Mary slipped out of bed and opened the front door.
“Oh good, you’re still awake.” Abbie smiled. “Is it alright if I come in?”
“Of course.” Mary stepped to the side and they settled into her living room. “Would you like something to drink? Tea? Water?”
“If it’s not too much trouble I would love some tea.” Mary stood and went to the kitchen. Abbie looked at her with apprehension. “I meant to check on you earlier, but time got away from me. You seem better, though. Than when I saw you earlier, I mean.”
Mary came back with the tea then they sat in silence for a moment. Mary pursed her lips, but the words pried themselves from her. “Are you happy?”
“What? I . . . yes, I suppose I am.”
“Your kids are adults now, aren’t they?”
“Yes.” Abbie sipped her tea.
“And you’re happily married?”
“Of course. What is-”
“So it’s like that day never happened for you.”
“Mary-” Abbie put her cup down.
But Mary had already stood up and opened the front door. “Thanks for stopping by, but I’m really quite tired. You should go now.”
Abbie didn’t respond. Nodding slightly, she left the house without looking back. Mary closed the door, locked it, then pressed her face to it. Tears swelled in her eyes but she refused to let them fall. How could she just move on with her life? How could everyone pretend like that day never happened? Unless they were hiding something. Only the guilty keep on living after a tragedy. Only the ones who never really cared.
She pushed away from the door and walked back up the stairs to her bedroom. Even the ten steps in her nighttime regimen couldn’t calm her down now. She didn’t sleep. Instead, she rolled around her bed trying to put the final pieces together.
The next morning Mary came downstairs to see the nearly full cups of tea in the living room. She sighed to herself and took them to the kitchen sink. It was when she had finished rinsing them that she looked up to see two teen girls slipping into the woods. They were already in disarray, one clutching her stomach as though nauseous, and both seemed less than happy. Mary ran to the window and watched as the one clutching her stomach gestured for the other to go ahead. The other girl looked around and locked eyes with Mary. They knew each other in that moment. Knew each other in a way they never had before. Then the girls were in the woods and Mary was throwing her door open.
Branches snapped beneath her feet. The trees were so dense that, even though the girls must be close, Mary couldn’t see them. She moved forward and listened for any sound as quietly as she could.
“…he’s not yours…”
“…you don’t understand…”
Mary pressed up against a tree and tried to focus on the faint whispers.
“…everyone will know…”
“…there’s a plan…”
Mary stepped forward. A branch snapped. She froze.
“Did you hear something?”
The girls’ pace quickened, and silence fell before Mary moved forward. She picked up her pace as well for fear of missing something. It was several minutes before she heard any sound other than the cicadas.
“Why are you here?” The girl who locked eyes with Mary asked.
“There’s something we all have to do to keep this secret.” The other girl responded without giving the third person a chance to speak.
There was a flurry of movement. Someone screamed.
Mary went rigid. It came from the edge of the river, just two trees away. Taking a deep breath she crawled to the nearest tree. One of the girls stumbled back, a red stain spreading on her shirt. She turned her head, and their eyes locked once again. Mary reached out. If she could just catch her now, then nothing else would happen and they could go home. A teen boy grabbed the girl and, grunting, carried her to the bridge. Mary recoiled as he threw her body into the river. Someone heaved. Mary thought it must be her until she saw the other girl vomiting into the river. The boy lifted her up, then they were walking away. Mary ran.
Not pausing to see if anyone followed her, she rushed to the police station and banged her fists on the door. The receptionist opened the door and ushered her inside. After taking some deep breaths and drinking some water, both of which was directed by Abbie, she relayed what she had seen.
Abbie went around her desk and put the phone to her ear. “Officer Rogers, officer Harman, we have a possible homicide witness.”
Moments later, two officers came around the corner. Officer Harman, an older, friendly looking man, approached Mary.
“Can you tell us what happened?”
“I just told her.” She gestured at Abbie in annoyance. Having gathered herself together, she was impatient. “We should go back right now, we might be able to catch them.”
She lead them through the woods, but their progress was slow. Mary was trying to retrace every single step she’d made. Rogers groaned in exasperation. Harman silenced him with a look.
“This is where I was.” She whispered, gesturing to a tree. “They seem to be gone.”
In fact, there was nothing there at all. Staring at the place she had just seen a body fall, Mary tried to comprehend what was happening. She searched frantically for any sign of what had happened, but none of them could find any evidence of a murder.
“There’s nothing here.” Rogers looked to Harman, a hint of annoyance in his voice. “Not even a broken twig.”
“He’s right.” Harman shrugged, as Mary looked at them like a deer in the headlights.
“But there was.” Her voice squeaked, but she took a deep breath. “They were fighting, and she got stabbed. He went on that bridge, and threw her in the river.”
“Take some deep breaths for me.” Harman placed his hands on her shoulders. She did as he asked.
“Look,” Rogers approached her and spoke quietly. “Why don’t we walk you home, and call you if we do find something?”
She nodded and they made their way back through the woods. She said goodbye to the officers and made her way across the street. The front door was closed by her back being pressed against it. In the living room her still unfinished murder mystery sat on a chair. She stared at it with undue anger. People always tell her to stay away from that kind of novel. It’s triggering. That’s what they say. It gives you ideas. They say that, too. They don’t know the solace she gets from reading them. It gives her hope that even the most improbable mysteries can be solved.
She went over to the chair and picked up the book. Mindlessly flipping through it, she contemplated the day's events. Then she threw the book as hard as she could. It slammed into the wall and dropped to the floor. Mary screwed her eyes shut but she couldn’t fight the tears that flooded her face. She fell to her knees and sobbed. Why wasn’t anyone listening to her?
Her breath hitched. She abruptly stopped crying. That was it. Why hadn’t she seen it?
Mary dried her face then picked up her book. She quickly stowed it on the bookshelf before opening the door with a wide, very fake smile. Abbie was standing on the porch. She scanned Mary’s face with her mouth slightly downturned. Mary felt very self conscious all of a sudden. She gestured for Abbie to come in.
“You seem better, than when I saw you earlier, I mean.”
Mary stayed standing even as Abbie took a seat in the living room. She stared at Abbie with suspicion. “You say that everyday.”
“Do I?” Abbie chuckled nervously. “I should probably expand my word choice, then.”
“Why are you checking on me.”
“Because I care about you.”
“Is that right?”
Mary hadn’t moved, but her eyes were scanning for escape routes. Abbie’s hand twitched. She squeezed it shut to keep it still, but Mary still saw that she was shaking. Her eyes narrowed.
“What aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing. Honestly.” Abbie’s eyes flicked away, and when they landed on Mary again they didn’t meet her eyes.
Mary took a deep breath. She had to ask. “Did you have something to do with it?”
“You’re here to keep me off track, aren’t you?” Mary took a step back. “You’re all responsible!”
Abbie leapt to her feet. “Mary, listen to me.”
“How could you do that? To a young girl. To someone who had their whole life ahead of them.”
“I didn’t do anything to her, Mary. No one did. She just disappeared one day.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The girl. Your sister.”
Mary staggered back. “I don’t . . . I don’t have a sister.”
“You did. But she left when she was a teenager, and you’ve been trying to find out why for the last thirty years.”
Mary’s back hit the wall.
Abbie hesitated then opened the door herself. She stepped back in surprise as Officers Harman and Rogers entered the home. Rogers braced himself.
“We found something.”
“You . . . actually found something?” Abbie gave them a searching look.
“We got a call about a,” he paused with a glance at Mary, “anyway, we checked it out. The DNA matched with an unsolved case from thirty years ago.”
“A case with only one witness.” Harman looked at Mary pointedly.
Abbie and Rogers stared at Mary, too. Her eyes filled with tears, and she fell to her knees. She put her head in her hands, and sobbed uncontrollably.