When your eyes met hers, she looked deeper into you than you could ever see into her.
One autumn morning, I had selected my morning brew when Spooky by the Classics IV played. “Great songs on my Pandora shuffle this morning!” I told Alpha and Beta, who were at the kitchen table eating their cereal. Beta was mad at me for making her wear something other than a black Batman t-shirt. I sat across from them with my coffee and turned the volume down on the Jambox speaker as the song ended on my phone.
“I was 17, and in 11th grade, the year the new girl came to my high school.”
Alpha looked up at me, but Beta didn’t.
“She was in the same grade, and I had English and World History with her. She was pretty, slender with straight honey-blonde hair, blue-eyed, but quiet. I guess that was to be expected… being new to my school and all.”
I could tell Beta was trying not to listen.
“After about a month—early October—she seemed friendlier but still not outgoing. She had an air about her… the way she moved and carried herself. She didn’t seem awkward being at a new school and around unfamiliar people. Just quiet. Sometimes she’d be in the parking lot after school. Snow flurries—winter came early that year—in the air as she stood and stared at people. When your eyes met hers, she looked deeper into you than you could ever see into her. One of my friends, Josh, talked about asking her on a date. And he did. I had to work at Piggly Wiggly the Friday night he went out with her. So, I didn’t spot him and her as I would when guys and girls made the rounds where we all hung out and cruised down Central Avenue from Burger Shef all the way downtown to the fountain in front of the Arlington and back.”
I got up for more coffee and leaned against the counter. Alpha’s eyes followed me, but Beta’s didn’t.
“I worked that Saturday and Sunday, too, and didn’t see Josh over the weekend. Monday at school, he wasn’t there. That’s when I found out he hadn’t come home Friday night.”
Beta now had her head turned toward me.
“The police came to school to talk to his friends, me included, and they walked the girl to the counselor’s office. That day after school, I stopped to check on Josh’s parents, who were freaking out. It was now three days, and no one could find Josh. More days passed… then a week.” I took a drink of coffee. “We never saw Josh again.”
Beta was definitely listening.
“One of my other friends told me he, too, had asked the girl out. I shook my head at him. The girl had talked to no one about Josh going missing after their date. She didn’t seem to care. It was—she seemed—weird. At school, she had the same manner… quiet, watching people, sometimes with a smirk on her face. ‘You’re crazy, man.’ I told him. But she was with Alex that night. Later, after the game, I heard they had headed to West Mountain—a favorite make-out spot—to park and overlook the lights of Bathhouse Row and the illuminated fountain in front of the Arlington.”
Beta turned more toward me.
“The next day, early Saturday morning, the phone rang, and no one answered. This was long before cell phones, and some people still didn’t have telephones in more than one room. We had a single phone on the desk next to the kitchen across from my bedroom. The only room on that side of the house. It kept ringing, and I got up and answered. ‘Alex didn’t come home last night,’ my friend Rob said. ‘His dad called my dad to ask if I’d seen him!’ I hung up, dressed, and left. A group of us searched all over Garland County.
“Monday came, and no one had seen or heard from Alex. The police were at school again, talking with me, all my friends, teachers and others… and the girl. My friend Beth was working her way down the hall, spreading the news that an FBI agent from Little Rock was with them, and they were speaking with the girl.”
Beta was attentive. She and Alpha had stopped eating.
“Another week went by, and Josh and Alex still hadn’t turned up. My friends and I couldn’t believe it. We lived in a small town. Nothing like this had ever happened. The girl still came to school. No one talked to her. No one wanted to be around her. I know that sounds mean, but something about her bothered me and others. She stared at people too long, too much, rarely talked, and sometimes from nowhere came a half-grin on her face. Like a joke was in play for her enjoyment or some secret she kept that amused her.
“One morning, as the halls cleared for first period, I turned from my locker to see she was walking toward me. Books clasped to her chest and that half-smile on her face. She stopped in front of me and brushed a long, straight lock of hair from her face. ‘Would you like to go out with me?’ The fingers left her hair and pulled at her bottom lip.
“I stuttered, ‘I have to get to class… talk to you later.’ But I didn’t and made sure I kept on the move. Away from wherever she was for the rest of the day.”
I went over to the table and leaned down, my elbows on it between Alpha and Beta, and continued.
“That evening—Halloween—I was about to go out when my mother opened the front door to call out before I got in my car. ‘Dennis, phone…’ I went back in. Mom whispered and smiled; her hand cupped over the phone’s mouthpiece. ‘It’s a girl.’
“I took the phone and waited for her to step away, which she did. Slowly. ‘Hello?’
“I recognized the slight lisp, THE girl. She asked, ‘Would you like to go with me to a movie?’ I gripped the phone and couldn’t speak. Her breathing got heavier in the dead air on the line. ‘Alex,’ she said, and there was a thrashing, choking noise in the background, ‘finally gave me your phone number.’”
Beta and Alpha looked wide-eyed as I paused and held the moment. “Dad…” Alpha poked my arm. “Are you making this up?”
I studied her and Beta for a heartbeat, giving it a good pause, and grinned. “Yep.”
Beta shouted. “I knew it!”
I smiled and patted her shoulder. “But I made you forget being mad.” I straightened and walked away, singing… “She called me up and asked if I’d like to go with her and see a movie….”