Skip to main content



Safe Keeping

Chapter One


The words hovered in Emily’s mind.

She said them aloud, “My son is a murderer.”

But they sounded no more believable than when they were rattling around in her head. Why did her mind do this? Why did it conjure up the worst of her fears? One that was nei­ther logical nor possible? So far, like Tucker, the girl, Jessica Sweet, was only missing, not dead, and whatever more dire connection might exist between them was a figment of Em­ily’s overactive imagination, the result of too little sleep and too much worry. It was the uncertainty that was killing her. If only she could know Tucker was safe.

She stared over the foot of the bed, beyond the circle of lamplight, into new morning light that was as pale as a milky eye. Behind the closed bathroom door, the sound of the shower was a muted hiss. The sharp crease of light on the floor under the door assured her Roy was in there performing his morn­ing routine. Even in retirement, he was a man of routine, of habits that were as predictable as moonrise.

Heart thudding, she looked at the telephone on the night­stand near her elbow and then at the bathroom door. Was she prepared for what would happen if she went through with it, if she dialed 9-1-1? Was there time before Roy was finished? The sound of the shower clattered in her ears. She lifted the cordless receiver from its base.

Impossibly his fingers closed over her wrist. “Don’t, Em.”

Her gaze bounced. A breath went down hard. “Someone has to—”


“Tucker’s been gone almost two weeks, Roy. It’s not like him.”

“What do you mean? He pulls this stunt all the time, his damn disappearing act, and the hell with us left behind to worry.”

“But never for this long. I think we should call the police.”

“No,” Roy repeated.

“What if he’s been in an accident?” Emily asked. “What if he got mugged or someone took him? He could be lying somewhere hurt.” Her voice picked up speed; it caught on her panic. “He could have amnesia.”

“You’re making yourself crazy.” Roy sat beside her. “He’s making us both crazy.” Emily started to answer, but Roy talked over her. “He’s thirty-four years old, for Christ’s sake, a grown man. Why is he still living here? Why isn’t he out on his own?”

“He’s tried, Roy. You know he has.” Emily stopped. They’d had this discussion so many times; she knew it by heart. If she were to go on and say the rest of it, that some children took longer to grow up, that if they were patient Tucker would eventually find his way, Roy would say she was making ex­cuses. She would be moved to defend herself. They would go back and forth, making an endless loop of words that would resolve nothing.

He picked up her hand and met her gaze. The wan circle of lamplight silvered the gray bristle of his closely cut hair. With the tip of her finger, she traced a darker line of fatigue that grooved his cheek. He was exhausted from the stress; they both were. “I want some peace and quiet in our lives,” he said. “Is that so much to ask? Haven’t we earned it by now?”

“Yes,” she said. “And we’ll have it, you’ll see. When we find Tucker, we’ll sit down together—”

“God help us if it’s happening again, Em.” He looked hard at her.

But she wasn’t having it and looked away. “Don’t be ridic­ulous,” she said, even though only moments ago, she’d been in the same place, entertaining the same anxiety. She thought of reminding Roy that Tucker had been furious when he left, and given his mood, it wasn’t terribly unusual that he hadn’t called. He’d walked out angry any number of times before, and while it was true that he didn’t ordinarily stay away this long, it was still possible that was all this disappearance amounted to. Except it wasn’t, and something inside her knew it, knew that this time was different.

It was like a crack in the earth, imperceptible to the naked eye, but there all the same, a warning, an omen. Setting the phone receiver on the nightstand, she pressed her fingertips to her temples. “I want him home,” she said, putting her feet over the bedside. “I want to know he’s all right.”

“I think it’s a mistake to call this his home, Em.” Roy was in his closet now, pulling on a pair of jeans. “I think when he shows up, we need to set boundaries, set a concrete date that he has to be out of here. We’ve done all we can for him, more than most parents would.”

“It might be different if you wouldn’t lose your temper,” Emily said. “If you could give him the benefit of the doubt the way you do Lissa. If you could just—”

“Just what, Em?”

She didn’t answer; she was out of energy, suddenly past the wish to explain. She looked at the floor. If he’d been our first, he might have been our last. The old joke, one she’d heard other parents make, drifted through her mind. She didn’t find it particularly amusing even though she’d resorted to it on oc­casion herself. Would she have had another child had it been Tucker and not Lissa who came first? No one could have asked for a lovelier or more obedient child than Lissa, and Evan, the man she’d chosen for her husband, was a godsend. Emily and Roy relied on him, his steadiness, his kindness and good sense. Even Tucker seemed calmer and more content when Evan was nearby.

“What would you tell the police if you called them?” Roy emerged from the closet. “What evidence do you have—of anything wrong, I mean?”

“How do you know they don’t have him already?”

“We would have heard.”

“The girl who disappeared,” Emily began, because it was impossible, after all, not to voice the fear that was uppermost in both their minds, “the one everyone is looking for, Jessica Sweet, I think I recognize her name. What if Tucker knew her, dated her like he did Miranda?”

“Like I said before, God help us if that turns out to be the case.” Roy stuffed his shirt hem into his jeans and threaded his belt through the loops. “I’ll tell you right now, I can’t handle that again.”

The drama, Roy meant, the horrible way it had ended—in Miranda’s murder of all things. Emily picked at her thumbnail. She and Roy had welcomed Miranda Quick when Tucker first began dating her in high school; they’d grown fond of her. They knew her family from church, knew her to be a sweet girl, the very sort of girl Emily could imagine as a daughter-in-law, but after graduation Miranda changed, becoming rest­less and unhappy. She went out nights alone. Tucker had had no idea where she was or what she was doing, and when he found out, it devastated him. But he loved her, and he was determined to stay with her even after she proved herself un­worthy of his devotion.

He remained faithful, while Miranda broke his heart over and over. Emily had never felt so helpless and frustrated. Then, just when she thought it couldn’t get worse, Miranda went missing and Tucker was the one who found her body. A day later, the police came for him. They questioned him for hours. His picture was everywhere in the media; he was labeled a person of interest—in a murder investigation. How? Emily still couldn’t wrap her mind around it, how her son had become in­volved in something so horrifying. She blamed Miranda. Mi­randa was the cancer who had gotten her hooks into Tucker. She was the blight of their lives, and if it was possible, Emily believed she hated Miranda more now that she was dead, and she truly didn’t care if she went to hell for it.

Safe Keeping
by by Barbara Taylor Sissel