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Chapter no 20 – Ledger

Reminders of Him

It’s been three days since she was in the bar, and three days since I was last in the grocery store. I told myself I wasn’t going to come back here. I decided I’d just start shopping at Walmart again, but after having dinner with Diem last night, I spent the entire night thinking about Kenna.

I’ve noticed since she’s been back in town that the more time I spend with Diem, the more curious I am about Kenna.

I compare Diem’s mannerisms to hers now that I have something to compare them to. Even Diem’s personality seems to make more sense now. Scotty was straightforward. Concrete. He wasn’t very imaginative, but I saw that as a good quality. He wanted to know how things worked, and he wanted to know why. He didn’t waste time on anything that wasn’t science based.

Diem is the opposite of that, and I’ve never wondered if she got that from her mother until now. Is Kenna concrete like Scotty was, or does she like to use her imagination? Is she artistic? Does she have dreams outside of being reunited with her daughter?

More importantly, is she good?

Scotty was good. I always assumed Kenna wasn’t because of that one night. That one cause and effect. That one terrible choice she made.

But what if we were just looking for someone to blame because we were all hurting so much?

It never once occurred to me that Kenna might have been hurting as much as we were.

I have so many questions for her. Questions I shouldn’t want answers to, but I need to know more about that night and more about her intentions. I have a feeling she isn’t going to leave town without a fight, and as much

as Patrick and Grace want to brush this under the rug, it’s not something that’s going to go away.

Maybe that’s why I’m here, sitting in my truck, watching her load groceries into cars. I’m not sure if she’s noticed I’ve been lurking in the parking lot for half an hour. She probably has. My truck doesn’t necessarily blend in with its surroundings.

There’s a knock on my window that makes me jump. My eyes meet Grace’s. She’s holding Diem on her hip, so I open my door.

“What are you doing here?”

Grace shoots me a confused look. I’m sure she was expecting my response to be more on the excited side than concerned. “We’re getting groceries. We saw your truck.”

“I want to go with you,” Diem says. She reaches for me, and I slide out of the truck as I take her from Grace’s arms. I immediately scan the parking lot to make sure Kenna isn’t outside.

“You need to leave,” I say to Grace. She parked in the row in front of me, so I walk toward her car.

“What’s wrong?” Grace asks.

I face her and make sure to choose my words carefully. “She works here.”

There’s confusion in Grace’s face before the realization hits. As soon as she grasps who I’m referring to, the color begins to drain from her cheeks. “What?”

“She’s on shift right now. You need to get Diem out of here.” “But I want to go with you,” Diem says.

“I’ll come pick you up later,” I say, gripping the door handle. Grace’s car is locked. I wait for her to unlock it, but she’s frozen in place like she’s in a trance. “Grace!”

She quickly refocuses and then starts digging in her purse for her keys. That’s when I see Kenna.

That’s when Kenna sees me. “Hurry,” I say, my voice low.

Grace’s hands are shaking as she starts clicking her key fob.

Kenna has stopped walking. She’s just standing in the middle of the parking lot, staring at us. When she realizes what she’s seeing—that her

daughter is just yards from her—she abandons her customer’s grocery cart and starts heading in our direction.

Grace gets the doors unlocked, so I swing the back door open and put Diem in her booster seat. I don’t know why I feel like I’m racing against time. It’s not like Kenna could take her with both of us right here. I just don’t want Grace to have to face her. Not in front of Diem.

This also isn’t the time or the place for Kenna to meet her daughter for the first time. It would be too chaotic. It would scare Diem.

“Wait!” I hear Kenna yell.

Diem isn’t even buckled in all the way when I say, “Go,” and shut her

door.

Grace puts the car in reverse and pulls out of the parking spot as soon

as Kenna reaches us. Kenna passes me and rushes after the car, and as much as I want to grab her and pull her back, I keep my hands off her because I still feel remorse for pulling her away from their front door.

Kenna gets close enough to their car to tap the back of it and plead, “Wait! Grace, wait! Please!”

Grace doesn’t wait. She drives away, and it’s painful to watch Kenna debate on running after the car. When she finally realizes she isn’t going to stop them, she turns around and looks at me. Tears are streaming down her cheeks.

She covers her mouth with her hands and starts to sob.

It’s conflicting, being thankful she didn’t make it to us in time, but also heartbroken for her that she didn’t make it to us in time. I want Kenna to meet her daughter, but I don’t want Diem to meet her mother, even though they’re one and the same.

I feel like Kenna’s monster and Diem’s protector.

Kenna looks like she’s about to collapse from agony. She’s in no shape to finish her shift. I point to my truck. “I’ll give you a ride home. What’s your boss’s name? I’ll let her know you aren’t feeling well.”

She wipes her eyes with her hands and says, “Amy,” as she walks defeatedly toward my truck.

I think I know the Amy she’s referring to. I’ve seen her in the store before.

The cart Kenna abandoned is still in the same spot. The elderly woman Kenna was walking groceries out for is just standing by her car,

staring at Kenna as she climbs into my truck. She’s probably wondering what in the hell all the commotion was.

I run to the cart and push it over to the woman. “Sorry about that.” The woman nods and unlocks her trunk. “I hope she’s okay.”

“She is.” I load the groceries into her car and then return the cart to the store. I make my way to the customer service desk and find Amy behind the counter.

I try to smile at her, but there’s too much shifting around inside of me to even fake a smile at this point. “Kenna isn’t feeling well,” I lie. “I’m giving her a ride home. I just wanted to let you know.”

“Oh, no. Is she okay?”

“She will be. Do you know if she has anything I need to grab for her?

Like a purse?”

Amy nods. “Yeah, she uses locker twelve in the break room.” She points to a door behind the customer service desk.

I round the desk and walk through the door to the break room. The girl from Kenna’s apartment complex is sitting at the table. She looks up at me, and I swear she scowls. “What are you doing in our break room, jerk?”

I don’t try to defend myself. She has her mind made up about me, and at this point, I agree with her. I open locker twelve and go to grab Kenna’s purse. It’s more like a tote bag, and the top is wide open, so I see a thick stack of pages shoved inside.

It looks like a manuscript.

I tell myself not to look, but my eyes unwittingly land on the first line on the front page.

Dear Scotty

I want to read more, but I close the bag and respect her privacy. I go to leave the break room and say to the girl, “Kenna is sick. I’m taking her home, but do you think you can check on her this evening?”

The girl’s eyes are focused hard on me. She finally nods. “Okay, jerk.”

I want to laugh, but there are too many things suppressing that laugh right now.

When I get back to Amy, she says, “Let her know I clocked her out, and to call me if she needs anything.”

She has no phone, but I nod. “I will. Thank you, Amy.”

When I reach the truck, Kenna is curled up in the passenger seat, facing more toward the window. She flinches when I open the door. I set the tote bag between us, and she pulls it to her side. She’s still crying, but she doesn’t say anything to me, so I don’t say anything to her. I wouldn’t even know what to say. I’m sorry? Are you okay? I’m an asshole?

I pull out of the parking lot and don’t even make it half a mile down the road when Kenna mutters something that sounds like “Pull over.”

I look at her, but she’s looking out the window. When I don’t put on my blinker, she repeats herself. “Pull over.” Her voice is demanding now.

“You’ll be home in two minutes.” She kicks my dash. “Pull over!”

I don’t say anything else. I do what she says. I flip on my blinker and pull over to the shoulder.

She grabs her tote bag, gets out of the truck, and then slams the door. She starts walking in the direction of her apartment. When she gets several feet in front of my truck, I put it in drive and move along the shoulder, rolling down my window.

“Kenna. Get back in the truck.”

She keeps walking. “You told her to leave! You saw me coming and you told her to leave! Why do you keep doing this to me?” I continue driving at the pace she’s walking until she finally turns and faces me through the window. “Why?” she demands.

I press on the brakes until we’re even. My hands are starting to shake.

Maybe it’s the adrenaline, maybe it’s the guilt.

Maybe it’s the anger.

I put my truck in park because she looks like she’s ready to tackle this. “Do you really think you can confront Grace in the parking lot of a grocery store?”

“Well, I tried to do it at their house, but we both know how that turned

out.”

I shake my head. The location isn’t what I’m referring to.

I don’t know what I’m referring to. I work to gather my thoughts. I’m

confused because I think she might be right. She tried to approach them peacefully the first time, and I stopped her then too.

“They aren’t strong enough for whatever it is you’re here for, even if you aren’t here to take her from them. They aren’t even strong enough to

share her with you. They’ve given Diem a good life, Kenna. She’s happy and she’s safe. Is that not enough?”

Kenna looks like she’s holding her breath, but her chest is heaving. She stares at me for a moment and then walks toward the back of the truck so that I can’t see her face. She stands still for a while, but then she walks into the grass on the side of the road and just sits down. She pulls up her knees and hugs them as she stares out over an empty field.

I don’t know what she’s doing, or if she needs time to think. I give her a few minutes alone, but she doesn’t move or stand up, so I finally get out of the truck.

When I reach her, I don’t say anything. I quietly sit down next to her.

The traffic and the world continue to move behind us, but in front of us is a big open field, so we both stare straight ahead and not at each other.

She eventually looks down and pulls a small yellow flower out of the grass. She rolls it in her fingers, and I find myself watching her now. She inhales a slow breath, but doesn’t look at me when she releases it and starts to speak.

“Other mothers told me what it would be like,” she says. “They told me they’d take me to the hospital to give birth, and that I’d get two days with her. Two whole days, just me and her.” A tear falls down her cheek. “I can’t tell you how much I looked forward to those two days. It was the only thing I had to look forward to. But she was born early . . . I don’t know if you know that, but she was a preemie. Six weeks. Her lungs were . . .” Kenna blows out a breath. “Right after she was delivered, they had to transfer her to the NICU at another hospital. I spent my two days alone in a recovery room with an armed guard keeping watch over me. And when my two days were up, they sent me back to the prison. I never got to hold her. I never even got to look into the eyes of the human Scotty and I made.”

“Kenna . . .”

“Don’t. Whatever you’re about to say, don’t. Trust me, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t come here with the ridiculous hope that I would be welcomed into her life and even given some kind of role. But I also know she’s where she belongs, so I would have been grateful for anything. I would have been so grateful to finally get to look at her, even if that’s all I was ever allowed to do. Whether you or Scotty’s parents think I deserve that or not.”

I close my eyes because her voice is painful enough. Looking at her and seeing the agony on her face when she talks makes it so much worse.

“I am so grateful to them,” she says. “You have no idea. The whole time I was pregnant, I never had to worry about what kind of people would raise her. They were the same two people who raised Scotty, and he was perfect.” She’s quiet for a couple of seconds, so I open my eyes. She’s staring right at me when she shakes her head and says, “I’m not a bad person, Ledger.” Her voice is full of so much regret. “I’m not here because I think I deserve her. I just wanted to see her. That’s all. That’s it.” She uses her shirt to dry her eyes, and then she says, “Sometimes I wonder what Scotty would think if he could see us. It makes me hope that an afterlife doesn’t exist, because if it does, Scotty is probably the only sad person in heaven.”

Those words hit me in the gut, because I’m terrified she might be right. It’s been my biggest fear since she showed back up and I started viewing her as the woman Scotty was in love with rather than the woman who left him to die.

I stand up and leave Kenna alone in the grass. I walk to my truck and open my console. I get my phone and take it back to where Kenna is sitting. I sit down next to her again and open my photo app and then open the folder where I keep all the videos I’ve taken of Diem. I pull up the most recent one I took of her at dinner last night, and I hit play and hand the

phone to Kenna.

I never could have imagined what it would be like for a mother to lay eyes on her child for the first time. The sight of Diem on the screen steals Kenna’s breath. She slaps a hand over her mouth and begins to cry. She cries so hard, she has to set the phone on her legs so she can use her shirt to clear her eyes of tears.

Kenna becomes a different person right in front of my eyes. It’s as if I’m witnessing her become a mother. It might be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

I feel like an absolute fucking monster for not helping her experience this moment sooner.

I’m sorry, Scotty.

 

 

She watched four videos while sitting in the grass on the side of the road. She cried the whole time, but she also smiled a lot. And she laughed every time Diem would speak.

I let her hold my phone and continue to watch more of them as I drove her home.

I walked her upstairs to her apartment because I would have felt too bad taking my phone away from her, so she’s been watching videos for almost an entire hour. Her emotions are all over the place. She’s laughing, she’s crying, she’s happy, she’s sad.

I have no idea how I’ll get my phone back. I don’t know that I want to.

I’ve been in her apartment for so long Kenna’s kitten is now asleep in my lap. I’m on one end of the couch and Kenna is on the other, and I’m just watching her watch the videos of Diem, full of pride like a father, because I know Diem is healthy and articulate and funny and happy, and it feels good to watch Kenna realize all these things about her daughter.

But, at the same time, I feel like I’m betraying two of the most important people in my life. If Patrick and Grace knew I was here right now, showing Kenna videos of the child they’ve raised, they’d likely never speak to me again. I wouldn’t blame them.

There’s just no way to navigate this situation in a way that I don’t feel like I’m betraying someone. I’m betraying Kenna by keeping Diem from her. I’m betraying Patrick and Grace by giving Kenna a glimpse of Diem. I’m even betraying Scotty, although I don’t quite know how yet. I’m still trying to figure out where those feelings of guilt are coming from.

“She’s so happy,” Kenna says.

I nod. “She is. She’s very happy.”

Kenna looks up at me, wiping her eyes with a crumpled-up napkin I handed her in the truck. “Does she ever ask about me?”

“Not specifically, but she is starting to wonder where she came from.

Last weekend she asked if she grew in a tree or in an egg.” Kenna smiles.

“She’s still young enough that she doesn’t really understand family dynamics. She has me and Patrick and Grace, so right now, I don’t know

that she really feels like anyone is missing. I don’t know if that’s what you want to hear. It’s just the truth.”

Kenna shakes her head. “It’s fine. It actually makes me feel good that she doesn’t know I’m missing in her life yet.” She watches another video and then reluctantly hands me the phone. She pushes off the couch to walk to her bathroom. “Please don’t leave yet.”

I nod, assuring her I’m not going anywhere. When she closes the bathroom door, I move Kenna’s kitten and stand up. I need something to drink. The last couple of hours have somehow made me feel dehydrated even though Kenna is the one who has been crying.

I open Kenna’s refrigerator, but it’s empty. Completely empty. I open her freezer and it’s empty too.

When she steps out of her bathroom, I’m looking through her empty cabinets. They’re as barren as her apartment.

“I don’t have anything yet. I’m sorry.” She seems embarrassed when she says that. “It’s just . . . it took everything I had to move here. I’ll get paid soon, and I plan to move eventually, to somewhere better, and I’m getting a phone and—”

I lift a hand when I realize she thinks I’m judging her ability to provide for herself. Or maybe for Diem. “Kenna, it’s fine. I admire the determination that got you here, but you need to eat.” I slide my phone into my pocket and head toward the door. “Come on. I’ll buy you dinner.”

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