I was a dreadfully lonely child.
I grew up in a small town, populated mostly by older folks who were too stubborn to move away, even as the neighborhood died around them. There weren’t many young people there having kids. My graduating class was only forty people. As you can see, there wasn’t exactly an abundance of people my age to interact with. Besides that, I was awfully shy, and it got worse after my sister ran away when she was sixteen.
I did, however, have one very good friend who lived in town, and I saw him almost every day.
My mom was in charge of our little town’s library. When I was a kid, she’d sometimes take me to work with her. When I got older, I usually walked to the library after school to do my homework and hang out – I didn’t like being at home alone. Whenever I came to the library, Mr. Felt would be there, waiting to see me.
Okay, his name wasn’t really Mr. Felt – his last name was Svelte, but as a child I couldn’t pronounce it, so I called him “Mr. Felt.” He thought it was funny and sweet, and he gave me special permission to call him that – just me. I always felt special.
Mr. Felt wasn’t a bad man, he was just a little odd. He was quite old, you see, and very lonely. My mom told me he didn’t have any family left, which is a shame because he really loved children. So he would come and play with me whenever I was at the library. He was also a little… slow, I guess you could say. He didn’t read or write very well, so he liked when I would read him picture books. It was really like having another grandfather, and even as I started getting older he and I remained close.
He was very kind to me after my sister ran away. I was about twelve years old when it happened, and it hurt me deeply. We were very close when we were growing up, but she’d been fighting a lot with our parents lately. After all, she was the more rebellious child. One morning, we woke up to a note on her bed saying she was leaving and never coming back, don’t bother trying to find her. She didn’t even say good-bye to me. I always thought she’d come back, or at least send me a letter or something, but she didn’t.
Mr. Felt used to watch my sister at the library, too, when mom was busy. She wasn’t as close to him as I was, but he always remembered her. After she ran away, he would ask her about me sometimes. “Has Chrissie come back yet?” He’d ask me. And when I said no, he’d look so sad, as though his heart was breaking.
As I got older, I started to see Mr. Felt less and less. It wasn’t a conscious thing on my part, of course, I just got busier with school. I didn’t usually come to the library after school let out. Once in a while, however, I would still come down to see him. I could tell he missed me when I wasn’t there, and that made me feel just a little guilty.
One day when I was fifteen, my mom called me just as school was ending and asked me to come down to the library to watch it for a few minutes while she ran errands. As soon as I got there, I saw Mr. Felt waiting for me. He didn’t look as excited to see me as usual, though. He looked tired, and pale, and… almost nervous.
I situated myself behind the big library desk and we started chatting as my mom grabbed her purse and headed out the door. Mr. Felt seemed distracted, and I could tell something was wrong. He waited until my mother had been gone for a few minutes before speaking up.
“Emma, do you miss Chrissie?”
Ah, so that’s what it was. I remembered that it had been around this time that she had left home. He must have been worried about me.
I gave him the least pained smile I could and said, “Yes, I miss her a lot. But I’m sure she’ll contact me one day, when she’s ready.”
I thought that would make him feel better, but he just looked more distressed.
“If I could tell you where she was… would you want to come see her?”
I could feel myself stiffening just a bit as I looked at Mr. Felt. I was confused, but also a little unsettled. It occurred to me that, by this time, Mr. Felt was getting very old, and his comment could be taken as a sign of dementia. After all, he used to spend time with Chrissie, too. Maybe he was getting confused. The thought broke my heart a little.
Whatever he saw in my face broke his resolve and he said, “No, no, never mind, never mind.”
Before I could stop him, he turned around and rushed out the door. I was bewildered and more than a little worried, so I gave my mom a full account of our conversation when she came back a few minutes later.
“That is strange,” she said, frowning a little. “Well, I know he hasn’t been feeling well lately.” She sighed. “I’ll have Mike go out and check on him tomorrow.”
‘Mike’ is more properly known as ‘Officer Adkins,’ but since we live in such a small town everyone just calls him Mike. He’s our police chief and he never has very much to do, so we knew he wouldn’t mind checking up on Mr. Felt.
So my mom gave Mike a call and he promised to call us back in the morning with an update.
When I woke up the next morning, my mom informed me that I didn’t have to go to school.
I was confused at first, but the pallor on her face told me that something had happened. Then I remembered the events of the day prior and I asked, “Mr. Felt?”
My mom nodded.
“Is he okay?”
My mom hesitated before shaking her head. I could tell there was something she wasn’t telling me.
“Mom, what happened?”
She finally spoke again. “We’re still not entirely sure. I’ll tell you as soon as I know something.”
I learned several things that day.
The first: Mr. Felt had died during the night.
The second: Mr. Felt had committed suicide.
The third: His was not the only corpse in the house.
It wasn’t confirmed until the next day, which meant that I got another day off of school. Oh, joy.
The body was completely decayed, with only a mottled skeleton left behind. But her jewelry had fared a little better, so that was how she had to be identified. I wasn’t allowed to view the body – my parents were worried it would “damage” me. As if I hadn’t been damaged enough.
It was her. My parents didn’t even have to tell me, because they brought the necklace she’d been wearing back with them. It was a silver chain with a pink heart-shaped jewel. Mom had helped me buy it to give to Chrissie for her fourteenth birthday.
And all this time, I thought she didn’t care.
Mr. Felt left behind no note, no confession. The police had to piece together a story. They told us that Mr. Felt had most likely forged the runaway note in Chrissie’s handwriting and the kidnapped her. Based on the autopsy, the coroner concluded that Mr. Felt had snapped Chrissie’s neck, probably not long after he kidnapped her. They had some theories about why he might have taken her, but I don’t want to talk about them. You can probably guess what they were, anyway.
The story didn’t quite make sense to me. They were sure the note was forged, but when I found it on her bed that morning so many years ago, I was sure it was her handwriting. I mean, I’d know her handwriting anywhere, and that was it. And how did he get it into our house anyway, without us knowing?
Underneath it all, though, there was something else bothering me. I just couldn’t believe that Mr. Felt would do something like that. He was so sweet and kind to me. And he loved Chrissie. No, not like… like that. He loved all kids. I didn’t believe he’d do something like that.
At least, not at first.
But as time went on, I was left with no choice but to believe it. There was no other explanation, and I needed one, because my sister couldn’t be dead for no reason. I wouldn’t accept that. I needed someone to blame, I guess. So I blamed Mr. Felt. And I hated him.
It’s been ten years. I’m on my own now, although not necessarily of my own volition. After college, I wanted to move back to town to stay near my parents, but they insisted I go out into the world. Chrissie would have wanted it, they said. They promised they would be fine, but I still call them about once a day.
I’m all right, I guess. My days pass pretty quickly. I like my job and my coworkers. I have some good friends here in the city. I go on dates once in a while. They always ask why I wear a cheap pink heart necklace, but I never tell them.
I try to leave those awful memories in the past as much as I can. Some days I am successful. Others…
Well. We won’t talk about the other days.
My life had reached a comfortable equilibrium when Mike called me up about a week ago, digging up the horror I thought we’d buried six feet under.
After we exchanged the usual pleasantries, I got to the point and asked him what he wanted.
“Emma, I… haven’t been completely honest with you. I know that we all promised at the station to tell you any news we got about your sister’s case, but there was something I couldn’t tell you because… because at the time you were too young. You’re old enough now. I thought about getting rid of it, but it’s not really my place to do so. You have every right to know and make the decision.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I wanted to ask him what he meant, at least on some level, but a much greater part of me wanted to hang up and forget the whole thing, let whatever secret he was going to tell me die with him, because I didn’t want to know.
He took note of my silence and pressed on.“ It’s true that, at first, we didn’t find a note or confession or anything. Well, we still haven’t technically found one… I’ll get to that in a minute. It took us a long time to go through his house, of course, and the first few look-throughs we missed a few things. In the second week of the investigation, I found an envelope.”
My breath stopped and I knew what he was going to say before he opened his mouth again.
“It’s addressed to you.”
For a long time, I didn’t say anything. He waited patiently, as though he hadn’t just dragged me back into a nightmare I thought had long since been subdued. By the time I answered, at least five silent minutes had passed. I felt every one.
That was just the question he was waiting for, I guess, because the next words came out in a rush, as though they had been perched on the precipice of his tongue, waiting to fall and become my burden. “I don’t know. It’s sealed and I never opened it. Maybe I should have, but… it didn’t seem right. Nobody else in the station knows about it, either, because I never submitted it as evidence. I thought I’d give it to you when the time was right. I wanted to destroy it so many times, but the choice is yours. If you ask me to, I’ll shred it, right here and now. If you want me to read it, I’ll open it and read it to you. If you want me to send it to you, I will. It’s your call.” Just then, his voice took on a pleading edge, and he added, “Just tell me what to do.”
I wanted him to shred it. I didn’t want to read whatever sick, twisted shit that man had written. But a different part of me answered, welling up from somewhere deep inside. I heard a version of my own voice say, “Send it.”
I got the letter two days ago. Life is funny, isn’t it? I’ve been locked in my room, drinking all the alcohol I own, thinking about just how fucking *funny* it is.
Opening the letter was hard. Unfolding it was harder. Reading it was the hardest, and I’ll never be able to forget what it said.
I’m sorey about Chrissie. I didnt want to hurt her. Please beleve me.
She came to my house one nite. She said she was goin to run away. She asked me to watch over you becus you wud miss her.
I new you wud be sad if she ran away, so I tried to make her stay. I told her not to make you sad, but she didnt lissen. She tried to run away, so I grabbed her. But she fell. There were some stares goin down to the basement and she fell down them. I tried to take care of her and make her better, but she never woke up.
Im sorey that I hurt Chrissie. I didnt mean it. I just wanted her to stay. I just wanted you to be happy.
Its all my fault. Im sorry. Please forgive me.
Your Mr. Felt.
Now those pieces that didn’t fit together are rearranged, and everything is coming together. I know that I need to tell my parents, tell the police. I’m sure Mike will get in trouble for withholding evidence. I don’t know if he should or not. He was only trying to do the right thing. I guess I don’t understand why he didn’t tell my parents about the note, or why he waited this long. But it hardly matters now. It’s far too late.
I don’t think I’ve stopped crying since I read that letter. All this time I spent hating the one person who wanted more than anything to give me my sister back.
If the world is out to break my heart, it’s certainly done a good enough job.
I know he can’t read this, but I just want to say:
I’m so, so sorry, Mr. Felt.