For the umpteenth time, my parents had refused to let me borrow their car to see my girlfriend. They had two cars and worked across the street from each other in town, both carpooling to their jobs each and every morning and leaving one car sitting useless in the driveway. Of course, they always took the key to the other vehicle with them, thinking that left me with no option to get leave the house; my entire life, they’ve done everything in their power to keep me at home. The vast majority of my childhood was a fluctuation between two distinct events: homeschooling at the kitchen table and playing with my toys in the basement of my parents’ farmhouse. The times I remember sitting outside in the sun of the beautiful Georgian state, in the small enclosed area between the chicken coop and pig pen, I could count on the fingers of one hand. With no neighbours for at least two miles and no way to communicate with anyone else, I was inadvertently a recluse.
That is, until I was to begin ninth grade, when my parents finally gave in after years of begging. I was finally allowed to go to a public school. That’s where I met Lacey, with her long hair the colour of fresh hay, eyes the colour of a late afternoon sky, and skin like fresh milk. It was three years of reining in both my skyrocketing testosterone levels and satiating my need for human interaction with people other than my parents. At nearly eighteen, in my senior year of high school, I just wanted to hang out with my girlfriend more than once every other week in the summer, especially considering that my parents weren’t around. Thankfully, my mom had decided to get a part-time job in town to keep herself busy while I was in school and that met occasionally having to come in to work even in the summer months while I was on vacation.
But I’d had enough. I wasn’t stupid, I knew that there had to be a spare key to the car in the driveway stashed away somewhere in their bedroom. I walked purposefully across the narrow hall of the bungalow to my parents’ room, pushing open their door and taking in the space. If I was a spare key, where would I be hidden?
I carefully pawed through their hanging clothing and slipped my hands into the pockets of each of dad’s suit jacket, picked through mom’s jewelry boxes, ran my hand along the top shelves of their closet. Each nook and cranny was carefully searched and even more meticulously put back in its exact place before moving on to the next. When I almost gave up (isn’t that how it always goes?), I noticed a floorboard sitting slightly askew from the others above five feet from the doorframe, not far from their quilted queen-size bed. Leaning down, I easily lifted the plank from its place on the ground and discovered three shoe boxes stashed beneath.
Then I heard a car driving down the dirt road leading to our house. I checked my watch. 5:34. They usually walked into the door at 5:38, almost on the dot every single day. Realizing that I must have lost track of time in my search for the spare car key, I made a split second decision to pull out the first shoebox out and take a quick peek through it. I lifted the lid and found a stack of newspaper clippings, from both of the town I had grown up in and of the neighbouring suburbs. There was even one from the main city about three hours away.
Each was about a missing baby. Tyler Beauchamp, aged 18 months, missing since August 15th, 2001. A little boy in black and white met my eyes from the page.
I heard my parents walk up the wooden porch to the front door, keys turning in the lock.
I shuffled to another clipping, a colourized photo of the same baby, this time with his shock of dark chestnut hair and light brown eyes filling the frame. A chubby baby, adorable and cherubic. Behind it, another photo of him.
“Daniel?” My mother’s high voice rung through the otherwise empty house in unison with my father’s, “Hi, son! Where you at, my boy?”
Photo after photo, clipping after clipping, I saw the face of a baby who had been hiding beneath the dusty crevices of my parents’ floorboards for who knows how long, staring back at me. He looked familiar, like maybe we could be brothers, or cousins. I didn’t even realize that I had been caught in the middle of what was supposed to be a car key heist when my parents walked into their bedroom with wide eyes.
Carefully, my father fit the lid back on to the shoebox, reaching into the hole beneath the floorboards and pulling out the remaining two boxes I had yet to sift through. He exited the room silently and I heard him moving around the family room to start up the fireplace, which hadn’t be touched for the longest time during the blistering heat of the summer months. My mother smiled slowly and peered into my hand, which grasped the three clippings I had last been looking at. She reached over and plucked them firmly from my hands, her bubblegum pink nails flashing starkly against the dark inky print. The papers crumpled easily in her hand as she turned on her heels and walked out of the room to join my father.
And that’s the moment that I realized. Tyler Beauchamp was me.