Tigers Come At Night
Bridgett Adelman had spent the last seventeen years perfecting different ways to defend herself. She spent years mastering the art of kung fu and karate, getting a license to carry a concealed weapon and practicing as much as she could at the shooting range, getting a big Rottweiler for keeping her safe at home, she had been a victim once and she'd be damned if she let it happen again.
But all the defenses and training in the world could have never prepared her for being knocked on her ass a few months ago when her daughter suddenly came into her life.
The nightmares that followed that day had plagued her for weeks. That part of her past had been closed off a long time ago, and seeing her again was her worst nightmare.
And the horrible part was seeing how unimaginably beautiful Ava was. No longer a tiny newborn in her arms or a figment that she had dreamed about for years, but a person. The resemblance between them had been so incredible Bridgett still could barely believe it. It made her physically ill to think how cruelly she had sent the girl away, but it had to be done. Ava had been given away for a reason. Having Bridgett in her life could only complicate things, so it was best that she stayed away.
No matter how much she didn't want to.
Bridgett had not been herself the last several months. She often lost herself in thoughts of the things she could have done differently with Ava that faithful day in September. But it was too late, the matter was over and done with and there was nothing she could do about it.
It was in mid-December, Bridgett was sitting in her office as per usual when the receptionist and told her that her three-thirty appointment was here. Bridgett set her papers aside and headed to the waiting room where Jayden Hames was waiting.
To her surprise, it wasn't a man sitting in the front, but a boy. A teenage boy sat flipping through a magazine, his very long legs splayed out in front of him for anyone to trip over. He looked up when he saw her coming and quickly stood, revealing that he was easily a foot taller than her, probably over than a foot actually.
"Hello," she greeted professionally, holding out her hand. The boy just stared at her with wide eyes under his shaggy blond bangs. "You must be Jayden."
"Uh..." he said after a minute. "H-hi." He shook her hand. "Yeah I'm Jayden."
"I'm Bridgett, it's very nice to meet you.
They both took a seat, she in her usual chair and he in the straight-backed chair across from her. He was the sort of tall person who tried to make up for his tallness by squeezing into the smallest ball he could while sitting, slumping almost in half automatically, and yet somehow almost looking like he was still sitting up straight. He chewed on the inside of his cheek, judging by his jaw movements, and shifted his eyes around the room to avoid her gaze.
"So, how can I help you?" Bridgett finally asked after giving him a moment to settle.
"I was looking into enrolling my child in your establishment," he said in a voice so fast that Bridgett was certain he had rehearsed that line.
"Boy or girl?" she simply asked. He furrowed his eyebrows, and then jerked a little in realization at what she meant.
"Oh! Um... b-boy." He cleared his throat. "He's due in a couple months so I just found out his... sex." He bit the inside of his cheek again and looked down at his feet.
Well, this was going to be interesting. Bridgett pulled open a desk drawer and took out a few sheets of paper. She handed him one. He held it up to his face and squinted a little.
"Small print..." he mumbled.
"Is that a problem?"
"No, it's fine," he quickly assured her.
"Alright." Bridgett picked up her pen and pointed to her own paper. "We offer a multitude of classes here, from early reading classes to teaching children as old as four to speak different languages."
He nodded with a small hum to show he was listening, but his eyes were wandering around the room.
Bridgett went through her usual speech about the classes and what they offer, but when prices came up, she hesitated. He couldn't have been more than sixteen or seventeen, and her daycare was very pricey.
"Now, as for price," she underlined the numbers alongside the description of the classes. "Many have found that it is a bit... out of their price range."
"I can pretty much guarantee that none of them are out of my price range," he answered coolly.
She blinked, "Oh." The pen began circling the prices from the 'Under Three Months' category.
He watched her pensively. "You seem to know a lot about kids," he said casually.
"It's all part of the job."
He slid the paper on her desk, leaning forward so his elbows could rest on his knees, "Do you have any?"
"No," she said easily, since she'd been asked that by pretty much every client she'd ever had.
He frowned, staring at her with a look she couldn't identify. He looked... almost disgusted.
"You're really gonna deny it, aren't you?"
Bridgett's eyes widened. "I beg your pardon?"
He crumbled up the paper and threw it on the floor angrily, "You're just going to sit there and pretend she doesn't exist?"
The woman stared at him, then stood up. "Alright, I think this is over." She began toward the door.
Unfortunately, the boy was out of his chair faster than she thought possible and stood in front of the door, his massive frame easily blocking it.
What happened next was all an instinctive blur. Bridgett saw him demolish her only means of escaping and kicked herself into protective overdrive. She dove for her desk and pulled open the bottom drawer to retrieve something out of her purse.
"Jesus Christ, lady!" The boy yelped when he saw what she was holding. "You keep a gun in here?!"
"I'd highly suggest you leave," she said, eerily calm.
"Wait!" He held his hands up beside his head, brown eyes wide and terrified. "Please... just wait. I didn't come here to hurt you, I s-swear."
Bridgett raised a single black eyebrow, "Then what do you want?"
"We have a... friend in common." He moved his fearful gaze from the barrel of the gun to her face, eyes pleading in earnest. "She's short, has black hair, and is amazingly gifted with firearms... much like the one you have aimed at my chest right now."
Bridgett's eyes slowly widened and she lowered the gun a fraction of an inch. It couldn't be...
"How do you...
"She's the girl I'm in love with."
By now, the gun was pointed at the floor, and Bridgett was staring at him in fear.
"Can I explain why I'm here?" His hands were still up beside his head. "My name is Zeke Preston."
"Alright, Zeke Preston, whatever that girl told you is between she and I. You have no part in this."
"See, that's where you're wrong." Zeke lowered his hands to his sides delicately. "If she knew I came here to talk to you, I'd be missing my kidneys."
Bridgett clicked on the safety and set it on the desk. Still within arm's reach. "Then why are you here?"
"I just wanna talk, I swear," he promised, doing a ridiculous and strangely adorable 'cross my heart' gesture.
Against her better judgment, Bridgett wanted to know what he wanted to say. Something about those big brown eyes and dopey smile just got to her. She exhaled sharply and gestured to the chairs across from her desk.
"You have five minutes."
His shoulders slumped in relief, "Thank you." He sat himself down in his previously vacated chair. Bridgett followed suit, crossing her legs daintily under her black skirt and lacing her fingers over her knee.
"So you're her boyfriend," She said. It wasn't a question, but an observation.
"Yeah," he nodded his shaggy head.
"You're very... tall." Bridgett honestly didn't know what else to say. The kid had to be almost seven feet tall.
"Yeah," he said again, playing with the sleeve of his sweater, eyes still glued to her. She raised an eyebrow and he blushed. "Sorry, you just look... exactly like her." Bridgett pursed her lips and gave a small hum in acknowledgement. "I mean... wow."
"I get it," she said. "So please tell me what it is you want."
The change in his visage was startling. He went from being in awe and giving an adorable smile to a look of pure determination and conviction.
"I want to know what happened between you and Ava."
"Is that any of your business?"
"It is when it involves her."
Bridgett chuckled lowly, "sorry sweetie, but there are some things even you should stay out of."
"So you're not going to tell me?"
"No I'm not. Door's that way."
"Nuh-uh, I still have four minutes left." Bridget glared at him, but he ignored it and leaned forward. "Can I tell you something?"
"If you must."
"I've known Ava since I was ten years old," he began. Bridgett opened her mouth to unkindly ask if this was going to be a long story, but something inside of her said she wanted to hear this. "And she was the girl in class that no one liked. It took her awhile, but she finally came around to actually liking me."
"Mhmmm," she hummed again, a little disturbed by the news.
"Do you want to know why she was so disliked? It took her a year to tell me this, but it was because she had two dads and no mom."
Bridgett's jaw dropped a little at that. What? That was not how she had envisioned things going for her life.
"She said it started in kindergarten, but the insults only got worse the older she got." He swallowed thickly and she saw a look of pain pass over his face. "The kids started telling her that her mom didn't want her."
Bridgett's cool front slipped for a moment; eyes wide and lips parted in shock, but she shoved it back down and glared at him again.
Bridgett's fingers tightened around each other. Her heart dropped down into her stomach, still frantically beating. "I still don't see what this has to do with me."
To his credit, he didn't even look fazed with her words, "Last April our friend Mira had a baby," he said instead. "Ava told me that Mira gave her baby this look of just... how did she put it?... unimaginable love and devotion, and that was what made her want to find you."
Bridgett had no response to that. She looked at him blankly, thinking back to the day a tiny weight was placed in the crook of her arm. Velvety soft skin...
"And I don't even think you know how crushed she was when you just rejected her like that."
Fine, raven-colored hair pressed against her cheek.
"She is the most incredible person you could ever meet. I know if you got to know her, you'd love her too."
A teeny hand wrapped around her finger.
"So that's why I came here, to make you reconsider."
A rosy little face looking up at her as her eyes slowly filled with tears and tried to forget the image that was burned into her memory.
"Stop!" Bridgett clapped her hands over her ears, shaking her head. "Stop! Just stop!" She stood from her chair. The dam was broken. "You have no right to come in here and lecture me about this! You are nothing in this, do you understand me? This is between me and her. So leave. Now!"
Zeke's hands flew out of his jean pockets, "Okay, okay." He leveled his hands with his head again, even though the gun still sat on the desk. "Just take it easy. I'm leaving." He slowly backed toward the door and, with one last pleading look toward her emotionless face, left the room.
Her body was shaking with adrenaline and rage, so she lowered herself into her chair, gripping the edges of the desk and took deep breaths through her clenched teeth, eyes squeezed so tight it made the throbbing in her head worse.
Almost eighteen years of never breathing a word about the child she had given away, and suddenly she had multiple people coming into her life talking about her.
Deep breaths, keep breathing. It's over. It's all over.
Using the desk as leverage, she slid her legs under it and pressed her forehead against her clasped hands, elbows propped up on the tabletop.
Why does this have to keep happening to her? How much more could she take? First seeing the beautiful young woman her daughter had become, then learning how tormented she had been due to her absence was too much to handle.
Bridgett crossed her ankles under her desk, but stopped when her heel slid on something. With a frown and a sigh, she ducked her head underneath and groped around the floor until her fingers closed around. She pulled her head back out and her frown deepened when she saw a flash drive in her hands. She turned the little metal object over in her fingers. It wasn't her's. The only one she had was plugged into her computer.
Bridgett waved her cordless mouse around the mouse pad so the computer screen lit up. She swiftly typed in her password, and once she reached the desktop, she plugged it in and clicked on the icon it presented.
Her arms fell back on the desk when what popped up was the photo of a baby girl. She looked to be about six or seven months, with black hair in two tiny pigtails, wearing a purple velvet dress. She was staring into the camera with bright brown eyes, head cocked and a curious expression on her face.
The searing pain in Bridgett's lungs was what reminded her to breathe. The boy must have dropped it earlier when she yelled at him to leave. He must have intended to bring it to show her.
She move the cursor to the top right, over the red X to close the photo, but somehow she saw the number on the bottom of the photo.
Three hundred and one photos. Three hundred and one chances to see glimpses of the life she had been secretly wondering about for all these years.
Question was: could she handle what she found?
Five photos, she told herself, I'll look at five photos, then close this forever.
Ninety six photos later, Bridgett was lost in her own world. Photo after photo went by over the last few hours. Photos that varied from the day she was born (Bridgett had to take a moment to calm herself from seeing that again) to ones that were dated from as recently as Thanksgiving.
Propping her head up on her elbow, she took the time to examine photo number ninety seven. Ava looked nine or ten, her long hair falling and framing her face. Beside her was Zeke. They appeared to be at a birthday party; a party hat sitting on his shaggy head. Their small heads were pressed together and they were smiling for the camera. Zeke's was wide and excited and all slightly crooked teeth. Ava's was small and shy and, if anything, she looked like the action was confusing. Zeke was holding a dream catcher between two fingers.
One hundred four: Ava sitting poolside in a black bikini and white sunglasses. A book was propped up on her stomach. It looked like it could have been taken last summer.
One-seventeen: Ava leaned forward, lips puckered in the midst of blowing out birthday candles on a white cake. By the count of the candles, she was turning seven. On the chair beside her sat a mountain of gifts.
One-thirty-two: Ava and a pretty blonde girl sitting on a couch together. The blonde girl was heavily pregnant, and had her hand wrapped around Ava's wrist, pressing her palm against her stomach. Ava looked to be in the middle of a laugh.
One-fifty: a toddler Ava sitting on Mason's shoulders. Her pudgy little hands were twined in his long black hair as she, once again, stared into the camera curiously. Mason's big hands were wrapped around her little ankles, grinning at the camera.
One-seventy-seven: Ava in a tight leopard print dress with her hair teased in a ridiculous poof at the back of her head, lips puckered in an exaggerated kissy face. Beside her was Zeke in a black wife beater and over-gelled hair, sticking his tongue out and holding up his index fingers and pinkies. Beside them, the no-longer-pregnant blonde girl and the brunet boy Bridgett had met before were dressed as that couple from that stupid Titanic movie; arms spread out in the "I'm flying" pose.
Two hundred: Ava kneeling on the ground in front of a box marked 'Food Drive'. In one hand, she held a can of Campbell's cream of mushroom soup. In the other, kidney beans.
Two-fifteen: Ava, looking about eight, on a green bike. Danny was beside her in a classic position; hand on the back of the seat and on the handle bar. The little girl's face was pure determination under her flowery helmet.
Two-twenty-two: Ava straddling a brown pony. Her dark hair was in who long braids. Her little brown cowboy boots were tucked into the stirrups. Next to the horse, a proud Danny and Mason stood, posing and smiling at the camera. The date on the corner of the photo said it was from nine years ago.
Two-forty-three: Ava strapped in a high chair. Chocolate was smeared on the tray, her face, her hands, and over the front of her lacy dress.
Two-sixty-six: Ava sitting beside a boy with messy curly black hair at a dinner table. She was smiling, but the boy had a sort of deer-in-the-headlights kind of look.
Two-seventy: Ava scowling at the camera around a green mud mask that was cracking where her eyebrows were crinkled. Two girls in matching masks were smiling from either side of her, one with curly brown hair in pigtails, one bright blonde with a ponytail. The blonde was clearly holding the camera.
Two-eighty-nine: Ava holding a bow and arrow, aiming at something off in the distance.
Two-ninety-six: Ava, looking just days old, swaddled up in a blanket and sleeping in the crib that Bridgett faintly remembered seeing in her nursery.
Three hundred: Ava stood in what looked like a grassy field. She wore a black skirt and a white blouse. Her long black hair was long and free, looking to be blowing in the wind. And the smile she was giving the camera was so incredibly beautiful and happy it could have put the sun and the stars to shame.
Bridgett sat in her chair for almost ten minutes just staring at it. Three hundred times she had seen that face morph into the one she was staring at now, and she was so beautiful.
Numbly, the woman moved her cursor and zoomed in on her face. Sparkling light brown eyes, straight white teeth, thin-bridged nose; she was gorgeous, so gorgeous.
Her left hand was stroking over her elbow tattoo. She rolled her sleeve down and looked at it.
Bridgett looked back at the picture. The picture of a younger version of herself. Why was she feeling this way? All these years of long since forgetting about Ava and whatever became of her and now she was drawn to tears at the sight of her.
She began to withdraw the flash drive, but stopped at there being one more photo left. Bridgett clicked on the arrow.
It wasn't a photo of Ava, but a photo of a handwritten letter.
Hi ms Adlemen.
I hope you liked my slideshow. i got almost every picture of ava that i could find or already had. sorry they werent in order, there were so many of them. i really hope you saw this and changed your mind about Ava because she has had an awesome journey so far, and i know she wants you to see the rest of it. im gonna stop writing now if you deiceded to throw it away
ps- her address is 1125 Pyrose Avenue. just in case
Bridgett had to smile a little at his note. Despite the spelling errors and the crookedness of the letters, the thought behind it was unmistakable.
she has had an awesome journey so far, and I know she wants you to see the rest of it
Bridgett took out the flash drive and tucked it safely into her purse. She had to go home and think all this through.
And possibly write a letter.
I spent so long contemplating this idea and how I could do it. And overall, I'm happy with how it turned out.
Read and Review!