"Do you want a copy of this?" Wil asked as she ended the recording she'd just made. She and Edward had just spent over an hour running and rerunning her piece, and she could almost still hear it in her mind as he rose from behind the piano.
"Please," he told her, taking her off guard. It was the first time he had actually asked for a copy of the piece. "And I will have a copy of our final mark ups for you tonight, so you can obsess as you always do." He gave her a pointed look and she rolled her eyes, gathering her sheet music and sliding it into her folder.
The back and forth between them had become comfortable over the past couple weeks. There was still always an edge between them, each keeping the other at a careful distance, but it had taken more of a teasing tone than then angry spats they'd had in the beginning. The pair had fallen into a comfortable routine, meeting every other weekday in the same rehearsal room to run the piece and make changes. She hated to admit it, but Edward had really elevated her piece to the next level, and she wondered what she would have done without him.
"Listen," she said as she pulled on her coat, turning to him. He continued to pack his own bag, not looking up. "Thank you for all your help again. I can't say it enough; I'd have been absolutely stranded without you."
"I know," Edward commented blandly, but when he looked up, a crooked grin was playing on his lips. It disappeared quickly – it always did – and the wall was back up again. "Will we meet here Friday?" he asked, back to business.
"Only if you feel we need to," Wil told him. "I think we are as ready as we're going to be. Do you want to meet before Dress?"
He shook his head, and said definitively, "No." He pulled his bag over his shoulder and strode to the door, letting himself out. That seemed to be a part of their routine as well; after the day he had paused at the door, speaking of Bella, he never stopped to say goodbye. He almost seemed to be fleeing the room before any conversation outside their music could begin. Wil had tried a few times to bring the subject of either Bella or Andrew up, yearning to find that connection between them, but he always shut her down.
As she grabbed her purse, she hesitated a moment, looking around the room. This was the last time they would be putting it to use after countless hours spent here. Briefly, she wondered if Edward would go back to his usual routine here once she was no longer joining him, and she decided quickly that even if he was, she would not. It would be too awkward if he ever caught her hovering outside the door, and knowing him as she did now, she knew he would be deeply bothered by the invasion of his privacy. Soon, then, it would all be over. She turned off the lights, closing the door behind her, and pushed the thought out of her mind.
The wind was biting as she stepped out of the building, and she tugged her coat close around her, ducking her head. The campus was quieter than usual; they must have been working for longer than she thought. Glancing at her watch, she realized it was her night to cook and she was running behind. Cursing into the wind, she clutched her bags close to her side and started off at a sprint, the wind pulling at her hair. Too soon, she slowed, huffing and catching her breath.
She was far too out of shape for a college student. Maybe she should have made a new years' resolution after all.
At a more reasonable pace, she finished the walk across campus to her apartment. Letting herself into the building, she took a moment to rub her hands together before going up the stairs. When she walked into the apartment, losing her coat and bags quickly, she rushed through the living room on her way to the kitchen. Kate and Eve were parked on the couch, Kate watching Entertainment Tonight and Eve tapping thoughtfully on her tablet.
"Just us tonight?" Wil asked as she opened up a cupboard, reaching for a jar of alfredo sauce.
"Yeah, Rhonda left a note saying she and Jeremy were going out for dinner," Kate said, picking up the remote and switching channels. "Everything cool? I was about to call for pizza."
Wil went for another cupboard, taking out a large pot. She took it to the sink. "Everything's fine," she told Kate as she waited for the pot to fill. "I was working with Edward on my piece, and time got away from me I guess. Got a second?"
"Sure." Kate rose from the couch and Wil reached up, pulling the headpiece from her ear and tossing it across the room to her. She caught it easily.
"My tablet's by the door; can you sync that up and pull down the latest file, please?" Wil turned off the water and went to the stove, setting the pot down and pushing a button to turn on the element. Kate disappeared for a minute, returning to the couch with Wil's tablet in hand.
"You know," Kate started as she turned the tablet on, "You're spending a lot of time with this Edward guy. I have never seen you spend so much time out of the apartment. Is there something we should know?"
Wil swallowed a smirk and opened another cupboard door, using it to hide an eye roll as she pulled out a package of noodles. "He's the key to my getting an A in this course, not to mention avoiding making a complete fool of myself at the recital Sunday. Of course I'm spending a lot of time with him."
Suddenly, Edward's piano playing filled the air. "Shit," Kate mumbled, lowering the volume on the tablet. "Why do you keep this thing so loud?" The music continued at a softer volume, and Wil glanced up, raising an eyebrow.
"To bust nosy roommates when they try to listen to my stuff," she answered, her voice dry. As the water came to a boil, she dumped in the noodles. Despite the chastising, she let the song play on, listening with a critical ear as she went to the fridge and found a bag of pre-cooked chicken. She grabbed a skillet and started to heat it, pouring the sauce on the chicken once it was warm.
When the music ended, the only sound in the apartment was the popping of the sauce as it simmered. "Wow," Kate breathed after a moment, setting the tablet down on the end table. "Wil, that's good. Like, seriously good."
A faint blush crept into Wil's cheeks as Eve nodded her agreement, looking up for the first time from her screen. Thankfully, a knock came at the door, diverting everyone's attention before she could become too embarrassed. She stirred the sauce one last time before removing it from the stove and setting it on a pad on the counter. As she was draining the noodles, she heard the door open, and a moment later a very flustered looking Jeremy came around the corner.
He reached up to rub the back of his neck as his eyes landed on Wil, and he frowned.
"Rhon's not here?" he said dully. "Tell me one of you knows where she is." His shoulders were taut, and he turned away from the kitchen, scanning the apartment once again as though Rhonda might suddenly appear.
"With you, we thought," Eve said, and she set down her tablet. "What's going on?"
"We were supposed to meet at my place," Jeremy told them, "but she didn't show. I swung by her last class and her car's still in the lot, but… God, where could she be, guys? Help me out here!"
As he spoke, his voice got more and more frantic. The two of them had been spending a lot of time together, growing more serious as the winter wore on, but this was the first time Wil could truly see how much he cared for her. She slipped out from behind the counter, setting a hand on his shoulder and steering him toward the couch. "You've tried to call her?"
"Of course I have!" he snapped, perching on the edge of one of the cushions like a spring ready to recoil at any moment. "It goes straight to voicemail."
"She never leaves her calls off," Kate commented with a frown. "Maybe she just got caught up talking with someone from class, went for coffee?" It was a stretch and everyone knew it; Rhonda was hardly the type to blow anyone off, especially Jeremy. Even though it was the most likely answer, it felt wrong, and an ominous feeling came over Wil as she thought about it. Where could she have gone without her car, and why wouldn't she call? The situation had a dreadfully familiar feel to it that Wil refused to acknowledge.
Eve stood, striding toward the door. Grabbing her coat, she slung it on and looked over at the others.
"Well?" she asked. "Aren't you going to help look for her?"
Everyone followed, dinner long forgotten.
They split up when they reached the parking lot, Kate and Eve speeding away in their car with a promise to call if they found her at any of the usual haunts. That left Jeremy and Wil to head back to where Rhonda's car had been parked, hoping but not really expecting to find anything of worth there. They sat in uncomfortable silence in Jeremy's car as it carried them across campus. It smelled of Rhonda's perfume, and Jeremy kept taking deep breaths, probably in hopes of calming himself with the scent. Wil, instead, wrung her hands and tried to focus on each sidewalk they passed, as though through sheer power of will Rhonda would appear.
Rhonda's blue Ford compact still sat all alone in the darkening lot. The lights overhead had come to life not long ago, bathing the lot in a dull blue glow. Jeremy pulled up next to the car and got out, going to the drive side window and peering in.
"No keys, no purse, nothing," he muttered as Wil got out of the car. Standing up, he slammed a gloved fist onto the roof of her car.
Wil set a hand on his shoulder, not saying a word, and he looked back at her bleakly.
Splitting up, Jeremy started toward the back of the building while Wil walked the parking lot. She tucked her hands under her arms and studied the ground for anything, though she wasn't quite sure what. All she found was concrete and asphalt and the leftovers of last week's snow lingering in corners. She jumped when a car sped past the lot, the purr of the engine breaking the silence that had enveloped her, and it was long gone before she calmed herself.
She could be anywhere, Wil coached herself, thinking with conviction that she was no doubt perfectly fine and Eve would call any minute to tell them so. There was a small pit in her stomach that whispered otherwise, though, and it was far too familiar to the one she'd felt when Andrew had been late coming home the day he died.
"Wil!" Jeremy's voice broke through her thoughts, and she spun. He was sprinting toward her with something in his hand. She squinted at him, but with the last of the sun directly behind him, she couldn't make see a thing until he was beside her. Panting slightly despite his athletic physique, he handed her a purse.
Wil swore quietly, popping it open. Everything was still in it: keys, ID, make up, her cards. The pit in her stomach expanded into a rock, weighing her down.
"We have to call the police," Jeremy said, and when Wil looked up at him, he was studying her expression. "She'd be missing this, wouldn't she?" Wil nodded dumbly, handing it back to him. He took it and they walked back to his car side by side. The lights flashed, signaling the doors were unlocked, and when they climbed in he set the purse in his lap almost reverently. Reaching up, he rubbed the back of his neck before touching his headpiece.
"Police," he said solemnly, and waited a moment. Wil could hear the connection ringing, and a muffled voice when someone answered. "I'd like to report a missing person," Jeremy told the officer. Wil strained to hear the person on the other end but couldn't make out any words. "Yes, sir, her name is Rhonda Wallace – yes, she's a student – we were supposed to meet each other a couple hours ago, but her car has been abandoned." He frowned deeply and explained, "But sir, she wouldn't have just left her car… We found her purse behind the building on the ground as well. She's not answering her calls. – No, I'm her boyfriend. – But – All right, thank you sir, I will." Reaching up, he pulled the headpiece out of his ear and flung it at the dashboard with a snarl.
The look on his face was murderous. Wil stared at him as the headpiece clattered off the dash and bounced its way down to his feet. Briefly, she wondered if he was going to stomp on the thing, but instead he leaned back and let out a slow breath.
"24 hours." Jeremy took another deep breath and explained, "They require at least 24 hours for missing persons reports on campus. Do you know what could happen in 24 hours?"
The catch his in voice told Wil she didn't need to answer. Instead, she reached up and tapped the nav panel, setting it to her address. As the engine purred to life, Wil set a hand on Jeremy's knee and gave it a squeeze.
"Crash on our couch tonight," she told him in a gentle voice, sounding far calmer than she felt. "When she comes home, you'll be the first to know."
He turned to her then with a bleak look that broke her heart. "And if she doesn't?" he asked, and his words hung heavy in the car.
"She will." Wil's reassurances fell flat, and they rode the rest of the way in silence. Once they got back to the girls' apartment, Jeremy took control of the car, parking in silence and letting the engine die. A few snowflakes began to float down from the sky, clinging to Wil's hair as she got out of the car. One caught her eyelash and she blinked it away, feeling tears squeeze out as she did. She brushed them away and closed the door behind her.
Wil fell into step beside Jeremy, and together they made their way into the apartment building. Slipping ahead of him, Wil trudged up the stairs slowly, reaching for her purse and blinding rifling around for her keys.
"Willa, there you are," a velvet voice murmured as she reached the top step, and she glanced up sharply, her gaze meeting Edward's. Her breath caught when she noticed his eyes, black as pitch, boring into her. She swallowed thickly. Heat built its way up her neck as she stood frozen under his gaze, and she found her voice.
"Listen, if you're upset I haven't sent you the recording yet, I've been busy, all right? It's…not a good night," she said in a rush. She found her keys, pulling them out of her purse and pushing past him. Her foot caught something and she stumbled forward before an arm caught her around the waist.
"Please don't think I'm upset with you," Edward whispered in her ear. They stood for a moment, and Wil glanced over at him before casting a pointed look down at his arm. He gave a small gasp and pulled away quickly, a strange look crossing his features briefly before his usual calm returned. Bending down, he picked up the folder she'd tripped on and handed it to her.
"Thanks," she muttered, snatching it from him.
"See you Friday." He turned from her swiftly, passing Jeremy without a glance and jogging down the stairs. For what it was worth, Jeremy seemed lost in his own thoughts, turning Rhonda's purse over in his hands with an anxious look. Giving a ragged sigh, Wil took the purse from him gently.
"Come on," she said as she threw the purse over her shoulder and started for the door. "I'll order some pizza, and we can wait for everyone to get home."
The night passed slowly. Wil cleaned the kitchen while Jeremy watched TV with a blank stare that probably didn't see a single moment of the shows he had on. When Kate and Eve returned home with no success, they noticed Rhonda's purse sitting on the couch beside Jeremy and sighed in relief; Wil had to tell them what had happened, watching them both sink into silence. The pizza was tasteless, and as soon as it was gone they all retired, Wil retrieving a pillow and blanket from her room for Jeremy to use on the couch. No one wanted to go into Rhonda's room – especially him.
When the next morning came, it was as though a countdown had begun. Wil went through her classes mechanically, checking her watch often. Rhonda's last class would have ended at 4 the day before; Jeremy vowed he would be on the phone at 4 sharp, not a moment later. Kate had claimed in the morning that she knew Rhonda would be bouncing through the door at any moment, a false smile on her lips that mirrored the thoughts of everyone else.
They knew she wouldn't be coming home on her own if she hadn't already.
At noon, Wil's phone had buzzed in her ear, and she jumped out of her seat in the library, fumbling for the button and praying for good news. She nearly cried when she heard Edward's voice reminding her about the recording she's promised to send, disappointment filling her.
Finally, Jeremy, Wil, Kate, and Eve gathered in the girls' living room and Jeremy called the police a second time.
Wil glanced at Kate and Eve, sitting on the couch holding hands, and then looked down at her own clasped hands and focused on her breathing. A part of her heard Jeremy speaking on the phone, but she couldn't concentrate on the words. Images of police officers flitted through her mind, arriving at her door, escorting her to the hospital… She pressed her eyes shut, willing the thoughts away, and was relieved when Jeremy laid a hand on her shoulder.
"They want us to go down to the campus station," he said. "We're supposed to bring her purse, as well as the activator for her car and some pictures. They'll file a report…" He trailed off, and when Wil looked up, she recognized the shell shocked look on his face.
"I'll get her purse," Eve said, rising from the couch. She went to her bedroom, disappearing for a moment, and Kate leaned across the couch to grab her tablet.
"I should have some pictures," she muttered to herself, tapping the screen to bring it to life. Jeremy offered Wil a hand, and she took it, bringing him into a hug as she got to her feet. She couldn't find any words, but when he placed his hands on her back, she decided none were necessary. They stepped apart and moved toward the door, getting their coats.
The four of them squeezed into Jeremy's car, Kate and Eve talking in hushed voices about what else they might want to give the police to help their search. When Kate started to talk about creating "lost woman" posters, Wil tuned them out, watching as the campus sped by. The memories were becoming oppressive; the last time she'd even spoken to a police officer had been the day of Andrew's death. She remembered the looks on their faces, grim and sympathetic under their caps, the way one of them had reached up and removed it before asking to come in. There had been reports to file and questions to answer long into the evening, done in plain white rooms with cold chairs and mechanical glows from the tablets the men had carried.
By the time they'd gotten to the station, her breath came in difficult gasps, and she lowered her head between her knees.
"Hey," Kate said, touching her shoulder. "You all right?"
Someone opened Wil's door, a burst of cold air catching her, and gentle hands urged her out of the car. "Bad memories?" Eve guessed, and Wil nodded, afraid to look at the woman and see the pity in her eyes. "We're here, and Rhonda's fine. It's not the same."
Wasn't it? She wanted to challenge Eve, but couldn't find the voice. Instead, Wil took a deep breath and nodded. Jeremy led the way into the tiny campus substation, going to the front desk and placing his hands on the counter. Wil thought she noticed a slight tremor in them before he set them down.
"We're here to file a missing person report."