His family didn’t go to church. Some of his friends did. He’d gone with a few of them on Wednesday evenings, when a big group of kids would get together and go bowling or hit the batting cages. No one had pushed God down his throat during these times. He’d waited for it, expecting them to all pull out bibles and pray at some point in the evening. Instead, he’d seen simple, clean fun. He figured they saved the preaching for Sunday morning.
He turned a corner and spotted three sets of huge double doors across the end of the hallway, indicating the sanctuary.
That had to be it.
The hall was silent; the noise of the FBI had dissipated as he walked through the big building. He stopped and peeked through a window in one of the doors. Rows and rows of chairs filled the room. A traditional-looking pulpit stood alone on a low stage, two huge screens hung in the front corners of the room, and . . . was that a drum set on the stage? He pulled open a door, and it snapped loudly as it swung out. He stepped inside and quietly shut the door behind him.
The room was silent.
Wasn’t he supposed to feel God in church? Shouldn’t he feel at peace and comforted? Maybe it only worked on members. The lights were dim in the sanctuary; only the stage was lit. He moved forward, scanning the stage. Drum set, microphones, piano, electronic keyboards. Weren’t churches supposed to have giant organs?
He sat down in a seat in the front row and waited again.
He didn’t know what he was waiting for but figured he’d know it when it happened.
“Is she safe?” he whispered.
His voice was swallowed up in the silence of the gigantic room.
He leaned forward, his elbows on his thighs, listening hard.
“Did he kill her?”
He blew out a deep breath and closed his eyes, letting his hearing explore the room. A very quiet buzz came from the lights above the stage. He breathed deep and relaxed. At least here it was quiet. No parent or cop watching him with eagle eyes to make certain he wasn’t about to have a nervous breakdown. No escapist video games to turn off the horrible images in his brain. It was just him.
Please bring her home. She’s just a little kid.
Henley was a sparkly child. Her laugh infectious, her smile wide, and her eyes engaging. From the very beginning, he’d been fascinated with making her smile. Nothing made him happier than his power to transform his baby sister’s face. Although she lived with her mom a lot of the time, when she came to stay at his house, it was like she’d never left. They always picked up right where they’d left off. He was her source of information about the world, and she always had questions. Questions about weather, dirt, school, boys, and music.
Last summer they’d done a family trip to Disneyland. He could still see her spinning in the teacups with his mom while he and Lucas watched. As he looked back, he realized the trip had centered around Henley and his little sisters, Kindy and Kylie. But he hadn’t cared. Half his fun had been watching them squeal and scream and dance when they spotted a princess or Pooh. He and Lucas had snuck away to do the scarier rides, but what stuck in his mind was watching Henley enjoy her kiddie rides. When they’d discovered A Small World was closed, Henley had burst into tears, and Jake had been overwhelmed with the need to fix the situation. He’d surprised her with a souvenir from the Small World gift shop, bought with his own money. Her tears stopped and her eyes had worshiped him. He’d felt like a real superhero.
At what age had his sister’s happiness become more important than his own?
Jake opened his eyes.
God hadn’t appeared or spoken in his head. He still missed his sister and had no answers. At least he didn’t want to punch the wall anymore. He’d considered it in the bathroom a few minutes before, when anger and rage had been swirling beneath his urge to bawl like a baby. He hadn’t given in to either need.
He was helpless, useless. How could he find his sister?
He’d lost his superhero cape.
Ava slowly washed her hands. The church bathroom was immaculate and smelled like citrus air freshener. She soaked in the peace and quiet, stalling to avoid the hustle and noise of the command center. It felt good to let down her guard for two minutes without an agent or family member watching her. She counted slowly to ten, taking deep breaths and letting her mind wander, avoiding any thoughts of a kidnapper or the sad family. She shook the water off her hands and stared in the mirror, trying to ignore the signs of her twin in her features.
She knew they were there. The same eyes, the same lips, the same facial shape. That’s where the similarities ended. Or at least that’s where they’d ended last time she’d seen Jayne. Was Jayne in a cycle where she wanted the two of them to look alike again? The obsession seemed to crop up every few years. Ava, however, kept her look consistent. Her hair was always its natural dark brown, shoulder length, and her makeup was usually minimal. Jayne, on the other hand, changed with the seasons, often going through a platinum-blonde phase as she tried to imitate her namesake.
Their mother had named them after classic movie stars, Ava Gardner and Jayne Mansfield. Her sister rotated through stages, wanting to live up to her namesake’s glamour, while Ava had always been happy to be herself. She rarely explained the source of her name, preferring not to draw comparisons between herself and the movie star. It was easier now than it had been as a child. The movie stars had faded into obscurity in most people’s minds, and Ava was rarely in a position where her sister was with her to announce the story of their names to strangers. Too often as youngsters, her mother had introduced them and then immediately set into a lengthy explanation of their names. Ava would squirm in embarrassment as a stranger suddenly scrutinized the twins. Jayne had loved the extra attention and never stopped sharing the stories of their names, seeking fresh attention.