The monitor crackled to life, Liam’s voice filling the silence of their room. Maggie rolled toward the night stand and watched the tiny red lights dance with the rise and fall of his whine.
“Is it two o'clock or four?” Landon grunted from behind her.
“Ten bucks if you go.”
“But he wants you.”
“You don’t know that. Maybe this time—“
As if on cue, Liam’s whine took form, the drawn-out vowels of “mama” pulling Maggie from her bed. For several weeks, her son had intermittently awakened in the middle of the night, crying for his mother. Though she knew he would continue to beckon her if she continued to respond, she lacked the self control to lie in bed and listen to her child cry.
As she walked across the house to Liam’s room, she averted her eyes from the stacks of laundry she had neglected to put away after dinner. It would be difficult enough to go back to sleep without obsessing over her unfinished housework.
Liam’s door was slightly cracked, just as she had left it after she tucked him in at eight. She pushed it open, reminding herself for the fourteenth time to oil the hinges.
“What’s wrong, Bubba?”
“I seen him, Mama.”
“You saw who, Liam? Something in your dream? Are you still scared from the dragon movie?”
“No, I not scared of dragon, Mama. I seen him. That man.”
“Baby, I keep telling you, the only man in the house is Daddy, and he’s sound asleep in bed.”
Lucky, she thought.
“He opened my door. He smiled at me. But I don’t like him.”
“Liam, you’re just having bad dreams. Everything’s okay. I’m here and Daddy’s here. You are safe, baby.”
“I wasn’t sleeping, Mama.”
“Honey, sometimes you dream about being awake. I know it seems real, but it’s not. There’s no one in your room.”
“Can I come sleep with you?”
“Do you really need to sleep in our room? Won’t you be crowded with Daddy and me?”
Liam didn’t say a word, but his eyes filled with tears as he shook his head.
She sighed. Bringing her four-year-old to bed with her would ensure that she wouldn’t sleep the rest of the night, but Maggie knew that it would be less exhausting than getting up and down for the next few hours.
“Alright, but we’re not making a habit of this. You’re a big boy now, okay?”
Liam climbed out of bed, his favorite truck in his hand and his blanket trailing behind him. He stopped as he reached the door and looked up at Maggie.
“Mama, you go first. Make sure that man is gone.”
Normally, Maggie would have talked to her son about the difference between his imagination and reality, but she was too tired to attempt logic with a pre-schooler. She opened the door, peeked out, and smiled down at Liam.
“All clear, buddy. Let’s go to bed.”
At some point between late-night parenting and her alarm going off, Maggie had fallen asleep. She woke up with Liam lying long ways across the bed, his feet propped against his mother’s side. She gently lifted his legs and repositioned him. He rolled onto his side, into the indentation left in the mattress by Landon. For a moment she considered closing her eyes and trying to rejoin her sleeping son, but she knew that it wouldn’t be worth the stressful morning of rushing and anxiety that it would produce. Maggie eased out of bed, hoping she could get a shower and maybe even dry her hair before the kids woke up. She had turned Landon’s monitor off when she brought him to bed, but she took Mia’s to the bathroom with her.
Maggie managed to start her shower before hurrying to the toilet. How drastically her morning ritual had changed with the births of her children. It hadn’t been that many years ago when she’d actually drink a cup of coffee and smoke a cigarette before her bladder beckoned. As she sat there, she ran through the agenda for the day. Liam to pre-school. Landon’s suits to the cleaners. Grocery store, pharmacy, post office. And all with an almost eighteen-month-old attached to her hip.
Maggie continued her schedule in the shower, making mental to-do lists while she washed her face and conditioned her hair. Wash Liam’s soccer uniform for Wednesday’s game. Confirm with the sitter for Thursday evening so that we can go to Tally’s book signing. Pick up a bottle of wine for dinner with Landon’s parents on Friday. Homeowners’ meeting on Saturday afternoon. Feed Tally’s dog on Sunday when she flies to Houston.
Maggie peeked into the bedroom as she dried off. Liam had rolled over but was still asleep. She closed the door as gently as possible and grabbed the dryer from the counter. As she flipped her head over, she noticed the two-week-old polish on her toes. She wondered if she might squeeze in a pedicure during the day. Would it be feasible for Mia to sit still that long?
She was still planning her day and week as she finished drying her hair and began getting dressed. As she fastened the hooks on her bra, she heard Liam on the other side of the door.
“Mama, I’m hungry.”
“Just a second. Mama’s getting dressed.”
Ignoring her, he opened the door.
“My tummy made noises.”
“You know, you have another parent in this house. Why don’t you go ask your dad to fix you a bowl of cereal?”
“He puts too much milk. I want you to get it.”
Maggie closed her eyes for a moment. Her morning had already been more productive than usual. It was only a little after seven. She was clean and dry. Why waste the extra time arguing with a hungry child?
“Listen, bubba, I’ll make you a deal. Go get dad to get your bowl and spoon and cereal for you. Then I’ll come to the kitchen in just a minute and pour everything, okay?”
“Only a minute?”
“Only a minute.”
Liam galloped from the bathroom, singing an impromptu song about cereal. Maggie dressed quickly and slipped on her house shoes. She grabbed a clip and pulled her hair from her face, hoping that she’d have a few minutes to style it before she left the house.
In the kitchen, Landon and Liam stood in the pantry door. Her husband was, as usual, aggravating their son, insisting that the high-fiber cereal would taste better than chocolate-flavored marshmallows in his normal cereal. Maggie set the monitor on the counter.
“You know, one of these days his curiosity will win out and he’s going to ask for my cereal. He’ll never trust you again when you tell him something tastes good.”
“Just part of my ploy to make sure he keeps calling for you at night.”
“So glad we’re on the same team here.”
Landon leaned over and kissed Maggie on the lips, his grin instantly eliciting one of her own. It had been almost ten years since they married. Their union hadn’t been perfect by any means, but Maggie’s favorite part of the day was still when the garage door opening would announce Landon’s arrival home from work.
She poured Liam a bowl of cereal and a cup of juice while Landon poured two cups of coffee.
“Big day planned?”
“Could be worse. Standard Mommy stuff."
“I should be off by 4:30. Need me to do anything? Pick up the dry cleaning?”
“Actually, I haven’t dropped it off yet. It’s been riding around in my backseat for a couple of days.”
“Woman, how much am I paying you again?”
“Obviously not enough or I’d do a better job at this domestic thing.”
Landon slid between Maggie and the counter, wrapping his arms around her waist and pressing his forehead against hers.
“Maybe we can discuss a raise tonight? After the kids go to bed? You can wear you sexy sweatpants.”
“Daddy, what are you talking about?”
Maggie giggled as she gently pushed away from Landon. She sat down across from her son, coffee in hand.
“We’re just talking about mommy and daddy stuff, Liam.”
Landon and Maggie exchanged a look as they tried to suppress their smiles.
“This one’s all yours, Mom. I have to get dressed.”
Maggie could hear Landon laughing as he headed toward the bedroom. She sipped her coffee for a few minutes and watched Liam pick the marshmallows from his bowl.
“You okay for a minute while I get sissy up?”
“Stay at the table and don’t make a mess, alright? I want to leave on time this morning.”
Maggie deposited her coffee cup in the sink as she left the kitchen. She passed Liam’s room and shook her head, wondering how long this nighttime phase would last and debating whether or not she should start slipping him a dose of Benadryl with dinner. At the end of the small hallway was Mia’s bedroom. Sweet, quiet, sleeping Mia. It was rare that her younger child woke her up at night or at any time for that matter. Barring the few fitful nights while she was teething and an occasional bout of illness, Mia was a champion snoozer. While Liam was a light sleeper who usually rose with the sun, Mia was like her mother—at least before children—she slept deeply and as late as possible. Maggie almost felt guilty each morning as she pulled her sleeping toddler from bed. She envied her child and hated to interrupt Mia’s peaceful slumber
Maggie eased the door open, hoping to wake her daughter as gently as possible. She turned down the volume on the noise machine only slightly as to not jar Mia awake with the sudden silence. She hummed a little morning song as she walked to the side of Mia’s crib.
“Oh me, Oh my, good morning, Mia…”
Landon was pulling on his socks when he heard Maggie calling him from the other side of the house, her voice distorted as it came across the monitor in the kitchen. He walked from the bedroom and met her as she entered the living room.
“Did you get Mia up?”
“No, I’ve been in the bedroom.”
“You didn’t get Mia up?”
“I said I didn’t get her up.”
Without another word, Maggie turned and ran toward the hallway leading to the children’s rooms. Landon followed her, the first low wail of an alarm sounding in his head.
“Maggie, what’s wrong? Where’s Mia?”
Maggie ignored him, increasing her pace until she crossed the threshold to their daughter’s room.
“Honey, talk to me. What’s going on?”
When Maggie turned, Landon felt his heart stop for a moment. His wife wasn’t one for theatrics or melodrama. He could only remember two times he’d seen her panic in their decade together. But the woman standing before him now was on the verge of hysterics. Her hands fluttered in front of her as she gasped for breath. One word found its way past her trembling lips: gone.
Landon looked into Maggie’s eyes as they silently begged for help. He put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed as if he was securing her to the spot where she stood.
“Honey, listen to me. She’s climbed out of her crib and is in the house somewhere, okay? You have to calm down and help me look. Check her closet and then check Liam’s room. I’m going to go back to the kitchen.”
Maggie nodded. Landon ran from the room, calling for his daughter.
“Mia? Mia, where are you, baby? You need to come here. Come drink your chocolate milk!"
In the kitchen, Liam still sat at the table.
“Daddy, I ate all my cereal.”
“Liam, have you played with Maggie this morning.”
“No. I ate my cereal, Daddy.”
“Son, listen to me. Have you seen your sister?”
Landon had tried to mask his fear but his control over his volume had betrayed him. Liam jumped from his chair and ran down the hallway toward his room. Landon wanted to pursue him but quickly decided he’d apologize once he found Mia. He continued his search, looking under tables and inside closets. He searched the kitchen, the living room, their bedroom, the bathrooms, calling his daughter’s name over and over. Over the monitor, he could hear Maggie doing the same across the house. They converged back on the kitchen at the same time. She was crying, her voice broken by her sobs.
“Did—did you find her?”
He didn’t have to answer. She could see his answer in his face.
“In his room.”
“Go get him. Take him across the street to the Brysons. I don’t want him in the house when the police get here.”
Landon and Maggie returned to their daughter’s room and waited for the next chapter of their nightmare to unfold. Landon sat in the glider, his hands pressed to his temples. An unnerving calm had overtaken him, and he wondered if he was going into shock. Maggie stood at Mia’s empty crib, her hands clutching the railing as she rocked back and forth. Landon looked at his wife and searched himself for some way to comfort her.
“We’re going to find her.”
Her body started to shake and she moaned as her chin dropped to her chest.
He stood and stumbled forward, reaching for Maggie. He eased her hands from the crib and turned her toward him. She resisted at first but he refused to let go. As the sobs overtook her body, she buried her face in his chest as she clasped his shirt in her fists. They stood there for several minutes, swaying in their desperate dance of grief.
Suddenly, Maggie grew quiet. She pushed away from Landon and staggered backwards. Her face contorted, overtaken by terror.
“Oh my God. Oh my God. No, no, no, no, no—“
“What, Maggie? What is it?”
She shook her head wildly, her hair falling from its plastic clip. Backing against Mia’s crib, she sank to the floor.
“No, no, no, no, no—“
Landon dropped to his knees and crawled to his wife. Her eyes were squeezed shut and her hands covered her ears.
“Maggie, listen to me. You have to talk to me! What is it?”
“No, oh God, no—“
He pulled her hands from her ears and cradled her face in his own hands.
“Baby, tell me. Tell me!"
Maggie opened her eyes and blankly stared at Landon. He touched her cheek, trying to open up whatever was inside her that she couldn't let out. He heard the sirens from the squad cars turning on their street as she whispered something he couldn’t understand.
"What is it?"
He leaned closer as she spoke again.
“The man. Liam saw a man.”