As she stepped out of the front door of her apartment building, bracing for the chilly temperatures, the wind, and the ever-assailing sounds of the city, Darcy felt a surge of purpose. Although she was confused about the source and direction of her feelings, she was sure of their presence, and it was a driving presence at that, as if the emotion of it was enough to push her out the door regardless of her desire to go.
The security system buzzed as the lock on the door of the building was reset after she exited and bounced down the old, broken concrete stairs outside the front door and turned left past the wrought iron railing in front of the building, intentionally planning to take the long way to school – an extra two blocks of walking time – so she could pass the townhome where the girls had been found.
Darcy was born in the city and for all of her life had been subject only to its sights and sounds, never traveling farther than a few hours from her apartment, and then only with her father. She liked it that way, the comfort of the chaos and the routine of the buses and trains and the neighborhood businesses. The city was comfortable like a well-worn jacket and in many ways made her feel secure, despite the ever-present threats.
Charlie, Darcy’s father, had always emphasized the predictable routines and the safety of a life that followed worn paths and depended only on those things that proved themselves reliable. Especially after her mother, Rachel, had been killed, Charlie had reined in everything about Darcy’s life, forcing her into time slots and pathways that he knew and felt he could safely control.
Darcy was familiar with the intricacies of her east-side neighborhood and felt confident walking alone almost anywhere within its fourteen by twelve block area because she and Charlie had spent so much time together walking these streets, but she knew he would not appreciate her altering the normal route to school. Any such impulsive behavior always made him nervous. She just had to see that townhome again, though, and the extra two blocks would give her more time to think as she walked to school.
She had purposely left a few minutes early just to be sure she wouldn’t be late to Mrs. Graham’s American Government class. She liked American Government and Mrs. Graham was one of her favorite teachers, so she always wanted to be there, but mostly she just hated being late because she was terrified of walking into a full classroom and the way it made her the center of attention as the teacher took the time to investigate the reason for the tardiness and to write a detention slip before she walked past all the other students to her fourth row desk.
Darcy was a better than average student, but she was far from a superstar. In fact, she couldn’t stand the thought of standing out in any situation. Her preferred way of life was to blend in. She liked to sit near the back of the classroom, but not in the last row. She enjoyed school and tried to do well, but intentionally avoided prominence and almost never raised her hand or made any special requests.
After Rachel died when Darcy was only eleven, the attention Darcy received – mostly sideways glances and whispers between other students as they walked by her, and visits to the school counselor’s office in the middle of classes, and days away from school so she could just stay home and cry, resulting in horrific hushed conversations between her father and the school staff about how she was causing so much inconvenience and at-risk for a miserable, horrible life without the right intervention – was more than enough to convince her that she never wanted to be in the spotlight again, for any reason.
Charlie’s love for her, and the way they clinged to each other through those days made all of the difference in getting Darcy through it, and Darcy knew that well, but that certainty had made her fearful, as well. She was afraid that, now that her world had been shattered, anything was possible, and God forbid, she might just lose her father, too. That possibility had made her cling to him all the more, and they relied upon each other with mutual fervor.
On this Thursday, though, with her seventeenth birthday forty-seven days behind her, and nearly finished with her junior year, and constant talk of future destinations circling among her classmates, and the invasive way tragedy had again become real to her, striking just two doors away from her own building on Monday, she had become emboldened to be just a little impulsive. She had to see that building again, and force herself to think more clearly about those little girls, and to try to discern some way to help – some way to convince her father that they had to help.