Brooke shook her head slowly, staring down at the rest of her uneaten sandwich. “I—me and Lanara—we got a secret.”
Tara shivered, and she wasn’t cold in the big warm kitchen. “You do?”
Slowly, Brooke climbed off the wooden chair and reached for the stuffed dragon. She pulled it close. “My daddy gave Lanara to me for my birthday,” Brooke whispered.
Tara remembered Brooke telling her that before. Tara watched as the little girl turned the dragon around.
There were three safety pins on the dragon’s back, as if she’d been torn and someone had tried to fix the tear. What if one of those pins popped? Brooke could be poked or hurt. But her little fingers easily opened the pins, as if she’d done it dozens of times before.
Carefully, the girl reached into the torn toy, shoving through the white cotton batting that filled it. She pulled something out from inside the toy. “Don’t tell I got this. Mama would get mad.”
“I swear.” Tara made the zipper sign over her mouth, hoping she wouldn’t regret her promise.
Brooke came around the big metal table and stood beside Tara. She extended a piece of paper to Tara. “This is my daddy.”
Tara’s heart ached as she looked at the old, computer-printed picture of Morgan. Someone had torn the picture into several pieces, then taped it together. He was laughing and posing with the purple dragon that didn’t look nearly as bedraggled as it did now.
“I’m gonna go find him.”
“Oh. You are? Why?”
Brooke looked at Tara then, and the sadness in the little girl’s eyes was too much. She felt her own eyes well with tears. “I wanna go home,” Brooke whispered. “I don’t like Jimmy. At home, Mama played with me and tucked me into bed.”
“She doesn’t do that now?”
Brooke simply shook her head, her ponytails bouncing now that they were beginning to dry. “I was at Lisa Hanson’s house for a sleepover the other day.” Brooke walked to the dragon and focused very hard on putting the picture inside the stuffing and re-pinning it. “Her daddy tucked her into bed.” Brooke rubbed her eyes with a fist. “I miss Daddy,” she whispered.
“Oh, sweetie.” Tara wanted to sweep the little girl into her arms and never let her go. “Would you like me to help you?” The question hung heavy in the air.
“I saw a big truck here the other day. My daddy used to have a big truck like that.”
“Uh-huh. And he’d let me ride in it. Do you think the truck man would know my daddy?”
Tara swallowed the lump in her throat. “I’ll bet he would. You know, I have his phone number. Would you like me to call him?”
Brooke seemed to think about it a long time, then slowly nodded. “Yes, please.”
Tara couldn’t ask for a better opening. She took the diner’s phone and scrolled for Morgan’s number. It wouldn’t have his name, but she knew around what time he’d called. Surely, there weren’t that many numbers.
Amazing how many people called in a day. Finally, she found the one she was pretty sure was his. Please, let it be his. Let him answer even if he knows it’s me.
* * *
MORGAN ALMOST DIDN’T answer the phone. The rain was coming down hard, and while he knew this road well, he was never comfortable driving the rig with a phone in one hand. He slowed, which was surprising since he was already creeping along. Water splashed up, loud on both sides of the cab as he pushed the truck through yet another pool of standing water in the middle of the road. He hit the speaker button and propped the phone on the console.
“Hello?” He didn’t take his eye off the road to see who it might be.
“Morgan?” Something akin to relief and joy washed over him. He hadn’t thought Tara was speaking to him. If he were her, he wasn’t sure he would. He hadn’t seen her since he’d left with Sylvie.
“Yeah? Tara? What’s up?” He tried not to get his hopes up that she was calling because she actually wanted to talk to him.
“I’m at the diner.” He heard her say, then a long silence where the phone seemed to blip out. “We’re…dinner…”