Rhea didn’t want Strickland to leave. She needed his power, his confidence, his calm. She willed her mind to remember something, anything – some perfect and stunning tidbit that would lead him straight to Aggie. But nothing came. And he left. She kept staring at the closed door. She was on one side, and Aggie was somewhere outside, lost in the night. She hung on to that unbearable thought as though following it through the dark labyrinth of her imagination would lead her to her sister. But she couldn’t follow the path in her mind. She was tired. She shouldn’t be tired, her sister was missing and it was her fault – she should never ever sleep again until Aggie was home. Her eyes kept closing. What a terrible sister she was.
Stel put her thumb and forefinger on Rhea’s chin and turned her face to her own.
“Are You listening to me?”
Rhea nodded, trying to focus on what her mother was saying.
“I have to stay here, for when Aggie comes home.”
Rhea nodded again, wondering where this was going.
“Your father can’t go, look at him, he can’t even get out of that chair.”
It started to become clear. Yes! Someone in the family needed to go find Aggie because, as Stel pointed out, “That cop doesn’t know Aggie, doesn’t love her like we do. His heart isn’t in it. And she won’t be looking for him, she’ll be looking for one of us.”
“I can go…?” Rhea answered, a little unsure but as Stel firmly nodded while looking into Rhea’s eyes, Rhea became certain. This made sense. All except the details. “How will I–?” Rhea tried to make a plan–
Stel cut her off, she already had this figured out. “Trains run all night. Especially now. Christmas. Go pack a few things and I’ll take you to the Fullerton Station.”
Wow. This was really happening. Rhea felt a jolt of adrenaline and of relief. This was good. This would work. She’d find Aggie like she’d always done and everything would be back like it was.
Rhea jammed a skirt, a pair of jeans, two T-shirts, underwear, toothbrush and a picture of Aggie into her little round black patent leather case with embossed pink ballet shoes on it then zipped it up as Stel hovered, impatiently.
Rhea nodded. Stel grabbed her keys. As they left, Rhea glanced at her father, searching for something in his eyes – love or at least a goodbye – but there was nothing there. She closed the door behind her.
Stel held the car door open for Rhea, trying to hurry her along. Rhea slid in. Stel hurried into the driver’s side and, not bothering to buckle her seat belt, drove them away.
At one forty nine, the Fullerton train station was still had a few people. Happy people, laughing people, setting down armloads of packages to hug their loved ones who’d come to welcome them home for the holidays.
Stel gave Rhea a ticket and a hundred and seventy-one dollars.
“It’s all I have in the house.” she said as she thrust it at Rhea. “It should be plenty for some food and a motel for a few nights.”
“Thank you.” Rhea told her mom, straining with the sudden uneasy formality.
Stel nodded and turned to leave. Almost as an afterthought, she grabbed Rhea and hugged her hard and fast. Rhea hugged back. “I’ll find her, mom. I promise.”
Stel let go. “I have to get back, in case–” Rhea nodded. Stel hurried away. Rhea got on the train alone. No one waved goodbye.
The train slipped past warehouses, trailer parks, freeways and the Firestone tire factory which was built to look like a castle.
“Is she in there?” Rhea wondered as she strained against the dirty train window trying to see a glimpse of Aggie. Or in one of those trailers? Or in that laundromat? Or that Taco Bell? So many places to look…
The magnitude of the task ahead started to creep in. But for now, Rhea just focused on looking out that window. Sometimes she glanced at the blank notepad. In the course of the thirty three minute train ride to LA, all she could think to write was: bluebirds.