A year passed, wandering into the next Christmas. Everyone moved through their lives, time leaving nothing untouched among them.
Reed and Carissa went to the same college in Indiana. They lived across the hall from each other in a co-ed dorm, Carissa with a new friend in the art department, and Reed with his new boyfriend–a familiar face straight out of the dance clubs of Oklahoma. Reed kept a map up in his room and stuck pins on places he planned to visit–many of which he and I had discussed at length. Carissa kept a string of photos up above her bed–much like the display in my room–and on the back of each, she wrote the story of what was happening in it in the style of a letter to me.
Mom focused in on her teaching, releasing her investigative side and working on finding her own answers. She petitioned to have two rosebushes planted on either side of the bench in the park, and she went out to visit every Sunday to watch them grow. She also went to visit my gravesite in the cemetery on the hill at least once a month, but only if Lennon was available to go with her.
Lennon went back to school, changing her major to social work. She regularly visited Dr. Logan, and she found some help in medication, and in her growing relationship with Marley. Mom had the two of them over as much as possible–and fortunately for me, Marley avoided another seance.
Detective Crane cowered. Because the only person who could rat him out was dead, he kept his knowledge of Alex’s guilt to himself. He pretended that he was just finding out with everyone else. He got his nice little bow on the case, and he pretty much just left it at that. I wanted to feel bad for him–Alex was his stepson after all–but mostly I just felt like he could have done so much more.
Bridget had to pay for what she did. That night, once the police realized that one half of the guilty party had chosen to end his life rather than talk, they went for the perpetrator herself. After a lengthy, tiring process, Bridget was charged with involuntary manslaughter and was sent to prison for nine years. Because she was already eighteen, and because she had no real defense with the damning video evidence, they didn’t hold back. So that’s where she sits now. She’s been consumed by her guilt, closed off and thinking only of what she did while she was in the midst of trying to craft her future. Now, that future was so painfully compromised.
Alex’s family struggled. Both Somerset and Rising Hill started talking about his suicide, knowing him simply for being the boy who buried the missing girl and then jumped off the cliff. He was a story just like me, being kept alive in an entanglement of exaggerations and misinformation. Lucas was the one who tried to calm the chatter, tried to keep the family from suffocating under the weight of it. It’s taken a long time, but they’re finding ways to work on it. Kate and Brian even started going to counseling together, trying to make sense of their separated relationship when they had just lost a child.
Alex himself was okay, released from the complications of hiding what he had done. I saw him sometimes, usually down by the lake, and even though I never really talked to him, he seemed quiet, peaceful. He seemed like he was okay. And I had forgiven him. At some point, I came to the realization that he was a victim of circumstance, and that he acted on an impulse that only had protective–albeit a little selfish–intentions. I realized that I had forgiven Bridget too, but forgiving Alex was much, much easier.
Slowly, Rising Hill stopped talking about me. I was no longer a mystery–just a too-young girl from town with a tragic case and a sad ending. It was over. Though it was my home, the only place I truly knew, I was no longer supposed to be there. I had to let them be.
So I go on now. I am everywhere and nowhere. I know everything, and yet I am free and clear of it. I learned the truth of what happened to me. I was wrong about it, but I finally got my answers. My family got to find me. I got to truly go to rest, away from the place where my ending happened. It’s pretty simple when you really think about it, isn’t it? Live, learn, gone. It’s all of that life in the middle you just have to make sense of.
My resting place is on the high ground overlooking Rising Hill. It is the view that makes the town feel good, that breathes life back into everyone after they’ve been lost in stories like mine. So although I have to leave this place behind, I don’t think I’ll have to stay away forever. So if you ever find yourself in Rising Hill, look around. Look a little more closely than you usually do. If you don’t, you might miss me.
Written by Chelsy Jordan, September 2017.
Images created by me on Canva.com