The school bus pulled up in front of the house. Jenna nervously climbed in and looked around. Thankfully she saw some familiar faces from elementary school. She had been terrified that she wouldn’t know anyone in middle school. On her way toward the middle of the bus, Jenna noticed a girl she’d never seen before. She was pretty with long blonde hair.
“Can I sit with you?” Jenna asked Tiffany Jefferson, who she knew from sixth grade.
“Sure,” Tiffany said and scooted over so Jenna could sit down.
Jenna set her backpack down in between her feet and asked Tiffany about her summer. Every time someone new got on the bus, Tiffany would pause to look up and see who was getting on the bus. Jenna found that when she looked up to check out the new arrivals, her eyes strayed to the pretty girl across the aisle from her.
Once they were at school, Jenna had to focus on trying to find each of her new classes. Her final class of the day was science. Inside the class room were black tables lined up in three rows. On the board, there was a note to remain standing until the teacher told you where your assigned seat would be.
As the second bell rang, signaling the start of class, a heavy set balding man came into the room. The top of his head was red as if he’d gotten a sunburn over the few days before school started. He looked at the shuffling seventh graders over his half-glasses. “My name is Mr. Tabor. I will be seating you in alphabetical order until I can learn your names. As I call out your name, come and take a seat starting here,” he pointed to the end of the first table facing his desk and on the opposite side of the room from the door. “Adams, Jacob. Anderson, Maggie.”
He continued through the list, and Jenna wondered who she would get sit next to. It wouldn’t be Tiffany Canton or Rebecca Zoller, who were the only people in the class she recognized.
“Marshall, Cara. Matthews, Jenna,” Mr. Tabor said.
Jenna looked up and saw the pretty girl from the bus sitting down in the seat next to where Jenna was supposed to sit. A strange fluttering began in Jenna’s stomach as she took her seat next to Cara Marshall.
Cara turned and smiled shyly at Jenna. She seems nice, Jenna thought. Maybe they would become friends.
A sharp pain in Jenna’s head made her wake from her dream and cry out. She tried to open her eyes, but they wouldn’t work. She tried to open her mouth to scream, but it wouldn’t open. She started to panic and tried to get up from where she was laying. She was flinging her arms and legs trying to find the ground.
Suddenly, several pairs of hands were on her, holding her down. Someone was trying to tell her to calm down. She couldn’t stop fighting the hands. Where was she? Why were these people holding her down? And then, blackness came, and Jenna flopped back to the bed.
Dana Tamaski had jumped to her feet from there chair she was sitting in next to Jenna’s bed when Jenna screamed and started flailing her arms and legs. Two nurses and an attendant rushed into the room. Dana went to the bed and tried to help them hold Jenna down. Jenna was a big girl at almost five feet, seven inches tall and a solid one hundred-twenty pounds. It took all five of them to restrain her so the nurse could inject something into Jenna’s IV that made her slip back into the solace of sleep.
“Will she always be like this when she wakes up?” Dana asked.
“Hopefully not,” the nurse said. “But it’s hard to tell. The doctor hasn’t been back around to say whether she suffered brain damage. The pain might be what woke her. She’s going to be in a lot of pain for a while.” The nurse checked Jenna’s vitals and made notes on the chart and put it back into the plastic pouch at the end of the bed.
* * *
“Matthews!” Miss Garrett called as Jenna was leaving the locker room. “Why didn’t I see you at tryouts last night?”
Jenna ducked her head, afraid Miss Garrett would notice the bruise under her eye. “My dad said I couldn’t.”
“Why not?” Miss Garrett wanted to know.
“Because my parents work different shifts and there wouldn’t be anyone around who could pick me up after practice or take me to games,” Jenna explained.
“We can work something out with transportation,” Miss Garrett said. She put her hand on Jenna’s shoulder. You are one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen.”
Jenna shrugged. “Dad said no, and there’s no arguing with him.”
“Maybe if I call him,” Miss Garrett began.
Jenna’s head shot up. “Please don’t.”
Miss Garrett looked at the bruise under Jenna’s eye. “How’d you get that?”
“Practicing at home. I tried to make a shot, and the ball hit the rim and came back down and hit me in the face,” Jenna said as she looked away from Miss Garrett’s intense green eyes.
Miss Garrett didn’t say anything for several beats. Finally, she said, “Well, you’re just a freshman, maybe next year.”
“Yeah, maybe next year,” Jenna said. “I gotta go, or I’ll miss my bus.”
“Okay,” Miss Garrett said.
Jenna took off running and just barely got to the buses before they started leaving. She plopped down in the seat next to Cara and tried to catch her breath.
“Where were you?” Cara asked. “I waited by the doors as long as I could.”
“Miss Garrett stopped me,” Jenna said and looked down at her stained white Nikes. “She wanted to know why I didn’t show up for basketball tryouts last night.”
Cara was still watching her. “What did you tell her?”
“That my dad said no,” Jenna said.
Cara let out a heavy sigh. “Did she ask you about your eye?”
“Yeah, she was like the fifth teacher today to ask about it,” Jenna said and took a bottle of water out of her back pack and took a drink. She looked over at Cara who was rifling through her purse. After a few minutes, Cara pulled out a tube of cream and put some on her finger.
“What’s that for?” Jenna asked.
“Bruises,” Cara said and gently took hold of Jenna’s face. Jenna started to pull back. Cara looked sternly into her eyes. “Hold still.”
Jenna jerked and whimpered in her sleep. Dana looked at her watch. Another agent would be coming soon to sit with Jenna. Dana’s supervisor wanted to make sure someone was with Jenna when she woke. They were hoping to get a clear description of the woman Jenna saw in her father’s freezer so they could try to match it to a missing person. Dana was convinced that Michael Matthews was a serial killer, but her supervisor thought he was a part of a human trafficking ring. It was hard to say. He could be involved with both. What better place for a serial killer to find victims than through a human trafficking ring?
Dana looked at Jenna who seemed to have fallen back asleep. Was she dreaming? Dana wondered. Was she remembering the beating her father had given her? Maybe that was why she woke up flailing her arms earlier, Dana surmised.
A tall woman dressed in black dress slacks and a burgundy blouse walked into the room. Dana stood. Her replacement, Ada Parsons, was here. “How’s she been?” Ada asked.
“She woke swinging her arms and legs earlier,” Dana said and pointed to the restraints on Jenna’s arms and legs.
Ada moved next to the bed and looked down at the young woman. “I hate that we can’t just arrest this bastard.”
“Yeah, but sometimes the compromise we make now will bag us the bigger fish in the end,” Dana reasoned.
“I know,” Ada said and turned back to Dana. “But I still hate it.”
“Me too,” Dana said. “Call me if she wakes up.”
“Will do,” Ada said and sat down in the chair Dana had vacated. Ada pulled a thick paperback novel out of the leather bag she’d carried into the room.
Dana left the room. She’d go to her hotel and get some rest. Hopefully, Jenna would wake up soon. It had been two days, and Dana was getting concerned that Jenna had sustained a serious brain injury.