The Doll Collector

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Chapter 21

Jennifer had not expected an evening, sitting in her living room, in conversation with one of Abigail’s fellow abductees. The term conversation implied people actually speaking, but in reality she was sitting, waiting. No one wanted to start talking until her husband arrived, due in only a couple of minutes.

The clock on the wall ticked by from one second to the next, slow and painful. I hope this girl and her father have information that will make this uncomfortable meeting worthwhile.

The time was approaching 18:25. Three very long minutes earlier, Jennifer had been sitting alone, staring at her phone. The unexpected knock on the door caused Jennifer’s heart to start to pound as if trying to break its way through her ribcage. Bad news. What else would prompt a visitor now?

It was uncommon for visitors to call on them on any given evening. It was, in fact, uncommon for unannounced visitors to call on them at all. Family did not live locally and their friends would be home with their own children. They were hardly social butterflies, having dedicated the past fourteen years to parenthood.

In Jennifer’s mind, it could only have been a police officer at their door, dropping by to deliver heart-breaking news.

She was surprised, therefore, to discover a dark haired, bespectacled girl who looked a couple of years younger than Abigail. She was holding a neatly folded pile of clothes that looked identical to Abigail’s school uniform.

“Are you looking for Abigail?” Jennifer had asked, wondering if this was a school friend to whom she had not been introduced.

The girl shook her head, but she didn’t speak. Jennifer wondered what the girl wanted, and noticed that tears were forming in her eyes. She seemed to want to say something that was important, but she was unable to do so.

“Mrs Castle?” came a question in a man’s voice.

Jennifer had been so focussed on the girl that she had not noticed the man, certain to be the girl’s father, standing off to the side, almost out of sight.

“Yes”, she had said, fidgeting with the keys she had just removed from the lock.

“My name is Tony Willis. This is my daughter, Bethany.”

Okay. She raised an eyebrow and waited. Now that everyone knows each other, could you explain to me why you’re at my door?

“Bethany has come to return these to you.” The girl held out the folded clothes, offering them to Jennifer, still without so much as a word as her father narrated. “They belong to your daughter.”

The familiar heart pounding returned again, and Jennifer had no idea what to do to calm herself. Her mouth was dry and her throat refused to voice any of the terrifying thoughts rushing through her mind. Belong or belonged? Present or past tense? Is she alive or dead?

Seeing her distress, the father continued, blurting out words that she had needed to hear. “She’s alive and well,” he had said as Jennifer’s shoulders slumped slightly and her heart rate returned to something closer to normal. “But we do have a story to tell you about where she has been, and where she is now.”

Jennifer did not say a word, but waved them over the threshold and closed the door behind them. They stood, awkward and polite in the living room until invited to sit on one of the two sofas.

“I need to call my husband,” Jennifer said, noticing how much her own voice was wobbling like someone attending their first ever job interview. “He’s a private investigator. It’s better to wait until he’s able to hear what you have to say. Can I get either of you a drink?”

Both father and daughter shook their heads and said, “No thank you.”

Jennifer disappeared into the kitchen. She immediately called Dan, called again when he didn’t answer, and then called for a third time.

“You need to come home straight away,” she said as calmly as she could.

“What’s going on?” Dan asked, sounding slightly out of breath and flustered.

“There’s a girl in our living room who was with Abigail. She might know where she is now.”

“I’ll be home in two or three minutes. I’m getting in to the car right now.”

The clock ticked onto exactly 18:25, snapping her out of the memory of a moment ago. Where is he? He’s had his three minutes. What has he been doing?

There was no indication as to where Dan had been, but Jennifer knew better than to ask. He had his methods of working a case, and she didn’t always approve.

She fidgeted with the mug in her hands. The recently reunited father and daughter looked around the room, as if topics of conversation were floating through the air, ready to be seized and shared. There were moments when the father opened his mouth to speak, but said nothing, closing it again. I know I said to wait until Dan returns, but how can you sit there in silence if you have something important to tell us?

“Are you warm enough? Can I get you anything at all?” She asked again.

Both shook their heads as the father said, “No thank you” in possibly the quietest voice she had ever heard.

Waiting for Dan, she stared into her cup and the steaming, swirling brown mixture that at that moment was making her stomach turn. There were stronger options for a drink in such circumstances, but she knew that a clear head would be far better than a dulled sense of reality provided by alcohol.

The only thing left to do on returning to the living room was to sit with their guests and to try to keep the conversation alive (or to try to prevent it from flat-lining) until Dan returned.

Headlights hit the curtains drawn across the living room window. Relief rushed through her as she almost jumped to her feet. He’s home. Finally we can get some answers.

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