Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Higher Ground or Criminal Minds characters.

August 21, 2020

My darling son,

A little girl once told me that shadows were used to hide secrets. At the time, I didn't really think much of it and I was more concerned about writing a one thousand word essay about shadows. Now thinking back there is wisdom in those words. Without the secrets, there shouldn't be anything to hide. Therefore, shadows shouldn't exist.

I am writing this letter to you so that you can understand where you came from and you can get the answers to those basic questions that you have asked me for most of your life.

I am a coward. I don't want to see your reactions or hear your disbelief at what you will be reading. You see, my life was not what I lead you to believe it was.

As you were growing up, I tried to create a world perfect and nurturing for you. I know it was hard for you sometimes when I had to be gone for work but I hope that part of this will answer some of your basic questions about me and would allow you to understand why work became so important to me.

First of all you need to know that I was not born Jennifer Jareau. I was born Shelby Merrick. My adult life has been based off of a series of half truths and some full lies. Though hard at times, it was for the best. I hope that through this you will understand the thought process behind my actions and, maybe one day, will forgive me for denying you your heritage. It was never meant to hurt you. It was meant to protect you from the harsh realities of life.

Now is the time to tell you the truth.

It all started when I was sixteen. Actually, it started way before that but I am not going to tell you of the abuse I suffered at the hands of my step-father. For the purposes of this letter, my story starts as I was being driven towards Mount Horizon School.

**February 1999**

I stared silently out the window as we made our way towards the small wilderness school that I had been sent to. My escorts, Roger and Samantha, had given up hours ago at luring me into conversation. During that time I learned several things. One was that both of my escorts were teachers at this school for troubled youth. Another was that this school was separated into groups that did everything together and that I would be in the Cliffhanger group.

I had learned more from my escorts during our 10 hours of straight driving than I had in the few days prior to this. Only three days before my dad had somehow convinced the court that I needed to be placed in a therapeutic school rather than Eastlake juvenile detention center, where I had been staying after my arrest for public intoxication. This had been the straw that broke the camels back or the thing that finally sent my dad over the edge.

When I called during my intake to Eastlake, my dad had broke down and admitted that he couldn't handle me. As I had runaway from mom's house, a year and a half prior, they weren't too keen on sending me back there.

Dad had come in during visiting hours three days ago.

"Shelby, I talked to some people I know. You are going to Mount Horizon High School in a couple of days instead of having to do time here."

"Am I supposed to be grateful?"

"That would be nice. You know I care for you but I just can't do this anymore. You need help and, since your mom failed to get you help before you ran away, its up to me to make sure that you get it."

He left soon after that and I was stuck not knowing anything until yesterday morning when Roger and Samantha came to pick me up.

The car turned right down a long driveway as the sun was setting and minutes later parked in front of a wooden building.

"Welcome to Mount Horizon High School," Roger said.

I ignored him and waited until Roger opened the back door for me. I slipped out of the car and was lead by Roger up the wooden steps. Once inside, I was taken to a small room with one window up high enough that no one could escape through it. The room also had two chairs and a table.

"Peter or Hannah will be with you shortly to start your admittance process. During that time your bag will also be brought in so that it can be searched for contraband."

"Sounds like loads of fun."

Once he left, I sat on one of the chairs and waited. Having spent time in Eastlake, I was very good at just waiting. It wasn't long before a skinny white chick with red hair bustled into the room.

"Hi, Shelby. My name is Hannah. I'm the counselor for the group that you will be joining."

"Good for you."

As Hannah searched through my meager belongings, she told me the rules. I didn't pay attention. There wasn't any need to know the rules that I would probably break.

After a short physical, during which I was deemed to be in good health, I was lead to the headmaster's office. I memorized the way knowing that I was probably be in there quite a bit.

The man sitting behind the large desk stood at my entrance into the office. He was unlike any other headmaster, or principal for us regular folks. All the others were weak, spineless, easily manipulated and fat. This guy was built and fit with kind eyes.

"Come in and have a seat," he said gesturing towards a seat in front of his desk.

I sat in the indicated seat.

"My name is Peter Scarborough. I am the headmaster of this school. I wanted to take a few minutes and go over a couple of things with you before you get settled into the dorms. Is that ok?"

I shrugged. It didn't really matter what I thought.

"Wait." He paused and shuffled a couple of things on his desk. "Let's get you dinner while the Cliffhangers are in group and we can talk while you eat."

It was totally dark as we exited the office building. As we walked, Peter pointed out some buildings.

We reached the kitchen and Peter pulled out bread and peanut butter. He made three sandwiches, handing me two on a plate.

"Do you want anything to drink?"

"I'll have a BudLIght or if you don't have that anything alcoholic will do?"

He shook his head. "You can have water or juice."

"Not much of a choice there." I looked at him. "I guess water will have to do."

"Go ahead and sit in the dining room. I will bring the water." He said pointing toward an opening that lead into the dining room.

I took my plate and walked into the bigger room. The dining room was huge and packed with long tables. I picked one that was close and sat down.

Peter walked into the room and chuckled. "You don't have to sit in the dark."

I didn't say anything. I just took a bite out of the sandwich.

Peter sat across from me and slid across a cup of water.

Peter launched into a long explanation on what would and wouldn't be allowed.

"Also, the day starts at six am. You will be at breakfast by seven am. From seven to eight am is cleaning, free time or counseling sessions. Classes start at 9am and go until 3pm then you will have an hour of free time during which you can do homework or talk to your teachers. At four, the cliffhangers have activities such as running or basketball. Five-thirty is dinner which goes to six-thirty after which you either help with kitchen duty if it is your group's turn or have some more free time. At seven, the cliffhangers meet for group then back to your dorms by eight and lights out at nine." He paused. "Tomorrow morning I will give you a full schedule. Do you have any questions?"

I leaned forward as I pushed the finished plate away from me. "I actually do have a question."

"Ok. Go ahead."

"When can I leave?"

"Do you mean to ask when can you leave this office or when can you leave the school?"

"Both."

"Shelby, you are in control of your life. No one can force you to do anything. However, actions here do have consequences."

"What does that have to do with leaving?"

"Think about this," he said. "If you were to leave here, where would you go? Would you return to your Mom's house or would you go back to live with your dad? We can't let you leave and allow you to go back to the streets."

"I don't know. I guess I would go to Mom's since I don't think dad will take me back."

"Then I have to ask if you are willing to go back to your mom's house, why did you leave in the first place?"

I stayed silent.

"Shelby, just think about these things and we will talk more tomorrow. Now, let's get you to the dorms for lights out."

Peter stood and I followed. The sky was dark now but many stars glittered in the night. A full moon lit the campus enough for me to see by as we walked to the dorms. The dorms were actually like cabins. They were wooden with lots of windows. Immediately inside was a couch and coffee table. Turning right, through an entryway, two rows of beds faced each other.

Two girls sat on separate beds talking across the room from each other. One, a shorter red head, looked towards me then went back to what she was doing. The other, an African-American with long black hair, stood up and walked towards me.

"Hi, I'm Kat," the girl said politely.

"Shelby," I said.

"That is Janet," Kat told me.

"I don't care."

"Well," Peter said. "I'm going to let you get settled in here. Hannah will be by to turn out lights."

I put my duffle on bed and hesitantly started unpacking what little I had. It was relatively easy and, within minutes, I was done. All I had was the few items Roger and Samantha had managed to pick up from my dad before they picked me up.

In the months that I had lived with Dad he hadn't bothered to buy me anything that wasn't strictly necessary. He had packed all that I had into the one duffle bag.

"Hey Shelby," Kat said. "You may want to go ahead and change into pajamas. Lights out is soon."

I nodded and headed into the bathroom to change. Afterwards, I sat on my bed ignoring as Kat and Janet started bickering. When the bickering got loud, Hannah poked her head in and said, "Girl's its time for bed."

I slipped under the covers fairly sure that I would not be going to sleep easily. I worried about Jess, my younger sister. I hoped to be able to talk to her soon. I hadn't been able to talk to her since I had been arrested and I worried because of that fact. I didn't like her living with mom and Walt. Though, there was nothing I could do about it. The lights went out as soon as the three of us were in our beds.