‘I don’t think Valorie would run away,’ Charley told her parents. They were all standing in Valorie’s bedroom, as Mrs Morse had refused to move from the spot where she’d first found the note. Mr Morse, before Charley and Eddie had arrived, had shoved most of the rubbish into a cupboard. Now that there was room enough to stand, they gathered around the note, reading it.
‘Well, she has run away,’ Mrs Morse sobbed. ‘I know my daughter’s handwriting. This is her handwriting, OK?’
‘Nobody’s questioning that; it just doesn’t seem the sort of thing Valorie would do at all.’
Mr Morse, leaning against the windowsill, looked sharply at Charley.
‘How do you know what Val would do? You’ve known her, what, a few months? We’re her parents for God’s Sake!’
‘I know that!’ Charley waved his hands, exasperated. ‘But think about it. Why would she run away now?’
Mrs Morse stood up.
‘I know why,’ she said. ‘Because she’s stressed; she’s just so worried about stuff, what with, you know, Adam, and me and Carl arguing all the time… we should have seen it coming, I mean… I can’t believe this is happening… Oh Val…’
Mrs Morse broke into fresh sobs, and her husband leaned over to hug her.
Eddie stood away from all this, looking closely at the note. It certainly looked like Valorie’s handwriting, but… something struck her as odd about the note.
‘Charley,’ she said gently, ‘I don’t think this is something Valorie would say.’
‘What do you mean?’ Charley said. Everyone turned to look at Eddie.
‘Well,’ she continued. Look at it. ‘Although it pains me to tell you this…’ That doesn’t sound, well, normal for a running away letter. You’d think it’d start with ‘I’ve decided to run away’, you know. Get straight to the point.’
‘So what? People don’t always make perfect sense when they’re feeling under pressure.’
‘OK,’ Mrs Morse said, spreading her hands. ‘My only daughter has run away into the world by herself and we’re talking about sentence structure? Don’t you people care about Valorie?’
‘Of course we do.’
‘Well, where is she? Where do we start searching?’
‘We need to think about this,’ Charley explained. ‘If we work out what happened, we’re one step closer to working out where Valorie is.’
Eddie continued to pick her way through the letter.
‘And look at this. It ends with ‘Much love, Valorie’. That sounds wrong as well. It’s far too informal, considering what she’s about to do. It just doesn’t make sense. This whole letter seems… off.’
‘Please shut up!’ Mrs Morse screeched at Eddie. ‘Who cares about the letter! I want my daughter back!’
‘Wait,’ Charley said, realising something. ‘Eddie’s right. The letter does sound off. I think that Valorie chose those sentences for convenience.’
Mr Morse looked up incredulously. ‘Meaning?’
‘Meaning that Valorie was trying to tell us something.’ Charley looked at Eddie. ‘See if you can find any hidden message in the text.’
Eddie nodded and began to search. Everybody waited in near silence, broken only by Mrs Morse’s occasional sniffing.
‘Ah! Oh… OK, yeah. I’ve got something. Although it pains me… Although… A… Don’t ask me… D… All I know is… A again…’
Eddie stopped what she was doing and lurched over to Valorie’s desk. She grabbed a green felt tip and started to mark some thing off on the letter.
‘Look at this,’ she said, giving the note to Charley. His face lit up with understanding.
‘The first letter of every sentence,’ he said. ‘Valorie’s smarter than we thought.’
Mrs Morse snatched the note from Charley’s hands and the two parents read it.
‘Dear Mum and Dad.
Although it pains me to tell you this, I have decided to run away.
Don’t ask me when I’ll be back, because I seriously don’t know.
All I know is that living here is too difficult for me right now, and I need to clear my head.
Much love, Valorie’