The Doll Collector

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Chapter 2

Jennifer stared intently at her phone screen yet again, willing a reply from Dan that didn’t come. I expected as much.

It had been over almost four years since Dan had been the man that she had married. Since the last disaster at work he had been a mess. There were signs that he was regaining his self-respect, and consequently showing more to others, but every now and then it was as if the past six months had not happened.

An argument over something as simple as a curfew and some alleged smell of alcohol on her breath had been enough to send Dan into some kind of parental mental meltdown. This had been the first time that Dan’s temper had driven someone away from the house and threatened to disrupt the togetherness of their family.

She looked up at a family photograph taken during their holiday the previous year. The illusion of happiness was written all over the face of the tall, once black-haired man in the photo. He towered over the rest of the family, with his dark hair in stark contrast to the bright blonde of his wife and two children. Disney’s iconic Cinderella Castle in the distance had seemingly lifted his mood temporarily, but his changes in mood didn’t last. I keep thinking he’s changed. Perhaps I expect too much.

Still staring at the photo, she remembered the comments of infrequent visitors. Apparently, Abigail had become a miniature clone of her mother over the past few years. Her face was slightly smaller and rounder, but there was no denying how much they looked alike with the same blue eyes and the same shade of blonde, shoulder length hair.

Jen had wanted to have a quiet word with their daughter before school, but the distraction of preparing their son for nursery had prevented her from having that much-needed chat.

Now, she was missing. I know I’m probably worrying too much, over-reacting, but that’s the job of a mother.

Abigail had been at school. She would have received a call hours ago from a truant monitor if she hadn’t shown. In any case, she had already called the school, just to make sure. She had attended every lesson, but no one was confident in saying how she had left for the day. Was she on her own? With friends? With someone else?

Their Abbie had not mentioned a boyfriend to them, but most teenage girls would confide in almost anyone else before their parents.

“Five minutes,” she said with no one to listen. “If I haven’t heard back by then I’ll have to see if she’s got any phone numbers for her friends in her room.”

Young Noah was in his bedroom playing with a selection of figures from random television shows, new and old, unaware of the nerves of his mother fraying with every passing moment a matter of metres away. He doesn’t need to worry too.

She fidgeted with her fingers, wringing her hands, and tapping her right foot. Any one of those things would have driven Dan nuts if he was next to her, but she could get away with the nervous tells when he was elsewhere. Somehow, the little physical movements seemed to help.

She parted the vertical blinds and peered into the darkness. No one there… still.

She spun around and shrugged her shoulders with an unconvincing nonchalance. “She’ll be at a friend’s house, speaking in teenage-grunt, moaning on about the unfairness of life.” Her attempt to smile faded before it had even spread across her face.

Still, Jen could not move away from the window. She wanted to go and make dinner as if nothing was wrong. She wanted to tidy up the loose toys on the living room floor. She wanted to do any number of things, but fear had gripped her so tightly that she could do nothing but continue to stand there, worrying.

She noticed that she was twisting her hair around a finger on her left hand and wondered how long she had been doing it.

“That must be five minutes by now,” she said, craning her head to look at the clock in the kitchen, the one with the correct time. One minute past six. “Only one minute? Seriously?” Raising her voice to the kitchen clock wouldn’t change a thing. She would much rather have raised her voice to Dan, sitting cowardly in his office while she was wearing out the carpet at home, probably worrying about nothing.

Is this Dan’s fault? Is it mine? She shook her head. Parents and children exchanged cross-words every once in a while. If every child ran away after every argument then there would be no such thing as a happy home.

I’m not waiting four minutes. With her phone in her hand, being checked every few seconds, she made her way upstairs to Abigail’s room in her search for clues.

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