23 | Fire + Stone
I visit mom for the first time since I first called Terrence. She agreed to give me an old SUV of hers that she hadn’t used for a few years, still in very good condition. It’s paid off and everything. I did not want to continue driving my car because it would be a vicious circle of remembering the last time I saw Blythe and I do not want to remember her that way. I did not want to purchase a new vehicle either because it seems wise to pinch my pennies in the event my savings become useful. Mom also agreed to talk.
We sit at her kitchen table. She cannot make eye contact; she can hardly even face in my direction. She has started smoking cigarettes again, having quit shortly after dad died. She stares at the wall as she inhales, tapping the cinders into a crystal ashtray. I tremble in her presence. I have a feeling by the end of this visit she is only going to resent me more.
“Blythe hates me,” I blurt. My lips shiver with grief. “I called Terrence and asked to speak to her and once he gave her the phone she said she didn’t want anything to do with me, then she repeated it to him as she was handing the phone back. He was so smug about it, mom, like he had won the lottery with the ticket I gave him.”
“What did you expect? It’s been weeks. She wasn’t going to be your biggest fan forever.”
“When you text me for Terrence’s number, did you end up calling him?” I ask. Once I gave her his number she never responded.
“Yes, I did. I tried to offer him more money than you owe him. Told him I was willing to sell the house. He was not even vaguely interested. I told him she wants children,” I know Terrence has never wanted kids. This shoots pangs of guilt to my stomach. “None of it resonated. You made a deal with the devil—you gave him the angel he’s wanted all along. He’s not letting her go for anyone or anything.”
“Did you—" tears stream down my cheeks, hot, nearly burning. “Did you speak to Blythe?”
“Terrence offered but I said no. I just...I just couldn’t. I failed her long before you did, and I keep failing her. I can’t get her out of there. I have no idea where she is. Talking to her is just...too painful. After he denied my plea I felt so ashamed. How can I hear her sweet voice after I couldn’t save her? Knowing she’s alive feels like enough even though I know deep down it isn’t.”
“So that’s it, then? You’re just going to give up? She may be my sister but she is also your daughter. How can you sit around just weeping and moaning about her? How can you be okay never hearing her voice again?”
“You can sit there all high and mighty and judge me all you want but do not forget the reason why she is there,” her tone is clipped, sharp, sending warnings in my direction. “I may have failed to protect her, but I never thought I’d have to protect her from you. My greatest shortcoming is not evacuating with her when you told me what Terrence does for a living. I believed you when you said we weren’t at risk. This is not my mess to clean up but I tried, Beth. What have you done?”
“I haven’t started pretending that she’s already dead.”
“Isn’t she? What has she got to live for?” Mom whispers, smiling. “I can’t turn to the cops for this, Beth, because as soon as I mention Terrence or one of his brothers they will laugh at me. And even if I meet a cop who can help us, Terrence will find out and he will kill him. Then he will kill you. Then he will kill me. Do not think he won’t do it, Beth. It’s what he does for a living. He loved you at one point but you are nothing to him now. Blythe is everything. He will exterminate anything that poses a threat to her being there. Even us, no matter how it impacts her.”
I fall silent. Mom raises valid points but I have a hard time giving her credit and agreeing with her. I can’t fathom there being no way to get Blythe out of there. This can’t be how it all ends. There has to be more. There must be possibilities we haven’t thought of yet. Mom may have given up but I haven’t.
“I’ve tried tracking his location. I’ve tried locating Blythe’s cellphone. But it’s all dead-ends that lead to nowhere,” mom continues. “I don’t want to accept that I may never see Blythe again but, Beth, that is the reality of it all. I haven’t started pretending that she’s already dead, I just know that Terrence has built a fortress around his life that we can’t penetrate. Blythe is inside that fortress. You know how iron-clad his life is. You tell me how likely it is we can smash his walls.”
“A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link,” I say. “Terrence has friends in high and low places, yes, but there is a soft underbelly somewhere that we just haven’t found yet. I don’t think it’s Spencer or Lawrence, they will never betray Terrence for me. We just haven’t explored all the angles yet. I’m always thinking, mom—"
“Thinking is not doing. Thinking is silent. Thinking is not going to get Blythe out of there,” she butts out her cigarette before taking another one from her almost empty pack. “Thinking is not productive in this situation. Chances are if you think of a plan, Terrence has already had a counterattack in his back pocket for months. You will only be bringing a knife to a gun fight.”
“At least I’m thinking which is more than you can say—"
“How far has your thinking got you, Beth? All cases that go unsolved after a while go cold. What happens after a few months? All the lightbulbs going off in your head will burn out,” she stares at me for the first time. She cloaks her sorrow with hatred. “Terrence is smarter than you and he is smarter than me, but he is not smarter than Blythe. We are outsiders looking in but Blythe is on the inside. You can never find the soft underbelly but she will.”
I clench my jaw. Mom has no faith in me. She loves Blythe more than she’s ever loved me. Blythe has been her favorite since the day she was born. Her absence has taken mom out right at the knees. I’ve robbed her of not only her livelihood, but of her pride and joy. She doesn’t know how to function, she only knows how to carry on as if everything is in its proper place. She’d never get out of bed if she didn’t fabricate the narrative.
“I do want to hear her voice again one day, Beth, but right now I just can’t,” mom confides. “I don’t want to hear it over the phone, I want to see her lips move. I want to be able to hug her and tell her how sorry I am for allowing this to happen. I want to promise her nothing like this will happen again. I will follow her wherever she goes just so I know she’s safe. I will make sure the Bishop brothers can never get their hands on her again.”
“You didn’t allow this to happen, mom,” I grab her shoulder in an attempt to comfort her but she yells at me to take it off. I sit back in shock, mouth open as my crying ceases.
“I don’t need you to tell me that. I don’t want to hear it from you,” mom snaps. “I didn’t allow it to happen on purpose but I never did anything to prevent it from happening, either. I trusted you which is a mistake I’ll never make again. I understand why Blythe doesn’t want to speak to you. Once she’s liberated, I will never speak to you again either. You are always my daughter, but you are also a disappointment. I know I did not raise you to sell family like cattle.”
She butts out her second cigarette before standing and making her way into her bedroom. She emerges seconds later and tosses a pair of car keys at me. She sits back down and lights a third cigarette. Her fingers are shaking and she pinches the bridge of her nose, clenching her eyes shut. I want to fire back at her but I can’t. I deserve all the stones she casts at me.
“I’m sorry, mom,” I sob. “I am going to get her back. I won’t rest until I do.”
“Good luck,” mom says dismissively. “Now please leave.”
I do what mom asks of me. I know that mom will never forgive me for what I’ve done even if I fix it. My mistake is not erased, or absolved, even if it’s reversed.
Given my earlier interaction with Blythe, she will never forgive me either.