Lori Rashford




Smile


 

     I remember being so excited when the letter came.  I had not told my parents that I applied to the University of Chicago because I did not want to hear about my ridiculous dreams of something better for the millionth time.  Before it came I was working at the drive thru at the local fast food restaurant; there was only one.  Rumor had it I was to be promoted to Assistant Manager; the youngest one in the history of Waterloo.  My parents were so proud of me.  And then there was Johnny.  I wasn’t supposed to know about him talking to my dad about marriage, but I did.  So there was the rest of my life; married to the star football player, and the assistant manager of the local restaurant in Waterloo, Iowa.  I could not understand why my parents thought I could be content here. Who has even heard of Waterloo, Iowa anyway?  The town where redneck Napoleon was captured after the rodeo or surrendering in his corn field?  Sheesh.  

     As the weeks went by, I began to panic.  What if I did not get accepted?  What if this really is it for me?  But six weeks later, it came; I was going to The University of Chicago.  I quietly quit my job, went home and started packing.  My mother would be at her church group until 4:30 so it was quiet for now, but I knew I would catch hell when my dad got home; Waterloo is so small that word gets around fast.  Unexpectedly, both of my parents came home together, and they were furious.  We had quite the row, but in the end they realized nothing could be done to dissuade me from leaving.

     The day I left, mom was sobbing in the house thinking no one could hear, and dad just grunted to himself and refused to look at me.  Thankfully Johnny was a no-show.  After a few curt goodbyes, I was on my way.  I remember driving through endless corn fields thinking I would not miss them at all.  Finally, I emerged from the corn fields and found myself in Chicago.  The campus seemed bigger than the whole town of Waterloo.  As I began to feel intimidated, I thought of an eighteen year old married Assistant Manager with nowhere to go but down so I gritted my teeth and tried to find my dorm.  When I got there, I met my roommate, Sarah. Despite a snide remark about being right off the farm, she seemed nice.  I asked her if it was that obvious which made her laugh. I unpacked all of my stuff and Sarah and I decided to go get dinner.

      Spending the first night in the dorm felt strange.  There were no familiar sounds; just someone’s stereo down the hall.   As I lay here listening to Sarah’s breathing, I went back over the campus map I had memorized so I wouldn’t get lost.   8:00 Calculus, 9:30 English …

     The next morning I felt a bit of trepidation but managed to eat breakfast.  Sarah assured me I would do fine and sent me off with a big “Yeehaw”.  Calculus was as arduous as I had imagined it would be; what is a radian anyway?  In utter confusion I stumbled in to my English class.  Sitting in the middle of the room was the most handsome guy I had ever seen.  He had sandy blonde hair and piercing green eyes.  He was wearing khakis and a polo shirt; a far cry from the guys back home in their t-shirts and Wranglers.  As I got up to leave class, he was waiting for me.  With a smile that made my knees go weak he invited me to lunch. 

     Over lunch I find out he was a Junior; a Criminal Justice major.  He explained that he was studying serial killers to understand how they are able to not only fit in with society but also evade detection for many years on end to find better ways to catch them earlier.  His father was a well-known business man with political aspirations.  I told him I am from Iowa which got a chuckle from him, though he did not seem surprised.  He had a charming, yet sly smile and an easy laugh that made his eyes sparkle.  After lunch, he walked part of the way to my dorm with me since it was on the way to his next class.  I didn’t see him at all on Tuesday or Wednesday.  

     Jeremy was waiting for me after class on Friday and he greeted me with that sly smile, and asked if I would like to go get coffee.  Of course I accepted his invitation.   He eagerly asked about my family.  Were we close?  Had they called a million times since I left Iowa?  He gave a strange half-cocked smile when I told him how angry they were that I had left, and that they had not called once; not even to make sure I had gotten there ok. Still smiling he asked if I would like to go to a party with him that night to celebrate my independence.  Laughing I said sure.  

     Getting ready for my date was harder than I thought it would be; most of my clothes screamed back woods rather than Michigan Avenue.  Sarah offered to let me wear a pretty red dress of hers with high heels.  When I got downstairs Jeremy was waiting. He smiled as he took my hand and lead me to his Porsche.  I could smell the perfume of my predecessor.

     The party was at a friend’s house and was bigger than any house I had ever been too.  The inside looked like the houses I had seen on T.V, which made me feel horribly self-conscious.  Noticing my unease, Jeremy offered to go get me a drink.  He gave me a rum and Coke; it tasted bitter, but I assume it would help me relax a bit so I drank it anyway.  I must have finished it too fast, because my head immediately began to swim and I felt unwell.  After several moments, Jeremy offered to take me back home. As we started back I noticed we were headed in the opposite direction of my dorm.  I tried to tell him but I was unable to speak.  We stopped close to a lake and Jeremy asked if I needed some air.  I nodded weakly, and Jeremy helped me out of the car, and put down a blanket for us to sit on.  He said he had some water in the car.  After a drink, he said maybe I should lay down for a bit.  I agreed. I remember lying next to him watching the stars.  Suddenly everything went black. 

            I woke up in the same spot. It was still dark so I could not have been out for long.  The blanket was no longer under me and Jeremy was gone.  I still felt woozy but was able to get up.  I was disoriented, but after walking a short while, I saw the campus.  As I approached the dorm, I noticed my dad’s pickup parked outside.  They didn’t tell me they were coming to visit.  Why do they always have to “check up” on me?  I am not a child anymore.  Furious I stormed into my room, but they weren’t there.  Guess I can save my anger for later.  Hoping I could find them before they run into anyone I know and embarrass me, I hurried out to look for them.

            After wandering around campus for hours I could not find them so I decided to return to my room.  When I walked in my mom was sitting on the bed wringing her hands and my dad was gingerly pacing the floor still grunting.  What the hell are you doing here I screamed but no one seemed to hear me.  I heard him tell my mom that she shouldn’t be worried; I have only been missing for a few days.  He tells her I probably just needed time to decide if college in the big city was really what I wanted or if I should come home to Iowa.  Panic overtakes me; I don’t understand what is going on.  “What the hell is wrong with you people?   I am not missing, I am right here, so quit ignoring me…it isn’t funny”, I screamed.  Just then Sarah entered the room with a police officer.   He told my parents that they found my body by the lake earlier that morning in a place where the bodies of five other female students have been found over the last three semesters.  He says that several people have been questioned but at this point there are no suspects.

            At that moment everything about Jeremy made sense.  He wasn’t studying serial killers so he could devise a way to catch them, he was trying to avoid being caught.  I understood why he was interested in a naive girl whose parents had not called; like the others I was an easy victim.   I recalled his charming sly smile and how it had made my knees weak.  It worked on the police too; at least until the ninth body was found.

Copyright 2013 Lori Rashford