Scene 1: The Unthinkable

Heather was a regular mom in her own eyes. In the eyes of most, she’d be considered a stressed mom. A tired mom. An unusually quiet mom. As if she were catching up on sleep at any minute she could. And most could see this because her husband was overseas as a marine fighting a war that, she thought, wasn’t hers. And her daughter was seven and Heather had no children prior or after. So you see, as Heather worked hard to pay unpaid bills and raise a daughter practically by herself; she kept a straight face. But even better than that: she kept a content heart. Although she struggled with anxiety, which kept her up most nights, she would never let anyone know how she truly felt— or at least she thought she wasn’t. Most would think she was resentful for always having to miss out on girls’ nights out or always having her hair up or always being seen in sweats when she wasn’t at work. But she wasn’t. Through her anxious, husband-sick, exhausted eyes she only saw life as one day at a time. One battle at a time that led to the ultimate victory.

All of that changed when the unthinkable happened. Her daughter was taken. Her sweet little girl, Emily, was kidnapped. Everything changed for Heather from that day forth. No more missing her husband. No more going to work. No more being tired. No more anxiety. Nothing. Just Emily and the battle she would fight to get her back.

Heather couldn’t exactly remember the details of everything but she was running late on picking Emily up from school: something happened at the office or a customer was on the phone passed closing, either way, it was entirely unnecessary for her to have to stay. But that was only hindsight speaking. At that moment she didn’t have a choice: she couldn’t lose her job.

Emily waited on the steps of her school for twenty minutes before a teacher approached her and asked if she was OK.

“Yeah,” the teacher recalled her saying. “Mom’s just working late, is all. She texted me.” Mr. Peters remembers Emily showing him her cellphone with pride. He wished he had sat on those steps with her and waited. But he had a wife and two baby twins to get home to. They could have waited if it meant… saving her. He told himself this with guilt but again, that was only hindsight speaking.

When Heather pulled up in her car and looked at the steps, only ten feet from the school’s doors, she hadn’t seen Emily. A small flicker of worry touched her heart but it always did; living with anxiety was life-altering but she had learned to shove the “unfounded” and “unrealistic” thoughts—as her therapist called them— of worry down and out of her mind. She walked up to Emily’s classroom to find the door shut and the light off. She checked her phone to see if her seven-year-old, who only had a phone because of her own anxiety, had texted her. Nothing since Heather’s text:

“I’m on my way”

And Emily’s reply was:


Heather began walking a bit brisker now toward the front desk. On the way she texted Emily:

“Here! ❤️”

“Hi Mrs. Coughlin,” the secretary said as Heather reached the office. Heather sighed a bit at the thought of being known by name for the number of times she had been late.

“Hi, Cheryl,” she said with a wide smile that showed well-kept teeth. Unbeknownst to her, when Heather smiled it showed the black semi-circles under her eyes very clearly. “Do you know where Emily is waiting for me?”

“I’m sorry, I haven’t seen her.”

The thought did begin to scare Heather. Her heart was racing a bit more. She looked down at her cellphone and saw no reply from her daughter.

She called. No answer. She called again. No answer.

Heather walked/ran to the girls’ bathrooms to see if Emily was there. Nothing.

Now panicking, even more, she returned to the office and asked Cheryl to page her over the PA.

“I’m just about to lock up, but OK.”

Heather ran outside back to where she had parked her car, just in front of the steps. She could hear Cheryl’s raspy voice fill the halls as she left the building.

“Emily!” Heather yelled out. She waited to hear anything. Nothing. She called Emily’s phone again. No answer.

She sighed and groaned at the same time. The groan was strained as she could barely breathe. She was having a panic attacked. She sat down on the steps, breathing rapidly and in short breaths.

“She’s not here, Heather.” Cheryl was standing in the doorway and sounding a little worried. “Maybe she went home with Jazmyn Phillips again.”

Heather looked up, taking her head out from in between her knees. “Of course!” she said to herself. “Heather, you’re such a freak!” She searched her phone for Alex Phillips, Jazmyn’s father. She tapped on his name and listen to the ringing keenly. “Why would she do this, again? She knows protocol!” Emily had done this in the past but Heather immediately discouraged the idea. She needed to know where Emily was and when she was at all times; it was a requirement of her anxiety.

“Hey, Heather!” Alex responded in an almost too enthusiastic voice.

“Alex. Hi. Is Emily there?”

“Uh… no, she didn’t come home with Jazmyn.”

“Oh no…” Heather said this out loud in a very silent and high-pitched voice as she lifted her hand to cover her trembling mouth.

“Are you OK, Heather?”

“I…” her pride got in the way. She didn’t need help. She wouldn’t lose her daughter. She’s fine. And then her anxiety shoved aside her pride. “I can’t find Emily.”

“Oh boy… Um… you should call the cops, Heather”

“No, no. It’s not a—“

“This is what we pay them for, hun.” Heather hated hearing that word from another man. She knew he wasn’t saying that because of a cultural difference. Alex called her that because he was single and Heather’s husband was absent. She had never nor would never encourage him calling her that.

“OK, thanks.” She hung up the phone and then stared at her dialling pad for a while. Finally, with Cheryl now standing next to her, she called.

“911, state your emergency.” The feminine voice answered only one ring after and said that line as if it were a question.

Heather sighed through her weeping.

“It’s my daughter.”