Finding Forever

By: Melody Anne

Prologue


Are you Whitney Steele?”

Whitney was struggling to wake up fully, and also shivering from the frigid air drifting inside her open front door. A police officer was standing before her with an expression she couldn’t read. All she was aware of was that it was three in the freaking morning, and this intrusion was unacceptable.

“Yes, I am. How can I help you?” Her tone was anything but polite.

The officer looked away for the briefest of moments, and suddenly her sleepiness vanished. Maybe this wasn’t news she wanted to hear. When his eyes finally reconnected with hers, the sympathy she saw made her certain of that.

“No news at this hour is good news,” she said, and she started to shut the door in his face.

He put his hand out to keep the door open. “Ma’am, I’m so sorry … but there’s been a terrible accident.”

She stopped listening. Nothing else he could say would be worth hearing.

“No …” She could stop him from continuing with what he was trying to say. She would.

“Your sister and her husband were in an auto accident at 12:06 a.m.” He paused, and the very air seemed to throb. “They didn’t survive it.”

It took a moment for the words to sink in, and when they did, Whitney’s knees began to give out, and she felt blackness overtaking her. Her knees grew week but somehow she managed to keep from blacking out.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Steele,” the officer told her again an instant before he caught her.

“No, you’re wrong,” Whitney pleaded. Christmas was less than two months away, and she couldn’t possibly live in a world where Maxine didn’t exist.

The officer simply looked at her with kindly but regretful eyes, and she knew he was speaking the truth. If only she could wake up from this nightmare.

“Are you going to be okay?” the officer asked. “Do you have someone you can call?”

“There’s no one. My sister was all I had left,” she said in a panic. How would she get through all of this without Maxine to guide her? “But … where are my niece and nephew?”

“They are home with a babysitter. Another officer just spoke with them. I was sent here to inform you of the accident — you are listed as the only adult next of kin.”

“I need to talk to them right away,” she said. She couldn’t even look at this officer anymore. After all, he’d been the one to bring her the worst news of her life, and didn’t people always want to shoot the messenger, irrational as that was? So without another word, she stepped back into her house and closed the door. She stumbled to the phone and dialed her sister’s house.

On the third ring, the babysitter picked up. The girl didn’t know what to do. She’d been so shaky after just being informed about the accident that she hadn’t even been able to pick up the phone to call Whitney.

Damn the officer for just leaving her there. What had he been thinking? The poor kid was sobbing uncontrollably.

Whitney gathered herself together and headed over. She had to stay strong for Maxine’s children. This wasn’t the time for her to fall apart.

As she made the drive, all she could think of was that she was about to bring these two children the worst news of their life. Would they hate her the way she’d hated that unfortunate officer? But what did that matter? What mattered was them. Her floods of tears made driving difficult, but she had no choice but to keep on going.

Once she arrived, she sat in the car for a moment, composed herself, brushed away her tears, and took a deep breath. She and the children would all somehow make it through this tragedy.

At least they had each other. It was all they had now.

She walked through the darkened doorway and heard a mewling cry coming from the living room. The house seemed so empty, though nothing had changed about it — physically. But this time she knew her sister would never again grace the halls with her laughter or come rushing around the corner.

With great effort, Whitney held in the tears that wanted to fall once more. “Thanks for staying, Ginny. Do you have a ride home?”

“Yes, I called my dad. He should be here any minute,” she sobbed.

Just then a knock sounded on the door, and Ginny looked at it in relief.

“It’s okay, sweetie, I’ve got the kids,” Whitney said.

Ginny jumped up gratefully and rushed from the house without another word. She was only a teenager, and she’d probably be too frightened to ever babysit again.

Whitney made her way up the stairs and quietly looked in on both children in turn. They were sleeping soundly and she didn’t want to wake them. They’d gone to bed full of hopes and dreams of the upcoming holidays, and when they awoke, their entire world would be changed forever. Talk about cruelty.

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