She simply knew, had always known, that she didn’t want those memories to clear. The terrified, unthinking creature she’d been had held one certainty: her only hope was not to go back. Not to be who she was.
She wished now she had kept running, not stopped so soon. This policeman wouldn’t have stumbled on her if she lived in Maine or Florida. Back then, though, she hadn’t known where was safest because she didn’t know where she was from. How could she guess, when she had no idea how long she’d been in that car trunk before she became lucid?
She had come to think of her escape that night as her birthing story. The car trunk was her womb. Except a womb was supposed to be a safe place, nestled beneath a mother’s heart. Babies were forced out of the womb when the time came, crying their reluctance, only to be met with welcoming arms. They didn’t flee in terror into the night, grateful for the lash of tree branches, the scrape of bark.
If she had to start over again now, it wouldn’t be quite the same, of course; at least this time she’d retain her history and sense of self. But it would be a rebirth, nonetheless. Too close to what she’d already had to do once. And...impractical. She’d been reacting like a terrified kid, not the adult she was now.
She could call up newspaper clippings and read about Maddie Dubeau. If seeing her own face in them, the faces of her parents or friends, brought back her memories, would that be so bad?
Alone in her apartment, Nell hugged herself with intense anxiety, trying to reason with a bone-deep terror that felt as primal as mankind’s instinctive fear of fire or snakes or the dark.
I like my life. Why would I want to know where I came from?
Because, she admitted. Because she was lonely, and as things stood she didn’t dare let anyone close enough to have the right to expect answers. Because she felt hollow when she was with a group of friends, like her readers’ club, and they shared stories of their childhoods and families until she could see whole tapestries spread out, with rich colors and details so fine they made her heart hurt. Because she would like children of her own, if only she knew why the kind of trust a marriage took was impossible for her.
Because she hated being afraid of something she couldn’t even remember.
The next day, Nell went online and, first, did a search for the policeman who had confronted her in the parking lot. Captain Colin McAllister. It was reassuring when his name popped up immediately with dozens of references. Mostly in central Oregon newspapers, but a few times in the Oregonian, Portland’s daily. She randomly clicked on sites and read about testimonies in court, press conferences, promotions. The article in the Angel Butte Reporter about his promotion to captain of the Investigation and Support Services Division had a photo of him in uniform, gazing gravely at the camera. His eyes were hooded, watchful. They were gray, she decided, peering so closely her nose was almost pressed to the monitor. He wasn’t smiling, and his brows were knit together a little, adding a couple of creases to his forehead. And yes, he definitely had that remote look she was used to seeing in cops who came by SafeHold.
Not sure why she did, Nell printed the picture. Maybe if she kept studying his face she could decide if he was trustworthy.
Finally, pulse racing, she typed Madeline Noelle Dubeau into the search engine and, after a shaky moment, hit Enter. There were bunches of articles, not just in the Angel Butte paper but also in the Oregonian and even the Seattle Times. She chose one in the Portland Oregonian, and was unexpectedly stunned to see her face. She saw the date, and realized how lucky she’d been not to be recognized. She’d been in Portland by then, as naive and, in truth, almost as helpless as a newborn, trying to figure out how to survive while also staying invisible.
Now, she thought in bemusement, I know how old I really am. She’d been close, but was a year older than she’d thought.
The article summed up the history. Her history. It was assumed that fifteen-year-old Maddie had been abducted, leaving behind her mountain bike, her wallet and blood that DNA testing confirmed was hers. Her parents had thought she was upstairs in her bedroom when she had instead been riding her bike through a wooded section of park. The best guess was that she was on her way to a friend’s house in a neighborhood beyond the park. The friend, Emily Henson, hadn’t expected Maddie. Investigators had declined to share any leads police might be pursuing.
Nell read hungrily, article after article. There were her parents. Her father, Marc Dubeau, owned a major resort and had, at the time, sat on the city council. A lean, dark-haired and dark-eyed man, he looked like he might be as French as the name. He was handsome, and she couldn’t see herself in him at all. Her mother was always in the background in photos, either grief or personality making her retreat inside herself so that her face was expressionless, her wide eyes seeing something that wasn’t in front of her. She was blonde and blue-eyed, but aside from coloring Nell looked strikingly like her. The triangular, almost catlike face with a broad sweep of cheekbones and sharp chin, the eyes that were almost too big for the rest of the face. The look came together more elegantly for Helen Dubeau than it did for Nell, whose hair was plain brown and who had somehow acquired freckles across her nose. But they were recognizably mother and daughter, a fact that left her staring and winded.