She Doesn't Know I'm Gone
It's nine pm on Friday and Ellen has finally reached home after her third late night at the office in as many days. As she approaches her apartment and digs in her bag for her keys, she nearly trips over a dark shape huddled in the door frame. Upon inspection, the shape turns out to be a sleeping girl, age perhaps twelve, slumped over and leaning her head against a backpack. Ellen hesitates, wondering what she should do. The girl gives a sleepy little sound, opening and closing her mouth. Then her blue eyes open wide, seeming to glow in the dark, and she fixes Ellen with a look that is so sharp and challenging it takes Ellen's breath away. She seems to dare Ellen to question her right to be here. And then Ellen realizes who this is. Who it must be.
"You remember me." The girl looks gratified.
"Of course. I – what are you doing here?"
She shrugs. "I ran away."
"And you came here?" Ellen is nonplussed.
"I thought you'd get it. 'Cause you, you know. You know her."
"Patty?" Ellen hasn't pronounced this name in ages. It feels funny on her lips.
Ellen feels very tired suddenly. She rubs her eyes with her hand. "Let's go inside, okay?" she says.
Catherine springs to her feet, and Ellen, who feels stiff and weighed down with stress and fatigue, tries to remember what it felt like to be that spry.
Ellen discards her belongings on the kitchen table. She takes a seat and Catherine follows suit.
Ellen turns to the girl with what she hopes is an adequately stern expression and says, "How did you get into the building? The doorman shouldn't have let you in."
Catherine smiles smugly. "I improvised."
"And where does Patty think you are?"
Catherine's face darkens. "Home. Asleep in my room. At least, she would think I was home if she thought about it. I don't think she thinks about me that much."
"Catherine, I'm sure that's not true."
"When she has a deposition coming up it's true. I can't remember the last time she even asked me how my day was."
Oh. This Ellen can easily believe. Her heart goes out to Catherine, but she knows it's her role to defend Patty in this situation, so she begins to, clumsily.
"Your grandma loves you very much, Catherine. She just gets… preoccupied."
Catherine rolls her eyes and says, "Skip it. Do you have anything to eat?"
"Of course. I have…" Ellen starts opening the cupboards, and realizes she doesn't have much. "Olives. Do you like olives?"
Catherine giggles. "That's all you have?"
"No," Ellen allows herself to sound annoyed. "There's some leftover lasagna in the fridge, I think. Do you want that?"
"Yes, please," Catherine, possibly reminded that Ellen could call Patty at any time, has suddenly remembered her manners.
Ellen finds the saran-wrapped casserole dish in the fridge. She tips the remaining brick of lasagna onto a plate and puts it in the microwave.
"Something to drink?" she says.
"Water is good."
Ellen hands Catherine a full glass and says, "Seriously. I should call Patty, right?"
"Seriously," Catherine mocks her, "she doesn't know I'm gone yet."
"So what's the plan?" Ellen says.
Catherine drinks the water. She wipes her mouth on her wrist and looks at Ellen hopefully. "Can I spend the night?"
Ellen considers. "You have overnight stuff in your bag?"
"It's okay with me if it's okay with Patty," Ellen decides. "Do you want to call her or should I?"
"I'll call her," Catherine says.
The microwave beeps.
"After I eat my lasagna I'll call her," Catherine amends. She raises her eyebrows at Ellen, waiting to see if she'll get away with this qualification.
Ellen simply nods, takes the plate from the microwave and sets it in front of Catherine, along with a fork and a napkin. "Careful," she says. "It's hot."
Catherine chews, and she and Ellen eye each other curiously.
Catherine has been missing for five hours. No one has seen her since she left school. Patty has stopped crying by now, but when she speaks, her voice sounds hoarse to her own ears.
"You're saying she definitely didn't get in a cab?"
Detective Huntley nods. "Well, no cab driver picked her up near her school. If she walked to another neighborhood, or if she took the subway and then took a cab, we should hear about it by morning."
"By morning." Patty can't help it, her eyes well up again.
Detective Huntley is giving her a probing look, and she knows he is deciding whether or not to say something.
"What is it?" she says.
"I'm curious. This fight you had with your granddaughter…"
"It wasn't a fight."
"Right… But you did say, didn't you, that she was angry with you when she left for school this morning…"
"Yes," Patty says.
"Any idea why that might have been?"
"This conversation isn't helping us find Catherine," Patty says testily.
"Right. Sorry, of course. It's just… sometimes… knowing what was on a missing person's mind is sometimes helpful."
Patty still doesn't look ready to spill her gut, so the detective changes tacks. "Tell me something," he says. "You think Catherine ran away, don't you? And she's safe somewhere?"
"Yes," Patty says. "She's smart."
"But none of her friends, her teachers, anyone she knows… no one has seen or heard from her. I think… twelve years old… in a case like this, we might have to start considering… alternatives."
Patty looks at him through her tears and doesn't say that she's been considering alternatives for the last five hours. She just gulps and nods.