We sat for what seemed like a long time, but, in reality, the time flew by. Our date was coming to a close. As if by magic, our fortune cookies appeared on a plate. I chose one and carefully opened. It read, “A movie would be a great way to relax this weekend.” What?
“So Jen,” Kyle started hesitantly, “do you want to, you know, go to my house and watch a movie or something?”
I looked down at my fortune cookie, considering. Today was a Monday, not exactly the weekend, but close enough, right?
I smiled at him. “Sure, a movie sounds great.”
He drove me to his house and allowed me inside. Yep, it looked exactly how I ‘d pictured a rich-boy’s house would: High vaulted ceilings, white walls, white furniture, beautiful chandelier, and last but not least, a marvelous black grand piano. The black stuck out starkly in the white room, but at the same time seemed to harmonize with it. Spotlights were aimed right at it, and I noticed it was set on its own little stage.
A hunger deep inside me longed to run my fingers over the keys, having the glorious sounds wash over and around me. I glanced at Kyle as he led me to the theatre room, and I felt a hunger of a different sort.
I don’t much remember the movie. All I can remember is snuggling on the couch with Kyle Anthony. The Kyle. Captain-of-the-football-team Kyle. All around great guy and 4.0 student. I couldn’t stop thinking, Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh!
Before I realized it, the movie was over, and Kyle was driving me home. I began to grow sad that our time was almost at an end. He opened my door, and escorted me to the house. “Thank you,” I told him, “I had a really good time.” I gave him a hug before turning to enter my house.
His hand reached out and grabbed my shoulder, turning me around. He was really close. My breath caught in my throat. An intense look was on his face. Slowly his lips came down on mine.
A car flashed past, bringing us back to reality. He pulled away and smiled at me. “I had a great time,” he whispered to me softly.
I know I was smiling like a fool as he back walked to his car and drove away. I slid down the front door, and sat on my step. There was no way I could go inside now. I needed air some air, quick.
I stood up shakily, reliving the moment in my head again and again. I stumbled down the driveway, and made my way to the park around the corner. A lonely swing set beckoned to me. I collapsed in the swing, deeply breathing in the night.
I sat there for probably a half hour, listening to the swing creak. Soft starlight gleamed down on me. Everything was at peace. I closed my eyes and sighed contentedly. It was quiet, almost . . . too quiet. My sixth sense perked up, and I listened intently to the silence, trying to detect what was different. Crickets, that was it, I couldn’t hear any crickets. Their eerie melody had lulled me into my peaceful state; now their tune was absent. But what would cause them to cease so suddenly? Crickets only stopped chirping when someone was too . . . close . . .
I jumped out of the swing and began running toward my house. I went crashing to the ground as someone broadsided me with a flying tackle. A scream escaped my mouth, but my assailant was quick to slap a hand down on my face. Roughly, I was yanked to my feet. One arm encircled my waist, pinning my arms to my side; the other stayed planted firmly over my mouth.
I struggled to escape to no avail. My captor simply lifted all five-feet-three-inches of me from the ground. He carried me to the blue Mazda Civic I hadn’t noticed pull up. Wait, my brain began to whirl, a blue Civic exactly like the one Bryan drove. BRYAN?! Not only was Bryan Mitchell not some random jerk from school, he was my best friend. It couldn’t possibly be Bryan.
Yet every step we took closer to the car, the surer I was that it was his Civic, and that my captor was Bryan. But . . . why? Was this all some stupid prank he’d come up with? I was angry at him, but decided I’d play along and stopped struggling.
We were only a few feet away from the car then. Bryan popped the trunk with a button on his keys. He turned me around so I was facing him. He whispered gruffly, “Are you going to scream if I move my hand away?”
I glared at him.
“Do you promise not to scream?” he tried again, angrier.
I continued to glare at him, but nodded all the same.
He hesitantly removed his hand, watching me carefully. He spun around, quickly searching through his trunk for something.
“Bryan,” I growled, getting louder with each word, “what do you think—?”
I was cut off abruptly as he swung around and slapped me. Hard. I reeled back, and stood in shock as he finished searching through his car. He pulled something out.
Next thing I knew, he’d slipped a gag over my head. Before I could fight back, he had my arms pinned again, and was securing them in front of me with duck tape. He covered the gag in my mouth over with duck tape as well to be safe. Looking confused into his eyes, I saw an anger I hadn’t noticed before. I knew that this wasn’t some practical joke, it was the real deal.
He lifted me easily, despite my struggling, and slipped me into the trunk. All light was shut out as the hood slammed down. Sounds of the engine turning over reached me. It started, and the car began its journey to who knows where.
Tears began spilling from my eyes. What was going on? What made Bryan go so dark? Why was he turning his anger on me? I was so confused. I tried making a map in my mind as we drove, but got hopelessly lost amid all the turns. His soccer ball continually bounced off my head to make matters worse.
After what seemed like forever, but was actually only a few minutes, the car came to a stop. Above me, the hood opened and Bryan yanked me out. I knew immediately where we were. Bryan firmly guided me towards his garage which his parents had let him convert into a bedroom. We went inside and he firmly locked the door behind us.
He stepped around me and walked to the center of the room. He began rolling up the rug that sat in the middle. Why was he doing that? My question was answered as I saw a trap door revealed.
My eyes widened and I backed into the wall. Bryan lifted the door than walked back to me. He grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the hole. After a bit of wrestling, I found myself in the cellar.
It was a small room that he’d placed a television and a small couch in. A radio sat next to the TV on the ground. Light in the room came from the small trapdoor in the ceiling. The shear amount of everything that was happening caught up to me, and I found myself collapsing on the couch.
Bryan suddenly appeared in front of me, having descended down the ladder. I shrank into the couch. His face softened and he reached out and stroked my cheek. I tensed as he plopped down next to me on the couch. He pulled me toward him and hugged me, all the while stroking my cheek, my hair.
I’d been holding it back for too long. Tears started pouring from my eyes. Bryan rocked me gently. “I’m sorry,” he whispered softly in my ear. “I’m so sorry.”
I got angry. From my position all I could see was my duck taped wrists. Sorry my foot, I screamed in my mind. I jammed my elbow into his ribcage.
He yelled out in pain and threw me off of him. My head adequately broke my fall. I saw stars floating around me. Bryan came and grabbed my arm pulling me to my feet. I tried not to wince in pain as his fingers dug into my skin. He was more angry than I’d ever seen him before.
“My patience is limited,” he hissed. “We can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way. Which will it be?”
Idiot, I thought. It’s not exactly like I could answer with my mouth tapped shut. I glared at him.
He laughed without mirth and dropped me on the couch. “Since you are obviously too dimwitted to understand the magnitude of what is happening allow me to explain.” He began pacing back and forth in front of me. “You are my prisoner. Why, you might ask, we were always such good friends?” He stopped and leaned over me, putting his hands on my knees. “Such. Good. Friends,” he reiterated with gritted teeth.
He resumed pacing. “For years I’ve hung patiently on your every word, catering to your every whim. Waiting, hoping for the day you would look to me with the same longing I’ve always had for you.”
He stopped walking and turned away from me. When he resumed talking his voice was quiet, deadly, “Then you took it all and throw it back in my face, Jen. I’m driving home from work, and what do I see?” His voice was becoming slowly louder, “I see you, on your front porch, making out with Kyle Anthony!” His voice holds such venom it shocks me.
He faced me again, “My patience ran out. Now it’s my time for a day in the sun. On Friday we’re leaving. Going somewhere they can never find us, somewhere we can be together forever. And that’s not even the best part,” his eyes had taken on an evil gleam.
How could I have never seen this side off him before, after all the time we’d spent together the last few years.
“The best part,” he continued, “is that when you are reported missing, everyone will blame the last person you were seen with. The boy who dutifully dropped you off at your house after your date!”
My eyes widened. He was right of course. Nobody knew that Kyle had returned me home. Everyone would blame him for my disappearance. Sweet, wonderful Kyle would have no way to disprove the accusations. No one would think to look at the distraught best friend of Jennifer Goodwin.
Bryan watched gleefully as these thoughts flashed through my head. “Now you finally understand. And just think,” he added, “if you’d waiting until the weekend to have your moment, none of this would have ever happened. I’d have been working my graveyard shift at the gas station and would’ve never known.”
Bryan turned away from me and ascended the ladder. He pulled it up after him, and looked down at me from the hole above. “I’ll leave you to turn that over a few times in your pretty little head. And in case you get any ideas, know that this room is soundproof. It shouldn’t be too hard to escape from that tape, so I’ll leave you to that.” He smiled at me, but the smile held no warmth. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” He shut the trap door and left me alone in the dark.
My mind reeled. Words from the fortune cookie spun over and over in my head. A movie would be a great way to relax this weekend . . . this weekend . . . this weekend. I had dismissed it because it was only a fortune cookie, right? But it had been true. If we’d waited until the weekend, Bryan would have never known. The fortune had been telling me something, and I had disregarded its warning. Now, not only would I suffer, poor Kyle would too.
I tried not to think about that. I worked at the tape until it stretched enough for me to slip my hands out. With a quick pull, I yanked the tape from my face. It stung and I screamed but the gag pretty well smothered it. I slid the gag off and took a few shaky breaths. I curled up on the couch, wrapping my arms around myself. After that, I cried myself to sleep.
When I awoke in the morning, I didn’t want to open my eyes. I snuggled down deeper into the blankets. Someone was shaking my shoulder. I knew that if I woke up, I’d have to go to school. I swatted at the hand. “Five more minutes, mom,” I pleaded groggily.
I heard a bellowing laugh. Wait, that didn’t sound like my mom. I opened my eyes and saw Bryan standing over me. “Sorry love,” he whispered in my ear, “there’s an amber alert on the news I thought you’d want to see.” Everything all came rushing back to me.
I sat up as he went to turn the TV on. A big-haired anchorwoman was telling all about how one Jennifer Goodwin had never made it home after her date last night with 18-year-old Kyle Anthony. Police had him in custody but had yet to learn anything about my whereabouts. All through her story, my yearbook picture blared at me from the top right hand corner of the screen.
I hadn’t noticed Bryan sitting down next to me, holding my hand, until he used the remote to turn the volume down. I glanced over at him and snatched my hand away. “You’re sick!” I growled at him.
He didn’t try to deny. “It will be okay,” he started instead, “I’m sure they’ll find Kyle guilty and you’ll never have to worry about crushing that boy’s heart.”
Bryan saw my fist clench and stood up before I could sock him.
He smiled at me and pointed to a button on his shirt. “You see this button?” he asked. “This button has been fitted with a small microphone. I’ve had it programmed so that if you turn that radio on,” he explained, indicating the radio in the corner, “you’ll hear everything I hear and say. That way you can be in the midst of your investigation.”
I wanted to punch him. Oh how I wanted to punch him. But for some reason, I couldn’t find the strength in my legs to launch myself at him.
He glanced at his wristwatch. “Sorry Jen, I’ve gotta go. Can’t be late for school.” He ran his fingers through his hair a few times, disheveling it. He arranged his facial features so it looked like he was on the verge of breaking. “How do I look?” he asked.
“Awful,” I spit, “distraught isn’t a good look for you.”
He laughed heading for the ladder. “I don’t have to look good,” he told me as he climbed, “I only have to look convincing. My best friend was just kidnapped you know.” He pulled up the ladder and shut the trap door, leaving me in the glow of the quiet TV.
An hour later and throughout the rest of the day, I found myself curled in a ball on the couch curled around the radio and watching the TV. I watched and listened with a morbid fascination. I found that I was unable to turn either off. A news station had dedicated themselves to my search. A man with a mustache I wanted to rip off interviewed my parents, my neighbors, my teachers, Kyle’s prosecutors, and Bryan. While watching my parents cry was bad, the part I hated most was watching Bryan. Even knowing that he’d kidnapped me, I still felt myself being bought over by his lies and accusations against Kyle. I had to repeatedly remind myself that he’d kidnapped me and Kyle was the good guy. I could only imagine what it was doing to everyone else. I had no idea that Bryan was such a brilliant actor. What other things had he lied to me about?
Listening to the radio was nearly as bad. People, my friends, would stop him in the hall and offer their sincerest apologies. He lied up a storm, even Kyle’s football buddies were taken over to the dark side. In the mind of the school, Kyle Anthony had become the enemy.
Bryan had left a box of food sitting on the floor, but I was unable to find the energy to go to it. Much to my satisfaction, I found a door, which I had not previously seen, leading to a bathroom.
When Bryan came back at 5:00, I didn’t bother acknowledging him, but he seemed fine with that. He pulled the radio away from me and set it on the floor. Next, he sat down on the couch and pulled me into his lap. He trailed kisses down my neck and the side of my face. He buried his face in my hair and nibbled my ear, all the time whispering to me of his love and promising me we’d be together forever. I let him because I lacked the energy and motivation to resist. I tried imaging the rest of my life, and it brought tears to my eyes. Bryan wiped them away with a gentle finger, telling me it would be alright, but more rushed to fill their place.
Something on the television caught my attention. It was Kyle! Mustache man was at his house interviewing him. Kyle was angry. He denied being involved with my disappearance and wished people would consider the idea that he had nothing to do with it. He slammed his front door in the man’s face. Bryan had stopped fondling over me and started watching the news as well. Mustache was saying that the police were unable to pin anything on Kyle and had been forced to release him. He would be returning to school the following day.
“Is he telling the truth America?” Mustache questioned in conclusion. “Does Mr. Anthony know her whereabouts or was it another who is responsible for her disappearance as he claims. Could it possibly be serial or was it maybe even one of the nice people we interviewed today? Join us again in one hour as we continue with all the latest on the Jennifer Goodwin case.” Mustache disappeared and the people in the studio were back offering their comments.
Bryan picked up the remote and the TV went black. He rolled me off of him, and began his restless pacing. I only halfheartedly listened to his ramblings about Kyle and how all his plans were falling apart. I thought about Kyle and was happy he was clear. I also feared what he would face at school the next day. He would find everyone against him. He would suffer mercilessly. I prayed he would decide to stay home.
Bryan stopped pacing and looked at me. I saw an idea come to his head and knew immediately I wouldn’t like it. He was up the ladder and back with a paper and pen in hand before I could even think about escaping after him. He shoved the pen into my hand and pulled me roughly to the floor. His hand grabbed my wrist and forced my hand over the paper.
“I need you to write something for me,” he began. “I need you to write that Kyle has you hostage and you need someone to save you.”
Horror coursed through me, and I tried to get away. Bryan’s grip on me was iron and I was unable to move.
“Write it!” he screamed at me. His nails dug into my wrist. Tears fell onto the paper and I found myself writing. One of his nails broke skin and a single drop of blood fell onto the paper as I finished. He ripped away my finished product and bounded up the ladder.
I curled up on the floor holding my wrist as the ladder and light disappeared. I’d sentenced Kyle to prison because I was too weak to resist. “I’m sorry!” I screamed to him, even though he couldn’t hear me. “I’m sorry!”
I couldn’t believe this was actually happening to me. I was a good person. All I had ever wanted to do was play the piano. Aside from school and “friends”, piano was my life.
I didn’t see Bryan the rest of the day or the next morning.
As Bryan was at school the following day, he gave me a play-by-play as often as he could via microphone. Kyle was being attacked on every corner. Bryan made sure to be there for the most vicious attacks. Kyle was the only thing people were talking about. It was no longer sadness over me, but anger over Kyle.
During fourth period, Bryan asked if he might use the hall pass. He was going to the locker room, he explained to me as he walked down the hall. It was football period and he was going to plant my note in Kyle’s locker, thus adequately framing him for my disappearance.
When he entered the locker room I could almost smell the sweat coming through the radio. “Let’s see,” Bryan wondered aloud for my benefit, “which one of these lockers is Kyle’s. Oh,” he exclaimed, “it must be that one over there with ‘I hate you’ and ‘murderer’ written all over in permanent marker.” My heart clenched.
“Now we take out the note,” he continued, “and slip it—.”
“What are you doing!?” I heard Kyle’s voice come in. I could practically see Bryan standing at the locker with the note only partway in.
“I was,” Bryan stammers, “I was just—.”
Kyle didn’t let him finish. I heard Bryan being cut short as he’s slammed into the lockers. I heard the sound of paper unfolding. Kyle began to read, “’To whomever finds this note. Help. This is Jen—,’” Kyle’s voice cracked here, and he had to stop and take a breath before continuing. “Jennifer Goodwin. Kyle is holding me hostage. I don’t know where. Please find me.’”
There was a long pause. I imagined Kyle looking at the smudges left by my tear and also looking at the blood.
“Where is she?” Kyle asked so quiet I can barely make it out.
Bryan doesn’t respond.
“I know this is her handwriting! Where is she, Mitchell?!”
When Bryan spoke, his voice was calm, “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Mitchell!” Kyle roared.
“Wait,” Kyle comments, thinking, “you were talking to yourself when I walked in here. You’re bugged aren’t you?” It was more of a statement than an actual question question. “Jen? Can you hear me?”
My breath caught. He was talking to me.
“It’s going to be alright, okay? Hang in there, I’ll find you.”
He stopped talking as I heard a crash followed by a groan. Next I heard running feet as Bryan ran away. No more talking to me, no more joking around. I knew Bryan was coming to take me away. It was earlier than he’d planned, but sometimes you have to make do with what you’ve got, and his window of time was rapidly narrowing.
Ten minutes later, the trap door opened and Bryan descended, duck tape in hand. He was all business. He looked around but didn’t see me. I watched him run to bathroom door and yank at it. Locked. He began yelling for me to come out. I stood up quietly from behind the couch and moved to the ladder. I launched myself up it, knowing speed was now more important than stealth.
I’d barely climbed out of the hole when a hand reached out and grabbed my ankle. I kicked at but to no avail. Bryan was on top of me, gagging and duck tapping my mouth as well as my hands. He lifted me to my feet, and led me none so gently to the door. He threw it open and pushed me ahead of him outside. I tried screaming, despite the duck tape, as he escorted me to his car.
He froze. I looked up from my efforts to see Kyle standing 15 feet away watching slack-jawed.
Before Bryan had time to react, I went limp, becoming deadweight in his arms. My maneuver distracted Bryan, giving Kyle adequate time to attack Bryan. And he took it.
Kyle jumped at Bryan as if all the food had vanished in the world, and Bryan was holding a pizza.
I heard police sirens and saw squad cars pulling up in front of Bryan’s house. Kyle climbed off of the dazed Bryan as police officers swarmed the property.
While this was happening I’d managed to escape the duck tape again. I’d just ripped it off my face when I was suddenly, as if by magic, enfolded in Kyle’s arms, and it was all over.
As my life continues from this point on, there is one thing I will never do again: leave a fortune unfulfilled.