"Deanna!" Will was frantic. She had never just collapsed like this before, and this was the second time in one day. He carried her to the couch and laid her down as gently as he could. "Deanna?"
"Mmm....owww....Will?" Deanna moved her head back and forth slowly, as if trying to shake off the pain and confusion she was feeling since this latest episode. "W-what happened?"
Will shook his head. "I'm not exactly sure. You said something about her not coming home the day of the picture. Then you pulled something out of the trunk, and the next thing I knew, I heard some sort of mental scream, and you collapsed. Do you remember anything? Hey, easy --"
At Will's indirect mention of the necklace, Deanna shot upwards on the couch. "I - I remember....." Tears dripped down her cheeks unnoticed as the elusive memories took hold of her mind and soul. "I took her school that morning. She was so excited.....she didn't even seem to mind when I left. There was a problem with the water system in the house that afternoon.....there was water everywhere, and I realized I wasn't going to get there in time to pick her up.....s-so, I called a neighbor. She was about my age at the time, and she loved Axie, she was her favorite sitter....." She broke down then, sobbing uncontrollably.
Will could never remember feeling so helpless. This whole thing was just killing her, in point of fact it was killing him too, but there was no way around the past. He didn't have the heart to push her, but the memories were eating at her, and they had to come out. He put his hand on her shoulder by means of support, and waited as her sobs lessened.
Slowly, she continued, "They never came home. God, it's my fault! I trusted her, I really thought she would be safe, but she....she just took her. She picked her up from school and just drove off. Why didn't I just go get her?? Why did I let her..."
He grabbed her by the shoulders then, afraid of the growing hysteria in his wife's anguished voice. "Don't. Don't even think that way. You knew her, she was a friend. You couldn't have known she would do something like this, and you certainly couldn't have helped not being able to pick her up. Emergencies happen, and you did the best that you could. This is NOT your fault, do you understand me?"
"But....but maybe if I hadn't tried to be so stubborn in the beginning, if I hadn't kept it a secret.....maybe...."
"And if I hadn't been such a jerk, if your mother hadn't been so hard headed, if Wendy never showed up....and if none of that had happened, I still might have been who knows where on some mission or other, or who knows what else. Second guessing our past is part of what kept us apart for twenty odd years, and it didn't help then, and it won't help now."
Deanna just shook her head. "No! You don't understand....don't you see, that was just the beginning of it. After that it all just got worse, and I didn't know what to do. Everything came and went, and happened so fast, and I didn't see it coming, and I should have known, should have felt it, something, but I -"
By this point, Will was caught between wanting to reassure her in some way, and trying to figure out just what turn this whole conversation had suddenly seemed to have taken. "Deanna, honey, please. I know this isn't easy for you, and I know you're upset, so am I, but I can't understand what you are trying to say. Please slow down for me, or at least try, and tell me what happened next. There must have been, I don't know, some sort of clues, right?" He watched her carefully, wishing there were some way to help her battle whatever demons she was fighting.
Deanna swallowed rapidly, trying desperately to hold on to consciousness as she slipped even deeper into the inky blackness of horror that came next. "I just kept thinking, I don't know, that they had....stopped for ice cream after, t-to celebrate her first day, or maybe the park, cause Axie, she loved the swings....she'd stay for hours if you let her, just swinging." She turned to Will, and he could see the irrational hope still shining in her eyes, as if after all these years, the answer could still be so simple.
"Go on," he whispered, reaching out once more to steady her.
"I waited. That was my fatal mistake. I waited for her to come back, until it was too late. When I did call the police, there was a massive search. Clues?" She laughed bitterly. "There were clues alright -- too many. They would find little pieces of evidence everywhere they had a lead.....little barrettes, a shoelace, a book from her bookbag, and....this." She opened the fist that had clutched the tiny necklace since she had first removed it from the trunk.
"What is it?" Will asked cautiously, unsure of how whatever Deanna held in her hand had not only unlocked her memories, but held the key to their daughter's fate.
Deanna dropped the little broken chain into his hands as a fresh wave of tears overtook her. He examined it more closely, understanding and agony dawned simultaneously. Hanging from the chain was a nameplate that read "Axie", and it was coal black with a kind of tarnish that no amount of polishing could remove. Will felt tears sting in his own eyes as Deanna's next words confirmed the inevitable.
"No one was ever sure how that survived, except that some piece of the building frame must have fallen on top of it. Everything else in the room was just....consumed....in flames. It was the only identification they had, and the....last clue ever found."