Josh had been four when the fire nearly destroyed their home. He had been fifteen when his parents announced they were divorcing, then only two weeks later, losing their lives to a drunk driver. He’d seen his share of trauma. But he’d been lucky to have been adopted as an infant by a loving couple and just as lucky to have loving grandparents to nurture him through the grief and loneliness of his loss.
At eighteen, he left Ocean Haven and headed east to college and law school. Now, tired of the rat race of the 120-person law firm where he was a mere cog, he jumped at the chance to return to his hometown where he’d been offered a position in a small law firm. They say you can never go home again, but here he was, in the house his parents built five years after they married. The house he’d lived in for fifteen years.
The fire had started in the den and while contained quickly, all of the photographs of his parents were destroyed. Once he asked if their high school yearbooks had survived, but his mom was quick to answer that they’d been lost in the fire.
For ten years, the house had remained vacant. It had been left to him, an only child. His grandparents wanted to sell it but by the time he was old enough to make his own decision, they were both gone. With the money from his parents and grandparents’ wills, Josh had enough to pay for college without selling the house.
It was a good decision, Josh thought, as he rambled around the house. He found his old bedroom empty except for his bed and a dresser. Most of his stuff had been moved to his grandparents’ house. The room was small but would work for his office. The second bedroom would suffice for a guest room and gym. He entered his parents’ room with some trepidation. He quickly shook his head to rid himself of long-ago memories. The large room was spacious and light. With some redecorating and new furniture, Josh could sleep here. He hoped. He went over to the closet. Everything was gone, with the exception of several stacks of shoe boxes on the floor.
He lifted the lid of one box. Mostly his mom’s, barely worn. He pulled a few out of the closet, then went back to get the rest. When he reached for the last one, he could see a deep indentation in the carpeting covering the closet floor. He felt around. The carpet was loose so he picked up the edge and pulled it back. He stared. There was a small wood trapdoor sunk about an inch into the floor. A metal ring was screwed into the door. Josh was intrigued. Why would his parents install a trapdoor?
Buried treasure? Hardly. Bodies? C’mon, Josh. Get a grip. Even less likely. The hinge creaked as he pulled. He took a deep breath and peered into the space. Staring up at him were things that shouldn’t exist. But, clearly, they did. His parents’ yearbooks.
He reached in and lifted them out. His mom’s was on top. The cover was worn around the edges. He opened it. The frontispiece contained comments from classmates and teachers. Most were of the same variety. “Good luck in the future.” “Have a great summer.” Nothing too original. All were addressed to “M” or “Mike.” Her nickname, he guessed, as her first name was Michelle. Some of the other comments, however, were strange. Like the one, “Hope you finally get laid this summer.” Not the usual thing you write in a girl’s yearbook.
He flipped through the pages until he got to the senior photos. He searched until he found where her photo should have been, except It was a photo of a guy. The last name was right – Lewis. But the first name was wrong. Michael.
Josh closed his eyes, then opened them and looked down at the photo, Squinting, he could see a resemblance. The deep, soulful eyes and arched eyebrows, the same square jaw and the full lips.
He flipped back to the inside cover. The yearbook belonged to Michael Lewis.
Josh closed the book and went over to the closet. It seems he had just brought his mother out of the closet. Maybe it was best if he put her back in. He replaced the books in the space and lowered the trapdoor.