All the Clarkes ever wanted was to keep their daughter.
It should have been possible.
But it was never going to happen.
When a government official finally came to take Heather's parents away, she didn't understand why. Nobody did. The Australian Government had buried their reasons under a decades-old conspiracy and they were desperate to keep it that way. Anyone who knew too much disappeared without a trace, and there were some questions which were only ever answered with lies.
Even so, Heather and her friends were determined to know the truth.
But how could a group of children unravel such an intricate web of deception without getting caught by the spiders who weaved it?
‘Goodnight, Daddy.’ Heather hugged her father tightly. He was sitting on the edge of her bed and she was on his lap. ‘I love you.’
Nathan held his precious daughter in his arms, allowing her simple words to wash over him and silence his worries for the moment. ‘I love you too, sweetheart.’
Heather let go and crawled into bed, pulling the soft, purple sheets up to her chin. Her strawberry blonde hair fanned out beneath her head when she rested it on the pillow. Nathan leaned over and planted a gentle kiss on her forehead. ‘Goodnight,’ he murmured. ‘Sleep well.’
Heather gazed up at him, her blue eyes bright sapphires against her light skin. ‘I will. You too.’
‘I will,’ Nathan replied with a small smile, though he was sure it was a lie.
Heather smiled back, her eyes slowly closing as she let the world fall away. Nathan stood up carefully, trying not to disturb her. He turned the light out and closed the door quietly behind him as he left Heather’s room.
Light was leaking under a door down the hall. Nathan pushed it open to find his wife, Christin, sitting at her desk, though her computer was off. He walked over to her and stroked her long, blonde hair affectionately. She looked up at him, her bright blue eyes strikingly similar to her daughter’s, and smiled. Glancing past her, Nathan was surprised to see a piece of paper on the desk before her, a pen in her hand. The paper looked like it had been torn out of Heather’s school notebook and the pen must have come from Heather’s pencil case.
‘What are you doing?’ he asked her.
‘Hoping the words will write themselves,’ Christin sighed, turning back to her blank page. ‘We need to tell Hez what’s going on. She needs to know that we’re her real parents, that she’s not adopted.’
‘Does she?’ Nathan retorted. ‘Maybe she’s happy thinking she’s normal. All her friends are adopted. We were adopted when we were kids. What if she doesn’t want to know that she’s different?’
‘I considered that,’ Christin said. ‘That’s why I wanted to write her a note. I’ll lock it away and give her the key so that if anything were to happen to us, she can read it and know why.’
Nathan nodded thoughtfully. ‘That’s a good idea. But what if the government finds it? They’re already searching for evidence to suggest we’ve “kidnapped and brainwashed” her. Surely that would be all they need to incriminate us.’
‘We are not criminals,’ Christin snapped, her eyes closed. The pen slipped from her hand, clattering onto the desk. ‘We’ve done nothing wrong. We didn’t kidnap her. We didn’t steal her from anyone else. She’s our daughter.’ She opened her eyes and looked up at Nathan, begging him to agree.
‘Of course she is! But the government doesn’t see it that way,’ he reminded her. ‘All they see is a girl with no paper trail, not one document to say she’d ever existed before we sent her to school. They don’t know she’s ours by blood and if we tell them, they’ll never believe us. To them, she’s not ours at all without documentation.’
‘Why is it such a crime to have a baby?’ Christin whispered, tears rolling down her cheeks. Nathan knelt beside her and brushed them away with his thumb. She took his hand in hers and kissed it, holding it against her lips, her whole body trembling.
‘We won’t lose her,’ said Nathan. ‘I promise.’
Christin released his hand and nodded. She sat there for several moments, staring at her knees, taking deep, slow breaths. Finally, she picked up Heather’s pen and, with some difficulty, began to write.