At first, she had dismissed the noise as a cat lurking in the bushes.
Jane shrugged it off as she fumbled with her keys, her fingers numb from the bitter cold and desperate for the warmth. But when she heard it again, this time clearer and louder, her heart skipped a beat. It was so familiar, yet she couldn’t decipher exactly what it was. All she knew was she had heard it before and she felt herself being drawn towards it. Turning towards the park across the road, she slipped her keys into her coat pocket and wrapped her scarf tighter around her neck, crossing the road. She froze when she heard it again. Her heart fluttered; she knew that sound. A cry. Walking with purpose, Jane suddenly sensed movement in her peripheral vision and it took her breath away. There, amongst the shrubbery, was a baby swaddled in a pink fleece blanket.
“Oh my goodness…” Jane breathed.
She knelt down and tentatively picked up the bundle into her arms. Glancing around, Jane checked if anyone was around, but the park was still and quiet. Taking a breath, she sat on a nearby bench and gently cradled the child, marvelling at her tiny features. Being so small and light in her arms, she guessed she couldn’t be more than a week old, with dark wisps of hair crowning her head and plump rosy cheeks. At being held, the infant’s cries had gradually subsided, replaced by small hiccups that made Jane smile. She found herself taking great comfort holding the child; it reminded her of Edward and how soft and warm he’d been in her arms for the briefest time she had been able to hold him. Having calmed, the little girl opened her eyes – a brief flash of azure blue staring back at her.
“It’s alright,” Jane said softly. “You’re safe now.”
At that, Jane wrapped the blanket tightly around the baby to shield her from the chill and made her way back across the road to home. Carefully retrieving the keys from her pocket, she unlocked the door.
“Oh, Jane! I was beginning to get worried!” Cathy appeared from the lounge, relieved to see her. When her eyes found the bundle nestled in Jane’s arms, her eyes widened, but before she could say anything, Anne bounced down the stairs. She froze on the last step.
With all the commotion and the sudden rush of heat, Jane felt her cheeks flush, looking from one girl to the other warily. She swallowed. “I found her in the park,” she explained, gazing back at the infant, who was now drifting off to sleep. “Who would do such a thing? On such a cold night like this?”
Anne and Cathy cautiously flanked her at either side to get a closer look and found they too couldn’t take their eyes off of the little girl.
“She’s beautiful,” Anne cooed.
For a moment, the three girls stood in silence simply admiring the baby as she peacefully slept. None of them knew how to put into words how precious she was. Finally, Cathy ushered Jane into the living room for a seat, helping her shake off her coat and scarf. Anne eagerly sat beside her, transfixed. Realising she had lost track of time, Jane glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. It was already way past 11pm. She assumed, with the house being so quiet, that Kat and Anna had already retired to bed, but it was unusual for Catherine to be asleep by now.
As if on cue, the Spanish girl sauntered in. “Cathy, I’m away to head to-“
None of the girls missed her recoil slightly when she laid eyes on the infant asleep in Jane’s arms. “What is that?” she blinked, her voice firm.
Feeling the tension in the air, Jane turned away, her eyes dropping to the floor. Cathy raised an eyebrow at Catherine’s reaction in the armchair opposite her and licked her lips. “Jane found the poor soul abandoned in the park.”
Catherine remained cold. “And why did you bring it back here? You can’t possibly keep her.”
Jane suddenly felt protective of the child and a familiar fiery anger ignite. She was taken aback by how bitter the girl was. She whirled her head around to face her, her eyes wide. “What did you want me to do?” she exclaimed. “She would have been dead by morning if I hadn’t found her!”
Catherine stood straight, unfazed by Jane. “Well, she certainly can’t stay here,” she said adamantly.
The baby stirred and began to cry. This only added to Catherine’s frustration and she turned her back on the others, shaking her head.
Cathy sighed in exasperation. “Look, it’s late. Let’s talk about this properly in the morning.” She shot Catherine a warning look and with that, Catherine silently strut out the room. Cathy stared up at the ceiling, waiting for the familiar click of her bedroom door closing upstairs, before giving Jane a sympathetic smile.
“Just ignore her, Jane. You know Catherine, she’s always moody when she’s tired.”
Having managed to soothe the child to sleep again, Jane gave a fraught smile back, Anne rubbing her arm for reassurance. “She’ll be hungry…I’ll need to pop out and grab some things for her.”
She looked to Anne next to her. “Want to take her for a bit whilst I go?”
Anne’s eyes immediately lit up and she nodded eagerly. Jane gently placed the girl into Anne’s arms, before walking back into the hallway to retrieve her coat and scarf. Cathy followed closely behind, closing the lounge door silently.
“Want me to come with you?” she asked, casting her a concerned look.
Jane shook her head, biting her lip as she slipped on her coat, before the tears blurred her vision and started to trail down her cheeks. She didn’t really know why she was crying; she just felt so overwhelmed. So much had happened in the space of fifteen minutes. Cathy rushed to wrap her in a hug.
“It’s alright,” she soothed, resting her head on the girl’s shoulder. “We’ll sort things out in the morning, okay? You did the right thing.”
As Cathy pulled away, Jane collected herself, wiping away the tears. “Thank you,” she mumbled.
“I’ll go and see what we have upstairs for her tonight,” Cathy smiled.
When Jane returned with milk formula, nappies and a spare Babygro, Anne greeted her at the door and ushered her upstairs. In Jane’s room, Cathy had made a makeshift cot from a storage box and blankets. Cathy gave her a grin, rocking the baby in her arms. “It took a lot of convincing to get Anne to let me have a go.”
Jane laughed and glanced back at the cot. “Thank you so much, Cathy.”
Cathy shrugged. “It’s the least I could do to help,” she stroked the infant’s head. “I think she’s hungry.”
Anne helped Jane heat up the formula milk downstairs and watched in wonder as Jane fed the infant. By the time she had finished and drifted to sleep once more, the trio were exhausted. Anne gave Jane a quick hug and stroked the baby’s cheek before bidding goodnight. As Jane gingerly laid the girl in the box beside her bed, she breathed a sigh of relief. The evening had been a whirlwind, but the child was safe and warm and that was all that mattered.
“She’s lucky to have you,” Cathy whispered, giving the other girl’s arm a comforting squeeze as she headed towards the door. She hesitated as she opened the door. “Give me a shout if you need any help with her during the night, okay?”
Jane smiled and nodded, taking comfort from the words. She was grateful for Cathy’s support and she knew only too well she’d need all she could get to face tomorrow. The very thought filled her with dread. She had no idea how the other girls would react and the uncertainty unnerved her.
She planted a kiss on the baby’s forehead as she climbed into bed and said a little prayer.