Girl Last Seen by Nina Laurin is a debut psychological thriller replete with sharp twists and turns, and particularly perfect for fans of Paula Hawkins, Gillian Flynn, and Chelsea Cain (available June 20, 2017).
Two missing girls. Thirteen years apart.
Olivia Shaw has been missing since last Tuesday. She was last seen outside the entrance of her elementary school in Hunts Point wearing a white spring jacket, blue jeans, and pink boots.
I force myself to look at the face in the photo, into her slightly smudged features, and I can't bring myself to move. Olivia Shaw could be my mirror image, rewound to thirteen years ago.
If you have any knowledge of Olivia Shaw's whereabouts or any relevant information, please contact…
I've spent a long time peering into the faces of girls on missing posters, wondering which one replaced me in that basement. But they were never quite the right age, the right look, the right circumstances. Until Olivia Shaw, missing for one week tomorrow.
Whoever stole me was never found. But since I was taken, there hasn't been another girl.
And now there is.
LAINE, PRESENT DAY
Normal is something you can fake really well, if you try hard enough. You have to start by convincing yourself, and everyone else will follow, like sheep over a cliff. You act as normal as possible; you go through the motions. That veneer of normalcy may be tissue-paper thin, but you’ll soon find out that no one is in any hurry to scratch the surface, let alone test it for weak spots. You can go through your entire life like this, from one menial action to the next, never breaking the pattern, and no one will be the wiser. At least, that’s what I’m counting on.
The day I see Olivia Shaw for the first time, I know it’s not going to last much longer.
Usually, I get to the grocery store at seven and leave at two, either to go for a run or to nap until my shift starts at my second job. At least two runs a week, usually three, and when I don’t go between shifts, I go in the morning, getting up early. When I told this to another cashier, she said she wished she had my discipline, and I nodded along because what are you supposed to say to that? Since then, I try not to talk to people much about anything I do outside of work. I’ve had this job for al- most six months now, which is a long time for me, and soon it’ll become strange that I don’t socialize.
That girl isn’t here today. I haven’t seen her in a while; maybe the manager changed her shift, maybe she got fired—I don’t know. The manager is Charlene, and she looks like a Charlene, orthopedic shoes and perm and eternal frosty lipstick in a shade that should have been discontinued back in 1989. I suppose she thinks of herself as some sort of mother hen figure, but I noticed the look she gave me when I came in fifteen minutes late. The air outside is like breathing a swimming pool, and my hair is frizzing, stubbornly curling despite being racked with hot tools only an hour ago. I’m still cold and clammy even though I changed into my uniform, the purple shirt with the store logo over my right boob, my name printed underneath: LAINEY M., the M. because I’m not the only Lainey here; the chubby girl who had so innocently tried to be my friend was Lainey R. Still is, I guess, if maybe not at this store. That was her ice- breaker: Oh look, we have the same name—what are the odds? I didn’t tell her no one calls me Lainey, no one important anyway.
It doesn’t matter. I didn’t even choose the name for myself. They picked it at random at the hospital, some soap opera heroine’s first name and a generic surname to go with it. As common and unremarkable as possible. Hiding me in plain sight—that was the rationale.
And it worked, the hiding thing, at least until today. Today, Charlene the manager pushes a slim stack of the usual flyers for me to put up beside the double glass doors of the entrance and exit. I’m still a little slow, and I take them, automatically, forgetting that it’s not Sunday and I just did that, the specials for the week: ground beef, three ninety-nine a pound; condensed cream of tomato, three for four dollars. Only when my gaze slips down do I see what they are, and my brain grinds to a halt.
It’s nothing unusual. Nothing that hasn’t happened before, twice, in the time I’ve worked in this store. One was the six-year-old boy who was found a week later, whose dad skipped town in defiance of shared guardian- ship, the other the elderly woman who disappeared in the neighborhood and was feared to have killed herself. No one knows what happened to her, least of all me, except one day I came into work and the poster was gone, replaced by more of the weekly specials, by cantaloupes and broccoli and store-brand chips. For all I know, she did kill herself. But she’s not the kind of missing person who interests me.
But today, I look down at the stack of papers in my hands and I see her, Olivia Shaw, age ten.
It’s a typical Seattle PD missing-person poster, with the neat columns of stats underneath. The original picture must have been high quality, full color, but the printer was running out of ink, so the colors bleed into one another like one of those Polaroid photos.
Olivia Shaw has been missing since last Tuesday. She was last seen outside the entrance of her elementary school in Hunts Point wearing a white spring jacket and pink boots. My brain registers the information on autopilot, searing every word into my memory, and in the meantime, a part of me is distantly, methodically, checking off the items one by one. Like pieces of a kaleidoscope, they all click together.
If you have any knowledge of Olivia Shaw’s whereabouts, or any relevant information, please contact . . .
Images surface in my mind moments before dissolving into black dust, like a dream I’m trying to remember. I spent a long time in the last ten years peering into the faces of girls on missing-person posters, wondering which one replaced me in the basement. But they were never quite the right age, the right look, the right circumstances. Until Olivia Shaw, age ten, missing for one week tomorrow.
From my many sleepless nights of research, I know that most kidnapping victims are dead within forty-eight hours.
You were lucky, Ella.
I force myself to look at the face in the photo, into her slightly smudged features, and I can’t bring myself to move.
Olivia Shaw could be my mirror image, rewound to thirteen years ago. She has a wild halo of dark curls around her head—like mine, when I don’t torture them into submission with a hot iron. Dark skin, like mine. Her eyes—I can’t distinguish the color from the blurry pixels of the poster, but the description says they’re gray.
The sound of my name, my other, new name, takes a while to reach me inside my bubble. It’s my boss. It feels like my spine has turned to brittle stone, and my neck might snap if I turn my head too fast. I register confusion on her face.
“The tape,” she says, blinking her sparse, mascara-clotted eyelashes.
The tape? Right. The tape. Without realizing I’m doing it, I scratch the inside of my wrist under my sleeve. Charlene holds out the clear Scotch tape, her expression shifting closer and closer to annoyance. It takes five steps to cross the distance between us so I can reach out and take the tape from her hand. Doing this, my sleeve rides up and my wrist bone pops out of the fitted cuff. Her eyes flicker to it for just a fraction of a second, the same way people sneak a glimpse of disfigured faces: staring without staring, looking away with such intensity you wish they’d just glare outright, get their fix of the morbid, and get it over with. I can’t wear fingerless gloves here; “accessories” aren’t allowed by the dress code. So I’ve developed a habit of always tugging my sleeves down, a tic that persists outside of this place too.
Probably not the worst habit to have, all things considered.
The sound of tape peeling off the roll raises the hairs on my arms, and I hold the poster in place as I tape its corners to the glass outside the entrance, taking too much care to make sure it’s perfectly straight. As if that will help her. I know it’s all an excuse for me to reread the text, examine the photo, burn it all into my retinas forever and ever and ever. To add Olivia Shaw to my ever-expanding mental collection of the disappeared. Except a part of me already knows one of these things isn’t like the others.
The automatic doors of the entrance hiss open as I pass through, my muscles humming with tension. “Charlene,” I hear myself say, “I’m going to go for a smoke.”
She says something about opening the store in five minutes, but I won’t take longer than that. I’m already on my way out, patting down my pockets before the door has a chance to slide aside and let me out, wondering what I did with my emergency pack of smokes. It might be in the pocket of my jacket, which is in the back of the store, stuffed in the shoe box–sized locker in the employees’ lounge. Too bad. I don’t think a cigarette will do it for me right now anyway. Instead, I take my phone out of my pocket, stare at the screen until it blurs, key in the code and screw it up three times until it unlocks. Open the browser and start feverishly typing in the search window.
Another thing I know from my late-night Internet for-ays: kidnappers, rapists, serial killers—they don’t just stop one day. They are stopped. Whoever stole me— stole Ella—was never found. But in the last ten years, there hasn’t been another girl.
And now there is.
Copyright © 2017 Nina Laurin.
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Nina Laurin is a bilingual (English/French) author of suspenseful stories for both adults and young adults. She got her BA in Creative Writing at Concordia University, in her hometown of Montreal, Canada. You can learn more at thrillerina.wordpress.com and on Twitter @girlinthetitle.