's harsh tone. "I was. I was watching right out the front window. I just stepped away for a minute because the oven timer went off."
Bryan glanced down at Bridget. "Why don't you go wash your hands for dinner?"
"I wanted to play more!"
"Bridget, you listen to your daddy," Katie scolded.
Bridget pouted at them and flounced off.
"Did you see her watching?" Bryan asked.
"Trina? No. I glanced at her house a couple times, but I didn't see her."
"When I pulled up, she was right there in the window, watching."
Katie eyed Bryan's expression for a moment. "We really should call someone."
"Call who? And tell them what?"
"Well, then we should ask someone who would know."
Bryan was silent for a moment, then looked out the window. The two little girls had taken to jumping the ropes individually, and Trina was still watching. "Okay, I'll send a note to Ask Amelia."
Thursday, October 12
Katie was waiting at the door, newspaper in hand, when Bryan got home. "You'll want to see this."
"The Ask Amelia column."
Bryan dropped onto the couch. "Did she answer my letter? Already?"
Katie sat down beside him as he flipped to the correct page and began reading. Sure enough, there it was.
My family just moved to a new neighborhood. There's a lady here who doesn't have any kids of her own, but is always playing with the kids. She works at my daughter's elementary school, then she spends even more time with kids here. She takes them to the park, and when she sees them playing outside, she comes out and joins them. I have seen her watching kids from her window a few times, and it gave me the creeps. Am I being paranoid, or am I right to be concerned? Signed, Worried Father.
It could be that this woman just likes kids, but I agree that watching children from her window is creepy. And the fact that she works at an elementary school means that this doesn't just concern you. It can be dangerous to take chances with these things, so I advise that you call the school and tell them what you've observed. It's their responsibility to make sure that their staff is safe, and they will investigate the matter appropriately.
Bryan looked up at Katie. "So are we going to call the school?"
Katie hesitated. "I already did. I was going to wait for you, but then I was watching Bridget play with some of the other kids after school. I saw Trina watching them, but then she saw me and took off. I called the school right away."
"Ah." Bryan put an arm around his wife. "It's a good thing, honey. They'll know the right thing to do."
Friday, October 13
A large group of adults were on the sidewalk outside of Ann's house when Bryan got home. He spotted Katie among them, holding Bridget's hand, and walked over to them. "What's going on?"
"The police came," she said breathlessly, her eyes large. "They went into Trina's house for a while, then led her out and left with her in the back seat."
"They arrested her?"
"No, I don't think they did," Clarence said, stepping closer. "I didn't see handcuffs."
"I thought I did," Harry replied, glancing back toward Trina's house. "What do you think happened?"
"I don't know," Ann said. "It's just awful. There has to be some mistake."
Bryan caught Katie's eye and took a step back toward their house. "Well, if it is a mistake, I'm sure they'll clear it up soon."
"Right," Katie agreed. "Come on, Bridget. Time to go in."
Bridget offered no protest as the three of them went back to their own house. "Is Trina in trouble?"
Katie gently patted Bridget's head. "Only if she's done something wrong."
Saturday, October 14
Bryan yawned as he opened the door to get the newspaper. The parents were all gathered, once again, outside Ann's house.
Clarence spotted him and waved. "Bryan, did you see the news?"
"I was just getting it," Bryan replied, tightening his bathrobe. "What's up?"
The group migrated in his direction. "The police are investigating Trina," Ann said in a hushed tone. "They think she was... well, inappropriate with children!" She waved her paper. "Front page!"
Bryan unfolded his paper and stared at the screaming headline: Elementary School Worker Investigated On Molestation Charges.
"Is this for real?" he asked.
"It says that she works in lots of classrooms, and she's always taking kids out in the hall to work with them - where there aren't any teachers watching," Harry said. He shook his head. "I can't believe we let her babysit."
"Billy said she's never done anything to him, but I don't know," Ann said, clutching her chest. "All the things they said in this article... I mean, she's always playing games with them. Maybe he just thought it was a game."
The other parents chimed in, voicing their own similar fears.
"This can't be right," Clarence said, shaking his head. "She's so good with the kids!"
"Yeah, for a reason," Harry replied snidely. He folded his arms. "We should have seen it sooner."
Bryan hesitated, then waved his paper at them. "Thanks for the, uh, heads up, then. I'd better go tell my wife."
As the parents continued talking in their huddle, Bryan retreated into the house.
"Is something wrong?" Katie asked as he came into the kitchen. She was wiping up milk from around Bridget's bowl as the little girl, oblivious, continued scarfing down her cereal and sloshing milk about.
"I guess we were right to be worried," Bryan said, showing her the headline. "It sounds like there are some serious allegations going on."
"Oh," Katie whispered, pressing a hand against her mouth. "Oh, my goodness." She sat down.
"Are you all right?" Bryan asked, worried at the pale shade his wife's face had become.
Katie ignored him and put a hand on Bridget's shoulder. "Sweetie, do you remember last week when you went to the park with Trina?"
"That was fun. Can I go again?"
Katie shook her head. "Trina isn't here right now, remember?"
Bridget's face fell.
"Sweetie, I need you to think about the park, okay? What kind of games did Trina play with you?"
"Uh... we played duck duck goose, and red rover, and tag..."
"Did Trina..." Katie took a deep breath. "Were you ever alone with Trina?"
"No, we all played together."
"Did she... did she ever touch you?"
Katie took a shaky breath. "Where did she touch you, honey? It's okay, you can tell us."
"On the jungle gym. I couldn't climb it, so she helped me."
Katie glanced at Bryan, then tried again. "Okay, and where did she touch your body?"
"She picked me up, like Daddy does."
Katie and Bryan both relaxed. "Okay, sweetie," Katie said. "Anywhere else?"
"Good," Katie said, sounding infinitely relieved. "Go ahead and eat your breakfast."
Sunday, October 15
Bryan and Katie were chatting with the other parents as the kids played red rover when a car slowly cruised down the cul-de-sac.
"Car!" several parents shouted as the kids yelled the same and scrambled to the sidewalk.
The car pulled into Trina's driveway and a rather rumpled-looking Trina climbed out. The parents fell immediately silent.
"Hi, Trina!" Angie shouted.
"Angie!" Clarence barked out, giving the little girl a warning look. The street fell silent once again.
Trina looked over at the children, then the parents. Dark circles were under her eyes and her hair was even more out of place than normal. She stood there, looking at them for a long moment, then turned and shuffled into her house.
"Momma, I want Trina to play," a little boy called.
"No!" one of the parents replied sharply. "Come on, Curtis. It's time to come in now."
As the children protested, the other parents quickly rounded up their offspring and herded them back to their own homes.
Katie sighed. "Come on, Bridget. Let's go."
Trina stared at the TV without really recognizing the cartoon playing on it. All she could think about were the questions that had been thrown at her from every direction the last couple days. Accusatory questions. Repulsive questions.
Nausea rose in her stomach and she closed her eyes. It disgusted her to think of anyone doing such horrific things to an innocent child. Her mind still couldn't process the concept that the police thought that she would do such things. She loved children - no, not love like that, but the right kind of love. She liked being around them. She liked playing games with them. She loved their sweet innocence.
But that's what made them think she'd done something wrong. And even to her own mind the thoughts sounded wrong, twisted by the vile accusations that had pierced her ears over and over again. It was sick. It was wrong.
And worse was that she couldn't find the right words to explain it. She was innocent. If there was anyone who might harm these children, who might do anything to cause them pain, she'd be first in line to rip that person's throat out. But somehow, every single thing she said to the police got twisted around and thrown back at her. 'I just like kids,' she'd said. 'Oh,' they'd replied. 'So you do like kids.' Twisted. Sick.
Fresh tears slipped down her cheeks, rewetting the tracks of many previous sobs. And they thought she'd hurt kids. The kids at school, the kids here in the neighborhood.
'Why were you watching kids from your window?'
'There weren't any parents watching. I've been repainting my house for the last few weeks, so I've had to stay inside more, but when I see kids playing outside without anyone watching, I keep an eye on them. I don't want something bad to happen when no one's watching.'
But they'd even twisted that. Their words danced in a confused, attacking muddle in her head, forcing more tears from her eyes. Why did these people think she'd done something wrong?
A thud came from the back of the house and she sniffled. "Hello?" Maybe one of the kids had come to visit. They often came after they'd had fights with their parents. She'd give them cookies, let them vent, then send them on back home. She got up and walked toward the source of the sound, drying her eyes. "Someone there?"
The kitchen was dark. She walked through it, her hand out to feel for the island. The light switch was on the other side of the wall, by the back door. She'd always hated that design. "Just a second, I'm coming."
A shadowy figure stepped in front of her. She almost didn't even see the fist that connected with her jaw, knocking her back against the island and then crashing to the floor. "Get out of our neighborhood!" a husky man's voice shouted. It was the last thing she knew before everything went black.