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Judah would defend her—say that she’s lonely and has trouble talking about Nevaeh. But her letters are too sensual in nature. She’s flirting with Sean, playing the part of the vulnerable, grieving mother. Steve had broken up with Lyndee shortly after they let her out of jail, saying she brought too much drama to his life. He moved out of the house they shared with their roommates, and in to a house with Genevieve Builo, his high school sweetheart. Lyndee, scorned and still under media scrutiny, needed a hero. I decided to be that hero. During the first week or two of us exchanging letters, she would wait at the park to see if “Sean” would show up to collect her note. But eventually she would grow tired of waiting in the rain, and walk home, my note stuffed in her backpack. I am still astounded that she didn’t question things more. Become suspicious. But the truth of the matter—as I’ve come to understand it—is that people will ignore every warning sign when blinded by their thirst for something. It’s better to not be thirsty.

It’s dark when she arrives. She’s told no one she’s coming; she’s afraid of the media finding out. They’ll say awful things about me if they hear I’m happy, she said in her last letter. I agreed, saying we should meet in secret. So we agree. The shed in the woods. Take the path by the park, walk half a mile. I smile when I see the yellow glow of her flashlight through the trees.

THE NIGHT IS COLD. I can see my breath—human steam disappearing into the night. I wait for Lyndee to wake, blinking languidly at the space on the floor where I’ve laid her. I have no sense of urgency, no need to move, and fidget, and do. I’m content to wait. My thoughts are delicate, forming frail arguments of why I shouldn’t be doing this, then breaking apart in the firmness of my resolve. So, I watch Lyndee, I watch my breath, I wait. In the early hours she stirs, mumbling something under her breath and rolling onto her back. Despite her impending death, I’ve brought a blanket and spread it across her body. In her sleep she pulls it tighter around herself. I shift on my stool, sighing deeply. It was easy—so easy. She fell right to the floor, the rag pressed to her nose.

Lyndee awakes disoriented. She sits up, struggling against the ropes I’ve tied around her ankles and wrists. Slowly she takes in her surroundings. Her hair is sticking straight up on one side. I wait, perched on the stool, my hands folded in my lap. I imagine I look like a schoolgirl gone wrong, straight-backed and intense, a can of gasoline between my boots. When she sees me, she doesn’t look surprised. Not even a little. It feels right, like this is all supposed to be—her and me here, in a shed with a can of gasoline.

“I’m Sean,” I say cheerfully. She flinches.

I open her backpack, the zipper loud even among the singing of the night creatures. From it I pull Bambi, Nevaeh’s pink bear. I hold it up to Lyndee. “I was on the bus with Nevaeh the day she went missing. This was in her backpack.” Lyndee’s eyes travel from the bear back to my face. Her expression reveals nothing, though her hands appear to clutch the blanket a little tighter.

“She disappeared with her backpack. Except she didn’t really disappear, did she? She was with you.”

Lyndee at first shakes her head, her eyes zoned in on the bear. But, when I say, “You killed Nevaeh.” She becomes defensive, her face contorting as she tries to form an argument. She sees the gas can, and something changes in her movements.

“It was an axe-dent,” she says, scrambling backward until her shoulders hit the wall. One of her breasts has slipped from her shirt; it hangs limply over the floral material. I sold her that shirt at the Rag, I think. When Nevaeh was still alive. She came with her mother, and hung out with me at the register, counting the pennies in the “extra jar” while Lyndee shopped. I can see the beads of sweat on Lyndee’s brow, brewing slowly then slipping down the side of her face. She reeks of sweat and fear, but not regret. If I smelled a hint of it on her, I might think twice about what I’m about to do. But Lyndee is a narcissist. She’s convinced herself that killing and burning her daughter’s body was an accident.

“You could have sent her to live with her grandmother.”

“I know, I know. Don’t do this, please. Let me go. I’ll turn myself in to the police. Is that what you want? I ain’t got no problem with you.” She’s holding up her hands as if she can ward me off with her dirt-stained palms. Her nail polish is blue, painted perfectly like she took the time to get it right. This makes me angrier, that she could be so meticulous with her nail polish, caring that there is no overlap onto her fingers, that there are enough coats to make it smooth and thick. All for Sean. Caring about fingernails while she cared so little for her girl.

I ease up, relax my shoulders, and readjust my face to pretend I’m thinking about it.

“Why did you do it?” I ask.

She’s cowering on the floor. I can see the whites of her eyes as she claws at the dirt.

“My boyfriend,” she says. “He didn’t want no kids. He wanted to move to Portland, he’s got family there and a better job waiting. I told him Nevaeh was a good girl, but she didn’t like him. Always used to make trouble for me by saying stuff to him. When I told her we was leaving, she said she wasn’t going, she wasn’t moving away from her granny. Her daddy wasn’t paying me nothing either,” she finishes, as if this justifies everything.

“How did she die?” My voice is neutral, my face impassive. I am afraid that if I show emotion, she won’t tell me what happened, but I need to know what they did to Nevaeh.


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