Pennsylvania roads are a joke. Mom hit a pothole, and my head bounced off the window. I guess I nodded off for a bit. At least I know the sleeping pills are working–I slept like a rock. I think I’m still feeling them. I smiled and thought about the possibility of nodding off in Nicole’s office– but the smile faded when I remembered what happened yesterday.
I broke down, and she knelt by me. Maybe she’s not as bad as I thought. When she looked at me…
I don’t know, I guess I felt like she really cares. She looked at me like Emily does sometimes.
Jesus, Em… I need to get through this. I need to convince Nicole that I’m fine, and go back to save you. That …thing… still has her, and I know she’s not dead. She can’t be. I can’t explain it, but I can feel her. I know she’s alive, and waiting for me—I just can’t get to her. Every time I try, I can’t get there. The first time I went looking for her, I was out for about six hours, and couldn’t figure out where we went or how we got there. We started off in the woods behind my house, like we usually do, and they only extend about two or three miles in any direction before you hit a road, and I’ve explored all of it. There’s no room for wherever we were. I remember being completely lost, and we never crossed a road. It doesn’t make sense.
My mom snapped me out of those thoughts.
Jesus, Em… I need to get through this. I need to convince Nicole that I’m fine, and go back and get you.
“Honey? You ready?”
I didn’t realize she had parked. “Oh, yeah. Sorry.” I undid my seat belt and got out of the car.
Today is the day I throw Nicole a bone. I’m going to tell her everything, from the beginning. Maybe she can help me. What have I got to lose? I tried to organize my thoughts on the walk to the dull office building, but everything always starts to get foggy when I think of…him. It’s really irritating. I can remember what happened, but when I start thinking about specifics; what he looks like, it actually physically hurts. I get headaches, and I start to feel sick. It’s like he blocked off those memories. He doesn’t want to be found.
“Everything alright?” my mom asked as we got to the waiting room.
I glared at her. No, it wasn’t alright. Nothing was alright.
Once she got her foot out of her mouth, she added “I know, sweetie. I know you don’t really like Nicole, either, but she likes you, and she wants to help, but she can’t help you if you don’t let her.”
“You think I’m crazy, too.”
“I didn’t say that. You told me it hurt to remember what happened, right? I think Nicole can help with that. Just give her a chance.”
I sighed. She’s right.
“I know. It doesn’t matter what you or anybody else thinks. If Nicole can help me figure out where Em and I were, none of this matters.”
My mom didn’t have a reply for that. She smiled, but it was forced, almost like she felt sorry for me. I think she’s convinced that Em is gone. She might even think that I killed her. Whatever.
They’ll see. I’ll get to the bottom of this and then Em can tell her that I’m not crazy.
Mom walked over to the receptionist’s desk and I dropped into the nearest chair. It didn’t take long for Nicole to come around the corner behind the desk, her heels clicking on the white floor.
“Luke? Hey, how did you sleep?”
She smiled the fake smile, and walked up to my mom to say hello. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but my mom seemed to relax a bit. I don’t have the energy to talk to both of them at once. She’ll come over to collect me eventually.
As soon as I thought that, she started walking over.
“As I’ll ever be.”
I got up and we started heading to her office, heels clicking every step of the way… I don’t even know why she bothers wearing them; she always takes them off when she got to her office. Keeping up appearances, I guess. They look great on her, but they also look like they hurt.
Tile changed to carpet when we got to her office, and like always, she stepped out of her shoes.
“Why do you even wear them if you just take them off when you’re in here?”
“Because I like how I look in them, and I like to keep up appearances. They’re pretty painful to wear for a long time, though.”
“Nothing. Just the way you said that.”
I hit the couch like a dead man hits the floor, and took a deep breath.
“You remember what you promised?”
“Yeah, I do. It’s hard, though. To remember, I mean.”
She sat down in her chair, facing me, and got her notebook from the table next to her.
“So you’ve said. At least you got some sleep, though. How do you feel?”
I looked over to her and raised a brow. “What, right now?”
“Yes.” she said, seriously.
“Why the hell does that matter?”
“Everything matters, Luke. I’m trying to paint a picture, here, and I need all the colors.”
I guess that makes sense. “I… Good, I guess. Better. I’m still stressed, but if this helps me find Emily, I’ll be much better soon. You’re going to help me find her.”
She pushed her glasses back up her nose.
“That’s the plan.”
I rubbed my eyes and tried to decide where to start. I remember that day, at least. It was last Thursday. We both had off from work, and we met at the coffee shop about a mile away from my house.
“I guess it would have to start with that morning.”
That was a good day. I mean, I get to see Em pretty often nowadays, but it’s not usually a whole day. After work, on lunch—that kind of thing. But that day was ours. We decided to start out at the bookstore near my house, because I couldn’t get a ride from my mom. The walk wasn’t too bad for me, and she usually got a ride from her mom. It was a nice little locally-run bookstore, and we usually spent a few hours walking around. The Cafe was a nice bonus. Em hates Starbucks. I don’t really care either way, but she never could stand the atmosphere. She’s convinced they burn the beans, too, but I can’t tell the difference.
Anyway, she was there first, like usual, but she was sitting outside at one of the tables, too nervous to order our drinks. She’s not really a people person. I remember seeing her before she saw me, and I stopped to watch her. She was so beautiful. She sat tall, back upright against the chair, looking for me. She was tapping a nervous beat on the table with her fingers. Her red-brown hair was pulled over one shoulder, still a little wet from her shower. She doesn’t wear makeup, usually—at my request—but that day she wore a little bit of eye shadow which drew me into her cool blue crystalline eyes.
…I admit, I went around the bookstore, behind the strip mall that housed it, so I could see her before she saw me. She’s so intense when I’m not around, and it’s fun to watch, sometimes. It was like watching an elk in the wild, as it had just heard a rustle in far-off grass. She was tense, nervous, and alone, but she somehow stomached it and showed nothing but poise and grace. I kept walking, and decided not to sneak up on the elk. I shouted her name, and she turned and I could see the self-conscious tension melt away as her face warmed with the smile that had won me over long, long ago. She got up and skipped over to meet me; she practically jumped into me with a hug. “You did that on purpose,” she laughed.
I told her it wasn’t my fault that she’s adorable when she’s nervous.
She pulled away and looked at me, and her eyes drew me in again. She leaned in and kissed me, taking me off guard.
“Missed you,” she said.
Before I could say anything, she grabbed my hand and pulled me along to the front doors of the book store. I remember her playfulness the best. “Come on, creep. You know I don’t like ordering.”
I sighed, smiling as she pulled, and asked if her mom had already left.
She said yeah. That she had a meeting or something.
At the time, I couldn’t even remember the last time I saw her mom. Hell, I still can’t. I started to think that she might be avoiding me. I don’t know. I mean, she likes me well enough, I think, but it’s hard to tell.
I’m… Well, I’m sure she doesn’t want to see me now.
“You’re doing great, Luke.” She said, during the pause.
“Do you need to stop?”
Looking at her, I could see that she was being honest. I could, if I wanted to.
“Kinda.” I said, wiping tears from my cheeks with the sleeve of my hoodie.
“Ok.” She whispered, kindly.
She wasn’t holding her notepad anymore. The penstrokes had stopped. A while ago, maybe; I hadn’t noticed until now.
She looked at her watch.
“You’ve only got about twenty minutes, anyway. We can stop early, today.”
“It’s okay, Luke. You’ve given me a lot. I know it’s not easy. Truthfully, I can’t even imagine.”
“Yeah.” I said, shutting down a bit.
I didn’t want to think anymore. Things started to blend. Lines blurred and I was only half-paying attention when she took me out to my mom. I fell asleep in the car.