In which Claire waits
“Claire, would you like a sleeping pill?”
“No, Alice, thanks. If something happens I want to be alert and ready to go.”
“Do you think you might sleep?”
“No. Listen, why don’t you go lie down on my bed. I’ll sit on the couch, and if I get tired enough to sleep I’ll just stretch out here. Please. If you stay up I’m going to feel the need to make small talk and I just can’t right now.”
“I understand. Thank you. I’ll go lie down but if my phone rings and I hear anything, I will let you know.”
“Have hope, Claire. I believe things will work out.”
Somewhere around three in the morning, Claire’s phone rang. “Ms. Grayson? This is Wanda Brennon. I’m the station master here in Spokane and we’ve all got a photo of your daughter. I showed it around and one of our security folks thought they remembered seeing someone who looked like her, but if she did pass through, she’s not here now. I don’t know if you’ve heard anything else, but I thought I’d let you know that.”
“Thank you. No, we haven’t heard anything else. I really appreciate the call.”
“Sure thing, hon. You sit tight. That girl of yours will get home. I’ll send up some good thoughts for you folks. Good night now.”
Anxiety and exhaustion had left Claire feeling abuzz, like she had had too much caffeine. She stared dully at the wall, doing everything she could to keep panic at bay. How had it come to this? How had her choice to keep an awful thing from her daughter led to such despair in her girl? Didn’t Emma know she was treasured? Didn’t she understand that Claire did it for her own good?
She began to cry, and didn’t stop for a long time. Finally, as the sky began to lighten, she stretched out on the couch and slept for two hours.
She awoke to the smell of coffee. O, blessed Alice, thank you, she thought.
“Good morning, Claire. Did you hear anything?”
“The station master in Spokane called and said a security guard there thought he’d seen someone who looked like Emma but she wasn’t at the station anymore. Other than that, nothing. You?”
“Not a word – yet. I saw you slept a little. What’s your plan for today?”
“I don’t know. I think I’ll shower and call Martha. And then I’ll check in with Trystene. And I know it’s too early, but I’ll call the police too.”
“Alright. Well, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go home to Garrett. Toledo will be your main contact for today. You have his number?”
“Yes. Thanks again for everything, Alice. I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through last night without you.”
Claire showered, took Rex for a walk, and left a new note for Emma. She got to the church at nine, and found Bill Carr and Trystene deep in conversation.
“Morning, Cl – oh my God, what is wrong?”
“Do I look that bad?”
“Listen, I need you two to come in. I have to tell you about something.”
They went into Claire’s office, and as they went in, Claire saw a note on her desk.
Mom – I’m really mad at you and I’ve gone to find Dad. Don’t try to follow me. I need to do this on my own. I will be fine. I took the emergency cash you keep underneath the hamburger rolls in the freezer. Pet Rex for me. I will call you when I’ve found Dad.
Claire showed the note to Bill and Trystene, and then she started talking. She told them about Emma’s dad, that he was not dead as far as she knew, but that he had abandoned them when Emma was a baby. She told them about her decision to lie to Emma and everyone else about him. She looked at Bill, and then she told Trystene about the saints, about the bulletin signals and the Prune Drop Cookies. She told them how betrayed she felt when she found out her best friend was part of the Saints, and how grateful she was because she knew there was a group of people doing what she couldn’t – look for Emma. She looked at Trystene, and told her Frank was one of the Saints too. And then she finished.
“Son of a bitch,” Trystene said. Claire looked surprised. Bill snorted. “That son of a bitch. He’s ten times worse than my ex. What an idiot, to leave you two. Claire, I am so sorry about all of this. You want me to ask Robbie to start looking for Emma?”
Then Trystene turned to Bill. “And you, mister. Messing up my bulletins on purpose? Making me look incompetent? Sneaking around this place like you own it? Claire, I can’t believe you didn’t fire his ass when you found out.”
“Believe me, I thought about it. Listen you two, I am glad for this distraction but I really need to go tell the police. I think we need law enforcement on this.”
“Do you want me to go with you?”
“Thanks, Trystene. I think I’d rather you stay here in case someone calls. But Bill, if you’re free, I would like some company.”
“Sure. If you don’t mind, I just need to finish up one quick thing with the boiler. Since I’m going that way, Trystene, would you like to see our secret lair?”
The three of them headed down to the boiler room. Claire made sure her phone was charged and the ringer at full volume.
“Claire? Do you want to show Trystene the tunnels? I just need to finish up one quick thing.”
Claire nodded, check her phone, and proceeded. She flicked a switch and the cinderblock hall was illumined.
“Nice,” said Trystene.
“Well, I will say the room is better than I’d thought it’d be. So here we –“
And there was Emma, asleep on couch.
Claire sank to her knees, head in hands. Trystene went back to tell Bill.
Claire stared at her daughter. She looked so at peace. Her backpack was on the floor. She had kicked off her shoes, but she still had her jacket on. Claire didn’t want that moment to end – Emma wasn’t mad at her, wasn’t complaining, wasn’t driving. She was asleep, innocent, safe.
“Emma?” Claire whispered.
Emma slowly blinked her eyes open. “Mom? What are you doing here? What is this place?”
Bill and Trystene came in. “I’ll call Alice,” Bill said. “Trystene, let’s give them a minute.”
“Mom, really, what is this place? Why is there this gorgeous room? I was trying to sneak out the tunnels.”
“Oh, Emma. You’ve got to stop scaring me to death. I am so damned tired I don’t know if any of this will make any sense, because even when I’ve had a full night’s sleep it doesn’t make any sense. St. Rahab’s is a hub for a group of angel spies. Alice and Bill Carr are the ringleaders. Martha is one of them, as is Toledo Vader who used to be Martha’s fiancé. They run around the world helping people according to the prayer of St. Francis.”
Emma stared at her mother. “Are you kidding me?”
“Nope. Let’s call Martha. She’s been worried sick too. She’ll verify what I just said. But we have to move because there’s no cell reception down here.”
As they made their way upstairs to Claire’s office, Claire gave Emma brief history of the Saints. She told her about stumbling into Bill and Alice that night, about the Prune Drop cookies, and about her own struggle with the good they did and the lies they told.
When they got to the office, Claire handed Emma her phone and told her to call Martha. Claire used the office phone to call Alice first, and then Toledo. She then emailed Amtrak and told them that Emma had been found. When she was done, she joined the conversation.
“Well, Martha, I guess the jig is up.”
“I guess it is. Emma, honey, can you forgive us?
“Okay, so, no. This is the second time in a month people I love have totally lied to me. Jeez, what do I have to do, run away to Mars?”
“I guess we deserve that. How about I come for a visit?”
“Let me think about it.”
Claire told Trystene she was going home to take a nap and write something resembling a sermon. Trystene got up, gave her a hug, and told her everything would be fine.
“I don’t deserve you, Trystene.”
“Oh yes you do. Now go get some sleep.”
When they got home, Emma and Claire curled up together in Claire’s bed. Rex jumped up and made himself at home. For the moment, all was well. Light in the darkness, Claire thought. Thank you.