Two months. That’s how long he’s been gone. I last saw him in June and now it’s the middle of August.
I’ve always been the resilient type. I’ll get through this. I got through Dad walking out on us, all of Mom’s subsequent marriages and divorces. The constant screaming matches she’d get in with them.
And how did I get through that? Books. Books filled with spirits and magic and other worlds. Vampires and werewolves, sea serpents and dragons, witches and ghosts.
That’s what I’ll do, I decide. I’ll head straight to the library after work.
I glance around the office; my friend Mia and her husband Desmond are on their honeymoon. Ordinarily, Mia would get me out of my head, but today my only company is the tick-tick of the clock and the rhythm of keyboard keys. The cubicles are cramped but I feel so isolated. The air conditioner is broken, so the Hawaiian summer heat is threatening to suffocate me at any moment.
I was Mia’s Maid of Honor when Gabe disappeared. When I wasn’t scanning news reports for traces of him or asking people when they last heard from him, I searched for wedding gifts and designed invites to her bridal shower.
“You don’t have to, if you don’t want to,” she said one month after he went missing. We sat on my apartment couch. Mia had brought me my favorite chocolates. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, and helping plan someone else’s wedding is probably the last thing you want to be doing right now. If you don’t want to look at wedding dresses together or listen to me ramble about wedding planning, I understand.”
“No!” I shook my head. “You and Desmond have waited so long for this. After everything you two have been through, I don’t want to miss a thing. I ache for Gabe and fear whatever has happened to him, but that doesn’t mean I’m not happy for you. I’m mournful and hopeful all at once, but I am wholly delighted for you, believe me.”
“You’re very brave, Madison,” Mia said, grasping my hand. “You’re going to be fine, no matter what happens. I’m sure of it.”
Shaking myself out of my reverie, I look at the office clock; only twenty more minutes of this. But fuck it, I don't have any more clients today, and I need to kill the monotony before it kills me.
I sneak out of Mantle’s Money Management with only a wink and a goodbye from Lily Wong, the receptionist, before I leave. The sun beats down my back as I walk through the tourist-filled streets of Honolulu to the nearest library. I’ve been going here every other day since he's disappeared. The librarians and I are on a first name basis. The one behind the desk today looks up when the little silver bell on the door sings as I push it open, announcing my entrance.
“There she is again,” she clucks.
I force a laugh as I absorb the sanctuary. The silent sound of books is the sound of my escape. The spines that fill the towering oak shelves soothe me on sight. I head over to my favorite section; paranormal romance. Every time I pick one up, it's like he’s talking to me through the pages. Other romance novels don’t have this effect; just the paranormal ones. I flip through crisp pages of daydreams hotter than summer and settle on a vampire-themed one. The librarian—Healani—winks at me as she gazes at the bare white abs and heaving bosom on the cover. I smirk as she hands me back my library card and thank her when I leave. I read on the bus ride back to my apartment, hoping to forget what I’m missing, when the chapter I’m on begins at a wedding and I put it down.
Mia and Desmond married at Turtle Bay Resort. Aquamarine waves splashed against the white sand as I stood alongside the other bridesmaids. The air smelled of sea salt and pikake flowers. The wind rustled as Mia and Desmond walked arm in arm down to the bamboo archway. Despite the deplorable lack of attractive plus-size dresses at most of the bridal boutiques we had visited, after much trial and error, Mia found the one she deserved. Thin straps, with a scalloped bodice and a soft tulle skirt with pearl-embellished floral appliqués. She smiled at me as she handed me her bouquet. She looked ethereal.
I didn’t hear the words the officiant said or the vows Mia and Desmond exchanged. The pure euphoria on their faces drowned out anything else.
It wasn’t until the reception that I saw my missing plus-one everywhere. Mia had invited me to sit with her and Desmond at the head table, which meant I didn’t have to sit alone with mostly strangers at my previous table with Gabe in the seating chart. But as Desmond fed her cake, I saw Gabe doing the same to me, in a world where he never left. Mia and Desmond had their first dance, and I pictured the two of us waltzing across the floor. I felt him whispering sweet nothings and congratulations in my ear after I gave my maid of honor speech. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore; I fled the reception about half an hour early.
I was happy for them and with the festivities; I loved sitting with my best friend on one of the biggest days of her life. But my longing for Gabe overcame me and I had to leave, before Mia glimpsed my tears.
I drove out of sight and pulled over. I cried. But I wasn’t just sad, I was enraged. Gabe would never just abandon me like this, something must have happened. And I would find whoever was responsible.
The investigation wall I’ve hung by my TV looks like something out of a cop show. Strands of yarn connect newspaper clippings and sticky notes together. I always wanted to make one of these as a kid. It’s just a shame I couldn’t be using it now for a more lighthearted purpose. Making it with Mia had been fun, at least.
I had last updated it with notes from the private investigator I contacted after I realized that neither the police in France nor the police in Hawaii could solve this one. Gabriel Delacroix had left to visit his family in Paris two months ago and never returned home. His family last saw him when he left to take a walk one night an never heard from him again. He couldn’t have just up and left, we all agreed. Gabe would never. So what did that leave? Kidnapping, blackmail, maybe even—no, I refuse to consider that last possibility.
Detective Fleur Montoya. Name means flower hill when translated from French and Spanish into English, which is fitting since she’s a florist as well as a P.I. She’s not much older than me but she’s acquired an impressive caseload. From causing Paris’ divorce rate to spike from all the affairs she uncovered to getting stalkers and abusers behind bars, she has a formidable resume. Only, since she’s still a newcomer she doesn’t charge that much, hence her running a flowership by day and moonlighting as a P.I. Luckily, her lower fees mean I can afford her on an accountant salary.
I pick up the phone and call her.
“Bonjour, c’est Fleur Montoya. Comment puis-je vous aider?”
“C’est Madison qui appelle.”
“Ah, Madison!” She switches languages like a flip of a dime. “I was meaning to call you. I’ve found something that could be…promising.”
My belly flip flops and my body feels light. “Yes?”
“A man by the name of Raphael Alarie lived a few blocks Gabriel’s family’s house and was confirmed to have been in the neighborhood the night he dissapeared.”
“What about him is so notable?” My heart pounds.
“Raphael Alarie is…someone I used to know. He is charming, but there is more to him than meets the eye. I do not yet know if he is involved in your beau’s dissapearence, but it is a possibility I am looking into. I am calling to say that if this man reaches out to you, you do not interact. ”
“Is he dangerous?” I suck in my breath. What could he have done to Gabe?
“Not necessarily,” she says slowly. “He does not intend to harm, but he is capable of so many things. Dark things. And this is not the first time he has been in the area when people have disappeared.”
“I don’t understand,” I interject. “Being in the area when people disappear? There must have been lots of people in the area who had nothing to do with it. What makes you think this man was involved instead of in the wrong place at the wrong time?”
“I have known him, personally.” She speaks so low I have to lean into the speaker just to hear her. “He does not mean to harm anyone, but trouble follows him wherever he goes, and it impacts the people around him.”
“I should go now.” She cuts me off. “I have said too much. Rest assured, madame, that I have a lead and I will get you your lover back. Until then, do not interact with Raphael Alarie. Please, I beg of you. Au revoir.” She hangs up.
I first met Gabriel Delacroix at a Barnes and Noble a few miles from me. I heard a paranormal literature book club held monthly meetings there. I’ve always loved the supernatural. Ghost stories, monster movies, paranormal romance, you name it. So, of course, I arrived at the first meeting about twenty minutes early.
I walked into the nook we’d meet in and saw him there. He sat by the window on a little blue couch, the afternoon sun reflecting off his fair skin and dark hair. His features were chiseled and his muscular arms peaked through his red t-shirt.
He glanced up from his phone and his steel blue eyes met mine.
“Hey.” He grinned, revealing a set of pearly white teeth. “Are you here for the book club?” He spoke with a hint of a French accent.
“Yeah.” I smiled as my heart fluttered. “I’m Madison, nice to meet you.”
He stood up. “I’m Gabriel.” He extended his hand out to shake my hand. “Likewise.”
The feel of his skin against mine sent a shiver down my spine. Our handshake lasted a moment longer than necessary before he moved his hand away, cheeks slightly pink.
“What did you think of Dracula?” I asked.
“It’s my favorite!” His face lit up like a Christmas tree. “This is my eighth time reading it.”
“It’s only my seventh,” I conceded.
He laughed and it bounced off the beige walls like ringing bells. “Would you like to join me?”
“Sure.” My hip touched his for the shortest moment as I sat on the couch and my face flushed.
We talked about the book until the meeting began, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him during it. And because I never stopped looking at him, I noticed he never stopped looking at me either.
We got coffee after. I asked him what he did for a living.
“I teach first grade at Royal Waikiki Elementary,” he said. “I’ve been there for about a year now. What about you?”
“I’m an accountant at Mantle Money Management,” I answered. “About a year too.”
“You must be good at math then,” he remarked. “I’m hopeless, I failed trigonometry—-twice.” He chuckled.
“What brings you to Hawaii, Gabriel?”
“Call me Gabe, please,” he said. “And I am here because I studied abroad at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. I loved the city and the island so much I decided to live here in Honolulu.”
“How did you get into paranormal lit?” I asked.
“Well, I always loved stories with otherworldly elements when I was a kid,” he began. “But I really got hooked when the Twilight books came out.”
“I love Twilight!” I exclaimed. “Who was your favorite character?”
We talked and talked and talked until the barista asked us to leave. We exchanged numbers and texted all night long.
He took me out to dinner that Friday and then took me to a rerun of Nosferatu at a movie theatre he knew that screened old movies.
My hand reached into the popcorn carton we were sharing right as his did. Our fingers brushed against each other for the slightest of seconds before he pulled away, pink faced even in the dark of the cinema. The next time he reached his hand in, my fingers brushed against his again. This time he didn’t move away.
The sheen from the big screen illuminated our hands, his pale and my dark in the glow of the theatre. I tried to pay attention to the film but the sight of it and the tingles that shook through my body from his touch held me mesmerized.
The lights flickered on and the film ended. His thumb traced small circles over my wrist. I looked into his eyes, those beautiful blue depths.
“Excuse me.” One of the custodians coughed and said something about us needing to leave as we jumped away from each other.
“Can I walk you home?” Gabriel asked as we left. “I’m not asking to come in, I just want to make sure you get home safe. And if you don’t want me to, I’d like to at least make sure you have a safe ride back. It’s getting late.”
I had never been spoken to with that kind of tenderness before. My mother loved me, I knew that, but she was seldom so explicit about how much she cared for me. Meanwhile, this man I had known for less than a week expressed such genuine concern for a girl he didn’t have anything to gain from. For me.
When we reached my door, he didn’t ask to kiss me. He just shook my hand and thanked me for a good time. Once again, his touch mesmerized me. Just a handshake and my body craved his.
It took a month more of talking and dating before I let him kiss me. It seemed all too good to be true. I had been on blind dates before and never heard from them again. This was different. Different from my parents’ marriage or any of my mother’s subsequent ones. I was afraid if we moved too fast it would spoil the magic. But it didn’t; it enhanced it.
The sun set over the island as we picnicked under the palm tree on the beach. He shined in the dusky glow.
“May I kiss you?” He asked me.
The waves crashed against the shore ever so gently and the pink hue of the sky surrounded us. If there was ever a time for my first kiss, it was now.
And he did. It was sweet and pure and all my anxieties drifted away in that one motion.
I toss and turn all night. Raphael Alarie, who are you? And why does Detective Montoya suspect you? I can’t take it anymore ; I climb out of bed and open my laptop. I find him fairly quickly. Raphael Alarie, age 29. Founder and manager of La Patisserie de l’Alarie, one of Paris’ highest ranked bakeries. He’s tall with pitch black hair and alabaster skin. Handsome and apparently a great chef, but nothing out of the ordinary about him. No criminal record. The only dirt I can find is a few bad reviews from people who didn’t like how long they waited for their desserts. Lots of photos of scrumptious looking macaroons and chocolate croissants, though.
I shut my laptop and force myself to go to sleep.
We’re on our last date together before he leaves for France. We sit at a table outside Island Shave Ice & Creamery, feeding each other ice cream. Tourists and residents alike pass us by, but all I see are the blues of his eyes.
“Come back soon,” I plead with puppy dog eyes and a pout.
“I will, mon coeur,” he murmurs. “Don’t you worry, my love. I will return as soon as I’ve had enough of my family. Which shouldn’t take too long, knowing how much I will be missing you.”
I lean in and kiss him. We stay suspended like this throughout time and space until the feel of my ice cream melting down from my spoon onto my hand breaks us apart. We laugh.
Then, the dream shifts. It’s no longer our last date, we’re in my bedroom now. My bookcase loaded with my paranormal favorites, my makeup table overflowing with glitter and gloss. He looms over me as I lay in my bed, and kisses my neck. I moan as he sucks down on it, soft and slow. It teases me, leaves me craving more. When I turn over to kiss him, to drag him into bed with me, he’s gone.
My alarm jolts me awake. I gasp, frantically. It had been so vivid; I could have sworn it was real. I wished it was real. I look around. The window I thought I had closed last night is open.
My heart stops. Could it be? I rush to the mirror over my makeup stand. My neck is as untouched as the driven snow.
I take deep, soothing breaths. I need to get to work.
Work that day was tedious. I enjoy helping people with their finances, but nothing particularly interesting that day cropped up. Just crunching the numbers. I gave the paranormal romance book I checked out yesterday another try and immersed myself in it on my lunch break, since Mia still wasn’t back yet.
I go to say goodbye to Lily when I see Aiden, our junior marketing representative, leaning over her with his hand on the desk.
“Come on,” he cajoles her. “It was just a joke, Lil.”
“Ooh, I love jokes.” I feign a smile at him. “Would you mind repeating it to me, Aiden?”
His cheeks flush. “It was nothing, don’t worry about it.”
“No, I insist,” I insist. “Whatever you said to me Lily I’m sure you can say to me.”
“Yeah, Aiden,” Lily perks up. “Why don’t you let Madison in on that joke you made just now?”
“Maybe we could even invite your supervisor over to hear it,” I suggest.
“I’ll be going now,” Aiden flushes. “Good day, Ladies.”
“Thanks, Madison,” Lily sighs after he leaves.
“No problem,” I assure her. “Have a good one.”
I read my book on the bus ride home until I reach my stop.
The white five-story building and green front lawn greet me and I remember how often he—damn it, no use beating around the bush, just say his name even though it stabs your heart: Gabe— would kiss me on the steps before we’d step inside.
I shake the memories away as I enter the lobby and walk up the stairs. My apartment door stands white against the green wall.
I’ve always been the resilient type, I remind myself as I turn my key in the door. I open it and find Gabriel Delacroix lying in my bed.