Sam woke up in an empty bed. He didn’t care too much – he got up and got dressed. As he put on his uniform, he heard someone else walk through the hallway and down the stairs. That was Jenny, probably, as he usually didn’t hear her bedroom door open and close.
He always had felt powerful when he wore the uniform, but less so the past few days. He wore this uniform to protect his people – how could he continue to wear it when some of their weakest and most vulnerable had gone missing without a trace? And yet, he wore the uniform, hoping that he was going to make a difference today.
He opened his bedroom door and saw how Charlotte walked out of her bedroom, opposite to his. Until a year ago, that was the guest bedroom. Not anymore.
Sam frowned. Normally, Charlotte should already be downstairs, making them a delicious breakfast. She always did so. Except for today.
What was she planning?
“Good morning,” Charlotte said. Sam nodded.
“I’m leaving early,” Charlotte said. “There’s enough in the fridge to make breakfast. I’m sorry, but I want to visit Henry, to make him feel he’s not alone. Maybe that’ll make him less prone to running off.”
Sam nodded again. He was looking forward to a freshly cooked or baked breakfast, but there was nothing wrong with eating cereal for one morning. Even if he wanted eggs and bacon.
“That’s okay,” Sam said. “We’ll manage without your delicious breakfasts. Go to Henry. I can bring Jenny to school and pick her up.”
He added this last part as only an afterthought, but he knew he needed to do this. for his and Charlotte’s state of mind. Because if they accompanied her on her way to and from school, they would not have to worry about her being abducted on the way.
Charlotte loved the idea.
“Great,” she said. “I’ll see you tonight.”
Sam waited until she had gone down the stairs before he followed her.
As promised, Charlotte went to visit Henry in the nursing home before work.
Sam would’ve come, too, if it weren’t for his job. If it weren’t for the severity of the missing children cases. If they found something, any lead or clue, Charlotte would have allowed Jenny to bike to school. For now, it was a relief Sam was able to bring her. One less thing to worry about.
One less thing…
“You can’t keep running off like that,” Charlotte told Henry. “You got us worried sick.”
They sat at the table in his room. It was cloudy today, and it may even start raining. If Henry ran away again, he might get wet and sick and Charlotte didn’t want that for her father-in-law.
Henry muttered something under his breath; something Charlotte barely heard. He was in his own world, repeating these words over and over again. “The beginning is the end and the end is the beginning.”
Charlotte looked at him. Poor thing.
“Henry? Are you listening?”
He wasn’t. He stared at the wall. Charlotte pitied the man and prayed he’d still have this little autonomy until God inevitably called his son back to him. She put a hand on his arm.
Henry turned his head to Charlotte. He worried too much. Charlotte saw the pain in his eyes. Now he looked a her, he finally found a conversation partner who might believe her.
“I have to tell him something,” Henry said. “It needs to stop.”
“Who is ‘he’?” Charlotte asked him. “Who are you talking about?”
He didn’t hear her. He leaned back in his chair, eyes fixated on the broken clock on the wall.
“Tick-tock,” he said. “Tick-tock.”
“Henry, can you please explain? Please?”
Jenny let her father drive her to school. She never had any trouble with this; she didn’t fear being looked at as lame because her father brought her. It was for her safety, anyway. If she sat in a car with her police officer dad, there was a smaller chance to be taken on her way to school. Her parents did not want to take any chances and Jenny didn’t either, since one of her best friends and another boy had disappeared.
But when someone drove her to school, these trips were much more uneventful and boring than when she walked or biked or even took the bus.
Her father took the usual route to the police station and planned to make a slight detour to drop her off at school. Even though other routes could have been shorter. But Jenny wasn’t going to call him out – you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Or a police officer new routes.
They drove the longest possible way to school, one that ran past Witchwood Forest. It was a road people only used if they absolutely had to. Sam Hidgens may be the only person who used it on a daily basis.
Jenny wasn’t paying attention. She played a silly game on her phone when the car stopped. She frowned and looked up. Sam parked the car on the side of the road and got out of his seat. Jenny watched him, confused. What was he doing?
Sam walked a little into the forest and kneeled beside some sort of box. Through the opened car door, Jenny heard Sam smash this box open with something hard, possibly a stone he found by the side. She watched with curiosity as her father took something from the box, and returned to the car with it.
“Dad, what did you—” Jenny said when her father got back into the car. “Did you just steal something?”
Sam sat down, placing a smaller black box on the backseat. Jenny stared at it incredulously.
“I didn’t steal it. I confiscated it,” Sam said, giving her a knowing look. “There’s a difference.”
“You still took it without asking permission,” Jenny said. Sam shrugged as he closed the door and put on his seat belt.”
I won’t get in trouble for it,” Sam said. “And I’ll return it when I’m done.”
But what did he need that box for? Did he have so little evidence that this box was something he had to take information from?
Sam continued his way to the police station via the school, and Jenny did not mention it. Even if she spoke, she knew he wouldn’t listen. Her father had taken something in a way that might have been held up by red tape and procedures, and it told her more about the investigation than Sam would have wanted.