It was 1960. Natalia was no longer homeless. At least not that anyone would notice. The shelter was just that. A shelter. It wasn’t a home.
The food was OK, but there wasn’t much for a single mother to do except work on the serving line. But single, unwed mothers all seemed shunned. There was a stigma. Something that made others keep you at arm’s length.
Not that they said anything bad about you to your face, but that wasn’t how things worked. She had heard the whispers-the lies-the rumors that were circulating. She had heard them since she had Matthew. But they knew nothing. They didn’t know the truth. They hadn’t been there when it happened.
They didn’t suffer the pain. They didn’t have to face the humiliation. They didn’t have to feel the guilt or live every day knowing that the man you thought you loved had used you. And he had done so in the worst possible way, without remorse or emotion. He had been a monster.
He had torn her world apart and set it upside down. He had hurt her in more ways than one. Most of all, he had shamed her. That, alone, had cost her more than she had ever thought possible. And what did it cost him? Nothing.
But that was all past. She was trying to leave it there. She was trying to move on. She needed to be strong for Matty.
Ah, Little Matty. He was her only reason for being. If it weren’t for him, she would have killed herself a long time ago. Well, two years ago anyway. He had been her only lifeline. He had given her hope when there really wasn’t any.
She could only hope that the sixties would bring something new and different. She needed a change. The war in Vietnam had escalated, and many were beginning to oppose it. That had been how Toby had got away with what he did. He had fled to the military.
His parents blamed her for his death and gave her the note from the Pentagon. They had never been able to accept that their boy had been a monster. He loved ruining lives. But, then, he was his father’s son.
In the end, their attacks on her father had bankrupted them. Toby’s death only sealed his dad’s fate. She had received the letter containing the notice, C.O.D. There was no hello or goodbye to make her feel accomplished. Mr. French jumped from the balcony of his office building as the IRS began auditing his business. A month later, Mrs, French was found at the bottom of a ravine in her car.
Toby had been their only child. Natty shuddered when she thought of what would have happened if they’d had any more. God save the planet. But Toby received the dubious honor of being on the birth certificate as Matt’s father, even though she gave Matt her last name. And it would remain that.
Afterward, she went about her own business. She still bore the scars. She still felt the hate. But she really didn’t care.
She was still young. She was still beautiful. She was still talented. That was all that mattered.
Someday, she promised herself, she would be a star. She would be an actress in Hollywood. Maybe she would star on Broadway. But, first, she had to live the stigma that Toby put on her down. She had to overcome the lies.
Matty made it all worthwhile. Going back to the room every evening to take care of him made it all seem so much better. He didn’t judge her. He didn’t talk behind her back. He looked up to her.
He was her precious little angel. She couldn’t see life without him. It would be life in hell. Not only would she have been shamed, but alone in her misery. At least with Matty there, she had someone to talk to. She had someone to love.
With growing dislike for the war, there would be change in the air. That change might bring redemption for her. She longed for a better life. Something she could be proud of. Most of all, she longed for love and acceptance. She needed a man to love her. She needed someone who would love her for who she was, not for what they thought they could get from her.
But where would she ever find a man like that? Where could she find one that would take in a woman with a baby? She was beginning to lose hope. Even worse, she was beginning to wonder if she was ever going to have peace.
She missed her hometown. She missed her sister. She missed Papa and Mama. She missed daddy and momma.
She missed all her friends. She wondered what they were all doing. Who they were going with. Were they married?
Shasta sat looking into the sunset. It had been three years since Natty had been sent away in shame. It had been two since Toby went away, and earlier in the year, Mr. French committed suicide. Two months later, Mrs. French had been found dead as well.
It wasn’t until the priest had begun going through The stuff in the Frenchs’ house that they found Toby’s notebook of confessions. He had been bragging, really, about all the girls he’d raped. Nearly half of those in his grade and the two grades lower. He had got away with it too. Daddy French had paid to keep the girls silent. And so, Toby believed that he could do anything and get away with it.
Perhaps that was why he died. He hadn’t been listening. he probably tried to rape some local over there and ended up being shot in the back for his trouble. Dirty deeds never went unpunished. Even if you were filthy rich. But that was past.
Momma and Daddy wanted to find Natty. They wanted to bring her home. Yet, when they went to the last known address, she had already vanished. Now, they had no idea where she was. And not knowing was what hurt the worst.