Jessica walked to the kitchen and leaned against the granite counter. She would never believe her best friend left on her own accord. She reached for the local newspaper, Pecos Current News with Sandra Adams’ picture on the front cover, declaring the police chief didn’t have any new leads in the whereabouts of Carlsbad Central High’s missing valedictorian.
“ Mom, I don’t care what anyone says. Sandra didn’t run away.”
“ Maybe Sandra couldn’t take all the notoriety about her and Carl Lundstrum: her ruining his family and future, not to say the embarrassment she caused her mom is reason enough for anyone to disappear.”
Jessica turned her liquid brown eyes quickly away from Sandra’s picture and tried to compose herself. “Mr. Lundstrum, Carl, still denies he had an affair with her. You’re just being stubborn because you are on the school board. He wouldn’t have flirted with any of his students. He is the most thoughtful teacher and the best cross country coach our school has ever known. Besides, Sandra went to prom with Jason Harris, and everyone knows they are a couple. Our classmates crowned them king and queen. The entire school couldn’t have been wrong.”
Alicia Waters sat at her cherry dining room table. She poured herself a cup of orange pekoe tea from her Shelly Strand tea pot. “You went to prom with Robert Langley and you two are just friends.”
Jessica joined her mom. She felt the need to defend her best friend’s reputation. “I don’t know why Sandra said she had an affair with Carl. It doesn’t make sense.”
Tears welled up in Jessica’s eyes. “You know how important her valedictorian speech is to her. You helped her with it. Graduating with honors means everything. She wouldn’t miss it unless something terrible happened or worse, she’s dead.”
Alicia paused before continuing with her motherly speech. “Sandra didn’t share knowledge with you about her having an affair with a married man. And after hearing her confess to the school board, I really wonder if you know her.”
Jessica picked her nails as she blinked back tears. “If Sandra doesn’t return, how am I going to attend college without her? I don’t want anyone else to share my dorm. I don’t want a new best friend. Summer isn’t going to be the same without both her and Robert. I wish Robert wasn’t leaving for the Army so soon. At least he understands where I’m coming from.” She secretly hoped they took their relationship to the next level soon.
Slumping down into the dining room chair, and still crying, she laid her head on the warm table. She couldn’t help but think about Sandra. Sandra prepared all her high school years for this moment. A college degree meant she could move her mom out of the trailer park. She wouldn’t have left her alone to worry. She loved her too much. Jessica wondered how she would ever convince her mom of this.
Alicia pushed her chair away from the table and walked over to her daughter’s side. She brushed Jessica’s long silky brown hair off of her forehead, leaning down to give her a kiss. “You need to try to get a hold of yourself. You have a graduation to attend. There’s nothing you can do for Sandra at the moment.”
She lifted her head up and looked into her mom’s eyes. “This is going to be one of the worst days of my life. How do you think Sandra’s mom is going to feel hearing me give her daughter’s valedictorian speech?”
* * * *
Jessica entered the school through the athletic equipment building’s door adjacent to the football field. She slowly walked down the corridor to exit the west side of the building. Oblivious to the laughter and excitement her classmates exhibited, she went through the motions without any awareness of her surroundings. It was as if she were a puppet and the puppet master was pulling the strings on her hand to make her wave and pulling at the strings on her head to make her nod. The voices around her became obscured. She couldn’t remember who’d passed her on the way down the hall. She vaguely heard someone calling her name off in the distance. Maybe the murmurs just sounded like her name.
The volume in the hall amplified the excitement of the evening. “Hey, Jess, are you okay? Hey, wait up.” Jason dodged his fellow classmates as he raced to catch up. He tapped her on the shoulder, startling her.
A loud scream broke the excitement. Their classmates turned and stared, shaking their heads as they continued down the hall.
“ I didn’t mean to scare you. Didn’t you hear me calling your name? I wanted to know if you heard about Marcia Collins.”
Jessica felt drained. She couldn’t comprehend what anyone said. She responded in a monotone voice. “No, Jason, what about Marcia? I plan to see her when I start work at Sally’s Diner.”
He lowered his voice. “Sandra’s not the only one Sally Cooper will need to replace. No one has seen Marcia since yesterday. She didn’t show up for graduation. I can’t believe you didn’t miss her.”
Reality set in. Jessica’s bronze face paled. “What? Marcia’s missing? Are you sure?”
“ I’m positive.”
“ What do you think happened?”
Jason directed Jessica to the wall as a sheepdog would his flock and leaned against the cool hard surface. He stared directly in her eyes and whispered, “A policeman found Marcia’s car at Sally’s Diner with her purse and last pay check still sitting on the front seat. Her wallet still had money. And the police found a note attached to the check with a message written by the diner’s new waitress, Rosa Martinez, who replaced Sandra.”
Jessica pushed a strand of hair off her sweaty face and raised her eyebrows, giving Jason her full attention. “What did the note say? Did it have any clues?”
He glanced up and down the hall to make sure Carlsbad Central High’s geology teacher, Mark Ramos, couldn’t hear. “The note said for Marcia to meet Mark as soon as possible at Carlsbad’s Iced Treasures.”
The pair proceeded down the hall, meandering their way through the crowd. Jessica turned toward Jason with a puzzled expression. “Why do you think Mark would want Marcia to meet him?” She began playing with her pearl necklace, letting her fingertips caress the pearls Sandra had exchanged with her for good luck. “Why would he want to meet her at the parlor? And why didn’t she take her own car?”
Jason put his tan muscular arm around Jessica’s slender body, pulling her close. “Rumor is one of her car wires was missing so it wouldn’t start. I think Marcia might have been on the graduation committee with Mark. Sally Cooper talked to the wrecker driver when he hooked up her car and he slipped her the info. I think the driver has the hots for Sally and tried getting in good with her.”
“ Disgusting. What do you think happened to the wire? It didn’t just disappear on its own. Maybe when the car wouldn’t start, Marcia called Mark to pick her up?”
“ They might have had some last minute errands to do for today’s graduation. You know she volunteered for everything. She’s the biggest brown-noser our school has.”
Jessica found it difficult to keep up. Between the heat and Jason’s long strides, she had a hard time catching her breath. “That is, when Marcia isn’t trying to make Sandra’s life miserable by making everything a competition. You know as well as I do they don’t get along.”
“ Marcia told me she’s jealous of Sandra beating her in cross country.”
Jessica reflected with some bitterness, saying, “Oh, big deal. Doesn’t’ being number two on the team mean anything these days? Who’s perfect? Poor Marcia. Her being an inch taller than Sandra’s five foot five inch petite frame couldn’t compete with her determination to win. I feel sorry for her.”
The thought of Sandra brought tears. She wiped them away before continuing. “Sandra told me Marcia asked you to the prom the night after you already asked her. She told me they got into an argument the next day in front of Mark’s classroom. Didn’t Sandra tell you?”
Jason inched closer to Jessica and put his arm around his friend, wiping away her tears with his fingertip. “Sandra didn’t have to tell me. I was there. I don’t think Marcia ever got over my breaking up with her and dating her rival, Sandra.”
Both of them got quiet. Jason stared ahead as they walked. He cleared his throat to talk. “From what I hear, Sandra’s mom is trying to convince Police Chief Nathan Parker both Sandra and Marcia’s disappearances are related.”
A chill came over Jessica, sending shivers through her sweaty body. Her best friend was still missing. She couldn’t deal with losing another classmate even if they weren’t close. What would all this do to Carl? No one would believe in his innocence now. Why did Mark want to talk to Marcia? Why did two of her classmates, who both were going to work at Sally’s Diner together, vanish? She would definitely have to work there now. Maybe she could find some clue to their disappearances if her mom didn’t make her quit before she even started.
* * * *
As they exited the school door, the wind blew sand into every pore exposed on her body. Her white dress, now damp and turning a beige color from the dust, clung to her.
Jessica paused; the memory of Sandra flooded her thoughts. She could picture Sandra standing with her bright blue eyes and long blond hair glistening like gold as she tried on her white dress. She and Sandra had gone on several shopping trips over to White Sands Mall in Alamogordo, New Mexico. While there they both purchased their white dresses in hopes of deflecting some of the New Mexico desert heat while they were sitting out on the football field during graduation. They even purchased the same single-strand pearl necklace and a pair of pearl earrings which they exchanged for good luck. They had talked about how special this day would be.
“ Earth to Jess. Hey…” Jason snapped his fingers in her face.
“ I’m sorry. Did you say something?”
“ Forget it. It wasn’t important.”
There was a long pause.
“ Jason, do you think a customer at Sally’s Diner knows Marcia’s or Sandra’s whereabouts?”
“ I’m not sure, but it’s definitely a strong possibility.”
Jessica stopped walking and turned toward Jason. She put her hands firmly on her hips. “Then I’m going to make it my business to question everyone at the diner.”
“ Hold on! You can’t believe I had anything to do with their disappearances.”
She shoved her chin up and planted her hands on her hips. “I’m just saying…I need to find Sandra and Marcia.”
“ Are you crazy?” He glanced around the school parking lot. “Be careful what you wish for. You might be getting yourself in over your head. We don’t know who we’re dealing with. Don’t go doing anything stupid.”
“ Are you concerned or is this a threat?”
Jason exhaled loudly. “Stop freaking out. I’m just saying I don’t want to lose another friend.”
“ I see my parents. I’ll catch you at the diner,” she said coolly.
He turned his back to her and kept walking.
Jessica strolled to her parents’ car. Her mind kept wandering to how she and Sandra had coordinated everything for their dorm right down to the same comforters and sheets. They even hoped to get into the same sorority at college. Now Marcia is missing. And Jason is the last person known to have been seen with Sandra, and he had dated both classmates. She would have to question him, too.
© Roxe Anne Peacock
LEAVE NO TRACE
Author: Roxe Anne Peacock
Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
Jessica Waters was looking forward to attending college in the fall with her best friend, Sandra Adams. But when Sandra disappears the night after prom, mutual friend, Jason Harris becomes the number one suspect. Jason isn’t the only suspect in the tight-knit community of Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Before Sandra disappeared, she confessed to having an affair with coach and teacher, Carl Lundstrum. Now Jessica is going to make it her mission to find out what happened to her best friend if it is the last thing she ever does.