CHAPTER SIXTEEN: MISSING HEART

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I wiggled the firefighter teddy bear in front of Em's smiling face

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I wiggled the firefighter teddy bear in front of Em's smiling face. It was one of her favorite toys. The damn thing would throw water from its pipe when you squeezed its belly—not the most appropriate toy for kids—and make the sound of a passing firetruck every single time someone was dumb enough to press its furry ears that stuck out of the yellow helmet it wore.

I had no idea why she liked it so much. The thing was loud and annoying, but she gave a wide smile and reached out for Mr. Flame Fluffs. I noticed the beginning of teeth peeking out from her gums, realizing how fast time passed. A year ago she hadn't even been there. Mom would walk around the house with a big belly—like Mr. Flame Fluffs'—and Dad would be right behind her, handing her chips and ice cubes every time she asked for some.

Our lives were average, boringly normal, and now, less than a year later, Em was here and my life was barely recognizable. It felt like a game of hide and seek, where my sanity and wellbeing were really at stake, and I'd always sucked at playing.

A set of keys grated in the lock and the front door swung open. Dad's heavy footsteps came in through the kitchen door soon after. He set down his briefcase on the countertop and loosened his tie before taking a look around. Emilia let out a joyful squeak, her hands dropping the bear to reach for Dad.

"Hey, sweetheart," he said tiredly at me as he walked up toward Em's chair. "Where's your mother?"

"Upstairs. She's cleaning Emilia's crib." I picked up Mr. Flame Fluffs and set him on the table. A little splash of water squirted out from the pipe. "She puked all over it."

"I see." He frowned, picking her up and rocking her lightly. I remembered how safe his arms felt every time they wrapped around me—like this morning—but now I couldn't bring myself to look at him or Mom the same way. Not after what Gideon said. "Daddy's little princess has an upset tummy?"

"And an upset crib that I now Mommy has to clean," Mom said, walking into the room with two rolled up blankets on her hands. "The mashed potatoes and banana she ate ended up all over the pillows and sheets. It's like a nuclear bomb of vomit went off in there. Maybe we should take her to a doctor."

"We can see how she does tonight. I can take her tomorrow morning, if you want," Dad offered while Mom headed into the washing room. When she came back, she rinsed her hands off in the sink. "Are you still going to Indiana?"

"You're going to Indiana?" I asked, my head snapping upwards. I'd been too focused on Mr. Flame Fluffs' leaking pipe to notice it was Mom who held Emilia now while Dad took some things out of the fridge to make dinner. "When?"

"Tomorrow. Mrs. Chapman wants me to organize the new expositions of some paintings we're receiving, and she thought I could put one or two of my works in there, too. See if anyone likes them," she said, her eyes shining with excitement. It didn't last long, though. "But I'm not sure if I feel comfortable leaving with everything that's been going on."

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