It was almost four in the afternoon. when Rafferty gave up on Mia coming over and called her, but she didn’t answer. By five, he was worried enough to go out in the freezing cold to look for her. As he waited for his car to warm up, he called her again and sent a text in hopes that she would respond. But there was no answer, and the text went unanswered before he got into his car and drove to the church.
But when he got there, the parking lot was completely empty with no Jeep in the lot, or any other vehicle either. Next, he drove past her apartment, and that was where he found her Jeep parked just down the block. It was the same place it had been parked most of the week.
Parking his truck closer to her building, he went up to her place, which was unlocked. But her apartment was dark and empty. No signs of her at all. Not even her car keys were in the bowl she usually kept them in.
Trying not to panic, he wanted to text her friends, but did any of them even know they were seeing each other? He didn’t think so. This morning she didn’t seem too interested in telling anyone, and since she wasn’t telling, neither was he. So far, he hadn’t even told Anderson, who in the last year had turned into one of his closest friends.
He still couldn’t believe she was in his bed on New Year’s Eve. Nor could he believe that she was still in his bed two weeks later. And not only was she in his bed but also in his life every day. He loved coming home to her cooking in his kitchen. She had even rearranged it, which made him laugh since she was the one who put all his stuff away in the first place.
In the evenings, he loved to watch movies with her on the couch—he hadn’t moved it since she had said it needed to be facing the fireplace. Each night, she usually fell asleep watching the movie but woke up to go upstairs to bed. At that point, they would make love and fall asleep in each other’s arms. Then the next day, they would do it all over again.
The biggest issue he had with the entire setup was that she didn’t seem to want to tell anyone what was going on. They hadn’t talked about it, but when Anderson didn’t say anything at work after book club, he knew she hadn’t told her friends.
He hated that she didn’t want anyone to know. Why didn’t she want anyone to know? The marriage thing was okay to keep secret, but they were dating. What was wrong with them dating?
With her apartment empty, he drove through the streets, aimlessly looking for her. But he didn’t even know what he was looking for since her Jeep was on Main Street. Torn between angry and worried, he kept calling her, kept texting her.
Circling back to Main Street, he parked in front of her building to wait. Once again, he texted her and called her, but there was still no response to either one. Sitting in his pickup, he saw lights on at Ruth and Anderson’s apartment, but not Mia’s. Next door, the TV was on at her cousin Mandy’s place next to Mia’s, and though the lights were out, he could see the flickering of the TV in the window.
He tried telling himself that she was just visiting someone and not looking at her phone. But it had been close to three hours since he had first texted her. Three of the longest hours of his life.
It was full dark now, and his truck was getting cold, but he didn’t want to attract attention by letting it run. Every once in a while, he would leave and drive past his place to see if she showed up. She never did.
At close to eight, he looked from one occupied apartment to the other. Ruth and Anderson or Mandy? Deciding that since it was Mandy’s apartment and Mia had been so concerned about on New Year’s, he would see if she knew where Mia was.
Getting out of his truck, he went up the stairs and knocked on Mandy Nordskov’s door. He knew the nurse, but he didn’t know her very well since she was years older than him, and she had only recently returned to town. As far as he could remember, they had only had a conversation or two since then. And he knew trying to explain why he was looking for Mia would be awkward.
To his disbelief, it was Mia who opened the door, and the words out of her mouth were, “Mandy?”
“Nope,” he said with relief. Mia was safe; she wasn’t frozen somewhere. Then relief turned to anger. “Where have you been?”
“I’ve been waiting for Mandy. Nobody can find her,” Mia explained, her eyes darting behind him in case Mandy was in the hallway as well.
“She’s not the only one. Why didn’t you answer my texts?” He pushed into the dark apartment.
“I was waiting for Mandy,” She waved at the room behind her.
“There isn’t enough extra time in waiting to tell me you’re alive?” he questioned as he rubbed his hands together to warm them up.
“I can’t let you distract me. I let her down. I wasn’t there when she needed me.” Mia sat heavily on the kitchen chair as tears started to fall.
“How am I a distraction?” he asked in confusion.
“Because I was supposed to keep an eye on her, check on her, but I was too busy with you. Wasting my time with you.” She buried her face in her hands .
“Wasting your time?” he asked in disbelief. Had she really said that? The happiest time of his life had been a waste of her time?
“Just leave, Rafferty.” She dropped her hands and glared at him.
“What?” He had finally found her, and she was sending him away.
“Just leave. Go to your blonde and leave me alone.” She waved at the door, dismissing him.
“What blonde? What are you talking about?” He had lost the focus of this entire conversation.
She just glared at him, “Everybody knows you’re dating a blonde from Norden.”
“I am not.” He defended himself from the rumors that even he had heard. But Mia should know better since he had been spending all his time with her. Every moment he wasn’t working, he was with her.
“Liar,” she hissed at him, not being rational.
“I haven’t dated anyone since we got married. Hell, even months before that.” Rafferty told her the truth. Hell, not since this time last year, when he decided he wanted Mia and that he needed to stop wasting time on women who don’t mean anything to him.
“Bull,” she barked and turned her back on him.
“You’re the one who has been dating, Mia, not me!” he yelled, because he was still pissed about her going on that date.
His words rang though the room as her phone went off in her hand.
She looked at the screen and immediately answered the call. “Mandy, where are you? I’ve been trying to call, and you don’t answer …” He couldn’t hear what Mandy said on the other end of the call, but Mia’s face showed lines of concern. “Mandy, really. I’m not taking that for an answer. I’m calling your mom.” Mia turned away from Rafferty.
Again, Mia was silent as her cousin spoke on the other end.
“Okay. I’ll try.” Mia’s voice was calmer than before.
Maybe her concern for Mandy had equaled his concern for Mia. And now that Mandy had been found, Mia will relax.
Mia listened for a few more seconds, then dropped the phone from her ear. Turning back to him, she stated calmly. “I have to organize a group phone call now. I’d like you to leave and stay away from me. Enjoy your blonde.”
With her words, she rushed out of the apartment, only taking a moment to grab her jacket. Watching her leave, he stood there, stunned. Had she said that? Couldn’t she see this rumor for what it was?
Turning off the TV she had left on in her haste to leave, he followed her down the stairs and across the street. Today, she was quick, and he couldn’t catch her before she went up the stairs to Ruth and Anderson’s apartment.
Cursing, he turned and went to his pickup and took off. Driving the short few blocks to his place, he wondered why she was willing to believe he was cheating on her, even when he was with her every minute.
What was it going to take to get her to trust him? How could a rumor be enough to kick him out of her life without letting him defend himself? Why couldn’t she see that he was madly in love with her? And had been for a long time.