P R O L O G U E
The call came in whilst I slept. My cell phone vibrating violently on the night-stand beside my bed, stirring me from my sleep. I was groggy, barely able to find the 'accept call' button as I blinked the sleep from my eyes.
At first I struggled to decipher the words being frantically shouted down the phone the moment I answered, the voice of Maggie - one of my co-workers - echoing through the speaker in a high and emotional pitch. I could only pick out a couple of words in-between heavy lidded blinks and stifled yawns - "Here", "Unbelievable", "Found". Her ramblings didn't make a lot of sense, she was hysterical, as if she were crying rivers as she tripped over words.
But it was only when I heard the name - the name I hadn't heard anyone besides myself say in years – that I finally woke the hell up.
Before I knew it I was running, shoes untied as I threw myself into the drivers seat of my car. The engine roared to life. Speed limit be damned, because I needed to be at the station. And I needed to be there now. When I sped into the dark parking lot barely 10 minutes later I saw the lobby was filled with officers, Maggie pacing by the doors with her fingernails scraping across her teeth. When she saw me exit my car outside she practically yanked the front door from it's hinges and sobbed my name. But I barely heard her over the sound of my thumping chest and the ringing in my ears.
I couldn't have run faster. I pushed past her trembling form, my eyes scanning the room. My fellow colleagues regarded me with teary expressions of shock. Usually I would have been more conscious of how my colleagues looked at me, but with the crescendo of emotions currently rippling through me - the last thing on my mind was looking like an inconsiderate bastard.
"Where?" was all I could manage to say, my voice coming out in one heavy breath.
Luke stepped forward and grasped my shoulders in his palms. The look in his eyes told me he was feeling every ounce of disbelief and fear I was experiencing too. Luke had known Penny too. And had been there right up until - and after she had gone missing.
"Where?!" I interrupted, my voice sounding far more aggressive than I'd first intended, "Where is she?!"
Luke inhaled sharply, "She's in the back with the Chief" he replied, his words weighted with emotion.
I didn't have time to listen to a word more. My feet carried me even further into the station, shrugging out of my friend's grasp, and rushing past the reception desk - straight through the private double doors.
At the end of the corridor was the interrogation room. The room where the Chief and Officers like myself would take individuals for questioning. I'd been inside that room almost on a daily basis, but never before had I felt even 1% of the emotions flooding through me at that moment.
I heard voices as I reached for the handle.
Then the door opened.
The Chief looked up at me as I entered slowly, silence falling across the small darkened room. There were only 3 other people inside. The Chief, D.I Howard. And her.
I felt the exact second my heart stopped.
My eyes immediately locked onto the figure sat at the table. Her small hands laced together on top, and long waves of golden hair hanging in loose tangles - around a freckle dusted face I hadn't seen in almost 10 years. I studied the way her parched lips disappeared between her teeth, and the way she flinched once her eyes finally fell on mine. Her face was expressionless, all the warmth she used to emit now faded into a solid marble stare, and those eyes I remembered everyday were no longer so virtuous and pure. It were as if she'd seen things, gone through so much, and those images had ingrained themselves on that emerald tint of her iris'. But none of that mattered in that moment. Because she was here.
"Penny?" my voice was a strangled whisper.
My best friend. The only girl I'd ever loved. The one who was taken away so suddenly, disappearing into the night all those years ago. I'd imagined her dead, trafficked, chained to a wall, buried in a shallow grave, thrown to the bottom of the ocean. In nightmares I had seen her in all these places, but not one dream showed her sat here. Safe. Alive.
I collapsed to my knees in front of her, and the tears finally began to fall.