New York living has suited Layla Dixon well for as long as she can remember. The teen is the middle sister in a home where both parents are doctors. Mary and Chris Dixon have never admitted to it, but when the opportunity to move to small town living arises, they realize it is a dream come true.
A family revolt ensues, causing a rift between the Dixons. So when Layla is the first to pack her bags, bound for Holly Springs, North Carolina, all eyebrows lift with suspicion. They figure recent evidence of a teenage brawl is the reason for Layla’s sudden change of heart, but only her best friend Carla, and a hidden camera in Tasha Dixon’s teddy bear, know the truth.
She could feel her heart flip-flop inside her chest as she lay in bed, waiting for sleep to come. But every time Layla’s eyes closed she could see it again. Her long brown hair pooled around her pillow as tears begged to drip down the sides of her face. Teenage emotion betrayed her as Layla attempted to push her fears away.
All that could be done had been done. The only thing left to do was wait. Wait for the pain to subside, for the fear to melt away, for her troubles to forget about her and go away. But would they?
As the final tear leaked out of the corner of her eye Layla brushed it off
and turned over in bed. The shadows on the wall were different in Holly Springs, North Carolina, much different than what images danced on her bedroom wall in New York. There she saw only the moonlight from her high-rise. No formations captured her attention, begging painful memories to return. Here, in Holly Springs, even high up in her attic bedroom, she saw birds that flew overhead like in a horror movie, anticipating danger.
Trying to erase the images from her mind, the teen closed her eyes tight. Finally, Layla began to dose. Stuck between sleep and wakefulness she heard a voice. Fuzzy and from a distance, Layla could still detect the whisper as it cast threats to her. She didn’t dare open her eyes for fear that the image would return in all its glory. “See? Watch, Layla. That’s half the fun, isn’t it? You see what I’m doing?”
Deep in sleep, Layla shook her head, vehemently disagreeing with the voice. No, it wasn’t fun at all. And if her arms didn’t weigh a thousand pounds each, she might have been able to do something, she thought. “What do you think about this?” The voice asked, anticipating the next move, enjoyment dripping from the words.
Again, the teen’s head shook, punctuating her disagreement. Then, to Layla’s horror, as if magnets played a game of tug-of-war with her eye lids, they opened. In her mind’s eye the scene played out again, washing her with fresh disbelief, pain, and sheer terror. How did this happen? How could I have been so stupid? Why did I let this happen? Layla’s own voice echoed in her dreams. Get up, Layla! Get up! Her conscience ordered.
But she couldn’t. The teen was left there to do nothing but be a witness. Layla prayed her older sister would break in and save her. But she knew Linda was at the clinic, helping her father do rounds. Her mother was at the hospital, covering her shift, unable to hear her middle daughter’s silent cries. No, Layla was alone; alone in her dreams, alone in her conscious thoughts.
At the time, the teen had no idea how brave she’d been. She thought she was a coward. To hide in Holly Springs instead of tell the truth about what happened. But she couldn’t tell. The voice wouldn’t let her. Layla would have to do what she could on her own, with only Carla’s help. Carla had been her best friend since kindergarten, and Carla was the only person whom she could wholly trust.
Layla had planted the seeds to make her nightmare go away. She had done desperate, unthinkable things that she never dreamed she would do…or ask Carla to do for her. The teen didn’t know if what she did was right or wrong, but the alternative was impossible. She didn’t want to think about what could have happened had she told the truth. Part of her plan had worked, proof was that she was laying in her bed in Holly Springs, North Carolina, thousands of miles from New York, where the trouble still remained.
But would her problems follow her? Only time would tell. Her older sister Linda still had ties with Layla’s old fears, but that could be fixed with the proper measures. The teen would see to that promptly. Did her parents know? No, Layla made sure of that. Carla had been her partner in crime and hid all the evidence far away in New York, where nobody would find it. Did her little sister Tasha know? Layla prayed to God each night that she didn’t. In fact, she prayed that nobody would ever know except Carla and the voice.
But would her prayers be enough? Had she escaped successfully in Holly Springs? As Layla drifted deeper and deeper into sleep, the voice finally faded away and the teen slept peacefully. But little did she know, miles away in New York, the voice lay in bed with eyes wide open. “It was fun, wasn’t it, Layla? We’ll have to do that again some time.”
About Six Months Before
Linda Dixon was perched on a chair with heavy eye lids as her and her fellow eleventh grade students listened to yet another lecture about internet predators. Sylvia, her friend next to her, elbowed her, nudging her awake. The woman pacing the stage held the microphone too close to her lips and had evidently reached a pivotal point in her speech.
“She’s talking about that internet site I was telling you about,” Sylvia whispered to Linda. “Remember?” Sylvia felt special because this high profile woman was discussing something the semi-reclusive teen could relate to.
With her eyes glazed over, Linda ignored her friend and began thinking about the book she couldn’t wait to continue reading, which also happened to be the reason she was falling asleep in school. Linda had become completely enthralled with Fifty Shades of Grey, and watched the sun rise before finally stuffing the book under the mattress in the early morning.
“Oh my God! I can’t believe it! I know this site!” Sylvia squeaked. “My aunt was showing me it just last week!”
Sylvia’s Aunt Cathy was divorced, and a weekend drunk, but Linda liked her. Cathy was the one who lent Linda the Fifty Shades trilogy.
Linda was irritated. “Would you relax?” she hissed. “She’s not singing the praises of MidlifeMatchup.com, it’s one of the sites that was hacked recently, which is the reason these weirdos are gaining access to their victims.”
Sylvia pursed her lips, smirking under Linda’s scrutiny. “God, Linda, you’re such a prude. Besides, you’re one to talk.” She gave Linda an evaluating glance. “You talk to guys online all the time.”
Linda made a tsking sound, rebuffing her friend. “Yeah, but they’re intellectual sites. It’s completely different. The people,” she accentuated the word ‘people’, “I talk to are in pre-med chat rooms; both males and females. And we’re on there to discuss entering medical school.”
Sylvia raised her hand in a gesture that silenced Linda. “Whatever.”
The woman on stage changed tack, introducing a man who appeared as if from nowhere, suddenly taking the stage. He was in his early twenties, dressed in a dark, casual suit. His voice was gentle, enrapturing, and an audible shuffling was heard from around the lecture hall as all the females sat up straighter, taking notice.
“Wow, he’s cute!” Sylvia gushed. “Don’t you think?”
“He’s not bad,” Linda lied. He was very good-looking, but she didn’t want to admit it, opening herself up for further torture from her overzealous friend.
“Not bad?” she exclaimed under her breath. “Man, how cute are these pre-med guys you talk to online?”
Linda had to admit the bar had been raised recently. But she wasn’t about to share that with Sylvia.
“Do you have to be pre-med to go on that site?” Sylvia pressed. “I wanna check some of these hotties out.”
Any academic student was welcome to join the site. It was specifically designed for those needing to share ideas and experiences with different colleges and universities, even some high school and college alumna. The site was set up by students for students, but Linda linked herself with strictly the medical chat board, although all registered students were accessible no matter what board you were participating in.
“No, future tree trimmers need not become involved,” Linda lied. Sylvia was getting on her nerves. And she didn’t want overly excitable Sylvia to have yet something else to talk to Linda about. She preferred to keep her private life just that—private.
Mention of the site reminded Linda that she needed to talk to her dad about something. He would be making rounds at the hospital, so Linda pulled out her cell phone and sent him a text message. As she hit send she noticed there were two unread messages. One was Layla, her younger sister, gushing over the man speaking on stage. She looked over to the other side of the auditorium and saw the sixteen-year-old waving at her.
Sylvia, still gaping at the attractive speaker, ignored Linda’s messaging. But just to be sure, Linda lifted one leg over the other, shielding her phone from her friend’s view before checking the other message.
It was him again.
Chris lifted his head briefly from the mountain of paperwork staring at him from his desk. His eighteen year old daughter Linda stood in the doorway, looking at him expectantly. The small den was used for him and his wife, Mary, also a doctor, to finish their patient charts at home so they could at least see their children for more than an hour a day. “Yep,” he answered tersely.
“Erm…do you have a minute? I need to ask you something.”
“Can it wait? I’ve got tons of work to do here.”
She gave him the palms up. “I sent you a message.”
“Phone died.” He pointed to his iPhone sitting in the charging dock. “Can you talk to Mom about it?”
Linda and Mary had a falling out a few days prior when Linda missed her curfew, which was normally ignored because Mary and Chris were never home to enforce it. On the one night Mary was home, Linda was caught and was grounded. “Not really,” Linda answered under her breath, looking off to the side, still feeling wounded.
He sighed and lifted his arm, motioning her to come in. His eyes did not leave the open file in front of him.
Taking a step closer, Linda began. “I don’t know what to specialize in.”
Chris continued scrawling notes, his eyes moved over the paper as he wrote. “You’ve still got time.”
Mary was a paediatrician and Mark was a general practitioner. “I know, but I’d like to have my mind made up before I go to college.”
“You can change your mind later.”
“But I want to be sure.”
Chris was becoming agitated. “Why?” His head didn’t lift, but he stopped writing to emphasize the question. “I wanted to be an oncologist first off. Your mother wanted to be an OB-GYN. It’s not a big deal.”
Exasperated, she sighed heavily. “I don’t know.”
Chris had just finished a thirty-six hour shift treating victims of a road accident, a guy who jumped the tracks at the subway stop on Bleecker Street, dozens of people with influenza, one case of hypothermia, and a multitude of other ailments. Plus he had to witness a crazy woman having a mental meltdown in Chris’s subway car on the ride home. At least an hour’s worth of patient charts was left to do, and he still hadn’t even spoken to his wife or his other two daughters since arriving home. “Listen, Linda. Why don’t you tell me what’s really bothering you?” His tone was clipped, knowing this was Linda’s game. Chris’s eyes met Linda’s for a brief moment.
When she stood there, her jaw muscles worked in deep thought. Chris took notice of his daughter’s expression and his eyes softened. “Whatever you decide, your mother and I will support you.”
Linda paused, digesting his statement, feeling like she’d been dismissed. “Okay, Dad.”
She turned on her heel and headed for the kitchen, but she couldn’t stop thinking that he could have finished the sentence differently and it would have made her feel that much better. Linda hoped he would add, “Whether it’s becoming a doctor or not”. But she noted that he didn’t.
Having five hours of blessed sleep, Chris was awakened in the night by the house phone ringing. He’d been called in to the hospital as the emergency room was flooding, typical of the end of the week. Reluctantly he dressed himself, feeling remotely resentful of his wife still sleeping soundly, and boarded the subway.
Six hours later he found himself in the break room talking with one of his mentors, Dr. John. Chris’s foot was propped up on the corner of the metal table. His arms were crossed over his chest while Dr. John stood against the counter by the fridge, picking his teeth with a wooden toothpick.
“How’s that daughter of yours doing?” Dr. John asked.
Chris guffawed. “Which one?”
Dr. John chuckled. “That’s right, you have a house full of women, I forgot.”
“Linda’s doing well. Still on the fence with what specialty she’d like to pursue.”
“My Paul went through the same. It’s pretty standard to change your mind. Flip-flop here and there. That’s why we do residency. Exposure is good.” Dr. Paul was matter-of-fact. “He’s expecting a baby, you know?”
Chris’s eyebrows lifted. They’d gone to his wedding two years ago. “Oh, yeah? And how many grandchildren will this be for you and Gwenyth?”
“Sixth,” Dr. John said as though he didn’t believe it himself. “Gwenyth’s a little upset that her baby’s having a baby so far away.”
Dr. John’s youngest son, Paul, met his wife while vacationing with friends in North Carolina. They carried a long distance relationship until marriage. “No thoughts of moving back to New York?”
The senior doctor shook his head emphatically. “No, that was the agreement. They got married in Manhattan and they would settle in North Carolina.”
Chris nodded understanding.
“Matter of fact his practice is thriving over there. He’s looking for two or three doctors to join him in the office.” He tossed the toothpick in the garbage. “I’d take the job myself, but he doesn’t want to work with his dear old dad anymore. That’s half the reason he didn’t mind taking up in North Carolina.”
Chris laughed gently. “I can understand that, you old coot.”
Dr. John chucked him playfully on the shoulder. “What about you? Would you leave all this mayhem for a job in Holly Springs, North Carolina?”
Chucking him back, Chris joked, “And leave you here, old man?”
“I best get back to work,” Dr. John advised, looking at his watch. Then he glanced at Chris. “You look like hell. Why don’t you go home?”
It seemed Dr. John had been saying that to Chris a lot. “Thanks,” he answered with only a trace of humor. “You don’t look so hot yourself.”
Winking, the senior doctor left the break room, leaving Chris to himself. Drawing in a deep breath, he let Dr. John’s words linger in his mind. Still deep in thought, Chris pulled out his cell phone and saw the message Linda had left him the previous day. He looked at the door where Dr. John had just parted, and stood there blinking numbly until he was startled by another overworked doctor coming in for a moment’s respite.
Mary Dixon entered the bedroom. She had bags under her eyes, but the huge grin on her face was telltale. “Did she say something particularly cute again?” Chris inquired, looking over his laptop screen as he sat against the fluffy pillows on the headboard.
“It wasn’t what she said but how she said it,” Mary answered, pulling her fuzzy slippers off her feet. The three bedroom apartment was quiet, and it was a rare occasion for both Dixon parents to be going to bed together. “She squeezed me so tight when she said ‘I love you, Mommy’.”
“She’s a doll,” Chris said.
Mary slid her feet into bed and pulled the covers up to her neck. Chris looked over at his wife, noticing the slightly pained expression on her face. “What is it?”
Shaking her head, as if she’d worried for nothing, Mary explained. “She’s just not the same in the last little while. Clingy and more juvenile than recently…I just think she’s regressed.” Mary was a paediatrician and it was difficult to keep her doctor’s hat off when she was around her own children.
Waving his hand in a cavalier gesture, Chris interjected. “Tasha’s still adjusting to the new school and to Martha, dear. Really, it’s only been a couple of weeks. Give it time.”
“But she’s doing well in the new school,” Mary argued. “Better than she was in the other one.”
Six year old Tasha was enrolled in a wonderful school at the recommendation of one of Chris’s colleagues. Sadly, four months later the school unexpectedly closed down, forcing them to abruptly change her current daytime schedule and surroundings. Also, with Tasha being in school full-time, and the hospital placing both parents on call nearly the whole week at times, they could no longer rely on their own schedules or that of their two teenage daughters anymore, so they had to hire a part-time nanny.
“And don’t forget about Martha. Tasha’s never had a nanny before. She’s been spoiled with Layla and Linda being around all the time.”
He caught his wife’s disapproving stare and lifted his arms in defeat. “I’m not arguing the point. We needed someone, what with the other girls and us in and out all hours of the day and night,” Chris said as if by rote.
Hiring a nanny had been a bone of contention between Mary and Chris. Chris thought it was unnecessary, that between the five of them they could make things work, but Mary disagreed. Having been raised in a large family of seven, Chris was accustomed to never requiring outside help, but Mary was child one of two, and the youngest. Her family was wealthy and had both a nanny and a housekeeper in their large rural estate in Ohio.
So it came down to insulting her upbringing when Chris fought the issue. Caving after the first unwelcome quarrel, Chris placed an online ad and the following week came Martha. “I’m sure she’ll come around.” He patted his wife’s leg.
Still appearing unsettled, Mary bit her lip. Chris prattled on about his day when Mary suddenly interrupted him. “Do you think Martha is treating her well? I don’t see them bonding much,” she said, as if she’d been deaf to his conversation.
“You’re never around to see whether or not they’re bonding,” Chris said in a non-malicious tone. It was simply reality for them. “Have you asked Tasha if she likes Martha?”
“She says so, but I don’t know.”
“Give it time. Ask her again in a couple of days and see if her attitude changes,” Chris ventured, typing away on his computer.
“I have a better idea,” Mary said, picking at her nails.
He closed the lid on his computer, giving Mary his full attention. “Oh, yeah? What’s that?”
“You ever heard of a ‘Nanny-Cam’?” she looked directly at her husband; that same ‘you’re-not-going-to-win-this’ look arose in her eyes. Chris ran a hand through his hair. He didn’t have the energy to argue with her.
“Fine. Do it. I’m sure everything’s fine though.” He opened his laptop again and she slid further under the covers. A small, contented glimmer was in her eyes as she glanced at Chris’s screen.
He had their shared personal email account open. A message from Dr. John was there; it was an ultrasound picture of their sixth grandchild.
“Oh, isn’t that nice,” Mary beamed. “Gwyneth must be beside herself with joy.”
“Yeah, I talked to him today,” Chris assented. “She’s a little upset that Paul’s having a baby so far away.”
Mary nodded. “I can understand that.” She sighed, turning over onto her side, away from him. “It’s better that way, though. Given the choice, I’d rather have raised our kids out in the country. That’s how I was brought up.”
Chris and Mary met through a mutual friend when Mary had moved to New York to attend NYU School of Medicine after University in Ohio. Then, she fell in love with the city, having never seen it. She’d travelled all across Europe with her family throughout her life, but she found city living intriguing, and so when she and Chris met up in New York, they made a life there.
Turning his head towards his wife’s back, a thought suddenly struck him. “You ever think about going back?”
Mary shuffled over so she was facing Chris. “Going back where? To Ohio?”
“No. Just to living in the country.”
She paused a moment for thought. “I don’t know. We’ve established ourselves here. It would be hard to leave, and for what? Our jobs are here in New York.”
He chewed his lip, rewinding some of the conversation he had with Dr. John earlier. “What if there was a job for both of us somewhere else?”
Her eyes opened and a crease formed between her brows. “What do you mean, like opening a practice or something? That costs way too much money out here, Chris. We’ve discussed that. Heck, we can’t even afford to buy a house or a condominium here.”
Chris looked at his wife and, sensing his segue into an oddly timed conversation, she propped herself up onto the pillow so she was face to face with him.
“Paul’s looking for two or three doctors for his practice. Dr. John mentioned it to me in jest, but…I don’t know, Mary…” He recalled the words he shared with Linda the previous night, and it pained him to realize how much he’d brushed her off, and how much they’d both been somewhat neglecting their family responsibilities. “We never have time for the kids anymore, and we’re both constantly exhausted. Maybe a career move wouldn’t be the worst thing.”
Mary averted her glance, as if in shock. “But he lives in North Carolina, doesn’t he?”
Chris nodded. “Holly Springs, about a half an hour outside of Raleigh. John’s showed me pictures. It’s a beautiful area, Mary.”
She gaped at her husband. “Are you serious?” She whispered a hiss that expressed half surprise, half excitement. “It sounds like you’ve already made up your mind.”
Boldly, Chris asked, “Would you consider it?”
Mary shook her head slowly. “I don’t know, Chris. What about the kids? We just put Tasha into another school, and Linda might want to go to NYU, and Layla would die if we told her we’re moving out of the city. She can’t stand ‘hicks’.” Mary air-quoted the word ‘hicks’.
“Why don’t we discuss it with them tomorrow?”
She had a sparkle in her eyes when she faced Chris. “Are you serious?”
Chris placed his hand on hers. “Yeah,” his said in a warm tone. “I’m serious.”
Bending over, she kissed him tenderly on the mouth. “You know I’ve always dreamed of this.”
“When opportunity knocks, it’s simple, you answer.”
Chris had butterflies in his stomach. Mary had gone to round up the kids to talk about the possibility of moving to North Carolina, and he was very nervous about it. The last thing he wanted was to cause a problem in his family. Lord knew they had enough of that already, and he hoped that they would see this as being a solution to that. His wife reappeared with slight irritation in her face. “Layla’s in a snit; can’t get her hair just right.”
Waving, Chris put his other arm around Mary. “She’s always in a snit about that. I’ll buy her one of those flat irons and she’ll be our best friend again.” Sometimes teenagers were so tough to deal with, but other times they were so simple. Chris was thankful this was the latter.
Tasha came skipping into the living room. “Mommy, can I have a cookie?”
“Sure, honey, go grab a plate of them and we’ll all share.”
Linda appeared a second later. For once she didn’t have her cell phone glued to her palm. Chris smiled. “How are you, Linda?”
She was nonplussed. She shrugged. “I’m fine.
When sixteen-year-old Layla trudged out of her bedroom, she had one side of her long brown hair pinned up just above her ear and the other side laying flat down her chest.
“You figure out your hair, sweetie?” Mary asked.
Layla gave her an ‘okay, what’s the catch’ look. “Yeah, so?”
Linda and Layla slumped down on the couch in their ‘oh God, it’s another teenage lecture’ position, eyes averted, picking at a loose thread or at a fingernail, sour looks on their faces.
Tasha walked to the living room carrying a large white tray with a plate full of chocolate chip cookies. “Just set them down there.” Chris assisted, and wasted no time proudly announcing what Mary and he had in mind. “Your mother and I have been working a lot lately and we understand this family needs a little change.”
He looked at his daughters, checking for attention span. Linda was pouting as she peered out of the window to her left, which overlooked Manhattan. Layla was chewing a cookie, showing more interest in counting the chocolate chips than in what her dad had to say. Tasha was still inspecting each cookie for chip count before finally selecting one and taking a large bite.
“I was talking with a colleague of mine, err, Dr. John, yesterday, and his son Paul is looking for a couple of doctors to help him run his practice.” Chris paused. No response. They were all miles away in their own worlds. He gave Mary a wink and continued. “In North Carolina.”
All eyes were on him suddenly. Audible gasps came from all three daughters. Tasha immediately began wailing. “Mommy, I don’t want to move! I love my new school!”
Layla darted up, sitting straight. Her face was pained as she barked, “Are you crazy? Move to North Carolina? No way! I’m not moving to some hickville neighbourhood! I love it here in New York!” Her hands were flailing, exhibiting her fiery upset.
Linda sat silent, shaking her head slowly. She was biting her lip and Chris could clearly see her chest heaving. She waited for Layla to finish her tirade and then she started. “Great, Dad. I haven’t even decided which University I’m going to. What happens if I decide to go to NYU? Why couldn’t you decide this at a better time…like after I’m done with school?” She rose quickly from her seat and lifted her arm to emphasize her point. “I’m not moving, Dad! Forget it! I’ll stay with Sylvia until September and then I’ll live in residence.” Her voice was vile, full of hatred for her father.
He looked at his hands in defeat, as though he expected Linda’s heated response. Instead of fighting back he let her storm off to her room and slam the door. Layla left the room abruptly as well and shouted to her parents, “I’ll stay with Sylvia too!”
Little Tasha sat on the couch, sobbing and holding her hands to her ears to shield them from the shouting. Her face was red and wet with tears. Mary knelt down in front of her, fingering a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Honey, it was just a thought. We don’t have to move. Me and Daddy thought you girls would be happy about it, but if you’re not, that’s okay. We can stay here in New York.”
She looked up at Chris, as if for permission. He was still standing there staring at his fingers. Sensing his wife’s glance, he looked at her and nodded assent. Walking away, his gait changed, like he suddenly weighed much more than he did before the conversation.
Mary lay in bed alone, catching up on work emails, when Tasha appeared at her bedroom door. She rubbed her eyes until they were pink; her hair was messed from sleep.
“Did you have a bad dream?” Mary asked, patting the empty side of the bed.
Tasha jumped onto the bed and nestled herself beside Mary. “Where’s Daddy?”
“He’s at work, honey. I’ve got to go in in about three hours too. Martha will be here by six to get you ready for school.” She ran her hand through her daughter’s knotted hair. “What was your dream about?”
“I didn’t have a bad dream.” She yawned. “I just woke up and couldn’t fall back to sleep.”
The background image on Mary’s laptop screen was her old childhood house where her parents still lived. It was a beautiful two-storey mansion with large white pillars flanking the front door, and a roundabout driveway that snaked its way to the cobblestone walkway that led to the side garden. An American flag leaned proudly on the side of the house.
“What was it like growing up there?” Tasha asked sleepily. “Did you like it there?”
“I loved it there,” Mary said happily. “Me and Auntie Rebecca got to go fishing and hiking, and grampa taught us how to ride a bike. We even had our own pool in the backyard. It was wonderful.”
“I don’t know how to ride a bike,” Tasha observed with a small pout. “I have a goldfish though.”
“Well, honey, Mommy and Daddy could teach you how to ride a bike.”
Tasha looked at her mother sitting up in bed, as she lay on Chris’s pillow. “I don’t know how to swim, either.”
Mary’s face brightened after a beat. “If you want, we can get you into lessons?”
“But who would take me?”
“Any of us could,” Mary insisted.
“But I want you to take me,” Tasha whined in that mock baby voice that was bothersome to Mary.
“I can try,” Mary answered, searching her daughter’s face. “Now you should get to bed. You’ve got school in the morning.”
“Can I sleep with you?” Tasha begged.
“I suppose,” Mary said, reacting as though the child had twisted her arm. “But no snoring,” she joked.
Tasha giggled. A beat later Mary had minimized her screen again, giving a full view of her large childhood house. “How big would our house be?”
A crease formed between Mary’s eyes. “What do you mean?”
“If we moved. Like what you and Daddy talked about. How big would our house be?”
Mary looked around the bedroom as though the walls were transparent and she had a clear view of the full rental apartment in front of her. “I don’t know. It would be much different than here.”
“Because where Paul’s practice is, it’s a very small town, like the one Mommy grew up in. The houses are cozy and you have lots more land, not like here where it’s mainly apartments. You have lots of grass and an unobstructed view of the sky and the stars. Plus, it’s a lot quieter.”
Tasha was silent, digesting the information. “Where would you and Daddy work? Would it be like the hospital?”
“No, sweetie. Paul has his own office, just a small one, in the town where he lives. There is a hospital there, but Mommy and Daddy would be working with Paul.”
“Would you have to work a lot?” Tasha’s expression was strained, like it was a painful question.
“Probably less than now. It’s a small town, so there are less people that get sick.” Then she corrected herself. “They are busy, because he’s looking for more doctors to help him, but it probably wouldn’t be as busy as Mommy and Daddy are now.”
Another pause. “Would Martha still cook me dinner and make my breakfast?”
Mary couldn’t help feeling like she’d set a trap for her sweet girl, but she had to answer honestly. “No, honey. Mommy and Daddy would probably be home for breakfast and dinner. There might be sometimes when we can’t be there, but we would be home often enough that we wouldn’t need Martha.”
That hit a nerve. Tasha, who had been dozing slightly, was suddenly wide-eyed. “Really?” she asked, like Mary was Santa Claus, and she’d just been promised her very own life-sized Princess castle. “You mean you and Daddy would be home for dinner? And to tuck me in at night?”
Closing the lid on her computer, Mary nodded.
The child had an ear-to-ear smile. “Oh, Mommy, I want to move to North Carolina!” She beamed, as if to say ‘let me just go pack my bags, right now!’.
Chris unlocked the door and threw down his keys on the console table by the door. He was exhausted after having worked a six hour shift with half the doctors on staff available. Another flu bug had ravaged the emergency department, but Chris was thankful it hadn’t affected him…yet. Checking his watch he saw that it was nearly four o’clock in the morning. He quickly stepped out of his shoes and placed his briefcase on the floor beside the console table. He was too tired to do paperwork—he wanted to go straight to bed.
Entering his bedroom he saw little Tasha sound asleep on his side of the bed, but Mary was nowhere to be found. The bedside lamp had been left on, so Chris carefully turned it off, heading for Tasha’s bedroom thinking he might find Mary there.
“Hey,” he whispered. Mary was fully dressed, ready for work. She had one of Tasha’s old teddy bears in her hand as she sat on the small bed. Beside her was a large, folded sheet of paper, instructions to something. “Whatcha got there?” he asked
“It’s the Nanny-Cam,” she answered, lifting her head just for a moment. “I wanted to get it installed so I can test it out before work. Tasha came to bed with me, so the timing is perfect.”
The small camera was no bigger than a golf ball. Its tiny lens resembled the cameras the girls had in their cell phones. “Where do you put it?” Chris asked, joining his wife, being careful not to break her concentration as he sat on the bed.
“I dug a hole in the belly, see?” Mary showed Chris the spot of stuffing that had been removed, but was almost unnoticeable between the large, fluffy belly of the bear. “Now I just have to place it carefully and put this adhesive around it so the thing doesn’t fall out.”
Chris lent a hand and minutes later the camera was installed. The camera had a button that matched the color of the bear, so it was nicely camouflaged from view. She pressed it and they both heard the tiny beep. “It’s working.”
In Tasha’s room, on the large wall by the door, there was a bookcase with multiple shelves. It was the perfect home for the bear as it was at the right height to catch anything that would happen within the viewable area of the bedroom. Chris winced, not wanting to ask why she’d chosen the bedroom as the place to record.
“I’ll check it in a day or so, and if it works well, I’ll get another for the living room and kitchen,” she added, as though answering Chris’s silent thought.
“How was work?” Mary asked, changing the subject.
“Busy. If I don’t get called in I have tomorrow off.”
“Great.” Mary smiled. “I had an interesting conversation with Tasha last night.”
The days and nights were melded together, but Chris was too tired to ask for clarification. “Oh yeah? What did she have to say?”
“She wants to move to North Carolina.”
His neck craned in disbelief. “Really? Why the sudden change of heart?”
Mary began folding up the instructions and stuffed them in the tiny box the camera had arrived in. “That little girl is smarter than all of us. We should give her more credit.”
Pushing his lips together, Chris gave his wife an ‘I told you so’ glance. “Too bad the other two aren’t as smart.”
Ignoring his comment, Mary rose. “I better head off.” She kissed him chastely on the lips. “Keep the bed warm for me.”
“I’ll sleep here. Test out the camera,” Chris offered, disregarding the fact that he was against having it. “Besides, Tasha’s in our bed.”
“She’d love to wake up next to Daddy.”
Chris had issues towards sleeping with the children. He quickly shook his head. “That’s okay, I’ll be fine here.”
Mary didn’t press. “I’ll see you later.”
Layla sent a text message to her best friend Carla, asking her if she was home and if she could come over. Carla lived up the street in a building that could pass as Layla’s building’s older brother. It had all the same features but was about twenty years its senior. Carla and her mother lived in a two bedroom apartment, and both Layla and Carla attended the same high school and had known each other since Kindergarten.
Stomping over to her friend’s house, Layla couldn’t wait to express her outrage at her parents even thinking about moving out of Manhattan. She was fuming with anger, so much so that the neighbors came out to see what the commotion was all about as Layla banged needlessly hard on the door.
“What’s going on, girl?” Carla laughed, knowing Layla was upset about something, but knowing it had to be really juicy for her to be this flustered.
Layla hesitated as Carla closed the door behind her. “Your mom home?”
Carla shook her head no and gave a slight eye roll, as if she was relieved.
Then Layla let it out. She began pacing, dropping her jacket, hat and scarf on the floor numbly. “My parents are thinking about moving! Do you believe it!”
“Moving where?” Carla crossed her arms over her chest.
“To freaking North Carolina!” Layla yelled, bending forward for emphasis.
Carla’s face scrunched. “What the hell is in North Carolina?”
Layla flailed her right arm in the air. “Some guy my dad works with has a son who runs a medical practice out there.”
Unimpressed, Carla stuck one foot out, leaning backward slightly. “So?”
“So, he’s looking for more doctors to help him run the place,” Layla huffed.
“And your parents wanna move there now?” Carla was confused.
Slumping down on the couch, bouncing so hard she forced a pillow off the back of it, Layla explained warily. “They said they wanted to know how we felt about it first,” she scoffed. “And boy, did we all tell them how we felt about it.”
Carla, still standing, stuck her hand out in the air, hesitating, trying to understand. “So…you guys aren’t moving?” She said it as more of a statement.
“No,” Layla said. Her foot tapped on the floor anxiously.
Carla sat on the arm chair beside the couch. “So why are you so mad then?” She practically laughed. Layla could be such a drama queen sometimes.
Heaving a quick breath of air as though frustrated, Layla glared at her. “Just the thought of it,” she squeaked. “You shoulda seen Tasha. She threw a fit. I can’t believe they would stress us out like that.”
“They were asking for your opinion,” Carla reasoned. “Think about how mad you would be if they thought about moving to Hawaii and didn’t mention it.”
Layla rolled her eyes at Carla, as if to say ‘don’t be so ridiculous’.
Carla caught the look. “I’m serious! Be thankful your folks asked how you felt about it and then respected your wishes,” she argued, not caring how sarcastic she sounded. “When my parents decided to divorce, do you think they asked me first? Do you think my mother asked how I felt about moving to this dump when your apartment is just up the street and is so much nicer?”
Layla’s face finally softened. She pointed at Carla. “Okay, you win. But you’re only allowed to use that once.”
“Fine. You want something to drink?” Carla rose, walking to the kitchen, which took only two steps.
“You got Coke?”
Carla dipped her head out of the kitchen, lifting her brows. “Liquid or powder?”
“Haha. My parents are doctors, loser. Liquid.”
Carla’s head disappeared for a beat and then her index finger appeared. “Okay, but you’re only allowed to use that once.”
When Carla came out of the kitchen carrying two glasses of Coke with ice, Layla waited until she set the glasses down on the coffee table and then shot a couch cushion directly at her. “That’s for being a smartass!” She laughed as the pillow whipped Carla in the head, sending her hair up in a heap with static cling.
Unscathed, Carla smoothed her hair down, taking a sip of her drink. “How did Linda take it?”
“Much like me. Only she’s twice as pissed off that they would consider moving her out of state when she might go to NYU.”
Carla waved and scrunched her nose. “She doesn’t even know where she wants to go yet.” It amazed her how much the sisters were alike. “Besides, if she’s smart she’ll go to Harvard.”
Layla got snarky. “That’s only four hours from here and like eleven from North Carolina.”
“So?” Carla was aghast. “I don’t get you Dixon girls. What is so damn special about New York anyway?” she argued. “I’ve lived here all my life, just like you, and given the chance, I’d leave.” Carla put her hand out defensively. “Don’t get me wrong, I mean, I don’t want you moving eight hours away from me, but God, I just don’t get it.”
Interested, Layla put her drink down and sat up straight. “What don’t you get?”
Head cocked to the side in thought, Carla sucked her teeth. “Layla, you have two sisters and both your parents are still together.” She looked at Layla in an expression that asked ‘are you still with me?’. Layla nodded. “Okay, so you never get to see your folks and your sister Linda is so quiet that when she speaks the whole room shuts up. Tasha, well, she’s six, she wouldn’t remember moving anyway. And your parents work their asses off, each at different hospitals, making peanuts for the hours they spend outside of the home. Why wouldn’t you want to move to a small town where you might actually be happier?”
“But why would we be happier, Carla? I mean, where they want to move, it’s like friggin’ hickville. I love the city. That’s all I know.”
Carla waited for her to finish and then continued. “Layla, have you ever been to your grandparents’ place out in Ohio?”
“Not for a while, but yeah. Why?”
“You’ve barely been out of the city your entire life. How do you know you’d hate it?”
Now Layla was confused. “Why do you want me to move so badly? I told you my parents were just thinking about it.”
Carla then brought her point home. “So then why were you so upset, Layla?”
She couldn’t stand it when Layla was so dramatic. Carla was more grounded in personality and she disliked that being around her friend was becoming more and more like watching an episode of Pretty Little Liars.
Layla lowered her head in defeat. “I don’t know. You know what? You’re right, it’s no big deal.”
“Be thankful your parents care enough about you to do what’s right, or at least try to,” Carla added. “My mother’s out at a bar scouting for younger men.” Sometimes Carla wondered who was the grown up in her house. She clucked her teeth, trying to make light of it. “At least she gave me the number of the bar. Get this, it’s called Cougartown. Apt, eh?”
Layla’s sullen face stretched up into a smile that became infectious, which was exactly what Carla was looking for.