Each year Approximately 2,300 Americans are reported missing—every day. I see Natasha’s story as a story about picking up the pieces. How do you start your life over after you’ve suffered a great tragedy? How do you go home and face your neighbors, your friends and yes your enemies. How do you pick up the shards of your dignity, and respect? But more importantly how do you go on? How do you live your life? Is it okay to move forward, to live, perhaps find love, to be at peace? ~ As I Live & Breathe is Natasha’s journey of what happened next!
The unforgettable scent of charred remains singed her nose jerking her awake. Streams of smoke filtered under her bedroom door filling it with gaseous fumes. Blood-curdling screams, followed by legions of heavy footsteps caused her heart to hammer in her chest. In a foggy stupor, she heard voices yelling, screaming, crying, but couldn’t make out what they were saying. Fear shook Natasha. Her heart hammered in her chest. She heard voices yelling, screaming, crying, but couldn’t make out what they were saying. Her first instinct was to turn the twin sized bed over on its side and barricade herself against the wall. Natasha fumbled around in the darkness seeking something to cover her mouth and nose. Blindly groped pulling the little cot closer to her. Terrified, her mind imagined a thousand reasons there was so much smoke and so much noise. It did not register why the recessed lights didn’t come on.
Tears stung her eyes. She remembered in elementary school a talking dog came to school. He told them to stop, drop, and roll if they were ever on fire. Her survival instincts kicked in she groped her way to the bathroom sink. She turned on the water faucet drenching the well-worn towel. The fumes made her nauseous, her eyes stung. She wrung out the towel and placed it over her face. Natasha crawled on her hands and knees to the door of the room which held her prisoner for months. She touched it. The heat radiating from the door caused her hand to recoil as if it was on fire. She tried to peek under the door to see what was happening. All she saw was flashes of red, orange and yellow.
She couldn’t believe this was how her life would end. Her throat and chest constricted she thought she was being strangled. She prayed. “Lord, you said you would never leave me nor forsake me.” Tears cascaded down her face. “Lord, let thy will be done. I don’t have another round of fight in me. I quit. I give up. I give in. So, thank you for whatever is happening here tonight. Lord, let my body be claimed, so my mother and siblings can bury it.” Natasha’s throat tightened around the golf ball sized knot in it. She cried harder as smoke filled her lungs. “Lord, you said ‘to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord’. Please release me from this bondage of affliction,” she screamed. “I want to be present with you, Lord. All these things I ask in your son Jesus name, Amen.” She crawled on all fours back to the cot, turning it right side up. Coughing, she put the cover and the pillows back on the bed. She climbed back into the bed, she welcomed death.
Natasha, in her preparing to die was unprepared when the door to her sulfur filled room flew open. Masked men packed the space. A brilliant light and a sonic boom went off behind her. Someone grabbed her and spoke to her through the mask covering their face. As their voice was fading, she welcomed the blanket of darkness.
Natasha woke to the scent of cedar and pine. Deathly afraid to move, she peered out of half-closed eyelids. Inwardly, she prayed the wicked thing she experienced was a nightmare. Her eyes adjusted to the somewhat dim lighting which filled the room. The bed she was laying on was close to the floor, almost like a cot, but much more comfortable. As she gazed up, she saw where the knotty pine wood slats met to create a magnificent cathedral ceiling. She wanted to see the rest of the place, but she was unwilling to move.
Unable to resist the urge any longer, Natasha turned to her side. The image before her caused her heart to smile. She saw it was a woman. If Natasha didn’t know any better, she would believe the woman’s hair shimmered and shone like the rays from the sun danced on it. It was long with types of red-like strings intricately woven within it. She wore tribal attire. Something was sitting in front of her Natasha couldn’t make out what it was.
Natasha looked at the walls; they were covered with intricate quilts, different sizes, shapes and colors. Each one depicting images of nature, including birds, deer and wolves. She continued to scan the room while tears of relief came running out of her. She tried to sit up, but her chest ached and throbbed from the smoke she inhaled. Without warning, her head swam making her woozy while sitting at the edge of the bed.
The woman stood up. “Ah, you are awake,” she said grinning.
Moving over to a loose floorboard in the cabin, she reached into it and pulled out a box. She opened the dark brown wicker box and removed a small cell phone. Natasha heard the chiming of the numbers as they woman smiled so warmly at her.
A male voice answered the phone. “Hello.”
“Desert Sun Drive, El Paso, Texas. Do I need to repeat it? Your package is ready for pick up.” She abruptly hung up the phone using her finger to power it off. Neatly she wrapped it up enclosing it into its case. She gently laid the box back into the earth and replaced the floorboard.
“Well, hello, Sweetie. Glad to see you survived your journey. So many like you don’t.” She walked to Natasha. “Hush Chile, it’s all right now. I used to be one of them too, but the Good Grace of God Missionaries busted me out years ago. Not to worry, my Dear, you’re going home.” She pulled Natasha closer to her enveloping her in a warm embrace, she said, “Always remember, regardless of what you’ve endured, it didn’t kill you. You survived. You made it. You’ve endured.”
Natasha pressed in closer to her unleashing a bucket of tears.
“Ah Sugar, calm down before you upset the baby,” she said in a motherly tone rubbing Natasha’s back.
The shrill ringing of the phone caused her to sit upright in the bed. She reached over snatching it off the receiver.
Half asleep she answered. “Hello?”
“Get dressed, Shayla.” His deep raspy voice caused her eyes to flutter open.
“Okay,” She stammered.
“You have ten minutes. I’m already on the way.”
Shayla ended the call and threw back the covers on her bed. She ran to her closet, grabbing her medical bag along with the small black duffel bag which rested in the corner of her closet. On her way to the bathroom, she stopped by the kitchen and hit the button on the coffeemaker.
The comb dropped twice in the sink. Her hands were shaking. His call meant he had found Natasha. “God, you are our refuge and strength, a present help in times of trouble. Lord, I think we’re getting ready to get into trouble. Lord, lead, guide and direct us. Send your angels of protection to encamp about us. In Jesus’ name amen,” Shayla prayed. Moments later, she heard Wilson pull into her driveway. She opened the door for him to grab their bags. She picked their coffees, waiting for him to reach the porch.
The stone cold silence lent an eerie touch to the still dark morning. The vastness of the tranquil nighttime sky and the sound of crickets set her teeth on edge making the hair on her arms stand up.
“Good morning, here is your coffee.” She reached up and kissed his cheek.
“Morning, Babe, thanks.” Wilson grunted. He took the bags and escorted her to his truck. He maneuvered out the driveway, down the street and past the other townhouses in the neighborhood.
Shayla gazed out the window of the truck trying to peer through the shadows cast by the moonlight bouncing off the trees. A chill went through her confirming the seeds of fear were taking root in her heart. Wilson focused his eyes on the dark road ahead of them. Slowly, he increased his speed. The changes of scenery went from residential to industrial
to country and back again as they moved from town to town. Greensboro, Burlington, Chapel Hill. They reached the airport in record time.
Wilson pulled the truck into one of the metered parking spaces then put the truck in park. He ran his hand down his face and let his head fall backwards trying to get his mind focused on the task ahead. Gulping down his now cold cup of coffee, he breathed out sharply.
“Is this another drill, or is this real?” Shayla eyed him nervously.
“It’s real. You have everything you need, right? The flight takes off soon. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Yes, yes,” she stammered.
“Shayla, go straight to the hotel. Charge the phone. Don’t talk to anyone. Here take this,” he said handing her an envelope. “If I’m not back on Saturday, open it.”
Shayla took the envelope in hand, turned and got out the passenger seat of the truck. She walked around to the back of the truck and met him in the middle. Shayla lifted her face toward the rising sun. She reached up to hug and kiss him. The kiss was light at first, and then the urgency she may never see him again. Her body trembled and vibrated under his touch. She wondered if she would ever stop shaking and trembling every time, he kissed her.
Wilson groaned when she kissed him. He reached down lifting her up off her feet then kissed her as if he would never see her again. He broke the kiss and put his forehead against hers. He mumbled, “I’m sorry, I promise you the next we plan to sneak off and get married, we will get married.” He squeezed her tighter to him as if he could pour the weight of his love into her.
Shayla thought about their planned elopement a single tear slipped out of her eye and her lip trembled slightly… “I know, Babe. I know.”
Wilson gently put her feet back on the ground and grabbed his bag from the back of the truck. “I love you and I’ll see you in a day or two.”
Shayla reached over, desperate to touch him one last time smacked him across the butt saying, “Go get ‘em tiger!
Shayla climbed into the truck and adjusted the seat. She stared at him through the enormous floor to ceiling windows of the airport. She watched as he made his way to the airline ticket counter. “Lord,” she prayed, “Give him the strength he needs get the job done. Send him back to me, to us, in Jesus name amen.” She wrung her hands in her lap and continued to watch him make his way through security. Flipping the radio to the satellite gospel station, she shook her head about how she finally let him persuade her to sneak off and get married. They had plans to meet up at the courthouse, tie the knot, and go away for an extended weekend. The Bible says, “It is better to marry than burn with passion.” She chuckled at the scripture knowing full well she was getting to the point where she could no longer contain herself. She was burning, intensively, powerfully, and passionately. She was no longer experiencing a quick burn here or there, it was now more like a blazing inferno. Every time she was in a room with him, any room, she was burning and yearning. Whether it was the living room, bathroom, or a Sunday school classroom, it was driving her crazy. He was driving her crazy.
Shayla pulled the gear shifter down from park to reverse, she backed up, then pulled away from the airport. Checking into the hotel they previously discussed. The room was large with two queen-sized beds in it. The bedspreads were a solid taupe color. She silently rejoiced, she hated hotels with the floral, multicolored blankets. She called them stain hiders because you couldn’t tell if they hid stains or not. She walked further into the room her footfalls sank deeper into the plush carpeting. They didn’t know what to expect when they received a call about Natasha, but she recognized separate rooms wouldn’t work. She walked over to the black flat screen television the hotel mounted on the wall turning it to one of those twenty-four news stations. She wanted to be alert and on guard in case something happened. She opened her duffle bag and pulled out her lounging gear and her IPad. At least she would get some reading done she supposed. She plugged her phone in to make sure it didn’t go dead. She set the alarm clock in the room for 11: 00 am so she could call the resort they planned to stay at for the weekend to postpone their reservation.
Wilson felt the tingles of apprehension beginning to settle deep in him. He found his seat on the oversized airplane in expectation of his journey to El Paso, Texas to pick up his sister. He was thankful the ticket agency allowed him to choose his seat. He had not been in a plane with six seats in a row in a long time. He chose an aisle seat. Wilson pressed his lips together tightly forming a straight line. The heaviness in his chest plagued him. He hated to get Shayla involved. However, what choice did he have? He was compelled to confess to her what he did to try to get Natasha back. Shayla is so intuitive she would know something was up anyway. On some levels, it was good to have someone to confide in. He wanted Natasha to be at ease once they came back to North Carolina. Shayla carried a peace about herself, he knew they both would need it. It seemed one part of his body was always on high alert for her. He pulled his shades down on his face as the flight attendants issued their flight instructions. He needed to rest to prepare for the blind situation walking into.
Wilson jolted awake. He was dizzy, confused and his head pounding. The voice of the pilot seemed as if he was speaking through a bullhorn telling everyone on the aircraft they were preparing for descent into Houston, Texas. He hated the two- hour layover. He tugged on his seat belt ensuring it buckled correctly. Wilson took the opportunity to not only pray, but to give God praises as well. He would finally pick up his little sister. He didn’t know what condition she was in, nor did he care. A part of him didn’t want to get too excited, but God didn’t bring him this far to allow him to go back home empty-handed. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. He grabbed his bag off the overhead and turned his cell on so he could connect with Shayla. He disembarked from the plane walking in search of a food court.
The airport was overflowing with people. Each time Wilson turned he was bumping into someone or there was someone bumping into him. The long lines at each gate reminded him of Christmas travelers eager to get home to loved ones. He walked down to the concourse to see the most appealing restaurant choices. The aroma of fast-food restaurants permeated his senses. He stopped at a large chain restaurant and ordered a large cup of black coffee with a sandwich.
The vibration of his cell phone interrupted his lunch. Taking it out of his pocket, he looked down at the display and answered.
“Hey, Momma, how are you?”
“I’m fine, Son, how are you? I was calling to see where you were?” She said sounding exhausted.
“I’m in a business meeting right now. Can I call you later this evening?” He tried to hurry off the phone before any overhead announcements blasted through the airport. “Yea, sure. Have you talked with Shayla? I wanted to talk with her about a few wedding details. You two arent trying to run off and elope are you? I feel like there is something you are not telling me.” She laughed.
“Mom, let me call you this evening. I love you.” He hung up the phone. He cringed at the thought of possibly hanging up on her. However, he couldn’t take any chances. There was a short window in which to get Natasha he didn’t need any additional hindrance.
Later on he dialed Shayla’s number hoping she answered. “Hey, Baby, my mother is looking for you, so call her.”
“Oh, OK. That’s fine. How are you? I miss you.”
“I’ll be back before you know it.”
“You promise.” Softly she answered.
“Yes, Baby. Listen, we can’t talk long. I’m going back to my gate. I’ll call you when I get there.” Wilson ended the call and went back to his gate.
Excited Wilson boarded his flight to El Paso when the flight attendant called for his section. He was bursting with nervous anticipation. He could not discern what to expect. The only plan had been to rent a car at the terminal, go to the address, get his sister, come right back to the airport and get the next flight out of this hell hole.
Impatient Wilson bounded off the airplane, made his way to the rental car terminal, and stopped dead in his tracks. He looked up observing a gentleman holding a sign with his first initial and last name.
Wilson stood there for a moment wondering how anybody knew he would be in the airport. On guard, he considered walking right past the sign. He looked ahead and saw his friend T. B leaning against an airport advertisement for wireless services and it confirmed he was taking the right steps.
“Wassup, man,” Wilson dapped him when he walked up on him.
“What’s good wit-cha, bro?” T.B. embraced him back. He pointed towards the door “Let’s get it.”
The automatic doors slid sideways when they made their descent closer to the outside. Waiting directly in front of the building was an armor proof black hummer. The doors of the hummer opened and two men dressed in Army fatigues and Smith & Wesson tactical boots waited for them to get inside. Wilson and T.B climbed into the back of the truck for a military style debriefing. The two men filled them in on the specifics of the operation and the fact, Juarez escaped capture. Wilson closed his eyes and leaned his head back on the seat, “Good it gives me an opportunity to kill him myself.”
He was silent for a moment, staring out in the moon less night he asked T.B., “Have you seen her?”
“Naw man, at least not with my own eyes, but she has been rescued.” He drug his hand down his face. He reached into a duffle bag on the floor and presented to Wilson a 44 magnum.
Wilson took the fire power, “Oh for real.”
“Yea, bro, I’m always ready. It’s what I do.”
According to the map the location in which Natasha was held took thirty minutes across the desert. They came to a place in the road near an old shack. Oddly enough, in front of the shack were flower bouquets and cactus plants. They stopped, the driver got out then knocked on the door. Wilson watched as an envelope was exchanged then in return they received another map which would pinpoint her location. They drove deeper into the pitch black night. Eventually, the headlights of the truck lit up a single story bungalow type home. They slowed in front of the house and pulled onto a gravel covered driveway.
Light pierced Natasha’s eyelids, prying her out of her first real sleep in months. She didn’t know which was worse, the deep rib cage rattling cough she developed from smoke inhalation or the back and forth roller coaster feeling in her stomach. Shivering, she turned over on the makeshift bed, it was close to the floor and near the pink basin often reserved for people in hospital emergency rooms. She was already sick of throwing up and the dry heaves that always came later. Natasha wondered if she would ever stop shaking. She looked over at the little woman who never left her side.
Natasha closed her eyes taking a deep breath. “When will I get to go home?” She opened them again.
“Sooner than you think my dear, much sooner than you think.” She said looking at her watch.
“How did I get here?” She asked attempting to sit up in the little bed.
“Some things are best not known. Natasha, when you go home there will be hundreds of questions people will attempt to get you to answer. Your safest bet is to always to say, I do not remember. Do not do any interviews when you get home. Do not lash out in the media. God forbid keep your thoughts to yourself on social media. She reached out and patted Natasha’s hand. Just try to get back into your regular routine as quickly as possible. Keep your head low and try to stay off anybody’s radar.”
“How do I do that?” Natasha questioned as her small hands clenched into fists. “Should I act like this never happened.”
“I never said act like it never happened.” The lady turned away from the small wobbly table where she sat writing in a journal. “Your life will now always be divided into two sections, the first being before this incident and the second will be after this incident. Nevertheless, don’t let it define who you are.” Walking to Natasha, she attempted to soothe her. “Do not allow it to victimize the rest of your life.” She hugged her.
“Many years ago, I too was where you are now. Once I returned home, there was no way to put my life back together. Most days were plagued with fear, panic and functioning was near impossible. Afterwards, I became numb; walking around in a daze eventually being institutionalized for months.” She sat down on the edge of the bed beside Natasha. “Do not let the shame and fear control you. God has given you an opportunity to be a light for someone else.” The woman stood up at the sound of a vehicle’s tires crunching against the broken, cracked cobblestone drive and the slamming of car doors.
She stiffened against Natasha when she heard a knocking on the door. “Stay in here until I come and back to get you.”
Walking away, she latched the door behind her. Natasha could hear the sounds of Spanish voices. Fear settled in her. She pulled the covers even closer to her. She listened to the footsteps coming closer to the room. She slid off the end of the bed and stood to her feet. Her eyes darted around the small room in search of a weapon. Finding one in a bat-sized piece of wood, she took the stance of a major league baseball player ready to kill or die trying. She was willing to die right there. She uttered a prayer she learned in Sunday school. “In You, O Lord, I put my trust; for You are my rock and my fortress.” She clenched her fists tightly around the bat in front of her ready to go to war.
She heard the latch on the door turning. Fear rumbled through her like a fire. Her pulse quickened, it pounded as blood rushed through her veins. Waves of dread rocked against her resolve. Exhaustion tried to cast its foggy shadow over her, but her spirit of self-preservation kicked in. Ready to battle with whomever was coming in the room she squared up like her brother showed her.
Her angel rushed into the room. “Natasha, someone is here to get you. A member of your family, I believe.”
Natasha knew who it was. She stepped around the woman who treated her so kindly and walked brazenly towards the massive venetian red door. “Where is he?” She asked. “Where is my brother? Wilson!” Her anguished cries lined the darkened hallway. The echo of her voice bounced off the old sheetrock like ping pong balls. She moved closer still to the door. Her hand found its way to her chest to keep her banging heart from leaping out of it.
The sound of Natasha’s voice made the hairs on Wilson’s arms stand straight up like soldiers on the battlefield. He turned and headed down the dimly lit passageway. He noticed the only light provided was a small bulb barely hanging from broken sockets. The old, rigid wooden floor buckled and cracked under his weight as he went deeper into the rapidly shrinking passageway. The closer he got to her voice; he had to turn sideways to get closer still. The walls appeared to be holding a deeply inhaled breath along with him. He stood in the doorway of the room which held his sister and a flood of emotions slammed him against the wall.
The woodsy smell of his cologne filled the air before he reached her. She looked into his face her heart stopped beating. All of her prayers, all of her hopes, all of her dreams manifested in this one moment. The exquisiteness of seeing him caused her now stiff legs to unlock and move forward.
Wilson staggered for a moment while walking into the room. Natasha was there, right there; right in front of him. His heart hummed and beat like bongos playing in a mariachi band. She ran into his arms, crying and shaking. She released tears that kept cold in their ducts for the last few months. Natasha’s uncontrollable whimpering tore his heart and the hearts of those observing into tiny slivers. He grabbed her and held on tight for dear life.
“Girl, I’m so glad to see you.” He said through broken sobs. “Oh, my God, it’s really you.”
She squeezed him tighter, “Take me home, take me home please!” she pleaded with him, “Take me home!”
Heartbroken, Wilson looked down at her. “Let’s… let’s go home.”
They turned and walked down the dimly lit hallway. Natasha’s heart beat against her chest. He felt her shaking as if she was a puppy soaked with a water hose. He held on to her tighter and spoke softly to her
“Just put one foot in front of the other and soon we will walk out the door. It is all right now. I got you.” He felt the tension rise by two decibels in the room. He tightened his grip knowing the only thing to separate them would be death. He again tightened his hold on her. “We got this Baby Girl, keep stepping, and keep walking. You can do this. We’re going home.” As they reached the threshold of the door, he sensed her pull back. Anxiety ran a rugged course through her. Chilly winds moved softly over her cold clammy skin. She exhaled sharply closing her eyes tighter. Her walking was jerky and forced. The cobblestones were like boulders under the thinly soled shoes they forced her to wear. Every nuance, every cranny, every broken line in the driveway, reverberated through her, but she kept walking.
She heard the squeaking sound of a car door opening. She paused for a moment to listen to sounds. There was none. She wondered if it was night because of the eerie silence.
“Duck your head down and get in the car.” He said to her.
She quickly complied while still holding onto him. She opened her eyes.
He slid in beside her and removed the covering from her head.
Handing her a bottle of water, she licked her chapped, cracked lips and gulped it down.
“Natasha, this is T. B, he is a friend. He is going to get us home.”
She looked up with a tear lined face and nodded her head.
Leaning into her brother, Natasha wrapped her fist into his shirt stretching and pulling it into a knot. Listening, but not listening to what they were both saying. She was glad to be going home.
It seemed as if they reached the airport in record time.
Natasha’s hands shook with fear as she imagined all types of assassins and kidnappers would pop out at any moment and drag her kicking and screaming back to Juarez.
Wilson relaxed slightly as they made their way down the dust-covered highway. T. B told him they were on their way to a small, obscure landing strip. It was once controlled by drug runners moving dope from Mexico into El-Paso and then disbursed all across the United States. They finally arrived at the dusty gray hut surrounded by tumbleweeds. Even at night, the sticky dryness of the Texas heat gave new meaning to the term “hot enough to cook an egg on the sidewalk.” An old leather faced caretaker led them into a small glass encased waiting room, to await their transportation.
Initially they sat in silence in the small room, listening for any sounds indicating they were followed. After a moment, T. B stretched his dark chocolate, five eleven frame against the green pre-school chair and stood up. “I’m going outside to keep watch. Our ride should be here soon.” He drug his hand down his face, across his mustache, kissable lips and flattened over his beard. He turned and walked out of small doorway.
Wilson swallowed his sadness when he looked at his sister. He took in her emotionless face. Her pasty, pale complexion, hallowed out jaws and dry, cracked lips. He opened his mouth to speak, but could only utter a grunt in frustration and relief. He said a silent prayer of thanksgiving to God. Wilson leaned over, reached into his pocket, and pulled out his chapstick. He didn’t know how much time passed when she finally glanced at him, “Want some Chap-Stick?” He asked trying to lighten the mood.
Her eyes glimmered a spark of recognition. To his surprise she reached out and took it out his hand, unscrewed the top, and applied the balm to her lips. She finally looked away from him and out the window. “Suppose he comes for us?” She made a noise a short intake of breathe.
Her fingers trembled when she reached out grabbing a hold of his hand.
“Here.” She flinched when he laid her head against his chest. “It will be okay,” he tried to reassure her. His heart sank. “If he comes, I will kill him.”
“Wilson, don’t let him take me back.” She started crying again tears dripped down her cheeks and soaked his shirt. She had a tough road up ahead, but they would stick with her every step of the way.
“Our ride is about ten minutes out,” the voice of T. B ricocheted inside the small glass enclosed metal building. The sounds of the small aircraft initially sounded like flies buzzing through the hot Texas heat. It circled around once, then twice before it landed. Wilson pulled his cell phone out of his pocket to alert Shayla where to meet them. He tightly gripped Natasha’s hand and boarded the small aircraft with T. B behind them. She acknowledged a small sense of security that she had never needed before. She curled in tight against his body putting her head in the space between his chest and underarm.
Day turned into night and turned into day again. Wilson was energized, but exhausted. He hadn’t slept in twenty-four hours. He looked down at Natasha still curled into a tight ball beside him. He looked over at T.B. “Thanks man.”
“Anytime, bro.” He said leaning his head back against the cracked leather seat and closed his eyes.
Several hours later, Shayla slid her finger over the red end button on her phone and ended the call. Her heart thudded in her chest images of Natasha and Wilson filled her mind. She pulled Wilson’s truck out of the truck stop and unto highway fifty-four. She had no earthly idea of where she was going. She ignored the glare of the bright morning sun it threatened to blind her each time she looked at it. Her mind filled with more questions than answers, but she learned with Wilson its best at times to not ask any questions. The night he eased out after proposing to her at his family’s cookout came to mind. She noticed he walked away from the cook out, past the garage, and down the driveway. It was weird, where was he going? She stood up then made her way down the same path he took and watched as he got into a black stretch limousine. She knew she needed to be praying. Whatever it was he was up to could land him in more trouble than just a departmental suspension. She stood in front of the walkway praying, pleading, and interceding on his behalf. Before long the sky tuned dusk, she could barely make him out as he walked down the sidewalk. The look of relief on his face gave him away. She discerned in her spirit he was up to something. She simply asked him and he told her. He was willing to do anything to get his sister back even if it meant his life. She met his glance with silence, knowing she would give anything to help him.
The British sounding accent of the GPS told her up on the right she would reach her destination. She pulled around to the back side of the filth covered windowless warehouse. She parked the truck and got out. Her expression spoke volumes about her concern. The doors of the warehouse made a nails on the chalkboard type of screech and then there they stood as if Captain Kirk transposed them to the spot. She swallowed the lump in her throat and ran to them. Her heart rate soared when she saw Natasha.
She grabbed her first, hugging, squeezing, and praising God. Then she felt it. Shayla took one step back and dropped her arms. “Oh, my God,” she dropped her line of vision to Natasha’s belly. Instinctively she placed the palm of her hand over the small baby bump that was now Natasha’s stomach. “Oh, Honey, it’s all right, Baby. You’re home now.”
Natasha recoiled from her touch and whispered, “Not a word, Shayla Not a word to anyone about this.” She pleaded
Shayla threw her arm over Natasha’s shoulder, “Let’s get out of here.”
Natasha climbed in the backseat of the truck while Wilson spoke with T.B.
Shayla looked at Natasha then at Wilson who was still standing in the warehouse, “Don’t ask me to lie to him because I can’t.”
Natasha’s mind raced, “You can tell him, and nobody else.”
“Michael, would you like another helping of pork chops?” Verna asked.
“No, Honey, I want you to come and sit down with me while I attempt to finish off this king sized plate you’ve already prepared for me.” He spoke with authority.
Verna nervously giggled at the bass and authority in his voice.
He reached out and touched her hand, drawing her into his lap. He planted a warm kiss on her lips, “Verna, you are a fine cook. You always have been.” He wrapped her tighter in his arms. “Woman when are you going to stop hiding? Marry me?”
“You know how I feel.” She stiffened in his arms.
Drawing her closer, he could smell her vanilla scented perfume. Every time he inhaled her scent, it pulled at tiny pieces of his heart. He was in love with Verna since before Joe died. He would never violate the trust of his friend by going after his woman while he was alive. He respected their friendship way too much. He leaned his forehead against her shoulder and hummed an old Al Green tune, “Let’s Get Married Today.”
“Sing all you want, it won’t work either.” She laughed. “Michael, it’s not I don’t want to. I can’t right now. I guess deep inside I’m afraid I will lose you too. I can’t suffer another loss again. You remember how I almost wanted to stop living when Joe died. You came over here almost daily for weeks to make sure you we had groceries. You paid the bills, kept the lights on and took Wilson to practice. I would be a fool to subject myself to that.”
Michael winced at her response. “Verna, I love you. I want to marry you and to take care of you. I want my face to be the first one you see in the morning and the last one you see at night. I want to take you places and do things for you. Verna, Joe died almost twenty years ago. He would want you to be happy.”
“That’s just it Michael, I am happy. I love you and I know you love me. Right now, your love is enough. She moved off his lap, now if you are through eating, I’ll take your plate,” she said changing the subject. She made her way over to the kitchen sink. “Didn’t you say a ball game was coming on tonight, or something?”
He chucked knowing Verna didn’t forget a thing. He recognized what she was doing. The woman had a sixth sense about everything. Verna put him off for fifteen years. However, Joe told him there were two things NOT to do to Verna 1) don’t push and 2) don’t ever issue her an ultimatum. She did not respond well to either one. He wondered if she could grasp of all the conversations Joe had about her. Joe always said he wasn’t meant for long in this world. He said back in college he had a dream about dying. He said, “God has a purpose and a plan for my life once I fulfill it, I’m out of here, like everybody else.”
He and Joe were buddies for years. They met long before they entered the police academy. They were hired by the High Point Police Department and were rising in rank together until the night Joe died. Even now, many years later it still causes him to break out into a cold sweat.
He pulled his long frame out of the dinette chair, “Verna, I’m going to turn on the ball game. You interested in watching?” He walked in living room turning the television.
“Yea, be there in a moment.” Verna turned away from the sink grabbing a paper towel to dry her hands. “Lord, what am I supposed to do with that man sitting in my living room?” She asked aloud. “You already gave me one great husband.” She immediately thought of the scripture… the Lord give, the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord… “You gave him and you took him away… I can’t do it again. So Lord if you are planning what I think you are planning. Thanks, but no thanks.” The sharp ring of the telephone startled her out of her thoughts.
“Mom, open the garage so I can pull my truck in.” Wilson said excitedly.
“Why, why do you want to pull that oversized truck of yours into my tiny garage?” She laughed.
“Mom, please!” He stressed.
“All right, all right, but you better not be up to any shenanigans.” She laughed thinking about how silly and lighthearted her son had become. Walking to the kitchen door, she reached in to hit the garage opener on the wall.
She walked down the three steps and waited for him to pull in.
Shayla whipped the truck into one of the spaces throwing the truck into park. She immediately jumped out. “Hit the button Verna close it.” She instructed.
“Why, what’s going on?” She answered nervously.
The door opened on the back passenger side the light illuminated the face of her daughter. Verna screamed. Her hands flew to her face “Jesus, Lord a mighty!” Tears rolled down her face slipped under her chin dropping down to her blouse.
Verna looked at Natasha as if she was looking at a ghost. Shock covered her face. Verna looked at her daughter time stood still. Her heart skipped a beat the breath she was holding caused her lungs to burn. Verna ran around Wilson and grabbed Natasha. She pulled Natasha back and looked in her face screaming. “Baby, is it you.” Wilson finished helping Natasha out of the truck. Her complexion was pale with dark circles as if smeared eyeliner rested under the luggage clad eyes as tears dampened the front of her shirt.
Michael jumped up from watching the game and came running through the door with his department issued gun ready to bring the heat. “Oh, my God!” Briefly stunned, he reached over grabbed Verna. “Verna, baby calm down.” He pulled her closer to him in an effort to move her out of the way.
With her arms outstretched, Natasha entangled them tightly around her mother. “Mommy!” She cried. Her shoulders shook while the sobs racked her small frame.
Her body tortured with sobs “Mommy, I was so scared!” she sobbed. “I screamed out for you. I called out to you. I kept saying all the scriptures you taught me.”
Verna sunk down to the floor holding on to Natasha in tears herself. “My baby, my baby, my baby.” Verna wailed. “Oh, God, thank you. Thank You, God!” She shrieked. “You’re home baby. You’re home.”
Wilson tried to lift them off the floor, but they were entangled together. Michael walked around to one side and lifted while Wilson lifted on the other side pulling both women to their feet.
Shayla had never witnessed such a reunion. She wiped her tear stained face wondering from where Captain Summers came.
Verna pulled Natasha into the house and locked the door. She wrapped her baby in her arms squeezing her tight. “Come on, let’s get you out of these baggy clothes.”
“Wait, Verna, all of those clothes are evidence.” Michael asserted.
“I know Michael. However, she is my baby.” She reached out for her.
“Verna, we’ve got to get her to a hospital to be checked out.” Michael told her sternly
“Mom, the Captain is right. She has to be checked out.” Wilson agreed.
“Shayla’s here, let her do it,” she reasoned.
“Verna I’ve done a preliminary assessment, but she still needs to go to the hospital.” Shayla quickly answered.
“You guys must be crazy if you think I am going to let her out of my sight. She stays right here with me!” She stubbornly folded Natasha into her arms.
She swallowed and took a deep breath. “No, Mom, it’s all right. I’ll go, but only if you go with me.” She glanced over to her mother. A heavy burden of exhaustion, famine, and terror helped her to be submissive to what needed to be done.
Natasha grabbed Shayla by the hand. “Shayla, will you walk with me to my room? I want to come home in my own clothes.” She replied softly. They walked down the short hall into Natasha’s bedroom. Each step forward solidified she was home. Questions loomed in her mind, Where is Juarez? How did she get free? Who was the woman who helped her? Who was T.B., how did he know her brother? She desperately tried to relax and quiet the questions in her mind.
Natasha placed her hand on the doorknob of her bedroom giving it a gentle turn. She was apprehensive about being in her childhood bedroom and taken aback with the familiarity of it all. Natasha realized life went on without her for the three months she was gone. Things changed.
The school semester ended. Some of her school friends graduated, and some were studying for tests and others writing papers. She inhaled deeply. She took it all in. She took in the sheets on her bed. The purple and white comforter her sister, Gina, bought her last year for Christmas covered the queen-size bed. Her eyes darted around to the posters that sprinkled the walls. So many of her school pictures lined her peach colored walls. Images of her, pictures with her friends, the picture Malcolm in his police uniform the summer they met peeped out from a corner. The various certificates of achievement, most including her high grade point average hung in a straight line. Her perfect attendance awards as well as her college acceptance letter her mother framed for her. She was home. “Safe at home in my own room, safe at home in my room,” she mumbled. The air thick and heavy felt overwhelming for her. Memories hit spinning her like a tornado, rocking, reeling, twisting, and turning. She winced, tried to center herself by closing her eyes. She sensed the warm familiar arms of Shayla wrap around her a like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s day and for once in what seemed like a long time she felt reassured. She exhaled the breath was caught in her throat. She walked across the room on weak legs. “I’m scared. Shayla promise me you won’t tell.” She pleaded. “Promise me,” she whispered.
“Natasha, pregnancy isn’t something which can be hid for a long period.” Shayla reasoned. She said quickly, her nerves shot. “No, I won’t tell,” Shayla said praying she didn’t have to keep the promise.
Opening her closet door, Natasha grabbed a pair of jeans coupled with a A & T hoodie. She quickly turned to the small-mirrored dresser and opened the top drawer. She reached inside, grabbed underwear, her bra, a pair of socks, and a t-shirt. “Come on, let’s go.”
Shayla squeezed her hand together they left the room.