“WHY ARE YOU BEING LIKE THIS, MUM?? WE NEED TO TURN AROUND!!!”
“Isabelle, please don’t shout! Your father is trying to drive!”
“YEAH! Away from where we should be looking! I can’t believe you’ve decided to give up. Is this how you treat all members of this family?”
“Of course not! We just need to head home and can look again in the morning”
“He could be dead by then!”
“Don’t be silly! He’s very resourceful. I’m sure he’s found somewhere warm for the night.”
“How do you know that? He could be kidnapped or worse!! This is crazy, what kind of parents are you??”
“Isabelle, that’s not fair! You can’t…”
“I’ll call Child Line! They’ll know what to do!!”
“And do what??”
“Make you see that this is no way to treat youngsters in your family. Put you on a training course or something for bad parents.”
“Stop laughing, I’m serious! This is the worst moment in the history of you as my Mum and Dad. I’ve never heard any of my friend’s Mums and Dads doing something so horrific and disgraceful.”
“You sure? Maybe they’ve just not told you because I know a few stories…”
“Don’t change the subject! I’m going to give you one more chance to turn the car around or…”
“I’m going to never speak to you again!”
“That sounds tempting!”
“Shut up, Dad! I’m speaking to Mummy!!”
“Yes Jeff, don’t make it even worse! You two are so alike!”
“Right where were we before Daddy rudely interrupted us? Oh yes, I’ll never speak to you again so this is your last chance… TURN THE CAR AROUND!!”
“Isabelle, we’ve discussed this…”
“Isabelle, keep your voice…”
“Your father is trying to concentrate…”
“If he has an accident that won’t help anyone!”
Jeff struck the indicator on the side of his steering wheel hard, looking swiftly in his rear view mirror he switched into the middle lane, then almost immediately the slow lane. With other cars testing their brakes and incessantly beeping him, he finally pulled into the lay-by slamming his foot on the brake bringing the car to an abrupt halt. Isabelle and her Mum Daisy were caught by their seatbelts and had to catch their breaths.
Spinning round in his seat to face his daughter, Jeff’s face was already the same colour as the outside of their bright red car.
“What on earth are you flipping playing at??? We looked for over an hour!! He wasn’t there! I need to get home for an important meeting in the morning and it’s the difference between me having a job or not. Does that make sense?”
With tears in her eyes Isabelle snuffled a response, “But he’s part of this family and I can’t go to sleep without him in the house! I know your job is important but does that mean none of us are as important as your work?”
“No that’s not what I’m saying! I mean…”
“Well you used to love him so maybe you’ll do the same to me one day!”
“Izzy, you’re twisting my words again! I mean… wait! DON’T OPEN THAT DOOR!”
It was too late. Isabelle unclicked her seatbelt, swung open the car door and flung herself out into the bushes next to the lay-by sprinting as fast as she could through the trees and down a country lane back in the direction of where they had last seen their missing family member.
Daisy and Jeff shot out of the car after their daughter. This was not like her at all but they knew it was a risk leaving when they did, with one of them still missing, but that’s parenting every day of the week. A series of mistakes and triumphs. Throwing themselves through the bushes they discovered the same country lane Isabelle had found a few minutes earlier. Looking down the dimly lit lane one way and then the other they couldn’t see a thing.
“Where has she gone, Jeff?” asked Daisy already beside herself with worry.
“She can’t have got far! She’s only got little legs.” Jeff had a knack for picking the wrong moment to crack a joke so quickly changed tact once he saw his wife’s death stare heading in his direction.
“Okay let’s split up, you go down that way. I’ll go this way and we meet back here in ten minutes. If either of us find Izzy we text the other one!!”
“Good idea at last! And just so we’re clear… we are not leaving until we find her!” Before Jeff could respond Daisy was running in the opposite direction screaming her daughter’s name.
“Izzy! IZZY!! Where are you??” Jeff was already out of breath after sprinting more in the last minute than he’d managed in the previous five years. He switched on the torch on his phone holding it in front of him hoping it would help. Although he could see more of the path, all the other trees surrounding him were blocking the light from travelling further down the lane.
Further up the path he saw a small gap in the trees and decided to see where it lead. On the other side of the tunnel of trees was a farmer’s field with a barn at one end. With no sign of Izzy anywhere on the vast fields ahead of him, Jeff headed for the barn. Jogging parallel with the barbed wire he started to doubt his instincts as he jumped over the iron gate and landed flat on his face on the muddy stone floor.
Grumbling under his breath, Jeff picked himself up and hobbled towards the barn doors. The doors were padlocked shut with a chain feeding through a hole in the door. His phone alarm went off, ten minutes had lapsed. He needed to head back but before he span around, out of the corner of his eye he saw a ripped piece of purple material on the barn door. Wrestling it off the door Jeff held it up to the light. It was the same material as Izzy’s hoodie she had been wearing when she ran away from the car.
Jeff grabbed the barn door and started a tug of war with a huge piece of oak discovering quickly that the chain was much looser than it looked. It allowed him to create a big enough gap between the doors to crawl through and continue his search. The inside of the barn was quite empty with a few pens, lots of tools hanging on the walls and a ladder leading up into the roof. Leaning into how alike he was to his daughter, Jeff knew if Izzy was in here where she would have gone. Grabbing the ladder he slowly made his way upwards and within the first two rungs he could hear the faint sobs of someone up there.
“Izzy! Is that you?? Please come out! We need to know you’re safe!!”
There was no answer. Jeff reached the top of the ladder and heard a shuffling coming from behind some boxes at the far end of the storage space. Izzy scuffed her feet along the wooden floor as she revealed her hiding place to her Dad.
“I’m sorry Dad. I’m so scared! I didn’t know what else to do but realised I was too far away so thought I’d sleep here for the night and keep walking in the morning” Isabelle was shivering with her eyes red raw where she had been crying. Jeff took off his coat and wrapped it around her. He knelt down and hugged Izzy out of love and a large slice of relief.
“Don’t worry! Let’s get you back to the car. Forget my meeting! We’ll head back and try and find him now.”
“Really? You’re not just saying that?” Izzy stared into her Dad’s eyes hoping this wasn’t one of his bluffs.
“No, I admit it! We’ve got it wrong! Of course we should find him. Let’s get you safely out of here first.” Izzy smiled with more tears streaming down her face as she hugged Jeff once more.
As soon as they had survived the treacherous task of making it down the ladder together Jeff’s phone began to ring. It flashed “Daisy Wife”. He picked up. Before Daisy could say anything Isabelle answered.
“Mum, I’m here and Daddy and I are heading back to the car.”
“Oh! That’s wonderful sweetie! I’m so glad you’re okay. I was so worried! Where were you??”
“I’ll explain it later but Dad has agreed we will head back to find him now.”
“Has he now?”
“Yes I have honey, forget my meeting! This is much more important. Can you ring ahead and see if we can get a room somewhere nearby?”
Daisy started to Google “ B&Bs” near the town they had last seen him.
The next twelve hours were a whirlwind as the entire family scoured the high street trying to find him in every shop, café, library and park. Daisy and Jeff looked at each other knowing the time had come to accept that they were never going to find him when Izzy had an idea.
“Wait! What about the church? Don’t people who are lost go there all the time? That’s what my teacher always says!”
“Yes sweetie but not in that… wait for us!!”
Isabelle was already running across the road heading for the church leaving Jeff and Daisy for dust. Both of them contemplated whether reins on an eight year old was allowed as they tried to avoid being hit by oncoming traffic. Reaching the doors of the church they could see Izzy had already gone inside a minute or so before them. Jeff pulled on the large ornate door and a wave of choral sounds hit them in their atheist faces.
Walking slowly inside Daisy and Jeff quickly looked down the length of the church and could not see Isabelle anywhere. Thankfully they were not alone and someone walked up to them.
“Welcome to the Church of St Anthony, what brings you here today?”
“Our daughter, dark hair, wearing a purple striped hoodie ran into here a few minutes ago and I wondered if you’d seen her?”
The volunteer looked confused, “I haven’t seen her but she might have gone to the office! Do you know what she wanted?”
“Yes we’d lost her…”
“FOUND HIM! He was asleep on a bench near the front!” Isabelle burst through the doors to the main part of the church holding the hand of her missing family member. After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence Daisy decided to speak.
“Dad! There you are!? I knew we’d find you in the end. How on earth did you get here?”
Jeff, Daisy, Isabelle and a somewhat bewildered church volunteer all looked at this bedraggled, slightly muddied elderly man, or Nandad as Izzy called him, as he desperately tried to remember who these people were to him.
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