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Still Water Runs Deep
written by: Dawn DeBraal
Lanette Bradley was voted the prettiest girl at Tioga High School. Her face would haunt students and townspeople long after she was discovered at the Still Water Falls. Lanette’s body was found floating in the pooled water at the bottom of the falls, weeks after she went missing. Whispered gossip spread like wildfire, everyone seemed to have their own theory. Did she commit suicide? Was she murdered? Was it an accident? Missing posters with her beautiful face were stapled on trees and taped to buildings, faded and peeled, the mystery of her death, never solved.
When Lanette disappeared, Finn Hawkins was the first to be interviewed. Finn and Lanette were dating. Finn had a cut on his face. Most of the football players on the Tigers team had bruises or cuts.
Lanette’s best friend Sheila was crushed. She never seemed to stop crying. Sheila and Lanette shared everything. Cheerleading, Home Coming Court. President and Vice President of their Junior Class, they spent nights at each other’s homes, they were close, like sisters. Sheila was adamant that Lanette wouldn’t have committed suicide. There was no reason for her to do something like that. Sheila insisted the police department not let the investigation go.
Eddy Sawtelle, an obsessed high school yearbook photographer had taken hundreds of pictures of one cheerleader. Lanette was a centerfold in the making for the yearbook. The detective decided even though Eddy had an obsession with all things, Lanette, there was no evidence that he had done any harm to her.
For a short time, Lanette’s English teacher was suspect. He wrote many notes on Lanette’s homework that detectives felt were borderline inappropriate.
“Lanette, this work is as extraordinary as the author!” “Lanette, this work is so interesting. It reflects a maturity beyond your young years.” Things of that nature. Right away the investigation turned to a teacher/student relationship. Eventually, that dead-ended too when they discovered Mr. Sway wrote these kinds of personal notes to every student, not just Lanette. The Still Water police force decided to look further out of the school circle, for suspects.
When Lanette went missing, classmates and volunteers scoured the woods surrounding the falls searching for her. Deep divers were brought in to explore the dark, cold waters of the quarry but didn’t find her body. The quarry was over two hundred feet deep in places. Extremely cold water prevented divers from being in the water for any length of time.
Lanette’s body came to the surface missing a shoe, weeks after the divers left. Perhaps she had been caught on one of the cars at the bottom of the quarry the detectives surmised.
It was Dan Rivers who found Lanette floating in the water at the bottom of the falls. He got sick after calling in the incident. Questioned thoroughly, Dan cried for days after his discovery. Weeks later Dan was still unable to get that picture out of his mind. Nightmares plagued him.
In his dreams, Dan would be walking along the edge of the quarry when the bloated rheumy face of Lanette came out of the pool, pulling him back into the dark waters with her. Dan would wake at night drenched in sweat. He was still in counseling a year after finding his classmate’s body.
Early on, the police searched Lanette’s room finding her diary. As pretty as Lanette Bradley was on the outside, that couldn’t be said about her on the inside. Lanette was an emotional mess. Angry at the world, her parents, and her friends. She was beautiful, well-liked, she had a boyfriend and the support from the community but still wasn’t happy.
The diary built a strong case for Lanette taking her own life on the falls. The evil she spilled out on those private pages was especially shocking. The Bradleys’ were devastated, their only child, gone. Not that having another child would have made it easier. They’d put all their eggs in one basket, and that basket went over the falls.
Lanette’s parents were well off, owning several businesses in Still Water. To honor her memory, they established an academic scholarship to be given to a cheerleader at Tioga High School in Lanette’s name.
By the end of the school year, the police department working Lanette’s case had moved it to the back burner. Too many dead ends. Every interview showed a well-liked young lady. Every passage pulled from the diary showed a maladjusted teenager who was not dealing well with her life. The two Lanette’s conflicted one another. The police were running out of leads. All wounds found on her body were consistent with hitting the ledge that existed below the falls. An autopsy on Lanette Bradley’s body showed water in her lungs, proving she was alive when she hit the water and drown.
Lanette’s diary was poison to anyone who knew her. The police questioned Lanette’s mother, Lori Bradley through her tears looked directly at the detective.
“Lanette would never go to the falls on her own. She was deathly afraid of water. She almost drowned in a store fountain as a child, someone had to draw her out to the falls, detective. You need to look deeper!” Nerves were threadbare when the police left the Bradley home. The Bradleys’ were incensed they would be suspect of killing their own daughter. What Lanette’s parents told the Still Water police department, about her fear of water pointed toward the murder theory.
As summer faded to fall, the police department was no closer to concluding the case. Lead detective Rubin Timm doubted they would ever find answers. The case turning a year old remained unsolved. Cold leads and false memories would make finding the truth harder.
Rubin Timm was not convinced that someone had committed a crime. If it weren’t for the insistence of Lanette’s parents and close friends, he would have deemed this an accidental death and closed the case. Detective Timm was determined to find the answers before the Class of 2016 graduated from Tioga High.
On the one-year anniversary date of Lanette’s disappearance, the cheerleaders led by Sheila Madigan honored Lanette’s memory with a memorial. The students planted a tree in front of the school earlier that year, then all pitched in purchasing an engraved plaque bearing her name. The memorial service unveiled the installed plague near the tree. Students came bearing stuffed animals, gifts and notes placing them around the tree. Lanette’s church held a prayer vigil with candles. It was all so moving. The students disbursed from the memorial were very somber.
Sheila drove to the party after Lanette’s service. She was a little mad at her boyfriend who didn’t want to go. He found it in bad taste to have a party afterward. It was a celebration of Lanette’s life. It was not in poor taste. As she drove to the party, Sheila thought about one of the last times she and Lanette were together.
They shopped for their homecoming dance dresses stopping at the coffee shop in the mall. Sheila was telling a story when she realized Lanette wasn’t listening. Sheila clapped her hands twice near her friend's face.
“Lanette, Hello! Where are you? You’ve been out of it for a couple of days.” Lanette looked at her friend getting red in the face.
“It’s Finn, he wants to do 'it,' Homecoming night.” Sheila put her arm around her friend.
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. Don’t push yourself. I know you love Finn, but you don’t have to show him that way.”
Lanette nodded her head 'yes' agreeing with her friend. Lanette told Sheila she didn’t know what she was going to say. Finn wanted her to go to a motel after the homecoming dance because they had a late curfew that night. Lanette said she was feeling a little pressured, even though Finn told her they wouldn’t have to do anything. Lanette, let Sheila know how deeply she cared for Finn and she just wasn’t sure.
“Lanette, if Finn Hawkins cares about you that much, he won’t make you do anything you don’t want to. He’s a decent guy. Everybody knows that. Just tell him you aren’t ready. He will understand. Tell him not to rent the room, it’s a waste of money as far as you’re concerned. Ask Finn to wait. We can have a sleepover at my house that night. It would give you an excuse.” Sheila offered. Lanette hugged her friend, saying she wasn’t sure about anything, she had a couple of weeks to think about it yet.
The anniversary date of Lanette’s death also affected Finn Hawkins. He didn’t realize how hard he would take today. Lanette would forever be this young, beautiful flower. He truly loved her and though his new girlfriend was a wonderful person, they didn’t have what he and Lanette had. How had a year gone by so quickly? It seemed like yesterday she was standing there in her cheerleading outfit winking at him when she stood out on the field.
Lanette had a mean streak in her and was very frustrated with many people, but she also had a soft warm side that only a few people got to see. Lanette was afraid her friends would take advantage of her if she showed that soft part of herself to anyone. Finn spent the day in reflection after attending the memorial ceremony. He needed to be alone. He wondered if anyone else felt Lanette’s loss so deeply? Maybe her parents did. Lanette was extremely angry at them. Especially her mother.
Finn found himself at the Still Water Falls watching the leaves as they floated down from the surrounding trees. It was so beautiful here. Finn walked around, wondering why Lanette had come out here that day? It didn’t make sense.
Lanette’s car was found in the parking lot. She’d driven herself. Lanette was not one to enjoy nature. Finn felt she wouldn’t take her own life. Finn pictured her climbing to the top of those rocks and throwing herself into the cold water below. It made little sense. But a small part of him felt little guilty too.
The night of homecoming Finn rented a hotel room. Looking back on it now, Finn worried that maybe she wasn’t ready, maybe he had pushed her too far, too fast. Lanette didn’t say much afterward. She seemed different to him the few days that followed their encounter. They hadn’t talked about it. Then Lanette went missing. He hoped she didn’t kill herself because of him.
Finn walked as far as he could to the top of the falls before coming up to the new fencing that cut off the summit. It served as a deterrent to anyone wanting to 'copycat' Lanette’s death. The tall fence topped with three strands of barbed wire was paid for by the Bradleys’ who felt that if it had been in place a year ago, Lanette would not have been able to reach the top of the falls.
Artificially made, Still Water Falls consisted of a well, driven at the bottom of the quarry that filled the abandoned mine with water. A pump carried water to the top of the cliff spilling over the jagged rocks during three seasons of the year. In the days before the fencing, kids could run off the top of the cliff, jumping out as far as they could to avoid the rocky ledge under the waterfall. All of those who swam at the quarry knew where the ledge was.
Over the years of the Still Water Falls existence, there had been a few deaths at the popular swimming place. Most of the deaths occurred by those who didn’t respect the water, those who drank too much, inexperienced swimmers challenging each other to swim across the wide expanse. There were the kids who picked up heavy stones holding onto them as they jumped into the water letting the weight of the rock take them down further and further until they ran out of breath then letting go of the weight, they would float back up to the surface. The water was unbelievably cold. Some succumbed to that cold after holding onto the stone for too long of time passing out, never coming up until it was too late.
There were so many great memories here growing up, having fun with friends, learning how to swim, all of them destroyed, with Dan River’s discovery of Lanette’s body. Finn walked down the side of the quarry sitting at the waters edge, watching the falls come down. The churning frothing, water, was here the day Lanette died, only the falls knew what happened. Soon the city would be coming to shut the falls off for the winter. The woods and the park would be silent then. Finn was in his head. Maybe he shouldn’t be alone today, perhaps he should go to the party. Finn headed to town leaving the falls behind him.
It seemed after the memorial service people were ready to go on with their lives. The tree planted at the school put down the roots of change. Less and less, Lanette’s name was brought up. Everyone and everything seemed to move forward. Because of the better grades Sheila started to get after the loss of her friend, she attained the second-highest grade point average in her class.
Upon finding she was the class Salutatorian Sheila was excited about her future. Preparing to write, Sheila was determined to find a way to incorporate her dear friend, Lanette, into the speech she was expected to give. She tried writing the speech several ways. “The One We Leave Behind,” a bittersweet story about how they as a class, were moving on, but Lanette would stay behind keeping their place here in Still Water. This version of her speech was her favorite. She cried as she wrote. She felt a cathartic healing process within her. The three-ring binder held many versions of the speech. Mr. Sway had given approval to all her speeches.
The Tioga High School commencement of the Class of 2016 began. Sheila was the recipient of the cheerleader scholarship given by the Bradleys’. They had set aside four-thousand-dollars to a State College. The auditorium stood and clapped for Sheila as she tearfully accepted the money saying she would honor Lanette’s memory forever.
When the applause died down, Sheila as the Salutatorian of their graduation ceremony, prepared to give “The One We Leave Behind” speech. It seemed appropriate after getting the large scholarship from Lanette’s parents. Sheila stood at the podium turning the pages in the three-ring binder from her scholarship acceptance speech to the Salutatorian speech.
Sheila paused for a moment looking like she was going to cry. All eyes were on her as she held her breath trying to regain her composure. The auditorium fell silent. Sheila tucked a loose piece of paper which slid out of the three-ring binder, back into place and readied herself to continue. Taking a deep breath, she cleared her throat before she started to speak.
Sheila’s mind flashed briefly. She lay at the top of the falls calling Lanette who stood at the bottom.
“Lanette, please help me! My foot is stuck in the rocks!” Lanette forgot her fear of water and heights and ran to the top of the falls to help her friend.
The loose paper Sheila placed back into the binder was a note in Sheila’s own handwriting.
“Lanette, meet me at the falls, I have something important to talk about. Sheila.”
Several months after Lanette’s death, Sheila accepted Finn Hawkins’ class ring, now that they were going steady.