An awkward moment passes in which I’m not sure who he’s talking about. Which ones? I almost say.
I can’t help but feel like that thirteen-year-old cowering in the presence of a different detective asking me about a different set of missing girls. Everything is so similar. The empty mess hall and the slightly impatient lawman and my simmering panic. Other than my age and the new cast of missing persons, the only major difference is the mug of coffee sitting on the table in front of me. The first time around it was orange juice.
This isn’t happening.
That’s what I tell myself as I sit rigid in my plastic cafeteria chair, waiting for the mess hall walls and floor to melt away. Like a dream. A painting splashed with turpentine. And when it all slides away, I’ll be somewhere else. Back in my loft, maybe. Awakening in front of an empty canvas.
But the walls and floor remain. As does the detective, whose name suddenly comes to me. Flynn. Detective Nathan Flynn.
This isn’t happening. Not again.
Three girls go missing from the very same cabin at the very same camp where three other girls disappeared fifteen years earlier? The odds of that happening are astronomical. I’m sure Sasha, that tiny well of knowledge, would have a percentage at the ready.
Still, I can’t believe it. Even as the floor and walls stubbornly refuse to evaporate and Detective Flynn keeps sitting there and I examine my hands to make sure they’re the hands of a woman and not a thirteen-year-old girl.
This isn’t happening.
I’m not going crazy.
“Miss Davis, I need you to focus, okay?” Flynn’s voice slices through my thoughts. “I understand your shock. I really do. But every minute you spend not answering these questions means another minute goes by that those girls are still out there.”
It’s enough to shake off my lingering disbelief. At least for the moment. I look at him, fighting back tears, and say, “What was the question again?”
“When did you realize the girls were missing?”
“When I woke up.”
“What time was this?”
I think back to the moment I awoke in the cabin. It was only hours ago yet feels like a lifetime.
“A little past five.”
“You always such an early riser?”
“Not usually,” I say. “But I am here.”
Flynn makes a note of this. I’m not sure why.
“So you woke up and saw they were gone,” he says. “Then what?”
“I went to look for them.”
“All over the camp.” I take a sip of the coffee. It’s lukewarm, slightly bitter. “Latrine. Mess hall. Arts and crafts building. Even other cabins.”
“And there was no sign of them?”
“No,” I say, my voice cracking. “Nothing.”
Flynn flips to a new page in his notebook even though what I’ve told him amounts to only a few measly sentences.
“Why did you go to the lake?”
Confusion rolls over me again. Does he mean now? Fifteen years ago?
“I don’t understand the question,” I say.
“Mrs. Harris-White told me they found you standing in the lake this morning. After you realized the girls in your cabin were missing. Did you think they’d be there?”
I barely remember that moment. I recall seeing the sun rise over the lake. That first blush of daylight. It drew me to it.
Flynn persists. “Did you have some reason to think the girls had gone swimming?”
“They can’t swim. At least, I don’t think they can.”
I remember one of them telling me that. Krystal? Or was it Sasha? Now that I think about it, I don’t recall seeing any of them actually go into the water.
“I just thought they might be there,” I say. “Standing in the lake.”
“The way you were standing in the lake?”
“I don’t know why I did that.”
The sound of my voice makes me cringe. I sound so weak, so confused. Pain nudges my temples, making it hard to think.
“Mrs. Harris-White also said you were screaming.”
That I remember. In fact, I can still hear my cries streaking across the water. I can still see that heron startled into flight.
“Because I was scared,” I say.
“Wouldn’t you be? If you woke up and everyone else in your cabin was gone?”
“I’d be worried,” Flynn says. “I don’t think I’d scream.”
“Well, I did.”
Because I knew what was going on. I was stupid enough to come back here, and now it’s happening again.
Detective Flynn flips to a fresh page. “Is there a chance you screamed for another reason?”
“I don’t know. Maybe out of guilt.”
I shift in my seat, discomfited by Flynn’s tone. I detect slight mistrust, a sliver of suspicion.
“Guilt?” I say.
“You know, for losing them when they were under your care.”
“I didn’t lose them.”
“But they were under your care, right? You were their camp counselor.”
“Instructor,” I say. “I told them when I first arrived that I was here to be a friend and not some authority figure.”