Craig's voice was gentle, his tone calm and sincere. "Of course he is. He's downstairs watching a movie with my dad. Do you want to talk to him?"
A wave of relief rushed over her. Craig was an amazing dad. He would know immediately if someone hurt his son. Craig had been thrilled to be a father right from the start, which sometimes felt like Melanie's only lucky break in life. She could fall apart like a Lego tower, her pieces scattered from one end of town to the other, and Craig would be right there, looking out for Caleb, no judgment. Pretty lucky to get knocked up by a one-night stand like that.
"No, it's okay. I just had to check. You know."
Craig's voice stayed soft. "Yeah, I do. You want me to remind him about stranger-danger again, maybe on the way to school tomorrow?"
The tears welled up. Craig was the most decent guy she'd ever met. "Would you? It's not too soon from last time?"
"Nah," Craig said, and she could hear the smile in his voice. "He wants more independence, always more. Reminders are good."
The combination of Craig's voice and his ability to reassure her of his vigilance wound into her and she relaxed, just the tiniest bit. "Not too much independence yet, okay?" she said. And Craig laughed for real.
"Of course not."
As she hung up the phone, Melanie experienced, not for the first time, such a huge longing to be normal that she felt hollow.
She could have had a chance for a life with Craig and Caleb, all of them together as a family, if only she weren't bat-shit crazy. The hollow feeling was usually replaced by sheer hopelessness. But this time, it emptied her of fear and filled her up with anger.
That fucker better not get within a mile of her son.
The computer was ready. She clicked open the internet browser and went to Yahoo.
It took her ten minutes to create a new yahoo account.
Approximately three seconds after that, the new message notification dinged to get her attention.
Almost too late.
The screen name, DollCollector, was so cute she almost vomited.
She typed, Fuck you. I'm here.
Beautiful dolls are sweet. If you can't be nice, the alternative will be more fun for me.
Shit. The surge of adrenaline that revved up her anger was backfiring. She needed to draw him in, not piss him off.
She tried to remember what he'd wanted her to call him, way back when, in the shed. There was something, she knew there was, but she'd given up her voice. And anyway, he'd kept her gagged most of the time.
She typed, I'm sorry.
More words appeared on the screen, and the alert dinged again, making her flinch. She would have to figure out how to turn that off, but for now she turned the monitor volume all the way down.
Tell me the truth: Our time together changed your whole life. Yes or No.
That was easy. Yes.
Tell me the truth: You've been waiting for me. Yes or No.
If she'd thought for one second he'd ever go free, she would have been waiting for him with sheer terror, dread, and a baseball bat.
She typed, Not really. Well, I mean because they claim nobody ever leaves MSOP. Besides, I'm you know, not young anymore.
The dialogue window flashed with new words. But you are still beautiful, like a perfect doll. The way you cried for your poor mother – ah. Brought back so many good memories.
He was talking, first about her mother's funeral, and then about the three most terrifying days of her life. She cringed way from the screen, wanting to scream 'what the hell is wrong with you? You terrorized a child, you sick ass-wipe, you utter waste of skin.'
She did neither. She bowed her head and let the anger rise up, flood her whole body with prickly heat, until she suspected her brain was boiling.
And then she pictured Caleb. As a baby, a toddler, a kindergartner, a third-grader, and now. She thought, you sick fuck, you will NOT damage my son. If she had to sacrifice herself, so be it. It was like aiming a fire extinguisher at a fire pit.
A puff, a sizzle, and then nothing but ash.