Kyra Adams feels like she is living someone else's life. The problem is, she's right...
At thirty-six, Kyra has a workaholic husband, an ailing mother, a radiant daughter, and a dream home in the heart of suburbia. Her days are filled with saccharine 'Mommy and Me' play dates, but her nights are haunted by terrifying dreams of a girl with no reflection.
When her daughter becomes lost in a department store, Kyra's dream intrudes on her waking state, and a threatening voice in her head challenges, "If you lost her, who would you be?"
Terrified by the realization that she is disappearing into the footnotes of other people's lives, and yearning for a full and genuine life of her own, Kyra seeks solace at a writer's retreat in rural Vermont. What she expects are answers. But what she finds is a deeply troubled stranger with a tragic past, and a powerful secret that pierces into the heart of her family, testing the limits of forgiveness.
Are some secrets better left untold? Kyra is about to find out.
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January 29, 2008
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Excerpt from Strawberries in Winter by Kerri W. Augusto
"How about these pink ones?" she called, rounding the end cap. "They light up." She expected to see Tess's enthusiastic smile; shoes with lights were usually a big hit. But Tess was no longer sitting in the truck or standing near the cart. The bright yellow guardrail was perched up like a drawbridge waiting for a ship to enter, and the safety strap dangled loosely over the side like a bungee cord gone slack. A flutter tickled Kyra's breastbone, a butterfly crashing into a web.
"Tess?" She quickly turned down the next aisle, peering through the rows of shoes and slippers. "Tess? Angel, this isn't funny." The butterfly flapped furiously, fighting for its life.
"Tess! Where are you?" Kyra looked again at the empty carriage, willing her baby to reappear. Bile rose in her throat as she realized it had been minutes, not seconds, that she'd distanced herself from Tess to scan the shelves of rubber-soled shoes. By now, her daughter could be headed to the outskirts of town, locked in a sleazy pick-up truck with the psychopath who'd stolen her.
Dropping the pink sneakers, she hurried to the counter, using her oversized cart to part the crowds of shoppers like the Red Sea. Her voice sounded like a siren, attracting attention and startling the silver-haired saleswoman at the register.
"My daughter! She's gone! Please, help me. She's gone."
"How old is she?" the woman asked.
"She's two. We were just standing by the shoes. I turned away for a second just to get some sneakers, and... " The saleswoman cut her off abruptly.
"What is your daughter's name? Do you have a picture?" Kyra fumbled through her purse looking for the dated photograph she carried in her wallet. Harried, she flipped her bag over on the counter, blindly scrabbling through the sticky lollipops, wet-wipes, plastic toys and crayons. While her fingers tore through the debris that declared her motherhood, the saleswoman called for a security guard and bombarded her with questions.
"I'm not sure."
"About twenty pounds?" Kyra hesitated, then raised her eyes apologetically. "I'm not sure."
"What is she wearing?"
Searching her memory for an image of Tess in the bright red cart, Kyra saw only bits and bursts of color. Was she wearing the OshKosh jumper? Or was that yesterday? Had Stephen changed her clothes before she went to the park? Maybe it was the pink shirt with the kittens. Feeling helpless and stupid as she answered the clerk, Kyra wished Stephen would magically appear. Other shoppers stared, clutching their own children closer, trying to protect them from the contagion of bad luck.
"I think she's wearing something pink. I'm not sure."
The security guard arrived at the counter and took the photo Kyra had finally fished from her belongings. He studied it for a moment, then reached for the intercom and made an announcement that left Kyra cold, like a solitary child in a darkened room on Halloween night.
"Attention Associates, we have a 'Code Adam M/C'. Two-year-old girl wearing pink clothing."
Other shoppers eyed Kyra nervously, their glances conveying both sympathy and disdain. She swore she could hear their thoughts, and they all broadcast in the patronizing voice of the speaker from those inane parenting workshops: You have to keep an eye on your child at all times. Don't let her out of your sight for a second.
The saleswoman mustered up a comforting tone and assured Kyra this happened all the time, and if she walked to the courtesy desk, an Associate would surely deliver her child in a matter of minutes. The security guard was speaking into a walkie-talkie, seeming energized by the prospect of a real security emergency.
Dazed, Kyra walked away, determined to find her own way to the courtesy desk. But the familiar aisles wound before her like an impossible maze, and she eventually found herself begging a teenage boy for help. Mercifully, the boy saw the panic in her eyes and delivered her to the front of the store.
Scanning the area for familiar golden locks, and finding none, a fresh stream of tears flooded down her face and settled into choking pools in the back of her throat. Tess is gone, she thought. I had one job: to protect my child. And I failed...
She felt herself begin to drift--detaching from the moment like a kite with a wind-snapped string floating on unpredictable torrents of air.
"Excuse me." The voice was a distant howl in Kyra's head. But it sharpened and clawed through the darkness. "Excuse me. Is this your daughter?"
Kyra snapped to attention, eyes riveting to the little girl with blonde curls and a pink t-shirt embroidered with two tiny kittens. The child reached for her, called for her--gave her back her life.
"Tess! What happened? You scared me to death." She clutched her daughter to her chest as the stranger mumbled something about the clothes racks in the children's department. "Thank you," Kyra heard herself saying over and over. "Thank you. Thank you."
As her heart regained its normal, steady rhythm and her breathing ceased to pulse in agonizing gasps, Kyra's mind began to slow. A frightening voice chanted from some deep recess in her subconscious: What if I lost you? Then who would I be? If not your mother, then who?
She stroked the curls of blonde hair off Tess's tear-streaked face. Mouthing a silent prayer of gratitude to whatever deities might be listening, she swallowed the words of admonishment she wanted to scream and simply stared at the miracle before her. Her lips formed the words, "I love you so much", and she heard herself repeating them over and over. Still, the question pounded in her brain: If I lost you, who would I be? Each time she heard it, she felt a little smaller, more hollow and inconsequential. She began to sense she was disappearing, like the starlight at dawn. Kyra shook her head violently, trying to focus on her child's needs, on the sounds of the busy shoppers milling around her, on the tightness in her chest, on anything but the question. If I lost you, who would I be?