Jen checked her phone again, but there were no new messages. It had been over two hours since she was supposed to give Sam a ride home, and there was still no sign of him.
She hadn’t been worried at first–it was so like Sam to get caught up in his work and lose track of time–but when she’d gone looking for him in the engineering building, she’d found his laptop, bag, and uneaten lunch abandoned at a desk.
She stood up from the bench where she sat, watching the last few tired-eyed business people heading to the parking deck after an evening at the office. Sam wasn’t among them.
One girl crossing the bridge from the main building caught Jen’s eye because she didn’t look like an employee. She had long, straight black hair, and wore jeans and a baggy black T-shirt that somehow managed to look sleek and put-together. She held a cell phone to her ear as she walked, pausing periodically and looking around as though she wasn’t sure where she was going.
As the girl came closer, Jen got a better look at her face. She had sharp, clean-cut features and rings in her lip and left eyebrow. Her face would have been a little intimidating had her expression not been so lost and worried.
“I’m at her work now and no one’s seen her.” Her voice was soft and nervous as she spoke into the phone. “No, I know… No, no, it’s not your fault… I’m sorry. I’m just really worried.”
“Excuse me,” said Jen as the girl came within earshot. “Are you looking for someone?”
The girl stopped walking. She mumbled an apology into the phone, then turned to Jen and spoke.
“I’m looking for someone too. My boyfriend. I was supposed to give him a ride home, but I can’t find him anywhere.”
“Are you sure he didn’t get a ride with someone else?”
“I don’t think so. I went looking for him and found his stuff still here,” said Jen. “Who are you looking for?”
“My friend Chelsea. She was supposed to be home over an hour ago, and she hasn’t called or anything.”
“Chelsea,” said Jen. “Is she like, really pretty with super red hair and a goldfish tattoo?”
“Yeah! Yeah, that’s her.” The girl put her phone to her ear and spoke. “I just met someone who knows her… Okay, I’ll ask.” She covered the speaker with her hand and turned to Jen. “Do you know where she is?”
“Sorry, I don’t. The last time I saw her was this morning,” said Jen. “Maybe we can look together?”
The girl was quiet for a moment, considering the offer. Then she spoke into her phone.
“This girl can’t find her boyfriend. She says she wants us to look together for both of them.” Her voice was tentative, as though she was asking permission. “No, I don’t know if the boyfriend has anything to do with Chelsea … I hope not too … Okay, sure. One second.”
The girl turned to Jen. “The person I’m talking to wants me to put her on speaker so she can ask you some questions.”
Jen had a few questions of her own–who was on the phone, for one, and why did they want to talk to her? Not to mention, what did this have to do with Sam?–but her response was only one word.
The girl pressed a button on her phone, and a woman’s voice came from the speaker. The woman on the other line had a soft voice and a thick Australian accent, and those two things combined with the muffled speakerphone made her difficult to understand.
“Hello? Hi … you hear me? … I’m Melanie.”
“Um, hi, Melanie. I’m Jen. It’s nice to… meet you?”
“… you too ... hope you don’t mind if I ask a few questions.”
“No, I don’t mind. What did you want to ask?”
“… your boyfriend know Chelsea?”
“Yeah, he does. We both do. She’s super sweet.”
“Are they friends?”
“Kind of?” said Jen. “They’re more like… associates, really, but other than me, she’s probably the person he’s friendliest with here. He doesn’t really like most people. I’m trying to get him to be more social but he says–“
The black-haired girl cleared her throat, and Jen looked up to see an annoyed expression that was just as intimidating as she’d expected.
“Sorry. A lot of people say I talk too much. Boyfriend included.”
“Oh, no … fine, babe. And you should never let any boy tell you … talk too much.” said Melanie. “Naomi, could you … me off speaker, please?”
The girl–Naomi–obliged, pressing a button on her phone and putting it back against her ear.
“Okay,” she said into the phone. “You’re right, we shouldn’t drag anyone else into this.”
“Drag anyone else into what?” said Jen.
Naomi covered her phone speaker. “Don’t worry about it. And thanks for the offer, but I’ll look on my own.”
“Okay, well… good luck.”
“Uh, thanks. Good luck finding your boyfriend. I hope he’s okay,” said Naomi. “I really do.”
A woman passing them on the way to the parking deck stopped and turned to them.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Are you looking for someone?”
“Yeah,” said Naomi.
“Two someones,” said Jen. “My boyfriend and her friend.”
“Boyfriend?” The woman paused for a moment, raising an eyebrow, then continued. “Maybe I can help you look. I’ve lost someone too. I’m trying to find my friend Chelsea. I haven’t seen her since lunch.”
Naomi perked up. “Chelsea Brown?”
“That’s her.” The woman nodded. “Are you looking for her too?”
“Yeah,” said Naomi. She spoke into her phone again. “There’s someone else here looking for Chelsea too … There’s–There’s no harm in helping her look. Right?”
Jen could hear Melanie responding, but couldn’t make out the words. Naomi knit her brow and frowned as she looked at Sarah, then at Jen.
“Oh, uh… oh. Why?”
Melanie said something else Jen couldn’t make out.
“Oh, um, okay,” she said.
Melanie gave another unintelligible reply.
“Okay. I will,” said Naomi. “Um, what will you do if I do? … It won’t cost you any money to stay on the phone, will it? … Okay, good.”
“Can I ask who’s on the other line?” said the woman.
“Oh, just, uh.” Naomi paused. “It’s a long story. She’s helping me look for Chelsea, kind of. Her name is Melanie.”
“Hi, Melanie!” the woman said in the direction of the phone.
Jen heard a faint “hi!” from Naomi’s phone speaker.
“So that was Melanie. Can I ask what your names are?”
Jen and Naomi introduced themselves.
“It’s nice to meet you, Jen. Naomi.” The woman straightened her lab coat and smiled at them. “I’m Sarah.”