On Monday morning, I exit the elevator with a racing heart, hoping that Ben is somehow already sitting at his desk, but there’s only Luke greeting me with a surprised look and a smile. “Amy! Good Morning. I didn’t expect you until tomorrow. How are you? Everything okay with your family?”
I had told Luke I had a family emergency before I left so I could take a few days off as it’s not common practice for new employees to request a leave so early after they started working. I nod. “Yes, thank you, Luke. They’re fine. And thanks again for letting me see them.”
His smile widens. “You’re welcome.”
I take a deep breath and wipe my sweaty palms on my skirt. “Do you know where Ben is?” I ask hesitantly.
Luke arches his brows. “Ben? He came to me on Thursday and said he needed to take a few days off.”
I frown. “A few days?”
“Yes. I actually expected him to be back today. But well, he’ll get in touch.” He watches me a little more closely as if he was suspecting something. But he doesn’t ask any questions, just says, “If you’re ready, I have some work that needs to be done.”
As hard as it is for me to focus on my work, I manage to do my job halfway decently. But my mind keeps wandering, and I can hardly silence the nagging thoughts in my head. So as soon as it’s time for lunch, I go looking for Isaac; maybe he knows more.
Luckily, he’s still in his office. I knock, and he turns around and looks at me wide-eyed. “Amy! What are you doing here?”
“I came back a little earlier,” I say as I cross my arms in front of my chest, and I decide not to beat around the bush. “Do you know where Ben is?” I ask straightforward.
Isaac’s eyes widen again, only for a second. Yes, he knows something.
I narrow my eyes at him. “Isaac, tell me! Is he okay?”
He scratches his head and takes a deep breath. “Honestly, I don’t know. He came to me on Thursday and said he had to find Aaron – get him out of some shit again. He didn’t know how long it would take. That’s why he asked me to pick you up from the airport this afternoon in case he wouldn’t be back by then.”
I stare at Isaac with my mouth agape and shake my head. This is bad. “Where did he go?” I ask.
He avoids my gaze when he answers, “He never says that.”
I gasp. “What do you mean – never? How often does this happen?”
He rubs the back of his neck when he looks at me again. “Every now and then. Amy, listen, don’t worry. They’ll be fine, and they’ll be back soon.”
I grimace. “Why didn’t he tell me?”
“He didn’t want you to worry.”
“Well, good job! Doesn’t he think I might be wondering why he doesn’t answer my calls?”
“He didn’t answer your call?”
I take in a sharp breath. “Isaac! Are you kidding me? Haven’t you noticed that yet? Haven’t you tried to reach him?”
He shakes his head. “I would have tried to call him today to ask him if I should pick you up or not. Ben never called when he was gone, and I didn’t worry.”
I roll my eyes and groan. “Men!” I pace up and down the office. “And what are we going to do now?”
Isaac sighs. “All we can do is wait. Amy, I’m sure he’ll be back soon. Don’t worry.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” I snap at him. “Why didn’t he try to reach me? What if something happened to him?” I look up to the ceiling when tears well up in my eyes.
With another deep sigh, Isaac gets up from his chair and walks up to me to hug me. And even though I’m more than surprised he’s capable of such a thing, I cling to him and sob. I know I should stop worst-case scenarios from playing in my head, but I can’t banish the worries; I can’t lose Ben too.
Thanks to Isaac’s soothing hug, I manage to calm down slowly. With a deep breath, I take a step back. “Thanks, Isaac. Will you join me for lunch? I don’t want to be alone.”
Two days later, there’s still no news of either Ben or Aaron. Both Lauren and Isaac try to keep me from freaking out, which is almost impossible. I’m a nervous wreck, and the only thing that somewhat manages to distract me is extra work. So on Wednesday night at 8pm, I’m the last employee to leave our department.
I take in a deep breath of the fresh evening air when I walk out of the building. I zip up my coat and accelerate my step when it starts to drizzle.
On my way home, I’m in my usual daze, only thinking about Ben. So when I’m a few blocks away from my apartment, I almost miss the slightly uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I turn around and look left and right, but I don’t see anything suspicious that would explain that weird sensation that makes my hair lift on the nape of my neck.
But as I continue on my way, I can’t get rid of the feeling that someone is following me. I keep turning around, but I see no one, so I get my phone out of my bag and call Isaac. He answers straight away. “Hey, Amy!”
“Isaac!” I whisper yell. “I think someone is following me.”
He clears his throat. “Yes, I hear you. Where are you?”
“I’m almost home.”
“Just keep walking. I’ll be there as soon as possible. No running. Don’t arouse suspicion.”
I snort. “Wow, you really know how to reassure someone.”
“Yeah, sorry. Keep talking to me so I know you’re okay.”
I tighten the grip on my phone and draw in a long breath, trying to stay as calm as possible, which isn’t easy with my wildly beating heart. “Where are you?” I ask him as I wipe my clammy hand on my coat.
“I’ll be at your apartment in about ten minutes.”
“Do I need to worry? Could someone be following me? Aaron said–”
“Amy, everything will be fine,” he interrupts me in a voice that is much too calm for my liking. How can he be so relaxed? Or am I overreacting?
“Maybe someone just wants to scare you,” he continues. “I’ll be there soon. Where are you now?”
“I can see my front door.” I rummage in my bag for my keys, and in the process, I drop my phone. “Shit!”
I bend down, but before I can pick it up, someone already holds it out to me. I slowly lift my gaze, straighten up, and cover my mouth with my hand to keep me from screaming when I look into the face of a very creepy-looking guy.
Even over the sound of my thumping heartbeat in my ears, I can still hear Isaac on the line. I feel like I’m close to hyperventilating when the guy ends the call and puts my phone back into my bag. “What–” I manage to croak, but creepy guy puts his finger on my lips
“Shh, keep quiet. We don’t want to attract any attention now, do we?” he whispers with a frightening smile that sends an ice-cold shiver down my spine.
I want to take a step back, or better, run off, but I’m paralyzed. Even with the adrenaline that rushes through my veins, I can’t move a single muscle. I suck in a sharp breath when the guy brushes a strand of hair behind my ear. The smile on his face widens. “You’re gorgeous, really. I’d hate to change that, but if Aaron can’t stick to a bargain–”
My breath hitches in my throat when he strokes my cheek, and finally, I gain control over my legs and take a step back. But my back hits the wall, and the guy rests his hands on either side of my head, and only now do I realize how huge he is.
I turn my head and close my eyes, but he takes my chin with his thumb and index finger and forces me to look at him. “This is his last warning,” he growls. “Tell Aaron he’s got 24 hours. He knows what’ll happen otherwise.”
Suddenly we are interrupted by another voice. “Hey, Jackson, didn’t your father teach you any manners? That’s not how you treat a lady.”
Cursing, the guy lets me go and turns to the other guy. “What do you want, Eddy?”
“I want to stop you from doing something foolish. Your father won’t be happy when he learns that you are threatening innocent women.”
“Screw you! Leave my father out of this. This is none of his business – or yours. So fuck off.”
Eddy gets his phone out. “Then you leave me no choice but to call him.”
Jackson clenches his fists and glares at Eddy. I’m still paralyzed, leaning against the wall and trying to breathe calmly. What the fuck did I get myself into?
Suddenly Jackson turns back to me, points a threatening finger at me, and snarls, “24 hours.” And with that, he turns around and disappears.
I finally feel like I can breathe again. My legs give in, and I sink to the ground. Eddy hurries to my side and helps me up. I gasp and cover my face with my hands.
“Fuck, I’m so sorry,” Eddy says as he removes my hands from my face to study me. “I was too late. He shouldn’t have gotten so close to you at all. I’m such an idiot. But you’re safe now. You’re okay, Amy. I promise.”
I stare at him with wide eyes. How does he know my name?
That’s when Isaac comes around the corner. “Amy!” he yells.
Eddy lets go of me, and I stumble into Isaac’s arms. He shoots a dark look at Eddy, who raises his hands in defense. “Hey, man, I’m the good guy.”
I look at him, and then at Isaac. “That’s true; he scared the other one off.”
Eddy takes a few steps back. “Okay, I’m off. Again, I’m sorry I let this happen.”
I call after him. “Wait! Have you heard from Aaron or Ben?”
Eddy sighs and shakes his head. “I haven’t talked to Aaron since he asked me to keep an eye on you, but I never hear from him. Only if something goes wrong. If something had happened, I would have heard.”
I drop my head and slump my shoulders. “Okay, thanks.”
Eddy nods to me and then disappears.
Isaac takes my hand. “Come on, Amy; I’ll take you inside.”
I still can’t fully grasp what just happened. The fear lingers, making me dizzy and shaky all over. What I need is a long, hot shower. Despite his protest, I send Isaac home; I want to be alone.
Okay, no. I don’t want to be alone; I want to be with Ben, wrapped up in his strong arms, listening to his soothing voice. But once again, I have to accept that he’s not here, so I stand under the hot spray of water in my shower until I feel numb – until thoughts of Ben don’t hurt anymore.
I don’t know how much time passes before I lie down on my bed and wrap myself up in my blanket, unsuccessfully trying to ignore the worries and anxiety. And at some point, I fall into a restless sleep.
Until a noise rips me out of my nightmares. At least I think there was a noise. I sit up and listen, but I don’t hear any more. It must have been part of my dream then.
I look at the time: it’s just after 2am. I get out of my bed and walk to the kitchen to get a glass of water. That’s when I hear it again: a knock on my door. My hand flies to my chest where my heart starts pounding like mad, and my whole body trembles.
I don’t care that I should be more careful after what happened tonight – that it could be an unwelcome guest.
I rush to the door and tear it open.