I didnít know Theresaís brother was dead when I met her. She didnít know. She thought he was missing. Officially, he was missing. Heíd disappeared on his way to Cedar Point for the senior class trip six years earlier. Thatís how long he had been missing. She never talked about it. We were lunch friends, not the kind of friends you see in class, because we didnít have any classes together, and not the after-school kind, either. We ate lunch together. We didnít talk. Thatís the kind of friends I preferred back then, the kind that didnít talk. Mostly, she played cards at lunch with three other kids and I watched. They played hearts or spades. I donít remember now. I usually ate a pack of sunflower seeds. We all drank Coke. It was an experiment. I sat there all year. I wondered if I would learn the game by osmosis if I didnít pay attention.
Theresa mostly hung out with the burnouts, which didnít make sense since she got good grades. She had long straight dark hair and usually wore a leather jacket. She was a peer counselor, too, but she kept to herself. She could have been in the band or maybe even a cheerleader, but she went home on the bus every night. I wanted to be a peer counselor, but missed my opportunity by skipping a grade. Thatís how I ended up eating lunch with Theresa. I didnít know any of the seniors, so I just sat where I could. The game was interesting. There was no reason to talk. The hearts table suited my needs.
Her boyfriend, Mark Price, was known as Big Fuzzy. He loved to hug on her, to give what we called warm fuzzies, and she always smiled while he was around, even though he was usually stoned and hugged lots of people. He was bear-size and hairy with a wide white smile. He even smiled at me.
Like I said, I sat at that table all year. Theresa never said a word about her brother or any of her siblings. Theresa was Catholic, and she had six other brothers and sisters. She never talked about any of them. Years later we would get together. We would talk all afternoon. We were the only girls in our class to get Ph.D.s. She studied Alzheimers. I got degrees in philosophy. We looked each other up on the Internet and met at her place. She had a new baby and a ten-year-old conceived on the night of our senior prom, only not with Mark Price.
Her son was blond-haired, beautiful. His father was a wrestler named Kevin that Iíd had a crush on but knew I didnít have a chance with. He looks just like Patrick, she said out of the blue. Patrick? I asked. Mmm. she nodded, my big brother. The trial was in the paper then. I knew that a boy named Patrick had been picked up hitch-hiking, that heíd gone home with another boy who would become a serial killer, that Patrick was his first victim. I hadnít thought much about Patrick having the same last name as Theresa. It was a common name. Iíd seen a show on television with footage of the killerís home, the hallway they walked down to the kitchen where he poured Patrick a spiked drink, and the woods outside the house where heíd scattered Patrickís smashed remains, none of them larger than a forefinger.
The baby started to cry and Theresa picked him up, opened her shirt, put him to her breast to nurse. She arranged her shirt to cover herself while the baby suckled. I asked her about her work with the elderly. I tried not to think about her mother. My mother had done her hair for years and said she was the saddest woman she knew. Theresaís brother was missing for twelve years altogether. During the trial my mom told me that for that twelve years, every time remains were found, Theresaís mother sent a sample to be tested for DNA. The first time she sent his clothing, then his toothbrush. Finally, she rationed strands of hair from his brush, trying to make sure something would be left to test against.
That day at her house with her new baby, the only thing Theresa ever told me was that the last day she saw Patrick alive they had a fight. He had eaten the last of the Lucky Charms. She was only eight. He was seventeen. ďI hate you,Ē she told him, but even then she knew it didnít mean anything. She finished nursing the baby and set him in his playpen. Want to play hearts? she asked. Thereís just us, I said. We can play two-handed, she answered. I never learned. She looked at me sideways, took the cards from a drawer and started to deal.
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