When Sam said the words, “you motherfucker,” I almost got up. He was locked in his room, of course, and it was late, and that meant instead of sleeping, he was playing on his computer. Again.
It was almost midnight, and I couldn’t imagine what could have caused that outburst. But I knew that he wouldn’t welcome my intrusion. What was the right thing to do? Lori and I had talked about it a lot, at least once we started talking again. How much freedom did you allow them? Obviously we allowed Brenna too much freedom. She’d not been like Sam though. Brenna had had a very active social life, and had always been always out with friends.
Except for whoever he played that game with, it seemed like Sam had no friends at all. When he told us at dinner that he had made friends with a girl named Hayley, I almost didn’t believe him. I still wasn’t sure I believed him.
My head was muddled, and I was too tired to get up from the couch and go back to the bedroom. Too tired… bullshit. I just didn’t want to sleep next to Cole anymore. And so I drifted off to sleep on the couch, the shifting images on the television illuminating the ceiling in shifting patterns of blue and black.
My transition to dream was smooth and unnoticeable. Almost without warning, I was standing in our old living room when the knock came on the door. It was almost sunset when we opened the door and found Detective Hunt standing there with another man, Stan Wilcox. I didn’t know his name then, but in the dream I did for some reason.
In the dream Hunt always says, “Mrs. Roberts, do you recognize this?”
A thousand times he’s held up the plastic bag to show me the iPhone, with its case with the custom Black Flag logo. Who listened to Black Flag anymore? Cole and Brenna did. He had the case made for her for her fifteenth birthday. The phone was cracked, the screen crushed. I staggered when he showed it to me. Cole caught me from behind.
The men came in. In the dream they always shouted. “Why did you let her go?” “Why did you give her a car?” “It’s your fault!” Stan Wilcox, the FBI agent, and Hunt, they circled around me.
Hunt sweating, contempt in his voice. “Your daughter wouldn’t have run away if you had been a better mother.”
Somehow Angela was beside me. “I tried to warn you. Of course she was hanging out with older guys… her father betrayed his family. You should have left Cole when he cheated.”
Stan Wilcox said, “Almost three hundred thousand children in the United States are at risk of being trafficked.”
Hunt replied, “Because their parents let them go without supervision.”
Wilcox said, “You’re saying they need better mothers.”
Cole’s mother Virginia appeared. A crooked line appearing between her brows, she stuck her finger in my face. “If you’d listened to me, this would never have happened.”
Hunt said, “It’s her fault. Look at her.” The disgust in his tone made my stomach cramp.
The phone! The phone! They found it at four in the afternoon, after they’d refused to consider it an abduction all day. They found her car abandoned in a parking lot in Winchester, her phone crushed on the ground next to the car.
Where is my daughter? I screamed it at the two men.
Cole sat there on the other side of the room, inert, stunned. Guilty. Ineffectual. Impotent.
Where is she? I cried.
Hunt shrugged. “It doesn’t look good.”
Wilcox said, “We’ll find her, Mrs. Roberts. But she won’t be your child anymore.”
Stop, I cried weakly. We drove. Cole wasn’t with us. I sat in the front with Wilcox and we drove up and down the highway, looking at the young girls prostituting themselves on the internet. Here, a fifteen year old. The caption under her name read, I’m your fantasy. $300 / hr. There, a twelve year old, with a bruise on her cheek. Across the street, a girl that looked like Brenna but wasn’t Brenna. A thousand girls up and down each side of the street, each dressed more provocatively like the last.
One of the girls cried out, “Mamma!”
Virginia muttered, “Whores.”
I couldn’t make Brenna out in the crowd. And Stan kept driving.
“Stop,” I said. “I need to get out and look for her.
“We’ll find her,” he said. “But you have to understand, I’m working all of these cases.”
“All of them? All of these girls?” I waved my hand out the window. The faces had become a blur, because he was speeding now.
The words came out in a whimper. But it wasn’t one of the girls.
It was me.
Note: This is an unedited preview of my upcoming novel Winter Flower, releasing June 22, 2019. Pre-orders are available at all major retailers.