Blake then turned to me. “So, what did you tell Mom?”
“Movies with Suellen.”
Jay then turned to me. “Blake tells me that you’re a gymnast,” he said.
I nodded. I did gymnastics, yes. Mom and Dad had impressed sports upon us both from the time we were young. Blake’s had been football, and he was gifted. As for me, I wasn’t good enough to win competitions, but staying active helped me keep my mind clear.
Then, Sasha reappeared. “They’re coming,” she told Jay. Then she walked over to us and sat down. That was when she acknowledged me, sitting in between me and Blake.
“You must be Kathryn,” she said, in an overly cheery tone.
“I’m Sasha,” she said. “Blake’s told me a lot about you.”
That was when I turned to Jay. I had a lot of questions about everything but I didn’t even know where to begin. How had Blake even meet these people? Why were these three girls, five in total I supposed if two more were coming, all living in the desert. Did they move around? How long had they been in St. George? Jay seemed old too, and his presence made me uncomfortable. Maybe the girls were nice enough, but they all seemed odd. Something was off about Sasha in particular. It was then that Sasha and Blake exchanged a look, and they stood up.
Blake turned to me. “I’ll be back.”
It was then that I saw two girls appear. One blonde, one redhead. Alex and Claire, it seemed. I looked in their direction and waved, but they didn’t acknowledge me. Instead, they joined Helen and Debbie and the four of them began to speak.
I was alone with Jay. We made eye contact with each other, only now his look had shifted. I was terrified, and I realized what it was about him that was off. His eyes were very blue, but they had no light. Just then, he grabbed my arm and pulled me inches from his face.
“You’re being very rude,” he said.
I wanted to leave right then and there. I tried to pull my arm away but he grabbed it. My heart was beating fast. Who did this man think he was to tell me how to behave? “You’re hurting me,” I said.
This made him let go. “Your brother was in a very delicate place a week ago,” he said. “So I’ve given him a home here. And he told me that I just had to meet you. That I’d like you.”
The edge to his voice made me even more scared. I was too terrified to speak.
“Kathryn,” he continued, gesturing to the girls huddled beside us. “These girls had nothing. The world didn’t want them. And I’ve built something for them.”
I continued not to speak. Then, he gestured back towards the entrance of the camp. “I want you to walk down that path, find your bike, ride away, and I never want to see you again.”
My heart was pounding. I looked back towards Blake, who was far away. Jay was giving me an out, but I wanted to talk to my brother first. Tell him what had happened. “Your brother’s not coming back,” Jay said. “Now go.”
I hesitated for a long time before Jay gave me another look. I began to run back the way I’d come. I shook my head, trying to wonder if that had really happened, if I had just been threatened by an older man that I barely knew. I wondered if it was true what Jay had said, that he wasn’t coming back. I was angry that Blake had been in his own world with Sasha and hadn’t come to my defense.
The bike ride back was a blur. I wanted to tell Mom and Dad what had happened, and I didn’t care that I would get in trouble for having lied to Mom earlier about where I was going. But before I could, Mom told me that Blake had decided not to live with us anymore. So maybe it was true.
I went into my room and cried. Everything in my gut told me that something was wrong, that Blake was in danger. If Jay had been like that to me, I wondered if he’d been like that to any of the other girls. But I drowned that feeling that out, telling myself that Blake was an adult. That he seemed happy, and he had every right to make his own life choices. So I tried to put it out of my mind, but I didn’t expect that I would lose contact with him.
As the months went by, I tried not to think about it. A few months later, I biked back to the campsite. I remembered Jay’s threat but wondered realistically what he would do to me if I showed up to talk to my brother. Still, when I arrived, the occupants of the site were different. An unassuming family with two young kids. I stood there, limp, when the husband made eye contact with me.
“Can I help you, honey?” He asked.
“Sorry, I’m lost,” I said quietly.
I wished I had a way to contact my brother, but I hoped that wherever he was, he was happy. That would have been enough for me to know.
In September of 1970, thirteen months after he’d been away, I started my first year of college at UC Boulder. My roommate, Tara, came back into our room one afternoon when I was studying.
“Phone’s for you,” she said. “He says he’s your brother.”
I immediately sped into the hallway and picked up the phone, my hands shaking. “Hello?”
“Kat?” It was him. He sounded good.
“Mom and Dad said you’re in Boulder.”
“Yes,” I said. “You talked to Mom and Dad?”
“Yeah, I’ve been trying to write you. Have you been getting my letters?”
“Huh,” he said. “Anyway, I thought I’d try calling.”
“Where are you?” “I’m maybe only an hour away. You’ll have to come visit.”
“Yes,” I said, figuring that maybe he was no longer with Jay or any of the other girls, that he’d left them a long time ago.
“Sasha was sad that she didn’t really get to talk to you last time,” he continued. So he was still with them. My heart skipped a beat.
“Listen, I don’t know,” I said. I wanted to tell him what Jay had done. Even all this time later, it still scared me to think about him. But I didn’t know how.
“Think about it,” he said.
I didn’t know what to say.
“Kat,” he said. “It’s so nice to hear you.”
“You too,” I said. Was this really happening, or was I dreaming it? “Listen. Don’t be a stranger. Is there a number I reach you at?”
“I don’t know,” he said. I could feel him getting ready to hang up.
“Talk to you later, Kat.” Before I could say anything else, I heard the line click.
I took a minute to compose myself. He said he was an hour away, but an hour away could mean many different things. I wondered if I’d made a mistake. Maybe he’d call me back. Still, that call never came.
Still, it ended up being the last time I ever spoke to him. It would be another year before I saw his mugshot on the news and learned what he was involved with. The question I kept going back to was why. Because it didn’t make sense. Blake was sad but he wasn’t violent. He had a good heart. Or at least, that was the Blake that I knew.
If I had been any older and wiser during my interaction with Jay, maybe I could have sensed things. Gotten Blake to leave with me. He was of age so maybe we could have gotten a place of our own. And things would be very different now. But of course, it was far too late for any of that.