Balloon Man

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Chapter 45

Alouette was scared. All the strange, weird noises of the hospital made her nervous. She jumped every time a voice spoke from above; shook when the door opened and another stranger appeared. She wished Alma would come back and sit for a while. Though she barely knew the woman, the bond was already strong. Alma saved her life; granted Alouette her freedom. What more could a person do for another? How would Alouette ever be able to repay Alma for her kindness?

The knock on the door made Alouette jump, wondering if another nurse was back to take more blood. She didn’t like being poked with the needle.

Alouette’s pounding heart slowed when Alma stuck her head inside the door. “Hey there. Wants some company?”

“Yes, please!” Alouette chirped, grateful her savior stood in the doorway.

Alma walked over and sat in the chair next to Alouette’s bed. “How you doing, honey?”

“I’m okay, just scared. People keep coming in here, sticking me with needles. Examining me. Poking, prodding. Two cops were in here earlier and asked me so many questions my head spun. All the attention is making me nervous.”

Alma patted Alouette’s hand. “They’re just doing their jobs, sweetie. I know hospitals can be scary places, but it’s where you need to be for now. At least until they’re sure you’re healthy. I assume you’ve never been in one, have you?”

Alouette shook her head. “No. I’ve never really been anywhere, other than at Herme’s place. I mean, well, not since I lived with my mom. That was so long ago, I really don’t remember much about it.”

Alouette let her words trail off as memories filled her mind. She remembered being pregnant, going in to labor, and how Herme had called a friend who he said was a doctor who made house calls. As her difficult labor progressed and blood oozed from her body, she should have gone to the hospital, but Herme refused to listen to her pleas.

Without conscious effort, her hand moved to her slender stomach and rubbed. Alouette wondered what happened to her baby. She’d been living in hell for so long, struggling day to day just to survive, she pushed the thoughts of her lost child down so deep she’d almost forgot about the baby. Tears formed in her eyes, wondering what kind of person forgets about their child. The tiny baby boy she saw for only a brief second all but forgotten in the tortuous chaos she lived in.

Alma noticed the change in Alouette’s features. The emotional pain on the young girl’s face was hard to look at. “I’m so sorry for what you went through, Alouette. Nothing will take away the pain or the awful memories, but at least you have the chance to make happy new ones and live a real life.”

Wiping away the tears streaming down her cheeks, Alouette nodded. “I know, and I’m grateful. Owe it all to you, and here I am falling apart when you’ve lost your sister. And those precious boys! What they endured. Goodness, the world can be an ugly, hateful place.”

“Yes, it can. There’s always a flip side of things. We can’t truly appreciate beauty if we’ve never seen ugliness. After what you’ve been through, it’s time for the beautiful things in life to comfort you. I believe they will. Feel it in here,” Alma said, pointing to her heart.

A nurse walked in, interrupting the special moment between them. She smiled distractedly while putting a new IV bag in place. “Your body sure was dehydrated! That’s the second bag in so many hours.”

Alouette cringed in the bed. “Are you going to stick me again?”

“No, honey. We’ve taken all the samples we need to do a complete work up on you. Are you ready to eat? I know it’s a bit early for dinner, but I know the cook in the cafeteria. He’ll fix you a nice plate if you think you could keep it down.”

The mere mention of food made Alouette’s stomach grumble. “Yes, thank you. I’m starved.”

“Great. Now, you rest for a while until I bring you a tray. Same goes for you, ma’am. You need to get back to your room and rest,” the nurse added, looking at Alma.

“Can’t she please stay here? I don’t like being all alone,” Alouette whined.

“Let me ask the doctor if we can move you both into a bigger room. Until then, no. Again, you both need to rest.”

Sensing an odd tone in the nurse’s voice, Alma didn’t put up an argument. She patted the frightened girl’s hand again and whispered, “Hang in there, honey. I’ll be back soon.”

Once outside the room, the nurse ushered Alma down the hall without saying a word until out of earshot of Alouette.

“What’s going on?” Alma inquired.

“I’m afraid your friend has taken a turn for the worse.”

Alma’s heart rate spiked. “Cye or one of the boys?”

“Mr. Swain. He’s losing blood fast and needs a transfusion. I’m afraid we don’t have his type here on hand. We’ve called the blood bank and they’re on the way, but I don’t know if they’ll make it in time.”

Alma didn’t wait for the nurse to say another word. She turned and raced down the hall to Cye’s room. Reaching the door, she peeked in, afraid of what she’d see. Her fears were on target. Cye was ghostly pale, unmoving, the heart monitors beeping too fast.

Alma burst inside his room and sat on the edge of his bed. “Oh, Cye, I need to tell you things. Things I’ve kept to myself for way too long. You have to stay here with me “Please fight back. Please?”

Alma placed a delicate kiss on Cye’s cold cheek then left the room. She walked to the nurse’s station. “I was told he needs blood. May I donate?”

“Do you know your blood type?” the nurse on duty asked.

Alma grimaced while trying to remember. She heard footsteps behind her and turned around. A doctor strode down the hall, a look of worry on his face. Alma rushed to meet him. “Please, test me to see if I’m a match.”

“Blood type?” the doctor asked in a curt voice.

“Oh, uh, B positive,” Alma answered.

“Sorry Alma,” said the doctor. “Cye’s AB negative. But we could always use extra blood if you’d still like to donate.”

“Of course. At least it will give me something to do.”

The doctor signaled for a nurse and Alma was ushered into a small room. Less than twenty minutes later, minus a pint of blood, Alma headed back toward Cye’s room. The nurse touched her arm and shook her head. “He can’t have any visitors right now. Besides, you need to eat and drink after donating. Come on, I’ll help you to your room. Eat. Rest. Get your strength back then I’ll let you visit him at shift change. Okay?”

Alma felt a little dizzy and didn’t put up an argument. Once inside her room, she used the bathroom then took a hot shower to help wake up. After drying off, she stepped back into the room and smiled. A tray of bland hospital food sat on the nightstand. Alma sank into the bed and turned the television on to a campy sitcom. Less than two minutes into the show, the screen changed. The familiar face of Baton Rouge’s Channel Six reporter, Skylar Prentiss, appeared. Alma nearly choked at the breaking news.

“Channel Six has just learned that Jacob Ducreux, the missing boy from Baton Rouge, has been found alive in Leesville, Louisiana, along with several other children believed to have been kidnapped as well. At this time, all the boys are being treated at a local hospital for minor injuries. According to Chief Fox of Leesville, a news conference will be forthcoming to discuss the arrests of two local men who are considered potential suspects. Please stay tuned to Channel Six for more updates.”

Alma’s sore muscles and broken heart vanished for a split second at the news. “Yes! Finally something goes right today!”

She had to tell Cye. The good news might give him the mental strength to fight and come back. Alma stuffed the remaining chunk of a stale sandwich into her mouth, followed by a healthy slurp of ice water. She wanted to run down the hall but feared being spotted and told to return to her room. Opening the door, she peeked out, grateful the nurse’s station was empty.

Creeping down the hallway, Alma made it to Cye’s room. She held her breath as she pushed the door open, hoping he was alone. He was, so Alma slipped inside, closing the door behind her. “Cye? Cye? Guess what? They arrested Cooter! It’s over.”

Alma stiffened at the the whoosh of the door opening. “Ma’am, you can’t be in here. Mr. Swain can’t have visitors. Doctor’s orders.”

Sighing, Alma took one last look at Cye’s fragile, unconscious frame. “Sorry. I just…need to tell him some things.”

“Tell him later when he wakes up.”

Alma left the room and headed to Alouette’s. At least she could tell the poor girl her captor was now in police custody.

Alouette was asleep when Alma walked in. She contemplated waking her, but opted against disturbing the frail creature. Alma wondered how long it had been since the girl truly rested.

Alma moved toward the chair to sit, yet stopped short as she passed the chart hanging at the end of Alouette’s bed. Her nosy nature overrode the girl’s privacy, so she picked it up. Since she was familiar with medical terminology, she scanned the pages, noting Alouette’s blood type, her vitals, list of old injuries. Alma’s breath caught in her throat when she saw the words gravidity parity – one.

The girl had given birth—at least once. Alma’s heart filled with sorrow. What happened to the baby?

Flipping to the next page, it took Alma a few seconds to realize she was looking at a DNA report. She didn’t know what all the allele markers meant, but at the end of the report, someone had handwritten, DNA match.

Blood type match, DNA match. What was she reading? DNA match with who?

She knew she was breaking the rules, but Alma didn’t care. She had to know what was going on. Maybe it meant Alouette had family who’d been at the hospital in the past. What a blessing it would be to reunite the girl with family members!

“Please, explain this to me,” Alma asked the nurse after handing her the chart.

The nurse grimaced. “You aren’t allowed to have this, or take it out of the room. It’s against HIPPA laws.”

Alma’s anger erupted. “Do you have any idea what that girl’s been through? The torture she suffered at the hands of a brutal monster? Right now, I’m the only person she really knows, so let’s pretend we’re family and tell me. Please? It’s not like I’m a reporter or I’m going to broadcast the news. I just want to know there’s some hope for her!”

The nurse’s gaze softened. “I appreciate your concern but again, I can’t divulge private patient information. I can tell you this—the matches came from the central data base we keep here for potential donors for blood and organs.”

“Please, who is it? We need to notify the police. The girl needs her family!”

“We’ve already called Child Protective Services. They are fully aware of the situation and will handle things. Now, please return to your room and I’ll forget we had this conversation.”

Alma huffed then walked away, her brain on fire, wondering how to find out who the match was. She was too antsy to go back to her room so she headed to the cafeteria to grab some coffee. The walk would help alleviate some of her nervous energy.

Coffee in hand, Alma paced the floor, trying to make sense of the last week. Lost inside her jumbled thoughts, she never heard someone approach her until a hand touched her shoulder. Alma jumped, spilling hot coffee all over the floor.

“Oh, I’m sorry ma’am. Didn’t mean to scare you.”

Alma stared at the man in front of her, noting his business attire and badge hanging around his neck that read Carl Richmond, Investigator, CPS.

“It’s not your fault. I’m just a bit jittery. A lot has happened in the last few days.”

A pair of puppy dog eyes stared at her with a hint of sadness. “I can’t imagine. You’re Alma Emmett, correct?”

Alma nodded.

“Good. I’ve been looking for you. Please, may I have a few minutes of your time? We need to talk about Alouette.”

Motioning toward a back table, Alma followed Mr. Richmond. They sat and stared at each other for several seconds before he took out a pad and pen from his pocket. “I’ve read the police report from you both and just have a few extra questions. Do you feel up to answering?”

“Of course. Anything I can do to help the poor girl.”

For the next twenty minutes, Mr. Richmond grilled Alma about the conditions of where Alouette had been held, what she knew about Herme, and anything the girl said that might not have been reported. Alma answered all the questions to be the best of her recollections then inquired what would happen to Alouette once she was released from the hospital.

“We’re working on that, Ms. Emmett.”

“That’s not much of an answer, Mr. Richmond. I know she’s got family. I read her chart. They found a match to her DNA. Do you know who they are?”

“I’m not at liberty to say, Ms. Emmett. Just know we’ll make sure she’s well taken care of and will receive all the therapy needed to work through what happened.”

Tears welled up in Alma’s eyes. “Anywhere is better than where she was.”

’Agreed,” Mr. Richmond answered. He stood and Alma did as well. “Thank you for speaking with me. You should probably go rest, too. You’ve been through quite an ordeal yourself. I’m sorry about your sister.”

Alma shook his hand and left, unwilling to say anything else. All the events of the last week weighed heavy on her heart. With slow, shuffling steps, she headed back to her room, feeling sad, lonely and very depressed.

One back in the uncomfortable hospital bed, she started to cry. Silent tears cascaded down her cheeks as reality sank in. Her beloved twin was dead and Alma was all alone in the world.

“Alma? May I come in?”

Glancing up, Alma smiled. Her neighbor, Mrs. Washington, stood in the doorway, holding a huge bouquet of flowers in one hand and letters in the other.

“Of course,” Alma replied, wiping the tears from her face. “God, it’s so wonderful to see a familiar, friendly face! How did you know I was here?”

Mrs. Washington stepped inside the room then set the flowers on the small nightstand next to the bed. Alma grinned, realizing they were from the elderly woman’s garden.

“This is a small town, Alma. It’s all over the news, too. I’m so sorry about Elaine. God rest her soul. I figured you needed some cheering up, so here I am.”

“That’s so sweet of you! And you even brought a piece of home. Your flowers always smell so grand. No one in any parish can hold a candle to your green thumb.”

Mrs. Washington sat on the edge of the bed and smiled, handing Alma the letters in her hand. “Thanks, dearie. I do try. Here’s your mail. I didn’t know how long you’d be in here, so I figured it was best to bring it to you. Don’t want people knowing you’re not home. No sense in alerting criminals to a vacant house, right?”

Alma laughed. “You think of everything, don’t you?”

“When my mind ain’t on the fritz, yes.”

Glancing down, Alma’s throat clenched. The letter she’d been waiting for with the DNA results was on top. “Yes!”

“What’s that, dearie? You win Publishers’ Clearinghouse or something?”

“No. I submitted my DNA to a company that does family heritage work up. These are the results. I’ve been waiting for them for weeks!”

“Oh, that’s interesting. So, what does it say?”

Alma tore the letter open and read the results. “Well, we’re part French, Spanish, Polish, Irish, Scottish, English, and German. Pretty much a smorgasbord of races! I’ll be—it’s just like Elaine said. Oh, and get this! I have 689 relatives!”

“Lordy, that’s a lot of family!” Mrs. Washington exclaimed. “Christmas will be expensive this year, huh?”

The euphoric feeling at the knowledge she wasn’t alone in the world made Alma smile. The report included contact information on some of the distant relatives, including telephone numbers and email addresses.

“I’ll certainly be busy for the next several months! Can’t afford presents for this many people so it’ll just have to be cards.”

Mrs. Washington laughed. “Honey, if you write out 689 Christmas cards, you’ll get carpel tunnel syndrome.”

Alma leaned over and hugged Mrs. Washington. “Thank you for this. I really needed some happy news.”

“Glad I helped! I don’t get to do that often. Now, it’s late and you need to rest. You don’t worry about a thing. I’ll make sure no one messes with your house. Just concentrate on healing. I’ll cook you a nice batch of gumbo once you’re released. I know you’ll be hungry. Hospital food is awful.”

Smiling through her tears, Alma nodded while watching Mrs. Washington shuffle out of the room. Once alone, she hugged the DNA results to her chest and within minutes, fell into a heavy, deep sleep.

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