The site of a patrol car pulling out of her driveway made the hairs on Tanith's neck stand on end. She could see Jack's face as she waited to pull in, and it was not the face of someone who had just had a cup of coffee with a friend. She didn't recognize the officer driving the car.
She and Jack made eye contact as she exited the car. His face showed no emotion, but to her that meant everything. He was terrified about something. She stepped on the porch, but he remained motionless and silent. She wrapped her arms around him, hoping to shake him out of his shock. Slowly, he responded, and returned the hug.
"Tanith—" His voice cracked, and he stopped.
"Tell me what's going on." She stepped back and looked him in the eyes.
"There was an accident." He swallowed hard. "On Bentley drive."
The blood rushed from her face. Her daughter's school was off of Bentley drive. "Where's Casey?"
She could see where this was heading, see the one thing that could put Jack in a state like this, but it didn't make sense. It had to be something else.
"Jack, tell me." She prodded, when he didn't respond. She steered him towards the porch swing and sat down with him.
"It was an explosion, a gas line on Bentley. Casey and Bobby were walking home. Tanith ... Casey's dead."
For a moment, Tanith felt as is her heart had stopped. Jack was supposed to say that it was Bobby, or maybe that Casey had broken something. She felt herself falling, but made no effort to stop herself. When she got her bearings she was sitting on the ground next to the swing.
"No." Her voice was even and firm. This was simply not a possibility.
"Tanith. Look at me." Jack crouched next to her on the floor. He reached out to hold her, but she didn't want to be held. She didn't want to grieve with her husband about something that wasn't true. She stood, although her legs were shaking underneath her.
"I want to see the body."
"The body! Whoever it is they think or told you is my daughter!" Casey wasn't dead, so if they told Jack that, there was either a mistake or someone was hiding something.
"There's nothing to see."
"Who told you that? The cop? How do they know it's Casey if there's no body?"
"Tanith ... they're not lying about this. They would have made certain before telling me."
Jack sighed. She knew he didn't want this. He needed her to be with him, to accept their loss, not to confirm the worst. But that was something she just wasn't ready to do. The feeling that Casey must still be alive was too strong.
"Sheriff Greene." He told her, quietly. "He had to leave before you got here."
She pulled Jack to his feet and kissed him. "I'll be back soon, I promise."
"How can you be like this?" His voice and body were both shaking.
"Because ... I don't know. Casey's not dead. Maybe I'll be able to explain it after I talk to Sheriff Greene. Are you coming?"
He shook his head. "I can't ... I just can't."
She kissed him again and left. Driving away, she realized that she didn't even know where she was going. Bentley Drive was close, and seemed the logical place to start.
What do you expect to find? She asked herself over and over. She honestly had no idea what she was looking for, other than something that would tell her Casey was alive.
She could see the red and blue lights reflecting off the trees and buildings as she approached the turn onto Bentley. Most of the street was blocked off by barriers and patrol cars. Fire trucks and a large crowd of people made it impossible to see or hear anything past the barrier.
Leaving her car in the middle of the road, she pushed her way through the crowd and ducked under the police tape, ignoring the annoyed shouts from the cops who had been assigned to crowd control.
It was a crater, wide enough to reach both sidewalks on either side of the road. The houses and trees directly next to the hole bore black scorch marks. Glass was everywhere, and many of the houses were missing their windows. She shuddered, imagining what the street must have looked like just after the explosion. Her face felt hot and her heart began to pound as her memory conjured up images and sounds of flames.
But I've never been in a fire.
Someone put a hand on her shoulder. "Ma'am, you need to go back behind the barrier. This area's off limits."
"Leave her be."
She shrugged off the hand and turned to see Sheriff Greene lumbering towards them. He was a large man, partly due to beer and partly due to lifting. She had never seen him look so sober before; he was almost always talkative and cheerful.
"Tanith, you shouldn't be here."
She looked away and focused on the black hole in the street. "How many people were hurt?"
"Tanith, you did talk to Jack, did—"
"Yes, Sheriff, other than my daughter."
"We sent Bobby to the hospital, but it's mostly just a few cuts and bruises."
"So basically, nobody else was hurt?" It was ludicrous, she realized. How could an explosion leave nothing to be identified of Casey, yet not even hurt anyone else?
"Bobby was very lucky ... and we were lucky the fire station is only a block from here."
She surveyed the rest of the street. Most of it was eerily pristine and untouched. Didn't anyone else think that was abnormal?
"I want to see Casey's body." There was nothing to see, but she wanted to see his reaction.
"There's nothing to see."
Jack's words exactly. She wasn't surprised. He didn't look like he was hiding anything, though. He appeared genuinely sorry. "I really should go."
Sheriff Greene nodded. Let him think she believed it. It was all a lie; that she was sure of. She wasn't sure how she knew, but she couldn't shake the feeling that this had happened before.
He was sitting on the couch, staring at the TV, even though it was turned off. He looked up when she came through the door. He gave her a questioning look, and she knew what it meant. Was she still raving mad?
Am I? No, I've never felt this certain about anything before.
"Somebody took my daughter." She told him bitterly.
"She's not dead, which means that someone has her and the police are either mistaken or lying. I'm betting on lying. I think Sheriff Greene's involved somehow."
"Don't do this." She could see the pain on his face. How could she explain it to him? "I know you're upset ... god, do I know you're upset. But you have to accept the truth."
She sighed and curled up on the couch next to him. She turned his head so that they were looking directly at each other. "This is Casey. I know when she's happy, when she's angry. I know when she's sick and when she's hurt."
"You're her mother."
"No. I know these things. I know these things when I'm at work and have absolutely no idea what she's doing at school. I can't explain it, and until today I didn't even realize how true it is. If Casey was dead, I would know. She's not dead—she's terrified."