For the first time in four days, Lily’s hair was soft and full. Her caramel brown eyes were highlighted with a thin line of black eyeliner and her signature black Motives® Fiber Lush mascara. A light, floral top brushed the top of her high-waisted jeans, all of which she complimented with her pristine white Converse sneakers. It was almost as if the woman who had been staying with Ruby the past few days had gone up in a puff of smoke, and this new, inspired Lily had risen from the ashes.
Almost. But Ruby was too busy chasing her daughter through the house to focus on the impending change that had hooked into Lily’s life, eager to reel her in.
Ruby’s hot pink sneakers squeaked against the brown tile floors as she followed Lily through the kitchen and out the front door. She wanted to be excited about Lily’s transformative mindset, but this? This was not what she had in mind.
“All I’m saying is that maybe you should think about this before you just go galivanting across the country.” Ruby hadn’t left Lily’s side since she started packing that morning. She clung to the hope that she could somehow talk her daughter out of this preposterous decision.
“Mom, I don’t need to think about it. I need to get away and clear my head.” Lily attempted to load a heavy suitcase into the back of her charcoal-colored Jeep Renegade. It got caught on the edge of a larger suitcase and twisted awkwardly in her hands. “A little help, mom.”
Ruby stepped forward and grabbed the side handle of the suitcase, guiding it gently to the ground. “I just don’t understand how a road trip is going to help you. It seems more likely that it will have the opposite effect. You have responsibilities here, Lil. You can’t just pack up and leave when people are relying on you.”
“Maybe that’s part of the problem. Everyone else gets my reliability. Everyone but me. I need to do something for myself – something bigger than just going to the spa or taking a sick day. You were right, you know? I never took the time to get to know myself, and I’m not going to do that going through the same motions I go through every day.”
Lily picked the docked suitcase from the ground and took a second attempt at sliding it between the monstrous blue suitcase her dad had gifted her after college and the side of her car. She centered the bag in front of the opening and lunged forward, shoving the suitcase as hard as she could into the sliver of free space.
“Stop it, Lily, and think for just one second!” Ruby shouted. “This is insanity! You sound like you’re losing your mind!”
“Maybe I am, mom!” Lily yelled back, pivoting away from the suitcase, now teetering precariously from her car. “Maybe I am! But I got this idea from YOU! You said I should do something for me, and this is what I’m doing. Just because you don’t agree with the method doesn’t suddenly mean you get to dictate my choice!”
“Oh, now you want a choice,” Ruby’s words felt like dragon’s breath, hot and dangerous. “Last night, you basically begged me to tell you what to do, and now you’re mincing my words for some kind of childish vacation. Maybe if you would have stopped and listened to yourself instead of always being so concerned with what everyone else thought, you wouldn’t have ended up with Shane in the first place.”
Lily’s eyes burned as she fought back her tears, her scathing stare never lifting from her mother’s suddenly regretful eyes. Ruby’s eyes skidded away from her daughter’s, her gaze resting on the suitcase that stuck out of Lily’s car like a stubborn toddler. She knew she went too far, but taking it back now would only sound cheap and ingenuine.
“You know what, mom. You’re probably right. Aren’t you always? Who knows, you’ll probably be right about this, too. But I AM listening to myself this time, and this IS my decision. But don’t worry. You won’t have to hear anything about it.” Lily’s rage boiled as she rammed the stubborn suitcase effortlessly into the back of the car and slammed her trunk shut.
“What does that mean?” Ruby asked, but Lily was done talking. “Lily, I asked you a question.” Lily didn’t pause or hesitate. She turned the key in the ignition as the slam of her driver’s side door echoed across Ruby’s front yard. She never looked back or waved. She simply kept her eyes forward, hit the gas, and disappeared down the street.
“It will be fine,” Ruby said aloud, a knot forming in the pit of her stomach. She glanced up and down the street, praying that no one had witnessed the screaming match she’d had with her daughter. And in an old sweatsuit, nonetheless. “She’ll turn around when she comes to her senses. It will be fine.”
“Mrs. H, hi, um, what can I do for you?” Ella said, doing a poor job of masking her confusion.
“You can call me Ruby, Ella, and I was actually calling to see if you’ve heard from Lily recently? We had a little bit of a fight a few days ago, and I haven’t heard from her since.” Ruby tried to keep her voice light and unconcerned. More the frustrated parent trying to do the right thing than the terrified parent who would call her daughter’s childhood best friend just to find her.
“Oh. No, I can’t say that I have. Lily and I…” Ella paused so long, Ruby thought she lost the connection.
“Ella, did I lose you?”
“No, I’m here. It’s just that… Lily and I sort of grew apart a few years back. We lost touch after college.” Something in Ella’s voice told Ruby there was more to the story, but she didn’t have time to dig into her daughter’s past. She needed someone who could help find her now.
“I’m sorry to hear that, dear. You two always seemed so close. I’ll try someone else.”
Ruby hung up and immediately brought up her cell phone’s keypad to dial the next person. Her fingers hovered over the numbers on the screen for a few seconds before she realized she didn’t know who to call next. She could not think of one name, and panic swept over her as she imagined never seeing her daughter again. That left only one reasonable thing to do.
“I’d like to file a missing person’s report.” The police officer on the other end of the phone was kind and attentive. She asked sympathetic questions, listened intently, and provided the kind of care and support they didn’t often show in movies. Still, Ruby got off the phone feeling only marginally better. The police officer assured her that Lily was probably still upset and would likely call in a few days but also said she’d take a look into it and see what she could find.
Another day passed before Ruby decided to make one last phone call. She pulled a stool up to her kitchen counter as she dialed the number.
“Ruby, hi.” The gruff voice sounded raspy and dry.
Probably drinking again, Ruby thought.
“It’s Ms. Hollowell.” Ruby’s tone was harsh and robotic. “I’m only calling to see if you’ve heard from Lily at all in the past few days.”
Shane let out a deep breath, his apathy apparent in his tone.
“I haven’t, no. I thought she was staying with you.” It didn’t sound accusatory, not really, but it didn’t matter. Ruby was good at bottling rage and using it to fuel her business, but that’s when that rage stemmed from those who did her wrong. When it was her daughter, her rage became a tornado, ready to destroy everything in its path.
“Yea, and whose fault is that, Shane? Huh? Tell me.” Ruby’s blood felt like steam as she jumped up from her stool. “Because I’m sitting here thinking that my daughter should be safely hanging out at her own house, wrapped up with the husband I just married her off to a few years ago. But instead, my beautiful daughter is who knows where on some kind of road trip to find herself while her husband is busy sticking his dick in every glory hole he can find. Now, tell me, Shane. Whose fault is this?”
She was pacing her kitchen as she reached the end of her speech, taking a moment to pause and gulp in a breath of fresh air.
“I never said this wasn’t my fault, Ms. Hollowell,” Shane conceded. He kept his voice even and calm, which only infuriated Ruby further.
“You’re damn right it’s your fault. Now have you heard from her or not? I don’t have time to be wasting on the bottom feeders of the world when I could be spending it trying to find my daughter.” Her worry and rage combined into a swirling storm of emotions, propelling her in circles around her kitchen island.
“No, she hasn’t called,” Shane said. “But if she took a road trip, she’s probably following the East Coast. She talked about doing a road trip like this after college, but we never got around to it. If she’s been gone a day or two, she’s probably only gotten as far as Maryland or Virginia Beach.”
“Why did you do it?” Ruby asked abruptly, unable to help herself.
“I don’t know,” Shane whispered. His voice was filled with shame and something else. Guilt perhaps.
“You know that her father did the same thing to me, that it was the one thing she always feared would happen to her. You robbed her of trust. Of safety. How could you do something like that?”
“Lily and I were so young when we got married. Neither of us was ready for it. Lily especially. She had big dreams and lofty goals. But everyone told us that it was the next step. That it was the right thing to do,” Shane paused, formulating the rest of his thoughts.
Ruby heard the steady beep of a call waiting. She pulled the phone away from her ear to check the caller ID.
‘West Chester PD’
“I know Lily tried hard to make our marriage work,” Shane continued, “but to this day, I can’t tell if Lily ever really wanted to marry me to begin with.”
“How dare you? You and your mama’s boy pity party bullshit won’t work on me. I don’t feel sorry for you. You’re a coward. That’s all you’ll ever be.”
Ruby hung up and quickly answered the incoming call from the police department.
“This is Ruby,” she answered, sliding back onto the stool at her kitchen island, shaking her leg so hard she thought it might go right through the floor. “Did you find Lily?”
“We didn’t find her exactly, but we can tell you that her social media has been active in just the last few hours,” the officer said.
“What does that mean?” Ruby was standing again, pacing her way towards her front bay window.
“It means that she’s not missing, ma’am. She’s actively posting on her social media accounts and providing limited updates. I know you said you had a fight. Perhaps she just needs a few more days to cool off.”
Ruby thanked the officer for her time and made her way back to the kitchen island, laying her head on the cool granite counter. How many times had she called Lily in the past three days? Forty? Fifty? How could her daughter ignore her without another thought?
She pushed herself away from the island and settled onto the oversized couch in her living room. She pushed a pair of cheaters up to her eyes and pulled her rose-gold laptop to her chest, searching for Lily’s Instagram first. Frustrated that she hadn’t considered doing this sooner, she clicked on Lily’s Instagram profile picture. The first image was of her sunbathing next to the ocean, a cold Corona in hand. She scrolled through more of her newsfeed to see a few odd photos from The Purple Parrot and Rehoboth Beach peppered throughout.
She exited out of the app and leaned back into the couch, rotating her phone in circles in her hand. She couldn’t believe how much of a prick Shane turned out to be. What did he mean that Lily didn’t want to marry him? And what about Ella? Lily loved Ella when they were young. What happened there? Did she really know so little about her daughter?
She pulled the keypad up on her phone and dialed the number for her assistant.
“Sarah, it’s Ruby. I need you to clear my schedule for the next two weeks.”
Check back next month for Chapter 3 of Finding Lily!