Prologue – March 2012
"Artie, get up!"
I groan at the light pound against my door and my little sister shouting at me. Tugging the pillow over the top of my head, I bury my face in the mattress and close my eyes. Normally getting up in the morning is no big deal for me, but I was having a really good dream before my sister interrupted and I would very much like to return to it. And much to my dismay, the images of my girlfriend and black lace are already fading away.
"Are you awake?"
I groan louder, but it's muffled in the mattress. Turning my head to the side so I can answer, I shout back an unenthusiastic, "Yes, Lizzie."
"Good because you take forever in the shower and if you don't hurry we'll be late," she says and then I hear her footsteps retreat down the hallway. I heave a sigh and admit defeat in my attempts to go back to my dream. Hating myself for forgetting to close the curtains all the way last night, I pry my eyes open in the blaring sunlight.
The first thing I see is my cell phone, clutched in my hand and resting on the mattress inches from my head. I smile at the dark screen. That's another reason I'm so against it being morning already; I was up half of the night texting with Tina. She's been stuck home with the stomach flu for the last week, and since her parents are happiness-Nazis, I haven't been able to go over and see her.
The missed alert light is blinking and I curiously open my phone to see I have one text, dated '3/11, 1:27 am.' I must have fallen asleep in the middle of our conversation. I smile and open the message, bringing the phone close to my face to read it because I haven't put my glasses on yet.
can u come over 2morow? i need 2 talk 2 u about something
I raise an eyebrow at this, since her parents have been pretty firmly against me visiting. They shooed me away pretty harshly when I tried last Friday. Maybe they'll both be at work so I can get in without being cursed at in Korean. Either way I can tell it must be something important if she's willing to risk it, so I click 'reply' and key in with one thumb, since I'm too lazy to bother dragging my other arm out from under my body.
ok T, b over after school. get feelin better. love u
After I've sent the text I snap my phone shut and nestle my head down in my pillow again. Just as that pleasant lightness of drifting off sinks in, there's a loud thump against my door and then it opens.
"Arthur Benjamin Abrams!" Lizzie shrieks, coming around to stand at the edge of my bed and glaring at me. I don't open my eyes, but I can tell she's glaring. She has one of those stares that burns holes in people. When I don't react except to make a noise of annoyance, she slaps my shoulder sharply. "Get your stupid lazy ass out of bed!"
"Elizabeth June Abrams, language," I reply, just to annoy her, and she slaps me again, this time on the back of the head. I groan again. She heaves an overly-dramatic sigh and I feel the pressure of her climbing up onto the bed. Despite myself, I open my eyes curiously. Her face is blurry but I can tell she's smirking at me, standing up with one leg on either side of my hips. And then she starts jumping. I yelp as my body bounces against the mattress and I instinctively reach for the bedposts to steady myself a little as my body continues to jump along with her.
"Alright, alright!" I say loudly, because she's giggling like a crazy person. "I'm up!"
"And you're going to stay up?" she questions, still jumping.
"Yes, now get down before you land on me with those monster feet," I say and she makes an indignant noise but stops jumping. She kicks me in the side before stepping off the bed and grabbing her shoes from where she left them. With one last noise of protest, I push myself onto my back and then up into a sitting position, shivering as the warm blanket slips off my bare chest and pools in my lap. Lizzie is standing at the foot of the bed and staring at me expectantly, and I can hear her tapping her toe impatiently. "Liz, I may or may not be wearing boxers under this blanket, and unless you want to find out I advise you leave."
"Ew gross!" Lizzie instantly bolts out of the room, practically slamming the door behind her. I laugh to myself and reach down to toss the blankets off my flannel-clad legs. Fishing on my bedside table for my glasses, I set about my typical morning routine. Once I've shifted myself from my bed to the waiting wheelchair, I fetch some clothes from the dresser and head into my adjoined bathroom. After I've showered and dressed, I roll myself out into the kitchen where Lizzie is sitting on the counter with her foot twitching in a staccato rhythm.
"About time," she says in exasperation. She tosses something silvery at me and I catch it on instinct, glancing down to see it's a package of Pop-Tarts. "That's all you get since you're being such a lazy butthead this morning."
"Oh c'mon, at least let me have a cup of coffee first," I plead. Lizzie just smiles and reaches down the counter to grab a thermos, sliding down off the counter and pressing it into my chest. "Fine, this'll work." I twist around and Lizzie helps me put the Pop-Tarts into my backpack, I wedge the thermos snugly between my legs, and then I grab my keys off the hook by the door. Five minutes later I've got my chair locked into place in my specialized manual van and Lizzie is already comfortably buckled into the passenger seat, trying to change my radio station. I bat her hand away before putting the van into gear.
I stop the van against the curb at Lima Junior High and Lizzie immediately waves at one of her friends. "Is Emily giving you a ride to ballet?" I ask as she undoes her seatbelt.
"Same as she does every Tuesday, yeah," Lizzie says. I just smile and nod. "See you later, dork."
"Later, monster," I reply. She giggles and jumps out of the van, waving to me before running off to join her friend. I shake my head and ease my van out into the road again, this time heading for William McKinley High. A Cheerio in a shiny compact nearly hits me going into the parking lot, but I manage to get my van into one of the handicapped spots without getting murdered and run the lift to get out.
School today sucks as much as the last four Tina-free school days have. With only two and a half months left until graduation, we are all feeling a serious case of senior-itis creeping over us and I am not exactly paying attention in most of my classes. Most of the time this isn't a problem, since Tina is in half of my classes and I can pass notes with her to keep myself entertained. Without her there I spend most of my time doodling idly in a notebook and waiting expectantly for free period when we have extra Glee rehearsal.
"Still no Tina?" Mr. Schue asks me when I roll into the choir room alone. I frown and shake my head, and Mr. Schue nods to me sympathetically. "Alright, well we'll leave off practicing your duet another day then, but I hope she's back soon or we're not going to have time to set and polish the choreography for it. Nationals are only four weeks away." I just nod and smile grimly before joining the rest of the team. Even though having something to do makes this hour more bearable than the last four, singing without Tina doesn't feel right.
I have lunch period after Glee, and once I'm settled at a table with Mercedes, Rachel, and a couple of the newer Glee members, I slip my phone out of my pocket and send a text.
glee still feels weird w/o u. hope ur feeling better. love u.
The next three classes go by without incident, although they also go by without much concentration either. In my last period History class, my least favorite class and Tina's favorite, I check my phone to see if she's answered. Nothing. Frowning a little, I send another.
bored in hist, cant wait to finally see u again. B there in 1 hour. Love u.
I spend the rest of the class hour glancing down at my phone in my lap, waiting for a reply. The bell rings and I still haven't gotten one. Starting to get nervous, I hurry to my locker and find Mercedes standing there. "Hey, have you texted Tina yet today?" I ask curiously. "I've texted her four times now and she hasn't answered me. I was wondering if maybe she's mad at me for falling asleep while we were texting last night."
Mercedes scoffs at my reasoning, but shakes her head. "I texted her before Glee but she ain't answered me neither," she says. "Maybe Lucy Lui's sleeping. She has been chunking her guts out for the last week."
"Good point," I say although I wrinkle my nose at the description. "Now I'll feel bad going over. She said she wanted me to come over but I don't want to wake her up."
"Oh please, Wheels, she ain't seen you skinny white ass in a week, just go over," Mercedes says, rolling her eyes and laughing. "Maybe she'll let you join her lil' cat nap."
She winks suggestively and I blush at the implication. "I don't think any of that will be happening if she's been puking," I say. "It's damaging to a guy's self-esteem if his girl vomits on him." Still, I have to admit I really do want to see Tina. I haven't actually seen her since last Tuesday and even though we've talked every day she's been gone, it's not the same.
"Tell her I say to get that Chinese ass better and get back to school 'fore I come drag her back," Mercedes says, like she already knows what I've decided. "Even if I gotta take her 'rents to the carpet to do it."
"She's Korean, not Chinese," I point out but Mercedes just shrugs. Laughing, I close my locker and head out to the parking lot. Sending one more text, hey t, on my way over, u awake? I get into my van and drive the familiar route to her house. She still hasn't answered by the time I get there, get out of my van, and up to her door. I knock, but don't hear anyone coming for the door. After two minutes of waiting, I knock again. Still nothing.
Really concerned now, I pull my phone out and dial her number. It goes straight to her voicemail. Maybe her phone is dead, and that's why she hasn't been answering. I knock again, but nothing happens. Thinking maybe she's slept through the sound, I struggle to reach up and finally manage to hit the doorbell. It chimes out loudly inside the house. I wait expectantly, but still don't hear anything. By this point, my heart is hammering out in my chest and I think I'm forgetting how to breathe. I hit the doorbell again, and when another minute passes without anything, I hit it again. Finally after the fourth time I've punched the little button, I hear footsteps inside the house, heading rapidly toward the door.
I grin, expecting Tina to answer the door, apologizing for having slept through the noise because she's so sick or maybe because she had headphones on. Instead when the door opens I flinch back, because it's her mother and she's glaring heatedly at me. "What's your problem, young man?" she asks sharply.
"Sorry, I was coming to see Tina," I say. "Is she asleep?"
"I have no idea," Mrs. Cohen-Chang replies and her gaze is cold and bitter. I roll back another inch because I'm kind of thinking this woman looks capable of murder. Not the first time I'd thought that, and it turns out it wouldn't be the last either. She never has liked me much for some reason, but her animosity today has doubled and I can't help but wonder what I've done. Well, apart from annoying the hell out of her with a doorbell. "She's not here."
"Not here?" I ask in surprise. "I thought she was home sick."
"She's gone, I don't know where," Mrs. Cohen-Chang says. "I haven't seen her since last night."
My heart shudders to a stop in my chest as what she's saying finally processes. "Wait, you mean she's gone?" I clarify breathlessly. "What do you mean?"
"Gone, as in gone," Mrs. Cohen-Chang rambles off angrily and I'm surprised when what looks like a tear sparks in the corner of her eye. All the air rushes out of me. "I would really appreciate it if you'd leave now," Mrs. Cohen-Chang says coldly and then before I can say anymore, she's slammed the door in my face.
I stare at the dark wood for several long minutes, trying to wrap my brain around what's going on. I was just talking to her last night. She was here then. And now she's gone. How is that possible? Did she leave the house? Get kidnapped? Picked up on the side of the road and taken away? Abducted by aliens? I had been talking to her, but now she's just – vanished?
No. This can't be happening. Not to Tina, not to me. I hammer angrily on the door, mad at Mrs. Cohen-Chang because I'm sure she must be lying to me. Or at least she's not telling me everything. There's got to be more to this, and I need to know what's happened. She must be hiding things from me. Maybe she's even trying to hide Tina from me. Either way, I need to know.
"What happened to Tina?" I shout at the door, still pounding it with my fist. "Tina, are you in there? Someone answer me." I keep hitting the door, long after my hand has started to ache and my arm gets tired. I switch to using my left hand and yell for Tina again, but I still get no response.
This isn't real. It can't be real. Tina can't be gone. Where can she be? Maybe she's gone to the doctor's, and her phone is turned off. That would explain it. What if she's in the hospital? Anything but what Mrs. Cohen-Chang said. Tina can't be gone. It can't be real. This isn't real.
Thirty minutes later both of my hands are bruised and my voice is starting to fail me. My arms are getting sore and I barely have the strength to lift them away from the door to let them drop again. I am vaguely aware of the fact that I can't see very well and my cheeks are cold and wet, but my brain is so disjointed I don't care why that is. My heart is pounding in my ears, but over it I can still hear the rush of the pouring spring rain. I'm shaking with more than just cold. I feel sick.
I don't even turn away from the door when I can sense someone standing behind me. A hand reaches around me and grabs my arm to stop me from knocking again. I indifferently lift the other one, but a second hand comes out and grabs that too. "Let me go!" I cry out in frustration, trying to tug my arms free from the person hovering behind me. "Let me go. She's in there. She's lying to me. I need to know the truth. She can't be gone."
The person behind me is talking but I don't really understand the words through the throbbing in my head. The voice sounds familiar but I don't want to waste the brain power to figure out who it is. I don't really care. There's only one person's voice I care about right now. "Please, just let me go!" I shriek and my voice cracks.
The voice is soft and soothing and sympathetic. I don't want sympathetic. Sympathetic means there's something to feel sympathy for. Sympathetic means that Mrs. Cohen-Chang is right. Sympathetic means Tina is gone.
I make a noise of frustration and I don't even care that it sounds vaguely like a scream. The person behind me manages to fight against my strength and folds my arms in against my body, their arms wrapping around me and keeping me still. I struggle but whoever the person is, is a lot bigger than me and I can't get free.
"She's not gone, she can't be," I say desperately but my voice has become a pathetic squeak. "I talked to her last night. She was here. She is here. She's not gone."
The person shushes me, holding me a little tighter. "It's gonna be okay, Sport, just calm down." Only one person calls me that.
"Dad, she's not gone," I plead. He has to listen to me. Dad always listens to me, he knows Tina can't just be gone. Not my Tina. "Please, you know it's true. She's not gone."
Dad just shushes me again. When he releases me, he comes around to kneel in front of me. My heart drops because his face is wet and his eyes are red. He's crying. Why is he crying? There's nothing to cry about. She's not gone. "You've got to listen to me, Artie, you're gonna be okay. Okay?"
"Dad, please?" I'm begging now and I know it. His face isn't relenting anything. There's no hope or belief or light in his face at all. He's shaking, and he just bites his lip and shakes his head. I crumble, because Dad would never lie to me, not about something like this. My whole world falls in and I bend over, wrapping my arms around my head and tucking myself against my legs.
I don't care that I'm curled up in my chair on my girlfriends' parents' front porch, that the mist of the rain is freezing me or that I'm crying harder than I've cried in my life. Because strength and vanity and pride and decency don't matter anymore. I fell asleep last night without telling her I love her. I have no idea where she is or if she's safe or injured or dead. I don't know if I'll ever see her again.
Tina is gone.