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It was a Wednesday when it happened. I remember it was Wednesday, because there were two episodes of Sesame Street in the morning. The second one had just ended (it was brought to you by the letter J, and the number 6) when I realized that something was wrong.

Momma called for Steve, I guess she wanted him to drive down to the Piggly Wiggly and buy a quart of milk, or something, but she called and called and he didn't say nothin'.

Then she called for Tessa, see if she knew where he went, but she didn't say nuthin' neither.

Momma started gettin' real scared now, started lookin' in closets and all, cryin' and screamin', just sayin' "My babies, my babies," over and over.

We all remembered what had happened last June, of course, but didn't none of us mention it.

I tried to go back to the rumpus room and watch some more Sesame Street, but I forgot that it was over.

'course, after the first few minutes, Momma calmed down a little, and called the cops and all, gave 'em Steve and Tessa's description--she kept saying "She's just a little girl"--and they told her "We'll do the best we can," which always sounds good unless your brother and sister are missing. Then there was nothin' to do, except put up flyers and all, and call the family--she tried to call Poppa, let him know, but he's still in that cult out in California and they don't take too kindly to phone calls, let alone phone calls at 6 o'clock in the morning. After that, we couldn't do nothin' but wait.

They eventually found them. Steve had taken Tessa in her carrier, and hitched on I-26 all the way to Virginia. He'd gone into one of them Internet cafés--and this was always the part where Momma would turn away and close her eyes, like there was some big wind blowin' in her face--and tried to put Tessa up on eBay.

None of us could believe that he'd done it the first time, we assumed that he had been drunk, or angry, or just a little confused. But now that he'd done it again? Didn't nobody know what to think. 'cept for Momma, of course, she always knew what to think. When they let Steve come home, I was in bed upstairs, but the wallops reverberated right through the walls, like it was happenin' right in front of me.

Steve moved out a little while after that. I guess the temptation was too great, or somethin'. We heard that he mighta moved out West and met up with Poppa, but either way we didn't never hear from him again.

A couple weeks after they came back, a man from the government came to our door.

He said he had to take Tessa away.

Apparently, the Feds didn't take too kindly to lettin' Tessa grow up in a house where she was liable to get kidnapped and sold. No matter how much Momma argued and shouted, sayin' that it was all Steve's fault, and he was gone now, that it could never happen again, and, when all that didn't get nowhere, that "But she's my baby!" But the guy in the suit just kinda nodded, real sad, almost, and took her away.

Momma started drinkin' a little more Southern Comfort in the afternoons than she used to, and didn't care how much TV I watched anymore. They wouldn't let us find out where they sent Tessa, or send her a postcard, or anything.

I guess it's just as well. If it were me, I wouldn't want to know.

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