Watch Over Meby Christa Parrish
Deputy Benjamin Patil is the one to find the infant girlhours old, abandoned in a field. When the mother ecan't be located, Ben and his wife, Abbi, seem like the perfect couple to serve as foster parents. But the baby's arrival opens old wounds for Abbi and shines a harsh light on how much Ben has changed since a devastating tour in Afghanistan. Their… See more details below
Deputy Benjamin Patil is the one to find the infant girlhours old, abandoned in a field. When the mother ecan't be located, Ben and his wife, Abbi, seem like the perfect couple to serve as foster parents. But the baby's arrival opens old wounds for Abbi and shines a harsh light on how much Ben has changed since a devastating tour in Afghanistan. Their marriage teeters on the brink and now they must choose to either reclaim what they once had or lose each other forever.
"The book takes on some heavy issues. Parrish weighs in on things like love, marriage, family, the church, forgiveness, and redemption. Though it has many bleak moments, the story left me feeling hopeful about my very flawed self and the ability of God to redeem the most unlikely situation.
- Baker Publishing Group
- Publication date:
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- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)
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Watch Over Me
By Christa Parrish
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2009 Christa Parrish
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe kids slumped against the hood of his squad vehicle, not clinging to each other but wanting to. Their shoulders and hand-stuffed pockets pressed together, brown dust pasted to the toes of their sneakers. Benjamin Patil knew why. Blood hid under the dust.
"You kicked the towel?" he asked them.
"I fell over it," the boy said. "I didn't know what it was."
"Are we in trouble?" the girl asked.
Kids. They were fifteen, sixteen maybe, and he thought of them as kids. He was only ten years their senior. Only.
When did he get so old?
"You're trespassing," Benjamin said, taking his camera from the car. He snapped some photos of the bloody towel, of the red flecks across the grass. He listened to the chirps of his camera, the rustling beneath his feet, the Say's phoebe and dickcissel fluttering and chattering around him. "Want to tell me what you're doing out here?"
The teenagers both shifted from one hip to the other.
"I didn't think so." He pulled on a rubber glove, shook open a transparent evidence bag, and grabbed the balled-up towel. It unrolled, and apulpy, grayish blob plopped to the ground.
"Oh, man. Is that a brain?" the boy asked.
"No," Benjamin said. "Get in the car, both of you."
He shoveled the towel and placenta into the evidence bag, dropped it through the open window of his nine-year-old Dodge Durango. Head down, he tracked the speckles of blood until they turned to drops, then splotches, leading him along a thin, heat-eaten stream. Something yellow was tucked in the slough grass on the near bank of a muddy pond. He strode forward, needle-and-thread awns snagging his pants, trying to stop him from finding what he knew he'd find. And then he was there, at the pond's edge, staring at a white grocery sack, yellow smiling face printed on it, two tiny feet twisted in the handles.
"Dear God ..."
He dropped to his knees, clawed at the bag, the plastic stretching like skin, tight over his fingertips. It split, and he saw human flesh before a swarm of mosquitoes poured into the air. Benjamin swiped them away; one dove into the sweat on his forehead and bit him. He crushed it against his brow and, in the same sweeping motion, gathered an infant from the bag and into his hands.
Startled by the light and the rush of air against its body, the newborn scrunched up its face and wailed, fists flailing like a prizefighter's, knuckles bluish-gray and filmy. The umbilical cord hung from its- her-belly, a dirty shoelace knotted near the frayed end. Benjamin laid her across his knees, tugged at the buttons of his uniform, opening the top two and then yanking the shirt over his head. He wrapped the baby in it and sprinted to the car.
"Tallah, get up here," he said.
"It's a ... a ..."
"Just get in the front seat. And belt up." The girl did, and Benjamin gave her the baby. "Hold on to her, you hear?"
The girl nodded, her arms tightening around the bundle, and Benjamin flipped on his siren.
* * *
She was three, maybe four hours old, the doctor told him. A bit longer in the June heat and she would have been dead. Benjamin stared at her in the isolette, her new baby skin swollen with dozens of furious, nickel-sized welts. Mosquito bites. Black fly. Maybe some ant mixed in. She was wired and tubed and taped. And alone. The other babies born within the past forty-eight hours-seven, he'd been told-slept with their mothers in private rooms.
Her chest rose and fell with the beeps of the heart monitor. He put his hand through the hole in the side of the Plexiglas and stroked her arm with two fingers, once, twice, feeling her frailness beneath the downy lanugo. She shrunk away; his hands were cold. Always, lately.
Things like this didn't happen in Beck County. Women tossed away infants in other places-faraway places people around these parts heard about on the news but never visited. A New York City dumpster. A Chinese rice paddy. Not in the weeds at the west end of Hopston's beef farm. After Afghanistan, when Benjamin came home to South Dakota, he thought he'd gotten away from things like this, things that caused nightmares. But here they were, following him. God's judgment.
A nurse came in. Her purple rubber clogs squeaked as she walked. She checked the fluid bag and the intravenous line in the baby's scalp.
"How's she doing?" Benjamin asked.
"Holding her own, considering."
"The doctor said they might move her."
The nurse nodded. "To Sioux Falls. They got a NICU there."
Benjamin touched the infant's palm. She closed her fingers around his, and he stared at her shiny, pink fingernails, so small and perfect. He thought of Abbi, of all the times he'd looked at her hand in his own, her pale Scottish-Irish-English-and-whatever-else skin ghostly
against his India brown. And he wanted to hear her voice, which surprised him almost as much as finding the baby.
"I'll be back tomorrow," he said, meaning his words for her, but the nurse nodded.
In the hospital lobby, he dialed home. One ring, two. Three. Abbi's recorded voice said, "Hey, we're not here. Leave a message." He pressed the receiver against his ear for several seconds, tapped it against his forehead before hanging up. He needed to get back to Temple, for the press conference.
* * *
He carried the evidence bags through the jumble of news vans, cameramen, reporters, and gawkers, and into the courthouse building. The temperature in the sheriff 's office felt hotter than outside; Benjamin said so.
"Probably is. Cooling unit broke this morning," Deputy Al Holbach said. "You don't plan to talk to the press looking like that."
Benjamin still had on only his undershirt, the armpits yellowed with sweat, his stomach smeared with his dirty handprints and blood. The sleeveless, ribbed-cotton kind, the kind Abbi hated. She called them wife-beaters, told him she saw them and thought of the men who wear those undershirts as outerwear, and stand on their front lawns scratching and screaming at their women and children. Just one more thing she never did like about him.
"Can't we just send a press release?"
"Don't think those piranhas waiting outside would be happy with that," Holbach said. "I got an extra shirt if you need it. Might be a tad big."
"No. I have one." Benjamin wrenched open the bottom drawer of his desk. He grabbed a clean uniform shirt, another undershirt, and his black leather toiletry bag. In the restroom, he stripped off his dirty shirt and balled it under the faucet, drenching it with cold water. He rubbed his bare torso, his neck and head, and slathered deodorant under his arms. The clean shirts felt stiff, unyielding. The dirty undershirt, he tossed in the waste can.
"Where's the boss and Wes?" he asked, back at his desk, pinning his name tag on his pocket.
"They should be back any time now. Went out to the scene."
"They found the bag, then."
"Right where you told 'em."
Benjamin briskly rubbed the top of his head, wishing he had hair long enough to grab and yank. "Just-" He dropped his bag into the drawer and slammed it closed with his foot. Sighed. "Just ... everything."
"You said it," Holbach said.
* * *
The press conference lasted twenty minutes-three minutes of prepared statement, and the rest questions from the mob, most drawing answers of "We can't say right now," or "We just don't know at this time." The reporters skulked away, unsatisfied. Benjamin knew the feeling.
Back inside the office, he bit down on the marker cap and pulled, drawing a diagram over the whiteboard, a squashed spider with an uneven black circle for a body and eight legs spread in eight different directions. Sheriff Eli Roubideau rolled some tape on the back of a Polaroid photo and slapped it in the center of the circle. The torn plastic bag.
"Gotta get one of the kid instead," Roubideau said, removing his hat and patting his hairline with a rag. "Somebody needs to get over to the school tomorrow."
"I will," Holbach said. "First thing."
Benjamin wrote School and A.H. on one of the empty lines. The office phone kept ringing; they didn't pick it up after hours, after the secretary went home. The answering machine kicked on, recording
reporters or dial tones.
"That bag. The Food Mart uses them," Raymond Wesley said.
"And probably a dozen other stores," Holbach said.
"We can't do anything about the others, but I'll head over to the Food Mart, ask around. Maybe one of the clerks remembers someone coming through there pregnant."
"And I'll just start knocking on doors," Benjamin said, adding Wesley's and his initials to the diagram. "Covering the whole county is going to take a lot of time. Not much else to do, though, at least for now."
"Not much else, sure as shooting," Roubideau said. "Now go home. All of you."
Benjamin didn't. He drove around for twenty minutes, then let himself back into the station, into the holding cell. He took off his shoes and socks, his shirt, his belt, and crawled onto the bottom bunk, setting his watch alarm for four thirty. The sheriff didn't come in until close to six.
Excerpted from Watch Over Me by Christa Parrish Copyright © 2009 by Christa Parrish. Excerpted by permission.
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