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Hundreds of Butterflies. Chapter VII
The next day I woke early, the sun had not yet risen, and I wanted to deliver the letter to the Maxwell's myself before my parents woke up. So I showered and dressed quickly, then, without really thinking about what I was doing; I pulled my school satchel out from under my bed. I packed it with clothes, underwear and toiletries, and the photograph of Alice and the letter I had written to her. Quietly I tiptoed down the stairs, and was about to leave through the back door when I noticed my mothers bag on the kitchen counter. Without really knowing why I took out my mother's black leather purse, opened it and gently slid her debit card out from the front pocket. Closing the purse again and returning it to my mothers handbag, I looked for a moment at the small plastic card in my hand, before quickly slipping it into my pocket and walking out the door.
The Maxwell's home was right on the other side of town and to walk took almost eighty minutes, but it was too early for buses, so I walked.
I was surprisingly calm as I walked the four and a bit miles to the home of my daughter and her new parents. If i'd have thought about it I probably would have seen that as a warning sign, but I wasn't thinking at all, I just walked along, humming to myself, my head comfortably empty of anything other than the pink blossom on the trees, transcendently beautiful as the sun rose on them, and the cool crisp breeze through my hair.
Even as I rounded the corner to the Maxwell's street I still had no idea what I was about to do. You may think that I was just planning my defence, but until the moment it actually happened stealing Alice never even entered my brain. I guess it must have been in there somewhere, subconsciously, otherwise why would I have packed a bag and stolen my mothers debit card? But I swear, it was never an idea that I had or a conscious decision I made.
As I walked along the cul-de-sac toward the Maxwell's house I began to feel nervous. I stood staring at the house which seemed to loom in front of me. I took a deep breath and was about to step forward when the handle on the front door turned and the door began to open.
I panicked, and quickly ducked down behind a hedge, and as I crouched, I wondered how I was going to explain this when Maggie and Joseph walked out of their front gate and saw me. I peered out from behind the hedge, being careful not to let myself be seen. Maggie was pushing a large blue and white pram out of the front door, talking to the child inside, presumably Alice. She was alone.
I watched mesmerised as Maggie Maxwell pushed that pram with my daughter in it down her front path, all the while chattering to her and calling her Bethany.
Then something happened. Something so unlikely and unexpected it was almost as if it was meant to be. Maggie suddenly stopped halfway down the path and started patting her trouser pockets and rummaging through the pram and the matching nappy bag underneath.
"Oh dear Bethie!" I heard her exclaim, "Mummy's left her phone inside!" She sighed and looked back at the house, "Oh I can't pull you all the way back into the house!" She looked at the house and back once more. "Honey, mummy will be thirty seconds OK, I promise!" And after lingering for a few more seconds she ran back into the house, leaving the pram, and Alice, alone in the garden.
Before I realised what was happening, I was up and walking briskly toward the pram. I pulled the letter I had written to Alice rom my pocket as I walked, intent on leaving it on the pram and walking away. But then I reached her, I saw her. My tiny, beautiful baby girl laying there, her big brown eyes staring at me full of wonderment and innocence. I knew there was no way I could walk away from her again! And in that moment my brain stopped, and something else took over. Call it adrenaline, instinct or insanity, I don't know; but I knew we belonged to each-other, I felt it in my bones, we needed each-other.
Tossing the letter into the pram, I grabbed hold of the handlebar and looked frantically around, it still hadn't turned eight am, no-one was around, and Maggie was still nowhere to be seen. I began to push Alice's pram down the front path, slowly at first then gaining momentum, as I turned right out of the Maxwell's front garden I began to jog. I made another right up a dirt path to the backs of the houses, and once I was off the main road I started to run. Pushing Alice ahead of me, I ran as fast as I could, my mind was racing, I knew by now Maggie would have discovered that the baby was gone and phoned the police, I would obviously be the first person they'd check, and once they discovered that I was gone they would know exactly who they were looking for. I had to get as far away as I could as fast as I could. Eventually I came to the end of the back road I was running along, my only option now was to walk along the main road. I couldn't run, I didn't want to draw attention to myself. As calmly as I could, I walked toward a cash machine on the other side of the road. I knew that anything I bought, I had to pay for with cash, as the police would be able to track the use of my mothers card. My parents may have taken my TV, but I still found ways of watching C.S.I.
I slid the card into the reader, then tried very hard to disguise my panic when I realised that I didn't know my mother's pin number! I tried the obvious, her birthday?... Wrong. My birthday?... Wrong. One guess left, if I didn't get this right then the card would lock and I'd be screwed. I thought for a second. My father's birthday? No, age and house number? No. Then it hit me. I took a deep breath and prayed silently to the God my parents told me to believe in, then I typed it in; 2.4.86 my sister's birthday...
Please select an option... It had worked! I was so relieved I laughed out loud, which made a middle aged man passing by turn and give me a quizzical look. I quickly averted my gaze and concentrated on the screen. The limit I could take out was £250, so I did, and folded it up and put it in the pocket of the nappy bag under the pram. I glanced around once again before heading for a nearby bus stop.
The bus I intended to catch was a ten minute wait, those ten minutes were the longest of my life, I shifted from one leg to the other, I fussed over Alice, I did everything I could possibly think of to pass the time all the while terrified that at any moment a police car would drive past and I'd be caught. But the fear I felt sat at that bus stop was nothing compared to how terrified I felt once I had gotten off the bus and into Crawley train station, only a small station, but I knew that by now the police would be looking for me and the train station seemed like the first place they'd go. But the station was nearly empty, no police, no parents, adoptive or otherwise, just a couple of people stood on the platform. The next train to Brighton was at nine thirteen am, seven minutes away. I had caught that same train a couple of years before with my school friends. We had met Ruth off the train and gone shopping, and my fashion mad sister had taken us to all the coolest boutiques and shops, then treated us to lunch in a trendy cafe bar. That was a long time ago, but I remembered that I had to change at Three Bridges to get the connection to Brighton.
The train journey was pretty uneventful, despite my being terrified the whole way there. The only problem I had was trying to figure out how to fold the pram up before I got on the train. I was sure I was getting suspicious looks from the other passengers, so I tried to cover my ineptitude behind the fact that I was holding Alice in my other arm, and although no-one offered me any help, I managed to get the pram flattened before the train arrived.
The journey to Brighton was pretty great, even though I was on edge the entire way there. I really felt like I was Alice's mother. I sat at a table with Alice in my arms, I fussed her and fed her a bottle which was tucked into her nappy bag, along with nappies, a couple of spare outfits, a foldaway changing mat, nappy rash cream, another bottle, a felt picture book entitled 'Day at the Zoo', a small blue baby carrier and the money I had stolen using my mother's debit card. Unfortunately there was no spare milk formula and I had stopped lactating a couple of days previously, but I figured buying some more formula wouldn't be too difficult. The people around me smiled, and I smiled back. An old woman sat opposite me commented on how lovely Alice was. I thanked her and we chatted about motherhood. She told me about her new grandson and talking about Alice made me feel so proud. Holding her in my arms, being her mother it all felt so right, I knew it was meant to be.
I arrived into Brighton station at five to ten. I had not spoken to my sister in two months, she didn't know that I had given birth. We had emailed back and forth and she had known I was pregnant and that our parents were organising an adoption, but that was about it. She had warned me that I might change my mind about giving up my child, and that if I did it would be OK. Although it wasn't until I had given birth to Alice that I fully understood what she meant. Ruth was the only person I could trust, and I knew she would help me. I hadn't seen her since before she had finished her degree and moved in with her girlfriend, which was over a year ago, but I had her address, despite not knowing how to get there.
I was still worried about the police, even in Brighton, so when I got off the train I decided not to bother setting the pram back up. Instead, I carefully strapped Alice into her carrier, attached her to my chest and zipped my jacket up over her to keep her warm. I threw my rucksack on my back and the nappy bag over one shoulder, grabbed the folded pram and carried everything out to he front of the station. It was heavy but I knew I had to keep going. I was so close, if I stopped now Alice would get taken away from me again. Outside the station a row of taxis were parked waiting for customers. I opened the door to the first one. "Are you free?" I asked, as nonchalantly as I could. The driver smiled broadly at me. "Sure love", he replied, "pop the pram on the backseat!"I piled the luggage into the backseat and opened the passenger side door. "Thanks", I smiled, as I sat down and finally started to relax. I read out my sister's address from the piece of paper I had jotted it down on, and we set off. Then a thought occurred to me; what if my sister wasn't in? What if she had gone out for the whole day or even longer? She could be on holiday or anything! I had no idea what I would do if Ruth turned out not to be home. But I needn't have worried. As the taxi pulled up outside the house, I could see my sister in her driveway carrying bags of shopping in from her car. I opened the taxi door. "Ruth!" I called, as I stepped out onto the pavement. She stopped and turned around. When she saw me her mouth fell open, she ran toward me and threw her arms around me.
"Rebekah, Oh my God! What the hell are you doing here?"...