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She can barely make out the image on the white board. The office is dark now. Night outside and lights off within. Her fingers reach out – just doing, not asking permission first – and caress the sleek picture, a false representation of flesh and blood.

It’s as cold as the body in the morgue.

She does not blink, because the tears are right on the edge, pleading to be let loose, and although she thinks everyone has gone home, she can’t be sure that someone won’t return to retrieve a forgotten coat or a much-needed file. She’s not sure why she’s so concerned with appearances; it’s not as if they haven’t seen her cry before.

Seven months. She’s been looking for Jessica for seven months.

It feels like seven years, like seven seconds. The image of her smiling, perfect teeth peering out of slightly chapped lips, eyes focused on something behind the photographer’s shoulder, is embedded in her mind, imprinted on her brain. Sometimes, when she wiped the steam off the mirror, it stared back at her. It was never accusing, never stern. Jessica never asked her why she wasn’t found yet, never chastised her for not doing a better job.

She just smiled.

You’ll find me, the smile seemed to say. I have faith in you.

She gasps when she feels the fleeting touch on her shoulder.

“The girl they found in the woods?”

She shakes her head, eyes widening in a further attempt to keep the tears at bay.

“It was someone else.” As the words come out, her resolve snaps. She chokes out a sob and turns her head, wiping away the wetness on her cheeks. His hand again rests on her shoulder, this time kneading the skin gently. There’s no one here to judge him, to misconstrue the gesture, to decide that it’s anything else other than a supervisor comforting a subordinate.

“Then … there’s still hope.”

He’s confused; she can tell. Yes, someone is dead. Someone’s daughter, sister, mother, lover, someone’s somebody is dead, but it’s not her somebody. It’s not the girl that she sees in the mirror, on lazy Saturdays when she takes thirty-minute showers and the bathroom becomes a sauna. She should be saddened, but not heartbroken. She shouldn’t be in the office long after everyone has left, staring at an old picture, trying not to cry.

“Her mother,” she tries to explain. “Her mother, I think she wanted … closure.” It sounds so stupid. Closure after seven months, two hundred and ten days. A mother who would rather have a body in the ground than a phantom in her mind. Samantha had to look her in the eye, explain how the body had been decomposed, how everyone had been so sure in the beginning (the collarbone had been broken, after all, just like Jessica’s), but the dental records told a different story.

The mother had been planning a funeral. She was prepared. And then she broke.

You told me it was her, her eyes accused.

Jack’s touch is experienced, tempered in a way that tells her that he’s been though this before, as well. He understands.

That’s why he leaves.

(fin.)