When Ellie awoke that morning, it was with the sense that something terrible had happened.
Instinctively she reached for Bones, the soft and cuddly stuffed dog who had shared her pillow ever since she could remember. When she'd had her seventh birthday last month, Andrea, her fifteen-year-old sister, had teased her that it was time to toss Bones in the attic.
Then Ellie remembered what was wrong: Andrea hadn't come home last night. After dinner, she had gone to her best friend Joan's house to study for a math test. She had promised to be home by nine o'clock. At quarter of nine, Mommy went to Joan's house to walk Andrea home, but they said Andrea had left at eight o'clock.
Mommy had come back home worried and almost crying, just as Daddy got in from work. Daddy was a lieutenant in the New York State Police. Right away he and Mommy had started calling all of Andrea's friends, but no one had seen her. Then Daddy said he was going to drive around to the bowling alley and to the ice cream parlor, just in case Andrea had gone there.
"If she lied about doing homework until nine o'clock, she won't set foot out of this house for six months," he'd said angrily, and then he'd turned to Mommy: "If I said it once, I've said it a thousand times -- I don't want her to go out after dark alone."
Despite his raised voice, Ellie could tell that Daddy was more worried than angry.
"For heaven's sake, Ted, she went out at seven o'clock. She got to Joan's. She was planning to be home by nine, and I even walked over there to meet her."
"Then where is she?"
They made Ellie go to bed, and, eventually, she fell asleep waking only now. Maybe Andrea was home by now, she thought hopefully. She slipped out of bed, rushed across the room, and darted down the hall to Andrea's room. Be there, she begged. Please be there. She opened the door. Andrea's bed had not been slept in.
Her bare feet silent on the steps, Ellie hurried downstairs. Their neighbor, Mrs. Hilmer, was sitting with Mommy in the kitchen. Mommy was wearing the same clothes she had on last night, and she looked as if she'd been crying for a long time.
Ellie ran to her. "Mommy."
Mommy hugged her and began to sob. Ellie felt Mommy's hand clutching her shoulder, so hard that she was almost hurting her.
"Mommy, where's Andrea?"
"We...don't...know. Daddy and the police are looking for her."
"Ellie, why don't you get dressed, and I'll fix you some breakfast?" Mrs. Hilmer asked.
No one was saying that she should hurry up because the school bus would be coming pretty soon. Without asking, Ellie knew she wouldn't be going to school today.
She dutifully washed her face and hands and brushed her teeth and hair, and then put on play clothes -- a turtleneck shirt and her favorite blue slacks -- and went downstairs again.
Just as she sat at the table where Mrs. Hilmer had put out juice and cornflakes, Daddy came through the kitchen door. "No sign of her," he said. "We've looked everywhere. There was a guy collecting for some phony charity ringing doorbells in town yesterday. He was in the diner last night and left around eight o'clock. He would have passed Joan's house on the way to the highway around the time Andrea left. They're looking for him."
Ellie could tell that Daddy was almost crying. He also hadn't seemed to notice her, but she didn't mind. Sometimes when Daddy came home he was upset because something sad had happened while he was at work, and for a while he'd be very quiet. He had that same look on his face now.
Andrea was hiding -- Ellie was sure of it. She had probably left Joan's house early on purpose because she was meeting Rob Westerfield in the hideout, then maybe it got late and she was afraid to come home. Daddy had said that if she ever lied again about where she'd been, he'd make her quit the school band. He'd said that when he found out she had gone for a ride with Rob Westerfield in his car when she was supposed to be at the library.
Copyright © 2002 by Mary Higgins Clark
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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