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Chapter 1

Something had shifted.  Sara could feel it as soon as she woke up.  All of the preparedness and excitement from the night before now seemed to be merely something she’d dreamed.

She checked the time and then sorted through the contents of the little pink backpack, her daughter’s name professionally embroidered on it in blue.  They’d put all of the supplies inside together.

“Okay Audrey, two folders.  Do you have two folders to put in your backpack?”

“Yep, here they are,” Audrey had replied as she excitedly stuffed them into her very first backpack.

“And crayons, do you have those?”

“Yes, a whole box full!”

The backpack had been filled and Audrey’s favorite dress had been laid out, and a bedtime prayer had been said.  Even after Audrey had fallen fast asleep, Sara remained, praying still.

“Watch over my daughter,” she’d told God.  “Make her strong and brave and confident.”  This morning, she was wishing she had prayed those words for herself.

The mother who had made all of her daughter’s bottles and given her her first spoonful of baby food and filled all of her sippy-cups now stood in her kitchen making her first school lunch: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  She sliced it into four triangles and placed it inside Audrey’s Little Mermaid lunch box.

“You look beautiful, Audrey,” Sara proclaimed as she snapped pictures of her little girl and glanced at her watch, making sure they weren’t late.

Audrey clung tightly to Sara’s hand and clenched her lunchbox in the other as they walked to the classroom they’d already seen over the summer.  It had looked much less scary then.  They greeted sweet Mrs. Miller and said hello to the other children, and then, it was time to let go.

“I changed my mind, mommy.  I don’t want to go to school.  I want to go back home.” 

Audrey wasn’t letting go.

Sara knelt down to look at her daughter, desperately wanting to hug her and tell her that she’d changed her mind too.

“I’m sorry, sweetie, but you can’t change your mind.  Remember how fun school is going to be?  You’ve got new crayons and pencils, and a beautiful backpack and a really cool lunchbox.  And look at all these friends you’re going to make!”

“No mommy.  You’re my friend.  I want to go home with you.”

“I’m sorry, Audrey, but you are going to have to be a brave girl and stay at school for just a little while, and then I will be back to pick you up in no time!”

“No, mommy.  Please don’t make me stay!  Pleeeaaase…”

Sara held back her tears as Audrey’s dripped down the front of her new dress.  She squeezed her daughter and told her to be a big girl.

“I love you so much…”

“Nooooo, mommy!  Nooooo!  Don’t leave me, mommy, please don’t leave me here!  I’m afraid!”

Sara kissed her daughter’s wet cheek, pried her little hand from her own, and left her behind.

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