“Everyone is looking for you.”
I turn my head, pulling my hair out of my face as I watch a boy I’ve never seen before climb up the stairs and into my tree house.
“Who are you?” I ask him as he sits across from me.
“Kai,” he smiles, looking around. He looks a lot different than the other kids I know. His hair is long, and his skin is a lot darker than mine. “Why are you hiding?”
I shrug and look away from him. Daddy was yelling earlier; he was so mad that he was turning red. Then Mommy started crying, and Daddy started yelling louder. I heard Mommy telling Daddy that he had to send me away. I don’t want to go away. I try to be good, but sometimes, I forget to listen.
“Why are you crying?”
I look up at him and wipe my face. “I’m scared,” I whisper, wiping my nose.
“Come on. I’ll protect you,” he says, holding his hand out to me.
Then my mommy calls my name again. I look at his hand, move Mr. Bear under my arm, and put my hand in his.
“Myla!” Mommy yells, running towards me.
I can tell she has been crying again.
“Where did you go?” Her hands grab my shoulders and she shakes me hard.
“It’s my fault. I asked her to show me the tree house,” Kai tells her.
She stops shaking me then looks at him. “You shouldn’t have done that. You knew we were looking for her,” she says angrily her head.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking,” Kai says softly, putting his hands in his pockets and looking at the ground.
I look back at Mommy, and she shakes her head before grabbing my hand and pulling me with her. When I look over my shoulder at Kai, he smiles, making me smile back.
“Time for bed, zvyozdochka,” Papa says as he walks into my room.
I run to my bed and jump in, making all of my stuffed animals fly out of the bed before standing up, jumping once, and falling to my back, which makes him laugh.
“Your mama has told you about jumping on the bed, Svezda.”
I know that Mama doesn’t like it when I jump on the bed, but it always makes Papa laugh.
“Will you sing me my song?” I ask him as he move towards the bed.
“Have you brushed your teeth?”
“Da,” I answer affirmatively in Russian, making him smile.
“Did you wash your face?”
“Da,” I repeat, giggling.
“Did you wash your smelly feet?” he asks while bringing my feet towards his face.
“Nyet.” I giggle harder, wiggling my toes.
“Ah, zvyozdochka, what should I do with you?” he asks, calling me his “little star” while tickling me.
I roll around on the bed, trying to get away from him as I cry out in laughter. When he stops tickling me and I stop laughing, he picks me up and pulls my covers back before laying me back down.
“Now will you sing me my song?” I ask him again, tucking Mr. Bear under my chin, feeling my eyes start to close.
“Da.” He kisses my forehead before sitting down on the side of the bed. His fingers run over my eyelids, causing them to close completely before he starts to sing quietly. “Zvyozdochka, zvyozdochka, you outshine the sun. Zvyozdochka, zvyozdochka, nothing compares to you. Zvyozdochka, zvyozdochka, the holder of my treasure. Zvyozdochka, zvyozdochka, I will always love you dearly, for you are my star who guides me from far and will always lead me home.,”
Then I fall asleep.
“You know where to take her,” Papa tells Philip as he carries me outside.
I cling tighter to Papa. Mama ran out of Papa’s office soon after she woke me up, telling me to get dressed, and then took me to him.
“I don’t want to go!” I cry, kicking my legs and wrapping my arms tighter around Papa’s neck as he tries to hand me to Philip. I don’t want to go away. I want to stay with him and Mama.
“Zvyozdochka, you must be a big girl and go with Philip.”
“I won’t be bad anymore!” I sob, screaming out as he pulls my hands from around his neck.
Philip’s hands wrap around my waist, pulling me from my papa.
“You’re our greatest treasure, Svezda. We love you,” my papa says as he opens the door for Philip, who sits down in the back of the limo, holding me in his lap.
“I love you, Papa!” I cry and see that my Papa is crying too before he turns his back on me.
“Pah idiom!” Philip says, and the limo begins to move.
I turn in Philip’s arms and look out the back window, watching as Papa pushes the front door of the house open. Then I see Mama on the floor. Papa picks her up, and I hear her scream my name as the door closes.
I feel the sun on my closed eyelids and something sharp poking me in the face. Moving my hand, trying to get away from the pain, and whimper when it scrapes against my cheek. I lift my head and run my fingers along the side of my face, feeling wetness. Opening my eyes to see a light smear of blood on my fingers. I flip my hand over, and then I see the gaudy ring that is now taking up residence on my ring finger.
“Great,” I whisper, closing my eyes and laying my head down again.
I prayed earlier, before I went to sleep, that when I woke up, the ring I’m wearing now and the man who put it there would be nothing but a bad dream. No such luck. I roll over and take a shaky breath, wanting to close my eyes for a few more seconds, wishing I could just sleep until everything was back to normal.
“Time to get up.”
I turn my head and meet my new husband’s eyes as he looks at me through the open bedroom doorway. He looks like an ancient Hawaiian warrior. His long, wavy hair is tied into a ponytail at the back of his neck with a piece of leather cord. His wide nose and square jaw make his full lips and long eyelashes somehow appear masculine. At five eight, I have never felt short, but next to him, I feel minuscule. He must be at least six seven. His shoulders are so broad that I wouldn’t be surprised if he had to turn slightly to fit through most doorways.
“If we didn’t have to meet with my lawyer, I would let you sleep,” he says, bringing me out of my perusal.
One thing I have to be grateful for is that, ever since the moment he saved me, he has been kind and surprisingly soft with me.
“I’m getting up,” I tell him quietly and start to sit up, but pain slices through my side, causing me to inhale sharply.
“I thought you said you weren’t hurt?” he growls.
I’m gently lifted to a sitting position on the side of the bed. I’m so focused on trying to breathe that I don’t even notice his proximity until I feel his hand on the bare skin of my shoulder.