I then heard the click on the door as it was unlocked. I started for the door yelling at Jake, “JAKE, HOW COULD YOU KEEP…” and stopped in my place when Jake entered with a man, and two women, one older and one younger; the poster fell from my hand.
“Please, come in,” Jake said he ushered the people into the house. He looked at me as I stared passed him to each person walking in the door.
“Oh my God! These can’t be them, can they? She looks like me, or do I look like her? Is this my little sister? She is all grown up.” So many thoughts ran through my head as I just stood there gawking. I was in shock.
Jake came up to me and took my hand. “Stacy, I’d like you to meet the Bishops. This is Ryan and his wife, Samantha, and their youngest daughter, Sarah.” I heard him introduce each one and then me to them, “...and this is Stacy…”
“Our daughter,” I heard Samantha whisper. She was holding onto Ryan with tears in her eyes as she looked at me.
I didn’t know what I was doing until I felt myself wrapped in her arms. I hung on to her for dear life and just cried and cried. I cried tears of loss, tears of anger and tears of joy. At some point we slid to the floor where she just held me as Jake excused himself.
I felt Ryan kneel down beside Samantha and wrap his arounds her shoulders and set one hand on mine. I flinched at first, as the only man who I allowed to touch me was Jake, but I kept reminding myself that this man was my father and not one of those men. “I’m sorry,” I whispered to him as he took his hand back.
I eventually calmed myself down and sat back, still on the floor. No one said anything for a very long time and I didn’t know what to say or how to begin to talk to them. I finally got up and invited them into the living room and we all sat on one of the couches or chairs. I saw Jake in the kitchen and gave him a loving, yet apologetic smile for my little outburst when he came home. He just nodded and smiled back at me. I’m pretty sure he knew what I was going to say and knew I found the file.
“It is so good to see you again,” Samantha started, “we have missed you so much and I’m sorry we couldn’t…” she couldn’t finish her thought.
“I’ve...I’ve missed you too,” I said. “How...how did you know to come here?” I asked them, already knowing the answer, but I needed to hear it said out loud.
“About a week or so ago, we got a call from our local police station saying they have word that you were found here in Chicago. We immediately contacted the local department here and spoke with a Detective...Marcus, I believe his name was,” Ryan answered. “He told us that you were safe and living here since …” He couldn’t finish, which tells me that they know...they know how I was found.
He coughed a little to clear his throat before continuing. “Det. Marcus put us in touch with Mr. Masterson, who told us that you were living with him and doing well. We had talked a few times since then planning this trip here to surprise you. I’m sorry we didn’t come sooner, but…” he trailed off again.
“It’s OK, really. I only recently discovered who you were myself,” I paused and looked at Jake who was standing in the kitchen watching us. “And I didn’t know if I wanted to meet you right away or not,” I admitted.
“Why?” I heard Sarah whisper.
I looked over to her and smiled a weak smile. “I...I was scared. I spent so many years away from all of you that I couldn’t form a clear memory until earlier today when I was looking at some photos Det. Marcus found. In fact, it’s been a challenge to remember your faces and your voices and I didn’t know if I would recognize you if I were to see you again,” I whimpered a little. “I was afraid that you all moved on and forgot about me or stopped looking for me because I was dead or something.” I kept rambling on about my thoughts and fears.
I felt Jake come up beside me and put his hands on my shoulders to calm me down. I looked up at him and he gave me a reassuring smile and then he sat on the arm of the chair next to me.
“Oh sweetie,” Samantha began, “we never forgot about and never stopped looking for you. We had so many people looking for you, but we didn’t know where to begin. Did we ever fear the worse? Yes, we did, but I knew in my heart that you were out there somewhere. I hated myself so much for letting you out of my sight that day and …” she started sobbing.
“Samantha, I don’t blame you,” I said. “I have recalled that day many, many times and I know it was me that ran off and accepted help from a stranger, even though I knew better. Did I ever blame you? Maybe, in my head, but I was too young to know anything different. I...I was told over and over that you didn’t want me and never cared about me, and that I was in a better place,” I huffed. “I didn’t want to believe them, but eventually I gave up. Over time, my memories faded of all of us and I couldn’t remember your faces or your voices and I became a shell of who I was.
I’m not sure what Det. Marcus or Jake have told you about the last several months, but one of my first flashbacks or dreams was about the day at the carnival or county fair that I read about. I told Jake about it and admitted that I couldn’t remember you, any of you. Even as my memories returned, I couldn’t get a clear image. As I said, they only really came back today as I was looking at some photos and then...here you all are.” I stopped for a breath and Jake squeezed my hand that he was now holding.
“Please, call me Sam. I know it is hard for you to call me Mom right now, but I understand,” Sam looked at me with sad eyes. I nodded.
Jake had gone to make us some dinner and set the table for the five of us. I spent the time listening to my family talk about their lives in North Dakota and more about my childhood as they shared memories from when I was little. As I listened, I often closed my eyes and could almost see myself there again and I smiled, a genuine smile.
They told me about my grandparents in both North Dakota and in Wisconsin and how much they missed me and were glad to hear that I was found safe. Sarah told me how she handled things and about her schooling and her plans for college that was to start in a few days.
I told them about my life here in Chicago and with Jake and how close we have become. I told them about my work in helping the other girls that were rescued and how much I gained from that experience. “In fact, helping them made me realize that I wanted to do this for others as well. Maybe I could focus on creating something to help them...maybe with Jake’s help.” I thought to myself.
Jake announced that dinner was ready and I led my family to the dining room and helped Jake bring the food to the table. He had been pretty quiet most of the evening so far and I was very appreciative of that. I did want to talk to him and thank him for all this, but that would have to wait until we were alone.
We all talked through dinner and even Jake had joined in. It sounded like he had been talking to them for a while now and felt comfortable joining in. I still wasn’t thrilled that he kept this from me, but he made this all happen and I was grateful for that. I must have gotten lost in my thoughts again when I heard Jake ask me, “Stacy, are you OK?”
I nodded, “Yeah. I just wanted to soak this all in,” as I pointed to everyone here. He gave me a weird look like he knew I wasn’t telling him everything and then smirked.
“Listen Stacy, I’m sorry for not telling you sooner what I had been given from Det. Marcus. He had been in contact with your family and told me he gave them my number to reach out to us. When they did, I wanted to fly them out here as soon as possible, but…”
“We made him keep it a secret from you until we were able to get here,” Ryan interrupted. “I know we should have come right away when we found out, but like you, we were also scared. We were afraid of what we would find and we were afraid that you wouldn’t accept us back into your life. We wanted to know more before we came here and that’s why we talked to Jake several times to understand what you had been through. Please don’t be upset with him for telling us what you went through or from keeping this from you, he only did what we asked him to.”
I looked at Ryan with a silent ‘thank you’ for telling me this and then to Jake and gave him a reassuring smile that we will be OK. Everyone resumed talking and telling stories and it was almost as if we have been a family all along...the key word is ‘almost’.
The Bishops stayed with us for the rest of the weekend in the spare bedrooms. They reacted like typical parents when they discovered that Jake and I share a bedroom and sleep together. I reminded them that I wasn’t that little girl they remembered and that being with Jake gave me comfort that I couldn’t get when I was alone from my own thoughts.
Sunday went really well and Jake and I showed them around the city like he had shown me in our first few days together. They hadn’t been to Chicago before and being from a very small town, it was a little overwhelming. We walked along Navy Pier, drove along the lakefront, visited the Sears Tower, and yes, Jake got me to walk out onto the glass window and look at the ground below. We took a lot of pictures together as a family, some of Sarah and I, some of Jake and I, and I took several of just them as well. It was a wonderful day and I was grateful for every minute of it.
Monday rolled around, and since it was Labor Day, Jake took off from work to spend the day with us. We spent most of the afternoon on the rooftop terrace and grilled out for dinner. Jordan came over for a little while with his new girlfriend, Dina, and so did Connie, Lizzie and Todd. We introduced everyone to my family and had a great time.
As dusk set, I was standing near the doorway to the house and just watched everyone.
“Hey beautiful. What’s going through the head of yours?” Jake asked, coming up beside me.
“Thank you Jake, for everything. I still can’t believe they are here,” looking at my family and smiling. “Today and this past weekend have been perfect…”
“But…” he knew I had more to say.
“But when will it end?” I turned to face him. “I know Sarah is supposed to start school tomorrow, but she called and is able to start classes online and then resume next week, and my father needs to get back to work. Where does that leave me? Where does that leave us?” I asked him.
He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know baby, I don’t know. I wish I could give you the answers, but I guess we have to take it one day at a time.” He put his arms around me and I did the same to him.
“I guess you are right. I just don’t know what to do if I have to make a choice,” I started and set my head on his chest as I gave him a hug. “Do I stay here with you? Or do I go home with them?” I felt him kiss the top of my head as we just stood there.
Ryan and Sarah were able to stay with us until the next weekend, while Sam planned on staying a little longer. While Jake worked, I would show them around more of the city and took them to several museums or we just hung out at the park near the house. I also took time with each of them alone; but it was really awkward being with my father, so my time with him wasn’t very long.
I can’t explain it, but it just felt weird to be close to him. He was about the age of some of the men that came to ‘visit’ me and I think that played a huge part. I knew as a little girl I called him ‘Daddy’, but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything like that without thinking of Don. He did tell me what he did for a living as a cattle rancher and owned some farmland as well. He talked to me about some of his hobbies, which wasn’t a whole lot since he was always busy working. He enjoyed horseback riding, listening to country music and music of the ’80s, and drawing.
He told me about the search parties that were set up to find me and how he never gave up hope. He never asked me to talk about my situation, but he did listen as I talked about my time with Jake and how much he means to me. I even confessed to him that I loved Jake. I know there were a few times he wanted to give me a hug or put his hand on mine or on my knee, but I would flinch nearly every time. I hated it, but my body just reacted.
One day, Sam, Sarah and I went to Michigan Avenue to shop. This has become my favorite place to go, if you couldn’t tell by now. We visited a variety of stores and bought things here and there. I showed them the Bean and we took more pictures together and alone in front of it. We stopped by at the cafe Jake and I went to my first time there to have lunch. We went past Buckingham Fountain and took more pictures and just enjoyed each other’s company. I definitely connected better with them than with my father.
Another day I just went with Sarah to the Zoo and we talked. She told me more about herself and her hobbies including singing and songwriting, playing piano, horseback riding and reading. She had a job working for the general store in town, but recently quit to go to school at the University of North Dakota in Fargo. She wanted to be a musician, but not necessarily a performer. She was looking at the different music programs, but hadn’t officially decided on one but was leaning toward Music Therapy. She is taking a lot of music classes though as well as her basic required classes.
She told me about her boyfriend back home, named Ian. They have been together for a couple of years, but she isn’t sure if they are going to last once they are both fully engaged in college. He is going to the University of Minnesota and they had to say goodbye to each other before she left to see me. They do plan to talk on the phone and through the internet, but they will see how it goes.
Like my father, I told Sarah about me and Jake and what we’ve been through. I told her that I love him and have built a nice life here with him. I also talked more about my time helping the other girls I became close with. She asked the question that I was dreading since Labor Day: If you had to choose, would you come home with us or stay with Jake? I still didn’t know how to answer that and I told her as much. She looked a little sad about my answer, but I can’t blame her.
Ryan and Sarah left that Sunday to go back home or to college, leaving Sam here to establish a better relationship with me. They all knew that I wasn’t ready to leave Chicago, but they all hoped that I would go back home with them.