That different point of view
Their little girl
They were pacing up and down for about twenty minutes before one of them actually dared to say what was on their minds: something was wrong. Their little girl would never just not show up to her father’s birthday party. Her mom had begged her to be on time and just ten minutes ago, she was raging about how Mariana had the nerves to show up late. But another ten minutes had passed and they had called Ellen and Coach Edna. Nobody knew where she was. Ellen promised she left sort of on time, which wasn’t a surprise. But, that was about thirty minutes ago. Mariana was an excellent biker, she only needed ten minutes to get home from school. The room next door was filled with family members. Nobody had picked up on the nervous behavior of the Diaz’. Abuela kept the audience entertained with stories about the neighborhood she grew up in. But they couldn’t raise a spark of interest in the worried set of parents, who were still anxiously dialing Mariana’s number like crazy. She didn’t pick up. And knowing their daughter’s incredibly annoying habit of having the phone glued to her hand, that meant trouble.
“We should call the police.” Maribel whispered, grasping her husband’s hand in fear.
But Beto shook his head all disappointed and heaved a deep sigh: “She’s twenty minutes late, the police will just laugh about it.”
His voice was silent and quiet, but that’s not how the man was experiencing all of this. He had seen the look in Mariana’s eyes when she left this morning. It was a quick glance, because, like always, she had to hurry up or she’d be late for school. But that glance contained a promise to be there, for her father, for his party. He remembered her last exit and held some fingers to his forehead. It drove him mad.
“I’m going to take my car and drive to school. Take the exact same route she does every day and see if she … fell or something? Maybe she fell and she can’t get up.”
It was almost hopeful, a desire that that’d be it, nothing more. Maribel nodded, but assured him she’d join him. Four eyes could see more than two.
With whispering words, they had informed Abuela about their worry. The old woman frowned with disbelief and promised to stay at the house, to make sure the family wouldn’t get anxious without a good reason. If Mariana surprisingly showed up anyway, she’d call them.
The two of them got in the SUV Beto had bought to visit patients at home and took the fastest route to the high school Mariana loved so dearly. She was a popular girl, and going to school was easy for her. She was one of the best cheerleaders, she had boyfriends every other week, everybody adored her. And, like her father always said, she was extremely pretty – that helped in every situation.
“What if something happened?” Maribel asked, nervously skimming the road in front of her.
Beto didn’t answer. He just couldn’t. That would have to make him think about the worst scenario. And he refused to accept that bad things would ever happen to his little girl. Instead of replying, he put his trembling hand on his wife’s and patted it in a desperate attempt for comfort.
The first try turned out to be a failure. Nothing to be seen, nothing suspicious. The school was empty, the cheerleading locker rooms were empty. And Mariana’s bike was gone.
It had Maribel thinking: “If you’re on a bike, wouldn’t it be easier to get home by taking Wayne Street? To avoid the traffic?”
Beto nodded after giving it some thought. It’s not like they had interrogated Mariana about her specific directions to get home every day. As long as she showed up each time, it was good. Nobody ever gives it a decent thought. Turns out, they should.
Another search for their little girl started after a final check of the entire premises. But not even the principal was there anymore. It looked like a deserted place. An hour had passed and Abuela hadn’t called yet. That meant Mariana was still not home. Beto’s phone kept ringing like crazy. It was Ellen, it was Coach Edna, it were patients he really didn’t want to reply at that time, but he did, because he was a doctor and that meant a lot to him. But all he did was refer them to a colleague, due to a family emergency. When he looked to his right, he caught his wife wiping away some tears of frustration. She felt like the earth was slipping from underneath her. Something was happening and she had no idea what it was. That scared her.
“You’re not rambling in Spanish.” her husband noticed, wisely ignoring the tears.
She snapped out of her infatuation and turned her head towards him: “What?”
While her eyes kept searching the sideways and alleys for some clues, he explained: “When you’re nervous, you ramble in Spanish. I don’t always understand it completely, so I just nod and you think I get it. But I don’t.”
It was like a confession, something he needed to get off of his chest. Maribel found herself smiling softly. Beto had lived in the States his entire life. His mother was an American woman, who fell in love with an immigrant. He knew some phrases and the basics of the Spanish language, but he hadn’t needed it until he met his wife and mother in law. He had always raised his little girl in English, his wife did it in Spanish. Sometimes, he didn’t understand a word of what was being said between the women of the house. Sometimes, he saw that as a blessing. But Mariana preferred the language of the country she was born in. It was everywhere: at school, at the mall, at cheerleading camp, … And thought she had tried, eventually, she stopped communicating with her mother in the supposed way.
They drove for another five minutes, so incredibly slow that it pissed off other drivers behind them, but they didn’t care. It took them some time to make sure everything was investigated. Besides, it was dark now, that didn’t help at all.
“I am going to kill her when she just shows up with some boy on the doorstep.” Maribel sighed, kind of hoping that that would be the least bad thing she could do to them.
At least that would mean Mariana was back. And all the worry and desperation wouldn’t have been necessary. It’d be such a stupid, meaningless thing. Beto agreed.
When they approached the crossroad that would lead them homewards by crossing it, Maribel suddenly squeezed her husband’s arm. He looked up and saw an expression taking over her entire face that was unfamiliar to her. It was her look of terror, one she had never needed before.
“Her bike! It’s her bike!” she screamed, rather loud.
She was right, it was lying on the sidewalk, like someone had just dropped it and left it there to rotten. Beto accelerated, only to hit the brakes hard a few seconds later. They jumped out of the car and ran over to the bike that Mariana had picked for her fifteenth birthday. She had begged her dad to buy her a car next year instead, but he refused. She was young, she had legs that worked; riding a bike wasn’t a punishment, it was good for her. She had hated him for about a week, you know, childish hate, and it sort of broke his heart and made him laugh over her silliness at the same time. But it passed and somewhere deep inside, he knew the car drama would just show up again by the time she turned sixteen. He was right. She hated him again for a whole week – and like always, it passed just as easily.
But now he was looking at the bike she had handpicked and it made him nauseous. Mariana would never just throw it aside like that. She actually took great care of it.
“Beto!” Maribel gasped, which made him look up immediately.
She was pointing at a shiny little thing, seemingly stuck between the sidewalk and the driving lane. Some papers from a wandering newspaper covered the full sight of it. Beto walked over to it and picked up the thing that quickly turned out to be Mariana’s iPod. That’s when the scenarios suddenly did enter his mind. The ones that absolutely terrified him the most in the world. Those of his little, precious miracle being hurt by somebody else. Everything faded out, the sound of Maribel’s choking crying and the nearby traffic. All he could see was the deserted bike and his daughter’s iPod in his hands. He turned around and studied the ground underneath them, in desperate search for clues. There were no skid marks or anything suspicious. There was no blood. There was no indication that anyone had been here for the wrong reasons. It was just another crossroad.
The noises suddenly reentered his essence and when he turned around, he found his wife in a panic attack. He walked over to her and gave her a firm shook, so she would snap out of it.
“Calm down, Maribel. Calm down. I’m calling the police now. Okay?”
She was shaking like crazy, but she eventually nodded. He searched three of his pockets for his phone, but realized after a while that it was in his car. When he finally held it in his hands, he dialed the number that had brought hundreds of patients to his care. 911.
Her best friend
She took another route home that night, simply because there were a lot more quicker ways to get home than following Mariana every day. Besides, following Mariana was a bitch. That girl had some fast skills – something she’d never admit to her! When she parked her bike in the garage, she grabbed her phone and texted her best friend.
‘Got home on time, Snarky? Or experiencing some Latin drama?’ it said.
But some minutes passed while she carefully started unpacking her bag filled with dirty clothes from practice and she got no reply, which was sort of weird. Mariana had her phone glued to her hand. She did nothing else but text and sext and spend her time on Twitter and Facebook. It was disgusting, but she had the best conversations in the world and Ellen would always be allowed to read them.
“Ellen!” she heard her mother shout from the other room.
She walked in and found her dinner, nicely spread across the table for her.
“Sit down, you need to eat.” the blonde woman said in a pressing way.
Her mother was a very determined caretaker. That successful little girl of hers was Captain of the Cheerios, she had awesome grades, nothing could possibly go wrong on her road to success in the bright future God had intended for her.
Ellen did as she was told and poked her fork in the mashed potatoes a few times in a row.
“What’s wrong?” her observant mother asked. “Not good?”
She almost challenged her daughter to tell her her cooking was bad, but Ellen just smiled softly and shook her head: “No, it’s good. It’s just, I’m waiting for Mariana to reply.”
The elder woman sighed all annoyed and expressed her disapproval: “You girls and those phones. You should focus on studying and practice. And enjoying a good meal.”
Ellen had heard this speech a million times and rolled her eyes. She put some of the potatoes in her mouth and then grabbed her phone to text Mariana a second time.
‘Your parents can’t be giving you such a hard time over getting home late? ANSWER ME, WOMAN! TACOS ARE NOT WORTH IGNORING YOUR BFF!’
She smiled a bit over the excessive use of capitals and put the device down next to her plate. Her mother and she had a nice talk about practice and school. They lived alone in this nice house in this nice neighborhood. Her parents were divorced. Every other weekend, she’d spend a few days with her old man, just a couple of blocks away. But being around her mom all alone had its benefits.
After a while, Ellen got reminded of the lack of response of her best friend. She tapped the button that lit up the screen of her smartphone and all she saw was a picture of both of them, dressed up in their cheerleading outfits. Not a missed call or a text message she didn’t hear. Suddenly, Ellen got nervous. She picked up her phone and without letting her mother know that the conversation was over, she started ringing Mariana, much to her mother’s displeasure.
“Excuse me?” the older blonde of the two confusingly – and worked up – asked as she saw her daughter putting down the phone all frustrated. “What just happened?”
“Mariana’s not picking up. There’s something wrong.” Ellen said, mostly talking to herself.
She squeezed her eyes to think things through. That’s when her mother finally figured it out: her little girl was really worried.
“Then call her parents. If you think there’s something wrong, call the Diaz’.”
Ellen decided that it was a bad idea. If Mariana was getting a hard time because she got home late, she’d be the last person her parents wanted to talk to. They knew well enough that every single time Mariana got in trouble, Ellen was her accomplice.
She finished her dinner and thanked her mother for the delicious food, but it was a lie. Because she didn’t enjoy it at all: all she could think of was her best friend, and why she didn’t answer.
Another text message failed to receive a reply when suddenly, her phone started ringing. Ellen got up from her bed, where she was chatting with some fellow students, and heaved an annoyed sigh as she made her way over to her desk.
“Oh, so now you’re going to call me, you idiot.” she said to herself.
But when her eyes met the screen and found ‘Dr. Daddy Diaz’ on it, her heart stopped beating instantly. Was this to yell at her? Or prove her right?
“Hello.” she answered, all nervous.
“Hi Ellen. This is Beto Diaz. Sorry to bother you, but … is Mariana with you?”
Ellen dropped down on the desk chair next to her and frowned without taking a breath.
“No. I thought … I thought she was at home. She left before me because she had to be at your party in time and -”
“She left alone?” Mariana’s dad asked.
Somehow, Ellen’s answer would feel like admitting she did something wrong.
“Yes. Sort of on time. I was running late. Wait, so – She’s not there?”
Her best friend’s father sounded nervous and she felt the exact same way.
“No, that’s why I’m calling you. I can’t get a hold of her.”
A silent few seconds passed and none of them said a thing.
“I’m starting to get worried.” Beto suddenly admitted.
Ellen opened up her mouth, but shut it again straight-away. Telling him she has had a bad feeling would not exactly calm him down.
“I’ve texted her, but there’s no reply. Maybe she ran into someone on her way home, you know how she is.”
She tried to raise a smile on the other side of the line, but it quickly turned out that she failed.
“Okay. Well, … I’m going to call some other people now, maybe someone knows where she is. Will you do the same for me, please?”
Ellen promised him she would and hung up the phone. She got up on her feet and ran downstairs, screaming for her mother, who turned up all surprised and confused in the kitchen.
“What’s wrong? Who died?”
“Mariana’s not home.” Ellen rapidly informed her, while panic started to take over her entire being. “I knew something was wrong. Her father called me to tell me she didn’t get home. And she’s not picking up her phone – at all. It immediately goes to voicemail.”
Ellen’s mother frowned in a way to shed some light on the situation, but found herself even more confused afterward.
“When did you last see her?”
Ellen blinked a few times to organize her thoughts and then looked up again: “In the girl’s locker room. She had to leave without me because of her dad’s birthday party and I wasn’t dressed yet and …”
Suddenly, the girl stopped talking, while her face went pale.
“What?” her mother asked, noticing there was something wrong. “What is it?”
“I said: what’s the worst thing that could happen?” Ellen gasped, holding on to the counter in a way to remain on her feet.
She did as Beto told: she called every single person in her contacts to see if anyone knew where her best friend was. All the time, she kept hearing herself saying those last words to Mariana. She was such a bitch sometimes. Such a stupid bitch.
Nobody had good news, since nobody had seen Mariana. Even Ellen’s mother began calling people, parents mostly. Turned out to be nothing as well.
“I called and texted her dad. He’s not replying.” Ellen sighed after forty minutes, ruffling her own hair.
Even though her mother tried to come up with a positive explanation, she only found one reply that made sense: “They are probably busy looking for her.”
That made Ellen’s stomach turn, because it sounded like looking for a body or something. Nothing bad could happen to Mariana – ever. It was just not an option. What would she be without her bitchy best friend? They hated each other because they loved each other so deeply. It was the weirdest of friendships, but it was the best one she ever had.
“Mom, can I please borrow your car? I have to do something. Maybe she … she fell.”
It was a desperate attempt to hope for the best, and her mother read it off her face.
“You know what, I’ll go with you. I’ll drive.”
Her new friend
The girl heard all sorts of noises coming from the front part of the house. She remained in the kitchen, just like he had ordered her to. And she had learned to listen to him. The blonde girl looked down at her shapeless clothes and listened all curiously. Not a lot of things happened around the house. John was a guy who liked things quiet and peaceful, except when he was playing games on his PlayStation. Lauren had been with him ever since she was a little girl. He was in her earliest memories. He was in all of her memories. Every once in a while, which barely ever happened, some strange guys came over. That was when John had brought home a few girls. He hid them in the basement and Lauren would only be allowed downstairs to bring them food or clean up their mess. They never stayed long. Those dodgy guys took them away, after giving John a pile of money. The young blonde wasn’t sure what it meant, though. She’d never been outside through the front door. John had warned her that it was a dangerous place. The backyard was safe, there were trees and flowers and grass. What would a girl want more in the world? The front door led to a world Lauren would be afraid of, he explained. She needed to stay with him, to take care of him, because he went out there every day and faced the dangers to protect her.
But there hadn’t been girls in a long time, Lauren remembered. Maybe he brought a new one home? A new girl he rescued from her parents. Just like he had rescued her. She had heard the story a million times before: Lauren’s parents didn’t want her anymore, so instead of just leaving her behind all alone, John offered to take her in and raise her himself. He was her savior, because God knows where she would’ve ended up without him? Girls out there didn’t survive alone. And he was so very good for her. As long as she obeyed him and did as he told, she had nothing to worry about. It seemed so logical. Everything, really. She cleaned the house, washed his clothes, cooked him dinner – and in return, he took care of her. Like she was his own daughter.
But that stumbling in the room next door rose all sorts of curiosity inside of Lauren. She wanted to know how the girl looked like, where she came from, how badly her parents were treating her. Maybe she was just excited to meet someone new. John was the only person she talked to, and sometimes Lauren made up conversations with the characters of the books she was reading. In her dreams, she met all of them and they relived the best scenes together. John never was part of it. It was the only way of experiencing something personally, since every other thing that ever happened or was being said involved him.
An hour later, she was still standing silently in the middle of the kitchen. She had once dared to interfere a conversation John and one of his weird friends were having – she was still a little girl – and he had punished her massively. That taught her well.
John finally appeared in front of her, dressed in black clothes and a hat. He looked nervous, but that happened often. Lauren asked if he was okay, she didn’t dare to ask about whatever he just did in the basement. If John had information, he’d give it, it was as simple as that. She grew smart enough to remember.
It took him four minutes to wash his hands, then another silent one to dry them with a kitchen towel. They were trembling, Lauren noticed.
She prepared him his supper and stood quietly next to him as he ate it.
“I’d like you to check up on a new girl downstairs in a couple of hours. She’s asleep, because she’s tired of the emotional journey that her parents put her through.”
Lauren didn’t question a word he said. She saw an opportunity to meet a new girl he had rescued, that was just awesome!
But he carefully looked up to her face, that carried an expression of utter joy.
“This girl may be a bit confused when she wakes up. You know, …”
She nodded: “Like the others.”
But he disliked the way she seemed enthusiastic.
“Do not interrupt me while I’m talking.” he warned her, carrying massive aggression in his voice.
Lauren apologized without blinking and lowered her head in shame. It was a bad idea to displease her keeper. John took a deep sigh an unconsciously rubbed the skin of his knees. He was in pain. Lauren wondered what happened to him, but she kept herself from asking.
Three hours had passed when Lauren made her way downstairs. She was always nervous when it came down to meeting new people. Especially these girls he brought home. Somehow, none of them ever was genuinely interested to get to know her. But John had explained that having just suffered a great trauma like running away from their parents who were anything but caring and loving did strange things to the psyche of people. They’d be mad and confused for a while, yell and cry – mix up the truth and imagination. It all passed after spending some time alone with John. She had witnessed it, so she believed him.
When she opened the massively secured door, her trembling feet made her enter the badly lit room. At first, she had to take another look, because her eyes fooled her into believing that there was nobody there. But then she found the girl, pressed up against the wall, eyes squeezed shut in fear. Lauren took another couple of steps and then remained quiet for a while, staring at her own bare feet. The girl in front of her looked terrified, and that made her sad, because all she wanted was to be a nice friend, like she had read in her books. She was just dying to have a friend.
Lauren immediately noticed that the girl in front of her was drop dead beautiful. She was special, she felt it. Like there was an instant spark between them. The dark-haired hottie finally opened one eye and the sight seemed to surprise her. Lauren kept her arms politely behind her back, like the characters in her favorite books always did whenever they were having a conversation. But she couldn’t stop feeling nervous. That girl had that effect on her.
“Hi,” she finally said courageously, after giving her confused, new friend some time to adjust.
But there was no reaction, so curious Lauren took a step forward. Heavy gasping demonstrated the level of fear rushing through the other girl’s body and Lauren decided to calm her down with soft hushing and gentle movements of her hands.
“I won’t hurt you.” she promised. “I’m here to meet you.”
The new girl’s voice trembled, but Lauren couldn’t be happier, because she finally heard that special one speak for the first time: “Meet me?”
Lauren nodded, because that’s what she always did with this girls. John brought them in and she took care of them one or two times a day, after John’d been visiting them. That’s when they were calm and shaken up. Ready to progress their loss, John has explained. But John sent her downstairs without going first this time. He needed to take care of his bruises first, so it seemed.
The Latina girl had a rope tied around her hands, but Lauren didn’t think that was weird. He did that because some of them could go crazy when John was not looking. He couldn’t risk that their grief and confusion would drive them mad and do crazy things to themselves. It was a thoughtful measure to keep them safe.
“I’m Lauren,” she introduced herself, very genuinely happy to meet the other one.