Home > The Stolen Sisters(2)

The Stolen Sisters(2)
Author: Louise Jensen

‘But I want—’ Marie began.

‘I don’t care what you want. Move.’ Carly grabbed Leah’s arm and led her in the opposite direction, towards the cut-through at the side of their house, which led to the park.

It all happened so quickly that afterwards Carly couldn’t remember which order it all came in. The balaclava-clad face looming towards hers. The forearm around her neck, the gloved hand clamped over her mouth. The sight of Leah struggling against arms that restrained her. The scraping sound of her shoe as she was dragged towards the van at the other end of the alley. The sight of Marie, almost a blur, flying towards the second man also clad in black, who held her twin, pummelling him with her small fists.

‘Stop! You can’t do this! Don’t take her. I don’t want you to take her!’

The soft flesh compacting against hard bone as Carly bit down hard on the fingers that had covered her mouth.

‘Run!’ she had screamed at Marie as the man who held Leah grabbled to find something of Marie’s he could hold on to, clutching at her collar, her ginger pigtails, as she dodged his grasp.

‘Run!’

 

 

Chapter Two


Leah

Now

Dread crawls around the pit of my stomach. It’s impossible to ignore the urge to run back into the room. I push open the door and step inside. The kitchen is exactly as I left it, not surprising as I am the only one home, but nevertheless I twist the dial on the oven three times to make sure that it’s off, despite knowing that I haven’t cooked anything today.

Safe.

I have to keep us all safe.

My compulsions are worsening again. If I was being kind to myself I’d think it’s not surprising considering what I’ve been through, what I’ve yet to face over this coming week.

I’m rarely kind to myself.

But still, I remember what happened the last time everything got out of hand. The build of pressure. The loss of control. Despite the scrutiny I’ll be under over the next few days, I have to hold it together this time, if not for me, then for George and Archie.

The silver-framed faces of the three of us at Drayton Manor Park beam down at me from the dresser. Archie has inherited bits of both of us. He has my fiery red hair but instead of being poker-straight it’s curly like George’s dark mop would be if he didn’t keep it so short. Unlike George’s hair, Archie’s always smells of the apple shampoo I wash it with each night and as I recall the familiar scent, momentarily I allow myself to relax, until an incoming text lights up my phone.

I need you.

 

I tell myself I can just say no, but anxiety rises as quickly as Archie’s tears do when he’s overtired.

Calm yourself.

I force my eyes to travel around the room and name three things to ground myself.

Archie’s cuddly toy Labrador curled up its wicker basket, a fake bone between its paws. He’s forever begging for a puppy but I can’t cope with the thought of a real dog.

George’s sheepskin gloves on top of the microwave; he always forgets where he’s left them.

A canvas print of three girls holding hands on a golden beach. I don’t know who they are but when I saw it hanging in the window of a local gallery I stood there for the longest time, unsure whether it made me feel happy or sad. For three years it’s hung on my wall and I still feel a flurry of emotions when I catch sight of it. I still can’t unpick what they are.

Calm.

A second message buzzes.

It’s important.

 

I can just say no.

But I won’t.

I can’t delay it any more. Peeling off my disposable gloves I snap on a fresh pair and gather my keys and my mobile. On the doormat is a business card from a reporter with Call me scrawled across it.

I won’t.

At times like these I wonder why I’ve never moved away from this small town I grew up in, where everybody knows who I am and what happened to me. I think it’s partly because there’s no getting away from it. Once you’ve been global news there is no fading into anonymity. It only takes one person to post a sighting on Twitter or Facebook and your face is everywhere again. The public like a game of hide-and-seek even though I don’t want to play. There’s also a comfort in being surrounded by familiar faces. Strangers still terrify me. The main reason though, if I’m honest, is because staying so close to where it happened is a form of punishment and deep down we all feel in some way responsible.

We still blame ourselves.

Although I’m late, I’m in no hurry to get there; part of me knows what she’ll want to talk about and I don’t think I can face it.

I’m careful as I drive, headlights slicing through the gloom. The dark skies give a sense of early evening rather than midmorning. We’re barely into autumn and it already feels like winter. I’m mindful of the traffic, peering into cars, wondering who’s inside and where they’re going.

If they’re happy.

Everyone in the town was more vigilant after our abduction. The community was pulled together by threads of horror but over time they… not exactly forgot but moved on. Or tried to. Eyes that once looked at me with sympathy became filled with annoyance as another anniversary summoned a fresh batch of true-crime fans, pointing out the house we grew up in. Our old school. The swings in the playground our parents once pushed us on – higher-higher-higher. It’s where I now take Archie.

I’m almost halfway there when I notice the fuel gauge is nearly empty. Inwardly, I curse. George was supposed to fill my car up last night, he knows I find it difficult. I can’t bear the smell of fumes. I was sure he’d gone to do it while I gave Archie his bath and read him a story but I must have been mistaken. He probably got caught up in another long work call. The hours he’s putting in at the moment are ridiculous but I’m lucky he’s working so hard towards our future, even if we don’t always want the same thing.

It’s tempting to go home but I’d still have to refuel before picking Archie up from nursery so I indicate left and pull into the forecourt of the BP garage. The instant I step out of the car the smell of petrol invades my nostrils and I have to swallow down bile.

My hand is shaking by the time I replace the pump and go and pay.

The cashier is busy with another customer and as I wait I impulsively pick up a KitKat for Archie and a Twix for George. I don’t snack, preferring proper meals. My debit card is already in my hand, ready to tap it on the reader, but I’ve gone over the contactless limit and so I stuff the card inside the machine. Out of my peripheral vision I notice a white van pull up alongside my car. Flustered, I enter my pin number incorrectly twice before I remember what it is.

A man with spiked black hair steps out of the van. I’ve never seen him before. He’s young. Younger than me, and he looks happy but still, that doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous, does it? We all wear a mask sometimes, don’t we? I’m guilty of it myself. The calm mother, the carefree wife. That’s unfair. I’m being hard on myself again. I’ve had periods of months – years even – when I’ve almost, if not forgotten what I’ve been through, come to terms with it. Learned to live with it, I suppose, like the patches of eczema that used to scab my skin when I was stressed. Oddly my skin has been clear since my rituals became all-consuming. My mental health plummeted and my physical health problems disappeared almost overnight.

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