As Lt. Weston stands outside their house, contemplating the past, Berjes guides his family upstairs. Lee clings to Bean as though she’s afraid that if she lets go, she’ll lose him too and, if Berjes is honest with himself (which he always tries to be) he has a bit of that fear as well. He doesn’t want to take his eyes off of either one of them so when his wife and son don’t separate at the boy’s bedroom door he pushes them both into the master bed. They’re asleep before their heads hit the pillows, before Lee can even consider taking her gown off. A soft sigh escapes Berjes as he gazes down at Lee’s tear-streaked cheeks, she’s holding up surprisingly well and he knows it can’t last. She’s over-emotional at the best of times, what about when she’s overloaded with emotion? Only time will tell. He tells himself as he slips the shoes from his wife’s feet. We’ll get through this.No one can sleep for long, but by the time they’re up the Mayor’s announcement is all over the place.
“We interrupt this Sports Universe broadcast for an important announcement from the Mayor-”
“Get ’em while they’re cheap! Christmas decorations for nex- Uh… Sorry… We’re just getting news that curfew has been reinstated after one night of tragedy-”
Scrolling over Fishing Fracas “Four children, with no apparent connection, have been torn from their families-”
Between pop songs “No comment from Lieutenant Weston-”
“Is Sunset Valley Safe?”
And then they identify the families.
The phone doesn’t stop ringing for the rest of the day and well into the night. Concerned friends and family, apologetic police officers, pushy reporters, salespeople who are actually reporters… There’s an ongoing babble of answering questions and receiving updates from the internet, news and police. The radio and television are both on but despite everyone yelling over one another, no one is willing to be further than an arms reach from any of the others. For the first couple of days after Jack’s disappearance, Lee, Berjes and Bean move around the house in a pack, relying on their neighbours and family to bring them what they need from the outside world.
Before long, though, Berjes begins to feeling anxious, he needs to do something, anything , to feel as though he’s contributing to the effort to find his son. He’s spent the last week holding his family together and Lee is doing well so he begins to join the daily search parties that scour the streets and woods and hills surrounding the Valley.
The sight of Bean heading for his backpack by the door, the yellow school bus parked outside, send Lee into a panic. She can’t help it, she screams, terror flowing through her as she sees shadows lurking, nearly out of sight on either side of the walkway.
“Mom?” Bean questions, his brow furrowed as he looks over his shoulder. Things are back to normal-ish now, right? Dad’s out doing stuff during the day so he should be going to school.
“Wh-where are you going?” Her voice is a whisper compared to the shriek she just let out, shaky and fragile, she sounds almost like she’s breaking.
Cautiously, Bean picks out his words, watching his mother to see what that scary sound in her voice is about. “To… school?” The answer was obvious, really, but the reaction is not.
It takes a split second for Lee to imagine what would have happened if she hadn’t peeked her head around the corner at the sound of Bean’s steps. He would have been taken in those long meters between the door and the school bus and both her sons would be gone. Lost. Forever. The last of her strength shatters and a whimper slips from her. “No.” and then louder, more firmly but with hysteria twisting through the words “no. You can’t go to school, you can’t!” Bean watches his mother transforms and turns his back to the door. He can’t, not with his mom so… terrified.
As Lee begins the rapid retreat into her fear and anguish, Bean jumps back into reading. He spends his days adventuring through the imaginations of his favourite authors, gleaning ideas and inspiration from the magic of their worlds and the hope that there’s something more out there. The stories he weaves for his role-playing with friends are more fantastic than ever, but Maebe, Jeremy and Eric don’t come over any more and he’s not allowed out. Inside the walls of his house he explores far off worlds since Lee hardly lets him out onto the lawn. But Lee can’t always pay attention, and when she disappears into the studio or into her imagination, Bean escapes to the yard, defying his mother to the furthest extent he’s willing. For him, an unsupervised game of Gnubb is at once freedom and rebellion.
“Does your mom know you’re out here?” Bean hadn’t heard his dad drive up in the old truck, hadn’t realized it was so late in the afternoon or he’d have dashed back inside by now. His concentration breaks with a start and he looks up at Berjes like a deer caught in headlights.
“C’mon kiddo, you know better than that. Your mom would be worried sick if she knew. Let’s get inside, I’ll bake up some cookies.” It’s a slightly patronizing tone, Berjes knows, but he’s been running interference between Bean and Lee for weeks now, as the tensions build and Lee clings more and more tightly to her remaining son. The more futile the searches become, the more time goes on, the more specialists are brought in to examine the case, Lee pulls further from her family and the world while still expecting them to stay close. Berjes turns towards the house but Bean doesn’t follow.Fury floods his face as his frustration reaches a boiling point. “No!” He screams, stamping his foot into the ground. “No! I don’t want to go inside and I don’t want to have any cookies. I want to go to school and I want my friends to come over and I want to go out! I want mom to be mom again and I want Jack to come back!” All of a sudden Bean’s anger deflates and he looks up at his dad helplessly. “I miss Jack.”
With tears shining in both of their eyes, Berjes gathers his son into his arms and squeezes him tightly. “I know, Bean.” He whispers into his hair. “I know, I miss Jack too. And I miss your mom. She’s just really hurting and is having problems dealing but we’re going to get through this, you and me, Bean, and mom too. OK? And I’ll talk to her for you, OK?”
A sniffle as Bean nods his head against his dad’s shoulder. “OK.”
“I love you, we both love you.”
With all the best intentions, Berjes makes his way to the studio, interrupting Lee as she strums a complex tune on her guitar. It’s a relief, to him, when she looks up at him from her playing with a small smile, puts down the guitar and walks over to take his hand. It feels like an eternity since he last saw her smile. True, this one is full of pain but it’s still better than nothing. For a moment they hold hands in silence, looking at each other and breathing easily. They murmur quiet ‘hellos’ and Berjes feels hope that Lee’s depression is passing. Still, it’s tentatively that he raises the question of Bean returning to classes.
Before the words are done, before he can give the reasons why it’s necessary, Lee’s entire demeanor changes. She had been feeling a bit better. She’d been having a good day, feeling like she’d regained some control over life and she’d thought, despite the fact that they’d hardly spoken about it, that Berjes was on the same page as her. Can’t he see how dangerous it is out there? Sunset Valley isn’t safe!
“Are you out of your mind?!” she screeches, hardly able to look her husband in the eyes since her anger is clouding her vision. “They haven’t found Jack and you’re willing to risk Bean?! You haven’t done enough useless searching instead of being here with your family so you want to lose him too? No! Absolutely not! He’ll stay here, where it’s safe and where I can protect him.” Her tirade continues and she blames Berjes for the loss of Jack, for not being there while she’s suffered, for not supporting them, for leaving her anxious about his safety.
Berjes tries his hardest to ignore the venom in her words, knowing his wife and knowing that her emotions rule over her reason. He knows she’s venting but the words cut deep when she questions his commitment to the family, his love of both of their boys and his love for her. He’s biting his tongue, knowing he can only make things worse and when she turns her back to him and jerks away from his touch he slinks from the room without a word, feeling like less of a husband, less of a father, less of a man.
With new wounds opened and new fears found, Lee’s watch over Bean become even more steady. He’s imprisoned, constantly under surveillance. Lee doesn’t speak to anyone, but moves around the house like a ghost of herself. She doesn’t smile or joke or laugh, she mopes and cries and whimpers, jumping at the smallest noise and inspecting shadows warily. Bean reads, he surfs the internet, and he’s just as quiet and Lee. He can feel the anger and resentment growing between his parents, and it feels a lot like his fault. If he’d kept an eye on Jack… If he hadn’t suggested they play tag… If he hadn’t been outside that day and hadn’t told his dad he wanted to go to school… That’s when the fighting started. In the middle of the night, once he’s tucked himself into bed – he misses bedtime stories so much – he can hear them arguing.
They try to keep quiet, they know how close Bean’s room is to their but some things can’t be expressed in hushed tones. Invariably, Lee picks the argument of the evening, taking whatever ammunition she’s gathered over the course of the day and leveling hurtful accusations without a thought. If she feels slighted or ignored or coddled or condescended upon she’ll take the opportunity to flip it on Berjes, to use it as proof of unforgivable wrong doing. It never occurs to her to think of the pain she’s inflicting upon the man she claims to love, all that matters is her own hurt which is a mother’s hurt, a hurt he could never understand.
If only they’d talk to each other, calmly and reasonably, Lee might learn of the way a father can hurt, the way a husband can hurt, but Berjes doesn’t have the capacity for calm and reasonable any longer. There have been too many instances of not speaking up, too many times the blame has been laid on his shoulders and now, when she begins to fight he can’t not fight back. He accuses her of the same neglect, of self-pity and indulgence. Then it gets petty and by the end of the night their voices are hoarse and Bean is in the other room with the blankets pulled over his head and his pillow clamped over his ears.
In the wee hours of the morning Berjes and Lee fall into their marital bed, they sleep like strangers in the same bed. Neither reaches for the other in their sleep, they never wake held in the arms of love. Even lying side-by-side they feel worlds apart, held at a distance by the loss of their son and the disintegration of their family. Each wound – from Jack’s kidnapping to the words they last screamed – is raw and they keep rubbing in the salt,
As Lee’s anger with Berjes builds, as their marriage falls apart, the sight of him becomes too much. The fighting stops, the talking stops, they look away in the hallways and breakfast, lunch and dinner are tortured, silent affairs. The three of them together for the sake of familiarity. Lee stops sleeping in the same bed as Berjes, preferring instead to sleep in Jack’s bed, where she can be surrounded by the faint scent that still wafts off his pillow when she lays her head down. Where she can be up at an instant if Bean should need anything.
Berjes no longer sleeps in a bed at all. He spends his nights perched in the chair in the nursery they never converted, if he sleeps it’s in short spurts and he’s roused by each sound that comes from the room next to him, if Bean should wake, Lee will wake and Berjes will know. If he’s honest with himself (which he always tries to be) he’s keeping guard. Making sure that in the morning what’s left of his family is still there, strained relations and all. As dawn breaks, the whole house will rise, one by one. Berjes, first, will slip from the nursery and out to the balcony where he can continue to keep an eye on his wife and child. Next, Lee will silently climb down from Jack’s bed, smooth the sheets into place and then pad down the stairs and out the back door to her studio. The music immediately soothing her frayed nerves, just the tiniest bit. Bean’s eyes snap open the second Lee leaves his room. He counts to 100 and then quietly follows in her footsteps, casting furtive glances towards the bedroom where his father ‘sleeps.’ He’ll play in the gathering sunlight until Berjes makes a show of turning on the lights upstairs, letting Bean know he’s ‘awake’ and it’s time to come in for breakfast.
As Lee spends more and more time in her studio, letting the music briefly drain her pain, the men of the house pull together. They take refuge in the one place Lee still can’t face, spending days in their pyjamas watching old sci-fi movies and trying to keep Bean up to speed with all the class he’s missing. Slowly, Bean lets go of the blame he claimed while his parent fought and Berjes works to become both the father and mother his son needs. Being a single parent is hard, especially when the other parent is still around, still expecting their rules to be followed. Bean’s not to leave the house without a parent near-by and never to leave the property. Even a trip to the park across the street is out of the question, even with Berjes at Bean’s side. As much as it pains them both to be so confined, they ache to see Lee in so much pain and so unable to cope. Neither is willing to do anything to hurt her any further, even at their own expense.
“I need a fence. No, a wall. Around the whole property.”
“Even the back ma’am? You have such a nice view…”
“Especially the back! Sunset Valley’s not safe. I need to protect my family!”
Perhaps it’s the look in her eyes, perhaps the hysteria back in her voice. “Yes ma’am. Around the whole house.”
“And I need it done quickly. Yesterday.”
“Yes ma’am, we’ll start tomorrow.”
Berjes stares, in disbelief, at the orderly piles of stones that have sprung up in front of his house since he left this morning. At first, he tried to convince himself that his eyes were playing tricks on him. Who would begin building walls on his property, without his consent? But he knows, it’s obvious. Lee. Only she would build a wall around the house, only her fear has gotten so out of hand that she wouldn’t even discuss it with her husband.
He snaps. Ever since they were kids Berjes has indulged her emotions, let her get away with everything and walked on eggshells to keep her from getting upset. He’s watched her throw her life away, their relationship away, with no thought to how he is affected. When it was just his feelings involved, he could push it aside. He could accept the most ridiculous things from her, to ease her worries but now she is trying to hold the world at bay and her family prisoner. He sees red.
“Lee! LEE! GET OUT HERE AND EXPLAIN YOURSELF!” His voice echoes throughout the neighbourhood, alerting people to the drama unfolding as Lee races to the front lawn.“How dare you put a wall around our house! How dare you turn this home into a prison without consulting me!”
“I’m doing this for you!” Lee pleads, unable to see this from his perspective. “For you and Bean and our family. I’m making us safer. No one will be able to get in.”
“And we’re already not allowed out.”
“Can’t you see? We’re not safe. Our family is in danger!!”
“You are the biggest danger to our family, Lee. Build your wall around our house, I know I can’t stop you, but you’re not locking the problem out, you’re locking it in here with us. We can’t keep this up. Put up your wall, Lee. Put up all the walls you want but things are going to change around here.”