When the Prius finally cleared the corner of their street, the first thing Lainie saw were the flashing police lights, strobes of blue and red cutting through the darkness and slicing right into her heart. The second thing she saw was the crime scene tape, garish and yellow and completely unreal. It blocked off access to their home—their home, which was supposed to be a safe haven for their children but was now a commotion of sheriff’s deputies, police officers, and a growing crowd of neighbors and reporters.
Lainie ignored them all. Matt had barely stopped the car before she was jumping out of the passenger side door and rushing forward, desperate to find her sons. Clay. Justin. They would be inside, shaken but whole. Stressed, maybe, but unharmed.
There was no acceptable alternative.
“Ma’am. Slow down. You can’t enter the premises.” A uniformed woman was pushing her shoulders, stopping her in her tracks.
“This is my house,” Lainie insisted. She kicked her high heels off impatiently. They were slowing her down and she needed to get up those steps as quickly as possible, to see her children’s faces and hold them in her arms. She would never let them go again.
“Let us in,” Matt barked, appearing beside her. Not waiting for a response, he grabbed Lainie’s elbow and propelled her up the stairs. The deputy, face terrifyingly sympathetic, didn’t impede them but followed in their wake to the front door, which was standing wide open. It was ominous, but it wasn’t as disquieting as the strong scent which hit Lainie full in the face when she stepped over the threshold.
Why does it smell like gasoline? Why? Why?
“Clay! Justin!” Lainie weaved her way through the maze of strangers in her house. (Don’t focus on them. Don’t focus on them.) She searched for two familiar brown heads of hair in this chaos, for the only two people who would allow her to finally inhale.
She didn’t find them.
What she found instead, when she entered the living room, froze her instantly, her bones snapping straight and her muscles seizing in place—a rigor mortis which prevented her from advancing any further. Matt bumped into her, his hand trembling for a second against her back, and then he edged around her. A soft gasp escaped his mouth.
There was blood (Whose blood? Oh God, whose blood?) staining their couch, little patches smeared on the seat cushion and a long streak on the side, as if someone had tried to pull themself up with a bloody hand. Evidence placards were scattered throughout the room. Lainie’s green vase was in pieces on the floor. And, finally, on the rug and expanding outward to the dark wood beyond was a large rust-red stain... a congealed puddle of blood.
Too much blood.
How could someone survive losing that much blood?
Lainie would have collapsed. She was halfway to doing so, but then Matt’s arms were encircling her, grabbing her firmly and preventing her from falling. She clutched at his sleeves.
A grim-faced officer approached them. “Matthew and Lainie Jensen?”
“Yes,” Matt said. “This is our residence. We have two children, teenage boys, and they were home tonight. Do you know where they are?”
Her husband’s composure further rattled Lainie. How was he not falling apart at the grisly sight before them?
“They’ve been transported to Mercy Hospital.”
“Are they okay?” Lainie curled her arms around her torso and dug her fingernails into her sides, leaning against her husband. “Please, you have to know something. Please.”
“I don't have any information, ma’am. Deputy Standall was the first officer on the scene, and he went with the ambulances to the hospital to get a statement. You can talk to him there. I’ll get an officer to escort you. Give me a minute. I’m very sorry, ma’am.”
He wouldn’t meet her eyes. Lainie nodded in confusion, incapable of a response. She tried to rationalize, to think logically. Clay and Justin... They had to be okay if they could give a statement. Right? Of course, yes. It would be fine. The boys would be waiting for them at the hospital.
Her gaze cruelly landed on a yellow crime scene marker. It was next to a bullet casing. Another casing lay a few feet away with yet another yellow marker. And... was that blood spatter?
She was wrong. She was so terribly wrong.
The officer would have let them know if their children were stable, if their injuries were only minor. No such assurances had been forthcoming because there must be some doubt, and the officer didn’t want to give false promises to a frantic mother and father.
“Matt,” Lainie choked out. “Matt, the boys.”
What came out of her next could only be described as an agonized, guttural scream.
The sound broke past Matt’s stoic barrier, hit him like a blow to the top of the head—sent him crumbling, pulling her down with him to the hard floor. She could feel him shaking, but no tears emerged. They couldn’t.
The shock was too intense.
How was it that just an hour ago they had been laughing at a fancy Italian restaurant, celebrating another successful year of marriage? Oblivious to the fact that, not twenty miles away, their sons were being terrorized by a specter from Justin’s past.
Seth. Lainie should have asked if they had caught the bastard, but it was hard to care at that moment. Not when she didn’t even know if she still had two living, breathing sons.
The noxious fumes in the air overwhelmed her. Bile rose in her throat. Lainie buried her face in Matt's shirt and wept.
Hold on. We’re coming.
Be okay. Be okay. Be okay.