Brown oak leaves, dry and brittle like my aching heart, swirl on whirlwinds just outside my bedroom window. My eyes rest on the big, rubber ball. Annabeth's ball. Yellow and red splashes, once bright and cheery, now dulled. The elements and time sapping all beauty and joy. Each passing day erasing a bit more, taking farther and farther from me any reminder of childish laughter, deep dimples and ribboned pigtails.
The first days I counted every minute, every tick of the clock. Detective Chuck Morris made very clear how precious, urgent and critical each passing hour. Seventy-two hours. Recovery. Hope. Then the black abyss of time swallowing hope minute by minute. Agonizing minutes.
Days, weeks, months, one year, two...Calendar pages flip, but I'm stuck in time.
Annabeth is still the bright-eyed, curious and funny six-year-old. Frozen in time. I clutch the soft pink blanket and smell strawberry shampoo. Annabeth's scent.
Somewhere during one of those calendar pages Ronald left me. I don't blame him. There is nothing left of me to give my husband. His stony demeanor repels my numbness. That impenetrable two-layer shell, mine and his. I know he is filled with loneliness, anger and helplessness. I don't care anymore. That, too, was stolen from me.
We prayed, no... we begged God. All we ever would ask of Him for the rest of our lives on this spinning globe where evil lurks and steals a child...return Annabeth. Please, God.
The first day, Detective Morris set the stage for our horror:
We're checking out all the registered sex offenders in the vicinity of your home, interviewing anyone who could have seen her. It's possible you may receive a ransom demand. You must tell us everything if we are to have a chance getting your little girl back.
Ronald never took his eyes off me as he asked him, A sexual child predator? You think some pervert has stolen my daughter right out of her front yard?
Not necessarily. Sometimes, children are taken by strangers who can't have children or recently loss one. They intend to rear the child as their own. It's possible...
I could tell this crime-hardened, seen-everything-in-his-career Detective wanted to spare us the throat-choking truth. He didn't expect to find our Annabeth alive. He feared the worse. Every bit the policeman, he hadn't cleared us from his thoughts and suspicions.
Ronald and I had been at home that Saturday summer morning. We loved Saturdays, back when we still knew how to love and time wasn't our enemy. Sleeping late, family pancake breakfast, working in the yard, Ronald riding his noisy lawn tractor, me cutting flowers for the table vase, Annabeth wheeling her trike up and down the concrete driveway.
Oh, God. I'd give my life to just have one more of those Saturdays. One more of those on calendar pages past, one before time stopped.
No ransom note had come, no telephone call offering us our Annabeth back for money. We weren't rich. The evil one had taken our greatest treasure. She is the treasure hidden in the field, the one we would sell all our worldly goods to purchase.
People speculate. There's no scarcity of theories. I see old friends look at us with questions; I don't blame them. How could I? Close friends speak of closure . When did that word get so popular? As if we're needing to close a door, to open a new one.
I just want my Annabeth back. Where is she? Is she alive? Did some cruel, sick monster hurt my baby in ways unthinkable? Is she with someone who saw my pretty girl and chose to take her for their own? Does she cry and ask for mommy?
I close the bedroom drapes, recessing deep into darkness and nothingness. I see the pills on the nightstand. I need to be with my Annabeth. She needs me.
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