The lime green of the sign across the way brings everything back like it was yesterday. I had been sitting on the front porch with a lime popsicle. My tongue reached for the sweet coolness, my feet tapping to the little tune I hummed.
I can still hear the phone ring, the murmur of my mother’s voice answering. The footsteps as she walked toward me are so clear that even now I almost turn to look behind me. They are the sound of coming uncertainty, of pain so deep it still twinges.
Mom sat beside me on the wooden steps. Her face was grey, twisting in a way I’d never seen. Silence stretched out until it touched the edge of infinity.
The words that finally came out of her mouth shattered my childhood. “Mark,” she’d whispered, “your brother’s been…taken.”
For a time I couldn’t breath. I asked no questions. Perhaps I needed no answers. Facts wouldn’t change the truth. The remains of my popsicle puddled at my feet, pale green against the dark concrete.
The clarity of my memory ends there. The next days, years even, were filled with police questions. Searches for the red pickup that had driven away with my brother. Drawings of the man we didn’t know. Minds wracked, trying to remember something, anything that might help.
And always dead ends. Hopes that were dashed to the ground, so often that hope nearly died, laying stagnant at the bottom of our souls.
Yet there was a different kind of hope. It was what kept us alive, helped us out of bed each morning. That hope was our faith. It was the knowledge that wherever Tommy was, wherever Tommy wasn’t, God was too.
I spent much of those first few years away in my mind, filled with memories and fantasies about me and Tommy. Tommy and I. Always they were set in the castle we’d created.
That castle had dominated all the real life play we’d had. By the time of Tommy’s kidnapping, it had become something even more solid than that, for it had become a part of heaven, a part of our relationship with God. We’d spent hours talking about the castle we’d have in heaven, and how we’d walk the halls in the very presence of God. Perhaps Jesus would even teach us to ride horses.
Somehow as I look back, it’s as though I see the castle through lime green glasses. The most prominent of the tapestry patterns are always green, and even the stone walls themselves have a lime hue. I know my mental distance caused my parents even more worry, but it was the way I coped.
At some point during those later years, I overheard something that changed all of us. “Sometimes I pray he’s not still alive.” Mom’s voice had been apologetic, tears straining just below the surface. “I feel guilty feeling that. But John,” I could picture her leaning closer against Dad’s chest, “to think of him in heaven is so much easier than to wonder of the horrors he’s gone through.”
After a silence her voice had continued, so faint I could hardly hear it.
“They keep telling us to go on with our lives, but when I go on I forget to pray. And if he’s still alive he needs us to pray every second.” Sobs had come then.
Dad’s words were full of pain, but something stronger, too. “Ellen, God is there just as much wherever Tommy is. It’s time to let go. It’s time to give him completely over to God.”
From then on, I spent less time in the castle. My grades came back up, and I graduated high school with honors.
Now the three of us sit once again in the police station. Across the street the green sign turns in a lopsided circle, advertising The Dragonfly Café. A man arrested for another crime confessed to several murders, the police told us. Tommy was one of them. After so long of uncertainty, I don’t know what to do with this knowledge.
The policeman comes out now, holding a plastic bag. “The dental records agree,” he tells us. “These are the things they found with him.” He sets the bag on the table gently.
Then I see it. It’s a plastic candy wrapper, filled with scribbles. I can just make out the words.
“I’ll be in the castle’s north court, riding horses with Jesus. See you there.”
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