As far as new stuff, I promised and I am delivering! Here is the very rough draft of the prologue of my new novel (and please note that I wasn't able to properly paragraph format this, so don't yell about that), working title SSIBWO.
Yeah, it's a crappy working title (and for the love of all that is good, don't ask what it stands for), but when I named it, I really didn't think it was going to go anywhere. Well, 3,800 words later...
Without further ado, THE PROLOGUE!!! (Comment, share, do whatever it is you do to get the word out and keep me WRITING!)
What I remember most about those days was riding around the lake with Grandad in his old truck.
That was mostly every summer: the lake, the hot sun, the bumpy rides.
Every winter there was only snow, wind, and Mamma heating water for Hot Toddys. Brandy in her's and Dad's, only lemon and honey in mine. Those Toddys were all that would make winter bearable.
But in the summer, the sun would turn my arms brown and my hair blonde, and Grandad and I would take our long drives around the lake, talking like we were two old friends.
He would tell me stories about the war, at least the parts a ten year old could handle. I knew all the names of his long-ago pals: Briggs, Scott, and my favorite, One-Eyed Sal, who had two perfectly good eyes.
Grandad would tell me about how he met Grandma, who died before I was born. It was the same story a lot of American G.I.s shared: he a sailor, she a nurse. But I never tired of hearing about Grandma's simple blue dresses at the Navy dances and how Grandad would announce, “Boys, Annette's dance card is full!” before engaging her for the rest of the night.
On our last night of looping around the lake, before things got dark and strange, Grandad said to me, “She died too soon, Bell. You would have been the apple of her eye, just like your mother had been.” He turned his own eyes back to the road. “Let's get you home. If we miss dinner again, we'll never hear the end of it.”
When we pulled in to the driveway, I could see Mamma and Dad framed in the kitchen window. Mamma was drying her hands on a towel and Dad was sneaking up behind to steal a kiss. Smiling, I opened my door and got out of Grandad's truck.
We were greeted by the aroma of a berry cobbler cooling on the stove, Dad and Mamma smiling at us, and a table set full of summer delights.
“You two were almost late again,” Mamma said as she pulled out two chairs.
“Oh, Sandy. You know your daughter: quite the talker!” Grandad gave me a wink.
I shook my head with a giggle and sat down. I was almost sure Mamma and Dad knew what Grandad and I talked about on our drives, but I also knew that Grandad and I had our secrets.
The four of us settled in to a content dinner. It was a perfect summer night.
But things can change, suddenly and without a hint of warning.
When I woke up the next morning Dad was sitting alone at the kitchen table, his head in his hands. He looked up, and my father's usually smiling face was fallen and streaked with tears.
“Daddy, what's wrong?”
“Sit, Annabel. Sit down.” I did as I was told and he clasp both of his hands around mine. “It's your mommy, baby girl. We can't find her.”
I didn't understand. Mothers don't just go missing. I knew that sometimes they left, ran off with other men to start new lives, but not my mother. She loved her family, her life.
“Last night, after you went to sleep, she got a call from the hospital. Mrs. Jenkins's baby decided to come early and Dr. Cliff is in Casper for his daughter's wedding.” Dad glanced at the phone, though it sat silently in its cradle. “Mamma called at about eleven last night, said the baby was fine, said Mrs. Jenkins was fine, and said she's be home as soon as she got cleaned up and made the drive.”
The hospital was in the next town, only a thirty minute drive. I had gone to work with Mamma a few times. When I was there, it was a lucky day for me when someone from our town had a baby. I would usually get to hold it.
My father squeezed my hands tighter. “Your mom didn't make it home last night. I waited until one before I called the hospital, and they said she had left twenty minutes after I had talked to her.”
A quick glance at the clock told me it was well after nine. “Well, where has she been all night then, Daddy?”
His eyes pinched tightly shut. “I don't know, Annabel. That's why I said she is missing.”
His tone made me feel younger than I was. I pried my hands from his and folded them around myself. “Sorry, Dad. I just don't understand.”
My father's eyes met mine, staring intently. “I don't either, Anna. I didn't mean to snap. It's just that... that...”
Before my father could stammer out his words, the front door slammed and Grandad flew in to the kitchen. He threw his arms around me. “Oh, my baby. My poor baby,” he softly murmured in to my shoulder. I wasn't sure if he was referring to me or my recently missing mother.
Eventually Grandad straightened up, smoothed out his hair and sat down in the chair between my father and I. For the first time in my life, the two strongest men I knew looked like the lost ones. They were crumpled, beaten, and older looking than either of them had seemed the night before.
“You called the hospital again?”
“At least every ten minutes for the last seven hours. No word. Stacy promised she'd call if she heard anything. Did you go to the police?”
“Of course I did, Jim, but they said I couldn't do anything. You need to go down there yourself.”
Dad got up from his chair. “Well, now that you're here to watch Anna, I'll go.” He turned towards me. “Anna, stay here with Grandad and make a list of-”
“Oh no you don't!” I stood up so quickly that the chair fell over behind me. “I'm going with you, Dad. If Mamma's missing I want to do everything I can!”
He put his hand on my shoulder. “Baby, the best that you can do is stay here right now and wait for news. Let me handle the police.”
I looked from Dad to Grandad and back again, silently pleading with each of them to let me go to the police station.
“Take her along, Jim. I'll wait here for any calls. She's old enough to be a part of this.”
I didn't wait for a confirmation from my dad. I ran to my room, pulled on a pair of jeans under my nightgown, and slammed my sockless feet in to the first shoes I could find. I was back in the kitchen and grabbing for my father's left hand before his right had even neared the keys.
“Be a big girl, Bell. We'll find your mamma,” Grandad said as the door closed.
On the ride to the station, the silence was broken only by the occasional smack my father would give the steering wheel. I had sunk down as far as I could in the bench seat, trying not to make my presence regrettable.
Dad slammed the truck in to park so fast, it rocked. He jumped out without closing his door and ran around to my side to let me out. “Annabel, Grandad is right: you are old enough to be here.” He helped me jump down from the tall cab. “You're a good girl, but while we're here, I need you to listen and not talk. Understand?” I nodded as he grabbed my hand and started towards the station doors.
Miss Kathy, the receptionist, met us inside. “Oh, Jim, I'm so sorry. Kent is waiting for you in Conference Three.” Dad patted her on the shoulder, never stopping his forward advance. “There's a man up from the Cheyenne DCI office, too.”
I knew I had heard DCI before, but the letters just bounced around in my mind, not finding their meaning. Dad's hand clench and his feet speed up a step. I struggled to keep his pace, my short legs at a full gait.
“Why in the hell is DCI here, Kent?” Dad barked as the conference room doors flung open.
The two men already inside the room got up from their chairs. “Now hold on, Jim,” said the man I assumed was Kent. “I called them. Just in case we needed them.”
“Why in the fuck would we need them? This isn't a fucking murder case.”
“Mr. Pierce, I see we have a little lady in the room.” The second man approached, his red face smiling down at me. “And what's your name, pretty girl?”
“Annabel,” I said as I turned away from the man and towards my father. The man frightened me, but I knew it was rude not to answer an adult.
“Well, pretty Annabel, why don't you have a seat right here while us grown-ups have a discussion, okay?”
I looked up at Dad. He released my hand and motioned for me to sit down. “Go on, Anna. Sorry about the language.” I gave him a meek smile and folded my hands in my lap. Adults swearing was nothing new and it didn't bother me. What did bother me was the word “murder”.
The red-faced man extended his hand to my father, who brusquely shook it. “I'm Ted Bowler and, yes, I'm from criminal investigations. But I'm only here to assist, depending on the, uh, nature of this case.” He shot me another smile and a shiver ran through me. “Now, Mr. Pierce, how likely is it that your wife just decided to get away from it all for awhile?”
My father's eyes grew wide. “Like she ran away? Kent, I am not dealing with this man.” He raised a finger and took a step back. “You've known Sandy since high school. Let's just get this missing person report filed so we can find her.”
“Mr. Pierce, I am in no way insinuating that your wife would leave you and pretty Annabel here due to some sort of lack of love, but you know these women! They get restless. They want to see the world. Want to see what they might be missing.”
Hot tears began to sting at my eyes. I had to bite my lip to keep from screaming at the man.
“Look, Mr. Bowler. Your office left a bad taste in my mouth after the way you handled the Thompson girl. I don't want Sandy to turn in to a similar headline.”
The tears I was trying to hold back began to silently stream down my face. Pam Thompson was the reason I had heard DCI before. Pam and I had been in the same first grade class. One day she wasn't there, having been replaced by a lot of men in suits, buzzing around town, asking parents questions that made the air feel thick. Weeks went by and the kids, all of us, weren't allowed to go anywhere without a parent. Football games and dances were canceled. Movie theaters let out before the sun went down. They finally found Pam. Her little body, the same size as mine, had been shoved in a cave by the lake, a boulder blocking it from view. That was the first time I had lost a friend and also the first time I had heard the word murder.
Mr. Bowler's smile turned in to a frown. “We handled the case the best we could, Mr. Pierce. This is a big state and we are not a very big agency.”
“Which is why I called them as soon as I talked to Sandy's dad,” Kent said. “I wanted as much support from Cheyenne as I could get up front.”
“Fine,” Dad said. “I guess if we need them it's good to have them here sooner rather than later. Now can we please get this missing person report done and on the wire?”
“What time did you say your wife last called you, Mr. Pierce?”
“At about eleven last night. I was expecting her by midnight, twelve thirty at the latest.”
“And she's a doctor, correct?” Mr. Bowler had begun writing things on a note book on his lap.
“Obstetrician. Out in Torrington.”
“So she got called out in the night to deliver a baby, called when she was done and soon to be on her way home?”
“Yes. Didn't Kent fill you in on this? Don't you already have the report filled out? Let's just sign it and start looking for Sandy.”
“Slow down there a second, friend.” Ted Bowler held up his hand, his pudgy fingers dwarfing the pen they held. “We cannot just yet file this missing person report. There is, after all, a twenty-four hour waiting period for adults not at risk.”
My father was on his feet again, both fists slamming the table. “Fu-” his eyes darting to me, “Forget your waiting period! My wife did not come home last night and I want to know where she is! And I am not your friend!” His whole body was shaking, every last once of patience gone from him. My father was a usually a calm man and I too shook a little, never having heard him yell.
“Mr. Pierce, my hands are tied. We cannot risk wasting valuable time and resources on a woman who might have just gone to her mother's for the day.”
I could keep my silence no longer. “My Grandma is dead! And my Mamma loves me and Dad as much as any woman could. She would never run away from us! Never!”
Father, Mr. Bowler, and Kent all stared at me. I gulped in a breath, startled by my own voice. A little softer, but none the less pointed, I said, “Finding out where my mother is is not a waste of anything.” I pulled my knees to my chest and threw my arms over my head.
The room was still for a moment, then I could fell Dad stroking my hair. “Anna's right, Mr. Bowler. Finding Sandy is not a waste of anything.”
“Jim, Ted, let's all just calm down a bit. Anna? Anna, honey?”
“What?” I didn't uncover my head to look at Kent. I was too upset to care if he thought me ill-mannered.
“Why don't you go outside and talk to Kathy? I think her sister is coming to town next week and she might want to hear some ideas you have on places to take her.”
I knew he was trying to get rid of me. I didn't want to leave, but I also knew that if the adults could speak freely, Mamma might come home sooner. I reluctantly unwrapped my arms.
Dad knelt down beside me. “No one's mad at you, Baby.” He lowered his voice. “Mr. Bowler is, for lack of a better word, an asshole and he's making your daddy very angry. Go talk to Kathy, would ya? Have her take you to Grandad if you want.”
Father knew I would do anything he asked. Of all the men I knew, he and Grandad were the only two that showed kids any respect. For my father, I found my legs and headed towards the lobby.
“Mr. Kent, Mr. Bowling,” I said as I pushed the doors open, sunlight spilling in to the conference room. “I love you, Daddy.”
“Love you too, Baby Girl.”
Before the door latched shut behind me, I heard the final words of Mr. Bowling: “Cute kid you got there. Ever get this angry towards her or your wife, Mr. Pierce?”
Nothing was ever the same as it was the last day I saw Mamma. The days became shorter, and so did the area Dad would let me go alone. Instead of taking drives around the lake with Grandad, I would sit in the living room while he and the other men would drive around the hills searching for my mother or her car.
In the long weeks before school started, Dad wouldn't let me out of his sight, telling me he loved me every time he spoke. The only place I was allowed to go alone was the two blocks to the gas station to get candy or a soda.
It was fun at first, my five minutes of alone time on the walk, but then I began to hear the whispers.
“That's her. That's the girl who's mother disappeared.”
“I heard she ran off with an intern from the hospital.”
“I heard the father had something to do with it.”
“No one could leave such a precious little girl. I bet there was an accident and the father covered it up.”
After a few weeks, I couldn't take it. It was nice when the cashier would slip me an extra piece of candy, or when Grandad's friends would bring me a new toy before they went on their nightly searches. But I didn't want to hear the whispers, see the sad look on adult's faces when they talked to me or about me. I spent the rest of the summer alone, trying to watch the television that someone would inevitably shut off as soon as a news story would come on.
Soon enough, school started again. Dad or Grandad or one of the neighbor ladies would always see me to and from school. When I asked Dad why only I was being walked, not all the kids like when Pam Thompson had gone missing, he said it was because he loved me the most. I didn't understand, but the sadness I could see in him, the sadness that grew deeper everyday Mamma was gone, made me not question him any further.
By winter, things had gone from bad to worse. Dad had gone from keeping a close watch on me to keeping me under lock and key. As soon as the days got shorter, so did my time allowed out of his sight.
I missed the Toddys Mamma would make for us. Dad never made them; I suspect because they made him think of Mamma. I didn't dare make them because Dad didn't allowed me to use the stove.
Grandad was at our house whenever he wasn't out searching. I was glad to have him there, as Dad always seemed distant. But the disappearance of Grandad's only child had aged him. Before, it would only come in flashes, when we talked about Grandma or when someone would call and tell him that one of his war buddies had died. Everyday without Mamma, though, seemed to carve lines deeper in to Grandad's face. The sparkle that had once lit his blue eyes was dimmed.
The days were strange for me, too. I had gone from having a house filled with all the love a child could need, love that was always given freely, to place that was cold. My mother was gone and Dad and Grandad had hearts that were too heavy. The comfort and stability that I had known had been destroyed, replaced with darkness and fear.
I wasn't afraid of going missing too, but I had to live in the shadow of the loss of Mamma. It wasn't that I didn't miss her or love her with every ounce of my being. Quite the contrary: I would have done everything to bring her home, to have normalcy restored in our lives. I missed her just as much as Dad and Grandad, but I never forgot that life was for the living. That was something that Mamma had taught me when I was very young, and I clung to that like I would have her hand. I knew the right thing to do was to grow up to be the person she wanted me to be: a happy, fulfilled woman like her.
Once winter was in full swing, there was very little for anyone to do. Searches had to be called off because of the snow drifts, not that anyone was holding out much hope of finding Mamma anymore anyway. We would make sure the posters we had put up were readable, and Daddy would try and get on the news or radio once a month to keep interest alive. It seemed, though, that everyone else was going back to normal, just like after Pam Thompson. Everyone but us.
Dad asked me one night if there was anything he could get me to keep me entertained during those cold, long nights. I told him all I wanted was a subscription to a magazine. A travel magazine. I had taken to sitting in my room after the sun had gone down, dreaming of far away places that I could be. Places where Mamma might have gone, if I had actually thought for a second that she left us.
Once the first issue arrived, it made me happy to browse the pictures of the sunny beaches, the rustic lodges, the sea breeze-swept verandas that I might one day visit. And I would picture Mamma, her hair pulled back in to a lose bun, laughing as the ocean lapped at her feet.
I knew that Mamma would never leave us, but maybe she had been in an accident and had forgotten who she was, forgotten about Dad and me. Maybe she had woken up in her car and, not knowing who she was, had followed the signs to the airport and had gotten on the first plane to someplace warm, to clear her head, to remember.
If that was true, then there was a chance that I would someday find her on a beach. I would show her pictures of her family and remind her of who she had been. It might make her remember who I was and we could be a whole family again, her, Daddy, Grandad and me.
That winter I knew one thing to be sure: as soon as I could, I was going to leave my small town, the sadness, the whispers. I was going to see the world and experience all it had to offer. Life was for the living and I was determined to stay alive.