I bounce Sage on my hip and pace back and forth in my living room. “Shhhh, baby. Aunt Willow has you, it’s okay. Shhhhhh.”
Vi dropped Sage off two hours ago to go out to dinner with some work colleagues to celebrate someone’s birthday. Poor Sage has cried for the last hour nonstop. She doesn’t have a fever, she has a clean diaper, and she ate the organic, homemade veggies Vi sent over, but she refuses to take her bottle. I know my mom’s senses are tingling; she is getting an ear infection. When she wouldn’t take her pacifier after crying for it, I know her ear must really hurt when she sucks. So no bottle or pacifier to comfort her.
“Baby, it’s all right.” I kiss her hair and check again for a fever. No, she hot from crying but no fever. My cell phone rings in the kitchen, “Come on, baby, let’s see if that’s your momma calling.”
I see Aiden’s name, and I answer, “Hey, can I call you back.”
“I just read your text, so we are at your house tonight?”
“Yes, Vi said she’d pick Sage up by eleven, but I’m not sure we are going to make it until then.” Sage knocks the phone out of my hand, and it skids across the floor. “No no, sweet pea.”
I pick up the phone, “Are you still there?”
Aiden chuckles, “Yeah, baby, I’ll see you shortly. I need to grab some things, and I’ll be over to help. Do you need me to pick up anything?”
I brave my finger and rub Sage’s gums, and she has two knots. My poor baby has a hard time cutting her teeth. “No thank you, I think I have something for her gums, I’ll see you in a little bit, bye.”
“Sage, sweet pea, honey, stop crying.” I kiss her head, and she bangs it against my chest. She is crying so hard she’s unable to get herself under control. “Come on, baby. Aunt Willow is going to walk you around the block. Let’s get some fresh air, sweetie.”
I try what I always did for the boys when they needed to calm down, fresh air. I put on her adorable little crocheted hat and fasten it under her chin. “Shhh, Aunt Willow has you, sweet pea.” I wipe the drool from her chin.
I forgo her jacket, grab a blanket off the couch, and wrestle myself into my coat. I don’t have a stroller, so I hold Sage. I wrap her in the blanket, hold her close to my chest, and shroud my jacket around us both.
I open the door, and the cold January air hits my face. Aiden is obsessed with the weather. He complained this morning on our run that it was too warm for January. This isn’t warm. Thirty degrees is cold. I shiver and hug Sage tight and walk down my front stoop.
Sage has already quieted down. She raises her head from my chest and looks around. “See, baby? Aunt Willow is going to help you feel better. Lay your head down and let walk up the street, and when we get home, we’ll get snuggled in our PJs, and I’ll put something on your gums for those mean ole teeth.”
Sage lays her head down, and her big brown eyes are all swollen from crying. I pull the blanket up over her and bounce. I hum my Grandma’s favorite John Denver song, ‘For Baby.’ I feel Sage’s breath on my neck, even out, and I know she’ll be asleep before I make it three doors down.
I stop and notice that two houses from me, the owners are stripping the paint on their front door. I wonder what they are going to do. God, what am I going to do with my door? I pull my jacket tighter around Sage. I need to text Vi and see if she wants me to give her Tylenol.
I turn to return home when, suddenly, a tall stranger shoves me to the ground. “Ow!”
I grip Sage as tight as I can because I know I’m going down hard. My behind and head hit the sidewalk. Thank God I kept a tight hold of my niece.
The blanket is ripped off us, and Sage starts to cry. A man stands over us. I see hateful, bloodshot blue eyes widen. I squeeze Sage and close my eyes when he kicks me in the side. “You’re lucky tonight, bitch.”
I’m ready to plead for our lives when I hear, “Hey, what’s going on over there?” I watch him adjust his black ski mask and run away.
Sage, thank God, is safe. Sage is safe; she’s safe, she’s safe. “Shhhh.” I sit up on my behind. A man runs up the street, “Hey lady, everything all right? Did that guy knock you down?”
I can’t answer, I hold tight to Sage with one hand and hold my other out for him to help me up.
I stand up on shaky legs.
“Get the fuck away from her.” I see Aiden jogging down from my steps.
“I’m helping her, dude,” the man frowns.
But all I see is Aiden. “Aiden, help me!”
“Aiden, help me!” I hear Willow yell, and I hear Sage crying. My adrenaline is pounding. Who the hell is beside her, is he hurting her?
I crush them to me when I get to them, and Willow is shaking like a leaf. “Who the fuck are you?” I sneer at the man. “Baby, what happened?” I hold her close, feeling her shake in my arms. I smell her hair and kiss her head.
“Dude, I thought a saw a man standing over her when she was lying on the ground.”
“Th-thank you. A, a, a man shoved me down to the ground, he, he saw Sage, he said I was lu-lucky. He, he kicked me and ran away when he yelled. Aiden, I need to get Sage inside.”
Sage is whimpering against Willow’s chest. “Thank you for coming to her rescue. I’ve got it from here. What’s your name?”
“Mark Stantz. I live four doors north if you need me to talk to the police.” I nod and keep the girls protected with my arm around them and help them up the stoop and into the house. Willow is limping and shaking so hard I’m afraid if I let go of her, she will fall to the ground.
I sit them on the couch, “Give me Sage, sweetheart.”
“No, I can’t let her go yet.” I kiss the top of her head and smell her hair. Goddamn, she could have been really hurt. Thank God she’s okay.
“Where’s your phone, Willow? We need to call Violet and the police, sweetheart?”
She cries into the top of Sage’s head; she kisses it a few times. “On the kitchen island.” I nod and walk calmly to the kitchen.
My palms are sweaty, and my heart is pounding with rage and fear. She was attacked right outside her goddamn door. Some dirty fucker touched her, knocked her to the fucking ground.
I dial Vi, and she answers. “Is she having trouble falling asleep?” she yells.
I can hear laughter and people in the background. “Violet, this is Aiden. We had an incident tonight, everyone is fine, but you need to come to pick Sage up. I’m getting ready to call the police and issue a report.”
“Please don’t worry; everyone is good and not harmed—”
“Violet, Willow, and Sage were knocked to the ground in front of her neighbor’s house. I don’t know anything else yet, Willow and Sage are okay; she’s-”
“I’m on my way.” She hangs up.
I carry the phone with me and sit down beside Willow. She’s covered in sweat, “Baby, let me take the blanket off of you two, I think Sage is asleep.” Thank God Sage is okay and sleeping, babies really are resilient. I remove the blanket, “Give me the baby and take your coat off, sweetheart.”
Green eyes filled with unshed tears, looking so sad that I can feel my stomach knot. To see her down on the ground, with a man touching her, I could run a goddamn marathon right now.
I gently take the baby and hold her to my chest. I kiss the top of her black hair, and thank God she wasn’t hurt when Willow fell. Sage doesn’t stir. I think she’s cried herself out for the night.
Willow is shaking so hard she has trouble removing her coat. She lays the blanket down over the couch. “Put— Lay, lay her down here, please.”
She can hardly get the words out; she’s so upset. I lie Sage down gently, and Willow covers her up and sits a pillow beside the baby on the couch. She lays her hand on Sage’s back and rubs, her eyes never leaving Sage.
“Baby, Willow, we need to file a police report.”
Her tears fall, but she doesn’t look at me, “He thought, he thought I had a package, something he could steal. He, he, he tore the blanket off and saw Sage.”
“Shh, you’re all right now, it’s over, baby.”
I lock up after the officers leave. I knew one from a case I worked on a long time ago. I pulled him aside. I wanted his gut feeling, if this was a random act or if someone was watching and waiting for Willow specifically. He assured me that my concerns would be looked into, but apparently, there have been several muggings in the area. We have filed a report, and I’m hoping Willow was right in her thinking, he thought she was holding something of monetary street value.
I shake my head; if that gentleman hadn’t yelled, we could have had a different outcome. A few people have been beaten up by this sick fucking piece of shit human being.
Violet left after making Willow drink some special tea to calm her down and to take Sage home for the night. I pulled Violet aside to let her know that I had everything under control, and she could rest assure that Willow is safe and that I’m not leaving her side. She appreciated it when I informed her of this. But she didn’t like it when I told her to stop with the moral of this story bullshit is that there are good people in the world and a good neighbor saved them from things becoming worse. She wants this to be about good fucking people in the world, it certainly is, but only to a certain fucking point.
Willow needs to be more aware of the bad in the fucking world. She has the good down pat. She fucking radiates happy, kind, helping for fuck’s sake. She needs to be cautious. No, tonight’s story is not that there is good all around this city. There is good. I’m not such an asshole I can’t see it all around me. But Willow’s and her sister’s nativity or cluelessness about the types of people around them, sometimes is staggering to me. Willow, I can understand to a point, she never left her rural town. Violet, on the other hand, has been to more countries than most people can name. She should know better than to be so naive and hippy, dippy. Everything works out in the end attitude is frankly bordering on irresponsible.
I turn off all of the lights and put Violet out of my mind. She’s not my concern; the woman I’m madly in love with, with whom I can physically feel her emotions, is where my focus needs to be right now.
I walk into her bedroom. The bathroom door is open, and I hear the shower turn off. I stop short of scooping her up in my arms when I see she already has a massive bruise on the side of her stomach and left hip. Her hand goes to her stomach.
I shake my head and mask the anger I feel at seeing her bruised and ask, “Baby? You’re worried about some nonexistent stomach roll when you are standing there with a big, ugly bruise on your beautiful body.”
I try not to hurt her, but I scoop up her wet body. “Aiden, I’m soaking wet.”
I kiss her softly. Goddamn, everything about her is fucking so soft. “I don’t give a fuck, Willow. You are not leaving my arms. I’m sick of this back and forth bullshit of sleeping here and at my house. You are moving in with me. We love each other, and we’re not young and dumb. You’re mine, and I’m yours. The next time we are babysitting, and you need to step out for fresh air, you’ll be doing it looking at the goddamn river in our fenced, private fucking backyard!”
I kiss the surprise off of her face, but I don’t close my eyes. We are green eyes to green eyes. My heart pounds wildly. This kind of love is why my old man sold his soul. She blink slowly, and I know she’s agreed that she’s mine. When her eyes close, I lay her down softly on the bed. I’d lay down my life for her; Willow Reese Nelson is my life.
She smiles before she falls asleep. "I love you to Aiden