My almost-16-year-old daughter slings her overnight bag on her shoulder and kisses me goodbye. “See you tomorrow,” she says.
It’s the spring school holidays and she’s out more than she’s in at the moment. I’m busy, immersed in edits. “You’re meeting Anna for lunch and then staying the night at Olivia’s, right?”
She sighs at my vagueness, but corrects me cheerfully enough. “Other way round, Mum: lunch with Olivia; staying at Anna’s. We’ll probably stay up late, and sleep in, so I probably won’t be back until lunchtime tomorrow.”
“Sounds good,” I say. “Have fun.”
I love the casual freedom of school holidays, these last-minute overnight stays, the way the girls go back and forth, spend a night here, a night there. There’ll be pizza, chips, sweets, countless episodes of whatever series is the current fave; they’ll stay up watching until far too late.
I like the fact that there’s no need for me to check in with parents: she’s been friends with both girls since primary school and I know their families well. The evening will no doubt involve some sort of teenage girl drama – someone will do something annoying, be an utter bitch, eat more than their share of the skittles, attempt to control the programming, argue a point too dogmatically, whatever, but they’ll all be safe. And I’ll see her tomorrow sometime.
I get on with my work; don’t give her activities another thought.
It’s eight o’clock that night and the Netflix password isn’t working. No one, not even the usually techno-competent thirteen-year-old, can get the combination of letters and digits right. There’s a possibility that Nell has changed it. I call her mobile, but there’s no service. I assume she’s run out of power, or maybe turned it off (though that seems unlikely). I scroll through my contacts, try calling Anna. Her mobile’s similarly afflicted. I scroll down further, call Anna’s father’s mobile. When he answers, I ask him if he’d mind getting Nell to turn her phone on, or perhaps call me back on their home phone. Nothing important, I say, we just need a password. There’s silence on the other end.
Then: “Actually, Nell’s not here. We haven’t seen her all day. And as far as I know we’re not expecting her.”