Luke came home on a Tuesday, if it could be said he ever came home at all. He had been taken on a Tuesday, too, but there had been 382 Tuesdays between the two. Luke resided in all those Tuesdays in his mind, Lila thought, whether he was here now or not.
Everyone agreed it would be a good idea to home-school him. Sending a 14 year-old boy to school with seven year-olds seemed like further punishment, and, while they didn’t know much of what he had gone through, they imagined he’d had his share of stressful and humiliating situations.
Aside from the steady stream of official people that flowed through his life, there were only the four of them. (Lila and Edward just couldn’t bring themselves to have another child after he disappeared, too many thoughts of giving up and replacing. What kind of people would have another child when all of their energies needed to be focused on finding the one they lost?) His teacher’s name was Katie. She was nice and young, which seemed to be the best fit for him.
His dislike for men enforced what all concerned already knew, that the perpetrators of his disappearance were males. He didn’t like women much more; they were humans too, and humans had done what had been done. He didn’t seem to trust any of them one bit.
Katie got a little more out of him toward his school work than the detectives and psychologists did when it came to what had transpired during the seven years he was gone. That wasn’t saying much, because they hadn’t gotten anything. He’d been home for three months when they brought Katie on—she came with high recommendations as a teacher and a counselor—and he hadn’t said one word about the time he was gone. If they tried to make him, he would resist to a level of violence that would require sedation.
He woke often from nightmares, screaming, crying, shaking, but when Lila would try to comfort him she would get a similar reaction as the cops and doctors who tried to find out about the time he was gone. Like them, she finally gave up trying. She would just stand at his door until he calmed and say, “I’ll be right in here. Mommy will be right here if you need anything.”
At three months in, he still hadn’t.
Lila thought Edward took it the hardest. She could only imagine the horrors that had befallen her son, and just those imaginings made her grateful that she didn’t know for certain what all had happened. She understood that any information he had in his head could possibly help the police find the kidnappers and possibly keep it from happening to another child, another mother, but if the kind of heinous acts that she could imagine had happened to him, she hated it, but she was cool not to know. Still, as a mother, she wanted to be there for him if he ever did decide he needed to talk. She thought it was worse for Edward because he was a male, and, as horrific as some of the thoughts that went through her head were, she knew it had to be worse for a father.
There was no genteel way to say it; yes, she had given birth to Luke, and that gave her a bond to him that Edward would never have, but Edward was a man; he’d never had anything stuck inside him in any manner, nor did he want anything stuck inside of him. She could see it every time he looked at their son. He no longer saw Luke; rather, he saw what had been done to Luke. More than that, he saw what he imagined had been done to Luke. It drove him crazy that the boy wouldn’t tell them one single thing about what happened, but Lila had the idea it would drive him even crazier if he did.
Luke put forth enough effort at school work to keep Katie doing anything more than lightly complaining. A couple of times, she made small threats about what might happen if he didn’t try to focus on his studies and get educated. He found these moments the funniest; what was she going to do, not give him a gogurt? She could see his face get as close to laughing as she had seen it. She thought that at least it was something.
Katie left on a Sunday, and Edward left the following Tuesday. Neither exodus was anything less than Lila expected. It didn’t occur to her for a moment that the two events might somehow related until her sister asked her if she thought maybe the two of them had hooked up.
She rolled the question around in her mind for a moment; it was spiky and knobby like a ball of tape, but it caused no pain whatsoever. “Hmmm, I hadn’t even thought about that; maybe.” The ball continued to roll along its bouncy and lopsided path. “I don’t see any reason why I’d give much of a shit either way.”
That Tuesday night, Luke woke her with his screams. She went to him, but not in a hurried or panicked manner; this wasn’t her first rodeo.
“Mommy’s here,” she said, taking her spot just inside the door, open to let the hallway light in.
He looked up at her with thanks, as he tried to steady his breathing.
When he lay back down and looked like he might be settling down enough to think about sleeping again, she walked around the far side of the bed. She felt him tense as she sat on the bed. She stilled him with a hand on his shoulder. “I guess you know that it’s just the two of us now, and I think you know we’re going to have to trust each other.” He was noncommittal.
She lie down on the bed behind him and pulled him closer. It was the closest she’d held her son since he got home, and she began to cry.
Her cries became sobs, and when Luke began to cry with her, she pulled him closer still.
I wrote this last year, and I wrote it with a word count in mind, to tailor it to specific markets. It went out at least once, maybe two or three times. The goal was to send it out again, but I don’t know when I’m going to get back around to submitting work in such fashion; I kind of think I never will.
And I’m thinking, why would I wait to see if it can be published, when I have a perfectly capable publication where I know it can. Plus, if I did sell it, there would be no way that any other magazine or periodical would have as good of an audience as this one has. So, this is for you, beautiful people. It is a pure fiction, part inspired by the movie Mystic River and part inspired by the greatest fears we have for our children.
Love you. friends, and I’m hoping life’s blessings find you well.