Thank God it’s Friday. That was the thought running through Faith McMann’s mind as the tires of her Camry rolled over the road toward home. Being a fourth-grade teacher could be exhausting. The best thing about her job was the children—looking into their eyes when they had an “aha” moment. The worst thing was everything else, including the overwhelming load of paperwork piled on the seat next to her: student assessments, evaluations, and homework to grade.
Faith kept her hands on the wheel and her eyes on the road, watching for the neighbor’s Chihuahua, since the dog had a tendency to dart out and head straight for her front tires. She then glanced in the rearview mirror at her children. Lara and Hudson, only fifteen months apart in age, were in the backseat singing along with Brittany of Alabama Shakes.
“Hold on,” they sang at the top of their lungs, hanging on to the last syllable until they were out of breath. They leaned toward each other, their heads touching. Her son caught her peeking, and he blushed. They were both growing so fast.
Lately Hudson had become fond of negotiating, whether it was bedtime hours or how many vegetables they put on his dinner plate. His mop of brown hair and his green eyes made most people comment on how much he resembled his dad. That much was true, but her son had the same boundless energy she’d had when she was that age. He loved running sprints and playing soccer, always on the move.
Lara, on the other hand, was the quiet one . . . much like her father. Those two liked to plan and analyze. They would both opt to jump off a bridge rather than run the length of the driveway or exert too much energy simply for the sheer pleasure of doing so.
It was three o’clock on Friday afternoon, warm for November. Her husband came home early on Fridays, and his black GMC was parked out front. Hudson would be turning nine tomorrow. Craig didn’t know it yet, but so far fifty people had responded yes to the birthday party e-vite she’d sent out. They were going to need a lot more hot dogs and hamburgers, which meant she needed to make a quick run to the grocery store. But first she would drop the kids off at home. If she brought them to the store with her, she’d never get anything done.
Faith waved at Beth Tanner, who lived in the second house on the left. Beth was an enigma of sorts. Nobody seemed to know much about her, and yet she’d lived in that same house since before Faith’s family moved in twelve years ago. As Beth watered her hydrangeas, she kept her eyes downcast, pretending she didn’t notice Faith driving by.
As she made a right onto her driveway, her shoulders dipped when she noticed that Craig had yet to cut the lawn for the party tomorrow. She pressed the button next to the sun visor. The garage door rolled open. She put the car in park and said, “Tell Dad I’m running to the store and I’ll be right back.”
The kids unlatched their seatbelts, jumped out of the car, and ran through the garage and into the house before the song ended. Faith sang along until the last verse, then sat there for a moment and soaked in a little peace and quiet. Working full-time and raising two young kids tended to make moments like this rare.
Her cell phone buzzed. It was her sister. “Hey, what’s up?” Faith asked.
“I’ll tell you what’s up,” Jana said. “Steve is driving me nuts! I quit drinking, I stopped devouring cake and cookies, but now he won’t let me lift anything heavier than a milk carton. This baby is going to be born stressed out if he doesn’t chill.”
Faith smiled. Her sister was a drama queen. “What time will you be coming tomorrow?”
“Oh, my God, I forgot about the party.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Faith said. “You were supposed to make six dozen cupcakes. Do you know how much I still have to do before—”
Her sister’s laughter cut her off midsentence.
Faith sighed when she realized Jana had been joking about not making the cupcakes. “That’s not funny, Jana.”
“You’re such a dweeb. How could I possibly forget to make six dozen cupcakes when you’ve reminded me every single day for the past two weeks?”
“I don’t know, but I have to go.”
“Wait—Have you told Craig the news?”
“He’s been busy with work—and, you know, bills stacking up, new tires for the car, busted water heater last month. I haven’t found the right moment to tell him about baby number three.”
“He’ll be thrilled. Don’t wait too long, OK?”
“Don’t worry, I won’t.” Faith disconnected the call and was about to head off for the store when she remembered the grocery list hanging on the refrigerator. She left her purse in the car and climbed out. Weaving around toys and bikes, she headed through the garage door into the kitchen, where it looked as if a tornado had swept through the house. Kitchen drawers had been left open. Papers and broken dishes were scattered across the floor.
Her heart raced. What is going on?
Just as she was about to call out her husband’s name, she stepped into the family room and saw Craig on the floor, bound and gagged.
A man she didn’t recognize hovered over him.
The scene before her made no sense.
Her heart pounded in her chest, making it difficult to breathe as her gaze darted around the room.
And then she spotted them.
Lara and Hudson sat together on the couch. Their hands had been duct-taped behind their backs. More duct tape covered their mouths. Another man stood close by, watching over them.
Time stopped as she tried to figure out what to do. Craig always said they should buy a gun, but she didn’t want to keep one in the house. Eyes wide, she looked at the knife drawer. Grab a knife? Or run and alert the neighbors?
The two men exchanged a glance. Their eyes said it all.
She turned and ran.
If she could get inside the car and lock the doors, she could honk the horn or drive the car right through the wall and into the house if she had to. That might get one of the neighbors’ attention.
She flew through the back door leading to the garage and screamed at the top of her lungs before someone grabbed her from behind, twisted her around, and brought her face up close to his.
“Where is it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said as she struggled to get free.
He sneered. His eyes were bloodshot, filled with desperation. He smelled of stale tobacco. Strong arms held her in place. She thought of every show she’d ever seen on getting away from an assailant, but fighting him was useless. “Let us go!” she cried.