She doesn’t say what “this” is, but Barry has always been talented at reading between the lines.
“I’m so sorry. Do you need me to call Jack?”
“He doesn’t know, Barry.”
“Doesn’t know?” His face is puzzled.
“Doesn’t know about Eden. At all. And I want it to stay that way.” Holly’s firm on this.
Barry stares at her in disbelief, as she’d known he would. “Yeah, but Holly, come on, this is his sister you’re talking about. He has a right to know about his family.”
Barry is knowledgeable about many things—contract law, fine whiskey, and, back in the day, mutually agreeable sex—but he has no idea what he’s talking about on this particularly complex subject. “Jack doesn’t remember her—he was still so little, and he’s repressed so much from that time. I wanted to shield him. I still want to shield him. He’s been through so much already.”
Barry starts to respond, but the assistant pokes her head around the door, exhales hard. “I’ve got her,” she whispers to Holly. “Please hold for Dr. Darling,” she says into her headset, then points with her chin to the phone on the desk next to Holly. “I’ll put her through whenever you’re ready.”
Barry waits, but Holly motions to the door. “Go. You need to get back in there and close the deal.”
He looks at her, uncertain.
“I’m okay, Barry. I promise,” she says. “I’ve been expecting this. The surprise is that she lasted as long as she did. I mourned Eden a long time ago. The call took me off guard, that’s all.”
He hesitates. “If you’re sure...”
Holly makes a shooing motion with her free hand. “Go. I’ll try to come back in if I can.”
“All right,” he says dubiously. “You’re the boss.” He squeezes her shoulder before he leaves.
She’s finally alone, and in the few seconds she has, she thinks of Eden as a baby, as the precociously beautiful child she was before the fall. She thinks of the girl who never sat still, instead of the one who has not been able to move for ten years. And then she takes a deep breath, because she knows before she even picks up the phone what the nurse is going to say.
Which is what makes the actual words so astonishing.
“Dr. Darling? I’m so sorry,” the voice on the other end of the line says. It hesitates, then continues. “But your daughter? She has vanished. We cannot find her anywhere.”
The nurse is talking, a deluge of words. Holly’s brain tries to catch at them, but she’s drowning. Your daughter has vanished.
“Stop,” Holly says. “Slow down. I can’t understand you. Tell me what happened.”
The nurse, having conveyed her point, gets her speech under control. “Eden was in her room at breakfast. I checked on her after tea. Her room is empty! No sign anywhere!”
A hard knot forms in Holly’s chest. She grasps at any possibility that could explain what happened. “Did you check under the bed? Could she have fallen and rolled beneath it?”
“I checked everywhere! Under the bed, in the closet! She is nowhere!”
Holly tries to think, but all she can see is Jack, leaping with catlike grace across the lacrosse field, radiating good health and vitality from every atom of his being. Jack, smiling at her, the scars that once crisscrossed his face nearly invisible. How will Jack survive if his sister is gone?
“What about the other nurses? Did they see anything?”
“I have asked them all. I have called the gardener. Nothing. But...” The voice on the other end of the phone hesitates. “The window in her room was open, and I am sure I left it closed.”
The knot in Holly’s chest changes to a fist, squeezing her heart. She sees a shining head framed against the dark sky, mischievous eyes watching her. The scent of springtime. And then bruises blossoming against her skin like dark flowers. She swallows hard. “Are you certain?”
“Yes. But the ground outside is damp, and there are no footprints.”
The room, Holly notices with a detached kind of interest, is growing black, crowding around the edges of her vision. It’s a panic attack, a bad one, the kind she hasn’t had in years. She focuses on a poster that’s hanging on the wall. It is of a woman on a beach using Darling Skin Care sunscreen, and Holly tries to imagine the waves, to see herself there, but instead the thudding in her head becomes a thundering roar, overpowering her ability to speak.
This excerpt ends on page 13 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle by Jennifer Ryan.