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It felt like hours had passed before I peeled myself out of the chair in our living room. My body ached and I felt hollow and strangely hungry, though the hunger pains were quickly replaced by nausea brought on by the idea of actual food. The room was empty now except for me. Our parents had skittered off to various parts of the house to run their fingers over objects and dab at their eyes with wrinkled tissues; nothing productive, nothing helpful.
Yet I couldn’t bring myself to feel anger at their blaming of me, or even at their unwillingness to make frantic phone calls or attach eight-by-tens of Lily’s face to utility poles. The police had promised to explore every possible lead, comb through every area of town. They felt small and helpless, so instead they shrunk into corners and pointed fingers until someone else could make it all better; and slowly, reluctantly, I accepted that it was all I could do, too.
I spent the next few days like a child feeling for a new, comfortable routine: wake, shower, dress, eat (maybe), make a phone call grasping for updates. The other end of the line was always the same officer, sighing in the same way, feeding me the same empty words he likely presented to all families of cases that seemed to be going nowhere.
I’d already scanned Lily’s side of the sheets at least fifty times, sifted through her end of the closet, checked under the bed; I had no idea what I was hoping to find, maybe a clue, maybe my sanity. I retraced her usual jogging route, sat again where I’d curled into myself and released a siren in the underbrush. When the sun had fallen and risen so many times I’d lost count I found myself scooping toast crumbs into a zip lock bag, the ones beneath the toaster left from her breakfast the morning she disappeared; crazy, grieving things.
It was a Wednesday when the phone rang with forcefulness, a tone of urgency I hadn’t heard before. I was in the bedroom closet dusting Lily’s endless collection of shoes when it began, and something told me to drop everything and rush downstairs before the answering machine – that still chirped her voice – chimed in.
I was slightly breathless after a mix of inhaling cleaner and rushing down the staircase. I knew who it was before the voice on the other line even started.
“Mr. Hamilton, how are you?” Standard, even though we both knew the answer.
“Fine, Detective, thank you.”
A pause pulled taught, longer than usual. My knuckles whitened around the phone. Deep breaths from his end.
“We have someone here who claims he knows what happened to Lily.”
I stumbled backwards, slid helplessly down the wall, pulled my knees to my chest.