theforgottengirl webExcerpt from The Forgotten Girl

Prologue

The detective came into the room. He wore a sport coat and tie, the collar of his shirt open. He didn’t look at Jason when he came in the room. He tossed a small notebook onto the table, pulled a chair out, and sat down. He flipped the notebook open and scanned one of the pages.

            “Can I go yet?” Jason asked. “You said this wouldn’t take long.”

            “Easy,” the detective said.

            “You said this would be a friendly chat, that I didn’t need a lawyer or my parents.”

            The detective looked up. “Haven’t I been friendly?” He pointed to the empty Coke can on the table. “I got you a soda.” He flipped the notebook closed and smiled, but it looked forced. “We’re almost finished here. I just want to go over some things we talked about before. Now you said you and your friend, Logan Shaw, fought pretty hard the other night. You told me you landed a couple of good ones against the side of his head.”

            “One,” Jason said. “One good one.”

            “One good one,” the detective said. “Sometimes that’s all it takes. And you were fighting over a girl?”

            “Yes. Regan.”

            “Regan Maines.” The detective nodded. “So you two guys fight over a girl. Okay, no big deal, right? Boys will be boys and all that. And you end up clocking your friend pretty good. Again, no big deal. Who hasn’t gotten into a little dust-up with one of their friends? Happens all the time, right?”

            “I’ve never been in a fight before.”

            “Never?”

            “Never.”

            The detective made a disapproving face. “Okay. Not all guys fight with their friends. Okay. So you fight with your friend, and you deck him, and then he goes off into the woods because he’s pissed at you. In fact, you said he was crying a little, right?”

            “Yes.”

            “Were you crying too?” the detective asked, the corner of his mouth rising into a little sneer.

            “I might have been. Yes.”

            “And you’re eighteen?”

            “I’d like to call my dad,” Jason said.

            “Easy. We’re almost finished here. I know your old man. He’s a good guy.” The detective scratched his head. “Okay, all of this stuff you’ve done seems pretty normal to me, except maybe for the crying. But after that, after your friend goes off into the woods and you don’t see him anymore, that’s where it gets tricky for me. You see, here’s what I don’t understand. Your friend disappears after you have a fight with him, and you know everyone’s looking for him. By the way, his father, Mr. Shaw, he’s very upset about his son being missing. Very upset.”

            “He didn’t care much about Logan when he was here.”

            “Hey,” the detective said. “Don’t be smart. That man’s a good father. He’s a pillar of this community. He always does the right thing. And speaking of the right thing…you knew all these people were looking for Logan, the guy you punched upside the head, and yet, you didn’t tell us about that fight you had. Did you? Not right away. You said everything seemed normal when you last saw him. But then a few hours later, after we’d talked to some other people, you decided to tell us about this fight. Do you see why that doesn’t make sense to me?”

            “I told you—I was angry with Logan.”

            “That’s why you decked him. Because he wanted your girl—”

            “No, that’s why I didn’t say anything about the fight. Logan can be…”

            “What? Can be what?”

            “Manipulative, I guess. He has moods. I figured he was just mad and wanted to take it out on all of us by going away for a while. He knew we’d worry eventually. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of getting to me. When I found out people were worried…his dad, for example…I told you everything about that fight. That was three days ago. I’m not hiding anything.”

            “Are you sure?”

            “Of course—”

            Someone knocked. The detective stood up and opened the door, revealing a uniformed police officer. The two men whispered about something, and the detective nodded his head. “Tell them we’ll be right out. We’re finished here.” He closed the door and came back to the table. “Your old man’s here.”

            “Good.”

            “Before you go, I want to ask you one more thing. Where do you think Logan Shaw is?”

            Jason sat back in his chair. He looked at the detective’s face, the skin heavily lined, the eyes tired. He almost—almost—felt sorry for the guy.

            “I don’t know,” Jason said. “He always talked about leaving.”

            “Would he really do it?” the detective asked. “His dad and mom are here. His friends. The family has a bunch of money. Would he run off and leave all of that?”

            Jason thought about the question, then said, “Sometimes I think Logan is capable of just about anything.”

 

Twenty-Seven Years Later, Present Day

Jason and Nora were getting ready for bed when their front doorbell rang. They’d already done the dishes and turned out the lights on the first floor, leaving just a lone bulb burning on the front porch. It was past ten. Jason held his toothbrush, and Nora looked startled.

            “Who the hell is that?” she asked.

            Jason rinsed his mouth and, wearing just shorts and a T-shirt, started down the stairs to the front door. Halfway to the bottom, Nora called after him.

            “Are you sure it’s safe? Maybe you shouldn’t answer.”

            “Safer than New York I would hope,” he said. He didn’t know if she heard him. He slowed his pace as he approached the front door. No one ever just showed up at their house, especially late at night. He figured it was probably kids playing a prank, ringing the bell and running off. Jason leaned over and peered through the narrow window that ran parallel to the door. What he saw brought him up short.

            The person on the porch who stood with her back to him looked familiar. So familiar that her posture, the shape of her body, struck a chord inside him, one that hadn’t been struck in years.

            “Who is it?” Nora called.

            But Jason didn’t say anything. His hands felt sweaty as he undid the two locks and the chain and pulled the door open. She turned around as the door came open, and there, in the sickly pale glow of the porch light, Jason came face to face with his sister, Hayden, for the first time in five years.

            “Hey, big brother,” she said through the screen.

            Jason was surprised by what he saw. Hayden looked…clean. Her hair, her clothes, her hands. All clean. She wore black slacks and black shoes and a neatly pressed blue button-down shirt. One hand rested on the sleek leather purse she wore over her shoulder and the other held a smart phone. She had always been tiny, almost frail. In the years since high school, when her drinking was at its worst and she was likely consuming most of her calories in the form of alcohol, Hayden always appeared fragile, her skin nearly translucent. She looked like that the last time he saw her, the time that caused the five-year break. When Jason hugged her or touched her during her longest benders, it felt as though her bones might snap beneath his touch. Like she was a bird.

            But the version of Hayden on the front porch looked healthy and trim. Her cheeks were full and carried a trace of color.

            “I bet you wish this was the pizza guy, right?” she said.

            Jason still hadn’t spoken. “No,” he said finally. “I don’t.”

            He couldn’t think of anything else. He stared at his sister through the screen as Junebugs and moths dipped and dived in the space between them.

            Hayden raised her eyebrows. “Am I allowed to come in?” she asked. “I understand if after last time…”

            Jason undid the lock on the screen door and pushed it open. “Come in,” he said, stepping back. “Of course you can come in. Jesus, Hayden, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to just stand here.”

            Hayden slipped past him and through the foyer, trailing the faint scent of cigarette smoke. Jason didn’t know what to do. He flipped on the lights in the living room and let his sister go ahead of him.

            Nora asked again from the top of the stairs. “Jason? Who was it?”

            Jason looked at Hayden who had taken a seat on the sofa. Then he said loudly, “It’s my sister. It’s Hayden.”

            “What?” Nora said. “Really?”

            Before anyone could say anything else, Nora was coming down the stairs, her bare feet slapping against the hardwood. She wore a modest, knee-length nightgown and brushed past Jason as though he wasn’t there. Hayden rose from the couch when she saw her sister-in-law.

            “Hey, girl,” Hayden said.

            “Oh, Hayden. Look at you.”

            The two women hugged in the living room. They held onto each other and swayed side to side. Then they stepped back, and Nora gave Hayden a long appraisal.

            “You look great,” Nora said.

            “Thanks.”

            “You look…”

            “Sober?” Hayden said.

            Nora nodded. “Yes, you do. Healthy, I guess I was going to say. But sober works.” The two women sat next to each other on the sofa and Nora asked, “What on earth are you doing here? Are you moving back to town?”

            Hayden looked up at Jason. He remained standing, his hand resting on the back of a chair. A tension hovered between the two siblings, something unspoken. As always, Hayden was the one most ready, most eager to give it voice.

            “I wasn’t sure if I would be welcome back,” she said.

            “Of course you are,” Nora said. “Right, Jason?”

            “Sure,” Jason said, but he still didn’t take a seat. “I’m just kind of blown away. You’re the last person I expected to see on the porch.”

            Hayden maneuvered the purse around to her lap and undid the clasp. “I wanted to give you something,” she said. She dug inside and extracted a plain white envelope. She held it out toward Jason. “Here,” she said.

            “No,” Jason said.

            “It’s five hundred dollars,” Hayden said. “I know the car cost more—”

            “Oh, no,” Nora said. “Jason, tell her. We don’t want it.”

            “I want to give it to you,” Hayden said. “I’m working now. I’ve saved this money. I saved it to give to you. Please, Jason. Just take it. It will make me feel so much better knowing that you took it, that you let me off the hook just a little bit.”

            Jason came around the chair and sat down. He waved away the envelope that Hayden still held in the air between them. He crossed his legs and studied his sister. She looked good. She looked cleaned up and straightened out. But Jason also knew that meant nothing when it came to Hayden and her drinking. How many times had she been through rehab? How many times had she quit only to start again with greater intensity?

            “Are you here alone?” Jason asked. “Where’s Sierra?”

            “That’s what I want to talk to you about,” Hayden said.

            “What is it?” Jason asked. “What’s wrong?”

            Hayden brought the envelope back down to her lap. She stared at it for a moment, then looked back up at her brother.

            “I do need something,” she said. “A favor. And I know I don’t have a leg to stand on with either one of you. But this is different. It really is.”

            Jason looked over at Nora. Her eyes widened, her head nodded ever so slightly. Go on, she was saying with the look. Go on. She’s your sister.

            Jason looked back at Hayden. An image from their childhood flashed into his mind. It was involuntary. Hayden…a little brown haired girl in a sandbox, holding a plastic bucket with one hand, the index finger of the other stuck into her mouth. She tottered, lost her balance and fell back on her butt, spilling the sand. Before she could cry, Jason, a year older and bigger, was there, helping her up. Receiving praise from their parents for his act of brotherly protection.

            He had to help her. He wanted to help her.

            “What is it, Hayden?” he asked. “Why don’t you tell us all about it?”

            Hayden still held the envelope clutched between her fingers. She looked at both of them.

            “The first thing I want to do, need to do really, is apologize to the two of you for my behavior the last time I was here.”

            Nora made a gesture with her hand like she was smoothing something across a flat surface. “There’s no need to do that.”

            “Actually, yes, there is. I was a bad sister, and I took advantage of your trust and hospitality. I just want you both to know I’m sorry for that.”

            Shortly after Jason and Nora moved back to Ednaville, Hayden had come to visit. She was drinking then, heavily drinking. She showed up at their door with her hair matted and her clothes dirty. She smelled like she hadn’t bathed in a week. Jason remembered similar times with Hayden when they were in high school, and the tough love their parents eventually began to practice. Jason was still in that mode because he initially was reluctant to let Hayden stay, but Nora convinced him. She said family was family, and they were obligated to let her in.

            For two days, all went well. Hayden didn’t drink in front of them. She showered and washed her clothes. On the third morning, Jason and Nora woke up to a police officer on their doorstep. Hayden had taken the keys to one of their cars during the night and, after drinking at Apollo’s, a local bar, drove it into a tree. The police arrested her, and later that day Jason and Nora found four hundred dollars missing from a drawer in their house. They never saw Hayden after that. She never called or wrote or came by.

            Everyone remained silent. Hayden looked at Jason as though she expected him to say something.

            “Are you apologizing as part of some twelve-step program?” Jason asked.

            “Jason,” Nora said.

            “That sounded harsh, Hayden, but I want to know,” Jason said. “You’ve apologized to me before, so I really want the reason behind this one. Is a shrink making you do it? A minister? It’s not Mom and Dad this time because they’re dead.”

            “It’s okay,” Hayden said. “I know why you feel that way. Yes, this is part of a program. And I understand that you think I’ve done this before, and it’s okay if you’re suspicious. I’d be suspicious of me, too. All I can say is that while I have apologized to you before, I never meant it before. I mean it this time. All of this is going to stick. The sobriety, everything. This is real. It’s who I am now.”

            Nora jumped in. “I think it’s fabulous. Really.”

            Jason wished he had kept his mouth shut, that he had let Hayden say her piece without interjecting his own comment into it. So much of his life had been spent accommodating his sister, so much time had been spent walking on eggshells and blithely encouraging her in every struggle—both real and imagined—she engaged in that he no longer felt he could listen to her talk without challenging her assertions. But he had to admit Hayden looked different. And she did seem different. For the first time, the language she used about her recovery matched the reality she seemed to exist in. And he couldn’t ignore the feeling he had when he saw her silhouetted on the porch. The hope that sprang into his chest, the simple, deeply-rooted desire to see his sister again.

            “Okay,” Jason said. “Apology accepted. It’s long over anyway. Everybody’s moved on.”

            Nora said, “And we’re sorry we didn’t help you more back then. Maybe we could have, I don’t know, been more understanding of where you were.”

            “I understand,” Hayden said. “You don’t need to apologize.” Hayden raised the envelope toward Jason again. “So,” she said, “will you accept this as the beginning of restitution for the car and the money I took?”

            Jason shook his head. “Just keep it,” he said. “Please. You can use it to start a new life or whatever you need it for. You can use it for—well, that brings me back to the question I asked you before. Where exactly is Sierra? Is she…?” A multitude of scenarios sprang into his mind. Had something happened to his niece? Had Hayden lost custody or contact with her daughter?

            Hayden must have sensed Jason’s concern because she said, “She’s fine. In fact, she’s here, with me.”

            “Where?” Nora asked.

            “She’s in the car, waiting for me to give her the all clear.”

            “Bring her in,” Nora said. “My God, we haven’t seen her in so long.”

            “Just a minute,” Hayden said. “You see, I wanted to talk to the two of you alone before I brought her in. I wanted to talk to you in private.”

            “You mentioned a favor,” Jason said. “Is that what you wanted to talk about before Sierra came in?”

            Hayden nodded. She took the envelope, which had become wrinkled under the pressure of her grip, and stuffed it back into her purse. Her hand shook a little as she adjusted the clasp. When Hayden looked up again, Jason pretended not to have noticed the shaking.

            Hayden said, “I have something I need to do here in town. I can’t really tell you what it is, and I know that makes me look bad. I’m sure that’s a huge red flag, and you may just tell me no. But I don’t want you to. I really don’t want you to.”

            “Is this thing you have to do part of your…recovery?” Jason asked, trying to be delicate.

            “It is.” Hayden ran her hands over the tops of her thighs, back and forth like that, the skin making a light swishing sound against the material. When she resumed speaking, Jason detected a thin edge of anxiety in her voice, the sense that she wasn’t really in control of everything swirling around her. It was rare to hear that tone from Hayden. She was always cool, always assured. Even when she was at her worst and in the depths of her deepest struggles, she managed to sound as though she could handle whatever came her way. Jason knew Nora may not have noticed that edge in her voice, but Jason did. He’d heard it a few times in his life and understood what it meant. “I don’t want to downplay the apology I owed to you guys because it was and is very important to me. But this is much more important in a way. It affects…well, I don’t want to say a lot more than what I’ve already said.”

            “So you’re not going to tell us what this thing you’re doing is,” Jason said.

            “I can’t. Not because it’s really a secret or anything, although I guess it is. But more because…I don’t really know if it’s going to work. I don’t know what the end result is going to be, and some other people are involved.” She shifted her concentration directly to Jason as she spoke, boring in on him in a way that seemed to signal something he couldn’t quite understand. “A lot of people are involved. It’s delicate.”

            “People we know?” Nora asked.

            Hayden ignored the question. She kept her eyes on Jason, as though she were waiting for something.

            Jason didn’t know what she needed. “What’s the favor then?” he asked. “If we don’t know what you’re doing, how can we help you?”

            Hayden shifted her attention back to both of them. “It’s Sierra,” she said. “I need the two of you to keep an eye on her while I’m taking care of this. It might be a day. It might be two. I’m not sure.”

            “We’d love to,” Nora said. “Right, Jason?”

            “Isn’t she in school?” he asked.

            “She is,” Hayden said. “She has a week to go in her junior year. But I took her out. I told the school we had a family emergency. They gave her some assignments and things to do and let her go. It’s fine. Sierra was born here, remember? She lived here when she was a kid. She knows Ednaville. She likes it here. And I know she’ll be safe with the two of you.”

            “Safe?” Jason asked. “Are you doing something dangerous?”

            “No, not like that. I just mean…I can trust you both.”

            “You know, some questions have been running through my head. Some basics. Where are you living now, Hayden?” Jason asked. “We don’t know anything about what’s going on in your life. We don’t have an address or a phone number. What is happening with you?”

            “Right. Of course. You deserve to know those things. That’s totally cool. I’m living over in Smithfield. Redman County. It’s an hour away, Nora. That’s where Sierra is going to school. Redman Consolidated. I’m working for a dentist’s office over there. I guess I’m like the office manager. It was a stroke of luck to get the job. The dentist is in AA with me, and he needed someone to help. I’ve been working there for a year.”

            “The last time you were here, though, you didn’t have Sierra with you,” Jason said. “She was with Derrick, right?”

            “She was. Mostly with Derrick’s mom.”

            “And she still sees Derrick?” Jason asked.

            “Sometimes.”

            Jason sensed the conversation was hitting a wall with Hayden. He said, “She can stay, but we’re both working, you know? We won’t be around all day.”

            “That’s fine,” Hayden said. “Sierra can take care of herself. She’s not a baby. I just don’t want her alone all the time.”

            “It’s okay, Jason,” Nora said. “We can work something out so we can see a lot of her. I have some flexibility.”

            “You really don’t mind?” Hayden said. She patted her purse. “I could leave this money for Sierra. She’s a teenager. She’s seventeen. She eats a lot and uses a lot of water.”

            “No,” Nora said. “Don’t be silly. But for God’s sake, bring her in. She’s sitting out there in the car all alone.”

            “Okay,” Hayden said. “I’ll text her and tell her to come in.” Her thumbs flew over the phone. “Done.” Hayden stood up. “She’s going to look so different to you guys. I guess you haven’t seen her since when?”

            “Six or seven years probably,” Nora said, standing up. “I’ll get the door.”

            Jason stood up as well, although he wasn’t sure why. Nora slipped away to the foyer, and Jason found himself standing face to face with Hayden.

            “I saw you on the square yesterday,” he said. “Why didn’t you talk to me then?”

            “I was working up my courage. I used to get that out of a bottle. I’m still learning to do difficult things when I’m sober.” Hayden shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “I guess you still see Regan, right?”

            “Why are you bringing her up?” Jason asked, his voice lowered. It was classic Hayden. Somehow, some way, she knew how to change the subject and throw Jason off-balance.

            “You always had a thing for her,” Hayden said. “I just figured since you were back in town and all, you’d be seeing her. Obviously, I was right.”

            “We’re friends,” Jason said. “Old friends. And just friends.”

            “I know,” Hayden said. Her voice dropped even lower than Jason’s. “I’m sure…well, I’m glad the two of you are friends. I’m sure it’s good for her. That’s all I’ll say.”

            “What does that even mean?” Jason asked. “Hayden, what are you up to?”

            He didn’t get an answer. Jason heard Nora squeal at the front door and knew that Sierra had arrived in their house. He took one quick glance at his sister, and Hayden met his gaze. But he wasn’t sure what he saw there when they locked eyes. A plea? Fear?

            Something he’d never understand?

            Nora led Sierra into the living room where Jason and Hayden were waiting. Nora stood by the girl’s side, her arm around her shoulder, presenting her as though she were the prize on a game show.

            “Look who’s here, Jason,” she said.

            Jason took in the sight of his niece and the difference between the little girl he had last seen and the young woman who stood before him. Sierra appeared to be several inches taller than Nora, and her long hair, a lighter shade of brown than her mother’s, reached just past her shoulders. She carried a duffel bag in one hand and wore a backpack. She shrugged her shoulders as the scrutiny of the three adults continued, and when she arched her eyebrows and smiled Jason saw the strong resemblance between his niece and his sister. Except for the height, he could easily have been looking at a replica of Hayden when she was in high school. Although Jason quickly realized, based on a moment’s observation, that Sierra exuded a clear-eyed calm and maturity that his sister never possessed at that age.

            “Hi, Uncle Jason,” she said. She wore jeans and an Ohio State University hoodie.

            “Hi, Sierra.” He considered stepping forward and hugging his niece, but thought better of it. Would she want to be hugged by an uncle she hadn’t seen in years?

            Sierra was looking at the floor near her feet. “Do you mind?” she asked, raising the duffel bag.

            “Sure,” Nora said, her arm still on the girl’s shoulder. “You can put it down right there.”

            Sierra lowered the duffel bag to the floor with a soft thump and then slipped out of her backpack. “I’m sorry we’re just barging in on you like this. I told Mom to call first, but she wouldn’t. It’s kind of rude, I know.”

            “It’s fine,” Nora said. “But it’s a little chilly outside. Maybe I should put a robe on.”

            “You see, Mom,” Sierra said. “We’re catching people in their pajamas.”

            “It’s fine, honey,” Hayden said. “My brother is used to it from me. We’re family.”

            Jason turned to Hayden. “Yeah, what’s that they say? Home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in?”

            “That’s Robert Frost,” Sierra said. All of the adults turned to look at her. “Sorry, I’m studying for the AP English exam. There’s a lot of Robert Frost.”

            “We should all sit,” Nora said. “But I’m going to run and get a robe. Jason, why don’t you put water on for tea? Or would either of you prefer coffee, even though it’s so late?”

            Nora started for the stairs, but Hayden’s voice stopped her. “Actually,” she said, “I need to get going.”

            “Already?” Jason asked. “It’s so late. I thought you’d be staying here tonight at least. We have the room.”

            “I know,” Hayden said. “And I’d love to stay the night. But I have some things to get started on.”

            “You mean…the thing you were talking about?” Jason asked.

            Hayden looked somewhat uncomfortable, and the two siblings turned their attention to Sierra who looked at Nora and said, “I think this is the part of the conversation where I’m supposed to leave the room.”

            Nora said, “Why don’t I show you up to the guest room? You’ve never been here before, have you?”

            “I guess I haven’t,” Sierra said, bending down to pick up her bags.

            “Wait,” Hayden said. She walked the ten feet across the room to where her daughter stood. “I’m just going to go while you’re upstairs with Nora. Okay?”

            “Okay, Mom. I know you don’t like good-byes.”

            “Just come up when you’re ready, Sierra,” Nora said, moving toward the stairs. She cleared her throat and jerked her head, a not so subtle way of telling Jason that he needed to leave the room as well and give the mother and daughter privacy. Jason nodded to indicate that he understood and announced that he would put the water on in the kitchen, even though no one had said they wanted it.

            Hayden started talking before Jason left. She didn’t seem to care if anyone heard what she was saying to her daughter, and Jason listened as he walked out of the room.

            “I know I’m turning your life a little upside down again, kiddo,” Hayden said. “But this is the last time. I promise.”

            “It’s fine, Mom.”

            “It’s not fine. Really.” Hayden laughed a little. “Sometimes I wonder how you turned out so well.”

            Jason entered the kitchen. He stood at the island in the center of the room and filled the teakettle with water and turned the burner on. From his position, he could still see into the living room where his sister stood in front of her daughter. He couldn’t hear what they were saying to each other, but Hayden seemed to be doing most of the talking, looking up at Sierra who listened intently and nodded from time to time. Hayden reached into her purse and took out the envelope again, the same one she had offered to Jason earlier. She handed it over to Sierra who took it and stuffed it into the back pocket of her jeans.

            Hayden then reached up and kissed Sierra on the cheek. She put her arms around the girl and pulled her into a tight hug. Sierra rested her chin on Hayden’s shoulder and closed her eyes while the embrace lasted. They held each other that way, and Jason looked down, embarrassed that he had spied on such an intimate scene.

            He listened to the soft whisper of the gas flame as it heated the kettle on the stove. He and Nora had chosen not to have children and put their careers first. As the years went on, Jason found himself watching the interactions between parents and their growing children with the fascination of someone observing a mystery they would never fully understand. The subtle affection, the non-verbal communication, the loving gestures.

            Jason heard someone going up the stairs, and then Hayden called his name. He turned the burner off and walked out to where his sister waited in the foyer.

            “I’m going to go now,” she said.

            “Okay,” Jason said. He saw the emotion in his sister’s eyes. Not quite tears but almost.

            “Thanks for doing this. Really.” Hayden reached up and used the back of her hand to wipe at her eye. She sniffed. “She’s a good kid. She won’t disrupt your life at all.” She smiled. “I have no idea where she came from. I really don’t. Sometimes I look at her and think she must be an alien baby someone left with me, and my real kid is out there somewhere partying and raising hell.”

            “You love her,” Jason said. “That’s all that matters.”

            Hayden looked up. “Thanks for saying that.” She took a deep breath. “I wish Mom and Dad could see her now and know their granddaughter.”

            “Their only grandchild.”

            “Right. I hadn’t really thought of that.”

            “And,” Jason said, “you probably wish they could see you now. Right?”

            Hayden laughed a little. “God. Yes. Mom would take all the credit, wouldn’t she? She’d say something like, ‘I’m glad you finally listened to what your father and I were telling you all those years.’”

            “And Dad would probably say, ‘You clean up awfully well when you want to.’”

            “He would. He totally would. By the way, you look more and more like the old man every day. I thought you should know that.”

            “Is that an insult?” Jason asked.

            “Just an observation. You haven’t gone bald. That’s the only difference.” Hayden adjusted her purse and straightened her posture. “I’m going to go now. Okay?”

            Despite the emotion she displayed with Sierra, Jason couldn’t detect the frantic edge beneath Hayden’s words anymore. Perhaps what he had thought was fear had simply been nervousness over coming into Jason’s home after all those years and all the problems. But he couldn’t be sure.

            “Hayden,” he said, “do you need me to…I don’t know…come along with you on whatever you’re doing? I feel like I should.”

            “No,” Hayden said, her voice firm. “I have to do it myself.”

            “Can you at least tell me where you’re going or what you’re doing?” Jason asked.

            “You’ll know eventually. You will.” She rose onto her tiptoes and kissed Jason on the cheek. “Thanks, big brother. Forty-eight hours at the most. Forty-eight. Then I’ll be back for my girl.”

            Hayden turned away and went through the door quickly, disappearing into the night.

 

            If you liked this preview of The Forgotten Girl, you can order the book here:

buy buttons bam amazonmargin_41yearsibookstarget