She’s Not You by Mimi Barbour

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Chapter One

Jesse Parker stepped out of the apartment’s elevator into the dimly lit corridor where the wall light flickered, warning all of its impending demise. He stopped dead. She was there again, the little girl who tore at his heartstrings.

Same as she’d done the last couple of days, as soon as the pixie-like child saw him, she wiped her wet face, jumped up from where she huddled on the hallway’s green carpet and beelined for her apartment door. Only this time she hesitated before she opened it. Her little back faced him, a wall of antagonism shielding her body slapped at Jesse until he felt his insides sinking.

Why he frightened her, he didn’t know. So he waited, not wanting to make things worse. Speaking as softly as a deep male voice can, he said, “Is there something I can help you with, sweetie?”

He’d seen her tears. In fact he’d seen them every time she’d run away. And they drove him crazy.

“My mommy’s sick.” The tear-streaked side of her still baby-faced cheeks was all she showed him. Somewhere between the ages of four to six, he thought—until she spoke and then he wondered if she were even younger.

What the heck did he know about kids? Standing there, trying not to frighten the little cherub, plans scuttled through his head like mice at the smell of a cat.

Instincts kicked in and he crouched down to her level. “Has she seen the doctor?”

“Uh huh! He’s dumb.” The child used her arm to wipe the mess off her face and a small sob escaped. “All he tells her is to take pills but she mostly bawfs them up. She bawfs a lot.” Before Jesse could say anything else, the tiny sprite opened her door and disappeared.

Now what the hell am I supposed to do? Jesse knew he couldn’t leave it alone. He stood with his hand raised to knock and then slowly lowered it when a sudden thought changed his mind.

He’d try and contact his sister, Kim. After all, it was her apartment he was staying in and knowing how gregarious she was, Jesse had no doubt that she most likely knew these neighbors and could tell him something about their situation.

The thought of doing nothing had disappeared the moment he’d picked up the scent of the child’s fear and heard her husky, frightened voice.

A short way down the hall, Jesse stormed into his sister’s apartment, flicked on the lights and caught his breath. He’d forgotten how she’d rigged the switch to turn on all the holiday decorations she’d set up around the place.

Her oversized Christmas tree sat in front of the main set of windows in the large room and blazed its magic at him, flashing twice. The windows behind did a great job of reflecting the splendor. The hundreds, or most likely thousands, of lights twinkled from both inside the branches and around the outer edges.

The theme of the tree had to be angels or maybe fairies since Kim had hundreds of tiny feathered creatures in all colors poking out from every space. Then there were ribbons inter-woven between these sprites gleaming with the sparkling surfaces of silver and pearl.

Bah! The girl might be his sister but she was a nutcase when it came to this season. Mind you, he had to admit that Christmas made Kim a living. A very good one if her place was anything to go by. A few years back when he’d first seen her home, he’d been appalled. With Jesse’s help, now the condo she owned was not only modern but very comfortable.

The sound of claws scraping the floor for leverage warned him that Sam had heard him enter. A chubby canine, with bright black eyes and flopping ears, hurled itself straight for him, expecting he’d break the momentum of this unrestrained dash.

This time it didn’t work.

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