For the mother of David Spencer, time stood still from the moment she was told by police her son was missing.
"In all these years, I haven’t changed my phone number or moved in case he wants to make contact. For months I didn’t go out because I was waiting to hear from him," said Christine O'Toole, who now clings to very little hope that he will come walking through the door.
"I really hope that David is still alive, but I just can’t see it," she said.
The realisation that David was never coming home does not end the anguish for Mrs O'Toole. Along with the family of David's friend, Patrick Warren, never knowing what had happened to the two boys only increases the pain.
And the arrival of Christmas made everything worse for the 43-year-old grandmother.
"I don't celebrate Christmas and haven't put a tree or trimmings up since David went missing," she said.
"In my mind, I go over our last conversation. I told him not to be late getting to Paddy’s brother’s.
"Next thing I knew, the police were at the door saying the boys were missing."
She added: "Someone out there is bound to know something, bad or good, they just need to come forward."
Mrs O'Toole, who has two other sons, Jonathan, 21, and Lee, 19, added: "If something terrible has happened at least I can grieve. I’m in limbo at the moment not knowing if he’s dead or alive.
"I would like to give him a proper funeral and have a special place that I can visit. That would be important to me and his brothers, to know that we could go and see him."
David’s stepfather, Michael O’Toole, died last month.
Patrick's family have also said they have been left in limbo by not knowing what has happened.
His father Derek Warren, 64, said: "As a family we are desperate to know what has happened to Patrick since he went missing.
"This January was his 21st birthday. We don't know whether he's alive or come to harm, but we can't come to terms with anything until we know for sure."
In 1996, the two boys had told Mrs O'Toole they would be staying at Patrick's mother's house for the night.
But David and Patrick were last seen at 12.45am on December 27 at an Esso service station in Chelmsley Wood where they begged some biscuits from an attendant, who saw them walking towards a shopping centre. Warren's cycle was later discovered dumped at the side of the service station.
Police are now searching waste ground in Old Damson Lane, Solihull, near Birmingham International Airport, in new multi-pronged approach to the investigation.
They recently quizzed killer Brian Field about the missing boys. Field, a former gardener, was known to have dumped waste at the site.
Suspects from the sex offenders' register are also being questioned, along with people convicted of sex offences in the 90s.
Detective Chief Superintendent Gordon Fraser said the one-acre Old Damson Lane site was one of half a dozen locations in Birmingham and Solihull to be minutely examined using the latest in search and DNA technology.
Field, 70, is serving life for the murder in 1968 of Roy Tutill, 14, in Surrey.
He was not charged with the killing until 2001 – when trapped by DNA after being arrested for a drink-drive offence. During the intervening years he committed a series of sex offences.
Field, who denies any involvement in the disappearance, lived near the two boys. He also drank in a pub close to where they were last seen. Alcohol played a major part in his previous sex attacks.
Anyone who has information which may assist police investigating the disappearance of David and Patrick is asked to telephone 0845 113 5000.