Summer dragged by. The warm, muggy day, the stifling humidity making everything that involved moving around seem pointless and in vain. One day, when the moisture clung to his clothes, sticking them to his body like an unwanted hug from a large, sweaty relative, the trio sat in Michael’s apartment around the air conditioner, trying deserately to fight the heat. Alice had made lemonade and brought it over. Michael stared at his glass. The condensation drizzled over the side of the glass glinted like diamonds, reminding him of the ring he kept tucked in his drawer, waiting, waiting for that special moment. Ruby laid in a heap, her damp head on Alice’s lap. Alice was leaning against the base of the couch, too hot to sit on it.
In the dull boredom of the day, Michael did something that, as a highly educated person who hated mindless activity, he rarely did: he turned the TV on. The antique box sparked and sputtered, a fuzzy, dully-colored picture of a newscastor coming slowly into view.
“In other news, police have discovered a lead on the Morrell kidnapping case. Seven-year-old Ruby Morrell, daughter of recently deceased Peter and Sadie Morrell, has been reported to still attend the school that her parents originally sent her to, according to administration. A local family, upon being interviewed, have spoken of their own child, attending the same school as Morrell, sometimes mentioning the girl in his daily recounts. The child’s parents, Alfred and Maria O’Leary, parents to eight-year-old Rye, said their son spoke of the girl frequently, even after her parents were discovered dead and her case labelled as kidnapping. When asked if he knew anything else, Rye only spoke of having seen Ruby being driven to school by her teacher, Michael Carter, the only male teacher in the elementary school. Police will take investigative measures with Carter later today. Now, onto later news-”
Michael frantically pushed the “power” button on the television. The screen went black again.
Alice looked at him. “This is bad.” She glanced at Ruby, who was still asleep on her lap. “This is really, really bad. If they think you kidnapped Ruby- well, they won’t let you see her. Ever.”
He nodded. “I know. I can’t let them know about this!”
“Michael… maybe that’s not the best idea. Maybe you should confess. What you did… it’s illegal, but it’s not as bad as they think. You didn’t do anything wrong by trying to protect her. You know as well as I do, her bright little spirit would’ve been crushed like a flower under someone’s shoe in those orphanages. You did what anyone would’ve done.”
“But, even if I can prove I didn’t try anything funny with her, they still wouldn’t let me keep her! They’d put her in a system so fast…”
“You don’t know that. She could have family members somewhere.”
“She doesn’t. I knew Peter and Sadie, not well, but enough. I did my research, when I first took Ruby in. Peter came from an abusive family, and Sadie was a child runaway from Mexico., originally named Guadelupe. They met at a train station, and moved here to escape.”
“How did you-”
“This kid I once knew at an orphanage, Banker, had a knack for tracing people. After I took her in, I had him look them up.”
“Michael, are you sure you’re the best option for Ruby? Y0u said yourself you were a single guy, uninterested in romance. What happens when she grows up? Who will she go to for girl advice? Who will she look up to? Do you know anyting about female puberty?”
Michael paled. “No,” he admitted, his cheeks draining of all color at the thought. She had a point. “That’s why I was hoping…”
“Hoping that you… would… take the time to be her Mommy.”
“I am, but Michael, there’s nothing I can do, really. I may be a female but I-“
She stopped cold. “Excuse me?”
“Marry me, Alice. I love you. Ruby loves you.” He pulled out the ring from his pocket, holding it out to her. “Marry me, become my wife, and her mommy. We can go down to the police after, and turn her in. We’ll explain everything, and then we’ll adopt her. Think about it. You’ve seen the adoption process- don’t tell me you haven’t had a friend adopted before. We could adopt her, and be her parents. We could be the best chance she’s got.”
The next day, Alice and Michael went to the courthouse and got the papers signed.
Michael hugged Ruby close. “Okay, sweetheart. This is it. We are going to give you to the nice people at the police station now. There is going to be a lot going on, but you need to stay calm and don’t forget how much I love you. If you behave, I might be able to become your daddy, and Miss Alice can be your mommy. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Ruby’s large brown eyes filled with tears. “I want you to be my daddy forever and ever, okay?” she whispered.
“I promise I will do the best I can to make that happen.”
And with that, he stepped out of the house and closed the door, facing the police he had been so afraid of just days ago. It had all happened so fast- Alice had agreed to marry him, just then and there as he asked. Apparently she’d been waiting as long as he had for him to ask. They’d gone to the courthouse, signing the papers. She’d become Alice Carter. And the next day, the police had rapped upon his door.
Here it comes, he thought to himself. The moment of truth… when I find out if I really will be able to be a part of Ruby’s life…