the voice            “You’re safe here.” Every syllable was coated in a balm that soothed the ears and calmed the soul. The heart of the child in the masked woman’s arms slowed down to a normal rate and their eyes shut. This is what complete trust looked like. The building that surrounded them was on fire and coming down quickly.

Traveling at the speed of sound she carried the child up and out of the building leaving behind dark blue streaks in her wake. The two quickly broke through a door hanging off of its hinge out into the night. A woman crying in desperation found her empty arms filled with the body of her sleeping child. The streaks of blue were there briefly and disappeared as quickly as they came.

The undercover hero was heading home. She still had a blanket to finish knitting for her best friend’s baby shower and the season finale of Psych to watch. She managed to sneak back into her apartment without being seen in her pink and green get-up she had just designed. No matter how fast she was able to run, the problem of her identity being discovered was still a very present problem that could endanger her children. Not HER children biologically but the ones she watched over at her day job. The last thing she wanted was for people that wanted her dead to take it out on her children.

She ended the evening holding onto a finished baby blanket for support as she bawled her eyes out during the Psych season finale. After blowing her nose and changing into her PJs she made a cup of chamomile tea to soothe her throat. Her voice was the most important thing and she took great care of it since she was young. The doctor had said, after the unusual case of throat cancer she contracted as a child, that she would never speak again. Despite this assessment the experimental radiation treatment she was given ended up not only healing her but endowing her with miraculous super human abilities. Even so she still had a certain amount of fear that her voice would be lost again.

The next day started out very average. The traffic made her wish she could use her super human abilities to get to work faster. Sadly, the only time she ever got to use her abilities without having to wear a mask was at naptime. People assumed she just had a “way with children” but it was so much more than that.

When she finally arrived at work she ended up clocking in five minutes late.

“You’re late, Leesie!” Her supervisor Faith teased as she whipped by with two giant thermoses of coffee.

“Five minutes, Faith. Five!” Leesie shot back.

“Being late doesn’t create winners.” She giggled.

It floored Leesie how somebody could be so fun and condescending at the same time. Some days work was the most peaceful place on Earth and other days…

The screaming began promptly as she entered her classroom. The room was full of kids ranging from 2-5 years old and two of them were already fighting over a toy.

“Keegan! Justice!” Leesie clapped her hands to get their attention.

They looked at her but in that brief moment of distraction Keegan pulled at the toy harder and was victorious. He shouted gleefully and ran away. Justice sat down on the floor and started to cry. Leesie sat down next to the heart-broken girl and began to sing softly. The tears slowed and gave way to hiccups. Justice grabbed Leesie’s hand and struggled to keep her eyes open.

“You’re okay, girly.” Leesie stroked the girl’s long blond hair. Grabbing a nearby teddy bear she handed it to the girl and stood up to go take care of Keegan. He didn’t get to enjoy peaceful singing but instead was instructed to give the toy back, apologize, and sit in the corner for 10 minutes. He didn’t like it one bit but did as he was told.

Immediately after this issue was resolved another child began shrieking and the whole cycle began all over again. Leesie could tell it was going to be a long day. She almost wished she was back in that burning building.

When the workday mercifully ended she was out the door as fast as humanly possible. Hand on her car door she heard a shout from behind her. She turned around and saw Thomas practically bouncing down the sidewalk. He was very slim with curly strawberry blond hair and playful blue eyes. He originally was from England but decided to take his college education to the states while working as the maintenance man at the daycare. Leesie had always thought he was a dreamboat but currently she was already seeing someone who had the biggest heart for children next to her own.

Slightly out of breath Tom said, “So, there are some minor repairs needed in your room.”

“I heard.”

“Oh?” Tom cocked his head to the side in adorable confusion.

“Yes, Tom. You already told me.” Leesie laughed.

“I did?” Tom had been a bit scatterbrained ever since she met him so this was quite normal. “And I mentioned you would be in Sally’s room?”

“Yes.”

“Did I also tell you that I want to take you to dinner?”

“Yes, Tom, multiple times. I can’t…Jared and I are…”

“That’s right. Of course. I forgot.” Tom ducked his head sheepishly. “My offer stands in case…”

“Get out of here!” Leesie laughed and shooed him.

“Gotcha! You have jolly fun. Don’t tell me how it goes. My heart will break.” He winked as he backed away. His long gangly legs backed into the fence surrounding the daycare playground and he went toppling into the wood chips. As if nothing had happened he leapt to his feet and continued backing up. “I’m okay. Bye!” He waved.

Leesie rolled her eyes as she climbed into her car. If he been more forward with her months ago she would’ve said yes. As it stood she was going to dinner with Jared and she didn’t want to ruin that.

When she arrived at home she dressed in a nervous rush and was ready to leave an hour early. It was the longest hour of her life as she waited patiently for Jared to pick her up. They were most likely going to a very classy dinner because he had more than enough money to put Oprah to shame. Money wasn’t the selling point for her though. Most women envied her for catching such a wealthy man but for her it was the fact that he cared so much about kids and how he used his money to help the unfortunate. He was known as a philanthropist in town and not only that but he was easy on the eyes.

When he knocked on her door, the hour had not properly prepared her for his appearance. He was extremely tall with shoulder length chocolate brown hair, greenish gray small eyes, and a clean-shaven square jaw line. What completed the picture were his strong hands holding a single white rose attached to a body wearing a tailored silky black suit like a gift wrapped birthday present. Her favorite flowers were really Gerber daisies but it was the thought that counted.

“For you, my lady.” He smiled and like a gunshot to the chest, Leesie’s heart stopped. For the first time in her life the super natural abilities she had over her voice were no more and all she could do was take the rose, mouth slightly open and tears forming in her eyes. “I’d say you like it?”

“Yes!” She managed to finally say.

“Good.” Jared held out his elbow for her to take and said, “Your carriage awaits!”

She tentatively grasped his arm and he led her outside where he had a limo waiting for them.

“Shut up!” She exclaimed.

“I will not.” Jared laughed as he opened the door for her.

The pair loaded up into the limo. As they rode to the restaurant Jared talked a lot to help calm her nerves. He could tell she wasn’t used to this kind of glamour but he had never wanted his wealth to cause discomfort but to be properly enjoyed. She warmed up as time went on and by the time they were at the restaurant she had full control over her voice.

“So, I saw your press conference video.” Leesie started. “You mentioned programs to help under privileged children grow in a healthy environment and have the same opportunities as you had when you were growing up. What was that about? I was interested.”

“Well, we have a lot of kids in this city that come from single parent households or are victims of drug addicted parents. I want those children to have opportunities to still be successful in school and other areas of life that normally are barred from them by their life circumstances.” He smiled, mysteriously. “And that, Leesie, is all I can tell you for now.”

“Okay. Okay.” She said laughingly. “I won’t press you.”

“I bet you understand first-hand why this is such a big thing for me.”

“I do. We have a lot of kids that struggle with issues at home because of the parenting or lack of parenting.” She sighed.

“I’ll change that.”

Leesie couldn’t believe she was on a date with such a motivated and interesting man. She had only met him a few months ago at a benefit for her work and only last week did he ask her out on a date. Part of her wondered, if they made this a “thing”, how she would break the news to him about her moonlighting as a superhero.

The evening ended with the pair of them taking a jaunt in the park to look at the Christmas lights. Even though it was July, this park looked like Christmas year round. Jared boldly grasped her hand as they walked up a slight incline and her heart skipped a beat.

When they were done they walked back to the limo. They arrived at her home and Jared walked her to the door.

“I had a great time.” She said.

“It was great.” Jared agreed. “I forgot to say, you look beautiful today.”

She blushed. “Thanks.”

“Goodnight.”

“Night…”

He leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. With that he was gone, taking the Christmas spirit she had felt along with him.

The next morning she woke up humming. Despite feeling a little sad that Jared hadn’t texted her since last night, she still knew that she was quite the lucky girl. As she sang she started a pot of coffee, pre-heated the oven for muffin making, and turned on the news on TV.

“This is not the first series of disappearances reported.” The news anchor said solemnly. “Children all over the tri-state area are going missing left and right. Currently the police have no leads. May God be with the families of these children.”

Leesie had stopped singing and almost could physically feel her heart breaking. She tried to stay abreast of crimes happening around the city and especially ones involving children but this had happened so suddenly. She was going to have to listen to her police scanner on the way to work. Her brother had bought her one last Christmas but little did he know it was one of the most useful gifts she had ever received.

She quickly discovered as she listened to the scanner that the police were planning a stakeout in the evening at a probable location for the next kidnapping. That probable location was her work. Sadly, the employees on second shift weren’t very motivated and it was a distinct possibility that if a child was going to get kidnapped it would be on that shift. Last time Leesie had worked second shift all the women were texting their boyfriends and watching Netflix while children were trying to drink Windex.

With that in mind she determined that she would have to be around later to be a security blanket if things went badly. It would be another night for The Voice to make an appearance.

“Leesie?” It was Tom. He was peering at her with an odd twisted expression from the top of a ladder. “You know you’re in the other classroom today, right?”

Her thoughts had distracted her so extensively that she had wandered into her usual room forgetting entirely that it would be under construction. Bits of drywall littered the floor and squares of the carpet had been ripped out. There were even a few patches that had nails pointing straight up, ready to accidently step on.

“Yeah, of course. Sorry, Tom.” She said apologetically and smiled up at him. He was such a geek.

“Just making sure you’re safe.” He winked. “How was dinner with the man of the hour?”

“It was nice.” Leesie said.

“Just nice? Did he astound you with a live Russian circus or buy you a pony?”

“Stop it!” She laughed and left the room.

“You know you love me!” He called after her.

“Yeah right!” She retorted just as Faith was walking by. Her eyebrows were raised in mild amusement. “What?” Leesie suddenly took on a defensive position.

“Just looking.” Faith said, judgment in every syllable. “How was your date with…Jared? Or was it with Tom? I can’t tell.”

“Jared.” Leesie replied. “And Tom is just being friendly.”

Faith still remained obstinately skeptical but Leesie tried not to let it distract her.

The rest of the day passed by calmly which left Leesie feeling even more unnerved. Of course a potential kidnapping would happen on a day that the kids were happy. An hour before the end of her shift Tom popped his head into her room. All the kids were asleep and Sally was busy face-timing her boyfriend of two weeks.

“Lady, would you like to see your room?” He asked, grinning from ear to ear.

“Let me make sure Sally is okay for a second.” Leesie glanced at Sally and saw the girl shooing her out. “Should be fine for a minute.” Leesie conceded.

The pair walked down the hallway and into her room. He had switched out the hopelessly stained pieces of carpet for new ones, patched up the drywall and repainted. It made everything look much cleaner but overall the changes weren’t terribly drastic.

Tom was obviously proud of it so she matched his cheeriness and said as sincerely as she knew how, “Woooowww. Great job, Tom.”

“Thank you.”

Suddenly, they heard a shattering sound from the other room. Both smiles evaporated and the two rushed back to Sally’s room. The door was shut and Leesie tried the handle: it was locked.

She rattled the handle again. “Sally!”

“Here, let me.” Tom said, grabbing his huge ring of keys and riffling through them quickly. When he found the correct key he pushed it into the keyhole, turned, and flung open the door.

Sally was bound and gagged in the rocking chair and all the beds were empty. The window to the far right of the room was broken and the curtains blew around mournfully. Leesie made a beeline to the window and looked out into the falling darkness and saw nothing. Tom was untying Sally who was shaking violently. When he removed the gag she was chattering nonsensically.

“I’ll call the police.” Tom said but Leesie was already gone.

It didn’t seem likely that they had gotten very far and with her speed she would be able to catch up anyway. When she saw taillights in the distance of a rather large SUV she went with her gut. As she neared the vehicle she prepped herself to jump. Silently but quickly she leapt up on top of the SUV undetected. She grasped the black rails that were typically used to strap in luggage. The inside of the SUV was oddly quiet. No screaming children and she wondered if her hunch was right. The vehicle drove a normal speed all the way to the docks. She pressed herself down low enough where she wasn’t immediately noticeable in the dark.

The driver put the vehicle in park and turned off the engine. The door cracked open and out stepped a familiar tall man with long hair.

“Jared…” Leesie gasped.

The passenger door opened and Faith stepped out making Leesie’s head spin with fury and amazement. The pair opened the back set of doors and out stepped her children. They all weren’t speaking but weren’t bound and gagged as she expected. The children were being led to a small little boat tied to the dock. With their backs to her she slipped to the ground and started singing quietly. As she walked she allowed her voice to swell until it echoed around the docks in an ethereal way. Her voice filled the air like sweet perfume and dripped into the ears of all that heard her. Faith’s knees buckled and she dropped into the dirt.

Jared whipped around and his eyes locked with Leesie. His face shifted from surprise to anger to caring. The last expression seemed as fake as the gold buttons on his suit jacket.

“You sing beautifully.” He said simply. The children continued to walk to the boat as he spoke. “So, you’re her.”

She stopped singing and said, “You’re him.”

“What do you mean?”

“Is kidnapping part of your plan to improve children’s lives?” Her voice cracked.

“It isn’t kidnapping. I’m taking them to a better place.”

Leesie glanced at the kids now dutifully sitting in the boat waiting for their captain.

“I liked you.”

“You don’t have to stop. You can be a part of this if you like. I know you want to help these kids too.”

“I don’t agree with taking them away from their families! That’s not right.” Leesie’s hands balled into fists and her arms shook with anger.

“Their parents aren’t fit to take care of them.”

“You aren’t a replacement for their real family. You aren’t god! I work at a daycare not only because I love children but I know that for a few hours a day I can make a difference in the lives of those children but I will never be a replacement for their real family.” Her eyes flashed and she stood her ground.

“Well, I suppose a second date won’t be happening then.” With a flourish Jared placed his middle finger on his temple and energy resonated out from his body and into the air. It threw her backwards and her skull cracked against the front bumper of the SUV.

She was seeing stars but pulled herself to a standing position. She rushed forward and drove her fist into his stomach. He fell back but immediately proceeded to use his mind to lift her into the air. She shrieked and fell onto the ground. Singing shrilly kept her grounded and Jared held his head as pain coursed through his entire body from the top of his head down his spine.

He roared and grasped his hands around her neck. The sound caught in her throat and she gasped for air. Reaching in her back pocket she grabbed at her key ring where she kept her pepper spray and pocket knife. In one quick movement she sprayed his eyes and stabbed his side with the knife. He cried out in pain and collapsed to the ground. She scanned the dirt frantically for a rock or another heavy object. An unusually large bottle lay nearby. She grabbed it by the neck and slammed it down over Jared’s head. It shattered as he fell unconscious to the dirt.

Suddenly, two police cars came screeching around the corner and pulled up next to the SUV. Four cops leapt out and surrounded the scene. Out from the back of one of the cars Tom popped his head out and smiled.

***

            It had been a week since the kidnapping and things had eased into a normal routine again. However, today it was different. Leesie walked into work with a smile on her face and took her place as the new supervisor of the daycare. Faith was now serving time in prison and Jared had been exiled to a place that was the only location reinforced enough to contain him. All the children were back and happily playing.

As for Tom…“Leesie…” He sang as he popped his head out from her old room. “You excited?”

“A little, yeah.” She said sheepishly.

“I got great plans for us tonight.” He said. “But first…” He revealed from behind his back a bouquet of handpicked Gerber daisies. Her heart did summersaults as she took her favorite flowers and held them up to her nose, delight lighting up her face. “They aren’t as beautiful as you.” He said, his eyes dancing.

Things were beautiful and she couldn’t be happier.

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