One day ago
April jumped in her seat at the sound. She turned from where she was leaning over a pile of papers beside Bowser to see the cause of the noise. She watched as Blair cast the now closed laptop to the other side of the old couch and stood to pace around the room.
“This isn’t getting us anywhere! What the fuck are we doing just sitting here looking at a computer screen? We’ve been doing this for hours! We should be out there looking for her!” The brunette turned to face the pair of them, while her posture and tone of voice exuded anger, her eyes told a different story. They reflected the fear and despair they were all feeling. April had to look away, knowing that she was only able to keep working, keep focused on the task as long as she didn’t stop to consider the reality of what might have happened to the blonde. If she let her mind drift from the clear focus of the job in hand, she would break. She was hanging on to her compartmentalisation by a tenuous thread.
“Hey now…every file and skip we eliminate is a step closer to bringing her home.” Bowser stood from his chair and walked over to the twin. He placed a hand on her shoulder and waited for her to look up at him. “We found her before, we’ll find her this time.”
“But what if we don’t? What if we are too late?” Gone was the confidence and strength of conviction normally held within Blair’s voice. In its place was the tone of a kid desperately seeking someone to tell them that their nightmares weren’t real. That the shadows didn’t have monsters lurking in them. That their greatest fears were unfounded. “She was only gone for a couple of hours before…it’s been a whole day.” Her voice cracked at the end, fading to a barely audible tone as the tears fell. Bowser pulled the girl into his chest and held her as she cried.
“It’ll be ok. She’s strong and smart.” Bowser continued to speak quietly to the girl he held, his words were quiet. When April caught sight of his face and saw the look of concern settled on his features, she felt that thread snap.
April could see the shake in her own hand as the file she held started to waiver. Hearing Blair voice doubts about getting to Sterling in time…that was something she never thought she would hear. She never believed that either twin would give up on the other, would lose the faith that they would always be able to get through anything together. April lowered the file to the desk and quietly walked out of the room. She couldn’t listen to anymore, couldn’t watch the way all the strength had been drained from the other girl. As she walked, she could feel her legs shaking, her breathing getting more unsteady with each step she took. She had no idea where she was going. All she knew was that she couldn’t stay in that room. That she couldn’t witness the scene that was unfolding before her.
She carried on walking out of the store, vaguely aware of the darkness as she emerged from the building. A sign of how long they had been searching already. Her legs carried her around the corner before they wouldn’t take another step. Leaning back against the cold brick wall, she wrapped her arms around her waist, squeezing her eyes closed tightly. Gone was any form of coherent thought, her mind consumed by the thought that her last interaction with the blonde had concluded with a missed opportunity to admit her feelings. That she might never get to say the words that had been at the forefront of her mind for so long, yet she had let fear prevent her uttering them. She felt herself slide down the wall as her legs failed to maintain the strength to keep her upright, even with the support of the wall behind her. Everything around her faded, the sounds and smells no longer breaking through the darkness creeping in, slowly tightening its grip on her consciousness. The only sound she was left with was the blood pounding in her ears, every heart beat adding to the already deafening thrum.
She became vaguely aware of something, a pressure on her arms. She forced herself to focus on that feeling, using it as an anchor to stop the encroaching darkness. A sound, she could hear a sound. She latched on to it, initially unable to make out any discernible words. It felt like being underwater and hearing someone speaking from above the surface.
“April…open your eyes…”
She forced her eyes open and found herself looking into the deep brown of Blair’s.
“That’s it. Just focus on me. We need to slow your breathing. Just breathe with me, OK?”
April managed a nod to the question, not taking her eyes off the ones in front of her.
“Breathe in.” She watched as Blair inhaled, trying to match the pace.
“Breathe out.” She watched as Blair exhaled slowly, letting her own breath out. She followed Blair’s instructions as she repeated the exercise a few more times. Gradually feeling the world come back into focus around her, the sounds of passing cars returning as the roar of her own blood subsided.
They stayed on the ground a while longer with Blair crouching before her. “Do you think you can stand?”
“I think so.” April watched as Blair stood before extending a hand towards her. She nodded a thanks as she reached up to accept the offered help. When she was standing once more, she expected the brunette to break the contact but instead found herself surprised as her hand remained firmly within the other girl’s grasp. April let herself be led back into the yoghurt shop and sat on the seat Blair gestured towards. The brunette then stepped behind the counter before returning with a pot of frozen yoghurt.
“Here, eat this. It’ll help.” Blair slid the pot across the table to the shorter girl as she took a seat on the other side.
April followed the instructions and spooned the first mouthful of the froyo into her mouth. As soon as she did, she felt her eyebrows draw together in confusion as she tasted her favourite flavour combination. She raised a questioning gaze to the brunette. “How did you know?”
“What to do to help you with your panic attack or your toppings of choice?”
Blair sighed, focusing on a spot on the tabletop. “Sterl. After the kidnapping, she would wake up from nightmares unable to breathe.” The brunette’s voice was quiet as she spoke, her fingers picking at an imaginary spot on the surface. “I spent a lot of time researching how to help her, even if she didn’t really want it.” She then looked back up. “As for the flavour combo, Sterl talks about you...like a lot. What you said, what you did, what you like...It’s annoying. I try to block her out but I guess some of it slipped through.”
April felt a small smile tug at the corner of her lips at the admission. For that split second, she was able to let the warm feeling triggered in the knowledge that Sterling talks about her to the point Blair has absorbed some of the information wash over her. A feeling that was replaced too soon as a chill ran down her spine with the realisation that the blonde was currently in an unknown location with who knows who.
“Hey.” April felt her hand being gripped by the brunette once more. “Stay with me.”
“I know but Bowser made a good point.” April looked back into Blair’s face. “If we focus on the what ifs then we are diverting attention from finding her.”
April considered the brunette’s words. She knew they were the truth and that it was highly unlikely that Sterling was going to just turn up now. If she hadn’t managed to get out of whatever situation she had found herself in during those first few hours, then she would need help…their help. She looked down at the hand still holding hers on the table surface, the thought of how unlikely it was that she would be sitting there with Blair providing her with the comfort and grounding she needed passed through her mind fleetingly.
“The police are checking into the random stranger side of things but as Bowser said only 0.1% of all kidnappings are strangers. So, it is someone she knows which means it is someone we know.”
April nodded at the information. She could feel the exhaustion clawing at the edges of her consciousness but in that moment, she couldn’t afford to stop, couldn’t afford to rest…not until they had some answers.
“Sterling needs you…I need you. I don’t think I can do this on my own.” Blair’s admission was barely above a whisper. April’s eyes shot up to meet those of the girl sitting opposite her, the vulnerability within them shining through. “When you get super focused on something and get all single track minded…Your research digs up things that nobody else knows. I need that April right now.”
April turned her hand from where it rested under Blair’s on the table and gave the other girl’s hand a squeeze in reassurance. She pushed down the questions and fears that threatened to overwhelm her once more, instead choosing to focus on what she could do right now. “Let’s go.”
The two girls stood and started to make their way back into Bowser’s office. As they approached the door, April reached out to rest her hand on Blair’s arm to get her attention. “Thank you.”
Blair just shrugged. “Don’t go thinking I’m all team April now but Sterl loves you and she would be pissed if I’d left you to deal alone.”
April felt her heart jump as her stomach dropped when the words registered. “She said that?”
Blair fixed her with a withering look. “She didn’t have to. Let’s get in there and find her so you can both finally tell each other what is so obvious to those forced to suffer being around you.”
The pair of them re-entered the office and re-joined Bowser at his desk. “Ok, Bowsie who have we got left to eliminate.”
“Next up…Gary Durbin.” He lifted the first file, placing the other to one side.
“The naked threesome guy?”
April raised her eyebrows at that description.
Bowser nodded. “He certainly had no problem with using violence previously.” April noticed how he looked up at her, an unreadable expression on his face. “Find out what you can on where he is now.” Bowser handed Blair the file.
“Come on Stevens.” April followed the brunette over to the old couch to continue with the research. She accepted the folder that Blair handed her to read over the information it contained. While Blair had prior knowledge, each one of the files she had looked at was filled with information she had never seen before so she was having to play catch up while running down potential leads with what they did have. As her eyes read through the information, she couldn’t help but raise her eyebrows as she read through the notes that had been written after they had taken him in.
“What does he mean he used violence previously?” The tone of her voice clearly betraying the concern she felt, partially for the risk involved in their bounty hunting and partly because this was someone who may have something to do with Sterling’s disappearance.
Blair stopped typing on the laptop to look over. “When we picked him up he didn’t come quietly.” April kept looking at the brunette, waiting for her to continue. “His wife and girlfriend started with the throwing things…Bowser got hit by a chair, Sterl with a bible. Then when he ran, he hit me with a wrench.”
The new information did nothing to alleviate the concern building inside the shorter teen. “Do many of the people you apprehend do things like that?”
Blair shook her head. “Not usually.”
April nodded as she returned to the file in her hand to find any other clues to aid in their search while Blair returned to the computer, each working quietly on their designated tasks.
They had been working their way through a range of potential leads when the sound of Blair’s phone broke the quiet in the room. April watched as she grabbed it from the side, swiping to answer the call.
“Have they found her?”
April couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation but from the way the brunette’s shoulders slumped as her body shrank in on itself, she knew the answer anyway.
“But…” Blair frowned as she listened to whatever was being said on the other end. “Yes ma’am.” She hung up and stared at the screen before it went black. “I have to go home.”
“It’s getting late.” Bowser held a hand up as Blair opened her mouth to argue. “There’s nothing more to be done tonight. Until the Durbins check in, we’re playing a waiting game. And before you say anything else, you’ll be no use if you don’t get some rest. Besides your parents will want to see you to make sure y’all are ok.”
“But what about the other skips?”
April watched as Bowser lifted the remaining case file. “Last one. I’ll look into it.” The tab was facing away from them so there was no way to see who it belonged to. “Get on home, both of ya.” The tone of his voice left no room for argument.
The pair of them walked out to their respective cars. As April opened the door, she paused and turned to face the other girl. “Blair?”
The brunette paused before getting into her car, glancing over to where April stood. “If I hear anything I’ll call.”
April watched as she got into truck and pulled out of the parking lot. She continued to watch the vehicle until the taillights turned a corner and were lost from view. When she was seated in the car, she pulled out her own phone. Aside from the messages from Hannah B and Ezekiel asking where she had gone part way through the day, there were no other messages or calls. Clicking her phone off, April started her car and drove home. Her only hope was that her parents wouldn’t ask questions as to where she had been until so late as she wasn’t sure she had the energy to come up with a lie tonight.
As April pulled her car up to her house, she noticed it was dark. Glancing at the clock on her dash, she saw it was just coming up to 1am. She walked up to the door and quietly opened it, unsure what she was expecting. Part of her half expected a light to turn on as soon as she walked in to reveal her dad sitting ominously in an armchair waiting for her to interrogate her as to her whereabouts so far beyond her curfew. Yet as she closed the door and made her way through the entrance hall, the house remained in darkness. The silence only broken by the sound of the ticking clock and her own footsteps. Not wanting to use the lights for fear of alerting her parents to her late arrival, she used the torch on her phone to help navigate the house.
Once she was inside her room, she closed the door and leant against it. The fact that her mom wasn’t still up was no surprise. Her mom rarely was about past 10pm having retired to her room with whatever remained of the wine from dinner. Her dad though was a different story. Sure there were days when he would be home later than her curfew but aside from out of town business trips, he was always home before this time.
She knew that he had been out of the house dealing with some issue, clearly it was one that had kept him occupied for much longer than expected. Of course, this wasn’t the first time her dad had been caught up with business. Though now, with the knowledge she had gained as to his activities beyond the boardroom, she did question how many of those business meetings that ran late or out of town business trips had actually been nothing of the sort. That they were just handy excuses for him to spend time with sex workers. April couldn’t help but wonder if the facade had already slipped and he had reverted to old habits already.
As she sat on the edge of her bed, she could feel the exhaustion from earlier return. Unlocking her phone she opened the message thread with Sterling. Her last three messages still showed as delivered but not read. She stared at the screen for a couple of minutes, silently willing the notifications to change or to see those three little dots pop up. Knowing the messages hadn’t been read made the likelihood of Sterling having her phone improbable. So that meant whoever had her, could have her phone.
There were so many things she wanted to say, yet the possibility of them being read by another meant her fingers faltered.
Sterl...don’t forget Ruth.
She looked at the message, her thumb hovering over the send button. It was vague enough for a stranger to not know what it referred to but she hoped the blonde would pick up on what she was trying to say. That she would understand that they were not giving up on her. She closed her eyes and clicked send, placing her phone on the side without bothering to check the status. April lay down on her bed, pulling her pillow in close and wrapping her arms around it tightly. She could feel the tears silently run down her face as she prayed that they would find Sterling and bring her home safely.