@Archaeolibrary, @partnersincr1me (@PICVirtualTours - FB), @mmcolasanti,
Your daughter went missing twenty years ago. Now, she's finally back. You thought she had returned a few times in the past, and your husband tells you she's not the one, but you feel it in your bones.
Now, what will you do to keep her home?
Twenty years ago, Myra Barkley's daughter disappeared from the rocky beach across from the family inn, off the Oregon coast. Ever since, Myra has waited at the front desk for her child to come home. One rainy afternoon, the miracle happens--her missing daughter, now twenty-eight years old with a child of her own, walks in the door.
Elizabeth Lark is on the run with her son. She's just killed her abusive husband and needs a place to hide. Against her better judgment, she heads to her hometown and stops at the Barkley Inn. When the innkeeper insists that Elizabeth is her long lost daughter, the opportunity for a new life, and more importantly, the safety of her child, is too much for Elizabeth to pass up. But she knows that she isn't the Barkleys's daughter, and the more deeply intertwined she becomes with the family, the harder it becomes to confess the truth.
Except the Barkley girl didn't just disappear on her own. As the news spreads across the small town that the Barkley girl has returned, Elizabeth suddenly comes into the limelight in a dangerous way, and the culprit behind the disappearance those twenty years ago is back to finish the job.
Charlotte Barkley is a legend throughout the country, but for the residents of the small town on the Oregon Coast, she is everyone’s daughter. The Barkley Inn is nestled across the highway from a tiny, hidden pier outside of Tillamook County. The marina is weathered gray, with a few boats that seem perpetually docked there. There is a surf shop with an ocean mural painted on its door, an old-fashioned candy store needing a coat of paint, and a fish-and-chips restaurant. Rocky Shores is so sleepy it is swallowed by the lush, endless forest.
Rocky Shores was never a well-known town, not until Charlotte’s disappearance. Now, the tourists stop by the bayside for a piece of a secret. Elizabeth wonders what the Barkleys think about this—how they feel about the influx of business their private tragedy has brought. Some of the kids at school whispered that the Barkleys knew what happened to the little girl. Others said that Myra Barkley’s obsession bordered on insane, that she would wait at that inn for Charlotte till the end of time.
She kisses Theo on the forehead and tucks a blanket around him. It is the thickest blanket he’s ever had. His lips turn up in his sleep, and she wonders what he dreams of.
Myra Barkley doesn’t strike Elizabeth as all that odd. She would wait for Theo too.
Elizabeth redirects her thoughts to the plan she must adhere to if they want to escape. She unzips her duffel bag and rifles through it, retrieving the three burner phones Alice purchased from different Walmarts, and the stack of different identification cards.
Don’t fuck this up, she thinks.
She holds the phone in her palm. Should she call Alice yet?
No, not until she is sure they are safe. She knows one thing— they can’t stay here.
Elizabeth runs her fingers along the silver necklace and squeezes her eyes shut. How will she get out of this one?
Her breath quickens. Elizabeth poisoned the man. She could be guilty of murder. Or maybe it would be considered self-defense. Elizabeth is no lawyer. She’s got no experience with cops, and there’s no one she can think of to ask without sounding suspicious as hell.
Elizabeth cannot spend one more day incarcerated.
As soon as Myra and Herb retreat to the house, she will gather Theo and sneak out to the truck. Her eyelids are heavy; sleep threatens to overtake her. Even her muscles have gone soft from the hot bath Myra had drawn for her that afternoon. She decides to lie down, just for a few minutes. It is better to wait till deep in the night. She cannot head to the police with Herb and Myra in the morning. Run. That’s what she is supposed to do. What she was told to do. Everyone from Rocky Shores is haunted by Charlotte Barkley. The old case will resurface. When the truth comes out, Elizabeth and her son will be filleted by the media. Imposter takes advantage of grieving mother. Her chest aches as she lies beside Theo.
Elizabeth Lark is no one’s daughter.
Melissa Colasanti is a mother and an author. She has a BFA in fiction from Boise State University. Her writing has appeared in Lithub, Memoir Magazine, The Coffin Bell Journal and others. She is the Stephen R. Kustra scholar in creative writing for 2019, and was awarded the Glenn Balch Award for fiction in 2020.