“Extra-large coffee. Black,” I instructed the tattooed barista, sliding a five across the glossy black counter. Jada, a fixture at Crazy 8’s, nodded and turned away, swiftly grabbing an extra-large cup and filling it with steaming, rich dark coffee. That was one of the reasons Mel and I liked Crazy 8’s—there weren’t any fru-fru sizes like grande, petite, double grande. Small, medium, and large coffees. Extra large if you were in dire need of a caffeine fix.
“Thanks, Jada,” I said as she passed me my cup and punched the register’s keyboard. “Hey, have you seen Melody?”
Jada raised her eyebrows as she counted out my change. “Melody? Your blonde-haired friend? Always in here with you or those two goofy guys?” I nodded, a desperate twinge of hope rising in my throat.
“No. No haven’t seen her,” she held out a couple ones and some coins, her perpetually cranky dark gaze seeming to soften a little. “Everything okay?”
I slowly extended my hand for her to deposit the change. “No. No, she… she disappeared during the hurricane last night.”
I nodded, wishing I was joking. “She called me a bunch of times at like, three in the morning. I didn’t answer, and when I tried to call her back today, I couldn’t get a hold of her. When I drove out to her place, her boyfriend said they’d gotten in an argument last night, and when he and Mel’s brother woke up, they couldn’t find her. We spent the whole day searching the beach,” I gingerly readjusted my slipping bra strap, sliding it firmly under my tank top and off of my sunburned shoulder.
“You think she wandered off to the beach? In the middle of a hurricane?”
“Well… yeah, we thought she might have. It… it doesn’t make any sense. Nothing does. They said when they got up this morning, her keys were in the car and the car door was wide open,” I took a swallow of my coffee, feeling the burn of the hot liquid spreading down my throat, wishing its warmth could quell my fears.
“No shit,” Jada muttered, ducking under the counter and walking out into the lounge area. “Stay there, drink your coffee. I’ve got to get started closing, though. It’s after midnight.”
“It’s after midnight? It… it’s Friday?” I asked stupidly.
Jada nodded, flipping the open sign to closed, sympathetic eyes on mine as she strode back across her shop to start cleaning up.
I stood helplessly. “I—I can’t believe we didn’t find her.”
“You searched the beach all day?”
“Yeah… I rolled up to Mel’s at about one. Matt and Mikey and I walked for miles, looked all over the beach until about six o’clock,” I took another sip of the bitter coffee, shuddered a little. I was too sunburned to be drinking anything hot; a chill ran through my body in spite of the heat radiating from my goose-pimpled flesh.
“Actually,” I corrected myself. “Mikey and I, her brother, we stayed out till about six. Her boyfriend Matt was out looking even longer.”
“You say she didn’t have her car?” Jada asked, pausing over the giant metal container of decaf coffee she was dumping into the sink.
“So you think the beach was the only place she could’ve gone?”
“Well, that’s what we thought earlier. I mean, it was a hurricane. She couldn’t have walked very far. Assuming she went missing during the storm. We don’t really know. I mean, she could’ve taken off this morning, but that doesn’t seem likely, because why would she leave the car door open in broad daylight? But… we really don’t know if she disappeared during the storm or in the morning. There’s no way of knowing; we all overslept.”
Jada was nodding thoughtfully, pouring another cup of coffee. “On the house,” she said, sliding it across the counter. Seems like you’re gonna need it, and I was just gonna dump it out, anyway.”
I nodded a wordless thank you, gulped down the last of my original cup. “It doesn’t make sense though,” I added, shaking my head. “I left Matt and Mikey to go check some of the spots she might have been in town… but she couldn’t have gotten that far without a car, even if she did leave in the morning after the storm.”
“She could’ve taken a cab,” Jada offered.
I frowned. “We found her purse. Debit card still in it. And her waiter book from the night before… still had her cash tips in it. I mean, I guess she could’ve taken some of the money from the book, but why would you run away and not take all your cash? And leave your debit card?”
Jada turned from me, rag in hand, wiping down her cappuccino machine.
I stood stupidly, gazing at her back. The more I said out loud, the more I realized how bad it was. I thought back to earlier in the day (yesterday, I reminded myself, it’s Friday already). The look of numbed panic, terrified resignation on her brother’s face.
“Come on, Mikey,” I rasped, wishing for the millionth time I had a bottle of water. “It’s been hours. Like, five hours. Let’s head back. Maybe she’s come back to your place.”
Mikey shook his head, squinting out at the water glinting under the setting sun. “She’s not come back.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I do know that. She… she hasn’t come back, because… well, she just hasn’t. Something is wrong.”
“What were they fighting about?” I asked him.
“I don’t… I don’t know. She had to pee. And didn’t want to go outside in the storm. We were teasing her about it, and she blew up at Matt. Started screaming at him. We’d been drinking; he wasn’t in the mood to hear it. They were yelling back and forth at each other. It was like, less than a minute, tops. She jumped up and ran out of the room, and he followed her.” Mikey paused, ran his hands through his hair, over his face. “He did follow her,” he muttered.
He glared at me. “You already know. Matt says he watched her go into their room and shut the door. He came back in my room, and we kept drinking. When we woke up this morning… well, you already know.”
He looked away, eyes drawn back to the quiet crashing of the Atlantic.
“She could be anywhere,” he muttered.
“Well—not anywhere,” I began slowly. “She didn’t take her car. She had to have been walking. She could’ve only gone so far. Unless,” I paused, tugged on his tee-shirt sleeve. “Unless she disappeared this morning… not during last night’s storm, but this morning. Maybe she took her purse? Has anyone looked for her purse yet?”
Mikey shook his head, a guarded hope coming back into his eyes.
“Come on. Let’s go home and look. Her car’s here, but we don’t know about her phone. Maybe her purse is gone too. Maybe she did take off for a couple of days.”
With renewed energy, Mikey picked up his pace, nodding as he strode quickly ahead of me. “You’re right,” he began, casting a quick glance back to me. “You could be right.”
I nodded encouragingly, already realizing how unlikely my new theory was. If she’d left in the daytime, having to pass her car to go out front to catch a cab, would she have really left the door wide open?
“…it is Tabitha, right?” Jada’s voice drew me back into the present.
I forced a fleeting smile. “I’m sorry. I was just—”
“It’s cool. I just, you know, I’m all settled here. Gotta lock up for the night,” she shimmied out from underneath her counter, purse and keys in hand. “Ready?”
I stared at Jada’s purse. It was black, like Melody’s.
“Her purse is right here, damn it! Her purse is right here!” Devastation written across Mikey’s crumpled face as he yanked it off the desk in Melody and Matt’s room. “Fuck!”
“I’m sorry,” I began weakly. “I just—”
“And look!” Next to where her purse had been sitting, before he’d snatched it up and released it, before it fell with a solid thunk onto the dingy carpet, there was her black waiter book, the little leather folder, still wrapped clumsily in her stained grey apron from a night of waiting tables the evening before. I watched, helpless, as he reached for it, jerked it open. “Look!” he’d screamed needlessly, senselessly, pulling the fistful of money out of the side, scattering it wildly into the freezing air (why hadn’t anyone turned the air conditioner off?) Twenties and fifties and fives and ones swirled through the air, fluttering softly to the floor. “She left her goddamn money! Tabitha, she didn’t run away! She left her damn tips. She’s gone! She’s just gone!”