Paula Evans was not a very religious woman. In spite of her beliefs, she attended church every Sunday, but the line between devotion and convenience was somewhat blurred. As a child, her southern roots bound her to the ways of Christianity, and as a young woman those roots began to rot with the influence of hatred and scandal.
Left alone in the world, her faith slowly began to disappear, that was, until she met him. Donald Maclay was a preacher in his own right. Charming, considered handsome to some, and devoted to his words and teachings. Little had Paula known how much a small church and a temporary clerical position would change her future. But while the rest of the country continued dancing in the long since burnt ashes of draft cards and concert debris, Paula had settled into her new yet familiar life.
Thumbing through her collection of old vinyl, Paula's thoughts paused as she switched the record. The chair she settled into creaked, glowing blue against the dark background as the muted television weakly illuminated the living room.
While the soft vocals swept through Paula's memory, both good and bad, her awareness returned to the present. The former nanny gently smoothed over the picture of her daughter, straightening the bent corners.
Hope was a word she feared but couldn't let go of. It had been almost nine years since she had seen or spoken to her daughter, having parted at odds over something so insignificant that the reason was now lost to Mrs. Evans. Married and widowed within two years, the thought of children and grandchildren had only started to enter the ex-nanny's mind as of late. Deeply saddened that her daughter's existence and whereabouts was only thought of now, after so many years, Paula feared hope even more.
Her old age and the hospital bills piled on the countertop wouldn't allow her to leave Washington to search for her lost child, and the phone calls she made had been of no help. At least half of the lawyers and detectives in Seattle knew of her case, and most had blown her off as a feeble minded old woman searching for something she would never find.
"Out of their jurisdiction", they had said over crumpled files and bored expressions before referring her to disconnected numbers and closed doors.
The last lawyer she had met with, though visibly exhausted, seemed interested in helping, although Paula had not been given a definite answer. Mrs. Evans had found Robin Hawthorne's information on the list of attorneys she had received from the municipal court, and instantly arranged a meeting. Now the former nanny just had to wait and hope.
The telephone rang, vibrating against its plastic base. Nervous eyes watched the private number flash green on the caller ID. After a deep sigh, the older woman grasped the phone before the last ring, and listened through the receiver.
"I got your message," dignified and somewhat impatient, the caller spoke into the phone, "Now, what's this about a strange woman asking you questions?" Without any trace of formality, the male speaker waited for a response.
"Nice to hear from you too, Donald." Angered, Paula tried to calm her agitation. There were reasons why she hadn't called Donald Maclay in over two years. But she had been right in expecting the number to be the same, knowing how much the preacher was against change. "Have you heard from Tara yet?"
"Tara doesn't live here anymore, you know that," Mr. Maclay's annoyance grew. "What was the woman's name?"
Daydreaming, the former nanny almost missed the question. "Oh, um," she worried her lip, thinking, "Ros... Rosenberg." The name slipped past her lips, "I can't remember her first name but it was strange."
"Doesn't matter," he grumbled. "What did she want?"
"She was asking questions about Tara, I think she might've been a friend of hers," the thought warmed her heart to think that Tara had friends. Although she had been suspicious of the young woman's intent and reason for her questions, Paula realized how foolish she had been once the woman had left. The call to Donald was on instinct. After all, who better to know the whereabouts of Tara than her own father?
"I'll take care of it." The phone clicked before the dial tone rang in Mrs. Evans ear.
Subconsciously, she wondered if her decision had been the right one. Would it be like the countless other times when Donald Maclay promised one thing and failed to live up to his word? His word, she scoffed. A man of little words except within the walls of his church, Mr. Maclay feared scandal. Treated it like the plague and ran off anyone who posed a threat. Vaguely, Paula wondered how his followers would react if they knew the real Donald Maclay. However, just as quick as the thought came, it disappeared. She was tired of hurting, tired of hating, just so tired.
Willow reread the admissions sheet once more. Tara's name signed at the bottom appeared original, meaning that no previous name had been erased or covered some other way. Although the redhead had no writing samples from her patient, just the simple fact that Tara's full name was signed was enough to make the doctor wonder. The doctor knew that she could either stop her research to speculate about the reasons behind the young blonde's signature or she could continue on with her review of Tara's folder.
Out of aching curiosity, Willow chose the latter and flipped through to the next page. The pages which lay after Tara's entrance form were dated before, and consisted of small handwritten paragraphs and a checklist.
The word "may" was underlined with a question mark above it. Three numbers followed the last sentence.
The red-haired doctor cleared a spot on her cluttered desk and tore a blank sheet from her notebook to make notes. Recording the triple digits, Willow continued reading.
Patient's behavior is withdrawn, a common symptom of emotional distress often associated with personality disorders. Conversation A shows...
The shrill noise of her cellular phone ringing startled the redhead.
"Doctor Rosenberg?" The urgency in the caller's voice made the doctor's breathing quicken. "I currently have you listed as Tara Maclay's psychiatrist. Is this Doctor Rosenberg?"
"Uh, yes, it is," Willow cleared her throat.
"There's been an incident. The head supervisor would like you to come in," the receptionist said, speaking over the voices in the background.
"I'm on my way," without asking what the situation was, the doctor hung up. Grabbing her keys and stuffing her phone and driver's license into her jeans, the redhead hurried through the door.
Miles away, Donald Maclay slammed down the telephone with enough force to crack the mouthpiece. The sound of plastic against plastic bounced off the picture less walls of his secluded home, and left a bitter taste in his mouth.
"Rosenberg, huh?" He spoke aloud while scribbling the name on a scrap of paper. The hour was late, too late to call out but he would have enough information to get some sort of lead on the Rosenberg woman when the time came.
The preacher was irritated and had been ever since the phone message he had received several days ago. He had severed his ties with Paula Evans years ago and was both surprised and annoyed when the older woman called. How could she, of all people, call him about a matter so insignificant? But that wasn't true, was it? If the subject had been unimportant, he wouldn't have listened to the message twice, much less returned it.
Someone was snooping in his family affairs, and Donald Maclay wouldn't have it. With his anger still boiling in his veins, Mr. Maclay picked up the nearly mangled telephone and punched in a local number.
"I need you to come over," he waited for the person to recognize his voice. Eyebrows bunching in irritation, he went on. "No... I don't care if you're busy, get your..." he paused when his eyes caught the cross hanging on the wall. The obscenity he was about to utter dissolved on his lips, "Just get over here now." The dial tone left no room for disobedience.
His rigid spine ached against the hardness of the chair he settled into. Leaning forward until it hurt too much to move closer, he managed to grab a tall, glass bottle from the bottom cabinet of his sitting room. The whiskey burned his throat, sliding down like acid into his stomach. Shutting his eyes, he allowed himself a moment to enjoy the sinful drops before twisting the cap back on and replacing the bottle.
Having stayed secure in his beliefs and actions for the past years, the preacher wouldn't allow himself to worry. No, it was just an unwanted setback. Secrets were meant to be buried, and he would be damned if any one tried to dig his up. Brimming with righteous anger, he nodded to himself in silent agreement for some unnamed plan.
The door creaked and timid footsteps lingered in the hallway. The housemaid. Donald cocked his head to the side, but otherwise ignored the woman as she scurried out of the house, signaling the end of her shift.
Tires crushed the gravel, kicking rocks and sand across the driveway before rolling to a stop. Donald waited for the harsh sound of a slamming door and was surprised to hear two separate doors shut. Moments later, the preacher found himself gazing upon the figures of two of the poor souls that he pitied.
It had taken Willow twenty minutes to complete the half-hour trip to Pines View. Eyes trained on the main door and nothing else, the redhead jogged up the pathway. Once inside the hospital, the doctor watched new and familiar faces rush around the second floor ward.
"Doctor Rosenberg!" A voice yelled from behind her. Spinning, the redhead saw Doctor Christianson marching toward her. She wasn't in the mood to deal with the arrogant doctor but knew it was the only way to find out what was happening.
"Follow me, please," he offered his hand, which shook a little. The powerful smell of alcohol on his breath made Willow grimace and step back, her eyes squinting in realization when she noticed the faint red stain on his dress pants.
Walking beside the other doctor, Willow frowned when they entered room, similar to a waiting room, which had been made into a temporary interrogation area.
Two men were already present, one leaning against the wall and the other was seated facing the door.
"What is this about?" Feeling cornered, the doctor felt the edginess rise.
"We have some questions concerning your patient, Tara Maclay," one of the men, a 60ish man with dark shrubbery eyebrows, spoke from his seated position. When Willow merely stared at the man, his colleague spoke up.
"A nurse making her final rounds happened to notice something very... strange." Without revealing what was truly the reason for the questioning, the other doctor shifted against the wall. Hoping to bait the red-haired doctor into slipping and telling them what she knew, he watched the young woman's expression.
"What exactly are you saying?" Growing more irritated, the redhead fixed her gaze on each member in the room. "Why am I here? What's wrong with Tar- Miss Maclay?"
Seeing that he wasn't going to get any information out of the doctor, the standing doctor went on. "It seems that Miss Maclay is missing." Uttering the words brought a hint of shame into the man's eyes. It was his responsibility. Every patient was under his care and therefore it was his duty to make sure they stayed put.
How a patient could manage to escape puzzled him. Although the nurse mentioned a fire exit, long abandoned and blocked off after Pines View was established, the doctor knew that there was a considerable distance to the bottom even with the built-in ladder. The escapee would've received injuries, therefore making her less mobile. So where was she?
"Our security officers are searching the grounds and the surrounding areas," Mr. Christianson added from beside Willow.
"Missing?" Every word after was ignored as the redhead focused on the main speaker. At a loss for words, Willow's shock was clear to each doctor.
"When was the last time you saw, Miss Maclay?" The redhead wasn't sure who asked the question.
"This afternoon," clearing the haziness from her mind, Willow's eyes met those of the men. "I spoke to her, we walked around the courtyard, spoke a little more, and I then I left."
"Alone?" Doctor Christianson asked, not hiding the suspicion in his tone.
"You're kidding me, right? What kind of place is this?" The doctor's eyes narrowed. "What? You think I helped her... that I miraculously helped a patient slip past the security and the cameras? Assuming that you have already checked them, in which case, that question was completely uncalled for." The glare was directed at the doctor beside her.
"We apologize, Miss Rosenberg. We're only trying to understand how something like this could happen," pulling a chair out from under the table, the speaker sat down. "Maybe we should start over." He cleared his throat and began, less forceful than before.
An hour later, Willow stormed out of the main door of the psychiatric hospital. Her annoyance had deflated into worry. Was there something she had been missing? Had Tara been planning her escape before Willow met her? The doctor fumbled with her car keys as her thoughts ran swiftly through her brain.
Rounding the back of the car, the redhead gasped and jumped back slightly. Startled, relieved, and caught in a moral dilemma, Willow Rosenberg ran a nervous hand through her hair as she regarded the huddled body, nearly hidden and pressed against the back door of her car.
But the answer was clear, wasn't it? Tara would have to go back. Right?