Authors: Deanna Lynn Sletten
The phone rang several times before the voice mail picked up. Andrew didn't bother to leave a message. He hung up and stared at the kids.
"No answer, just her voice mail," he reported. But all three of them knew that there were areas around town where there was no phone reception.
They continued staring at each other, each pondering their own thoughts until Kaia broke the silence.
"Do you think Mom is okay?" she asked, her voice growing nervous.
Andrew wasn't sure how to answer, because Maggie was never late coming home. Not once in the twenty-three years of their marriage had he ever had to worry about where she was or what she was doing. And he knew for certain that she couldn't say the same about him. But seeing the worry in Kaia's eyes made him want to reassure her.
"I'm sure your mom is okay," he said, glancing at Kyle for support.
"Sure," Kyle agreed after seeing the look in his father's eyes. "She might be in Walmart or at the grocery store waiting in a long line. Cell reception is lousy in those places. Or she may have left her phone in the car. There could be a thousand reasons why she's not answering."
Andrew nodded his appreciation to Kyle for coming up with some very good reasons Maggie wasn't home yet. The more he thought about it, the more he believed that those might be the exact reasons she was late. Looking at his watch, he realized it was getting late, and he had to leave for his meeting.
"Listen, kids, I have to go to my meeting," he told them, and he pulled out his wallet and handed Kyle some money. "Kyle, why don't you take your sister out to eat? I'll leave my phone on so you can call me when your mother gets home, okay?"
Kaia didn't look pleased with him leaving but didn't say anything. Kyle said they would call him.
By the time Andrew arrived at his meeting, he'd convinced himself that Maggie would be home any minute, and there was nothing to worry about. The meeting grasped his attention, and for the next two hours, he thought only of property prices, taxes, and zoning permits. It wasn't until after the meeting ended that he realized it was nine thirty, and no one had called to say Maggie was home.
Maggie hadn't planned on being gone for more than a couple of hours. She drove west toward Fargo, North Dakota, stopping along the way to take pictures of sites that interested her. Not that there was anything interesting between Woodroe and Fargo, but she found everything interesting and exciting, because she was on the road alone, doing what she loved—taking photos.
She stopped in a small town and took some pictures of its old cemetery, where worn granite and marble headstones from the early 1800s stood at attention. She stopped a couple of times by the side of the rode and snapped photos of old, abandoned barns and farmhouses sitting in knee-high golden grass that swayed back and forth in the breeze. She stopped and took a picture of a grain elevator at work and of a man off in the distance on his tractor, cutting hay. They were basic photos, but photos that showed the reality of life on the plains. And that was what Maggie loved, showing life as it really was through her camera's lens. It had been so long since she'd done this, she reveled in every picture and every site, as if she were taking photos of great importance.
Before she knew it, Maggie was in Fargo, and without even thinking about it, she instinctively turned her van south on Highway 29 and headed for Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Bob Seger continued singing his greatest hits over and over, and Maggie didn't grow tired of them. Bob was right; it felt so good to finally feel free. She was smiling again, singing along with the CD, feeling the weight of the world, her world, being lifted off her shoulders. The freedom was intoxicating. She felt silly and young again, like she'd felt years ago when these songs were new, and she'd first heard them.
Night fell as she rolled into Sioux Falls, so Maggie pulled into a hotel on the edge of town and rented a room. She told herself she'd just take a few pictures of the falls in the morning, then turn around and head back home. She knew she should call Andrew to let him know where she was and that she'd be home the next day, but she couldn't make herself dial the number for home. Andrew would be angry, and the carefree feelings she'd felt earlier would dissipate into thin air. And what would she say? She hadn't planned this escape, it had just happened. Andrew just wouldn't understand. So, she pushed aside all thoughts of responsibility, family, and work obligations. She would worry about those things tomorrow. It seemed that easy.
Andrew called the local sheriff's office that night after he returned home from his meeting to report Maggie missing. He knew Sheriff Derrick Weis well. They had graduated from high school together and volunteered as baseball coaches years ago, when Kyle played Little League. Luckily, Derrick was working the night shift, so Andrew was able to get through to him right away. Kaia and Kyle sat nearby, anxiously listening to the conversation as their father explained that no one had seen Maggie since eight fifteen that morning.
The sheriff listened quietly until Andrew finished.
"I'm sorry to hear Maggie is missing," he told Andrew, sounding concerned. Maggie volunteered in the schools, and Andrew knew that Derrick did also, so he knew Maggie well.
"Are you sure she didn't go home for a while after dropping Kaia off?" Derrick asked. "Or maybe was around town shopping? Have you called all of her friends to see if they've seen her today?"
Andrew was at a loss for words. Maggie didn't really have any friends, or at least none that he knew of. There were the people she worked with, and mothers and fathers she volunteered with at school events, but other than that, he didn't think she ever visited with them socially.
"Maggie doesn't go out with friends," he said, realizing it sounded strange. "She's either at work or at home."
"I see," Derrick replied, sounding surprised. "Well, if you can think of anyone she might have been in contact with, call them. That will help narrow down the search. Meanwhile, I can start by checking the accident reports and calling the local hospital.
"Okay, I'd appreciate that," Andrew said, relieved that something was being done quickly to find Maggie.
"Maggie drives a silver Freestar, right?" Derrick asked. "Looks like this year's model."
"That's right," Andrew replied, sounding confused. "How do you know that?"
"I see her at the middle school in the morning when she drops Kaia off, and I'm dropping off our daughter. I've often wondered how you get off so lucky not having to drive Kaia in when you work only a block from the school," Derrick said lightly.
Andrew had never really thought about it that way. Maggie drove the kids to school. That was her job, and he'd never even offered to do it for her. "I have to be at work early," he explained, which he knew wasn't completely true, because he chose to go into work an hour early each morning. He was always being called a workaholic by his coworkers, and he hated it. In fact, he'd been called a workaholic and overachiever in school, too. Personally, he never thought of it as a bad thing, but he didn't want to hear it from Derrick, too.
"I'll get this out to my deputies so they can be on the lookout for Maggie's van," Derrick said. "I'll also pass around her description and we'll do a quick sweep around town to see if anyone has seen her. I will also send out an alert about Maggie's disappearance to neighboring towns so they can be on the lookout. In the meantime, you should look around the house to see if anything is missing or out of place. You might also want to see if Maggie packed a bag. She may have gone home sometime this morning, and it would be helpful to know if she had planned on leaving."
"Planned on leaving?" Andrew asked, his anger flaring. "Do you think she left me? Why would she do that?"
"Now, don't get upset, Andrew. I'm not suggesting anything. It's just that sometimes when a spouse is missing, we find out that they left on their own. It would help if you knew for sure that she didn't leave you before filing a report."
Andrew had heard enough. Maggie leaving? How ridiculous. She had no reason to leave him. As far as he was concerned, her life was perfect.
"Fine," he conceded. "I'll look. But I can assure you she didn't leave me."
"I'm sure she didn't," Derrick said. "But look around the house anyway, just to make sure nothing is out of place or missing. I'm sure the kids are upset, so why don't we wait until tomorrow for you to come by and fill out an official Missing Person's Report. I think you need to be with your family tonight."
Andrew thanked Derrick and said he'd be by in the morning if Maggie hadn't come home by then. When he hung up, he turned to face the kids who were sitting on the living room sofa, looking pale and anxious.
"Did Mom leave us?" Kaia asked in a small voice, no longer an obnoxious teenager but a little, lost child.
"Of course not," Andrew insisted, harsher than he'd intended.
"Then that means we have to assume something happened to her," Kyle said reluctantly. "I don't think that's a great alternative either."
Andrew didn't want to believe that either. He didn't know what to think, or if he really wanted to think at all.
"Listen, kids," he finally said. "I'm not sure what happened, so all we can do is wait until tomorrow, then let the police do their job. There's still a chance she might come home tonight, too. Until then, let's not get upset, speculating on things that may have happened."
Kaia narrowed her eyes at her father. "How can we not be upset? Mom's gone. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
Andrew stared back at both his children for one long minute before answering. He'd been trying to learn, through Maggie, to control his own reflex to snap back when the kids snapped at him. He wondered exactly when he'd lost control of them, or lost their respect. It seemed they'd grown up so fast. Kyle was two inches taller than his own height at six feet and had the same dark, wavy hair and brown eyes as he did. But Kyle's hair was longer and shaggier, and his oversized clothes hung loosely on his lean body. Kyle also had a laid-back look about him, something Andrew had never had. Kaia, on the other hand, was intense and always pushing the envelope. She'd grown taller, too, not quite as tall as her mother yet, but close. And she had thick, auburn hair, so completely opposite of Maggie's fine, blonde hair. The kids were an interesting combination of their parents' genes, and it had been a long time since he'd had to relate to either of them without Maggie as a mediator.
"Of course I care that your mother is missing," Andrew finally responded in a controlled voice. "I just don't want us to get worked up about what we don't know yet."
Kaia rolled her eyes and threw herself against the back of the sofa with dramatic flair. Andrew realized that this would be a tough night.
When both kids had finally gone to bed, after much arguing and protests from Kaia, Andrew searched the house for signs of missing items or luggage. His first problem was the luggage. He had no idea where Maggie stored it. First, he searched the basement and came up empty-handed. Coming up the stairs, he realized the basement wasn't the logical place to store luggage, because it would get damp and smell moldy. Of course, Maggie would have thought of that. Next, he tried the hall closet, which was too small to store anything, except their coats and winter boots. Finally, he tried the closet under the staircase and hit pay dirt. There sat a complete three-piece set of black luggage along with several nylon duffel bags and a couple of large backpacks. But as he stared at these, he realized it didn't do him any good finding them because he had no idea how much luggage they owned. A duffel bag could be missing, and he'd never have known it.
Frustrated, he slammed the door and headed upstairs to inspect her closet for missing clothing. Before he even opened the door, he realized he wouldn't have any idea if some of Maggie's clothing was missing. He paid so little attention to what she wore or owned. And even if he did know anything about her wardrobe, missing pieces could easily be in the laundry or at the dry cleaners.
Despite his lack of knowledge, he opened the wardrobe where she stored her clothes and peered inside. Since their home was old, there was only one small closet in their bedroom. Andrew used the closet, and Maggie had purchased an antique wardrobe to store her own things in. He glanced at the clothes hanging in the wardrobe, then looked at the shoes on the bottom and opened the two drawers below for a quick inspection. Everything looked neat and orderly and full. There were jeans, sweaters, T-shirts, khakis, and dress pants for work. There were no gaping holes to prove she'd packed anything.
Andrew shut the doors and sat on the bed that he and Maggie had shared for twenty-three years. He glanced around the room. Everything looked exactly as it always had. Her jewelry box sat on the dresser undisturbed, a glass dish of earrings and rings beside it, full. The checkbook they shared for family bills sat there, too, where it usually was when she wasn't using it to pay bills, so he'd have easy access to it. Nothing was different or awry. Andrew let out a heavy sigh, both in frustration of not knowing where Maggie was, and of not knowing as much about their daily life together as he should have.
When morning broke, the pull west was so strong that Maggie ignored her resolution to return home and couldn't resist continuing on her impromptu trip. After taking several pictures of sites around town, she purchased a few necessities and a change of clothes, and then drove the van west on Interstate 90 with no thought whatsoever of where she was headed, only that she needed to keep going.
Around one o'clock in the afternoon, Maggie pulled into Deadwood, South Dakota. She had stopped in the small town of Wall to take a few pictures but had bypassed Mount Rushmore, even though the urge to take pictures of the great monument had been strong.