No. Not the whole night. What did I know of it? I couldn’t remember the whole of it. My only starting point was a slice back in time, when I’d woken on a grave, cold and lost.
I drew up a mental picture of the farmhouse, safe and warm and real, and felt a tear trickle down the side of my nose.
“I can take you home.” He nodded sympathetically. “I just need to take you to the hospital first.” I squeezed my eyes shut, hating myself for being reduced to crying. I couldn’t think of a better or faster way to show him just how frightened I really was.
He sighed—the softest of sounds, as if he wished there were a way around the news he was about to deliver. “You’ve been missing for eleven weeks, Nora. Do you hear what I’m saying?
Nobody knows where you’ve been the past three months. You need to be looked at. We need to make sure you’re okay.”
I stared at him without really seeing him. Tiny bells pealed in my ears but sounded very far off.
Deep in my stomach I felt a lurch, but I tried to stuff the queasiness away. I’d cried in front of him, but I wasn’t going to be sick.
“We think you were abducted,” he said, his face unreadable. He’d closed the distance between us and now stood too close. Saying things I couldn’t grasp. “Kidnapped.” I blinked. Just stood there and blinked.
A sensation grabbed my heart, tugging and twisting. My body went slack, tottering in the air. I saw the gold blur of the streetlights above, heard the river lapping under the bridge, smelled the exhaust from his running car. But it was all in the background. A dizzy afterthought.
With only that brief warning, I felt myself swaying, swaying. Falling into nothing.
I was unconscious before I hit the ground.
I WOKE IN A HOSPITAL.
The ceiling was white, the walls a serene blue. The room smelled of lilies, fabric softener, and ammonia. A cart on wheels pushed up beside my bed balanced two flower arrangements, a bouquet of ball oons that cheered GET WELL SOON! and a purple foil gift bag. The names on the note cards seesawed in and out of focus. DOROTHEA AND LIONEL. VEE.
There was movement in the corner.
“Oh, baby,” a familiar voice whispered, and the person behind it flung herself out of her chair and at me. “Oh, sweetheart.” She sat on the edge of my bed and drew me into a suffocating hug. “I love you,” she choked into my ear. “I love you so much.”
“Mom.” The mere sound of her name scattered the nightmares I’d just pulled myself out of. A wave of calm filled me, loosening the knot of fear in my chest.
I knew she was crying by the way her body shook against mine, little tremors at first and then great racking heaves. “You remember me,” she said, nothing short of deliverance welling up in her voice. “I was so scared. I thought—Oh, baby. I thought the worst!”
And just like that, the nightmares crept back under my skin. “Is it true?” I asked, something greasy and acidic churning in my stomach. “What the detective said. Was I … for eleven weeks …” I couldn’t bring myself to say the word. Kidnapped. It was so clinical. So impossible.
She made a sound of distress.
“What—happened to me?” I asked.
Mom dragged her fingertips under her eyes to dry them. I knew her well enough to know she was only trying to appear self-composed for my benefit. I immediately braced myself for bad news.
“The police are doing everything they can to piece together answers.” She put on a smile, but it wavered. As if she needed something to anchor herself to, she reached for my hand and squeezed it. “The most important thing is that you’re back. You’re home. Everything that happened—it’s over.
We’re going to get through this.”
“How was I kidnapped?” The question was directed more at myself. How had this happened?
Who would want to kidnap me? Had they pulled up in a car while I was leaving school? Stuffed me in the trunk while I was crossing the parking lot? Had it been that easy? Please no. Why hadn’t I run?Why hadn’t I fought? Why had it taken me so long to escape? Because clearly that’s what had happened. Wasn’t it? The shortage of answers pecked away at me.“What do you remember?” Mom asked. “Detective Basso said even a small detail might be helpful. Think back. Try to remember. How did you get to the cemetery? Where were you before that?”“I don’t remember anything. It’s like my memory …” I broke off. It was like part of my memory had been stolen. Snatched away, with nothing left in its place but a hollow panic. A feeling of violation swayed inside me, making me feel as if I’d been shoved off a high platform without warning. I was falling, and I feared the sensation far more than hitting bottom. There was no end; just a constant sense of gravity having its way with me.“What is the last thing you remember?” Mom asked.“School.” The answer rolled off my tongue automatically. Slowly my shattered memories began to stir, fragments shifting back together, locking against one another to form something solid. “I had a biology test coming up. But I guess I missed it,” I added, the reality of those eleven missing weeks sinking in deeper. I had a clear picture of sitting in Coach McConaughy’s biology class. The familiar smells of chalk dust, cleaning supplies, stuffy air, and the ever-present tang of body odor rose up from memory. Vee was beside me, my lab partner. Our textbooks were open on the black granite table in front of us, but Vee had stealthily slid a copy of US Weekly into hers.“You mean chemistry,” Mom corrected. “Summer school.”I fastened my eyes to hers, unsure. “I’ve never gone to summer school.” Mom brought her hand to her mouth. Her skin had blanched. The only sound in the room was the methodical tick of the clock above the window. I heard each tiny chime echo through me, ten times, before I found my voice.“What day is it? What month?” My mind spun back to the cemetery. The composting leaves. The subtle chil in the air. The man with the flashlight insisting it was September. The only word repeating over and over in my mind was no. No, it wasn’t possible. No, this wasn’t happening. No, months of my life couldn’t have just walked off unnoticed. I shoved my way back through my memories, trying to grasp anything that could help me bridge this moment to sitting in Coach’s biology class. But there was nothing to build on. Any memory of summer was completely and utterly gone.“It’s okay, baby,” Mom murmured. “We’re going to get your memory back. Dr. Howlett said most patients see marked improvement over time.”I tried to sit up, but my arms were a tangle of tubes and medical monitoring equipment. “Just tell me what month it is!” I repeated hysterically.“September.” Her crumpled face was unbearable. “September sixth.” I sank back down, blinking. “I thought it was April. I can’t remember anything past April.” I threw up walls to block the outbreak of fear banging inside me. I couldn’t deal with it in one great flood. “Is summer really—is it over? Just like that?”“Just like that?” she echoed in a detached voice. “It dragged on. Every day without you … Eleven weeks of knowing nothing … The panic, the worry, the fear, the hopelessness never ending …” I mulled this over, doing the math. “If it’s September, and I was gone for eleven weeks, then I went missing—”“June twenty-first,” she said blandly. “The night of summer solstice.” The wall I’d built was cracking faster than I could mentally repair it. “But I don’t remember June. I don’t even remember May.”We watched each other, and I knew we were sharing the same terrible thought. Was it possible my amnesia stretched further than the missing eleven weeks, all the way back to April? How could something like this even happen?“What did the doctor say?” I asked, moistening my lips, which felt papery and dry. “Did I have a head injury? Was I drugged? Why can’t I remember anything?”“Dr. Howlett said it’s retrograde amnesia.” Mom paused. “It means some of your preexisting memories are lost. We just weren’t sure how far back the memory loss went. April,” she whispered to herself, and I could see all hope fading from her eyes.“Lost? How lost?”“He thinks it’s psychological.”I plowed my hands through my hair, leaving an oily residue on my fingers. It suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t considered where I’d been all those weeks. I could have been chained in a dank basement. Or tied in the woods. Clearly I hadn’t showered in days. A glance at my arms revealed smudges of dirt, small cuts, and bruises all over. What had I gone through?“Psychological?” I forced myself to shut out the speculations, which only made the hysteria clamp down harder. I had to stay strong. I needed answers. I couldn’t fall apart. If I could force my mind to focus despite the spots popping across my vision …“He thinks you’re blocking it to avoid remembering something traumatic.”“I’m not blocking it.” I closed my eyes, unable to control the tears leaking from the corners. I sucked in a shaky breath and clamped my hands into tight balls to stop the awful trembling in my fingers. “I would know if I was trying to forget five months of my life,” I said, speaking slowly to force a measure of calm into my voice. “I want to know what happened to me.” If I glared at her, she ignored it. “Try to remember,” she urged gently. “Was it a man? Were you with a male this whole time?”Was I? Up until this point, I hadn’t put a face with my kidnapper. The only picture in my head was of a monster lurking beyond the reach of light. A terrible cloud of uncertainty loomed over me.“You know you don’t have to protect anyone, right?” she continued in that same soft tone. “If you know who you were with, you can tell me. No matter what they told you, you’re safe now. They can’t get you. They did this horrible thing to you, and it’s their fault. Their fault,” she repeated.A sob of frustration rose in my throat. The term “blank slate” was nauseatingly accurate. I was about to voice my hopelessness, when a shadow stirred near the doorway. Detective Basso stood just inside the room’s entrance. His arms were folded over his chest, his eyes alert.My body reflexively tensed. Mom must have felt it; she looked beyond the bed, following my gaze.“I thought Nora might remember something while it was just the two of us,” she told Detective Basso apologetically. “I know you said you wanted to question her, but I just thought—” He nodded, signaling that it was okay. Then he walked over, staring down at me. “You said you don’t have a clear picture, but even fuzzy details might help.”“Like hair color,” Mom interjected. “Maybe it was … black, for instance?” I wanted to tell her there was nothing, not even a lingering snapshot of color, but I didn’t dare with Detective Basso in the room. I didn’t trust him. Instinct told me something about him was … off.