The Amoses waited a day to report you missing. You had a habit of disappearing, but it was never more than a day. You were always back by sundown. No exceptions.
I knew this absence was different. You’d left to confront your past. I believed it was something that needed to be done before you left for bigger things, so I didn’t tell anyone. I sneaked into your room and took your father’s letter to keep the police from interfering with your healing. By accident, I knocked over a box on your desk.
Letters spilled over the floor. Dozens of them, written on the same yellowed paper as the one I held in my hand. I scooped them back into the box and took it with me when I left.
All through the week, I poured over the letters. Time meant nothing to me. I slept when my eyelids wouldn’t stay open and I ate when my parents shouted at me to come out of my room. The only thing I noticed in the midst of my obsession over your father’s letters was my growing anxiety and a new, slow-burning disgust.
You’ll forgive me, right? I couldn’t stop myself from reading them. It was only from them that I discovered what kind of person your father really was. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t believe you before. I thought it was just a child’s impression of a dramatic situation. The letters proved me wrong.
My first instinct was to go after you. While the letters didn’t have names on the envelopes, they all shared a return address. I knew where to find you, I just had to pack clothes and courage. And you know me–I don’t need more than a first instinct.
My clothes were packed and ready by my door within an hour of my decision to come after you, but another week passed in misery to remember where my courage was. It proved harder to find and contain.
I didn’t sit quietly through that long second week. Once my duffel was packed, I stood and hauled it over my shoulder, but thoughts of what awaited me, a stranger, at your father’s house stopped me from walking out even my bedroom door. After several minutes of standing, I let my bag slip off my shoulder and hit the floor with a soft thump. A second later, I slumped onto my bed and stared out my window.
I didn’t see the large oak or the birdfeeders my mom put on its low-hanging branches and around its trunk. I didn’t see the leaves rustling with the warm summer breeze or the rain pelting the windowpanes. The only things on my mind were you in that house and me in my failure. I’d never been known to be a coward before, but I thought to myself then that maybe I’d never truly been tested.
My parents left me alone through the first week. You were the only friend I had left. They knew better than to intrude on my brooding. But when I was up and moving around in the second week, my parents became worried. They didn’t know whether to believe that I was attempting to move on (never crossed my mind) or whether I was planning on finding you on my own.
They were half-right on the second guess: each day, I made it a little farther out the door. The first day, I didn’t make it out of my room. On the second day, I made it to the front door and no farther. Day three, I made it halfway down the street and turned around in a shower of frustration and anxiety. Day four and five, I made it a little farther down the road.
On the sixth day, I stopped across the street from your father’s house.
The windows were dark and some of the shades were drawn. A tall fence blocked the backyard from street view, but I could make out the tops of several small flowering trees along its edge. For a family with secrets and horrors aplenty, your house seemed like just another house in a cul-de-sac.
Even across the street, I couldn’t bring myself to knock on the door. With a final glance at what I assumed to be your prison, I turned away with a vow to return the following day with as much courage as I could find in myself.
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