There was nothing left of the money in Julia's wallet. She let out a groan. Stolen money was the cherry on top of a perfectly horrible day.
It hadn't taken long for things to go awry. The neighbor's dogs decided that 5am would be the perfect time for a wake-up call, and seeing as she couldn't get back to sleep, Julia's day had an early start. In class, she received a now graded 12-page write-up, which she had spent all of the previous weekend working on. For her efforts, she was granted a generous B-. Professor Henderson seemed to have a gleam in his eye as he handed her the papers. When she finally got home, it was to find four missed calls from her mother. Immediately worrying that something had happened, Julia called her back immediately. She really should have known better. As it turned out, her mother had just been feeling bored and chatty. For the next three hours, Julia had to listen to prattle about gardening, television, and Dmitri, her esteemed younger brother. Awesome.
Dmitri wasn't a bad brother. They got along just fine; that wasn't the issue. What Julia hated was the lurch in her stomach she felt every time her mother's eyes lit up at her brother's name. It was the same feeling she got whenever she went back to her childhood home and saw the wall of trophies and certificates of his that her parents had saved, laid out like some sort of perverse shrine. Julia did not have her own wall. When she finally managed to excuse herself from the call, she let out a sigh of relief.
After a day of feeling tired and disappointed, all that was left to do was take a walk and think deeply about life and all of its problems. That, and to terrorize the local pigeon population. Julia took a surprising amount of glee at kicking the poor things away from her as she sat on a lonely park bench. They would crowd around her, hopeful for some sort of food. She was happy to break up their party. After having had enough fun with the pigeons for one day, she slowly rose and dusted herself off.
The park was remarkably quiet that night. Only once did she pass someone by. He was moving quickly, but it was easy to notice his thick glasses and wavy, dark hair. After all, there was no one else in the park.
About a minute later, Julia suddenly realized that her purse was not around her shoulder. With a surprising amount of speed in heels, she sprinted back to the bench and was relieved to see the purse still there.
Her relief was short-lived, however, as further inspection revealed that her wallet had been emptied of cash. She immediately whirled around, scanning the area. There was no one there. The boy from earlier had vanished and no one else was around. There were no witnesses. The pigeons had gone, and Julia had nothing to subject her rage towards.
The night was unrestful. Julia's mind kept jumping back and forth between her problems, like a slideshow. She had tried to calm herself down about the park incident. It was only $40, and she was lucky her credit card hadn't been stolen. It wasn't really about the money, though, and she realized this as she tossed and turned through the night.
The bad thoughts lingered throughout the next day, and the next. Her mood seemed to have been permanently dampened. When Julia's mother next called, her patience was thin. She had barely gotten through another Dmitri anecdote when she stopped her mother.
"We're always talking about Dmitri. Don't you care about how I've been?" A couple of seconds of astonished silence told Julia that this was a mistake.
"Honestly, Julia...this again? Why do you always have to make things about you?"
The next day, Julia spent more time at the park. Her kicks had become a little more impassioned, and the pigeons scuttled away in terror with every swing. The park was almost empty again, and so this ritual continued for another half an hour before she decided she was tired and headed home.
A few nights later was when she saw it. She'd been in the middle of mindlessly typing up a school report when a local news story caught her attention on her television. She usually tuned it out because she liked background noise as she worked. But an image onscreen caught her eye as she glanced up and she was immediately jarred.
It was a plain looking, standard school photo of some high-schooler. He had thick glasses and wavy dark hair. Underneath the photo, words were running across the screen: LOCAL TEEN, MISSING. She quickly grabbed the remote and turned up the volume. The reporter spoke.
"-16-year-old Jason Bell. Police said Bell was last seen leaving Fremont High School at 3:30 p.m. on May 18th. If you have any information, please call-"
She turned off the T.V in a panic. That was him. It had to be him. That kid. It was that kid from the park. She had burned that face into her memory as if to someday exact vengeance if she saw it again. That face was unmistakably that same boy, and her heart started pounding. She picked up her cell phone and dialed.
The phone rang once. She had to tell them what she had seen. It rang twice. As she thought about this, an awful realization crept up. She broke out in a cold sweat. Three rings. If she were the last one to have seen him, it could look very bad to the police. What was that kid thinking, anyway? He was out at night alone, breaking curfew. He stole money. He was probably a bad kid.
The phone rang a fourth time, and an operator picked up. "Police, what is your emergency?"
"Hello," Julia relaxed a little and took a deep breath. "I'd like to file a noise complaint. My neighbor's dogs, they just- they won't stop barking.
"The operator sighed. "Ma'am, this number is for emergencies only."
The next week, Julia fell back into her old habits. She would go to school, go to work, and sometimes visit the pigeons. Every now and again her mother would pester her with a phone call. and she'd internally (and maybe a little externally) bemoan the situation. Her mother sometimes chided her attitude, but Julia thought nothing of it. The past month had been hellish. It was no wonder she was feeling a little grumpy.
The air grew thick and sweltering and before she knew it Julia was out of school for the summer. She had an internship at a local law firm on most weekdays, but other than that was left with entirely too much free time.
Much of this free time was spent thinking about the boy from the park, Jason Bell. At first, she thought about him every day, nervously recounting every detail of their encounter. She imagined the police coming to arrest her. Then it was every few days. After awhile she hadn't thought about him at all. Then one morning, she got a phone call from Dmitri.
He called early. He wanted to come over and talk. Julia was puzzled, but told him about the spare house key hidden under her doormat and went about her business; it was a work day and she couldn't just leave. When she finally got home, she was unsurprised to find Dmitri sitting in her foyer.
She was relieved to see him alone without their mother, though she knew he wasn't cruel enough to do that to her. He didn't have a cruel bone in his body. He pondered her brother's character as he was sitting, staring pensively at the ceiling fan. Finally noticing that she had walked in, he greeted her. It was not in his usual cheerful way, though. He sounded very tired. "Hey, sis."
Julia nodded. "Hello."
She hung her coat up and then looked at him expectantly. "So, you never told me over the phone. What did you need?"
He looked down, and Julia noticed the dark circles under his eyes.
"No, I guess not."
After a pause, Julia asked him "Can I get you a drink, or are we just going to stand here?"
He looked up again. "That would be nice. Thank you."
The formality towards everyone, including family, was something about him that had always bothered her. Today seemed different, though. His mannerisms were more delayed, unusual to his default of hurried politeness. A visit to her home was also rare, even though they lived close by. They were both busy people and had little time or patience to spare for one other. That's what Julia told herself, anyway.
Dmitri sat at Julia's tiny kitchen table, and she put a kettle on the stove.
"What do you want?"
She got no response and sighed. "Green then."
Dmitri looked up at her. "Huh? Oh. That's fine..." He responded as if he'd only just heard her. What was this? Why was he spacing out so much?
She turned the dial on the stove and went to sit down.
"So, how's summer school?" She cocked her head to the side, feigning interest.
His expression was steely. "It's not summer school, just play rehearsal. And I didn't go in today."
Julia raised an eyebrow at this. "What do you mean you didn't go? You missing school? Mom would have an aneurysm." She chuckled, but Dmitri did not.
He looked down, and after a moment spoke very quietly. "I came to tell you..." His voice got even quieter. "My boyfriend went missing last week."
"My boyfriend went missing last week."
The word came out of her mouth, but she didn't feel as if she'd spoken it. Boyfriend? Since when the hell did Dmitri have a boyfriend? When had he ever been interested in boys? Mom was always cooing about what a ladies man he was, although as far as Julia knew he had never been on a date in his life. As far as she knew. How much did she know? Teenagers were so confusing. She took a deep breath.
"Are you sure?"
He nodded. "Yes, his family hasn't seen him. And the police are investigating, but he hasn't been seen anywhere." His voiced grew more strained with every word. Every word.
Julia blinked. Missing. Missing. She'd been so focused on boyfriend that she'd somehow forgotten about missing. She tried to remain calm.
"Does mom know?" She was glancing down now as if to carefully examine the tiles on the floor. Her mind was racing.
Dmitri let out a strange little laugh that sounded more like he was choking. "Of course not."
When Julia looked up, she wished she hadn't. His eyes were red and his breathing was shaky. She'd never seen him like this before.
"That's why I'm telling you."
That's when the pieces clicked together for her. Missing boy. Missing. Last week. Julia felt her stomach drop. She didn't want an answer, but she asked him anyway. "What's his name?"
The kettle started screaming.
Dmitri went home later that day. She'd tried to console him, but everything around her felt distant like her mind was far away from her body. Throughout this, she had somehow managed to convince him to wait to tell their mother.
"She won't react well to something like this. You know how she is," she explained. "And we don't know what happened yet. Maybe he just ran away from home."
"Without telling me?"
Julia hesitated. "We just don't know yet." She couldn't look him in the eye.
Life somehow continued on, and the days grew shorter as summer came to an end. Julia tried to keep more busy than usual. After preparing for classes that were starting later in the week, she decided to take a break and go for a walk. She found herself walking to the park, almost like a ritual and she was too tired to stop herself.
It was then that she heard voices, and saw the police tape. She stopped. This couldn't be what she thought in the back of her mind it was. Could it?
"No." She spoke quietly to herself and took a few steps forward.
There was a small group of men in uniform walking around the scene, marking things and talking with clipboards and cameras. They were surrounding what looked like some garbage. Was that garbage? Julia stepped closer.
A police officer walked up to her. "Ma'am, this is a crime scene, please stay back."
After taking another step, Julia recognized the shape of the garbage as something horribly familiar and specific. Her heart stopped.
The officer waited for her to move, or do anything.
She spoke carefully, unsure of her own words. "His name was Jason."
Bewildered, the officer responded. "Excuse me? Ma'am, what do you mean?"
"His name was Jason Bell."