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High school was different without Dana. She was the party girl who lit up every room she was in. Everyone loved that winning smile, those long, golden locks, and that perfectly slim figure.
She had gone missing three years ago. Nobody knew what happened, she just disappeared after a party one night. Her father was distraught, her mother committed suicide, and her brother dropped out of school and got addicted to every drug he could get his hands on.
Dana's disappearance ruined their lives. Our teacher, Mr. Lawson, got blamed for it and was sent to prison with little to no evidence. The rumour was he kidnapped her and murdered her in the woods somewhere, but nobody knew the real truth. Some people say she's still locked in his basement, eating rats and screaming to be let out. Brett said he heard it one night, but I knew it wasn't true.
"She would be eighteen now," her father mumbled to himself as he paced back and forth across the streets. He told anyone who would listen that she had to still be alive, but three years later it's hard to imagine anything other than the worst.
But then one day she came back.
Jessica, Brittany, and I were sitting at our usual table in the diner when it happened. Jessica was staring out the window, waiting to see if the dark fog would finally clear...
And then she saw her.
Dana was standing across the street with a bright smile on her face, staring in our direction. We just glanced at each other, wondering how she had come back after everything that had happened. "It's not possible," Brittany said, tears welling in her eyes, "how could anyone survive that?"
Well, apparently Dana did.
For two days the town was buzzing with her return. It was all anyone could talk about, besides the speculation on how she had managed to keep herself alive after all this time.
I stayed away from her. My mother suggested going over to her house to see how she was doing, but I insisted Dana might need some time alone to re-adjust to being back home. My mother shook her head and then gave me a look. "Or maybe she needs a friend?"
I tried, I really did.
One morning before school I stood on her doorstep, trying to build up the courage to look her in the face. Three separate times I raised my fist and considered pounding on the door, but I couldn't do it. There was something in the pit of my stomach telling me not to.
Instead, I turned my back on her and left.
The rumours were flying at school and we were the center of attention. Being her best friends, Jessica, Brittany, and I apparently should have known what had happened by now. They kept asking us questions about her: "When is she coming back to school?" "How does she look?" "Is it true she was living somewhere else under a different name?"
I wanted to bring it up with my friends. I wanted to talk about it with them, but we couldn't even look at each other anymore.
While waiting in line at Frank's Coffee the middle aged-women in front of me thought maybe she'd held herself up in a cabin just outside the neighbouring town. When I was sitting in the waiting room at Dr. Klineman's office, a boy from school asked me if she'd escaped from a basement somewhere.
I told him I didn't know. I hadn't talked to Dana yet. If I'm being quite honest, I was afraid to look her in the eyes. Those dark, sunken eyes.
I didn't want to ask her how she survived. I didn't want to know how she kept herself alive after all those stab wounds. I didn't want her to tell me how she managed to crawl out of that six-foot hole we buried her in.