Jackie had left early one morning, while it was still dark out. Ali had been sleeping, and she had shaken her awake, telling her that Kaylee was out of diapers and she was going to go get some. When Ali had asked her sleepily if she wanted her to come along with her, she had shaken her head.1

"Stay with Kaylee… let her sleep some more. I'll be right back."2

Ali could still remember how she had smoothed her hair back, quickly kissing her forehead… and then she was gone. It was the last time Jackie had touched her, the last memory of her she had, and she couldn't forget, couldn't put it out of her mind.3

Jackie hadn't come back. Ali had fallen asleep, and when she awakened hours later, Jackie had still not returned. She had waited for another hour, anxious, worried, before setting off to look for her, with no luck. Periodically she returned to the cemetery, but Jackie was never there…Jackie was never anywhere.4

Two weeks passed and still Jackie was nowhere to be found, even as Ali searched for her subtly, each day her hope dwindling further. She would never say it aloud, scarcely dared to let herself think it in her own mind… but Ali knew that something must have happened to Jackie. She wouldn't have just took off, wouldn't have left Kaylee… she wouldn't have left her. Yet sometimes when Ali remembered the softness of Jackie's voice when she had awakened her, the gentleness of her lips on her forehead, she could make herself wonder, make herself hope, that Jackie had just left. For that would mean that she was okay, that she was still out there… that would mean that some day she might see her again.5

Ali never consciously let herself think that she wouldn't, that she and Kaylee were really on their own now… that the baby's survival and thriving now rested entirely on her shoulders. Even from the first day alone Ali had been able to tell it would be harder, much harder, than it had been with Jackie taking over half the job of caring for Kaylee. 6

For one thing, without Jackie breastfeeding, that meant buying or stealing formula and a baby bottle as well. That meant spending a lot more time at the mall because the food court there had a microwave, which made Ali feel nervous because she felt as if her presence there was becoming predictable and conspicuous. This meant only Ali fed Kaylee, only Ali changed her, only Ali bathed her the best she could and carried her, without anyone there to spell her or help her. This meant that when they lay down in their chosen bedded area for the night, Ali felt anxious and unsafe, for Jackie was not there to help protect her and Kaylee. They couldn't take turns sleeping and watching, and so Ali slept less and watched more, and consequently was more exhausted than she could remember ever feeling before. Sometimes when she carried Kaylee, her own backpack, and Kaylee's diaper bag, Ali felt so weary and weighted down she had to stop and rest, to give her arms and back a break from their constant labor.7

She worried about Kaylee and her future- their future- more than ever now. With Jackie it had been a concern, but not a very heavy one. The girls had been confident that as long as they stuck together, they would be okay, and so then would Kaylee. But now that Jackie wasn't there, what if it wasn't enough? She wasn't as strong or as smart as her, what if Ali couldn't do it? 8

She knew Kaylee missed her mother. She was more clingy than usual, growing tired and cranky more quickly, especially when hungry and denied the instant access of Jackie's breast. Ali worried about that, and she worried that she wasn't feeding her right, or enough. And now that it was late December, fully into winter, the cold was a concern. What if Kaylee got sick? What if it were bad for her?9

Ali slept inside with her whenever possible. When it wasn't, she would partly unbutton her shirt and stick Kaylee's small body inside it, with her body against the warmth of her own bare skin, and cradle her to her, trying to sleep in this manner. She was all that Kaylee had now, and she understood now how Jackie had been willing to do anything- anything- to provide for her. Kaylee was hers now, as if she were her own flesh, right down to the way she now called Ali mama, as she had with Jackie. 10

She knew she would have to try even harder now to stay undiscovered, to keep out of sight of any who might interfere, not only with herself, but with Kaylee. For it anyone knew that a ten-month-old with no birth certificate available, no known father or last name, was being raised homeless by a sixteen year old who wasn't even a blood relative… it would be all over for them. Kaylee would go to a foster home, maybe even get traced back to Jackie's family, and be placed back with them- the last place Jackie had wanted her to be. Ali could never let that happen to Jackie's daughter… to her daughter, now.11

And so she made it through each day the best she could, hiding, plotting, and looking… for her parents, for authorities, for anyone who might bring her down…and for Jackie. Always, she was looking for Jackie.12

She must have drifted off to sleep, for when she awakened it was light outside, the sunlight filtering through the trees so that Ali squinted, having to let her eyes adjust. It was cold enough to blow her breath, and she squeezed Kaylee tighter to her chest, hearing the baby awaken and cry out in response. 14

Ali sat up painfully, almost yelping when she rolled overtop something strangely squishy, before she realized it was only the teddy bear she had bought for Kaylee. Shoving it aside, she shushed the baby absently, keeping her inside her shirt for the moment as she tried to think what to do.15

It was Christmas… she would really have to lay low today. Everything would be closed, which could be a problem about getting Kaylee formula. She might have to have it cold today. Same thing with a bathroom, unless she used a gas station…and everyone would be inside with their family, unwrapping gifts, having big meals, whatever traditions they participated in. There would be no crowds for Ali to blend into… and if someone were to see her walking around outside with Kaylee on Christmas day, they would no doubt be much more suspicious… and much more likely to stop and question them. She would have to figure out somewhere to take Kaylee for the day, and she'd better do it fast. Maybe a grocery store… she could spend a few hours there, at any rate, wondering up and down aisles, reading magazines in the book aisle. Maybe steal something to eat in the way of Christmas dinner…or she could go all out and buy a Rotisserie chicken, they were only five dollars. She could take it somewhere else to eat so it didn't look weird.16

Forming this plan in her mind, trying to work up some energy, Ali removed Kaylee from her shirt and changed her diaper as quickly as possible, throwing the used on in the dumpster behind the Bi-Lo they had spent the night behind. As she walked around to the Bi-Lo entrance, toting Kaylee and their belongings, she tried to ignore the way her stomach cramped at the sight of the electric lights strung in the window, the artificial tree inside the store's entrance, the garland trimming each cashier area. She tried not to think of Christmases past, when she was a child, and how on that one day she had always been happy, convinced of the reality of Santa and the magic of Christmas. She tried not to think that this was her first Christmas on her own, and Kaylee's first Christmas at all, and they were spending it in a nearly deserted grocery store. Most of all, she tried not to think of Jackie, to wonder where, or if, she was.17

And in the woods behind the Bi-Lo lay Kaylee's Christmas teddy bear, forgotten, in all of Ali's efforts not to remember. 18