My tires etched across the town as I spontaneously stopped at gas stations, begging for information regarding a petite brunette. No one knew anything. I sprang into grocery stores and convenience stores, but, again, no one knew anything about this lost girl. I slammed my car door shut as I jumped inside. I pressed my forehead against the horn resignedly, and my fingers savagely gripped my thick strands of hair. I released a yelp as I continued to feel the memories of yesterday creep inside of me like a shadow stretching towards the horizon. I sat up in my chair and just watched people walk and drive by so easily, so aimlessly. There was little purpose in them, but I was suffocating on it. My chest heaved as I released a forlorn sigh.
She could have left town.
She could have left with someone.
She could be with her sister.
I immediately turned to my cell phone from my front pocket and then dialed Esther Sebold for the first time in my life. I had texted her for those awful projects in high school, but a call was never necessary. Urgency wasn’t necessary in our youth. Everything felt so stable and reasonably stationary.
Except for Devin.
I froze. It was Leslie Griffin.
I stuttered to say something, and I finally muttered, “I need to talk to Esther.”
“Ned?” he questioned, almost intrigued but mostly shocked.
My eyes nailed into a man standing on the corner of the street holding up a piece of cardboard. He marked and pointed at his sign: The World is Dead. I furrowed my brow and turned my focus to anything else beyond the homeless man.
“Is she with you?” Leslie finally asked. A wail was released on the other side of the line—one of desperation and fear. Just one of utmost terror.
My heart stopped in my chest instantaneously. My chest tightened, and my breathing rate escalated exponentially. I finally gasped, “She’s not with you?”
“No, hold on…Esther wants to talk to you.”
The line rattled and hissed as he handed the phone off to someone else. “Ned?”
I could tell from her swollen, sore voice she had been crying for some time. I nodded my head and then realized she couldn’t see me. I finally answered, “Yeah?”
“She tried to kill—”
“I know she tried to kill her mom. I’m looking for her. Do you have any idea where she could be?”
“No, she tried to kill herself when Dad went to prison. She told me she loved me then, and she told me she loved me today. Anti-freeze was missing from Mom’s garage when I went over there earlier. I’m so scared of what she’s going to do.”
I shoved my keys into ignition and screeched out of the parking lot hurriedly. My chest collapsed in on itself, and I immediately regretted ever stopping. My eyes wildly scanned the area frantically, stopping on each brunette woman I passed to fail to find Devin. I murmured, “Maybe your mom just forgot she used it up.”
“She’s going to do it, Ned. She’s going—”
The images began to construct in the forefront of my mind as my brain failed to defend itself from my venomous imagination. I pictured Devin in a ditch. Her tawny skin would be faded to an alabaster with a blue tinge starting at her lips and stretching from her veins. Blood would drip from her round bottom lip down to the curve of her ear, and her brunette hair would be splayed out perfectly with her twisted, mangled body. Her navy blue eyes would have lightened to ice as decomposition began to erode her body.
“Don’t say that, Esther May! Don’t even think it,” I overheard Leslie warn on the other side of the line.
I stayed on the line as Esther burst into tears once again and abandoned the phone. She wailed, “She’s dead. She’s dead. And I can’t even help her. She’s all I have left, Leslie!”
I hung up. I couldn’t take it.
I began to cross the bridge on Wrightout, and I noticed the barricade on the side of the street had yet to be repaired since Heath’s death. I furrowed my brow and focused my gaze back upon the road, and then an epiphany sunk into me. I drove the car onto the narrow shoulder of the street and marched out of my running car. I tediously ran down the hill to the curve of the ditch that had once been home to a turned jeep and a dead teen. I scanned the area for Devin, for a trace of her, for the essence of her. I placed my hand on the trunk of tree, and then smoothness collided against my touch. I turned my gaze back to the bark, and I recognized the scar from which a car must have challenged the tree. Despite the weight and velocity behind the car, the tree was still there.
And then a butterfly landed on the back of my hand. I stiffened from the light creature, and then I noticed the iridescent colors of blue, black, and white melding into each other so vividly. I hesitated to swipe it away from me because I couldn’t be distracted as I scoured for a girl who was lost more mentally than physically.
“Is that a tattoo, Heath?”
Heath glanced down at the underbelly of his forearm. He pulled back the cuff of his shirt above his elbow and showed a prideful smile. He laughed, “Brand new, too.”
I remember believing that the butterfly could have peeled from his alabaster complexion and flown away easily. The realism was surreal. I noted, “Do you know what kind of butterfly that is? It’s crazy, man.”
“Yeah, sapho longwing butterfly. The caterpillar only eats one kind of vine, so it’s not really that abundant. I just thought it was really beautiful, so I picked him out.”
I turned from his ink and furrowed my brow. I crossed my arms dramatically and inquired with my thumb and index finger under my chin, “What’s the symbolism, Mr. Frey?”
Heath shrugged. “You’ll figure it out when I’m dead.”
The butterfly peeled away from my flesh, and I slowly climbed up the side of the ditch. A part of me dissuaded me from even looking any further. If she had been missing for several hours, she was probably already dead. She probably already imbibed the whole bottle of anti-freeze and was slowly dying without anyone, alone and abandoned.
I fell into my car and turned back onto the bridge. I glanced at my right solemnly, staring at a car that looked remotely like Leslie’s, but then a figure caught my eye. Out in the distance sat a long dock in the middle of the lake as I peeled off of the bridge. I whipped my car around in the middle of the road much to the chagrin of the other drivers, honking and yelling curses as I revved my engine back to Jefferson-Polk.
I roughly parked at the edge of the lot and then ran as fast as my lungs would allow toward the dock, attempting to remember the Spot she loved so much. My heart fluttered in my chest as hope rose inside of me, but then I slowed to a stop. What if that wasn’t her? What if it was just my mind playing tricks on me? What if I was just envisioning what I really wanted to happen? What if this was all a lie?
My feet slowly dragged through the mud and over the roots of the trees until I came to the clearing separating the wood from the lake. I stared out toward the dock, and I noticed a small figure at the very end of the dock, sitting with her legs hanging off the edge. Her hands curled over the edge of the wood easily. A white t-shirt clung to her curves, and jeans hugged her muscular legs. Brunette hair veiled her face, but I still couldn’t be sure it was her.
I held my breath as my foot slithered onto the dock. One step by one step, I began destroying the distance separating me from this girl. I clenched my hands to my side, terrified that this would just be some high school student skipping class instead of Devin.
What could I do then? I would have exhausted each and every destination I would assume she would utilize. And no one knew about her abandoned dock.
I stood nearly a meter away from the girl, and that’s when I noticed it. In the water bobbed a bottle of anti-freeze. My heart sunk, and I turned back to the girl on the dock. My lips tried to peel away from my teeth, but they were stuck. I thought I was going to vomit as something caught in the back of my throat. I finally mustered, “Devin?”
The girl whipped her gaze around to me, and I froze. Those navy blue eyes dug into me, and her mole under the left side of her lip remained there. Her cherub lips parted as her eyes widened incredulously. She struggled to say something, and then I recognized the vessels in one of her eyes were broken, red irritation snaking toward her icy irises. I murmured, “Devin.”
A tear slid down her cheek, and she whispered, grimacing, “I’m so sorry.”