Her Silent Cry – Lisa Regan

Their argument crashed in angry waves against the door between us, slamming against the wood, pooling on the floor and slipping underneath where I could hear every word. Most of the time, I didn’t understand what they were saying or even why they were fighting. I only understood that she was about to get hurt; the silent way, or the screaming way. I was never sure which was worse. No matter how badly he hurt her, she always found her way back to our room eventually. She’d lower herself into our creaking bed, hissing her breaths through gritted teeth, and reach for me. I learned to be very careful when I moved under the covers. Sometimes even the slightest pressure would make her gasp with pain. As gently as I could, I would curl my back into her stomach and wait for the trembling fingers skittering over my scalp to eventually fall into a slow, soothing rhythm. I had so many questions, but I didn’t ask them. I didn’t want the man to hear me, to remember I was there too. When the ragged edges of her breath smoothed out, she’d let out a soft sigh that meant that she had reached a point where her pain was bearable. “It’s okay,” she’d say. “It will be okay.” She was always a bad liar.

TWO Little Harris Quinn’s shrieks carried across Denton City Park’s playground, piercing Josie’s ears. As she chased him from the swings to the slide, she looked around to see if any of the other adults were bothered by his high-pitched sounds of delight, but no one even noticed. All the other adults were similarly focused on their own children as they sprinted back and forth, calling out excitedly. “Mom! Watch me!” “You can’t catch me.” “I want to go on the see-saw!” Josie followed Harris over to the jungle gym in the center of the playground. It was shaped like a castle with a long, curved bridge that led from a set of low-slung steps to a large slide on the opposite side. Harris climbed up the steps and raced across the bridge. “Careful,” Josie called after him, but he was already at the top of the slide. She narrowly missed bowling over two toddlers as she raced to the bottom of the slide before he flew off the shiny end into the dirt. She scooped him from mid-air at the base of the slide and he squealed.

“JoJo!” She planted a kiss on the top of his head before he began squirming. “JoJo, down! Again!” Reluctantly, she set him back down and watched him run back to the steps. It was best to stay at the bottom of the slide, she thought, to catch him. For just a few seconds, while he was on the bridge, he was out of her eyeline. Her heart pounded in her chest until she saw the flash of his blond hair and bright blue dinosaur shirt at the top of the slide. As he sat down and pushed himself forward, a little girl pushed in front of Josie and started climbing up the slide. In her mind’s eye, Josie saw the disastrous collision about to take place. The little girl had to be six or seven years old based on her size—almost twice as large as Harris. She had on white sneakers, stretchy blue pants and a sparkly pink top decorated with a unicorn. On her back, she wore a small backpack in the shape of a butterfly.

Her sandy hair, like corn silk, was tied back in a loose, messy ponytail. Josie opened her mouth to speak, to tell the little girl to stop going up the slide, or to tell Harris not to start down the slide, but the words lodged in her throat. Moving closer to the slide, her hands reached out to grab Harris before he slid straight into the butterfly girl. A woman suddenly appeared on the other side of the slide. “Lucy,” she barked firmly. “You know you’re not supposed to go up the slide that way. Get down before someone gets hurt.” Little Lucy kept climbing, but the woman’s hand shot out and gripped her arm, stopping her. “Look at me, Lucy,” she said. “What did I say?” Lucy froze in place and looked up at the woman.

Instantly, Josie saw the strong resemblance; the same heart-shaped face, periwinkle blue eyes and narrow nose neatly flared at the nostrils. The woman’s hair was perhaps two shades darker than the little girl’s, but they had to be mother and daughter. Lucy bit her bottom lip, relaxed her grip on the slide and, in a jumble of thin, gangly limbs, began to slide slowly downward on her stomach. “Sorry, Mom,” she mumbled. Once she reached the bottom, her mother took one of her hands and dragged her out of the path of Harris, who slid down seconds later. Quickly, Josie scooped him up again, holding onto his wriggly body tightly. Lucy’s mother caught Josie’s eye and smiled. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Oh, it’s fine,” Josie said. “I’m just glad no one got hurt.

” The woman laughed. “Who knew playgrounds could be so dangerous, right?” “Seriously,” Josie replied. The truth was that taking Harris to the playground took years off her life. There were far too many opportunities for him to stumble and hit his head on something; to fall off something and break a bone; to be inadvertently hurt by another child running too fast or climbing up the slide the wrong way. “How old is he?” the woman asked as Lucy tugged at her mother’s hand, trying to pull her away to another part of the playground. “Two,” Josie answered. “Almost three.” With a wistful smile, the woman said, “Oh I remember when mine was two. What a great age.” “Oh, he’s not—” Josie was about to explain that she wasn’t Harris’s mother, that she was only watching him for a friend, but Lucy whined, “Mom! I want to go on the carousel!” Harris stopped wiggling in Josie’s arms.

“Me too!” he said. “JoJo, horses again!” Josie shifted him in her arms. “Again?” she said. “We already went on three times.” Just the thought of it made the acid in her stomach churn. She’d been feeling peaky on and off for a week now, and three rides on the spinning carousel had certainly not helped. “Mo-om,” Lucy said, now tugging her mother away from the slide and toward the opposite end of the playground where the shiny new carousel had been installed weeks earlier, thanks to the machinations of the mayor. An amusement park a few counties away had gone out of business, and Mayor Tara Charleston had seen an opportunity to “enhance Denton’s lovely public park” as she phrased it when she convinced the city council to spend an exorbitant amount of money to have the carousel deconstructed, transported to Denton, and rebuilt inside the city park. At least the city had saved money by having art students from Denton University restore it. Now its bright carnival colors flashed in the afternoon sunlight as it spun, its horses rising and falling in concert with the jubilant music that played while it went round and round.

Just looking at it from the playground area made Josie’s stomach turn. “JoJo, please,” Harris tried again, squirming in her arms. Before she could try to talk him out of it, a man’s voice said, “You’re Josie Quinn.” Lucy and her mother stopped and turned back, watching as the man walked up from behind Josie and extended a hand. Josie had seen him in the park when they arrived, walking around the perimeter of the playground, talking on his cell phone. He was lean and tan with salt-and-pepper colored hair. In a blue polo shirt, khaki shorts and a pair of loafers, he looked as though he should be on a golf course rather than a playground, but the late April weather was warm enough for his light-weight clothing. “I’m Colin Ross,” he told her, his hand still extended. Josie shifted Harris in her arms so she could shake the man’s hand. Lucy and her mother walked up closer.

Lucy’s mother looked from Colin to Josie and back. “Colin,” she said. “You know this woman?” He turned to her and smiled. “Amy,” he said. “You don’t recognize her from the news?” Tension knotted Josie’s shoulder blades. As a detective for the Denton Police Department, Josie had solved some of the most shocking cases in the state, many of which had made national news, but she still wasn’t used to her celebrity. Or notoriety. Amy stared at Josie with uncertainty until, finally breaking the tension, Josie extended a hand. “He’s right. I’m Josie Quinn.

I’m a detective with the police department.” Amy’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh my God, you just solved the Drew Pratt case!” Josie nodded, noticing that Colin was beaming at her. “My team solved the case, yes.” Colin said, “She’s fantastic. Do you know who her father is?” Josie opened her mouth to say that her father was dead but before she could, Colin said, “Christian Payne.” A year ago, Josie had found out that she’d been kidnapped as an infant. Her real family believed she died in a fire. She had only been recently reunited with them. It was still hard to get used to having an entirely new family.

“You know him?” Josie asked. Colin smiled. “We both work for Quarmark.” “Right,” Josie said. “Big pharma. Do you work in marketing as well?” “No, I’m on the team that develops the pricing structures for new drugs Quarmark rolls out onto the market.” “Fun stuff,” Amy remarked. “Daddy,” Lucy whined. “I want to go on the carousel.” “JoJo,” Harris said, pointing over Josie’s shoulder.

“Swings!” Josie was relieved he had changed his mind. “Just a minute, buddy.” Amy placed a hand on her husband’s back. “Honey, Lucy wants to go on the carousel. Do you want to go on with her or should I?” Colin smiled down at his daughter. “Maybe all three of us could go on.” “Which horse will you go on, Daddy?” Lucy asked. “I don’t know,” he said. “I have to have a good look at them before I choose.” He shot Josie another smile.

“It was great to meet you.” “You too,” Josie said. As the Ross family drifted off toward the carousel, Josie set Harris down on the grass and he raced off to the swings. As she helped him into one of the empty swings and began pushing him lightly, she saw that Amy and Lucy Ross had gotten on the carousel. Colin stood just outside the fence, talking on his cell phone again. So much for a family carousel ride. “Higher!” Harris cried. “Please, JoJo?” Josie smiled down at his crown of golden blond hair and pushed a little more forcefully, even though sending him a fraction higher caused a small uptick in her anxiety. She didn’t know how his mother, Misty, brought him here all the time. It seemed so fraught with danger.

To Josie, Harris still seemed so small and fragile. She couldn’t help but fear that he’d break a bone or crack his skull with one bad fall. In her mind she heard Misty, her own mother Shannon, and her grandmother, Lisette all laughing at her—which they frequently did when she fussed too much over Harris’s safety. They all said the same thing: “Kids are more resilient than they look.” As another wave of nausea rocked Josie’s stomach, she wondered how mothers handled the whole parenting thing. The more independent Harris became, the scarier everything seemed. She was watching his grip on the chains on either side of the swing when she first became aware of Amy Ross’s voice in the distance. She was calling out for her daughter. “Lucy? Lucy!” Josie looked over at the carousel and saw Amy still on the ride as people were slowly making their way off the platform and out of the metal fence that surrounded it. Her tone became louder and higher-pitched.

“Lucy! Lucy!” Colin stopped pacing and pulled his cell phone slightly away from his ear, as though tuning in to the panic in his wife’s voice. “Lucy!” Amy raced round and round the platform, weaving in and out of the horses, more frantic with each passing second. Without realizing it, Josie had stopped Harris’s swing. “JoJo?” he asked, looking up at her. “It’s okay, buddy,” she mumbled, scooping him out of the seat and walking toward the carousel. People continued to spill out of the perimeter as Colin tried to walk in through the exit. The teenager who had been monitoring the ride stood by the entrance gate, gawking at Amy. The line of people behind him waiting to get on stared as well. As if sensing so many eyes on her, Amy stopped moving and looked at them. “Did anyone see my daughter? She was just here.

She was on the blue horse. I was on the purple one. She got down before the ride stopped. Did anyone see her get off? Lucy?” No one answered. Colin, phone still in hand, was now on the platform, working his way through the horses and stopping to look inside two chariots with red velvet seats facing one another. “Where the hell did she go?” he asked. Amy said, “Did you see her come out?” “No, I didn’t see anything,” Colin said. “I was on the phone.” Amy again appealed to the people waiting in line. “Did anyone see a little girl get off the carousel alone? She’s seven.

She has blonde hair. She was wearing a bright pink unicorn shirt and a butterfly backpack.” A few people shook their heads, but no one volunteered any information. Josie was at the fence now, studying the carousel. There really was nowhere to hide. She thought back to when Amy’s voice first caught her attention. A crowd of people had flooded through the exit gate. Josie didn’t remember seeing Lucy among them, but she could have raced out before Josie looked over. “Amy,” Colin said, approaching his wife. “Where the hell is she?” “I don’t know!” his wife shouted.

“She was right here. She was with me. I only looked away for a second. Oh my God.” She reached both hands to her temples, and her next words were a screech. “Somebody do something!” Josie shifted Harris on her hip and moved inside the gate. She caught the eye of the dumbfounded worker. “Shut the ride down,” she told him. “What?” “Shut the ride down. No one gets on or off until this child is located.

” She turned to the Ross parents. “If she’s not here, she’s elsewhere in the playground.” Amy’s eyes searched the playground behind Josie. “I don’t see her. She’s not out there.” Josie said, “Look at me, Mrs. Ross.” Amy met her eyes. “Let’s fan out, we’ll check the rest of the playground. She could be inside one of the jungle gym areas.

” Colin and Amy raced out of the carousel enclosure, calling for their daughter. A few people who were in line to get onto the ride joined them, calling out Lucy’s name. Josie followed, shifting a squirming Harris from hip to hip. “Down, JoJo,” he said. “Just a minute, love,” Josie told him. “We’re trying to find a little girl, okay?” “I help?” he asked. She smiled at him. “You stay with me. That’s how you’ll help me.” Amy flashed a photo she had taken of Lucy only minutes earlier when she climbed onto her carousel horse.

Josie’s arms ached with Harris’s weight, but her anxiety wouldn’t let her put him down. A feeling of dread seeped into her skin, making her feel clammy and uncomfortable. “She probably just wandered off,” Josie told Amy when she started to become hysterical again, but with each moment that ticked by with no sign of Lucy, Josie began to suspect something far worse. Josie walked the perimeter of the playground. Behind the carousel was a tall chainlink fence that separated the play area from the softball field on the other side. A few people played toss in the outfield. Josie walked the length of the fence to make sure there were no breaks in it. Where the fence ended, waist-high shrubs separated the park from a strip of pavement and the street beyond. Bungalows sat peacefully across the street. Although many cars were parked along the sidewalk, no traffic went by in either direction.

She followed the shrubs to the play area’s entrance, a wide walkway beneath an arch that read ‘Denton City Park Playground’. Beyond that more shrubbery separated the play area from the sidewalk for several yards until it terminated at a wooded area. Josie knew that on the other side of the trees was one of the jogging paths that ran through the dense forest of the park. A child could easily slip into the woods. The treeline ran the rest of the length of the play area until it met with the beginning of the fence on the other side. Still, Lucy would have had to exit the carousel and cross a significant area before running into the woods. Surely someone would have seen her. The tightness in Josie’s chest only increased as she studied the trees. The area at the back of the play area was larger and hilly and led deeper into the park which extended a few miles in each direction. Too much ground for her to cover, even with the Ross parents helping.

She used her free hand to pull her cell phone out of her pocket and called dispatch. “Detective Quinn,” she said when the officer answered. “I need two to three units over at the city park playground. I think we’ve got a missing child.”

.

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