About the book:
A marriage, a friendship, a missing child … All three hang in the balance.
Noah and Dana are already facing a difficult time in their short marriage when their daughter, Samara is abducted. The fallout from friends and family, and the harsh judgment of the public, force them to face some difficult truths about their views on love, marriage, and race. As Dana reflects on the road leading to her and Noah’s union, she begins to examine her motives for getting married, consider whether they should go on, and most painfully, question whether they ever really knew each other at all.
1. THIS IS HOW I LOST YOU
There is a bird sitting in the tree beneath which the Audi is parked. Just as I am opening the rear passenger door to put Samara inside, it craps on the roof, and then begins to sing, a full-throated melody, as if in triumph.
I mutter a curse. I just got the darn thing washed the day before, after a long winter when the effects of snow and salt and mud were all too apparent, making my luxury SUV look more like a work truck. We live in a neighborhood where people judge you for things like that, and one where Samara and I have already become somewhat of a curiosity.
We have become a curiosity because this is very much a two-parent family community and now there is just me and my daughter; and because most of the children are tweens or teens. Only one couple on our block has kids near Samara’s age, and they are, I think, three- and five-years-old to Samara’s eighteen months. People with very young children, like Samara tend to be somewhat young themselves, and younger people cannot generally afford this neighborhood, so I am a curiosity for that reason as well.
As I strap her into her car seat, Samara smiles up at me, and says, “Juice?”
Her tone is mildly inquisitive, and fully expectant that I will be able to supply what she has asked for.
I look at the side-pocket of diaper bag next to her on the seat and my shoulders sag when I realize I’ve left her cup inside. Instead, I hand her her favorite little stuffed toy that she drags around everywhere.
“When we get to grandma’s,” I say.
“Juice!” Samara insists. Her face crumples the way it does when she is getting worked up to deliver a scream.
“Mama will get you juice,” I promise. “Just as soon as we get to grandma’s.”
She stretches out in the car seat in that way she has, making her body as straight and stiff as a board. She tosses her little plush elephant aside in disgust. I can already picture how this will go. I will climb into the driver’s seat and shut the door, she will realize that there is no juice forthcoming, and will have an epic meltdown lasting the entire drive to Noah’s mother’s house. And I will, once again, deliver to my disapproving mother-in-law, a purple-faced, snotty-nosed, hollering child.
This wasn’t the plan. Samara was supposed to stay home today, but her sitter, Francine called late last night and said she wouldn’t be able to make it this morning after all. I had to call Noah’s mother to fill in at the last minute. But I knew that while she would judge me for being a poor planner, she also wouldn’t be able to turn down the gift of almost half a day spent alone with her granddaughter.
“Samara, please,” I say, putting the back of a hand against my forehead. “Not this morning.”
“Juice!” she says yet again.
I realize I am trying to reason with someone who is inherently unreasonable and take a deep breath, shutting my eyes momentarily. I reach to unfasten her from the car seat and then exhale again.
Instead, I smile at her.
“Just a moment, okay? Mama’s going to get you your juice.”
I make sure I have the fob in hand, shut the door with Samara inside and engage the locks. I have a moment’s pause, but only a moment. I look up and down the tree-lined block, then make a mad dash back toward the house, glancing over my shoulder while I unlock the front door, and again when I pause at the panel that will disarm the home security system.
I run back to the kitchen and spot right away Samara’s juice cup sitting on the center island. Grabbing it, I turn and trip over one of her toys, a little supermarket cart, filled with plastic fruit and vegetables, and little boxes printed with pictures to make them look like the real ones of breakfast cereal, rice, and other dry goods.
“Shit!” I yell as my right knee crashes painfully against the travertine floor.
The top snaps off the cup, sending a puddle of apple juice across the floor along with the mass of fake groceries.
I right myself almost immediately and check my pants and top. Thankfully, the juice is only on the floor and not on me. I take a deep breath, blink back the reflexive tears that rise to my eyes from the sharp pain in my knee and half-walk, half-limp over to the sink. I quickly rinse the cup then go to the fridge and refill it.
Kicking aside some of the toys and stepping over others, I head for the front door then remember my keys. Grabbing them, avoiding the pool of apple juice that will no doubt be a sticky mess when I return home that afternoon, I finally head out. I consider leaving without rearming the security system, but then decide that I must. These tiny omissions, because of the fear of a minor inconvenience are what lead to later regret, I remind myself. I shut the door, only for as long as it takes to enter the code to arm all the entry points to the house.
Finally, I am walking down the cobblestone path from the front door and back to the Audi. I am only a few feet away when I realize I can’t see the top of Samara’s head with the ash-blonde curls. I move faster. I think only that she has managed to unfasten herself from the car seat. Kids are smart, and at her age, little sponges. Having seen me do it a million times, she has probably figured out how to do it on her own.
All these thoughts go through my mind in the mere seconds it takes me to get to the car. All these thoughts immediately disappear, replaced by other more panicked ones when I get to the car and realize that Samara is not inside.
I drop the juice cup, and grab the door handle, tugging frantically at it and not understanding why it won’t open. It is locked. For a moment, I don’t know what the keys in my hand are for. I look at them, uncomprehending. I hear nothing except for the blood rushing in my ears, feel nothing except for my heart crashing in my chest. I yank the door one last time, then remember. I use the fob to disengage the locks then practically dive into the backseat.
Samara is gone.
Her car seat is empty.
I look—irrationally—under the seats, and in the front, down at the passenger and driver’s side floorboards.
She isn’t here! How could she not be here?
My mind splinters like that of a panicked animal. My hands are shaking uncontrollably. I get out of the car and look under it. I look up and down the street. And then, I begin to scream her name, over and over again. I am still screaming her name when one of my neighbors comes out of her house.
I don’t know her, but she is holding a coffee mug and wearing a summer suit. Her eyes are wide in alarm. She can tell from the sound of my wails that I am not just calling to my child in the way that parents often do to get them to come. Her expression, which I register dimly, tells me that she knows right away that something very, very bad has happened.
I am sitting on the sofa in the living room and the house is crawling with uniformed officers when Noah arrives. Next to me is the neighbor lady whose name I should know since she told it to me at some point. But it flitted immediately out of my head, and I would not be able to retrieve it if my life depended on it. She is holding my hand and I am digging my fingernails into her palms though she doesn’t complain.
I have stopped making any sound, at least outwardly, but inside my soul is screaming like a banshee. Standing over me, is Detective Lewis. I retained his name, because he is important. He is the man who I need to believe will find my baby.
Noah’s suit-jacket is still on, but his tie looks askew, like he’s tugged at it. His tan face is drawn into a worried and horrified scowl. His sandy hair—always rakishly long in front—is disheveled.
“Dana!” he says again, shoving past the detective. “What … what … where’s Samara? Where’s …”
The detective steps between us. He looks Noah over.
I see his eyes taking it all in—Noah’s thirtyish all-American blonde and athletic good looks, and his frantic, frightened blue eyes. If he is at all surprised that we are an interracial couple, it is not apparent in Detective Lewis’ eyes. He probably guessed as much when he looked at the picture of my blonde-haired girl with a complexion that is light desert-sand, in contrast to my much tawnier brown.
“Yes.” Noah looks at the detective impatiently, then back at me. “Dana …”
The neighbor lady releases my hand, and though I am not looking at her, I can sense her watchfulness. I can almost feel her holding her breath, waiting for what comes next.
“Noah,” I say, reaching for him. “She’s … she’s gone.”
My face begins to crumple just as his does. But instead of crying, he raises his voice.
“What do you mean?” he demands, grabbing me by the shoulders. “What do you mean?”
“I went … She was in the car, and …”
“Mr. Farris …”
Detective Lewis tries to interject, but Noah is shaking me now, and I am flopping backward and forward as he does, unresisting. Someone pulls us apart, and I don’t see Noah because I am sobbing and looking down.
“Mr. Farris.” The detective is speaking again. “It appears … Your daughter is missing, and at least right now it seems as though she may have been abducted.”
“How could that have happened?” Noah’s voice is lower now, but not by much. “Dana! How the fuck …?”
“Your ex-wife was inside when …”
I look up, and Noah is staring at me in horror.
“How could you have been … Where was Samara when you were inside, Dana?”
“Your daughter was in the car,” Detective Lewis answers for me.
“In the car?” Noah repeats the words as though he’ll need someone to translate them for him.
“Mr. Farris.” There is stony emphasis in the detective’s tone. “If we’re to find your daughter, I’m going to need both you and your wife to answer some questions for me.”
Noah finally tears his accusing gaze from me. His face is almost blood-orange. I hear him breathing, labored and uneven breaths.
“What … what do you need to know?” he manages.
“You and your ex-wife have been …”
“My wife,” Noah says. “We’re just … we’re separated, not divorced.”
“Your wife. Yes. You’ve been living apart for how long now?”
“What the fuck does that have to do with anything?” Noah asks, looking pained. He glances at me again.
“I told him six months,” I offer.
“Six months, yes. Six months,” Noah says.
He glances up as a uniformed officer walks by, his radio squawking.
“What’re they looking for? Why are they even here when Samara …?”
His voice cracks, and my heart does as well. He looks at me. His eyes are brimming with a look of betrayal. “Dana,” he says, his face crumpling again. “You lost her? How could you do … how could you lose her?”