Michelle opened her eyes. She felt more rested than she had in a long time. Still dizzy from deep sleep, she frowned, recognizing the ceiling but not able to place it. She glanced around the room, surprised to find it wasn't her own bedroom.
"Mom?" she whispered.
As if in a daze, Michelle folded back the covers and slid out of her mother's bed. She found she was wearing her own pyjamas. Without warning, the memory of her nightmare flooded her mind and she almost fainted from the pain it caused.
Michelle ran out of the room to find her mother eating toast in the kitchen. "Where is he?" Michelle wanted to grip her mother's thin shoulders and shake her.
Her mother stood. "Calm down, Michelle. Brendan is fine. The police found him two blocks from the house. They think he was being chased by a dog when he tripped and hit his head on the sidewalk, falling unconscious. He doesn't remember it happening. He has a concussion and a few scrapes and bruises, but he is just fine."
Michelle slumped into a chair, numbly. "Where is he now?"
"The hospital wanted to keep him overnight."
"For a concussion?"
"Just a precaution, dear."
"Is he there alone? Why aren't you with him?" Michelle's voice shook.
"Your father is with him. Have some breakfast Michelle, you look exhausted."
Too numb to argue, Michelle found a box of cereal and a spoon. Her mother produced a bowl from the cupboard. Michelle's mind immediately flew to the strange letter. Had that really happened?
"Michelle, I think I should look after Brendan for a while."
Michelle snapped out of her daydream. "What? No. Mom, no. I'm fine."
"You are not fine."
"I promise, I will never let him leave my sight again."
"You had a severe nervous breakdown."
"Mom, don't do this to me. You can't take him away."
"You are too busy mourning for Sarah to see what you are doing to your son."
"I'm doing the best that I can. Brendan-"
"She's gone, Michelle. Grieve as long as you need to, but you have to get some closure. She's not coming back."
Michelle had no words. They had had this argument before and there was nothing new to say. Silence descended on the kitchen, tension thick in the air. She could see the picture of her daughter in her mind, Sarah's blue eyes gazing into the distance. She was alive. She was coming back.
Michelle stood and left the kitchen.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going to pick up my son." Michelle took the car keys from their usual place on the hook.
"If Brendan is taken away by Child and Family Services, he might as well be kidnapped too." Her mother's voice was loud and harsh.
That stopped Michelle in her tracks. Her mom stood and put her arm around Michelle, whispering in her ear. "You have gone through things that no mother should ever have to face. You can't do this on your own. I can't just stand back and let you. We are going to push through this together. My friend knows an excellent psychiatrist-"
Michelle shrugged out of the embrace. "I don't need a shrink to tell me what's wrong. My daughter has been gone for three years," her voice shook with fury. "That is what's wrong. No amount of psychoanalysis will bring her back."
Her mother opened her mouth to speak, but Michelle wasn't finished. "I know everybody thinks she's dead. I know and I don't care because you're all wrong! My daughter is alive. She is ten years old and her nose looks just like Karl's and I have a picture to prove it. So take good care of my son, Mom, because I want him to still be here when I bring her home." Michelle's voice broke on the last word. She would have left and slammed the door behind her, but realised in time that she was still wearing pyjamas. She meekly dropped the car keys onto the counter.
Her mother, having no more argument to make, put the dishes in the sink and found a sweater. Michelle just stood there, staring at the floor, dumbly. Being with her mom always made her feel young and foolish and she hated it.
"Well, you are welcome to stay here as long as you need to. Your clothes," her mother picked up the keys as she spoke, "and other items are in a bag on the sofa. I'll be back in an hour."
She took one last mournful glance at her daughter before she shut the door behind her. They both knew that Michelle would not be there when she got back.