The news came after Spring Break. Giles High resumed and Katie wasn’t in attendance. One of the girls in my P.E. class said she was sick, but it wasn’t confirmed by the faculty.
“Where’s Katie?” I whispered to my best friend, Tami, who sat next to me in accounting class. “I’m dying to hear about her trip to Florida.”
She shrugged, flipping through her accounting text book. “I dunno. Didn’t you say someone said she was sick?”
“Okay class!” Ms. Runyon started with her lecture. “Hope you had a nice Spring Break lying on the beach, playing video games, or whatever kids do nowadays. Now it’s time to get thinking again! Oh, and I know it’s a pain to come back on a Friday, but it wasn’t my choice to go on strike while you were off.”
We all chuckled. We liked that Ms. Runyon was a big joker. She was around six feet tall, wore flannel and sprouted straight as a board gray hair which hung in her eyes. She wore no makeup or jewelry and appeared intimidating until she started talking. She was one of the most pleasant teachers I’d ever had in high school.
Instead of laughing at Ms. Runyon’s teacher’s strike joke, I contemplated on speaking up about Katie. I didn’t ask Ms. Zimmerman in P.E. and I needed to know. I hated being the center of attention and often asked Tami to inquire about something since I was too embarrassed to speak up in class. The day was almost over so I decided to run with it.
“Ms. Runyon,” I called, raising my hand. I felt my mouth go dry but I had to ask. “Where’s Katie? I haven’t seen her all day.”
“Katie Brashers?” she asked as if there was another Katie running around.
“Yeah!” Brad Wilkes said from behind me.
“Oh,” Ms. Runyon hesitated. “She moved to Orlando.”
“Moved?” Brad said, his voice cracking. “She didn’t even tell me.”
“I’m sorry,” Ms. Runyon said. “ Now, let’s get back to work. We have a lot of catching up to do.”
People started talking to each other in muffled voices. I couldn’t make out everything except Brad talking about how Katie never told him goodbye.
“People!” Ms. Runyon said loudly. “Enough!”
When class was over, people were still talking about Katie’s move.
“I don’t get it, “ I told Tami as we walked together to our lockers.
“Michelle, who cares?” she said. “It’s Friday! You should be thinking of, like, going to Equalizer instead. Pick you up at 7:00?”
Equalizer was an under twenty-one dance club that was on the other side of Giles. Many kids from school hung out there and even some from the bigger city of Marian. That always seemed odd to me and Tami since Marian had everything including theaters and museums. Giles, on the other hand, had a small population of about four thousand and our biggest attractions were an ice cream shop and public swimming pool.
“Tami! You don’t care why someone just disappears?” I asked.
“She didn’t disappear. She was probably, like, planning on the move but didn’t wanna tell anyone. She was weird like that. So secretive.” She put her accounting book in her locker and took out a notebook. “One more class and we are outta here! Well, not really a class. It’s screw off study hall.”
“Yeah, well I’ll see you later,” I said, turning to walk toward my science class.
Just then Brad stopped me. “Hey, did Katie mention anything or drop any hints to you about leaving for good?”
“No,” I said. I didn’t know these two were serious. I mean, they went to the movies a few times but that was it. I always thought Brad was cute and hoped to go out with him someday. I envied Katie a little since she was the object of his affection. “I thought she would have returned the book I let her borrow a couple weeks ago.”
He narrowed his eyes at me as if I were being petty.
It sounded awful to worry more about a book than Katie, but this book belonged to my grandmother and it had sentimental value. Elizabeth Benningfield wrote it about a love story set during The Great Depression. The story was fictional, centered around actual facts. It was out of print and my grandmother had it signed by Elizabeth in 1961. When I was a child she told me the cover was etched in gold. I thought it was real gold but my mother always told me it wasn’t. That was a tale my grandmother liked to tell. My mother would kill me if she knew I loaned the book out.
“You’d think she would have told you she was moving, if you guys were close,” I said, changing the subject.
“I was hoping we would get that way,” Brad said. “It doesn’t look like it now.” He slowly walked off so I headed toward my science class.
I didn’t know what else to say since time was running out and I had to get to class. Mr. Beaverton would tear me a new one if I was late. I’d seen it done to another class member and it wasn’t pretty.
“Don’t worry about her!” said Tami on the school bus ride home.
I turned to her from the window. “I didn’t even say anything!”
“Yeah but I can tell you are, like, spacing out or something. What is with you wanting to know why she left? Who cares?”
“I do!” I was flabbergasted at her attitude. “Mom will shoot me if she knew I loaned out that book!”
“Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Did she take it with her to Florida?”
“She said she wasn’t going to. She wasn’t done reading it yet and didn’t wanna lose it,” I explained.
“Well, then you can have someone go into the house and get it for you. You know, like a realtor or something.”
We had to talk pretty loud to hear our voices over the excited freshman kids who were anxious to get home. They reminded me of animals who were locked up in the zoo and were now getting to run free in the jungle.
“Who says they are going on a vacation then not come home?” I was mortified. “That makes no sense. I wonder if anyone in Deedee’s class has asked about her.”
“Who?” Tami asked, fishing through her backpack.
I took a deep breath. “Deedee Thompson. Katie’s sister.”
“Oh, that little girl who is always hanging around her house? That’s her sister?” She retrieved a small bag of cheese curls and ripped it open.
“Yeah, supposedly. They must be half sisters or whatever.”
“Sounds like their mother has hot pants or something,” Tami said with a chuckle.
“What, you think they were, like, in an accident or something?”
Tami’s suggestion crossed my mind just minutes before. She always seemed to take a lucky guess at what was in my head.
“I dunno,” I said. “You never know what could have happened. I have heard about people getting killed on vacation.”
“That’s because of those mystery novels you read all the time.”
“Yeah, especially since I’m in your mom’s store more than you are!”
Tami’s mother owned a book swapping store where you could take your old books in and exchange them for other books. She was also willing to sell them if the price was right. Tami never spent much time in the place since she wasn’t a reader. She was more into movies.
“Look Michelle, it’s probably nothing.” She talked while chewing her cheese curls. “Katie could have lied about it being a vacation. I mean, nobody ever went to her house for dinner or sleepovers and she was new at the beginning of the school year. Nobody even knew where she came from.”
“She told me she was from upstate.”
“Whatever! Maybe her mom found a hot guy down there in Orlando and decided to stay.”
That was a ridiculous reason, I thought, gawking at her.
“You never know!” The bus stopped. “Gotta go, I’ll call you and talk you into going to Equalizer tonight.”
“Yeah okay,” I said.
I usually enjoyed going out to Equalizer, but I wasn’t pumped up for it. Katie irritated me by leaving the way she did. We weren’t close like best friends, but we had a lot of the same interests. She helped me study my accounting and got me through quite a few tests. This was the reason I loaned her my grandmother’s book. She seemed to be level headed, so I thought she would take care of someone else’s belongings.
I was hoping there would be some mistake and she was really home sick. She lived about five houses down from me and the thought occurred to take a stroll by her house. I was curious to see if anyone was still there.
When I got home from school, my mom was on the couch, reading the newspaper as usual. Our two year old basset hound, Buster, was lounging at her feet.
“Any good news in there?” I asked her.
“What?” She looked up over the top of the paper. Only her spiky bangs and eyes were visible. “Since when do you get into the news?”
“Have you heard about Katie?” I asked.
“That’s her mom’s last name!“ I said, irritated. “It’s Brashers and why is that always the next question someone asks?” I plopped down into our leather recliner.
“Hey now, calm down! Anyway, didn’t they go on some Spring Break trip to Florida?”
“Mom, they never came back!” I said “You didn’t know?”
This was a shock. My mother was always reading the newspaper and hearing gossip from Cutting Edge, the salon where she worked. She would sometimes stop at Katie’s house, but Luanne never let her in.
“No, Michelle, I’m not the neighborhood know it all! Maybe they are just not back yet.”
“Ms. Runyon said they moved there.”
“Moved?” She finally lowered the paper to look at me. “She never said a word about that.”
“No, Luanne. I stopped over there to drop off that sunscreen for their trip. The one I got you and you never opened. I hated to see it go to waste.”
“Sorry, I’m never outside long enough to use it,” I said. She was always bringing this up. I heard about all year how I was an introvert. What law stated that everyone had to be outside when it was nice weather? “So, what did she say? Anything about the trip?”
Her eyes wandered like she was trying to think. “No, just that they were packing and couldn’t wait to go.”
“Couldn’t wait? Like excited? What about their house? Will it be up for sale?”
“Michelle, I don’t know! I was only there for a minute! Luanne always talked to me through the door, you know that!” She got irritated when she had to explain anything to me. I was just inquiring, but this is how my mother was when I talked to her. “They rented that house anyway! Remember Mabel Watkins?”
“She bought it a few years before she died.”
I remembered some old woman living there before Katie, but never saw her. Mother looked at me as if I were stupid.
I had a feeling she was going to take a trip to the town market to fish around Luanne’s co-workers. I was wondering if she quit her job or just left without saying anything. Mom wouldn’t tell me anything even if she did know.
“Okay never mind,” I said, rising to go to my room. Buster followed.
It didn’t matter that Mom had just told me that Luanne never said anything to her about the move. Maybe that’s because she was only there for a minute, dropping off sunscreen. Duh, Mother, is what I wanted to say.
She was always contradicting herself. I couldn’t have a long conversation with
my mother on any subject or it ended up in a heated argument where she was always
right. It was a good thing Dad was a truck driver. Being away from home gave him a