Jenna was so excited that she was getting the wires taken out of her mouth today. Having her jaws wired shut for six weeks had been a long and horrible experience. Besides being on a liquid diet, for the most part, she’d had to adjust to her new life away from everyone and everything she had ever known.
The day she would have graduated from high school, Jenna trolled the Evansville news and online pages hoping for a glimpse of Cara. There had been a short post on Facebook from the graduation where someone standing close to Cara had videoed her crying when the valedictorian said that everyone was praying for Jenna’s return.
Jenna spent the better part of the afternoon crying after that. It was so hard watching Cara cry and knowing there was nothing she could do. There was no way she could contact Cara to let her know she was okay. It would put Cara in more danger than she was already in.
Later that night, she found a video of Cara hugging Jenna’s mom. The person recording the video was saying that it had to the happiest and the saddest day for Cara. She was graduating high school, but her best friend was still missing. The friend who had posted it said they didn’t know how Cara was so strong in the light of everything that had happened.
Jenna was proud of Cara. She wasn’t sure she could have been as strong if the tables were turned.
“You ready?” Dana called from the kitchen.
“Yeah,” Jenna said and went into the kitchen.
“You look a little teary,” Dana commented.
“Yeah, I was thinking about Cara,” Jenna admitted.
Dana reached over and gave her shoulder a squeeze. “I know this is hard, but you have to stay hidden to keep all of your friends and family safe.”
“I know,” Jenna said, “but I worry every day that my father is going to try to corner Cara and force her to tell him stuff that she has no answers to.”
“That is something to worry about, but remember that William is there and he’s keeping an eye on your father. That girl’s body is going to turn up sooner or later, and then you can testify, he’ll go to jail for his part in her death, and you’ll go on with your life,” Dana said.
Jenna put her hands on her hips and glared at Dana. “Just as simple as that, huh?”
“No, it won’t be that simple,” Dana agreed. She looked Jenna up and down. “I like that tomboyish look you’ve got going on.”
Jenna gave her the best smile she could muster with the wires. “I love being able to dress this way. I want to get my hair cut too.”
“We can do all of that today if you want,” Dana said and grabbed her purse off the counter.
Jenna followed Dana outside. Like Dana, Jenna had learned to watch everyone and everything around her. Everyone was suspect. After they got in the car and started down the road, Jenna asked, “What’s next for me, Dana? Where am I going to go? What am I going to do?”
“Now that we’re wrapping up your medical problems, the U. S. Marshalls will offer you a few different places that you can go and start a new life while we wait for that girl’s body to turn up, or if your father gets arrested for a related charge,” Dana said.
“And what if that girl’s body never shows up?” Jenna wanted to know. “I’ll never get to see my mother, or Cara again?”
Dana looked at her sadly and shrugged. Jenna turned away and looked out the window.
By the end of the day, Jenna had a new haircut and a mouth free of wires. She would love to have a thick hamburger, but the surgeon had warned her to slowly work herself into foods that require a lot of chewing.
When they left the hair stylist, Dana asked, “What are you hungry for?”
Jenna thought about it while they walked to the car. “What about Chinese? We can go to a buffet, and I can try out some different things and see what’s easy to eat.”
“Sounds good to me,” Dana said.
Later that night, when they were sitting on Dana’s couch, Jenna asked, “What if I want to go to school?”
“We could help you do that,” Dana said. “What do you want to study?”
Jenna looked away and shook her head sadly. “I don’t know now. Cara and I planned to go to IU to study biology together, but I’m not sure that’s what I want to do anymore.”
“What did you like doing at school?” Dana asked and turned in her position at the end of the couch to face Jenna.
Jenna shrugged. “Everything I guess. I like to learn. School was my way out of that house. It was where I got to be with Cara.”
“What else do you like to do? Did you play sports? Were you in art?” Dana picked up her tea mug and sipped it while she studied Jenna. She decided Jenna looked boyishly cute with her short haircut.
“I wasn’t allowed to be in sports. I was okay at art. I ran for my own pleasure and because I like to eat. It’s a good way to keep the body fat off so I can eat whatever I want,” Jenna said.
Dana laughed. “That’s why I run too. You should be able to run now.”
“I don’t know how far I’d be able to go. It’s been weeks since I ran,” Jenna said.
“How far did you run before?” Dana asked.
“Usually five miles most mornings,” Jenna said.
“I bet you could do at least two. Why don’t we plan on a run in the morning?” Dana suggested.
“I don’t have running shoes,” Jenna said, wiggling her feet.
“We’ll get some tomorrow. So you like to eat. Do you like to cook?” Dana asked.
“I love to cook. I used to do all the cooking because Mom and Dad were always working. I’d make stuff they could take to work with them,” Jenna said, and a sad smile played on her lips. “I majored in home economics so I could cook at school.”
“They still have that?” Dana asked wrinkling her nose. “I hated Home Ec.”
Jenna laughed. “I think it’s something that has made a comeback and both girls and guys take it. I could easily manage a household while working full-time and have five kids.”
“Do you want kids?” Dana asked.
“Lord no!” Jenna said without hesitation.
Dana laughed. “So what was your big dream?”
Jenna turned and sat cross legged facing her. “Cara and I had this dream that we would get jobs where we made lots of money and be able to travel all over the world. She even talked about becoming a doctor. My ambitions were a lot less stressful. I thought about being a college professor, but I’m not sure I would want to teach. I don’t know.” Jenna stroked her jaw, which was still very tender. “I guess I thought it would just happen, whatever it was that I wanted to do.”
“It sounds like a lot of that dream was what Cara wanted, and your dream was to make her happy,” Dana observed.
Jenna gave her a crooked grin. “Yeah, I guess so. She used to accuse me of being a guy because I’d just agree with what she wanted, but when it came to what I wanted, I had to be in charge.”
“That does sound a little guy like,” Dana agreed.
“I don’t know,” Jenna laughed. “I did always want to do boy things, but I was never allowed.”
“Really?” Dana asked.
“Oh yeah. My dad almost killed my mom over letting me have a cowboy outfit that I played in when he wasn’t home,” Jenna said.
Dana studied Jenna for a little bit and then asked, “What do you like to cook?”
“Italian,” Jenna said without hesitation. “I should have suggested we went to Olive Garden tonight. That would have been good.”
“Tomorrow you’re going to go in with me, and we’re going to get some answers about what’s next for you. On the way home, we’ll go to the grocery store, and you’re going to pick out some things so you can cook for me. I want to see what you can do,” Dana said.
“You’re on. I’d love to cook. I would have before now, but I didn’t feel comfortable going through your food,” Jenna said.
“Girl, if I’d have known you could cook, I’d have had you doing it every night,” Dana laughed.
“Well, then I’ll cook the rest of the time I’m here. It’ll give me something to look forward to every day,” Jenna said.
Jenna turned back to watch the evening news, always hoping to hear that someone had found that girl’s body. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Dana studying her. After several minutes she started to get uncomfortable and turned to Dana. “What?”
“How attached are you to your blonde hair?”
Jenna’s eyebrows shot up. “Uh, I don’t know. Why?”
Dana fingered her own dark locks. “I’m just old enough that I occasionally have to throw some color on this mop to keep the gray at bay. What do you think about changing your color?”
Running her fingers through her now short-cropped hair, Jenna thought about it for a few minutes and then said, “Why not? It would be fun to try another color.”
“You want to do it tonight?” Dana asked excitedly.
“How long does it take?” Jenna asked, feeling the length of the day.
Jenna stood. “Let’s do it.”
Dana jumped up and rubbed her hands together. “Yay! Come on. We’re going to make you into a new person.”
Thirty minutes later, Jenna stared at the person in the mirror. She couldn’t believe how much difference a haircut and hair color had changed the way she looked. “Wow,” she said running her fingers threw her short dark brown hair. “I look totally different.”
“I know,” Dana said. “You already looked different with the short haircut, but the color change took you to a new level.”
Jenna nodded in agreement. “I don’t think my own mother would recognize me.”
“That’s good,” Dana said.
Stroking her chin, Jenna noted, “I’ve lost a lot of weight.”
“Yes,” Dana said. “One of the side effects of having your jaws wired shut, I’m afraid.”
Suddenly, Jenna turned to Dana. “I want to try something.”
“Do you have a pair of old jeans and a baggy shirt?” Jenna asked.
“Yeah,” Dana said.
The idea that was forming in Jenna’s head was bringing forth an old dream that Jenna had not thought about since she was a small child. She looked like a guy and that was something she’d always wanted but had never been allowed to do. “I want to try them on.”
“Okay,” Dana said questioningly and left the bathroom. She went into her bedroom and found the clothes Jenna asked for and brought them back to the bathroom.
Jenna took the clothes with a grin. “Okay. I’ll be out in a minute.”
Dana went back to the living room, sat down on the couch and turned on the news. She was focused on a story about a bombing in Europe when Jenna came out of the bathroom and stood next to the television. Dana did a double take when she saw her. Dana’s pants were baggy on Jenna’s thin frame, and too short. Jenna half tugged the oversized shirt in the front of her pants, and let the rest hang loose around her waist. The dark hair was slicked back with gel and Jenna had taken Dana’s eyebrow liner and drew a thin beard and mustache on her face.
“What do you think?” Jenna asked with a grin.
“Wow!” Dana exclaimed. “I would have totally thought you were a guy if I’d seen you on the street.”
“Exactly,” Jenna said excitedly. “I used to have a fantasy about being a boy, but my father squelched that with his strict dress code and insistence I always act like a feminine girl.” Jenna went to the couch and sat down next to Dana and tucked one foot under herself as she faced Dana on the couch. “I want to go into the witness protection program as a guy.”
“Are you serious?” Dana asked.
“Yes. My father knows how the witness protection program works. He’ll be searching for me in any way that he can. Every new, single woman that shows up anywhere in this country is going to be suspect to him. But, a new guy could show up, even in Evansville and he would never suspect it was me,” Jenna said.
“You realize that if we do this you will have to live as a guy for a very long time, maybe even the rest of your life?” Dana asked.
“I know. It’s something that has always been in the back of my mind, but I never let it come forward because I never thought it would ever be a possibility. Now, though, I’m going to be starting a new life with new people. I can be who I truly feel I am without worrying about what my family or friends are going to think.” Jenna’s face changed from excited to almost sad. “I mean, I hope that one day I will get to be reunited with my mom and Cara, but we don’t know when, or if that will ever be possible, do we?”
“No. We don’t,” Dana admitted.
“It’s really hard thinking that I may never see them again, and I didn’t even get to say goodbye.” Jenna wiped at the tears that started to form. “But, if it keeps them safe, that’s the most important thing. My father is going to think Cara helped me get away and he is going to be stalking her until he’s convinced she doesn’t know where I am. He might even try to hurt her to get her to talk, so I hope you guys have someone keeping an eye on her and my mom.”
“We do,” Dana assured her.
Jenna sniffed. “But this is what I want. If I’m going to start a new life somewhere. I want to start it as who I truly feel I am, and I’ve always felt like I was a guy.”
“Okay,” Dana said. “We’ll run it by my boss in the morning and see what he says.” Dana looked Jenna up and down again. “But, I can’t see why he wouldn’t agree. It will make it easier for us to hide you.”