Missing Connections

Ashlyn Moore and her ex-husband Ryan must set aside their differences to find their daughter after she goes missing on Halloween night.






“Hello?” I said, setting down my Bud Light without taking a sip.

“It’s me, Brian,” she said.

Ashlyn. God it was good to hear her voice, but it sounded like she’d been crying. I wondered what was wrong and why she’d call me over it. Ashlyn never called me for anything anymore. Not since we got divorced.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“It’s Teya,” she sobbed.

Damn it, that’s right. I was supposed to be helping her take Teya trick-or-treating. It had completely slipped my mind. Was that what she was so worked up over? I knew Ashlyn could mad really easily over all sorts of dumb shit, but she usually wasn’t sobbing about it. What was up with her?

“Who is it?” Burt asked, starting on his fourth beer.

“Ashlyn,” I mouthed. Then I said into the phone, “Tell Teya I’m sorry, but something came up andㅡ”

“Shut the fuck up, Brian!” she screamed. I flinched. Burt must’ve heard her too because he chuckled and said, “this is exactly why I never married. All women do is nag.”

“Don’t give me one of your bullshit excuse!” Burt was still smirking at me. I flipped him the bird. “Teya is missing.”

Teya? Missing? That just didn’t make sense.

“What do you mean Teya’s missing? What happened?”

“I had her stay outside while I changed and then my mom called and then I went out and she was just gone,” Ashlyn said in a rush.

“Why the hell did you leave her out alone?” I asked. Ashlyn was always overprotective of Teya. I could never see her letting our daughter just hang out in the yard alone.

“She was waiting on the porch for you.”

It felt like she had stabbed me. My own daughter had gone missing while waiting for me? It hurt even more knowing that I wasn’t going to show up. I felt like such an asshole. But Ashlyn had probably already guessed I wasn’t coming. So why would she have Teya wait for me? None of it made any sense.

“Didn’t you know I wasn’t coming?”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. If anyone is going to snap Teya out of the illusion that her Daddy loves her, it’s gonna be you. I’m not going to break my little girl’s heart. That’s your job.”

“I do love her, I just got busy,” I defended.

“Busy doing what? Drinking beer with Burt and being the world’s biggest deadbeat? You know what, this is stupid. I shouldn’t have called. I gotta go look for my daughter now. Have fun with your friends, jackass,” she snapped.

“You’re right, Ashlyn. This is stupid. We need to be looking for our daughter right now, not fighting. I’ll be right over,” I promised.

“Famous last words,” she hissed and hung up the phone.

I threw my coat on and said to Burt, “I have to go.”

“But you haven’t had a drink yet,” he argued.

“Better to not be driving under the influence,” I said.

    Burt pouted. “But you just got here. Can’t you call your ex-wife back up and tell that bitch to shove it?”

    “No, Burt, I can’t,” I said, kicking a chair out of the way. “My daughter is missing. I have to go find her.”

    I was out the door before Burt could give me any more bullshit. For the first time in two years, Ashlyn needed me. And for the first time ever really, I was going to be there for her. She thinks I don’t care about Teya. But I do. That was why we got divorced in the first place. Every single time I wanted to do something, she had some bullshit family thing we had to do. Something stupid. And every time I didn’t do it, she got mad and said I didn’t care. Ashlyn was always really naggy. At first, it was nice to not always have her on my back. But after about a year, I started to miss her. She hasn’t missed me, though. If it weren’t for Teya, she would’ve been long gone as soon as the last paper was signed. Ashlyn wants nothing to do with me. All because I can’t be available for her 24/7.

    Before she got pregnant, everything was fine. But then I had to take her places all the time and help her plan events like the baby shower. I never got any time for myself. And then when Teya was born, I had to stop sleeping nights. I was always the one who had to deal with the baby in the middle of the night. And when something went wrong, it was always my fault. Ashlyn couldn’t take the blame for anything. She was overly picky about everything. It was nice to finally escape, but I missed her being the way she was before we got married. Everything was better then.

    I climbed into my car and hit the gas. I got to Ashlyn’s place ten minutes later. She waiting at the door for me dressed in a really poofy pink gown. Since she was also wearing wings, I assumed it was her Halloween costume.

    “What are you doing?” I asked. “Shouldn’t you already be looking for Teya?”

    She glared at me. “Yes, I should be. But if I had started looking, I know you’d just ignore and waste time searching all of those places again. So I waited instead and it just about killed me.”

    Yep, it was always my fault.

    “Fine, whatever. Are you sure she didn’t get sick of waiting and go back inside? Maybe she’s locked in the cellar or something,” I suggested.

    “Well of course you would assume that. But unlike you, I keep my cellar door locked. Unless Teya stood on a chair to unlock it, she’s not down there. And the door only locks from the outside. Try again.”

    I was not in the mood to deal with this.

    “Hell, for all I know she could’ve joined a toddler gang and is out toilet papering houses! Where do you think we should look?” I asked, running a hand through my hair.

    Ashlyn’s eyes widened and she let out a small gasp. “The dryer! Maybe she fell into the dryer! Oh, God, no!”

    She ran back into the house and I followed her into the laundry room in the back. Teya wasn’t in the dryer or the washing machine. She wasn’t hiding behind the door or under a stack of clothes either. Then it hit me.

    “Ash, I think Teya is in the house somewhere! Whenever she comes over to my place, the first thing we do is she hides somewhere and sees how long it takes me to find her. Maybe she decided to come back inside and play it here!”

    Instead of being happy, Ashlyn was still giving me a death glare. “And you didn’t think to bring this up over the phone? Honestly, Brian, you’re the worst parent ever.”

    “Says the lady who let her toddler out in the front yard alone.”

    “And that’s coming from the deadbeat who the toddler was waiting for when she didn’t know he was gonna blow her off and not come over like he said he would!”

    “But the idiot who left the kid outside knew I wasn’t coming and could’ve just told her daughter that!”

    “She shouldn’t have had to! The kid’s dad should’ve just showed up!”

    We both just should there panting and glaring at each other. Ashlyn shoved past me out the door.

    “Come on,” she said. “We have to find Teya.”

    Ashlyn searched upstairs while I searched the ground floor. We called put for Teya until our throats were dry and our voices were almost gone. She wasn’t anywhere in the house.

    “Do you think she could be hiding in the yard?” I asked when we gave up and got water for our burning throats.

    “No, I already checked out there right after I called you. Brian, I don’t think she’s hiding at all,” Ashlyn said, her eyes brimming with tears.

    She didn’t have to say it. We were both thinking worst case scenario. I turned to look out the window. The street was full of kids and their parents out having a good time and trick-or-treating. It hurt knowing that Teya was supposed to be one of them and couldn’t be.

    “Maybe you should just go,” she said. “Teya’s gone and she’s not coming back. Just leave. We never have to see each other again.”

    “We can’t just give up!” I protested. “Teya is depending on us!”

    “On me you mean. When have you ever been there for her?” she asked. She took a step towards me. “You know the real reason why we got divorced? You may have been able to be a husband, but you could never pull yourself together to be a father. It may have never been stated in our vows, but parenthood was part of the deal and you just threw it all away. You couldn’t stop doing what you wanted to do to take care of your family.”

    It hurt because she was right. Everything was fine until I actually had to get my life together before I was ready. I still wasn’t ready. But I had to try anyway. For Ashlyn. But most of all, for Teya.

    I took Ashlyn’s hand and brushed my thumb against her cheek. “Ash, I know I’ve really screwed up, but we have bigger problems right now. We’re gonna go out and see if the neighbors know anything. If we still can’t find Teya, we’ll call the police.”

    She didn’t say anything, only nodded.

    We were gonna find our little girl no matter what.

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