"I wanna go home."
Laura's eyes burned. She sounded so pitiful and helpless. "I'm going to take you to a new home, and we will have an adventure discovering it all. Won't that be fun?"
Kelly shrugged sullenly, and Laura stroked her soft, shiny hair. They had a long road ahead, she thought, and wondered just how long she was going to be here, and could she ever have the will to leave. For Laura knew, she was already falling in love with the little lost girl.
* * *
The instant the house came in sight, Laura heard Kelly gasp with wonder and try to inch up higher to see the place. Motioning her back down as they rode the bumpy unpaved section of road to the house, Laura drove around the back, to the garage, and hoped that the sight of the beach, the stable and huge yard would interest Kelly. It did, especially the swing set and slide that hadn't been there yesterday. She stopped the vehicle, threw it into Park and turned off the engine.
"Go on, go try it out," she encouraged, and Kelly pushed the door open.
Laura rushed around the side to help as Kelly scrambled down and ran toward the gym set. She watched her, her hair wild and flying out in the wind, her little legs struggling to keep up with her burst of energy. The play set was huge, of sturdy wood and rivets, and she smiled as Kelly climbed the slide, slid down, then did it again and again. Laura got tired just watching her, but it was the smile of pure delight on the child's face that struck her hard. How long would it last, she wondered as Kelly tested the glider swing shaped like an airplane, then the plain swing before ducking under the slide to discover the sandbox and toys.
She felt a presence near her and looked up. Dewey strolled close.
"I'll take her bags up," he said, his hand out for the keys. She handed them over. Yet he made no move to leave.
"She looks like him," he said softly. And Laura stared at Kelly, wondering just how much she favored her father.
Suddenly Kelly flew off the swing and raced to her, stopping in front of Dewey and staring at him. Laura realized Kelly thought Dewey was her father. She introduced them and watched the child's smile fall.
"How do, ma'am." Dewey crouched in front of her and his old knees popped.
Kelly looked wide-eyed at his jeans-covered kneecaps. "Did that hurt?"
"Nope, does it all the time."
"My daddy was hurt. Bad."
"Yes, darlin', he was."
"Do you know him?"
"Yes, I sure do."
"Do you think he will like me?" The question came out in a quivering voice, and Dewey exchanged a glance with Laura
"Yes, princess. He will, very much."
"But where is he?"
Dewey straightened and glanced up at the windows above. "Up there." Kelly walked around him and gazed up at the stone house.
Richard stared at his daughter, instant love swelling through him. He'd watched her play on the gym set, her hair as dark as his, her eyes the same color. She had his smile, too. How hard had it been it for Andrea to look at her every day and see him, he wondered, and moved closer to the window.
Kelly lifted her arm and waved and Richard wanted to rush down there and scoop her into his arms, tell her he loved her and would protect her and was glad she was here. But he couldn't. Still standing back, he waved, his gaze shifting to Laura.
She looked, too, leaning back against the car, her arms folded across her middle. She had a look that spoke volumes, that it should be him playing with his daughter and how could he resist this little girl? Couldn't she see that he wanted to be down there with Kelly? That he wanted to ease his child's pain? That staying away hurt him far worse than it hurt his daughter?
Dewey was already headed inside with the bags, and Laura was saying something to his daughter. And when Kelly slipped her hand into Laura's, he had the urge to pound the windows and howl at his cage. That should be me. Kelly was his baby. His.
* * *
Laura made lunch for Kelly before they went upstairs to her room because Laura knew the child would have no interest in food once she saw the fantasy her father had created for her. She'd showed Kelly that her room was just across the hall and that she could come to her anytime day or night. It seemed to ease her fears a little. As Laura unpacked and put away her clothes, Kelly investigated the room, and the toys, one large teddy bear with satin mint-green ears and paws holding her interest. The stuffed animal was half her size at least and she dragged it with her from one pile to the next. When she climbed up onto the bed and looked down, she clutched the bear to her chest.
"Scared? Is it too high up?"
Kelly met her gaze. "Nah." She looked around with complete awe, then yawned. "It's so pretty."
"I know. I wish I had a room like this when I was a little girl."