She stood in her opened garage, starring out into the pouring December snow. The driveway before her was layered white, and a chilly breeze blew by.
She couldn’t believe her son had left the house again. She called her daughter and asked about the boy’s whereabouts. Directed to the laptop, she brought up her son’s search history. What she saw made her heart stop.
Fiona Hoover was thirty-five when she moved to Denver, Colorado. She’d needed a change of air after she separated from Mark, her husband of ten years.
With Fiona were her kids Leila and Tommy, twins who’d just turned thirteen. After the separation, Fiona knew she needed to give them the best lives they could ever want. She didn’t know what Denver had in store for her.
Fiona and Mark’s relationship had always been a rocky one. After more than a decade of trying to make it work, the couple decided separation was the best way forward.
Although the decision was the best for them, Fiona knew it would wreck their two kids. She hated moving them across cities to Denver, but a fresh start is what they all needed. She had no clue what she was bargaining for.
Fiona and her two kids got a fixer-upper home in a safe neighborhood in Denver. Fiona used some of her savings to fill the house with all the basic amenities her family would need.
After settling all the finances surrounding the relocation, Fiona had little money left. She hoped it would be enough to take them to her next paycheck. Little did she know what her kids were doing behind her back.
The day Fiona’s nightmare began was as typical as any other day. It was in the middle of December, and the family had already clocked two weeks in their new home.
The city was swallowed in snowfall, and although this was a happy period for most people living in Denver, it was a harrowing moment for Fiona.
Fiona’s problem with the festive season was simple. She had no money to spare for Christmas celebrations. She’d already dipped into her savings enough times, and her reserves were extremely low.
She looked at her kids that night, wondering whether telling them the truth would be the best thing to do. She’d already asked enough of them with moving to a new city.
Fiona told her kids about their dire situation, promising that although it all sounded bleak, she’d find a way to make Christmas happen.
She searched for ways to make some money for the celebrations, even calling her boss and requesting some overtime. But then she started noticing something in the house that she couldn’t explain.
Fiona noticed that her son wasn’t spending most afternoons at home after she broke the news. He’d excuse himself each time after lunch, only returning home in the evening.
Naturally, the behavior piqued Fiona’s interest. She assumed he was making friends with the neighborhood kids, and the thought warmed her heart. She didn’t know how wrong she was.
Tommy’s behavior continued throughout the weekend, and Fiona took notice. Keen to meet his friends, she drove by the neighborhood that afternoon. All the kids were playing together, but Fiona couldn’t find Tommy.
Her heart in her hands, she spun her car around the block one more time. When she didn’t see Tommy, she turned the car toward the house to ask Leila.
Snow had started falling when Fiona got home. She sat down with Leila, asking her where her brother was. The little girl didn’t speak, only stared at Fiona blankly.
Fiona rested her forehead between her thumb and forefinger. Her heart was beating fast within her chest, and her mind was trying not to think of all the bad things in the world that could harm her little boy. She locked eyes with Leila again, and this time she gave her brother away.
Leila’s answer was a silent gesture, a simple glance toward Fiona’s laptop. Fiona’s brows quirked at the machine before she reached for it.
Little Leila got up and dusted her dress. “I didn’t tell you anything,” she said as if she wasn’t thirteen years old and walked out of the room. Dumbfounded, Fiona opened the laptop and went to the only place she knew Tommy frequented while using the computer.
Fiona’s heart skipped a beat when she brought up Tommy’s search history. She swallowed a thick blob of air as her sight turned blurry with tears.
“Oh, my little boy,” Fiona said mid-sob. She wiped her eyes as she went through the numerous web pages Tommy had visited. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
Fiona found a dozen pages divided between organizations that collected plastic bottles for a small fee, the best places to find plastic bottles in Fiona’s neighborhood, and prizes of several home appliances and foodstuffs.
“We wanted to throw you the best Christmas surprise, mom,” Leila’s voice sounded from Fiona’s side. What she revealed next made Fiona’s tears double.
“Tommy has been collecting bottles while I run the financial end of things,” said Leila. “We have thirty dollars so far,” she smiled, wrenching a cry from Fiona. “Come here,” Fiona held out her hand.
As if on cue, Tommy strolled into the living room, swathed in layers of sweaters and a jacket, and covered in snow. He nodded at Leila, grinning, but seemed to read the room.
“You caved?” Tommy lamented when Fiona beckoned him to them. “She found out on her own, Mr. I Don’t Clear My Browser History,” Leila said. Fiona shook her head, wondering how fast her kids were growing.
She threw her arms around Tommy too. “I am so proud of you kids,” she said. “I appreciate what you’re doing, but I told you I got this.” Tommy raised his head. “No, mom. We all got this,” he said, and Leila nodded.