I blushed, not wanting to have to explain to my boyfriend’s mother what a juice bar was. “Um, it’s pretty much a strip club that doesn’t serve alcohol, so the age requirement is only eighteen.”
“What?” she practically shouted. “That’s a real thing? He better not have….” Mrs. Wallace slammed the lasagna down on the stove and picked up her phone again. I watched her as she waited for her husband to pick up his phone, but she must have gotten his voice mail. “I swear on everything holy, if you’ve taken my baby boy to a strip club, you better not even bother coming home tonight.” She paused, took a deep breath, then continued. “But seriously, honey, where are you? Call me.”
“They’ve been gone almost two hours now,” Mrs. Wallace said, unable to keep the concern from her voice. It was the same concern that had been creeping into my thoughts for a while.
“Do you think we should go look for them?”
Before she had a chance to answer me, there was a knock at the door.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the feeling you get when you’ve just gotten on a roller coaster and it’s climbed that very first peak, and you’re waiting to plummet down—that feeling you get in your stomach as you crash forward, that’s your body reacting to its instinct. Your body thinks you’re about to die, that something really terrible is about to happen, and everything prepares for impact. I got that feeling the moment I heard a knock on the door, and looking back I would tell myself I should have been more prepared. I should have run, should have done anything I could have done to prevent the next few minutes from ever happening.
Mrs. Wallace opened the front door and all I saw was her face go blank and lose all color.
“Are you Mrs. Mark Wallace?” a deep voice asked.
“What’s happened?” Her voice was a whisper.
“Ma’am, I’m Officer Davenport with the Florida State Police. Are you the wife of Mark Wallace?”
“Yes, he’s my husband. Where is he?”
“The mother of Cory Wallace?”
My heart stopped at the mention of his name.
“What’s going on?” she asked, her voice on the verge of breaking.
Another deep voice from outside.
“Do you think we could come in?”
“Sure, is everything all right?” Mrs. Wallace stepped aside and I watched as a policeman entered the house with another man at his side who wasn’t in uniform.
The police officer motioned to the couch as the other man closed the door. Cory’s mom came to sit next to me, her hands shaking, legs trembling. Without much thought I reached out and took her hand. Something was tragically wrong.
“Mrs. Wallace, it is with great regret that I have to tell you that your husband and your son were both victims in a robbery this evening. And I am sorry to tell you they were both killed in that robbery.”
Victims. Robbery. Killed.
“No,” she said firmly, shaking her head back and forth. “No, they went to get Cory’s birthday cake and then to buy a scratch-off lottery ticket. That was all. I made lasagna.”
I could hear her words, could feel the vibrations of her strong argument tingling in my hand, but it was as if I were stuck yards behind her, my feet slowly sinking in quicksand. Or in the ocean as the waves move over your feet and you look down and it feels like you’re moving, looks as though the ground is rushing underneath you. But in reality, you are just sinking deeper and deeper into that sand.
“Mrs. Wallace,” the other man said, “I know this is difficult to hear.”
“There’s been some sort of misunderstanding. Let me call him.” She stood up, and she took all my balance with her. Her hand was holding me up. My arm fell limply to the couch as I looked at the two men sitting across the room from me.
“They’re dead?” I yelled, but the words came out hushed and whispered.
“Are you related?” the officer asked.
“Cory is my best friend,” I said automatically. “He’s my boyfriend.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss.” The other man said, confirming my previous question.
“Who are you?” I whispered.
“I’m Father Ryan. I’m the chaplain with the police department.”
“Mark, please.” Mrs. Wallace’s voice was shaking, and I knew she was crying. “The police are here and they’re telling me you were in a robbery. Please, come home. Bring Cory home, Mark.” She started sobbing and I watched the chaplain stand to go to her.
I didn’t need to hear any more.
I stood up, walked to the door, ripped it open, and started running.
I heard someone yelling at me, telling me to come back, but I didn’t stop. I ran all the way to my house, flung open the front door, and stopped just inside as I saw my parents sitting on the couch in the living room.
“McKenzie?” my mother asked, her voice already tight with fear. She could tell there was something wrong. She stood up immediately and I practically fell into her arms as I stumbled toward her. “McKenzie, tell me what’s wrong,” she cried, falling to the floor with me.