I never expected to be in this position so soon, saying goodbye to my son…
Forcing a smile, I reminded myself that this wasn’t goodbye, really. Brandon was just going camping overnight in Chenango Park with his father, Kirk. Besides, Kirk had promised to have Brandon call tonight to check inbefore he went to bed.
I should be thinking about how to pamper myself for the first time in five years instead of sitting here worrying…
Glancing up into the rearview mirror, my eyes widened in horror at the sight of Brandon’s bag peeking out from behind a trash can. I threw open my car door, scrambled out, and ran for the bag. Ripping down the zipper revealed not just the clothes I packed so lovingly, but also my cell phone that I’d loaned Brandon.
I’d put the bag in Kirk’s SUV myself. Someone had taken it out, deliberately, and set it here, and I was pretty sure it hadn’t been Brandon.
Kirk’s black Forrester had left a good ten minutes ago.
I darted back towards my car with the bag, already dialing 911.
I parked my Prius, then shut the cell phone off, furious. The police had said that Kirk didn’t have so much as a parking ticket, and had toldme to go home and relax. Not likely. Relations with Kirk had been strained since our divorce. He’d fought hard for custody of Brandon. But so had I. After Kirk lost, he’d bitterly sworn revenge. Lucky for me, it had been in front of the judge, who had added the stipulation that Kirk get anger management counseling onto his supervised visitation ruling.
My ex-husband had attended the required counseling sessions without fail. After, Kirk had apologized, saying he’d overreacted. He’d been the model dad these past few months, which had led to the judge approving this camping trip when Kirk petitioned for it.
God…what if they hadn’t come here at all? Kirk could have taken Brandon anywhere.
I gripped the steering wheel with white fingers and tried to remain calm. Not only did I need to find my son, I desperately needed some help to locate their camping site. The best place for that was the park office, only a few feet away. I pasted a smile on my face, then got out, walking quickly to the building.
A woman manned the desk, texting busily.
“Hi,” I said, forcing my tone to be light and easy. “I hope you can help me. My husband and son are here, and they forgot his bag. Can you point me to their campsite?”
“We don’t require names for camping, Ma’am—”
I resisted the urge to shake her. “Can you give me any help at all?”
“I can.” A tall park ranger stepped out of the back room, flashing me a friendly smile. “A father and son just came in and asked for our best campsite—”
I squinted at the tiny nametag on his uniform. “Thanks, um…Art. Can you guide me there, please?”
He nodded. “Sure can. Come on.”
Ten minutes later, we pulled up at a secluded campsite with a flickering campfire and—to my absolute relief—Brandon.
I jumped out of the car, and grabbed him in a hug, blinking back tears. “Brandon.”
He hugged me back. “I’m glad you’re here, Mom. I couldn’t find my bag to call you, and Dad’s been saying some strange stuff—”
Kirk came out of the thick trees in front of us, his expression murderous. “What the hell are you doing here, Lisa?”
“What are you doing with those berries, sir?” Art asked pointedly, gesturing to the nightshade sprigs clutched in Kirk’s left hand.“Those are poisonous.”
Kirk colored, dropping the plants. “Nothing, just giving Brandon a nature lesson—”
“That’s not what you said!” Brandon accused loudly. “Yousaid we was gonna go to Heaven and be together forever—”
Horrified vindication flooded me. I took a step back, shielding Brandon with my body even as I kept my gaze trained on Kirk. “You stay away from my son!”
Kirk charged. “You’re not taking him away from me again, you bitch!”
Brandon screamed as I bolted for the car. I was halfway there when the sound of flesh hitting flesh and a grunt of pain made me stop and turn, just in time to see Kirk crumple.
Art shook his right hand, grimacing as he opened and closedhis fingers. “Haven’t done that since high school.” He took his cell phone outand dialed 911. “Yes, please send an officer to Chenango Park. Campsite 53.” He paused, then cast a glance at Brandon and I. “Attempted homicide. Yes, I’ll hold the line until you get here.” Art began reciting his name and information.
“Why was wrong with Dad?” Brandon asked me. “He’s been weird ever since we got here. Did he eat some of those bad berries?”
“I’m not sure,” I answered evasively. Kirk might well have already eaten the berries, but he likely was planning to wait and make Brandon eat them first. “He’s sick, honey. He’s likely going to have to go somewhere for a while to get better.”
“I don’t want him to go away forever,” Brandon sniffled.
I looked over at Kirk, laying in last year’s leaves, out cold. But he was willing to take you away from me forever. “I’m sorry, honey.”
The wail of a siren rang though the trees, steadily getting louder.
“That’s them,” Art said, putting his hand on my shoulder.“Why don’t you two wait in the car for now? I can watch your husband—”
“Ex-husband,” I corrected wearily.
“Ex-husband,” Art echoed. “He’s not going anywhere. Once you tell them your side, you can take your son home.”
I nodded, flashing a tired and grateful smile. “Thanks.”
“Are we going home now?” Brandon asked hopefully.
I hugged Brandon. “Soon, honey. Say goodbye to your daddy now. You won’t be seeing him again for a long time.”
©2012 Tara Fox Hall
Tara Fox Hall’s writing credits include nonfiction, horror,suspense, action-adventure, erotica, and contemporary and historical paranormal romance. She is the author of the paranormal action-adventure Lash series and the vampire romantic suspense Promise Me series. Tara divides her free time unequally between writing novels and short stories, chainsawing firewood, caring for stray animals,sewing cat and dog beds for donation to animal shelters, and target practice.