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The runaway New York Times bestseller—over half a million copies in print
It happens quietly one hot August morning in Iowa: two families awaken to find their little girls have gone missing in the night.
Seven-year-old Calli Clark suffers from selective mutism brought on by a tragedy when she was a toddler. Petra Gregory is Calli's best friend—and her voice. But neither girl has been heard from since they vanished.
Now, Calli and Petra's parents are tied by the question of what happened to their children. And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets.
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Heather Gudenkauf is an Edgar Award nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. Heather lives in Iowa with her husband and children. In her free time Heather enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and running.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I can't sleep, again. It's too hot, my necklace is sticking to my neck. I'm sitting on the floor in front of the electric fan, and the cool air feels good against my face. Very quiet I am talking into the fan so I can hear the buzzy, low voice it blows back at me. "I am Petra, Princess of the World," I say. I hear something outside my window and for a minute I am scared and want to go wake up Mom and Dad. I crawl across my carpet on my hands, the rug rubbing against my knees all rough. I peek out the window and in the dark I think I see someone looking up at me, big and scary. Then I see something smaller at his side. Oh, I'm not scared anymore. I know them. I think, "Wait, I'm coming, too!" For a second I think I shouldn't go. But there is a grown-up out there, too. Mom and Dad can't get mad at me if there's a grown-up. I pull on my tennis shoes and sneak out of my room. I'll just go say hi, and come right back in.
Calli and her father had been walking for a while now, but Calli knew exactly where they were and where they were not within the sprawling woods. They were near Beggar's Bluff Trail, where pink-tipped turtleheads grew in among the ferns and rushes and where Calli would often see sleek, beautiful horses carrying their owners gracefully through the forest. Calli wished that a cinnamon-colored mare or a black-splotched Appaloosa would crash from the trees, startling her father back to his senses. But it was Thursday and Calli rarely encountered another person on the trails near her home during the week. There was a slight chance that they would run into a park ranger, but the rangers had over thirty miles of trails to monitor and maintain. Calli knew she was on her own and resigned herself to being dragged through the forest with her father. They were nowhere near Deputy Sheriff Louis's home. Calli could not decide whether this was a good thing or not. Bad because her father showed no indication of giving up his search and Calli's bare feet were scratched from being pulled across rocky, uneven paths. Good because if they ever did get to Deputy Louis's home her father would say unforgivable things and then Louis would, in his calm low voice, try to quiet him and then call Calli's mother. His wife would be standing in the doorway behind him, her arms crossed, eyes darting furtively around to see who was watching the spectacle.
Her father did not look well. His face was white, the color of bloodroot, the delicate early spring flower that her mother showed to her on their walks in the woods, his coppery hair the color of the red sap from its broken roots. Periodically stumbling over an exposed root, he continued to clutch Calli's arm, all the time muttering under his breath. Calli was biding her time, waiting for the perfect moment to bolt, to run back home to her mother.
They were approaching a clearing named Willow Wallow. Arranged in a perfect half-moon adjacent to the creek was an arc of seven weeping willows. It was said that the seven willows were brought to the area by a French settler, a friend of Napoleon Bonaparte, the willows a gift from the great general, the wispy trees being his favorite.
Calli's mother was the kind of mother who would climb trees with her children and sit among the branches, telling them stories about her great-great-grandparents who immigrated to the United States from Czechoslovakia in the 1800s. She would pack the three of them a lunch of peanut butter fluff sandwiches and apples and they would walk down to Willow Creek. They would hop across the slick, moss-covered rocks that dotted the width of the creek. Antonia would lay an old blanket under the long, lacy branches of a willow tree and they would crawl into its shade, ropy tendrils surrounding them like a cloak. There the willows would become huts on a deserted island; Ben, back when he had time for them, was the brave sailor; Calli, his dependable first mate; Antonia, the pirate chasing them, calling out with a bad cockney accent. "Ya landlubbers, surrender an' ya won' haf to walk da plank!"
"Never!" Ben yelled back. "You'll have to feed us to the sharks before we surrender to the likes of you, Barnacle Bart!"
"So be it! Prepare ta swim wid da fishes!" Antonia bellowed, flourishing a stick.
"Run, Calli!" Ben screeched and Calli would. Her long pale legs shadowed with bruises from climbing trees and skirting fences, Calli would run until Antonia would double over, hands on her knees.
"Truce, truce!" Antonia would beg. The three of them would retreat to their willow hut and rest, sipping soda as the sweat cooled on their necks. Antonia's laugh bubbled up from low in her chest, unfettered and joyous. She would toss her head back and close eyes that were just beginning to show the creases of age and disappointment. When Antonia laughed, those around her did, too, except for Calli. Calli hadn't laughed for a long time. She smiled her sweet, close-lipped grin, but an actual giggle, which once was emitted freely and sounded of chimes, never came, though she knew her mother waited expectantly.
Antonia was the kind of mother who let you eat sugar cereal for Sunday supper and pizza for breakfast. She was the kind of mom who, on rainy nights, would declare it Spa Night and in a French accent welcome you to Toni's House of Beauty. She would fill the old claw-foot bathtub full of warm, lilac-scented bubbles and then, after rubbing you dry with an oversize white towel, would paint your toenails Wicked Red, or mousse and gel your hair until it stood at attention in three-inch spikes.
Griff, on the other hand, was the kind of father who drank Bud Light for breakfast and dragged his seven-year-old daughter through the forest in a drunken search for his version of the truth. The sun beginning to rise, Griff sat the two of them down beneath one of the willow trees to rest.
I can feel Fielda's face against my back, her arm wrapped around my ever-growing middle. It's too hot to lie in this manner, but I don't nudge her away from me. Even if I was in Dante's Inferno, I could not push Fielda away from me. We have only been apart two instances since our marriage fourteen years ago and both times seemed too much for me to bear. The second time that Fielda and I were apart I do not speak about. The first separation was nine months after our wedding and I went to a conference on economics at the University of Chicago. I remember lying in the hotel on my lumpy bed with its stiff, scratchy comforter, wishing for Fielda. I felt weightless without her there, that without her arm thrown carelessly over me in sleep, I could just float away like milkweed on a random wind. After that lonely night I forewent the rest of my seminars and came home.
Fielda laughed at me for being homesick, but I know she was secretly pleased. She came to me late in my life, a young, brassy girl of eighteen. I was forty-two and wed to my job as a professor of economics at St. Gilianus College, a private college with an enrollment of twelve hundred students in Willow Creek. No, she was not a student; many have asked this question with a light, accusatory tone. I met Fielda Mourning when she was a waitress at her family's café, Mourning Glory. On my way to the college each day I would stop in at the Mourning Glory for a cup of coffee and a muffin and to read my newspaper in a sun-drenched corner of the café. I remember Fielda, in those days, as being very solicitous and gracious to me, the coffee, piping hot, and the muffin sliced in half with sweet butter on the side. I must admit, I took this considerate service for granted, believing that Fielda treated all her patrons in this manner. It was not until one wintry morning, about a year after I started coming to the Mourning Glory, that Fielda stomped up to me, one hand on her ample hip, the other hand holding my cup of coffee.
"What," Fielda shrilly aimed at me, "does a girl have to do in order to get your attention?" She banged the cup down in front of me, my glasses leaping on my nose in surprise, coffee sloshing all over the table.
Before I could splutter a response, she had retreated and then reappeared, this time with my muffin that she promptly tossed at me. It bounced off my chest, flaky crumbs of orange poppy seed clinging to my tie. Fielda ran from the café and her mother, a softer, more careworn version of Fielda, sauntered up to me. Rolling her eyes heavenward, she sighed. "Go on out there and talk to her, Mr. Gregory. She's been pining over you for months.
Either put her out of her misery or ask her to marry you. I need to get some sleep at night."
I did go out after Fielda and we were married a month later.
Lying there in our bed, the August morning already sweeping my skin with its prickly heat, I twist around, find Fielda's slack cheek in the darkness and kiss it. I slide out of bed and out of the room. I stop at Petra's door. It is slightly open and I can hear the whir of her fan. I gently push the door forward and step into her room, a place so full of little girl whimsy that it never fails to make me pause. The carefully arranged collections of pinecones, acorns, leaves, feathers and rocks all expertly excavated from our backyard at the edge of Willow Creek Woods. The baby dolls, stuffed dogs and bears all tucked lovingly under blankets fashioned from washcloths and arranged around her sleeping form. The little girl perfume, a combination of lavender-scented shampoo, green grass and perspiration that holds only the enzymes of the innocent, overwhelms me every time I cross this threshold. My eyes begin to adjust to the dark and I see that Petra is not in her bed. I am not alarmed; Petra often has bouts of insomnia and skulks downstairs to the living room to watch television.
I, too, go downstairs, but very quickly I know that Petra is not watching television. The house is quiet, no droning voices or canned laughter. I walk briskly through each room, switching on lights, the living room—no Petra. The dining room, the kitchen, the bathroom, my office—no Petra. Back through the kitchen down to the basement—no Petra. Rushing up the stairs to Fielda, I shake her awake.
"Petra's not in her bed," I gasp.
Fielda leaps from the bed and retraces the path I just followed, no Petra. I hurry out the back door and circle the house once, twice, three times. No Petra. Fielda and I meet back in the kitchen, and we look at one another helplessly. Fielda stifles a moan and dials the police.
We quickly pulled on clothes in order to make ourselves presentable to receive Deputy Sheriff Louis. Fielda continues to wander through each of the rooms, checking for Petra, looking through closets and under the stairs. "Maybe she went over to Calli's house," she says.
"At this time of the morning?" I ask. "What would possess her to do that? Maybe she was too hot and went outside to cool off and she lost track of time," I add. "Sit down, you're making me nervous. She is not in this house!" I say, louder than I should have. Fielda's face crumples and I go to her. "I'm sorry," I whisper, though her constant movement is making me nervous. "We'll go make coffee for when he arrives."
"Coffee? Coffee?" Fielda's voice is shrill and she is looking at me incredulously. "Let's just brew up some coffee so we can sit down and discuss how our daughter has disappeared. Disappeared right from her bedroom in the middle of the night! Would you like me to make him breakfast, too?
Eggs over easy? Or maybe waffles. Martin, our child is missing. Missing!" Her tirade ends in whimpers and I pat her on the back. I am no consolation to her, I know.
There is a rap at the front door and we both look to see Deputy Sheriff Louis, tall and rangy, his blond hair falling into his serious blue eyes. We invite him into our home, this man almost half my age, closer to Fielda's own, and sit him on our sofa.
"When did you see Petra last?" he asks us. I reach for Fielda's hand and tell him all that we know.
I am being lifted from my sleep by the low rumble of what I think at first is thunder and I smile, my eyes still closed. A rainstorm, cool, plump drops. I think that maybe I should wake Calli and Ben. They both would love to go stomp around in the rain, to rinse away this dry, hot summer, if just for a few moments. I reach my hand over to Griff's side of the bed, empty and cooler than mine. It's Thursday, the fishing trip. Griff went fishing with Roger, no thunder, a truck? I roll over to Griff's side, absorb the brief coolness of the sheets and try to sleep, but continuous pounding, a solid banging on the front door, is sending vibrations through the floorboards. I swing my legs out of bed, irritated. It's only six o'clock, for Christ's sake. I pull on the shorts that I had dropped on the floor the night before and run my fingers through my bed-mussed hair. As I make my way through the hallway I see that Ben's door is tightly shut, as it normally is. Ben's room is his private fortress; I don't even try to go in there anymore. The only people he invites in are his school friends and his sister, Calli. This is surprising to me. I grew up in a family of four brothers and they let me enter their domain only when I forced my way in.
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Book Description MIRA, 2016. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0778319377
Book Description Mira Books, 2016. Paperback. Condition: Brand New. reprint edition. 400 pages. 7.50x4.19x0.97 inches. In Stock. Seller Inventory # 0778319377
Book Description MIRA, 2016. Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110778319377
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