Status: Release date March 3, 2022 and now available for preorder

The Crinkled Page

Prologue

Her mother encouraged her from a young age to keep on going even when she got a bad grade, lost a game, or was facing the impossible. Jennifer is close with her mom. She has always listened to and valued her mom's advice even when Jennifer was living in New Jersey, because of Terry's work, which was far away from her mom, who lives in Ottawa. Jennifer kneels down on the worn carpet in front of a cardboard box. A year has passed since that day that changed her entire world. She remembers it like it was yesterday.

They had that day planned a week in advance. That morning they had all gotten up early. Terry had gone to Remi's room to wake him, which almost never happened because Remi was generally an early riser. Remi must have had a hard time falling asleep last night in anticipation of today. Jennifer could almost smell the breakfast she had made that morning of bacon, eggs, and French toast with homemade maple syrup, made from the trees at her mom's home in Canada. The maple syrup had been sent to her in one of her mom's care packages. They had planned around the weather knowing that today was going to be hot and sunny, perfect for a day at the beach.

After breakfast, they had driven a short distance to their destination and had parked the car near the boardwalk, knowing that today the shops would have their weekend sales on, in full swing. Jennifer, her husband, Terry, and their six-year-old son, Remi strolled down the boardwalk. Remi was always a few steps ahead, checking out all the different bins and display tables as quickly as he could in search of treasure. Jennifer and Terry soon catch up to Remi who has stopped in front of a display of second-hand books. He is looking through the pages of one. It makes Jennifer smile because Remi is curious about everything and doesn't let a pile of old books go unnoticed. Jennifer asks, "What's that?"

Remi flips the book closed, Terry bends down and glances at the title reading, "Under the Castle on the Hill"

Jennifer doesn't recognize the title and asks, "What's the author's name?"

Remi hands the book to his dad and Terry looks, flipping through the first couple of pages, then he replies, "It doesn't say."

Jennifer thinks it's curious, but knows that sometimes these old books have pages torn out or perhaps this one was a part of a collection. The sales associate walks over and asks, "Found something you like?"

Terry is still bent down so that he is at eye level with his son and confirms with Remi, "Do you want this book?"

Remi says, "Yes, the pictures are neat."

Terry nods to the sales associate and she makes the sale.

Not long after that the three of them find a nice spot on the sand to lay their beach towels down and put up an umbrella. After spending some time in the ocean and then in the shade, under their umbrella, Jennifer decides to walk back to the boardwalk to order some food for all of them. It's a silly thought, she remembers breakfast but can't remember whether she had ordered them pizza, hotdogs, or hamburgers for lunch. Maybe because lunch with them never happened.

Time is a strange thing. Sometimes it feels like it's standing still and at other times it feels like it's flying by. This last year has been a mind-numbing blur. When Jennifer had returned with lunch to their spot in the sand, Terry and Remi were gone. At first, she thought that they may have walked over to one of the public restrooms or had gone back into the ocean to cool off, so she waited. She didn't know how long she had waited before she started to worry. Jennifer first asked the people sitting around her on the beach, when they last saw her husband and son, they had seen them not long before Jennifer returned, explaining that they were resting in the shade, under the umbrella but they didn't see them leave. She had to do something besides wait, so she got up and asked the people sitting near to her again for help. They kindly agreed to hold onto her food and watch her things. Had she left the food alone on her family's own towels the seagulls would likely swoop in. Jennifer asked that if her son and husband returned, for them to pass the message that she was looking for them. She ran over to the public washrooms opened the men's washroom door and called out to Remi and Terry. Only a firm voice from a stall replied, "Only John here honey!" She then went into a few of the nearby restaurants, asking the servers if a man and boy came in recently. She circled back to the boardwalk retracing their steps from earlier in the day, wondering if Terry had gone back to make another purchase. No one in the shops could say they had seen them. Jennifer ran back to the shore and scanned the horizon, looking for the pair in the water. She exhales, sees them, and starts running over to call them to the shore for lunch. When she got close enough, Jennifer realized that it wasn't Terry and Remi. Her hopes were dashed.

After that, she ran over to a lifeguard who then radioed others and soon it escalated into a search. Jennifer doesn't know exactly when it happened that day, but their disappearance was reported to the police.

Jennifer felt guilt that she hadn't realized sooner that they were really missing. She felt bad that she didn't know the last things that she had said to Terry and Remi. She felt horrible for making the suggestion of spending a day at the beach and she felt anger and hurt when the police had gotten her entire life so wrong. The police had suggested the possibility that Terry left with Remi to start a new life. Terry and Jennifer had always been close. She considered him to be not only her husband and the father of her only son, but she also considered Terry her best friend. Terry would never have just gotten up and left without a trace.

Jennifer had stayed in her home in New Jersey. It was the only home that Remi had known and the only place that he would know to come home to if he wasn't with his dad. She talked with the police almost daily, scanned all the daily news for a sign of her husband and son. She put up posters and made sure to replace those that had been damaged by the weather. Jennifer got involved in her local church, making connections with those in the community and kept Terry and Remi's missing persons story current.

Their disappearance was a mystery. No bodies were ever recovered from the water at the beach they had visited. Terry's personal belongings were never found and his cell phone, credit cards, and bank activity had all stopped on the day that they had gone. It didn't make any sense but Jennifer held onto the hope that they would return.

A year had gone by. Three hundred and sixty-five days of keeping her outdoor lights on through the night and cooking for three in case they came home. She kept Todd's favorite TV shows saved so that when he returned, they could watch them together and she kept Remi's room clean for his return, only now, after all of those three hundred- and sixty-five-days, Jennifer has nothing but some cardboard boxes that contain their favorite belongings. Jennifer left these boxes to open until the end. She feels guilty for leaving her home in New Jersey and moving back to her hometown, even though her family and friends encouraged her that it was the best thing she could do for herself before she completely burned out. She would have stayed in New Jersey to keep her own family's home waiting for her husband and son to find their way back. Jennifer finally gave in to her mom's advice to move. She would have all the support of her family and friends to continue the search for Terry and Remi.

Jennifer tears the packers' tape from the top of the box and carefully folds open the cardboard to reveal its contents. There are a few of Remi's favorite stuffed animals and toys. She can smell him like he is right here. This will be Remi's room when he comes home. She can replace the old carpet in here and paint the walls. His new favorite color had been dark blue. She pushes the box over to the wall and opens another box. It is full of books and other toys.

Janice walks into the room. Jennifer stops going through the boxes to look up at her mom. Janice asks, "Are these the last ones?"

"Yes, I was having a hard time bringing myself to open them."

Janice sits down on the floor next to her daughter to get a better look at all the stuff. She says, "We can make a little corner for Remi's things right over there. Will you be bringing Terry's things to your room?" Jennifer shrugs, "Maybe some. I shouldn't have kept so much. He will probably want new clothes when he does return and Remi is probably grown a couple of sizes."

Janice rests her hand on Jennifer's shoulder. "How about you keep the things that you think Remi would still want and for the stuff he's outgrown, fill up a box. Her mother helps her unpack and sort through Terry and Remi's things. As they sort through stuff Jennifer admits to her mom, "I was able to clear away a lot of things before the movers came. I put things up online for sale, brought things to the church's charity sale, and even gave stuff away to the neighbors. This was the last of it and I just told the movers to pack everything."

"It's okay Jen. You know not everyone could do as much as you have done and on your own for so long."

Jennifer nods, "It feels like I have been on my own forever."

"That's why I wanted you to come back. You have me and all your friends here." Janice glances at the other box that Jennifer has just opened. Jennifer pulls out three beach towels, the ones they had that day, and under them is a book.

Janice reads the title from over her daughter's shoulder, "Under the Castle on the Hill"

"These were the things we had at the beach the day they went missing."

Janice puts her hand to her lips and replies, "Oh Jen, I didn't know you had held onto those things. Are you okay?"

"Yes," Jennifer puts the towels to the side and holds the book for a moment.

Janice asks, "Was that book a gift from someone?"

"No, well not really. Remi had found it in one of the shops along the boardwalk and we bought it for him."

"Are these things that you want to keep?"

Jennifer thinks for a moment and shakes her head, "Remi probably won't even remember this book. He only had it for a few hours. I have other things of his that I have kept, besides this is more of a bad reminder of everything that happened."

She hands the book along with the towels to her mom. Janice tosses them in a box that's intended to be taken away.

They finish sorting through the last of Remi and Todd's things, keeping some of Todd's clothes and Remi's toys. She left a white t-shirt of Todd's out and a pajama from when Remi was a baby for herself. They were things that she could hold onto for those days when she wasn't at her best. Janice didn't say a thing of her daughter's choice. When it came time to close up the box that they managed to fill, Jennifer admits, "I hate to see this go to the trash."

Janice replies, "My work will be trying to raise money for charity this fall. They do up an event that is sort of like a giant garage sale but in the atrium at work. I can bring this in."

Jennifer nods, "It's mostly new stuff. I would like that."

"Then consider it done!"