The four-wheeler tilts dangerously as Beca slides to a halt at the foot of the porch stairs, but she just lets that carry her sideways and off of it, staggering a few crooked steps. She leaves it running and hops up the stairs to wrench the door open.
Chloe’s in her arms before she can fully clear the threshold, her face buried in Beca’s neck. She can’t tell if it’s tears or sweat running down her neck, but she holds on tightly either way. “Chlo.”
“Jesse’s called the police. They’re headed to his house,” Mamma says, coming over to rub a hand down Chloe’s shaking back. In her other hand, she’s holding the keys to her car. She passes them to Beca. “Take it. Be safe.”
“Thanks, Mamma Beale.”
“Just Mamma, Beca.” She leans in and presses her lips to Beca’s temple, then to Chloe’s hair, and releases them.
Beca hooks her thumb in the back of Chloe’s collar and tugs gently. “Come on. Let’s go.”
Chloe straightens, nodding even as tears fall from her eyes.
“Come on,” Beca says again, even though Chloe is following now. Mickey is sitting at the kitchen table and Beca gets her first good look at him. At the way his hands shake and his nose shifts like he’s sniffing even when he doesn’t make a noise. He’s staring at the kitchen window. And Beca thinks she gets what’s going on here, but she pushes that aside. Aubrey first.
Stacie and Emily catch up to them at the car and they all pile in. Beca starts up the car and looks to Chloe. “Tell me where to go.”
She looks away from the air vent, where she’d been fixated, and blinks once. Then nods. “Take a left out of the driveway.”
The ride is quiet. A few quick questions from Stacie and Emily. A few hopeful suggestions for where she could be. A soft, “We’ll find her, guys” from Stacie as she squeezes Chloe’s shoulder.
At some point, Chloe picks up Beca’s hand and holds it tight. Only then does Beca realize she’s still covered in drying mud and grass. Chloe spends half the ride picking the blades from her skin and dropping them to the floor of the passenger seat.
“Last house before the docks,” Chloe says and Beca nods, tapping her forefinger against Chloe’s palm once. She didn’t really have to tell her that part. There are two cop cars sitting in front of the house. Aubrey’s car is in the driveway.
She parks in the street, behind one of the cruisers, and they climb out, hurrying to the door.
Chloe knocks, then pushes it open, apparently unable to wait for it to be answered.
Jesse is sitting on the living room couch, his hair standing straight up, like he’d been running his hands through it repeatedly. One cop, a small, tan woman with dark hair cropped close to her scalp on the sides and dyed blonde and styled on top, is sitting beside Jesse and scribbling furiously in a notebook.
Another officer, this one tall and thin with her short brown hair pushed back behind her ears, is leaning over the kitchen counter to look out the window at the driveway.
Jesse leaps up when they enter, opening his arms just before Chloe barrels into them. She pulls away quickly.
“Have you found her?” Chloe’s shaking, so Jesse keeps his arm around her shoulders. Beca moves to her other side and catches his eye. He gives her a quick smile and she nods back.
“No,” the officer at the kitchen window says, straightening up and coming over. “We’re still trying to figure out what’s even happened here. I’m Officer Calamity.” She shakes Chloe’s hand, then reaches for Beca’s.
“Ah,” Beca holds up her hands, one significantly less grassy than the other now. “We were riding four-wheelers when we got the call. We haven’t had time to uh, clean up.”
Officer Calamity nods, glancing at Emily and Stacie who are just as dirty as Beca. “You’re friends of Mr. Swanson?”
“And Aubrey,” Chloe says. She quickly introduces them and how they know Aubrey and Jesse as Beca takes a moment to look around the room.
It’s such a Jesse space, but there’s so clearly Aubrey’s touch everywhere. The shelves on either side of the TV are filled to bursting with DVDs, which is exactly how Jesse’s childhood room was set up, but she can see that they’re filed alphabetically now. There’s framed photos all across the far wall and she’d bet her life that Jesse was the one that suggested buying white and black frames and setting them up to look like piano keys lining the room. The desk in the corner is perfectly kept and covered in files and post-its written in careful type-like print that say things like, “Reset bear traps in west field” and “See about group from Google extending stay”. One, in a different, loopier handwriting, says, “Morning, I love you.” with a scribbled heart.
She looks up, realizing she had tuned out the conversation for a second and mentally kicking herself. This is important. “Yes?”
Officer Calamity glances at the other cop. (Officer Serenity, she thinks she heard). “Miss Beale said you’re childhood friends with Mr. Swanson. I asked how long you’ve known him.”
Beca tries to mentally calculate it, but gives up. She hates math. “Since first grade. We haven’t been in touch since high school, though.”
Officer Serenity looks down, writing quickly, and Beca has the strange sensation that she’s taking a test and failing. Her therapist used to do that too. Ask a question, listen, then write. And it used to set Beca off, shooting her anxiety through the roof. They’d learned quickly that Beca preferred she not take notes until the session was over, unless necessary.
She shoves her hands in her pockets, watching the pen tick back and forth.
“But you’re here for his wedding?” Officer Calamity has a tattoo along the side of her neck and Beca focuses on it as she answers, because the woman’s eyes are a strange light green that unsettles her. Some kind of script. She can't read it.
“Uh, yeah. I’m here with Chloe.”
“She’s my girlfriend.” Before Beca can protest, (not that she knows she would have) Chloe’s hand slips into Beca’s pocket and takes hers, pulling it out to thread their fingers together. “We live together in New York. She came as my date. We didn’t realize she knew Jesse until we were here.”
“Ah.” Officer Serenity looks up from her notes. “So you really didn’t keep in touch after high school, huh?”
Beca wants to slap her with her own notebook. “I don’t really do social media and no. We didn’t talk much at all.” The guilt of that rises again in her stomach and she resists glancing apologetically at Jesse.
“What does this have to do with Aubrey?” Emily says, her voice quiet and squeaking when Officer Calamity’s gaze sweeps to her.
She shrugs, hooking her thumbs in her gun belt. Her hands are also covered in tattoos. “We’re just gathering all the information we can.” She turns back to Beca briefly, then says to the room at large, “Can you all tell me the last time you saw Miss Posen?”
“Last night,” they all say, almost in unison.
Chloe clears her throat and continues. “Last night. We went to Jesse’s parents’ house for dinner, then all the girls went back to my family’s house to watch a movie.”
Officer Serenity stands up as Officer Calamity wanders away to look at the DVD collection. Beca fights the urge to glare after her. How can she admire Jesse’s stupid collection while a woman could be in trouble somewhere? Officer Serenity taps her pen against her wrist, watching them. “So, Miss Beale. When, exactly, is the last time you saw Miss Posen?”
Chloe takes a deep breath, glancing at the ceiling for a moment. “Last night around...eleven thirty, maybe? We were watching a movie and then…” She shakes her head a little. “I had a family emergency and we ended the movie night. Aubrey left while I went to handle that.”
“That’s the last time any of us saw her, right?” Emily says, glancing at Stacie, who has been strangely quiet. Stacie just nods.
Officer Serenity scribbles for a moment. “What kind of family emergency?”
“My-my brother showed back up. He’s been gone for a few years and we’re not on the best terms.” Chloe’s grip on her hand tightens.
Beca squeezes back.
“Can you give us a more certain time that she left?”
Everyone pauses, glancing at each other. “Uh.” The attention swivels to Beca and she swallows, pulling out her phone and scrolling through her messages quickly. “Eleven forty-seven.”
Officer Calamity looks up from the copy of Jaws she’s pulled from the shelf.
Officer Serenity stops scribbling. “That’s very specific.”
Beca shrugs, waving her phone. “I walked her to her car when she left. And as she was pulling out, I texted Jesse that she was on her way home. Just in case.” The room is quiet and it makes Beca’s stomach twist. Everyone is looking at her. “What?”
Officer Serenity holds up her hands, like she’s surrendering, and Beca glances at the scribbled black lines in her notebook. It’s too cramped to read. “We’re just trying to establish a timeline, ma’am. It’s good that you have a specific time.”
“Mr. Swanson,” Officer Calamity says, sliding Jaws back into its place. “You said her work and relatives haven’t heard from her?”
Jesse blinks. His eyes are red-rimmed and wide. His hand flutters off Chloe’s shoulder and into his own hair. “I mean, it’s just her father. And he’s overseas. Military.” He pushes out a quick breath through his nose. “But he said he hasn’t heard from her in a few days. So, no. If she had just gone somewhere, she would have told one of us, at least.” He motions to Chloe and himself. “Aubrey doesn’t just go places. It’s not who she is.”
Officer Serenity speaks to her notebook, head tucked back down. “Not who she is or not how you guys work?”
It’s like Jesse’s been slapped across the face. He even turns red. “What?”
“It’s not who she is,” Stacie says, stepping forward suddenly. She draws herself up to her full height and Beca wonders if she usually slouches, because she seems to take up the whole room now. Even covered in dried mud, she commands attention. She fixes Officer Serenity with a steady gaze. “She grew up with a general for a father and a mother who was OCD and distant when Aubrey didn’t do exactly what she was told to do. So she checks in. She plans trips to the last dotted ‘I’ and crossed ‘T’. She lays out her outfit for work the night before. Disappearing isn’t who she is.”
The room is silent. Officer Serenity’s eyes narrow, skipping across each of them, and Beca does her very best not to glare back.
Stacie isn’t done though. “So, she’ll be entered into NCIC within the hour, yes?”
Both officers blink and straighten up. It takes a second, but Beca suddenly understands what Stacie’s saying and everything starts to click into place. She glances at the others and finds them staring blankly at Stacie, but Officer Serenity slaps her little notebook closed.
“Yes, ma’am.” Officer Calamity nods once, stepping back.
“Good. We’ll give you our information and you can call any one of us if you find anything.”
Stacie leads the way, giving them her full name and phone number. The address where she’s staying. And Beca, Chloe, and Emily follow suit. It feels like she blinks and the officers are leaving, Stacie shutting the door behind them.
She sighs, peering through the little diamond-shaped window in the door. Then she turns to face them. “Fuck.”
Beca leans over the kitchen sink, scrubbing her face.
All those shows on ID had given her a little idea what was happening. She knew what Stacie had meant by NCIC. She knew the officers had been digging to see if Jesse was controlling in his relationship with Aubrey. She had even figured Jesse would be a suspect. He’s the soon-to-be spouse. A woman goes missing, that’s always the first person the police look at. But it’s insane. It’s Jesse. Once, when they were in high school, he accidentally stole someone else's pencil case and he spent the whole weekend freaking out about it. He ended up baking muffins and returning the case with a basket of the damn things. She turns off the water, letting her face drip over the basin for a moment. A towel flops over her arm and she looks up, blinking. Chloe smiles, though it doesn’t reach her eyes. Beca grips her wrist for a moment before she starts to dry off her face and arms.
“Don’t worry, Jesse,” Stacie says from the living room, patting her own face and arms dry. “They’ll figure out quickly enough you have nothing to do with this. And we’ll find her. Plus, Beca." She looks up. "You've got an alibi, right?"
Beca blinks. Oh shit. "Yeah, I was with Chloe."
"Alibi?" Chloe glances between them. "What did I miss?"
Stacie gives a quick sigh, rubbing her chin with the heel of her palm. "Beca was the last person to see Aubrey. She's going to be a suspect if they determine Aubrey isn't just hiding out at a resort somewhere. It makes sense, but you've got an alibi."
Externally, she just rolls her eyes and leans back against the counter. Internally, she's already seething. These cops are going to waste time looking into her and Jesse, of all people, while Aubrey is missing.
Jesse nods, bouncing on the balls of his feet, like a runner preparing for a sprint. “Okay, but what was that NCIS stuff?”
“NCIC,” Stacie corrects. “It’s a database for all law enforcement to use. It’s things like the sex offender registry, protection orders, foreign fugitives. It’s what cops run your license plate through when they stop you, to see if the vehicle is reported stolen or anything. All missing persons are added to it within two hours of them being reported missing.”
Jesse stares at her. Chloe and Emily look at each other. Beca wipes water from her neck. “Did you guys forget she’s got a Bachelors in Criminal Justice and Criminal Psychology?” She watches all three of their faces rapidly change.
“I-I totally knew that. I just--”
“I’m sorry, Stacie!”
“Jeez,” Stacie pouts, lips quirking up in a half smile. “Who would have thought Beca would remember my shit? I went to college with you guys.”
Jesse sighs, returning the almost smile. “I’m sorry, Stacie. I’m just.” He drops onto the couch, his head falling into his hands. “What do we do? I’ve-I’ve called all the hospitals around here and everyone I could think of that she might have talked to...” He laughs suddenly and it’s such a strange sound to hear right now that Beca jumps. Jesse picks his head up. “If Aubrey were here, she’d know exactly what to do.”
Beside her, Chloe exhales loudly. Beca tries to think of something to say besides the stupid facts she’s learned from watching Investigation Discovery.
The first 48 hours are the most essential. After that, the possibility of the missing being dead goes up exponentially.
There’s an estimated 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally.
Ariel Castro kept his victims chained up in his basement for years.
So she says nothing, just stares down at her dirty outfit self-consciously.
“It’s going to be okay.” Stacie is speaking again and Beca looks up, crossing her arms over her chest just to have something to do with them. It dirties her just cleaned skin, but she doesn’t care. “You filed the report, right?” Jesse nods. “They came out, did a basic look at the house and car, I assume. Did you give them a picture?”
“Yeah.” Jesse motions to the frames on the wall. One is empty, Beca sees. “From last summer. The one in her green dress.”
Beca doesn’t know the picture, but the other girls all nod. Chloe takes a ragged breath and slips her fingers between Beca’s crossed arms, holding on.
Stacie nods, drawing herself up again. “Okay. They’ll do a bare minimum search. Go check out her work and places she normally hangs out. Friends' houses. The easy things to check into. Meanwhile, we--” She ticks her finger around the room. “We will go home. Shower. Call the other girls. And we will search too.”
But Jesse’s shaking his head. “It’s-She--” He stops, visibly collecting himself. “She wouldn’t just go somewhere. This is--”
“I know,” Stacie says over him. “But we’ll look anyways. Maybe she just caught a cab to the spa because she was feeling lazy and forgot her phone. Maybe she went for a jog and sat down somewhere and fell asleep. It could be anything.”
None of them respond right away and Beca knows they’re all thinking the same thing. Hell, she barely knows Aubrey, but it feels funky to her. Like a beat that doesn’t belong in the song, crashing the melodies together too hard and ruining the sound. But nobody seems to want to say it. So she doesn’t either.
“Come on.” She pushes off the counter with her spine, unfolding her arms only once Chloe has released her. “You heard the lady. We’ve got a plan. Let’s go.”
“I’ll come with you.” Jesse stands.
Beca nods curtly and turns to lead the way out of the house. Jesse goes to his car, parked beside Aubrey’s in the driveway, and the girls pile into Mamma’s car, dusting off the seats pointlessly before sitting. As she turns the key, though, Chloe says it.
“Guys.” Her voice shakes. “Has Aubrey been kidnapped?”
The backseat is quiet. Theory of a Deadman plays low on the radio. Jesse backs out past them and takes off.
Beca puts the car back in park and reaches over to grab the back of Chloe’s neck. She wants to make sure Chloe’s looking at her for this. That she understands this is more than a platitude. It’s a promise. Chloe’s eyes are wide and wet and she blinks quickly as Beca pulls her closer, until they’re breathing the same air. “Chloe. It doesn’t matter what happened. We’re going to find her. And she’s going to go back to alphabetizing Jesse’s DVDs and chastising Stacie for groping herself in public and annoying me by calling you at eight in the morning to talk about outfits or, or--” The corner of Chloe’s mouth is turning up, so Beca plows on. “Or about how she thinks you need a less bitchy roommate. And she’ll be rounding up the Bellas like a goddamn sheepdog on crack.” Stacie snorts in the backseat. Chloe presses her lips together, her eyes tracking across Beca’s face. There’s a wrinkle between her eyebrows now and it’s the same one she gets when she sees a puppy on the street. “Besides, I barely know her, but I know Aubrey Posen would maul anything that tried to keep her from her wedding day. She seems like a bridezilla, no offense.”
“Truth,” Emily says unexpectedly and Stacie bursts into laughter, shaking the whole car. She reaches out and grabs Emily’s hand, pulling it into her own lap as she laughs.
Chloe wraps gentle fingers around Beca’s wrist, smiling softly. Beca returns it, lifting an eyebrow. Chloe nods and turns her head to place a quick kiss against Beca’s wrist.
“Alright.” Beca squeezes the back of Chloe’s neck once and takes her hand back. “Let’s go find her.”