It’s strange the things that stands out in one’s memory. I can remember the sun blazing down on the top of their car and how the stocky, mustached man and the petite, brown-haired woman squinted as they came to stand in front of our gate. It was a hot day.
The man called out a greeting in Spanish. Nervously, my eyes shifted to meet Hannah’s and I could see my uneasiness reflected in her expression. Who are they? A few seconds passed and then he called again but this time it wasn’t a greeting: it was my father’s name. How did he know Daddy’s name? I wondered. A moment later, our front door slammed.
Daddy was walking down towards the gate.
A prickle of unease ran the length of my spine. Our house seemed unusually silent. Why couldn’t I hear anyone talking? Why weren’t the little ones laughing? Why wasn’t Mommy calling for lunch? My heart pounded faster as I shifted uncomfortably on my knees.
We could see the strangers were talking to my father, though we couldn’t hear them. I could only see the side of Dad from where I knelt but I could tell that he was frowning. Hannah wondered aloud if they could be customers but I shook my head. No. There was something different about these people. Daddy’s customers didn’t look like that.
It’d been several minutes. The strangers didn’t go away, even when Daddy left them there and returned to the house. We watched them in silence for a few seconds, wondering. When the door behind us opened, we all jumped, startled.
It was Jenna. Gone from her face was the reproof and hidden amusement we’d seen only moments before. Now, her eyes were full of fear and a barely concealed dread. Her mouth was a grim line as she went straight to the bureau and began rummaging through the clothes. Matthew stood behind her. His blond hair brushed his long eyelashes but he didn’t bother to push it away, only stood quietly, watching his mother. I stared at him. The strangeness of the moment kept me silent but questions burned in my mind. We watched as Jenna pulled out a blue, button-down shirt from the dresser.
“Honey, let’s put this on,” she said to Matthew, helping him pull off his plain tee-shirt. “Listen to me, sweetheart, you don’t have to answer any questions if you don’t want to. You know that, right? You just smile and hold Daddy’s hand and everything will be alright.” He nodded and she straightened his shirt, brushed at his hair. His eyes were round and solemn. He took his mother’s hand when she reached for him and followed her from the room. The door clicked shut behind them and I looked at my sisters in bewilderment. Their eyes mirrored mine. Together, we turned back to the window and saw that strangers were still standing there… except now, Daddy was walking down the driveway towards them, and he had Matthew with him.
Matthew looked like a sheep being led to slaughter, shuffling along slowly behind our father. His eyes were on the ground, his hand clutched tightly around Daddy’s. I shot Hannah another look filled with dread. What now?
The strangers stared at Matthew and the man questioned our father. Daddy’s face was unreadable. He didn’t let go of Matthew’s hand and at some comment of the man’s, he turned quickly and brought Matthew back inside. I felt a stab of relief. Safe again, he’s safe.
But would the strangers never leave? Daddy had gone back out to them, now carrying Matthew’s basket of supplements. I shook my head, frustrated.
“How come they wanted to see Matthew?” I asked Hannah. “Who are they anyway? What do they want?”
She shrugged, her eyes darting to mine and then away again. Something’s not right. I understood the glance as easily as if she’d spoken aloud. I nodded slightly and looked at Abby to see if she had noticed our exchange. Her eyes were wider than usual and her mouth was slightly open as she stared out the dusty window screen. She hadn’t.
We watched Daddy show the strangers Matthew’s medicine and we watched as he showed them proof of Bernadette’s graduate’s degree in nursing and we watched as he showed them the doctor’s notes on Matthew’s condition and progress. It seemed like forever before the strangers finally got back into their car and drove away, leaving as quickly and as suddenly as they’d arrived.
The car hadn’t even disappeared down the road before we were off the bed and running from the room.
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