1: The First Autumn
The leaves around town were turning orange as the summer was coming to a close. The wind began to pick up a chill and even the clouds in the sky began to clear. For most people around the country this day meant nothing but another sign of the upcoming school year. But for everyone in our small town of Melberry, today marked the one month disappearance of seventeen year old, Bree Clark.
The sheriff’s office was still holding the investigation of what happened that day but only a few clues were left. All the missing posters are still plastered everywhere so if someone not from around here showed up, they would think there would be tons of kids missing when really it is only one girl. Some posters were starting to tear and blow away in the wind, into the gutters.
I walked down the sidewalk, looking towards the ground until I found Bree’s face staring up at me. Those black and white eyes used to be filled with a beautiful color of blue. I remember that photo was taken when I was walking through the woods with her. I was the one to take it and she loved it so much that she didn’t delete even when I told her it wasn’t even close to the pictures she took. Bree wanted to be a photographer and she was really inspired by all the trees around our town. Whatever that meant. When I took that photo of her I never would have thought I would come back to haunt me every second of the day.
I finally arrived at work and tied on my apron. My boss, Cheryl, came over with a coffee pot and handed it to me, “You’re late, Jade.”
I sighed, “I know. It’s just been a rough morning, you know today is the one month anniversary.”
“Oh trust me, the whole town knows about you know who. I know how close you two were and it’s the first time you are late, so I will let it slide… Now, start waiting some tables.”
She always used the nickname “you know who” for Bree. Bree always came into the diner and I guess this was a way of talking about her to avoid the feelings that her name brought up. Cheryl was a friend to her and I would even go as far as to say she was like a second mother.
She smiled, “Anything for my favorite waitress.”
I pinned on my name tag and started to pour cups of coffee for everyone. I walked over to a table that Sheriff Walker was sitting at. He had his cowboy hat sitting on the table surrounded by papers and a poster of Bree.
“Good morning, Sheriff. More coffee?”
He nodded, “Yes… Thank you Jade.”
I poured coffee into his empty mug and looked over at the papers he was reading, “So… Did you find anything yet?”
So they are looking into Robby Baker, the star football player. Interesting...
He shook his head, “Very little, we are trying our best though. I am sorry this happened. I know she was your friend.”
Ha! Friend. You have no idea.
“Yes, she definitely was a friend. I have to get back to work. Good luck, Sheriff.”
“I will talk to you later, Jade.”
The rest of my shift went along very quickly and I walked home at 6 pm to find both my parents had gone out with some friends. Exhausted, I untied my black hair from it’s restricting bun and took a quick shower. After that and eating an entire box of mac and cheese, I flopped down on my bed passing out immediately.
I dreamed of what it was like when Bree was here. We were walking through the woods without a care in the world while her blonde hair blew in the wind. But, every dream must come to an end. The blaring sound of my alarm rang through my ears, successfully waking me up. I rolled out of bed and got dressed with a beanie covering my hair that I didn’t want to brush. Leaving the house I waved goodbye to my parents who were probably hungover due to their partying last night.
I will just stop by the diner for some breakfast.
I made it to the diner in about seven minutes and I already saw Cheryl making some coffee. She smiled as I walked in, passing me a paper bag and a travel mug of coffee, “Good luck today. Apparently the school is going to do an assembly for you know who.”
I sighed, “Why on the first day?”
She shrugged, “Well it did happen in the summer. I guess it’s just a way to show that the school is there for you and there are people you can talk to.”
“Can you put me on the schedule today so I can skip school?”
“Sorry, no can do. I promised Principal Edwards no more stunts like last year which means I can’t schedule you to work during school hours. But, you are scheduled for after school.”
Damn, I knew skipping a week of midterms last year was too suspicious.
I sighed and packed the paper bag into my backpack, “Thanks anyways Cheryl.”
I left and began my journey down the cracked up sidewalk to school, sipping at my coffee along the way. I wasn’t really a fan of the cold weather that came with the 7 a.m. walk to school but I didn’t have a car and there is no way my parents would drive me. I finally made it to the tiny parking lot of Melberry High when the first bell rang. An announcement was made over the PA, “All students report to the gym for the first day of school assembly.”
What a bunch of liars. Don’t mention Bree’s name because no one will go.
The mob of students began to move but I took my time, seeing the messy brown hair of Stew sitting on the front steps. Stew was a friend of Bree, I was never really close with him. But, now that she is away, he is the only one I got and the same goes for him. I slumped down on the step next to him, “The assembly is for her.”
He scrunched up his nose to push up his huge circular glasses closer to his eyes, “I figured. We never have a ’First Day of School Assembly.”
He laughed, “Nope. I rather not watch all those people act like they care while being haunted with pictures of her.”
“Well Cheryl gave me a few pumpkin muffins. Want to go eat them in our usual spot?”
He nodded and picked up his stuff. Most of the school was already at the gym with only a few stragglers so we had to walk a little faster to get out behind the school and into the trees on the border of the woods. Our usual spot was just a few trees in which technically we weren’t allowed here but I guess they either never noticed us or just didn’t care. Stew dropped his stack of textbooks down and sat on the tree’s root. I did the same and gave him a muffin from the paper bag Cheryl gave me, “So how was your summer?”
He laughed at me while shaking his head. I looked down at the dirt, “Right wrong question to ask when our best friend was possibly kidnapped... Definitely not a good summer.”
“You still suck at small talk, Jade.”
I sighed, “It is not something I enjoy and it’s not like I have many people to talk to.”
Stew looked over towards the school and shrunk behind the tree, pulling me with him, “Principal Edwards straight ahead.”
I poked my head out a bit to see him walking towards us then slipped back down, “We can’t climb up fast enough. I guess we will have to take this as a defeat.”
The crunching of leaves got closer then stopped, “Stew Colson and Jade Willow, I know you two are out here.”
I sighed and stood up, pulling Stew with me, “Okay you found us but we aren’t going to that assembly.”
“The assembly is for your friend. We are taking attendance so it counts as a class period. If you do not go you will be ditching school and you will get a detention.”
Wow, how generous of him.
Stew sighed, “Sorry Jade but I have to go. My parents will kill me if I get a detention.”
Ugh I can’t let him sit through this alone.
I picked up my stuff and crossed my arms, “Let’s get this over with then.”
When we got to the gym the presentation had already started. Stew and I walked up to the back of the bleachers and sat down while the other students all stared at us. All the teachers and school staff were standing up by the screen. I saw Principal Edwards stand by the counselors, talking while glancing up at the two of us. I leaned back against the wall, “Looks like we are going to get called to the counselors office today.”
Stew huffed, “This is stupid. They have to act all worried when in reality they aren’t.”
I focused on the presentation with pictures of Bree staring back at me. Teachers were talking about if we knew anything to please say something or if we needed to talk they are here for us. Stew quietly laughed, “What is this a memorial or something?”
“Definitely feels like it.”
I knew people were giving up hope but this was actually showing that they have given up. It has been a month and now school was starting without her. Everyone else was moving on but for some reason I didn’t feel like we should. I mean it’s only been a month. Maybe she just went on a vacation for awhile and was planning on coming back. I glanced over at Stew who had his eyes closed.
“Stew, do you think she is coming back?”
He leaned his head back against the wall with his eyes still closed, “She has to show up at some point. This will be the first autumn without her since we met in middle school… This was her favorite season. She wouldn’t miss it for anything. She is probably out in the woods playing in the leaves somewhere right now while we are trapped in here.”
I closed my eyes too and whispered to myself, “The first autumn without her…”