It was the middle of September, and the weather was nice enough that I was outside to see new neighbors move down the block. A two-person family, a father and daughter. They moved into a split-level home with an attached garage that sat at where the end of the street began to turn to gravel. Nobody had lived in that house for about a decade, so the price was cheap. I remember the day they moved in. The man looked exhausted, his eyes baggy and dark. He stumbled and struggled to move boxes inside from their U-Haul truck. I wondered how the girl was able to see with her hair in her face or move with such small, tight clothing, but she managed to help her father empty the truck and fill the house.
The girl became my new classmate. I heard school administrators talking about how she had been out of school for an entire year yet miraculously passed whatever test required to make it into the sixth grade. I also heard something about how she came from a bad home, and they were in the process of getting some authorities involved. You can learn a lot as an office assistant.
She was a lot different than the other girls in our class who would giggle a lot and braid each other's hair at recess. Her clothes were old and worn—her wardrobe consisted mostly of cotton t-shirts speckled white with bleach stains, at least two sizes too small. The sleeves chaffed away at her, leaving a ring of red around her arms. Her stringy brown hair hung down over her face, and I had never heard her voice. She was reserved. Something about the way she would stare at her gossipy magazines covered with Kardashians and how her hair fountained itself over the pages had me interested.
Once when our teacher was trying to get an answer from her during math, screaming at a child that wouldn't answer, I made up my mind to follow her home on my bike. Aside from the day she moved in and glimpses I managed to catch in class, I didn't really get to see her. I needed to know more about this girl. After school, I waited until she was about thirty feet ahead of me before my Huffy and I tried to be careful to stay unnoticed. I didn't think she saw me because her eyes were fixed on the ground the whole time, hugging textbooks and stray papers with rhythmic steps.
I followed her ten blocks south to our neighborhood. I got closer, and there stood her house. As I got closer, I could see the paint peeling, and it reminded me of her father's drooping eyes. I dropped my bicycle behind a neighbor's bush and watched her practically slide into a door that wasn't locked. I walked with my knees slightly bent, oh-so-quiet, and I peered through the window to see my classmate at a dusty kitchen sink, surrounded by broken cabinet doors, empty liquor bottles, razor blades, and digital scales.
She wet a dishrag and carefully twisted the faucet off. She walked into what I assumed was a living room to a man sprawled out on a couch without cushions. She draped the rag over his forehead, and he swatted at the air as if a bug was flying around, obviously in a drunken, sleepy haze.
Then there was a sound. Shhhkssshkkkshhhkshhh. Kind of like a rustling paper bag, but that's most definitely not what it was. Her face shot up, and she looked around with green eyes I saw for the first time. Remembering I was a trespasser, I dropped my head from the window's view and felt my heart pulsate with my entire body.
"Here she is," a deep voice boomed from inside. "The girl who runs her daddy's business."
"I handle th-the money." I could barely hear her stutter over the sound of my chest thudding. She got squeaky as she added, "And the measurements, too."
Someone chuckled. "That's really all there is to it, huh? Well girl, this is our turf."
I heard a high-pitched scream. Before I could turn around to peek back into the window, the front door crashed open. A man, different from the one on the couch, marched out the door and carried my classmate, now limp, over his shoulders. He looked over at me and winked, then starting walking towards the forest behind the neighborhood. Frozen with fear, I kept quiet and rubbed my hands together, listening to his footsteps carry her off until they decrescendo-ed into silence. I looked inside the door that remained open to find the man on the couch still there, in the same position as before, but this time he was scratching his genitals. I had no idea what the hell had just gone on. I ran.
In the next few days, an Amber alert was issued and the whole town went looking for the girl who was gone. In the office, I heard the guidance counselor say, "She had so much potential. Such a shame."