Home > Opal (GEM Series Book 1)

Opal (GEM Series Book 1)
Author: Freya Barker





Janey and I get dressed for bed quietly.

Mostly because we know we’re being watched.

Compliance comes easy when even at only seventeen you’ve been made to believe you have no rights, no importance, no voice.

Yesterday we were told it was time for more ‘personal development.’ Like Pavlov’s dogs, we immediately fell silent as we climbed into the van taking us from the group home to our destination, our minds automatically detaching from our bodies. It’s how we protect ourselves, knowing the next however many hours our bodies are no longer ours to command.


I barely get into my bottom bunk after turning off the lights when Janey’s whisper sounds over my head.


“Do you think Raj will come back?”

I glance over at the single bed on the other side of the room, barely visible in the dark. Up until two months ago, Raj would sleep there. The three of us arrived here at Transition House within a few months of each other and shared this room for the past three years.

Raj was a year older than Janey and me, but the three of us became close. As close as sisters, something none of us had ever known. As the eldest, she’d looked after us as best she could, comforting us with the promise of better times ahead.

I miss her soft voice in the dark room as she would talk to distract us from the dark thoughts that inevitably crept in with nightfall. Especially on nights like these, when I could still feel unwanted hands on my skin.

She was simply gone one day, without so much as a goodbye. It was the day after she turned eighteen and was of legal age.

“I don’t know,” I lie, secretly convinced we’ll never see Raj again. “Anything’s possible, I guess.”

“I can’t do this anymore…” I can barely hear Janey’s voice, but the desperation is clear and it scares me.

“Yes, you can. You will. Just like I will.”








“…are you there?”

Janey’s voice crackles through my earpiece.

I slide my hand under my hair and push the tiny button behind my ear twice for yes. If I wasn’t in the middle of a group of volunteers, waiting to be briefed by a search coordinator, I would’ve stepped away and used my voice, but I might draw attention to myself, which is something I don’t want.

“Keep an eye on James Genzel, one of Ricky’s teachers. Fifty-one, five foot nine, glasses, dirty blond, and balding. No facial hair.” My eyes immediately roam the crowd and zoom in on the slightly overweight man standing about twenty feet from me, at the edge of the search group, as Janey’s voice continues to fill me in. “School secretary says he left school in the middle of the day for a health emergency, and she didn’t see him until yesterday when he showed up fidgety. Her words, not mine.”

I hit the button twice more to let her know I got all that and start inching my way in Genzel’s direction. It’s not unusual for perpetrators to join the search for their victims. Some of those sick bastards feed off that, and they’ll often spend more time observing everyone around them than actually doing any searching. It also wouldn’t be the first time a perp tried to steer a search away from where they dumped their victims.

Either way, if the teacher had anything to do with thirteen-year-old Ricky’s disappearance forty-eight hours ago, his behavior could give him away and I’ll be watching.

“Can I have your attention please?”

The rich voice belongs to a tall, gray-haired man wearing sunglasses that obscure a large part of his face. A face, that from the lower half visible, is the kind that would earn him the moniker, silver fox. Luckily, I’m immune to appearances. A good thing, since I’m here to do a job.

As the man introduces himself as Agent Kenny with the FBI CARD team, I quickly return my attention to the teacher. He appears to be engrossed in the instructions the agent shares, nodding every now and then in understanding. Then we’re split up in groups and I shuffle a little closer to Genzel, to ensure I’ll be in the same group with him, when a hand taps my shoulder.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” the deep cultured voice sounds behind me.

I turn to find a pair of intense, hazel eyes focused on me. His shades are shoved up into his hair, and at this proximity, I can see faint freckles dotting his face. Definitely a silver fox.


“Were you planning on joining the search?”

My feathers are instantly ruffled, I hate being underestimated, but I remind myself this is exactly what I hope for when I’m in the field. The terrain we’re supposed to search is a stretch of wooded area along the Potomac River, just a mile or so from the middle school Ricky went missing from the day before yesterday. A rugged stretch with ample undergrowth, fallen limbs, and dense trees.

I’ve been in much worse terrain, but he wouldn’t know that.

“That’s why I’m here. This isn’t my first search,” I can’t resist adding.

Agent Kenny raises an eyebrow, clearly not convinced, but he doesn’t press the issue and points me to the group that started forming a few feet away. Fortunately, my target is in that group.

We line up about six feet apart, most of us carrying a stick or a pole, and start slowly moving into the trees, occasionally calling out Ricky’s name. I’m right beside the teacher, glancing his way from time to time, while still scanning the ground in front of me for any signs of Ricky.

It takes us a couple of hours of inching our way through when the trees open up and we hit the bank of the river. Kenny orders a small break before we retrace our steps downriver from where we ended up. I pull a bottle of water from the small backpack I have strapped on. I notice Genzel didn’t bring any so I take my second bottle from my pack and hand it to him.

“Thanks,” he says, twisting the top off and taking a swig. “I’m clearly not that well prepared. This is my first time doing anything like this. It’s a little unnerving.”

“Are you family?” I ask innocently, hoping to keep him talking.

He shakes his head. “No. I’m a teacher at Springfield. Ricky is in my math class. You?”

“Just a concerned citizen.”

I don’t detect any subterfuge in the man, but he could be a good actor.

He opens his mouth to say something when Agent Kenny’s voice calls us all to attention. A few minutes later, the two groups are lined up with our backs to the river, and we start working our way through the next stretch of dense growth.

We’ve barely hit the trees when someone down the line calls the boy’s name and I hear a sound from up ahead. I stop in my tracks.

“Hold up!” I yell out before cupping my hands around my mouth. “Ricky!”

Again, I can hear what sounds like a whimper and turn to glance at Genzel, who is looking at me, surprise on his face.

“I heard that.”

“Keep calling out to him,” I tell the teacher, as I start moving forward, trying to pinpoint where the sound is coming from.

Five minutes later I find him, the FBI agent close on my heels. His skinny body is mostly hidden by the large trunk of a felled tree. His leg sticks out at an unnatural angle.

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