Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee
Mary G. Thompson
A bittersweet homecoming holds dark secrets in this heart-wrenching story of loss, love, and survival for readers of Room
When sixteen-year-old Amy returns home, she can't tell her family what’s happened to her. She can’t tell them where she’s been since she and her best friend, her cousin Dee, were kidnapped six years ago—who stole them from their families or what’s become of Dee. She has to stay silent because she's afraid of what might happen next, and she’s desperate to protect her secrets at any cost.
Amy tries to readjust to life at “home,” but nothing she does feels right. She’s a stranger in her own family, and the guilt that she’s the one who returned is insurmountable. Amy soon realizes that keeping secrets won’t change what's happened, and they may end up hurting those she loves the most. She has to go back in order to move forward, risking everything along the way. Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee is a riveting, affecting story of loss and hope.
Excerpt from Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee
I AM THE LAST ONE off the bus. It was only half full to begin with, of shaggy-looking young men and older ladies and one mother with two rowdy kids. The mother is the last to go before me. She yells at the older boy in Spanish and then turns around and rolls her eyes at me. I smile back without even thinking about it, sharing a moment with this woman who I’ve never seen before, sharing something just because we’re women. Because she saw something kindred in me. My smile fades, and the kids race away from their mother toward the gas station/convenience store that serves as a bus stop in this tiny town.
I watch the drizzling rain roll down my window. This is it. I’ve been on the bus for hours, and I haven’t had a chance to pee, and I’m starving. And if I don’t get off in the next ten minutes, the bus will start going again, and it will take me away from Grey Wood, Oregon, and on to the next town. And maybe that’s where I should go, anywhere but here. Anywhere but Amy’s home.
“Isn’t this your stop?” says the bus driver, a burly man with a gut spilling over his eighties jeans. He wears big plastic glasses and smells like cigarettes even from back where I am, in the middle.
“Yeah,” I say.
He stands, raises his arms, and stretches, making a yowling sound like you make when you’ve just woken up. “Wish we’d finally get some sun,” he says. “It’s frickin’ June, right?”
I don’t answer. I stand up and grab my cloth Safeway shopping bag, which contains everything I own in this world. Come on, Chelsea, I think. Move. If I stay on the bus, where will I end up? How will I live? I have no money and no identity and I’m only sixteen years old. There’s no way I could pass for older, with my mismatched old clothes and the haircut I did myself.
An old lady climbs back on the bus. The driver has to sit down in his seat to let her pass, and I know I can’t wait any longer. I walk straight, past the driver, and down the steps.
“Good luck,” he says from behind me.
“Thanks,” I say. I’m shivering, and not because I’m suddenly being pelted with good old-fashioned Oregon drizzle. I walk toward the convenience store. I remember this as a 7-Eleven, but now it’s something else, a “Publik Mart.” Amy used to come here to buy candy on the days when she went with her mom to work. As I look past the store, I can see the cross street where the post office was, where Mom worked. I wonder if she still works there, if she’s there right now. But today is Sunday, so no, she wouldn’t be there. She’d be at home. Assuming home is in the same place.
“Getting back on?” a voice says.
I jump. It’s the lady with the two kids, who are already running up the bus stairs.
“No,” I say. “This is my stop.”
“Ah, happy landings, then.” She smiles at me.
“Safe travels.” I try to smile back, but I’m not used to talking to people, and I’m afraid it looks more like a grimace.
“Gracias.” She gets on the bus.
I take a few steps away, and I watch as the doors close and the bus turns on and exhaust spits out the back. The bus driver waves at me, and then the bus huffs and puffs and pulls out of the parking lot. I’m standing here, right where Amy used to stand, and there’s no going on or going back.
THE JACKET THAT I’M WEARING isn’t mine. It’s too big, and I’m drowning in it as I trudge down the sidewalkless side of River Road. It probably makes me look even younger than my homemade haircut. Also, it’s pink, because pink is Stacie’s color. Purple is my color, and that’s why I’m wearing a purple T-shirt, and my jeans have little purple patches on the pockets. My shoes are a dark red, because I guess Kyle couldn’t find any purple shoes at Walmart or wherever he went the last time he bought us clothes. That bothered me at first, but I’ve been wearing them a while now. Maybe red is kind of my color, too. Is it okay to have more than one color? Amy had lots of colors, I remember. Amy used to go down to the river, right there where I’m passing, and she used to wear khaki shorts, just like her dad’s shorts, and she loved blue. Blue shirt and khaki shorts and white sneakers. That’s what she was wearing that last day, when she and Dee went to wade in the river.
Did I just happen to walk by here, or did I come here on purpose? This is the way home, so I must have known it was coming. There’s a little path from the street down to the creek, and there are people down there. I can see them through the trees, which are so thin. I don’t remember them being thin. I remember them being large and green and hiding us when we wanted to pretend we were in another world, a world with just us and the ducks and the crawdads. And aliens. I dreamed up aliens that landed on that rock in the middle of the water. Without letting myself think about it, I walk down the little path. I stand at the end of it, watching the man and the boy on the left who are trying to fish, even though my dad used to say this spot was terrible for fishing. There are also two girls feeding the ducks to the right.
I stare at the rock, and my hand goes into my Safeway bag, and I pull out the doll. She has blond hair, and she’s wearing a pink skirt and a pink shirt. She’s gotten beat up over the years, so there are scratches on her face, and her hair sticks out from her head at a weird angle. But she still has her blue eyes, larger than life, staring at me. I hold her against my chest, feel her hard plastic press into my breastbone.
I remember Amy and Dee sitting on that rock together. It was a struggle to fit them both, but they did it. Whenever there was only room for one, whatever it was, they always made it work for two.
One of the girls sees me. She holds out a piece of bread. “Want to feed the ducks?” she asks. And as she looks straight at me, I see that she has big blue eyes. My chest seizes, and I shove the doll back into the bag and push it down beneath the clothes.
“No. Thanks anyway,” I say. I turn and push my way back down the path. I’m not looking where I’m going, and I get scraped by a big blackberry vine. As I make it back to the street, a car whizzes past, and I almost scream. I’m not used to nearly stepping into cars. Because nobody used to come where we lived. There didn’t used to be anyone but us.
Always us, never me. I’m not supposed to be here without her, anywhere without her. But I can’t stay here on the edge of the street, so close to the river, with nothing but my Safeway bag. I can’t stay, so I keep moving.
I run my hand through my hair, which is getting soggy with the drizzle, and adjust the bag on my shoulder. I keep as far to the left of the road as possible and walk in the mud of the shoulder, listening to the creek flow beside me. It’s weird walking down here, because we used to always ride our bikes. So it feels like it takes forever to get to the turn in the road, where it curves away from the creek and heads to the right, and then it seems to take even longer, like hours and hours, to walk two more blocks, to where River Road crosses with Oak Street. But once I turn the corner onto Oak, it takes no time at all. I’m in the driveway, and it has the same mailbox, the one shaped like a tiny house, and it’s tilted a little on its post just like it always was, and it has the name across the bottom in carved wooden letters: MacArthur. Amy drew little toenails on the A’s feet, and the outlines of them are still there.
There’s a car in the driveway, but I don’t recognize it. It isn’t new, just different. It’s white like our old one, but it’s smaller. Like it wasn’t meant for a family of two parents and two kids. Maybe they’re not here, I think. But if they moved away, why would the mailbox still say MacArthur? I stand in the driveway, staring at the house. It’s painted light blue, a fading blue that hasn’t been redone in a while. I don’t remember it looking that shabby before, but I can’t be sure what I remember. It seems smaller to me now, too. I picture the insides, the living room, the hallway with all the bedrooms: first Jay’s, then Amy’s, then Mom and Dad’s. I picture the cream-colored carpet that Mom just put in, that she was so excited about. That she saved up for. That she argued with Dad about over the cost. Only she didn’t just put it in, did she? She might have changed it again by now, and inside, the house might not be anything like I remember.
The living room curtains flutter, and a face peers out.
My heart leaps. Suddenly it’s beating fast, a million times a minute. Sweat soaks my T-shirt. Is it her? I can’t tell if it’s her from here. I have to move closer. I could still run away, I think. I could get on another bus. Except that I have six dollars left, and six dollars won’t buy me dinner. My stomach twists, and I’m glad I haven’t eaten all day, because I don’t know if I could hold it in. I walk forward, and the face leaves the window, and it’s as if the driveway is a magic portal, because suddenly I’m standing in front of the door, and I hold up my fist as if I’m going to knock, but I don’t. I stand there with my fist in the air and my stomach twisting into knots.
The door opens, and she’s standing there. She’s cut her hair, too, and it’s part gray now. But it’s her. She has dark brown eyes, just like mine.
“Yes?” she says.
I open my mouth, but nothing comes out.
She stares at me. She folds her hand around the doorknob, as if she’s about to close it.
“Mom,” I choke out, “it’s me. It’s . . .” Her name is on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t say it. It’s like the name has been erased from the world, like it’s gone.
She stares at me, and her hand leaves the doorknob. Both her hands hang in the air. Her fingers twitch as if she’s grabbing on to something that isn’t there.
“It’s . . .” I choke on the name. It won’t come out.
“Amy,” Mom says. “Amy. Amy! Amy! Amy!” She grabs me, pulls me into a hug, hangs on to my back. “Amy! Amy! Amy! Amy!” She can’t stop saying it. She’s sobbing. She holds on to me. She’s squeezing me so hard that I can’t breathe, but there’s nothing I can do about it. My arms are around her back, too, but I don’t squeeze; I let them lie there. I can feel the bones of her back beneath my fingers. The bones of my mother’s back.
“Amy, Amy, Amy,” she sobs.
“Mom,” I say. Because that’s one name that’s easy. That’s one name that was never gone.
MOM SPITS OUT the questions as she cooks. She’s making Amy’s favorite meal, macaroni and cheese. Her hands shake as she grates the cheese, and I’m afraid she’s going to cut herself. I want to help her, but I don’t know if I can move. I sit at the table, my Safeway bag on the seat next to me. The same dining room table, the same chairs. And even though she’s older, the same mom. She stands in front of the stove, with her head tilted to the right and that tiny gap where her hair parts. Freckles dot the arm that holds the wooden spoon. I want to reach out and touch them.
“What happened?” she asks. “Where have you been? Where’s Dee? Who was it? How did it happen? How did you get away? Why now? Do you want to take a shower? There’s a desk in your room now, but we can move the air bed in until we get you a real bed. Are you tired?”
I don’t answer any of the questions. I can’t answer any questions. I am tired, so tired I want to collapse and never get up again. But my mind spins; my heart beats.
“It’s too soon, isn’t it? Never mind. We’ll eat. You can talk about it when you’re ready. Your dad. We have to call your dad.” She turns around. Her shaking hand knocks the wooden spoon against the edge of the pot. “He . . . he moved to Colorado. Boulder.”
“Oh,” I say.
“But he’ll come back,” she says. “He’ll be on the next plane.” “Okay.” The last time I saw my dad was another Sunday. Watch out for cars, he said. And we did. We watched out for them. I thought he would be here. There was never a time when there was Mom without Dad, Dad without Mom.
“We have to call Aunt Hannah,” Mom says. She puts the dish in the oven, and she pushes it so hard that it slides all the way to the back. “Do you want to take a shower?”
“I’ll wait,” I say.
Mom pulls a phone out of her pocket. “What am I going to tell her?”
I shake my head.
“I have to tell her something,” Mom says.
I look down at my bag. I want to pull out the doll, to run my fingers over her hair, to look into her eyes, which are blue just like Stacie’s. Only they’re not just like hers; they’re darker, a true, pure blue. I run my hand over my neck, across my face. I cover my eyes with my hand and will the room away. But Mom is still there, and so are her questions. So is her voice, talking to Aunt Hannah on the phone.
Mom tells Aunt Hannah that I’m back. She repeats Amy’s name over and over again, just like before. And then she says Dee. Dee Dee Dee Dee. The name floats in the air, and I cover my left ear with my left hand, but if I want to cover both ears, I’ll have to take my hand off of my face. So I hear it with one ear, Mom saying she doesn’t know, no police yet, Amy won’t talk, she needs time.
“Amy, honey?” Mom says. She puts a hand on my shoulder. I let it sit there, but I don’t move. I hear the word Lon, my dad’s name, and Amy, and yes I’m sure. She’s my daughter. And she doesn’t know, and Dee, and not yet, no police, and I don’t know, Lon, and then there’s silence.
The kitchen timer dings, and I let my hands fall to my lap, and I watch my mom take the macaroni and cheese out of the oven. She spoons it onto a plate for me and pours ketchup so that it makes a little round pool, and she knocks the salt and pepper shakers together as she sets them on the table.
I take one bite, and my stomach untwists, and I take an- other bite and another, and pretty soon I’ve eaten almost the whole dish.
Mom is watching me with her eyes wide and sad. She looks at my raw, scraped-up hands. My fingers hurt as I curl them to hold the fork, but I pretend I can’t feel it.
“Nobody starved me,” I say. “I just haven’t eaten all day.”
“Oh. Good.” I can see the questions on her face, more who and where and when and why. But she doesn’t ask them. Because she loves Amy. She would do anything for Amy, like any mom. If Mom thinks it’s best for Amy if she gives her space and doesn’t ask all the things she wants to ask, then that’s what she’ll do. That’s what any mom would do.
“Where’s Jay?” I ask. He was eight years old then, and I remember his round face and his big brown eyes, and the way he ran and ran, and how much he wanted to come with us, and how we wouldn’t let him. Because he was a pain in our butts, the way he was always underfoot. He said he just wanted some blackberries, so Dee said we’d bring some back, and Amy rolled her eyes, and Dee glared at Amy, and Amy promised. We’ll bring you some stupid blackberries, okay?
“He’s with his friends,” Mom says. “But he’s supposed to be back by six for dinner. I . . . I could call him, too.”
“No,” I say. “I’ll wait.”
There’s a pounding on the door, and then the door bursts open, and Aunt Hannah runs into the room, and she looks at me, and just like Mom, she doesn’t recognize me at first, but then she does. She takes a step toward me as if she’s going to grab me and hug me like Mom did, but she’s looking behind me, to either side of me, around the room, as if she’s looking for someone, and she keeps looking, even though it’s obvious that there’s no one else here.
“Where is she?” she asks. She looks from me to Mom. Neither of us says anything. I look at the ground. “Where is she?” she yells.
Mom stands. “Hannah, she needs time.”
“Where is she?” my aunt cries. Tears stream down her face. “Where is she?”
I cover my face with my hand. I can’t look at her, so desperate. I know how she feels, what she wants, what she’s lost. “Where is she?” Her voice echoes in my head, and so does the answer. The words I can’t say, the images I can’t see, the truth I can’t even let myself think.
And then the cops come.
I’m in Amy’s old room, sitting in the desk chair.
A woman in a black uniform asks me questions in a soft voice.
What is your name? “Amy MacArthur.” How old are you? “Sixteen.”
Is Dee Springfield alive?
. . .
Amy, I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t need to know the whole story right now. I just need to know if Dee is alive. I need to know so that we can help her.
. . .
If you don’t want to say it, you can nod. You can nod yes or no.
Can you do that?
I keep myself still. I don’t move my head at all. I stare at the lady’s stomach. I watch her uniform shirt flutter as she breathes in and out.
Just a yes or no, honey.
. . .
Where is the person who did this?
Was it a man?
Was it more than one person?
Amy, I want to help you. I want to make sure you’re safe.
“I’m safe,” I say.
Is he dead? Is that why you’re safe? Did he promise not to find you?
Did he make you promise not to tell?
I stare at her stomach until she takes her stomach away, and then I’m staring at the wall. There’s a framed picture of Amy and Jay when Amy was ten, the studio kind of picture with a weird colored background, and their faces are frozen into awkward smiles. Amy has long hair, and it’s a lighter brown with tinges of blond still running through it. I remember when we took that picture. It was the last summer Amy was here.
Mom comes into the room. She puts her arm around my shoulders and brushes the greasy hair out of my face. “The police want you to talk to someone,” she says. “This person can help you tell them what they need to know so they can find Dee.” She gets down on her knees and looks up at me, just like she used to do when I was little. “And if they can’t help her, then they need to know that, too. Aunt Hannah needs to know that. And Lee. They both need to know what happened to her.”
I stay where I am, and another woman comes in. She’s wearing jeans and she looks a little frazzled, like someone who just got called somewhere on a Sunday and doesn’t know what she’s getting into. She sits on the floor, because there’s nowhere else in this room to sit. And then she tells me she’s a psychologist, and she works with victims of abuse and sexual assault and kidnapping and all kinds of things. And everything I’m feeling is normal.
I stare over her head.
She talks, and she asks. And she talks.
“I’m tired,” I say. And it’s true, but it’s also a lie, because my heart is still pounding. Sweat pours from my skin, and sitting still is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Sitting still and being quiet, when there’s so much inside I want to say.
She leaves, and the cops leave, and Mom comes into the room with Jay trailing behind her, fourteen-year-old Jay, who looks nothing like the version I remember. He has a thin face now. He’s beanpole skinny, with a buzz haircut and a baggy T- shirt, and he’s about six feet tall if he’s an inch.
He has the same eyes, though. Huge and brown and staring from his new face.
“I’m sorry I never brought the blackberries,” I blurt.
He stares. His jaw clenches, and his whole body tenses as if he’s about to run.
“I’m sorry,” I say. I don’t know why I say that, except that I can see he’s hurt. I can see that it was more than blackberries I took from him, more that’s changed than his height.
“Honey . . .” Mom says. I don’t know if she’s talking to him or me, but I know she wants to close the space between us. Always, even before, she wanted us to be close, to not fight, to take care of each other. But the three feet between Jay and me is a chasm.
“You were okay,” he says. His eyes are filling up with tears, and I see the little boy that I remember. I want to step forward and hug him, but he’s leaning away.
“I’m okay,” I say.
“All this time. We thought you were dead, and you were fine.”
I stare at him, searching for something I can say.
Tears spill from his eyes, and he almost bumps into Mom as he speeds back through the bedroom door. Down the hall, another door slams.
“He needs time,” Mom says.
“It’s okay,” I say, but it isn’t. I imagined seeing him again. I would give him those blackberries. I would take him into my arms and hug him. I would tell him how sorry I was for all the times I snapped at him or ignored him. I would tell him I loved him. But he thinks I didn’t try to come home, didn’t care that they all thought I was dead. I can’t blame him, because he doesn’t know. But he’s wrong. He’s so totally and completely wrong.
“He’ll be okay,” Mom says. “Now that you’re back, we all will.” She wraps her arms around me again.
I close my eyes. I wish I could erase all the hurt I just saw in Jay. I wish my dad was here and not in Colorado. But at the same time, I don’t know if I could handle them here, loving me, either. My mom’s love is already so much, it’s overwhelming. It radiates from her body, almost explosive. I love her, but it’s too much. I’m not ready for all this love for Amy, who I haven’t been in so long.
Sweat still pours from my skin, and I need space. I need time to let this all in, to figure out where I am and what my name is and how to live here. I want to lie down in the dark and the silence and let Amy go, and be Chelsea again. Or be neither—no name and no thoughts and no one I have to love or who loves me. I want out of this, but I can’t get out. I chose to come home, and I’m staying here.