Today's Reading

I've been writing stories for newspapers and magazines for eighteen years, mostly on the crime beat covering murders, assaults, rapes, arsons, robberies, sex scandals, and fraud. If it was ugly, I wrote about it.

I'm a professional so most of the time I stayed dispassionate.

But there were stories that left scars.

They were about kids who disappeared and either showed up dead or vanished altogether. And that was the worst, because the parents never got closure. It was an open wound that never healed.

I glanced back at my computer screen. The color photograph accompanying the story was a professionally done glam-shot of Bobbi Jarvis smiling into the camera. Her brown eyes sparkled, artificially whitened teeth gleamed in her warm, generous smile, and her long, lustrous chestnut hair was brushed to perfectly frame her pretty face. The coy dimple in her chin added to her girlish charm.

It occurred to me that, in the photo, Bobbi was a teenager trying much too hard to look like an adult.

She didn't look like that the last time she had dinner with us.

My eyes involuntarily moved from my computer screen to the silver-framed photograph of Caroline Bell resting on my desk next to a stack of manila folders. No, Caroline's not my daughter as Darcie, my crime beat reporter, suggested. I'm the girl's guardian.

She's the fifteen-year-old daughter of Kevin Bell. Kevin had been my lover and my fiancé. The same night I proposed to him...yes, I proposed to Kevin...he asked me if I'd take care of Caroline should anything bad happen to him.

And then, tragically, it did.

Caroline is blond, has her dad's blue eyes, an infectious smile, freckles, and she's a bit of a tomboy. In that photo, she was wearing a sleeveless top, shorts, and a Red Sox cap but no makeup. She was gingerly holding a live lobster she'd chosen from a tank for dinner. I'd taken the picture last summer while we were vacationing on Cape Cod.

That had been the one-year anniversary of her father's death. I wanted us to be in a happy place on that unhappy occasion. But as much as we both loved Cape Cod, being there hadn't kept either of us from remembering him and feeling the awful loss. Kevin died before he should have, before we were ready. It was like ripping off a band-aid, quick and painful...and tearing out my heart at the same time.

Caroline Bell and Bobbi Jarvis were buds and sophomore classmates at West Sheffield High. They shared the same teachers for English and World History. They loved the same music and movies. They were both in the band and the Drama Club and were passionate about the theater.

They were both just discovering boys.

Or so I thought.

Bobbi was pretty and polite but rarely spoke about her family. I chalked that up to her parents being divorced. She lived with her grandmother. Caroline had told me it was something she wasn't proud of. Neither one of Bobbi's parents seemed to want her in their lives.

That's got to hurt.

Bobbi had been to our house a few times for dinner and to study. She was serious about becoming an actress, taking professional acting classes outside of the Drama Club. One night, Bobbi surprised me by quoting lines from Macbeth and singing a few bars of the song "Popular" from Wicked—a weird juxtaposition of witch theater. All while eating spaghetti and meatballs in our kitchen.

That was the night both Caroline and Bobbi were wearing their baseball caps on their heads turned around backwards. Caroline had on a Red Sox cap.... Bobbi was sporting the Yankees logo. In my house, that's an insult. But she was a guest, so I let it ride.

That was also the night the two of them attempted something akin to rap that left me in stitches.

It was the evening, when Caroline was out of the kitchen, that Bobbi looked up at me and said, "Caroline's really lucky to have you, Genie."

I smiled back at her, grateful for the compliment. "She's been through a lot, losing both of her parents."

Bobbi stared off into the distance. "Yeah, but at least while they were alive, they loved her."

That broke my heart. She was certain that she'd been rejected by her mother and father and they didn't love her.

And now she's missing.

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