It started like any other day.
My alarm woke me, dragging me out of an exhausted, unsatisfying sleep. Between my night terrors and inability to quiet my mind, it was a constant battle to get enough rest. I stumbled to the kitchen to get the first pot of coffee started—I usually went through at least two … three, if it was a particularly trying day.
It was already feeling like a three-pot day.
I swept the empty wine bottles into the recycling bin and forced myself to drink a glass of water, all the while telling myself how I really needed to cut back on the nightly wine. Maybe that would make it easier to get up in the morning.
I pulled on my workout gear, laced up my shoes, and forced myself out the door for a run while the coffee brewed. I had to do it before my first cup, or I would never get it done. The moment I poured my coffee, I’d open my laptop. It was also why I had to hide my phone at night … to stop myself from constantly checking my near constant notifications. Once I started, I wouldn’t stop. And if I didn’t go for my regular run, by the end of the day, I would be a hot mess—a seething mass of anxiety, overwhelm, and stress.
Then, I would really have too much wine. And ice cream.
Returning home sweaty, but much calmer (running always helped me refocus my mind away from my mountain of to-dos), I poured myself a cup of coffee with cream, stuck a frosted brown sugar and cinnamon Pop-Tart in the toaster, jumped in the shower, and was finally ready to face my day.
With my coffee at my elbow, I munched on my Pop-Tart and began my morning as I always did—with a knot in my stomach as I perused the different social media sites before opening my email, Slack, and text. Being the digital marketing director for an organic skin care and make-up line was a little ironic, as personally, I was barely ever online. I had Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram accounts with a handful of posts on each, but absolutely no pictures of me. Not even my LinkedIn had a professional photo, which I knew was a no-no, but I didn’t care. I had one very firm rule: No pictures of me online. Anywhere.
My no-picture rule wasn’t because I hated social media, marketing, or even getting my picture taken. It was for self-protection. In fact, if you took personal photos out of the equation, I might have even turned into some sort of influencer with active social media accounts. I liked the strategy of online marketing.
What I hated was the stress of it all. The constant notifications and pinging and dropping everything to put out fires. By the end of the day, I was completely exhausted, and all I wanted to do was collapse on the couch with my customary glass of wine.
But I was good at it, and it paid well. So, despite the nagging feeling deep inside that I wasn’t living the life I wanted, I sucked it up and did it anyway.
I had barely logged onto Twitter when my phone started blowing up. Already? Mondays were the worst. Even though I pretty much never took a day off and always at least checked in over the weekend, not everyone else did, so a lot of times, Monday morning became “deal with the weekend issues” morning. I sighed, rubbing my temples as I already felt the beginnings of a stress headache forming at the back of my eyes. Definitely a three-pot day.
I reached for my phone, dreading whatever calamity I was going to have to drop everything to take care of, despite being barely halfway through the report that was due no later than 3:00 p.m. I probably should have done more on it over the weekend, I thought. Ugh. What had I been thinking?
In retrospect, I wished it had been a dreaded work-related fire.
Tess, my assistant and friend, had texted. Tori, have you seen the news yet? What is going on here in Riverview? I thought all the weird stuff only happened in Redemption. That poor baby.
I froze, staring at the screen. That poor baby.
No, I just sat down, I texted back, my fingers numb and clumsy, misspelling two words. What’s going on?
It’s probably some weird accident, I told myself. Or maybe a baby has been kidnapped.
Which would be tragic, of course. Tragic and newsworthy.
But still completely different from what had happened to me.
As I waited for Tess to respond, I opened the website for The Riverview Times.
The front screen loaded as Tess’s response came through.
Some woman is claiming someone kidnapped her real baby and replaced it with a changeling. So, she ‘had’ to kill it.
All the blood seemed to drain from my body. My vision darkened, narrowing to a pinprick until the only thing I could see was that one sentence. Two words kept repeating themselves over and over in my head until they were all I was conscious of: