After the FactbyLadyCibelle©
This story stands on its own, but for a better enjoyment I recommend you read my other story 'Alone and Desolate' as this story is a direct continuation of 'AAD'.
If you're looking for stroke material please, promptly back-click as there is not a single shred of sex in this story.
I want to thank my editors for the invaluable help they've given me while I was sweating over this story.
When I arrived home earlier, I had the feeling something wasn't entirely kosher. The house felt empty; Joanna wasn't home. I was surprised to see her computer still on, showing its screensavers. Also puzzling was the phone book left on her desk. Furthermore, when I got in the bedroom to unpack my suitcases there were damp towels on the bed. Those things were really disturbing; normally Joanna is the picture of tidiness, but then I saw an envelope on my pillow. I should have known something was wrong when she didn't answer the phone last night.
How could I have, though? Sure, I had noticed that for the past couple of years, Joanna had grown sad and felt abandoned but what could I do? From the moment we met, Joanna and I, we knew that our life wouldn't be like everybody else's. We were willing to make the sacrifices necessary to ensure an early retirement for both of us and if that meant being separated for weeks, months at a time that's what we would do. Granted, the past year has been tougher with me being away more than I'd ever been and sometimes it felt like I was only coming home to change clothes, but I thought Joanna understood better.
That envelope looked sinister on my pillow. An ominous aura emanated from it; I didn't know what it was but I was sure it wasn't good news. When I opened it, a single sheet of paper came out and I sat down to read it.
By the time you come home, I'll be long gone. Please don't come looking for me; I don't want to see the hate and disgust in your eyes. I've betrayed you, my love, betrayed you in the worst possible way and there's nothing I can do that would change it.
All those months of you being away brought out the worst in me and I started losing faith in you. I thought you didn't love me anymore and were staying away more and more so you wouldn't have to spend time with me. I complained about you to my friends and gave them a bad impression of who you were. I thought you were insensitive to my feelings and didn't care anymore.
Last night I got so mad at you for not calling me, I went to dinner with Nathan. Remember Nathan, my friend, the bar owner? I told you about him a few times and how supportive he's been. Well, last night, I went to dinner with him and ended in a hysterical fit so we went back to his place. This morning I woke up in his arms and THIS is unforgivable, Jeremy.
I never should have put myself in that situation; I never should have stopped believing in our love, I should have trusted that our commitment was stronger. Instead, I forgot about it for a moment and was weak and enjoyed Nathan's arms around me.
Don't hate me, Jeremy, if you can. I know now, I should have trusted you more. You're the only man I've ever or could ever love and that's why I'm doing what I'm about to do. I know I could never face you and see the pain of my betrayal in your eyes so, it's better if I end it all.
You're a good man, my love, you deserve love and happiness and I wish you to find a good woman, one that will trust you and love you completely, one that won't be as weak as I am.
Kiss the kids for me, please. Tell them I love them but losing you is more than I could bear.
With all my love,
The letter fell from my fingers and I didn't pick it up. I didn't understand what I was reading. Joanna said she had betrayed me? What I was reading didn't relate to betrayal, but to despair. She thought I didn't love her anymore, that I was staying away because I didn't want to be with her. I couldn't make head nor tail of what I was reading. It didn't make sense!
I knew Joanna was sad -- sadder than usual that I was away more -- but could it be possible I had missed the signs of something more? Should I have picked up on something she said the last time we talked? Should I have noticed something the last time I was home? I needed time to think but it didn't appear like I had any. What did the letter say near the end? I snatched the letter up from where it had fallen and those words jumped out at me, 'it's better if I end it all.'
I needed to find her; I needed to tell her...God, where could she be? I needed to talk to Nathan. She said she'd spent the night with him; he would know, wouldn't he? Now, if only I could remember where his bar was; Joanna had shown it to me a few months back when we had been in town and we had stopped for a drink because she wanted to introduce him to me but would I be able to remember.
I stumbled back down to the living room still holding on to Joanna's letter. My feet carried me to the bar and I poured myself a whisky. The sofa seemed to be calling me and I slumped into it. I was looking at the room without seeing anything. I couldn't understand anything. Joanna's screensaver seemed to be baiting me; telling me it knew something that I didn't.
I threw my glass at it, wanting to wipe that silly grin off its face. The glass missed, hit the wall and bounced back on the phone directory without breaking. That small gesture of impatience was enough to get me out of my funk. I was going to the kitchen to get a dishcloth to clean my mess when the doorbell rang, so I turned around and went to answer the door, wondering who it might be. Isn't it sad? My own home and I have no idea who comes around on any given day.
When I opened the door, there was a man standing there dishevelled, and for a minute, I wondered if he wasn't some kind of crazy. He looked at me like I was an apparition or something. Then he spoke and that weird sensation disappeared.
"Yes, that's me. And who might you be?" This man seemed to have me at a disadvantage.
"I'm Nathan. You probably don't remember me. I'm Joanna's friend; she introduced us several months ago. I didn't know you were home, Joanna..."
Nathan! The man I needed to see was right in front of me and I didn't know how to start asking him where Joanna was. I noticed he was still talking and I forced myself to listen to him. "Uh, say that again. I'm sorry, I spaced out for a minute."
"I was asking you if Joanna was home and if I could speak with her. We had dinner last night, then we went back to my place to talk because she was upset and she fell asleep. When I woke up this morning, she was gone. I've been trying to reach her since, and I was worried. However, now that I see you're home, it's perfectly understandable that I wasn't able to reach her. Please, tell her I'm sorry to have still been asleep when she left and to call me when she gets a minute."
Now I was in a quandary, Nathan didn't seem to know that Joanna wasn't here. He, also, didn't seem to know the content of her note to me. Should I tell him and ask him for his help in figuring out what happened to Joanna? Should I trust him with our private life? Then again, Joanna trusted him implicitly -- she had told me often enough what a good friend he was to her -- so maybe I should trust him too.
I've always prided myself in being a good judge of character and I decided to trust my instinct. "There seems to be a problem, Nathan. Would you please come on in? I need to talk to you."
I led Nathan into the living room, told him to fix himself a drink and fixed one for myself and we sat opposite each other on the sofas.
"Nathan, I need to ask you some things. I know it's gonna sound weird but please, bear with me and answer my questions."
"Of course, sure no problem. Shoot," Nathan said.
"Okay, then, I need you to tell me exactly what happened yesterday and why did Joanna sleep at your place."
"Wait a minute here. Nothing untoward happened between Joanna and me. I would never poach on another man's property."
Nathan seemed uncomfortable about telling me Joanna had slept at his place. He didn't seem to know that Joanna had no secrets from me and I knew all about their friendship and the extent of it.
"I know that, don't worry. I just want to know what happened. You said she was upset and that's why you went to your place. What was she upset about?"
Nathan paused for a second as if he was searching for his words. Then, he looked at me and I don't know what he saw but it seemed to give him some resolve as he said, "Joanna called me around eight o'clock last night saying that once again you hadn't called as you promised. She sounded really sad and I invited her to dinner. While eating she kept repeating that you were staying away more and more and for longer periods and she thought it was because of her.
"She really was upset and crying and I took her to my place. I knew she would feel bad that she was making a spectacle of herself in a public place and I wanted to lessen the impact on her. At my place, we kept talking -- well I should say, she kept talking and I kept listening -- and she was crying hysterically. I took her in my arms to comfort her and she fell asleep. I didn't want to disturb her and I fell asleep too. When I woke up this morning, she was gone and, as I said, I haven't been able to reach her since. Now, are you gonna tell me what's it all about and where is Joanna?"
My fears came back with a vengeance. According to what I was hearing, Nathan had no idea that Joanna had left and didn't know the content of her note. I decided to, once again, trust my instinct and ask Nathan for his help. "I don't know where Joanna is, Nathan. I got home, Christ I don't know what the time is, an hour ago, two hours, maybe? Anyway, I got here and Joanna wasn't in. She left me a note," I couldn't trust myself to read it back to him without falling apart so I passed it to him, saying, "Here it is, read it."
I was looking at Nathan reading the note and every few lines I could see him wince. By the time he was finished, he looked as haggard as I did and even more worried than he had been when he arrived here.
The first words out of his mouth weren't what I expected as he said, "Oh my God! You're gonna say it's my fault aren't you? You'll say I'm responsible for Joanna disappearing won't you?...."
He seemed to want to say more but I interrupted him, "Your fault? Why would it be your fault? From what I know of your relationship with Joanna, you haven't, you both have, done nothing wrong. I didn't ask you inside to lay blame on you. I asked you to come in because I need your help. I need you to tell me about Joanna."
I didn't give him time to reply as I continued, "As you well know, Joanna and I haven't seen each other much over the last eighteen months. I've been too busy with the business side of things and I neglected her. I know you became friends quickly and you were there for her when I should have been. I'm not asking you to betray her confidence here, Nathan, I'm just asking you to help me understand. You read the note, we, I have to find her!" It was true, I really needed Nathan's help if I was to find Joanna and talk to her.
Nathan looked at me with what I thought was pity when he sighed, "Okay, I'll tell you about the Joanna I know. I'll tell you everything I know. Just keep in mind that it's my thoughts, my opinions, my interpretation of what Joanna and I talked about all those times we saw each other..."
Nathan told me about the first few times they met, when Joanna broke down while speaking of her feelings of being neglected, deserted by me. He told me about Joanna seeking him out, wanting to apologize for her behaviour; of their subsequent meetings every few weeks, of having dinner together, watching movies or just talking at his or our place. He told me so many things; things I had ignored or simply missed seeing, things I should have noticed if I hadn't been so obsessed by the business.
My mind was in turmoil. Joanna was my best friend, the reason stars lit up at night, the air that I breathed, my life! I needed to find her to say how sorry I was. I needed to tell her all the things I had promised myself I would say when we finally retired together. I had to let her know my life would never have been complete if she hadn't been in it for all those years.
How could I have been so oblivious to her pain? What was so important about those worldwide deals that I forgot about the most important person in my life? What good would my life be without Joanna to share it? I had to find her! I had to lay myself at her feet and ask for forgiveness at making her feel unimportant to me. I simply had to!
Nathan was pacing the floor. He stopped to pick up the note from where it had fallen and skimmed through it.
I was lost in my thoughts, when he said, "Snap out of it, Jeremy. We have to find her. We have to look for clues as to where she is. You're her husband. Where does she usually go when she's upset? Are any of her clothes missing? What about transportation? I can see Joanna's car in your driveway, how did she leave?"
Nathan was asking good, solid questions but I had no answer for any of them. My mind was a blank and I could only think of the hurt I had put Joanna through. What if she had left me for good? What if she had covered her traces so well I couldn't find her? What would I do? Where would I turn?
"Come on, Jeremy, think! Have you look to see if any of her clothes are missing? What about her desk here? Maybe we'll find some clues as to where she went." Nathan was taking charge and I didn't even know where to start.
To respect our privacy, he sent me to our bedroom asking me to go through it, trying to see if I could pick up any clues as to where she might be. Meanwhile, he would go through her desk.
None of her clothes were missing; her suitcases were still in her closet. Then, I thought of the towels on the bed. I went into the master's bathroom and it looked like a localized earthquake had hit it. There were more damp towels on the floor, the bathmat was askew, the medicine cabinets' doors were open, bottle after bottle of pills were scattered around on the counters, some of them lying on their sides opened.
I picked one up and my stomach sank. The bottle in question had contained thirty pills when it had been prescribed for our son three years ago. He had come home from a ski trip with both legs broken and after they reset them, the doctor had prescribed him some Morphine for the pain. I remember Jason had only taken two or three while the pain was at its worst and the bottle had sat in our medicine cabinet ever since.
Then, there was the bottle of Demerol the doctor had prescribed Joanna for the pain after they tied her tubes two years ago. Joanna had never taken any when I filled the prescription as she said it was making her sleepy when they had given it to her at the hospital and the pain wasn't so bad anyway.
The next few bottles I picked up didn't do any better for my mood; each held a different kind of antidepressant the doctor had tried on me when I came up with a case of the 'blues' a few years back. Every time, I had filled the prescription and taken a few of the pills only to find out they made me feel worse than not taking them.
I noticed that none of the other bottles were opened. They were only scattered around as if someone had looked at them and discarded them. I didn't like the picture it was painting for me and I went to the bed to sit to clear my thoughts for a minute.
I didn't even have time to sit when Nathan called me from downstairs. By the tone of his voice, he seemed to have found something. I sure hoped he did, as up here, it looked grim.
The first thing I noticed coming down the stairs, looking into the living room, was the phone directory opened on Joanna's desk. Nathan was looking at something in it but from where I was standing, I couldn't see what it was. Nathan turned when he heard me and said, "Did you know that the phone book is wet?"
I could feel my face redden at the thought of my tantrum when he continued, "What's more interesting is the category the book is opened at."
I had no idea what he was talking about and I told him, "What's so interesting about it?" I couldn't understand what could make a category in the phone book worth mentioning to me when the only thing I could think of what the discovery of all those pill bottles upended in the bathroom.
"What is interesting is that the page is opened to 'hotels' and 'motels' in town. Some of them seem to be ticked or crossed. Why would Joanna be looking for a hotel or a motel when she had this nice house to live in? Did you find anything upstairs? What's that you're holding in your hand?"
I didn't even notice that I had come down with the pill bottles. I looked at them once again, as if to prove to myself they were real and said, "Yeah, I found something. These pill bottles, they were all full or almost full the last time I saw them; now they're empty and I don't like what that's telling me." Saying those words seemed to have taken a strain on me, as I had to lean on the wall for a minute, for I became light-headed.
Nathan took the bottles from my hands, looked at them and said, "Okay then. We have a phone book opened to hotels and motels in town, pills bottles that originally contained narcotics, and Joanna's note to you.
"I think we can safely say that Joanna intends to harm herself. We have to find her and quickly!"
I pushed myself from the wall as quickly as I had leant on it. Inertia wasn't the answer here and I was beginning to think that every second counted in the 'find Joanna' run.
The only thing is that I had no idea where to start. Nathan took control of the situation once again when he said, "Based on the ticks and crosses in the directory, I would say she called a few places before finding one where she could stay. Now the question is how do we find which one she went to?
"I think you, as her husband, should look through her computer files and history to see if you can't find a record of credit card or bank transactions. In the meantime, if you allow me, I'll call those places that have 'ticks' beside their names and try to find out if Joanna registered a room with them."
We spent the next few minutes doing exactly that. I could hear Nathan arguing with countless people, trying to get information on Joanna's whereabouts while I was going through our online bank and credit card records to see if I could find anything there.
The search proved somewhat fruitful for me. Joanna had withdrawn $250 from our joint account early this morning. There hadn't been any withdrawal made for the last two weeks so this one stuck out like a sore thumb. Two hundred fifty dollars is not a lot but why would Joanna withdraw it on a Saturday morning? It seemed strange to me.
Nathan had just finished his phone calls and he wasn't in a good mood. "You'd think Joanna is some important personality..."
"She is important! Important to me, never forget that!" I told Nathan with impatience.
"Well, you know what I mean. Not one of them is willing to say if she booked a room or not. Some of them categorically refused to answer any of my questions. The best I got is four places who said someone had called to ask if they had vacancies but they wouldn't deny or admit she had booked. I think we'll need to go to those places and find out for ourselves, Jeremy."
"Why those four places and not the others?" I couldn't understand Nathan's logic and why he thought those places were more promising than any others.
"Because those places, at least, gave me a definite answer that someone had called. Maybe I'm wrong but we have to start somewhere and I'd rather go with a definite possibility than nothing at all, as dumb as that sounds."