The Mysterious Case of Bella Lagerford

The other night an idea popped into my head for a short psychological thriller.  I wasn’t going to be posting this week, because I’m trying to make tracks in A Year with the Baptists (and I have been making said tracks), however, I thought it would make a fun post.

Disclaimer: this story was written completely spur-of-the-moment and has not been professionally edited (nor will it ever be).  Also, I’m not what anyone would call a master (or even apprentice) of the psychological thriller.  I only asked, “What if…?”

So now that your expectations are in the basement, I think we can begin.

The Mysterious Case of Bella Lagerford

by Lydia Thomas

(Copyright: 2014)

It was a crisp October Wednesday the day Bella Lagerford went missing.

Amanda first heard about it that night at dinner. It was a normal family dinner – her father sitting at one end of the table, her mother at the other, and her sister, Susannah, across from her, all eating quietly.

“Did you hear about the Lagerford girl?” her father inquired, cutting into his steak. “Isabella?”

Amanda perked up.

She knew a lot about the Lagerfords, having grown up with them, playing in the park after school. There were five of them: Bo, Brianna, Bella, Brighton, and Ben. In fact, she much preferred the company of the Lagerford siblings to that of her own sister, finding them far more interesting. As far as she could tell, they were always fighting about something amongst themselves, but they were united front against the rest of the world, and this intrigued her. Mr. and Mrs. Lagerford cursed and shouted at them, something Amanda’s parents would never dream of doing, but she felt anything would have been better than the stiff silence that pervaded her own home.

Amanda was most drawn to Bella. She supposed this was because the quiet girl was closest to her in age of all the Lagerfords and they studied dance together every Tuesday and Thursday at Mrs. Cartwright’s studio. Amanda was the better dancer; but of course, she was a year older, so that could only be expected. Bella hadn’t seemed interested in a friendship outside of dance, being the most introverted of her siblings, but Amanda wanted to know the girl, and had persisted in learning little facts about her here and there. Honestly, most of what she knew about the Lagerfords had come through Bella.

Naturally, Amanda was very interested in her father’s news about Bella.

“No,” her mother replied, a forkful of salad delicately poised in the air. “What happened?”

Amanda’s father shrugged.

“She’s gone missing,” her father stated. “Police are trying to determine if foul play was involved.”

“Foul play?” Amanda’s mother clutched a hand to her chest. “Who in the world would want to harm Isabella Lagerford?”

“Hard to say,” her father answered.

Her mother turned to her.

“Was Bella at dance yesterday?” she inquired.

“No,” Amanda mumbled. “She never showed.”

Suddenly, Amanda felt nauseated.

 ***

 Thursday, they found the body.

Mrs. Cartwright had walked into a wall of putridity at the dance studio and nearly vomited before searching the premises for what she suspected was dead vermin. She had not expected to find the graying corpse of Bella Lagerford in the closet behind the mirrors, peering at her with wide open and glazed eyes.

Amanda had been on her way to her dance lesson when she heard Mrs. Cartwright’s screams, and she had run away, afraid of what might have been found.

When she came back later, the studio was sealed off with police tape and a sobbing Mrs. Cartwright was giving a statement. Amanda’s fears were confirmed as a lifeless Bella Lagerford was wheeled past her on a stretcher, and she was certain those glazed eyes were staring right at her.

Amanda vomited, whether from the stench or from seeing Bella in such a state, she couldn’t say.

“Go home,” an officer told her. “This is no place for a young woman.”

 ***

On Friday, the toxicology reports came back.

Needles.  A lethal combination of drugs. An apparent suicide, if only accidental.

“Why on earth?” Amanda’s mother gasped.

And again, Amanda’s father shrugged.

Her parents didn’t know about the cursing and the shouting. Nor did they know this wasn’t Bella’s first time with needles.

But Amanda knew. Amanda had heard it from Bella herself. Bella had used the needles to inject herself with things that would take her far away from the life she lived. But Bella had stopped. Bella had sworn she had stopped after a scary episode over a year ago. Amanda was certain.

***

The funeral was Saturday.

Amanda knew she needed to be present for the Lagerfords. After all, they had been her second family.

“Why are you going?” Susannah asked. “It’s not like you knew Bella beyond dance, or like you know the Lagerfords at all.”

Amanda didn’t bother answering. Her sister could not understand the bond she felt to the Lagerfords.

Brighton would be missing his sister the most. They were closest in age and shared all kinds of secrets, Amanda knew. Brianna and Bella were almost complete opposites and didn’t get along well at all, with Brianna always bossing Bella around and Bella always fighting back, but Amanda supposed Brianna would be grieving in her own way today. Bo gave Bella a hard time, but he was fiercely protective of her, especially when it came to the guys she dated, something Amanda envied. Bella had always babied little Ben – what was Amanda thinking? They all babied Ben. Surely, he would miss her quiet, but staunch presence.

Amanda needed to be there today to fill that void, for all of them.

When she arrived at the church, Mr. and Mrs. Lagerford didn’t seem to recognize her, but Bo remarked, “You were in dance with Bella, weren’t you?”

Amanda nodded and quickly found a seat.

Brianna gave a speech commemorating her sister, and Amanda thought that was wrong, all wrong. The anecdotes of growing up and statements about sisterhood sounded phony and made Amanda’s blood boil. It should have been Brighton, or even Amanda herself. They were the ones who knew Bella best, not Brianna.

Little Ben’s body quaked with sobs in the front pew, and Amanda longed to go to him and wrap her arms around him. That was what Bella would do, she was certain. Amanda stayed seated where she was, fearing the rest of the Lagerfords might not deem it appropriate, especially as the preacher had already begun the eulogy.

Brighton seemed strong, but Amanda was willing to bet he understood about the needles and Bella’s obsession with them, just as she did. They were each other’s shelter from the cursing and the shouting, and no doubt Brighton was glad his sister would never return to that hell. Amanda was glad, too.

Bo sat with arms crossed, radiating sullenness. Amanda imagined he was angry that the one person he could not protect Bella from was herself.

The funeral passed quickly as Amanda observed the Lagerfords. Even after it was over, she stood in the foyer listening to the rest of the mourners offer lame condolences to the family. None of them understood who Bella Lagerford really was and what she meant to her family, at least, not the way Amanda did.

“She’ll always be in your hearts,” one elderly woman remarked.

It wouldn’t be the same, Amanda knew, and she was outraged at the woman’s insensitivity.

“She was writing this story for years,” Mrs. Lagerford replied, “in this leather journal. We can’t find it anywhere, but I wish – I wish we still had it.”

Amanda frowned. It couldn’t be the same as –

“To preserve her thoughts and words,” the woman said sagely. “Tell me, how is Staci holding up?”

Who was Staci?

Mrs. Lagerford choked on a sob.

“As well as can be expected,” she said. “They were as close as two sisters can be.”

Bella had another sister? She’d never mentioned –

Unless –

Amanda’s pulse quickened.

This couldn’t be right.

Bella must have lied.

Amanda dashed out of the church, throwing the doors open with a clatter. She had to get home, she had to see it to be sure.

***

“Isabella, put that away,” Mrs. Cartwright commanded sternly.

As far as Amanda knew, Isabella wasn’t even Bella’s full name; in fact, she was positive it wasn’t because all of the girl’s siblings called her Bella on the playground growing up. Still, the girl shut her blue ink pen in her leather journal obediently and rose to the bar.

Bella danced almost robotically, tirelessly watching her own reflection in the mirror.

“It helps if you stop watching yourself,” Amanda suggested. “Just let go and dance.”

Bella frowned, but said nothing. Bella never said anything.

Amanda sighed. She only wanted to be Bella’s friend, and to be friends with Bella’s family. They seemed so interesting, but she knew so little about them.

Near the end of the lesson, Bella’s oldest brother came in. He clapped, almost sarcastically, as she tumbled out of a pirouette.

Amanda frowned in his direction. So she needed a little bit of work.

“Ready to head home?” he asked Bella.

“Sure,” she said, following him out.

It wasn’t until Amanda finished her cool down stretches that she spied Bella’s journal sitting in the corner of the studio. It was too late to follow after Bella to return it. She would just have to wait until their next dance session.

Besides, she really wanted to get to know Bella better.

***

“No, no, no,” Amanda sobbed as she bounded up the stairs to her bedroom.

Bella had betrayed her, filling that journal with – stories? Some of it had to have been true, though. The needles had to have been real. Why else would she have taken her own life, even if it was only an accident?

Amanda rushed into her room and froze.

Susannah sat cross-legged on her bed, holding Bella’s journal.

“What is this?” Susannah asked coolly.

Amanda shook her head frantically.

“It’s not what it looks like,” she said, a tremor in her voice.

“It looks like you’re trying to get in with the Lagerford family by taking Bella’s place,” Susannah declared.

“No,” Amanda said desperately, “I just wanted to know her, to know them.”

“You went a little far, don’t you think?” Susannah inquired.

“What are you talking about?” Amanda asked.

“You made it look like an overdose,” Susannah said.

“You think I”- Amanda broke off.

“It says here she hadn’t had done drugs in a year,” Susannah said triumphantly.

“Susannah, it’s not real,” Amanda said, accepting Bella’s duplicity. “It’s a story.”

Susannah’s eyes narrowed.

“I have to return it to them,” Amanda insisted. “They need it to remember her by.”

“You can’t return it to them,” Susannah spat. “If you return it to them, it will only be a matter of time before they put the pieces together and realize it was you. You think they’ll accept you as their own when they know what you did?”

“But I didn’t do anything,” Amanda protested.

Susannah tossed the journal aside on the bedspread.

“Lucky for you, the police have ruled it as a suicide,” she stated, “or you’d be the one going down for this.”

She uncrossed her legs and hopped off of the bed.

“What are you talking about?” Amanda asked.

“Don’t worry, Amanda,” Susannah said, “I’ve got you covered.”

Amanda trembled as her sister threw a firm arm around her and hissed in her ear.

“What are sisters for?”

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