Donald forced himself to focus on Rachel. “Why do you care so much while your dad only sees Marie as a renter?”
It was a simple question, but he could see it stumping her. Maybe not her own feelings though. Probably unable to understand why Marie didn’t mean as much to Kedar.
“Marie’s a real good person. She’s not looking for fame or anything, she wants to play her guitar. Make enough by that. But she doesn’t expect that to be everything. She knows that means a lot of work. And she works on it all the time. Dad set her a curfew where she’s not allowed to practice her guitar anymore in the garage.”
With Lori still holding the paper, Donald tried to remember all of the details of Marie’s photo. Every time he had seen her outside of work, it was just a familiar form in the distance. Glasses and hair dye and a guitar. And no home?
Something was wrong, more than just her disappearance. For the life of him, he couldn’t put a finger on it.
Donald was supposed to be asking Rachel questions though, not answering them. He took a sip of his water before putting the glass back down. “So she’s been living in the garage?”
Rachel nodded, a wry pull at her lips. “It’s not like we have a lot of space in the house, as you can see. Plus, I think Dad was nervous having a stranger around at first. She’s not a stranger anymore though. She’s been here long enough, she…”
The girl trailed off. Donald tried to think about where to start. “Then it’s just the three of you here? You, your dad, and Marie?”
Rachel clasped her hands in front of her, forearms resting on her knees. “Dad’s actually my godfather. My parents were his best friends, so when they died, he took me in. It’s always been the two of us, until Marie showed up.”
Donald did his best not to fidget. “I’m… I’m sorry to-”
In a split second, Rachel went from looking mellow to stabbing him with her gaze. “So neither of you are police, are you?” It caught him so off guard, he didn’t know what to say. Rachel continued. “Of course not. I went to them too and no one cared. Just you and me and her.”
Donald’s eyes flicked over to where Lori was seated. Only the three of them? It felt hard to believe.
Kedar definitely had adopted young Rachel, but he didn’t look like Marie either. Donald wouldn’t know more, because Lori had taken over talking with Rachel’s father as he sat to the side with the little girl.
“I don’t want her words influenced by what her father says,” Lori whispered to him. “Talk to her about Marie.”
Donald wanted to swap places, but nodded nevertheless. Lori looked professional, so she would probably do better with Kedar Fontaine. Meaning that Donald had to speak with Rachel, sitting in their living room on a small sofa and looking through the doorway into the kitchen, where Lori and Kedar were seated at the table.
Rachel put a glass of water in front of him. Donald started. He hadn’t been aware that she had gone to get anything. “How did you know Marie?” she asked him.
Donald made a face. “I… I didn’t really know her. She played her guitar across the street from where I work. She’s been playing there for… it feels like forever now. So her just being gone, it made an impression on me.”
Rachel nodded, sitting down across from him on a wooden chair. “I told her to play there. She used to play near the park, but… I thought she’d do better there. More people.”
More money. Donald nodded. “I get that.”
The person behind the papers was a twelve year old girl. Donald didn’t know how Lori managed, but he felt extraordinarily uncomfortable approaching her. Strange older men and all that. Not that he was old. He felt like it was just yesterday he was twelve. Well, sixteen. Sixteen was closer.
The girl didn’t hesitate either, seeing her poster in Lori’s hands. “Marie! Have you seen Marie?”
“You made these?” Lori asked. Her voice was kind, she was obviously good with kids. Donald was good at making their fast food, but that was about it.
The girl nodded. “Yeah. No one else seems to miss her, not even Dad.”
“Are you… related?” Donald asked. The girl had green streaked in her hair, much like how Marie’s picture had blue. But not the same race, definitely not. This girl was Asian. Didn’t mean one wasn’t adopted or something.
She shook her head. “No… she was paying rent to stay in the garage, now that Dad doesn’t have a car. But he doesn’t care that she’s gone. He says that she just wandered off. I know she didn’t wander off.”
Lori nodded. “We’re looking for her too. Do you think we could talk to your father about it?”
That was a relief to Donald. He knew how to deal with adults. They were all hiding something.
Lori was a big shot businesswoman. Donald couldn’t believe someone like her would be spending so much time looking into this.
Right after his shift, he met with her at the parking garage. It was only five blocks down from his work, though in the opposite direction of the bus stop. Her fingernails were painted a dark green, manicured to all heck. At least, he assumed so, because he didn’t know much about nails.
“I asked the police about a missing person Marie Thompson,” she said the moment Donald approached. “They didn’t know anything about her. No one had mentioned it to them.”
“You think it’s a prank?” Donald frowned.
“I’m thinking she doesn’t have anyone officially looking out for her. But she does have someone else who’s looking for her.”
“Finding whoever printed these papers won’t find her then.”
“No,” Lori agreed, “but it will let us know who she is. Then get the police to actually look into it.”
He hoped it would be as simple as that. Yet Lori had a calm sort of confidence that he couldn’t help but be swept up in. Plus, he couldn’t just let this go. He couldn’t shake the image of Marie from his mind and he didn’t know why.
Lori turned to see a man. He looked familiar, but she didn’t recall from where.
“Did you ever find the guitar girl?”
Oh, it was the boy who worked at the sandwich shop. Lori shook her head. “No.”
He held out a piece of paper. “But this is her, right?”
Taking it, Lori looked down at the girl with the blue striped into her dark hair, wire frames around hazel eyes, the intense look she had always had while she had been playing. Apparently she always looked like that.
Marie Thompson. Missing person. She looked at the boy. “Oh.”
And he looked as absorbed into this as she was.
Two days later and Lori realized that she had become a little more than obsessed with trying to find the girl.
Perhaps she was just worried for no reason. It had nothing to do with her, after all. The girl could have found another place to be, after all. She might have just been sick, staying home. Many reasons.
No one seemed to know the girl’s name. Lori felt rather badly about that. She had stopped by so often, listened, maybe even once or twice put in some spare bills into that open case. Yet she had never talked to her, not even once. Not to say anything about the music or anything.
What was her name?
“Excuse me? Miss?”
Donald gave his best customer service smile. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m sorry.” The woman hesitated. “I actually just wanted to ask you if you remember the girl that was always on the corner.”
Donald looked out through the window of the restaurant to the corner the woman suggested. He knew exactly who she was talking about. He didn’t know her name, of course, but she had been there almost every single time that he had been working. When the door would open and someone would come in, he could hear the guitar from across the street, barely from over the sound of the traffic.
Now that he thought about it, it had been a couple days since he had seen her there. That was odd.
He nodded. “I remember her. What is it? What about her?”
She didn’t look like she knew what to say at this point. “I was just wondering if you knew where she went?”
It was then that Donald considered that something might have been wrong.
The girl was always at the bus stop, playing guitar with her case open for tips, until one day she wasn’t.
Lori stared at the empty spot as people walked right through it, not noticing for an instant that they were stepping on such sacred ground. It wasn’t as though the guitar playing was amazing or anything, but it wasn’t bad. It was more of the tenacity that the girl had always showed. That she was always there. That she had been better yesterday than the first time Lori had heard her.
Then she was gone, no warning.
Lori shook her head and walked onward, deciding that it was just the timing. After all, the guitarist couldn’t have always been there. She had to be going to eat or something else. Wherever she lived. Lori believed that.
But when the guitarist wasn’t there the next day, Lori began to feel concerned.
On the third day, she started to look.