Guess what? TOMRROW IS THE DAY! I am so excited (in case you can't guess...LOL!). If you've joined us all week, thank you SO much. I know I'm probably driving everyone nutso but I am truly proud of this project. It is amazing. And I've had so much help getting it done.
Today, I'm going to do something I've never done before: I'm going to share the entire first chapter of the book. This will really give you the laydown of what the book is about and the emotional charge of the story. If you read the Prologue the other day, you'll know the 'hidden' side of the story...the part that Freesia doesn't know about. This chapter gives you the inside scoop of her side.
It's a bit on the long side, but it'll give you a great idea of where the story will go.
OH! And you totally have to come back for RELEASE DAY tomorrow because I have a huge surprise: I'm sharing the book trailor. TRUST me...you will love it.
Thanks for joining me! And be sure to check out the other authors participating this week HERE.
Eleven months later…
"Can you girls come down here, please?" Gran called.
Freesia Worth broke from her communication game with her younger sister, Sage, to respond. Can't keep Gran waiting for too long, after all. She didn't tolerate being ignored or being sassed. Any question not answered in a minute had her stomping up the stairs.
"We'll be right there, Gran," Freesia yelled back. "We just have to clean up the cards."
Sage had to be the smartest eight-year-old Freesia knew. Just because a group of people had decided she had some condition called Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD, it wasn't going to stop her from being everything she could be and more—at least not if Freesia had anything to say about it.
Their mom worked really hard making sure Sage had everything she needed to be right out there with all the other kids her age. And Freesia didn't want their mom coming back and seeing that Sage had stopped talking. It wasn't supposed to happen to a high-functioning 'sensational' girl who had never stopped talking before a year ago, but it had.
They—all those 'experts' trying to tap into Sage's brain—decided that she didn't have the huge social struggles that other kids had with things like autism or Asperger's. They told Mama that Sage responded to things in ways that those other kids didn't or couldn't. Something about the social piece of what was going on with Sage wasn't a problem, really. You know, except that she yelled at people not to touch her, or not to sit too close to her, or whatever.
Freesia guessed that with that social piece missing, Sage didn't fit nice and neat into any of those other big categories. So they stamped her with SPD. Mama was relieved just to understand what was going on. But Sage wasn't supposed to stop talking.
Doctors were stumped. The occupational therapist, or OT, was stumped. Their grandparents were stumped. No one had any clue why Sage stopped talking. They called it 'a response to trauma.' She's more sensitive to these things than regular people, they said. No matter who called it what, Freesia was going to help her sister talk again. Despite being sixteen, she was the only person Sage responded to now that Mama had…gone away.
"C'mon, help me put these back in the box before Gran comes up here," Freesia said to Sage.
The young girl dug through the pile of noun cards with both hands. She found the card for lamb and shoved it in Freesia's face.
"You need Lamby?"
Sage nodded again.
"C'mon, Sage. I know you can say Lamby. He's your favorite thing in the universe."
Sage looked down and started arranging the cards in a circle around her.
Freesia grabbed her hands. "Sagey, I'm just trying to help," she said in the same silky-calm way their mother had always spoken. "Please talk to me. Even though you used to blabber on forever about things I didn't always know about, it was just awesome hearing your voice. Just say…something."
Not a word. Sage pulled her hands away, tucking her fists under her chin, and hummed the song "Michelle."
Their mother used to sing that song to Sage during her home therapy sessions to calm her. Except she always sang, "Sage-y, my belle…these are words that go together well…my Sagey."
Freesia let out a sharp breath, tears stinging her eyes. She reached under her leg, retrieved the lamb and rubbed it against Sage's hands.
"Fine. Here's Lamby."
Sage grabbed her lamb and snatched up a card before Freesia could put it back in the pack, shoving it in her face. Mom.
See? You're in there. No matter what 'they' say. "I know," Freesia whispered, brushing hair from Sage's face. "I miss her too."
Their grandmother's gruff voice from downstairs startled them both. "Girls! Please come on down. What's keeping you? Don't make me put the timer on."
Both girls scrambled to pick up the last few cards, leaving the Mom card on Sage's bed. Freesia grabbed Sage's hand and they ran downstairs. Sage ran her fingers along all the family portraits lined up on the wall going down the staircase. It drove Gran insane when she did that. It left crooked pictures and fingerprints behind.
Freesia loved her grandparents. Her grandfather, George Freisen, was a retired general and her grandmother, Lillian, was an artist. She even had her work put up in galleries. You'd think Granddad would be the super-strict one since he spent all of his workdays giving orders, but he wasn't at all. He was as soft as a teddy bear. Gran was the stricter one, but more about the order of the house. She never yelled or punished. She just had the view that everyone should put his or her effort into making things run right. And she was super protective of her family.
She had so much respect for her grandparents. They didn't have to take on the challenge of caring for them after their mom, Tamara, disappeared. They weren't old or anything. They were both in their early sixties. Freesia remembered hearing them talking about looking forward to spending their twilight years up at their cabin tucked in the hills of West Hawk Lake, Manitoba. They planned to winterize it so they could even spend the colder months there.
Their plans changed after tragedy hit their family twice. Freesia and Sage's dad, Lieutenant Colonel James Worth, was killed on a special peace tour mission in Afghanistan. Their mom fell into a deep depression, but she seemed to be doing okay. She was a clinical psychologist, after all. She'd have known when to get help. She disappeared without a trace a month after their dad's death.
Tons of rumors started up around their mother's disappearance, like she couldn't handle their dad dying and took off or she killed herself or she was kidnapped. Freesia tried her best to shield Sage from all the crappy stories. People can be so stupid sometimes.
Search parties were put together and a hefty reward was set, since the Freisens were really well off. Not rich, but doing pretty good. Nothing happened. No one saw her. They'd found a few clues, but the trail seemed to go cold. Almost a year later and not one person had come forward, not even to try to get the money.
But Freesia didn't buy any of it. No one can just disappear like that, right? It wasn't like her grandparents kept her updated with her mom's case. They didn't want her to worry. But she listened in when the police came over or whenever Detective Barry Cuaco, the head investigator of her mom's case and a close family friend, came to update her grandparents. And she watched CSI and Law and Order and all of those other detective shows. Granddad watched the shows with her and deciphered the forensic and police lingo for her.
"Something is always left behind," he said whenever the team came to a dead end. "Someone usually knows something or forgets to cover something up."
And that was what Freesia held on to. No matter what happened, her mom would never have just left them behind, especially without Dad. And not when Sage needed her so much.
Gran lifted her arms up and nodded to Granddad. "Well, hallelujah! They're finally here. Granddad and I thought we'd have to send ole Rudy here to go up and find ya."
Rudy was a St. Bernard the same age as Freesia. The gentlest dog you'd ever meet, she was even more protective of the family than Gran. She and Mama were the best of friends. Rudy lifted her head off her favorite pillow when she heard her name, slapped her tail in acknowledgement a few times and then lay back down.
"Okay, girls, why don't you both sit down so we can have a little chat?" Gran lowered herself into her favorite recliner. Freesia never minded the chats because there were always snacks involved. And she could tell the level of seriousness of the chat based on the type of snacks served. This chat was at the Rice-Krispie-squares-and-fruit-smoothies level. Since those were their favorites, she knew something had to be up. An icy pain shot through her stomach.
Gran slapped her palms down on her thighs. "Okay, girls. We have a bit of great news. Looks like Granddad and I have been granted guardianship of you. Remember? We talked about that a few months ago?"
Freesia remembered. When Dad died, the military had set up Mom, Sage and her with his retirement funds. That just meant they'd be given his monthly retirement payments for life. Not too shabby.
Not only that, but they also promised to take care of Sage's therapy, equipment and medical bills as long as she needed it and arranged college funds for both girls. Freesia had no idea how much money was involved, but it was enough for everyone to be concerned about who'd handle everything after Mom disappeared. Her grandparents had applied for guardianship to oversee the finances until Freesia and Sage were older, or until their mom came back—whichever came first.
It also meant they'd be like temporary parents. Freesia's tummy ache went from icy cold to burning hot. She couldn't even think about eating any Rice Krispie squares or sucking down a strawberry, banana and peanut butter smoothie. Sage had wolfed down one square already and was reaching for another as Gran went on.
"So, that works out great because we decided to get Sagey one of those keyboard communicator things that her main OT, Misty, uses at the clinic. I think that'll work much better for us than trying to shuffle those cards around all the time. What do you girls think?"
Freesia shrugged. "I don't know. I'm cool with the cards. Sage and me use them just fine. But she seems to like the keyboard too. It gets what she wants to say out faster, you know, when she's concentrating well. What do you think, Sage? Good idea?"
Sage signed 'yes' without looking up before shoving the rest of her second Krispie square in her mouth. After a few chews to reduce the wad of food in her cheeks, she picked up her smoothie and sucked until her straw made a loud airy noise. When Granddad did the same thing with his own straw, she snickered.
Gran glared at Granddad, which didn't stop the sucking competition. "Great. It's all settled."
Granddad brushed Krispie crumbs off his chest. As he and Sage both reached for another square, he winked at her.
"Slow down on those, you two, or you won't eat any supper," Gran slapped Granddad's hand.
Granddad grabbed another square despite Gran's warning and leaned back in his recliner. "You shouldn't put them out if you don't want them eaten up, love. Right, Sagey?"
Sage giggled, staring at Granddad's hand until he pulled it away. She peeked over at Gran before grabbing another one too.
Gran clicked her tongue and rolled her eyes. "Okay, girls. This next thing isn't quite as happy, but it needs to be talked about. Your Granddad spoke with Detective Cuaco this morning."
Freesia sat up straight and leaned forward. "What did he say? Did he find Mama?"
"No, love. I wish I had better news to give you. Good God knows we need it. He still has no solid leads and no one has come forward yet. I mean, it was a long, cold winter, so everything they needed to find was probably buried under three feet of snow and many more feet of ice on the lake. But the warmer weather is here now. Maybe…"
Granddad snapped his recliner back down, patted Gran's arm and leaned forward. "Listen, dumplin'. The detective said that if he doesn't hear something by the end of the summer, or no one comes forward with something, he's going to have to shut down the search and hand it over to the Feds. File it as a cold case."
"No, he can't stop looking for her." Freesia's pulse pounded in her neck. "What if she's out there? What if she needs us and doesn't have a way to reach us? What if—" She stopped when she saw Sage's chin quiver.
Sage dropped her Krispie square on the floor, covered her ears and started rocking. Freesia grabbed the puppy dog lap cozy beside Sage and put it on her lap. Sage's rocking slowed and then stopped as she rubbed the fuzzy material on the sensory tool. She had different ones with different weights, but the puppy dog was her favorite. Mom made it for her just before she disappeared.
"Look, he hasn't given up," Granddad said in his usual soft tone. "He just doesn't have the manpower to keep everyone out there looking for your mom. And almost everyone else is a volunteer, right? They all have jobs and families of their own. We'll keep doing what we can. We're going up there tomorrow for the summer break. You know I'll be helping old Detective Cuaco while we're there. We just need you to understand that once summer is over…if they don't turn up anything…we'll have to respect his decision."
Freesia swallowed past the golf ball growing in her throat. "I don't respect that decision. I just can't. I will never stop looking for her. Even if she's…no matter what, she deserves to be found. We deserve to know what happened to her. I don't understand how you could just give up."
She ran up the stairs and into her room, slamming the door behind her. She hated crying, especially in front of Sage. So she smushed her face into the pillow, gripping the sides so tight her knuckles ached. She finally released the tears that had been building up for months, but she'd refused to let fall.
This entire year has sucked the bag. First Dad dies. Mom disappears. Now Sage stops talking and no one can help her but me. Then everyone at school starts treating her like a welfare case. I'm tired and angry and sick of everything. It just sucks, sucks, SUCKS!
Freesia cried until it was hard to breathe and the pillow was soaked from her tears and runny nose. She must have fallen asleep after her emotional release because when she opened her eyes, her room was dark and the Mom card was on her own pillow. She grabbed the card, ran her thumb over it and smiled. Her head throbbed and her eyes were sore.
Clanking dishes and the smell of roast beef alerted her grumbling stomach that it was dinnertime. She dragged herself out of bed and put the card back on Sage's pillow. She ran her fingers through her shoulder-length, strawberry-blonde hair and caught her reflection in the mirror on the closet—her eyes were swollen and bloodshot. Nice. A few splashes of cold water might be a good idea before resurfacing downstairs.
Granddad was watching America's Funniest Home Videos. Sage was doing a puzzle while she listened to music with her noise-reduction headphones on. She looked like a mini-version of Freesia with her reddish-blonde hair, blue eyes, pale skin and petite frame. The only difference between the two girls, aside from age and height, was that Freesia's hair was poker straight and Sage's hair exploded with springy ringlets.
Granddad motioned for Freesia to sit on the footrest of his recliner. "Well, look who's back. Have a good rest, dumplin'?"
She sat down and rested her head on his legs. "Yeah. I guess. Sorry I ran off."
Granddad lowered his hand on her head and stroked her hair. "No worries. We all get cranky from time to time. Even me. And you've had the weight of the world on your wee shoulders for too long. Look. Let's not worry about what may or may not happen at the end of the summer. Let's just enjoy our supper. Before bed, we'll pack up so we can head out in the morning. Sound good?"
Some loser on the show was dancing on a chair, tumbled over and landed on the back of the chair on his crotch. Why do people find that crap so funny? And why would you do that when someone is holding up a camera? Freesia rolled her eyes. Granddad laughed so hard he almost knocked her off his lap.
"Supper's ready," Gran called from the kitchen. "Wash up, turn off the TV and guide Sage in here, will ya?"
Freesia reached over and put her hand on the puzzle as a way of getting Sage's attention. If you just popped in front of her when she was concentrating on something else, the rest of the evening would be spent peeling her off the ceiling and calming her for bed.
Sage looked up and signed, 'Eat?'
Freesia nodded. She was relieved that they'd have the keyboard to talk to Sage through. The cards and signing were great, but she needed a stronger way to get her thoughts out. Otherwise she could get trapped in there forever. And she was way too smart for that.
During supper there was no more talk about the chat with Detective Cuaco or what he said. Just lots of Granddad's really bad jokes, a lot of good food and discussions of summer plans at the cabin up at West Hawk Lake. And in between bites of roast beef, roasted mini potatoes, mixed veggies and fake laughing at Granddad's stinky jokes, Freesia was making plans of her own.
The lake was the last place anyone saw Mom. And she was going to find her. Or find someone who could.
One way or another.