Leave No Trace by Roxe Anne Peacock by Roxe Anne Peacock - Read Online

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Summary

Jessica Waters was looking forward to attending college in the fall with her best friend, Sandra Adams. But when Sandra disappears the night after prom, mutual friend, Jason Harris becomes the number one suspect. Jason isn't the only suspect in the tight-knit community of Carlsbad, New Mexico. Before Sandra disappeared, she confessed to having an affair with coach and teacher, Carl Lundstrum. Now Jessica is going to make it her mission to find out what happened to her best friend if it is the last thing she ever does.
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781603139250
List price: $3.99
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Leave No Trace - Roxe Anne Peacock

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Chapter 1

Jessica walked to the kitchen and leaned against the granite counter. She would never believe her best friend left on her own accord. She reached for the local newspaper, Pecos Current News with Sandra Adams’ picture on the front cover, declaring the police chief didn’t have any new leads in the whereabouts of Carlsbad Central High’s missing valedictorian.

Mom, I don’t care what anyone says. Sandra didn’t run away.

Maybe Sandra couldn’t take all the notoriety about her and Carl Lundstrum: her ruining his family and future, not to say the embarrassment she caused her mom is reason enough for anyone to disappear.

Jessica turned her liquid brown eyes quickly away from Sandra’s picture and tried to compose herself. Mr. Lundstrum, Carl, still denies he had an affair with her. You’re just being stubborn because you are on the school board. He wouldn’t have flirted with any of his students. He is the most thoughtful teacher and the best cross country coach our school has ever known. Besides, Sandra went to prom with Jason Harris, and everyone knows they are a couple. Our classmates crowned them king and queen. The entire school couldn’t have been wrong.

Alicia Waters sat at her cherry dining room table. She poured herself a cup of orange pekoe tea from her Shelly Strand tea pot. You went to prom with Robert Langley and you two are just friends.

Jessica joined her mom. She felt the need to defend her best friend’s reputation. I don’t know why Sandra said she had an affair with Carl. It doesn’t make sense.

Tears welled up in Jessica’s eyes. You know how important her valedictorian speech is to her. You helped her with it. Graduating with honors means everything. She wouldn’t miss it unless something terrible happened or worse, she’s dead.

Alicia paused before continuing with her motherly speech. Sandra didn’t share knowledge with you about her having an affair with a married man. And after hearing her confess to the school board, I really wonder if you know her.

Jessica picked her nails as she blinked back tears. If Sandra doesn’t return, how am I going to attend college without her? I don’t want anyone else to share my dorm. I don’t want a new best friend. Summer isn’t going to be the same without both her and Robert. I wish Robert wasn’t leaving for the Army so soon. At least he understands where I’m coming from. She secretly hoped they took their relationship to the next level soon.

Slumping down into the dining room chair, and still crying, she laid her head on the warm table. She couldn’t help but think about Sandra. Sandra prepared all her high school years for this moment. A college degree meant she could move her mom out of the trailer park. She wouldn’t have left her alone to worry. She loved her too much. Jessica wondered how she would ever convince her mom of this.

Alicia pushed her chair away from the table and walked over to her daughter’s side. She brushed Jessica’s long silky brown hair off of her forehead, leaning down to give her a kiss. You need to try to get a hold of yourself. You have a graduation to attend. There’s nothing you can do for Sandra at the moment.

She lifted her head up and looked into her mom’s eyes. This is going to be one of the worst days of my life. How do you think Sandra’s mom is going to feel hearing me give her daughter’s valedictorian speech?

* * * *

Jessica entered the school through the athletic equipment building’s door adjacent to the football field. She slowly walked down the corridor to exit the west side of the building. Oblivious to the laughter and excitement her classmates exhibited, she went through the motions without any awareness of her surroundings. It was as if she were a puppet and the puppet master was pulling the strings on her hand to make her wave and pulling at the strings on her head to make her nod. The voices around her became obscured. She couldn’t remember who’d passed her on the way down the hall. She vaguely heard someone calling her name off in the distance. Maybe the murmurs just sounded like her name.

The volume in the hall amplified the excitement of the evening. Hey, Jess, are you okay? Hey, wait up. Jason dodged his fellow classmates as he raced to catch up. He tapped her on the shoulder, startling her.

A loud scream broke the excitement. Their classmates turned and stared, shaking their heads as they continued down the hall.

I didn’t mean to scare you. Didn’t you hear me calling your name? I wanted to know if you heard about Marcia Collins.

Jessica felt drained. She couldn’t comprehend what anyone said. She responded in a monotone voice. No, Jason, what about Marcia? I plan to see her when I start work at Sally’s Diner.

He lowered his voice. Sandra’s not the only one Sally Cooper will need to replace. No one has seen Marcia since yesterday. She didn’t show up for graduation. I can’t believe you didn’t miss her.

Reality set in. Jessica’s bronze face paled. What? Marcia’s missing? Are you sure?

I’m positive.

What do you think happened?

Jason directed Jessica to the wall as a sheepdog would his flock and leaned against the cool hard surface. He stared directly in her eyes and whispered, A policeman found Marcia’s car at Sally’s Diner with her purse and last pay check still sitting on the front seat. Her wallet still had money. And the police found a note attached to the check with a message written by the diner’s new waitress, Rosa Martinez, who replaced Sandra.

Jessica pushed a strand of hair off her sweaty face and raised her eyebrows, giving Jason her full attention. What did the note say? Did it have any clues?

He glanced up and down the hall to make sure Carlsbad Central High’s geology teacher, Mark Ramos, couldn’t hear. The note said for Marcia to meet Mark as soon as possible at Carlsbad’s Iced Treasures.

The pair proceeded down the hall, meandering their way through the crowd. Jessica turned toward Jason with a puzzled expression. Why do you think Mark would want Marcia to meet him? She began playing with her pearl necklace, letting her fingertips caress the pearls Sandra had exchanged with her for good luck. Why would he want to meet her at the parlor? And why didn’t she take her own car?

Jason put his tan muscular arm around Jessica’s slender body, pulling her close. Rumor is one of her car wires was missing so it wouldn’t start. I think Marcia might have been on the graduation committee with Mark. Sally Cooper talked to the wrecker driver when he hooked up her car and he slipped her the info. I think the driver has the hots for Sally and tried getting in good with her.

Disgusting. What do you think happened to the wire? It didn’t just disappear on its own. Maybe when the car wouldn’t start, Marcia called Mark to pick her up?

They might have had some last minute errands to do for today’s graduation. You know she volunteered for everything. She’s the biggest brown-noser our school has.

Jessica found it difficult to keep up. Between the heat and Jason’s long strides, she had a hard time catching her breath. That is, when Marcia isn’t trying to make Sandra’s life miserable by making everything a competition. You know as well as I do they don’t get along.

Marcia told me she’s jealous of Sandra beating her in cross country.

Jessica reflected with some bitterness, saying, Oh, big deal. Doesn’t’ being number two on the team mean anything these days? Who’s perfect? Poor Marcia. Her being an inch taller than Sandra’s five foot five inch petite frame couldn’t compete with her determination to win. I feel sorry for her.

The thought of Sandra brought tears. She wiped them away before continuing. Sandra told me Marcia asked you to the prom the night after you already asked her. She told me they got into an argument the next day in front of Mark’s classroom. Didn’t Sandra tell you?

Jason inched closer to Jessica and put his arm around his friend, wiping away her tears with his fingertip. Sandra didn’t have to tell me. I was there. I don’t think Marcia ever got over my breaking up with her and dating her rival, Sandra.

Both of them got quiet. Jason stared ahead as they walked. He cleared his throat to talk. From what I hear, Sandra’s mom is trying to convince Police Chief Nathan Parker both Sandra and Marcia’s disappearances are related.

A chill came over Jessica, sending shivers through her sweaty body. Her best friend was still missing. She couldn’t deal with losing another classmate even if they weren’t close. What would all this do to Carl? No one would believe in his innocence now. Why did Mark want to talk to Marcia? Why did two of her classmates, who both were going to work at Sally’s Diner together, vanish? She would definitely have to work there now. Maybe she could find some clue to their disappearances if her mom didn’t make her quit before she even started.

* * * *

As they exited the school door, the wind blew sand into every pore exposed on her body. Her white dress, now damp and turning a beige color from the dust, clung to her.

Jessica paused; the memory of Sandra flooded her thoughts. She could picture Sandra standing with her bright blue eyes and long blond hair glistening like gold as she tried on her white dress. She and Sandra had gone on several shopping trips over to White Sands Mall in Alamogordo, New Mexico. While there they both purchased their white dresses in hopes of deflecting some of the New Mexico desert heat while they were sitting out on the football field during graduation. They even purchased the same single-strand pearl necklace and a pair of pearl earrings which they exchanged for good luck. They had talked about how special this day would be.

Earth to Jess. Hey… Jason snapped his fingers in her face.

I’m sorry. Did you say something?

Forget it. It wasn’t important.

There was a long pause.

Jason, do you think a customer at Sally’s Diner knows Marcia’s or Sandra’s whereabouts?

I’m not sure, but it’s definitely a strong possibility.

Jessica stopped walking and turned toward Jason. She put her hands firmly on her hips. Then I’m going to make it my business to question everyone at the diner.

Hold on! You can’t believe I had anything to do with their disappearances.

She shoved her chin up and planted her hands on her hips. I’m just saying…I need to find Sandra and Marcia.

Are you crazy? He glanced around the school parking lot. Be careful what you wish for. You might be getting yourself in over your head. We don’t know who we’re dealing with. Don’t go doing anything stupid.

Are you concerned or is this a threat?

Jason exhaled loudly. Stop freaking out. I’m just saying I don’t want to lose another friend.

I see my parents. I’ll catch you at the diner, she said coolly.

He turned his back to her and kept walking.

Jessica strolled to her parents’ car. Her mind kept wandering to how she and Sandra had coordinated everything for their dorm right down to the same comforters and sheets. They even hoped to get into the same sorority at college. Now Marcia is missing. And Jason is the last person known to have been seen with Sandra, and he had dated both classmates. She would have to question him, too.

Chapter 2

Jessica usually loved riding in her parents’ silver Chrysler Sebring convertible with the top down on summer nights, but not tonight. The ride home was deathly silent. It felt more like they returned from a funeral instead of her graduation.

Jessica walked into the house and poured a glass of cold water from the water cooler. Her hands trembled as she set it on the counter.

Mom, I barely got through my graduation without Sandra, but couldn’t the school board have let Carl attend?

Alicia walked behind Jessica, placing her hands on her daughter’s shoulders to massage away her tension. I’m sorry about Sandra, honey. She has been part of this family since your first day of kindergarten. You know the board is under a lot of pressure from the community.

Her father piped up, I have to agree with your mom this time. Sorry, honey.

Jessica turned around and gave her mom a hug. In her heart she knew her mom wasn’t to blame for Carl being dismissed. And she certainly wasn’t responsible for Sandra’s disappearance.

You should get some rest. We have to get up early and pack for our trip to Santa Fe, honey.

Mom, I’m so sorry for bothering you with my problems. You have enough to worry about with Grandma. Do you think Grandpa will be all right without her?

Honey, it’s not going to be easy for him placing Grandma in an Alzheimer’s facility. But he isn’t physically or emotionally strong enough to take care of her any longer.

Do you think she’ll even remember me?

Alicia cleared her throat. There might be times when she remembers us, but for the most part, Grandpa says she doesn’t even remember him.

Do you think we’ll find a suitable Alzheimer’s facility for Grandma?

It took a few minutes for Alicia to respond. We’ll do our best. We have several appointments set up to visit facilities before we make our final decision. Don’t worry. We won’t leave Grandma anywhere unless we’re comfortable. Now try to forget about all of this.

Mom, is it okay if I invite Robert over for awhile? I promise we won’t make too much noise. We’ll sit out on the patio. He’s leaving early in the morning for South Carolina.

Alicia sighed. When are you going to pack?

I promise I’ll get up early. He’s…he’s going away and I might never see him again. She began to choke up.

She turned, not wanting her mom to see how much her heart ached. But she also knew joining the army is what Robert wanted. His father had been a lifer, and she knew it was in his blood.

I guess. But don’t stay up too late.

I promise.

It didn’t take Jessica two seconds to punch in Robert’s number. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach.

Hello.

Robert, do you have time to come over? I…really need you.

You must have heard about Marcia. I was just about to give you a call.

I did. I really need you to hold me for awhile before you leave tomorrow. How am I going to get through the day without you? Jessica began crying.

Are you going to be okay until I get there, my sweet Jess?

I’ll be fine. It’s just…never mind. I’ll see you in a few. Staring off into space, she held the phone in her hand. She didn’t know how much more she could endure. Her high school days had just ended, her best friend and another classmate were missing, and now the guy she loved was going off to war.

Her parents retired for the evening. They never stayed up much past ten. And with all the turmoil in her life lately, she hadn’t wanted a graduation party nor wanted to attend any.

She changed into jean shorts and a blue cotton tee shirt. And then she washed her makeup off and flipped her hair into a pony tail wrapped in a scrunchy.

It wasn’t long before she heard Robert knocking on their patio door before he entered. This had become a tradition at their house with their friends. They never felt the need to lock their doors.

How are you doing, Jess?

I’m doing better now that you’re here. Would you like a glass of ice water with lemon before we go out on the deck? She headed in the direction of the kitchen.

Water with lemon sounds great. Sorry I missed your graduation. I couldn’t believe it when I heard Marcia’s missing, too." He walked over to Jessica and lifted her head to meet his hazel eyes and gently kiss her. He towered over her with his six-foot-one muscular frame; wearing his army fatigues and his sandy blond hair donning an army cap, he lifted her off the ground to give her another kiss.

Oh, Robert, how are we ever going to make it until you get back? Jessica handed him his glass of water and grabbed the tea she made for herself.

They headed out to the patio and placed two lounge chairs together. Robert cleared his throat. Jess, I’m worried about your safety while I’m gone. Promise me you’ll be careful.

She laughed…hysterically. You’re worried about me? How do you think I feel about you?

I’m sorry I won’t be here to protect you. He reached over the chair and pressed his lips against the side of her cheek.

Goosebumps traveled up and down her body, making her feel tingly all over. She leaned over and kissed his rough unshaven cheek, then moved to his lips. The first kiss felt soft, gentle, and sweet. He pulled her closer, kissing the side of her neck, and then he kissed her cheek, as his hands moved up and down her arms and shoulders. This time his kiss lingered on her lips, hungry for the taste of her. Their breathing became heavy as they heated up.

He pulled back. Whoa, as much as I’d like to continue, I think we’d better cool it for a few before I lose control. Lean your head on me, he said, fanning himself.

Jessica laid her head on Robert’s shoulder as he softly caressed her arm. He had already finished boot camp and now it would be weeks if not months before they would be in each others’ arms again. She didn’t want to ruin her time with him. Neither spoke of Sandra or Marcia the rest of the night.

* * * *

Jessica…phone, her mom said quietly as she entered her bedroom, still in her lavender cotton night gown.

Her eyes were blood shot and she still hadn’t finished packing for the trip.

She rolled over in bed to reach for the phone with her eyes still half shut. Yawning, she whispered, Who is it?

I don’t know, honey. I didn’t recognize the voice.

Maybe someone has found Sandra and Marcia. After fluffing her pillows, she propped herself up in bed and reached for the phone.

Hello.

Hi, Jessica, this is Sally Cooper over at the diner.

Confused, Jessica looked at the clock. Had she slept in? What could Sally want at seven a.m.? Maybe she wanted to know if she knew anything about Marcia. Jason Harris had got them all their jobs. Hi, Sally. I don’t know where Marcia is if that’s why you’re calling. She couldn’t stop yawning.