Recommended Reading: Missing Persons.

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Excerpt from “Longest Night of the Year” 

Sex. That’s all Cameron had really wanted. Uncommitted, internet-facilitated sex and maybe a little conversation. But the woman he brought home—his online date, his supposed match—hasn’t emerged from his guest room since she went into it three nights ago, locking the door behind her. 

She has access to potable water through the en suite. As far as he can tell, she hasn’t taken sustenance of any other kind since their dinner on Friday. She hasn’t touched the food he’s left outside the door; she hasn’t, by all appearances, raided the kitchen while he’s been asleep. Not that he’s slept much. Over the past sixty-some hours, he’s listened to her footfalls, to the toilet flushing, to tinny voices buzzing behind that locked door. The woman hasn’t responded to any of his attempts to make contact. “Are you okay?” he’s called to her and “I’m sorry.” No reply. “I’m tired,” she’d said before shutting the door on Friday night. That was the last thing she said to him.

“Isn’t this trespassing?” asks Laura, his ex-wife. He phones Laura on Monday morning, once it’s become clear that the woman will not be leaving in time for him to get to work. “Or maybe it’s one of those vampire situations? You invited her in, and now you’re screwed.”

Cameron snorts, though he’s considered both possibilities. He responds only to the first: “It would be trespassing if I asked her to leave and she didn’t.” 

“Wait,” Laura says, “you haven’t asked?” Her voice rises to almost the same pitch as their daughters’, bright in the background on this, the first real day of winter break. A high school guidance counselor, Laura is off for the week too. “Seriously, Cam? Who is this woman, anyway?”

“I met her online.” He’s standing in the southeast corner of the dining room, at the farthest point from the guest room. He rests his temples against the two walls. Like a dunce, which is precisely how he feels. “You think I deserve this.”

“Don’t you?” But her tone is gentler. “You brought a total stranger into your home.” Laura hadn’t wanted the lake house; she’d moved the kids to town after the divorce. Still, he senses the “our” in “your.”

“We messaged for a week. She seemed great.” At least by comparison. Cameron had recently signed up with three different dating sites. He’d hoped to maximize his prospects, see all the singles who weren’t showing themselves in person. So far the local dating scene looked little better online. He matched with women who were too young or too old, with too many kids or pets or lattes in their photos. Women he knew professionally, whose profiles he swiped past, as if looking were tantamount to harassment. But this woman’s profile—Theresa’s profile—was clean of dependents or prior associations. He might have “liked” her just for that. In photos, Theresa had big, deep-set eyes and long, curly brown hair. A narrow nose and a reserved smile. She was attractive, not hot: someone he could bring without shame to his once-conjugal bed. Best of all, she would only be in the area through the holidays. 

“Which site?” Laura asks. “I want to see.”

“She took her profile down. And you’d need an account to view it.”

“You think I don’t have one?”

“I think I would have noticed you.”

“Right.” 

Cameron pictures Laura rolling her eyes. She’s not truly jealous. Her tone is just a reflex, a relic of the days when his outside interests still hurt her. They were together fourteen years, married for twelve; they’ve been divorced for three.

“I did ask,” he says. “I knocked on the door yesterday morning and said it was time for her to leave.”

“Then what? She ignored you, so you dropped it.” Laura sighs. “Cam, you need to call the cops.” 

But Cameron does not want that kind of attention: a team of small-town police knocking down the guest room’s solid wood door, a gleeful write-up in the thin local newspaper. Whether or not Theresa spoke to a reporter, Cameron would seem culpable. How could he seem otherwise, in a story about his would-be hookup barricading herself in the guest room? He’s a financial planner, specializing in estates. It’s not in his professional interest to appear culpable. 

About The Book

Stephanie Carpenter’s collection, Missing Persons, won the 2017 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction. Her work has appeared in The Missouri Review, Witness, Big Fiction, Crab Orchard Review and other journals, and she has received fellowships and residencies from the American Antiquarian Society, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Ragdale, the Hambidge Center, and the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. She teaches creative writing and literature at Michigan Tech University. 

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Article originally Published in the February/March 2020 Issue “Short Stories”

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