Chapter 1

I woke the next morning with her scent still on the pillow, the sheets still faintly emitting her warmth. Yet the stillness of my apartment flooded my ears. I somehow knew that she was nowhere nearby. Her coat and bag were missing from the chair.

Confusion.

I waited. I waited, counting each minute but she did not return. Her warmth had faded. Her smell, however, lingered – taunting me. I paced in agony about the kitchen, anxiously stroking the stubble on my chin. With each glance out the window came no reassurance.

Something was wrong but I came to no conclusion. I dialed her cell but there was no answer. Something was wrong.

Thirty minutes was a lifetime.

"Hey-"

Relief rushed through me, "Hey Eliza-"

"This is Elizabeth. I can't get to the phone right now so leave a message and I'll get back with you as soon as I can!"

My stomach churned unpleasantly. My knees were on fire and the familiar icy-hot flames were creeping steadily up my legs. At this rate, I knew I would not make it to the medicine cabinet. So, with one more futile look through the window at the street below, I sunk into the nearest chair, waiting for the pain to subside enough for me to reach the bathroom.

I leaned forward, resting my head in my unsteady hands and clumsily massaging my temple. I was shaking, but not from the pain to which I had become so accustomed to. The front door did not swing open and reveal her familiar, handsome silhouette – even as I glared at it expectantly.

I fiddled with the phone in my hands, wondering whether I should try to reach her again. Instead I pulled a thin book out of the drawer beside me and dialed a number from within its stained pages.

It rang four times before she picked up and answered cheerfully, "Yellow?"

"Yeah, hi Alison its Anthony –"

"Oh hey Anthony! How's it going?"

I grinned sheepishly and lied, "Pretty good. Pretty good. I was just wondering – uh – did Elizabeth happen to stop by your place this morning?"

I hardly had time to wonder if I had sounded casual enough before she replied thoughtfully, "Nah… Last time I saw her was with you, Thursday night."

"Alright – yeah that's what I thought. Probably went to the store. Okay thanks anyway. Bye."

I stared at the door for another couple minutes but it remained defiantly motionless.

"Hey, this is Elizabeth. I can't get to the phone right now so leave a message and I'll get back with you as soon as I can!"

"Hey, it's me. Just wondering where you are. Call me back. Bye."

I reached for the metal cane leaning against the coffee table and limped to the bathroom. My reflection was disheveled but my eyes were alert. I hastily went through my morning routine and shoved burnt toast down my throat before taking 200 mg. I looked through the window again without hope and went to rest on the couch. My eyes landed on the stained address book. It was also a calendar but three years out of date. I kept it because it had all my phone numbers and addresses in it, but also because it reminded me of that fair morning it had acquired those stains.

"Why are your eyebrows furrowed like that?"

"Why are my eye- why you ask?" my voice shook with suppressed annoyance.

"Yes. Why?"

"I'll tell you," I said, not looking up from the papers scattered all over the desk and taking a generous swallow of coffee, "because my boss is a pompous ass, and yet I must continue to labor over these meticulous pieces about Mrs. Wellington getting her third cat rescued from a tree as if my writing about it will revolutionize the world as we know it. If I don't have loads of useless statistics in there that they can cut out the final article, I will have to rewrite it."

"I see. Does he know that you think your assignments are stupid?"

"Of course he does. That's why he gives them to me. His day is not complete unless he- he," I gave up when my brain refused to produce some genius expression.

"Ruins yours," she finished plainly.

I looked up and saw her amused expression. Somehow nearly all my exasperation vanished, "I'm almost done though," a sigh, "Finally."

She crossed over to my side of the desk, "Good. Now you can pay more attention to my wishes."

I grinned and moved my chair closer. As she went to put her arms around me the cup tipped over and coffee coated my laptop and portfolio. She gasped and fumbled to set the cup upright, spilling what was left in it onto my lap. Through what I can only describe as tears of pain, I watched her gape at my sizzling laptop with a horrified expression. She started towards the door, no doubt in pursuit of towels but I made the wise decision to stop her. Elisabeth was, after all, rather clumsy, even more so when she tried to contain the disasters she had caused.

"No," I held my hand to her face to calm her and began to laugh, "Its okay Elisabeth."

A relieved yet cautious smile made its way onto her face but before long, we were laughing so hard we couldn't breathe. Still chuckling, I crept closer and kissed her neck.

I turned to face her and started seriously, "Now about those wishes.."

"Oh – yeah," she smiled guiltily, "About that, to be honest... well I was thinking more along the lines of pancakes."

I turned the ragged book over in my hands, examining the small physical remnant of a memory. A car outside honked and I was jerked back to the present. My hand went back to my temple as the worst, most unwelcome explanations as to her desertion invaded my mind. My eyes darted to the door and back to the address book, which was now on the coffee table. I picked up the phone and began to dial her number but stopped. I stared at the address book some more, then finally resolved to turn on the TV. Nothing was on. She had been gone almost two hours.

"Why do you still wear that thing?"

"What thing?"

"Your watch," she took my left hand in hers.

I tore my eyes from her and glanced down at my wrist. I looked back up at her, slightly shocked.

"What's the matter?"

"It's broken."

She laughed, "I know Anthony. You've never noticed?"

I shook my head honestly, still dazed. I tried to think back to when it was last working. I remembered I had looked it right before I met Elizabeth. It had gotten wet soon after, I was sure of it. The thought that I used to have to look at my watch every five seconds and had now gone two weeks without realizing it wasn't working at all was extraordinary.

"I suppose I just wear it out of habit," I replied and smiled.

When I woke two hours later my eyes were immediately greeted by the address book. I gently placed it back into the drawer and tried her cell again.

"Hey, this is Elizabeth. I can't get to the-"

Four hours and eleven minutes. The preposterous ideas that had tempted me earlier were becoming more believable. I rubbed my eyes in an effort to get rid of some of the sleepiness that my restless nap had not relieved. It was the meds.

"Hey, it's Drake Mathews. Leave a message."

"Yeah hey Drake. It's Anthony. Call me back."

I went to the kitchen to find something to eat.

Ten minutes later, "Anthony, what's up?"

"Have you seen Elizabeth?"

"Don't tell me you lost her."

"I take that as a no?"

"She didn't tell you where she was going?"

"She left before I woke up."

"No, haven't seen her since last night. Where do you suppose she went?"

"I don't know. Her condo maybe," I hesitated then added, "She's not answering my calls."

He whistled, "What did you do this time?"

"Nothing," I answered indignantly, "Anyway its not like her to just leave like that." Without saying goodbye, I thought.

"She probably didn't want to wake you up," he reasoned.

"That explains that but what about her ignoring my calls?"

"Are you sure you didn't piss her off?"

"Yes. We were fine last night."

He sighed impatiently, "Look, if you're so worried I can make a stop at her apartment."

"Alright," I settled, "thanks."

I picked up a book but gave up trying to read it after I realized I had read the same sentence seven times. I went to the window and watched the unconcerned people walking by, some still in their church clothes, searching for a decent place to lunch. I settled in a chair and tapped my fingers on the table restlessly.

I was trying desperately to focus on writing the articles I had to turn in the next day but was averted when a sudden explosion erupted in the kitchen followed by the loudest crashes I had ever heard. I sprinted towards the commotion and stopped dead when I discovered the source.

"What," I caught my breath, "are you doing?"

"Renovating," she replied evenly.

I looked over the scene once more before responding. She had a sledgehammer suspended in midair while she gazed, unmoved, at me. The remains of the wooden cabinets and pastel plates and cups from within them lay in ruin about her.

"Are you insane?" I asked quietly.

"I don't think so. I just really don't like these cabinets," she gazed in disgust at the ones still on the wall.

"What about the dishes and those coffee cups? I thought you liked those cups."

"Where did you get that crazy idea from? These cups are hideous."

"Okay then," I turned back around and went to try and finish my articles.

I never had any cabinets in my own apartment, just rickety shelves and mixed-matched cups and bowls. I noted them in the corner of my eye and continued to drum my fingers.

There was a knock on the door and my heart skipped. I don't know why though, I knew it wasn't her. She had a key.

"Well?" I moved aside to allow him in.

"She's not there. I knocked for a couple minutes but she didn't answer. Her car's not there either," he studied me closely, "You alright?"

I waved the question off and sat down. He followed, "What do you suppose?"

"I don't know," I answered almost as soon as he finished, "I think I'll go over later."

Silence and then, "Maybe she, you know, needed some fresh air."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, remember when me and Erica were dating and she just took off one day with all her stuff? I think that it was good for both of us. Sure, we broke up later but if we hadn't I never would've met Ally," he glanced uneasily at me when he suddenly realized his story wasn't remotely encouraging.

I waited for him to say something else and when he didn't, "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"Oh come on, you know I've always been lousy at cheering people up. I'm a dog walker for god sakes."

"Yeah," I muttered apologetically.

After a while of rummaging through my pantry, commenting all the while how she's just taking a little break, that I'm out of Coco Puffs, and that she'll come back as soon as she realizes it, "Well I have to go now. Got people to walk and dogs to – no don't get up. I know where the door is. Just – hey," something dawned on his face, "Did you talk to Maia?"

"No."

"You idiot. That's where she is. Just think of the one person in the world that would want you two to break up. She hates your guts, not to mention mine."

"She doesn't hate my guts."

"No, sorry, you're right. She only subtly mentions that you are the scum of the Earth and have no business dating her friend every time we get together."

"I thought about calling her but if Elizabeth was there I don't think she would tell me."

"You have a valid point there. Just try anyway."

"Alright. Bye – thanks."

"Yeah, bye. Call me later."

I heard him leave, thought for a moment then reluctantly took the address book out again. It rang once before, "Hello?"

"Hey, uh, Maia I-," I dropped the book.

"Oh, it's you," she interjected in a spiteful tone.

"Yeah, it's me," I said and plowed on, more determined, "Have you seen Elizabeth?"

"Oh is she not talking to you?" she sounded like she just remembered it was her birthday.

"Look, can you just tell her that I need to talk to her?"

"You know, she did call me."

I straightened up, "What did she say?"

"Do you really expect me to reveal everything from our private conversation to you? If you really want to know call her yourself."

"Maia," I was gripping the chair rather forcefully, aware that my voice was raised slightly, "Tell me."

"Alright, alright," she said indifferently, "She didn't say much. Just said that she was taking a vacation and told me to feed Popcorn and water her plants."

"That's it? What did she sound like? Did she sound okay?"

"Yeah she sounded fine –"

"Are you sure?"

"I've been her friend much longer than you've been her boyfriend," she snapped, "I think I would know-"

"If you talk to her again can you just tell her," I paused, "to - to call me?"

"Sure."

"Thanks," I hung up.

Five hours and twenty three minutes. I cupped my face in my hands and sensed a cool, sinking sensation in my abdomen, "What did you do?" I asked myself aloud.