baby

“This is a mistake…” Jayson muttered to himself as he stood in the middle of the baby aisle, staring blankly at the different brands of feeding formula. He rubbed the back of his head and leaned forward, squinting at the brand labels on each container. “What am I doing here?” he grumbled aloud and stepped back, almost crashing into a grocery cart. “Sorry,” he muttered, stepping aside to let the startled woman pass.

He watched helplessly as she scurried out of the aisle, realizing belatedly that he should’ve asked for her help.

Huffing a frustrated sigh, Jayson turned back to the shelf of formula containers and prayed for insight. “Ready-to-Use… Liquid concentrate,” he read aloud, lifting one of the containers to study the package label. “What’s the difference?” Annoyed at himself, Jayson glanced up to seek help and spotted a petite woman standing at the end of the aisle.

Deciding to throw caution to the wind, Jayson grabbed another box and walked over. “Sorry to disturb you but could I get some…” the rest of his words fell short as the short woman turned. His heart thumped in his chest as he stared down at the weary eyes of none other than Keziah Halliday. At first, he wasn’t sure it was her especially since the last time he’d seen her apart from the dark night in front of her house, was during his sophomore year in college. Her once chubby cheeks were replaced with sharp, high cheekbones, her once bright eyes that danced with mischief now stared blankly at him.

Then recognition stirred in those brown eyes and Keziah took one step back. Jayson blinked and cleared his throat, pulling his gaze to the containers in his hands as if realizing why he’d approached her in the first place. Except he didn’t care about asking her about what formula to ease his niece’s woes. He peered back up at her, questions about her flooding his mind. “Hi,” he said dumbly.

A wrinkle furrowed Keziah’s brow as she stared back silently.

Jayson managed a smile. “Long time…” He didn’t understand why he sounded like a blubbering idiot and wanted to ask how she’d been all these years. She’d lost weight and looked as if she carried a very heavy burden.

“Kez!” a female voice shrieked behind him and both Jayson and Keziah jerked in surprise.

Jayson followed Keziah’s wary glance over his shoulder, brows raised as Keziah’s immediate younger sister, Lydia, stomped toward them. Dumbfounded, he watched as Lydia circled around him to stand between him and Keziah.

“You okay? I’ve been looking all over for you… We should go.”

He blinked at the concern in Lydia’s voice and the stern expression she tossed over her shoulder at him as she nudged Keziah out of the aisle. “Wait…” he protested weakly, watching the two sisters leave without looking back. He scoffed incredulously, not sure what he’d done to deserve such a fierce expression from Lydia.

Jayson sobered as he pictured Keziah’s drawn expression and wary eyes. He recalled Naomi’s hesitance whenever he asked about her cousin, and the dodgy manner Robert exhibited when he dropped him off at home. Something was definitely wrong with Keziah and that made him more distressed than earlier in the day.

A resounding ding from his phone tugged at his attention and Jayson propped both containers in one hand while lifting his phone to read the message. “Hurry before she screams her lungs dry…” Jayson read and groaned aloud. “I don’t know why you can’t just breastfeed like everyone else…” he mumbled, earning an affronted glare from a woman standing by the formula shelf.

He managed an apologetic smile and approached her. “Excuse me, could you please help me?”

Keziah bit back an exasperated sigh when Lydia glanced over at her. “I said I’m fine,” she said through clenched teeth. “Stop fretting over me like Mom.”

Lydia scowled at the accusation. “I’m not fretting. I’m just… checking to see.”

“I’m alright, Lydia.” She curled her fingers into her palms.

“Didn’t seeing him bother you?”

Keziah stared at the dashboard. “That’s not what bothered me…” She closed her eyes over the images of smiling babies and forced out a slow breath.

Lydia frowned as she exited the highway. “I didn’t think you’d wander over there.” She glanced down at Keziah’s flat stomach and quickly looked away. “How… do you feel?” she asked, unable to word it any differently. There was no other way to ask how her sister felt carrying the child of her attacker. The thought of it made her stomach clench violently.

Keziah opened her eyes slowly, letting Lydia’s question hang in the air. She didn’t know how to answer and that terrified her as much as the darkness did.

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