A tragic kidnapping leads to an unlikely friendship in this novel about finding light in the midst of darkness from the author of The Truth About Alice.
When eleven-year-old Dylan Anderson is kidnapped, his subsequent rescue leads to the discovery of fifteen-year-old Ethan Jorgensen, who had gone on a bike ride four years earlier and had never been seen again. Dylan's older sister, Caroline, can't help but wonder what happened to her brother, who has nonverbal autism and is not adjusting well to life back home. There's only one person who knows the truth: Ethan. But Ethan isn't sure how he can help Caroline when he is fighting traumatic memories of his own captivity. Both Caroline and Ethan need a friend, however, and their best option just might be each other.
About the Author
Jennifer Mathieu is the author of Devoted and The Truth About Alice, the winner of the Children's Choice Book Awards' Teen Choice Debut Author Award. She teaches high school English in Texas, where she lives in the Houston area with her husband and son.
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By Jennifer Mathieu
Roaring Brook PressCopyright © 2016 Jennifer Mathieu
All rights reserved.
CAROLINE — BEFORE
My mother takes the vase from the bookshelf and hurls it, smashing it to bits by my father's bare feet. My father doesn't even step back as the tiny pink and white pieces of ceramic skid past him on the hardwood floor. He just stands there, staring.
"Dylan! Dylan, where are you!" My mother shrieks my brother's name and collapses into the mess she's just made.
I've never heard my mother yell like this. Like the yell has crawled from the base of her feet and up her spine and forced itself out of her mouth. Like it's coming from some other planet. Her screams are especially scary because they're so different from the calm and collected way she behaved just moments ago when the police arrived. They came to say they don't know anything new. That they don't have the slightest idea where Dylan might be.
My mother nodded numbly, but as soon as she shut the door after them, she started to scream.
My father crouches down next to her on the floor, but when he tries to put his arms around her, she shrugs him off and spreads herself flat, kicking the pieces of broken vase out behind her with her feet and sending them spinning wildly out in front of her with her hands.
My grandmother and aunt run in from the kitchen, and as the anxious huddle around my mother grows, I slip down the hallway toward my bedroom, even though I don't understand how my body is managing to move at all.
Since my little brother disappeared four days ago, I'm actually not sure how we've all managed to stay alive much less move. My mother isn't eating, and my father isn't sleeping. I've done a little bit of both, but barely. Now I make it inside my bedroom and shut the door, then crawl into my unmade bed. I'm still dressed in my Violent Femmes T-shirt and butterfly-patterned pajama pants that I've been wearing since Saturday. I've got on the same underpants from that day, too, if you want to know the truth. My parents haven't changed clothes either, or brushed their teeth or combed their hair. It's like we've been frozen in that moment when we first realized Dylan was missing. And I mean scary, terrible missing. Not lost in the woods missing, which is bad enough. But taken missing. Kidnapped missing.
Burying my head under my pillow, I decide to count to one hundred and tell myself that by the time I'm finished, we'll have found Dylan alive.
"One ... two ... three ..." I whisper.
With my whole heart I will the police to call our house or ring our doorbell with good news.
"Four ... five ... six."
I imagine some nice lady ordering a pizza and seeing the neon yellow MISSING flyer with Dylan's picture pasted on the pizza box — the one where he's wearing his sweet toothy grin and his favorite cartoon space alien T-shirt — and then I imagine her looking out the window and spotting Dylan standing in her front yard, just waiting to be found.
"Seven ... eight ... nine."
I fantasize that one of the many made up, hair sprayed, honey-voiced television news reporters who've been interviewing my pale, barefooted parents in our family room over and over these past few days runs another story, a story where the right person realizes the right thing and makes the right phone call and my brother, my sweet little brother, comes home safe.
"Ten ... eleven ... twelve."
I make it to one hundred, but nothing happens.CHAPTER 2
ETHAN — BEFORE
All it takes is someone who isn't Marty opening the door of the apartment. In the end, it's as simple as that.
It's not one police officer who shows up but four or five. They have their guns up like on television and in the movies, and the little kid whose name I don't know and who is sitting next to me on the couch watching me play video games wets himself when they bust in. It's the third time he's pissed himself since Marty brought him here, and the first two times Marty swore and I scrubbed out the kid's pants in the kitchen sink and the kid just walked around making circles with his feet and whimpering.
But this time when he wets himself, I don't move to help him. I don't move at all. Because now the police are here, and they're shouting and asking us who we are, and the little kid is wet and crying and he gets up and runs to the door, and one officer takes him outside and for a split second I'm jealous. Because I don't know if I'm going to get to go, too. And I sit there, my game console still in my hands, the bleeps of the video game speeding up. They're going as fast as my heart is pounding. Suddenly, the electronic beats explode into a sad tune and I die on the screen, but my real heart — the heart inside of me — it's still pumping. I glance at the television and I look at the officers and I don't know what's up or what's down, what's real or what's not.
But my heart is beating, so I've got to be alive.
"What's your name, son?" says one officer. She's a girl. A woman, I mean, with dark hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. There hasn't been a woman in this apartment in all the time I've been here.
I'm trying to catch my breath. I'm trying to speak. Without even realizing I'm doing it, my eyes go to the closet in the corner of the room. The one with the Master Lock on the outside. My tongue fills up my mouth, and I can't answer.
"Son?" she says. Her voice gets a little softer, and I look at her again.
The other officers are racing around the apartment, opening doors, yelling at each other.
"What's your name, sweetheart?"
It's the way she says sweetheart. That's what works.
"I'm Ethan," I tell her.
May 25, 2016
An 11-year-old boy who disappeared from the town of Dove Lake, Texas, was found alive Wednesday in a Houston apartment complex almost 100 miles away from where he had been abducted, along with a 15-year-old boy kidnapped from the same area in 2012, authorities said.
The boys were found in the Houston apartment of Martin Gulliver, 43, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot when authorities attempted to arrest him at his workplace, Sheriff Joseph Garcia said.
The boys appeared physically unharmed. Dylan Anderson, 11, who has autism, was reunited with his parents and older sister on Wednesday evening. He had been last seen walking in his neighborhood on Saturday afternoon.
An area woman witnessed Dylan walking past her house alone, which she found unusual as she had never seen him outside of his house unsupervised. She told authorities that a few moments later she spotted a black pickup with severe damage to the rear bumper speeding away from the area.
Searchers from Dove Lake and surrounding communities searched on foot and horseback through the night and during the weekend. A break in the case came when Houston authorities were serving a warrant at the apartment complex on an unrelated case and discovered a pickup that matched the description of the vehicle seen near the scene of Dylan's disappearance. A check of the vehicle tags connected the vehicle to Gulliver's apartment.
Garcia says officers were shocked when they entered the apartment and discovered Ethan Jorgenson, 15, who had disappeared from Dove Lake in May of 2012. He had been heading to a friend's house and never arrived.
Ethan was reunited with his parents, Phillip and Megan Jorgenson, on Wednesday evening. In the four years Ethan had been missing, his parents had emptied retirement accounts to hire private investigators in an effort to find their son. Psychics hired by the couple told them their son was most likely dead. Ethan's disappearance served as a cautionary tale in the small community where residents often left doors unlocked and let children play unsupervised in nearby creeks and wooded areas.
"We lost our small town innocence the day Ethan disappeared," said Beth Murphy, a resident who helped organize annual vigils held during the four years Ethan was missing.
After authorities found the boys, police approached Gulliver at his workplace, Gina's Italian Kitchen, where Gulliver had worked as a cook since 2008. According to Garcia, when Gulliver saw the officers approaching, he exited on foot through the back of the restaurant and shot himself with a concealed weapon he had been carrying. He was pronounced dead at Houston's Ben Taub Hospital.
Despite owning a vehicle, Gulliver often walked or took the bus for his shifts at the restaurant, and fellow employees say he rarely missed work. They were unaware of Ethan Jorgenson's presence and believed Gulliver lived alone.
According to Garcia, authorities in Houston and Dove Lake are working together to establish the motive behind the kidnappings. One law enforcement source who wished to remain unidentified said Gulliver lived in Dove Lake briefly as a teenager and may have returned to the town because he was familiar with the area but would not be recognized.
"It's highly unusual for there to be two abductions from the same area by the same perpetrator," said Garcia. "There are a lot of unanswered questions right now. But the most important thing is two boys are back home safe with their families tonight."
Abel Hernandez, 54, who lives at the apartment complex where the boys were found, said Gulliver was a polite but quiet man who kept to himself. Hernandez said he and other residents assumed Ethan was Gulliver's son, and that the two were regularly seen outside the apartment. According to neighbors, Ethan went by the name Ethan Gulliver. Hernandez said Ethan never appeared frightened of Gulliver and seemed to come and go as he pleased.
"One time I asked him how school was going, and he told me he was going to school online," said Hernandez. "He didn't seem like a kid who'd been kidnapped."
At a brief news conference held Wednesday evening in Dove Lake, both families thanked law enforcement for helping to find their sons.
"We are so grateful to have Ethan back, I can't even express it in words," said a tearful Megan Jorgenson. "We've finally managed to wake up from our nightmare."
Dylan's parents, Andrew and Mindy, were equally thankful as was Dylan's sister, Caroline, 16.
"I want to hold my little brother tight and never let him go," she said to reporters.CHAPTER 3
ETHAN — 92 DAYS AFTERWARD
These are the sounds from home that I hadn't realized I remembered until I came home after four years and heard them again:
The yip-yip-yip of Missy the Chihuahua next door
The clunk-plunk of the ice maker
My dad's car pulling into the driveway and the thud of the driver's side door shutting, and then exactly eight beats later his keys in the front door
The sigh my mother makes after she takes her first sip from her nightly cup of Earl Grey decaffeinated tea — how it starts really loud and then gets smaller and smaller like it's running downhill or something
The theme song to All Things Considered on the kitchen radio
The screech of the garbage truck brakes on Monday mornings
All those sounds kept happening while I was gone. The refrigerator kept making ice. Missy kept barking. The garbage truck kept stopping. And I wasn't here to hear them.
* * *
It's been three months since I've come home, and I keep remembering sounds. And smells. All summer long they've been coming back to me. As soon as I remember them I realize I never really forgot them. Maybe I just kept them somewhere deep inside me that Marty couldn't get to. Which makes me glad, I guess. But it makes me depressed, too. Because I realize how much I missed those sounds. Even the Chihuahua.
These are the smells from home that I hadn't realized I remembered until I came home after four years and I smelled them again:
Fabuloso floor cleaner in lavender that Gloria uses to clean our floors
Yankee Candles in Honeydew Melon and Kitchen Spice — my mom orders them in bulk online
The Irish Spring soap my dad uses in the shower
The stink of my old gym shoes, which were still in my room four years later even though they didn't fit me anymore, and which still managed to smell like my middle school locker room
Clean sheets on my bed. I don't even know what Gloria uses to wash them, and I don't care. Clean sheets. I can't tell you how much I fucking appreciate those now.
Venison-and-pork sausage grilling on the stove top — my dad's favorite on Saturday mornings
Damn, now that I think about it, I could make a whole list of tastes I'd forgotten/secretly remembered.
I've wondered about asking Dr. Greenberg about all of these smells and sounds, but I'm not sure how I'm supposed to phrase the question. Like, is it normal to think about sounds and smells so much, Dr. Greenberg? Do all the other guys that you treat who were kidnapped when they were eleven and a half and then were found after four years also think about sounds and smells? I mean, it's not like there are a lot of us who fit this description. He's probably as clueless as me about to how to deal with me. We've been meeting twice a week for three months now and basically all we talk about is the weather and how I'm sleeping. He always wants to know how I'm sleeping.
My answer is always, "Not so good." Which is why I'm on one medicine to help me fall asleep and one medicine to help me stay asleep.
Neither one helps me sleep with the lights off, so I have to sleep with them on.
The nights are the worst.
* * *
These are the sounds from when Marty had me that I don't realize I've kept somewhere deep inside me until I hear something that reminds me of them:
That clicking sound a doorknob makes when you shut it
The squeaks a mattress makes sometimes
Heavy bass in hip-hop music
Cigarette lighters clicking
And these are the smells:
Italian carryout heated up too many times
Palmolive dish soap
Maybe next time I go see Dr. Greenberg I can ask him about the smells and the sounds. But probably I won't. Probably I'll do what I usually do, which is sit and nod at what he's saying while on the inside I'm wondering all these weird things that I can't say out loud to this Dr. Greenberg guy who I barely know. Probably I'll do what I usually do, which is look out the window at this huge pecan tree growing outside of Dr. Greenberg's office and think about how for the four years I was gone it was there, growing and getting to be this pecan tree. Doing its pecan tree thing. Waking up every morning under the sun and becoming a little bit bigger each day. Not worried about anything.CHAPTER 4
CAROLINE — 96 DAYS AFTERWARD
All day long my mom has been after me to haul the stacks of old newspapers and magazines that have been breeding in the garage out to the garbage can at the back of the house. When the sun starts to set, I finally get around to it. As I struggle to lift the lid and dump the junk, I notice one of the yellowing papers has a big picture of Dylan under the front page headline. It was taken the day he was rescued. I stare at the picture of him standing between me and my parents, clutching my mother's arm, and I can't believe it's been just over three months since Dylan came home and we were on the front page of almost every major paper in Texas.
I mean, never once in my soul-sucking, mind-numbing, small-town Texas life did I think that one day I would be standing in front of CNN anchor Gloria Conway in all her hair sprayed, stiletto-wearing glory as she asked me what any rational person would qualify as The Stupidest Questions in the World.
How does it feel to have your little brother back?
How did you keep it together these last few days?
Have you felt like a support for your parents as they've dealt with this unimaginable situation?
Excerpted from Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu. Copyright © 2016 Jennifer Mathieu. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Caroline — Before,
Ethan — Before,
Ethan — 92 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 96 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 105 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 109 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 132 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 140 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 146 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 148 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 149 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 157 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 161 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 161 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 163 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 183 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 187 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 199 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 201 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 212 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 224 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 224 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 226 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 232 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 233 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 238 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 260 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 262 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 264 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 288 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 289 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 291 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 306 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 312 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 315 Days Afterward,
Caroline — 329 Days Afterward,
Ethan — 390 Days Afterward,
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