“Mackenzie wrote me a note that said she needed time alone.” He checked his watch, something Carrie knew he’d probably done every five minutes since discovering the note. “That was an hour ago. Where on earth would she go?”
“I don’t know,” Carrie whispered. Her heart constricted as she imagined the pain the girl must be suffering. These few days with Laura had meant so much to Mackenzie.
“I thought maybe she’d come to you.” He shook his head. “I’ve tried her cell, but it’s off. I’ve called her girlfriends, but none of them have heard from her. Now I don’t know where to look. Think, Carrie.”
“She probably doesn’t want to be around people just yet,” she murmured, trying to clear her head of worry and fear in order to be of help.
Philip nodded. “Do you think she went for a walk? Alone in the dark?” He cringed as he said the words.
“I’ll go out with you to look.”
His eyes told her he was grateful. Carrie grabbed her coat and purse, and they both rushed out of the building.
Soon after she’d graduated from high school, when Carrie was eighteen, she’d decided to seek out her father. It had been a mistake. He’d seemed to think she wanted something from him, and in retrospect, she knew she had. She’d wanted him to love her, wanted him to tell her how proud he was of the woman she’d become. It had taken her the better part of a year to realize that Tom Weston was selfish and immature and incapable of giving her anything. Even his approval.
In the five years she’d known Jason Manning, at that point, he’d been far more of a father than her biological one would ever know how to be. She hadn’t had any contact with Tom Weston since. It had hurt that the man responsible for her birth wanted nothing to do with her, but after a few months she’d accepted his decision. If anything, she appreciated his honesty, hurtful as it’d been at the time.
Not really knowing where they were going, they walked quickly from one spot to another, trying to guess where Mackenzie might have gone. Their fears mounted, but they both struggled to hide them. Instead, they offered each other reassurances neither believed.
“I hate to think of her out in the cold, alone and in pain,” Philip finally murmured, his hands in his coat pockets.
“Me, too.” The cold air stung her cheeks.
“I could hate Laura for doing this to her,” Philip said defiantly, “but I refuse to waste the energy. She can treat me any way she pleases, but not Mackenzie.”
Carrie knew it was pointless to remind him that he had no control over his ex-wife. Laura would behave as she chose.
“Perhaps I should’ve said something to Mackenzie,” Philip was saying, “warned her not to count on anything her mother promised. I didn’t because, well, because I didn’t want Mackenzie to think I’d try to influence how she thinks about her mother.”
“I find that admirable. And wise.”
“I don’t feel either of those things just now.” His voice revealed his anger and frustration.
“Mackenzie’s smart enough to figure out what her mother’s really like. She won’t need you or me to tell her,” Carrie said.
His eyes met hers under a streetlamp decorated with silver bells. “I hope you’re right.”
They searched everywhere they could think of, without success. By the time they returned home, it was almost midnight. The building was dark and silent, alarming them even more.
“You don’t think she’d do anything stupid, do you?” a worried Philip asked. “Like run away and find her mother on her own?”
When they stepped into the lobby, Carrie noticed that the door leading to the basement party room was open. As she came closer, she could hear voices below.
“Let’s check it out,” Philip suggested.
Carrie followed him down the stairs. As they descended, the sound of voices became more distinct. She recognized Madame Frederick, chatting away with Arnold. Carrie guessed they were putting the finishing touches on the decorations for the Christmas party, which was to take place the following night.
They found Mackenzie busy pinning green and red streamers in the center of the ceiling, fanning them out to the corners. The girl didn’t so much as blink when she saw Carrie and Philip.
“Oh, hi, Dad. Hi, Carrie,” she said, climbing down from her chair.
“Just where have you been, young lady?” Philip demanded gruffly.
Carrie placed her hand on his arm, pleading with him to display less anger and more compassion. She felt some of the tension leave his muscles and knew it took a great deal of determination not to cross the room and hug the teenager fiercely.
“Sorry, Dad. I forgot to tell you where I was.”
“I’ve been searching for hours! Then Carrie helped me look. We walked through the whole neighborhood.”
“Sorry,” Mackenzie returned contritely. “I sat in here by myself for a while, then these guys came down to decorate and—” she shrugged “—I decided to pitch in.”
“Are you okay?” Carrie asked. “I mean, about not being able to spend the holiday with your mother?”
Mackenzie hesitated and her lower lip trembled slightly. “I’m disappointed, but then as Madame Frederick said, ‘Time wounds all heels.’” She laughed and wiped her forearm under her nose. “Mom’s got to make her own decisions about what role I’ll play in her life. All I can do is give her the freedom to choose. I’ve got my dad and my friends.” Her gaze moved about the room, pausing on each person.
Arnold was there with his spandex shorts and twinkling eyes. Madame Frederick with her crystal ball and her sometimes corny wisdom. Maria with her tenderhearted care for the neighborhood’s cats. And, Carrie realized, she was there, too. They were Mackenzie’s friends.
The girl wrapped her arms around her father’s waist and hid her face in his chest. “I’ll be here for the party,” she said. “But you don’t have to come, Dad. I’ll understand.”