Beth McIre desperately clutched Joanie’s teddy to her chest, sobbing hard. The hateful words she’d said to her only daughter kept spinning around her head. It was making her miserable. She didn’t mean it. Oh God, Joanie had to know she didn’t mean it.
The thought of her beloved out there with a strange family…
“John, we have to find her! We have to!”
John tried to comfort her, but he wasn’t really helping. “Joanie knows where we are Beth. She’ll come home if she’s ready.”
“If!” Beth wailed louder, “It’s been two weeks already! What if she’s in some kind of trouble? What if those people…Oh God…”
“Jesus mom!” Tyler snapped. “All you’re doing is freaking us out. Quit it, will you? Joanie will come home. I know she will.”
Beth wasn’t sure, after all the things she’d said. Joanie probably hated her. Still, that didn’t stop her from hoping.
She’d stopped leaving the house, just in case Joanie had thrown away her key when she left. What if she came home and no one was there to open for her? The thought made her cry harder. Every time she thought about Joanie coming home, it made her think about Joanie not coming home. It was a vicious cycle.
“We were wrong John. That’s all it is. We were so wrong.”
“Wrong and stupid,” Tyler added under his breath. Beth let that slide because it was true. They’d been selfish, wanting to keep Joanie to themselves like that. They’d never dreamed she would actually leave!
“Mom! What’s for eats? I’m starving.”
God! Beth cursed herself. Now she was getting delusional. That was how Joanie used to greet her whenever she came into the house. She was always starving.
Beth tensed and looked at Tyler and John. It couldn’t be a dream, could it? Had they heard Joanie as well?
Tyler inhaled deeply “Was that…”
“JOANIE!” Beth screamed, leaping off the couch!
Oh God, Joanie was here. Beth enveloped her in a huge hug, crying and laughing and whispering how sorry she was.
“I’m sorry too, Mom.”
The whole family hugged for a long while.
“I have so much to tell you,” Joanie said finally
Beth was sure she didn’t want to hear about Joanie’s adventures, but she didn’t want to make the same mistake twice and push her daughter away; for good this time. She reluctantly steered the family into the lounge so they could at least be comfortable.
Towards the end of Joanie’s story, Beth allowed herself to breathe again.
“It was a rough two weeks,” Joanie finished, “I spent most of the time trying to hurt Nomhle back, for giving me away. But she’s so patient, mom. She kept telling me that if she hadn’t then I wouldn’t have had you guys. I finally realised she was right.”
Beth crossed her fingers, hoping to God that was the end of it.
“I’m going to keep visiting them, mom. Zoli is teaching me to speak Xhosa.
The breath whooshed out of Beth, but she didn’t protest. She wasn’t stupid. She’d seen how fondly Joanie spoke of her younger sister.
“We’re just so glad to have you home, angel.”
“I was wondering…”Joanie said hesitantly, “would you mind very much if I included the name Nhlanhla in my ID?”
“Of course not, darling”
“Joanie Nhlanhla McIre. Kinda catchy,” Tyler said.
“And, would you mind very much if…” Joanie said and Beth held her breath. She wouldn’t be able to bear it if Joanie wanted to be a Thabatha and not a McIre.
“I mean, could I have my McIre bracelet back… please?”
Everyone laughed and hugged.
What a month! Beth thought. What a learning curve for their family. She was glad. Who knew? Maybe she and Joanie’s other mother could get along well, in the future. Maybe Zoli would even be like another daughter for her and John.
Beth watched with pride and gratitude as Joanie snapped her bracelet on. It was perfect.
The McIre clan; complete, with two new members.
OUR UNITY. OUR TRUST. OUR FAMILY.