We eventually make our way to the hotel courtyard and take a seat in one of the cabanas. I pull her to me. “You want me to tell you what I remember? Or do you have specific questions?”

“Both,” she says. “But I want to hear your story first.”


I kiss her on the side of the head, then rest my head against hers while we stare out over the courtyard. “You have to understand how surreal this feels for me, Sky. I’ve thought about what happened to you every single day for the past thirteen years. And to think I’ve been living two miles away from you for seven of those years? I’m still having a hard time processing it myself. And now, finally having you here, telling you everything that happened . . .”

I sigh, remembering back to that day. “After the car pulled away, I went into the house and told Les that you left with someone. She kept asking me who, but I didn’t know. My mother was in the kitchen, so I went and told her. She didn’t really pay any attention to me. She was cooking supper and we were just kids. She had learned to tune us out. Besides, I still wasn’t sure anything had happened that wasn’t supposed to happen, so I didn’t sound panicked or anything. She told me to just go outside and play with Les. The way she was so nonchalant about it made me think everything was okay. Being so young, I was positive adults knew everything, so I didn’t say anything else about it. Les and I went outside to play and another couple of hours had passed by when your dad came outside, calling your name. As soon as I heard him call your name, I froze. I stopped in the middle of my yard and watched him standing on his porch, calling for you. It was that moment that I knew he had no idea you had left with someone. I knew I did something wrong.”

“Holder,” she interrupts. “You were just a little boy.”

Yeah. A little boy who was old enough to know the difference between right and wrong. “Your dad walked over to our yard and asked me if I knew where you were.” This is where it gets hard for me. This is the point I realized the awful mistake I had made. “Sky, you have to understand something,” I say to her. “I was scared of your father. I was just a kid and knew I had just done something terribly wrong by leaving you alone. Now your police chief father is standing over me, his gun visible on his uniform. I panicked. I ran back into my house and ran straight to my bedroom and locked the door. He and my mother beat on the door for half an hour, but I was too scared to open it and admit to them that I knew what happened. My reaction worried both of them, so he immediately radioed for backup. When I heard the police cars pull up outside, I thought they were there for me. I still didn’t understand what had happened to you. By the time my mother coaxed me out of the room, three hours had already passed since you left in the car.”

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She can feel how much this hurts me to talk about. She pulls one of her hands out of the sleeve of her shirt and places it in mine.

“I was taken to the station and questioned for hours. They wanted to know if I knew the license plate number, what kind of car took you, what the person looked like, what they said to you. Sky, I didn’t know anything. I couldn’t even remember the color of the car. All I could tell them was exactly what you were wearing, because you were the only thing I could picture in my head. Your dad was furious with me. I could hear him yelling in the hallway of the station that if I had just told someone right when it happened, they would have been able to find you. He blamed me. When a police officer blames you for losing his daughter, you tend to believe he knows what he’s talking about. Les heard him yelling, too, so she thought it was all my fault. For days, she wouldn’t even talk to me. Both of us were trying to understand what had happened. For almost six years we lived in this perfect world where adults are always right and bad things don’t happen to good people. Then, in the span of a minute, you were taken and everything we thought we knew turned out to be this false image of life that our parents had built for us. We realized that day that even adults do horrible things. Children disappear. Best friends get taken from you and you have no idea if they’re even alive anymore.

“We watched the news constantly, waiting for reports. For weeks they would show your picture on TV, asking for leads. The most recent picture they had of you was from right before your mother died, when you were only three. I remember that pissing me off, wondering how almost two years could have gone by without someone having taken a more recent picture. They would show pictures of your house and would sometimes show our house, too. Every now and then, they would mention the boy next door who saw it happen, but couldn’t remember any details. I remember one night . . . the last night my mother allowed us to watch the coverage on TV . . . one of the reporters showed a panned-out image of both our houses. They mentioned the only witness, but referred to me as ‘The boy who lost Hope.’ It infuriated my mother so bad; she ran outside and began screaming at the reporters, yelling at them to leave us alone. To leave me alone. My dad had to drag her back inside the house.

“My parents did their best to try to make our life as normal as possible. After a couple of months, the reporters stopped showing up. The endless trips to the police station for more questioning finally stopped. Things began to slowly return to normal for everyone in the neighborhood. Everyone but Les and me. It was like all of our hope was taken right along with our Hope.”

She sighs when I’ve finished and she’s quiet for a while. “I’ve spent so many years hating my father for giving up on me,” she says. “I can’t believe she just took me from him. How could she do that? How could anyone do that?”

“I don’t know, babe.”

She sits up in the chair and looks me in the eyes. “I need to see the house,” she says. “I want more memories, but I don’t have any and right now it’s hard. I can barely remember anything, much less him. I just want to drive by. I need to see it.”

“Right now?”

“Yes. I want to go before it gets dark.”

Chapter Forty-two

I should never have let her come here. As soon as we pulled up in front of the house, I could tell just looking at it wouldn’t be enough for her. Sure enough, she got out of the car and demanded to see the inside of it. I tried to talk her out of it, but I can only do so much.

I’m standing outside her window, waiting. I don’t want her to be in there right now, but I could clearly see that she’s not having it any other way. I lean against the house and hope she hurries the hell up. It doesn’t look like any of the neighbors are home, but that doesn’t mean her father isn’t going to drive up any second now.

I look down at the ground beneath my feet, then glance behind me at the house. This is the exact spot she was standing in when I walked away from her thirteen years ago. I close my eyes and rest my head against the house. I never expected I’d ever be back here with her again.

My eyes flash open and I stand up straight the second I hear the crash come from inside her bedroom, followed by screaming. I don’t give myself time to question what the hell is going on in there. I just run.

I run through the back door and down the hall until I’m in her old bedroom with her. She’s crying hysterically and throwing things across the room, so I immediately wrap my arms around her from behind to calm her down. I have no idea what the hell brought this on, but I’m at an even bigger loss how to stop it. She’s frantically jerking against me, attempting to get out of my hold, but I just grip her even tighter. “Stop,” I say against her ear. She’s still frantic and I need her to calm down before someone hears her.

“Don’t touch me!” she screams. She claws at my arms but I don’t relent, even for a second. She eventually weakens and becomes defeated by whatever it is that has hold of her mind right now. She grows limp in my arms and I know I need to get her out of here, but I can’t have her reacting like this once I get her outside.

I loosen my grip and turn her around to face me. She falls against my chest and sobs, grabbing fistfuls of my shirt while she tries to hold herself up. I lower my mouth to her ear.

“Sky. You need to leave. Now.” I’m trying to be strong for her, but I also need her to know that being here is a very bad idea. Especially after she’s just destroyed the entire room. He’ll know someone was here for a fact now, so we need to leave.

I pick her up and carry her out of the bedroom. She keeps her face buried in my chest while I walk her outside and to the car. I reach into the backseat and hand her my jacket.

“Here, use that to wipe off the blood. I’m going back inside to straighten up what I can.”

I watch her for a few seconds to make sure she’s not about to panic again, then I shut the door and head back inside to her bedroom. I straighten up what I can, but the mirror is a hard one to cover up. I’m hoping that her father doesn’t come into this room very often. If I can make it look like nothing outside this room was disturbed, it could be weeks before he even notices the mirror.

I put the blanket back on the bed and hang the curtains back up, then head back outside. When I reach the car, just the sight of her is enough to nearly bring me to my knees.

This isn’t her.

She’s scared. Broken. She’s shaking and crying and I’m wondering for the first time if any of the decisions I’ve made over the last twenty-four hours have been smart ones.

I put the car in drive and pull away from the house, never wanting to see it or think about it again. I hope to hell she doesn’t, either. I place my hand on the back of her head, which is tucked against her knees. I run my fingers through her hair and don’t move my hand away from her the entire drive back to the hotel. I need her to know that I’m here. That no matter how she feels right now, she’s not alone. If I’ve learned anything from losing her all those years ago or from what happened with Les, it’s that I never want to let her feel alone again.

Once we’re back inside the hotel room, I help her down onto the bed, then grab a wet rag and come back and inspect the cuts.

“It’s just a few scratches,” I say. “Nothing too deep.”

I remove my shoes and climb onto the bed with her. I pull the blanket over us and rest her head against my chest while she cries.

The length of time she cries and the desperation with which she’s holding on to me make me hate myself for allowing this to happen to her. I was careless last night and didn’t think to keep her out of Les’s room. She wouldn’t be experiencing any of this now had she not seen that photo. Then she would never have gone back into that house.

She lifts her gaze to mine and her eyes are so sad. I wipe away her tears and lower my mouth to hers, kissing her softly. “I’m sorry. I should have never let you go inside.”

“Holder, you didn’t do anything wrong. Stop apologizing.”

I shake my head. “I shouldn’t have taken you there. It’s too much for you to deal with after just finding everything out.”

She lifts up onto her elbow. “It wasn’t just being there that was too much. It was what I remembered that was too much. You have no control over the things my father did to me. Stop placing blame on yourself for everything bad that happens to the people around you.”

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