Previous parts are here: Part One Lori Connolly, Part Two Elsa Winckler, Part Three Aileen Harkwood, Part Four Elise Forier Edie, Part Five Patricia Sands, and on 16th December you’ll find Part Seven here: Bella Osborne
"I Looked Away" Part 6
Pen scratched hesitantly over notepaper and Madeline hovered between willing the teenager to take her time getting details right, and needing her to hurry, hurry, hurry.
Garrett’s radio suddenly crackled with life, snapping at Madeline’s focus so that she shifted her gaze to the ranger who had held her in his arms when she’d sobbed and who had half-carried her in here when she’d been close to collapse under the dead weight of dread in her chest.
His steely gray gaze whipped over her as he rose to exit the tent, his expression deliberately absent of false promise and in that fleeting moment before all she could think about again was her daughter, Madeline silently thanked him for his honesty because it helped her make a decision. She would use Garrett’s strength to help her hold it together until she was holding Megan in her arms again.
And she would hold her in her arms again.
She had to.
Life would hold no meaning if she didn’t get to do that ever again.
So when Garrett stepped quietly outside, Madeline gathered what resolve she had and rose on shaky legs to follow.
“Copy that,” he was saying into the radio. “I’ll forward the image as soon as I have it in my hands. Out.”
Madeline willed hope to flutter its wings in her soul. “Is there news?”
Garrett turned to face her. “State troopers report stopping and searching the pink Buick. No sign of Megan.”
One car left to find but…“So she could still be in the park?” Madeline stated, bringing her arms up around her as she tried to let the thought bring comfort—tried to imagine the army of volunteers doubling, tripling, quadrupling, as they spread out in lines to fill up every inch of space so that the vastness of land would be reduced to no-place-left-to-hide with her daughter.
“As soon as Miss Simpson finishes sketching,” Garrett informed her, “I’ll photograph the image with my phone and circulate it.”
Madeline nodded stiltedly, her gaze skating over to the line of trees where the man had been seen running with her daughter. Under the tree canopy the ground was drier. She wondered if the man would have set her daughter back on her feet there as she got heavy. Maybe there would be a trail. Maybe dogs could pick up her scent. There should be trackers shouldn’t there? Had Garrett arranged that and she hadn’t remembered? Was there more they should be doing? Something she should be doing? The need to run into the forest screaming for the entire world to stop until Megan was found was overwhelming.
“Don’t,” Garrett instructed as if he could tell her thoughts were threatening to spiral again. “I appreciate the waiting feels unbearable, but you can’t let yourself go under. Your daughter needs you.”
Madeline knew he was right and hadn’t she come outside to get this from him—medicine to help her cope with her worst nightmare. Staring up at him she searched the shadows in his eyes and saw wisps of what he strove so professionally and gallantly to hide from her. Between blinks she witnessed the pain and grief he had found at the end of the search for the last missing child on his watch.
Dragging in breath she stumbled forward to grip his forearm. “I need to believe this isn’t like before. I can’t—won’t accept that inevitability. We’re going to find my daughter.” Her Megan wasn’t going to end up like the little boy Garrett had found.
A large hand covered hers and squeezed. “You should wait back inside the tent. Try and keep dry. Try and keep warm.”
She was too numb now to feel the cold and what did getting more wet matter. “I can’t be in there. It’s too-,” she broke off, drawing in some of the oxygen that felt lacking inside the tent.
Where are you, baby? Who has you? Tell Mommy and I’ll be right there, I promise…
In her head she put the words out there but nothing came back.
The hand squeezed again. “Have you camped here before? Would Megan know the area? You’d be surprised what kids remember.”
Madeline shook her head. “We live fifteen miles away. A friend at work suggested coming here. He has his kids every weekend and brings them up here to camp regularly. I thought it sounded great because I didn’t want to spend too much time driving and have Megan get bored.” Madeline felt tears pool and overflow to merge silently with raindrops. “She was so patient helping me put up the tent and was so excited to see the ducks. God, Garrett. Why didn’t I just pick her up and let her cry while I came back for our jackets? We would have been at the lake in minutes and watching the ducks. Together.”
“Torturing yourself is wasting energy. You’re a good mother, Madeline. I shouldn’t have implied otherwise.”
“Sir?” The teenager in the gray hoodie emerged from the tent. “Kim’s finished her drawing.”
With a quick glance at Madeline, Garrett strode straight back inside. “You’re sure this is a good likeness of the man you saw?”
Kim nodded. “I’m certain.”
Madeline reached out to see the face of the man who had her daughter but Garrett immediately stopped her. “You’re hands are wet. Let me send the image through first.”
Madeline felt her smile wobble as one of the teenagers handed her a towel to dry hands that were now shaking badly and then suddenly Garrett was pressing his phone into her hands for her to see.
Madeline didn’t know what she had expected. But as her gaze dropped to the image her breath hissed out of her.
“I don’t understand,” she shook her head and frowned and as recognition hit she launched herself at Kim Simpson. “Is this a trick? Some sort of joke?”
Kim stared at her aghast, shouting that she had drawn the man she had seen. There was no joke. No trick.
Madeline sank to her knees trying to get breath. Was she simply projecting something she wanted to see onto the drawing? Was she having a breakdown? Quickly she snatched the paper from Garrett to compare it with the image he’d taken with his phone. She stared hard, relief flooding through her. There was no way the man who had Megan would hurt her.
Garrett bent towards her. “Damn it, don’t go into shock on me now,” she heard him mutter as he shook her.
With a strength she didn’t know she possessed she pushed clear and holding the phone and the notepaper up to him, whispered, “I know this man. I know this man…”