This story is by Jonathan Srock and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The city never sleeps. Neither does my family. I’m Freddie, and you won’t believe what happens in this house. Even I hoped for the best when Jamie gave this family a coronary.
Anita raced into the kitchen, “Dan, have you seen Jamie?”
Dan glanced at her, eyebrows peeking above his newspaper, “Not since breakfast.”
“Well, the school called. She skipped again. No one knows where she is.”
“Don’t you care?” Anita asked.
“She does this all the time. Why is today different?”
Dan had a point. The little brat cried wolf so much I ignored her. Dan was more my speed. The kind of guy I admire.
Anita glared at Dan, but he wasn’t phased. She shook her head and started washing dishes.
She only washes dishes when she’s nervous. Dan went back to the daily newspaper he never finishes. This conversation was the constant refrain of their relationship. I witnessed this scene almost every week, as I rested in my comfy corner, people watching. I don’t go anywhere, except for food when the family’s out. Sometimes they’re interesting, but usually, they’re loud.
Anita switched to other busywork, probably keeping her mind from running away. If only Jamie wouldn’t fight with her all the time. I swear I live with cats and dogs. Anita is high strung, especially when it comes to Jamie. She glided to the telephone and checked messages.
Seconds later, she was in Dan’s face again, “Did you hear that message? It was Cody.”
Dan cocked his head to the side, “So what?”
“He left a creepy message about taking Jamie.” Anita reacted like her hair was on fire.
Dan mulled over the situation, “So her boyfriend takes her on a joyride, and you flip out?”
Anita rolled her eyes, clearly annoyed. “She came home yesterday in tears, telling me how insensitive he was and that they broke up. He accused her of flirting with another boy.”
Dan remained unmoved, “Maybe they patched things up.”
Anita burst, “Would you listen to the message already?”
Dan dropped the newspaper, rose from the table, and followed her to the answering machine.
Jamie was annoying, but curiosity got the best of me. I zipped behind the couple to find out what the buzz was all about. Dan heard me coming and swiped at me, but was too distracted to give chase. I settled in a safe place, just within earshot. The machine beeped incessantly as Anita searched through recordings.
Standing behind Anita, Dan’s eyes widened as he shivered when the sound of heavy breathing invaded the speaker, “I… took… Jamie. If you want to see her again, call me.” Inaudible pauses filled the gaps. The machine beeped again, signaling the end. Anita turned around, her ashen face wet with tears, “You see?”
Dan consoled her, “You realize how easily she gets to you.” He kept repeating, “She’ll be back,” maintaining his tough outer shell to convey strength.
Anita scowled. What an insensitive jerk, I thought. She pushed him away, storming out of the kitchen. Finally alone, Dan grabbed the receiver and dialed 911.
“Yes, this is Dan Forrester. My teenage daughter is missing! Please help us find her.”
Dan’s reaction confused me. Dan the Man, as I nicknamed him, has always been a stalwart tower of emotionless, pitiless indifference. A man’s man. But now, seeing him sob into the receiver, I wanted to demand my idol’s man card.
I’ve lived here all my life through every drama-soaked moment. Sleep’s hard to come by. At least they go to work and school during the day. Too bad one of them didn’t become a therapist.
It was quiet for about fifteen minutes, but then red and blue lights bounced off the walls accompanied by an ear-splitting siren. Dan managed to pull it together before Anita returned.
That woman doesn’t enter any room quietly. She smothered Dan, invading his personal space, “Honey, the police are here.”
Dan calmly answered, “You wanted me to take it seriously, so I called the cops.” I almost gave him his man card back.
In a reversal of roles, Anita stared him down, “You called the police? What if she comes back, is walking in the park, or, I don’t know, just hanging out somewhere?”
A wry smile crossed Dan’s face, “At least we’ll get some answers.” They left the kitchen together. I heard a knocking sound.
I thought back to breakfast this morning. Jamie was huffing and puffing around. If she wasn’t yelling, she was sulking. There was no middle ground with that girl.
I remembered her stomping in for breakfast, moaning, “Is it ready yet?” Her laser-focused stare burned through Anita’s back.
“It will be ready when it’s ready,” Anita growled through clenched teeth.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize their shouting match last night simmered to a cold war by morning. Why can’t some females let things go?
When breakfast was ready, Anita pointedly served Dan’s breakfast in front of him, and her’s in her place but left Jamie to fend for herself. Jamie stormed to the counter, slapped eggs, bacon, and toast onto her plate and walked out of the kitchen.
Anita demanded that she return and eat like a civilized person, but it fell on deaf ears. I haven’t seen Jamie since this morning.
As I daydreamed, the police car engine faded into the distance. Dan and Anita returned, and he asked the wrong question, as males have done for ages, “So what’s for dinner?”
Goal achieved. Dan had his man card back. It didn’t earn points with Anita. She gave him the death stare, “Our daughter is missing, hurt, or worse, and all you care about is food?”
She sobbed, and Dan embraced her, “Sweetheart, there’s nothing we can do until the police find her. If you want, we’ll go look for her…”
Anita buried her head in his chest and replied through his dress shirt, “I don’t… know where… to look. It’s like I… don’t even know… my daughter anymore.”
He held her until she composed herself. Dan offered his best advice yet, “Why don’t we eat something, so we don’t collapse, and then we’ll look in all the usual places?” She nodded as she pushed away, and walked into her fortress of familiarity, banging pots and pans.
Anita cobbled together a quick spaghetti meal before they left the kitchen. I wondered if I’d ever see Jamie again. They had the worst timing. I heard the door slam, and the phone rang.
Four long rings, the longest of my life, and then what I hoped, “It’s Cody. Is anyone there? Somebody pick up.” I can’t answer the phone, but I wished I could. “I need to talk to you. It’s an emergency!”
Buzzzzz… Click. Silence again. Dan and Anita missed the call by seconds. And I, Freddie, was helpless in darkness and silence. I fluttered about for a while, working myself into exhaustion until I fell asleep.
The kitchen light blinded me. Blinking, I saw Jamie hobble after her parents in crutches to the table. I was even more surprised to see Cody. It’s a good thing Dan didn’t own a gun. I know I’d want to do something to him. I didn’t want the police to return for a murder investigation.
Cody blurted, “I’m sorry we ran away. Jamie called me before school and told me she was leaving forever. I told her she needed to talk it out with you. But she was determined to leave so I called and left a message. She wasn’t listening to me, so I went with her…”
Jamie cut in, her grimace from more than her ankle, “Mom, you won’t listen to me anymore. I had to get away. I wasn’t coming back, but Cody told me not to write you off yet.”
Anita’s face was red from crying, “No matter what we’re going through; we’ll never be that far apart. We’re family.”
Dan chimed in, “So where did you two go?”
Cody sheepishly bowed his head, “We went to my hunting blind in the woods. I thought we should keep moving. Then Jamie fell into a foxhole and busted her ankle. I freaked and called 911. I called you guys, but nobody answered. So the police found us at the hospital.”
Jamie chuckled to herself, “I can’t believe you called the cops on me. I didn’t know it would come to this.”
Dan responded, “We’re your parents, and this is your home. If you’re in danger, we’re here for you.”
A sigh of relief filled the kitchen, and not only from the family. I was satisfied Jamie was safe and sound. This family is screwed up at times, but it’s mine. Of course, you never know what you’ll overhear when you’re a fly on the wall.