Letting Lisa Go

He was sitting at his desk going through invoices when the phone rang and he picked the receiver up automatically.

"Joshua Davis speaking, how may I help you?"

"Josh, its Dan McDaniels," the voice on the other end of the line said.

McDaniels had been a classmate of Joshua's back in high school, now a cop with the Hillsboro Police Department and Joshua felt his stomach begin to churn.

"How can I help you, Dan?" Joshua asked in a straight line voice.

"I inherited the Lisa Newell case from Bob Craver when he retired a few years back," McDaniels reported. "I'm meeting with Mrs. Newell at her place at 4:00 this afternoon and I thought you might want to be there."

"You have news?" Joshua asked, his voice trembling.

"I'll see you there, Josh," McDaniels replied before hanging up.

Joshua replaced the receiver and then sat back in his chair and stared at the phone as his heart pounded in his chest. Lisa's case was considered 'cold' long ago as leads and information regarding her disappearance had gone no where. It had been nearly twenty-five years since the nineteen year old Blue County Community College student vanished without a trace and not a day went by when Joshua didn't think about his missing girlfriend.

He had been a prime suspect, of course and Joshua knew that rumors, gossip and innuendo still circled him years after Lisa went missing. He felt it whenever he was back in Hillsboro and he knew he would be haunted by her memory and the mystery of her disappearance for the rest of his life.

They were fighting. Lisa wanted to take a romantic getaway to Summer Beach but Joshua had a couple of games scheduled that weekend (he played with the Hilltop Browns in the amateur Serguci League at Beano Field) and he didn't want to miss them.

Lisa was never big on sports and she assumed once high school was over Joshua would hang up the glove but when he made the Browns team, Joshua was content on continuing his baseball career much to Lisa's annoyance. They had been sparring over that issue for months and they had a big blow out the night before Lisa disappeared.

Joshua lived and worked in Mt. Griffin now, far enough away from his home town not to be taunted by the past but close enough to be reminded of the absent Lisa even after all these years. He felt sad whenever he passed by Blue County Community College or the Cumberland Farms on State Road where Lisa's Toyota Corolla was found.

It didn't help that Joshua didn't have an iron tight alibi on the morning of Lisa's disappearance. Still ticked off at Lisa for her failure to support his love for baseball, Joshua went off for a long run that morning on his favorite wooded paths along the Blue River. Unfortunately, nobody saw him from the time he left his house until he returned nearly three hours later which also happened to be within the window that Lisa's car was found abandoned at the Cumberland Farms. It was assumed Lisa was on her way to her summer job at Camp Sunrise on the morning of her disappearance. She may have stopped at the Cumberland Farms for a coffee or power drink. The clerk on duty did not remember Lisa coming into the store and she could not confirm whether or not it had been Lisa who drove the car into the store's parking lot.

Naturally, given the recent fighting and his lack of a provable story regarding his whereabouts, Joshua became a 'person of interest' in the case. Every spat, squabble, misunderstanding, breakup, fight and confrontation from the time Joshua and Lisa started dating Freshman year in high school suddenly became magnified, overblown, talked about, reviewed, examined and second guessed.

All of a sudden Lisa's mother wasn't so trusting and supportive of Joshua and others began to mention past outbursts on the baseball diamond, confrontations in the locker room with fellow players, and perceived bullying incidents in the halls of Hillsboro High. Overnight, Joshua went from a being a respected, admired, friendly and popular high school student athlete to a psychopathic, unbalanced, feared lunatic capable of just about anything, including murdering his girlfriend.

Only Joshua's family and a few close friends stood by him during the ordeal and because no evidence was found Joshua was never arrested but that didn't end the rumors or remove the suspicions.

Detective Craver was a no-nonsense but fair police officer who interviewed Joshua a dozen times. The detective's final report on the case was inclusive although he did write "there is no factual evidence linking Joshua Davis to the disappearance of Lisa Newell in any way".

There was plenty of circumstantial evidence, of course, and that's what spurred the rumors and doubts. Craver theorized that "Ms. Newell was either abducted by a stranger, ran away, or committed suicide although there is always the possibility that her boyfriend Joshua Davis or some other acquaintance of Ms. Newell could have been involved in her disappearance."

Lisa's family insisted that Lisa would never take her own life and that she had no reason to run away. They were convinced the girl had met foul play. Police divers searched the nearby Blue River for miles in both directions but found no body.

"It is unlikely that Ms. Newell jumped in the river if she did take her own life," Craver wrote in his report.

All of her belongs were at home or in her car. No money was missing from her wallet. Her credit cards were also found in her purse. There was no contact with any family member or friend after she disappeared.

"If Ms. Newell ran away, she left no trace of her former life for us to track," Detective Craver noted.

The first few days were painful as Detective Craver and other authorities worked the case 24/7. When days turned into weeks, nerves became frayed and the wait became excruciating for everybody involved. As time went by and leads, possibilities and hopes dried up, Joshua Davis became a more likely suspect and most of Lisa's family turned against him, convinced he was hiding something or not telling the truth about what he was doing the morning of Lisa's disappearance.

Joshua quit playing baseball for the Browns and he delayed his semester at Blue County Community College. Eventually, he left town and attended a junior college elsewhere and when he returned to Blue County a few years later, he settled in Mt. Griffin instead of Hillsboro. He landed a job with the supply order company run by the father of a high school classmate who was willing to give Joshua the benefit of the doubt.

Occasionally, Detective Craver would give Joshua a call if he picked up on some sort of lead but they never panned out and eventually the calls stopped coming. The Newell family held a vigil remembrance every year on the anniversary of Lisa's disappearance but Joshua didn't attend out of respect for the family. Mrs. Newell also became an outspoken advocate for missing and exploited children.

Mr. Newell died fifteen years after Lisa's disappearance and his widow was quoted in the obituary as saying her husband never got over the loss of "his baby Lisa".

Joshua skipped the wake, stood in the back of the church alone for the funeral, and didn't attend the reception that followed. He tried to get on with his life but he never really did. Every phone call caused his heart to skip thinking it was Lisa or news about her and every story in the news about a woman being found years after she disappeared gave Joshua hope that maybe Lisa would be found too. His relationships never lasted because the woman involved eventually figured out that Joshua was committed to someone else, even if that person was probably dead.

Detective Craver paid Joshua a courtesy visit a few days before his retirement date, admitting that the Lisa Newell case had stumped him for years and that he hoped some day it would be solved so there could be closure for all those involved. The guy had been a middle aged veteran when Joshua first met him. Now he was in his sixties with a balding head of gray hair and a wrinkled face.

"I might as well have disappeared with her," Joshua sighed with sadness. "There will never be closure even if the mystery is somehow solved."

"Are you sure there's nothing you want to tell me?" Detective Craver asked one last time.

"I've told you the truth all along, Detective," Joshua sighed, stung that even after all this time the cop still didn't totally believe Joshua's story.

That was three years ago and Joshua never heard from his old classmate Dan McDaniels until the phone call that morning inviting him to Mrs. Newell's house. Joshua hadn't been to the house in years, of course, and returning there now was hard as he pulled the car to the curb in front of the large Victorian house in the plush 'hilltop' neighborhood of Hillsboro. How would he be received?

Another car pulled to the curb behind his and Joshua watched as a middle aged woman with streaked blond hair to her shoulders climbed out of the vehicle. She stopped with surprise when she recognized him.

"Joshua?"

"Hello, Anita," he replied.

"What are you doing here?" She asked with suspicion.

"The same as you, I imagine," Joshua remarked.

Anita Felton had been Lisa's best friend growing up and she got along great with Joshua too. She was a basket case when Lisa disappeared and she relied on Joshua for support and mutual misery and grief but as the days went by and suspicions arose, Anita gradually distanced herself from Joshua and he knew that she had her doubts about him too. It hurt because Anita had always been so nice to him and they were such good friends, "The Triple A's" they called themselves as all three of their names ended in A's.

Lisa and Joshua doubled dated with Anita and whoever she was dating at the time (ironically, Dan McDaniel for a while sophomore year). And when Anita was between guys, Lisa and Joshua let her tag along with them to the movies and out to dinner on Saturday nights.

It was Joshua who dubbed Lisa and Anita 'The A Sisters' because their names both ended in a's and they were as close as sisters. When the three were together they were 'The A Team" also because they all had names that ended in A. Joshua hadn't seen Anita in years and all the old memories came flooding back as they stood on the sidewalk glancing awkwardly at each other. He had heard of her divorce and of her drinking problem and how she had bounced around from job to job in recent years. She was wearing make up, probably to help mask the affect of her drinking on her physical appearance.

A third car pulled to the curb and Detective McDaniels jumped out of the car with a huge folder under his arm.

"Sorry I'm late," he said with sincerity. "There's always something going on."

"What's this all about, Dan?" Anita wanted to know.

"We'll talk inside," Dan said, sounding professional and in charge as he shook Joshua's hand. "Nice to see you, Josh," he said. "It's been a while."

The Detective led the other two up the front walk (although Joshua noticed that Anita stayed close to the cop) and McDaniels rang the doorbell to the Newell place that looked the same as Joshua remembered it all those years ago when he hung out here nearly every day all through high school.

Lisa's brother Brian answered the door with a beer in his hand and he did a double take when he saw who was standing behind Detective McDaniels. Brian had put on twenty pounds since the last time Joshua had seen him (Brian and a few of his friends had jumped Joshua one night a few months after Lisa's disappearance and beat the shit out of him but Joshua never reported the incident).

"You here to arrest that asshole in front of us?" Brian demanded angrily.

"Let's talk inside," Detective McDaniels suggested.

Brian grumbled something before stepping back. Anita went through the door first, smiling nervously at Brian before going into the living room.

"Ma, you'd better prepare yourself!" Brian called before escorting the detective into the living room with Joshua following behind.

Mrs. Newell looked old to Joshua when he saw her sitting in a love seat on the far side of the room, much older than her sixty-six years. She was frail, drawn and pale and she looked exhausted, as if she had been beaten up by life (which she was since the day her daughter disappeared). Joshua hadn't seen her in years and he could tell how hard life had been on her.

"What the hell is going on?" an annoyed Brian barked at the cop. "You call us out of the blue and now you bring him into our house?"

"Calm down, Son," Mrs. Newell said with a sigh, not quite looking at Joshua. "Everybody please have a seat."

Anita sat next to Lisa's mother on the love seat and she took her hand in hers, smiling bravely. McDaniel's took a seat on the couch opposite them and spread some papers on the coffee table between them. Brian crossed his arms and stood definitely in the corner of the room as if he was on guard. Joshua quietly took a seat in the same old chair that Lisa used to sit in his lap on all those years ago.

"I know none of you ever gave up on this case and that someday you hoped justice would be served," Detective McDaniels began. "I know Bob Craver never gave up on the case either and the last thing he said to me when he handed me this folder was 'Don't let it be forgotten'.

"I never gave up," Mrs. Newell vowed.

"This has been a long time coming," Detective McDaniels remarked. "But please understand I didn't bring any miracles with me."

"You didn't find her," Anita said sadly, shaking her head with defeat once again.

"But we think we may know what happened to her," Detective McNeil announced.

"Please tell us," Mrs. Newell begged, squeezing Anita's hand with all her might.

"A couple of months ago, we got a call from the New Orleans Police Department," the cop revealed. "They arrested a trucker named Marvin Horton for the murder of two women, both of whom had disappeared similar to Lisa."

Mrs. Newell put her hand over her mouth and tried to stifle a sob.

"There were suspicions that the suspect might be a serial killer so investigators began looking at his past, where he was when and all that," McDaniels continued in a factual unemotional voice. "A data base search of murdered and missing women was run and Lisa's name came up as a possibility. Turns out this guy passed through here around the time of Lisa's disappearance coming back from a logging run to Maine."

"So, Lisa is really dead?" Anita wailed.

"We still don't know for sure," Detective McDaniels admitted. "Until we find a body, we'll never know."

"But what do you think, Detective?" Mrs. Newell asked softly.

"I'm convinced Marvin Horton killed Lisa," the cop admitted. "He won't confess to any murder but we think he may have killed at least a dozen women over the past thirty years."

"God damn it!" Brian screamed out in a rage. "Son of a bitch."

"I never gave up hope because my love for Lisa wouldn't let me," Mrs. Newell said. "But I knew for a long time she was dead."

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Newell," Detective McDaniels said with sincerity. "But I thought you'd want the truth."

"I want justice," Mrs. Newell replied loudly.

"I understand," the cop acknowledged.

"I can't believe after all this time we've finally found resolution," Anita said through her quiet tears.

"I won't believe it until the bastard confesses," Brian said. "Until we find a body."

"That might never happen," Detective McDaniels warned.

"Then how will we ever know?" Brian demanded angrily.

"I feel a deep sadness but I've been angry for so long that I have to let go of the rage or it will kill me," Mrs. Newell sighed. "My whole life has revolved around finding out what happened to Lisa. If this is the final solution, we all must accept it."

"I want proof, Ma!" Brian yelled.

"Bring this man to justice," Mrs. Newell told the Detective.

"He faces two murder charges," McDaniels said. "He'll answer for his crimes."

"Is there a chance he could confess about my daughter?" Mrs. Newell wanted to know.

"Maybe to avoid the death sentence," the detective replied. "He'd need some incentive to admit something nobody's charged him with."

"Maybe we will have to just settle for a conviction in the two cases they have him on," Mrs. Newell sighed. "But I will travel to Louisiana for the trial no matter what," she vowed.

"Why in the hell would you want to do that, Ma?" Brian asked with disgust.

"As long as I know he's in jail for life, I'll have some closure," Brian's mother replied. "My hope is that he will talk with me and maybe confess or tell me where Lisa is."

"I wouldn't count on that, Mrs. Newell," Detective McDaniels warned.

"What if he didn't do it?" Anita wanted to know. "Then nothing's changed and we're right back where we started from."

"They found one woman's body in a river and another in a lake," Detective Newell revealed. "We're going to search the Blue River again and even maybe Sun Rise Lake. We have new sonar equipment now which could help, especially if Lisa's necklace cross is still on her body. He also could have submerged her on something using the chains from the truck."

"Oh my God!" Anita screamed, covering her mouth with her hand and running from the room.

"The trial probably won't happen for another year," Detective McDaniels told Mrs. Newell.

"I knew I'd never see her again," Mrs. Newell said sadly. "She would have come home if she could."

"Even after all these years I still thought I'd see her again," Anita said as she returned to the room, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. "It was the only way I could even pretend to be happy."

"She was always so outgoing and fun-loving," Mrs. Newell reflected. "That's how I'll always remember her."

"Unless that bastard confesses and tells us where she is, I'm not believing he's the guy," Brian announced angrily.

"Who else is there, Brian?" Detective McDaniels asked.

Brian pointed to Joshua who was still sitting in the chair. He hadn't said a word since entering the house. "Who's to say it wasn't him all along?"

Detective McDaniels turned to Joshua and gave him a long stare. "Joshua Davis," he finally said. "Did you kill Lisa Newell?"

"No," Joshua replied. "I loved her. I still do."

McDaniels turned back to Brian. "I've been through this file a hundred times," he said. "There's just no evidence linking Josh to the crime. He very well could have been jogging through the woods that day just as he's always maintained. I'm more inclined to believe that a serial killer who was known to be in the area at the time of Lisa's disappearance is responsible."

"Get us some proof, damn it," Brian bellowed before storming from the room.

"Thank you, Detective for coming," Mrs. Newell said bravely as she stood. "You can let yourself out. I need to go lay down."

"Of course," the Detective said, organizing his file.

Mrs. Newell glanced at Joshua who stood too. "I've hated you all these years because I had to hate somebody," she said quietly. "I'm sorry if I was wrong about you."

"I understand," Joshua replied, remembering all the meals and snacks the woman had made for him over the years.

"You didn't kill my daughter, did you?" Mrs. Newell realized.

"No, I didn't," Joshua replied.

"I believe you," Mrs. Newell said before she slowly left the room carrying the invisible cross on her shoulder.

Anita watched Mrs. Newell go and then turned to Joshua and Dan. "Is she going to be okay?" She worried.

"Brian's here," McDaniels replied. "Let's leave them to their private grief."

The Detective closed the folder before heading for the door.

"So you really think this serial guy is responsible?" Anita asked once the three had stepped outside the Newell house.

"Yes," McDaniels answered quickly. "I have no doubt."

"Wow," Anita said, glancing at Joshua. "How does that make you feel, Josh?"

"I haven't felt anything for a long time," Joshua replied.

"Listen, there's a few things I didn't tell them in there," Detective McDaniels informed them. "Brian's a hot head enough and Mrs. Newell will hear about it if she really does go to the trial."

"What things?" Anita asked with a frown.

"This guy just didn't kill his victims," McDaniels sighed. "He tortured them. He abused them. He sexually defiled them. I'm afraid our friend Lisa died a terrible death."

"Please don't tell me this!" Anita cried before bolting for the car.
McDaniels and Joshua watched her jump into the car and speed away.
"I thought she'd want to know," McDaniels sighed.
"Sometimes it's better not knowing," Joshua replied.
McDaniels studied his old friend for a moment. "You know, I'm a cop, Josh," he said. "I'm trained to be suspicious and doubt everybody. And I must confess there was a time when I wondered if you could have been involved, but reading through Craver's file you were always consistent in your story."
"I could never have done anything to harm her," Joshua stated.

"I know," McDaniels replied. "But look at the price you've paid because of this psychopath. You've been a recluse for twenty years. You've wasted your life waiting for vindication or for Lisa to come home. And now it looks like the mystery may be solved and your nightmare could be over."
"It will never be over, Dan," Joshua sighed.
"So what are you going to do now?" The Detective asked.
"I don't know," Joshua admitted, sucking in a long breath. "But unless that guy confesses and tells you where he left her this is never going to go away."
McDaniels extended his hand and Joshua accepted it with a hearty shake.

"Thanks for not letting this be forgotten," Joshua said.

"I owed it to Lisa," McDaniels replied. "She was a wonderful girl."
Joshua nodded and headed for his car.
A reporter from the Greenville News and Dispatch called Joshua the next day and told him he was doing a story on the new developments in the Lisa Newell mystery and he asked Joshua for his reaction.
"I'd rather not be quoted," Joshua replied. "I have nothing to say."
"Even if you've been exonerated? The reporter asked with surprise.
"People are going to think what they want no matter what I say," Joshua replied. "Besides, this isn't about me," he continued. "It's about justice for Lisa and closure for her family and friends."
"Do you believe they've found the guilty man?" The reporter asked.
"I'd like to hope so," Joshua replied before hanging up the phone.
It was a front page story with a large above the fold headline and a huge color photo of Lisa Newell at eighteen. It was her high school graduation photograph and Joshua had been with her when it was taken. God, she was beautiful with her long brown wavy hair draping her face, those penetrating eyes, that killer smile.

The article described Lisa as a popular student at Hillsboro High and discussed her life growing up in Blue County before she went missing one summer morning when she was nineteen. The writer rehashed the case, how the mystery was never solved and how Lisa's boyfriend Joshua Davis had been considered a person of interest. The writer used quotes from previous stories and he got new quotes from Bob Craver, Dan McDaniels, Anita Felton, Mrs. Newell, and - to Joshua's surprise – his sister Bonnie who once again defended her brother in print.

"I knew from day one that my brother could never be involved and I think this latest development will prove once and for all that my brother was just as much a victim in this case as Lisa was," Bonnie said.

Joshua's phone started ringing off the hook as family members and friends called to express their relief and their condolences regarding the story. Detective McDaniels made it clear in the article that the suspect in New Orleans was responsible for Lisa's disappearance and Mrs. Newell was quoted as saying she no longer believed that Joshua Davis was involved in any way.

But twenty-five years of suspicion, doubt and gossip wouldn't go away with one newspaper article. And coming to terms with the reality that Lisa was really dead was hard to deal with too so Joshua was in no mood to celebrate or feel good about the latest development in the case. In fact, he was as depressed as ever as he stared at Lisa's face on the front of the newspaper.

Bonnie stopped by and had coffee with Joshua.

"You're finally free, bro," Bonnie said hopefully as they sat at the kitchen table of Joshua's dumpy house on a wooded dead end dirt road, far from the normal neighborhoods of Mt. Griffin.

"I'll never be free," Joshua replied. "But thanks for being my Number One Defender all these years, Bonnie."

She looked at her brother with sorrow. "I really thought it was over," she sighed, noticing the weight still on Joshua's shoulders. "But it isn't is it?"

Joshua shook his head no. He glanced at his sister and smiled sadly. She had been friends with Lisa too although Bonnie was a few years older. He wondered how Lisa would look today if she was still alive. Bonnie was still a beautiful woman in her mid forties and he imagined Lisa would be too.

"You know, sooner or later, you're going to have to let her go," Bonnie said as she stood.

Joshua stood too and Bonnie gave him a hug.

"Sooner or later you're going to have to move on with your life," Bonnie said before heading for the back door.

Joshua glanced out the back window of the house toward the surrounding woods and wondered if he ever would or could.

There was a flurry of activity for a few days as the phone calls and e-mails continued but Joshua didn't have time for those people he hadn't heard from in twenty five years, those who had shunned him and disowned him in the months following Lisa's disappearance. It was only the ones who had stood by him through it all that he returned calls or e-mails. The rest he just didn't care about.

His co-workers were gracious and supportive as always but after a few days of increased attention things settled back into the norm, leaving Joshua alone to once again deal with his demons, his loneliness, his sadness, and his guilt regarding the missing (and now presumed dead) Lisa.

Joshua was sitting home alone in the dark as usual, drinking as always. He was a functional drunk – able to make it to work hung over in the morning, never missing work time. He lived alone and had no social life so he was free to drown his sorrows and misery in the booze every night without being found out. He hadn't watched a baseball game in nearly twenty-five years. His romance and love for the game disappeared with Lisa and now he watched The History Channel and Discovery.

The doorbell started ringing non-stop and Joshua stumbled from the couch to answer it, wondering if some dickhead had come to harass him about the case or perhaps somebody had once again gotten lost and was stopping for directions.

Joshua opened the door and was shocked to see Anita Felton standing on the old creaky porch with her high heels in her hands, her pocket book hung over her shoulder, and her hair tussled, coming out in strands from a bun on the top of her head. She was wearing a nice summer dress and she had obviously been drinking.

"Anita?" Joshua asked with surprise. "Are you drunk?"

"I've been drunk for twenty-years, you asshole," Anita groaned as she pushed by him and entered the house.

Joshua closed the door and followed her into the living room where she plopped down on the couch and took his drink from the table into her hand.

"What's this crap you're watching?" She asked, glancing at the television. "Turn it to Hallmark."

Joshua found the remote and handed it to her. "I don't know where Hallmark is," he said.

She looked annoyed as she punched in a few numbers on the remote and the screen switched to some sappy romance movie.

"What are you doing here?" Joshua asked.

"God, I hate myself," Anita announced. "All these years you could have been my ally, my support, the only one who truly understood what I was going through but I thought….."

"That I killed her," Joshua sighed, taking a seat next to her on the couch.

"Do you hate me?" She asked weakly.

"No," Joshua decided, trying to let go of the resentment and hurt all at once.

"We think of harm in the physical sense but there is harm that involves the spiritual sense too," Anita said. "I died a spiritual death a long time ago."

"Me too," Joshua acknowledged. "A part of me died with Lisa."

"Our deaths took place over many years because we've basically been imprisoned," Anita told him. "That destroys the soul."

"Yeah, it eats at you," Joshua agreed.

"So how can I ever make it up to you for the pain you've suffered?" Anita asked.

"You've suffered too," Joshua said.

"At least nobody thought I killed her."

"I suppose," Joshua said.

"What are you going to do now?" Anita wanted to know. "Nearly twenty-five long years after being falsely accused, has anything changed?"

"Not really," Joshua admitted. "I'm alone, I miss Lisa, and I'm still guilty until proven innocent which really won't happen unless that guy confesses."

"So you're really not free, are you?" Anita wondered.

"I still have problems," Joshua told her. "I wake up two or three times a night thinking about her. I never figured out how to start my life over without her."

"I don't know how you lasted all these years," Anita admitted.

Joshua pointed to his glass that she was drinking from.

"You too?" She asked sarcastically.

"The gnawing in my stomach never goes away."

"You must be bitter," Anita remarked.

"Sometimes," Joshua admitted. "But I knew I was innocent and I held on to that."

"I'm sorry I abandoned you, Josh," Anita said sadly.

"She haunts me each minute, whispering to me late at night," Joshua revealed. "As much as I try, I can't escape the guilt I feel."

"About what?"

"About our last fight," he sighed. "About not being there for her."

"It wasn't your fault."

"I can't help but think it is," he said. "Maybe she wouldn't have been where she was that morning if we hadn't been at odds. Maybe we would have had breakfast together or something."

"Don't do that to yourself," Anita said, patting him on the leg. "I've thought the same thing, you know," she revealed. "What if she had slept over my house the night before? She would have taken a different way to camp and not been where it happened."

"Who knows?" Joshua said.

"She's really dead, isn't she?" Anita cried. I knew she was dead. She had to be."

"I always held out hope," Joshua said, taking the glass from Anita and taking a sip for himself. "Whenever I'd hear some story on the news about some woman being found after years, I thought – that could be Lisa! Even that story about those three women in Cleveland gave me hope but in the pit of my gut I knew she wasn't coming back and I have horrible feelings of guilt about that."

"I was angry with God," Anita told him. "I just couldn't understand why something so horrible could happen to such a wonderful person. I always thought it should have been me that day. I didn't deserve to live all these years wasting my life when Lisa could have been the one living a happy productive life."

"She was a bright and wonderful person, intelligent with a special energy that rubbed off on me," Joshua said. "I've never been the same without her."

"The whole experience changed my life," Anita said, taking the glass back from him. "I'm a completely different person than I would otherwise have been. I've drowned my sorrows in booze, ruined my marriage, estranged my kids, and I know she's disappointed in me because I've wasted my life getting caught up in things that aren't meaningful. Everybody knows what a screw up I turned into all because Lisa was ripped from my life. She was my best friend, my guiding light."

"I had a dream about her the other night," Joshua revealed. "It was a beautiful dream."

"What was it about?" Anita asked.

"It was a summer evening and we were having ice cream at Red's Tastee Freeze," Joshua smiled.

"You guys always went there!" Anita grinned.

"We were smiling and laughing and we ended up kissing on the picnic table."

"Just like the old days," Anita sighed.

"But what does it mean?" Joshua wanted to know. "I dream about her almost ever night."

"It means that you still miss her and love her and that you were good for her and that you two were really meant to be together," Anita told him.

"But I wake up sad when I have those kind of dreams," Joshua revealed. "Re-living beautiful memories when they can never happen again bums me out."

"I consider them visits from Lisa when I have dreams about her," Anita told him.

"She was everything to me and I miss her so much. I can't get her out of my head and I love her so much. I wish she was here with me now. Life would be so much easier."

She turned and looked at Joshua. "Do you think it will ever get any better?"

"I don't know," Joshua admitted, taking the glass from her and going to the cabinet to make them both another drink.

"Her absence has left such a gaping hole in my life," Anita said. "It's not fair."

"I know," Joshua said, returning to the couch with two drinks in his hand.

Anita gladly accepted one and took a long swig from the glass. "They say time heals wounds but why do I still feel so sad even after this time?" She wanted to know. "I don't think she knew how much she meant to me and how much she kept me sane and together."

"I still think she's going to show up at my door with a story of where she's been and what she's been doing," Joshua admitted. "Her smile was sunshine and she made everything perfect. A big piece of my heart is missing and it feels weird missing her so much even after all this time but I guess I just can't let her go."

"She was the one who understood me, listened to me, laughed with me, stood by me, and loved me," Anita said. "She took a piece of my history with her and she left me with a void. Even after all this time I don't know if I've come close to reaching the depth of my sorrow, the pitch blackness of misery full of shockwaves of pain so vast I became lost in it. My world came to an end that day. I need to hear her voice again and it hurts so much that I can't. I sit and cry for her even now. I close my eyes and see her face and I remember all the memories of us. I will never forget her."

"She was my best friend, my confidante, the love of my life and my rock," Joshua confessed. "We were so close and it's so hard living without her. It's been unbearable at times to know that others think I could have hurt her but it comforts me knowing you know how I feel."

"I feel the same pain," Anita said. "Thank you for listening. I've never shared how I truly feel with anybody. Everybody kept saying move on and get over it. My husband never met her so he had no clue and he got tired of hearing about 'the girl on the pedestal' as he sarcastically put it. He said I loved her more than him." She paused for a moment in thought. "He's probably right."

"Why did you come over here after all this time?" Joshua asked.

"I have nobody else," she sighed. "Everybody knows I'm a drunk. They've had enough of me. I wish we could go back in time to when everything was wonderful and we were happy and I didn't feel so alone and when I called out her name I got a response. I want to go back to before I was broken inside."

She slumped over and rested her head on his chest. He instinctively brushed his hand through her hair, eventually pulling out the bun and letting the hair fall out.

"How come you're dressed up?" He asked.

"My sister had a gathering," she said. "I'm allowed to attend as long as I stay sober," she explained. "I didn't make it very long tonight."

"What happened?"

"The same thing that always happens," Anita said with a heavy sigh. "I starting thinking about Lisa, wishing she was there with us, and then I started feeling sad and I wanted to cheer up so I wouldn't wreck the gathering and then I got drunk and wrecked the gathering anyway."

"I usually drink here, home alone," Joshua revealed. "That way nobody knows."

"I'm a public drunk," Anita admitted. "They know me by name at all the local bars and taverns."

"Is this how we're both going to end up?" Joshua wondered. "Drunk and alone?"

"Maybe we should try being drunk and alone together," Anita suggested quietly, looking up at him for a moment.

"Wouldn't that be incestuous?" Joshua questioned.

"Maybe we should have tried it a long time ago," Anita theorized. "Maybe we both wouldn't have ruined our lives if we sought each other out instead of denying each other."

"You're the one who didn't believe me," Joshua remarked.

"I was wrong," Anita replied. "I hope you will be able to forgive me some day."

There was long period of silence as they sat together on the couch with her nestled against him.

"Do you think Lisa would have wanted that?" Anita finally asked.

"Us, you mean?" Joshua guessed.

"Yeah."

She could hear him breathing heavily and she knew he was reverting back to his missing Lisa/committed to Lisa/loving Lisa mode that prevented him from functioning in any area of his life, just like her.

"I'm too drunk to drive home, Joshua," Anita told him after a while. "Can I stay?"

He put his glass down on the coffee table and took her glass from her hand, putting it next to his.

"Are you sure you want to?"

"I live in my mother's basement like I'm some college kid," she sighed. "I can't go back there like this again."

"This place ain't exactly the Ritz," Joshua noted, glancing around the old house he purchased for a song because of its condition, figuring he'd fix the place up but he never got around to it. Now it was cluttered and unkempt because he just didn't give a shit. "I was going to be a teacher and Lisa was going to be a nurse," he said. "We were going to buy a beautiful cottage overlooking Blue River."

"She used to tell me," Anita remarked.

"Now look at me," Joshua said with disgust. "A washed up loser."

"I'm the one who drank myself out of a marriage and career," Anita reminded him. "My kids won't even see me unless I promise I'm sober, but I can never seem to go more than a few days before I'm back on the bottle."

"Do you think Lisa would be disgusted with the both of us?" Joshua wondered.

"Undoubtedly," Anita agreed. "Which is why I hate myself even more."

"Maybe we deserve each other since we're both so pathetic," Joshua sighed with defeat.

"Does that mean I can stay?" She asked.

Joshua nodded and slowly lifted himself off the couch. He reached out and helped the drunken Anita to her feet too. He was probably just as lit as her but he could control his drunkenness better than she could.

"Do you think you can make it upstairs?"

"Jesus, what was that we were drinking?" She asked, holding her head as she became dizzy as she stood.

"Hard whiskey straight," Joshua revealed as he helped hold her steady and led her to the stairs.

Lisa giggled as he navigated the stairs with her drooped on his arm. They reached the top without falling down the stairs and Joshua led him into his messy bedroom.

"It's hot in here," she complained. "What happened to the air conditioner?"

"I generally let the breeze do its work up here," Joshua revealed.

She effortlessly pulled her dress off over her head, tossed aside her bra, peeled down her panties and fell naked on the bed on her stomach, turning her head to look at Joshua.

"I've got about twenty pounds of booze on me," she sighed.

Joshua patted his fair sized spare tire around his midsection and shrugged. "We're not kids anymore, A-A," he sighed. (Lisa was L-A and he was J-A when the three were together.)

A tear formed in her eye. "God, Josh," she whimpered. "I'm so messed up."

Joshua sat on the edge of the bed and brushed her hair for a moment before giving her bare rump a love tap. "You're safe with me," he assured her.

She cried softly while Joshua got out of his clothes and then lay down next to her on the bed, kissing the side of her tear-soaked cheek.

The rest of the night was a drunken blur of longed for kissing, needed cuddling, desperate touching, adolescent groping, and the haze of lovemaking through the fog of drunkenness as a temporary solution to the pain, misery, loneliness, guilt and grief they both felt.

Joshua wasn't sure what was real and what was imagined when he awoke in the morning to find Anita lying in the bed next to him, naked with the sheets kicked off of her in the summer morning warmth. Seeing her like that was something he never would have imagined happening and he instantly wondered if they had both made a drunkenly big mistake.

Anita was lying on her side facing away from him as she slept. He glanced down and carefully traced the shape of her exposed backside with his finger, sure not to actually touch her skin but feeling the warmth radiating from it and smelling the booze evaporating from her pores.

Joshua wanted to reach out and touch her but he hesitated, not sure how Anita was going to react when she awoke. Yes, last night really did happen as they totally threw themselves into the desperation that had been building since they re-met at the Newell house a few weeks earlier. Joshua worried that Anita would regret what took place between them, adding to the twenty-five years of guilt they carried for missing (the now presumed dead) Lisa.
Anita began to stir, slowly moving about and rolling onto her back, exposing her sagging middle aged breasts and clump of dark pubic hair which did not match the hair on her head. She wearily and exhaustedly opened her eyes and saw Joshua looking at her, himself naked as well.

"Oh God," she moaned. "What have we done?"
Joshua reached for her and ran his fingers over her soft skin. "What we were supposed to do," he said.

Anita moaned and closed her eyes as Joshua continued to run his fingers down her front, through her breasts to her navel.

"This was a mistake," Anita said, rolling over onto her stomach and burying her face in the pillow.
"The past twenty-five years has been a mistake," Joshua reasoned, taking a full view of her plumb ass as he gently ran his finger down her back along the spine.
"I'm a drunk, Josh," she reminded him. "A full throttle alcoholic."

"Nobody's perfect," Joshua replied as he massaged her shoulders before he leaned in and kissed her shoulder softly and then ran his tongue along the back of her neck, moving her hair aside for better access.
She turned her head to face him and they gently kissed and then she turned on her side and they embraced in a hug, skin against skin. Joshua took her face in his hands and he looked into her eyes.

"We only have each other now A-A," he told her. "We are the lone survivors of The Triple A Team and we need each other now more than ever."

"Maybe I should go back to AA," she said with a sigh.

"I'll go with you," Joshua vowed.

"Really?" She asked with surprise. "You'd do that?"

"Yes," he said. "I need to climb out of the bottle too."
Anita pushed him back on the mattress and slid on top of him, her breasts hanging in his face, her nipples erect so Joshua leaned up and put the tip of his tongue on one of them causing Anita to giggle like he had never heard her before.

"I thought I was too old for this," Anita admitted as she dropped down, squashing her breasts against his chest and lifting her feet up in the air as she crossed her arms under her chin and stared into Joshua's eyes. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"

"We're doing it together," he told her quietly. "We're letting Lisa go."

He held her while she cried.