China sat in the small dorm room she shared with another girl and stared at the tattered flier in her hand. The innocent smile and kind eyes were filled with a hope and promise of a future that would never be. The joy and innocence was a stark contrast to the script at the bottom of the page; Found Dead. China could barely reconcile what she saw in the young girl’s face with what was written just below her name.
Yet, over the years she carried this dead girl’s photo with her wherever she went. In part, to remind her how lucky she was for escaping a fate worse than death and also to remind her of the continued atrocities that went on, with no one apparently knowing or caring enough to do anything about it.
China was so caught up in her maudlin thoughts she didn’t hear her roommate enter the room. Lauryn tossed her books on the bed and walked over to the desk where China sat.
“Why are you looking at that picture again?” Lauryn asked.
Lauryn’s voice startled her. China looked up to see Lauryn standing next to her, staring down at the picture in her hand.
China tucked the picture between the pages of a book on her desk. “How did your exam go?” She quickly changed the subject.
Lauryn sat in the chair next to China. They had become fast friends and shared a lot in the short time they’d known each other. Still, there were a few things about China’s past she wasn’t ready to divulge. But if she ever did, Lauryn would be the one she’d confide in. Lauryn’s compassion and empathy for another’s plight was what endeared China to her right away.
“Well, I won’t have to go to summer school,” Lauryn said with relief in her tone.
China knew she had been struggling with her economics class all year, so to finally pass the test that would determine her future was a relief for both of them. Especially since China spent countless hours tutoring Lauryn to ensure she was prepared.
“Good...now to celebrate,” China teased.
Lauryn let out a soft chuckle. “You...celebrate? That’ll be the day. I can barely get you to take your head outta those books long enough to catch a movie,” she teased back.
China stood. She wanted to do something that would take the uneasy feeling from her heart. The only thing she could think of was to go out to one of the popular hang-outs on campus and surround herself with people who were having a good time with friends, hoping some of their relaxed optimism would rub off on her.
China gave Lauryn an easy smile. “Well, there’s a first time for everything. If you can pass your class then I can go out and have a good time.”
Lauryn gave China a playful shove. “Funny. But since you’re game, I have to take you up on this offer. Who knows when you’ll ever want to socialize again?”
“Get ready. I’ll be ready soon,” China said as she went into the bathroom to shower and get ready for a night of fun.
China admired Lauryn’s reflection in the mirror as she watched her friend put on the finishing touches of her make-up. Lauryn was beautiful. Her caramel skin always made China feel inept with her pasty, white tone and the wild, curly texture of Lauryn’s hair made China look at her long, straight hair. It was as black as midnight, but with as much character as a dead cat. She hated her hair.
“Do you think I can get my hair to do that?” China asked as she watched Lauryn in the mirror.
Lauryn laughed out loud. She noticed the serious expression on China’s face and lightened up. “China, you’re Chinese and I’m African American. We couldn’t be more different if we were a dog and a giraffe. If you want your hair to do this,” Lauryn fluffed her hair in a semi-curly, afro style with multiple colors of brown, blond and caramel streaks, “you’ll have to stick your hand in an electrical socket.”
China supposed asking if she would ever have breasts and hips to fill out the same way would be another cause for Lauryn to laugh at her, so she refrained. But she envied her roommate’s beautiful figure and wild, crazy hair. And she wished one day, when she wore make-up, her face would reveal her beauty with the same drama as Lauryn’s.
But at the moment, China felt hopelessly inadequate in Lauryn’s presence. Maia, her guardian, constantly insisted she was beautiful, but she couldn’t see herself through Maia’s eyes. When China looked at herself in the mirror, she saw a frail, frightened little girl who was nothing short of an impostor, pretending to be normal.
Lauryn turned and looked at China. “Do you want me to fix your make-up?”
China’s face lit up. “Will you? I want to look like you.”
Lauryn shook her head. She walked over to China and urged her to sit in the chair so she could apply her make-up. “China...I’ll never understand your desire to be someone else. You’re perfect just the way you are.”
China sat in the chair and tilted her head upward as Lauryn began to work her magic. She wanted to explain how she would never be able to see herself as others saw her. How she could laugh at a joke, but inside her heart cried out in pain. But she was afraid to stir the ghosts of her past, so she remained silent as her demons ate away at her humanity, little by little.
“There...,” Lauryn said with a flourish.
She walked China over to look at herself in the mirror. For a brief moment, China was unable to recognize her own face. She was beautiful, at least in a practical sense. She looked different. China smiled at the reflection staring back at her.
“You did a wonderful job,” her voice came out in an awed whisper.
Lauryn turned to pack her make-up in her case. “I did very little. You are already stunningly beautiful...now if I can just get you to see it for yourself.”
China studied her face for a long moment. Her eyes were slanted upward, but the eye shadow minimized its sharpness and her face lost its chalky tone with a hint of blush applied to her cheeks. Her lips were the most dramatic...red. She liked this look on her. For the first time in her life, China did feel beautiful.
“Are you gonna stare at yourself in the mirror all night or are you gonna let the cute guys admire you?” Lauryn teased.
China turned and smiled at her friend. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, now let’s go,” Lauryn said as she playfully shoved China towards the door.
The chatter in the pub was different from what China imagined. Instead of the jovial atmosphere and cheerful laughter she craved, the place was dark and depressing with a somber mood in the air. It was enough to make her want to reconsider and ask to go back to the dorm room. But there was something else in the air that made her curious.
“What’s going on?” China asked Lauryn as they made their way through the crowded room to find seats.
Lauryn was a regular patron, so people made it a point to wave or speak to her as she made her way through. China realized Lauryn was not only popular, but well liked. Great...another thing to envy.
“I don’t know,” Lauryn spotted one of her friends and waved him over. “What’s going on?” she asked when he walked up.
He dug his hands in his front pockets and shrugged. “Don’t know. Heard a girl named Katie is missing. Her roommate reported her to the campus police today when she didn’t return from the library last night. But she apparently didn’t notice until this morning when she woke and her bed hadn’t been slept in.”
Lauryn looked puzzled. “Why is that strange? She could just be staying with her boyfriend or something. That happens all the time.”
“No, her boyfriend said he hadn’t seen her since the night before that,” Lauryn’s friend replied.
China stood in the background and listened as the two went back and forth with theory after theory only to come up with the same conclusion as the others. Something awful must have happened to Katie.
As she listened to the horrific possibilities conjured by the others around her, China felt a sense of purpose wash over her. It was an inexplicable reaction, but for the first time in her life she knew what to do. She was going to find out what happened to this girl named Katie.
Copyright © 2012 by Valerie Maarten
All Rights Reserved