These Fourteen Years, Gone

The prompts are bolded…

It’s been fourteen years since Claire Dubois left. I’ll never forget the day. She walked in the store, a big smile on that pretty face of hers, gave her father and mother a hug and a kiss, and without a single word, walked out the door. No one’s seen or heard from her since.

Now, people going off and not coming back isn’t unheard of. ‘Round here, when times are good and they open up jobs at the plant or refinery, new people move in. Times go bad and they start laying folks off, people leave. Folks get divorced and one of them moves away. Kids go to college and don’t move back. Whatever. It goes on. But, for the most part, people from here have family that goes way, way back. Generations. All I’m sayin’ is, most folks just stay put.

That’s why, in a small town like ours, things like Claire Dubois up and running off like that and never being heard from again is something everyone talks about. Even after all these years.

See, there was nothing particular about Claire. She was the second to last of the eight Dubois kids, and except for her pretty looks, you couldn’t say anything stood out about the girl. She wasn’t brash, nor was she shy. She wasn’t a happy girl, nor was she a sad girl. Always polite, I can say that about her. And did OK in school, according to her folks. She worked weekends here at the store, as did all her siblings, at one time or the other. Played clarinet in the school band. Had a nice group of girl friends, and as far as I could see, never gave her family a moment’s concern. Made the police crazy, trying to find something, anything, about Claire that they could point to and say, aha! That’s the reason she took off.

When the police finally came around, knocking on doors asking about what folks knew about Claire, the only thing I could tell them was that time she came into the store saying her mom needed a pound of sugar. This was about, oh, two, three months before she disappeared. She walked straight back to the store room, which I thought was odd. Why didn’t she just take a bag from the shelf? But then (and this is the odd part) she came out of the store room with a box of tampons and a big bag of apples, and no sugar. Next day, when her father come to work, I told him about Claire coming in for sugar and leaving with the box of feminine hygiene product and the apples. All he said was he better check to see if she marked it off the inventory.

The closest the cops ever got to figuring out what happened to Claire was a few years later when they found out who her mystery boyfriend was at the time. The Dubois’ eldest, Leo, told the police, back when Claire left, when everyone was first trying to figure out why she left and where she’d gone, that she said something about a kid she’d recently gone out with. The boy was older, Leo remembered, and worked at the refinery, doing what Leo wasn’t sure. He said he also thought Claire said something about the boy going to night school at the community college. But Claire never mentioned the boy’s name.

Nobody else remembered Claire saying anything about a boyfriend, and none of her friends ever saw her with anyone in particular. He was just as much a mystery as why she left in the first place, or where she got to. Then, one day, a detective who’d stayed on the case all that time, learned who the boy was.

His name is Lawrence Venter, Jr. Goes by L.V. He’s one of them folks who came to work in the refinery when they was hiring, back then. He still works there, and he later married Tracy Jeffers. They got two kids now.

L.V. was fishy with the cops about how he and Claire met, probably because Tracy and Claire were friends at the time. Not close, but the girls were friendly. Claire’s childhood gal pal Angela and Tracy are cousins. Anyway, Tracy was stupefied her husband had a history with Claire. She thought she knew all the girls he dated before her.

When the cops first came around town asking about Claire, L.V. didn’t mention he’d been seeing her because she disappeared not too long after he broke it off with her. He didn’t want the cops to think he had anything to do with it, which, as it turns out, he didn’t. He was just scared they wouldn’t believe him, so he kept his mouth shut.

L.V. told the cops he and Claire had only gone out a couple of times. It was more than that, of course. See, at the time, he thought Claire was older, not a high school girl.  Apparently, she let him go on thinking that. But when she admitted she was just 17, he said he called it off. Said he drove her home then and there and never saw her again. The cops kept pushing him about how they met and about the times they went out. See, they were convinced he knew someone who might know something about where Claire gone off to. But the trail went cold there. That one detective who stayed on the case for a time was sure L.V. knew something about Claire, but with nothing more to go on, the detective told the Dubois he had to let it go.

This afternoon I found myself staring out the window of the store, thinking about that day fourteen years ago when Claire came in, kissed her folks goodbye and then just walked away. It’s an odd feeling to know you are one of the last people to see a person…I was going to say, “alive,” but who knows.

Thing is, I think Claire’s alive and well in the world somewheres. I think she just wanted to get away from all of us. And nobody can say why. Me? I like it here just fine. But folks like Claire? Well, they just got to move on down the line, I suppose. Who can say, right? Some folks just gotta move on down the line.

7 thoughts on “These Fourteen Years, Gone


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