I Know What Happened to Your Sister

Denise’s hands trembled as she read the note again. I know what happened to your sister. Meet me at midnight where you saw her the last time. Come alone.

The note was stuck into the doorjamb when she returned from taking her daughter to school.

She hadn’t thought about Cindy in years.

No. She hadn’t talked about Cindy in years. She’d thought about her every day. Every time she looked at her little girl, who was the spitting image of her older sister. So much so it was painful.

I know what happened to your sister.

She already knew. Why put herself through that again? It had taken months for Dad to stop raving; then he went silent. Mom lost herself in liquor.

No one had helped her through it. Why should they have, after what she’d…but they didn’t know…. Even the school had done nothing for her.

I know what happened to your sister.

According to the police, she had been kidnaped, raped repeatedly, and dumped in a shallow grave. Her body was found four months later in the woods just outside of town, recently discarded. She was 17.

Denise had been 16.

I know what happened to your sister.

What exactly had happened after…? Her throat clenched and her chest tightened. She could barely breathe.

She had to know.

She thought for a fleeting moment about telling the police. Or her husband. But the police would dismiss her and Paul would demand a full explanation. Then he would hate her. How could he not?

That night she drove out of town and into farm country, pulling over at the edge of their old land. The bank had taken it after they’d lost the second harvest.

She walked between the rows of ripe summer strawberries to the back of the field. The full moon lit her way.

As girls, they used to climb out their window when the berries were ripe and the moon was full, and run through the strawberry fields, stuffing themselves until they fell over laughing.

As they got older, they ate less and talked more. Talked about boys and friends and what they wanted to do after school.

Then everything had changed. Boys became men and dreams gave way to plans. Choices had consequences they couldn’t apologize away.

She reached their special spot. A ring of stones just beyond the edge of the field where the woods began.

She scanned for signs of anyone else.

“Hello?” No answer.

It was midnight. He should be here.

He?

She realized she had barely given a thought to who the note was from. There was no name. It was typed on plain white paper.

Suddenly she saw what she was doing through a stranger’s eyes and shuddered. Maybe it was from the killer and he meant to get her alone.

“Denise?”

She spun toward the voice. That voice. A voice she hadn’t heard in 18 years.

“Cindy? It can’t be. Is it really you? You’re dead. How are you here?” She looked exactly as she had the last night they had seen each other. “Are you a ghost? Am I imagining you?”

She reached out hesitantly, to touch the face she hadn’t been able to forget in 18 years, scared to touch flesh, and scared she wouldn’t.

“She’s not Cindy.”

Denise jumped.

“Who are you?” She asked the figure just inside the tree line.

“Listen up.”

His voice sounded vaguely familiar.

“I know what happened to your sister. But it’s your turn first.”

No, no no no. She hadn’t told anyone in 18 years and she wasn’t about to tell some stranger now.

“Cindy was pregnant, and you knew it.” He tossed a lump of fabric at her feet. She picked up her old tote bag and fell to her knees, sobbing.

“Dad would’ve tanned her hide if he found out. She couldn’t hide it any longer. I should have talked her out of running away.” She choked on the words, but once started, they spilled out of her.

“But I helped her. I helped her. I packed her clothes in this bag. And covered for her for two days. Two days, that the police could have been looking for her. For him. Two days. If they’d found her before he did, she’d be alive today.” She sobbed, “It’s my fault. She’d still be here if it wasn’t for me.”

She looked up at the girl who looked so much like her sister, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

She cried for a long time, cradling the old bag. When she finally managed a few deep breaths, he spoke.

“I didn’t murder your sister, I loved her. But she was underage. It would have ruined me. So when she showed up at my door, I hid her. Then when the baby came, something went wrong, and she died. I gave the baby to the city hospital and buried Cindy. I did right by her.”

Her head reeled.

“You let her die, put my family through hell, and you think you did right?

Silence.

“Who are you?”

That voice. She knew that voice.

“Mr. Hadley?” Their high school principal.

“We were going to tell people about us when she turned 18. But after she…I knew what people would assume. No one would have believed me.”

You were the older boyfriend?” She felt sick.

“It took a while to find Angela. She’s 18 now. She deserves the truth.”

Denise burned with anger. How could he put her through all that and act so self-righteous?

She lunged at him.

He stumbled backward over a tree root and grabbed desperately, catching the arm of Angela’s jacket and pulling her over. He hit the ground hard and Denise pummeled him with her fists.

“Father?”

They both froze at the weak voice. She lay by the fire ring, head draining blood.

“Oh no, no no no. I’m sorry.” She cradled the niece she never knew she had.

Mr. Hadley ran into the woods.

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