Burntcore's Choice: Picture 1
I sat in my car in White Oak completely in shock. Was it really this easy to find my aunt? It couldn’t be. Something had to be wrong about this. Maybe it really wasn’t her. I couldn’t take that chance, not after how far I had come. If there was a chance it was Julianne and if there was a chance she knew what happened to my mother, then I had to approach her and hope I don’t come across like a crazy person. I took a deep breath and got out of my car, holding the book that Professer Enger gave me and my mother’s journal.
The older woman was up the trail several yards ahead of me, strolling through the park with ease. She was here clearly for the enjoyment of the day. I almost hated having to break her peace but I had to know.
The leaves on the ground crunched under my feet, breaking the serenity of the park. I could hear a dog barking in the distance, on a nearby trail. I tried not to rush, but it seemed like I wasn’t gaining on Julianne’s retreating figure at all. As I increased my pace, the dry, brittle sounds of the leaves sounded like glass shattering. It seemed very disruptive to me.
Julianne must’ve felt the same way because her back stiffened as I approached. I cleared my throat before I spoke, trying to settle my nerves.
“Julianne? Julianne Turner?”
She stopped, but didn’t turn around.
“Who is asking?” a soft but gravely voice asked.
“Um, her niece, Casey Thomas,” I said softly, coming to a stop a few feet from her.
“Niece?” the older woman said tentatively, turning slowly.
It was like looking at an older version of my mother. I covered my lips with my hand in disbelief. Her eyes widened as she looked at me from head to foot.
“My God, you look just like Susan,” she whispered. After getting over her shock, she took a step back. “How did you find me?”
“Mom’s journal spoke of you, an aunt that I had no idea I had. So I did some research to find out what I could about you. Where you lived ... where you were from ... if you still lived. Those questions let me here.”
Julianne stood in shock, as she continued to look at me as if she was memorizing my appearance.
“I can’t believe how grown up you look. When did your hair color change?”
I shook my head, surprised by her questions and growing irritated. “What? What about my hair? I have never met you and you ask me about my hair?” I asked incredulously. The dam broke and more questions burst forth. “Why have I never met you? Why did you stay away? Did you and my mother get into a fight?” I paused before the last question stumbled from my lips. “Do you know who killed my mom?”
Tears began to well in my eyes as I started at a woman that looked so much like my mother but was a stranger. My childhood memories floated around my head of my mom, my mom who was alive and well, happy but always with a hint of sadness.
“Oh, Casey,” Julianne said, rushing to me and taking my hands in hers. “I wanted to, for so long, especially after Susan died, but I couldn’t. It wasn’t safe.”
I pulled my hands away and wrapped my arms around myself, suddenly chilled. “Wasn’t safe? Safe for whom?”
“For me, for you and your father, for our family, anyone I cared about. Especially after Susan’s death, I knew I had to stay away. It was the only way to protect you.”
“What happened? What did you get involved in that would make you fear for your safety?”
“This isn’t the place to talk about this,” Julianne warned, looking around nervously, fear tinging her eyes.
“You know who killed her,” I stated numbly. For the majority of my life, I had lived with the knowledge that my mother’s killer remained unpunished for his or her crimes. Finding out now that someone knew, someone that was supposed to be family, was hard to grasp.
“I had an idea, but no proof,” Julianne said sadly. “If I had pushed for the truth, they would’ve continued to try to hurt my family. I couldn’t risk that.”
“Will you tell me what you know? I need to know. I need to find who killed her.”
Julianne sighed softly. “Casey, those people could still be out there, waiting for me to slip up, waiting-”
“It’s been over fifteen years!” I cried. “Please! I need to know. I won’t do anything, I just need to know.” Tears streaked down my face. I brushed them aside quickly as I tried to reign in my emotions.
Julianne looked at me for several seconds, considering. Finally she nodded slowly. “Promise me that you won’t pursue this.”
“Promise me!” she insisted, grabbing my upper arms with more strength then she appeared to have.
I nodded and she relaxed her grip on my arms. I hoped I could keep the promise.
“Come, I’ll show you my house and tell you a story that I have never spoken of before.”
The trip to my aunt’s house didn’t take very long. She lived on the other side of White Oak in a small, modest cottage. I quietly followed her into her home through a side door. She led me through to her kitchen where several pictures were tacked up on a corkboard hung on the wall. I recognized several of the people in the pictures. Most were of my parents and myself. What surprised me was how current some of them were, like my high school and college graduation pictures.
“How do you have these?” I asked.
“Um, your father sends them to me,” she admitted.
“Wait, my father knows where you live? What was all this crap about protecting our safety?” My voice rose as I got agitated again.
“He sends the pictures and any other bits of news to a post office box in Pittsburgh. He has no idea where I really live, only that I do live.”
Only slightly mollified, I looked at the rest of the pictures. One stuck out, bringing up a memory that I had forgotten.
“I did meet you, didn’t I?” I asked softly. “At least once, anyway. You came to my tea party.” I fingered the picture of my much younger self sitting at a child’s table with my favorite stuffed animals and a blue teapot.
Julianne sighed softly, standing behind me. “Yes, I did. It was the last time I saw you until today. It was becoming increasingly difficult for me to evade the people that were after me, so I told Susan that day that I wouldn’t be back.” Tears filled her eyes as she continued. “I just never thought it would truly be the last time I saw her.”
Julianne took a deep breath and gestured towards the table. “Come, sit. I’ll make some tea and I’ll start at the beginning. How much did your mother’s journal tell you about our childhood?”