"You are NOT my mother!"
Samantha closed her eyes for a moment, shutting out the image of the rebellious teen. She had been expecting, and yes dreading, that comment. As sure as water flowed downhill, at some point that fact was going to get thrown in her face. She had even told Mark she was ready for it, had her reaction all planned out.
She hadn't expected it so soon, though.
The sound of stomping feet came to her ears. With a sigh, Samantha opened her eyes to see the thirteen year old retreating from the kitchen, her ponytail whipping back at her, as if giving the stepmother the middle finger. A moment later, she and her husband heard the sound of a bedroom door slamming.
"Well," she said, turning to Mark, "that went well."
"Gah..." He leaned forward, elbows on the kitchen table as he let his forehead fall into his waiting hands. "WHY did it have to happen today? I almost don't blame her..."
Samantha looked at her husband, surprised. Reaching over, she put a hand on his arm.
"Is it really that important?"
Letting his hands drop from his face, Mark let out sigh, covering her hand with his.
"There were times, I think, when it was all we had..."
With a cry of anguish, Mary threw herself onto her bed.
"That ... BITCH!"
That's what she was, a bitch! A bitch who had come in, taken HER daddy from her! Taken Daddy, and, now...
Now she was taking Mommy, too.
Turning her head, her blue eyes glared out the frosted window. So what if there was a blizzard out there. So what if Buffalo was expected to get hit even worse than Rochester, right when they'd be there! Who cared about the two hour drive, in the snow, for just a ten minute visit...
She ... she had to be there.
Without even looking, Mary reached over and grabbed the picture frame off the nightstand. She had the photo memorized, of course. Just as she had all her mom's pictures memorized. Rolling onto her back, she propped the silver frame up in front of her small breasts. This was her favorite. Her mother, holding a one year old baby. Her hair was dark brown, shiny, falling to her shoulders. Her smile was warm, loving. Those eyes ... Mary had spent most of her young life trying to understand those eyes. Sometimes they looked sad, as if she knew time with her daughter would be short. Other days they looked happy, telling Mary that she was oh so proud of what her daughter had become.
Not once had they told of why she was gone.
It wasn't fair. All Mary had, of her real mother, was this tradition. Once a year. That's all she asked of her Dad, and now her Stepmother. And, that bitch had...
Knock Knock ... Knock
A bark of laughter was forced from her. It was the Secret Father Knock. Even though it had always just been the two of them, Daddy had used that knock to tell her that he would go away if she wished, but was there to talk if she needed him.
She never sent him away.
Mary put the photo down on the bed as her Dad entered her room. He looked sad. She almost thought, "good!", but a half second later berated herself. Mom had been his wife, too, and the entire tradition had been his. She hadn't started it as a two year old, that was for sure. With a sigh, he sat down on the edge of her pink bed. Her hips slid a bit, touching his back as his weight buckled the mattress. His eyes went to the picture frame on the bed next to him.
"I'm so sorry, Mary. Believe me, I want to do this as much as you do..."
"Then let's do it! Screw the storm! Come on Dad!" She sat up, both hands grabbing his arm. Surely, she could make him see...
"We wouldn't make it," he sighed, eyes meeting hers. "And I'm not going to risk losing you in a storm like this, like I lost your mother."
"She didn't die in a car crash, Dad! She just vanished!"
"All the more reason to keep you safe, Honey. Look..." He brought his free hand over to cover hers. "How about we go for your birthday? You can show her how much you've grown. Would you like that?"
She could see in his eyes that this was killing him as much as it was killing her ... and that his mind was made up. The storm had won. Letting go of his arm, she fell back onto her pillow.
"Thank you, Honey..." Leaning down, he kissed her forehead. She closed her eyes. A moment later his weight vanished from the bed, followed by footsteps and her door closing. Behind it, Mary heard the muffled voices of him and Samantha talking.
So. That was it.
Time for plan B.
"Oh Baby Baby, Baby Baby!"
The sound of the oldies ringtone barely reached Wendi's ears over the din of her stereo. Not pausing in her toenail polishing, she reached her left hand over and grabbed the phone from next to her pillow.
"Hello, Wendi's house of pleasure. You show 'em, we blow 'em."
"Wendi, I need your brother!"
Her hand stopped mid polish.
"Um, since when is he your type?"
"Since I'm running away from home tonight! Go get him!"
The thirteen year old redhead knew she wasn't the swiftest drawer in the knife, but she couldn't have heard that right. Looking down at the number, to confirm it was in fact who she thought it was, she gave the only possible reply.
"What the hell did you just say?"
Snow blew past the window as Mary sat at her computer. On the screen she could see Wendi and her older brother, Steve. The redheaded football player was standing behind the 8th grader, having to bend down to stay in the webcam's frame. He was shaking his head in disbelief.
"WHEN did this happen?"
"Twelve years ago tonight! My Mom was working at a supermarket outside Buffalo, when, at 9:54 PM, during a blizzard, the entire store vanished! With everyone inside! The only one left was a stock boy out in the parking lot who was getting the carts! My Mom, and everyone, was gone!"
"Whoa," was Wendi's only contribution. She looked like she didn't know if she could believe her friend. Probably partly because they'd only known each other since September, when Mary's family moved to Rochester. Mary focused on eighteen year old Steve.
"Every year since, Dad and I have gone there to mark the anniversary of when we lost her! EVERY YEAR! But, with the storm, and probably the bitching of my Stepmom-"
"You wanted them to get married!" Wendi just had to jump in with that fact.
"- but they won't let me go this year! And I have to! Please, Steve, you have to help me. I know you have a truck, and a snowmobile. Please!"
She poured everything she had into that gaze. She didn't know Wendi's brother well. He was usually out doing his own thing, and was a Senior to boot. But, what choice did she have...
"I'll do it. Meet me at the end of your street in ten minutes."
Steve knew this was trouble. Even as a teen who, let's face it, had been part of his fair share of stupidity, driving a just barely teen girl runaway across the county line was bad news. We're talking Amber Alert, with jail time if not sex offender time. Not something that looks good on college applications.
The passenger door on his pickup opened. In hurried a bundle of pink and white, with a pink backpack. The pack was thrown on the floor, while the newcomer slammed the door shut and turned to him.
"Hurry! It's already 6:30!"
That probably was what decided the matter for him. She didn't try to bribe her way into his car, offer sexual favors, or even make outrageous arguments as to why she had to do this. Instead, he saw this just meant the world to her.
Screw the consequences.
He pulled away, eyes staying on the road. It was already mostly dark, the snow at least as of yet not that bad. A plow had been by earlier, although the blacktop was already covered again.
"So, what's our destination?"
"Clarence. Just get on the Thruway and get off at Transit. I'll guide you from there." Mary removed her hat and gloves, the truck already toasty.
"Oh, no. We're not going anywhere near the Thruway." She looked at him, shocked. "No, I'm not an idiot, just hear me out. One, with that storm, it's always possible the Thruway will be closed, and we don't want to chance that. Two, if your parents call the cops, having to go through a toll both with you will be just too risky. Three ... well, when, and I do think it'll be when, we have to abandon the truck and use good old Red Rider back there," he jerked a thumb at the snowmobile on the tow trailer, "we'll do better going cross country than along the Thruway."
Mary's eyes were wide.
"Wow! I would never have thought of all that! You're smart!"
"With age comes wisdom," he agreed, shifting as they turned onto a major road. "Dad doesn't agree, but what parent does."
"Tell me about it..."
Picking up the note on Mary's pillow, Mark sighed. He should have known. She had agreed too quickly. Hell, HE still wasn't convinced, so how the hell could he have expected to convince her?
Not paying attention to her reply, Mark gazed around the room as his wife's footsteps came closer. The photo was gone. So too was her backpack, and at least one stuffed animal. That was expected. She always packed, as did he, both to show Hannah new things in their life, and ... well, on the off chance that this time they could follow. He had been stupid to start that, but ... he had believed it. At least, at first. And, maybe, the tradition had brought him and his daughter even closer together. But, now...
His wife entered the room.
"What is it, Mark?" He handed her the letter.
"She's gone. I should have taken her."
Turning, Mark stepped up to his wife of five months and took both hands in his. Her eyes widened at the seriousness of his expression. He had rarely put his foot down on anything, had not needed to. Their wants and needs had meshed so well, from the first. Now, though...
"Love ... we're going after her. We're not calling the police, or getting the guy who's taking her in trouble. We're just going to go, meet them there ... then come home."
Her eyes shifted to the window, and the snow blowing beyond.
"This is about love, not reason." Leaning down, he kissed her. A light touch of the lips. With a wistful sigh, Samantha pulled back.
"You loved Hannah so much?"
"Almost as much as I love you, and Mary..."
Mary couldn't see a damned thing out the window.
Her gaze once again went to Steve. He seemed to know what he was doing, and while their top speed maxed out at around 30 MPH (and seemed dangerously fast at that) they were at least still moving. Either that, or the snow was falling horizontally into the front windshield.
She wanted to talk. Wanted to tell him about Mom. About her life, growing up with Dad. Wanted ... well, the conversation was part of the ritual. Her and Dad, talking about Mom, about their lives past and present. Letting out a years worth of emotion, to make room for it to start building up again. But, she didn't want to bother him. Steve had turned off the radio a half hour ago, and they had ridden in silence ever since.
Mary fell back against the car seat, the view outside making it look like they had already crossed over into another world.
The deer jumping in front brought them back to reality.
Mark, slowly, merged from the onramp onto the deserted Thruway.
Plows had been through at some point in the last hour. That was both good, and bad. The down side was the uncovering of black ice in places. Snow, so long as it's not too deep, at least offers you some traction.
"I've never driven in anything like this," Samantha told him, shaking her head. "Are you sure we'll be OK?"
"We'll be fine," he reassured her. He risked a glance over, smiling. "I'd take your hand, but part of being fine depends on two hands on the wheel."
"Oh, so you put my safety before romance. I'm not sure how I should take that!" With a smile, she put her hand on his knee. "Just let me know what you need."
"You, my love ... and Mary."
"Well, so much for the truck. You OK?"
Mary nodded, heart beating a thousand times a second. She'd never been in an accident before. Well, kind of an accident. Nothing had been hit, but the pickup now had both righthand wheels in a ditch. The deer, unconcerned, was off somewhere doing whatever evil deer do.
"I'll never feel sorry for Bambi again..."
"Yeah, they're just giant rats." Steve turned the engine off, as well as the headlights. The two sat in the darkness, no sound apart from the falling snow.
"We'll just wait a few minutes, let our heart rates fall, then hop onto the snowmobile and go."
"How far are we?"
He picked up the GPS and hit some buttons.
"Thirty miles, maybe. We should make it in time." He looked at her. "After, what do you plan on doing?"
She closed her eyes.
"Call Dad. I'm surprised he hasn't tried to call me. Maybe he's just letting me sleep in my room, who knows. I grabbed some money, maybe we get two hotel rooms and deal with the adults tomorrow."
He shook his head.
"How much trouble are you going to be in over this?"