Holding up the World Holding Up The World


Available at:

Lisa Russell had two objectives when she saw her daughters off to college.

Redecorate her house and find a man.

She never thought she'd be starting over...and with a baby.

Holding up the World


As much as Lisa Russell would like to think she was totally grown up, and at forty-two she should be, when it came to emotions she was as much the stunted thirteen-year-old as the next person. As far as sex was concerned, there were only two kinds of people in the world--those who were nervous about it and those who pretended they weren't. Clumsy, tongue-tied and insecure, most people never got passed the thirteenth road marker. Well, maybe the fast girls progressed to age fifteen, but Lisa wasn't one of them. She was somewhere between does-he-like-me and going-all-the-way. Tonight she intended to lean toward the speedier side of the road.

Unfortunately, that trip was miles away. The afternoon had barely begun and she had several reports to read before leaving for the day.

The corporate offices of Braddock Pharmaceuticals stood on a hundred and twenty-three thousand acre tract in Woodbine Heights, a sleepy suburb outside of Chicago that was Lisa's home and workplace. A smile curved her lips as she stared at the grassy vista outside the window of her corner office. Instead of the market research report she'd begun before lunch, she thought of the red bustier she'd left lying across her bed that morning. And the package of condoms next to it. It was a warm August day and she was getting used to the empty nest syndrome. The twins were settling into their first year at Fisk University and Lisa's mind was on seducing Graham Peterson.

It had been a long time since a man put his arms around her, since she felt the pull of sexual need. She'd met Graham in a cybercafe a few weeks ago. It had been Drew's idea, at least Drew had mentioned it one night during dinner. "Why don't you go to a cybercafe, Mom?" she'd asked as casually as she would have said pass the butter. Drew was the more sedate twin, but she also had a keen sense of the dramatic. Her words were often designed to surprise or shock while her demeanor was that of the comedic straight man.

Lisa had never mentioned anything about finding a man to her daughters. The thought had crossed her mind, but she'd kept it to herself. Then after a news segment on television chronicling the popularity of cybercafes as the new singles meeting place, Drew had delivered her bombshell.

Lisa shrugged it off, but found herself looking up cybercafe on the Internet to find out what it was and what happened there. Or even if there was a there. She'd visited a few chat rooms, and been encouraged by other singles looking for relationships to try it. A week before the twins left for college, they were spending a final weekend at the lake with friends. Lisa put on a slinky black dress with a neckline low enough to show cleavage and a single strand of pearls. She'd spent hours deciding what to wear. At thirteen, while she might have been shy about talking to a boy at a party, showing cleavage was something she longed for, not something she'd consider hiding. She'd gone, alone, black dress and all.

Generally confident in herself, Lisa's courage threatened to leave her the moment she stepped into the semi-darkened room filled with tables and computer screens. She was overdressed.

Seriously overdressed.

The crowded room was filled with men and women in jeans or khakis's, off-the-shoulder blouses and open-necked shirts. She was the only one dressed like she was going to dinner--in 1950. Obviously dating places had changed since her days of singles bars and home parties as the mores for meeting the opposite sex. She stuck out like Madonna in a Disney movie, but she'd come this far and she wasn't one to retreat from the expected. And it wasn't long before she'd met Graham. A documentarian and father of a grown son, they hit it off immediately.

"First time here?" had been his opening line.

Lisa looked down at her dress, spreading her hands as if she was a model, then up at him. "Is it obvious?"

He was warm and fun, sensitive to her, complimentary of her outfit with not a bit of insincerity, and he laughed a lot. It was his first time too, but he'd had better preparation that she did and wore the proper clothes. Lisa smiled to herself. Maybe this dating gig wouldn't be so hard after all.

Graham had been away for three days. It felt like weeks and while they'd only been a couple for several weeks; three dates, a dinner and a long walk along the lake, both were sexually attracted to each other.

Lisa's smile turned to a chuckle at Graham's restraint. She covered her mouth with her hand as if he were present and could see her amusement. She'd known from the first that he wanted her in bed, but he hadn't rushed her. He'd let her direct the pace of their relationship and she planned to step it up a notch tonight. Her body tingled at the thought of what she had in mind; a candlelight dinner, soft music, wine, maybe some dancing, then she'd let him remove her clothes, revealing the secret she'd be wearing under her form-fitting dress. After that, she'd make sure nature took its course in slow even strokes.

The gentle ring of her phone interrupted her thoughts. Lisa shook herself, removing the blanket of pleasure that shrouded her. She wouldn't want her voice to reveal a woman in the throws of virtual passion. Pulling her chair closer to the desk, she folded the plastic container top over the remnants of her salad lunch and dropped it in the trash. Securely back in business mode, she lifted the receiver, hoping it was Graham saying he was back early.

"Lisa Russell." She identified herself with a happy lift to her voice.

"May I speak to Mrs. Elizabeth Russell?"

The voice was male, strong, authoritative, and unrecognized. Lisa sat up straighter in her chair. Her heart lurched. Her daughter Julianna's face jumped unbidden into her mind. Had something happened to her? She had run away a year and a half ago. Lisa lived in fear of a call or a heavy knock on her door in the middle of the night. She'd dreamed more than once that the police came to tell her something terrible had happened to her runaway daughter. The tingle going through her now had nothing to do with Graham as all thoughts of him were replaced by an inner shaking that went straight to her bones.

"This is Elizabeth Russell."

"Mrs. Russell, do you have a daughter named Julianna?"

Oh no, Lisa thought. Her hand went to her throat. This was it. This was the nightmare come true. A stone the size of Mount Everest crushed her chest. She couldn't speak. Her mouth opened. Nothing came out.

"Mrs. Russell?" The voice sounded in her ear when she didn't respond to the question.

"Yes." Fear made Lisa's voice rattle in her throat, a whispery, raspy sound reflective of someone with severe laryngitis. "Is...is...she...is she all right?"

"She isn't hurt if that's what you mean."

The weight lifted and Lisa slumped back in her chair, but Lisa's chest remained tight. Her heart pounded loud enough to drown out the office sounds beyond her open door. The wash of relief that flowed over her, sapped her of energy, and she was thankful she was already sitting down.

"This is Donald Li at the Division of Youth and Family Services in West Cedar."

Lisa tried to listen, but she didn't catch everything he said. He knew of Julianna. She was all right. He'd said that. Lisa's hand was on her heart, holding it to steady its beat. Her feet had suddenly gone cold with fear. Her hands had no motor skills, and she struggled to keep the phone pressed to her ear.

"Is she hurt?"

"She looked all right when we last saw her."

"She's not there." It was a statement, almost a cry.

"She left as soon as we stopped the car at the office."

Lisa took a deep breath. Often it would help calm her. "Car? Where? What offices?"

"I calling from the Division of Youth and Family Services. The West Cedar Street office."

"Family Services." She heard that part. West Cedar Street. What was Julianna doing over there? It was the worst part of Chicago. Burned out or boarded up houses, drugs, pimps, high crime, and drive-by shootings were reported regularly from that area.

"Where did she go?" Lisa was on her feet, with no recollection of standing up. The tenuous connection with her missing child propelled her up from the chair. This time Lisa fought to control her voice. She wanted to shout, wanted to find her daughter, to know where she was. She wanted to make sure she was all right, inspect each of her fingers and toes as if she were a newborn instead of a nineteen year old adult.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Russell. I don't know. We were bringing her with us, but she opened the car door and took off running."

Clamping her panic down, Lisa asked, "Running where?" She wanted to force this stranger to give her answers that in all likelihood he didn't have. In her heart, she knew there were no answers. Julianna had left home two days shy of her eighteenth birthday. In the eyes of the law, she was a grown woman. If she wanted to be found, to be returned to Lisa's home, she had only to pick up a phone. She'd been back twice, once when Lisa wasn't home and once when she was. Both times, she'd left causing Lisa distress for her daughter's safety.

She's also taken vital records that caused Lisa to have to change her checking and saving's account and cancel a major credit card. Yet Lisa loved her. She couldn't help it. She was a mother and held all the rights, responsibilities and love that had been infused into her system since she'd held Julianna as a newborn, her tiny body still connected to Lisa's, her twitching frame not yet cleaned of blood or amniotic fluid.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Russell. I don't know where she went."

Lisa came back to the present. "Why are you calling if she's not there? Has she done something wrong?" This was another of Lisa's worries. That Julianna would get into trouble, do something illegal and be sent to jail. But this call was from Family Services. Were they part of Family Court?

"Are you aware that your daughter has a child?"

"What!” A pain, similar to own her labor nineteen years ago seized her stomach and Lisa leaned over the desk, her free hand saving her from falling onto its littered surface. Her foot kicked her chair, but she only realized she'd done it when she heard the crash against the credenza behind her.

"An infant. She's three months old," Donald Li continued.

Tears flashed in the back of Lisa's eyes. A baby. Julianna had a baby, a girl, and she'd never told her.

"No," Lisa said, again her voice was a whisper. Her hand leaned on the desk for support as her body began to vibrate. "She has a baby?" In Lisa's mind she heard a voice saying, you're a grandmother. It rebounded inside her head like a tennis ball in a closed, airless, resistanceless system. There was nothing to stop it or force it to lose momentum and succumb to a state of rest.

"The reason I'm calling, Mrs. Russell is we need your help." He paused a moment. Lisa wondered if he was allowing her to let the news sink in. "Could you come to the office right away?"

Lisa didn't answer. She sat down in the chair, stretching the phone's cord with her. Visions of her daughter the last time she'd seen her came to mind. Julianna, dressed in jeans and a tight T-shirt with African American Princess spelled out in pink rhinestones across her chest. She was running through the garage door.

"Are you there, Mrs. Russell?"

Lisa took a deep breath. She was more herself now. "Excuse me, Mr. Li. This is just a little much for me to take in all at once. Where is your office?"

"I understand. I'm sorry to be the bearer of unexpected news."

Lisa wrote down the address of the West Cedar Street offices and hung up the phone. It was Friday. Labor Day weekend would officially begin this evening. Most of the employees had left or taken a vacation day and not come in. Turning off her computer, Lisa pulled her purse from the bottom drawer of her desk and closed her office door. Her secretary had gone at noon, leaving a tidy desk, clear of any papers and totally unlike Lisa's. She didn't take the time to put anything away or jam it in into her briefcase and take it with her. It would all be there Tuesday when she returned.

She reached her car in the underground parking lot in less than five minutes. The clock on the dashboard read 1:09 in orange digital numbers. Five hours later she pulled into the garage of her five-bedroom, three and half bath colonial with a three month old baby girl, a package of diapers, two baby outfits, three six-ounce bottles, a can of formula, and no idea what she was going to do.

"If you don't take the baby," Donald Li had said. "She goes to foster care today." His words were like a bomb. Lisa couldn't have that. She'd heard to many horror stories about children in foster care. How could she condemn her own flesh and blood to such a life? How could she not accept the child? She was beautiful, a head full of black hair, toothless smile, and wobbly hands reaching for Lisa's face. Tears cramped her throat and touched her heart as certain as if she'd carried the child herself.

Lisa brought the baby inside and laid her, still wrapped in her blanket, on the floor of the family room. She couldn't remember at what age babies learned to roll over and she was taking no chances that the child might fall off the sofa. Then she made several trips back and forth to unpack the car. Paraphernalia associated with an infant lay all over the floor. How could one small child command so much stuff and this was the bare minimum? She had no crib, no baby food, no bathing form, no combs or brushes for hair so fine. What had she gotten herself into?

Emotion blazed through her, burning her skin from beneath the surface. Tears welled up in her eyes as she stared at the tiny figure on the floor, a smile curving her tiny mouth. Lisa fell to her knees, the tears turning to sobs. Covering her face with her hands she let out the pent-up emotion she'd been holding at bay since the phone rang in her office.

The ordeal at the Family Services office had been like something out of a bad movie. They'd probed into her personal life asking questions that made her feel as if she'd thrown her daughter out into a cold, dark world. They'd asked about her child rearing practices, whether she believed in corporeal punishment, probed into her marriage and divorce, taken her fingers prints, had her sign at least a dozen pieces of paper agreeing to home studies, interviews and progress reports. Most of it was a blur now. All she could think of was the baby and Julianna.

Lisa scooped the child up and held her close. She was so small. She made soft gurgling sounds against Lisa's breast. She kissed her tiny forehead. Her tears wet the baby's hair and Lisa brushed them away. She took in the soft scent only a baby possessed. Shifting her into the crook of her arm, Lisa looked at her.

"Hello, Brittany Jade Russell. I'm your grandmother." Her voice cracked and the tears tracked down her face. "I suppose it's just you and me now, sweetie." Lisa paused and sniffed, wiping her eyes with her fingers. "Don't you worry, sweetheart. We're going to be fine." She spoke emphatically, the words more for herself than the child.

Lisa pulled the baby up to her shoulder and rocked her. Amid the packages on the floor, the tears falling from her eyes, and the soft happy sounds of Jade, the two of them clung to each other.

"We're going to be just fine."

Click to subscribe to Shirley Hailstock's Newsletter

Copyright ©2014 - ShirleyHailstock.net. No part of this site may be copied, published or redistributed in any form without written permission from ShirleyHailstock.net.