Jenni shivered as she stepped outside of the warm house into the brisk Alaskan air. She was only lightly dressed, in clothes lighter than anyone but a native wouldn't dare to wear.
Stretching her long legs, Jenni peered around her. A crisp new layer of snow had fallen overnight and the sun reflected brightly off of it, blinding her.
Starting with a walk, Jenni made her way down the driveway before quickening her pace to a jog. After a few minutes, she started running full out.
Jenni loved running. It was something that she did every morning and had been doing since she had turned twelve, five years before. She had started running for an extra credit assignment in gym class and found she quite liked the hobby. There was just something about the wind blowing in her face and watching the scenery pass by as she sped along that attracted her to it.
Her step-dad, Daniel, had offered to buy her a motorcycle, saying that it would give the same effect, but her mom had promptly prohibited that from ever happening. Jenni thought, though, that a motorcycle would be fun and that she would eventually get one, once she wasn't living with her ever-worrying mom.
Rounding a corner, Jenni saw her brother's house come into view. Jared was married and had a three-year-old daughter, who Jenni absolutely adored.
"Jenni!" a delighted voice called. Jenni smiled and turned so she was running toward where Jared stood beside his car, warming it up.
"Hello, Jared. Where are you headed?" Jenni asked, slowing to a stop as she eyed his black SUV.
"Class. I only have two more months of school and I'll be able to graduate with my degree. Then maybe I'll finally be able to quit working at Daniel's restaurant and get a real career. Something in biology, hopefully, since that's what I've been working toward," Jared answered.
"That's exciting. Say hi to Kaytlin and Lilly for me, will you? I should get going," Jenni said before turning and heading back to her usual path.
Before she made it there, though, she heard Jared call out, "Aren't you still planning on babysitting tonight?"
Jenni paused and turned back to him. Sighing, she realized that her mom had already agreed for her to do the babysitting.
"Yeah, I am," Jenni agreed anyway, then went on her way.
A few minutes later, Jenni waved as Jared drove past her, honking his horn.
Checking her watch, Jenni noticed that she had been out for half an hour and she had to get back.
Turning around, Jenni retraced her steps in the direction she had come. She took her time though; today was a Saturday, after all.
Arriving at the house, Jenni was pleased to smell breakfast cooking. Pancakes, bacon, toast, and eggs all made to perfection by Daniel, who was a chef. He owned a fancy restaurant in town, which had been passed down the family line for several generations. If Jared hadn't been so set on becoming a biologist, he would have taken over the restaurant, but now Daniel really wasn't sure what to do with it once he retired.
"Good morning, Jen. Will you wake Molly up for me?" Daniel asked, glancing up as Jenni passed the entry to the kitchen.
"Sure," agreed Jenni.
Molly was Daniel's nine-year-old daughter. She had been a huge surprise to Daniel, since he found out about her after he had gotten a divorce with his past wife. Since she had been having an affair, he actually wasn't even sure that Molly was biologically his, but since his ex-wife hadn't wanted her, and neither had her boyfriend, Daniel willingly took her in.
Knocking lightly on Molly's bedroom door, Jenni entered. The room was a mess and it made her shudder. Molly was the complete opposite of Jenni when it came to neatness.
"Molly, wake up. Breakfast is nearly ready," Jenni said, gently shaking Molly's shoulder.
The young girl muttered something unintelligible and rolled over.
Jenni shook Molly's shoulder one more time before leaving to get a quick shower before they ate.
After showering, Jenni strode into the kitchen and took her regular seat at the table. Daniel sat at the head of the table. On his right side, Karen, Jenni's mom, sat with a sleepy-eyed Molly sitting across from her, on Daniel's left side. Jenni sat beside Molly.
As soon as Jenni had sat down, Daniel declared that they could dig in.
After a few minutes of silent eating, Daniel asked, "What are the plans for today?"
"Homework," Jenni answered dully, twirling her fork through the eggs on her plate.
"Oh, Kaytlin called last night. She wanted to know if you could baby-sit Lilly tonight, since Jared has the afternoon off work," Karen said, looking at Jenni.
"So I heard," Jenni muttered. Well okay, she hadn't known all the facts, but still.
"When?" Karen looked puzzled.
"I ran into Jared this morning. Thanks for asking me first by the way," Jenni replied.
They both knew, despite the reply, that Jenni would usually watch Lilly for a few hours whenever Jared and Kaytlin needed.
"Mom! Tracy's birthday party is today!" Molly suddenly exclaimed, sitting up straight in her chair.
"Yes, I know," Karen nodded. Molly hadn't let anyone forget that she was going to a birthday party since she received the invitation two weeks prior.
"We still have to wrap her present. And I want to wear that new outfit you bought me last week. Oh! Can I take Megi with me? Please, please, please?" Molly begged, holding up the white ferret, which had previously been in her lap.
"Molly, can you please keep the animal away from the table?" Karen asked, frowning at the ball of fluff which was now squirming in Molly's upraised hands.
"She's not an animal, mom. She's a ferret! And you didn't answer. Please?" Molly asked again.
"Isn't Tracy allergic to them?" Karen questioned.
"Allergic to ferrets? No, but she's allergic to cats," Molly answered, thoughtfully. She lowered Megi back into her lap and stroked her back.
"They're close enough," Karen reminded her.
"No they're not," Molly insisted, her bottom lip coming out in a pout.
"Fine. I'll call Tracy's mom and see if you can bring it," Karen relented.
Molly grinned in triumph and went back to eating her eggs, every so often giving a bite to a patiently waiting Megi.
Jenni shook her head in amusement. There was just no arguing with Molly. She always won. Her combination of blond curls and huge green eyes just made her irresistible.
Jenni quickly finished the food on her plate and then stood up and took her plate to the sink.
"I'll be in my room," she informed them and left the kitchen.
Entering her room, Jenni went to walk across the room to retrieve her backpack out of the closet when she noticed her hairbrush sitting on her bed rather than on her bedside table. Usually, her room was meticulous so Jenni knew exactly who had done it. "If you're going to use my stuff, at least put it back where you found it," Jenni growled silently at Molly, though the girl couldn't hear. She snatched up the hairbrush and put it back where it belonged before going back to getting her backpack.
Minutes later, Jenni had her homework set out on the desk and was working through the assigned problems for her calculus class.
She only got half an hour of undisturbed time, though, before Molly barged into her room, shouting excitedly. "Jenni! Jenni! We're going sledding!"
"Right now? Don't you have a party to go to?" Jenni asked, frowning as she tried to concentrate on a particularly difficult problem in her book.
"Well, yeah. But Mom says there are still hours and hours until Tracy's party, and Dad wants to go sledding while it's still light," Molly said.
Jenni sighed and turned to find Molly sitting cross-legged on her bed, Megi in her lap.
"I've got to get this done. You guys can go without me," Jenni told her.
Molly frowned. "When can you go?" she asked.
"As soon as I get this list of things to do complete," Jenni replied, showing Molly the list of homework assignments that were due soon.
"But it's never as fun without you," Molly pouted.
"Good to know," Jenni muttered, turning back to her work.
The room was silent again, and Jenni went back to the problem.
"Megi will keep you company," Molly offered.
Jenni jumped. Molly was standing right beside her, holding out the ferret.
"Thanks," Jenni accepted the furry creature from Molly's outstretched hands.
Molly smiled and rushed out of the room yelling to inform Daniel that Jenni wasn't coming.
Jenni set Megi on the desk, where Megi padded over to the lamp and curled up under the warmth of its light.
Jenni shook her head. Somehow, they had managed to get a very well trained ferret. It almost behaved better than Molly sometimes.
Looking back at her book, Jenni tried again to solve the problem.
A few minutes later, Daniel stopped by Jenni's room to inform her that they probably wouldn't get back until late that night since they were going to take Molly straight to the party after doing some sledding and then they would be going into town.
Jenni nodded, glad that she would get some peace and quiet before Kaytlin arrived with Lilly.
She soon heard the car pull out of the garage and the house was silent.
Gladly, Jenni put some concentration into her work.
The tunnel was dark as Jenni ran through it, but Jenni didn't mind. The dark was oddly comforting. Off from the main tunnel, which she was following, many side tunnels led off. From those, she could hear awful groans of pain and despair. Desperately trying to ignore them, Jenni headed toward the end off the tunnel, where a small spot of light was visible.
Picking up her pace urgently, Jenni ran faster than she had ever run before, becoming nervous of the many noises echoing through the tunnel.
Then, another voice reverberated above the others. This one was strangely familiar, and it was calling her name.
It seemed to echo all around the tunnel and the other voices faded to a softer tone.
Jenni slowed in her running, pausing as she came to the entrance of yet another side tunnel. It was from this one that the voice calling her name had come.
"Jenni…" it sounded again.
Looking toward the light, Jenni didn't know what to do, but then figured the light would still be there after she checked out who was calling her name.
Cautiously turning into the tunnel, Jenni walked through the darkness. The small amount of light coming from the end of the main tunnel was blocked after just a few moments and Jenni had to feel her way along by the damp walls.
"Jenni…" the voice called out again.
This time, Jenni replied. "Who is that? Who's there?"
No reply came, but Jenni continued on.
Finally, as Jenni went around a corner, she could see again. The tunnel widened out to reveal a large chamber. Lamps with flickering candles hung on all the walls.
In the middle of the chamber was a man, chained to a pillar. He looked like he had been there a very long time. His hair was matted, his clothes ripped, and his face pale.
"Jenni…" the man moaned, his eyes closed with exhaustion.
"Who are you?" Jenni asked, stepping further into the room.
The man's head jerked up and he turned, the chains on his ankles rattling.
For a moment, the pair just stared at each other. Then, Jenni recognized the man.
Her father's face broke into a weak smile. "Jenni, you came," he rasped.
Jenni stumbled forward, staring in shock at the man she had only ever seen though pictures.
A sharp knocking made Jenni sit up straight. She blinked in surprise, then realized she was still sitting at her desk. Megi was staring at her with large eyes. She had fallen asleep.
"Weird dream," Jenni muttered, then stood up.
Another knock on the front door sounded. "Coming! I'm coming!" she called out.
She hurried out of her room and down the hallway to the entry room.
Opening the front door, Jenni found herself facing her brother Jared and niece Lilly.
"Hey," she greeted.
Jared smiled at her. "You look like you just woke up," he replied.
Jenni rubbed at her still stiff face. "Yeah, I did," she muttered, then pulled the door open so the pair could come in.
Jared entered and Jenni closed the door.
Putting Lilly down on the ground, Jared crouched, so he was at her level. "Now, you be good for Auntie Jenni, okay? I'll be back in a few hours," he told her.
Lilly nodded. "Okay, Daddy," she replied.
Jared gave her a hug and a kiss, then stood to his full height.
"I'll see you later, as well, little sis," he told Jenni, then went for the door.
"Wait," Jenni stopped him.
He paused, looking back at her.
"I have a question about," Jenni sent a glance in Lilly's direction, "our dad."
Jared frowned. "What about him?"
Jenni hesitated. "Why did he leave? Where did he go?" she asked.
Jared rubbed his eyes tiredly. "Nobody knows, Jenni," he replied. "He just left for work one day and on the way there disappeared completely. No one has seen him since. The car was found later, abandoned in the forest near where he always traveled."
Jenni nodded, thoughtfully. "You don't he could be trapped somewhere, do you?"
Jared stared at her. "Where are you getting these ideas from?"
Jenni shrugged. "Just a dream I had," she replied nonchalantly.
Jared nodded. "I better go," he said, then waved goodbye to his daughter and left out the door.
Jenni turned to Lilly, putting those thoughts out of her mind. "So, what do you want to do first?"
They had just started their second puzzle when the lights flickered off. Lilly cried out in surprise.
"Jenni?" Lilly's terrified voice filled the room.
"It's okay, Lilly. The power just went out. Hold on, I'll go see if I can find a flashlight or something,"
"No!" Lilly protested.
Jenni felt Lilly's arm reach out for her. "Don't leave me!"
Jenni grabbed her niece's hand and held on to it as she climbed to her feet. "Okay. Come with me. I think there might be a light in the kitchen,"
Glad that the house was clean so she wasn't tripping over things, Jenni felt her way across the dark living room to the kitchen. Entering it, she paused, staring out the full wall window that was there. The full moon outside lit up the snow that was falling swiftly and wetly.
There was already a foot of snow on the ground, and Jenni realized that it must have been snowing heavily for a while now.
"I hope Mom and Daniel are okay," muttered Jenni, staring out at the deep snow in alarm. It looked like a blizzard, though she had only experienced that once, when she was a little girl.
"Jenni…" Lilly whimpered.
"Oh right. Light," Jenni guided Lilly over to one of the cupboards, near the back door, and pulled it open. The cupboard was cluttered with household junk that didn't have any other place and Jenni huffed in annoyance as she had to dig through the stuff to find what she was looking for.
"Ah ha!" she proclaimed, pulling a small red flashlight out. Flicking the switch, she sighed as the light didn't turn on.
"Shoot. It doesn't have batteries," Jenni muttered. She frowned, not knowing if they had any batteries of the right size in the house.
It was then that she remembered the store of candles in her bedroom. Relatives and other adults seemed to like to give her candles as presents, and she had a huge amount of them.
Digging through the cupboard again, Jenni found the one item that may help her - a box of matches.
"Here, hold these," Jenni handed the matches to Lilly.
While Lilly let go of her hand for a moment, Jenni reached into the cupboard again and brought out their first aid kit. It wouldn't be harmful to keep it close, just in case.
"Okay, let's go to my room. We'll find light there," Jenni said, and Lilly grabbed onto her hand again.
The hallway was a much darker path to take than the trip from the den into the kitchen had been, and Jenni could feel Lilly shivering lightly. Then Jenni realized that the shivering could easily be from the cold. As soon as the power had gone out, the temperature in the house had dropped.
Finally reaching the door to her bedroom, Jenni pushed it open and led Lilly inside before shutting the door. Snow completely covered the window, making this room darker than the hallway outside.
"Okay, Lilly. I'm going to let go of your hand. I need to light the candles," Jenni informed the girl, before dropping her hand. "Can you hand me the matches?"
Jenni felt the box of matches touch her hand, and Jenni took them before taking a few carefully measured steps over to her shelf.
Lighting a match, Jenni could see she was in the right place. She lit the first candle, then the next, and a third before she blew the match out.
Glancing back, Jenni saw Lilly walk over to the bed and crawl onto it. Megi, who Jenni had forgot about, lay curled in a ball there, and Lilly began to stroke her.
Lifting the first candle, Jenni moved along the shelf, lighting each candle - a row of almost twenty of them.
Light filled the room, and a pleasant scent filled the air.
Going over to the bed, Jenni took a seat next to Lilly and Megi. Lilly looked up at her with wide, frightened eyes. "What's going to happen?" she asked.
Jenni frowned. "I'm sure the power will come on soon enough. It'll be fine. However, I should probably call Mom and Daniel, and let them know," Jenni stood and went over to the desk, where her unfinished homework was still spread about.
Her cellphone was on her closed calculus book and Jenni picked it up. There were two missed texts, both from friends.
Walking back over to the bed, Jenni sat down and pressed the speed dial button, number three, for her mom's cellphone.
A few moments later, her mom picked up.
"Mom, it's Jenni,"
"Oh, I was just going to call you," Karen replied. "We're stuck in town, due to the storm, and can't make it home. We've met up with Jared and Kaytlin as well."
"When do you think you can get home?" Jenni asked.
"I don't know, honey. The storm looks like it might last awhile, and then we have to wait for the roads to be plowed,"
Jenni glanced sideways at Lilly. "The power is out here. Lilly's freaking out. I think it's her first power outage,"
"Oh, well, she'll get used to them soon. Keep warm and you'll be fine,"
"I know. I lit some candles for light for Lilly,"
"That's good. I just wish Daniel had fixed the generator," Karen muttered.
"Yeah. Me too," Jenni agreed.
"We'll try to get home as soon as possible," Karen promised.
Jenni ended the call and turned to a worried looking Lilly.
"They'll be home as soon as possible," she stated.
Lilly nodded, and Jenni noticed, again, that she was shivering.
Glancing at her cellphone to see the time, Jenni figured that it was late enough for them to go to bed, and besides, there wasn't much else to do with it this dark.
Pulling the covers of her bed down, Jenni suggested that Lilly get under them. Lilly agreed without any argument, and slid under the warm blankets.
"How about a story?" Jenni asked. At Lilly's nod, Jenni went to her bookshelf, picked out the most child friendly book, then came back and climbed under the covers as well.
Settling in, Jenni opened the book and began to read aloud.
Morning came before long and when Jenni awoke the next morning she found that Lilly was fast asleep with Megi curled up in her arms.
The candles had all burnt out, but faint sunlight was seeping through the snow at the window, allowing light to fill the room.
Jenni climbed out of bed, careful not to disturb Lilly, and grabbed her cellphone from off the bedside table. Shivering in the freezing air, Jenni dug through the laundry basket in the corner of the room for a sweater. Pulling it over her head, Jenni left, closing the door to try to conserve the small amount of warmth that was trapped in the room.
It was only seven o' clock, which, for a Sunday, was earlier than Jenni ever got up. Snow blocked most of the windows, even the ones far off the ground. Jenni wondered just how deep the snow was.
Going into the kitchen, Jenni looked toward the full wall window, and saw that the snow completely covered that window as well. Knowing that she would probably regret it later, she opened the kitchen door. The snow was piled all the way to the top of the doorway and some of it collapsed into the house, revealing bright sunlight behind.
They would have to dig their way out.
After attempting, then failing, to close the door, Jenni retreated further back into the house and found her cellphone. She pressed the speed dial for her mom again and anxiously waited for her to pick up.
After a couple of rings, her mom answered.
"It's me again," Jenni replied.
"Jenni. How's it going there? Are you both okay?"
"Well, we survived the night. Lilly is still asleep,"
"That's good to hear. Jared and Kaytlin have been worrying,"
"The power is still out, and the house is literally buried in snow. All the doors and windows are covered completely. We'll have to dig our way out if we want to go anywhere," Jenni informed her mom.
"Things are similar here at the hotel. However, the roads are already starting to be plowed. We'll head home soon. You can dig yourself out, if you like, but be sure to keep warm," Karen replied.
"I guess I'll see you soon, then,"
Ending the call, Jenni went back to the front door and stared at the open door with the fallen snow thoughtfully.
"I hope there's a shovel in the basement, because we're definitely not going to be able to get to the shed," Jenni muttered to herself, then went off to search for a shovel.
Jenni soon managed to shovel the snow into a way to get out. It was a sort of staircase out of snow that started at the base of the kitchen door and ended on top of the snow. The snow had a layer of ice at the very top, making it almost stable enough to walk on without sinking in up to your neck.
Jenni turned from her place at the top of the snow outside to see Lilly standing in the doorway, shivering.
"Oh, you're awake," Jenni muttered. "Want some breakfast?"
Lilly shook her head, watching as Jenni climbed down the precariously icy steps leading into the house.
"When's Daddy going to get here?" Lilly asked once Jenni had made it into the house and shut the door.
"He's just leaving town. He'll be here soon. In a couple of hours, at the most," Jenni answered.
"Can I go out and play in the snow?" Lilly asked, looking toward the snow covered window.
"I guess, but only after breakfast," Jenni replied. She looked around, hoping that they might have something that didn't require power to make.
Checking the fridge, Jenni saw that everything there was mostly frozen. Cereal was not an option.
"Peanut butter sandwiches?" Jenni asked, examining the jelly to see that it was still edible.
"Okay," agreed Lilly, between chattering teeth.
Jenni immediately noticed. "Why don't you go get your coat on? It's almost as cold in here as it is outside," she suggested.
Lilly nodded and ran out of the room toward the entry room where she had left her coat and boots the day before.
By the time Lilly returned, in full winter gear, Jenni had finished making two sandwiches, one for each of them.
"You're going to have to take off your gloves to eat, Lilly," Jenni reminded, amused.
Lilly peeled off her gloves and scarf, but decided to eat with the rest of her winter clothing on. Jenni thought she had the right idea. It was freezing in the house.
Once Jenni had finished her sandwich, and Lilly had eaten a half of her sandwich, Jenni found her own winter coat, gloves, hat, and boots, and the pair went outside.
For a while, they hung around the house, climbing up onto the roof and sledding down without an actual sled, before Lilly decided she wanted to go exploring and they headed into the woods behind the house.
Since they had lived in this house for the entirety of Jenni's life, Jenni knew the woods well. She had spent most of her childhood exploring it. Lilly, however, had only been in the woods here once, so Jenni got to work, showing Lilly all the nooks and crannies that made the woods fun. Six feet of snow buried them, making the landmarks much different, but Lilly seemed to enjoy it all the same.
"Can I climb the tree?" Lilly asked, looking up at the tall tree that had once been Jenni's very favorite climbing tree.
Jenni frowned; looking up at the snow covered tree. The inner branches didn't seem too covered in ice, and it was stable, especially since Lilly was so light.
"Okay, just be careful," Jenni agreed. Lilly started up the tree, and Jenni went to the base of it and sat on one of the lower branches, glad to be able to rest from sinking through the deep snow. Lilly, being lighter, just walked right on top, with no problems.
Jenni looked up to see Lilly quite high in the tree, waving downward. She waved back, smiling.
Lilly started climbing back down the tree then, and Jenni had to look away, so the falling pieces of bark didn't hit her face.
Then, a cry filled the air. Jenni looked up in time to see Lilly fall from her perch on one of the branches. She fell for several yards, hitting branches on the way down, then landed on the ground.
"Lilly!" Jenni cried out, struggling over to where the girl had fallen. Lilly's sobs filled the air as she sat up, looking over at Jenni.
Reaching Lilly's side, Jenni examined her. Thankfully, it hadn't been too high of a fall, and the snow was deep enough to securely catch her. It looked like only her hands, which she had taken her gloves off of to climb the tree, were scraped up.
"Are you okay?" Jenni asked.
Lilly nodded, her crying subsiding as she realized she wasn't actually hurt horribly.
"Come on, then, let's get you back to the house," Jenni muttered, pulling Lilly into her arms and standing. She figured it would be easier to just carry Lilly back than to attempt to have the frightened girl walk.
The walk took five minutes, because of the deep snow. Looking down at the gaping hole leading into the dark house, Jenni decided that it would probably be better to bandage up Lilly's hands outside, where the sun was still shining and she could see.
Setting Lilly down on the ground, Jenni crouched. "I'm going to go get the first aid kit, okay? You stay here. I'll be right back,"
With that said, Jenni went into the house. She found the first aid kit in her bedroom, where she had left it the night before. Also in her bedroom, was Megi, who had been sleeping under the blankets. Her head popped out as Jenni entered the room and Jenni picked her up and set her on her shoulder before leaving the room. It was probably better to keep Megi close. She didn't want the animal to freeze to death.
Making her way back outside, Jenni was alarmed to find Lilly missing from the front yard where she was last sitting.
"Lilly?" she called out.
There was no reply.
Examining the area, Jenni could see a pair of little footprints leading around the house, and Jenni knew that they had not gone in that area earlier on in the day.
"Okay, Lilly, what are you up to?"
Following the footprints, Jenni could see several places where Lilly had seemingly fallen and her bloodied hands had brushed against the snow.
"Lilly!" Jenni called again, but it was to no avail.
The footsteps led deep into the woods. Jenni was surprised Lilly had made it this far, in such a short time.
Far beyond where the line of their property ended, and into woods that Jenni had never explored, the footprints continued.
Jenni was now getting extremely worried. What was Lilly doing wandering like this?
Finally, Jenni reached a meadow where she found, to her relief, Lilly, sitting cross-legged on top of the snow.
"Lilly!" Jenni cried, rushing toward her, but struggling through the deep snow.
Shortly before Jenni reached her niece, the young girl raised an arm and pointed behind Jenni.
Jenni turned, confused, and gasped at what she saw. A wild looking man was standing there, watching them.
"It's about time you made it, Jenni," he commented in a low voice.
The leaves falling to the ground revealed that summer was nearly over, almost before it began. Summer in Alaska never lasted long.
In the local graveyard, the Henewick and Philips families gathered around a trio of gravestones. The one on the left gave the name Nathan Philips, Karen's first husband. On the right side was the gravestone bearing Jenni Philips' name. In the center of the two was the gravestone for little Lilly Philips.
Surrounding the gravestones were Jared, Kaytlin, Karen, Daniel, and Molly, mourning the loss of the three members of their family. It had been six months since Jenni and Lilly had gone missing in the woods, and despite bodies not being found for them, they had been declared dead just the previous week and a funeral had been held earlier in the day. Afterward, they erected gravestones for both the girls, even with bodies.
Though tears ran down his wife's face, Jared looked thoughtful. Was it simply coincidence that Lilly and Jenni had disappeared the day after Jenni had a dream about her father? And that they seemed to disappear in the same manner which Nathan had - without a trace?
"We should get back," Daniel said after a long while of letting the family mourn.
Karen nodded agreement. "Kaytlin really should rest. She's under enough stress," she murmured, looking over at her daughter-in-law, who was eight months pregnant.
Kaytlin nodded silently, feeling the exhaustion that the long day had brought.
Molly laid a small painted rock down in between Jenni and Lilly's gravestones. The rock commemorated the ferret, Megi, who had also disappeared that day.
Without another word, the five walked through the cemetery and climbed into Jared and Kaytlin's van. Jared drove them all back to Daniel and Karen's house, where they again gathered, this time in the living room.
They had been sitting there perhaps an hour, talking quietly together, when a knock on the door sounded.
Daniel rose, figuring that it was another friend, coming to pay their respects. Upon opening the front door, he stopped, staring in shock.
"Jenni?" he asked with a hoarse voice.
Jenni smiled at him pleasantly. "Hi, Daniel,"
Hearing the name, Karen, Jared, Kaytlin, and Molly came rushing into the room.
Kaytlin let out a cry of surprise at the sight of the girl standing at Jenni's elbow.
"Mommy!" the girl cried, running toward Kaytlin. Kaytlin enveloped her daughter in her arms, shedding tears of joy.
Jenni stepped into the house, past Daniel, and then the man who had been standing behind her entered as well. Karen, stepping forward to hug her daughter, froze in shock.
"Nathan?" she whispered.
Nathan gave his wife a lopsided grin. Jenni stepped out of the way, toward Jared, as her mom and dad were reunited after so many years apart.
A white ferret scurried out of Jenni's hood, down her arm, and leaped over directly into Molly's arms.
"Megi!" Molly shrieked with joy, clutching her beloved ferret protectively.
"Where have you been?" Jared asked the question on everyone's mind. His arms were wrapped tightly around his wife and daughter.
Everyone turned to Jenni. She exchanged a glance with her father, and then Lilly, before smiling grimly and replying, "You'd never believe me,"