Why had this happened? Why, of all the children, was Kyle the one?
Back in the car after stopping for gas, Denise hit the highway again, staying ahead of the storm. For the next twenty minutes rain fell steadily but not ominously, and she watched the wipers push the water back and forth while she made her way back to Edenton, North Carolina. Her Diet Coke sat between the emergency brake and the driver's seat, and though she knew it wasn't good for her, she finished the last of it and immediately wished she'd bought another. The extra caffeine, she hoped, would keep her alert and focused on the drive, instead of on Kyle. But Kyle was always there.
Kyle. What could she say? He'd once been part of her, she'd heard his heart beating at twelve weeks, she'd felt his movements within her the last five months of her pregnancy. After his birth, while still in the delivery room, she took one look at him and couldn't believe there was anything more beautiful in the world. That feeling hadn't changed, although she wasn't in any way a perfect mother. These days she simply did the best job she could, accepting the good with the bad, looking for joys in the little things. With Kyle, they were sometimes hard to find.
She'd done her best to be patient with him over the last four years, but it hadn't always been easy. Once, while he was still a toddler, she'd momentarily placed her hand over his mouth to quiet him, but he'd been screaming for over five hours after staying awake all night, and tired parents everywhere might find this a forgivable offense. After that, though, she'd done her best to keep her emotions in check. When she felt her frustration rising, she slowly counted to ten before doing anything; when that didn't work, she left the room to collect herself. Usually it helped, but this was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because she knew that patience was necessary to help him; it was a curse because it made her question her own abilities as a parent.
Kyle had been born four years to the day after her mother had died of a brain aneurysm, and though not usually given to believing in signs, Denise could hardly regard that as a coincidence. Kyle, she felt sure, was a gift from God. Kyle, she knew, had been sent to replace her family. Other than him, she was alone in the world. Her father had died when she was four, she had no siblings, her grandparents on both sides had passed away. Kyle immediately became the sole recipient of the love she had to offer. But fate is strange, fate is unpredictable. Though she showered Kyle with attention, it somehow hadn't been enough. Now she led a life she hadn't anticipated, a life where Kyle's daily progression was carefully logged in a notebook. Now she led a life completely dedicated to her son. Kyle, of course, didn't complain about the things they did every day. Kyle, unlike other children, never complained about anything. She glanced in the rearview mirror.
"What are you thinking about, sweetie?"
Kyle was watching the rain as it blew against the windows, his head turned sideways. His blanket was in his lap. He hadn't said anything since he'd been in the car, and he turned at the sound of her voice.
She waited for his response. But there was nothing.
Denise Holton lived in a house that had once been owned by her grandparents. After their deaths it had become her mother's, then eventually it had passed on to her. It wasn't mucha small ramshackle building set on three acres, built in the 1920s. The two bedrooms and the living room weren't too bad, but the kitchen was in dire need of modern appliances and the bathroom didn't have a shower. At both the front and back of the house the porches were sagging, and without the portable fan she sometimes felt as if she would bake to death, but because she could live there rent-free, it was exactly what she needed. It had been her home for the past three months.
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