Chapter 5

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We got a match.

You got family.

"We've got a match," announced Officer West, eliciting a warm, fuzzy feeling in Vanessa's chest, like fireworks exploding.

She had other relatives, but her worries swiftly erased the excitement.

What if they didn't like her? What if they were worse than her aunt or even Sir? What if they didn't even want her?

Some of these concerns must have been written on her face, because Patty furrowed her eyebrows in concern. "Are you okay?" she asked.

"What if they don't like me?" Vanessa whispered nervously, fidgeting with her torn shirt.

Patty placed a reassuring hand on Vanessa's shoulder. "There is no possible way they won't adore you. You're an exceptional little girl," she declared after a moment of shock. "And remember, Popcorn will always be by your side, won't you, Popcorn?" she said, casting a tender gaze towards the stuffed rabbit with the constant smile on its grey, fluffy face.

Somewhat assuaged, Vanessa inquired, "What are they like? Are they kind? Are they good people? Where do they live?" Suddenly realizing she was speaking too rapidly, she stopped.

Silence filled the room.

Vanessa looked up, trying to read Patty's expression. Was that sadness...and pity? Why would she look pitying?

"What's wrong?" asked Vanessa, apprehension creeping into her voice.


"Patty?" Vanessa repeated, fear starting to take hold.

At first, Vanessa thought Patty wouldn't answer, but then tears started streaming down her face and she said, "Vanessa, I'm so sorry... your aunt kidnapped you."

"What do you mean, kidnapped me?" Vanessa asked, her voice trembling.

Officer West cleared her throat. "The reports indicate that you were taken when you were just eleven months old. Your biological family, your real family, has been searching for you for eight years."

Vanessa felt as if she'd swallowed a cotton ball, struggling to grasp the reality of the situation. Why was it taking so long to comprehend what was happening?

"Vanessa, say something," Patty pleaded, wiping away her tears. "Anything."

"Aunt Amberly may have been a bad aunt, but she wouldn't have kidnapped me!" Vanessa yelled, her voice ringing with defiance.

"Bad Aunt? What do you mean by that?" asked a perplexed Patty.

"What? No! Of course not!" Vanessa lied, still too afraid to reveal the truth. She was terrified of the consequences of speaking up about the abuse she had suffered at the hands of Sir and Aunt Amberly.

But they were dead so what would that matter? A snide voice in her head said.

"Vanessa, you can trust me. You know that, right?" Patty said in a soft, comforting tone.

Her bottom lip quivered as she struggled to hold back her tears. "S-she t-told me n-not to tell a-anyone!"

"Not to tell anyone what? What is it that she told you not to reveal?"

"Aunt Amberly didn't beat me, but Sir did," she finally confessed through sobs.

As she spoke, the truth spilled out, "Aunt Amberly married a man named Stephen, who made me call him Sir. At first, he seemed alright, but then he started coming home drunk. The frequency of his drinking escalated until it became a daily occurrence, followed by physical abuse. The pain was unbearable and never-ending."

Officer Carter had joined them and was listening to her story in horrified silence, along with Patty.

"But he died from an overdose," Vanessa added.

In response, Patty hugged the tearful girl tightly and whispered words of comfort, while Officer Carter stood stunned. He knew Gabe, the detective in charge of the Stephen Huntley case, and was shocked by the revelation.

"Can you show us where he used to beat you?" Officer Carter asked in a somber tone.

Sensing Vanessa's hesitation, Patty persisted, "Why don't we dismiss Adrian and make it a girls-only affair?" She finished her proposition with a mischievous wink.

Content with the reaction she elicited from both Vanessa and Adrian, Patty beamed with pride. Vanessa managed a timid smile while Adrian spluttered in disbelief at the unflattering moniker Patty had assigned him.

"Excuse me! Did you just call me 'silly little Adrian'? I'm far from silly, and I'm most certainly not little," Adrian stammered, as Vanessa struggled to contain her laughter at his affronted expression.

When Patty commanded, "Leave," Vanessa was overwhelmed by a sense of dread and genuine fear, the combined effect of which was nearly unbearable. The ominous sound of the door closing only amplified her growing sense of unease.

"Sweetie, you can trust me," Patty reassured, her words serving to assuage some of Vanessa's apprehension. Encouraged, Vanessa turned around and lifted the hem of her shirt to reveal her back.

Officer West's horrified gasp only compounded Vanessa's feelings of shame and embarrassment, as scars, remnants of countless beatings, marred her skin and extended to her upper thighs.

"I must call the hospital," Patty declared, sealing Vanessa's fate.


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