Circle of Yellow
Brenda Mackay is afraid. Her husband, Coyle, has changed. He’s become increasingly distant and violent, and she doesn’t know what to do. She has four children and needs to protect them, but at what cost?
LAPD officer Mike Montego is now married, and wants children. But does his wife? Mike’s cases these days all seem to involve some sort of abuse, including his own mother. Are there any happy marriages? When abuse leads to murder, can Mike help the innocent?
Be sure to read the other volumes in Jess Waid’s Montego series, all available as trade paperbacks and e-books — Book One, SHADES OF BLUE, Book Two, 459-FRAMED IN RED, Book Three, THE PURPLE HAND, Book Four, HE BLEW BLUE JAZZ, and Book Six, KONA GOLD. If you’re a fan of fast-paced police fiction, written by an author who knows the score, you’ll definitely want to read all of them, preferably in chronological order!
QUERIES & ORDERING
CIRCLE OF YELLOW (ISBN 978-1-927532-11-9) is available in trade paperback ($19.95 plus shipping & handling) and e-book ($3.99).
For further information or to place an order, contact the author at: email@example.com.
Here is a chapter from CIRCLE OF YELLOW:
Brenda Mackay stared out the frosted window of her new home, an old sausage-shaped, silver aluminum Airstream “Clipper” trailer. Running a brush through her long, raven-black hair she watched the snowflakes falling steadily. Tomorrow would be a white Christmas. Tomorrow she would blow out thirty-two candles. She was a Christmas Day baby.
Dear God, where have the years gone?
Six months ago, just before moving to Yaak, tucked into the northwest corner of Montana, one of many locations where they’d lived, she’d reluctantly given birth to her fourth child. The pregnancy hadn’t come from love. She’d not wanted any more children, particularly a boy. But the baby, thankfully, was a girl. She’d wanted to name the infant Ruth, after her maternal grandmother. Coyle, however, had said “No.” The baby would be called Mathilda, the name of his deceased mother. Her husband had to have his way. Later, he begrudgingly agreed to Ruth for the newborn’s middle name.
She could no longer recall if the tall boy she’d loved had always been that way. She had been his steady girlfriend during their junior and senior years at Central High in Bolivar, Tennessee; and then, on senior prom night, during a moment of unbridled passion, it happened, she’d gotten pregnant.
She tried to remind herself, convince herself really, that Coyle was different back before they married . . . very different.
Why would I have ever accepted his proposal if he’d been like he is now? Did I just miss it because I was going to have his baby?
Sighing as she pulled the brush through her long hair, she reflected on the happier times. . . . Yes, things were very much different now.
The baby, a boy they named Kirk, had turned fourteen a month ago. A Leap Year, Thanksgiving Day baby, but his birthdays had only fallen twice on the Thursday holiday.
Their second child, Lowell, also a boy, was seven, and the third, Verna, a pixie of a blonde, was four. She glanced at them. They sat at the small table opposite each other drawing in ragged edged coloring books. Most of the Crayolas were stubby or broken.
Brenda looked back out the dingy window at the wooden shed across the snow-covered yard, framed by two large tamarack trees. She stopped brushing when a chilly shudder scurried over her shoulders, a reaction to what she knew was about to happen.
Realizing she’d been holding her breath, she eased it out. Her heavy breasts shifted under the red-and-black woolen plaid shirt she’d donned after nursing baby Ruth.
The infant lay fast asleep, her bed a padded bench situated next to a propped pillow to keep her from rolling off.
The name Mathilda sounded too old, so Brenda secretly called the baby Ruthie, like her grandma who was named after a woman in the Bible. Ruth was a Hebrew name, according to the pastor. It meant “companion.” He also said Ruth was the great-grandmother of David, and, according to the Gospel of Matthew, an ancestress of Jesus.
Brenda whispered the memorized words Ruth spoke to Naomi, her Israelite mother-in-law in the Old Testament, from the Book of Ruth, chapter one, verses 16 and 17, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
The verses were her daily mantra, her devotional incantation. She was wed to Coyle, and she was obligated by her marriage vows to remain with him ’til death do us part. And she feared it would be soon.
She laid the white plastic hairbrush on the narrow shelf and began working her achy fingers together, warming them. Cold weather aggravated the old breaks. Letting out another breath, unconsciously held, she glanced at Lowell and Verna still scribbling at the table. They were unusually quiet, but she knew why as she let her mind drift back to the days before her married life began.
Coyle and she were in the same grade at school. He was slightly older, four months separated them. Coyle was born on Labor Day. Funny how holidays and birthdays seemed to match up for them. They often had the same classes at Central High. In their senior year they began dating. It started with handholding saunters to the malt shop on West Market Street. Then he started going to Sunday school with her at the First Baptist Church just down the street from the school on Harris. It excited her when he said he wanted to worship with her. Coyle’d been attending Cumberland Presbyterian Church over on Nuckols Road.
Soon after, she’d gotten permission from her father, thanks to her mother’s insistence, to go out on Saturday nights. Coyle borrowed his dad’s old black Ford pickup and they would drive up to Jackson to see a movie show. Afterwards they would buy tall sodas-to-go and sip them through red straws during the 30-mile ride home.
By the time spring turned to early summer, they were into heavy petting. The bench seat in the pickup’s cab limited their amorous activities and helped to keep him from pulling off her panties, not that she actually wanted them to stay on, but she was glad they did. If she’d gotten pregnant, her daddy would’ve killed her. For sure.
Fear of getting pregnant became a constant thought swirling in her head. There was a big reason.
Her mom had said Brenda had been a breech birth, and it had caused bad complications. When Brenda began her periods, she asked her mom what she’d meant about bad complications. She learned that the placenta inside her mom couldn’t be separated from the uterus, so a Caesarean hysterectomy had been performed. It explained why Brenda had no brothers and sisters, and all because of me. She felt guilty, even though she’d had no control of her own birth.
Her daddy had taken it badly. Throughout her growing years, he often made her aware that he’d have much preferred a son, because a girl couldn’t help him with the farm chores. He wasn’t shy about showing his resentment. So many times when Brenda wanted his fatherly love, he snubbed her. She loved her daddy, but she hated him, too. She was sorry she was the first baby, the one who was cut from her mom’s womb, but there was nothing she could do about it. She could never shake her guilt; she wore it like a millstone around her neck.
Perhaps the desire to get out of the house and away from her daddy had been the reason she’d literally jumped at Coyle’s proposal to get married. That night they left the Ford pickup with its keys in the ignition near the Greyhound bus station, and ran off to Memphis to get hitched. A big part of her desire to escape had been the fact she was pregnant. She hadn’t meant for it to happen but it did, nonetheless. She knew when, too. About three weeks before they eloped, on a moonlit night while they made love on a pile of loose hay strewn about in the bed of the old black truck.
Since Kirk was a full-term baby and came nearly nine months later, Coyle didn’t know the conception had been out of wedlock. Brenda saw no reason to tell him.
Before the brief civil ceremony, they’d located and rented a small duplex in Collierville, near Memphis. Coyle got a job pumping gas at a Shell station. Brenda found a waitressing job at a local eatery that specialized in chitlins. She’d always been comfortable around black people, and the small restaurant mostly catered to them folks.
As a kid, she’d sneak out of the house to get away from Daddy and head to the dirt streets of shantytown. The blacks who lived there had always been friendly to her. She still considered little Bessie Mae a good pal, although they hadn’t seen each other in years. They played lots of jacks and games of hopscotch, but mostly they enjoyed jumping rope, often competing with each other.
She doubted she could still do the Criss-Cross, the Side Swing or the Double Under, much less the Double Dutch. She was jealous of Bessie Mae because she could do the Toad. It entailed performing the “Cross” maneuver with one arm crossing under the opposite leg from the inside. But then Bessie was a wiry little imp.
Brenda stepped to the Airstream’s narrow door and opened it to let some outside icy air in. The temperature in the trailer was never really comfortable; it was always either sweltering or frigid. She dare not leave the door open for long, she didn’t want baby Ruth or Lowell and Verna to catch a cold.
After glancing at the woodshed she closed the door with a brief shudder, and went to the small sink to draw water and prepare a pot of coffee. Coyle would want his daily two cups of black coffee with three teaspoons of sugar and a shot of Old Overholt, Kentucky rye whiskey.
While the coffee percolated, she thought back to the evening when Coyle had made love to her for the second time, when they were in a real bed, with clean sheets and not in the bed of his papa’s truck. She supposed most women, like her, remembered their first time, and maybe others if they were special, but Brenda would never forget their second coupling.
She’d been in the throes of climax and clawing at Coyle’s bare bottom when he abruptly rolled off her, snarling, “Don’t touch me there.” His tone frightened her. She’d never before heard him sound so mean.
A glimpse of his buttocks reflected in the mirrored sliding glass door behind him, revealed numerous ugly scars. She’d winced.
Coyle had seen her draw back and turned away, saying nothing, at least not at first. Then, after a long moment of silence, while drinking a Lucky Lager and smoking a Lucky Strike, he apologized.
What she next heard him say had her thinking of her own childhood, except her daddy never laid a hand on her, not like Coyle’s papa had. When Coyle told his story, Brenda wept. She wanted to touch the scars, kiss them, make them disappear, but she didn’t dare. Coyle had scared her, and that troubled her.
Still, she felt she understood his reaction, and told herself not to worry. As long as she didn’t touch his ass, and made an effort never to look at it, Coyle would not get upset. But enjoying making love with him was difficult afterwards. She always had to be aware of her hands, and to carefully control them during her all-too fleeting moments of ecstasy.
Their life together didn’t last long, as Coyle got drafted and shipped to Korea. Kirk was born soon after that, and Brenda had to quit her job. Fortunately, she and Coyle had attended the Baptist Church on Sunday mornings and she had become friends with the pastor’s wife, Rhoda. Dear Rhoda saw that part of the offering money helped to pay for Brenda’s rent in the cheap boarding house she’d moved into.
Every day when baby Kirk slept, Brenda cleaned the church and then the pastor’s small house next door, to pay back the congregation’s generosity.
After several months, Rhoda, who had taken to Brenda, agreed to babysit, allowing Brenda to go back to work at the Chitlin Café. Blessedly, the owner rehired her. Old Bert, also a Baptist, was a member of a different church. One time after Sunday school, she’d strolled by his place of worship. The spirituals blasting through the thin walls were a revelation, nothing like the subdued music her church choir sang.
Life, for the next two years while Coyle fought overseas, was simple. She worked Tuesdays through Saturdays at the café, and on Mondays cleaned the church and the pastor’s house. Rhoda refused to accept any money for babysitting, so Brenda insisted on preparing the Sunday meals for the pastor’s family. They had darling twin six-year-old daughters who loved to mother baby Kirk.
When Coyle came home from Korea and got discharged from the service, Brenda had been excited for the three of them to add to their family. Since she didn’t have any problems with birthing Kirk, she was eager to have another child. But Coyle seemed different—distant, and moody at times. He never spoke about what he’d done in Korea or what he had seen during the fighting, and his few letters to her had only mentioned how much he missed her, and how he longed to be with her.
During his first months at home, he stayed with Kirk in their rental while Brenda worked at the restaurant, but soon Coyle became restless and started going out, saying he needed to find a job, that having his wife supporting him was not right. She understood and accepted this.
After a week of searching, he found night-work stocking grocery shelves. He told her the store manager said in time he might move up to cashier, a day job. Until then, it worked out well. He cared for Kirk during the day, and Brenda took over at night.
Life, with two paychecks coming in, was good for a while, until the morning Brenda would never forget. Coyle had stormed into the house yelling at her because breakfast wasn’t on the table, shouting that he was tired from slaving all night, and deserved to have a hot meal waiting for him when he got home. When she explained that she hadn’t had time because Kirk was sick and needed tending to, Coyle slapped her in the face, yelling, “Don’t give me any backtalk.”
That evening, when she came home from the café, he hugged her saying he was sorry, and loved her more than anything. Also, that Kirk felt better.
She forgave him and thought little more about it until a similar incident happened a couple of weeks later. Then life got worse. Coyle seemed unable to control his temper, flying into a rage over the smallest thing. For sure he didn’t like her associating with “them damn niggers.” Occasionally, he’d hit her shoulder, or push her into the furniture. And every time afterward, he’d claim he was sorry, and that he truly did love her. But he’d always add something about how a wife shouldn’t do things to make a husband angry. “If you will just do what a wife is supposed to do, why then everything would be Jim-dandy,” was a common line.
She was confused, because everything she did was for him. She had no real idea what more she could do to please her husband.
And then, when Coyle got a decent raise in pay, he insisted that she quit her waitressing job, stay home, and be a “proper” wife and mother. She knew better than to argue with him, knowing what the outcome would be. More pain. The first time he punched her in the face, blackening her eye, he looked scared. His horrified expression remained indelibly etched in her mind, as did the sound of his familiar words, “I’m really sorry. I promise, Brenda. I’ll never hit you again.”
Except he did, but not in the face. Why? Was it to keep what he did to her a secret from others? Or didn’t he want to change her looks? He used to tell her she was beautiful, but it had been a long time since she’d heard those words come out of him. So, if he didn’t love her, why would he want to keep her face uninjured? Yet he claimed he loved her. When she suffered broken bones, the result of one of his temper tantrums, he’d begged forgiveness afterwards. Even got on his knees, crying how much he loved her.
His words, “I love you Brenda” now rang in her aching head.
But what about Kirk? If Coyle truly loves me, how can he do what he does to our son?
As if on cue, a distant scream jolted Brenda from her reverie. Instantly she knew the cry had come from the shed. Kirk was being whipped. She glanced at the baby, but Ruthie slept soundly. Lowell and Verna, to her chagrin, were used to this by now. They sat staring at the scattered crayons, doodling, their shoulders even more hunched.
Clutching her upper arms Brenda hugged herself tightly, trying to contain the sharp pain piercing her chest. It wasn’t the first time she’d felt this way.
Why oh why does he do such a horrible thing to our son?
Brenda felt tears welling up. She turned away so her children wouldn’t notice. It had become a weekly occurrence. What possessed Coyle, what caused him to beat their son? Was it because of his own brutal beatings as a boy? But why would he want to hurt his own son in the same way? She feared he would beat Lowell, too, when he got older. That was why she’d not wanted another baby; afraid it might be a boy, but Coyle took her whenever he wanted sex. And she’d not been able to buy the new birth control pill, Enovid, being sold in pharmacies—besides, she’d need a prescription, and seeing a doctor was out of the question.
She glanced at her seven-year-old and felt another pang.
Brenda remembered the first time Coyle hit Kirk. It happened during one of her husband’s rampages. He’d thrown her to the floor and was about to punch her when Kirk, only six years old at the time, ran in front of his daddy screaming, “Don’t hit Momma!” Coyle backhanded the boy, knocking him across the room.
Soon after that incident, Brenda discovered she was pregnant. She told Coyle, and surprisingly, life immediately got better. Later in the year, Lowell was born, and Coyle continued to seem happy. They named the infant after his favorite uncle.
Eventually though, Coyle turned dark again. When Kirk was ten, the belt whippings began. She’d screamed at Coyle and he’d hollered back, “The boy must obey me—this is the only way I know!”
She’d rushed at Coyle, pounding her fists onto his thick chest.
He responded by grabbing her hands and twisting them, hard. This resulted in her first broken finger, as well as a large goose egg on her forehead when he slammed her face-first against the wall.
He yelled, “Leave me alone. I’m his dad an’ he’ll do what I say.” She cried out in pain for her firstborn, bawled like a baby, all to no avail. There was no apology forthcoming from Coyle that time.
For years she blamed the change in his behavior on his time in the army. Something dreadful must have happened to him while he fought in those foxholes. She’d tried to get him to talk about it, but he’d simply give her a blank look and say nothing.
Remembering the nasty scars on his buttocks, she wondered if they were why he was like this. She’d never known his parents, and had no idea what kind of home life he’d had. She only knew the little things he’d told her.
She’d read articles in the local newspapers about the war, and followed radio and TV broadcasts from the fighting, but was never able to fully imagine what it must’ve been like over there. Losing friends to gunfire and explosions and being ripped apart right beside you while fighting in the frozen mud had to be horrifying. She tried to understand, tried to offer comfort, but Coyle rejected her every gesture. It became obvious he’d rather she shut up and let him drink his rye in peace.
God, why did You let this happen to us?
When another scream sounded, Brenda turned away and sped to the small bathroom. She closed the door to shut out the sounds of her oldest boy being beaten.
She sat on the toilet seat in the darkness of the tiny cubicle, rocking back and forth, arms wrapped around her chest, hugging herself in an attempt to contain the mixture of agitated feelings pounding away at her insides.
She fought her fervent desire to intercede. She’d done it so often before, and each time had suffered the consequences—and it had never stopped the beatings. At times like this she felt the pain in her deformed fingers acutely, pain caused by breaks not able to heal properly, because she had to cook and clean and care for her children. There was no time to think of herself, the kids had to come first.
Her myriad thoughts confused her. Deep inside she no longer believed Coyle loved her—and she realized she no longer felt any love for him—in fact when it came to him, she didn’t feel anything at all.
Another scream pierced her ears. She clamped her hands over them and sobbed loudly, “No, no, noooo,” while still rocking back and forth.
She tried to wipe away the image of a scene she’d seen all too often, of her oldest child with his wrists tied, his body hanging from a beam, his own leather belt in the hand of his father, lashing his buttocks. Or was Kirk bent over a wooden sawhorse this time, tied to it, his trousers around his ankles, while more welts were being raised, just like those on Coyle’s butt?
Oh Lord and God Almighty, why do You allow this to happen? Why don’t You raise Your hand and smite Coyle a mighty blow to stop his fury and rage? Make him stop, please.
Brenda, trembling uncontrollably, felt utterly helpless, and totally frustrated. She seethed with anger at the cops, men sworn to protect the innocent, who’d responded more than once to a neighbor’s call and had done nothing to stop Coyle. She raged at them again, and at God for the unfair world He’d created.
Her birthday was tomorrow. Couldn’t He give her and Kirk the gift of peace and freedom from the ravings of a tyrannical father? That would be a gift for the ages.
Kirk’s beating this morning was all about his bed sheet, the one Coyle had discovered. There was no privacy in this damn trailer. She’d been unable to hide the sheet until she could wash it, as she’d done before. She knew it was normal for a teenaged boy to leak semen in his sleep. But Coyle viewed it as an abomination, a sin, claiming Kirk had masturbated, only Coyle called it “jacking off,” and he wouldn’t have it occurring under his roof.
Then, grabbing their worn Bible, he read aloud from Leviticus: “If a man has an emission of semen, he shall bathe his whole body in water and be unclean until the evening. And every garment and every skin on which the semen comes shall be washed with water and be unclean until the evening.” He sounded like a holy-roller preacher at a tent revival.
More screams sounded through the spaces between her clasped fingers, shooting through her ears, tearing inside her head until she thought it would explode.
Trembling violently, she couldn’t stop herself from shrieking, “No more!”
God help me!
She rose, squeezed out of the small bathroom, and raced down the narrow passageway, past a huddled Lowell and Verna, grabbed a carving knife off the counter and pushed out the door, barely catching the edge of the protruding metal step. Her foot slipped and she fell onto the snow, made icy hard by countless trips back and forth to and from the shed. Her tailbone took the brunt of the fall. The shock and pain nearly paralyzed her, but she held onto the knife, determined to cut her son loose, whatever the cost.
Another scream broke through the still mid-morning air.
“Stop it!” she shouted, vapor escaping from her mouth as she gathered her feet under her.
The frigid temperature helped to numb the pain in her bottom as she trudged as fast as she could toward the shed, each step seeming far too slow, as more screams reached her, like cymbals crashing near her ears.
By the time she arrived at the shed door, she felt chilled to the bone, her thin woolen shirt a poor buffer against the frigid northern Montana winter air. The misshapen fingers on her left hand grasped the metal lever and lifted it, so she could swing wide the planked door. Skin stuck to the frozen metal, but she didn’t heed the sharp pain as she ripped her fingers away, tearing skin loose. She had to stop Coyle; she had to rescue her son. Nothing else mattered.
Another scream sounded as she stumbled through the opening. Though her vision had blurred from the cold and her tears, she saw what she had both feared and expected to see. Her oldest boy hung by his wrists from a rafter, trousers and under shorts bunched around his ankles, his body twisting. He was soaked, water dripped off him; an empty bucket lay on its side nearby. Half a dozen smeared, bloody stripes traversed his buttocks; one slashed across his lower back where a waist-belt holding up his pants would normally rest. The ghastly sight appalled her.
Not stopping her forward momentum she crashed into Coyle just as he lashed again at Kirk, her knife missing its mark. She’d wanted to cut the rope, free her boy, but instead she stumbled to the dirt floor.
Coyle spun about and kicked her in the side. She felt a rib crack, sending an instant stab of searing pain shooting through her side.
He grabbed a handful of her hair and wrenched her up, yelling, “What the fuck d’ya think you’re doing?”
Then he flung her into the nearest wooden wall. Her forehead struck a two-by-four stud, dazing her. Blood spattered. She felt it dripping down over her nose, yet while being kicked again and gasping, she shouted, “Cut him loose! He’s your son—stop your damn whipping!”
Then she blacked out.
A snuffling sound brought her half awake. Her chest felt crushed; every breath she took cut sharply through her. When she opened her eyes, they burned. She could barely make out where she was. Then, remembering what had happened, she tried to sit up, but the sharp stab in her chest and side stopped her. She groaned in agony, blood dripped from her forehead and spilled from her mouth.
Still, she knew she had to rise. Using her crippled hands and bruised arms, she edged her way back against the shed wall. Her head pounded, matching each heartbeat.
God, I hurt. A rib must be broken . . . and my head. Oh, dear Lord.
Another snuffling sound brought her alert. She swiped at her eyes, slightly clearing her vision, but enough to spy Coyle, sitting slouched against the wall opposite her, his knees raised, his head down, crying like a baby.
When she moved, he looked up, saw her sitting up, and wailed, “I’m sorry, Brenda. I didn’t mean to hurt you. You shoulda never jumped on me with a knife.”
“Where’s Kirk . . . what’ve you done to him?”
Coyle eyed her for a moment, and then waved a hand toward the door saying, “He’s doing his chores. I told him to gather firewood.”
Brenda shifted slightly, trying to find a way to get to her feet.
Coyle scrambled up to her.
“I’ll help you. Dammit, you shoulda never busted in like that. Now see what you’ve done.”
He reached for her arm, but she jerked it away, triggering more piercing pain.
“Don’t you dare touch me! You did this, Coyle—leave me alone—you’re crazy.”
A sudden slap knocked her head back against the wall. The shed walls swam. She felt dizzy.
“Oh, baby, I’m so sorry—but damn, don’t call me that,” he whined. “It makes me go nuts when you say that kinda stuff. Don’t make me hit you. Why do you make me do it? I don’t want to, but sheeit—can’t you see how mad you make me?”
Brenda, even in her dazed and nauseated state, knew reasoning with him was futile. Like so many times before, she meekly kept her mouth shut. This time, though, the agony was so great she had no idea how she’d be able to feed and care for her children.
She tried to ignore the excruciating throbs as best she could, gritting her teeth against the pain. Holding her breath, she struggled to her knees, pausing when another sharp jolt jabbed into her left side, near her heart. Carefully, she let out a breath. Knowing it would hurt, she drew another one in. Her blood tasted coppery, she noted dully.
It took several more very shallow breaths before she felt able to stand.
Coyle cried out, “Please—let me help you, honey.”
She didn’t want his assistance, ever again, but making it back to the trailer and climbing the narrow metal steps would be impossible without his arm to support her.
If it didn’t hurt so much, she’d bawl like a baby. Bawl like she’d done so many times when rebuffed by her daddy, so long ago. But it had never helped back then, and it wouldn’t help now. Besides, she had to be strong for the children. They mustn’t see her like this. They had enough fear to live with as it was. No, she needed to get through this.
Be strong, girl.
“Give me your handkerchief, then get me back to the trailer, Coyle. Your coffee should be ready.”
She reached out and snatched his offered kerchief and wiped as much blood from her face as she could. Then she held out her right arm. Coyle took it and helped her stand.
A gasping groan escaped her mouth. She couldn’t contain it.
“It was your fault, Brenda, honey, you know that, don’t you? You never shoulda come at me with a knife.”
Brenda was beyond caring what Coyle thought or did to her. She knew she would never again allow him to drag her oldest boy into the woodshed. Knowing it would happen, and the inevitable outcome when she stepped in, brought a rise of burning vomit mixing with the blood in the back of her throat. She shoved the bloody cloth inside her shirt so the younger kids wouldn’t see it.
Steeling her mind against the pain, she took a tentative step forward.
God I hurt.
Getting back to the old silver-toned trailer took an eternity. With each halting step she had to fight back the near-blinding pain. She worked at clearing the fog from her head, knowing she’d need to put on a “nothing bad has happened” show for her obviously scared babies once she was inside.
She had no choice. She was their mother, after all, a mother who needed to be strong, a mother who would do anything for her children.