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I take a deep, cleansing breath as I grip the knob of Jenna’s bedroom door. It’s been thirteen days since I was last in there—a record since bringing her home from the hospital and laying her in her bassinet sixteen years ago.
“Quick in and out, Lulu. Okay?” I ask, glancing down at Jenna’s dog. Every few days, the black lab incessantly whines and scratches where the door meets the floor, eager to enter her beloved owner’s room. Today happens to be one of those days.
As soon as I open the door a crack, Lulu bolts inside, causing me to lose my grip on the knob and forcing the door to fly wide open. The energetic dog quickly gets to work sniffing every square inch of Jenna’s room, as if searching for clues that might reveal her whereabouts.
I smile somberly and shake my head before stepping inside and glancing around the room. The sting in my heart isn’t nearly as sharp as I anticipated it would be, but it’s there, nonetheless.
My gaze falls on Jenna’s desk, which has been left untouched since the police came through to look for items of interest. Surrounding Jenna’s Chromebook is a holder for pens and Post-it notes, a tube of lip balm, a basket with random keepsakes, and a few notebooks and textbooks—all items that the police had left behind.
To me, Jenna is missing, not gone for good. Missing, not dead, despite what the Briarwood Police Department may think. I’m furious that they’ve given up the search. It’s like a slap in the face, thinking about all the stones that have probably been left unturned.
I scan the room one last time.
“Come on, Lulu,” I say as I head for the hallway. I begin to pull Jenna’s door closed, expecting Lulu to make her exit any moment, but she remains seated next to Jenna’s nightstand.
“Lulu,” I press, “let’s go, girl.”
The dog still doesn’t budge. Instead, she whines, her tail sweeping the floor maniacally. Then she sniffs Jenna’s nightstand.
“Ohhh.” I say, joining Lulu next to Jenna’s bed. “I know what you want.” I place my phone on the nightstand and reach for the handle of the second drawer. I close my eyes for a moment, and images of the night I invaded Jenna’s privacy by reading her diary play behind my eyelids. It wasn’t long after that Jenna started changing, and then she went missing. I’ll always wonder if my betrayal was partly to blame.
The guilt in my heart causes me to bring my hands to my face. I press my fingers against my eyelids, as if they’re buttons intended to deactivate the troubling thoughts that are always lingering in the back of my mind. The sensation of Lulu’s cold, wet nose against my elbow, snaps me out of the trance I’ve fallen under, and before I have a chance to change my mind, I pull open the drawer.
My gaze immediately falls on Jenna’s new diary. It’s a replica of the same diary I so callously peeked at last summer, the one Jenna had tossed in the kitchen trashcan after we had a blowout over my betrayal. I’d been shocked to see this new, nearly identical diary (save for the Briarwood High cross-country sticker on the back) when we did a frantic sweep of Jenna’s room after two full days with no contact from her.
Lulu whines, once again pulling me from my thoughts and prompting me to pick up the quart-sized Zip-lock bag full of dog bones next to the diary. Lulu’s tail thumps wildly, zigzagging from the floor to the nightstand as I pull open the bag and remove a bone. The dog happily accepts a treat, and immediately begs for another, so I give the command Jenna used to give as I toss a second bone a couple feet into the air. “Leap Lulu!”
Lulu isn’t quite ready, so the treat bounces off the tip of her nose, falls to the floor, and slides under the two-inch gap beneath the nightstand.
“A little rusty, huh Lulu?” I ask with an amused grin as I get down on my knees and slide a hand under the nightstand to search for the fallen goodie. Lulu whines and pokes her nose under, too, but neither of us can seem to find the treat. “I guess I’ll have to get it with the vacuum later today. Or whenever I feel like vacuuming . . .” I say, resigned to leaving the treat for now. But Lulu continues whining and scratching at the base of the nightstand, so I sigh, grab my phone from the bed, and give it a shake to activate the flashlight.
I get back down on my knees, press my cheek to the floor, and with the help of the light, I spot the treat right away. As I reach my hand all the way into the back-left corner, my knuckles brush against a smooth surface on the underside of the nightstand. The texture strikes me as odd, so as soon as I hand the rescued treat over to Lulu, I return my cheek to the floor and shine the light under the nightstand again, this time tilting my gaze upward toward the underside where I see something that causes my breath to halt. I collapse onto my stomach, momentarily paralyzed.
Could it really be?
A gentle tug results in the sound Velcro makes when its hook and loop fasteners separate. Sitting cross-legged with my mouth ajar, I examine my discovery: a diary identical to the one in Jenna’s drawer.
It can’t be.
I run the fingers of my right hand across the cover and flip it over to reveal something that makes me shudder uncontrollably. Smack-dab in the center of the back cover is a worn Briarwood High School Cross Country team sticker. It’s the diary Jenna had thrown away on the night of our big blowout. She must have fished it out of the garbage after everyone had gone to bed.
Realizing what my find could reveal, I frantically open the tattered notebook and flip to the last entry dated Thursday, October 26, 2017.
I exhale a hard, swift breath when recognition sets in. The final entry was written the day before Jenna went missing.
As I read the entry, I have to remind myself to breathe, and I pause several times to ensure I don’t pass out and to process and reread the most alarming parts … I can’t talk to him anymore . . . he was upset . . . starting to creep me out . . . planned to meet him tomorrow night . . .
I know the howl that echoed through my brain must have escaped me when Joseph rushes into the room. In a daze, I look up at him. His lips are moving, but I can’t hear what he’s saying. I look over at Lulu who’s cowering in the corner and wonder if she knew all along that Jenna’s diary was under the nightstand. If so, why didn’t she let us know? We would have known about his lies much sooner.
I glance around the spinning room and realize my thoughts are irrational and my anger toward Lulu misplaced.
I look back at Joseph and can finally hear him.
“Bonnie? What’s wrong?” He’s crouched at my side with his hands cradling my face. “What is it?”
I stare at him, still speechless.
He maintains eye contact for a moment but then follows my gaze as I glance down at the long-lost diary in my lap. “What’s . . .? Is that . . .” His eyes widen and remain focused on the object in my lap as he settles onto the floor next to me.
I burst into tears and jump to my feet, clutching the open diary to my chest. “It was him . . . it had to be him . . .”
“Bonnie, wait . . .” Joseph scrambles to his feet and reaches for me, but all he gets is a strand of hair because I’m moving too fast.
“He lied. Dear Lord, Joseph, he lied! And he got away with it!”
Joseph enters the hallway behind me just as Shaina jumps out of my way. I glance back to see her with her back pinned to the wall. Joseph gives her a comforting squeeze on the upper arm as he rushes past, so I turn and continue down the stairs and into the kitchen. Joseph rounds the corner as I’m frantically grabbing my oversized purse from the coat hook next to the garage door and shoving Jenna’s recovered diary inside.
“Who? Who lied? And where are you going?!” Joseph asks as he grasps my shoulder. He spins me around with one hand and reaches over my head with the other to hold the door to the garage closed.
“Move your hand, Joseph! I need to get to the police station!” I can barely see through the tears that are flooding my eyes and streaming down my cheeks so fast that the top half of my T-shirt is speckled with drops.
“Okay . . . it’s okay,” he says, slowly removing his hand from the door and raising both into the air in submission. “Just tell me what’s going on. Please. Then I’ll drive you wherever you need to go.”
I squeeze my eyes closed, acutely aware of each painful breath I’m taking. When I open them, Joseph is looking at Shaina, who’s made her way into the kitchen but remains next to the refrigerator. Just like Joseph, Shaina has become accustomed to tiptoeing around the house, especially when I’m having a rough time. A single tear trails down her left cheek in response to my outburst. I want to rush to her, to comfort her, but I can’t right now. Not when the key to Jenna’s whereabouts could now be in my possession.
“No,” I say, calling Joseph’s attention back to me. I reach into my bag to retrieve the diary and hold it out to him. “I’ll drive. You read.” After he takes it, I sniffle and straighten my posture, my expression once again strong, determined, and resolute. “It’s the last entry. The one from October twenty-sixth. We’re going to find her, Joseph.”
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