Doing Something



Chapter 16    



We stop at a Burger King and get food.  Chase says we should go to the park to eat it; he’s tired of sitting in the car and says he doesn’t much want to sit crammed onto hard plastic seats in the restaurant watching a bunch of other people, most of them overweight, feed their faces.


The park is cheerier than the rest of the town.  There are kids playing, some quietly, some running and yelling, and these pick up our mood some.  Laughing kids are swinging high on the swings, and I think of Carly.  The swings were her favorite part of the park.  Of course, she was so little then.  There were a lot of things she couldn’t do.  But swinging—in one made for little kids with a bar in front to hold them in the seat—she could do that, and she laughed and shrieked while doing it.  She hated it when we told her it was time to stop.


As always, when I think of her, a deep sadness threatens to overwhelm me.  What seemed hopeful a few days ago is now beginning to look a lot like stark reality.  Like there’s very little hope at all in this quest.


I force myself to shake off these thoughts, taking a huge suck on my straw, hoping the sting of the Coke’s fizz on my throat will pull me out of the mood I’m in danger of sinking into.  Dad is staying the course.  I need to do so, too.


Chase opens his bag, sets his food out in front of him, and says, “It’ll be hard to watch that house.  No one else was parked on that street.  We’re going to stand out, sitting there, four of us sitting in the car, just watching that house, waiting.  We could get away with that in a bigger town like Mineola, but not here.”


Lindsey agrees.  “This doesn’t feel like the place anyway.  This town.  It’s too small, too… what’s the word, too self-contained?”


“Parochial,” says Chase, and we all turn to look at him.


Linsey keeps talking.  “I think wherever she is, it would be a bigger place, one that would provide more anonymity than here.  Everyone must know everyone else here.  A two-year-old suddenly showing up—that would be cause for a lot of interest and would maybe get people talking.  Kidnappers wouldn’t want people talking.”


I start to argue that point, maybe just to argue.  I don’t disagree with either of them, but I’m feeling ornery.  I start to open my mouth to present an opposing opinion when something catches my eye.  Across the park, just walking in, are two women with a young girl.  I feel my heart suddenly start pounding in my chest.  One of the women looks sort of familiar, but it’s the girl I’m staring at.  The girl is older than Carly was when she disappeared, but that was a year ago.  This girl’s hair is different, too.  Carly was blonde, like me, but this girl’s hair is brown.  Dark brown.  Her hair used to be long, and this girl’s is cut short.  Still, the way this girl walks, her body language, from what I can see of her face even at a distance, the way she moves her head, looking around the park: it’s Carly!  I spent my whole life with her, till she disappeared.  I know her, even with the superficial changes.  Same pigeon-toed walk.  Same way of holding her head.  Same way of pulling on the woman’s hand, same way of trotting off when she sees the swings, the same way her arms swing when she does that.  To me, there is absolutely no question.  I simply know it.  It’s her!  We’ve found her!  We’ve found Carly!


I want to jump up and shout and run to her.  Even with my heart racing like a roller coaster, common sense holds me down.  I force myself to think about what would happen.  Adults in the park may know this couple.  They don’t know us and would never let us have Carly.  If we try to grab her and run, someone will try to stop us.  It’d be a big mess.


But she’s here, right here!  I know one thing.  Whatever we decide to do, whatever we come up with, I’m not driving off and leaving her.  No way!


I don’t know exactly what to do but know whatever it is, when we get in the car, Carly is going to be with us.  I’ve never been surer of anything in my life.


I turn to my friends.  “Guys,” I say, and my voice sounds funny even to me.  It must sound odd to Chase, too, because he snaps his head around to look at me.  “I don’t want any of you to react.  OK?  Just sit still.  But, look over there by the picnic tables.”


They turn and look.


“That’s Carly,” I say.  My heart is still beating too fast.  The urge to run to her is strong.


The three of them sit staring for a few moments, then Chase, who knows Carly, says, “Are you sure?” 


I look at him.  “It’s Carly,” I say, and I say it with such assurance that no argument is possible.


“So, what are we going to do?” Lindsey asks.


“I don’t know!  We have to think of something.”  My heart won’t stop racing.


“We can’t just go over there and take her,” says Lindsey, echoing my earlier thoughts.  “We need to get help.”


“Not the police,” I say, thinking quickly.  “They’d take Carly.  They’d never let us the four of us have her.  They’d never give her to us on our say-so.  They’d probably return her to those women.”


“Then call your father.  Maybe he can help.”


I shake my head at her.  “He’d be hopeless in a situation like this.”


“You could call my dad,” Trevor says.  “He’d help, and he’d be good at it.”


“No,” I say.  “We have to do this right now.  We can’t wait.  We have to do something, and if we wait, we might not be able to.  Right now, we can.  We have to.  It’s up to us.”


“But we know where they live,” Chase points out.  “We could go home, talk to your dad—maybe Trevor’s, too—and all decide together.  We’re just kids; we shouldn’t be making this decision by ourselves!  We might fuck it up.”


I stop and think instead of just continuing to argue.  Chase isn’t wrong: we are just kids, and we are in over our heads here.  But it seems to me that now that we’ve located Carly, we can’t just drive off and leave her here.  We really have no idea that they’re going back to that house.  Maybe they’re going someplace else, maybe leaving on a vacation trip and not coming back for a long time.  Maybe they’re leaving this town permanently, feeling they’ve been here too long.  Maybe something’s made them suspicious.  They bought fast food just like we did.  It might mean they’ve packed up their things and are taking off.  OK, perhaps that’s unlikely, but what if it’s true?  I could never live with myself if they disappeared just when we had her in sight.


No, it seems to me that she’s here, we’re here, and it’s up to us to rescue her and not wait too much longer.  They could finish eating and simply leave.  Getting any other adults involved would take time and is too risky, because it is  as Chase pointed out: we’re kids; no one will pay any attention to what we have to say if it comes down to us versus those women.


I look at the other three, catching their eyes and holding them.  “Guys, it’s up to us,” I repeat.  “Here.  Now.  Us.”


“But how?”  Chase doesn’t like this at all.  He’s normally a risk-taker, as adventuresome as anyone I know, but now?  I realize, he’s worried about doing something that might put Carly in danger.  He doesn’t want that responsibility.  Well, I don’t want to put her at risk, either, but it seems to me that not doing something when we can is even riskier.


Lindsey voices her doubts aloud.  “We have to be careful about Carly.  She could easily get hurt if something goes wrong.”


“I know!”  My head is racing as fast as my heart is beating.  I’m having trouble thinking straight.  Seeing Carly across the park is doing a number on me.


Trevor isn’t making any suggestions, either, other than just the one about calling his dad.  Usually he’s so full of ideas.  Now, maybe the gravity of the situation is too much.  He’s simply quiet.


Chase says, “If we are going to do this, it means getting her away from them.  We can’t do anything if she’s with them.  We have to get them separated.”


“And then what?” Lindsey asks.


My head starts to work.  The others are calmer than I am.  With time passing and Carly sitting still, eating, and showing no signs of alarm or anxiety, I am able to take a deep breath and calm down enough to think. 


I watch their table as I think, not able to take my eyes off Carly.  Something seems to tweak my memory, something about one of the women, but I’m concentrating on Carly. “If we can get her away from the two women she’s with, then we could probably get her to the car before they could catch us,” I say. 


“But they’ll be yelling.  They’ll call the cops.  They’ll call all the people in the park to help them.  We’ll be caught and arrested, and they’ll disappear with Carly!” Lindsey says, getting agitated as her imagination takes over, envisioning what could go wrong.  I consider what she said, then shake my head.


“No, they won’t,” I say.  “They won’t make any racket at all.  You think they’ll call the cops?  Really?”


Chase’s eyes widen in understanding.  “They wouldn’t!” he exclaims.  “How could they?  I don’t even think they’ll yell at us!”


“Right!” I say.  “They’re the criminals, not us.  But we still need to get her away from them.  If we walk up to them and try to take her, they’ll probably grab her back or grab us, and we don’t want her getting hurt.  Or us.  That one woman looks tough.  Hey, you know what?  I’ll bet they’re lesbians.  Two women who wanted a daughter!  And I’ll bet anything that tough one would scratch our eyes out to keep her!”


We all look over at them again.  They’re sitting at a picnic table.  The tough woman appears to be in her early 40s and in good shape.  She’s wearing shorts and a tee shirt, and there doesn’t appear to be any fat on her.  The other woman could be just a few years younger.  She’s slighter, more feminine looking.  They have containers of food in front of them.  We’d gone to Burger King.  It looks like they went to Kentucky Fried Chicken.  The Colonel’s.


“I don’t know how we’ll get them apart,” Lindsey says.


We’re all quiet, thinking, and then, suddenly, I say, “I do!” because I’ve just figured it out.


All three of them turn to me.  I explain it to them.  Trevor grins; the other two look worried.  I say, “It’ll work.  And there’s no reason to wait.  Let’s do it.”


Lindsey hands her car keys to Trevor.  Slowly, idly, apparently without any design, Lindsey, Chase and I finish eating and get up, toss our trash in one of the barrels and begin to move in the general direction of the swings.  Trevor stays at the table where we ate, watching.  His job comes later.


I look at Chase.  “Be really careful,” I say.  The dangerous part of this comes down to Chase.  He seems unaffected by it, but I’m scared.  And then I get a surprise.  He says, a slight bit of bravado creeping into his voice, “You’re the one who’d better not fuck this up.  I’m good to go.”  I can see some of his former devil-may-care attitude is back, along with his devilish, eye-sparkling grin.  “Piece of cake,” he continues.  Yep, the love of adventure that had always been part him is now on display.


▪ ▪


Carly finishes eating while we’re still a distance away from them.  She always had been more interested in playing than eating.  She gets up from the picnic table and starts running toward the swings, running as fast as a three-year-old can.  The younger woman watches, grins, and gets up to follow her, calling out to her.  I’m still too far away to hear her words clearly but think she’s probably warning Carly to stay away from the other kids on the swings so she won’t get hit.  I warned Carly about the same things many times when we’d been to the park together.


I move a little faster, still trying to look casual.  According to our positions, and how fast we’re both moving, I’ll intersect Carly’s path before she reaches the swings; I am closer to them now than Carly is.


When I’m close enough, I stop.  The lady has caught up with Carly, and they’re both walking slowly toward the swings, Carly chattering away as she always did.  I’m not directly in their path, but off to the side a little.  I open my mouth, then close it.  If I call out, Carly will look up at me, but the lady will probably grab her hand, hearing her name being called.


So I do something else.  I move so I’m in Carly’s line of sight as she walks toward the swings.  I’m hoping when she sees me, she’ll react, and the woman won’t be expecting anything or be feeling overly protective.  The woman has never even glanced in my direction.


Carly is getting closer, walking on her own next to the woman.  I crouch down, hoping the movement catches her eye.  It does, because she looks directly at me.


Her face suddenly breaks into a huge, startled smile.  “Twoy!” she shouts.  “Twoy!”  And then she takes off running, toward me.


The woman quickly attempts to catch her arm, but Carly’s already out of her reach.


The woman takes off running after her.  She closes fast, having much longer legs than Carly.  It appears she’s going to catch her.  Then Lindsey is there.  Lindsey, the star basketball player.  Lindsey, who is responsible for the fact I’m black and blue each  day after playing against her.  Lindsey, who likes physical contact as much as she does putting the ball in the hoop.


As I’d moved toward the swings with the idea of getting closer to where I knew Carly would be headed, Lindsey had accompanied me.  When I’d stopped, waiting for Carly to come near me, Lindsey had kept going, getting closer to where Carly and the woman would pass.  Now, she’s much closer to Carly and the woman than I am.  And, when the woman takes off after Carly, and reaches for her, Lindsey takes the two step she needs and solidly hip checks the woman, and follows this with a sharp elbow to the ribs, knocking her to the ground.


Then Carly is in my arms.  I’ve scooped her up, taken the moment necessary to kiss her and am running, glancing back as I do.  The unknown factor is the bullish woman.  I have a ways to go to get to the car.  The woman is now on her feet, and running. 


As I watch, still carrying Carly, still running toward the car, I hear Chase yell out.  He’s near the tough woman, having walked in that direction as Lindsey and I had approached the swings.  Chase calls out to me, “Run, Troy, run.  I’ll stop her!”


Chase has no intention of stopping the woman.  His intention is to divert her.  Whether she can reach the car before Lindsey and I can is uncertain, but it seems just barely possible.  What we are hoping is she’ll realize that catching Chase is an easier, more likely alternative.  And if she can catch Chase, then she’ll have a bargaining chip to get Carly back.


Chase’s yell is to alert the woman, make her realize he is one of us.  Now we just have to hope she’ll take the bait.


I put on a burst of speed, which isn’t easy with Carly weighing me down and her legs flopping against mine, but I’m as determined as I ever have been in my life.  The burst is enough to convince the woman that she won’t make it to the car ahead of me.  I see her stop, see her turn toward Chase.


I grin as I ease my pace.  She won’t catch Chase.  I’ve played tag with Chase.  He’s the slipperiest, cagiest, coolest guy when someone is chasing him I’ve ever known.  If he were bigger and liked rough play, he’d make a great halfback on our football team.  As it is, he lets the woman, who has a scary, determined look on her face, get a little closer to him—close enough to scare the bejesus out of me—before he takes off running. 


The woman chases him, but Chase dodges left, then right, then sprints forward, luring the woman away from the car.  She follows, sprinting, but soon realizes she doesn’t have a chance.  She stops, hands on her knees, as Chase makes a wide turn and heads for the car.


Trevor is already there, having unlocked the doors and opened them.  Panting, I reach the car and slide in, still holding Carly, who’s hugging me tightly.  Trevor slams the door shut, and I press down on the lock.  Trevor then gets in the front, and Chase jumps in right behind him, sitting on his lap.  Lindsey makes her way around the car and gets behind the wheel.  I look out the window and see no one is running toward us.  I look around the park.  A few people are looking our way, but only a few.  Most haven’t noticed anything at all.  The tough woman is standing looking at us.  The younger woman, who’s just now rising to her feet, is staring in our direction, too, looking helpless, tears running down her cheeks.


Lindsey is breathing hard but not too hard; the running she just did isn’t half as much as we do on the basketball court.  Chase is out of breath but grinning so hard I think his face might split.


“Where to, Jeeves,” Lindsey asks, starting the car, a wide grin on her face.


“Don’t screw around,” I growl.  “Just get us the he—the heck out of here.”


I loosen my hug on Carly.  Then I kiss her a second time.  She kisses me back, and says, “Wheh have you been?  I’ve missed you!”


She’s scolding me, and I find I have tears in my eyes.