This week I warmly welcome author Stacy Juba, with an excerpt of her book Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, from the Characters at Crossroads series.
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Cheryl came up behind Kris. Her voice sounded sad and tired. “Please don’t tell my mother too much, even if you’re making progress. I don’t want to raise her hopes.”
Kris glanced back at Irene, who hunched on the couch, turning the locket over in her hand. “I’ll be careful with what I say. My aunt would’ve been eager, too.”
“How was your cousin killed?”
“She was strangled, kidnapped by a neighbor while walking alone. We were twelve.”
Cheryl heaved a sigh. “I’m sorry. I remember reading about that. It happened locally, didn’t it?”
“I know you’re a terrific writer. I couldn’t have been happier with the business story. I’m just concerned about my mother.”
“I understand,” Kris said. “I won’t let you down.”
She trudged out to her car and brushed off her windshield. She waited behind the steering wheel as the defroster warmed the interior. Not knowing Diana’s whereabouts must have tormented Irene. Kris’s family had agonized over Nicole’s disappearance. As one day blended into the next, Nicole had seemed further and further away.
Finding her was worse.
Kris had learned a new phrase that May, a litany that surged back into her mind, drumming to the beat of the windshield wipers. If only.
If only it hadn’t rained the afternoon Nicole had disappeared.
If only she hadn’t climbed into the car with Randolph Coltraine.
If only Aunt Susan had been home when Nicole called for a ride.
Kris swallowed the metallic taste in her mouth. If only I didn’t trick her.
She chose the long route home, driving fast. She hadn’t driven in New York and had forgotten the thrill of a climbing speedometer. Her first week back, she’d landed a speeding ticket.
Kris skidded onto the Fremont State College campus, her tires kicking up tufts of snow. She passed dorms, tennis courts and the library before parking in front of the deserted baseball field. White trees cast shapeless shadows across the broad expanse of snow.
A chunk of ice slid off the roof, hitting the front window. Kris jumped, her hand to her heart.
“No one’s out there,” she murmured, gazing into the woods. “Not now.”
Beyond those trees, Diana had lain dead.
Police had crowded the scene, their search over.
Middle-aged reporter Dex Wagner had scribbled in his notebook.
Twenty-five years ago today.
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