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Watch over me
Jenny Dawson


Published by Profic 2017

Written by Jenny Dawson

copyright©2016, by Jenny Dawson

Cover designed by Jenny Dawson



Profic
www.profic.dk

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Watch over me


Chapter One


“Mom, I’m hungry,” Camilla whined, her small roundish fingers pushing the empty plate down the table. “When can we eat?”

Across the table from her daughter, Brenda frowned at her cell. There were no voice messages, no texts—nothing. She glared. Her ex had moved out of their little hometown several years ago, and just recently, he had been keeping in touch with Brenda. But what was the point of keeping in touch if he never actually took the time to see his daughter? Brenda had given him another chance to be a decent father, and he just—

She slammed the cell against the table.

Camilla yelped, jumping and making her chair squeak.

Brenda winced and retracted her hand from the phone. She reached over to her seven-year-old. “Oh sweetheart, I’m sorry. I’m just…disappointed that your father is absent for our family dinner. But I’m sure he has a very good reason for it, and he must feel terrible.”

Camilla’s light eyes, far apart, filled with relief before confusion fogged them. “Dad was coming over?”

Brenda smiled—nearly grimaced. “Yes, sweetie. Remember? He called a few nights ago, and…” Reminding the girl of Leon’s broken promise was unwise. Brenda shook her head and stood up, her hand grabbing Camilla’s plate. “Here, I’ll fix up your dinner now.”

Camilla beamed, the expression as sweet and innocent as it had always been. Though Dr. Hansen had said that was a common trait for patients with Down Syndrome, there was something pure about Camilla that just naturally shone through. Or perhaps Brenda was too bias to see things clearly.

She shoved that wretched thought aside as she placed the spaghetti—and then some salad—on her daughter’s plate.

Camilla scrunched her nose at the vegetables. “Do I have to eat that?”

“Yes. It’s good for your body.” Brenda placed the food before the girl and then went to fill up her own plate. “Besides, I took the time to prepare this meal; it would be rude of you to not at least try to finish it.”

“But I don’t like lettuce.”

“Camilla, don’t argue with me.”

The girl murmured something under her breath and shifted in her chair, squeaking.

Brenda returned to her seat, her plate full and placed beside her glass of water. The stresses of the day—her students arguing, whining, struggling—colleagues venting and tutting—it all remained bunched up in her shoulders, making her sit ramrod straight. Try as she might, she could not get herself to relax.

She took a bite of food. And then another one, the sauce melting over her tongue. Her eyelids drooped. She savored the simple flavors and blinked slowly. A moment of wary content.

Camilla crossed her arms and glared at the salad.

Brenda’s content fractured. “Sweetheart, please try to eat.” She pointed at the pasta with her fork. “Try the spaghetti first. I put a little ketchup in it, just the way you like it.” Absently, she glanced at her cell, silent and still as ever.

Camilla’s gaze flitted over her food for a few seconds before she gently picked up her fork. “I don’t like lettuce,” she breathed, shoulders hunched. But she took a bite of her spaghetti, so Brenda dismissed the feeble backtalk.

Glancing at her phone, she asked Camilla about school.

“I don’t like it,” the girl said through a bite of pasta.

“Chew and swallow your food first, then answer questions.”

Camilla did as instructed—making a dramatic show of swallowing down her bite—before she continued. “I don’t like school. I want to stay with Grandpa all day.”

“I’m sure Grandpa and Grandma would like that too, but your schooling is very important.”

“But I don’t like it.”

Brenda took a deep breath. “Sometimes we have to do things we don’t like. It’s just a part of life.”

“It’s a bad part.”

She chortled. “I’m afraid so, yes.”

The clatter of their forks against plates filled the silence between them for a while. Camilla was slow with each bite she took, her occasional sneer at the salad making her intentions clear. Another argument would ensue, no doubt, and it could easily lead to tears and a punishment.

Brenda pressed two fingers against her temple, the ache growing stronger with each pulse. She closed her eyes and swore she could fall asleep sitting up like this. A part of her—riddled with guilt—was relieved Leon hadn’t shown up. Despite his best intentions, he had a way of making everything worse.

“Mom.”

“Yes, sweetheart?”

The quietness that followed jittered with unease.

Brenda opened her eyes.

Camilla’s facial muscles slackened, her precious eyes blank. It was a look she rarely wore, yet it was familiar enough that Brenda knew exactly what it meant.

Stomach dropping, Brenda burst out of her chair and caught her daughter as she fell—violent tremors wracking through her body and making her limbs flop. She lain the girl on the tiles as quickly and gently as she could, Brenda’s shoulder shoving into the table’s leg to push it away. She pushed it so hard that it entered the adjacent living room—corner bumping into the edge of the couch.

Brenda’s heart hammered so hard that she swore it was smashing against her chest. It had been years since Camilla had had a seizure. They had been so careful with the medication and—

Camilla’s forearm slapped against the chair.

Brenda all but threw the chair out of the way, it clattering over the floor and against the corner of the kitchen. She kept her gaze on Cam—kept her arms out in preparation for throwing other obstacles out of the way.

Nausea shot up Brenda’s throat, panic churning and chilling her gut. What if this was worse than a typical seizure? Her mind raced—froze—and then raced again for answers.

She had to turn Camilla on her side in case fluid came out of her mouth. Yes, yes, that was right—she had read that in several articles years ago. But first, something needed to be placed below her daughter’s head.

Brenda all but tore her sweater off herself before snaking it beneath the girl’s skull. Then, though Brenda trembled as well, she gently turned the girl until she was on her side. Her cheek bounced against her mother’s sweater, eyelids fluttering.

Brenda’s hand snapped to her pocket. Her phone. She needed to call—

Camilla’s teeth gnashed together, eyelids lowering farther as her body continued to thrash.

Her teeth. What if the girl bit her tongue? Brenda mentally recoiled and tried to figure out what safe thing to put in her daughter’s mouth. A wallet? A checkbook? A—

A vivid and significant memory overtook Brenda, and she nearly screamed at herself.

One was NEVER supposed to put something into a person’s mouth during a seizure. The book she had read that from had repeated this fact through its chapters. How could she have forgotten such an important detail? It sickened Brenda to the point where she nearly gagged.

Camilla groaned.

Brenda jumped, hands hovering over the girl’s shoulders. Where was her phone? She had just had it.

Panic morphed into terror, seizing all her senses and choking her.

Brenda clenched her teeth against the sensation, her throbbing mind forcing away mocking self-doubt. Keeping her eyes locked on her daughter, Brenda forced herself to take a deep breath. She focused—used her panic as fuel, as energy. She took another deep breath, and her racing heart was a distant sound in her ears.

Her cell phone was on the table. Yes, she had left it on the table.

Camilla shifted over the floor, toward a table leg.

Brenda rose and pushed the table even farther into the adjacent room, her eyes darting over the table’s surface. A jolt shot through her when she didn’t spot her phone. It must have fallen to the ground. She crouched back down and searched the floor.

Camilla’s teeth gnashed.

Her phone. Her phone, her phone, her—

Brenda’s flesh iced over, throat and lungs constricting. She couldn’t see it. The device must be on the floor somewhere—fallen from the table—but she could not see it.

She swore. Frozen in place, she prayed that the apartment walls were as thin as she thought they were. “SAMMY! Help! It’s Camilla! I need you to call Dr. Hansen! Sam!” Brenda flinched the second she remembered that Sammy, her neighbor, was on a date that night with a fireman or something. Brenda shook her head jaggedly at herself. “ANYONE! Help me! My daughter needs help!”

She shouted the same panicked phrases over and over again, the words cutting her throat.

Camilla’s seizure continued. It felt so long, but every time Brenda glanced at the oven’s clock, it reassured her that only a couple minutes had gone by. If her seizure ended now, then it might not be as bad as she feared. The hope calmed her enough to allow self-loathing to slink through her psyche.

Stupid, Brenda spat at herself. She had read so many books on Down Syndrome—on cases such as these—when she was pregnant with Camilla. Why had she stopped? Why had she become so lazy and selfish and forgetful—

A broad, muscular man burst through her front door.

Brenda screamed, the sound wispy from the recent abuse of her vocal chords.

The man’s eyes—wide and alert—snapped to her. As he rushed to her side, he said, “My name is Officer Allan Lawson. I heard you.” He glanced at Camilla. “Don’t touch her, don’t—”

“Just find a phone and call Dr. Hansen!”

The cop took out a cell from his pocket and dialed. And for a split second, Brenda was stupidly shocked that he just happened to know Dr. Hansen’s number.

Then she realized he had dialed 911.

Brenda, her attention flicking back and forth from her daughter to the officer, opened her mouth to protest his action. Dr. Hansen had talked her through Camilla’s last seizure, and the bill for an ambulance—

Lawson spouted out the address, and then he explained the situation to the dispatcher.

Brenda pressed her lips together. Even if paramedics provided too much help—if there was ever such a thing—it would certainly be preferable than not having enough of it. Brenda breathed a little easier as she stared down at her child.

“It’ll be alright, sweetie,” she said.

“They don’t typically hear—”

She snapped her gaze to Lawson.

Lawson flinched, phone still pressed against his ear while his eyes remained trained on her. He cleared his throat, then he lowered the phone. “The paramedics will be here in seven minutes.”

She nodded, her insides quivering with impatience. Seven minutes was too long. She swallowed thickly and stared at her daughter—gave her a tight smile, even though Camilla wasn’t registering it.

A soft touch on Brenda’s shoulder made her bristle, smile instantly falling.

“What’s her name?” Lawson asked, crouched beside them now. His fingers remained on her shoulder, however light their pressure was.

Brenda glanced at him. He was close enough that his warmth seeped into her, and she couldn’t decide if it was a comfort or not. Ultimately, she remained where she was, focused on— “Camilla. Her name is Camilla.”

“How old.”

“Seven.”

“Is this her first…?”

“No.” Shame reddened Brenda’s face. She should have been prepared for this. Her hands, shaking, hovered over Camilla’s shoulders—brushing against her mother’s fingertips. It made Brenda eyes sting.

“She’ll be fine,” Lawson said. He removed his fingers from her shoulder. “You’re doing a good job keeping everything clear.”

Brenda shivered, a cold sense of abandonment crushing her chest. She itched to rub her shoulder, but she immediately dismissed the sensation. Once again, she whispered encouraging words to her daughter. Perhaps it truly did nothing, but speaking them gave Brenda strength over her fear.

“It is alright, Camilla,” Brenda said, voice stronger than it should have been. She exhaled a shaky breath. “Mom’s here. I’m here.”

Camilla’s tremors lessened more and more by the second until the girl was limp, her eyelids drooping low as tears crawled down the side of her face. She groaned.

Relief floored Brenda. Restraining her own tears, she shakily—yet gently—placed her hand on Camilla’s shoulder. “It’s okay, honey. You’re okay. An ambulance is going to be here soon, and everything will be okay.”

Camilla’s mouth hung open, her head lolling to the side. She blinked and breathed, but shy of that, she didn’t move.

The last seizure she had had—it had taken her over thirteen minutes to regain her full sense of awareness.

Brenda patted the girl’s head. Clearing her throat—making sure she sounded certain—she said, “Paramedics are going to come and help. And there is a police officer here too.”

Camilla whined, her face remaining blank.

Brenda’s heart ached. She ran her fingers through her daughter’s hair. “They’re going to help you. You’ll feel better soon.”

The girl whined again.

“Camilla,” Lawson said, shuffling a little closer. He smiled, his eyes soft. “I’m Allan. I’m yours and your mother’s new neighbor.”

Brenda’s eyebrows shot up.

Lawson continued. “You are being so brave and strong right now. I’m impressed. I’ve never met anyone as tough as you, and I’m a police officer.”

“You’re our neighbor?” Brenda blurted. “I didn’t know—who moved out?”

Lawson shrugged. “I just finished moving in a few days ago. Room Seven? I don’t know who the previous tenant was.”

Ah, Warren’s and Lori’s apartment. They had just had their second child—had been speaking about moving into the suburbs. But that had been a month ago. They were already gone?

A hint of distaste brushed against Brenda’s psyche, but she couldn’t bring herself to care about it one way or another. She pressed her palm against Camilla’s head, the touch grounding.

Camilla garbled out a noise before a long exhale blew passed her parted lips. She blinked hard, her gaze never flickering from the ceiling.

“I’m from Saint Louis,” Lawson said conversationally. He shifted on his haunches a little, his head tilting as he smiled at Camilla. “It’s a nice city. Has a lot of pretty buildings, the arch—all kinds of stuff. It has a lot more people than Woodland Creek does, but that can get a little burdensome sometimes. It’s nice being in a smaller town. More nature, fewer people. It’s relaxing.”

Camilla sighed.

Brenda’s shoulders lowered. Her voice was distant—broken—as she said, “Camilla and I were both born here. Born and raised.” Her hand slid to her daughter’s upper arm, warm and motionless. “We’re used to small town life.”

Sirens pierced the air, the sound growing louder and louder as the seconds whizzed by.

Brenda smiled, her lips quivering. “We’re used to the simple life.”

Lawson patted her back, his touch as light as it had been before yet somehow more reassuring this time. Her eyelids fluttered closed for a brief soothing moment.



Chapter Two


As quick as the paramedics had been to get there, Brenda’s impatience swelled within her as they checked on her daughter—her pupil dilation, her pulse, her lungs. They moved too casually, though a part of Brenda wanted to take comfort in that; perhaps things weren’t as bad as she initially feared.

“How long did her seizure last?” a dark-haired paramedic asked.

Brenda answered quickly.

“Was there shaking of the limbs? Did she cry out? Did any discoloring occur?”

The questions went on and on, and Brenda snapped out each answer. Light tremors wracked her body, needing to move—to spring—to act. Waiting around and answering questions seemed pointless.

Lawson remained by her side, the few answers he gave short and blunt. At times, Brenda was tempted to hold his hand, to steady herself. His posture was so stiff and his eyes so alert. There was nothing casual about his appearance, other than his T-shirt and jeans.

“Mom,” Camilla said, weak voice filled with distress. She squirmed on the ground and blinked hard, though her eyes barely moved. “Mom.”

“I’m here,” Brenda said, barreling forward to crouch beside her daughter. She grabbed Cam’s shoulder with one hand while stroking her face with the other. “I’m here. It’s all okay, sweetheart.”

Camilla smacked her lips together. Confusion, then fear, blossomed in her expression, twisting. “Mom?”

“It’s okay, sweetie. All these people are helping us, that’s all. ”The paramedics went on to ask about Camilla’s medication, her doctor, the bill—

“I’ll take care of it,” Lawson interrupted, staring at Brenda. “Whenever the bill comes, just give it to me. I’m the one who made the call.”

Brenda scoffed. “I’m not handing you one of my bills. It’s fine.”

His posture loosened a little, face falling. “Please. I insist.” His gaze was so weighted—guilt swirling in those blue orbs. “I made the call, so it’s my responsibility.”

She eyed him. Was this really worth arguing about? Her pride, heavy in her chest, certainly made her think so. But she hesitated anyway—took a few seconds to think it over.

“I appreciate you letting me help in any way I can,” he said, expression softening and lips widening into a gentle smile. “It’s my job, you know.”

Sighing, she nodded. It was his job, in a way. And it wasn’t as if Leon was paying child support. She nodded again, more assure this time, and then she returned her full focus to her daughter.

Eventually, Camilla had regained enough of her mobility to move over and sit on the couch. The paramedics had wrapped a bright orange blanket around her shoulders, and the girl hugged herself tightly beneath the fabric. As Brenda handed her daughter a bowl of orange slices, the paramedics took their equipment and left.

Brenda kneeled in front of her daughter and patted the girl’s knee. “How are you feeling? Do you some water?”

Camilla, chewing on a piece of orange, shook her head as she stared at Lawson.


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