A week had passed since I had found a dead man in my living room. Something about this felt familiar. I went to the top shelf of my closet. All the way in the back and pushed to one side, I found the box. I pulled it down and took it into the living room. The box was plain brown, its flaps were bent and creased and slid open easily. Inside was a penlight long since dead, seven tattered pocket notebooks, a watch with glow in the dark numbers and hands, a skeleton key from one of our cases, and the scrapbook.
The cover had colorful letters that said “Margaret and Francine’s Adventure Book”. The first couple of pages were just photos of me and Margaret as young kids. After that, the newspaper clippings started. “Kids Find Dognapped Show Dog” was the first one. The accompanying photo was of two kids on either side of a dog. The original color photo was also on the page. I studied the two children, Margaret was smiling broadly, she had been so excited to solve a “mystery”. I was smiling as well but not the face-splitting grin Margaret had. Did I know then? Maybe I had just started to figure out. The caption read, “Ten-year-olds, Margaret (left) and Francine (right) found Dixie (center) in the cellar of an abandoned house.” I touched the liquid paper that covered my deadname. Someone had carefully printed my name on top.
I flipped quickly through the following pages. Not every adventure had ended with a front-page story. Most barely rated a short blurb in the weekly Oddities and Curiosities column. Everyone was collected in the scrapbook, interspaced with photos of us taken by our private photographer, my mom. A couple of years floated by until I reached the two-page spread dedicated to the Case of the Crooked Beauty Pageant. The big photo under the headline, “Beauty Pageant Scandal!!”, was of the finalists in their formal wear. I was third from the end.
Margaret had heard rumors the pageant’s voting was rigged. The fact that Jennifer Grey had been crowned two years in a row suggested something might have been hinky. So, we entered the pageant. I hadn’t meant to enter but during the summer I had been too busy with our adventures to get a haircut and puberty hadn’t yet hit me hard. When the woman at the registration desk asked for my name, Margaret had jumped at the chance to have both of us backstage. The dresses, swimsuits, and makeup were all strange and confusing to me but the rest, being seen and treated as a girl, had just felt right. Perhaps if I had actually been a boy it would have bothered me. Maybe I would have put up more of a fight when Margaret suggested I compete. Instead, I had loved all of it, well except for the chase through the hotel in a ballgown.
After the pageant, which had been fixed by Jenifer’s father bribing the judges, I went back to living as a boy, mostly. I flipped a couple pages to the next big case we had a few months later. The Case of the Silver Teeth. The teeth belonged to the grandfather of a local judge. They had been “misplaced” after a small fire in the judge’s house. In the photo Mom had taken, we’re holding the teeth between us with the judge behind us. My hair is still uncut held back by a headband. The judge had called us the best girl detectives he had ever seen. Mom had corrected him but it hadn’t bothered me.
I flipped a few more pages to a photo of the two of us standing next to a mud covered safe. My hair is short, cropped almost to the root. Do I look as unhappy as I felt? I’m smiling in the photo but I know I wasn’t happy. A week earlier I had cut my hair off after one too many remarks from a classmate. Peer pressure, bullying, or whatever you want to call it had finally forced me back into societal norms. I was miserable and couldn’t understand why.
Several pages later I was wearing a skirt and a jaunty beret to cover my still short hair, posing with Margaret and the Mayor. We had helped him find his father’s pocket watch. Not the most compelling case we ever had but the most important one to me. It was during this case that I came out as trans. Mom had accepted me almost immediately once I had dug up enough courage to tell her. Dad was hesitant but came around fast. Margaret had laughed and said it was about time. She had picked up on it during the pageant and had tried to subtly encourage me. The Mayor had been confused that the boy and girl detectives he had contacted were two girls by the end but he rolled with it.
The rest of the scrapbook was adventure after adventure. In photo after photo, I could see myself and Margaret grow up. There was no newspaper clipping to go along with our last adventure that had nearly ended with us in jail. The last photo was taken just after we graduated high school. Soon after we had gone to different colleges and lost touch.
I closed the scrapbook. What was I doing? Reminiscing about the “Good Old Days” to what end? A dead man had been found in my living room. I had an almost airtight alibi. There was no reason for me to involve myself with the investigation. As a “kid detective”, if I hadn’t gotten involved, Margaret would have. That was all behind me, wasn’t it? I had been fighting against getting involved with these “stories” that seemed to spawn around me for years. This felt familiar, though we had never seen a dead body or investigated a murder. It was a mystery and I understood mysteries. Maybe I could subvert the story. Stay a step ahead of it and … solve it without needing to be kidnapped or stumbling onto the bad guys.
What was I thinking? I’m in the clear. I just need to let the police do their jobs and find the killer. Just keep my head down and nothing will happen to me. I put the scrapbook back in the box, closed it and shoved the box back on the closet shelf. Yeah just leave it alone, I thought and closed the closet.
I walked back into my living room. The cleaners had done a great job. I couldn’t even tell where the carpet had been soaked with blood. The blood splatter on the wall was gone as well. The bloody handprint, erased except from my memory. Something clicked in my head. I grabbed my notebook and wrote down a note. I would call the detective tomorrow about it but surely he or someone else had noticed it too. I would just make sure they had noticed it, that was all. I wasn’t getting involved. I wasn’t.