Missing

“Josie’s been in a terrible accident…can’t breathe on her own…”
Beep. Beep. Beep.
“…in a coma…damage to her…internal bleeding…”
Beep, beep, beep.
“…all you could to…chances?”
Beep beep beep.
“…might not wake up…sorry…”
Beepbeepbeepbeepbeep.
“…crashing! Someone get Dr…”

Josie Summers bolted upright, clutching her heart, her breathing ragged.
Just a dream, she thought. Yet, she thought she could still hear that faint beeping. It had been a strange dream, and she didn’t remember falling asleep.
The last she remembered, she had been leaving school with Max Clover, her best friend and love of her life. Where had they been going? Strange she couldn’t seem to remember.
Josie glanced at the clock on her nightstand. “Six A.M.?” she breathed, running a hand through her short, blonde hair. There was no way it could be that early. Someone must be playing a joke on her, and it wasn’t funny.

She slid off her bed and crossed the room to her desk. Picking up her cell phone, she checked the time on the screen. It showed the same time as her clock. Slowly, she set it down. Somehow, I’ve skipped the last fourteen hours, she thought. Things like that didn’t just happen, not to Josie. Was I drugged or something?
However strange the situation was, she didn’t have time to think about it; she needed to get ready for school.
Living in Colorado during the winter made looking cute a painful effort, even for someone like Josie. Josie was naturally cute; at least, that’s what all the boys said. She was petite, just over five feet tall, with slight curves and largish breasts. Her mom always wondered where she got her figure, and could never figure it out.

Josie’s face was almost a replica of her mother’s, aside from her green eyes and slightly upturned nose. Those she’d inherited from her father, whom she hadn’t seen since she was five. It had been 12 years since he’d gone, and yet, every time she looked in the mirror, there he was, hidden in her eyes.

Josie avoided her reflection as much as she possibly could.

Anticipating snowfall, Josie selected a pastel-yellow knit sweater and dark jeans. Both hugged her body, the cloth soft against her skin. Her snow jacket would cover most of her outfit, but she knew it would be warm inside the school, and her jacket wouldn’t be needed until she went outside.

When she was ready, she left her room and descended the stairs to the living room.

Her mother, Ms. Walters, was waiting in the kitchen with breakfast ready. “Morning, sweetie,” she greeted, setting a plate piled with eggs and bacon on the table. She smiled, expectation playing at the edges of her lips. “So, how was your night with Max?”

Josie sat down slowly. How was she going to explain something to her mom that she couldn’t even remember? She decided it would be best to lie. “It was fun,” she said, forcing a smile. She hoped it didn’t look forced.
Her mom sat down across from her, a piece of toast in hand. “Was it everything you had ever dreamed of?” she asked, biting the crust.
How should I know? “That and more!” she answered brightly, avoiding her mother’s excited stare. She focused her attention on her bacon, eating like a savage animal. Anything to avoid more lies.

“You got back pretty late,” Ms. Walters said. “Not that I was spying, or anything.”
Josie rolled her eyes. “You always wait up for me when I go out,” she responded, not unkindly. Her mother was a worry-wart, but she loved her for it. It was nice to feel cared about.
“Did he kiss you?” Ms. Walters pried. Clearly, she wasn’t interested to drop the subject.

“No,” Josie answered. It was something she’d dreamed of a million times, each time different. She hoped he hadn’t kissed her. If he had, and she couldn’t remember, she would rather be dead. She made a note to ask him about it at school.
“What a shame,” her mom said, her toast abandoned on the table. “You only have to look at him to know how much he loves you. He should just go for it!”
Josie pushed her plate away, her appetite evaporating. “Mom, stop, you’re embarrassing me,” she muttered.

“If he does try to kiss you,” Ms. Walters said, standing and taking her plate, “don’t try to stop him. You love him just as much as he loves you.”
Josie groaned. “I wouldn’t stop him from trying.” She stood up and headed for the living room. “I’ve gotta go, Mom. Have a good day at work,” she called over her shoulder.
“Say hi to Max for me,” her mom called back.

Josie had no intention of doing that. She took her jacket off the wall rack and draped it over her arm, grabbed her backpack off the floor, and opened the front door. A chill swept over her as the cold, morning air rushed in, causing her to shiver. Clouds were gathering quickly in the sky, gray and depressing.
It would be snowing by lunchtime.

Aurora Central High’s parking lot was packed with cars by the time Josie arrived. It was difficult to find a spot, but she managed to find one at the very back. She put her jacket on before getting out of the car. There was still time before school started. She hoped to find Max at their usual spot before the bell rang.

Sure enough, he was sitting under the sign, a book open on his lap, earmuffs covering his ears. His glasses were slightly askew, but that was normal; his ears weren’t perfectly symmetrical, his left ear a few centimeters higher than his right. On numerous occasions, he had informed her of this imperfection, explaining in great detail how much it bothered him.

Behind the glasses, framed by long eyelashes, he had eyes a beautiful shade of brown. Flecks of green and gold glimmered in them if the light caught them just right. Josie had studied his eyes long enough to see the flecks every time. Thick, light brown hair adorned his head. It was a little long, his bangs hanging just above his eyes. Josie always loved brushing his bangs out of his eyes because it gave her an excuse to run her fingers through his hair.

Her mother hadn’t lied; she was hopelessly in love with Max.
As she approached, Max looked up and smiled, dimples poking his cheeks. “Hey, Josie,” he greeted cheerfully. She loved the way he said her name.
Josie sat down across from him, her back against the green pillar. “What’re you reading today?” she asked.
Max glanced down at the book on his lap. “I think it’s Shakespeare’s Hamlet , but I haven’t really been paying attention, so it could be any of his other plays.” He closed the book and set it aside. “Was Ma mad that I brought you home late?” Max had called Ms. Walters “Ma” since they were young, because she was like a second mother to him.

Josie shook her head. “The total opposite, actually,” she answered. “Hey, I actually have to ask you something,” she added.
Max inclined his head toward her, giving her his full attention.
Josie glanced around, ensuring no one was around to listen. Still, she dropped her voice to just above a whisper. “Is there any possible way I was drugged yesterday?”
Max looked perplexed. “I don’t think so,” he said slowly. “Why, what’s going on?”
Josie scooted closer to him, suddenly uncomfortable. This was not an easy conversation to have, or to even understand. She couldn’t comprehend it herself. “I think something’s wrong with me. I can’t remember anything that happened after school yesterday.”

Max’s confusion turned to sadness. “Not a single thing?” he asked quietly.
Josie shook her head. “It’s not normal to forget the last 14 hours of your life, is it?”
“There’ve been some cases,” he answered, his sadness gone. He sat back against the pillar. “That’s usually in people that have a dissociating disorder, though. You don’t have one, so no, I don’t think it’s normal.”
Josie sighed and pulled her knees to her chest. “I don’t feel like myself,” she whispered, looking down. “I feel like a piece of me is missing.”

Max perked up again. “Maybe I can help,” he said. “What is the absolute last thing you remember?”
Josie closed her eyes, trying to remember. “We were walking toward the parking lot,” she said. “I think you told me where you were taking me, but I can’t remember what you said.”
“Oh, I know,” Max said. “I said we were going to that new restaurant that just opened. The one you’d been dying to go to.”
Josie thought that sounded vaguely familiar, but it didn’t help jog her memory. “Did we go there afterward?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Max said, nodding. “We had burgers and waffle fries.”
Somewhere, far away, Josie thought she heard something. “Do you hear that?” she asked.
Max looked up and listened. “What does it sound like?”
“It sounds like something’s beeping,” she murmured. Just like in my dream, she thought. “Anyway, what did we do next?”
“One of the girls on the cheer squad had invited you to a party, and you really wanted to go, so you convinced me to go with you.”

Josie let go of her legs and sat up straight. “A party,” she said. “I could’ve been drugged there, right? If someone slipped something in my drink?”
Max was nodding. “Yeah, it’s plausible, but you never set your drink down. And whenever you ran out, I made you a new one. I wouldn’t drug you, you know that.”
Josie sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. Keep going.”
“We stayed there pretty late. We were both pretty buzzed. You were worse off than me, though, so I drove.”

Josie tried to remember, but everything was getting foggy. It felt like she was starting to doze off, but how could she? She wasn’t even tired. She stared at Max, her vision growing fuzzy. “Max?” she said, her voice sounding hollow and far away.
“She’s slipping!”
“We’re losing her!”
“Code red! Code red!”

Where were those voices coming from? They sounded so close. The beeping was growing louder, more insistent.
“Josie!” Max shouted.
Josie couldn’t see; it was like the light had been sucked out of the world.
“You have to save her!”
“Someone get her out of here!”
“Ms. Walters, please, you need to go.”
“Max,” Josie said, reaching into the darkness. “Max, what happened when we got in the car?”

“Josie, stay with me,” Max said.
“Josie, stay with us!”
“Max, tell me!”
“There was an accident!” Max sounded like he was crying. “My fault, all my fault. I shouldn’t have drove, I was messed up. Josie, it’s my fault!”
“Get me the damn defibrillator!”
“What happened to us?” Josie asked. It was hard to talk.
“We were hit head on. I couldn’t avoid it, Josie. I messed up. I screwed up!”
“Clear!”

Josie was now well aware that what was happening in her head, the conversation with Max, it wasn’t real. Max wasn’t real, not this Max. “Where are you, Max?”
Max was sobbing, she could feel his body shaking as he held her. “I’m here with you, Josie. I’m here, in your head.”
“Clear! Come on, Josie!”
“Max, where are you?” she asked again.
Max pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I’ll always be with you, Josie. But you have to fight. Don’t you dare give up. You have to fight!”

A light, somewhere in the dark, was steadily approaching. “I love you, Max,” she said. “I’ve always loved you.”
“I’ve always loved you, Josie. Since the day I met you, I loved you. And I’ll always love you, forever and ever.”
“There’s a light coming,” Josie said. “It’s so pretty.”
“Don’t go into it!” Max yelled. “Stay away from the light. Come back to me, stay with me!”
“I want to, but I don’t think I can,” Josie said. The light was almost around her now, warm and comforting.

“Josie, stay here! Stay with me!”
“Oh God, stay with me!”
“But you’re not the real Max,” Josie said softly. “You’re in my head. I want the real Max. I need the real Max.”
“I’m sorry,” Josie whispered.
The light fully enveloped her, pulling her away from Max. She let it take her, whisking her away to the clouds above.

————————————————————————–

The heart monitor played its final, flat tone. “Time of death, 8:05 A.M.,” a nurse said.
Dr. Shultz pressed his hands to his eyes. “I couldn’t save her,” he murmured, tears slipping down his cheeks. “I failed.”
Ms. Walters entered the room then, her eyes puffy from crying. She stared at her daughter, her only child, yet no tears fell. “Max was everything to her,” she said quietly.
Dr. Shultz dropped his hands. “You shouldn’t be in here, you shouldn’t see her like this,” he said quickly.

“She had to have known,” Ms. Walters said. “Their souls were connected. She must have known that Max was dead. I was her mother, but I wasn’t a part of her. Max…Max was the piece of her she couldn’t live without. You didn’t fail, Dr. Shultz. Josie chose to go.”
Dr. Shultz dried his tears with his sleeve. “I’m sorry, Ms. Walters. I’m so sorry.”
Surprisingly, Ms. Walters smiled. “Everything is going to be okay. My daughter will return to me some day, in another life. For now, she must be with her Max.”

Dr. Shultz stared at this woman, who would’ve seemed crazy to anyone else, but what she said somehow made sense to him. He took one last, long look at Josie. The girl had been so full of life, he knew it. But without the boy, Max, he knew her life wouldn’t have been the same. “I wish you all the happiness in the world of souls, Josie,” he whispered as he pulled the blanket over her face.

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