Keisha walked the empty apartment. It’s white walls, gray carpet, and cheap tiles seemed to echo desperation. A sameness and emptiness of spirit. Ten years. Since Bree was barely out of diapers, they had lived here. Her mind balked when she calculated how much money, first the government and then she, had paid in rent. Well over one hundred thousand dollars. For this?
And where had any of it gotten them? What did she have to show for almost fourteen years of her life? A few clothes, Bree’s dolls, stuffed animals, and toys. All of it fit into the back of Travis’s truck – with room to spare.
They had not bothered taking any of the furniture. All of it had been bought in charity shops or off a couple of free and swap websites. There were even a couple of pieces that she resorted to ‘dumpster diving’ for.
She clutched the yellowing and frayed envelop closer to her chest. It and the single page of hastily scrawled words inside were the most valuable thing she had. Other than her daughter. “Oh, Bryan, I hope I’m doing the right thing.” The tears that she had held back for the past couple of days began to flow. She could not stop them.
And she did not need to. Everything was loaded in Travis’s truck. He was outside with Bree, their neighbor, the pastor, and a couple of women from that church.
Keisha spun the plain gold band on the ring finger of her left hand. She was married. Married? Surreal did not begin to describe how she felt. Everything had moved so fast after that phone call. A week ago. Was it really only a week ago?
This was not how she had imagined her life. Any of it. Married to a man that she had not seen in almost three years. Moving halfway across the country. Hell, she had never left Atlanta. She was thirty-one years old, and she had never even been outside Fulton and Dekalb counties. It boggled her mind to realize that.
Growing up, there was never any money for vacations. Even if there was, her strict and self-righteous father would have probably considered it a ‘sin.’ Then, she was eighteen, pregnant, and alone. She had thought about getting a Greyhound bus then. Just going and escaping her father’s wrath, but she did not have the money.
Instead, she had scraped together the few dollars for a MARTA bus day pass and traveled across the city looking for any help she could find. And once Breanne was born, well, there was never money for trips. Every bit of gas was carefully rationed for her travels to work, school, or doctors’ appointments.
In a few minutes, she would be leaving all that behind. Everything she had ever known. Not that they had that many strings or attachments here. She had not seen her family since the day her father kicked her out. Neither her mother nor siblings dared to cross the man. She had not even gone back to the old neighborhood since the day she had taken a baby Bree to see Bryan’s grandmother. When the woman slammed the door in her face, claiming that the child was no relation to her, that her boy would not…
Keisha breathed in deeply as the pain threatened to overcome her. Both the doctor she worked for and the landlords of this building had been almost shamefully relieved when she told them her decision. She had to remind herself, they were good people, but they were under the same kinds of financial stress that she was.
It was not wrong for them to feel joy at their sudden deliverance from the weight of moral obligation that they had been carefully trying to balance against those fiscal responsibilities. Bree’s school and teachers felt the same, agreeing that it would probably be for the best if she were home educated, at least until things settled down.
And Keisha had no friends. There had never been any time between work and caring for her daughter. But even before that, she had only ever had one friend. Bryan. No, that wasn’t fair. The gold band glinted in the morning sun. Travis had become her friend. After that Christmas morning miracle, as she thought of it.
She had felt uncomfortable making that first phone call, but Bree would not let up. Several times a day, her daughter had mentioned ‘their Marine,’ wondering how he was doing. If his Mama was getting better. Finally, Keisha had remembered that the man had used her phone to make that call back home. Scrolling through her call log, she had found a number she did not recognize. The time and date fit. Still, she had debated intruding on the man’s new life. But as always, Bree’s needs won out.
And she was glad she had. Wasn’t she? It was just all so frightening. Giving up everything she knew. Her job, this apartment, heck, even her old car.
After spending a couple of hours checking it out, Travis had slunk into the apartment covered in dirt and oil and looking forlorn. Though she knew his assessment of the vehicle’s roadworthiness, especially for a trip of almost seven hundred miles, was accurate, it was not easy letting go of what to her was the last thread of her independence.
That was what frightened her. She was going somewhere she had never been, where she knew no one. She had no job and now no transportation. She was totally dependent on him for everything. A place to live, food to eat, and a way to get places.
Sure, as Trav reminded her, she still had control of Bree’s SSI. But she had promised her landlords that she would send part of that every month to pay off the rent they still owed. While the elderly couple had dismissed the offer, she left it only right. And the rest? Well, that was to take care of her daughter. Though, if things did not work out, perhaps in a few months…
“Hey, Bree’s finished her goodbyes. Any time you’re ready…”
Keisha brushed her face with the back of her hand. She could feel the hard surface of her wedding band across her cheek.
What was she worried about? She might not know this new place. Things might be tough all over. But she knew this man. All those hours and hours and hours of messaging and phone calls for three years had to count for something. But what was even more important was the care he had always shown for her daughter. Even back then. When he had been that scruffy homeless Marine, that was Bree’s Christmas wish.
And when things had gotten incredibly tough for them. When it was them that were on the verge of homelessness, this man had come through. They had discussed this. Looked at it from all the angles. Weighed the pros and the cons. This was the best choice. Not just for her or Bree. But Trav and his father needed her help too. It wasn’t all one-sided. She brought something to this situation, as well. She wasn’t quite ready to use the word marriage. Maybe partnership?
But whatever it was, it was time to let go of the past. And step into the future. Uncertain though it may be, Keisha knew that she had made it this far alone. Was it so wrong to accept a bit of help from a friend when they needed it the most?
Key-Key stuffed that letter into her purse and plastered a smile that she was not quite feeling on to her face as she turned. Travis looked almost as uncomfortable as she felt. That was reassuring. “Let’s get going.”