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Watching Tess

Tess Silvers is the most beautiful girl in the world, and she belongs to me. I can feel a silly little smile coming over my face as I watch her. She hasn't seen me yet, so her movements are natural, oblivious. Her feet hardly touch the ground as she dances through the woods, humming to the beat of her iPod. Tess is the sort of girl who never walks. She floats. She skips. She soars. I wonder sometimes if she was born an angel, sent to me as a heavenly gift.

I can remember the first time I met her. It was love at first sight. I was working in the grocery store, and she came right up to me. Her hair was down then, a golden brown waterfall, not tied up and held captive like it is now. She was wearing a white sundress and sandals. She always wears sandals. Her hazel eyes had sparkled as she looked at me, and her face was illuminated by a radiant smile.

"Do you know where I might find xanthan gum? I don't know what it is, but my mom insists she needs it for a recipe." She looked at me expectantly until I managed to stammer out an answer.

"I-I I think it's in with baking supplies, miss."

“Oh, thank you so much!" She bestowed another precious smile on me before dancing away, her hair flying behind her. I stood there, dumbstruck, staring after her in stunned silence. I had just found the love of my life.

Now I stand here, watching her again, and I'm the one who's smiling. It's time to let her know I'm here. I can almost see that radiant smile, that spark in her eyes as she runs into my arms. I will never, ever let her go.

***

The reporter stared out of the television, her botoxed brow furrowed in a practiced look of concern. "Eighteen-year-old Tess Silvers has been missing for three days now. She disappeared during a walk in the woods near her home in Canby. Her family says she walked every day, but was always home long before dark. When she didn't return on Friday evening they called 911. The police have discovered a man's footprints as well as a pair of binoculars not far from the trail where she walked, leading them to believe she may have been abducted. Her family and the police are both hopeful that Tess will be found alive, but with every day that passes the chances of recovering her dwindle. If you have any information, please call our tip line and help us bring Tess Silvers home."

***

I drape my arm carelessly over Tess’s shoulder, reveling in the sensation of her warmth at my side. We’re watching one of her favorite movies. I made us popcorn, but Tess doesn’t seem to like it. I make a mental note to remember not to make any in the future. I laugh at a joke on the screen, but Tess doesn’t even smile.

“What is it, love? You seem tense.”

She gives me an awkward, nervous smile. “I’m just tired,” her voice is barely more than a whisper.

I sigh; she seems to get tired a lot lately. Maybe she’s sick? That would explain why she hasn’t really smiled since that day in the woods. Maybe she caught a chill out walking... I fetch a blanket, wrapping it tightly around her and pulling her close.

“It’s alright if you fall asleep,” I murmur into her hair, “I’ve got you.” I frown; she’s shivering so hard her teeth are chattering. “Do you want another blanket?” She nods jerkily, and I press my lips to her forehead. “Poor baby, I’ll keep you warm.”

***

“Today the search was called off for missing Oregon teen Tess Silvers. Police have spent the last three months looking for her all over the state, but due to a lack of any leads, they have been forced to drop the search. The chief of police has assured us that should any new evidence come to light, the search will resume. However, they are not hopeful.”

***

I smile at Marcus when he comes through the door. He grins back, producing a bouquet of irises that he had hidden behind his coat. “I brought these for you.”

“Thank you,” I murmur, “They’re lovely.” I want to rip the petals out.

He looks pleased, “Is dinner ready?”

“Of course. I made lasagna; your favorite.” May you choke on it.

“That was so sweet, Tess.” He leans forward and kisses me. His lips are warm and gentle. I want to bite them.

I smile again, “It was my pleasure.”

He pulls out a chair, gesturing for me to sit. The chain attached to my ankle clanks as I take my seat.

“Would you like to say grace?”

***

Isabelle Silvers couldn’t feel anything anymore. Her movements were mechanical, habitual. The life she was living was just a vague echo of the one she had lived before. Her hands were full of posters with pictures of her daughter. They were so heavy. She took them with her everywhere, putting them up in cafès and tacking them to telephone poles.

It had been nine months, two weeks and four days since she had last seen her daughter. Her mind, logic, and her husband all told her that she would never see Tess again. Her heart told her that her daughter was still out there somewhere.

So she kept putting up posters.

***

I’m never going home.

The realization has been slipping into my heart and mind ever so slowly, but it is there. It doesn’t hurt the way I thought it would. I thought that I would feel wild despair if I ever gave in, but I don’t. I just feel tired. So very, very tired. Tired of pretending. Tired of hoping. Tired of living.

I can hear Marcus opening the door, I can hear him calling my name. A small part of me wants to answer him, but I’m too tired to move.

“Tess?” His voice is soft next to my ear, and his hands brush over my shoulders. “Are you okay?” I don’t answer. I don’t look at him. I feel as if a weight has fallen from me. I simply don’t care any more. I don’t care what he does. I’m not afraid anymore.

He kneels in front of me, holding my face in his hands. “Tess, you’re scaring me.” His voice is worried, and a little stern, but I don’t care. My eyes are very dry, but I don’t blink. Why should I? It would just use energy I don’t have.

“Tess! Talk to me!” He’s shaking me now, his face pale. I feel sorry for him, but it’s a vague sort of pity. He pulls me into his lap and I can feel his tears on my face, but I can’t hear his voice anymore. Everything is fading, colors bleeding away until all that is left are shades of gray. Soon I will feel nothing, and there is something comforting in that thought.

No more pretending, no more hoping, no more living. Just sleep.

I smile.

***

“After nearly a year, Tess Silvers has been found. She was discovered by a couple walking in the same woods she vanished from last autumn. She was lying so still that the couple thought she was dead. It was only after emergency responders arrived that the first police officer on the scene realized she was breathing. I have Sarah Cruz with me now; Sarah, can you tell us what you saw?”

The young woman was visibly shaken. “She was just lying there, really pale and not moving. She was wearing white and had flowers in her hands, like a bride. Only she looked dead. I thought she was dead, so I screamed. I just kept screaming until Luis grabbed me. He was holding me, trying to calm me down, but all I could think of were her eyes. They were open wide and she was smiling. Smiling, like she was happy.”

The camera cut to the reporter again, “Tess Silvers was taken to Memorial Hospital last night and is in guarded condition. The police have said that she appears to be in a state of shock and hasn’t spoken to anyone. There are still no clues as to who abducted her eleven months ago.”

***

I watch the news with bated breath, anxiously hanging on every word.

“Please get better, Tess. The doctors can have you for now, but you have to get better so you can come back to me. I’m waiting for you, love. I will wait forever if I have to.”



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