The cops came to my front door at about eight in the morning. I didn’t recognize either of them. The older one had a full belly that he practically used to wedge the door open, and the younger one, who stood behind him, had a jarhead haircut that made his whole face look pudgy and prepubescent. I’d been sitting at the kitchen table with one of my library books, and I jumped when the front porch stairs creaked. The older cop knocked on the screen door and said, “We’re here about your friend, Amanda Mayward. May we come in?”
Like everyone else, the cops refused to use Vyv’s real name. Vyv and I were used to this. I glanced toward the living room, where my mom was still asleep on the couch, and toward the hallway to my parents’ bedroom, where my dad would be pacing and muttering to himself. I put on my hoodie and stepped outside to talk to the cops.
I leaned up against the wall while the older one flipped through his notes, loudly and slowly. I crossed my arms and ran my fingers across the leaves of my mom’s potted ferns. I knew their game was intimidation and I knew that you could win by coming prepared.
I had spent the last few days perfecting my lines. “I haven’t seen her since the end of the school year,” I had whispered to myself, as I ran hot water in the kitchen and worked on the stack of crusted pots and pans. I practiced a concerned expression in the bathroom mirror while brushing my teeth. “If I had to guess, I’d say she ran away,” I’d think, as I wrote a draft of a letter to the food stamp office for my mom.
He asked me, “When was the last time you saw Miss Mayward?”
“Around the end of the school year,” I said. “Why?” It flew out of my mouth like a tape-recorded message. I stuffed my hands into my pants pockets. I knew I couldn’t do this.
But the cops didn’t flinch. They went on to tell me what I already knew: not home since Sunday, missing persons report filed, foul play not currently suspected, and so on. I confirmed their physical description of Vyv: five-foot-five, about 150 pounds, just enough weight for inconvenient curves that she hid under long jackets and baggy sweaters. Hair: red. Not natural red, but the kind of purple-red that comes from two boxes of L’Oreal Feria that she’d bring home from Grand Island every month. A thick sheet of semi-curls that reached to dye-scorched ends at her waist. Wrist-Cutter Red. Blowjob Red. Girl With Problems Red.
“Did she ever talk about running away?” the younger cop asked.
“She talked about it all the time,” I said. “But I always figured it was just talk.”
“Anyplace in particular?”
Everywhere, I thought. Vyv and I were walking barefoot down our town’s main street, and she was telling me about the beaches in Tangier, where writers arranged their future classics and the best weed on the planet got passed around. We were picking clover out of the grass on the school playground, and I was listening to her go on and on about Siberia, where the trees exploded in the sub-zero winter and the trains hurtled on through the darkness for weeks. We were at the mall, and she was trying on black clothes, like suits of armor, to prepare herself for New York City.
“She’d been talking about Seattle a lot,” I said.
One of the cops whipped out a pen and wrote SEATTLE? in block letters. “Does she know anybody out there?”
I shook my head.
The younger one cleared his throat and said, “What do you know about her friends in Lincoln?”
“I never really met them.” I crossed my arms. “Besides, she hasn’t talked to them since this winter.” I considered adding more, but held my breath. It wouldn’t do any good to bring up that whole mess with Sonia and Grant. I thought of that morning in homeroom, when Vyv had lifted her head from her desk and moaned, “This weekend was so fucked.” She never went into specifics. Something about heroin and screaming at the driver of a car as he blew through red light after red light.
The cops nodded and took it down. One of them asked, “Was she having problems at home?”
I swallowed. “She doesn’t get along with her stepdad. They’re always fighting about something.”
Why were all of my words so inadequate? “Doesn’t get along with” to illustrate the cloud of rage that followed Vyv around on some days? The weight that seemed to settle on her whenever she bit back tears from another long row? “Always fighting about something” to imply that she often spent afternoons staring at the shotgun mounted above her parents’ couch, loaded with potential vengeance?
“What exactly happened at the end of the school year?” they asked.
“We had a falling out,” I said.
The older one flipped through his notes. “Uh-huh. Did you and Amanda fight often?”
Oh shit, I realized. They think I’m Vyv’s boyfriend. Or at least one of those guys who hung around her for sex. It explained why I, the former Eagle Scout, would associate with Vyv, with her antique boots and top hat and alleged Satanism.
I tried hard not to squirm. If Vyv were here she’d be collapsing in laughter, right on my front porch. “No, we were pretty good friends,” I insisted. “I was gonna call her and apologize soon.” I thought I could see it in their faces. I wondered if they knew.
But they didn’t say anything. The older one handed me a business card and said, “Most of the time they come back on their own, once they see what it’s really like out there. Give us a call if you hear from her.”
I put the card in my pocket and promised I would.
“Hey, I grew up on this block,” said the younger one. “In that yellow house.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Was a great place to grow up. Different then, of course.”
I said nothing. I’d always rather liked the shuttered houses, the distressed yards, the sinking pines, and I hated it when people shook their heads over the state of my street.
The cops turned and loped across my front yard, back to the cruiser. I went back inside. My mom was curled up on the couch under the heavy wool throw blanket, where she’d fallen asleep in front of the TV last night. I pressed her shoulder. “Hey Ma. I’m making breakfast. You want anything?”
“Just coffee,” she yawned.
I put on the coffeemaker and set up two mugs with milk and sugar waiting in the bottom. I cracked two eggs into a clean skillet and sliced chunks of potato into sizzling fat. Hey Vyv, I thought as I stirred the potatoes. Did you see that? I sent the trail out to Seattle for you. I pictured her on the Greyhound, riding east into the hills. She’d be looking out the window and listening to The Gits in her headphones, or reading the copy of Jane Eyre she’d swiped from Goodwill. I was happy for her.
Katherine Scott Nelson is the author of the novella Have You Seen Me, a current nominee for the Lambda Literary Awards. Hir work has either appeared or is forthcoming in Confrontation, make/shift, and Fiction at Work. Ze lives in Chicago, blogs over here, and is currently on a 'Virtual Book Tour' online as a lead-up to an actual physical tour, along with other CCLaP authors, in New York City!