Authors: Holly Tierney-Bedord
by Holly Tierney-Bedord
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not construed to be real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Run Away Baby
by Holly Tierney-Bedord © 2015
Cover design by Holly Tierney-Bedord, photo by Gillham Studios.
All rights reserved.
Abby Greer’s nail polish tower was on the coffee table, surrounded by Q-tips, cotton balls, and a tall bottle of QVC acetone-free polish remover. She was spinning the tower – a shopping channel purchase she actually used -- reviewing her fifty-six color choices for the third time. This meant it was Friday.
She had settled on Strawberry Milkshake when the phone rang. Seeing that it was her husband’s assistant, not some telemarketer she could ignore, she set the bottle of polish aside and answered the phone.
“Hi Krissa. What’s up?”
“Hi Abby. Do you have a minute?”
“Mr. Greer would like you to be ready to be picked up at 6:40 tonight to meet him and the Cadburys at Parsley. He’d like you to wear the black Calvin Klein dress that I bought for you last week, that sleeveless one? You know which one I’m talking about? The plain one?”
“Yeah, I know which one you mean.”
“Good. He’d like you to wear that and your shoes with the two small straps, you know which ones I mean, right?”
“Yeah, I know which ones you mean,” said Abby.
“Good. And your hair up. He says please go get it done if you’d like to, at that place right down the street. He says no creative braids please. He says they’re cute but not for tonight. Okay?”
When speaking with Abby, Krissa walked the line between babysitter and friend, her tone a practiced, conspiratorial lilt.
, it said. She made it clear, but in a way that wouldn’t piss off Randall if he overheard, that she was a little embarrassed to have to relay such basic information to Abby. She spoke like they were rolling their eyes a little, like they were in this together. “And he says to please be prompt, to be ready exactly at 6:40.”
“Okay. Talk to you soon.”
Abby set the phone to the side and began spinning the nail polish tower again. Dinner at Parsley called for something subtler than Strawberry Milkshake. She rubbed her eyes, squinting at Pearl Pink and Barely Pink. She went back and forth between them, applying a small swab of each to the back of a magazine, blowing on the samples, evaluating. She decided that Barely Pink seemed safer.
Halfway through her second coat the phone rang again. She paused
and answered it.
“Hi, Abby. It’s Krissa again.”
“Question for you. Did Mr. Greer talk to you about getting a job?”
“I guess he hasn’t talked to you about this.”
“Sorry, Krissa, but there must be a mistake. I’ve tried to get a job, like probably ten times, and he is really opposed to the idea.”
“Well, he’s changed his mind.”
“Why would he do that?”
“It has to do with some changes with our insurance here.”
“You mean because of the new company president?” Abby asked.
“Yes,” said Krissa. She sounded relieved that Abby knew this much. “Some of the policies around here have changed, and Mr. Greer noticed that if you were to work eight hours per week, it would lower your family’s health insurance costs by $400 a month.”
“Oh. Weird.” Now Abby could recall having seen Randall sitting with the new policy book, reading it cover to cover. “I can’t imagine Randall getting so concerned about $400 a month,” she lied.
“I guess he is,” said Krissa.
“Crazy. A job.”
“Kind of. I’m not even sure where to begin,” Abby said. “I worked at a coffee shop years ago, but I wasn’t exactly good at it. This seems like a mistake. Is Randall available? Let me ask him about this.”
“I’m sorry; he’s in a meeting.”
Abby sighed. “Did he say what kind of job he wants me to get? I mean, you know. Who would even want me?”
“Actually, it’s already arranged.”
“Yeah, I’m serious. …Sorry,” Krissa added, almost in a whisper. “I would have told you when I called a minute ago,” she continued, “but I didn’t want to say anything until I’d confirmed details with the receptionist at Lorbmeer, Messdiem & Miller.”
where I’ll be working?”
“Yeah. Are you okay with that?”
“I guess. I’m surprised, that’s all. I mean,
know: Clark Lorbmeer and his wife are friends of ours.”
“That might make it easier transitioning back into the working world, right?” said Krissa.
“So, here are the details: You’ll be working two mornings a week from eight to noon, helping them with filing, maybe tidying up their break room and stuff.”
“At eight o’clock in the morning? That’s so early.”
“It’s just Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
“Do I need to wear suits?”
“No. It’s not that dressy in the position you’ll be in. It’s more business casual. Mr. Greer would like you to get yourself some nice work clothes at J.Crew. He said he likes that one blonde model in this month’s catalog whose hair is in a ponytail. He says you guys have a copy of it at home. If you want to find it we can look at it together right now over the phone. I’ve got my own copy here.”
“I’ll look at it later.”
“Okay. It’s the blonde girl. She’s pretty much the star of the whole work clothes section of the catalog, along with a stubbly guy...” Abby could hear the sound of pages turning. “I found her. She’s wearing a pencil skirt and a flowery, yellow blouse. Mr. Greer said she reminds him of you and that she looks very work appropriate. So, yeah, he suggests you just buy mainly what she’s wearing.”
“So… A little shopping spree. That’ll be fun, right?”
“Sure,” said Abby.
“Do you need any help? Do you want me to just buy everything he said for you?”
“Well, okay. I guess it would be easier since you know what he wants.”
“Consider it done.”
Abby dabbed a Q-tip in the bottle of polish remover and touched up a spot on her big toe where she’d gotten a little polish on the skin. “Thanks.”
“It’s no trouble.”
“You can add in some stuff for yourself,” Abby said.
“No, no,” Krissa laughed breezily. She never slipped up.
“I wouldn’t care.”
“What’s your middle name again?” Krissa asked her.
“Thanks. I’ll write it down this time.”
“Hey, Abby? One more thing: No one even has to know about this. I guess what I’m saying is, don’t get all into it and create a LinkedIn account or anything like that. Mr. Greer would rather have it be kind of a low-profile job. You know what I mean?”
“Well, yeah,” said Abby.
“Okay. I’ll email you directions, the job description, company website, all of that.”
“So, were they actually looking to fill this position, or is this something Clark Lorbmeer’s doing as a favor to Randall?”
“I imagine it was a position they were looking to fill.”
“Okay. That’s good,” said Abby. If Krissa was going to try to sound sincere on her behalf, Abby could at least pretend to believe her.
“You’ll check your email and look everything over, right?”
“Yes. When does this all start?”
“Next week. Next Tuesday.”
When her nails were dry enough, Abby put the spinning tower and manicure accessories away and then returned to the living room where a midafternoon talk show was playing. She sat down, nudging the mute button so if Randall watched the playback of her he would see the program unfolding in the background. As far as she knew, the room wasn’t bugged. Not yet, anyhow. Sometimes all the noise became too much for her to bear. She liked to go into her own head. It was the last safe place. But acts like pausing a show to daydream made Randall nervous.
“What’s this about?” he’d ask as he fast-forwarded through moments of Abby’s day, pausing at incriminating moments like her staring thoughtfully without distractions, or eating junk food, or disappearing for hours and arriving home empty-handed.
Her answer was always a variation on the same theme: “Nothing. You. I had a headache. Nothing. I needed to space out for a minute. Resting my eyes. Nothing. You.”
Upon hearing that she’d soon have a job, Abby’s first thought had been that some freedom would come along with it. Perhaps even something bordering on an adventure. It figured that she’d be working under the watchful eyes of Randall’s lawyer, friend, and golfing buddy Clark Lorbmeer.
Only Krissa had an accurate idea of Abby’s life. But even Krissa didn’t know Abby’s secret name for Randall: He was Papa Rottzy. Because he watched every move she made. And because he was old. And because he was rotten.
It was the name she would have called him if she still had a sister, and if this were her sister’s problem instead of her own. She’d take her sister out for coffee and ask her, “How’s Papa Rottzy? Are you ready to escape from his prison?” She’d be kidding, but she’d be serious. In Abby’s fantasies it was always her trying to help one of her little sisters out of this mess, because there was a big part of her that still couldn’t believe this was her life.
Even if they hadn’t wound up together, Abby would have never forgotten the day that Randall first visited the Java Stop. It was a sweltering day in April, a few weeks before she would graduate from college. He was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, coated in sweat, a grubby cast on his hand and wrist. To Abby, he looked like a bum. Some forgettable old man.
“Christ, it’s brutal out there,” he told her. He pulled a wad of napkins from the dispenser on the counter and wiped off his face with them.
“Yeah, it’s hot,” she said.
“I’m out for a walk. Keeping busy while I’m recovering,” he explained, waving his hand in the air.
“That’s too bad,” she told him.
“I could get used to this,” he said a moment later.
“Used to what?” She thought he meant having a broken wrist, or whatever it was that was wrong with him.
“Not working. I could get used to being lazy.”
“Lazy can be good,” she agreed.
“Make me a lettuce wrap.”
When she served it to him she could see he was disappointed and surprised that it was literally food wrapped in lettuce.
“Give me a cookie and a turkey sandwich instead,” he told her. Then he’d lurked there for two hours. At that time in Abby’s life this wasn’t unusual. Guys hung around everywhere she went. She was magnetic, despite her blasé attitude and open disdain. She thought nothing of Mr. Lettuce Wrap. He looked like he was old. Forty at least. Maybe fifty.
“Creeper,” said her co-worker Tara after Randall finally left.
A moment later the coffee shop phone rang.
“Abby, it’s your grandmother,” said Tara.
“I don’t think so. My mom’s mom has Alzheimer’s and my dad’s mom is about a hundred and wouldn’t know how to find me here.”
“Well, it’s some old lady and she says she’s Abby’s grandmother,” said Tara, holding her hand over the mouthpiece of the phone.
“I think that’s impossible,” Abby insisted, taking the phone.
“Abby?” asked a shaky voice.
“Yes? Grandma?” She recognized the voice. It was in fact her father’s mother.
“Oh, Honey, I’m glad you’re there. Your roommate told me to call here.”
“Abby, sit down.”
“Uh huh,” she said, half listening. She and Tara were watching the man with the cast hesitating before the burger place down the street.
“Mr. Lettuce Wrap need more food,” said Tara, speaking in a caveman voice. Abby smirked. Sure enough, he went inside the restaurant.
“Sweetie?” her grandmother continued. “Brace yourself.”
Abby returned her focus to her grandmother, who had always been silly. As in strange. Who said things like ‘Brace yourself’? Abby kept standing. “Okay, I’m sitting. What’s wrong, Grandma?”
“There’s been a car accident.”
“Okay,” she said. For the rest of her life she would remember the phone’s tangled, knotted, sticky cord and the bright red tile backsplash.
Her grandmother continued, “They’re all gone. They’re all gone.”
“Your mom and dad. The girls. The little girls.”
“Grandma?” Was this really her? Was this a sick joke? Her calling them ‘the little girls’ made it all too real. Abby was five years older than Kaitlin and six years older than Maddie. This made them ‘the little girls’ to her grandmother, despite that they were both taller than her.
“Abby, do you
Her voice was cracking, breaking.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Yes,” she said, and then she felt guilty for making this moment so hard for her grandmother. She was still pretty sure this was all a mistake. “What happened?”
“A semi-truck ran into their van.”
“Are you sure it was
“Yes. It went over the van and took off the top of it. All four of them are gone.” Then she added something else that Abby took to be, “They didn’t suffer.”
Abby leaned against the wall. She didn’t know what to say.
“I think I’m going to have a heart attack,” said her grandmother.
“Is anyone with you?”
Abby decided then that everything her grandmother was saying was a sign of some kind of psychotic episode. “Grandma, please call someone. A neighbor or someone. You shouldn’t be alone right now.”
“We have customers waiting,” said the manager. Troy. What a fucker.
“Abby, do you understand what I told you? They’re gone. They’re
Abby cupped her hand around the receiver, trying to talk to her grandmother privately. In her purse in the break room she had a cellphone. If only she’d had it on her, like her co-workers who kept theirs in their pockets, texting constantly behind Troy’s back. But as it was, she was connected to the wall with a cord, a public hostage in the worst moment of her life. Later she would see a missed call from when her grandmother had called her cellphone first. It seemed to her that she’d always been behind with things that were basic and normal for everyone else her age.
“How do you know this? Who told you this?” Abby asked her grandmother.
“The police called me.”
“How did they know to call you?”
“Your mother had just picked up the mail. It was in the van.”
“Oh.” This made sense. It was the day before Abby’s mother’s birthday, and naturally her own mother-in-law had sent her a card. “Where were they going?” Abby asked, looking for the detail that would make this all someone else’s tragedy.
“I don’t know.”
“Are you sure it was all of them? Are you sure there’s not some mistake? Have you tried to call them at home? Have you tried all their cellphones?” she asked.
“I already tried that,” her grandmother said. She broke down into sobs.
“What’s going on?” Troy said, coming over and getting in Abby’s face.
“I have to go,” she said to him. “Grandma, what’s your number? I have to call you back from my cellphone.”
Her grandmother recited her number and Abby hung up.
Abby didn’t work at the coffee shop again until the beginning of July. It never occurred to her that she had no reason to go back there, that any coffee shop would have been a step up from the one she associated with the worst day of her life.
Her first day back Randall was there, waiting for her.
“You’re back,” he told her.
“Welcome!” His hand had healed and he looked a little less disheveled.
“He’s been in here every day, asking about you,” Tara told Abby after he left.
“Whatever,” said Abby.
The next day he was back again. He was wearing a suit, edging further from that schlumpy man Abby had first met on the day that everything changed.
“Are you in college?” he asked her.
“I just graduated. Barely.”
“But you’re still working here?”
“Yeah. For now.”
“You’d probably like to sit down and have a nice meal after being on your feet all day. Wouldn’t you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe.” She shrugged.
He recognized in this new, hollow version of Abby someone who was easy prey. He scooped her up and made her his own. She didn’t fight it one bit. She was ripe, damaged fruit for the first greedy bastard to steal.