By: Mandi Burnison

Disclaimer: This is a short story I wrote for a class I took in the spring. I got the idea for the plot from a friend’s Pinterest board. I know this isn’t perfect, but I’m sure it’s entertaining.

They were going to be gone all week. My dad packed their suitcases and rushed out of the house. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to my mom because she was at work when he left. He was wearing khaki shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. The shirt was covered in blue and pink flowers, which did not compliment his pasty skin tone at all. I’d assume they’re going somewhere tropical, but everything is a mystery with my dad. He likes mysteries. They’re the only movies he’ll watch and books he’ll read. My mom is different. She’s loud and full of energy, but like my father, she like mysteries. Her long brown hair is as straight as a pin and it’s always a mystery what she is going to do it with it in the morning. The more I think about it, the more I realize she might have known about my dad’s flee. She was wearing a sundress this morning. Not overly tropical, but definitely something someone would wear on a beach vacation.

Where are they going? And how dare they not tell me?

It took me awhile to figure out what to do while they were gone. The only thing that told me they’d be gone for a week is a note on the kitchen table. It was written in chicken scratch. I could tell my dad quickly scribbled on the piece of paper as an afterthought. It was underneath a wad of cash and the daily newspaper. The note was practically hiding. Hell, I didn’t even get a text or phone call from them. Were they running away for a week?

It was spring break, so I didn’t have to worry about going to school at all. I could throw a raging party if I really wanted to, but it’s not my style. I could have a few friends over and watch movies, but we do that every month. I wanted to think of something different that I could do. I didn’t want to do any typical teenager thing like having my boyfriend over when my parents aren’t home. He’d like that. My boyfriend, that is. Honestly, the thought of having him stay over didn’t really cross my mind. Seth and I have been together for almost two years now. We fell in to a routine of when to get together and where to go. We’re happy.

My phone buzzed. I was so deep in thought that I nearly screamed when I felt it. It was a text from my best friend Betsy:

Saw your dad leave in a hurry. Looked like he was late for a flight. You didn’t tell me that he was going on vacation.

I responded:

Because I didn’t even know. Mom’s gone too.

I grabbed the jar of peanut butter off of the counter and a clean spoon from the diswasher. I sat down on the oversized, fluffy couch in the family room and turned on Netflix. I am halfway through How I Met Your Mother, and my goal is to finish by the end of spring break. I started to dig into the peanut butter jar when Betsy texted me again:

I’ll be there in 10. Grabbing food on my way.

I didn’t invite her over.

Betsy shows up to my house in half an hour. She is wearing ripped skinny jeans with a pink t-shirt. Her short lilac hair is pulled back into a little nub on the back of her head. She has a room temperature fast food chain pizza in her hand. It’s Hawaiian pizza, the only pizza her and I eat.

We bond over that pizza. The first time we met each other was in first grade when we went to a birthday party for a mutual friend we no longer speak to. There was a table the size of a stretch limo with different pizzas on it. Both of us were intrigued by the Hawaiian pizza, we went for the same slice and our hands touched. Romantic, huh? We’ve been best friends ever since.

We sat down at the grody antique kitchen table. I grabbed paper plates and tossed them on the table before getting two glasses and two cans of soda.

“Woah, is this for you?” Betsy was eying the wad of cash on the table.

“I’m not sure, but I’ll use it anyways.”

“So you don’t know-”

“No. I don’t know where they went or how long they’ll be gone.”

“You should-”

“I’m not throwing a party. That’s not my thing.”

“That’s not what I was going to say.” Betsy started her third slice of pizza. “You should have Seth over. Spend some quality time together. No one’s going to be home, maybe you two could…” She raised her eyebrows up and down like a madman.

“I want to wait.” I rolled my eyes. This was so typical of her. She always insisted that I take advantage of times when I’m home alone. She’s never had a serious enough boyfriend to be able to do that. MAybe she’s just jealous.

“At least watch a movie together or something.”
 “Fine,” I said as I pulled my phone out of my pocket. I texted Seth and asked him to come over. I didn’t want to say no one was home because him and his little friend would get a little too excited and try something.

Seth was over within the hour and Betsy left as he was pulling into the driveway. He had a huge smile on his face, and when he got out of his car, I could tell that he had roses in his hand. I started to panic. This is not like him. My mind starts racing. What is happening? Did I do something wrong? Is he going to break up with me? Is he going to propose? I’m only in high school. I can’t handle this.

“Hey,” he whispers as he kisses my cheek. “These are for you. Just because.”

“Oh. Um. Okay. Thanks,” I stutter. Maybe Betsy was right. Maybe I should take advantage of being home alone with him. The more I start to think about it, the more I think it might be a good idea.

We take our normal spot on the couch in the family room. Netflix is already streaming, and there is a candle burning on the glass coffee table. I thought it would help “set the mood.”

“Is anyone home?” Seth asked as he looked around the room.

“Nope, just you and me.” I nestle myself closer into his chest.

A Disney movie plays on Netflix that we’ve seen multiple times. My thoughts switch from Seth to wondering why my parents left. I gaze around the room, looking at all of the family photos and school pictures. My parents are big on taking pictures, so our house is like a museum. There are pictures in fancy frames and frames they bought at garage sales for a quarter. Betsy once told me that the amount of pictures throughout the house was obsessive. Pictures cover the walls, line the mantel on the fire place, and fill the holes in the gigantic entertainment center.

“When are your parents going to be home?” I could tell there was a glimmer of hope in Seth’s voice. “I didn’t know they weren’t home,” he added.

“I don’t know,” I said as I turned to him and kissed him.

The next few minutes were full of passion and fire. If we were in a car, the windows would have started to fog.

“Do you have anything?” I tried to catch my breath.

“No. You said, repeatedly, that-”

“Shh. There might be something upstairs.” I stood up and walked upstairs.

Down the long hallway is my parent’s room. They’re married. They probably do married couple things. I mean, I am their child after all. I have to have gotten here somehow, and there aren’t any more of me. Either someone’s pipes stopped working or they just don’t do it anymore, but they have to, right? They’re human.

Their master bedroom isn’t that big, so I know I won’t have to look around their room for very long. Their bed sits up against a wall and they each have a rustic looking nightstand on each side. I open the drawers in the nightstand on my dad’s side of the bed. The top drawer had tighty whities (gross) and the bottom drawer is full of socks. My hands flew threw the drawers. I didn’t care how neat I left them. They left me without saying anything. This should be good enough payback for them. I’m sure a room full of clothes is better than a trashed house full of empty red solo cups and beer bottles.

I flew through all of the drawers and spaces in their room. The giant vanity just held clothes and an alarmingly large amount of cash. After feeling like I checked every crevice possible, I decided to look under the bed. There isn’t much except for a bunch of dust bunnies. I cough a few times.

“You alright up there?” Seth yells from the family room.

“Yeah, fine!” I yell in between coughs.

There is a dark object under the bed. I am almost 18, so I’ve gotten past my fear of monsters under the bed, but I’m still a little afraid to find out what it is. My curiosity doesn’t keep me from grabbing it. I dust off the cover and read it. Missing Persons. That’s interesting. I knew my parents worked for the government. I just figured they were too lame to work with something like this. They never specified what they did. Whenever I asked, they’d change the subject.

I open the file and nearly scream at the file on top. Attached to it is a picture. My picture. I skim through the information. Some of it’s true and some of it isn’t.

Name: Grace Maria Martinez

That is my name, but not my last name. My last name is my parents’ last name. Anderson

Gender: Female

Eye color: Blue

Birthdate: July 22, 1999

They told me my birthday was July 21. They ripped me off by a day. Bastards.

Parents: Robert Joseph and Peggy Ann Martinez

Siblings: Aaron Robert, Stephanie Lynn, and Lilly Rose Martinez

I have no idea who these people are.

Address: 48205 W. Cherry Hill Court, Bismarck ND

I don’t even know where this house is. I’ve never been to North Dakota. I live in Florida.

Date Missing: November 4, 2001

I was so young. Of course I don’t remember my actual family. Maybe that’s why there are no pictures of me as a baby.

I skimmed through the other files and my fear rises. All of the other missing persons files have a big red stamp across the page. Terminated.

“Holy sh-”

“Is everything okay, Grace?” Seth walked into the room.

“I, honestly… I can’t believe… why… how did this… I don’t know.” I can barely form any words. Tears started to form in my eyes. Seth ran up to me and held me. He took the file out of my hand.

“Is this some kind of joke?”

“I was trying to find something for us to use, and I-”

“Sex isn’t on my mind right now. We have to figure out what this means.” Seth was determined. I know that when he’s determined, something is going to get done.

He left the room. I sat there in silence, shocked. My entire life up until this point has been a lie. I could hear Seth turn off the TV. He grabbed his car keys, and I finally got the strength to get up and walk downstairs.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

We are going to find out what the hell that file means. Grab it and pack a bag.” He had the wad of cash from the kitchen table in his hand. I decide to grab the stash that was in my parents’ room.

“Seth, I don’t even know where to go.”

“Neither do I, but we need to find out the truth.”

I wake up to the sound of classic rock playing in the car. The sun is down, and Seth is zooming down the highway. We’ve been on the road for almost eight hours. I check my phone and see a stream of panicked messages from Betsy as well as a few messages from her saying Seth called and explained it to her.

“Have a nice nap?” Seth asked as he looked over at me.

“Sort of. What is your plan with finding my family?”

“Well, I figure we start at your birth house, the one on your file. Then we’ll go from there.”

I turn up the music and sing along. It is one of my favorite Queen songs. I wonder if my real family listens to classic rock.

My mood has drastically changed from when I found the file. I went from panicked and confused to pissed off. Why would my parents do this? Is their job kidnapping kids? Did they lie about working for the government too? I’m tempted to call them.

“Should I call them? My parents, I mean.” I ask Seth.

“No. I doubt they’ll answer. It won’t be worth it.” Seth’s grip on the wheel tightens. Is he pissed off about this? I get that he is upset and protective over me. I just hope he takes a breath.

Once we are about halfway to the house, I call Betsy while we find a motel to stay in.

“Hey Bets,” I start.

“Oh my gosh! Are you okay? How are you? How is Seth? Is his driving okay? Are you staying safe? Did you find your parents? Did your other parents figure out that you ran away yet?” Words were flying out of her mouth faster than I could think.

“Everything is fine,” I assured her. “We are finding a place to stay overnight. It’s a really long drive, but we’ll be okay. Don’t worry. I’ll keep you posted.”

Betsy then fills me in on her day. She tells me about how the cute guy in her anatomy class messaged her about homework. She insisted that this was a way of him saying she’s been eyeing her just like she has been with him.

Seth finds a shady motel to stay in. It’s cheap and doesn’t ask for ID when you check in. With our luck, there was a single room left. Once we walked into the room and dropped our stuff, I saw that there is only one bed in the room. I don’t have a problem with that. I actually found it kind of funny. While I try to make up stories about the questionable stains in the carpet, Seth goes back to his car because he forgot something. Most of the stains are of colors I didn’t know existed. I’m sure they’ve changed colors over the years.

Seth comes back in the room as I get comfy on the bed. I am so tired and ready to sleep.

“While you were sleeping earlier, I stopped at a gas station and got something. Maybe we can finish what we were going to start earlier.” He holds up a grocery bag with a box in it.

“Seth, no. I’m too tired, sorry.” I roll over and turn the light next to the bed off and close my eyes.

The next morning, I wake up before Seth does. I decide to shower before we head on the road. Who knows how long it’ll be again before I can shower. The bathroom is just as shady and disgusting as the room is. There is a ring of mold around the drain in the sink. Everything is a faded white and there are a few stains on the wall. A spider has very clearly made his home in the corner next to the sink. I try to ignore the spider and just take my shower.

By the time I get out of the shower, Seth is awake and sitting up in bed. He’s eating a poptart.

“Morning sunshine,” he grumbles.

“How’d you sleep?” I ask.

“Alright. Listen, I want to get on the road soon so that we can get to the house before they’d be in bed.”

“Sounds good to me.” I brush my hair while he finishes his poptart. We drop the key for the room off in the main office and hit the road. It’s not even six in the morning. The sun is sitting on the horizon. My phone buzzes.

Where the hell are you?! We need to talk!!

Crap. It’s my dad. I try to take a few deep breaths and just ignore the message. He didn’t tell me why he left, why should I tell him why I did? I take my mind off of it by focusing on Seth. He’s focusing on the road and drumming with his thumbs on the steering wheel. We’re listening to the music on his phone. He listens to a little bit of everything, and right now a pop song is playing. One of the one’s with the annoying hook, but it’s too good to resist.

We’re able to drive for a few hours before we need to get to a gas station. Seth tells me about some weird dream he had last night. Dogs took over the planet. Or something like that.

Once we stop for lunch, we both decide to walk around the area around the truck stop. Since it’s a truck stop, we’re in the middle of nowhere. It sits on the side of the highway in the middle of a giant field. All of the grass was recently mowed so we have no trouble walking around.

“Home stretch.” Seth smiles at me as we get back into the car. He turns up the radio and we both sing along to 2000s pop hits. I can’t help but smile and be thankful for having him in my life. He willingly picked up everything and left with me. He truly cares so much about me. I thought something like this would only happen in movies.

Eventually, we get to the house. Our jaws nearly dropped when we see it. There is a for sale sign on the front yard, and the house looks abandoned. Weeds cover more of the lawn than the grass does. It looks like it hasn’t been mowed in months. One of the windows is boarded up. There is a “No Trespassing” sign on the rusted door. The mailbox isn’t completely attached to the ground. Dirt paints the windows and ivy grows up the walls of the house. We step out of the car and just stare at it.

“Can I help you?” Asks an elderly gentleman who is cleaning his car in his driveway.

“Yeah, uh, we’re looking for the Martinez family,” Seth started.

“They haven’t been here in years. They were split up by a mob about sixteen years ago,” Laughed the guy.

“Oh, um, do you know where any of them are?” I asked, shocked at this new information. Were my so called parents the mob who forced this?

“Does it look like I know?” For an elderly man, he is sassy. “Why are you looking for them anyways?”

“We have information on their split. We thought it’d be better to say in person. This is the address we had.” Seth smoothly saved us. He has a tight grip on my hand.

“What? Did you find the daughter the mob took or something?” Laughed the guy. Gosh, he was rude.

“Do you know where any of them are?” Seth asked.

“I think the parents are somewhere in California.” Great. More driving.

“Uh, thanks.” I turned to Seth. “Come on, let’s go grab something to eat.”

We drove around the town, looking for somewhere to eat and a gas station. When we pulled into a gas station, there is one space open. Seth pulled up to the pump and got out of his car. I rolled the window down so I could talk to him while he was filling his car. There was a guy with a black SUV in the spot next to us. He was wearing a black suit and sunglasses. His hair was typical of a working man.

“Are we going to California right after we eat? Don’t you think we should find a motel to stay in?” I asked.

“Don’t you want to find your family?” Seth was getting sassy.

“Are you tired? I can drive us for-”

“No. It’s fine. I’ll just get some coffee. I want to help you find your family.”

“I just can’t believe that the house is abandoned. They haven’t been-” I started to get lost in thought. The guy next to us was on his phone. He seemed to be typing up a storm. It reminded me that I needed to text Betsy. I take out my phone and shoot her a message.

My family isn’t at the address we had. Looks like we’ll be heading to California.

She responds almost immediately.

wtf?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!!?!?!?!!? For real??????

I respond.

Yeah. After we get food.

Seth got in the car and drove around the town. My stomach started to growl. It sounded like it was trying to call a whale. It was lunch rush, so everywhere we thought of going was super busy and not worth waiting for. Seth was acting antsy, like he seriously had ants up his pants or something. He decided to keep driving out of town. We drove for half an hour until we found a dinky little diner on the side of the road. It was in the middle of nowhere. The sign outside said “Grace’s Grub.” I like the alliteration.

“Hey that’s your name.” Seth smiled and turned into the parking lot. The exterior of the diner was white and blue. It looked run down but a sign in the window flashed that it was open. “Do you have a secret diner you’re not telling me about?” he chuckles.

“I don’t know maybe I do. My whole life is a secret.” I tried to laugh it off but my eyes started to water instead. Seth leaned over, gave me a hug, and kissed the top of my head.

“Let’s get some food. I’m starving.” He jumped out of the car and started to walk towards the building. We were one of the few cars in the parking lot, and the diner looked empty from the outside. Considering it was in the middle of nowhere, I wasn’t surprised. I check my phone and saw a missed call from dad. I ignore it.

Once we got inside, we could here fifties music playing over the speaker. Has this place been open since the fifties? A youngish looking woman directs us to a table. There are about three other tables that are actually occupied. The woman is wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. She has a blue apron sitting on her waist, just how servers in any other restaurant do. Her long brown hair is pulled back into a high ponytail. Seth and I sat down and immediately started to look at the menus.

I was so focused on figuring out what to stuff my face with, that I did not take the time to look around the restaurant. I’m sitting with my back to the front of the restaurant, so I turn around. At the front of the restaurant is a counter, and behind that is the kitchen. The kitchen staff looked busy. There was a man and the woman who directed us to our table talking behind the counter. They were looking in my direction. She was holding up menus, covering her hand. Was she pointing at me?

“What are you looking at?” Seth nudged me.

“Probably just a double cheeseburger. The picture of it looks really good.” My mind drifts off to the people behind the counter again. I try not to worry. The man is probably the owner and the woman is probably just letting him know that there are more customers.

We order our food, and when it comes we don’t wait a second to start eating it. I don’t know if I’m just starving or what, but the burger was one of the best burgers I have ever eaten. It is so juicy and cooked perfectly. The ketchup and mustard were on the burger when the server placed it on the table. They were proportioned perfectly. I’m too busy shoveling french fries in my mouth to notice five other cars pull into the parking lot. Coincidentally (or not) they are all black. It looked like a squad of black cars in a movie when someone really important arrives to their destination. I take out my phone and see that I have a ton of unread messages from my mom. How did I not see that before?

We need to talk. Answer your phone.

Are you alive? Is your phone dead?

Each message came in individually. The first two were sent an hour before the rest were.

I didn’t want to do this over the phone, but we really need to talk.

Answer your phone.

Your father and I had to leave because the government was after us

I know we told you that we work for the government, but that was a lie. Well, sort of

We are mob bosses disguised as CIA members

Answer your phone, god dammit

“Looks like we got here before the rush,” Seth says in between fries. His burger is no longer on his plate. He ate just as quickly as I did.

A group of people stormed through the door. Seth’s eyes widen, and I turn to look. The man that was eyeing me behind the counter is now quivering with fear, and my parents storm up to the counter. I’m not sure if I should have waved to let them know where I am or if I should slink down into the seat.

“Where is she?!” My father yells.

“I didn’t reach out to her! I don’t know!” The man behind the counter yells. He now has his hands in the air as if he is surrendering to something.

“Oh come on, we heard she was here!” My mother yells. One of the men with my parents pulls out a weapon and points it towards the man behind the counter. He quivers even more. I can see sweat start to drip down from his short brown hair. He starts to duck below the counter.

“Why don’t you look around the restaurant instead of assaulting my uncle,” our server says. She’s sassy. I like it. She’s standing with her hands on her hips. She doesn’t seem as afraid as the guy behind the counter. “You may have been able to kill my parents, but you aren’t going to kill my uncle too.” Wait, what the hell is going on? The fear that I felt a few days ago rises up into my again. I don’t realize that I am shaking with fear until Seth reaches across the table and grabs my arm.

I scanned the small crowd of people who came in with my parents. The guy from the gas station is there. He looks like the leader of the pack after my so called parents. I meet eyes with my dad and start to shake with fear. He starts to walk over to me.

“Don’t you dare touch her until you explain what the hell is going on!” Seth stands up and gets between my dad and I. Now that I think about it, the more time I spend with Seth, the more I like him. He’s defensive and cares a lot about me. He isn’t super built, but he does have some muscle. He seems like the guy who would take a bullet for me. If this afternoon goes any worse, he might have to.

“We just need to talk to her” my dad claims. His voice is calm, uncomfortably calm. He’s never this calm. He looks right at me.

“Is that her?!” The man from the counter runs up to me. As he gets closer, I can see gray hairs in his short brown hair. His eyes are brown. The nametag on his shirt says Bob. “Peggy! She’s alive!” He yells as he gets closer to me.

“Neither of you touch her!” Seth is still standing between me and everyone else. I’m able to hold back a few tears knowing that he’ll defend me.

“Cool it hot stuff,” my fake mom says to Seth as she gets closer to us.

“Can someone please tell me what the hell is going on?!” I am really starting to panic.

“Sweetheart-” My so called mom starts.

“Don’t sweetheart me. You’re not even my real mom. I found the files.” I am full of anger.

“Grace, listen-” Bob starts.

“Don’t listen to him! Grace, your mom and I hoped we would never have to explain this to you.” My fake dad’s voice is still calm.

“You aren’t even my real parents. I don’t even know where my real parents are!” I laugh.

“Right here, Grace.” The woman Bob was yelling for is standing next to him. She is almost the same height as me and looks the same as I do. Her hair is about shoulder length, and all of her facial features are similar to mine. She even has the freckles on her cheeks. Her eyes are blue, just like mine.

“Mom? Dad?” I start to cry. Uncontrollably. Seth gives me a hug, and holds my hand.

“Sweetie, we were attacked by your parents. Your aunt and uncle were in a mob. The rival mob of your kidnappers. Your kidnappers thought we were your aunt and uncle. They came after us. They kidnapped you and your siblings. We found your siblings,” My real mom takes a deep, shuddering breath. “Nearly dead on the side of the road. We tried to save them, but we were too late. We figured you were gone too-”

“She wasn’t supposed to know any of this,” my fake father coldly interrupts. “She was supposed to live a happy life with us. She was the best of the siblings. Had we known she would act out and do this, we would have killed her too.”

“It’s not too late, darling.” My fake mother pulls a gun out of her purse and raises it.

Everything happens so fast. People scream, and I see someone jump in front of me when I hear the gun go off.