All The Hidden Pieces

By: Jillian Thomadsen


Chapter One


September 7, 2017




There was nothing particularly unusual about the morning the Carpenter family disappeared. Greta woke up early, cooked breakfast for the family and sat at the table in jeans and a sweatshirt while she drank coffee and read emails on her phone. Olivia emerged first – her fine blonde hair matted against her head, her Minnie Mouse pajamas billowing out from her tiny frame.

“Is Daddy awake?” Olivia asked as she claimed a seat at the table.

Greta shook her head but Tuck soon proved her wrong. “I’m awake,” a deep voice grunted from behind the doorway and then Tuck stumbled into the kitchen to pour himself a cup of coffee. He was a tall man, almost six foot five and husky like a linebacker. Greta could feel the kitchen floor shudder beneath his tread as he grabbed a plate of eggs and then sat down with them.

Breakfast lasted about ten minutes – its usual length of time. Tuck wolfed down his food and hastened out the door to work. Greta and Olivia lingered a short while longer but there were errands to run, appointments to keep. Greta was just about to clear the table and start the day when the phone rang.



***



It was a short phone call, and Greta said very little. When she hung up the receiver, she was surprised to see that she was trembling.

Greta took a beat, leaned against the counter and steadied herself. Her skin felt cold and prickly and her breath felt shorter. Her instinct was to lie down and rest, take a few minutes and regain composure. But she knew she had to do exactly the opposite. They had to move and they had to do it right away.

First she called Tuck. “You need to come home,” she said. He started to protest but she explained the phone call she had received. Then she raised her voice. “Now! We need to go. We need to move now!” He agreed and they ended the call.

“Mommy, what’s wrong?” Olivia asked.

Greta walked to the other side of the table and pulled Olivia into a tight hug. The four-year old smelled like baby shampoo and milk, and she squirmed and giggled in response to Greta’s gesture.

“We need to go, okay?” Greta said. “We need to leave right away.” Although Greta’s body was shaking, her voice was still steady. She stood up and sighed as she took in backyard view for the last time.

Outside the sun shined down in a cloudless sky. It was cold for early September but the sun cast bright diamonds and triangles across the lawn. Greta had looked at the same maple and spruce trees, the same telephone wires and hummingbird feeder for almost two decades. It seemed impossible to say good-bye to something so familiar.

Tuck appeared at the back door again and Greta let him in. He looked sweaty and impatient. “I never made it to the office. I’ll need to send them an email to let them know.”

“Sounds good.”

Olivia hopped over to Tuck and he bent down and lifted her into his arms. “Are we ready to roll?” he asked Greta. “Or do we have to wait for John?”

John was Greta’s eighteen-year old son from her first marriage. Somehow—and seemingly overnight—he’d matured from a gawky little kid into an adult. He had pecan-brown hair that used to hang loosely around his shoulders, now fashioned into a trim taper cut. He had grown several inches in the past few years, and Greta marveled that she now had to crane her head when she spoke to him.

“No, we don’t have to wait,” Greta answered. “We can leave right away.”

Tuck put Olivia back on the floor and rushed downstairs – presumably to grab an empty suitcase, but Greta didn’t ask.

Olivia ran her index finger along the stitching of her mother’s jeans and asked, “Where are we going?”

“We’re going on a trip,” Greta answered in a heavy voice. “And we need to get moving. I’m going to pack a bag,” She lifted her foot and stepped over Olivia in the hallway, then walked into her master bedroom.

The bedroom looked so cozy and comforting, it was impossible for Greta to think that she could be standing in it for the last time. All of these realities had been thrown at her so quickly – they were too large and staggering to digest. This morning she had thrown some eggs into a pan while mentally drawing up her grocery shopping list and now she was removing her clothes from her dresser, playing a real-life game of What do I pack if I might not be coming back for a long time?