He gave me the jacket. I thanked him.

"Would it be alright if I grabbed her?" he asked, pointing with his them at the muscle car double-parked in front of my house. "We had a lunch date at Randel's Place, the diner across the street from our high school. You know, to celebrate the whole Princeton thing."

"She's not with you?" I asked.

"Uh, no. I'm sorry I thought she was here. Once I dropped her off, I made sure she got in. You don't know where she is?"

"Can't say."

"Oh...well, I'm sure she'll turn up eventually. She probably got one of her friends to take her. Your car's still in the driveway so I doubt she'd be anywhere else. Not like there's anything fun to do around here, heh. Oh, um no offense."

"None taken."

"Don't worry. I'm sure she's fine." Jarrett smacked my shoulder with that freakish linebacker strength of his. I winced and he apologized profusely, rubbing my shoulder as if that would make it feel better.

After we said goodbye he got in his car and rode off. I shut the door, mind dissecting what he said. What if it was true? What if she left for Randel's without telling me beforehand? Perhaps I was so focused on cooking breakfast that I missed her.

I grabbed my keys and made my way to the diner. I had to constantly ease on the gas because I kept speeding twenty miles over the limit without meaning to. Anxiety boiled like acid, ripping and chewing me from the inside out. I could've pretended she was alive. All I had to do was stay home and not know, telling myself that if she didn't come home today then she'd come home the next. And the day after that and the day after that. Rinse and repeat. Anything was better than knowing.

I needed to clear my head. I drove up a side street to an isolated area surrounded by woods. Something about the surroundings became oddly familiar. Like I'd been here before. It wasn't until I reached a certain section when it all clicked together. The streetlights. The bridge. The river underneath.

I pulled over on the shoulder, parked, and turned off the car. I wanted to vomit, if only to purge this ubiquitous dread.

The river rushed along. Its torrent was like a million forgotten whispers, and I imagined Sheila being swept away to who knows where. Scared. Alone. Or worse. I broke out in a death-cold sweat.

I turned on the car and drove to Randel's Place.

~

Leaning against the stucco wall next to the restaurant's picture window, I lipped and lit a cigarette out of a pack I had bought from a 7-Eleven. I'd never smoked before, but it afforded me a reason to be there without looking too conspicuous.

I took a puff and instantly coughed up half a lung. It tasted like the smoke from a car exhaust. Why did people smoke this crap?

Looking over my shoulder and into the diner, I saw the patrons talk and laugh. I remembered bringing Sheila here all the time. Her entire life, no matter how much I pled with her to try something different, she'd always order a bacon cheeseburger and onion rings with honey mustard on the side. Only then did I realize how much of a luxury these little, joyful moments were.

After smoking half of the cigarette, I spotted Jarrett and two girls in a booth at the far end of the diner. No Sheila. I told myself she probably went to the bathroom. I waited; those seconds felt like hours. Then, behind me, I heard a familiar voice:

"Dad?"

My heart missed a beat. I wheeled around, seeing only the parking lot.

I continued to spy on Sheila's friend as I smoked away. It wasn't long before I managed to read their lips.

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