Winter Flower, Chapter 5-4. Erin.

It was late Tuesday afternoon when Lori called me to the phone. I’d slept briefly and fitfully the night before, and by this time I was running on empty. Cole was asleep, sprawled on the couch, exhaustion on his face.
“Erin? It’s Agent Wilcox.”
I flew to the phone, panic rising to my throat.. “Agent Wilcox? Did you hear something?”
He sighed. “No, ma’am. Nothing yet. I was actually calling because you’ll certainly hear on the news soon, Chase was released by the Fairfax County Police.”
“What?” I cried. “Why?”…

Winter Flower, Chapter 5-3. Sam.

I thought of Brenna, somewhere out there possibly in danger. If it could help her, I would tell him anything he needed to know. I took a deep breath, then said, “It’s not just lately, it’s the past couple of years. They’ve never told us what it was about, but there was a lot of fighting and screaming.”

I felt a twist in my stomach. I wasn’t going to say it. But then I thought—what if there was something important? What if there was something that I didn’t know, some tiny detail they needed to find my sister and bring her back to me. I took a deep breath. “I’m pretty sure Dad had an affair.”

Winter Flower, Chapter 5-2. Erin.

Cole ran his hand through his hair, frustration showing on his face. “What about Chase? Is he talking yet?”
Wilcox shook his head. “At this point were questioning him… he’s a person of interest. But we don’t have any reason yet to believe that he’s involved with her disappearance.”
“Bullshit!” Cole’s face was red as he blurted out the word. “Who else is there? Of all the fucking incompetent—“
“Cole…” I interrupted. “That’s not helping.”

Winter Flower, Chapter 5-1. Cole.

“Mr. and Mrs. Roberts,” he said. “Do you recognize this?”
It was as if he’d designed the moment to be as traumatic as possible. He held up Brenna’s phone—it had to be Brenna’s, I gave her the Black Flag phone case. The screen was covered with spiderweb cracks.
Erin staggered back, a gasp turning into a wail. I grabbed her before she fell down. Hunt came in the room with another man we hadn’t met.
“Mr and Mrs Roberts—my name’s Stan Wilcox. I’m with the FBI’s Child Abduction Response Deployment program.”
At those words, my chest seized in some kind of a painful spasm. I winced, and I watched as Erin raised her fist to her mouth and bit, hard.
Wilcox continued. “About an hour ago, local police in Winchester discovered a VW Beetle parked behind a pawn shop. It’s your daughter’s car—the phone was on the ground beside it.”

Winter Flower, Chapter 4-2. Erin.

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.”…

Winter Flower, Chapter 4-1. Dreams.

Crazy, right? That my closest friends in the world didn’t even exist? Or they did, but I didn’t know their names, or where most of them lived, or anything at all except what went on in our world here.

I didn’t care. In real life I was Sam: depressed, outcast, freak. But in this world I was a leader. I had friends and people I cared about. Sure it was a game. Sure it wasn’t real. But maybe that didn’t matter. Maybe it was more real than stupid Ashley and her asshole boyfriend Cody. More fun than my high school and my parents. More accepting than my slightly racist and semi-homophobic grandparents.

Winter Flower, Chapter 3-3. Cole.

As soon as they got out the door, Erin turned on Sam. “Sam! Why didn’t you tell me Brenna said that about going away? Are you keeping her secrets? Why didn’t you tell me?” Her voice sounded strained, high-pitched like wind blowing through reeds.

Sam recoiled. Shock spread across his still-childlike features. “I didn’t know… I didn’t…” With that, he sobbed and buried his face in his hands.

“Erin,” I said. “It’s not Sam’s fault.”

Erin turned on me. “No, damn it! It’s your fault. She wasn’t running around with twenty-year-olds before you screwed our family up. She wasn’t getting in trouble in school before then. She wasn’t—”

“Stop!” Sam cried out, tears running down his cheeks. “Why do you think she always wanted to be out of the house? Because you two never stop fighting!”…

Winter Flower Chapter 3-2. Sam.

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?”…

Winter Flower Chapter 3-1: Vanished

Chase’s voice was high-pitched. Panicky. Was he afraid we would find out something? Had he done something to her? “Mrs. Roberts, I don’t know where she is! If she didn’t come home, you need to call the police right now!”

For a second or five or a hundred I stood there, with my heartbeat whooshing in my ears. But then it hit me. He’d said they’d had a fight and that she’d left at midnight. Either he was lying, and he done something to her… or he wasn’t lying… and something had happened to her. My daughter.

Cole’s name came out in a shriek.