Where was Brenna?
That terrible morning, I stayed out of the way after my mom asked me if I’d seen Brenna. I moved upstairs to my room which overlooked the driveway and slid into the seat at my desk. Despite our age difference we had some of the same Facebook friends. I searched through her friends and messaged them. Had anyone seen Brenna?
No one seemed to have seen her.
A little after ten-thirty, three cars pulled up to the house. Two were Fairfax County police cruisers. The third also looked like a police car but was unmarked, a gray four-door sedan.
My stomach twisted at the sight.
The doorbell rang. I stayed in my seat, no longer paying attention to the computer. Instead I was listening. Footsteps, as my mom walked across the hardwood floor to the front door. Muffled voices. Mom and dad’s voices were recognizable but I couldn’t tell what they were saying. A third voice, low pitched and gravelly.
I slipped out of my seat and tiptoed to my bedroom door and opened it. From there I could hear better.
My mother was speaking. “… not since last night. We went to bed around ten. She was watching TV in her room.”
The deep voice again. A detective? “When did you realize she wasn’t home?”
A slight pause. My mom’s voice, a little muffled. I had trouble understanding the first few words. “… to get ready for church. Her bed was made, and she wasn’t in her room. That’s when I checked and saw that her car was gone.”
More muffled voices. This was frustrating. Screw it… Brenna was my sister. I had a right to be part of this. I intended to sneak close to the dining room where the voices were coming from, but as soon as I got downstairs one of the uniformed officers saw me. No sneaking around then. I walked into the dining room.
Mom and Dad were sitting at the dining table next to each other. Lately they didn’t get near each other, but right now their hands were clasped.
The dining room was usually unoccupied unless Mom and Dad were hosting dinner with guests. In the center of the room stood a polished near-black table that seated twelve. An ugly oil painting covered half the wall, depicting a bare breasted woman crawling across a wheat field. Brenna called the painting Christina’s Boob, because it looked like a bad copy of another painting, Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth. I always thought the painting was terrible, but I’m no painter, so who was I to judge?
Two chandeliers could light the room up like a stage, but not that day. Dim recessed lights highlighted the painting and gave the whole room a creepy feel.
Across from Mom and Dad was a bulky African-American man in a dark gray suit. In his right hand he held a small notebook, in his left a pen. He looked directly at me when I walked in the room. “Hello. I’m Detective Hunt. You must be Sam.”
I nodded and sat down at the table without asking permission.
Dad spoke immediately. “Sam, I think you should wait upstairs—”
Detective Hunt interrupted. “Actually I’d like to ask Sam some questions if that’s all right Mr. Roberts.”
Dad nodded. “Of course.”
Hunt turned his attention to me. He was in his forties, with close cropped hair that showed signs of gray. His skin was dark brown, his eyebrows fierce and unkempt. “Sam… can you tell me when you last saw Brenna?”
I thought for a second. I could see her laying on her stomach on the bed, fingers tapping away on the keyboard of her computer. “About eleven o’clock last night. She was lying on her bed with the door open, typing on her laptop.”
His eyebrows raised. “She has her own laptop? In her room?”
“Did she say anything to you when you saw her?”
“No. Wait… yes. She said goodnight.”
“Does she normally say that?”
I nodded. “Yeah. Almost always.”
He wrote in his notebook. How could that be relevant? Why was he sitting here? Instead of looking for her? After he finished writing, he looked up from his notebook and looked right through me. I felt guilty, and I had no reason to feel that way. “Are you and Brenna close?”
Mom leaned forward and spoke. “They’re very close.”
Hunt’s eyes darted to her, then back to me. “Yes?” he prompted.
“Yes,” I said. “She’s my big sister. Of course we’re close.”
“Okay. You know her boyfriend?” He consulted his notebook before speaking again. “Chase Morton. You know him?”
My eyebrows pulled together. I was sure he knew Chase’s name without having to look it up in his notes. Checking the notebook was for show. “Yes, I’ve met him.”
Dad frowned. “Are you going to arrest Chase or not?”
Hunt said, “It’s a little early to be arresting anyone. We don’t even know if she’s actually missing yet. Is it possible she stayed at a friend’s and overslept?”
Mom shook her head. “She always asked if she was going somewhere.”
“Always except this time,” Hunt replied.
Mom and Dad met each other’s eyes. I couldn’t tell what they were communicating with each other.
“She’s not an idiot,” I said.
“Look, we want to find her just as badly as you do. But I need everything I can that might lead to her, all right? Is this Chase guy on the up and up?”
Mom shook her head. “I don’t know… I thought so. We gave her a lot of rules, because I didn’t like that she’s dating someone older than her.”
“Is it possible she ran away? Has she said anything like that?”
“No, of course not!” Mom said.
“Sam? What about you? Did she say anything to you?” His eyes bored into me.
What are you going to do when I’m gone? Don’t you think it’s time you learned to stand up for yourself a little? I could still hear the words from her mouth. “I… she did say…” I trailed off. She couldn’t have run away. Could she?
Mom sat forward, suddenly fierce. “Did she say something to you, Sam? This is serious! What was it?”
I stammered the next few words. “I… she… she said… she asked me what I would do when she was gone. Jake had jumped me again at school, and she stopped him. She asked when I was going to start taking care of myself!”
Hunt looked up at one of the other officers. Then back to me. “Sam, it’s important you tell me the exact words she used. What did she say?”
I looked down at the table. Then I said the words in a near whisper. “She said, What are you going to do when I’m gone?”
Hunt’s response was quiet. “Okay. Thank you, Sam.” He sighed. “For the time being, we’re going to treat this as a runaway situation.”
“WHAT?” Mom screeched. “What does that mean? You’re not going to take it seriously?”
“Mrs. Roberts, we take runaway girls seriously. It’s a dangerous world out there. Our procedures are a little different, but that doesn’t mean we won’t do our best. Do you have a current picture of her?”
Mom turned to Dad and collapsed against him. “We have her school picture,” he said.
“That doesn’t look anything like her,” I said. “Use her Facebook picture. She just took that a couple days ago.”
Hunt gave me an appreciative look. “Good thinking, Sam. Speaking of Facebook… we need to examine her computer. Do you have her passwords?”
Mom stood, and the rest of us followed suit. “It’s in her room.”
Note: This is an unedited preview of my upcoming novel Winter Flower, releasing June 22, 2019. Pre-orders are available at all major retailers.