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Thought I Knew You

By´╝ÜTimber Drive

Chapter 1

Greg and Cody disappeared on the same day.

One or two Fridays a month, Greg and I hired a babysitter for date night. The idea was to take some time for ourselves and reconnect. The reality was significantly less romantic. We typically ate at Pesto Charlie’s due to some combination of availability and timing. I’d order whatever seafood was on special, and Greg would get Chicken Piccata—light on the sauce, of course. The food was always dependable, we never had to wait for a table, and with the low lighting and heady aroma of Italian spices, the restaurant was atmospheric enough to check Date Night off our to-do lists.

A few times, we tried other places, but either the food wasn’t good, the service was poor, or we’d leave the restaurant late and miss the beginning of whatever movie we planned to see. Greg refused to go into a theater late. He called it rude and always clucked disapprovingly when others did so. So Pesto Charlie’s became something of a tradition, albeit not a very exciting one. We’d get home between ten and ten thirty, pay the sitter twenty bucks, and go to bed. Sometimes we’d make love, but not every time. Even date night wasn’t a guaranteed lay.

Greg was due back around one o’clock that Friday afternoon, having been on a business trip all week. He traveled for work more than I liked, but I’d stopped complaining about the monthly trips years ago and just accepted them as a part of life. Greg and I worked for the same company, Advent Pharmaceuticals. He was a professional trainer, not a weightlifting trainer, but adult education for the corporate set. He taught various courses on compliance, regulations, and the science behind Advent’s drugs. He was based in Raritan, New Jersey, about ten miles from where we lived in Clinton, but often flew as far as Canada. Greg was good at his job; actually, Greg was good at almost everything.

I worked part time as a technical writer. My job was less demanding, allowing me to work from home and take care of the children. I just worked for extra money. Something to do, Greg had once joked at a dinner party, his arm draped across my shoulders. My face had burned at that, even though I had said the same thing a million times.

“Mommy, I think Cody got out.” Hannah stood in the doorway between the hallway and the kitchen. Her earlier neat blond ponytail had fallen to the side, and she had some furtively acquired lipstick smeared on her cheek.

“What? Hannah, seriously, stay out of my purse, please.” No matter how hard I tried, Hannah seemed determined to look a mess. It’s like an age requirement for four-year-olds.

She pointed at the screen door. “Mommy, look!”

Sure enough, the screen swayed gently in the early October breeze. The opening between the mesh and the frame was jagged, as if it had been clawed. Had I let him out? I thought so. With the girls and the library, the memory of the morning blurred. I wasn’t concerned. Cody would have been more aptly named Houdini. Our yard was large, several acres, with a small patch of woods in the back, perfect for chasing small animals and sometimes bringing them back as prizes, dropping them on the doorstep with a triumphant thump. Given that our closest neighbors were a quarter-mile away, Cody had the run of the place, but he always knew where home was.

“Sweetie, he’ll be home. He’s just out for an adventure.” I poked my head out of the door and looked around the yard. “Cody! Come back, bud! It’s dinner time!” It wasn’t, but “dinner time” never failed to evoke a response.

I didn’t see him, but he could have been anywhere. An old barn sat at the back of our property. I could imagine him there, tucked under the rarely used workbench, bathed in a shaft of light let in by the broken side door. I’d look in a bit, after the babysitter, Charlotte, came, but before we left for dinner. I let the screen door slam and checked the time. I was surprised to see that the clock showed three fifteen already. Where was Greg anyway?

I gathered two-year-old Leah from the playroom, her cheeks rouged from the same Hannah-pilfered lipstick, and plopped her in the high chair. After tossing some Goldfish crackers on her tray, I picked up the phone and dialed Greg’s number. My call went directly to voicemail, so I left an irritated message. Frustrated, I tapped my fingers on the phone. Greg had likely forgotten our plans, his mind a million miles away, his wife last on his list. I stormed around the kitchen, slamming pots and pan lids, half-expecting him to appear behind me and say teasingly, “Feel better now?” like he generally does when I get cranky and start making noise.

I had to think a moment to remember the last time we spoke. Wednesday evening, he had called to say good night and to tell the girls he loved them. He didn’t call last night, but that wasn’t all that strange. I filled my time with kid-friendly activities, play dates, family, and friends, so we didn’t talk every night. I could think of a few trips, particularly in the last few months, where the week would come and go before I realized we hadn’t spoken at all.