FEELING MY CELL PHONE in the front pocket of my apron vibrate once again, I pull it out. When I see it’s the same number that has called me at least five times in the last two hours, unease fills my stomach. No one ever calls me, so something must have happened. Looking toward the front of the small classroom, I wait until Maya’s eyes meet mine and as soon as I get her attention, I point toward the door, letting her know I’m going to step outside for a minute. After she lifts her chin, I squat down so that I’m eye level with the five kids gathered around me in a semicircle. “I’ll be right back, guys. Just keep painting, and if you need anything, ask Miss Maya,” I say quietly so I don’t disturb the rest of the students.
“Okay, Miss Gia,” Ben, one of my favorites, agrees.
Patting the top of his strawberry blond head, I stand then head toward the door. Leaning back against the wall once I’m in the hall, I press send on the number that has been calling me and wait for someone to answer.
“Hello,” the voice of an unfamiliar woman greets me after the third ring.
“Hi, this is Gia Caro. Someone from this number has been calling me.”
“Oh, thank God. Ned, it worked. You found her,” she says, sounding relieved, and I hear her moving around then hear her tell someone on her end that she will be right back. “Hi, Gia. My name’s Nina. Me and my husband live next door to your Grandma.”
“Grandma?” I whisper as nausea turns my stomach and pain blooms in my chest. “My grandma’s dead.”
Clearing my throat, I hold my phone a little tighter. “My grandma passed away over ten years ago.”
“Oh dear,” she murmurs, and I hear her moving around some more. “Is your grandma Mrs. Genevria Ricci?”
“Oh dear,” I listen to her pull in a breath. “Your grandma is very much alive,” she tells me after a moment, and my back slides down the wall and my ass hits the floor as my feet inch out from under me.
“I…” A thousand questions lodge themselves in my throat.
“Gia, are you there?”
“Yeah, I’m here,” I finally get out.
“I don’t know how to tell you this, darlin’, but your grandma’s not doing so well.”
Her words are like acid burning my already sensitive flesh, and it takes every ounce of willpower I have not to scream at the top of my lungs. “What’s wrong with her?”
“She’s not been herself for a while now. She was diagnosed with dementia a few years ago, but over the last year, she’s been forgetful and sometimes unaware, like she doesn’t know what’s going on around her. Ned—Ned’s my husband—he and I believe she needs someone to take care of her full-time.”
“I’ll be there,” I say without thinking. “It will take me a couple days to get things sorted out here, but I will be there. Can you keep an eye on her a little longer?”
“Of course we can.” She pauses, then her voice is softer as she continues, “She’s missed you.”
Guilt and regret wash over me, but I push that aside for now. I’ll have plenty of time to deal with those emotions later. Right now, I need to focus on what I need to do. “I’ll let you know when I’m on my way.”
“All right, dear,” she agrees quietly before I hang up and clutch the phone to my chest.
Leaning my head back against the wall, I close my eyes and breathe in through my nose so I don’t cry.
“Gia.” Opening my eyes, I tip my head down and find Maya with her head sticking out of a crack in the door. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, sorry.” I push up off the ground and walk back into the class in a daze.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” she asks, following me.
“Yeah,” I lie. “Do you mind keeping an eye on my kids for a few minutes while I go talk to Jana?”
“Sure.” She bites the inside of her cheek, studying me with worry in her eyes.
I like Maya; she’s only been here for a few weeks, but the kids already adore her, which to me says everything about the kind of person she is. Kids can read people. They can usually tell what type of person someone is, even when that person is pretending to be someone they aren’t.
Giving her what I hope is a reassuring smile, I leave the class and head down the hall toward the office at the front of the building. Day Dreamers Daycare is one of the bigger daycares in Chicago. We have seven classes and a nursery, with over one hundred kids in all. I’ve worked here for the last five years, since the day I graduated from college with my degree in early childhood development. My plan was to teach in the public school system, but since starting here, I haven’t wanted to leave.
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