In the past days, I’ve been thinking a lot about my Deviant Behaviors series as I’m getting myself pumped up to write the third (and maybe final) book, Eager Observer, in the coming months. My goal is to know these characters better by the time I get started, so it was only natural that I start focusing on their lives leading up to the events in the series.
This post is part of a series in which I attempt to write a free short fiction piece for Story a Day every (week)day in May. I’m not posting all of them, only those I think will be great for blog readers. They will all be tagged [Free Short Fiction] for easier browsing.
The prompt for today’s story comes from Inspiration Monday:
LAW FREE ZONE
“Justice? — You get justice in the next world. In this one you have the law.” ― William Gaddis
Words and Law
The house smelled like sweet potato pie the day her father’s parents took her baby brother away for good. She was only six, and the baby had been there to visit only a few hours when her grandparents – whom she only knew from their yearly visits to her driveway to bring or take the baby – came to the house with a blushing rookie cop hanging his head behind them.
Harrison knew they were angry, but she couldn’t figure out why, so she kept talking to her little brother like nothing was going on in the front yard that should concern either of them.
“Say ‘Harrison’,” she said to the drooling toddler, then pushed the hair out of the boy’s eyes. She pointed to herself. “I’m Harrison.”
He mumbled something and grabbed a hunk of her hair with his fat, moist fist with a gurgle. She pried his hand off her hair, tucked it behind her ear, and smiled down at him.
“Harrison,” she said again.
The baby looked away and blew bubbles. She didn’t understand why he wouldn’t say her name, and neither did her Pops and Gram. Earlier in the day, she heard them talking about it. Her Gram’s voice was hushed.
“They’re doing him a disservice,” Gram had said. Pops grunted back at her, like he did, and Harrison knew he was agreeing without a word.
When Gram discovered Harrison hanging out behind the doorway to the kitchen – her long, messy hair peeking around the doorway gave her away – she had been sent off with an apple and orders to find something to do besides prying into their business.
She had been riding her bicycle in the driveway, but when she saw the familiar black-and-white car crunching up the gravel, she had dropped her bicycle and ran inside to tell her Pops he had visitors.
That was over an hour before, and Harrison was still inside, sitting with the baby in the playroom, while her four grandparents argued in the front yard over the best way to raise a child. She tried not to listen, but her brother wasn’t much company, and she couldn’t help but overhear.
“Jesse, I know you’re only doing your job, but you need to step away from me,” her Pops said. Harrison knew he was mad because his voice had gone sort of hoarse. She could almost imagine him shaking in his boots.
The baby in front of her kicked a leg at her. She grabbed it around the ankle and tickled the baby’s foot with her fingertips. He laughed, kicked again, and bucked on the bed. Then he rolled over, and she had to jerk him back by the ankle when he almost went over the side. His face puckered, but she shushed him and blew raspberries on his stomach to cheer him up.
“Mr. Thresher,” a voice she didn’t know said, and her Pops cut him off.
“That’s still Chief to you, Officer,” her Pops growled.
Harrison fixed the baby’s shirt and stared down at him. He gurgled and she smiled back, but she wasn’t paying any attention to the brother she barely knew.
“Chief Thresher, I know that you feel you have rights here,” the man said, but her Gram cut him off this time.
“We do! That boy is our grandson, same as he is yours.”
“No, he’s not,” said another unfamiliar voice. It sounded like a woman, so Harrison knew it must be her Granny. “He’s ours now. Our son signed over his rights and made us his legal parents.”
“Some parents,” the old Chief said. “That child can’t walk nor talk, and he’s far past the age Harrison was when she did those things.”
Harrison smiled. She loved to hear her name on her Pops’ lips, and especially loved when he talked about how smart she was. She tickled her brother again, but the sleepy toddler yawned and pushed at her stomach with his little bare toes.
She got off the bed, picked him up with great effort, then carried him out of the play room and into her own bedroom. It had been her mother’s room when she was a girl, and though Harry never liked pink, she never asked for it to be changed. It felt wrong, like she would be erasing the woman she barely knew.
“He’s got special needs,” her Granny said. “And I demand you turn him over to us immediately.”
Harrison put the baby into his playpen and stared down at him. He looked normal enough to her, but she knew some people were different on the inside. She made a face at him. He smiled back, but his eyelids drooped.
“Take a nap, Cameron. When you wake up, this will all be over.”
The baby closed his eyes. As soon as Harrison felt he was asleep, she walked over to the open bedroom window and peeked out. She could see all five adults standing too close together on the lawn, and it made her stomach squirm.
“Chief, the papers are in order. You need to let them take the baby,” the young man in blue said. He looked as upset as any of the others.
“Why are you doing this?” her Gram asked her Granny.
Her Granny looked like she wanted to sock her Gram in the nose, and part of Harrison wanted to run outside to protect her. But she was in charge of watching the baby, and that’s what she intended to do until her Gram or Pops told her otherwise.
“As soon as the papers were filed, we were no longer legally obligated to let you keep him anymore. We’re here to take him away from you before you do to him what you did to your daughter,” her Granny said.
Her Gram looked like she had been slapped, and Harrison’s face burned with shame for her other grandparents. Even she, just a little girl, knew they were doing the wrong thing. She pulled herself up by the windowsill so she could see them all better.
“What we did?” her Pops yelled.
The baby started crying behind her, and Harrison shushed him but didn’t turn away.
“Your son was the cause of all her problems. If you hadn’t raised him to be a belligerent drunk, she would still be here, and no one would have cause to care for her children!”
Harrison let herself fall back to the floor and dried her eyes. She walked back to the baby’s playpen, reached inside and rifled through the blankets, until she found his pacifier. She popped it into his mouth, and he quieted.
“Either bring him out, or I’m going in there,” her Gram said.
“Ma’am, I can’t let you do that,” the young cop answered. After a moment, he continued, “But I do have to ask you to bring the baby out. He needs to go with them.”
Harrison stood over the baby’s playpen and listened, but she didn’t hear another word. The front screen door opened and closed. Her Gram walked up behind her and put her hands on Harrison’s shoulders.
“Cameron needs to go home now,” her Gram said.
Harrison could hear that her grandmother was trying not to cry, so she put on a brave smile. “I’ll get him for you.” She reached into the playpen, and her Gram steadied her while she picked up the baby. He squirmed, but didn’t cry again.
“You’re a good girl.”
The little girl carried her younger brother out of the bedroom she shared with her mother’s memory, through the house, and out to the front porch. When she got there, her Pops turned to look at her, and she dropped her eyes in shame.
“It’s okay, Harrison,” her Gram said.
Harrison walked down the front porch steps and across the grass toward the grandparents who had never asked her to spend the night, let alone fought to keep her, and handed the baby up to the strange woman. The woman thanked her curtly, and Harrison ran back to stand behind her Pops. He put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed, and she let out the breath she had been holding.
“Take the baby,” he said in his gruff, old man voice. “Raise another one to be just like the last. We plan to do the same for the girl, but we’re going to warn her against men like him.”
Harrison watched as her grandparents left with her baby brother and the young cop bowed out with apologies behind them.
“Sometimes the law protects us; others it betrays us.”
She wouldn’t know exactly what he meant until the first time the law sided against her, and she no longer had his hand on her shoulder to protect her.