Authors: Kelly Simmons
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Copyright Â© 2016 by Kelly Simmons
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Cover design by Kathleen Lynch/Black Kat Design
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious and are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
One more day / Kelly Simmons.
pages ; cm
(softcover : acid-free paper) 1. Mothers and sons--Fiction. 2. Missing children--Fiction. 3. Psychological fiction. I. Title.
For my parents, who believed
Carrie Morgan's kidnapped son came back while she was at church.
Later, when she told a few fellow Episcopalians in Bronwyn, Pennsylvania, about this miracleâand she would, eventually, be brave enough to tell the whole story to a few new friendsâthey would point to this salient fact, gently insisting it was the linchpin. The cause, the effect. As if her faith had conjured a delicate simulacrum of her baby, truly ephemeral, wafer thin. She was taken aback by their steadfast view, the quietest version of fervor she'd ever witnessed. Most of the WASPs she knewâher mother, her in-lawsâseemed able to take or leave their religion, abandoning it in favor of science, suspending church attendance for golf season. Or, as her Gran used to say,
as income rises, faith falls
. Indeed, when she pressed her own husband, John, asking him with tears in her eyes how he could have been an acolyte, how he could have been vice president of his youth group and
in what they both had seen with their own eyes, he had blinked at her and said,
Religion was sort of something we did, not something we believed.
An activity, a sport. A club.
Yet even after the whole week was finished and her deepest fears and faith confirmed, she would still shake her head and insist firmly that being at church when it had all been set in motion was merely a coincidence. She would try to convince everyone it was actually
Because she wasn't there at Saint David'sâthe soaring stone cathedral set high on a hill as if lording its wisdom over all the Philadelphia suburbsâkneeling, weeping, praying for her son's safe return; she'd stopped doing that months ago. No, she was mindlessly assembling brown boxes in the basement for their annual clothing drive and keeping track of her donated hours in the back of her mind so she could log it in her little notebook, as if she could hand over the evidence someday at the pearly gates.
It was early October, the part of the month still clinging to the grassy excess of summer, still warm enough that people were donating sweaters instead of coats, cottons instead of woolens. The boxes they packed were light. There were three other women: Anna, Joan, Libby. Carrie was stronger than the others and much younger. They were grateful to have her, happy to have someone sturdy and yet fragile. Someone who could be useful but who was still in great spiritual need herself. She looked so pretty and neat, her clothes always pulled together and her tortoiseshell hair perpetually shining in the stained glass light, but she still made mistakes, took risks, like a child. Defiant in her own way, headstrong as a toddlerâthey could tell by the set of her jaw. So much to learn! How often does a perfect volunteer like that come along?
It took a while, but Carrie had finally thrown herself back into volunteering. At first, she showed up whenever someone asked for volunteersâchurch, preschool, even bake sales at the nearby tennis clubâtrying not only to take her mind off her missing son, but also to create a new engine of purpose for her day. She hadn't just lost a child, she'd told her husband; she was a full-time motherâshe'd lost her
. His face had twisted at that choice of words, and she'd been furious right back at him, in his face.
Oh, so I can't say that anymore? That raising a child is work? It wasn't all tickling and tossing the ball around, John!
But more than the anger and the emptiness, there was the crushing sadness, sadness that was held back by some kind of societal seawall until it gathered fury and sloshed over everything. After a few breakdowns at school in front of women who managed to comfort her while also raising their eyebrows at the intensity of her sobs, she'd settled in at the church, where no one seemed to judge her. That she could go from competent to sniveling in a matter of seconds had no place at a school. Plus, she still looked so pretty when she cried. No reddening of the face, no smearing of mascara.
That's not real crying
, everyone whispered.
The children at school were always bubbling with questions, especially about adults who acted strangely. And the school was full of boys. Boys who didn't want to be stared at by a woman they didn't know who occasionally tried to touch their hair. The day she was asked to leave, the volunteer coordinator sat with Carrie in an empty science classroom, squeezed into the taut plastic chairs, and stared at the periodic table of elements while Carrie sobbed as if there were some chemical shorthand for what was happening to them all.
No, the church was further from the living, closer to the dead and the unforgivable. The church was where she belonged. The women there weren't like the young teachers and young mothers at school. They didn't believe anymore in perfect outfits, perfect homes, even perfect afternoons. They'd chipped their china; they'd buried their parents. They
Some days, like that one, the hard work and convivial camaraderie did too good a job. Carrie almost forgot for whole blocks of timeâhours sometimesâthat Ben had been stolen from her car while she struggled with a parking meter outside Starbucks. Ripped from his car seat, leaving only a damp pacifier and one pale-blue sneaker. It haunted her for so long, wondering where the other shoe was, and then, suddenly, she could stop thinking about it. A miracle.
For weeks, the car smelled like Ben. John would come outside in the evenings and find her sitting in the backseat, breathing in the lost perfume of motherhood. The swallowed milk and damp hair, the aroma that lingered at his neck, around his ears. Even cranky, even tired, even with mud streaked on his face, Ben was never truly dirty. He smelled like milk and teething biscuits, wet paper straws and terry cloth bibs and fruity jelly. The finest combination of sour and sweet.
Months later, when John had her car cleaned and detailed, Carrie flew into a rage, pounding her fists against his chest, as if he'd been the parking attendant, as if he'd worn the uniform that made her scrabble through her purse for more money. As if he were the silver meter flashing a red flag demanding another quarter, starting the fight over twenty-five measly cents that had cost her everything. John held her, soothed her, made her dinner. Then he brought it up again.
We should move.
A few towns to the east, closer to his parents. So they could help them, so Carrie would have a change of scenery. And she shook her head so vigorously that the tears flew off her cheek.
We can't leave! What if Ben comes back?
And then, just like that, Ben did.
She floated between the boxes. Ben had been missing more than a year. It had been almost fifteen months, and only in the last few weeks had Carrie finally experienced the ability to separate from herself, suspended from her awful history, and forgetâforget that she hadn't left her house or yard for weeks, that she'd been almost catatonic; forget that she once heard John telling his mother on the phone,
It's like she was taken the same day he was
She forgot how she sat in the dark, rewinding Ben's crib mobile over and over again, the path of the stuffed stars and quilted moon circling for hours above her head, the lullaby always in her ears. John had finally taken it down and told her the mechanism had burned, the battery sparking. She'd found it, days later, in the basement, tucked inside a pail full of rags. Hiding the evidence. Proof that John couldn't take it; he just couldn't take it anymore. But she could. She could take it forever. She'd come upstairs with the mobile, wagging it in his face, telling him,
Hang it back up, damn it! Now!
“Sometimes I think you want to stay sad,” John had said as he'd grabbed it out of her hand. “Like you deserve it or something.”
And she'd gone in the bathroom and whispered to the mirror, “Maybe I do.”
But after so much time, the tasks she'd assigned herself sometimes took over, as they were supposed to, distracting her, and thenârealizing they'd done soâthrew her into guilt. Distraction, guilt, distraction. But sometimes, for a few hours, that distraction brought a level of comfort. Not happiness exactly, but something close.
She moved lightly, fluidly, as empty people tend to do. A ghost in a coral cotton sweater and gray lululemon tennis skirt, moving through the dusty corridors, someone with nothing, carrying other people's cast-off things. If there had been baby clothes in a bag in that narrow basement, she would have thought of Ben, surely. If, while driving there, she had passed the new groomed playground, all curved edges and bright colors and wood chips, and seen a ball being kicked across the short, mowed grass, she would have ached inside. His first words,
, and not, as she loved to joke, what she kept training him to say: “Thank you, Mommy.” But instead of dwelling on her boy, she worked swiftly while discussing innocuous subjects like golf. Whether Libby should start playing with her husband during his impending retirement. Anna sharing her belief that several ladies in the congregation cheated on their scores regularly.
“I'm so glad you're feeling better,” Libby said as they walked out to the parking lot. She squeezed Carrie's hand tightly, then held it as an older sister might as they stood next to Libby's dusty, dog-hair-filled Subaru wagon. Libby had always been Carrie's favorite person at the church. She came from one of the wealthiest Philadelphia familiesâit was embedded in her monogram forever,
, a letter that stood wider than all the others, strong enough to withstand gossip, to live on reputation aloneâbut she lived her life like she had no money or pedigree at all. The oldest car in the church parking lot. Straight, blunt hair that belied her soft heart. Mothballs the only perfume she ever wore.
Libby couldn't help smiling when she was around Carrie and her husband, John. It was as if, by knowing them, she caught a glimpse of how her own daughter's life might have turned out if she hadn't been killed in a car accident at sixteen. Pious, hardworking, organized, Mary, her daughter, had been blonder, shorter, slighter, but she was just as strong and openhearted.
Libby had finally renovated Mary's old bedroom a few years ago and had given one of Mary's needlepoint belts to Carrie. Carrie had run her fingers over the tiny knots and
's with wonder, like she was reading Braille, parsing the meaning of the design, the small whales and gulls and anchors. Libby loved seeing it, peeking out beneath the bottom of Carrie's coral sweater, threaded through the belt loops of her tennis skirt.
“How can you tell I'm feeling better?” Carrie asked.
“Oh, it's plain as day.”
“Because you haven't found me curled up in the basement bathroom with tissues stuffed up my nose in a while?”
“Well, yes.” Libby laughed.
“They really should invent a product for frequent criers whose noses run. Like a nose tampon. There's probably a huge market for it.”
“See, that's what I meanâmaking a joke again. There's aâ¦lightness to you lately.”
Carrie returned Libby's smile. Libby always laughed at Carrie's quips. In high school, the girls her own age had never seemed to understand her sense of humor. She'd make a comment or observation in class, and the teacher would smile, but the students would look at her like she was speaking a foreign language.
Libby got in her car and pretended to fiddle with something in her purse. She sneaked glances toward Carrie as she walked to her car, closed the door, turned on her engine. Carrie drove past Libby, waving again.
Slivers of sun still shone stubbornly on the speckled alders dotting both sides of the creek in the distance. But slate-bottomed clouds hung heavy above the green oaks and lindens circling the parking lot, shading Libby's car.
Libby watched Carrie a long time, till she was out of sight, then did something she only felt a bit guilty about. She sent a two-word text:
. She thought it was sweet that Carrie's husband worried about her. Libby was a slow texter, with large calloused thumbs from gardening, and as she pecked out the message with her head bent down, another car sprang to life in the parking lot. It pulled out of a far corner, headed in the same direction as Carrie's.
Carrie took the shorter way home, via Route 30. She glanced at the rearview mirror a dozen times, but it was only to smile at the bobbing blue sneaker, Ben's remaining sneaker, that hung there. Like Dr. Kenney had suggested, she took it out of the drawer where she'd been keeping it and tried to consider it a good luck charm. But the swaying shoe mesmerized like a hypnotist's watch, and she never saw the car lurking half a block behind her, turning when she turned, veering when she veered. Even if she had noticed, it never would have occurred to her that something was amiss. Everyone on the edge of the Main Line drove the same predictable routes. She didn't worry. It had been a week since Detective Nolan came over to ask her “one more thing” that sounded innocuous but probably wasn't, days since she'd fumed to her mother that no one ever asked John more questions, only her. He'd been in Ardmore that day too, hadn't he? Said he went out for a run after lunch, but had anyone tracked down his route, asked for the DNA on his sweaty clothes? What would they say if they knew how jealous he'd been in college, how he'd followed Carrie when she went alone to fund-raisers or parties and watched as she went inside? But she didn't think about this. And it had been hours, two at least, since she had thought about her son. Because she was getting better. She was coming back to life.
She took the last winding curves of Sugarland Road, passing the moss-dappled houses in the distance, the endless driveways up green hills, everything weathered and nothing glittery, no agate twinkling between the low fieldstone walls. She turned onto her street, a dark macadam slash flanked by piles of faux stone. She pulled into the abbreviated driveway and got out of her car. She opened her hollow red front door, and she heard it then, that babbling half language only babies and toddlers know. The sounds she wished she had recorded more of, remembered better, once they were gone. She put her hand up to her mouth and walked slowly up the stairs. She sniffed the air for traces of himâpowder, shampooâbut smelled something that reminded her of a soiled diaper. The sounds grew louder, unmistakable, and she couldn't decide if she was thrilledâor deeply afraid.