A month later Garrett stared sullenly at the spot where his son’s crib had stood inside their cramped living room. He had fought tooth and nail not to take it down but after a month Verity had taken it down herself. He understood how she felt about seeing it empty day after day and how it was a silent reminder of what they had lost. She failed to consider how taking the crib down felt to him. It felt like failure, defeat, admittance that Kara had won.
“Garrett,” Celia spoke gently behind him. Walking into the room she found him staring at the spot Trober’s crib had been “honey they’re going to find him.”
“When” he shouted his voice bouncing off the walls “every minute he’s with her is hurting him.”
She reached a had out touching his stiff taut shoulders “I’m sorry,” she murmured.
“What am I going to do?” he cried turning into her eyes blinded with tears “what if he never comes home? What if he comes back and he’s not the same? What if she’s warped him beyond repair?”
“I don’t know,” she pulled him close feeling his body shake with the force of his sobs.
When he had his tears under control he hugged his mom close leaning his face on her shoulder drawing comfort from her like he had when he was little. “Where’s Verity?” he asked knowing before he asked that she was looking for clues.
“She’s checking with the police for any new leads,” she said her voice reluctant as her son pulled away from her with an irritated expression.
“She’s always searching for Kara,” he said pacing around the small room arms swinging wide “she’s never here when I need her. Something is always more important.”
Celia listened to his ramblings growing more and more concerned “Garrett are you afraid she doesn’t love you?”
He stopped stunned running his hands through is hair “I don’t know.” He flopped onto the couch “I just don’t know.” He ran ha hand over his face “she’s always so obsessed with finding Kara. She tries to hide what she’s doing. She never let’s me in.” He closed his eyes leaning back “I feel like I’ve lost everything. My son. My wife. I’m all alone in this.”
Sitting beside him Celia took his face between her hands “you’re not alone. You have us. Your father and I. Your family. We’re not going anywhere.”
“I know” he blinked back tears “I’m so glad you and dad are ok.” He erupted into tears again. This time he felt his mom pull him close. Something she had been doing a lot of since he found out she was alive It was like he was given half his wish list only to have the other half ripped from him.
Kara turned up the volume on the old stereo that came with the house. The screams from the brat filled the house becoming louder and louder with each successive day. She hated the dirty diapers, the snotty runny nose, the tears, the piercing screams, the stubborn refusal to call her mommy. The sight of the child irritated her.
She got up stomped outside. She needed air. Breathing deeply the clear crisp air she wondered why anyone would ever want children. They were disgusting vile things. Once her nose was clear of the smell of dirty diapers she picked up the paper someone had thrown in the nearby rose bush. The front page was all about the kidnapping.
She gave the paper a satisfied smug smile. Her plan had been flawless. Her brother and wife were shattered, broken. The only thing that could have made it better was if Garrett had died from the gas exposure. That would have been a pleasant bonus.
She flipped through the pages frowning as came to pictures of familiar faces “not his can’t be,” she muttered to herself “they can’t be alive.” The pictures told her otherwise. It couldn’t be denied. Ian and Celia were very much alive. Screaming she crumpled the paper between her hands.
She shivered growing cold. Retreating into the house she paced the floor. Back and forth. Her arms waving as her face became pinched and drawn. There was no way she was going to let the Bennett’s win. She’d have the last laugh. They’ll regret ever rejecting her.
She turned towards the door that held her prize. Her ultimate achievement. Throwing the door open her senses were assaulted by the stench from a months worth of dirty diapers and unwashed baby bottom.
Trober looked up squeaking at the scary apparition standing within the door frame. Shivering he cowered in the corner sucking on his thumb.
Kara drowned down at the frightened toddler. Other than his initial shock he never made a sound. His large blue eyes stared at her. His eyes reminded her of her brother. She hated those eyes. They were the same as her dad’s and in he end he too rejected her. Ian should be dead. Garrett should be dead. What she failed to do with the first two times would be rectified with the third. Didn’t they say third times the charm?
Jeff looked across at Ian. He could see the month long search was wearing thin on his cousin. His shoulders drooped. His eyes had a dull lifeless clouded look to them. “We’ll find him,” Jeff tried to give him his best self-assured encouraging smile. The one that instilled confidence in all of his clients.
“It’s my fault,” Ian muttered as if he hadn’t heard anything Jeff said to him “all of it. It’s my fault.”
“You can’t say that,” Jeff objected “Kara’s an unstable personality. You had no idea …”
“Yes I did,” Ian blurted “I knew she was obsessed withe me. I still rejected her. If I hadn’t…”
“Ian don’t,” Jeff shook his head “you don’t know what might have happened if you had played along with her delusions.”
“I do know,” Ian insisted “my family would have been safe. Free from her attacks. Trober would be safe at home with his parents.”
“Ian,” Jeff shouted catching his cousin’s attention “I won’t let you blame yourself. That’s only distracting you from the bigger picture.”
“Which is what?” Ian sniffed.
“Finding Trober,” Jeff said “concentrate on finding him. Nothing else matters. Blaming ourselves will only cloud our thinking. Muddle our emotions.”
“You’re right,” Ian took a deep breath “I just lose focus when I’m dealing with her.”
“With reason. We need to focus on Trober right now,” Jeff repeated squeezing Ian’s shoulder firmly.
“Alright where do we look today?” Ian asked with a small shake of the head.
Verity sat outside the police station. They had escorted her outside after she started screaming at how stupid everyone was involved in the case. She had completely lost it. The pressure of the past month had finally brought her to her melting point. She exploded. She took it out on the men and women who were doing their best to find her son.
Restlessly she moved on the hard wood bench. At least she hadn’t come unhinged on Garrett. Her relationship with him was shaky enough it didn’t need that on top of it. She could see the hurt in his eyes each time she left him. She couldn’t just stay at home and wait. She had to be doing something. Why couldn’t he understand that? She shook her head as an image of Garrett entered her mind. His grief filled eyes flashed before her and knew he didn’t understand. She knew he needed her to there by his side holding his hand.
She buried her face in her hands as reality set in. Garrett’s accusation finally sank in. She was obsessed. Everyone could see it but her. Which explained why the police refused her help. Why Jeff refused her help. He had even gone so far as to fire her. Was she really willing to give up her marriage to hunt Kara down? Had it really come to that?
Shaking she stood from the bench no longer interested in stopping any detective or officer to ply them with questions regarding her son’s case. She just wanted to get home. She needed to hold her husband if he still wanted her too. She didn’t want to become what she was hunting. She wasn’t Kara.
What she was was a young woman with an even younger husband. She was a young mother whose son had been kidnapped. She was scared but she didn’t have to go through this alone.
Verity walked into the house momentarily shocked to see the empty corner where Trober’s crib used to be. The bare space stabbed at her heart. She had insisted they take it down. She hadn’t wanted to be reminded of her failure. Hadn’t wanted to be reminded that Kara still had him.
Now it sank into her awareness everything Garrett had tried to explain to her. Removing the crib indicated they had given up. That they didn’t expect their son to be coming home. Shaking she moved to that spot on the floor. Sinking to her knees crying “I want my baby.”
She felt strong arms envelop her. She didn’t need to see who it was to know his scent, the strength of his arms, the beat of his heart. Garrett was lending her the strength she lacked. It took strength to admit you needed help. Strength to admit you were hurt.
All the things she had rejected thinking she could do it all on her own. She gulped for air as her body convulsed with sobs. She released her obsession go and leaned into Garrett’s embrace. “I can’t…” she cried “can’t do it any more.”
“What can’t you do?” Garrett’s soft comforting voice asked as his lips lightly peppered her face with kisses.
“Be alone,” she wailed “all my life since my parents died I’ve relied on myself. I had the solutions. The answers.” She gripped Garrett’s shirt with her fingers “I’m sorry.”
“You were only doing what you thought was right,” Garrett said his free of recriminations and accusation
“No no I should have been with you,” she clung to him as if she were afraid he’d disappear. “I didn’t need to go after Kara on my own. My baby is gone. I don’t belong out in the field. I belong here with you.”
“It alright baby,” Garrett caressed her face between his hands “you are now.”
“I shouldn’t have made you take down Trober’s crib” she gulped crying harder “I hated the reminder of my failure.”
“I know baby I know,” Garrett assured her “it’s ok we’ll get through this together.”
“I love you” Verity said with a deep sigh leaning into him.
“I love you too” he tilted her chin up to softly kiss her trembling lips “Trober will come home.” He said it with gentle firm conviction.
“Come here you little brat” Kara demanded her nose burning from the stench from the mammoth pile of soiled filthy diapers strewn around the room It had taken about a day for her to realize babies weren’t her thing. She detested changing diapers. Couldn’t be bothered to feed the pooping machine either. It all required too much work. Too much effort. She couldn’t remember the last time she had giving the boy something to eat. A day or two maybe longer. She had left a box goldfish crackers and a bottle of water in the room. He seemed to have figured out how to get into them so he couldn’t be starving.
“Don’t make me come in there after you” Kara stood by the door scowling at the filth around her. She never dreamed a child could be so awful. She stomped her foot becoming impatient at the toddler who hadn’t moved from his corner. “It’s time to say goodbye,” she clapped her hands with glee at the prospect of being free of this little nuisance.
It was as if he didn’t hear her. Kara frowned her brows furrowing deeper as she realized if she wanted the child she was going to have to go in after him. Carefully she threaded her way through the piles She bent to pick up the boy.
He squealed in terror as she lifted him in the air. She kept him at arm’s length afraid he’d soil her clothes if she held him any closer. The diaper he was wearing was sagging, over flowing with things she’d rather not see or touch. Disgust transfigured her face. The ugly red rash covering his sensitive skin elicited not an ounce of sympathy inside Kara for the child. The fact that he was lighter than he was when she first brought him here was of no concern to her.
She carried him from the room singing “good night sweetheart good night” to him. She had a slight smile on her face as she thought about what she was doing. It felt so right. She dropped the boy on the kitchen floor not caring whether he stained the tile or not. She went outside to retrieve the trash can. The bottom was crusted with dirt, mud and old leaves. She didn’t care. She wasn’t staying around after this. One thing she had learned was when the plan worked and you no longer liked what you got it was time to take the trash out. Removing the lid she picked up the listless child who hadn’t moved from the spot she had put him in.
She didn’t ever care this wasn’t the actions of a healthy, happy toddler. She was beyond caring She dropped the boy unceremoniously inside the trash can replacing the lid over him. She smiled. The trash was taken care of. One less thing to worry about she thought.
It was getting late. Ian rubbed his dry itchy eyes. Glancing at the time on he dash. Six o’clock. He should head back to the office. He glanced at his list of addresses. He had just this one more address to check out in this area. It was less than ten miles away. He nibbled on his bottom lip knowing he had promised to meet up with Celia for supper. Just the two of them. Something they had missed from the two years it had just been the two of them It had greatly improved their relationship.
He picked up his phone from the side pocket in the door. A place he kept it while driving It was in handy reach while driving. “Celia” his voice sounded like a question.
“Who else would it be?” her voice traveled down to him sounding like she was smiling. Good he thought. It had been a good day for her. He had that going for him at least.
“Babe I’m running late,” he let his voice convey the apology he felt “I have one more house to check in the area then this section will done.”
“Do it hon” she told him “maybe this will be the one.”
He smiled at his reflection in the rear view mirror. She sounded so hopeful. If only it were that easy he thought. “I love you babe,” he said putting his phone away this time inside his pocket not wanting to forget it when he went to check on the house.
Ten minutes later he drove up to a dark farm house with a tall wall around it. It gave him the chills just looking at it. Slowly he got out of the car. He couldn’t see any lights on inside. He swallowed feeling something wasn’t quite right. Acting on instinct he sent a quick text to Jeff with the address of the house he was checking on. Better safe then sorry he thought as he started towards the house. He didn’t hear it until it was too late. A slight rustling sound from the bushes. A pain in the back of his head as something hard collided with it. Then nothing.
“Ian are you alright?” a familiar deep voice asked.
Moaning Ian opened his eyes focusing on Jeff’s concerned face. “Ow” he groaned lifting a hand to his head wincing “what happened?”
“Someone hit you on the head” Jeff explained “one guess who that might be.”
“I don’t need any guesses” Ian said feeling lucky he was waking up at all. Jeff gave him a hand up. He wobbled for a moment before nodding towards the house. “It’s probably too late but let’s see if she left anything behind.”
They entered the deserted house. Turning on the lights they found themselves inside a shabbily furnished room. The air was stale and smelled of dirty diapers. They opened a door off of the living room to a horrific sight of piles of dirty soiled diapers. They forced themselves to search the room.
Eyes watering they backed from the room “he’s not here” Ian gasped chest heaving “I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.”
Jeff silently put a hand on his cousin’s shoulder. There were no words of condolence or encouragement he could say that would make this situation any better. Pointing towards the stairs he said “I’ll check up there if you check the kitchen.”
Nodding Ian knew Jeff was trying to complete the search before he broke down. Stumbling towards the kitchen he tripped over something that sounded like metal. Flipping the switch he flooded the room with light.
Grimly he found the outside garbage can had been what he had walked into. He picked up the lid that had come dislodged he glanced inside. Gasping he dropped the lid with a loud clatter. A little red-haired boy with blue eyes stared up at him. “Trober?” Ian cried feeling his chest tighten.
“The little boy whimpered lip quivering “mommy daddy.”
Lifting the little boy from the trash Ian cradled his grandson to his chest despite the reeking soggy diaper. “I’m your grandpa” Ian told him “you’re safe now.”
A few moments later Jeff came running into the room “I didn’t find anything….” He came a complete stop upon seeing Ian holding Trober in his arms
Ian lifted watery eyes to him “do you think you can find a clean diaper somewhere in that cess pool?”
Nodding Jeff went to look. Returning with a brand new diaper bag. “At least it has everything you need to change him ” Jeff said watching Ian lay Trober carefully on the counter to change his diaper.
He put a restraining hand on Ian’s shoulder. “I better video this” nodding Ian waited for Jeff to pull his phone out to document how they found Trober.
The toddler screamed as Ian attempted to clean the raw sore areas that was a result of being forced to wear a dirty diaper. Ian did the best he could to soothe the boy snuggling him when he was done.
“You’re frowning,” Jeff noted “what’s wrong?”
“He feels so light compared to other two-year olds” Ian said.
“It doesn’t surprise me. When Kara realized how much work babies are to take care of she probably stopped trying” Jeff said “she probably didn’t feed him like she didn’t change his diapers.”
“I could strangle her,” Ian hissed rocking the boy in his arms feeling Trober sag in his arms as he started to fall asleep “he needs a doctor as soon as we get him out of here.”
“I’ve already called the local police,” Jeff informed him “it won’t be long now.”