March 23rd, my sister would be turning ten today, but she is forever eight.
The bang still echos in my head, the smashing of the glass, the way I ignored it; I could have stopped what happened that night, if only i'd known. I thought she was just playing with her new toys, she was always disturbing me.. so why did this time have to be so different?
Emily, who was three at the time, toddled into my bedroom and threw herself onto my bed. "You play with Emmy" she whispered her face close to mine.
I tried brushing her off as I did every morning but after two minutes of "pretty please" in my ear i sat up, letting her crawl into my bed with me.
"Oh no kiddo, we're getting up for breakfast" I smiled, stripping the cover off her and pulling her onto my hip. "Go get Gracie."
Emily scooted off my hip and pushed open Grace's door, within seconds she ran back out to me on the landing with confusion covering her face, "Gracie bye bye."
"What do you mean Gracie bye bye? Come on she's probably playing hide and seek." I opened her door and was hit with a burst of cold. I scanned the room for Grace and saw no sign of her. The curtains were fluttering with the breeze, as I walked towards the windows to close them i heard a high pitched scream from behind me. Emily stood there holding her foot with tears streaming down her pink cheeks. I scooped her up and onto Grace's bed, examining her bleeding foot. It was glass. Before I even had a chance to get the glass out, Emily had stopped crying and was staring at the window, "Broken" she announced. I followed her finger over to the window and noticed it had been smashed, leaving glass all over Grace's floor. I gave Emily a piggy back ride out of Grace's room to stop her stepping into glass and ran down the stairs, still with Emily clinging to me, giggling wildly as we ran.
Bounding into the kitchen I place Emily down next to our Cat 'Socks'.
"What have i told you about putting her near the cat at breakfast time Mia?" Mum scowled picking up Emily. "You know how hyper she gets, your not the one who has to dress her and send her off to playgroup."
"Sorry" i mumbled biting into some toast while throwing half of it into the cat's bowl. "Seen Gracie's accident?!"
"Broken her window again."
"Thats three in the past year! What she does up there i'll never know." Mum hung her head out of the kitchen door, "Gracie breakfast time, come on time for school."
"She's not in her room Mum, god knows where she's hiding this time."
"Right, you take Emily, dress her and brush her hair and teeth and i'll sort out Gracie." Mum ordered handing me Emily.
"Gracie, come on darling time for school. You're not in trouble, come on, where are you hiding? Gracie Mae Love get out here now."
After a long week at school I was more than happy that it was finally the weekend. As always I walked the fifteen minute journey home with my best friend, Ashlynn.
"You are SO lucky you're an only child." I sighed pulling a 'Hello Kittty' sticker from my homework.
"Are you kidding me? I'd do anything for a sister, you have two! You're the lucky one. They are mega cute!"
I laughed, "They're all yours, i'll bring them to you tomorrow okay?"
"Sure, cya at ten." She giggled walking into her garden.
As I walked into the cul-de-sac I noticed blue and red lights flashing wildly. It wasn't unusual for an ambulance to be in our street as we lived near a retirement home, but to see a police car was quite rare. Walking through the front door Emily jumped onto my leg, i brushed her off and ran straight into my room. I started my English coursework and put in my headphones, ignoring everything around me. I must have dozed off as when I awoke it was dark outside.
"Thank you for coming officer." I heard my mum say, shutting the front door.
"What's going on?" I said walking down the stairs.
Mum looked at me and burst into tears. My step dad, Ben beckoned me into the living room. "You should probably sit down Mia." He watched me sit slowly, still half looking at my mum.
"What's going on?" I repeated. "Why were the police here?"
Ben looked at me, then my mum, then back to me, his eyes shying away from mine. "There's no easy way to put this Mia" He paced up and down. "Your sister Grace, she's missing."
The word missing hit me like a ton of bricks "Mi, mi, missing? What? She can't be, she's probably playing hide and seek." I stood up, stopping tears falling from my eyes. "Gracie, come on game over. You can play with my stuff if you come out now." I collapsed on the stairs, weeping quietly. "Please Gracie."
After mum had stopped crying she came and sat by me on the stairs. "They'll find her, you know what Gracie's like, she's probably just hiding in the park or something." She tried to fake a smile as she said it. "Will you do me a favour please?"
"Can Emily sleep in your room with you tonight? I'm just a bit shaken up, i'd like her to be with you, just so i know she's safe."
"Yeah thats fine." I said hugging her tight.
The night dragged, Emily fidgeted and my mind raced. Grace was only 8, if she was hiding somewhere she wouldn't be safe. She knew when to come home, she knew not to go out alone, I don't understand why she would have gone anywhere. As i watched the sun rise I heard movement from downstairs. "Gracie?!" I walked towards the living room, poking my head around the door frame.
"Oh it's just you." I whispered making Mum jump.
"Mia? What are you doing up so early?"
"I could say the same for you. Couldn't sleep either?"
"I wanted to be awake for the six o clock news, Grace's story is going to be on."
We both sat in silence, sitting on the edge of the sofa, staring blankly at the moving images on the tv. Everytime i looked at the clock it seemed to get slower, each tick longer than the last. Finally the clock struck 6am and the news came on. Mum scooted over to me and held me close as the show began.
"Today in the town of Royal Tunbridge Wells, local school girl, Grace Love, aged 8 has gone missing from her home, she was reported missing by her mother and step father in the early hours of yesterday morning, there have been no signs of Grace and no leeds as to where she may be. If you have any information of the whereabouts of this little girl, please contact your local police station"
The presenter said it as if it was ordinary for a child to go missing, there was no sorrow in his voice as they showed a picture of Gracie. Mum had given them her school photo from this year, she had her long brown hair in neat plaits, her deep green eyes shined in the camera lights and her toothless smile could melt anyones heart. Then as quickly as it had started the story was over and they started talking about other news, as if Grace's disappearance wasn't as important. Mum shook the tears from her eyes and started to walk towards the kitchen.
"I'll go get Emily up?" I mumbled turning for the stairs.
"No, leave her to sleep, she doesn't really know what's going on and I want to keep it that way." She turned quickly, blanking my efforts to start a conversation with her.
After an hour of awkward small talk, Ben arrived downstairs with Emily joint to his hip. "Morning babe" He half smiled kissing my mum softly on the cheek. He looked as if he had been up all night too, his eyes were red from where he hadn't slept. Mum took Emily off him and held her tight, stroking her blonde curls. Breakfast was rushed and silent, all you could hear was the crunching of toast and cereal. "I'm going out, i'll be back later." I said leaving the kitchen. As i walked to the front door, i combed down my hair and put a coat on, as it was March it was still quite crisp. I didn't know where i was going, i didn't know why i was going, i just wanted to get out. I decided to go to the park not far from my house, Gracie loved swinging on the swings, she always used to say she could touch the clouds, she whispered to me what they felt like and what they tasted of. Maybe she was down there, hiding in a bush, trying to scare us all. I walked towards the playground, it was 10am on a saturday and was filled with children, the laughter could be heard from one side of the park to the other, their small childish laughs echoed the fields. Sat shyly on the swings was a little girl, on her own. I walked slowly over to her, could this be Gracie? Maybe she had been hiding all along. I edged closer and saw long brown hair down the childs back. My thoughts were shattered when I heard "Kenzie get over here now young lady" from across the park, and the little girl ran to her mum. Letting tears soak my cheeks I sat down on a bench and watched as people came and went as they pleased. Happy people, grumpy people, old people, everyone but my Gracie.
I returned home hours later than i had expected, my hands froze as i opened the front door. "Mia, my god there you are, i thought you had gone missing too." Mum clung to me, warming my cold body up. "Where on earth have you been? Don't you ever scare me like that again." Mum was acting as if I was Gracie.
"I went up the park, it's peaceful up there, sorry to scare you. Any news?"
Mum let go of me and looked straight to the floor. "No." She mumbled.
"Oh" I walked into the living room and watched as Emily tried to piece together a puzzle. Like me she was stuck, the piece's didn't fit and there was no way forward. I sat next to her, she beamed with happiness as i helped her.
"The police are coming over tomorrow Mia, they will probably want to talk to you." Ben suggested.
"Why me? Why tomorrow? What are they gunna do?"
"You're her sister Mia, they just want to ask you if you had heard anything or seen anything, the usual questions i guess and the sooner they rule us out as suspects the better."
I laughed in shock. "They think we're suspects. They honestly think we've got something to do with her disappearance. Those bastards."
"Language" Mum shouted looking at Emily.
"Mia you need to stay calm, we need to work with the police so we can get Gracie back home safe."
"You say it as if you know where she is. I bet you do have something to do with it." I watched mum burst into tears as i stormed out, kicking the puzzle as i went. I hadn't meant what i had said to Ben, I was mad, how could he be so calm? He acted as if he didn't care. Gracie wasn't his daughter, why should he care. I collapsed onto my bed, kicking off my shoes and grabbing a book from my bedside table. From downstairs i could hear shouting and crying. Like always, i tried to block out what everyone was doing around me. Emily padded into my room, her eyes sore from crying, she stood next to my bed and placed her hand onto mine.
"You may not get what's going on Emmy, but you need to know this, i love you and you will always be my baby sister. Got it?" I sighed pulling her into a cuddle.
She smiled, her teary blue eyes staring straight into mine.
After another long night, morning came bright and early. The sound of the doorbell made me jump as i was getting dressed, my wet hair dripped down my clothes as i stood on top of the stairs, peering down to see who was at the door.
"Morning officer, please do come in, would you like a tea or coffee?" Ben offered showing him the sofa.
"Coffee, black, no sugar." The officer replied sitting down.
I pulled myself off the stairs and carried on getting ready. A matter of minutes later i was interrupted by Ben. "They would like to speak to you first, just relax and tell the truth, we have nothing to hide."
Ignoring him i walked downstairs still with wet hair and into the living room.
"Hello Mia, i'm Officer Tom Scotch, do you mind if i ask you a few questions?" He smiled. His smile was big and fake.
"Hi, yeah i guess." I shrugged sitting opposite him.
"Good, lets begin." He pressed a button on his top which meant he was recording everything i was saying. "Where were you the night Grace went missing?"
This was easy. "In my room, asleep."
He nodded. "Okay, were you awoken at any point? Any loud noises or anything out of the ordinary?"
"Nope, i'm an average sleeper, too much noise would have woken me up."
"Alright, so you didn't get up in the night for anything? You didn't see anything?"
I shook my head.
"And your room is the last one in the corridor right"
"So you don't usually hear anything from Grace's room?"
"Not really, not unless she's really loud."
"So you didn't hear the glass smash?" He looked at me confused.
"No? I thought she had done that?"
"Well at this point in time we don't know who did it, we have sent DNA off to the lab to be tested to see whether it was Grace or whether it was an intruder, but seeing as the glass was broken from the outside, chances are that it was an intruder. If it comes back as unknown we will have to take some DNA from you and your family to test."
I sat with a lump in my throat, i had nothing to say to that. I kept imagining someone breaking her window and taking her, and no one hearing a thing. How did no one hear anything? She would have screamed..
"Very well, that will be all for today Mia, thank you for your time, we are doing everything we can to try and find your sister." He said cheerfully, giving me a queue to leave the room.
"Thanks Officer. Please find her." I begged walking into the kitchen.
After an hour the police left, they interviewed mum and Ben separately, they didn't bother interviewing Emily, she was only three. Mum came into my bedroom quietly and sat softly on my bed, i watched as she held my hand tightly. She scanned my bedroom, staring at the posters and pictures on the walls, her eyes scanned across to the collage of me and Grace at pageants and cheer. Those were the two things we agreed on and enjoyed doing together. We had to beg mum to let us enter them at first, but after a while she said yes, Grace was four and I was eleven when we first entered a pageant and cheer competition. Mum picked up one of my small trophies, I had been cheering since i was 5 and had entered many competitions alone. "This is the first ever trophy you won, do you remember what you won it for?"
I shrugged slightly "I can't really remember, i was 5."
"I had never been so proud, my little girl on stage, winning first place, in front of all those people!" She sighed and put the trophy back.
I sat awkwardly playing with my thumbs, waiting for her to say something.
"I bet Emily can't wait to cheer and do pageants, just like her big sisters!" She tried to smile through the tears.
"Yeah i bet." I pulled my arms around her and hugged her tight.
With that Emily walked into the room, her hands on her hips "Where's my hug?"
"Ohh come here my big girl." Mum beckoned Emily into our hug. "My girls." She whispered. "My precious little girls."
That evening I walked up and down the upstairs hallway, passing Grace's room, everytime looking in, expecting to see her. Everytime disappointed. Her favorite animal was cats, she was obsessed with them. Every toy she had was some type of cat, so of course when mum and Ben got her 'Socks' the cat for christmas she was ecstatic. Socks went everywhere with her, they had an instant bond, like mother and daughter. Lying on Grace's unmade bed was Socks, licking her face clean and purring slightly.
"Hello puss puss." I whispered in a baby voice, pushing my hand out to greet her. "You miss Gracie too huh?" It seemed silly but it was almost as if Socks was missing Gracie, since she went missing Socks spent every waking minute in her bedroom. I stopped and looked around at her room, I was told not to go in here as the police may need to re test DNA and evidence found, but I couldn't help myself. It was just how she left it, her bed unmade, her toys scattering the floor, clothes hanging off sides, her trophies untouched in the corner, everything was the same, except Grace. I slowly backed out, trying not to touch anything and left her door slightly ajar so Socks could let herself out.
"What were you doing in there?" Ben shouted standing on the hallway opposite me.
"Nothing, I just saw Socks."
"If you touched anything in there you could have mucked up everything! How could you be so stupid!"
I stood crying silently letting him shout at me. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" He laughed to himself. "Don't you ever let me see you in there again, you got it?" He grabbed Socks and walked downstairs.
I ran straight into my bedroom throwing myself onto my bed. It had only been over a day since Grace went missing, but already our family was crumbling. Everything seemed wrong, everything was wrong. Nothing could make this go away, the empty feeling got worse and worse as time went on. No one could help us, even the police were doing a lousy job. As i sat staring at the open sky I wondered to myself, how do people move on from this? When does it start to feel better? Cause all I knew was right now it felt as if nothing was ever going to be okay again. So many children go missing a year and only a small percent are found alive. Maybe Gracie would be that small percentage. Maybe was a word which was thrown around by the police frequently. No one was ever definite they would find her.
This was the second night without Grace in the house, the second night of not knowing, the second night of her being unfound. Again, I found it hard to sleep, drifting in and out of sleep every so often. The wind was loud and the rain hit my window sharply, the pitter pattering echoing through my room. As i sat up to look outside at the growing storm I thought of Gracie out there, alone, cold and scared. She never did like storms, she would often rush into my room the middle of the night and jump onto my bed, holding her ears and pushing her fragile body close to mine.
"It's okay Gracie." I would comfort her. "The storm is out there, and we're in here, so you're safe you see?"
She'd start to smile as I would tell her fairy tales to take her mind off it, and once she fell asleep I would tuck her into bed with me and fall asleep tightly next to her.
I felt so alone in bed, she was always here during a storm, i'd gotten so used to it that even I wouldn't be able to sleep through a storm anymore. I lay back down, cuddling my duvet tightly, staring at my door, waiting, hoping, wishing Grace would come running through there, but of course, I was wrong, she was missing, gone, I may never see her again. As i let the tears drip down my cheeks I felt Socks cuddle into me. "Where are you Grace? Where are you?"