3 | One Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
I stay awake all night, shivering, sobbing.
I’m curled in the fetal position in the backseat of my car when I hear tires against gravel. I sit up, squinting through the bright sunlight, cringing as my head throbs. The vehicle is oncoming and I get flashbacks from last night. Blythe, my sister, where have they taken you?
They pull up beside me, parking on the opposite side of the road. My eyes go wide and equanimity briefly floods in. I recognize the car as well as the woman who sits behind the wheel. I waste no time in getting out of my own car, stumbling as my feet hit the ground. I’m stiff and dizzy.
"Mum," I croak weakly, my throat sore.
She opens her door, worry evident on her face.
“Beth,” she cries, running up to me. She envelopes me in her arms and becomes the only thing keeping me from collapsing. I don’t hold her back but I bury my face in her neck. She breathes, not knowing what else to say. I stay silent for a few moments, struggling with the news I’m about to deliver. “Beth.”
“Mum, they took Blythe,” I cry.
“What?” She pulls away, taking my shoulders in her hands. We stand nose to nose and I watch as her eyes dart rapidly back and forth, scouring my face. She hones in on my jaw. “What happened to you?”
“I was hit with a gun—” I shake my head. I begin to break down. “It doesn’t matter, mum. They took Blythe. She’s gone and...and it’s all my fault.”
“Who’s they?” Mum asks. She can’t comprehend what I’m telling her. She shakes her head slowly, in denial. “And why did they take Blythe? Where is she? Do you know where she is? Why didn’t you call the cops? Why didn’t you call me?”
I purse my lips, pointing at my phone that has evidence of a bullet wound. Mum looks down at it, paling, before glancing at my flat tires. She puts two-and-two together, knowing my tires have been shot at too. I don’t know how to explain things to her without making her fear the worst.
She already does.
“No, mum. No one was shot. Just my phone and tires,” I reassure her. I expect her to breathe a sigh of relief but she doesn’t. Her other daughter may not be murdered, but she is still missing. “They won’t hurt her.”
“Who is they, Beth?!” She yells, pleading for answers. “And why did they take Blythe?”
“Terrence, Lawrence, and Spencer.”
“Terrence as in...your ex-husband?” She asks, dumbfounded. She doesn’t know how to register what I’m telling her. Neither do I.
“Yes, Terrence as in my ex-husband,” I verify. Tears leak from my eyes and I wipe them away. “They—they ambushed us. I didn’t know it was them at first. They were wearing balaclavas and I couldn’t see their faces. I—”
“Well how do you know it was them at all, Beth?!” She shrieks. “What if it wasn’t them? What if she’s been taken by three complete strangers? What if they kill her? What if they’ve killed her already? Oh my god, Beth. Beth—”
“They used Lawrence’s truck, they took her luggage,” I lick my lips. “I know it’s them because Terrence...he was the one who grabbed Blythe. He grabbed her from the passenger seat and he looked right at me. Beyond reasonable doubt it was his eyes.”
“Why did they take her?” She fires at me. “You said it was your fault. How is it your fault? Can’t we call the police? Actually, I’m going to call them right now—”
"No!” I shout, then exhale air through my nose, lowering my voice. “No, mum. We can’t call the police. It’s not that clear-cut. They’re not going to hurt her, I promise.”
I swallow, my next statement tasting sour.
“You know how Terrence felt—feels about Blythe, mum...”
“I don’t care how he feels about her. I know how she feels about him,” again she shakes her head. “I’m calling the police.”
She removes a hand from my shoulder to retrieve her phone from her back pocket but I grasp her wrist. She stares at me, furrowing her brows, jaw dropping.
“Didn’t you hear me? We can’t call the police, mum. We absolutely can’t,” my expression dims with remorse. “It will make things worse. You have to trust me. You know their business.”
Mum blinks at me a few times before she becomes incredulous.
“Beth,” she implores. “Tell me you didn’t. Please, tell me you didn’t.”
I release her wrist. I know she won’t make the call now. Automatically she understands.
“I had no choice, mum.”
But that’s not true. I had a choice but I made the wrong one.
“How did Blythe get involved in this? Why did they take her? I just—I just don’t get that. What did you do, Beth? What have you done?”
“I turned to Terrence for a favor and he wouldn’t grant it unless,” I run a hand through my knotted hair. “Unless I used Blythe as collateral.”
I can see the anger in her blue eyes, darkening them. Her disappointment strikes me like a slap across the face. She’s speechless. I’d rather have her go off on a tirade about how reckless and selfish I am. Her silence makes me realize neither of us have the slightest semblance of an idea on how to rectify this situation.
“I thought I could meet the deadline. Terrence will only accept payment in full. My sales had been good, then. I thought I could come up with the money in time. I—I shouldn’t have done it. I wish I could go back and change it—”
“But you can’t,” Mum says, stepping away from me. She wrings her hands, fidgeting. She looks to the ground, unable to even meet my eyes. She’s raised me better than this.
“I’m sorry, mum. I’m so sorry,” I sob, covering my face with my hands.
“It’s not me you owe an apology to, Beth,” she just stands there as I cry, refusing to comfort me. I don’t blame her. There’s no sense of maternal connection as she says, “I fell asleep waiting for your text. When I woke up and saw no messages from you...I knew something was wrong. I just didn’t think it would be this bad.”
“How did you know to look out here?” I ask through my sobs.
“The four of us took this road when we dropped Blythe off at the airport for the first time,” the four of us being Blythe, mum, Terrence and I. “It only made sense.”
“Thank you for finding me,” I sniff. I can’t help but apologize again. “I’m so sorry.”
Her tone when she speaks next is clipped. She doesn’t want to listen to my shame.
“I’m going to call a tow-truck and I will wait for it with you. After that is sorted I want you to figure out how to sort this out. This is your fault. You need to fix it.”
“I don’t know how to fix it, mum,” I say as she takes out her phone. She unlocks it and begins to dial the number for the tow-truck, fingers trembling, lips pursed.
Without looking up at me she asks, “how much do you owe Terrence?”
"One hundred twenty-five thousand.” I confess, voice barely above a whisper.
She looks up at me, then, once again rendered dumbfounded. She shakes her head disbelievingly, waiting for me to laugh and tell her I’m bluffing, but when I don’t she turns her back to me and gets into her vehicle wordlessly. She’s in shock when she makes the call, barely able to hold it together. I stand there, rubbing my arms, watching her fold over the steering wheel and cry after she hangs up.
What have I done?