Some women sit around in bars after they get dumped, complaining about the jerks who treated them like yesterday’s dog squeeze. Miranda Steele didn’t go to bars. She didn’t have friends to complain to. But she did have the dog squeeze beat out of her regularly by the jerk she was married to.
That was until one cold wintry day when the jerk decided to dump her and throw her out in the snow.
From the floor where Leon had left her, Miranda lifted a shaky hand to her mouth to stop the blood oozing from her cut lip. “What are you doing?”
“What I should have done the night your bastard was conceived. What I’ve wanted to do for months.” His voice shook with quiet rage.
He jammed the suitcase shut, grabbed her by the wrist again and dragged her back downstairs.
“What are you doing?” Miranda screamed the words this time, as he wrestled the front door open.
“Purging my house.” He hurled the suitcase into the snow on the front yard. It broke open and her clothes tumbled onto the snowy grass. Then he gave her a hard shove.
She stumbled outside onto the cold concrete porch. Her feet were bare. She was still in her bathrobe.
“Leon,” she begged. “Let me back in. What will the neighbors think?”
“They’re at work. Besides, no one cares about you. They know what you are.” He pushed her again.
She staggered off the stoop and landed with a hard thud on the ground next to her clothes.
He grabbed her purse from a chair and tossed it into the snow beside her. “Take this and go, Miranda. Go away from me.” His voice shook with dark rage. “I never want to see your face again.” He turned and slammed the door so hard, it made her eardrums vibrate. She heard him turn the key.
Her chest heaving, she tried to catch her breath. As she sat on her bruised butt in her front yard in Oak Park, Illinois, dressed in only her PJs and bathrobe, staring up at the cheery, pink stucco two-story she’d lived in for seven years, Miranda didn’t wonder whether her “Lord and Master” had beaten her up and chucked her out because she hadn’t gotten the crease in his police uniform just right. Or because she’d mouthed off when he’d complained his steak was a bit singed last night.
She knew exactly why he’d done it. She had dared to lunge at the great, the powerful, the all-holy Leon Groth, with her nails bared.
And why had she done that? Not because he’d said she was stupid. Not because he’d called her a filthy whore. Not because he’d told her she was tainted, ruined. She was used to that.
Because early this morning, he’d snuck out of the house with her three-week-old daughter and given her up for adoption.
“Don’t worry. They assured me she’d go to a good home. A family who’ll never know her true origin. I’m not a monster, after all.”
Amy. Her baby.
How had Leon pulled it off? He must have forged Miranda’s signature on whatever documents he needed. As a cop, he was connected. He had friends on the force who’d turn a blind eye for a favor owed. He knew court clerks, judges.
The cold seeped into Miranda’s bones. Angry tears welled up in her throat. Amy. Her baby.
Get her back. I want her back.
She’s gone, Miranda. They took her away and neither of us will ever know where she went. You’ll never find her again.
She should have known Leon would do something like this. He’d been pressuring her to give the baby up for adoption since she got pregnant. She should have known he’d meant it when he said he couldn’t live under the same roof with “it” any longer. He always referred to Amy as “it.” He hated her. He said Miranda had no right to keep her.
Amy wasn’t his, after all. Leon was unable to have children after a bout of measles during their first year of marriage. The child had come from Miranda’s “unfortunate incident,” as he called it. The nightmare last February when she’d gone out late at night to get him ice cream.
The memory of those hands grabbing her, that nameless hooded face hovering over her, hurting her, still filled her nights with terror and emptiness. The examiner at the hospital said she had been lucky. Hard to believe one woman could be so lucky when it came to men.
She squeezed her eyes shut, trying not to see the empty crib she’d found this morning.
Her baby. Where was her baby? Was she hungry? Cold?
She laid her head against her knees, wanting to cry. Daring the hot tears to run down her face and sear her cheeks. She wanted to sob forever. Her nose ran, her stomach was ready to heave, but the stubborn tears refused to come. They would later.
She lifted her head, batted at her wet lips with her sleeve.
Her jaw ached where Leon had smacked her. There’d be an ugly bruise on her cheek soon. Her wrists and shoulders were sore from being yanked down the stairs and across the floor. But she’d gotten in a nice nick on his chin, before he’d grabbed her arm and whaled the tar out of her.
Standing up to Leon, even for just a moment, had felt pretty good. She’d like to feel that way again.
She gazed at the concrete porch he’d shoved her down, the front door he had carried her through when they were first married.
Her toes began to burn. Her things were strewn all over the yard. She found a pair of socks in the snow and pulled them on. Crawling on her knees, she packed her clothes back into the suitcase Leon had tossed out with her. It refused to close. The latch was broken. Giving up, she struggled to her feet.
It started to snow, the soft flakes falling against her cheeks, wetting her wiry, dark hair.
Go back. He’ll forgive you. He always does.
Leon would go off to work soon. She could go inside, get warm, start making preparations for a beef stew dinner, his favorite. Women like her always went back. Or so she’d heard on Oprah. He’d come home from work, they’d sit down at the table. Everything would be all right.
Women like her always went back. She should do something about that. Slowly, she shook her head. Go back? Not this time.
Disoriented, numb with pain, she reached for the broken suitcase and hobbled down the driveway. Her mother was gone, her father had left when she was little. She had no siblings, no close friends, no idea what she would do or where she would go. But just now, a seed of determination was breaking through the hard years of pain. Would it take root and grow? Why not? At twenty-three, her life was far from over.
Yes, that seed would grow. One way or another.
One way or another, she’d survive. One way or another, she’d learn not to be afraid. One way or another, she’d make herself so strong, no man would ever hurt her again.
And one way or another, she would get her daughter back.