Cara stared at herself in the full-length mirror. She pulled her hair around, so it lay on her shoulders and down her back on top of her graduation gown. The tears started to flow as she thought about how she would never have believed that she would not be sharing this day with Jenna. It had been almost four weeks since Jenna went missing and there had been nothing found that had brought them any closer to finding her. Cara had been at school almost every day for the past three weeks, but she had not been present. Her mind kept replaying that night trying to find one tiny clue that would help them find Jenna. But there was nothing. She would never stop blaming herself. If she hadn’t left, who ever took Jenna would not have been able to get her.
Caroline came up behind Cara and put her hands on her shoulders. She had tears in her eyes too. “My beautiful baby is all grown up.”
Cara turned and buried her face in her mother’s shoulder. “I can’t believe Jenna is not here for this.”
“I know, Baby,” Caroline said and held Cara while she cried.
Finally, Cara straightened. She turned and looked at her reflection in the mirror and wiped at her running mascara. “I guess I better go touch up my makeup.”
Graduation was held in the football stadium. It had been a beautiful day for the graduation. Cara had managed to keep it together through most of the ceremony. Only during the memorial part where they remembered a couple of the seniors that had been killed in car wrecks and said that everyone was still praying for Jenna’s safe return, had she lost it for a few minutes. But she straightened up and held it together for the rest of the ceremony. Several of Jenna and her friends gave her tight hugs and were wearing yellow ribbons on the gowns like she was for Jenna.
There were so many friends who she would probably not see for a long time after today. Some were headed off on vacation, and some were going to the military or starting college during the summer like Cara was. With Jenna gone, there was no reason to stay. They had planned to go to Indiana University together this fall, so Cara was headed there. Cara hoped that when Jenna got away from whoever had her or found her way back, she would come looking for her.
When Cara found her mother, Darlene Matthews was standing with her talking. She held open her arms for Cara, and Cara gave her a tight hug. Darlene said, “I’m so proud of you.”
“Thank you,” Cara said.
Darlene stepped back and wiped her eyes with the tissue she was clutching. “I wasn’t going to come today, but I wanted to come for you.” She sniffed and wiped her eyes again. “You and Jenna were so close. I had to come for you since I couldn’t be here for her.”
Caroline put her arm around Darlene and hugged her. Darlene said, “I keep thinking that if I’d left her father before, this wouldn’t have happened.”
“You can’t blame yourself, Darlene,” Caroline said. “No one could have known this would happen.”
“I should have known he’d flip out if he found out about Jenna and Cara,” Darlene said.
“You knew?” Cara asked in surprise.
Darlene smiled. “Yes. I didn’t let Jenna know I knew because I was sure she’d be terrified I’d tell her father. She should have known that I wouldn’t. I, more than anyone, knew how dangerous telling him would have been.” She wiped her eyes and looked at Cara. “When Jenna was a little girl she always wanted to be a cowboy. When her father wasn’t home, I had a cowboy outfit I would let her play in, and then we’d put it up when it was time for her father to come home. Her dad found it one day. He tore it to shreds and beat the shit out of me for letting her wear it.”
“That’s awful, Darlene. I’m so sorry you guys had to deal with that,” Caroline said.
“Me too,” Darlene said with a shrug. “I won’t live like that anymore. Another reason I came today was to say goodbye. I got a job at a hospital in Bowling Green, Kentucky so I’m going to move down there.” She looked around the stadium, and her expression turned dark. “I have to get away from here, away from him.”
Cara followed Darlene’s gaze and saw Michael Matthews standing about one hundred feet away. “He has some nerve coming here,” Cara spat.
“Yes, he does,” Darlene agreed. She turned to Cara and hugged her again. She hugged Caroline. “I’m going to keep the phone I have for a while, just in case Jenna calls. You can call me on that phone if you want to.”
“The same for me,” Cara said. “Just in case she calls.”
“Take care of yourself,” Caroline said to Darlene as she started to walk away.
“You two do so also,” Darlene said and disappeared into the crowd.
“Ready to get out of here?” Caroline asked and then followed Cara’s gaze.
“I hate that man,” she said in a low growl. “One day he’s going to get what he deserves.”
Caroline turned Cara toward the exit. “Let’s go get some ice cream. Grandma and Grandpa are going to meet us at Dairy Queen before they leave for home.”
Michael Matthews watched the Marshall women leave. Slowly he followed behind them. He’d shown up at the graduation expecting Jenna to be here. Graduation in the top five percent of her class had been a big deal for her. He’d never let her play sports, so she’d excelled in academics. She’d even majored in home economics which he suspected she’d done for him. Rolling his eyes to stave off the tears trying to form, he shook himself mentally. Men don’t cry. He repeated the mantra in his head that his father had beaten into him and that he would have beaten into a son if he’d had one. Maybe he should have let Jenna be the little tomboy she’d wanted to be, but he had set ideals about who men and women were supposed to be. No daughter of his was going to wear cowboy hats, or ball caps and baggy jeans. She was going to be a lady. Jenna hadn’t exactly been a lady, but she’d been girly enough.
Matthews had been shadowing Cara for the past few weeks thinking that she would lead him to Jenna. She’d mostly been holed up at home. Only going out of the house to go to school and a few school related activities. This week he hadn’t had as much time to follow her since he’d been put back on active duty.
Darlene had agreed to drop the charges against him if he agreed to give her a divorce, no questions asked. She didn’t want anything but half of the money in their savings account, and then to never see him again. He couldn’t blame her. Actually, he was pretty happy about it. He didn’t have to pretend to want to talk to her. He could go hunting and fishing anytime he wanted without having to listen to her bitch about it. He could screw as many little whores that he wanted without having to worry about getting a little lipstick or perfume on him.
Matthews got in his car and watched Caroline drive her small Ford Tempo out of the parking lot. He’d follow them for a little while. They wouldn’t do much. Caroline’s parents would probably leave to go back to Tennessee. Even if they stayed longer, he doubted Cara would venture out much. She’d passed on the several graduation parties that had been going on. Matthews had been to all of them hoping Jenna would show up, but there was no sign of her.
Admitting that he was starting to be concerned about his daughter was hard. He was certain she was hiding because he knew she’d seen him put that body in her mother’s trunk. He’d had to do the one thing he’d told Ruby that the Cobras didn’t want to be done and that was to pitch the body in the river. He didn’t have any choice though. Once Jenna saw him put it in the trunk, he had to get rid of it.
Caroline pulled into the Dairy Queen a few blocks from the high school. If Cara knew about the body, she would have told someone by now. But he was still planning on cornering her and forcing her to tell him everything she knew. He just had to catch her alone, and in a place where no one would see him with her.
Driving past the ice cream shop, Matthews headed home. He didn’t need to blow his plans by letting himself get caught stalking Cara Marshall. He’d catch her at a future date when she least expected it.