All the Missing Girls - Megan Miranda

PART 1

Going Home

Man . . . cannot learn to forget, but hangs on the past: however far or fast he runs, that chain runs with him.

—FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE

It started with a phone call, deceptively simple and easy to ignore. The buzzing on Everett’s nightstand, the glow of the display—too bright in the bedroom he kept so dark, with the light-­blocking shades pulled to the sill and the tinted windows a second line of defense against the glare of the sun and the city. Seeing the name, hitting the mute, turning my phone facedown beside the clock.

But then. Lying awake, wondering why my brother would call so early on a Sunday. Running through the possibilities: Dad; the baby; Laura.

I felt my way through the dark, my hands brushing the sharp corners of furniture until I found the light switch in the bathroom. My bare feet pressed into the cold tile floor as I sat on the toilet lid with the phone held to my ear, goose bumps forming on my legs.

Daniel’s message echoed in the silence: “The money’s almost gone. We need to sell the house. Dad won’t sign the papers, though.” A pause. “He’s in bad shape, Nic.”

Not asking for my help, because that would be too direct. Too unlike us.

I hit delete, slipped back under the sheets before Everett woke, felt for him beside me to be sure.

But later that day, back at my place, I flipped through the previous day’s mail and found the letter—Nic Farrell, written in familiar handwriting, in blue ink; the address filled in by someone else, with a different, darker pen.

Dad didn’t call anymore. Phones made him feel even more disoriented, too far removed from the person he was trying to place. Even if he remembered whom he’d been dialing, we’d slip from his mind when we answered, nothing more than disembodied voices in the ether.

I unfolded the letter—a lined journal page with jagged edges, his handwriting stretching beyond the lines, veering slightly to the left, as if he’d been racing to get the thoughts down before they slipped from his grasp.

No greeting.

I need to talk to you. That girl. I saw that girl.

No closing.

I called Daniel back, the letter still trembling in my hand. “Just got your message,” I said. “I’m coming home. Tell me what’s going on.”

DAY 1

I took inventory of the apartment one last time before loading up my car: suitcases waiting beside the door; key in an envelope on the kitchen counter; an open box half full of the last-minute things I’d packed up the night before. I could see every angle of the apartment from the galley kitchen—exposed and empty—but still, I had the lingering feeling that I was forgetting something.

I’d gotten everything together in a rush, finishing out the last few weeks of the school year while fielding calls from Daniel and finding someone to sublet my place for the summer—no time to pause, to take in the fact that I was actually doing this. Going back. Going there. Daniel didn’t know about the letter. He knew only that I was coming to help, that I had two months before I needed to return to my life here.

Now the apartment was practically bare. An industrial box, stripped of all warmth, awaiting the moderately responsible-­looking grad student who would be staying through August. I’d left him the dishes, because they were a pain to pack. I’d left him the futon, because he’d asked, and because he threw in an extra fifty dollars.

The rest of it—the things that wouldn’t fit in my car, at least—was in a storage unit a few blocks away. My entire life in a sealed rectangular cube, stacked full of painted furniture and winter clothes.

The sound of someone knocking echoed off the empty walls, made me jump. The new tenant wasn’t due to arrive for another few hours, when I’d be on the road. It was way too early for anyone else.

I crossed the narrow room and opened the front door.

“Surprise,” Everett said. “I was hoping to catch you before you left.” He was dressed for work—clean and sleek—and he bent down to kiss me, one arm tucked behind his back. He smelled like coffee and toothpaste; starch and leather; professionalism and efficiency. He pulled a steaming Styrofoam cup from behind his back. “Brought you this. For the road.”

I inhaled deeply. “The way to my heart.” I leaned against the counter, took a deep sip.

He checked his watch and winced. “I hate to do this, but I have