M A X
I relax instantly when Andy reaches out to kiss my cheeks, pulling me in for a hug as he did. I noticed his expression didn't quite match his words though, and I tilt my head quizzically.
"Is everything alright? You look distracted."
Andy inhales, pushing his hand through his hair. He breaks eye contact with me temporarily, but soon loses the fight to avoid my inquisitive gaze.
"Uh, I just saw Cain."
This was my opportunity to be honest with him, to tell him that yes, I'm seeing Cain too. Before I can, a slow, sexy smile appears on his handsome face.
"He told me you're seeing each other too."
Alarms are screaming in my head, horror gripping me like a vice. I'd underestimated Cain, clearly. I swallow, opening my mouth to speak but then closing it again.
"It's alright," Andy says, his gaze sweeping over me. I'm lost in his eyes then, and I wonder how it is possible for two men to have such a similar effect on me. "I guess I'm just a little surprised you were on a dating site if you were already seeing someone."
"Oh," is all I can muster. What can I say?
Oh, it's OK, we were just sleeping together. Nothing serious. Until I ended it, met you, and now Cain wants to try. No biggie.
"Do you still want to see me, Max?" Andy rests his hand on the counter beside us, drumming his fingers lightly as he does.
My words catch in my throat, and Andy watches me intently.
Andy seems to relax then, his hand reaching out to touch mine gently.
"I'm glad, Max. Because I really like you. If you choose Cain, I'll walk away no questions asked. I'm not used to competing, truth be told."
"I don't want you to compete," I protest, my breath hitching in my throat when he strokes my face. His fingers tilt my chin back, and just as he is about to kiss me, my phone interrupts the silence.
"I'm sorry," I whisper apologetically, as he drops his hand with an understanding smile. I glance at the screen of my phone, frowning when I see my sister's name. "It's my sister."
Andy nods, turning his attention to my bookshelf as I admire his broad back.
"Frankie?" I hiss into the phone. "What's wrong?"
My sisters didn't call me unless they needed something, or had something groundbreaking to tell me. Frankie was the least social of the twins, so this only served to alarm me even more.
"Max," I hear Frankie sob, my grip tightening on the phone. "Alex is missing."
I feel like I've been punched in the stomach, knowing Frankie couldn't exaggerate if she tried. I try to inhale, but air fails to enter my body. I feel dizzy, and I fall onto the stool behind me. Andy turns towards me, frowning.
"Are you alright?" He mouths, striding over to me.
"Missing?" I repeat, my eyes meeting Andy's. Andy stiffens, and I feel tears spring to my eyes.
"I tried not to worry, because you know how she is," Frankie babbles through her own tears. "She said she was meeting some guy, for…for-"
"For what, Frankie?" My voice is hoarse, and I see Andy searching my eyes as he takes my hand in his.
"Drugs," Frankie wails, and my eyes bulge. My sister did drugs?!
"What?!" I yelp.
"I thought she would be gone for the night, like she usually is when she goes on a bender," Frankie whimpers. "But this time, she didn't come home. She still hasn't."
"How long has she been gone, Frankie?" I ask blankly. I can barely breathe, the image of my sister dead in a ditch somewhere overruling my emotions.
"Tell me you called the police," I say, pinching the bridge of my nose.
"Yes! I had to. I told them just before I rang you-"
"Where are you?" I bark, lifting my gaze to Andy.
"I'm at the station," she whispers into the phone. "Mum and Dad are on their way."
"I'll be there shortly."
I end the call, as Andy studies me.
"Hey, what's happened? What can I do?"
"It turns out my sister is a drug user, and after going to meet someone for more drugs, she has disappeared," I gulp, tears spilling down my cheeks.
Andy closes his eyes, reaching out for me as he pulls me into his arms.
"I'll take you wherever you need to go, Max."
"The police station," I say, a sickening feeling in my gut. Andy locks the door behind us, handing me the keys and my handbag.
The drive us silent, but throughout Andy holds my hand, his concerned gaze flickering towards me.
"The police are amazing. They will find her," he says, lifting my hand to his lips. I'm trembling, but Andy is calm. "She may have just had so much fun she forgot to let you guys know where she is. Try and stay positive."
"She could also be dead, Andy," I say flatly, refusing to summon an ounce of positivity. "I can't believe she does drugs."
"I know. I'm here, and I won't leave you, ok?"
I nod gratefully, clutching his hand when the police station comes into view. The large grey building stood taller than its neighbours, windows that hid the inside away from the world sat in rows before us. A revolving door seemed to churn in and out an endless stream of people, and I felt panic rise within me.
This was suddenly too formal; too real. I dragged my phone out, sending a text message to Charlotte.
Max: Alex is missing. I'm at the station.
Charlotte: On my way.
Shakily, I made my way to the reception, not even sure what to ask. Andy took control, his hand still gripping mine as the receptionist nodded. Her eyes softened as she directed us down the hall, through a set of double doors. Andy led the way, and as we walked through I saw my sister and my parents huddled together, sobbing.
Andy released me as I ran to them, and the four of us held one another before attempting to speak.
"They have opened a missing person case," my dad informs me, his eyes watery and wide. I rub his arm reassuringly, before nodding.
"She will be alright, Dad. She is twenty five, she isn’t some dumb kid."
"Is she not?" Mum snaps from beside him, her eyes wild with fury. "Because that's what she seems like to me, doing drugs and putting herself in danger."
Frankie had her knees pulled up to her chin, and she was staring vacantly at the floor, oblivious to Mum's words.
"Her phone is off," Dad sank to the chair beside Frankie, as Mum paced the hallway. "Who is this?"
I turn to see Andy standing beside me, and he holds his hand out to my dad.
"I'm Andy Hallson. I'm a friend of Max."
Dad shakes his hand loosely, before nodding to himself.
"Does anyone want a drink?" Andy gestures to the vending machine at the end of the hall.
"Coffee all round son, thank you," my dad says, turning his worried gaze to my sister.
Andy squeezes my hand, and I feel my heart lurch when he walks away.
"He is a nice young man, Max. Were you on a date?" Dad asks, blinking as he stares at the wall in front of him.
"Kind of. Uh, Frankie, have you spoken to any officers?" I turn my attention to Frankie who explains that we are waiting for an officer to take us into an interview room to make a statement.
This was the first time I'd ever been in a station, and I hoped it was my last. It was cold, grey and unapologetically uncomfortable. The hard plastic chair creaked beneath me as I sat down, and I held my head in my hands.
Where was my sister?