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Chapter no 1

Want to Know a Secret?

APRIL

To: April Masterson From: Unknown number

Want to know a secret?

Your son isn’t where you think he is.

“As you can see, I’ve now got a tray of delicious, ooey-gooey fudge brownies, fresh from the oven!”

I use my oven mitts to hold up my tray of brownies to the expensive digital camera mounted on the tripod in my kitchen. I tilt the tray slightly, so viewers will be able to see the brownies. They look delicious, if I do say so myself.

“Now for a taste.” I pick up the carving knife on the kitchen table. I cut myself a nice big square of chocolatey goodness and take a careful bite. When I first started doing this, I recorded myself eating treats multiple times, trying to figure out the right formula for not looking like a slob while I stuffed confections in my mouth. “Mmm. So good!”

Truth be told, I over-baked them by about five minutes. They taste a bit dry. But nobody watching will know it. That’s the great thing about video.

I lay down the rest of the brownie. I only ever take one bite and that’s it. Nobody wants to watch me gorge myself on their computer screen. “And there you have it, folks! My secret recipe for the most delicious brownies you’ll ever eat.” As long as you don’t overbake them. “If you enjoyed watching April’s Sweet Secrets, please subscribe to my YouTube channel.”

And now I wave at the camera, my eyes connecting with the lens. “Good night, Mom!”

That’s how I end every episode.

My show is called April’s Sweet Secrets. My secrets are my hook. In every episode, I tell viewers a few “secret tips” to get their sweet treats to taste better than anyone else’s. Want to know the secret to delicious brownies? The secret is melting good quality dark chocolate in with the cocoa powder.

I shut down the camera and detach the microphone. It’s only after the recording has stopped that my shoulders relax. Even though I’m not recording live, I feel tense when I’m on the screen in front of my thousands of subscribers. Even after five years of doing this.

And now there’s the question of what to do with all the brownies. A huge tray of them, sitting there, taunting me. They may be slightly over- baked, but they’re still delicious and I would love to stuff myself with two or three of them (or five). Unfortunately, I can’t afford to eat even one. That’s the ironic part—my career is teaching people to put together the most delicious treats, but I’m not allowed to touch them aside from that one bite on screen. I have to look good for the camera.

I’ll put aside a few for my seven-year-old son Bobby—he’s playing out in the backyard and he’ll come back inside soon, hungry for snacks. He deserves a treat for not having interrupted me even once during the filming. It’s something of a world’s record!

And I’ll bring the rest of the tray to Carrie Schaeffer later today. She’s going through that horrible divorce, and I know she’ll appreciate them.

I head out to the living room where I stashed my cell phone during the recording. My phone is a distraction that I can’t have anywhere near me when I’m making these videos. Nobody wants to watch a video of somebody sneaking looks at text messages on their phone—it’s so unprofessional. And sure enough, I’ve got several waiting for me.

The first text is from Julie, who lives two houses down from us and is my absolute best friend. She’s a little intense, but that’s only because she used to be an attorney in her previous life. You know, Before Kids. (BK.)

Are you coming to the PTA meeting on Tuesday?

She has asked me that question no less than five-thousand times. And the answer is always the same. Yes. Yes, I’m coming. I have come to every

single PTA meeting in the entire time we have known each other. But I know if I don’t answer this one time, she’ll get snippy. So I quickly reply:

Yes, I’ll be there!

Can you come twenty minutes early to help me set up the tables and chairs?

I groan. I knew I was going to get roped into that. But it’s very hard to say no to Julie. And she means well. She’s amazing as president of the PTA.

Sure! No problem!

I notice another unread text message, this one from an unknown number. Undoubtedly, it’s a spam text message. Or maybe it’s from a fan who somehow got my cell phone number. Every once in a while, my number seems to get out there, despite my best efforts to keep it secret. I’ve had to change it twice. I click on the message to view it:

Want to know a secret? Your son isn’t where you think he is.

I stare at the message on the screen. What?

A cold, sick feeling comes over me. Bobby is in the backyard. We have a fenced-in backyard, and he and I have an agreement that when I’m filming one of my videos, he’s got to either stay out there or in his room. But about half the time, he finds a reason to interrupt me. I had been feeling proud of him that he didn’t interrupt me this time.

This has got to be a prank. But even so, I’ll go check on him.

My legs feel a little wobbly as I step onto the back porch and scan the grass, which is in dire need of trimming. I look around the yard, my eyes darting between the two trees and the little swing set that Bobby has nearly outgrown. I don’t see him. Maybe he’s hiding behind a tree or something. That kid loves to hide.

“Bobby!” I call out.

My only answer is a slight rustling of leaves. “April?”

I whirl around, my heart pounding. My husband Elliot is standing behind me, dressed in an Armani suit. It’s Sunday, but of course, he’s on his way to work. I wouldn’t expect anything different from my workaholic husband. It used to drive me crazy, but I’ve learned to accept it.

“I’m on my way out,” he says. “Just wanted to let you know.”

“Wait.” There’s a slightly hysterical edge to my voice. “I don’t see Bobby in the backyard.”

Elliot straightens out his tie. It’s his red power tie. He must have something important going on today. I remember the first time I saw him in that tie nine years ago, I swooned. I actually swooned. I had never met anyone like Elliot Masterson before. He was one of the most handsome and charismatic men I’d ever met. There was something in the back of my head, even then, telling me this man would be my husband and the father of my child someday.

But right now, I can’t appreciate how good he looks in his suit and tie. All I can think about is who sent me this text message and where my son is.

“Are you sure he’s not out there?” he asks.

“Yes!” I fish around in my pocket for my phone. “And look at this text message someone sent me!”

Elliot takes my phone and reads the text as he rubs at his scalp. It’s very smooth—he must have shaved this morning. That’s right—my husband shaves his head. He started doing it about four years ago, and I screamed and pulled out my can of mace when he came into the living room with his newly shorn head for the first time. I thought he was going to burgle me—he looked like a completely different person, and I hated it. But after a few weeks, I came around. The shaved head is sexy and virile, and admittedly better than his badly receding hairline.

“It’s probably just a prank,” he says, although there’s a slight tremor in his voice.

“Why would somebody play a prank like that on me?”

“I don’t know! You’re a public figure. People know you. Maybe somebody’s cookies didn’t come out right and they’re angry at you.”

He’s right that I have become a public figure lately. Everybody in our Long Island town seems to know who I am, thanks to my YouTube show. And truth be told, I have received a few creepy text messages over the years from viewers who tracked down my number. But nothing ever came of it.

“Maybe he’s upstairs?” Elliot suggests.

It’s possible. But I’ve been in the kitchen for the last hour, and he would have had to go past me to get back in the house. I would have seen that. So he must still be outside.

“He could be hiding…” I say. Bobby is at an age where he thinks it’s hilarious to hide somewhere, and jump out and startle me at an inopportune moment. Haha, I scareded you! If he wasn’t so darn cute, I would be furious.

Right now, it would not be cute. “I’ll go check upstairs,” Elliot says. “I’ll check the side of the house.”

I go out into the backyard, tugging at the bright red blouse that suddenly feels too hot. On camera, I always wear bright, solid colors. Usually, I change shortly after I finish making my video, but there’s no time for that now. I feel my ballet flats squishing against the damp grass. “Bobby!” I call again.

No answer. But that doesn’t mean anything. If he’s hiding, of course he’s not going to give away his location.

I stop for a moment and listen. Even though he’s good at hiding, he is still only seven. At this point, he’s probably giggling to himself. So I listen for giggling. Or crunching of leaves. But I don’t hear any.

I get another sting of panic in my chest.

I venture further out into the backyard. I look along the side of the house, where we keep our garbage cans. It’s a perfect hiding place for a little boy—I’m hoping to find him crouched behind one of the bins. At this point, he’s giving me enough of a scare that I will definitely have to scold him: Mommy was really scared! Next time, don’t hide like that!

I look behind the bins. Nothing.

Then my eyes fall on the gate to the backyard. It’s the only way to get in or out of the backyard without going through the house.

The gate door is wide open.

With a shaking hand, I pull my phone out of my pocket. I bring up the text message one more time:

Your son isn’t where you think he is.

My hands are shaking so much, it’s an effort to respond: Who are you? Where is he?

I stand there, watching the screen. Waiting. But there’s no reply.

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