Twenty-nine years after finding Laura Hurst in a frozen lake, Ada Bailey is going home to revisit Lynn Pond and confront the past. But Silynn holds more than memories.
Decades-old secrets tumble out as Ada explores the town she was sent away from. Her return dredges up more than sordid pieces of the townsfolk’s lives, though. Sam Pruette, a collector of innocents, worries Ada may remember details from that frigid day in November of 1988.
Laura was only the first sweetheart.
November 17, 2017
From the day I discovered Laura Hurst’s body in Lynn Pond, I have been hiding. When my mother opened the door to her fifteen minutes of fame at the sake of my mental health, I hid my truths and regurgitated coached words. I told the rotund male ‘journalists’ I hadn’t planned on being brave. They took notes and nodded, sinking into the flat cushions of our stained couch as if they were over for tea, not an interview. One woman, using me as her way into the industry, got tears of exhaustion along with my story. The stench of her sweat and desperation lingered long after she had gone.
I spent hours on the rose-patterned stool in front of my vanity staring into its mirror, practicing the perfect ‘thank you for coming, but I’m sad you had to be here’ mouth curvature. My older brother, Peter, would sneak in often to judge me. You try to be perfect. The memory of his frown still stings.
Now I’m caught between emotional and hollow. Part of me wants to blame it on Laura. Another part thinks it is the woman who left violet lipstick on Derek’s pillowcase’s fault. Most of me knows I would have ended up this way no matter what. But the result is the same: Peter rarely calls anymore, and Mom and I haven’t spoken since my inevitable divorce four years ago. At least that may be for the best; nothing has been the same between us since the reporters and television stations stopped calling.
My left lash line throbs, as it does whenever cameras and lies come to mind. I grab the tweezers from my top drawer and turn towards the small oval mirror on my wall. I yank out the eyelash I’m sure is causing the most pain. Another swipe of eyeliner hides the sparse patch I’ve created because, of course, it’s next to the two I pulled out this morning, and my naturally wide eyes make its absence more noticeable.
I straighten my dress and fluff my already frizzing iron-created curls then head into the café. Three eager women and two antsy men await me at the high-top tables. One woman, wearing a short skirt and a low-cut shirt, flirts with a man in a tailored suit. Given her interpretation of the typical interview business casual, she must have banked on me being male. The other hopefuls sit spread out, clutching purses, briefcases, and resumes. Only one person holds a coffee; steam fogs her glasses as she takes small, cautious sips. I imagine I’ll pick her, as she has chosen to sample what we sell.
“Kelly Jellens?” I call after reading the cursive letters on her plain white cup and matching it to the interviewees.
I glance at my watch–the same watch I purchase time and time again after I wear it thin. The leather band is as simple as its light pink face; it tells me the time, which is currently 6:03 p.m., and nothing else. I’m exhausted, though I have only been at work for an hour. And I’ve spent most of that time pretending to be busy so no one will bother me.
Rachael, my therapist of seven years, has insisted that I revisit the spot on the anniversary of the day I started hiding. And after five years of comments, pokes, prods, and monologues about how I will feel better afterwards, I admitted she was right. I have been listless with the weight of that knowledge for over a month. I have to go back to Silynn. Mental growth aside, I can’t leave my business during a holiday week without a little extra help.
The scrape of chair legs brings my attention back to the short-ish brunette. She stands and half raises her arm. “That’s me.”
I take in her outfit: black and candy apple red striped dress, black flats with tights, and a long, thin gold necklace. Simple yet professional. I approve.
“Come on back,” I say.
I open my office door wide to look inviting. I’d spent a whole fifteen minutes tidying up. Like me, it has secrets. Behind the photo of me and my best friend laughing is the deed to my ex-husband’s new home. I stole it when I went to congratulate him on moving. I am not usually so petty, and I’ve only stolen three things in my life. But it wasn’t my fault. He kept it where I had kept ours: inside the fourth hollow book on the third shelf from the bottom in the bookcase in the master bedroom. Rachael said it wasn’t the healthiest thing I’d ever done.
Two joints and three hundred dollar bills are stashed inside the porcelain unicorn coin bank sitting on the edge of my desk. A longtime friend, Kirsten, bought it for me because of an inside joke I couldn’t remember. When she gave it to me and started giggling, I mimicked her so she wouldn’t know. That’s the moment caught in my laughing picture–I am proud of how realistic my smile looks. If you shake the unicorn, you’ll hear the tink of the money clip.
My desk hides darkness. I leave it unlocked as a sign of good faith to my employees; Larry seems to appreciate the ability to snag a new manila folder without having to ask. But taped underneath the bottom right drawer lives a single blade. I haven’t needed it in almost two decades. Should that time ever come again, though, I would hate to resort to scissors; I’m not sure if my tetanus shot is up to date.
More secrets hide in and around my workspace: a small flask; newspaper clippings about the youngest versions of myself with scratched out eyes; my mother’s favorite knickknack–she had blamed a neighbor boy for its disappearance; and a jelly bracelet that reminds me of simpler times.
Kelly’s sensible shoes make little sound as she steps past me into my office. I appreciate the quiet nature of her entrance. Darling plastic, bright red glasses frame her round face and, being a shade off, clash with her dress. She smiles and waits for me to say something. As I’m about to introduce myself, a wave of memory slaps me. I am struck speechless. She smells like Lucky Charms. Who smells like cereal?
I want to tell her to sit or ask her to tell me about herself. I’m too caught up in the sickly sweet chalk my tongue is recalling.
After twenty-nine years, I still don’t know why my curiosity took over that day. The shadow under the ice could have been anything–a rabbit, a tree branch–yet I couldn’t run to it fast enough. I pull my sleeves over my scarred palms as I shiver.