My mom was hovering above me when I opened my eyes. She was wearing her usual grey suit. Her long, black hair strands were tickling my face. My headache was gone, and I didn’t feel terrible anymore. My body felt like my normal weight again. I pushed myself off the ground. My mom helped me up by grabbing me by my arm.
A dreaded feeling came over me. My mom only calls me by my nickname when she was really worried about me. She hugged me and let out a big sigh of relief.
“Mom, I’m okay. Where is Charlotte?”
She let go off me and held my hand instead. Her eyes were filled with tears. I instantly felt my stomach turn.
“Ayu, I don’t know how to say this, but Charlotte went missing.”
I took a step back and looked at my mom with a blank face.
“What do you mean she’s missing? She was with me just a moment ago. I was waiting for her to come back.”
“Ayu, you were passed out for quite some time before someone contacted me. Charlotte didn’t come back, and I tried to call her on her mobile phone as well, but the call wouldn’t go through. So, I contacted her mother to see if she had gone home but she didn’t.”
Charlotte would have never left me behind. I know my best friend. My head started spinning again. I made my mom let go of my hand and turned around to see policemen questioning people on the street. That was when I remembered the boy again.
“Mom, I’m going to the pharmacy. She’s probably there or by the bench she left me at.”
Without letting my mom say anything back to me, I ran out of the narrow alleyway and towards the bench first. The policemen looked surprised, and my mom started talking to them. A family was sitting on the bench that I left behind. Charlotte was nowhere to be seen. I carried on running and got to the nearest pharmacy. The door opened and I walked inside. A woman in a white coat was standing behind the counter.
“Excuse me. Did you by any chance see a tall girl with long, brown hair come in today? She has freckles on her face and is wearing the same high school uniform as me.”
I showed them a picture on my mobile phone. The woman shook her head and asked the other staff member as well, but he hadn’t seen her either. I checked other nearby pharmacies as well, but I had no luck. A police officer found me and brought me back to my mom who was still waiting near the alleyway they found me in.
“Do you remember anything from before you lost consciousness?”
The policeman who had short, brown hair was holding a notepad in one hand and a pen in the other.
“There was a boy. He had Charlotte’s mobile phone.”
“Okay. Can you tell me how he looked like?”
“I don’t know. I honestly don’t remember. I can’t seem to recall it from my memories.”
I made my hands into fists.
“Anything else that you noticed. Even something you think is insignificant might be helpful.”
“He looked really young. But I’m not sure of that anymore either.”
He discussed something with my mom, and we were allowed to go home. They said that they will immediately start an investigation and search for Charlotte. In the meantime, we should go home and carry on with our lives. But how could I? How was I supposed to face Charlotte’s mother? The engine died down and I got out of my mom’s car. Our steps echoed as we were walking up the stairs. My mom knocked on our neighbour’s door. A woman with short, straight brown hair with black glasses opened it. Yuuma jumped into our mom’s arms and Charlotte’s mother gave me a big hug.
“I’m glad that you’re fine.”
My throat closed up. I wasn’t even able to apologise. Tears ran down my cheeks and I buried my face into her shoulder. What was I even supposed to say? I got out of the situation unscratched, but her daughter went missing. My mom thanked her for taking care of my younger brother and updated her about the situation. We said our goodbyes and went inside our apartment. The sun had gone down. I didn’t feel like eating anything and went directly to bed. Too many thoughts were going through my mind. I kept asking myself why I couldn’t remember how the boy looked like. My body felt exhausted, and I eventually fell asleep. I had the same dream again but instead the shadow, I saw the boy falling from the sky with me. A knock on my door woke me up. And just like that, it was the next morning again. My mom looked concerned as she entered my room and sat down on my bed next to me.
“Ayu, you okay?”
She went with her hand through my hair and gave me a kiss on my forehead.
“Have they found Charlotte?”
My mom told me to go to school despite what had happened yesterday. It might distract me. We ate breakfast in silence, and she dropped Yuuma and me off to our schools with her car. She was being cautious. A boy with short, blonde hair was waiting for me in front of our high school’s entrance. He was even taller than Charlotte and his name was Mamoru. I could tell that he didn’t have a wink of sleep last night. I couldn’t blame him. Afterall, his girlfriend went missing. He didn’t say anything and just placed his hand on my head while giving me a smile. I don’t know if he could tell but I was not in the mood of talking about yesterday’s incident. He knew very well how much Charlotte meant to me as well. She was like a sister to me.
“Don’t worry. They’ll find her. And you know how stubborn and resilient that girl is.”
Mamoru had joined me for lunch. He unpacked a melon bread and handed it over to me. I kept silent and nibbled on it. My hunger had disappeared since yesterday. We were sitting outside under the same tree me and Charlotte were sitting just 24 hours ago. It felt surreal. The sun was shining through the leaves down on us. A group of girls walked past us. They were talking and giggling to each other. Their eyes were shifting around and one of them was holding a blue school bag. Everyone knew that they were bullies. I stood up and sighed while stretching my back. After some time, another girl walked past us and looked like she was searching for something.
“They went behind the gym.”
The girl’s dark brown hair was put up in a bun, and her bangs nearly covered her eyes. She slightly bowed towards me and went after the group of girls.
“Wait for me after school. I’ll walk you home. Whoever took Charlotte might try and kidnap you as well. We don’t want that to happen.”
“Then let them. At least that way I’ll find out where Charlotte is.”
He faintly slapped my forehead with his big hand.
“Idiot. Do you think Charlotte would be happy about that?”
If Charlotte was my sister, then Mamoru was like an older brother. He was a year above us. We knew each other from elementary school and they both started dating in middle school. My mom used to call us the inseparable trio. And as promised, Mamoru was waiting for me after school had ended.
“Can you take me to where it all happened?”
The traffic light turned red, and the sound signalled us to cross over the street. And before long, we were standing in a narrow alleyway. The same alleyway from yesterday. The yellow police tape was still there. Telling people to stay away. Mamoru pushed it up with the back of his hand for me to go through it after him.
“The strange boy stood over here, right?”
He looked around. One of his hands was in his trouser pocket and his other hand was holding his school bag over his shoulder. His footsteps echoed and it reminded me of yesterday. He was walking further and further away from me. My breathing got shallow, and I grabbed my chest. I had to get out of this alleyway. My mobile phone was vibrating in my school bag. The display was flashing. My mom was calling me, but my attention was on something else. My hand let go of my bag and it dropped to the ground. I took a few steps and stopped. The same boy from yesterday was standing in front of a shop’s window, just a few metres away from me. He turned his head to face me. It was as if he knew I was looking at him. He started walking and without thinking, I ran after him. No matter how fast I was running, I wasn’t able to catch up to him. I didn’t know how much I ran but I ended up in front of a construction site. The boy managed to slip out of my sight. I walked up to an opening in the fence. The sign next to it warned me to keep out. I ignored it.
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