The MPLHC had held no more meetings in the spring of 179, not after the one that ended in anger and recrimination. The individual members had not gone so far as to explicitly shun one another, though many of them did not even see each other casually as often as they had before.
Outwardly, the relationship between Jennifer and Melanie did not appear to have been sundered, but still they did not speak much in the final days of the semester. It was only the day before their coach trip back east when Jennifer sought out the older girl’s company. As it happened, she found her just outside her own dormitory. Melanie had been on her way to see her… if they’d left off reconciliation for any longer, circumstance would have thrust them together, anyway. She preferred to make up before then.
Jennifer couldn’t disagree with that sentiment, but she’d sought her out for a different reason. She had a question that she needed to ask.
“Have you seen Samuel?”
“A bit,” Melanie said. “It isn’t like before, but he hasn’t left campus, nor has he dropped completely out of sight.”
“But have you spoken to him?”
“Only a little,” Melanie said. “He… doesn’t have much to say to me, at the moment. But he says he won’t be like this forever. He just needs some time to himself.”
“Well, he’s about to have it,” Jennifer said. “Seeing as he’s going to be spending the summer on the grounds and we’re all going home. I’d think he could put on a friendly face for a few days, for your sake.”
“Samuel puts on so many faces for others,” Melanie said. “It must be terribly wearying, I shouldn’t like him to need to do it for us.”
“Well, when you have seen him, has he said anything more about my diary?”
“No… well, yes, but nothing new,” Melanie said. “He’s disappointed that you’ve written about him, and I think fearful, though he doesn’t say so.”
“I ask because it’s turned up missing today.”
“Your diary? Oh, no… could you have misplaced it?”
“Couldn’t have and didn’t,” Jennifer said. “I follow a very careful routine when it comes to handling my diary. Somebody took it.”
“Who do you… oh! Surely you can’t believe Samuel would…”
“Why not?” Jennifer asked. “He and Eugene are pretty much my only suspects, and he’s the one who’s always making a point of sneaking in and out of buildings.”
“Right, he does sneak into buildings he’s not supposed to be in, but he’s never broken into a person’s room before. I mean, when we weren’t there.”
“That we know of,” Jennifer said. “He’s certainly capable of it.”
“Physically… but not morally.”
“I’m not saying Samuel’s not a good guy, Melanie, but you know he’s not exactly restrained by what other people think is right and wrong,” Jennifer said.
“No, but he is restrained by what he thinks is right and wrong,” Melanie said.
“And if he thinks that me writing about him in my diary is somehow a betrayal of his privacy, or a threat to him?” Jennifer asked. “Would he really think it wrong to do something about it?”
“I’d think he’d beg you to destroy it, or at least the relevant pages,” Melanie said. “Stealing it from you… well, then nothing stops you from writing it all down again. Or telling people. If you really think he would be that coldly self-serving, at least credit him with the intelligence to understand it would serve him poorly to alienate you.”
“I might have an easier time giving him that credit if he wasn’t so busy alienating himself from all of us,” Jennifer said.
“He feels that he’s been alienated,” Melanie said. “We… I mean, you and I particularly… really left him poleaxed. And anyway, you said he’s not the only suspect… though, why would Gene steal your diary?”
“I don’t know, because it’s evidence?” Jennifer said. “Honestly, I don’t think it’s likely to be him. I’m just trying to be fair to Samuel by not immediately jumping to the conclusion that he’s the one who took it. But the only people who knew my diary exists were in that conference room with us. I know you and Julia wouldn’t have taken it…”
“You don’t know that, though,” Melanie said. “I mean, any more than you know that Samuel would have. How can you be sure I wouldn’t have stolen it to protect him? Maybe I would have.”
“You didn’t, though,” Jennifer said. “And if you’d wanted to, how would you have managed it?”
“Yes, alright, but my point is that you are jumping to conclusions,” Melanie said. “After all, you have a roommate. And she must have friends. There are people in and out of your room who don’t need to sneak through the hallways or open a lock to do so.”
“But why would any of them have stolen my diary?”
“Beause it’s a diary,” Melanie said. “That sort of thing can make a person curious. Maybe they didn’t mean to take it when they first picked it up, but simply flipped through it and then saw something too explosive to be left alone…”
“It’s not as though I leave it sitting out in the open,” Jennifer said. “Youngest of four, remember? That little book is all the privacy I’ve ever had, and I’ve learned how to protect it. Anyway, if someone had found something unexpected and shocking in it, I would expect them to either confront me with it, or else spread it around. The fact that neither has happened is why I think the person who took it knew what was in it. So Samuel or Eugene. If it’s Eugene, I expect we’ll find out on Wednesday at the latest. But I really doubt it’s him.”
“And how sure are you that it’s not Julia?”
“Why would Julia take my diary?”
“Maybe to see if you’d said anything about her in it,” Melanie said.
“What? She knows I wouldn’t be trashing her behind her back,” Jennifer said, distraught at the idea. “She has to know that.”
“I didn’t say anything bad,” Melanie said. “But maybe she just wants to know what you really think of her.”
“She knows that!”
“If she doesn’t, I would have trusted her to ask me instead of sneaking behind my back,” Jennifer said. “To say nothing of stealing my most cherished possession. Anyway, she knew I kept a diary before the meeting, I’m pretty sure. So why would she suddenly be curious enough to swipe it? The timing says it was someone at the meeting.”
“Does it, though?” Melanie said. “I mean, I assume you didn’t find it missing directly after Samuel disappeared.”
“No, just today,” Jennifer said. “I haven’t written in it for a couple of days… I only went to get it from its hiding place so I could pack it in the bottom of my suitcase.”
“So maybe that’s why it’s gone now,” Melanie said. “The end of the year… it means it’s the thief’s last chance to grab it for months, and it gives you less time to try to track her down.”
“You’re still assuming it’s a girl who took it.”
“Well, you live with a girl in a building full of girls,” Melanie said. “And as I see no reason to assume it was Samuel who took it, it seems most likely that the thief was female.”
“I came looking for you to see if you knew anything about what Samuel had been up to,” Jennifer said. “And it seems the answer is no. But even without knowing anything about his activities outside of going to class, you’re still sure he has nothing to do with my missing diary.”
“Because I know him!”
“Because you love him!” Jennifer said. “And you don’t want it to be him.”
“I don’t want it to be anyone,” Melanie said. “And I love you, Jennifer, but I do agree it was silly to write another person’s private matters down where anyone could come along read it.”
“Are you taking his side against me now to make up for siding against him at the meeting?” Jennifer asked.
“Don’t you dare,” Melanie said. “This isn’t about sides, it’s about… safety.”
“And it’s not like I was reckless about it. His secrets were as safe as my own… right up until the day he found out about my diary. If I hadn’t mentioned it at the meeting, the words in that diary might as well just have been words in my head. I mean, that’s the point of a diary. It helps me sort out what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling. Asking me not to write about something that’s happening in my life is like asking me not to think about it.”
“Well, it’s moot now… whatever damage you’ve done is in all likelihood already done,” Melanie said. “And maybe that’s why you want to believe it was Samuel… because if he was simply stealing his secrets back, then there’s really no harm done.”
“No harm done? That’s my diary… whole months of my life are written on those pages,” Jennifer said.
“And Samuel’s whole life could be in danger because of them.”
“What about my life? He’s not the only one with secrets,” Jennifer said.
“Being a lesbian is not like being a half-demon!”
“Say that a bit louder and we’ll find out how different they actually are!”
“I’m sorry,” Melanie said. “I’m honestly sorry, Jennifer, but I still think you’re wrong about Samuel. Though… unless you stumble over it in your closet or something like that, I hope you never find out otherwise. If it isn’t simply lost among your things, I hope it stays missing.”
“I do, too,” Jennifer said. “If it isn’t in Samuel’s hands. But if you see him before tomorrow, ask him point blank if he has it. And if he says no, tell him I want to see him.”
“What will you do?”
“The same,” Jennifer said. “But I trust myself to spot if he’s lying. I think he’s less likely to lie to you, though.”
“You aren’t even allowing for the possibility that he could be telling the truth, if he says he doesn’t have it?”
“Of course I am,” Jennifer said. “You think I’m convinced it’s him, but I’m not… I wouldn’t need to ask him I was sure. Anyway, I have to finish packing, and I’m sure you have things you need to do.”
“Oh, Jennifer… we aren’t going to stay cross at each other all summer, are we?”
“No, I don’t even plan on being ticked at you through the trip back,” Jennifer said. “I don’t need months or even days to lick my wounds, but we’re not going to make things better between us standing here and arguing. So you’ll go back to your room, I’ll go back to mine, and we’ll see each other tomorrow. And unless my diary turns up in my room somehow or Samuel comes clean to you, we won’t say anything about it until we’re back in Anonymity and we have room to stomp away from each other. If we have to.”
“That’s… actually really sensible,” Melanie said.
“Youngest of four,” Jennifer said. “It teaches you how to be mad at someone you love, and to love someone you’re mad at. And how to manage the practical side of life while doing so.”
“Anyway, Samuel isn’t licking his wounds… he’s just got a lot on his mind,” Melanie said. “He says he’s beginning to reconsider how he manages his secrets.”
“If that doesn’t sound like thinking about how to collect and destroy evidence…”
“Thinking about, maybe, but he hasn’t decided anything yet,” Melanie said. “I haven’t had much time face-to-face with Samuel lately, believe me, I know the difference between when he’s pondering something and when he’s made up his mind to act. A resolved Samuel might be capable of… well, many things… but he’s a deep thinker, steady and slow. He might do something drastic, but he wouldn’t do it rashly.”
“You know, I actually believe you… I mean, I believe your estimation of him,” Jennifer said. “I think he could lie to you, but I don’t think he can hide himself from you. But I’m telling you, I didn’t just lose my diary in my laundry hamper. So if he hasn’t stolen it…”
“I’ll warn him that it’s missing,” Melanie said.
“That’s a good idea,” Jennifer said. “And I’ll ask Julia to ask Eugene, I think she intimidates him.”
“You intimidate him, too,” Melanie said. “He’s not sure what to make of either of you. I’m sorry we’ve quarreled.”
“But I’m glad we’ve talked,” Jennifer said. “See you tomorrow.”
“Yes… you, too.”
They hugged and then parted, Jennifer heading back into the building and Melanie heading off towards hers. Jennifer was surprised to find the door to her room unlatched when she got there… her roommate had already moved out for the semester, so the only ones with a key were the dorm mother and herself. She really expected to see Samuel sitting on her bed, so that was where she looked as she stepped through the door… her gaze instead fell on the familiar leather cover of her diary, with a note sitting on top of it.
She didn’t feel any relief at the sight, because she could tell at a glance that the cover was not sitting right… someone had torn out a whole chunk of pages, and even before she grabbed it up and flipped it open, she knew it would be the section concerning the current school year.
She snatched the fallen note. The stationery was hers, the ink might have been from the pen sitting on her desk, but it was written in a spiky hand she didn’t recognize.
All it said was:
Thanks, little lady.