Word Count: 500
Initially, Gabe didn’t make the connection. He just knew the bank teller’s face jangled something at the back of his mind. ‘Star’ her nameplate stated. Having been a weekly patron for the past three years, Gabe was certain she was new. So where had he seen her?
Back at home, her image wouldn’t leave him alone. Realization hit him like a baseball bat to the gut. It could be her. It actually could.
At fourteen, Gabe had wanted to be a police detective. A dozen years later, he taught biology. But he still had the files gathered during his period of fascination with missing persons. Specifically, children. Did they still put faces on milk cartons? Or had the internet made that obsolete? He found the poster almost immediately. “Carolann” had become an obsession of sorts, partly because they shared a birthday. He tried visualizing Carolann twelve years older, erasing the smooth innocence of her cheeks, hardening her eyes with wariness tainting the friendly hazel. Star’s hair was swept to one side, curled, dyed that purplish mahogany so popular these days. Carolann’s hung in long, straight, mousy-brown pigtails in the photograph her parents had circulated. Nothing you could do to disguise that broken nose, though, even if the broad forehead hid beneath the new hairstyle. And the lip pulling slightly to the left, forming a crooked smile, half-mocking, half-inviting.
It could be her.
Gabe wanted to dash right back to the bank and confront her. His better judgment won out. Tomorrow would be soon enough. After some investigating. Through the internet, he learned Carolann had never been found. Her father called off the search after five years. Her mother was institutionalized three years after her disappearance. According to accounts Gabe read, it was never determined whether Carolann had been kidnapped or run away, nor whether she might still be alive. She was the youngest of four children in a “happy, loving” family. Everyone assumed the worst. The story was sensational news twelve years ago, with everyone from the father to the oldest sister to the mailman implicated. As the decade moved on, concerns for Carolann diminished, until she became a half-remembered tale; just another girl from Buffalo who went missing.
Standing at Star’s window, Gabe handed over the withdrawal slip. He studied her for a moment, her attention focused on the transaction, not on making an impression, not on being the friendly teller. The wariness slipped away. When she turned her head, the mahogany curls moved enough to reveal a shooting star tattoo. The telltale strawberry mark blended in, but Gabe was looking for it. A tiny gold scorpion dangled from a chain. “Scorpio?” Gabe asked. “Me too. When’s your birthday?”
“November thirteenth,” Star replied.
“Mine, too,” Gabe whispered. “Shouldn’t you make that phone call, Carolann?”
“Star,” she blurted, her hand instinctively moving to her neck, the tattoo.
“People change all kinds of things to hide themselves, Carolann. Their name, their hair. A birthday, though…it’s the connection to who we are.”