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Authors: Caroline B. Cooney

Hush Little Baby

BOOK: Hush Little Baby
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Hush Little Baby
Caroline B. Cooney

For Ann Reit — my first and my much-loved editor

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

A Biography of Caroline B. Cooney

Chapter 1

T
HE DAY WAS VERY
still. No cloud touched the blue sky. No garage door was open. No child was outdoors. No radio played. Automatic sprinklers had lifted and well-behaved water sprinkled neatly on green lawns.

Kit unlocked the front door of her father’s vacant house and stood on the threshold like a stranger. This doorway was where she felt the divorce most intensely.

A few years ago, when Mom and Dad split and Mom remarried, it had been decided that Kit and Mom would move to New Jersey with Mom’s new husband, Malcolm. There was little fighting between her parents about the decision to take Kit from her California roots and from Dad. Dad loved extravagant gestures, so he just bought a second house near Mom’s new one, and commuted between New Jersey and California. The new houses were in Seven Hills, a spread-fingered development of dead-end roads circling a beautiful golf course.

The air inside Dad’s house was stale, because Dad was in Los Angeles for two weeks, sometimes three. Dad and his partners created TV specials and he was always hunting down concepts and ideas. His second business involved sales to Japan and China, and his partner for that was in Seattle. But whenever he could, he’d fly in to Newark Airport, drive to Seven Hills, and live a quarter mile from Mom and Malcolm and Kit. This had been going on for two years, and they hadn’t had too many major breakdowns. What with e-mail, fax, and overnight delivery, Dad could work anyplace, and he appeared to enjoy coast-to-coast living.

Shades and drapes were drawn, the rooms dark and silent. Kit shut off the alarms so she could leave the door open.

Dad had not brought a single thing from the California house in which Kit had grown up and which he’d kept after the divorce. He wanted the California house to be exactly the same for when Kit visited.

So when he bought the house in Seven Hills, he placed an order with a decorator, and slowly the decorator’s choice of furniture and paintings, candlesticks and curtains filled the place. The decorator had a key, and whenever Kit came over there would be new pillows on the sofa, new avant-garde photographs carefully placed on a wall.

It was not a hotel, because the decorator had added so much stuff, and yet it was exactly like a hotel, because nothing in the house was Dad’s or Kit’s. Dad had maid service and yard service, and all he did was check in now and then, and the towels were sure to be clean and neatly folded.

Dusty had momentarily imposed her presence on the house: clothing, shoes, doll collection, and fashion magazines. But when Dusty left, there was no trace of her, just the way there was no trace of the people who had stayed at a hotel before you.

Kit had come to get a particular sweatshirt, and she had not walked from Mom and Malcolm’s house using the sidewalks, but had followed the rough edges of the golf course. She loved the hummocks of tall grass, the hanging tree branches, and the need to watch out for golfers who couldn’t hit straight. She’d skulk through the heavy shrubbery and for a minute or two she wouldn’t be sixteen, but a little girl with secrets, vanishing to her hiding place.

When Kit heard a car coming down the short dead-end lane, she thought it was the mail carrier, a chubby, happy woman who gave Milk-Bones to dogs and lollipops to toddlers. No mail was delivered here, of course, but Mom and Malcolm got a vast quantity, being people who ordered from every catalog that ever arrived.

But the car that whipped into the driveway was no mail person.

It was Kit’s ex-stepmother, Dusty.

The cul-de-sac was too short for a car to gather much speed, but Dusty had managed speed. Screeching up the driveway, Dusty lurched to a halt and then yanked the parking brake so hard the car bucked. Dusty was a poor driver, but she knew it and usually drove slowly to make up for it — so slowly that she was frequently rear-ended. Dusty’s car was constantly in the shop being repaired. Probably that was why Kit didn’t recognize this car; it was a loaner from the shop.

Dusty leaped out of her plain black sedan without glancing at the house, so she didn’t see Kit. She tugged frantically at the door to the backseat, but it was locked. Whimpering with frustration, Dusty reached back inside the driver’s door and over to the rear to release the lock. Then she pulled the door open, leaned way inside, and struggled to move something.

Dusty hadn’t turned off the engine, but the car wasn’t moving; for once she must have remembered to put it in park and set the brake. Over the peaceful hum of the engine, Kit could hear a little row of sobs, hiccups of distress.

Kit was very sorry she had chosen this particular moment to arrive at the house. She had plenty of sweatshirts at home. Forget the original plan. She would gently and swiftly close the door before Dusty saw her, and flit out the back so they would not cross paths.

Poor Dusty was well named. She did much better on the shelf than actually out there in the world trying to function. Considering the life Dad led — two coasts, two careers, two secretaries, two families — it was inconceivable that he would fall for a woman who could barely manage two phone calls. It wasn’t long after his marriage to Dusty that Dad was just embarrassed, and wanted Dusty to go.

Dusty clung on, and only Kit was nice to her, because Kit felt awful for people who didn’t have much brains.

Even now, fussing around in the backseat, unable to shift whatever she was after, Dusty was visibly confused. Finally she straightened up. She shifted her body in a hip to the left, hip to the right sort of way, and turned to face the house. She was bent over an enormous white plastic thing, hung with cloth.

“Kit!” cried Dusty. An expression of true delight crossed Dusty’s face. She scurried up the brick walk, calling, “Kit! Kit! Kit!” Dusty liked repeating words. “Oh, Kit!” she cried. “Kit, this is so wonderful, you can help me, I had no idea you would be here, I thought the house would be empty!”

It was certainly supposed to be empty. Dad was in California, and he and Dusty were no longer married. Dusty no longer had possessions here and wasn’t supposed to have a key. She wasn’t the revenge type; this wasn’t going to be an armload of dead roses. But what could Dusty be doing here?

Kit felt a sort of affection for Dusty.

Dusty looked terrible. Kit had never seen her anything other than beautifully dressed and coordinated. (If there was one thing Dusty did well, it was accessorize.) Usually her long, shiny gold hair curved along her shoulders, swinging and free. Now for the first time, Kit realized that Dusty dyed her hair, because the roots were dark and revolting. Dusty needed a shampoo, and her clothing did not fit and was wrinkled.

Dusty? For whom fashion and makeup were the two major reasons to be alive?

“Oh, Dusty!” she said. “What’s wrong? Come on in. I’ll get you something cold to drink.” Whatever this was, Kit would have to solve it. Dad wanted no part of Dusty’s pathetic problems, because they were always rooted in stupid decisions. Anyway, he was in California. Mom and Malcolm might be nearby, but nothing was going to make them sympathetic. Kit could not imagine telling Mom that Dusty had surfaced.

Dad had met the stunningly pretty Dusty at the country club, and astonished everybody by marrying her about a minute later. Poor Dusty was not much of a wife, companion, stepmother, or asset. She didn’t even play a good game of golf, because it was an intelligent sport. Malcolm said the best sport for Dusty was probably watching them on television. Mom said often to Dad, “She has a room temperature IQ, Gavin. How on earth did you not notice before you actually married the creature?”

And it would be Kit having to say, “Dusty tries, Mom,” while her three parents rolled their eyes at her.

So in the awful second divorce (because all divorces were awful; only grown-ups could pretend that divorce was easy) poor Dusty fought and pleaded and could not understand. Dusty would telephone Kit in the evening and tell Kit what was wrong in her life, and Kit would murmur comforting sounds, which was completely the wrong thing to do. Getting involved in the divorce of a parent just lengthened the nightmare.

Dad and Mom, together and separately, had instructed Kit not to speak on the phone with Dusty again. It had been months since Kit had seen Dusty.

“Oh, thank you!” cried Dusty. “Kit, carry this for me.” She thrust the big white cloth-draped thing into Kit’s arms. “I’m exhausted, Kit. I can hardly think, you take it, don’t drop it, oh, thank you, I’ll get my own cold drink, you just take care of that.”

Kit Innes looked down to see what she was taking care of.

Pink and wrinkled and slumbering at the bottom of a car carrier was a brand-new baby.

Dusty clattered over the gleaming black and white tile diamonds of the entry foyer. Her footsteps were muffled in the next room, which had a heavy carpet, and then audible again on the slick wood floor of the kitchen. The water cooler bubbled as she got herself a drink.

Kit stared down at a tiny round face.

A baby!

She set the carrier on the floor and knelt to pick up the baby. Very carefully she worked one hand behind its little head, cupping its little bottom with the other, and then she lifted it. It was wearing a little terry jumpsuit, pale yellow, with a tiny Winnie-the-Pooh. She stood up slowly, holding the baby vertically, putting its little face against her throat and nestling her cheek on its sweet bald head.

The baby smelled of powder and soap. One tiny hand curled outside the blanket, and she tucked her finger inside the little fingers, and the perfection of those tiny fingers, with their lovely tiny nails, brought her almost to tears.

She was amazed by this stab of emotion for an infant she did not know.

Through the open door came a solid shaft of yellow sun, and Kit and the baby stood in it, warm and joyful. Holding her breath, she tilted the baby into the crook of her elbow so she could admire it. Its tiny face was squashed, as if there were more cheek than there was room for. The little eyes were shut, the little mouth squished outward.

The blanket that swaddled the baby was flannel, white with yellow stars. It fell to the floor when she shifted the baby, puddling softly around her ankles. Kit brushed her lips over the baby’s forehead.

“This will work,” said Dusty, coming up behind them. “I am so relieved! You take care of the baby, Kit, I’ll be right back.” She walked out of the house.

Kit rocked, crooning little compliments. “Ooooh, sweet little baby,” she whispered. “You’re so beautiful. What’s your name, little darling? How old are you? Are you —”

The car backed out of the driveway.

Dusty was driving.

Dusty was driving away.

Kit was holding the baby.

Kit was too startled to have intelligent thoughts.

The door was still open, so Kit stepped outside and said in a normal voice, as if Dusty were still next to her, “I thought you were getting Pampers out of the car or something, Dusty. What are you doing?”

Dusty was backing into the cul-de-sac without glancing to see what might already be there.

My ex-stepmother just handed me a baby, and she’s driving away.

This was so absurd that Kit looked down to double-check. Yes. It was a baby. Yes. Dusty was leaving. Kit yelled, “Dusty! Come back here!”

Dusty pressed a window button, but of course the wrong one. The back right passenger window lowered, so whatever Dusty shouted back could not be heard.

Dusty put the car in drive while she was still in reverse, so the small black sedan lurched, whipping Dusty’s head back, and then she accelerated with ridiculous speed, as if entering a racetrack, and immediately had to slow down because the cul-de-sac was so short.

BOOK: Hush Little Baby
8.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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