I woke abruptly, my eyes darting around the unfamiliar room. Then realization sunk in, and I relaxed against the pillows.
I felt the familiar warmth of my daughter snuggle closer into my body – Renee had joined me in bed at some point during the night as she sometimes did. I wrapped my arm around her little body and pulled her against me. I brushed my lips against her silky black hair, breathing in her scent. Whatever else Jacob Black had visited upon me during our doomed marriage, this – our beautiful dark-haired daughter – was perfection.
The July sun streamed into my bedroom, making further sleep impossible. I had no idea what time it was – I hadn't been able to find the clock radio before falling into bed last night. I found my watch on a box beside the bed, and groaned inwardly. It was 6 a.m. and time to get up. I had a long day of work ahead of me getting our new home in order.
I looked back down at my daughter and saw her dark eyes open, gazing at me silently. She smiled at me and reached up to tangle her fingers in my hair.
"Good morning, beloved," I said softly, stroking her black hair. Her smile grew broader. "Did you get lonely in the night and come to sleep with mommy?" Renee nodded and cuddled closer. We lay together for a few more minutes in drowsy silence. Renee drifted back to sleep, her breath making a little whistling sound. I slid my arm out from underneath her, and sat up on the side of the bed. I blinked in the sun and gazed out over my new neighborhood.
Richmond was close enough to the city to be considered a suburb of Seattle – but barely. The distance from the city was the main reason that housing prices were so reasonable here. My bedroom window faced south east. From Renee's western window at the back of the house, you could just see the Cascade Mountains over the trees.
Our home was a cozy brick townhouse, one of many in the tree-lined complex imaginatively named Twilight Hills. We had three bedrooms all to ourselves – unimaginable luxury compared to what we had experienced in the past. There was a finished family room in the basement, and even a small fenced backyard that we shared with the adjoining townhouse.
In other words, paradise.
I went into the bathroom, opened the box on the counter and fished out a towel, shampoo and soap. I started up the shower and stepped in, luxuriating in the hot water. Come what may, I loved my showers and always took my time whenever I could. (Lord knows there had been few enough of those opportunities when Renee had been a baby.) So I stood there for a while, hot water pouring over my face and shoulders, washing away the dried sweat and dirt of yesterday's move. Somehow it felt even better knowing the shower was mine – well, mine and the bank's. But it was more security than I had known for years.
While Renee slept, I quickly dressed, plaited my hair and trotted downstairs for a breakfast of cold cereal and hot coffee. (The coffee maker hadn't even been packed on the moving van – it had sat in the back seat of the car, beside Renee's car seat, on the final trip from our old apartment.)
Body clean and fueled, I got to work.
Our possessions were few, but getting the kitchen unpacked was still a lengthy process. I had just finished stacking the last of the plates when I heard a small footfall at the kitchen door. I looked up to see Renee standing there in her nightgown, looking uncertainly at the chaos of boxes and paper around her.
"C'mere sweetie," I said, crooking my finger at her before washing the newsprint ink from my hands. She pattered forward, and hugged me around the waist. I stroked her dark hair. Then suddenly, my daughter looked up at me and spoke.
Her voice was a small whisper, but to me, it was the sweetest sound in the world. And not just because she was my daughter, and my whole reason for living.
It had been nearly two years since Renee had stopped speaking.
"Elective mutism?" I asked in disbelief, my hands clenched tightly together. (The half-moon bruises from my fingernail tips digging into my palms would take days to disappear.)
"It's not a common diagnosis – controversial in some circles," Dr. Snow explained. "True elective mutism may be a reaction to a traumatic event, the aftermath of an injury to the mouth or throat, particularly if it is painful, or a symptom of extreme shyness." Renee was in the outer room, playing with the speech therapist. I could hear her laughter. It sounded so … normal. My jaw tightened, and I could feel a dull flush coming over my face. Lynn Snow, who had been Renee's psychiatrist since the "incident" (as everyone euphemistically referred to it as) gently pushed the tissue box across the desk to me. "In her case, we obviously consider trauma the trigger.
"I know this is difficult, Bella, especially after all that you and Renee have had to endure. But I have every reason to believe she will overcome this. We both know how strong Renee is." Dr. Snow smiled, catching my eye. "And her mother, too."
I smiled wanly, but I knew it didn't reach my eyes. I took one deep breath, then another. Somebody help me! I begged inwardly, but there was, of course, no answer. No one is coming to rescue me, I thought suddenly. I have to do this on my own. Another deep breath.
"OK," I said. "What do we do?"
And so therapy had begun. We measured progress in baby steps – one word at a time. Now nearly two years after her diagnosis, Renee had begun to speak again with ongoing speech therapy. Her words were few, but each one was music to my ears. She had a quick, lively mind that could not be suppressed, even with all she'd been through.
I pulled Renee's body tight against mine, my heart overflowing with joy at this moment. Finally, I was able to speak again.
"Yes, we're home, baby. We're home."