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    As I pulled open the large, wooden doors of the church, a gust of chilled wind hit my face, and dried, dead leaves crunched beneath my feet. An odor of incense and staleness permeated the air. A wave of nausea overcame me and my feet felt as if I were a baby fawn, trying to walk for the first time. Frantically, I searched for an empty pew. As I approached my

seat, the color of black engulfed me, and a feeling of anguish grew in my stomach. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes and prayed that God would give me the strength to make it through my sister, Bree’s funeral. It has all felt like a horrible nightmare that I can’t wake up from. Bree was my best friend, my ride or die. I heard the sniffling behind me and opened my eyes. My father, with tears and dark circles under his eyes, approached me, saying, “She loved you so much, Natalie.”

    My sister and I grew up in a suburban town on the outskirts of Cincinnati, where we knew everyone in the community, walked to school, and did not worry about locking doors. We had never experienced any sort of crime in our neighborhood. It’s been two weeks since we were notified that my sister, Bree, passed away, and not a single one of those nights have I slept for more than three hours. I have been in the same pair of pink pajamas, my hair is a bee's nest, and there are take-out boxes, half-eaten, piled around my bed. They ruled her death a suicide, but I find that hard to believe. She did have some issues, but don’t we all? Last month, in October, she was on an upswing, always in a good mood whenever we would meet up, and because of this, I just can’t believe that’s how she died. The police first found her car, then her body, in the Ohio River, near her work place in Cincinnati. The cops believed she attempted to drown herself in the river. However, she never left any suicide note, no warning, no nothing. The police refuse to do any investigation, as they haven’t even completed the autopsy yet. I am constantly calling my hometown station to see if there are any new leads, and they always answer with an aggravated ‘Nope’.

    I focused myself back into the current reality of my sister’s funeral procession, and looked out of the doors of the church, seeing Bree’s ex-boyfriend, Anthony, walk in. “I can’t believe he has the audacity to show up here. I have a gut feeling he did something,” I whisper to my dad.

    He replied, “You’re acting crazy, you know your sister had problems. Stop trying to make this into something it’s not.”

    The day Bree went missing, Anthony called me that afternoon asking if I’d seen her. Then, he called me that night saying the cops had found her body. Two months ago, Bree and

Anthony broke up, and Anthony was not happy about it. He had always been so jealous of Bree. He especially did not care for how close Bree and I were, and I believe he wanted her all to himself.

    Maybe I have been going a little insane, but there’s just so many details that don’t make sense, things undiscovered that keep me wondering what could have actually happened. It’s been three days since the funeral, and I haven’t been able to leave my home.

    I knew that Bree would want me to move on, live a little more, so I decided to find a psychiatrist to help with all this pain, uncertainty, and anxiety I’m dealing with. I remembered that Bree once saw a therapist during her time of depression and said that it was really helpful. I grabbed my phone and googled ‘therapist near me.’ I scrolled through the offerings, trying to remember his name. When I saw the last listing, I knew that it was the one: Dr. Brown. I called the number and spoke to the receptionist, trying to confirm that he was the one who saw my

sister. She was unable to give me that information due to “patient confidentiality.” I went ahead and set the first available appointment, which was tomorrow, at 9:00 a.m. I needed to talk with someone, and I needed to get control of my life again.

    The next morning, I woke and drove to the address the receptionist had given me. As GPS guided me, I pulled into a luxurious-gated community. The attendant at the gate waved me forward and said, “How can I help you?”

    I mumbled, “My name is Natalie Jennings, and I am here to see Dr. Brown.”

     The attendant opened the gate, and stated, “He’s expecting you. Drive around the turnabout, and his home is the first on the right.” I followed his directions, and pulled into the doctor’s driveway. I knocked on the door, and a handsome, dark-complected man opened the door. I was shocked to see that he was so attractive, because I had never met Bree’s psychiatrist. She mentioned him many times, and I felt as if I already knew him. He welcomed me inside and introduced himself, telling me his name was Lucas. The smell of men’s cologne and fire wood

swarmed through my nose, as I roamed around his place. His home was comfortable, but I still felt uneasy and awkward.

    I stammered, “I know this is weird, but were you Bree Jennings therapist?”

    We approached the couch and he responded, “I was her therapist. I know that this loss hasn’t been easy for you. It’s been hard on me too,” he said. “I considered Bree a friend, not just a client.”

    This reminded me of how much love Bree brought into the world, and it saddened me to think that her ray of sunshine in my life had left. I told him, “I just can’t believe she’s really gone, and the way she died just doesn’t sit right with me.”

    “Her illness got the best of her, but just know that she loved you more than anything,” he said, placing his hand on my knee. It was as if there was a sense of tension in the room. I didn’t know if he felt it too, but I felt a strong attraction to him in the way he spoke and in his mannerisms.

    I continued to stay focused on the true reason I was there, and said, “This could be crazy, but I just can’t believe she did that to herself. In the weeks prior to her death, she was always happy to see me and was on a personal high that I’ve never seen in her before. Sometimes I think that it really could’ve been someone else who took her out of this world from us. Her

ex-boyfriend was acting so suspicious when she went missing, and I feel like he had something to do with her death.”

    He gave me a questioning look, responding, “Yes, there are many obscure pieces of Bree’s story, but when she was my patient, I had diagnosed her with bipolar disorder and severe depression. I usually don’t disclose that information due to client laws and regulation, but I feel like you have a right to know because you are her sister, and it might help in your healing process. Do you think that maybe the reason you have been restless and erratic is because of your unwillingness to accept her death?”

    I know that Bree would’ve wanted me to let this go, start anew, and celebrate her life.

That was the advice she would’ve given to me if she was still here; she was the one who kept me straight. I replied to Lucas, “Yes, I do believe Bree would’ve wanted me to continue on with my life and accept that she’s gone. She would just want me to be happy.”

    For a while, we continued to talk about my feelings, and he gave me the comfort I needed to freely share with him. We scheduled another appointment for the following week, and I was

excited that I would see him again.

     As I drove home, I decided to make a stop at Anthony’s house. I just needed to take one more step towards closure. I knocked on the door, and Anthony opened it with a confused look. I started by saying, “I just wanted to let you know I’m sorry for accusing you for doing something to Bree. I know you loved her more than anything and would never do a thing to hurt her.”

    He looked blankly at me for a moment, then a river of tears flooded his eyes. I took him into my arms and gave him a reassuring hug. Between sobs, he uttered, “I’m gonna miss her so much. Thanks for coming to see me. I know that she would have wanted us to be on good terms.” I then proceeded to go home, feeling a sense of relief and relenting my efforts to find

who was responsible for my sister's death.

     One week later, I was still grieving. However, I had a slight bit of excitement in me, as it was time for my appointment with Lucas. I arrived at his home, and we had conversations about Bree, discussed how I was feeling, and he proceeded to tell me of his fond memories of my

sister. I began crying happy tears, thinking about all the good times I had with Bree. He handed me a tissue box to wipe my tears away, but I accidentally dropped the box, and the tissues fell underneath the couch.

    As I went to pick them up, something shiny caught my eye. It was a necklace of some sort. I peered at it more closely, and it looked exactly like the matching infinity necklaces that my grandma gave to Bree and me when we were ten. Bree never took hers off, and I was sure mine was at home, so it was peculiar to find the necklace there. When I saw that necklace, my


mind quickly jumped to conclusions, and I began to panic. Swiftly, I got up, leaving the necklace there, and I told Lucas I needed to use the restroom.

    “Natalie, are you okay? You look a little pale,” he said. I simply replied with a nod of my head because that’s all I could give in that moment. I felt myself getting dizzy as I stood up, and when I got to the bathroom, I barely made it to the toilet before I threw up.

Had he been a part of what happened to her? She never took that necklace off, so I don’t know how it would have been at his home, unless she accidently dropped it. I splashed water on my face and said to myself, “Alright, Natalie, pull yourself together. It’s just a necklace; there

could be many of them. There is probably some perfectly good explanation. Stop being crazy.”

     I exited the bathroom, and he gave me a strange look. He knew something was wrong. I said, “I’m not feeling well right now. Could we reschedule for next week?”

    Lucas replied with a soothing voice, “Of course, whatever makes you comfortable.” With his comforting response, I was put at ease, and most of my suspicions were silenced for that moment. Although my fears were lessened by his reply, I still had to ask him a couple more questions at our next appointment to feel completely reassured.

    It was finally Tuesday, November 24th, the day of my scheduled appointment. As I drove to Lucas’ home, I texted my parents my location and told them to call the police in two hours if they did not hear from me. I turned off my car’s engine, took a deep breath, and prepared myself to face the man who might have information about the last day of my sister's life.

    With my hands shaking, I gave a barely perceptible knock on the door, and Lucas opened the door with a warm smile. He welcomed me inside and began to speak. I interrupted him and blurted out the question, “When was the last visit Bree had with you before her death?”

    Lucas responded saying, “I think a week before she died.”

    I purposely dropped my phone on the ground to check to see if the necklace was still there, but it was nowhere to be found. When I arose, he continued, “I noticed you weren’t very comfortable in my office last time, and you seem a little anxious now. Do you want to go to a

different location so that you may feel more comfortable? We could drive up the road to the local coffee shop.”

    I was already on high-alert; however, I accepted his offer. I really needed to have this conversation with him, and felt it might be wise to relocate to a place with other people in the vicinity. While we were driving, I proceeded to ask him another question. “Did Bree ever give you anything of hers?”

    I knew I had made a mistake asking this question, as he immediately slammed on the brakes and made a U-turn, heading in the opposite direction of the coffee shop. I panicked and thought to myself, “Lucas knows, he knows what happened to Bree, he knows I know that he was involved.”

    He avoided the question and shouted angrily, “I told you to accept her death, Natalie, but, no, you can’t do that! You continue to ask questions and search for the truth. Why won’t you just let it go!”

    I became frightened, but continued to ask anyway, “What did you do to her?” He gazed at me and I looked into his eyes, finally recognizing the evil inside this man.

    He tried to explain, “I loved her, Natalie. She just didn’t love me back, and I couldn’t let her live without me. She broke up with Anthony, but continued to lead me on like we meant

something. Her love was a drug that I was addicted to, and when she told me that she needed a break, I snapped.”

    At this admission, my heart shattered into a million pieces. I needed to get away from this monster. I grabbed for the door handle in an attempt to jump out of the car, but the doors were locked. He said to me, “You think you’re gonna get away too?”

    He scoffed at my efforts to escape, and ripped my phone from my hands. I tried fighting him, but he struck me, stopped the car, and placed zip ties around my hands. He began driving again, down an old-winding road until we reached the river: the same location where Bree was found. He parked the car and began tying weights to my feet. He dragged me across the dock,

and as he began lowering me into the water, I saw her necklace dangling from his pocket. I grabbed it and threw the necklace to the edge of the dock. If I died today, at least they might be able to locate me by finding the infinity necklace with Bree’s and my initials on it.

    As Lucas continued to lower my body into the water, he began shouting again, “You should’ve let it go, that’s what I told you to do. It’s your fault that you’re going to die. This will be easy to cover-up, again, because you were my patient and have been diagnosed with depression and borderline personality disorder.”

    I finally just decided to accept my fate, and I stopped fighting him. For my whole life, I’ve fought everyone, searching for answers, needing a purpose. I felt that for this last moment, I could accept my death and be at peace knowing that I had discovered the truth about what had happened to my sister.

    The sun shone on my face, and as the water began to swallow me. I felt my breath start to slip. My mind began to go blank, and a vision of my beautiful sister, Bree, appeared. She said to me, “You can’t give up just yet. Keep fighting Natalie. You’ll see me again, just not yet.”

After this encounter, I gained consciousness again, and I felt a force bring me up toward the surface. Reaching it, I was disoriented, but I recognized one of the police on Bree’s case,

standing over the dock, peering down at me. Hands grabbed at me and pulled me up onto the dock. In my line of vision, I saw Lucas in handcuffs, being forced into the police cruiser. At that moment, a sense of warmth and comfort came over me, despite the frigid water temperatures. It felt as if Bree was watching over me, holding me during that time, and that she would be with me forever.

    I spotted my parents, and they came running towards me. They were apologetic and frantic, saying, “We’re so sorry we ever doubted you. You were right, we should’ve never given up on Bree.” I started to sob in their arms, as the realization of what just happened consumed me.

    After being assessed by paramedics and answering a few questions for the police, my parents and I were ready to go back home. On our way out, I grabbed Bree’s old necklace, and brought it to my chest. I felt blessed to survive the ordeal and was so grateful that I didn’t give up on Bree, despite what everyone around me told me to do. I had a new peace dwell over me in discovering the truth, bringing justice and dignity to Bree that she so deserved. Finally, I left the river with the closure I needed, feeling the presence of my sister beside me, full of pride.

Grace Portwood is a sophomore at Notre Dame Academy

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