My parents exchanged looks, and Detective Ramirez sighed. My shoulders slumped. Obviously that was a fail.
The deputy patted my arm. “That’s good. That’s really good. We think you were in Michaux State Forest, and that would make sense.”
Didn’t feel good. I stared at my dirty nails, wishing everyone would all go away. But the officers lingered, talking to my parents as if I weren’t capable of comprehending anything they were saying. Cassie’s continued disappearance was major. I got that. And I did feel bad. I wanted to help them find her, but I didn’t know how I could.
I sneaked a peek at them. Detective Ramirez watched me with eyes narrowed in intense, distrustful scrutiny. A shudder rolled down my spine, and I hastily looked away, feeling as if I deserved that look he was giving me.
Like I was guilty of something—something terrible.
Tendrils of fear coated in confusion crawled through me when the strangers—er, my parents—checked me out of the hospital the next day. I couldn’t believe the authorities were just letting me leave with them. What if they weren’t really my parents? What if they were psychos kidnapping me?
I was being ridiculous.
It wasn’t as if random people would claim a seventeen-year-old girl for no reason, which is exactly how old I was. Discovered that when I peeked at my chart at the end of my bed that morning.
My gaze slid to my father’s head of dark hair. An air of influence coated his skin, seeped into everything he touched. I didn’t need to know anything about him to realize that he was powerful.
Tall trees and rolling green hills that were as well manicured as the golf course I’d seen on the TV in my hospital room surrounded the road leading up to their house. We went over one dip in the road, and I saw a cluster of small houses that were cozy.
We drove past them…in our Bentley.
Quickly, I learned that they were rich. Sickeningly rich. It was funny how I didn’t remember squat, but I knew what money looked like.
I kept rubbing the palm of my hand over the supple leather. The car had to be new because it had that crisp, just-manufactured scent.
Then I saw our house. Holy crap, it was the size of a small hotel. An intimidating structure with thick marble columns in the front, rising four or five stories into the sky, and the garage to the left was the size of the houses we’d passed a few moments ago.
“Is this really our house?” I asked when the car rounded a fountain—kind of gaudy—surrounded by foliage in the middle of the wraparound driveway.
Mom glanced back, smiling tightly. “Of course it is, sweetie. You’ve lived here your whole life. So have I. This was my parents’ home.”
“Was?” I asked, curious.
“They’ve moved to Coral Gables.” She paused and took a little breath. “They’re in Florida, honey. This is their family estate.”
Estate. That was a fancy word. My gaze shifted to my dad again, and I realized that Mom had said their and not our. As if the house wasn’t Dad’s home, but it was her family’s.
Pushing that thought aside, I took a deep breath and then planted my face in the window again. Dear god, I lived in this place. Once I got inside the opulent foyer and saw the crystal chandelier that was probably worth more than my life, I suddenly didn’t want to move. Expensive stuff was everywhere. The rug near the grand staircase looked soft. Oil paintings of foreign landscapes graced the buttercream walls. There were so many doors, so many rooms.
My breath was coming out in short, raspy bursts. I couldn’t move.
Dad placed his hand on my shoulder, squeezing gently. “It’s okay, Sammy, just take it easy.”
I stared into the face of the man I should know. His dark eyes; handsome smile; tough, hard jaw…There was nothing. My dad was a stranger. “Where is my room?”
He dropped his hand. “Joanna, why don’t you take her upstairs?”
Mom came forward at a slow, measured pace, wrapping her cool hand around my arm. She led me upstairs, chattering about who’d helped search for me. The mayor had taken part, which apparently was a big deal to her, and then the governor had sent our family his prayers.
“Governor?” I whispered.
She nodded and a slight smile pulled at her lips. “Your great-grandfather used to be a senator. Governor Anderson is a friend of the family.”
I had no idea what to say to that.
My bedroom was on the third floor, at the end of a long hall lit by several wall sconces. My mom stopped in front of a door with a sticker that read THIS BITCH BITES.
I started to smile, but then she opened the door and stepped aside. Tentatively, I entered the unfamiliar room, which smelled of peaches, stopping a few feet in.
“I’ll give you a few minutes,” she said, clearing her throat. “I had Scott lay out some of your yearbooks. They’re on your desk when you’re ready. Dr. Weston said they could help.”
Help with finding my file of memories. I nodded, pressing my lips together as I scanned the room. It was big. Like, twenty times bigger than the hospital room. There was a bed in the middle of the room. A pristine white down comforter was tucked in neatly. Several gold-trimmed pillows were placed at the top. A brown teddy bear rested on them, looking out of place in the otherwise sophisticated bedroom.
Mom cleared her throat. I’d forgotten about her. Turning around, I waited. Her smile was pained, awkward. “I’ll be downstairs if you need me.”
With a curt nod, she left, and I started to investigate the room. The yearbooks were on my desk, but I avoided them. Part of me wasn’t ready for the weird walk down nonmemory lane. There was an Apple laptop next to several smaller devices. I recognized one as an iPod. A flat-screen TV hung from the wall above the desk. I assumed that was what the remote control belonged to.
I made my way to the closet, throwing open the double doors. It was a walk-in. A tiny part of me was curious. Clothes weren’t a big deal to me. I knew that. Then I saw the racks in the back, and I almost squealed.
Shoes and purses were a big deal.
Could that be a part of the old me, or was it just because I was a girl? I wasn’t sure as I ran my fingers over the dresses. They felt like quality.
Back in my bedroom, I discovered there was a balcony, and I had my own bathroom stocked with products I couldn’t wait to try out. Near the bed, there was a corkboard full of pictures. Huh. I had a lot of friends, and they were…dressed like me. Frowning, I inspected the collage of pictures closer.