If you can’t wait to read the full novel, it is available in Amazon as a kindle eBook. ‘They Take our Children, Book One, The Truth Revealed’ will be available FREE on promotion from 3rd to 5th February 2014, US times apply.
‘They Take our Children, Book Two, Taking Control,’ is now available from Amazon, also as a kindle eBook.
The police car pulled away from the quiet suburban house, leaving the family bewildered. They would look out for her, the constables had said, but so many teenagers went missing these days and Courtney was just one of many. Hearing that there had been a misunderstanding of sorts, the woman constable had glanced at her male colleague and an unmistakable look had passed between them. Here we go again, it said. It sounded like the old story, the generation gap and a teenage girl taking the huff and running off to give them a scare. They didn’t even suggest questioning her friends, believing she’d come home soon. They told the family not to worry because they saw this type of thing all the time.
The family and friends at the party had searched through the night. They looked everywhere they could think she might be before calling the police in to help. Then eventually Courtney’s friends went home, promising to call if they heard from her. Everyone was shocked and bewildered, wondering how a perfectly happy birthday girl, could run off into the night for no apparent reason.
Gavin couldn’t bear to remember what his wife had called their daughter and couldn’t bring himself to speak to Helen directly. He was filled with anger, confusion and fear and kept asking himself, ‘why?’ Why had Helen said such a thing? What was the dark secret she had kept from him all these years and what did it have to do with Courtney? He knew there was some awful skeleton in Helen’s past, one that made her nervous every time he went near her, making her flinch at physical contact. He had his suspicions but could not voice them. Helen had always been reserved in her show of affection for Courtney but Gavin had never before thought the reason for this could be connected with his fears about Helen’s past.
Helen kept to her room, refusing to speak. Even the police could get nothing from her. She sat on the stool by the window, staring into space. She refused breakfast, only drinking tea that Mary placed in her hands.
‘She seems to be shutting out the world,’ Mary confided in Gavin. ‘I can see it all happening again if we’re not careful.’
‘Now, Mum, don’t start making excuses for her!’ Gavin tried to keep his impatience under control.
‘They’re not excuses, Gavin. I recognise the symptoms. Our Helen suffered awfully all those years ago.’ Mary sat beside Gavin on the low couch, wringing her hands together. ‘You’ve no idea what it was like. Those endless trips to the doctor, the hospital, the child psychologist.’ Mary bowed her head. ‘I just hope to God it’s not starting again.’
‘It can’t be the same, Mum. Don’t talk nonsense.’ Gavin didn’t want to hear about Helen’s past. His daughter was missing. Courtney was his main concern.
‘Only a mother knows what it feels like to lose a child. This could tip our Helen over the edge again. The fear is there in her eyes. I can see it. I can see the same hunched shoulders and the same frozen face. She frightens me, Gavin.’
‘Don’t exaggerate, Mum. She’s shocked. We all are. She’ll be fine once Courtney comes back home.’ Gavin tried to sound optimistic about his daughter’s return. Everyone presumed Courtney had overheard her parents arguing and got angry with them for spoiling her party but Gavin knew that Helen’s shocking outburst would leave a deep wound in Courtney’s heart that perhaps would never heal.
‘There has to be more to this than you two having words!’ Janine came into the room carrying a tray of tea. ‘Courtney would never run away. She’s seen you two have more arguments than any of us. Courtney would have told you both to stop being childish. She would have made a joke of your quarrel.’ Janine set the teapot on the occasional table. ‘She would have teased and coaxed you to smile just as she has done hundreds of times in the past.’ She began to fuss with the teacups. ‘It’s just not in her nature to run away, just as it wasn’t in Sam or Chris’s nature.’
‘I’m sorry, Janine.’ Gavin couldn’t look at his sister-in-law. ‘This must be awful for you.’
‘It brings it all back, doesn’t it, love?’ Mary began to pour the tea. ‘What with the police visiting and asking all the same questions.’
‘I thought I had put all of that to the back of my mind. I thought I’d learned to get through the days without thinking of Sam and Chris through every minute.’ Janine stopped and took a deep breath. ‘Now my mind is full of them all the time. What if…’
‘Don’t torture yourself, Janine. Courtney is much older. The circumstances are different. She’ll come back.’ Gavin tried to reassure Janine but knew his words would be cold comfort to his sister-in-law. Her two children had disappeared without trace seventeen years ago. Sam and Chris were abducted, or worse, before Courtney was born. Now it felt as if Courtney was gone too. Janine had been a second mother to Courtney and it was clear that she could hardly bear the thought that she might never see her niece again.
Gavin’s home was deathly quiet, filled with Helen’s family who didn’t want to go back to empty houses. Mary was sitting with Helen in the bedroom, keeping up a constant stream of chatter, filling the waiting silence with nonsensical platitudes. ‘She’ll be home when she’s hungry,’ or, ‘well there’s nowhere for her to go, is there?’ ‘She’ll be back before nightfall you wait and see,’ Mary continued her monologue, while all the time, Gavin prayed that she was right and feared the worst. As the day dragged on endlessly, he became more afraid that history would repeat itself.
He watched his sister-in-law, Janine, disintegrating before his eyes. Her body shook involuntarily as she stared through the dining-room window. He could see it was a real effort for her to hold herself together. She had been the life and soul of Courtney’s party, joining in the dancing, making the youngsters see what having fun really meant. Throughout the morning she had paced the house, picking up photographs of Courtney and clutching them to her chest.
Janine now stared out at the garden scattered with the remnants of balloons and paper plates but Gavin knew she could see none of those things. She would be looking at two white-haired boys, one almost five, one only three. Both would be laughing and running around the garden swing that her father, their granddad, had made for them. She would see a small girl sitting on that same swing, years later. Nothing was ever found of her sons. It was as if they never existed and now Courtney was gone too.
Janine clutched the photograph frame until it dug into her hands. Terry walked silently past Gavin and went to hold his wife. Gavin watched the slim man put his arms around his well-rounded wife. Silently, the odd-looking couple watched the ghosts in the garden together. Gavin left them, knowing they were supporting each other as their old grief washed over them.
Later that morning, Gavin was sitting midway up the staircase with the telephone in his lap. Armed with Courtney’s address book he was working his way through her long list of friends, methodically. He got to the letter ‘T’ before George interrupted him.
‘Thought you might like to wet your whistle, you’ve been on that phone for hours.’ He handed him a mug of strong tea.
‘Thanks, George, you’re right, I need this.’ Gavin gratefully accepted the steaming mug, wondering how George managed to remain so calm through all this heartache.
‘Having any luck?’ George asked, squashing his large frame a few steps below his son-in-law on the stairs.
‘No one’s seen or heard anything, it’s like she disappeared off the face… ’
‘Shh,’ George put his finger to his lips. ‘Not the thing to say around Janine.’
‘No, sorry,’ Gavin hung his head, embarrassed at his thoughtlessness. ‘I didn’t think!’
‘Why should you? You have your own worries.’ George smiled and patted Gavin on the knee as he began to lift himself up from the stair.
‘Don’t go, stay and keep me company awhile.’ Gavin sighed as he continued flicking through the address book. ‘I don’t know what else to do!’ He shrugged. ‘I feel so useless.’
‘She’ll come back, you’ll see.’ George slumped back down and looked straight into Gavin’s eyes, his steady gaze was reassuring and comforting.
‘How come you’re so calm?’ Gavin asked, wondering at this unruffled, pragmatic old man.
‘I know our Courtney and so do you. If you stopped panicking long enough, you’d reason it out for yourself.’ George turned his gaze to the dining room.
‘Reason what out?’ Gavin shook his head. ‘What do you know that I don’t?’
‘Think about it, lad. Where would she go?’ George’s eyes sparkled.
‘You know where she is?’ Gavin grabbed both the old man’s hands. ‘Tell me!’ he insisted.
George smiled, gently. He shook his head and looked again into the next room where his younger daughter stood with her husband, locked together in misery and fear, staring out of the window.
‘I don’t know where she is right now but I know where she’ll go when she’s had time to think and so do you.’
Gavin frowned, then seeing the old man’s eyebrows rise as a mischievous grin lit his face, he realised.
‘Janine’s house!’ Gavin couldn’t think why it had taken him so long. Of course, that’s where she always went to escape the coldness of her mother. Janine was a warm, comforting refuge for Courtney, one she had always run to when she felt the need to be mothered. Gavin got to his feet, intending to go to Janine and Terry.
‘Wait, lad,’ George stopped Gavin. ‘She won’t be there yet awhile. She’ll need time to calm down. Likely she’ll be walking it off.’
‘Where?’ Gavin was impatient. ‘Where is she?’
‘I don’t know.’ George was sympathetic to his son-in-law’s impatience. ‘If I knew, I’d tell you. Nay, I’d be there myself.’
‘So what do we do?’ Gavin felt the old man would know.
‘All we can do is wait.’
‘Oh, Helen!’ Gavin hissed, causing the old man to raise his eyebrows. ‘If only she’d never said… If only Courtney hadn’t heard.’ Gavin wrung his hands in his lap.
‘But she did say and Courtney did hear.’ George said quietly and watched Gavin as his features contorted with the effort of his inner struggle. ‘What exactly did Courtney hear?’ he asked gently, causing Gavin to focus on him. ‘Tell me. What did our Helen say to make Courtney run away like that?’
Gavin shook his head slowly and decided to tell the old man. ‘She called her a monster!’ Gavin swallowed hard. ‘Why would Helen call our little girl a monster?’ His eyes pleaded with George. ‘Why would Helen think that of our beautiful child? I don’t understand.’
George gave no outward sign of shock. The old man’s face remained carefully calm, which worried Gavin even more. ‘There’s a lot to understand about our Helen,’ George whispered. ‘But I’m not the one to explain. She could tell you, if she wanted to.’ George stared past Gavin, to the upstairs landing. ‘Have you asked her?’
‘She clams up. I stopped trying years ago. It seemed best not to push her.’ Gavin swallowed. ‘There is something, then? Something in her past?’ He had known all along there was some terrible secret, but had shied away from confronting it, hiding in his own protection of Helen.
‘Yes there is something.’ George nodded slowly. ‘Though I’m not sure how much you’ll understand or believe, or even want to believe.’ George got to his feet unsteadily, reaching for the banister. ‘Come on, son. It’s time our Helen told you, at least then you’ll have some idea what all this is about.’
‘You know something, don’t you?’ Gavin saw George close his eyes and heard the pause in his breathing. ‘What is it, George? Tell me!’
‘It’s not my place.’ George brought an age worn hand up to cover his eyes, as if shielding himself against Gavin’s insistence.
‘Do the others know?’ Gavin looked towards the kitchen.
‘I’m not sure how much Janine remembers, she was only a child.’ George shuddered, obviously afraid of where this conversation might lead.
‘What is it? Something happened to the girls didn’t it?’ Gavin’s imagination had pictured an accident of some sort, or worse, a sexual attack by some lunatic. That would explain Helen’s reluctance, her reticence in the marital bed and her refusal to talk about it with him. That was the reason he had resolved not to push her, he didn’t want to open old wounds and make matters worse for her, or for himself. Now Helen’s inner terror had reached out and touched Courtney and Gavin knew it was time for Helen to confront her demons, for their daughter’s sake. For his own sanity, his wife had to face her past.
Gavin followed George upstairs. The old man lumbered up each step agonisingly slowly, his hand clutching the sturdy banister to support his heavy frame. Gavin’s heart grew heavier with each step. He had always known this day would come. The day when he would find out the secret that Helen hid so well. He wasn’t sure if he was prepared to hear the truth, though. George seemed to know about the secret and the stoop of the old man’s shoulders as they climbed the stairs was not a good omen.