Skipping steps as she was flying down the stairs, Grace yelled, “Coming! I’ll be out in two minutes!” Her sentence was cut off by the front door slamming shut, as her parents and older brother, David, hurried out of the house and into the car. Christmas with the cousins was a usual tradition, and Grace loved spending time with her family, but she loved spending time looking in the mirror as well. The car horn beeped loudly outside. Grace took one quick look in the mirror in the foyer of the house, then dashed out the door.
Grace sat comfortably next to her older brother in the back of the car, her parents both in the front, and they were on their way to Easton, Pennsylvania. They only lived around 45 minutes or so away from Easton. Bridgewater, New Jersey is closer towards the Pennsylvania side anyway. Grace peered out the window and stared at the wintry roadside, piles of hardened brownish-white snow covered the sides of the streets and highways. Grace glanced over towards her mother, Jen, when she noticed that she was twiddling her thumbs and biting her lip nervously, almost anxiously.
“Mom,” Grace poked, “What’s up?” Grace’s mom jumped a little upon hearing her name, snapping out of whatever trance she was in. She immediately turned around and just stared at Grace and David for a while. David then peered over to Grace and gave her a look of slight concern.
“Nothing,” the kid’s mother finally responded. “It’s just, I don’t like the area that we are going to that much. I grew up in Easton, it wasn’t the greatest. I know you kids have lived ere for a few years too, but I didn’t have pleasant memories here. It’s not that safe. That’s all.”
Without hesitation, David chimed in, “But Mom, we go there to see Uncle Kyle all the time? Why is it just hitting you now that the place isn’t good? We are a lot older now… you really don’t need to worry about Grace and I. She’s 18 and I’m 24…” David trailed off, realizing he was just babbling on for no reason. His mother was already turned around, not paying attention to him anymore.
It wasn’t long until the family arrived in Easton. There was snow on the ground, mini flakes falling from the sky, and the tiny sliver that was the moon poked out from some foggy clouds as the sun began to slowly go into hiding for the night. Everyone got out of the car and went to the trunk to grab a gift to carry inside the house. The family all trailed up to the front door, one after the other in a single file line. Nick, David and Grace’s father, rang the doorbell and took a step back. After 20 seconds or so, they could hear footsteps running towards the door, the latch being unlocked, and then the door swung open. On the other end of the door was Uncle Kyle, arms wide open with a big smile plastered on his face. Aunt Cathy emerged from the kitchen, her cooking apron still on, and joined Uncle Kyle in his warm embrace with the family. Kyle and Cathy’s two children, Jeff who is 18, and Kelsey who is 23, also came from upstairs and joined everyone else. As everyone got comfy, Jeff and Kelsey asked Grace and David if they all wanted to go to the basement to chill, before dinner was ready. They agreed and soon, the adults were left upstairs.
The basement was the usual hangout place for the kids. It was very comfortable down there. The carpeting was soft and plush, there were a couple of couches, there was a ginormous flat-screen down there, and even a bar. Kelsey and Grace sat on one couch and began to chat away about the usual; boys, clothes, makeup, drama. David and Jeff sat on the couch opposite the others and looked at their phones while also chatting away. It was the typical cousin meetup that happens once every year, and only on special occasions.
The whole family gathered again at the dinner table, but as soon as dinner was over, they secluded themselves yet again. Grace was heading back down the stairs to go in the basement when she suddenly remembered that her phone charger was left in the car.
“Hold on guys, I’ll be back. I’m going to run to the car real quick. I left my phone charger in there,” Grace explained. The other kids nodded and continued down the stairs back to their usual area. Kelsey headed towards the couch her and Grace sat on earlier and scrolled through Instagram while waiting for Grace to return… but time had slowly passed. It had been almost 10 minutes and Grace still hadn’t come back down in the basement. The first one to say anything was her cousin Jeff.
“Guys, what’s taking Grace so long?” Jeff questioned. Slight worry took over his voice. “Is she upstairs talking to the parents?”
“No, I didn’t hear the front door open again,” Kelsey exclaimed.
“Maybe she slipped on ice outside or something and got hurt… and I also didn’t hear her come back inside. Let’s go check on her,” David suggested. All three of the kids marched up the stairs in a hurry. “Kelsey, you go check upstairs and see if she went up there. Jeff, you go check the backyard, I got the front,” David asserted. “Mom, Dad! Did you see Grace?”
“No, she went outside to get her charger, why? Did she not come back inside?” David’s father, Nick, questioned. Kelsey interrupted by bolting down the stairs and claiming that Grace was not upstairs.
“Oh f***,” David whispered under his breath. Panic settled in and everyone, including the parents all got up from their seats and began running around frantically. Then, the front door busted open. Jeff, pink faced and shivering, explained with a frantic and fast voice that Grace wasn’t outside. Uncle Kyle and Aunt Cathy grabbed flashlights and their car keys while David’s Mom and Dad grabbed their car keys as well.
“Where the f*** did my daughter go? Who took my daughter!” Nick began to raise his voice. He sounded shaky and scared, something David had never witnessed in his father before. “Everyone, take a flashlight and your car keys. We have to split up. Cathy and Jen, you take one car and drive around the neighborhood. Kyle, you and me can go on foot and check neighbors yards. Kelsey, Jeff, and David, you take my car and drive around the area and tell me if you see any suspicious people or cars.” Kyle and Nick both opened the front door, and took off on foot in search for Grace.
Just then, after catching his shaky breath, Jeff blurted out that he saw a car drive away just as he opened the door to check where Grace was. “I saw a car…” Jeff paused to gather saliva in his dry mouth. He took a few deep breaths and started again. His voice was trembling, and he began to speak faster and louder with each sentence. “I opened the door to check where Grace was… I went down to towards the cars and then I saw a white sedan, it looked like an old Camry or some s***, and it was stopped at the opposite end of the street. As soon as I looked over at the car, they sped off. I f***ing ran, I ran as fast as I f***ing could after them, I know they have Grace, I KNOW THEY DO. THEY F***ING HAVE HER,” Jeff broke down and couldn’t catch his breath. David ran over to Jeff to comfort him, but to also ask more questions.
“Jeff, listen, it’s not your fault. You couldn’t catch them, you were on foot, they were in a car. We’re going to find Grace, even if it f***ing seems impossible. I’m not letting anyone take my little sister from me,” David explained. As he said that, Jen began to sob and Cathy took her into her arms. “Did you get any other description of the car or anything?” Jeff just shook his head, unable to formulate any words. Everyone gathered their belongings, put on their coats, and went on a man hunt. Seven people looking for one girl. Looking for one car. Looking for one kidnapper.
“I know who it is,” Nick blurts out. “It’s that f***ing ex-boyfriend of hers! He drives a white sedan. He is a jealous son of a b****! I’m going to find this boy and murder him!”
Grace laid with her back on the seats of the white sedan. Her hands were tied behind her back, and her mouth was taped shut. The man in the driver’s seat was probably in his late 40’s. He had brown hair with a sloppy 5 o’clock shadow. He wore a tan flannel, medium wash jeans, and had a raspy voice. Tears stung in Grace’s eyes and they threatened to spill over. She was choking on her own sobs. She knew she wasn’t going to make it home alive. It all happened so fast. She reached for the phone charger, shut the car door and turned around, and then the man was right behind her and hit her over the head with a blunt force. He dragged her body away, into his car. He tied her up, and as soon as he placed her in the car, one of the boys emerged from the house and stared at the vehicle. The car quickly sped off, but the boy chased it down. He didn’t get very far, as the car turned a corner and disappeared into the distance.
“Don’t worry, there’s no need to be scared of me,” the man reassured Grace, although she knew that he was lying. He was trying to manipulate her to make her believe him and put her trust in him.
Grace squirmed around in the seat and then the car hit a bump, which sent Grace fly into the air. Then she heard crunching, and the car came to a slow stop. Her heart thumped in her chest like a drum. The man turned the engine off, swung his car door open, and climbed into the backseat with Grace, shut the door and then locked them. Grace began sobbing once again and screaming through the tape, which only came out as muffled whines. The man grabbed Grace by the shoulders and began to massage them, reassuring her that she would feel alright very soon.
“Don't whine, honey,” the disgusting man pleaded. “You sound just like your mother.” This is what caught Grace’s attention. She couldn’t breathe, couldn't move, couldn't comprehend what he had just said. How does he know Grace’s mother?
Nick and Kyle trekked on foot up and down each neighbor's lawn, not bothering to ask permission to snoop through their lawns. They were so frantic that they didn’t have any time to waste. There is a life on the line and there is no stopping. Nick whipped out his cell phone and dialed David’s number, asking if they found anything. David explained to him what Jeff had seen earlier. Nick stopped dead in his tracks and listened to each detail. He immediately hung up the phone and began to run. Kyle chased after Nick, not knowing what was happening. Nick kept running, and running. His legs ached and began to throb with so much pain, but he couldn’t stop. “Kyle,” Nick spit out, uneven voice and breathless. “Down the cul-de-sac… by the wooded area… I saw a wooded area from the top of your street...It’s down here right? I could have sworn I saw a f***ing white car down here when we f***ing first left the house. I looked over the cliff and saw it. It was parked at the end of the street near the cul-de-sac.”
Just as Nick finished his sentence, they approached the end of the street, wooded land visible a few meters ahead. It was getting very dark, very quickly. It seemed as though it was much lighter out just 5 minutes prior. The darkness only made it harder for the family to search because they wouldn’t be able to see things in much detail. The snow on the ground doesn’t help much either, considering the car they were looking for was white. Then, just as the two fathers were approaching the wooded clearing, Kelsey, Jeff, and David speed down the street in Nick’s car.
David unrolls his window and leans out, “Did you find anything?”
Kyle answers for Nick, “I was just about to ask you that.”
Kelsey interrupts from the back window, “It’s getting dark out, we have to hurry.”
“What the f*** do you think we’re doing Kelsey?” Jeff yells, clearly shaken and unstable.
“Knock it off you two, it’s your f***ing cousin we’re looking for! She could be f***ing dead. She could be crying, she could be cold dumped outside somewhere, she could be f***ing tortured for all we know...so stop f***ing…”
“WAIT, DAD, WHAT’S THAT?” Kelsey points towards the wooded clearing. It’s dark out so the only thing that they could see was the bright white snow on the ground. It was still snowing out too, so more and more snow piled up fast. But out in the clearing, hidden under a rising pile of snow, was a parked white toyota Camry. It was almost impossible to see, in fact, Kelsey was the only one to notice it.
“Oh my God,” David whispered under his breath. All of the guys and Kelsey took off on foot, and dashed straight to the hidden car.
“I’ll make you stop crying baby girl,” the man then grabbed Grace by the waist. “I remember your mother… would you like to know how?”
Grace couldn't say anything with her mouth shut, she didn't want to nod her head either. She kept quiet, but stared into this mans dead eyes.
“Well I’ll tell you anyway. Your mother was my love. The love of my life. I wanted her so badly. I pursued that damned woman, and she broke my heart… she filed a restraining order on me and moved away,” the man didn't seem like he was talking to Grace anymore, but rather, confessing. “I haven't stopped loving her. I knew exactly where she was going, exactly where she goes, and you certainly look just like your mother.”
All five of the family members ran through the snow and leaves, crunching on the hard white, icy ground beneath them. They all slowly and cautiously approached the abandoned looking car. Nick, Grace’s father peeped through the window, and without hesitation or warning, smashed through it with his elbow. Glass shattered everywhere and the man on top of Grace jumped, scared half to death. Nick unlocked the door from the inside, through the window, and grabbed Grace and pulled her to safety. David and Jeff ran over to Grace and carried her to their car which was stopped at the end of the road, right before the wooded clearing. Jeff stayed with her, but David cake running back to the car. Nick was punching the man, repeatedly. He had no mercy. Nick put all of his might into his fists and punched over and over at the man's head. Blood came gushing out of the man's nose.
“Nick, that's enough. Nick! Nick! Stop! Kelsey is calling the police, they're going to be here any minute!” Kyle shouted. Nick had stopped punching the man but lay stooped over him. David held the man down, just in case he tried to run away. Less than a minute later, both mothers arrived at the scene and came running towards the car. Jen observed the blood covered man, squinting hard. She gasped and fell to her knees.
“NO. NO NO NO. Not him! Dear Lord, Why!” Jen screamed out.
“What? Who Is this man? WHO IS HE?” Demanded Nick, furious and still raging.
“Nick… this is the man I had told you about. He is the one that stalked me when I was younger. He is the one I was in a relationship with a long while ago. He is my ex that I had told you about… the one that was psycho. He found me again, he found me! He found out my life, he found my daughter. He touched my daughter, MY DAUGHTER!” Jen was sobbing hard and shaking uncontrollably.
“Jen, she's okay. I mean, I don't honestly know if she is emotionally, but physically, she is okay. She is with Jeff in the car… the police are on their way,” Nick said, a bit calmer, but his face still fuming red.
Just then, in the distance a hazy blue and red flash came from the distance.
June 7, 2017