In the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, little girls have started to disappear. The city is in hysterics. Parents are frantic, and the police are baffled. Thea Kelly is one of the shocked community members, witnessing the horror via the news on TV. She feels bad for the parents, but her home is protected and her neighborhood is safe. She isn't worried-until her own daughter, Alexa, goes missing.
Days pass, then weeks and months. Alexa Kelly is not coming home. The realization is paralyzing, and Thea finds it almost impossible to go on. An entire year passes before the culprit is brought to justice, but there is no word on the whereabouts of Thea's daughter or whether she is alive or dead. It is possible that the kidnapper did not murder all the girls, but it looks as though Thea's daughter's location will remain a mystery forever.
No longer able to remain in Dallas-surrounded by the memories of her little girl-Thea escapes to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she plans to start a new life, leaving the painful past behind. The healing process gradually begins when she meets new friends and embarks upon a new career. But is it possible to move on after the loss of a child, or will Thea always be haunted by the image of her little girl, reaching out to her?
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Read an Excerpt
All That Remains
By Melva Haggar Dye
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Melva Haggar Dye
All right reserved.
Chapter One"So you're leaving after all." He spoke in the tight, clipped manner that sparked her annoyance.
"I'm not leaving, Joe," Thea replied tiredly. Or was she? "I'm merely going on a trip alone. You know I've dreamed of going to Mexico City for years."
"Why now? Why not wait until I finish the Beckerman project? We could go together then. I'll take some time off after the first of the year, and we can—"
Thea cut him off. "Joe, we don't need to go together. We need—okay, I need—space. Besides, you said yourself you won't have the final blueprints ready for Mr. Beckerman for another two months at the earliest." She wished for that same all-consuming passion in her teaching that Joe had found in his architectural designs. Maybe then the dreaded images wouldn't invade and torture her so. Yes, they would.
"I could drive you to the airport, you know. I'd like that." He wouldn't let it go.
"Max is coming at seven in the morning. I've already arranged it with her." That was all she said. It was kinder than telling him the truth, which was what? That the less time they spent together these days, the better? "Thanks, anyway," she added, guilt nibbling at her.
"I see. While you're away, perhaps Teresa could pack up the room. I think it's time," he said.
"Well, I don't!" Thea responded sharply. She turned her back to her husband, making a pretense of rearranging her suitcase, wishing he'd leave the bedroom. He wouldn't leave, though, and warned by his deep sigh, she tensed at what came next.
"Thea, it's been over a year." Joe's voice was thick with emotion. "Can't you put it behind you?"
"Can you?" She turned to face him squarely. "Can you honestly tell me you can't feel her still alive? In here, Joe," she said as she pounded her chest where a heart had once brimmed over with love. "In here, I feel it! In here, I know she's out there somewhere, waiting for me." Spurred on by her own intensity, she continued. "And please, Joe, stop telling me it's been over a year. I know exactly how long it's been! Thirteen months, eleven days, and, let's see," she checked the bedside clock pointedly, "three hours. I was here, remember?"
"Oh, and I wasn't here, so I'm to blame? That's it. That's what you're saying! If I had left work a little earlier—"
"That is not what I'm saying, Joe." Thea bit her lip. She was so tired of talking and so tired of him. When had it become so tiresome being with the man she'd loved half of her life? "If anyone's to blame, it's me," she went on. "So please stop reminding me how long it's been."
His deep voice cracked with the agony of the moment. "I'd give my life to have her back, you know that. The two of you were my whole world. It's the future we need to work on now, though. We can get it back, Thea. Together we can do anything!"
Poor Joe—he tried awkwardly to embrace her and to soften the sting of his words. But those strong arms she had once loved, that embrace that had cradled her in safety for so long, now threatened to smother her. She pushed firmly against his chest, creating a distance between them. Heartbroken as she was over the cracks in their marriage that threatened to become chasms, she felt powerless to repair the damage. "No, Joe, we cannot do anything together, not anymore."
Thea turned away from the hurt in his eyes and moved to the window seat, dismissing him. It wasn't in her nature to be deliberately cold and insensitive. The realization was troubling to her. Sometime later, the sound of the car's engine broke through her reverie. She watched his car disappear down the driveway into the gathering darkness. "Oh, Joe," she whispered, "not only have we lost our daughter, we have lost us!"
Chapter TwoThe Plaza de la Constitución pulsed and throbbed with energy. Here the imagination soared to limitless heights, as both life and death were celebrated. Adorned now with the festive trappings of Feliz Navidad, the ancient plaza embraced the throngs of people who filled her.
Thea Kelly felt herself being drawn into that embrace, experiencing a deep reverence for what her eyes beheld. "This is the second-largest city plaza in the world!" she marveled aloud.
She became conscious of her surroundings as the slightly embarrassed taxi driver cleared his throat and spoke. "Senora, por favor?"
It was her turn to be embarrassed. How long had she been sitting in the taxi, mesmerized by the sights and sounds of the plaza? She laughed—a forced and hollow sound—as she paid the friendly driver and stepped from the taxi.
Earlier anxieties hovered. Perhaps coming to Mexico alone hadn't been a good idea after all. Thea had looked forward to this trip, but the moment the bellman had deposited her bags and left her in the silence of her hotel room, that familiar curtain of depression threatened to descend once more. She had hurried downstairs to engage a taxi.
Standing now in the historic Zócala, in a land whose peoples and cultures she so greatly admired, she took pride in having fought off her depression and once again felt a hunger to consume the sights and sounds all at once. She was eager to travel back centuries in time and immerse herself in the art of Mexico through its world-famous museums and to gain a deeper understanding of past civilizations. God willing, she would find some measure of peace to sustain her throughout the rest of her life—a life that now held little appeal.
For a time, Thea wandered reverently through the wonderful old Metropolitan Cathedral, marveling at architecture that had withstood the ravages of time. And the art! She would never tire of gazing at the larger-than-life images of the Virgin and Christ Child, Jesus as a man, the disciples, and the angels. In her mind's eye, she could see clearly the ancient hands of the craftsmen at work still. The wood carver, the stonecutter, and the painter all came alive to her.
As she emerged from the cathedral later in the afternoon, her tears-treaked face and grave expression gave mute testimony to a ceaseless agony. What a sight I must be! Thea loosened the combs that held her hair and allowed it to fall in a silken black cascade nearly to her waist. Even in her disheveled state, she drew admiring glances. This attention puzzled her as it always had. Joe often said her feelings of inferiority resulted from an only-child complex, but Thea didn't buy into the analysis; she was well aware of her flaws. She was too tall, her eyes were too wide set, and her nose was much too prominent.
To the casual observer, she looked to be a native of Mexico; but on closer inspection, her olive skin, almond-shaped eyes, and chiseled features were unmistakably Mediterranean. In spite of her wretched mood, the jovial atmosphere began to have an uplifting effect on her. She found it impossible to keep her body from swaying in rhythm to the mariachi bands and was soon returning smiles and nodding greetings.
Distracted by the frivolity around her, Thea very nearly bumped into the little girl standing before her now—eyes riveted on her. Oh, those eyes—solemn black pools, they were! Even amid the gaiety of the plaza, her Spanish eyes remained secretive, knowing, perhaps resigned to accept whatever life held in store.
Thea guessed the child to be about five or six. Without warning, the image very nearly blinded her with its brilliance, and she fought its possession. She fought it but lost.
Alexa will be six in two months. Alexa, skipping without a care, lifting chubby arms to be embraced. Alexa with dark and rolling eyes, hair curling in damp ringlets against her neck, mahogany hair, black like Thea's and that of her Greek mother's, but shot through with red highlights inherited from Joe—
"Alexa!" With her own anguished cry, the image receded, leaving her wounded and alone. Thea saw that the little girl had not moved, those intense eyes unwavering in their study of this strange, sad lady. A woman, most likely the mother, seized the child's hand and quickly pulled her away. She spoke tersely as she hurried across the plaza, no doubt admonishing her daughter not to stare, perhaps warning her not to get too close to strangers.
Thea wanted to run after them and tell the mother that she, too, had a beautiful little daughter and to reassure her that no harm would come to her child. But how could she make the mother understand? How could she talk of reassurance, of protection against harm? She had failed to protect Alexa. Everyone had failed.
Chapter ThreeIn spite of her comfortable hotel room and delicious dinner, Thea endured a sleepless first night in Mexico City. Even with the flight, long taxi rides, and hours of walking in the Zócala, the escape she had sought in sleep had not come. She had risen early and, after a light breakfast, wandered into the park.
Even in December, the weather was pleasant. She soon found a bench to her liking and began to leaf through the various brochures she had picked up in the hotel lobby, attempting to keep her mind occupied. She figured that it might be a good day to visit some nearby villages noted for their crafts, mainly Metepec for the pottery.
Thea's dream of one day becoming a successful potter had been shared with her best friend, Maxine Lindel. A sad little smile crossed her face as she recalled Max's words: "You're going to be famous one day, kiddo. Believe me!"
Now, the excitement of that dream was gone. Thea still enjoyed teaching to some degree and enjoyed the young people. After seven years, though, the familiarity of her classroom and school had left her weary. She longed for a more creative role as well as a new direction in her career and in her life. She just didn't know how to go about achieving it yet.
She and Max taught at the same junior high school in the Dallas, Texas, area. Max taught physical education and coached the girls' swim team, while Thea was head of the Arts Department. They had met shortly after Thea and Joe had moved to Texas, and the bond that had formed between them was precious.
The two women had become almost inseparable—"traffic stoppers," Joe often called them. Max's height matched Thea's five feet, eight inches, but the similarities in their appearance ended there. In contrast to Thea's dark features, Max's short blonde curls framed an impish, freckled face and piercing aquamarine eyes. Wild, witty, wonderful Max! She had been the one person who did not attempt to dissuade Thea from believing that Alexa was still alive and would be found and returned to them one day soon.
"Sorry I can't tell you what you want to hear the way Max does!" Joe's words had stung, driving the wedge between them even deeper.
Being several years older, Max also helped to fill the void left by the untimely passing of Thea's mother many years earlier. In retrospect, Max was the only real friend Thea had, except for Mike, of course. She had called him Daddy when she was a child, but he had become widely known as 'Big Mike' and Thea thought it fit him so well that she took to calling him by his name. He hadn't objected. It had been tough growing up without a mother, but Thea could not have wished for a more wonderful and loving parent than Michael Chandler.
Long-ago words echoed in her mind: "Stay close to your father, Athena, and be strong. You are all he will have left when I am gone." Mary Poulos Chandler's final words had fallen heavy on the shoulders of ten-year-old Thea. But they had risen to the occasion, she and Mike.
In spite of Mike's doting, growing up in the rural Ozark Mountains had been lonely for Thea. But then came Joe, and her loneliness had ended. Thea smiled. How out of place the gangling, freckled-faced, forever blushing fourteen-year-old boy had looked that first day of junior high school! Joe had always said it was love at first sight for him; Thea couldn't remember. She realized she'd never given much thought to her relationship with her husband until recently. The marriage, while far from perfect, had been good, hadn't it? Having Alexa had made it good.
Again they lured her, those haunting images of her life and her child before the nameless, faceless horror had struck.
"I named her Mary Alexa, Mike," Thea had murmured, slipping into her drug-induced sleep as the nurse gently removed her newborn daughter from her arms. Groggy as she was, she couldn't miss the smile that lit up her father's face. Tears of happiness filled his shining eyes as he simply nodded his approval.
The years following Alexa's birth were truly blissful for Thea. Over time, Joe had mentioned more children, but his dream of a gaggle of freckled faces spilling out onto a huge front porch was not her dream. For Thea, one happy, healthy, beautiful child was enough. And beautiful Alexa was! Her olive skin would glow golden in the summer sun, highlighting those dark, luminous eyes. At birth, she had had a small red birthmark just behind her left ear, shaped exactly like a strawberry. It was this strawberry that caused much delight among the three of them.
Many nights, the child would come bounding into her parents' bedroom. Smelling of Ivory and clean cotton and with a bedraggled and one-eyed teddy in tow, she would scramble under the covers between them. After much giggling and tickling, Thea would hold the squirming child, kiss her neck, and ask, "Whose berry is this?"
Alexa would throw tiny arms around Joe's neck and delightfully squeal, "Dat Daddy's berry!" And "Berry" she came to be—
A tiny whimper escaped Thea's lips as reality returned. The kaleidoscopic images began to fade, and a multitude of feelings and experiences that bound her to Joe drifted in and out of focus. As desperately as she had resisted their invasion, she now fought to hold onto those images, fearing that when they were gone completely, no more would she feel the loving touch of her husband; no more would she taste the sweet, wet kisses of her child.
Chapter Four"Paul, darling, there she is again, the young woman. She is so beautiful but so sad! She's been alone every day. Do invite her to join us."
"Elena, has it occurred to you that she may prefer to be alone?"
"Nonsense. No one should be alone during the Christmas holidays. Besides, she can always decline. Now go ask her, just for a drink."
Thea couldn't help but overhear the hushed voices of the couple at the nearby table. She had noticed them as well during the past week. The woman looked to be in her mid to late forties; the man several years older. Their traditional Spanish dress and flawless mastery of the language made it obvious to Thea that they were Hispanic. A shy smile crept over her face as she gladly accepted their invitation to join them.
Soon, the three of them were laughing at her attempts to speak Spanish. "With my fascination with Mexico and the culture here, wouldn't you think I would have taken time to learn the language?" Thea shook her head and made a wry face. "That's my next project." Being fluent, her new companions proclaimed the immediate beginning of lessons.
"The two of you are from Mexico, then?" Thea asked soon after joining the Ramirez couple.
"Actually, no," Paul answered. "Elena and I are natives of Santa Fe, New Mexico. But this is the birthplace of both of our families. We visit often and especially enjoy Christmas here."
The cocktail hour progressed to dinner, and Thea realized as she climbed into bed hours later, exhausted, that it was the first truly enjoyable evening she had spent in a long time.
During the days ahead, with the three of them spending so much time together, the chord of friendship was struck. Paul captured Thea's interest when he spoke of their home and his real estate business.
"Our city is the art capital of the Southwest, dear." Elena contributed to Thea's education of Santa Fe. "With your background and interest in art, you must come for a visit!" Elena was an accomplished artist herself, successful in marketing her jewelry creations throughout the Southwest.
In the company of her new friends, Thea began to believe some purpose might once again exist in her life. She found herself looking forward to each day when she awoke and constantly bombarded the couple with questions about Santa Fe.
"I wonder what it would be like to live in a city such as yours, surrounded by beautiful mountains and with more art galleries than I can visit in weeks! It sounds like the perfect place to live," Thea said.
Paul and Elena seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. They were obviously a happy couple, with Paul's composed demeanor complemented by Elena's high spirits. Some of their happiness is bound to rub off, Thea reflected. When asked about family, she had only briefly mentioned Alexa's disappearance. It was impossible for them to feel her pain—for anyone to feel her pain, for that matter. But she drew comfort from their presence when her tears would come without warning.
Excerpted from All That Remains by Melva Haggar Dye Copyright © 2012 by Melva Haggar Dye. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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