Chapter Eight

Reid tiptoed past Miss Ruby’s apartment. Her television was off and he didn’t want to explain why he was coming over so late. Not to mention the journals he held under his arm.

It was three in the morning and he’d spent the past two hours in his car, reading the last few volumes of Ellie’s diaries. A nagging fear ate at him, telling him he needed to return her property before she came home. He let himself in and flipped on the lights. Misty didn’t meet him at the door.

“Mis-ty, come here girl,” he sang. Nothing. He went to the kitchen. Her food and dishes were gone. “Uh oh.” Ellie’s bedroom door stood open. He flipped on the light and peeked inside. Her bed looked perfect again. He slipped a hand under the pillow he’d stuck her journal under. All he felt were smooth sheets.

He hurried to the guest room, barreling past the bookcases to the closet. Pausing for a moment, he reached for the light switch. A bag lay just inside the doorway. His heart dropped into his stomach. He knelt in front of the bookcase where the earlier journals should have been. It was empty. She knew. And she’d taken the rest of them with her. What can I do now? She’s going to hate me.

Then again, why should he care? It wasn’t like they were ever close. He put the books back on the shelf and left the room. But he did care. He sat on the couch across from her barn photos. It was dark in the room, he hadn’t turned on the lamp. His phone buzzed but he ignored it.

Reid rubbed his hands up and down his face, exhausted but trying to reason it out. Many of her journal entries mentioned him. Sometimes it was just in passing—a sentence stating that the three of them ate lunch together that day—but sometimes she’d recounted whole conversations that he didn’t even remember.

When they’d first met, her opinion of him had been low—cocky, dismissive, rude—but she’d slowly changed her mind and began to respect, admire, and even fall in love with him. And he hadn’t been trying to get any of that from her. He’d just been himself and she’d just been Stella’s friend. That’s why it bugged him. He wasn’t that nice guy to her anymore. He’d ruined that by deliberately invading her privacy.

His phone buzzed again and he dug it out of his jeans pocket. It was a text from Stella. Ellie just messaged me. She was released today and meant to call and tell us but Miss Ruby had an accident and died this afternoon so that distracted her. She has Misty with her.

Oh, and she had a special message for you. She said to tell you you’re a jerk for reading her journals and she wants them all back in her apartment before she gets home. And that now she can never see you again for the rest of her life.

Reid threw his phone on the floor. It bounced once, flipped over, and landed face up on the thick carpeting. A new line popped up and he leaned over to read it. You deserve worse and if you’re not home in an hour I’m going to tell her where you are.

He plucked his phone up off the floor and sent a reply. We’ll talk when I get home. And you’re both right. What should he do? He tried to come up with a reasonable excuse for reading her journals. He could remind her that she told him he could read anything in the guest room. No. He’d known they were off-limits but read them anyway. Maybe he needed to tell her the truth.

He typed another text to Stella saying that he’d be late because he was going to call Ellie and apologize.

It can’t wait until morning?

She texted you in the middle of the night. She’s obviously awake.

I’m just saying that people are more emotional at night when they’re tired. She might take it better in the morning.

I’m going to explain what happened and apologize. I’ll tell her that you didn’t know. I don’t want you to lose her friendship.

Don’t worry about that we’re closer than ever. And she knows I told you not to read them so leave me out of your convo.

Okay fine.

I really think you should wait until she’s slept, but it’s your funeral.

I’ve thought about it but she’s just going to be madder in the morning if I don’t explain.

Reid chickened out and decided to text her instead of calling. He didn’t think he could stand it if she started crying of anything. He wrote out paragraph after paragraph, each time erasing them and starting over. He settled on a few simple sentences. I put the rest of your journals back. You’re right it was a jerk thing to do. I’m sorry. Can I explain? He sent the text and waited. A moment later it showed as delivered and after a few seconds more he knew she’d read it. Will she respond? Five minutes passed. Ten. Fifteen. He paced the floor.

Are you in my apartment?

Please leave and give my key to Stella when you get home. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t enter my apartment again without her. And right now I’m too angry to talk about this. Maybe later when I’ve calmed down. Goodbye, Reid.

Goodnight Ellie. And I’m really sorry.

He sent the text and waited but it didn’t even show as delivered. She must have shut off her phone as soon as she sent her last message.

Reid left the apartment, locking the door for the last time. As he passed Miss Ruby’s door he paused, remembering the spirited woman who’d questioned him the first time he’d arrived. Rest in peace, Miss Ruby.

He experienced an unsettling sense of finality as he pulled out of Ellie’s apartment parking lot. He debated with himself all the way home and finally decided she probably wouldn’t forgive him. He also knew he deserved it.

Reid opened the door to his home and found the couch made up with sheets, a blanket, and his pillow. Great, Stella was in another one of her moods.

“I can’t believe you texted her tonight,” Stella said, approaching him with her hand out, palm up. “Especially after I told you she’d had a rough day. You don’t think of anyone but yourself, do you?” He dug in his pocket for Ellie’s key and threw it on the couch. She glared and went to retrieve it.

Her condescending attitude set him off. “I’m not sleeping on the couch tonight. If you want to, you can.” He stomped past her and into their room, slamming the door behind him. Stella’s lamp was on but she hadn’t been in bed. It was still “company-ready” the way she made it every morning. He turned on his lamp, undressed, climbed into bed, and waited for Stella to come in so they could talk it out. He listened for that squeaky board in their wood floors to give her away. Nothing. Not a sound.

He glanced at his watch and yawned. It was 3:45 in the morning. He rolled toward Stella’s side of the bed and clicked off her lamp. He did the same with his, then turned on his side and closed his eyes.

Almost immediately a picture flashed through his mind of his father carrying his mother to their bedroom when she had been too ill to walk. His dad still mourned her even ten years later. He’d always wanted that kind of love in his marriage and yet he doubted his father had ever treated his mom the way he’d just treated Stella. He threw off the sheets with a groan and rolled out of bed. He needed to apologize. Especially since she was right.

The lights were off in the living room and he flipped on the hall light in case Stella was asleep. The couch was empty. Even the sheets and pillow were gone. He checked out the guest room. Also empty. On the dining room table he found her phone and a note.

Reid,

I’m glad I have two weeks off. I guess I’ll use it differently now than what I’d planned but maybe it’s better this way. I’m going to spend a couple of days with Ellie since she’s invited me. I need to return her key anyway.

Let’s use this time to figure out if we still want to stay together. Because what happened tonight . . . well, I’m tired of arguing with you. 

I’ll see you when I get back. To pick up my clothes if nothing else.

Take care,

Stella

Reid carried the note and her phone with him as he checked the garage. Her car was missing. It was the middle of the night and she hadn’t slept. What if something happened to her on the way? He turned on her phone.

Ellie, he texted, this is Reid. Stella’s on her way to your place right now. We got into an argument. Would you please let me know when she gets there? I just want to know she arrived safely.

She’s already here, Ellie texted back.

He sighed, his shoulders slumping forward in relief. Okay thanks. She must have left immediately after their fight to already be there. He looked at his watch. Six a.m. already? Maybe he had fallen asleep. Maybe he’d dreamed about his parents. It was going to be a long week, but Stella was right. They couldn’t keep going like they were.

* * *

Ellie dropped her phone on the bed, a rueful smile on her face as her eyes met Stella’s. “He’s worried about you. That’s gotta mean something, right?”

Stella shrugged. “Maybe.” Her eyes were bloodshot and puffy from crying. Ellie’s eyelids felt like they were made of sandpaper every time she blinked. “I’m sorry I kept you up all night, Ellie. I just didn’t know what to do and I didn’t want to go to my parents’ home. They’d want me to file for a divorce tomorrow if they knew how much we argue.”

“And you weren’t frightened of him at all? Never worried that he was going to hit you or something?”

“How many times do we have to go over this? No, Ellie. Reid would never strike a woman. He tossed your key, yes. But not at me. Away from me. He was very angry, more so than I’ve ever seen before, but he never stepped close to me, never tried to intimidate me. He knew reading your journals was wrong and you caught him. He knew I’d be mad too. But I’ve been so emotional lately. And so stinking tired. The last case I handled just wore me out.”

“Then I’m glad you came here.”

Stella’s gaze dropped to her hands clasped in her lap.“I’ve had this vacation planned for months. I’d hoped Reid would take some time off too, and he tried but one of the partners in his firm is on vacation this week so he could only get next week off. I’d been researching resorts when he came home. But that doesn’t matter right now. We should probably try to get some sleep. You look exhausted.”

Ellie admitted to herself that Stella was right, while she waved off her friend’s fears with a smile. “You’re more important than sleep. But you look like you’re about to fall off the bed!”

Stella laughed. “Maybe, but I’d be asleep before I hit the ground so I probably wouldn’t notice.” She stood up and stretched. “Thanks again for listening and letting me crash out here with you for a few days. I’m really looking forward to hanging out.”

“Me too. It’s been too long.”

“I hope you can get some sleep, El.”

“Don’t worry about me. It seems like I sleep way too much anyway.” She smelled bacon. “Mom’s got breakfast ready. Would you sleep better with a full stomach?”

“Mmmm, yeah, maybe.”

Ellie hopped up. “Then let’s go pig out!” Ellie’s stomach growled as the two women made their way to the kitchen. Her mother had pancake batter waiting beside a griddle. And there were scrambled eggs with green peppers, mushrooms, and onions in a covered pan, still warm, with crispy bacon on a nearby platter.

While Ellie made the pancakes, Stella searched for plates and silverware. She could have told her where to look, but she had a feeling Stella wanted to see everything anyway. Minutes later they sat at the table, full plates in front of them. Neither of them spoke as they ate. Ellie had a hard time keeping her eyes open and she suspected Stella was having the same problem.

In an almost dream-like stupor, they made their way back to their respective bedrooms. Ellie fell asleep almost immediately.

She awoke a little after one that afternoon, feeling groggy. The house was quiet. She got up and went to the window. Leaves fluttered to the ground with each gust of wind. She’d missed their peak color, but trees dressed in dull yellows, reds, and oranges still surrounded the farm. She opened her window to catch the breeze, picked up Miss Ruby’s box, and returned to her bed.

Her fingers traced the carvings that covered the beautiful wood box. Why did Miss Ruby want me to have this? Then she lifted the lid. Inside were pink envelopes bundled together with rubber bands. She could tell from the faded colors that some of them were much older than the others. She picked up a set. The first one of the bunch had “Madelyn Elizabeth Jackson, 4/16/70 – 4/19/88” written on it in a delicate, feminine cursive. Ellie paused to count. She was barely eighteen when she died.

My sweet Maddie,

Today my heart is weeping. How can you be here one moment, and gone the next? How can 18 years be enough? They weren’t. Not for me and not for you. What of your dreams to be a writer? To be a wife? To be a mother?

I don’t know how to go on and I’m not sure I want to. I miss you so much. I’ll love you forever, sweet girl.

Mom

The creases in the letter were torn in places, probably from being folded and unfolded over and over, and there were warped spots in the paper where Ellie imagined Miss Ruby’s tears had fallen. Did she have other children or was she all alone after her daughter died? She should’ve visited with her more while she was alive. She must have been so lonely.

Folding the letter carefully, she slipped it back into the envelope and opened the next one.

Sweetheart,

I’m planning your funeral and I feel like I’m dying too. I ache all over from the tears that rarely cease. I’m empty inside. Poured out with my tears.

Your Aunt Rita is helping me by going through your pictures. Each one is another knife piercing through the haze of my grief. You were such a beautiful baby, a happy toddler, an inquisitive child, and a loving daughter. I wish you hadn’t tried to grow up so soon. And that I’d known you had a beau. Who was he? Why didn’t you introduce us? I don’t know if these questions will ever be answered.

I signed the papers today. I found her a loving family. She isn’t to know about us, but I’ve requested regular updates and pictures. For you. And I guess for me too. Maybe I’m hoping to see you in her someday. Maybe that will bring some peace.

And you’re right; she is beautiful.

I love and miss you more each hour,

Mom

Ellie read each letter as Miss Ruby documented her struggle to deal with her daughter’s death. She only got through the first bundle before she had to take a break. They were heart-rending to read. Why did Miss Ruby want her to have these? She could only guess that it was a way for her to preserve the memories of her daughter.

Chapter Seven

For the next few weeks Ellie worked three times a day on regaining mobility in her arm. When they put a walking cast on her foot, her focus shifted to walking. As her release neared she pushed herself more and more, determined to walk out of the rehabilitation center without assistance.

Because of the seizures, Ellie wouldn’t be allowed to drive for six months. She’d taken a leave of absence from her job. Thankfully, her insurance covered all of the medical expenses except for her deductibles.

Her mother and father arrived for the big day. Ellie couldn’t tell her mother had ever had Lyme disease. She rushed around the room packing all of Ellie’s things, smiling and talking with everyone she encountered. And silent tears rolled down both of her parents’ cheeks when she walked out the door unassisted.

Ellie still wore a walking cast. Her ankle hadn’t healed completely yet. Another week or two, the doctor told her. She still had slight pain when she put weight on it, but everyone seemed happy with her progress. For the next two weeks, she planned to relax at her childhood home.

First, they needed to stop at her apartment so Ellie could pick up some clothing, books, her camera, and most importantly, her puppy. Reid and Stella didn’t know she was being released today. She’d call them later.

Miss Ruby’s TV blared down the hall. With a lump in her throat, she knocked on her door. She’d missed the little lady. Nothing. She pounded harder to be heard over the noise. Still nothing.

Ellie hobbled to her apartment and grabbed the spare key her neighbor gave her for emergencies. She returned to the door, knocked once more, and pressed her ear to the painted steel. How Miss Ruby loved her game shows! She unlocked the door a few inches and peered inside. “Miss Ruby? It’s Ellie. Are you okay?” She heard a groan and hurried in. “Oh no!”

Miss Ruby lay on her stomach on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. She had a gash on her forehead. Ellie knelt beside her. “What happened? How long have you been here? Ruby, can you talk to me?” Her skin was cool but not cold. Ellie dialed 911 and spoke to Miss Ruby while they waited for the ambulance.

When the paramedics arrived, Ellie stood off to the side, listening to their conversation as they placed a neck collar on Miss Ruby and prepared to turn her so they could work on her more easily.

As they rolled her onto her back, she regained consciousness with a gasp. “Ellie?”

“I’m right here, Ruby.” She leaned over one of the paramedics and smiled at her. “They’re taking you to the hospital. You’ll be fine in no time.”

Her breathing sounded wrong, raspy and shallow. “I don’t think so.” She struggled to get the words out. “I can’t feel anything from the neck down. I came in here to get some dinner and my legs just gave out on me. I hit my head on the table when I fell. I don’t want to be on a ventilator, okay? I have a DNR in my Living Will.”

Ellie panicked, what could she say? “Don’t give up, Ruby, okay? The doctors put me back together so I’m sure they can help you, too.”

“We need to get her to the hospital.” One of the paramedics wheeled the stretcher over beside Miss Ruby.

“Wait,” Ruby said. “Ellie, go get the carved chest out from under my bed, but don’t open it until later.”

Ellie retrieved the box. “This one?”

“Yes. Okay, I’m ready now.”

“I’ll call and check on you later, Miss Ruby.”

”You take care, girl.” Her eyes fluttered closed. “I love you,” she whispered.

Ellie didn’t know if she’d meant to say those last words but she responded to them. “Love you too.” She blinked tears from her eyes and followed them outside, locking up the apartment behind her before returning to her own. She handed to box to her father and asked him to take it to his truck, planning to go through it when she was in the room she grew up in.

Ellie paused in her living room, her eyes travelling over the barn photos, seeing them with fresh eyes. I’ll always be a farm girl. With a smile on her face, she limped away. She froze as she entered her bedroom. Her bed was a mess! Then she remembered Reid saying that Misty had trashed her room. She heard a whine behind her.

“Did you do this?” Misty blinked, tail wagging. “You should feel bad. My bed is off-limits.” Ellie grabbed the pillows off the bed to straighten the coverlet and found her journal, chewed on two of its corners. “You really were a bad girl, weren’t you?” The puppy jumped up in front of her. “Oh no you don’t. Get down!”

Misty tried to get away from Ellie, running back and forth on the bed. She finally jumped off, racing out the door. “Puppy kindergarten! That’s what you need!” She bent to retrieve the journal. It had fallen open to Reid and Stella’s wedding day. Her scalp prickled. Misty didn’t tuck the journal under a pillow. Reid must have. Did he read it first?

She flopped down on the bed, hugging the book to her chest and waffling back and forth between mortification and anger. Finally she sighed. She wouldn’t know unless she asked him outright. And if he hadn’t read it, her questions might make him curious. She got up, dropped the offending book onto her bedside table, and finished making her bed.

Her hospital resolution to burn the journal sent her to the guest room to grab a satchel and a couple of books to read while she recuperated. She flipped on the closet light and found the bag she wanted on the floor beside the bookcase that held her library of journals. Several of the most recent volumes were missing and that answered her question. Not only had he read the one in her bedroom, but he’d taken the last few years’ worth, too.

“Sweetheart, are you about ready? We need to get home in time for Dad to milk.” Her mom stood in the doorway.

Ellie grabbed a smaller tote bag. “Yep, give me another minute. Did Dad pack Misty’s food?” Her mother nodded. “Okay, if you want to head down to the truck, I’ll meet you there in a couple of minutes.”

She thrust the diary into the tote bag and grabbed a few books. Her mother had evidently taken the suitcase she’d packed in her bedroom, so Ellie grabbed her camera bag and locked up the apartment.

Riding in the back seat of the truck, Ellie wondered what to do about her journals. Should she confront Reid or let it go? She fell asleep trying to decide.

“Ellie? We’re home, honey. Dad’s already unpacked the truck and put your stuff in your room.” Ellie blinked, yawned, and stretched.

“Sorry, Mom. I guess I’m a little tired.”

“Of course you are. It’s been an exciting day. I’ve got some beef stew simmering in the crock pot for dinner. You should probably eat and go straight to bed.”

“The only way this day could get better is if I could take a bath in that old claw-foot tub.” Ellie climbed out of the truck and headed for the front porch. Her mother beat her up the stairs and held the door open for her. The smell of her mother’s special recipe wafted around her. “Oh Mom, it’s been too long!”

Her mother smiled as she ladled beef and vegetables into a soup bowl. She set it in front of Ellie, then slathered butter on a few slices of her freshly-baked wheat bread and handed them to her as well.

“You’re not going to make me eat alone on my first night home, are you?” Ellie teased. From the small amount in her mother’s bowl, Ellie knew she’d also eat when her dad came in from his chores.

After eating two bowls of stew, Ellie carried her bowl to the sink and grabbed a towel to throw over her shoulder. Her mom intercepted the towel. “Oh no you don’t, you need to go to bed. You’re practically asleep now.”

Ellie yawned. “Thanks Mom. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

“Don’t worry about it tonight. I’m just so happy to have you home I could—I don’t know—dance maybe?”

“I’d like to see that,” Ellie’s father said as he entered.

“Okay you two, keep the party down. Don’t want to draw the cops.” Ellie kissed each of her parents on their cheeks. “I’m going to call the hospital and check on Miss Ruby, then I’m calling it a night. I love you both so much.”

“We love you too, baby.” Her mother hugged her tightly then let her go.

“Sleep well, Rosie.” Her father kissed the top of her head.

Ellie climbed the stairs to her room, smiling at the nickname her father still used with her. She dialed the hospital’s information number and asked for Ruby Jefferson’s room. After answering several questions, she was told to hold. Ellie’s knee bounced up and down, a nervous habit. Did it usually take so long to find a patient? The paramedics said they were taking her to St. Luke’s.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but there is no Ruby Jefferson listed in our hospital.”

“They said they were bringing her to you.”

“Maybe they changed to a different hospital because of her injuries or because she preferred it.”

“I think she had a spinal cord injury. She said she couldn’t feel anything below her neck.”

“I see.” The woman paused, then whispered. “Try the University of Kansas Hospital.”

“Okay, thanks,” Ellie whispered back. She looked up that number and started over. This time she was immediately transferred. A man answered. “Yes, I’m looking for Ruby Jefferson.”

“May I ask who’s calling?”

“Ellie, umm, Elanor Thompson.”

“Thank you, Miss Thompson. I am David Marsh, one of the chaplains. I’m sorry to have to inform you that Miss Jefferson passed away earlier this evening.”

“Oh no!” Ellie’s voice cracked. She tried to swallow. “She was such a sweet, lovely person.” The chaplain offered his condolences. “Thank you. She tried to prepare me today, but I kept telling her she’d be fine.”

“She must have cared a great deal about you, Ellie. She listed you as her only contact. She also said you had her will and would know how to proceed.”

Was her will in the box she gave Ellie? “Okay, I’ll call tomorrow to make arrangements, if you don’t mind. I’m a little overwhelmed right now.”

“I understand. Again, please accept our condolences on Miss Ruby’s passing.”

Ellie pushed the end button, then hoped she’d remembered to thank the chaplain again. The square box, a little taller than a shoebox and about four times as wide, sat on the bed beside her. Part of her wanted to see what was in it tonight. But only a small part. Mostly she wanted to crawl in bed and remember Miss Ruby.

She picked up the box and groaned. Was it always this heavy? She didn’t recall having any trouble lifting it earlier today. Adrenaline maybe? She carried it to her desk and set it down, taking a moment to trace the name engraved across the top: Jefferson.

Ellie crawled into bed and said a prayer of thanks for Miss Ruby Jefferson. Maybe she’d left instructions about what kind of service she wanted inside that box. She fell asleep trying to recall the first time they’d met. A few hours later she jolted awake. She’d forgotten to call Reid and Stella!

Chapter Six

Reid called Stella as soon as he was in his car. “Meet me at Ellie’s, you’ve gotta see this!” She complained at first, but with an exaggerated sigh she gave in. He got to the apartment ahead of her so he took Misty for a short walk.

He didn’t see Miss Ruby that day, but he heard her television through her door as he passed it. He fed Misty and made sure she had plenty of water in her automatic waterer. He replaced her soiled puppy pad next. She ate a few bites, lapped a little water, then went straight to her doggy bed and collapsed with a tired sigh.

Stella still hadn’t arrived, so he took the trash out to the dumpster. He saw her drive up and waited for her to park so they could walk in together. “How was your day?” She hadn’t put on any makeup so he assumed she’d stayed home.

“Relaxing for the most part. I worked for a couple of hours this morning, but after that I just took it easy. I even watched a couple of Cary Grant movies.”

“Oh yeah? Which ones?”

An Affair to Remember.”

“With Deborah Kerr?”

“Yep. And then My Favorite Wife.”

“Is that the one with the actress he ended up marrying?”

“No, you’re thinking of Every Girl Should Be Married.”

“If you say so.” He let her in the apartment and ushered her to the guest bedroom. “Ellie said I could look at anything in here. You won’t believe it.”

They stood in the middle of the room, slowly turning to look at the bookcases lining the walls. Ellie organized them according to subject and then alphabetically by last name. She had bookcases labeled for History, which Reid headed toward, and Classics, which drew Stella, along with Fiction, Philosophy, Sciences, and Fine Arts. All the books were in excellent condition for their age. Under the window, Ellie had a bench with pillows for a reading nook. In one corner, a leather chair sat beside a floor lamp for nighttime reading.

Stella held a blue-leather, gold-embossed book in her hands. She drifted to the window bench while she opened it. “She really said we could read anything in here? I think these must be pretty expensive.”

“She told me to help myself. What did you find?”

The Romance of King Arthur.”

“You know you really don’t have time to read the whole thing.”

“Yeah, but I can pretend.”

Reid wandered from one bookcase to the next, his eyes traveling over the titles. He glanced in the closet as he passed and stopped. More bookcases. He flipped on the light. A dehumidifier hummed in the background. These books definitely looked fragile. He read the titles. Charlotte’s Web, Winnie the Pooh, the Chronicles of Narnia, and several volumes from the Nancy Drew Mysteries series. He crouched to see the bottom shelf and found a row full of unlabeled books. He drew one randomly and flipped it open.

 

January 20, 1998

Dear Diary,

Today was soooo boring and January is soooo depressing. But Mom made pizza so that’s good at least. Now I have to finish my homework. And more chores. I hate cows.

Love,

Ellie

 

Reid smiled. She’d dotted all of her I’s with little happy faces.

“What’d you find in here?” Stella’s voice just behind him made him spin around in surprise. She smirked at him, glancing down at the book still open in his hands. “You’re reading her diary? That’s just wrong! Put it back where you found it and leave her past alone.”

“Jeez, Stella, calm down. She was just a kid so I’m not reading anything juicy. And I didn’t know what these books were until I opened one. It’s going back, okay?” He put it away where he’d found it. “See? Her secret about hating cows is safe with me. I promise.”

Stella’s frown deepened. “You should know better than most people that childhood can be full of memories that should be left in the past. If you’d read something horrible would you be able to act like you didn’t know when you’re around her again?”

Reid bristled. “Of course I could. If I reacted every time I met an abuser I’d have been thrown in prison a long time ago. I HAVE to act like I don’t know a lot of stuff every time I enter a courtroom. Just like you do.”

“Still, respect her privacy, Reid. These aren’t out in the room for a reason.”

“I put it away, okay?”

“Good. Are you ready to go home? I’ve got an early morning.”

“Just about. I’ll take Misty out one more time. See you at home.”

She kissed him lightly and left.

Reid followed her to the door, then returned to the journals. He could tell from the covers—kitties, iridescent butterflies, horses, and other critters—which ones contained childhood memories. Her teen years were probably in the fluorescent colors. He chose a simple gray book, the first of many volumes, and carried it with him when he took Misty outside.

As the puppy did her business, his gaze wandered around the parking lot. No silver Jetta. Stella’s on her way home. He unzipped his jacket far enough to grab the journal from under his arm then stood under a lamppost to read it. He didn’t notice the silver car parked across the street. Didn’t know Stella had pulled over to take a client’s phone call. Didn’t know she watched him now.

August 26, 2002

Today was the first day of high school. It was as humiliating as it always is. No one ever wants to sit next to me. The good thing is that in English a black girl talked to me. I hope we can become friends. Her name is Tamara but it’s pronounced like ta-marra with the accent on the “m.”

Fingers crossed!

 

August 27, 2002

Tamara and I ate lunch together after English class. At one point, she looked over at me and asked what the heck I’d done to my hair. When I told her I just washed it, she looked surprised and asked me if I had white parents or something. Evidently no one’s told her about me because when I said yes her mouth dropped open. Then she told me to ask my folks if I can go to her house after school so she can show me how to do my hair the right way.

 

August 28, 2002

Well, no surprise. Mom and Dad won’t let me go to Tamara’s house until they meet her parents so they’ve invited them to the farm for dinner on Friday. I want to crawl under a rock and die. I don’t think ANYONE has parents as embarrassing as mine!!!

 

August 29, 2002

Tomorrow night Tamara’s family is coming over and she’s bringing her hair stuff to my house. This should be interesting.

 

August 30, 2002

Wow, where do I start? This morning I got up and Mom was in the kitchen making breakfast. She asked me if I had any suggestions for dinner and I told her to make a roast or something. She asked me if black people like roast and I told her that I thought everyone liked roast. I don’t know if that’s true of everyone but it certainly was of Jeremy and Barbara who were both WHITE! No wonder Tamara’s mouth fell open! She was adopted from New York City when they lived there. Their family just moved back to Missouri this summer. I think I have a best friend for the first time E V E R!!! Oh, and it turns out that I’m not supposed to wash my hair too often. And when I do, I’m supposed to moisturize it with oils so it won’t break off all the time like it does now. Tamara even styled my hair in nice ringlets that she says frame my face. I’m so excited! Someone who’s like me!

Reid skimmed through the rest of the book, but it was pretty boring. Sleepovers, manicures, make-up, and gossip filled the pages. He drove home with the next five volumes in his car.