When her mother didn’t answer right away, Violet turned toward her to see what was the matter. “What is it?”
Her mom sighed, looking suddenly older…and worn out. She shook her head for several seconds before speaking, but she couldn’t avoid it forever. “Another girl.” Her voice cracked with quiet frustration. “From Buckley. From White River, Violet.”
Violet hovered where she was, half standing, half sitting, in the chair beside her mom at the kitchen table. “Who?” was all she could manage, too stunned by the news to move.
“Mackenzie Sherwin. She’s a little younger than you.”
Violet froze. That name. She knew that name.
“Is she a friend of yours?” her mom asked, placing her own chilled hand over Violet’s as Violet sank like a stone into the chair. “She was at a party last night, and then no one saw her again. Do you know who she is?” she asked again.
There was no point in lying. Even if they weren’t bound to discover the truth about where she’d gone last night, which they definitely were, this was no time for lies.
“I saw her last night,” Violet admitted, raising her eyes to meet her mom’s. “I was at the same party.”
Violet watched the looks that played across her mother’s face, from the dawning flash of anger as she realized that Violet had lied to her about where she’d been, to the fleeting panic that it could have been her own daughter, to relief. And, finally, to acceptance. She must have decided, like Violet had about the lying, that this wasn’t the time for reprimands. Although Violet knew that it would come…later.
“There’s a search party. They’re combing the woods to look for the girl. They can’t rule out the possibility that she just wandered away in the night and got lost. The reports coming in are that she was drinking pretty heavily.”
Violet thought about Mackenzie Sherwin. She could picture the younger girl who had thrown up in the bushes and then spent the rest of the night wandering in and out of the party with her own vomit drying in her hair. She could barely walk upright when Violet had last seen her.
“What if she’s not lost?” Violet asked, hating the question even as it poisoned her lips.
“They can’t rule that out either. They have every cop in the area looking for evidence, while half the city is combing the woods around the Hildebrands’ house looking for that poor girl.” Her mom squeezed Violet’s hand before letting it go. “Since you were there, your uncle Stephen might want to talk to you.”
“I’ll get dressed and go over there,” Violet decided.
Her mom looked up, as if surprised by the declaration. “No, Vi. I think you should stay here today….” She didn’t finish her thought, but Violet could hear the unspoken words that hung in the air…where it’s safe.
She thought about holing up in the house again, watching the clock and waiting, not doing anything productive, and she just couldn’t take it. And then she wondered if she would sense anything when she got there…a new echo maybe. She pushed away the troubling thought.
“No, Mom. I’m gonna go talk to Uncle Stephen. Maybe something I saw, anything, can help them find her.” She was surprised by her own conviction, but she knew she hadn’t yet convinced her mother, who was still wrestling with her own silent fears. “Don’t worry, Dad’s there. I won’t do anything without his permission.”
Violet waited for her mom to say something, holding her breath and willing her mother to agree to let her go.
When she did finally speak, her words were unsteady and filled with defeated fatigue. “I’d feel better if Jay was going with you,” she said.
Me too, Violet thought without giving her words voice. Me too.
Violet wasn’t sure what she’d expected to find when she turned down the road toward the house where she and her friends had partied just the night before. She had assumed there would be small groups moving around the area, calling out to the lost girl in hopes of finding her, misplaced among the thick stands of tall trees that practically overcrowded and dwarfed the few homes in the area.
But it wasn’t just a few Good Samaritans helping a missing neighbor. This was a full-on search-and-rescue operation. It had the feel of organized chaos, with emphasis on the organized part.
Violet had to park her car much farther away than anyone had the night before, when they were just a bunch of teenagers converging on the semi-isolated house. And people were still arriving behind her. While ahead of her, emergency vehicles, both police and fire, hovered around the entrance to the forests that lay beyond.
Men and women, young and old, volunteers and professionals, all dressed in brightly colored vests, many of them carrying walkie-talkies, moved in smaller groups in all directions, efficiently combing the endless landscape with deliberate order. It was like nothing she had ever seen before. They were like a swarming sea of fluorescent vests, bobbing and shifting in steady progression.
Violet made a quick scan of the area as she walked toward the mass of people, to see if she could spot her father or her uncle in the throng of rescue workers. But if they were there, they were lost among the crowd.
She approached what seemed to be the central hub of activity. Groups grew larger as more people arrived, waiting to be told what they could do to help. She recognized some of the people among them, parents of her friends, neighbors, people who worked at stores in the area, and even one of the teachers from her school.