My eyes slowly fluttered open at the light beaming through the shades. It was morning, or at least I thought it was. I had no idea how long I had been asleep for. What even happened before I went to sleep? What was I doing last night? For the life of me I couldn't remember. Taking a big stretch, I slowly rolled over and saw Ryan with a pillow and blanket. He was fast asleep. That's when it hit me. I shot up in bed, way too fast for my head to keep up with, and snatched my phone. It felt like an eternity for my eyes to clear up and see the screen. There was nothing. Not a phone call. Not a text. I scrolled to Steve's name and called the number. My heart sank when the phone went straight to voicemail. I tried again, and the same result. Not one ring.
"Ryan," I got off my bed and began shaking at him, "Ryan wake up."
"You slept in here last night?"
"Seemed like you needed it," Ryan said as he slowly sat up, "Just in case you woke up."
"I tried calling him and it went straight to voicemail." I know my voice was pleading for a logical answer. He was my big brother and he had to have an explanation for everything. He was the one I depended on that for.
"His phone may have died," Ryan stood up, "Have you checked outside?"
We both peeked through the window. Steve's car was still not in the driveway. Ken's truck was gone too.
"Where do you think he went?" I asked.
"Probably work." Ryan was probably right, but I wasn't ready to accept it that easily. Something just wasn't right. Nothing was making sense, and I couldn't be the only one to believe that.
"What if Steve's in there?" I asked, "Something could be wrong."
"And his car?"
I know I let out the biggest eye roll. "I hate it when you do that."
"What? Make sense?" Ryan asked, "I don't need you breaking into the house to go look for Steve."
"I can't just sit here and do nothing. It's one thing when he doesn't text me back, but now his car is gone. It doesn't just disappear. He drove it somewhere, or Ken drove it somewhere to throw us off."
"Mitch listen to yourself for a second. Are you really thinking Ken did something?"
"You see how he treats Steve!"
I could see the wheels in Ryan's head spinning. He was trying to figure out how to tell me something. "Mitch sit down." I sat on the bed, waiting for it. It was going to be something I may or may not want to hear. "I know it's easy to point the finger at Ken. I know he has been absolutely horrible to Steve. It's been a train wreck watching it. From my interactions with Ken though, I don't believe his goals were to ever do anything to Steve. Steve was, simply put, a punching bag for Ken. Whenever Ken had a bad day or was bored, Steve was the victim of it. That's it."
It was something I didn't want to hear.
"So what are you saying?"
Ryan just shrugged, "Of course I could be wrong, but I don't see Ken going through that much trouble just to hurt Steve. Every time Steve has ran over here for the night or whatever, Ken never came busting down our door to drag him back home. He just let him run off, and waited until he was home again for the next round."
"But Ken is exactly the person..."
"He's the easiest person to blame," Ryan interrupted me, "I think you're picturing in your mind that him and Steve got in a big fight after the fireworks and Steve tried to run here for help, but Ken stopped him. Maybe he hid Steve's car. I know that's exactly what you're thinking, and I'm telling you I just don't see Ken putting that much effort into it."
"Yes, that's why I'm saying I could be wrong, but it just seems far fetched."
My head just collapsed into my hands. I didn't want to believe it, or admit Ryan may be right. "You really do think Steve just ran away?"
"Maybe. I know it doesn't make sense, but hopefully he'll come back and he can tell us what happened that night."
"I'd be more willing to possibly accept your idea if we could look inside his house and know for sure he's not being trapped somewhere."
"That's fair. When Ken gets home, we can go over there and talk to him okay?"
I never left my room the rest of the day. I'd pop my head out to see if Ken's truck returned. I should have figured he'd be gone most of the day at work. Then naturally, the one thing I didn't need to happen that day happened. Bryce came over.
"Hey, Ryan said you've been up here all day," Bryce said as soon as he came into my room.
"I'm waiting for Ken to get home."
"Yeah, Ryan said Steve hasn't been home."
I just shrugged, "I don't know where he is."
"Well dad asked me to come check on things," Bryce said, "He must've figured something was bothering you."
"He didn't just ask me if something was bothering me?"
"He's busy, you know that," Bryce threw at me without missing a beat, "So what is it?"
"Well Steve has been missing since yesterday."
"Did he runaway?"
"No," I said firmly.
"Ryan seems to think so. I think so."
"I don't care what you think."
"Watch the attitude," Bryce fired back. He said that to me a lot. "It's also what Ryan thinks, not just me."
"I'm aware of that, but I don't believe it. Steve wouldn't leave without telling me."
"Well maybe he did."
"I don't know what you all don't understand about that," I looked at Bryce, "Steve would not do this. I know him. You don't."
"You're just in denial."
"Yeah well we'll see when I prove Ken did something, or at least had something to do with it."
"Oh drop the drama Mitch. Do you really think you're going to prove Ken did anything? That guy only works and gets drunk. He ain't got the energy to do anything else."
"Just wait until I prove it."
"You really have nothing better to do with your life, do you?"
Bryce turned and walked out of my room. I knew I'd regret it later, but I followed him out.
"Dad told you to come check in huh?" I asked following Bryce down the stairs, "What did he tell you to exactly do?"
"He wanted me to come check on you and make sure you were okay."
"And that was your idea of making sure I was okay? Did you honestly care if I was okay? Did you care at all what was bothering me?"
That's when Ryan walked over to us. "Okay really guys? Are we doing this?"
"He's overreacting," Bryce said. That's when I had enough. It brought me back to when I had forced my way into Steve's house just to hear he was at the park. I didn't care if I was overreacting. If I didn't, no one else would, and Steve may just need someone to make a big fuss right now for him.
"Bryce, he is worrying for a good reason," Ryan said.
"He doesn't care!" I yelled at the top of my lungs, "Dad tells him to do something and he just jumps to do it to please him! He doesn't really care what's wrong! He doesn't want to listen to me at all!"
"Mitch calm down," Ryan attempted to grab me, but I shoved him away and ran back up the stairs. I heard Ryan begin saying something to Bryce, but I slammed my bedroom door shut before I could find out what it was. I went back to my spot on the bed, looking out the window. Tears filled my eyes and they slowly leaked out, falling down my cheeks. That's why I didn't get along with Bryce. I really couldn't stand him. He didn't care, and he didn't try to act like he did. I didn't understand why no one wanted to listen to me.
The second I saw Ken's truck pull up, I raced downstairs. "Ryan, he's home, can we go?"
"Where are you going?" Bryce asked. I hadn't realized he was still here, but I didn't care. I was just focused on getting over there.
"We're going to talk to Ken," Ryan simply said, "Just see if he has any idea where Steve might be." I saw Bryce's mouth wanting to say something, but Ryan had shut him up earlier.
It wasn't like I couldn't talk to Ken myself, but I could tell Ryan just had a way of talking to people that may get me inside the house. We walked down the road and I didn't waste a second to ring the doorbell.
"Don't accuse him of anything," Ryan warned.
"He doesn't even care Steve hasn't come home."
"Just keep your mouth shut about that. This isn't the time if you want to take a look. Just let me talk to him. I'm probably the one person in this neighborhood he has some trust in. Understand?" I knew he was right about that.
The door opened a little.
"Hey Ken," Ryan greeted. My feet began shuffling. I just wanted to run in and call for Steve. I wanted to prove a point to Bryce, and maybe even Ryan.
"Hi Ryan," Ken opened the door a little more, "Mitch. What can I do for you boys?"
Ryan gave me a look at my burst as I interrupted him. "I'm sorry Ken," he continued, "It seems Steve hasn't been home since the night after the fireworks, and we're just a little concerned. Do you have any idea where he is or where he may have gone?"
"I don't know where he is, I already told Mitch that," Ken said.
"Did you see him yesterday morning?" Ryan asked.
Ken nodded, "He woke up, was supposed to go to work, but then never came home. Maybe he left, I don't know."
"His work said he never showed up or called or anything," I said. I could feel my nerves crawl. I wanted Ryan to do more, to push for more.
"That's not my problem Mitch. If he left, he left."
"Ken," Ryan butted in before I could say anything else, "Would it be okay if we just go look in Steve's room? Maybe we can find something to help us. I know you're a very busy man and believe Steve is old enough to figure things out on his own, but we're worried and would like to try and figure out where he could be."
Damn. Ryan really did have a way with words.
It took him a minute, but Ken opened the door all the way and then walked away. I braced myself, because I hadn't been inside Steve's house in a long time. First was the living room. The couch was gross and the coffee table had empty beer bottles taking over. Empty boxes and bags of food lay on the floor. I had to try and hold my breath as we walked through it. I was able to take a quick glance in the kitchen as we approached the stairs. There weren't many dishes around, but plenty of paper plates and empty pizza boxes. I could safely assume Ken didn't grocery shop much, just ordered in.
Upstairs, we entered Steve's room. It was probably the cleanest room in the house, and I was sure Ken made him keep it that way. The rest of the house could be a disaster, but God forbid if Steve kept his area a mess. Just any rule Ken could use to control Steve, or use as an excuse later to smack him.
"Ryan," I whispered as I motioned towards the dresser. The edge of the dresser had some blood stains on it. It was difficult to decide if it was worth noting, because it could be old. Ryan went to look in the closet. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an object near Steve's pillow. I walked closer and felt my heart skip a beat. It was his phone. I tried turning it on, but it was dead, so I shoved it in my pocket. I shuffled through his dresser drawers and glanced towards the open closet, still full of clothes. "Why would he runaway without any of his things?"
"I don't know," Ryan quietly said.
"Ryan, what if he's here? We have to look in the basement. Ken's locked him down there before."
"Mitch, just hold...Mitch!" It was too late. I was out of the bedroom and racing downstairs to the living room. I didn't care. I was already in the house, I might as well look everywhere I could.
"Ken," I demanded, "I want to look in the basement. I want to make sure Steve isn't down there."
"Mitch," Ryan firmly said, "You need to stop."
"Oh no," Ken let a grin cross his face, and I'll admit it was creepy, "It's fine. He thinks I must've done something, right? Well go look down there boy, and find out for yourself."
I didn't waste a second. I walked to the basement door and hurried down the steps. Ryan didn't follow me, which I was grateful for. It was probably better we weren't both down there. The basement was a mess. Old junk was everywhere. It had been a long time since Steve got locked down here, but it was still worth the check. It was a more frightening technique when Steve was younger and didn't know how to pick the lock to leave the house when Ken had passed out drunk. I followed the only available path of the area. The windows were the only source of light. It smelt worse than upstairs and I heard little noises, probably mice. I wasn't leaving any box unchecked. As I turned one way towards the end, I almost threw up, and not because of the stench. There was a mattress on the floor. A loose blanket was on it, but no pillow. Not even a lamp. Steve had told me about how it was to stay in the basement, but I never actually saw it. I think it was more terrifying to see it than hear about it. All I could think about was how dark it had to be down here once the sun went down. It would be pitch black. I remember him telling me about the time he couldn't take it anymore, and taught himself to pick the lock.
I didn't find Steve.
"Satisfied?" Ken asked with a snark.
"Did you guys get in some big fight and he had to get out before you killed him?"
"Mitch," Ryan barked, clearly getting annoyed by me, "Ken, what he means is did Steve leave, because you guys got in an argument?"
"No, I meant what I said. Did you beat him half to death and he had to leave?"
"Ken, we appreciate you letting us look. We'll let you know if we hear from Steve, okay?" Ryan asked trying to get me out the door.
"You better, because I'll have to have a talk with him about this mess he's causing for people."
"You won't lay a hand on him," I warned.
Ryan put a hand on my arm and turned me away, "Thanks again Ken. We'll talk to you soon."
As we got back to our house, Ryan kept us on the front porch. "Mitch, you can't say stuff like that to people."
"It was all true."
"I'm not denying that, but you could be hurting Steve with it. Ken doesn't always know that Steve tells you what goes on behind closed doors, and Ken could get pissed off about it. Steve could come home and get in a lot of trouble."
I sat on the porch swing, looking down at my shoes.
"Mitch, I know you have so much bottled up over Ken and you were just waiting for this kind of opportunity to throw it at him, but right now we need to focus on what is going to help Steve for when he comes back."
"Are you working tonight?"
"Are you going to be okay?"
"I'll try to be."
"I'll keep you up to date if I see Steve come home."
"If he does, bring him here right away," I begged, "Please."
"Don't worry, I will."
As Ryan turned away to go inside I spoke up of my next plan. "If he doesn't come home, I'm going to the police tomorrow. Something's got to be wrong Ryan. I know I keep saying it, but I'm having a really bad feeling."
"Do you want me to come with you?"
I shook my head as I remembered Steve's phone in my pocket, "No."
As I got ready for work, I kept Steve's phone on my charger until it had enough power. My heart was ready to jump out as I began scrolling through everything. My texts were unread, my missed calls were piling up. Nothing had been sent from the phone after the holiday. It was a dead end. It was nearing 5:00 though and I had to leave for work.
It was a long night at work. I was trying to focus on the tables I had to clean and anything extra that needed to be done, but I kept glancing out the windows. I was begging to see Steve's black Ford Taurus drive by. I just needed some sort of sign. As it started to slow down from the dinner rush, I did a double take and saw Tehgo standing outside. I felt a little stupid when I realized I hadn't told her anything all day.
"Hey," I said as I walked outside.
"Hey," she smiled, "I haven't heard from you today."
"I know I'm sorry."
"Steve hasn't come back?" she frowned.
"No, he hasn't," I shook my head, "Ryan and I went in his house though to look. I found his phone."
"Yes, I charged it, but there really wasn't anything on it. Just all my unread texts and missed calls. I'm going to the police tomorrow to file."
"Do you want me to come?"
"No, I want to go alone, but maybe we can meet up after?"
"Sure," she began looking off to the side, "I'm really worried about him Mitch."
"You and me both," I sighed, "But look I got to finish up here. I'll text you when I get home."
I got home and glanced through Steve's phone again. I wanted to find something that would give me some sort of clue as to where he went and why. I went through his internet searches, but nothing was of any hotels or places to runaway to. Something I did notice though was he tried searching for Tehgo, maybe social media accounts or something, but that seemed to be a dead end search. That was the first time I realized we didn't know her last name. I shrugged it off though, figuring she didn't care to be on the grid. I even had a Facebook account, but I couldn't tell you the last time I was actually on it.
"Hey buddy," Ryan walked into my room, "How was work?"
"Couldn't tell you. I was very distracted."
"I know," Ryan sat on the bed, "Is that Steve's phone?"
"Yeah, I found it on his bed."
"Did you look through it?"
"Yeah, but there's nothing." Ryan took the phone from me and scrolled around as well, but came around to no luck. "What if it's true?"
"What if Steve really did leave and not tell me? What if something got so bad at home that he didn't think he could come here? What if he got himself into some kind of trouble?"
"It's possible. We just have to be ready for when he comes back then. He has to know we're ready to help him get out of any trouble he is in."
"Do you think I'm being dramatic going to the police?"
"No," Ryan shook his head, "It's been two whole days. Ken is obviously not going to do it, because he won't care either way."
"Not until Steve comes back."
"What do you mean?"
"Maybe that's why Steve hasn't come back. He knows once he does, Ken will care that he was gone and use it as an excuse to punish him."
Ryan just put a hand on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze. That basically meant he had no reason to argue with me about it. "Are you sure you don't want me to come with you tomorrow?"
"No, I'd rather go myself actually."
"Alright, well do I need to sleep in here again?"
"Are you sure? I don't want a phone call you went to break into the house to look again."
"We already looked in there," I said as I tried to think of what else to look for in his phone, "I'll be fine Ryan I promise."
As Ryan left, I texted Tehgo from my phone, thinking maybe she could give me an idea.
'Just wait until you go to the police tomorrow. They'll have ideas you haven't thought of yet.'
She was probably right.
'I don't know if I'll sleep tonight.'
'I'll stay up with you. Maybe I'll bore you enough to sleep.'
I smiled at her text. It made my heart ache what her and Steve could have. She seemed like a chance to show Steve what real love is, and I prayed that he could still experience it, if he just came back.
Before I tried to settle into bed, I reflected what Ryan had said. Steve may be scared to come back, and we had to be ready to help him with whatever he needed. Something happened that night, I was sure of it, but Steve didn't need to feel stuck in it. I took my phone and sent a text out.
'I'm still here.'
I waited a couple seconds as it popped up onto Steve's phone. I brought it up on the screen and propped it up against the window, hoping somehow the message would get to Steve.