The Search – July 28, 2015

Melissa sat in the passenger seat of Steve’s silver Audi A7, listening as he left yet another voicemail message for Detective Roberts. Since her one, brief encounter with the missing woman more than three weeks earlier, their lives had fallen into a frustrating and predictable routine.

Each morning, during their free, continental breakfasts, they would pour over local maps, planning their route for the day. Each afternoon they would explore that route, searching for any sign of Ana, the silver pick-up truck, or either of the two suspects. At the end of each afternoon, they would call Detective Roberts and his partner to request an update on the investigation. Detective Becker and Agent Comarella, they’d been informed, had returned to their own offices and were ‘working the investigation from that end’, whatever that meant.

For the first week, the two remaining detectives had accepted Steve’s calls, updating him on whatever new leads the tip line had produced, and listening to their account of the route they’d explored that day. By the second week, however, Detective Roberts had begun to suggest, in the politest possible terms, that it might be better if they were both to go home and ‘let the police take it from here’. By the third week, it became nearly impossible to get either detective on the phone at all.

“You know what it means, right?” Steve asked, tossing his phone into the center console. “It means they’ve given up. They just want me to shut up, go away, and leave them alone.”

Melissa, who privately agreed with his dismal assessment, nevertheless could not bear to see him lose hope. “I’m sure that’s not it,” she lied. “They’re just concerned that you’ve spent so much time away from your business.”

He looked at her for a long moment, his blue eyes studying her. “And you from your family.”

She waved a dismissive hand. “Don’t worry about that. Marc’s fine on his own, Tess is at school and Jake…”

“Doesn’t he go off to college soon?”

“Two more weeks,” she said, frowning. “He doesn’t go to school for another two weeks. I’ve still got some time.”

“You’re sure Marc won’t miss you? I mean, don’t misunderstand, I’m grateful for the support, honestly, but…”

“Marc has his students to keep him busy,” she said, a sharp edge creeping into her voice.

“Not that it’s any of my business, but is that really fair? Isn’t it part of his job to care about the welfare of his students?”

“Oh, he cares about them, alright,” Melissa said, with a sneer. “Some more than others.”

Steve shook his head as understanding dawned in his bright, blue eyes. He pulled at the whiskers on his chin. “Why on earth would a man choose a school girl over you?”

Melissa’s lips quivered as they wrestled back a sob. Finally, made mute by her own humiliation, she simply shrugged.

His arm slipped around her shoulders, like a crack slicing through an icy dam, until the pain and fury flowed from her in an angry tidal wave. “The first time it happened, I blamed myself. I told myself I hadn’t loved him well enough, that I should have kept the house cleaner, or my waistline slimmer, or…” She tossed up her hands, as if hoping to snatch the solution out of thin air. “I pleaded with him to give our marriage another chance. Can you believe that? I actually pleaded with him for another chance. How screwed up is that? And when he gave it to me, when he agreed to try again, I worked my ass off. I lost thirty pounds, made sure his meals were ready just as he came home every night, kept the house immaculate-even planned that ridiculous second honeymoon.” She pulled a tissue from her purse and began to blot her eyes. “But I never could bring myself to trust him again.” She shook her head and took a deep, shaky breath. “I didn’t trust him, so I hacked into his phone. His lock code was our wedding anniversary, how’s that for irony? I checked his text messages. Her name is Angie. I hate that name, don’t you?” she said.

Steve shrugged noncommittally and she continued on with her rant.

“So while I was starving myself to lose weight and rushing around to fix his meals and clean his house, he was running around making a fool of me again, with Angie.”

“Do the kids know?”

She shook her head. “I was trying to keep them out of it.”

“And Angie’s one of his…” he hesitated. “She’s a student?”

A tear slipped down her cheek and she nodded. “More irony,” she said. “When he and I were dating, back when I was his student, I used to tell myself that it was a sign of his affection for me, that he was willing to risk his career-to risk everything-just to be with me. Now I’m just one more thing he’s willing to risk-for her. She sniffed again and looked first in her purse and then around the car for another tissue.

“Sorry, I don’t have anything in here. Let’s go inside. You can splash some cold water on your face. It’ll make you feel better.”

She smiled up at him and, although her nose was runny and her make-up smeared, he smiled back at her with a kindness she had not received from Marc in years, perhaps ever. He took her hand and squeezed it gently.

They entered the hotel and stopped at the reception desk to ask, as they always did, if any messages had been left in their absence. When they gave the receptionist their names, her expression brightened at once.

“Thank goodness! I don’t have any messages, but there’s a young woman who has been waiting for you for over an hour.” She pointed in the direction of the lobby, just beyond the reception desk. “She was becoming quite impatient.”

Melissa and Steve exchanged a look of mutual confusion. “Were you expecting someone?” Steve asked.

Melissa shook her head.

As they entered the lobby, the young woman sprang from her seat. Her long, dark hair swung rhythmically around the pivot of her high, tight ponytail as she strode toward them. She cast an icy, accusatory glare first at Steve and then at Melissa, who gasped at the sight of her.

“I don’t understand. How…how did you get here?” Melissa stammered.

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