*Rated for swearing and violence in later chapters*
Chapter 1- Day -1
"Ready to go, Molly?" Andrew asked, poking his head around Molly's temporary office/broom closet door. She jumped slightly and looked up from her notebook.
"Yep, thanks so much for inviting me, Andrew, it's really kind of you." Molly said, picking up her pale blue satchel bag and putting her notebook and laptop inside.
"It's our pleasure, Astrid's been looking forward to meeting you." Andrew replied, smiling. Molly left the room and followed Andrew Ellison out of the offices and into the car park.
"Here's the address, just in case we get split up in traffic. Have you got a GPS?" Molly took the map and scanned it quickly before replying.
"Yes, but I haven't quite got it figured out yet, the hire company rep had to put the hotel in for me." Andrew laughed and then walked over to his own car, looking back as he unlocked the door.
"Well, just give me a call if you get lost."
"Will do, see you soon." Molly opened the door of her blue fiesta and climbed in. She put her bag on the passenger seat and took a deep breath before checking her phone.
No calls. No texts. No emails.
"Bastard." She muttered. It wasn't like she had been expecting to hear from him. He was on a different time zone after all. Perhaps he had just had a busy day.
"Yeah, perhaps he's on a plane on his way to sweep you off your feet!" She said, sarcastically. "Get a grip, Winter, he's a pig."
Molly Winter looking in the windscreen mirror, her pale blue eyes looked back at her. Even she could see she looked tired. She couldn't blame jet-lag anymore, she had to accept that she wasn't sleeping because she was crying too much.
She had left England three weeks ago, sent here by her PhD supervisor to research a freak event that had occurred in Perdido Beach, California over 15 years go. It had taken months to set up the interviews, the government had seemed to put every possible barrier in her way but in the end the Nuclear Energy Agency had intervened and forced the power plant to let her come, trying to prove that they had nothing to hide.
It was strange to sit on the wrong side of the car, and drive on the wrong side of the road, but Molly tried to push her melancholy mood out of her mind and focus on driving.
When she reached the gate they stopped her, as usual.
"Need to search your car, Miss Winter. Won't take long."
"Again?" She whined, annoyed. The guard didn't reply and spent the next fifteen minutes searching the car and her notes for any material that she wasn't authorised to have. It was like they expected her to find some big secret!
When she was allowed to leave it was a relatively straight-forward journey to Perdido Beach, she had ventured into the town only a few times since she had arrived. It was a nice, normal, seaside town. She was staying at the Clifftop hotel which would ordinarily be out of her budget but her research grant had picked up the tab, she even have a suite rather than just a room. So desperate to get her out of his way, Molly thought bitterly.
She pulled up to the Ellison house and it took her a few attempts to get onto the drive, parking was never her speciality and everything was different on this side of the pond. She checked her reflection again to make sure she looked presentable and then picked up her bag and walked up to the house.
It was a fairly large white house with a small front porch with a bench and some potted plants. Molly knocked on the door automatically before realising that there was a doorbell. She dithered for a moment, wondering whether to use it but then heard footsteps so decided against it.
Andrew Ellison opened the door. He was a tall man with sandy coloured hair and glasses. He had removed his tie and undone the top couple of buttons of his shirt, a relaxed off-duty look.
"Hey, you found it alright then." He said, opening the door wider and beckoning her in.
"Yes, sorry I'm a bit late, the car was searched again." Andrew laughed.
"Josh on security doesn't trust anyone, don't take it personally. Come on in, can I get you a drink?"
"Just water please. It's a lovely street."
"Thanks, come and meet the family." Molly followed him into a large kitchen. There was a woman at the stove, perhaps in her early forties, she was wearing a black dress with a navy blue cardigan.
There was also a young girl sat at the table using a laptop. She was the kind of girl that Molly had wished she looked like when she was a teenager. Blond hair, blue eyes, slim build. Molly was also fairly slim but her pale brown hair and pale complexion would always class her as distinctly average.
"This is Molly, this is Barbara, my wife, and my daughter, Astrid."
"Hello Molly, it's lovely to meet you." Said Barbara, coming forward and shaking Molly's hand.
"You too, thank you so much for inviting me."
"Not at all, Astrid put the laptop away." Astrid sighed, shut the laptop and smiled at Molly.
"Hello." She said, confidently.
"Where's Petey got to?" Barbara said, moving from the kitchen into the hallway.
Andrew told Molly to sit down so she moved and sat opposite Astrid at the table. Astrid was putting away her work, Molly glanced at Algebra and was surprised at the level. Either American kids were much more advanced that English children, or Astrid was a whiz-kid. Molly suspected the latter.
Barbara returned, with a small boy, his blond head stuck in a video game, trailing behind her.
"And this young man is Pete, or Little Pete." Said Andrew, patting his son on the head. Pete made no sign of acknowledgement.
"It's lovely to meet you, Pete." Molly said, the boy didn't reply.
"Don't take it personally, he's autistic." Said Barbara, practically whispering the word 'autistic', Molly noticed Astrid rolling her eyes at her mother.
Twenty minutes later Barbara dished up a pie and vegetables and the family, except Pete, sat down.
"Munchy, munchy Petey." Said Astrid, looking over at her brother. He came and sat down next to her but did not let the game go.
Barbara dished up the dinner and passed Molly a plate. They said a short prayer and then started eating.
"So, Molly, tell us about your research." Barbara said, taking a small sip of white wine.
"Well, I'm researching freak events and trying to determine a framework for managing the fall-out from them."
"Oh, so you're not a Physicist then?" Astrid asked, looking slightly disappointed.
"No, not at all, I'm more of a risk analyst."
"It still sounds fascinating, what other events have you looked into?"
"It varies quite a bit. I examine big things, like a meteorite hitting your power plant, and also much smaller events that only effect individuals. For example, photographs that are taken at a precise moment to capture an improbable shot, bullets deflected by small pieces of shrapnel, people that are walking down the street and a sinkhole opens up or they get hit by a falling object."
"Are you doing a PhD?" Astrid asked, her eyes hungry for knowledge.
"Yes, I'm in my second year."
"Astrid wants to go to Oxford, don't you dear?" Barbara said, looking at her daughter carefully.
"Well, at some point, I'd also like to go to Harvard. And perhaps NYU."
"What would you like to study?" Molly asked but before Astrid could reply her mother spoke up, with a dismissive laughter.
"Everything, Molly!" Astrid blushed and looked down at her plate.
They discussed Molly's research for a few more minutes and then Barbara asked her about how she was finding California.
"Oh, it's beautiful and the weather is amazing."
"Are you staying at Clifftop?" She asked, sipping the wine again.
"We're in the club up there, I'm actually playing tennis there in the morning."
"I thought you were playing on Thursday?" Andrew asked.
"No, Jen moved the match. My friend, Jen, she's the mayor's wife." Barbara added, for Molly's benefit clearly. Kate got the impression that the Ellison's were social climbers, especially Barbara.
"Are you married, dear?" Barbara asked, her eyes looking at Molly's left hand for a wedding ring.
"Oh, no, not yet."
"Engaged?" Barbara pressed.
"No, I've actually just split up with my boyfriend." Molly replied, trying to prevent her voice from betraying emotion.
"Oh dear! Recently?"
"She said, just." Astrid piped up, her mother glared at her and the teenager returned her gaze to her pie.
"Yes, just before I fly out here." Molly didn't add that her ex-boyfriend was actually her married supervisor who had promised to leave his wife. When his wife announced she was pregnant, Molly was put on the next plane out to California. First class.
"Oh, perhaps you can patch things up when you get back. How old are you?"
"Only 22, there's plenty of time to find my Mr-Right."
"Of course, plenty of time." Barbara replied, her voice so close to patronising it was almost comical.
"Your parents must be proud of your studies." Andrew said, clearly trying to minimise his guest's embarrassment.
"Yes, well my mother died when I was younger but my father is proud." Perhaps, Molly thought, she hadn't spoken to him for months, not since he announced he was getting married to a 19 year old dancer he met in a strip club.
"What do you do, Barbara?" Molly asked, trying to shift focus off her.
"Oh I don't work anymore, I need to keep an eye on Petey, he's very special." Molly noticed Astrid looking like she was biting her tongue with great difficulty.
"Of course, how old…?"
"He's four." Astrid answered, glancing at her brother who had not eaten much of his dinner.
"And how old are you, Astrid?"
"With the head of a thirty year old!" Her mother scoffed. Molly felt a rush of compassion for Astrid, her mother was clearly hard work.
After dinner they moved into the living room and had coffee. Molly had water, she really missed tea.
"How much longer will you be in Perdido Beach?" Astrid asked, sipping a hot chocolate. Pete was being put to bed by his mother.
"Only another week, I've got most of my research done now."
"Will you be staying in America?"
"I'm not sure, I'm waiting to hear from my supervisor, it would be great to travel the country a bit more, now that I'm here. It will depend on whether a new location can be found to extend my visa."
Barbara's voice floated down the stairs, calling for Astrid.
"Excuse me." Astrid said, putting down her drink and walking out of the room.
"You have a lovely family, Andrew." Molly said, looking around at the pictures.
"Thank you, it's a bit of a struggle with Petey but…we get what God decides." Molly nodded although she had no religious beliefs whatsoever.
Astrid did not reappear but Barbara did, holding another glass of wine, as well as a coffee.
"Do you play tennis, Molly? We could have a match, I'm a member of the tennis club."
"Oh, thank you for the offer but I don't play."
"Just a friendly match, nothing serious." She laughed, sitting next to her husband who was glancing at the wine, perhaps counting how many glasses she'd had. Molly thought it was close to six. Large glasses.
"Sorry, I've got weak knees, I can't really run or … anything. The last thing I need is a huge medical bill, I'm not sure my research grant would cover it." She joked.
"Of course, healthcare is free in England, isn't it?"
"Yes, although you can pay for private treatment if you want, most people don't though. The National Health Service is excellent."
"Oh Andrew, imagine the holidays we could take if we didn't have to pay for healthcare insurance!"
"It's worth it." Andrew replied, Barbara turned to Molly.
"Petey's treatment is so expensive, sometime I don't think it makes any difference…"
"Barbara." Andrew said, warning in his voice.
"Do you have any siblings?" He asked, ignoring his wife's glare.
"No, well, not yet. My father is getting remarried, the girl … woman, is pregnant."
"That will be nice for you." Barbara said, Molly nodded but did not trust herself to reply.
"Anyway, it's getting late, I better get back to the hotel, thank you so much for a lovely evening." Molly said, standing up.
Andrew led her into the hallway and then called up to his daughter, who poked her head down the stairs, looking rather pale.
"Goodbye Molly, it was lovely to meet you. Good luck with the research."
"Thanks, give me a ring when you get to Oxford." Astrid laughed and then disappeared again.
Molly was sat at her desk the following morning, trying to access a file when there was a knock on the door.
"Yes?" The door opened and the head of the plant was standing there, looking angry.
"Miss Winter, would you care to explain why you are trying to access a restricted file?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realise it was restricted, I just thought my laptop was being slow. I was looking for the log for the month after the event. The plant managers log?"
"You do not have the clearance for that file."
"I'm not looking for the figures or radiation readings or anything, just the daily logs…"
"You do not have clearance for that file." He repeated, his face red.
"Problem, Mr Wyatt?" Came a voice that Molly recognised as Andrew Ellison's.
"Just having a problem explaining clearance levels to our visitor, Ellison."
"I'm really sorry, if I can speak to the manager at the time then…"
"That's not going to happen. The NEA might have granted you access to some of our files but this is still my power plant!"
"Okay…" The manager stormed off, leaving Molly on the verge of tears. She had never been good at confrontation.
"Come on, I'll make you a cup of horrible American tea." Andrew said, Molly nodded, still in shock and followed Andrew into the control room. She was more than a little surprised to see Pete sat on the floor, engrossed in his game.
"Oh, hello Pete." She said, failing to keep the surprise out of his voice. She couldn't look at a harmless log but workers were allowed to bring their toddlers into the control room!
"Yes, Barbara wanted to focus on her tennis this morning, he's happy as long as his game is working." Andrew said, moving to the kettle. Molly sat down on the small sofa and tried to calm herself down slightly, before she had chance however, alarms started blaring.
Andrew dropped a mug and swore.
"Stay here, Molly, keep an eye on…" Andrew ran out of the room, lights of various colours were flashing, the screens were all flashing and the noise was deafening.
Little Pete started screaming, still clutching his game. Molly froze, unsure what to do. He wouldn't hear any words of comfort over this racket so she lowered herself off the sofa and shuffled over to him.
He was rocking backwards and forwards, screaming at an unnatural volume.
"It's okay…" Molly began but her words had no effect so she put what she hoped was a comforting hand on Pete's shoulder, suddenly the world went dark.
A/N This is my first Gone story, I read the books a couple of months ago and I can't stop re-reading! Please review and let me know what you think about Molly and how much difference she'll be able to make!