The next morning I awoke with a horrid headache and this awful churning in the pit of my stomach.
No matter which way I turned, or rolled it was still there. Something was off, something important was missing. "Oh God," I gasped, shoving my blankets off and untangling my feet from the sheets. I raced down the short hallway into the bathroom, bent over the toilet and hurled the contents in my stomach. My head hurt so badly I could barely stay on my feet. I lunged at the sink and took some aspirin, willing my legs to quit quaking, concentrating on the sound of my breathing, each breath dragging in and out painfully.
"Riley, I'm never drinking again!" I offered a dry laugh then splashed water on my face. No response from Riley. Hm.
"Riley!" I left the bathroom and paced down the hallway to our shared room, "Riley?"
She wasn't in her bed. Puzzled, I headed downstairs, and into the kitchen. "Riley?" No answer. Something was off. Mom and Dad were at work and Charlye, our Golden Retriever, was at the groomer's today… so where was Riley?
Where was she last night?
… Where was I last night?
Oh, yeah, Savannah's party. Right. Riley went home with a friend, Savannah said. She never came home. I should call Riley, see when she's coming home. Ask her why she left. And change out of this dress! I hadn't even realized that I wasn't in my pajamas. I laughed at myself, climbed back upstairs and searched around for my purse. Finding it, I withdrew my phone. Twelve missed calls. Eleven of them from Riley. How did I not notice my phone ringing so much? Oh, that's right. I was wasted. I quickly changed into a t-shirt and a comfortable pair of jeans, then dialed Riley's number. I got sent straight to voicemail. I left a message for her to call me back then crawled back under my covers, suddenly cold, earbuds in, phone lying close to me so I couldn't miss her call this time.
I tried to not notice the vacant bed staring at me, parallel to my own, almost haunting me. Something didn't seem right. Why would Riley try to call me that many times last night? Especially if she was staying at a friend's house. It was unusual, and I couldn't take sitting still anymore. I double-checked my phone; all the calls were made within the same hour. She must have desperately needed to talk to me. But if she needed to talk to me so bad, why didn't she answer when I called just now? Panic gripped me. I redialed her cell number. No luck. Checked texts. None from her. Ran over to our shared desktop. Checked email. Nothing there either.
Something was really wrong. I hared over to Riley's desk, fumbling through her drawers, my mind chanting, come on, come on. Numbers. I needed to find numbers. I found a piece of paper with what appeared to be phone numbers scrawled on it. I dialed the first one.
"Pizza Hut, may I take your order?" Frantically I pushed cancel, ending the call. I tried the next one. Just an empty dial tone. Tears sprung to my eyes. Was this what Riley heard last night when she was trying to reach me? Was I ignoring her plea for help? My breathing came in raspy, shallow breaths. Oh, God. Oh, God, please, please let her be okay. I hadn't even realized I'd dialed the final number until I heard the voice in my ear, 'Hello. Hello? Hey, is anybody there?"
I cleared my throat. "Yes, sorry. Um. I'm Rachelle Hodgeman. Who might this be?"
"Colby Helton. Why are you calling me? Aren't you Savannah's friend? Hey, if this is a scam to get back at Jace? 'Cuz, if so, I'm going to hang up now-"
"Wait!" I practically screamed. "I mean, I'm sorry. It's not a scam. Do you know my sister? Riley Hodgeman?"
"Riley? I think I asked her out last year, but she stood me up." I heard a tinge of perhaps genuine hurt in his voice. Oooooh, so Riles had an admirer? Why didn't I know about this before?
"I'm sorry," I apologized again.
He laughed. "Are you always this spacey?"
I should probably have been offended, but I was back on track now and barely noticed his comment. "So you know who I'm talking about?"
"Um, yeah? I told you I asked her out."
"So you did. You see, she disappeared at the party last night, and seeing as you were there, I just wondered if you'd seen her at any time?"
"Yeah I saw her. She's missing you say?"
"Yes. When was the last time you saw her?"
"I don't know… Right after we arrived, I'd say. She was with Savannah."
"Savannah. As in, the popular, bitchy, stuck-up blonde snob who dumped Jace?"
"Jace dumped Savannah!"
"Uh, try again. You're wrong. Savannah dumped him. To ask out Nathan. Lucky for him he turned her down. Jace said she was hell to deal with."
"You stupid -" I grunted, clenching the phone in my fist. "I don't care. I have to find my sister."
"I saw her go into a closet, you know, at the warehouse. I overheard Savannah saying something about seven minutes in heaven, I think. I walked away then, though, and didn't see her after that."
"In a closet," I muttered. "Savannah said something about going in there?"
"That's what I'm saying."
"Alright. Well, I should call Savannah then."
"Good idea." I was about to hang up when he cleared his throat. "And Rachelle? I hope you find her."
I smiled a little at the emotion in his voice. He must really like her. "Me too," I say finally, and hang up.
I called Savannah immediately after hanging up with Colby.
It rang and rang, but no answer. Eventually, I got sent to voicemail. "Hey girl, it's Rachelle. Just call me as soon as you can, okay?"
I tossed the phone on my bed and sighed, running my hands through my hair.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when my cell started buzzing. Mom. Oh, god, what was I supposed to tell her?
I answered, "Hello?"
"Rachelle? Hey is Riley home?"
I swallowed. What should I say? "Uh… Actually, Mom -"
"Can you pick up Charlye? I'm going to be a little late tonight, and I'm sure he'd rather be home instead of lying in a cage for five hours. You don't mind, do you?"
"Uh, no, Mom, but -"
"Thanks, Rache, you're a life-saver! Gotta go, hon, talk to you tonight!"
"But Mom - !" Too late, she was gone.
Well. I guess I'm going to town.
Sticking the phone in my pocket, I grabbed the Volvo keys. Maybe a short ride to the groomer's will clear my mind. I left the house, being sure to lock the door behind me, and headed down the driveway. Then I realized that I was in too much of a daze to drive safely. Instead, I retrieved Charlye's leash and took to walking.
A few blocks from home, my phone starting buzzing against my thigh. "Hello?"
"Hey, Rachelle, it's Colby."
"Yeah. I was, uh, thinking about what you said. I'd like to help you look for your sister."
"You would? I mean, yeah, sure I guess." I bounded up the three steps to the tiny green building of the Paw Spa and signed the release form for our dog. "But, I have no idea where to even begin looking - thank you." I nod to the worker, and clip the leash on the golden-red dog. He smelled strongly of hibiscus medley.
"Yeah, I thought about that, and then it hit me... We need backtrack to the last time we we saw her - why not try the warehouse?"
"Well, the last time either of us saw her, she was stepping into an old closet at the warehouse."
"And Savannah had told me she'd gone home with a friend - Oh, my gosh, Colby! You don't think she was left in the closet, do you?"
"I doubt it, don't freak out or anything, but it is worth the try. We could see if anything seems out of place, or if you find anything of hers."
I nod, then realize I'm on the phone. "Yeah, okay."
"So should I meet you there?"
I nod, again. "Yeah, sure. Tonight okay? About six? I can make up an excuse for Riley's absence, then sneak out of the house."
"Sounds good. I'll see you then - and Rachelle?"
"I know I have no right to say this, but... don't worry, everything will turn out okay."
I close my eyes, breathe in slowly, silently praying it would be.