SIBUN: Emily Bankston - Chapter One


            July 6, 2001. Baton Rouge, LA.
            Karen Bankston kept checking her watch. What was supposed to have been a routine visit had turned into an additional two hours of tests and waiting on the doctor. No wonder people were called patients and not referred to as clients or customers. One had to be patient just to go to the doctor these days, and the old cliché “the customer is always right” seldom (if ever) held true. Didn’t physicians realize other people’s time was just as valuable as theirs? Apparently they did not.
            Karen looked down at her watch again, irritated with the idea that she should have been home nearly an hour ago. She just hoped the girls were doing okay. This was her first time to leave them home alone. Maybe that’s why she felt so anxious. She wanted to call, but it was posted not to use one’s cell phone in the rooms. If the assistant would hurry up, she would be able to checkout and leave.
            Just then, Karen heard a tap at the door. About time, she wanted to mutter aloud, though she thought better against it. It wasn’t the young girl’s fault. Although, Karen did wonder how the poor girl handled the doctor’s apparent careless approach to punctuality. Maybe it was something one had to get used to in the medical field: Everyone catering to the smart, rich doctors. Karen bet doctors would sing a different tune if they were the patient. She took pleasure in knowing they would eventually get theirs. Everyone got sick; everyone got old. One could not be his or her own physician forever.
            “Hi, Mrs. Bankston. Sorry for your wait.”
            “That’s okay,” Karen lied.
            “The results for your lab work all came back fine. The doctor wants you to continue to take your meds as prescribed, and he’ll see you again in six months.” The assistant handed Karen a piece of paper. “Please take this to the checkout desk around the corner, and you can go ahead and schedule your next visit if you would like, Mrs. Bankston.”
            Finally, Karen thought, but managed to vocal a heartfelt “Thank you” instead.
            Making her way to the checkout counter, Karen considered scheduling her appointment seven or even eight month outs, just to make the doctor wait for her next time. Hump! She mumbled under her breath. Then again, she realized that would be impossible, because the doctor would only give her six months of refills and wouldn’t renew her medicines unless she came back as prescribed.
            Irritation crawled through her body. Karen tried to rationalize it. She hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch (due to her tests), her girls were alone, the doctor had taken forever, and now she’d be getting home late and have to cook with a splitting headache. Karen wondered if men ever even contemplated how difficult it was to be a mother, with the needs and wants of their husband and children constantly draining them. Whoever claimed being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t a real job needed to try it for a few months.
            On her way out, the flash on the television caught her attention. Karen turned to face the screen just in time to read the caption:

Rachel Ellis of Denham Springs, Louisiana.
Rachel is eight years old, has blonde hair and blue eyes. She is 4 ft. tall and weighs about 50 lbs. She was last seen at her home in Jubilee Manor. If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of Rachel Ellis, please contact the local police at…

            Karen couldn’t believe it! How had she missed this report? Jubilee Manor really wasn’t that far from where she lived. Jennifer and Emily were home, alone, right now. Karen couldn’t get out of the doctor’s office fast enough. She ran to her car as quickly as she could, pulling out her keys and tossing her purse to the passenger seat. The seatbelt wouldn’t cooperate, so she dismissed it with a grunt. Turning on the car and putting it in reverse, Karen found she had to wait on an elderly couple walking across the parking lot. The gentleman used a cane and his wife a walker, so they were none too fast.
            “Move it already!” Karen shouted. Thankfully, she was inside her vehicle with the windows up.
            The couple smiled and waved at her. Karen only gave them a despised look, so the couple quickly turned away and kept walking. No doubt they would talk about her during their two-hour wait for the doctor, Karen imagined.


            Finally able to get onto the road, Karen reached for her phone, only to be startled by the annoying seatbelt alarm. “Shut up already,” she shouted. It obeyed.
Karen retrieved her phone from her purse and tried calling home a couple of times with no answer. It didn’t take much for the panic to consume her. This was the first time she’d left her girls home alone, and now they weren’t picking up the phone.
            The previous attempts by her daughters to stay alone played out in Karen’s mind. Jennifer often complained about being treated like a baby, arguing that she was old enough to stay home. Karen had repeatedly rejected the idea on multiple occasions; but Jennifer and others kept saying that a fourteen-year-old girl was mature enough to trust at home, especially since they lived in a nice neighborhood with no crime. At least none reported or that they knew about.
            Today Karen had anticipated only being gone a few hours to her appointment, so she reluctantly left Jennifer and Emily at home while she went. She had not expected it to turn into four long hours. In her mind, it was a compromise. A way to ease into allowing her oldest daughter a little more responsibility, without giving herself a heart attack or nervous breakdown in the process. Karen regretted giving in, when all the while she knew better than to leave the girls by themselves.
            Karen still couldn’t reach the girls, so she called her husband.


            Trevor saw his wife’s name appear on the ID. “Hey, I’m about to go…”
            Karen didn’t wait for him to finish. “They won’t answer the phone, Trevor, they won’t answer the phone!”
            Trevor was confused. “Who? Who won’t answer the phone?” He had a meeting to go to. He didn’t have time for his wife’s emotional breakdown.
            “The girls,” Karen shouted, as if Trevor was stupid for even asking such a question. Who else would she be talking about? “I’ve tried calling four or five times, and they won’t answer.”
            Trevor could hear the panic in his wife’s voice, but the disrespect she often relayed frustrated him. He wanted to just hang up or shout back at her, but it would only make it worse. He thought about saying “Calm down” but that too would likely send her into orbit.
            “They probably went outside.” There was silence on the line, so Trevor continued. “You know they like to play together on the swings, pick flowers, and any number of things for hours in the backyard.”
            “But they were supposed to stay inside until I got home.”
            He could sense his wife calming, but only slightly. “Well, maybe they figured they could play outside and come back in before you got home, or hurry inside when they heard you drive up. You know how kids are.”
            Karen acknowledged it was possible, but she didn’t really believe it. It sounded more like Trever didn’t really care, and she was just wasting her breath being on the phone with him. She figured her time would be better spent trying to call the girls. They would be in for a serious spanking when she got home, and most likely be grounded for a good while also.
            Trevor, on the other hand, wasn’t really surprised the girls had not answered the phone. Although, honestly, he was more focused on his aggravation of having to attend a last minute meeting he didn’t really want to go to. He figured when Karen got home she would fuss at Jennifer and Emily for not answering her calls and for going out back instead of staying inside, and it would all be over by the time he got there. He would be a little late due to the last minute meeting anyway.


            When Karen finally reached her neighborhood and turned down Maple Street, she counted every house as she passed by them. As she neared 125 Maple Street, fear—no something much worse—gripped her soul, trying to strangle the very life from her as she saw the front door. It was open. Open! There was no reason for the entrance to their house to be wide open with only her two young daughters home alone.
            Her chest heaved. She couldn’t breathe. Karen wanted to jump out and run to the door before she could even finish pulling the car into the driveway. Slamming on the breaks just before plowing into the house, she couldn’t park fast enough. Thankful she was not bound by the uncooperative seatbelt, Karen burst from the car without turning off the engine. Hitting her elbow on the car door didn’t slow her down. Her frantic mind didn’t even register feeling it.
Likewise, the possibility of intruders being inside the home never crossed her mind. All Karen cared about was finding her babies. She rushed through the door, frantically calling their names and looking everywhere. She felt lightheaded and weak. She pushed through it into every room, searching first in Jennifer’s and then in Emily’s. They weren’t in their rooms, the bathrooms, living room or kitchen.
Running to the backdoor, Karen pulled the extra key that hung on the nail near the door, since her keys were still in the ignition of her running car and not in her hand. Its presence was evidence that the girls had not been playing in the backyard, but it didn’t stop Karen from forcing her way outside. She fought with the backdoor deadbolt, unable to steady her hand enough to put in the key. She cursed her husband for not having already replaced the lock like he had said he would for years.
The door was against her—everything was against her—trying to keep her from her babies. “Jennifer! Emily!” Karen screamed over and over again without ceasing. The news flash of the missing eight-year-old girl she’d seen while leaving the doctor’s office haunted her mind. Oh dear God, please not my babies!
Trevor! I need to call Trevor. That was all Karen could process at the moment. She couldn’t even remember Trevor’s cell or work number. Cell phone. Where is my cell phone? She had left it in the car.
Karen rushed back out of the house. Seeing her purse still sitting in the passenger seat, she stretched over the driver seat, grabbed it, and pulled it to her as if there was someone on the other end trying to steal it. Digging around for the phone, her purse acted as though it didn’t want to release it. She couldn’t find it. Where was it?
Frustration was gaining full control over the whole situation. Karen’s hands shook, more so than she could ever remember—although, at the present, she wasn’t remembering very much of anything. The only thing she cared about was finding her daughters.
Looking down, Karen realized her phone was sitting in the seat. She then recalled that she had been trying to call the girls, and must have put it on the seat instead of back into her purse. It had apparently slid under her purse, which was why she hadn’t immediately seen it.
Karen picked up the phone, called Trevor’s cell and listened impatiently to the ringing in her ear. Pick up! Pick up!
“Hi, you’ve reached Trever Bankston. Leave a message and I’ll hopefully return your call sooner rather than later.”
“Pick up the phone,” she shouted. Do you even care that our girls are missing? If you really cared you’d answer your phone! She hung up and tried three more times.
Maybe she shouldn’t have had such thoughts, given there was no way for Trevor to have known the girls were missing and not simply outside as he had suspected, but her emotions were pushed to the max—way past their limits. She needed comfort, reassurance, hope, and there was no one around to give it.

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