The only light in the room is like a mere sliver, shining down the side of the blinds that cascade over the one window in my bedroom. There is a faint dripping sound resonating in the house; the result of the past weeks' rain storm still lingering while the daily sun tries to dry up the remnants. The air is filled with the smell of decay. Not unpleasant. Not pleasant either. Its a natural decay, one made of wet leaves and dirt, and the start of a damp mold that will spend its time growing across the outer wood panels of the house throughout the remaining weeks of winter.
I'm awake but groggy from hours spent in the damp, tossing and turning in a lather of anxious sweat. Any sleep I managed to get was wiped away by the gnawing inside my overly-energized head; the never ending fear that seems to plague me regardless of what I do to dull it. Whiskey used to be the answer . But all that gives me now is a headache and a dull burning sensation in my gut. "Too much stress" my doctor would say, if I bothered to make an appointment to see him, which I won't. I know that I've been burning a hole in my stomach for months now, but only in the past week has it been bad enough to really warrant my attention.
Staring at the ceiling with it's decaying cornices, I begin to recite the list of natural remedies that have been suggested to me to help improve my mood and my sleep. People see that advice as helpful, but I see it as being reminded I've become an emotional burden, a patient, and a problem. Lavender, peppermint, melanin, warm milk, chamomile....none of it has worked despite my best efforts. So I'm left with my own natural abilities to sleep and frankly I do not recall ever having them in the way others have.
I'm overcome by the shining sliver of light that makes this room feel so small, and myself even smaller; like a speck of dust amongst billions of stars, entirely insignificant and pointless. The walls used to be a pale shade of sky blue, but in recent times has morphed into a grimy wash of dirty white and left over splashes of the original blue blended into it. My eyes are incredibly dry and gritty and I keep blinking, willing some tears to form and make my eyes less irritated. I feel foggy and I shake my head hoping the room will become clearer but I just find myself drifting in and out of the space; reality escaping and returning of its own free will. It's been an issue of sorts lately and one with serious consequences. Apparently it's hard for the DA to try cases when the crime scene technician falls apart on the stand. It's one of the most humiliating moments of my life, and I felt truly embarrassed until two days ago when it occurred to me that my feelings about it don't matter.
My boss was just doing his job by sending me on medical leave. No point in criminals getting off on a technicality because I'm wobbly with the truth. It's not that I've lied. Far from it. But I can't be trusted anymore to look like the science, the proof, the unshakeable truth in a case. One petty crook already got out of doing time because of my failure to act the part, and I can't justify any more going free; naturally neither can my boss.
Sadly it seems that medical leave somehow makes me dirty, or a contagious bad smell that people on the force want to distance themselves from. Which is a bold comparison to the treatment I would get if I had been shot or injured. But I am not really one of them.
If I've learned anything working alongside the police, it's that what we have in common is society holding us to a higher level of scrutiny. We are expected to be both human; full of empathy and kindness, and to be a Robot; perfectly analytical and cold, all at the same time. The job resembles a game where the good guys rarely win. If you're doing your job well, then you are probably on the verge of a personal breakdown from bottling up every sickening thing you see. And if you're feeling centered, with a full life, you're about to make a critical mistake on a case because your 'head isn't in the game'. Between the suspension, the storms and the disappearance, I have found myself unable to truly feel anything anymore, or at least not express it.
I loudly sigh as I stretch my eyes open wide and gaze around the room taking in the sad state of it. It seems like a fair and accurate reflection of who I have become, and what my life stands for now and I wish that I cared more, but I don't.
I smell sour and stale, and I don't feel compelled to shower or change my clothes. I catch my reflection in the mirror on the side wall nearest my bed, and notice that my light brown locks have starting to take on a shape that could only be described as 'punk-chic', and if there is any makeup still on my face, it's no longer where it belongs.
I roll over, away from the mirror and I can feel my hips jutting out as they dig into the mattress. I can't recall eating anything in days and I summize that I'm no longer hungry but very much past that point. My lips are dry and chapped and I keep licking them; simply too complacent to get out of the bed and put on lip balm or drink some water.
In the static state between tiredness and drug-like panic, I think about Dean. About how badly I miss a man that wasn't really a boyfriend but was all the same. I can hear my bosses voice in my head, telling me I need to find a way to get over it. 'Get over it'. It resonates in my mind and continues to echo through every other thought that crosses my mind. Does he really think getting over anything like this is that simple? It's not like I can just flick a switch and make things go away.
I swallow heavily as I feel the darkness pulling me back in.
It drags me back to the past, to the station, and through the disciplenary hearing where my boss, my so-called friends told me to move on and that I needed help. Just thinking about it makes my headache ten times worse. They asked me if I had anything to say, but I sat in silence. The problem is that everything I had to say would have just made it worse. If I was a cop, maybe, just maybe they would listen to me. But as a crime scene technician I am not entitled to have hunches. I have to base everything on fact. So my theories about what happened to Dean mean nothing to my colleagues. To them it's an open and shut case of someone running away, and hiding from the truth. They say he didn't want to admit that he is gay, so he just got up one day and left town. And because he is an adult and no one in his family is pursuing the case so the police aren't obliged to do anything. And the police don't do anything without being obliged.
Thinking about him brings a rush of warmth to my skin. We had been in love. Not love by anyone else's standards but it was love to us. It was a routine we had together that suited us both. It had never involved sex or intimacy but it was companionship and for people like us, people who struggled with fitting in, it was perfect.
Dean had started out as a boyfriend in passing and I hadn't taken it too seriously. But then it occurred to me why it felt...off. I sensed that he was gay, but I didn't really mind. He had always been kind, never asked for anything and was frankly the perfect gentleman. And so it evolved into a relationship of sorts. He came to my house on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights. He brought take out each time; alternating between Italian or Vietnamese food, because despite his brilliance in other areas, he was a terrible cook. He had disastrously attempted to cook for me a number times, and on each occasion had managed to trigger the smoke detector in my house.
I catch myself grinning as I recall one particular time when he tried to cook fish in the oven and burnt it so badly my entire house had to be deep cleaned to get the smell out of the upholstery. He really was shockingly bad at it. But he was good at everything else. Everything.
I had never met someone so punctual before, besides myself. Dean would arrive at 7.30pm on the dot every time he came over. Always sharply dressed and courteous and always with a movie recommendation for us to stream together in mind. Our evenings ran like clockwork and were simple and laid back. I did most of the talking. He was really the only person i felt entirely comfortable talking to. He was the perfect cover story for me and i was the perfect cover story for him too. I never fooled myself into thinking it was something more than a convenient friendship and we had never discussed the reality of the situation either. It was like an unspoken pact that we both kept for each other. We both got what we needed and it kept our friends and family's satisfied. They saw it as a solid relationship and we ever corrected them.
I had someone to invite to family birthday parties, that eased all the tireless looks from my extended adoptive family, that silently begged me to settle down and find someone "nice". For him I was the polite and educated 'other half' his grandmother expected him to have. We made the ying and yang of life work as it would for most other happy couples and yet we never had to worry about jealousy, children or weddings. And although we never said it in so many words, that was what we wanted from love. That's how we had grown to feel about each other.
I had grown very comfortable in that routine, probably even dependent on it. I planned my life around the consistency of it. In my often grotesque job, filled with mysteries and cruel discoveries, our routine had become one of life's rare certainties. And on that night a year ago, I had no reason to think anything would change.
It was a cold and brisk night but not freezing. Not quite cool enough yet to light the log fire inside, but it would be within the hour. The glass was fogging up from the inside despite anyway. Old houses have a habit of cooling and heating themselves in the snow unpredictably, as though they are alive and holding onto hundreds of years worth of secrets. It was Wednesday night which meant Vietnamese food was on the agenda for the evening. The table was already set, with two plates, cutlery and linen napkins. He preferred real napkins over the disposable ones, which was one of the only obvious traits from a well-bred childhood that he had told me about.
I sit by the window feeling uncomfortable not just because of the in-between temperature, but because Dean is late. I can't think of a time he has ever been late before. I keep turning my head to glance at the red cased digital clock sitting above the fire place. It reads 7.45pm. Fifteen minutes late, and no word from him as to why. I shake my head thinking of at least ten reasons he could be late. Perhaps the food was delayed at the restaurant. Maybe he was stuck in traffic. Maybe his phone battery was flat. There were a lot of perfectly good explanations but still something is niggling at me. He is never late. Never, ever.
I instinctively cross my arms over my chest as I back away from the window and take a deep breath. Somehow my imagination has kicked into overdrive already. Its conjuring up depressing and terrifying images of Dean dead in his car, of vehicle collisions and murderous intimations. Why I am feeling so terrified I don't know. I start to busy myself with small activities while I wait and try to silently talk myself into calming down. I place my cinnamon scented candles on the edge of the coffee table and light them to change the atmosphere in the room which feels to me to be brimming with static electricity. I bring a pitcher of water to the table to go with the meal Dean is bringing with him...when he arrives, which he obviously will despite how ridiculous I am acting.
I stare at the dark fireplace for sometime, deep in thought, until it occurs to me that it really is cold now and I've started subconsciously rubbing my arms to stay warm. The cinnamon candles are not having the calming effect I had hoped for and I pick each of them up, blowing them out and being overly pedantic about placing them back on the table. Anything to keep my hands busy. I decide its time to light the fire and I begin to stack the it with wood from the pile near the front door, and nurture the kindling to begin the small flame. I blow on it and fan it tenderly and within minutes the fire is glowing and warming the house.
But I do not feel any better. I keep glancing down at my watch with its digital face and flapping butterfly wings on its interface. Still late. Still no word from Dean. I can't shake this feeling that something tragic has happened. I can't explain it, but my gut tells me I am right. My gut is rarely wrong and I think that is what concerns me more. I want my gut to be wildly, inappropriately wrong this time.
My gut often leads me to the hidden clues at crime scenes that other technicians simply miss and its why I have been a department of one in reality for some time. I have a team under me, but because I listen to my instincts and let it guide me to the evidence I am not really a team type of person and my 'team' knows it. So they do the things I don't want to do that help us secure the case and in the end we all win. I close my eyes for a moment and tune into my gut voice but its telling me nothing useful except that Dean is in danger. Its telling me to look. I don't know where to begin, and my gut gives me nothing useful to work with this time around.
I can hear it pestering me but I have to ignore it, its too upsetting otherwise.
I look down at my watch again and notice how casually dressed I am, wearing my fleece lined jeans and an old ugly knitted sweater that Stacey had brought for me the previous Christmas. My feet are covered in striped woolly socks. I never bare them for anyone; even in more intimate moment those socks remain on. I have always felt they were too big and boney for my small frame. Like I have had permanent clown shoes attached to the end of my legs my whole life. Dean used to laugh at me....to say it was silly to always have my feet covered. But its one of my quirks that I feel no need to change and its one of our in-jokes that we share. I begin to miss him and I think for a second that its a silly way to feel when he is only twenty minutes late and likely with a very normal explanation. But I can't even convince myself jokingly that everything is fine.
The house is beginning to feel warm now, the table is set but still no Dean. I begin to pad around the living room floor, with it making small creaking sounds as the wood panels under me displace the pressure of my weight. The house is old, of Victoria era, that had been renovated and maintained over the years. I have made a few modern adjustments to it adding a slightly more up to date kitchen and a large television, but it is largely in its original form. I maintain it meticulously and Dean is always adjusting something to keep it that way; he takes as much pride in his possessions as I do. Though he needn't as he has always had money and could buy or replace anything he wants at any time. But somehow that little quirk in his personality just added to his appreciation of fine things. I on the other hand came from nothing. My Mother died when I was five years old from a liver condition, and my few memories of her are ones where she is drunk and mean. My father did his best to provide after my Mom died but despite her being a mess of a wife and mother, he couldn't live without her. So he chose not to. I was ten years old.
I had no living blood relatives and my mother and father had not been big on friendships that counted, so I was placed in the system and went through a series of parents and orphanages until I finally landed in Minnesota with a family that not only took me in, but eventually adopted me. Leila and Justin McGintey were wonderful people, but they were far from wealthy. Leila was a waitress at the local diner and Justin the manager of a gas station on the edge of town. They took me in and loved me, and in time I truly grew to love them. We had very little at all in the house, not even a television, and every stick of furniture we owned was hand-built by Justin as a result. His life calling should have been as a Carpenter but he would tell me his calling was to be my Dad. I think my appreciation for things was born from that care-and-need combination that he nurtured, and it is something I will never shake. I maintain rather than buy new and I grieve when I throw things away. Every book, blanket and box I have ever owned has a place in my life and removing them is incredible heartache for me. So I keep things clean, and in working order and that is why I still live in this house, the McGintey house that was left to me in their will when they both sadly past away in car accident when I was twenty nine.
Its fair to say that I am highly independent and its hard for me to make friends with people. I am much better at caring for objects than living things.
Lost in thought I move back towards the living room window and start staring out of it in the hope his Prius will pull up into my driveway- as though my staring will bring it into existence. But somehow I know he isn't going to be coming. I can feel cold sweat forming above my brow and at the back of my neck even though I am standing still. I can feel my hands shake and I shove them into my jean pockets to stop them from moving. I can feel panic rising in my mind and the beginnings of adrenalin rushing into my veins. The energy practically pushes me towards the coffee table and I grab my phone from it. Swiping and tapping madly at the touch screen I dial his number and put the phone to my left ear, my right hand now placed on my hip in a stance that resembles my Leila's "bothered" pose. Normally I would try to shake off anything that seems like a parental hand-me-down, they are just reminders of pain, but in this moment, it feels right and I let myself own it.
The number goes straight to voicemail - unusual again for Dean. In fact I realize I have never heard his voicemail message until this point. "Hi, you've reached Dean Le Myers I can't take your call right now so please leave a message after the beep and I will call you back as soon as possible, have a great day". I smile as I hear the familiar chipper voice but immediately shift to a foreboding feeling as the voicemail beeps and a silence follows that seems to be filled with fear and emptiness. After a few seconds I shakily leave a message asking for him to call me back urgently. Nervously I start to think about what I should do next. I am convinced something is wrong. I think about his family and it dawns on me I should call his Grandmother, Dorothea Le Myers.
I breathe out heavily as I hesitantly look for her number in my phone. I can't stand the woman who I secretly refer to as the old bat. She is practically ancient, with old-fashioned thinking to boot. She's homophobic, anti-semitic and wealthy. She is widely regarded as one of the pillars of our local community, mainly due to the money she has put into the largest private boarding school in the state. She and her family have had established businesses and influential society positions for the past two hundred years in this area. She has never worked a day in her life and she considers Dean to be a problem she has to fix or a jigsaw puzzle missing a crucial piece. I don't know for sure if she is aware that her grandson is actually gay, but I suspect she knows and happily plays along with our game so that she doesn't have to admit it to herself or her friends. I don't think she would like to tell her church or her network about her grandsons condition she would probably rather die than have to do that.
She raised Dean from the age of eleven when his parents died in a yachting accident. They had been away in Morocco sailing when they struck bad weather and drowned when they were thrown overboard as their yacht struck a reef. He had been at boarding school when it happened. He had told me the story my times; his Grandmother arriving one winters morning and pulling him from class, explaining what had happened in a cold and clinical way. He had started to cry and she had told him that men, Le Myer men do not cry - that tradegy made them strong and resilient instead. He dried his eyes and went back to class and he and his grandmother never spoke of it again. Funerals were held and wakes attended but death, the profound nature of it, was simply never acknowledged. They silently built a new life together, under the same roof. Dorothea set her expectations and Dean set about meeting them as best he could.
He already knew he was gay by that age but never told Dorothea. He had said he knew he would be sent to therapy to try to cure his homosexuality and rather than endure that torture and bring shame to his family, he just hid the real him instead. He continued his schooling under the watchful eye of Dorothea and had eventually gone on to graduate as Valedictorian at the Senior school and at college had chosen to become a Pharmacist. Dorothea would have preferred he become a doctor, but given she owned a series of Big-Pharma companies, having a pharmacist in the family had proven to be lucrative and gave credibility to whatever pill she was pushing at the time. So she let it be. In this way he was the successful Grandson she could brag about, one that she could be publicly warm to, and in private bully and dictate.
The phone was dialing and after a series of rings, Prattley picked up. "Good Evening, Le Myer residence." the older butler said flatly.
"Hi Prattley its Sam. I am sorry to call so late, its a bit of an emergency. Is Dorothea available to speak to by any chance"? my voice is shaking.
"Good evening Ms Sam. I will see if Mrs Le Myer is available, please hold the line while I try to connect you". Prattley is emotionless as always.
After a few moments of silence, the prickly voice of Dorothea Le Myer blasts shrilly into my ear.
"Sam it is exceptionally late to be calling a woman of my age. I hope there is a good explanation for this interruption". She had never been one to mince her words and I grimace while I try to remain calm.
"Yes I am sorry Mrs Le Myer. It is about Dean. Has he contacted you at all"? I ask poignantly.
"Dean? Well no, it was my impression that he would be spending the evening with you. I spoke to him this morning at the pharmacy and he told me he would be eating dinner with you, heading straight to you from work I think he said". She clearly wanted him to eat with her tonight I think to myself silently.
"Oh. Its just that he has not arrived and is not answering his phone. I am sure its just a simple delay or miscommunication, but if you do happen to hear from him, would you please let me know? I will also do the same for you if he does appear soon, so that you have no need to worry unnecessarily". I say as though I care about her feelings, which I don't.
"I will get Mr Prattley to contact you if Dean calls me. I hope the two of you have not had a fight." She says this more as an accusation than as a comment of concern.
"No, no, we are fine Dorothea. Thanks for your help. I will speak to you soon I hope".
I grit my teeth and hang up knowing I shouldn't have called her by her first name, but its what I do when she rubs me up the wrong way. Every question and comment is loaded. Nothing is ever simple or transparent.
I sit down in front of the fireplace and start to manically scroll through my contacts list, dialing them one by one, looking for Dean. Not one person has seen or heard from him, and the fear in my gut has settled into a firm confirmation. Something is wrong.
He is not coming to my house. I am sure of it. The only thing I can do it go looking for him, so I decide to make my way to the Vietnamese restaurant Dean would have ordered from to see if he has been in. I am no longer hurrying but careful and I recognize this as my training, my lizard-brain taking over my actions. I don't fight it, it is the part of me I trust the most. I grab my keys from the ledge above the fireplace and my snow boots from besides the front door, shoving them on over my striped socks. I look around for a jacket but can't see one in eye shot, so I decide to leave the house without one. The heater in my car will have to suffice. I am calm but I know that time is of the essence and I am more than happy to risk the flu if it means getting to Dean in time. In time for what I don't know, but time is always a factor when someone goes missing.
Carefully I step out across the slushy snow in front of my house and pressing the button on my key ring, I unlock my SUV. Getting in at the drivers side I immediately hit the central locking switch to ensure my door and all others were locked. Its a habit I have picked up on from working with the police. I start the engine and using my free hand I adjust the car temperature to what I once joked to Dean was the 'hotter than hell' setting. I shift the car into reverse and back the car out of the driveway.
I drive quickly on the icy road and take a turn at Fork Road where Binh Ng Vietnamese is tucked away into the strip mall . I see the nearest parking spot to the front door, and pull my car into it, leaving it running as I get out and enter the restaurant. The owner is smiling at me warmly at I come inside and before I have a chance to say hello he is calling out to me.
"We wondered where you were. You two are our special customers. No order from you throws out our whole night". He is joking, but clearly making a point.
"Are you saying Dean has not ordered...he hasn't called?". I don't have time for niceties and get straight to the point.
"No, no we hear nothing from Dean and no one has come in either. Is everything okay?". He can clearly see the color draining from my face and the sweet old Vietnamese man moves toward me to comfort me, I feel the first tingling of tears in my eyes. I push them back, blinking and try to smile.
"No, I don't want to worry you. I am sure Dean is just fine. I have to go....I have to go now". I do my best to answer him but my head feels like it spinning and I can feel a world of fear starting to cave into my head. I shake it off as best I can as I leave the restaurant and get back into my car.
I know the next place I have to go is Dean's house, but I don't want it to be. This makes it more real than I am ready for. I shift my car into reverse again, take a deep breathe and tell myself I am going to find Dean whatever it takes.