I am holing myself in at Jenna’s for the time it takes Marcus to move out of my apartment completely. I have texted him, a short message basically saying that it is over and I do not want to ever see him again. He tried to get back to me several times, he even somehow got wind of where I stayed and showed up at Jenna’s doorstep but she had nothing of him coming inside. I heard her slam the door in his face and turned around in Jenna’s huge bed, covering my face with a pillow.
Jacob sends a text message the morning after we have been to the ER, telling me again that he is sorry and saying that he is well. Nothing more. I read through the short text and hope he really is. How is he going to feed himself when he cannot use his one good hand anymore? How is he getting around, outside, for shopping or anything, if he cannot walk nor drive? Guilt eats at me and if I had not been so tired from crying I might have driven to Jacob’s home to convince myself in person that he is fine. Probably it is better that I never actually did that but instead sent him a text telling him to rest and call me when he needs anything, and slept another two or three hours. I have a feeling he would not have wanted me to come.
Jenna drags me to work after I have slept through the entire week.
“It’s not going to do you any good to feel sorry for yourself any longer,” she says as she throws fresh clothes at me.
I groan and weakly swap the skirt away that has landed on my arm.
“I mean it.” Jenna is leaning over me. “See it like that, you can finally jump on your second prince.” I have not told her about what has happened at Jacob’s place after I have seen Marcus and the girl.
“Ugh… he is no prince,” I mumble into the pillow. “And there is going to be no jumping.”
Jenna laughs and leaves the room. “I’ll make coffee. If you want a ride with me, get your ass into the shower.”
Work actually proves to be an excellent distraction and I manage not to think about Marcus and his betrayal anymore for the next days. Or not so much, at least. I have not heard from Jacob since the message on the day after we went to the ER but I attribute that to him being embarrassed about what has happened. I do not know how to tell him that although I do not really understand what has happened, I am not angry at him. I decide to give him time and restrict the number of daily messages that I send him to two. After all, it is not the first time he got silent on me for a while for no apparent reason. He will get around and explain himself when he is ready, I convince myself. I manage not to worry too much. Until my cellphone rings after a very boring meeting and an unknown number flashes on the screen.
“This is Vito… uh, I believe we have a mutual friend...”
Jacob’s co-worker. I stop dead in the middle of the hallway, cold creeping up my spine. “Oh… yes, of course. I’m Cait. Did… did anything happen?”
“Um… actually, that’s what I wanted to ask you. Jacob has called in sick last week but he has not been to work this week either. No one has heard from him. Do you happen to know where he is?”
I turn and look out of one of the windows without seeing anything. “I have not heard from him since last week. There was… there was an incident at his house, probably he is still recovering?” I try not to sound too scared. How could I fool myself all this time? I knew that something was wrong, I should never have left him alone. Why did I not follow my inner voice and check on him?
I can imagine Jacob wants to leave the details to what has happened private or at least be the one to tell Vito about it. “I don’t know if-“
Vito cuts me short. “It’s not so important. Thing is, he is not answering his phone, he is neglecting work and his clients, and he will lose his job if he does not appear at work this week. This has never happened before, Cait. I am worried.”
I am worried, too, I feel sick already. “Did you try it at his house?”
“I drove by yesterday but nothing.”
“Okay, look, I have the keys to his house.” I still have them, even after what has happened last time. It did not occur to me until now but with my hand in my purse I can wrap my fingers around the cold metal. “And I can free myself from work now. I will go to his house and look for him.”
“Good. Let’s meet there.”
When I walk towards Jacob’s house, hiding dark and unwelcoming behind the trees, I feel oddly like I have a déjà-vu. I dig the keys into the palm of my hand and take a deep breath before I open the gate. I rang the bell but to no avail.
The Jeep is still parked haphazardly in front of the door where I have left it when I brought Jacob back from the ER. I step through the entrance into Jacob’s silent house. The display at the side of the wall is clean, as is the floor. There is a faded stain still visible on the wall, all of Jacob’s efforts to wash away the blood obviously fruitless. This time I do not only think of turning off the alarm system but also turning on the lights because it is already late.
“Jacob?” I call out, cautiously, the sound of my voice strange in the empty hallway.
The house stays completely silent, the only sound my blood pumping in my ears and I feel my skin prickling. Horror scenarios zoom through my mind. Jacob lying in a pool of red, Jacob screaming in an empty house, Jacob dead…
I enter the living room on silent feet, straining my ears for any sound. “Jacob?” Louder this time.
Everything seems to be more or less the same as it has been when I was here last time. Maybe one more empty glass on the table? I cannot say for sure. There is lots of stuff lying on and around the couch, like always. Also some pill bottles and bandaging material. Jacob’s blanket lies crumbled in a heap in one corner of the couch. But Jacob is nowhere to be seen. With a pounding heart I go look for him in the bathroom, finding it empty to my relief, and also step out on the terrace and take a look around the garden from there but nothing.
After I have searched every corner, even behind the couch, I start slightly to relax again. Jacob is not here, meaning nothing has happened to him while he has been here or at least it does not seem like that. This is good news, Cait, I try to convince myself. I am standing in the middle of the living room when it hits me and I gasp. The stairs! I look up at the second floor that I seem to have completely deleted from my mind. What if he has gone up there, out of whatever reason?
When my hand touches the cold railing of the winding staircase I recoil. This is wrong! You should not be here, Jacob told you not to! I want to respect his privacy but my fear about him is stronger. I carefully climb the stairs, each step sending minimal vibrations through the metal and I maintain a firm grip on the railing, both to make me go further and also because I need the support not to fall. I can barely imagine Jacob managing to get up here on his own.
The first room is a bedroom with a neatly made double bed. Grey short carpet, gray linen and a gray wardrobe along the wall opposite of the bed. There is literally nothing in this room that indicates that people have lived here. Not a book on the nightstand or a discarded shirt in the corner. The only light comes from the window slit high up the wall. I shiver. I am sure there are prison cells that are homier. There is a fine layer of dust covering everything. I close the door after I made sure that Jacob is nowhere in this room.
The only other room is an office. It has a huge black desk and a few black cupboards inside. One look tells me that Jacob is not here. I have already turned to leave when my eyes fall on the photograph standing on the desk. It seems to be the only personal item in the room. I carefully step closer, take the frame in my hands and brush away the dust. Jacob smiles broadly at me from the picture, dressed in the suit I know, looking proud and as happy as I have never seen him. But what draws my attention is the woman he holds in both of his arms. She has beautiful auburn hair, much longer than mine, and wears a green woolen dress. It fits perfectly, every single of her light curves accentuated. She is turned sideways, has one hand around Jacob’s back, and the other, a golden ring on her finger, protectively laying over her slightly enlarged belly.
The photo drops from my hand and the sound of glass splintering echoes loudly in the silent house.
I whirl around at the unfamiliar voice, my heart hammering in my throat. I am not alone anymore.
“Hello? Uh… Cait?”
“Vito?!” My voice is barely more than a squeak. On unsteady legs I walk to the railing, and look down into the living room. Vito could be one of Marcus’ friends, I realize. He has a similar look, bronze skin, loose clothes and long hair that is tied in a messy tail. There is genuine worry in his eyes, though.
I get down the stairs again, clinging to the handrail because I am dizzy and do not feel like myself. Jacob is married or at least has been married only one year ago, that much seems a fact. They could be separated by now, at least they do not seem to live together anymore. She could be dead but there is nothing from her down on the first floor, no picture, not a single memory. Can it be true that Jacob has a wife and a child that he is hiding from me?
“Did you find him?”
I shake my head, numb. I wonder if Vito knows. He sighs and folds his arms, making the muscles bulge out in his upper arms. “Where else can he be?”
“I have no idea.” But god help him when I find him. What an ass! What a giant fucking ass! How could I be so stupid?!
We search through the entire house for a contact to his parents or anyone else but there is nothing. I do not even know if his parents are still alive, and neither does Vito. I always assumed that they are dead based on what I gathered from spending time with Jacob, but I would not be much surprised finding out that I am wrong. There seem to be a lot of rather important things I should know about Jacob that I have no clue about.
Among the things on and under the table in front of the couch I find documents probably from his work, minutes from meetings, some written down agreements and a binder with old newspaper articles about the corruption scandal at the company I work for. Strange. But it does not help us right now.
Vito enters through the glass door leading to the garden from his search around the house, shaking his head. “Nothing.” He sits next to me on the couch, rubbing his forehead, lost in thoughts like me.
“Did Jacob ever seem… strange to you?” Vito asks after some time of silence.
“What do you mean?” I distractedly pick at a thread in Jacob’s blanket that I have pulled over my lap, inhaling the scent from it.
“Well… he is not the most open person in the world, isn’t he?”
I look up at Vito, now definitely convinced he knows as much as me, maybe less.
“Did you ever try asking him about what he has done before he started at TalcTech?”
“He is a private person. There is nothing wrong with that,” I say, suddenly defensive, although I do not believe it myself. Jacob has behaved strangely, often enough. I think about the last time I have seen him, lying on this couch after we have been to the ER because he had attacked me in his own home and then went into a full-blown panic attack.
Vito scratches his head. “Yeah, I know. It’s just… sometimes I think, what if there is something he isn’t telling us? What… what if there is something he cannot cope with himself?”
“What do you mean?” I ball my hand into the soft blanket until it is aching. Shit, shit, shit... “You can't possibly be suggesting…”
The rage that has boiled inside me since finding the photo suddenly turns into cold dread. Could Jacob have done anything to himself? I start shivering because I have to admit that... it is not entirely unlikely. Maybe a few weeks ago I would have been sure that this is bullshit; that Jacob is clearly still adjusting to what is a difficult change in his life, but that he is coping. After all that has happened though I am not so sure anymore and as I sit on Jacob’s new couch and stare at Vito I start to see things in a different light. Jacob has been moody, swaying between times of elation and times when he was down-bet, sometimes to the point of being downright depressive and I am sure that he was hiding himself from me during the worst periods. Until now I had appointed most of the ups and downs to the effects of his stroke, the pain and frustration with his limitations that some days seemed to bug him more than on others. But maybe that has not even been everything.
My stomach turns and I gasp. I can barely take the horrible truth but it is staring at me: should anything have happened to him, it is all my fault. I have danced around Jacob for weeks because I could not get him out of my freak devotee mind but did not manage to let go of Marcus at the same time. I must have been a constant mocking reminder of what he cannot have, dangling in front of his face, always out of reach. Then I have left him alone when he was injured, when he was vulnerable and needed me the most. I must have given him the feeling that he is abandoned, helpless, with whatever darkness is haunting him.
Vito clears his throat and gets up again, his arms folded. “I’m not suggesting anything. Come on, we need to keep searching.”
I look up at Vito, into his grim face, and I am suddenly grateful for having him here, having him guide me, draw strength from his determination. He is right. We cannot give up. It is not too late, yet. It cannot be.
Although it is already dark outside, we drive around the city and search in various places that come to our minds, frantically, without a plan. I go to the coffee shop where Jacob and I have been, the Indian restaurant and to the stables, but no Jacob. The horses only blink confused and sleepy when I shine the light of my cellphone into the dark and I watch the dust float and dance in the air while I try to think of another place. The hill where we have been for a hike comes to my mind but if he had gone and something had happened there, someone would have found him, wouldn’t they? I decide I will go and look for him there tomorrow, just to be sure.
“I’ll call the police if he does not reappear in two days,” Vito says through the phone. He has been to their favorite bars, without any result.
“Hm… okay.” I am pretty sure it will be useless at this point. There is no evidence that Jacob has had an accident, that he tried to harm himself or that any crime has happened and he is an adult. He can decide to go and vanish if he wants. I know what the police will do and that is exactly nothing. I have not been the girlfriend of a lawyer for so many years without learning that.
“He will probably show up one day and wonder about all of us freaking out,” Vito murmurs as if he is hoping for exactly that.
“If he does, I’ll kill him,” I say darkly.
“Count me in on that,” Vito says and chuckles a little, the sad sound cutting through me. “What do we do now?”
“I… uhm…” I take a deep breath. I thought of this before but I wanted to keep it as a last resort. “I think I’m going to call the hospitals.”
There is silence for a few seconds. “Okay. Tell me if you need me.”
I thank him. “I think I will get more information by pretending to be his wife.” My stomach clenches at the word.
“Yeah… you might be right. Keep me updated, please.”
“Sure. I will call you if I find him.” I know that we both hope I will not call him.
As I sit with my phone in one hand, the other on the steering wheel, I do not feel like doing this alone however and I ring Jenna. Luckily, she answers within seconds.
“Can I come over?”
“Sure. Started to feel lonely without you, anyways,” Jenna jokes and I start the car to drive over to her.
Together we speak with all hospitals in the city, it goes long into the night, without results. Having something to do has calmed me down and knowing Jacob is not fighting for his life somewhere in an anonymous hospital bed is at least a little bit comforting. My nerves are still aflutter but lying finally in Jenna’s huge bed, having told her about this day’s odyssey, including almost everything, even the picture of the pregnant woman in Jacob’s arms, an all-encompassing tiredness befalls me. I think I fall asleep mid-sentence.
Jenna wakes me up with the glorious smell of coffee and by sitting down on the other side of the bed, her laptop on her knees.
“Uh, morning…” I sit up against the headboard and rub my eyes. Right. Jacob is gone, he might be a danger to himself, he maybe has a wife, most probably has a child and I have a half empty apartment, no boyfriend and I seem to have more or less moved in with my best friend from work. My problems seem insignificant compared to Jacob’s, though.
“Coffee?” Jenna smiles kindly at me.
I take a sip of the hot coffee that Jenna presses into my hands. She is grinning now. I know that expression. “Tell me already.”
Jenna readjusts her seating on the mattress and reaches for her coffee mug on the nightstand. She takes a slow sip, all the while watching me. “Okay, so…” she places the mug on the nightstand. “You know the guy from human resources?”
Jenna sighs theatrically. “Honestly? He is only like the cutest guy on our floor? His office is-“
“I don’t care where his office is, Jenna. What did you find out?”
Jenna scowls at me, but then she smiles again. “I called him this morning, Thomas is his name-“ she ignores my groan, “aaand I asked him if he could maaaybe tell me when a certain Jacob Barnett left Recom.”
I sit up straighter. “No, you didn’t.”
Jenna takes her mug and blows in her coffee. “Of course I did. And he told me.”
“Well, at first it was just a random date to me but then it rang a bell. I looked it up and it was almost exactly at the time when the scandal happened. Give or take a week. You know about the scandal at Recom, right? About the money that-“
“I know, Jenna. Are you telling me that he was the manager who got fired?” Hearing me say it, it sounds ridiculous. Still, there is the small nagging doubt, nourished by the fact that Jacob is successfully hiding so many things, from everyone. He has a kid, damn it! My conflicting emotions are making me nauseous, worry and anger woven together.
“No, he wasn’t. They made the name of that guy public, so nope. But it’s still strange, don’t you think?”
“Hm… could be a coincidence,” I stress. Jacob’s stroke and the scandal both happened about a year ago, I have always known that but I have never seen a connection. I had not known it had happened within the same few weeks, however.
“Yes, could be. Or could not. If you ask me, something is fishy here.”
Despite how bleak and desperate I am feeling, I giggle. “Oh, Miss Detective, do you have a lead?”
Jenna pulls my blanket away and I shriek, trying to get it back from her. I grab a cushion and tackle her with it and we land in a tangle of limbs on the bed, wrestling around until we are flushed and out of breath from laughing.
When I am in the bathroom I turn on the water of the shower, let the hot stream caress my skin. Whatever happened, Jacob has a lot to explain when he appears again.
I refuse to think about the other possibility.
That he might not appear ever again.
--> Chapter 16
--> Chapter 16