by Alretha Thomas
Author Alretha Thomas stops by today to share an excerpt from Missing Melissa.
Twenty-two years old with a journalism degree from UCLA and a promising entry level position at a television station, Madeline Patterson is ready to take on the Universe. Raised by two loving parents, adored by her grandmother, protected by her dog, Pepper, and supported by her best friend - Madeline has it all. There’s only one thing missing - literally missing - her identical twin, Melissa.
When Madeline and Melissa were three-years-old, their mother was carjacked in broad daylight while taking them to a doctor’s appointment. She was able to get away with Madeline in tow, but the assailants left the scene before she could rescue Melissa. A long and massive search ensued, but Melissa was never found and is believed to be dead. However, a dream Madeline has on her twenty-second birthday, wherein Melissa appears to her as a grown woman pleading for help, convinces her Melissa is still alive. Against her parents’ wishes, Madeline vows to find her twin. However, in doing so, she unknowingly stumbles upon a series of startling clues that point to her parents’ possible involvement in Melissa’s disappearance. Paralyzed by fear, Madeline doesn’t want to face what could possibly be the ugly and grim truth about her parents. However, her desire to find Melissa propels her forward - but nothing could prepare her for what she discovers.
She’s not dead.
I sit bolt upright in bed, my heart pounding, and my mind racing with thoughts about my twin. I pull my knees to my chest, wrap my arms around them, and rock back and forth. The movement calms me. When I turn toward my nightstand, my gaze locks onto the clock. It can’t be one-thirty.
The doorbell rings, followed by muffled voices filtering through my bedroom door, most likely my parents, and whoever’s visiting. Curious, I get up, open it, and am nearly knocked to the floor by my mastiff. He greets me with hugs and licks.
“Good afternoon to you, too, Pepper. Mommy loves you. Yes I do, sweetie.” He barks and makes a run for my bed. I sit next to him and smooth my hand over his soft coat of thick, shiny tan fur. “I had a dream about Melissa, Pepper.” I look into his eyes, wondering if he would have loved my twin as much as he loves me. High heels clicking on the other side of my bedroom door interrupt my thoughts.
“Happy Birthday, Maddie,” Ruby says, sashaying her way into my room. “Are you just waking up?”
I feel a flush spreading over my face and neck, surprised she’s already here. We hug and so much love oozes out of her I get choked up. There’s nothing like a BFF.
Before I can get a word out, Pepper barks. Ruby and I crack up. “Pepper, what are we going to do with this woman?” Ruby asks. He raises his ears and tilts his colossal head. More giggles.
There’s always laughter when Ruby comes around. The kind that makes you pee your pants and get raccoon eyes. I step back and stare at her regal face.
“What’s wrong with you, Maddie?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” I say, flopping down onto my bed. “I’m surprised you’re here already, and yes, I’m just getting up.”
Squinting, she gives me that look. It’s the one I get when she thinks I’m keeping something from her. Next she’ll be planting her hands on her slender hips. I knew it. I swear she could be a model. Five-foot eight, a whole three inches taller than me, almond-shaped eyes, legs that go on forever.
“When did you get here?”
“An hour ago,” she says, patting her afro.
“An hour ago? I thought that was you ringing the doorbell just now.”
“No, I’ve been here. That was your grandmother. I was downstairs helping your father with his desktop computer and his new Dumbphone.”
“Wow, I wish I had known, I would have come down and saved you.”
“No worries. Your mother finally got him to give me a break and then she sent me up here to wake you. Maddie, we all know you like to get your beauty rest, but damn, it’s almost two. Your party starts in an hour.”
“I know. I didn’t sleep at all last night. It was almost six by the time I finally got a little shut-eye.”
“I can tell. Your baby blues are red. Have you been crying?” she asks.
“No,” I say.
“Then what’s going on?”
“I guess I have a lot on my mind. It’s June, but it feels like December. You know with graduating last month, the upcoming move, starting my new job in a week. And I feel so old.”
“Madeline Louise Patterson, you’re twenty-two, not ninety-two! Since when is twenty-two old?”
“I know but-”
“We’re grown now. We asked for this,” she says, towering over me, looking at me with her ‘I got your back’ smile. “It’s all good. Remember when we were in the tenth grade how we used to fantasize about being grown-ass women, being able to stay up all night, screwing good-looking guys, and marrying rich ones?”
“Yep, I sure do,” I say, rising. “But…”
“But what?” she asks.
“Melissa’s still alive.”
“What do you mean, she’s still alive?”
“She’s alive. I had a dre-”
“Don’t do this, Maddie. Not today. Let it go.”
“I knew you were going to react like that,” I say.
Before she has a chance to go off on me, I run into the bathroom, lock the door, and slip out of my tattered sweat pants and favorite UCLA jersey. Entering the shower, I turn the faucet on full blast. I ignore Ruby who’s now on the other side of the door, probably with her hands on her hips, calling out to me.
“We need to talk, Maddie. Right now. Get out of the shower right now, please.”
“I can’t hear you,” I say, reaching for my favorite shampoo.
“Madeline Louise Patterson, open this door right now.”
The water rains down on my head, soaking my hair, and I sing Pharrell’s “Happy” because I am happy. Melissa’s alive. She’s not dead. I know I’m not supposed to believe that. I’m supposed to believe the investigators, the reporters, the naysayers, the nosey neighbors, the psychics, the pundits, all those people nineteen years ago and several years after, that gave up on the little three-year-old girl who was driven away by the bad guys, never to be seen again. I’m supposed to believe my parents and my best friend that Melissa’s dead.
I shut my eyes and concentrate. Why can’t I remember the day she was taken? It’s always bits and pieces. Like a puzzle. I see my mother’s face, her smile, her eyes. She’s wearing a coat and so are we. Our matching red and blue jackets with the hoods trimmed in fake fur. I see Melissa’s mouth. It’s open wide and she’s crying. Everything is meshed. Our SUV, our car seats. I press on my head trying to remember, but I can’t.
The dream I had last night or I should say this afternoon, wasn’t the first dream I’ve had about my sister, but it’s the first time I’ve dreamed about her being an adult. All the other times she was still three. I used to have other dreams, too - dreams about people coming in and out of our house. Strange men in suits and ties, wearing big guns and badges. Men and women with cameras and microphones, gawking at me, pointing at me. Sometimes my dreams were nightmares starring my parents. My father falling over drunk, slurring his words, hitting the wall until his fist bled. My mother, comatose, out of it, a bag of bones, hopeless, helpless, barely alive. Everything is jumbled and mixed up, dreams, real life. I can’t put it together.
While getting out of the shower and drying off, the silence gives me pause. “Ruby? Pepper?” Wow, I was on one. I totally forgot about Ruby. That’s what happens when I start focusing on Melissa. I’m not supposed to focus on Melissa. I’m supposed to take care of myself, my life. That’s what I’ve been told, and believe you me; I have worked hard to do just that. But it hasn’t been easy. How can you forget about a part of yourself? It’s like asking a leg amputee to forget about his or her legs.
I unlock the bathroom door and step into my empty bedroom. Ruby and Pepper are gone. I hope Ruby’s not pissed with me, but I didn’t want to get into it with her. I can’t stand it when
she tells me to not go there. To let it go. To be grateful I’m still here and that God has His reasons.
My eyes lock onto the wall near my bedroom door that’s covered in family photos that make me all misty-eyed, especially the baby pictures. The crazy photos I have with Ruby lift my spirits. We took some kick-ass graduation pictures. I laugh out loud at the one where Ruby’s pointing to her head and rolling her eyes. COMPUTER GEEK is scrawled across the front of her black cap.
I enter my walk-in closet that’s filled to the brim with clothes and shoes. I check out the red dress section. Yep, I’m anal like that when it comes to my wardrobe. I rifle through my favs. I had thought about wearing pants, but Ruby’s got a thing about dresses, and I want to get on her good side. I’m going to need an advocate when I tell my parents I want to reopen Melissa’s case.
I set the dress to the side, brush my teeth so well, my dad would be proud, blow dry and style my hair, and put on my makeup. By the time I choose the perfect red shoes, and am dressed, it’s almost three. Sizing myself up in my standalone mirror, I smooth my hand over my dress and toss my hair over my shoulder. Sighing, I take in my room. I’m going to miss it. I’m going to miss this house.
“Maddie! Where are you? Your guests are arriving.”
My face breaks into a huge smile when I hear my mother’s voice. I’ve always loved her voice. It’s so melodic. I go to my door, open it, and say, “I’ll be down in a minute, Mom. In a minute.”
“Okay, hurry. There’s someone here who’s dying to see you. You’re going to be so surprised.”
# # #
Descending the stairs, I turn my head toward the gust of laughter coming from the family room. So much for Ruby being mad at me. She, and whoever has fallen under her magic spell, seem to be having a blast. Before I reach the bottom step, my mother appears all decked out in her favorite pink Prada dress and to die for matching shoes.
“Maddie, come on. Are you okay? Ruby said you didn’t go to sleep until this morning.” She reaches for my hand and pulls me forward like she used to when I was little and we had to cross a busy intersection. Then she plants a big, fat, juicy kiss on my cheek.
“I’m fine, Mom,” I say, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze. It’s warm and soft - stay-at-home-mom soft. Outside of working periodically at my father’s dental practice, I don’t believe she’s ever held down a real job. I’ve never seen her with the Sunday night blues - the bleakness that hits you when you know the weekend’s coming to an end and you have to report to work the next day. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard her say, Thank God it’s Friday. For her, every day’s Friday.
“You should be more than fine, young lady. Today’s your birthday,” she says, rubbing her thumb across my cheek. “Sorry, I got lipstick on you. Anyway, you should be exultant, Maddie.” Her eyes widen and she stops in the hallway. I lean against the wall that’s decorated with a few of Grandma Patterson’s oil paintings. “Red? Why all the red, Maddie? Blue is your color.”
“It’s for Melissa.”
She gives me a smile that struggles to reach her eyes. “Right. For Melissa. Of course.”
We step into the family room and are greeted by a rowdy chorus of “SURPRISE!” I curl over, cracking up. Everyone here is certifiably insane. My mother, Grandma Patterson, and Ruby had planned to give me a surprise party, but I found out about it when Pepper nearly choked on the guest list. Ironically, the only part of the list that was legible, after I pulled it out of his mouth, was the part that read Invitees to Maddie’s Surprise Birthday Party.
“You guys are nuts, but I love you anyway. Thank you.” I pull away from my mother and mingle with the other people in the room. Grandma Patterson points to the blue birthday hat with silver tassels she’s wearing. She moves her head from side to side, swishing her salt and pepper bob.
“Happy birthday, my darling Maddie,” she says, pulling me into a tight embrace. “I love you forever.”
I relax in her arms, sucking up all her unconditional love. She smells like she always does - ivory soap mixed with expensive perfume. “I love you more,” I say.
“And I love you both more.” My father wedges his way between us and wraps his gangly arms around our shoulders. “What a lucky man I am, surrounded by beautiful women. Beautiful mother, wife, and daughter. And they all have great teeth, thanks to me.”
“Alvin, the older you get, the more you remind me of your father,” my grandmother says, slipping out of his grasp.
“I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or a dig,” he says, faking a pout and passing his hand over his thinning, brown curly hair. The white birthday cap with yellow and green dots he’s
wearing falls to the floor.
“A compliment of course,” she says, pointing to his hat.
He picks it up and sticks his chest out like she had told him he was Superman. I guess he’s justified because Grandpa Patterson was a saint. Well, almost a saint. He treated my grandmother like a queen and he was a great father and grandfather. Unfortunately he died of a heart attack ten years ago. A blue collar guy who worked on the docks, he was so proud of my father becoming a dentist and having his own practice. He would tell perfect strangers about his son the dentist, whenever given the chance. My grandmother says he was heartbroken when Melissa went missing and he even blamed himself. She believes he never really got over losing Melissa and that he actually died from a broken heart and not a clogged one.
I leave the two of them to each other and make my way through the room, giving shout-outs to the other guests while at the same time admiring all the blue balloons, streamers, and assortment of party favorites. A huge blue and white cake, decorated with the number twenty-two, sits on a table near the sliding glass door that leads to the backyard. I get a momentary kick in my gut when I flash back to the swing set that used to be out back. My mother said Melissa and I loved it so much, we would make our father push us until his arms hurt. My face melts into a smile at the sight of Pepper, wearing a red birthday hat, pressing his nose on the glass door. Poor thing. Whenever we have lots of guests over he has to be put out back. He doesn’t do well in crowds.
I focus on the party and perk up when I notice another table covered with a white linen tablecloth and birthday cards, hopefully filled with checks payable to my favorite charity,
Children’s Hospital, as I had requested. I go to the table feeling blessed to have so many generous family and friends. A gentle tap on my shoulder gets my attention and I turn around. My eyes meet Ruby’s narrowed glare.
Praise for the Book
"About halfway through the story I thought I had it figured out. Then I kept reading...then there's this bombshell and I'm like what!?!?...NO...FREAKING...WAY!!! What the?? How the heck?? I totally did NOT see that coming!!!! Brilliant, brilliant ending!" ~ Jennifer La Duca of My So Called Book Reviews, CA
"The mystery itself is both complex and intriguing, and the author's subtle use of misdirection and red herrings should give even the most discerning reader pause. Take note: Alretha Thomas is a name to remember." ~ John Valeri, Hartford Books Examiner, CT
"Definitely a book that will have you talking about it long after the final chapter. Missing Melissa is a treat well worth your time." ~ Cyrus Webb, Conversations Book Club, MI
"The story is interesting, gripping and it kept me interested right to the end!" ~ Melanie of Bewitched Books, United Kingdom
"I enjoyed the ending a lot. The mystery was brilliant and there is no way I could have guessed who was actually behind the kidnapping. It was totally unexpected and I loved it." ~ Heena Rathore P. of The Reading Bud, INDIA
"If you're looking for a refreshingly different storyline with a lot of mystery, lovely developed relationships and a big ole who done it, this one is for you! You will cheer, you will jeer and you will definitely shed a tear ... Well done Alretha Thomas!" ~ Vickie M. of The Reading Cafe
About the Author
An award winning author, playwright, director, and producer, Alretha Thomas is making her name through her pen. Award winning plays and wanting to help her community, Alretha's background is as diverse as her personality. She started at the age of ten, when her 5th grade teacher picked and read her short story assignment in front of the class - that simple, loving act empowered a new writer. Continuing in high school, her numerous original oratorical conquests on the Speech Team led her to a journalism concentration at USC.
Upon graduating, Alretha soon realized that her interest in journalism was not heartfelt. While at the taping of a live sitcom, the producer noticed her and encouraged her hand at modeling. Modeling didn't mean much to her, but it did lead her to acting and a NAACP Theatre Award Nomination (1993) for Best Actress. Alretha left acting and began to write full time. Her church gave her an outlet to fulfill her writing desires through their Liturgical Fine Arts Department wherein Alretha penned twelve theatre pieces, six of which she directed - the community response was overwhelming.
This led to full length plays outside of the church. In 2002, The Stella Adler Theater presented A Shrine to Junior. The play was nominated for an NAACP Theatre Award and in 2004, Alretha's play, Civil Rites, was the recipient of an NAACP Theatre Award. Her play Grandpa's Truth ran at the Inglewood Playhouse in Inglewood, California in 2006, and was extended more than once by popular demand. Not only did radio station KJLH support by recommending this production to its listeners, but notables like the Mayor of Inglewood, Roosevelt Dorn, and music legends like Freda Payne and Stevie Wonder had critical acclaim for Grandpa's Truth. This wonderful piece was featured on Channel 5 (KTLA News) by Entertainment Reporter, Sam Rubin. Additionally, in 2007, Alretha's play that she wrote and directed, Sacrificing Simone, had a successful run at Stage 52 in Los Angeles and was called "an inspirational crowd pleaser" by the Los Angeles Times and in 2009, Alretha's ground breaking One, Woman Two Lives, starring Kellita Smith (The Bernie Mac Show), directed by four-time NAACP Image Award Best Director recipient Denise Dowse, garnered rave reviews from critics and audiences.
In between plays, Alretha's first novel Daughter Denied was launched in 2008 and has received glowing reviews from readers and book clubs across the country. Representing her book, Alretha has been the guest on many radio shows and television shows including San Francisco Public Affairs show Bay Sunday with Barbara Rodgers on KTLA Channel 5. In 2011, Alretha launched her second novel Dancing Her Dreams Away, and it was also well received. Her third novel, Married in the Nick of Nine, spawned a four-book series that was acquired by Soul Mate Publishing in January 2014. Alretha's third indie novel, Four Ladies Only, was released February 2014 and in August 2014 was awarded the Jessie Redmon Fauset Literary Award.