Columbus, Ohio: 1994
Sadly, Bertie Kingston dreaded the upcoming evening. Six months ago, when she’d walked away from her job with social services, she’d made a promise to herself. If she couldn’t turn her failing marriage around in six months, she’d ask John for a divorce. No one who knew the couple could believe that a marriage that started out with so much promise, had spiraled into such disarray. Least of all, Bertie. Birthday or not, tonight was the night that she would ask her husband for a divorce.
The trouble began when Bertie learned that she couldn’t have children. Instead of talking about the issue, they stopped talking. Oh, they appeared together at social functions, and she and John even managed to be polite when they were in the same room, but the magic had gone out of their lives. A gorgeous home, late-model cars, and money in the bank were not enough to take away the loneliness that haunted Bertie. She wanted more, and she suspected that John did.
At four, she headed upstairs to shower and dress for the evening. When her cell phone heralded a call, she considered letting it go to voice mail. Sully Masterson never let a little thing like an unanswered phone call stop her. She would keep ringing until Bertie answered.
She flipped open her cell. “Sully, you’ve called at an inconvenient time. Let me get back to you.”
“Bertie, don’t you dare hang up the damn phone. I wouldn’t think of calling you if I had another option. I’m facing an emergency.”
“I don’t work for social services any longer, Sully.”
“Well, that’s for damn sure. Our team was too small when you were with us, and now we are being forced to work around the clock, and we still can’t handle all the cases. Seriously, Bertie, I have an emergency on my hands and I need for you and John to give an abandoned child a place to sleep. I promise that I will beat the bushes until I find a home for Anna. That is, if her deadbeat mom doesn’t turn up. If I have a day or two, I’m sure that I can find a family to take her in.”
“Where was the child abandoned?”
“Her mom left her at Little Lambs Daycare, one of those facilities that provides care while young mothers enjoy a morning out. Can you believe that? It turns out that Caroline Williams might not be her mom. Everything else she claimed, turned out to be a lie. She claimed that she had an interview, and didn’t have any friends in town to call on for baby-sitting.
“When the woman didn’t return, the director called her cell number, her home phone number, the emergency phone number and the number listed for the company where she was being interviewed. The numbers were all bogus.
“You and John have been certified for foster care. Please, please take this child so that she doesn’t have sleep in a jail cell. I can’t get a peep out of her, so I have no idea what she knows or doesn’t know.”
“Why don’t you take her home with you, Sully?”
“I can’t. I have two more home visits that are scheduled for this evening, and Darius is working second shift.”
As determined as Bertie was not to give in to Sully, she couldn’t get a simple no to come out of her mouth. “One night, Sully.”
“I’ll take it.”
“I need to cancel dinner reservations, shower and dress. Where do you want me to meet you?”
“God bless you Bertie. Anna and I are in Chance Godwin’s office in the 57th street’s precinct building. Since I know you are on your way, I’m going to finish making my calls. I’ll touch bases with you later this evening to make sure that Anna has settled in.”
“Is Chance okay with you leaving her?”
“Chance is better with kids than either one of us. He’d take her in a minute if he had room. He and Jolene have three kids of their own.”
The inside of the precinct building was as tired looking as the exterior, certainly not a place that was comforting for a traumatized child.
When she entered Chance’s office he spoke to the child, “Anna, I would like for you to meet the friend I was telling you about. Bertie, this little darlin’ is Anna Williams.”
Bertie's heart went out to the angelic child with the piercing blue eyes who looked up from her coloring book when Chance introduced her. Bertie nodded to Chance, and then crouched down so that she would be on Anna’s level.
“Hi, I’m Bertie Kingston. Officer Godwin tells me that you need a place to sleep tonight, and I have a guest room that I think you will like. I even have a little puppy dog named Dumpling who would love to have a friend to play with. If you like, he can sleep in your room.
When Anna cringed, Bertie softened her voice. “Guess what, Anna? Today is my birthday. It would make me very happy if you would come to my birthday party. There will be pizza and ice cream, and maybe even cake. If we’re lucky, my husband, John, will pick up some balloons. After the party, you can take a bubble bath. That is, if you like bubble baths. And, before you go to sleep, I can read you a bedtime story. Have you ever read the story Goodnight Moon?"
The child’s eyes widened and Bertie feared that she was going to refuse to go with her. Bertie waited her out. Eventually Anna nodded yes.
“Thank you, Anna. I can’t tell you how pleased I am. I’ve been sad because I didn’t have a friend to invite to my party.”
Chance breathed a sigh of relief. “You are a lucky young lady, Anna. If I didn’t have to work, I would love to party with you two.”
Bertie said, “Anna, why don’t you finish that lovely picture you’re coloring, while I speak to Officer Godwin. We’ll be right outside the door.”
Anna ducked her head, picked up a crayon and began coloring.
When the door to his office closed behind them, Chance said, “I know that you gave up your job with social services, Bertie, but you’re doing the right thing by taking this child, even if it’s a temporary solution.” He shook his head in disgust. “The terrible things parents do to their children drives me crazy. It sure will be a blessing if Sully can find a home for her. You can tell by looking in Anna's eyes that she’s a bright little thing, but she’s stopped talking.”
“Maybe she has a limited vocabulary. What does the police report say? Did she speak to the caregivers or children at the center?”
“When she arrived, she said a few words. According to the director of the center, she clammed up when the director asked questions about her mom. There hasn’t been a peep from her since she’s been here, but it’s not because I haven’t made an effort to get her to talk. She needs to see a therapist, and she needs to see one soon.”
“I agree, but I doubt that’s going to happen, Chance. There are way too many kids who are alone in this world, and not enough case workers to place them or enough caring adults who are willing to take them in. All we can do is take care of one child at a time.”