26 Jun

The rain was pelting down as I ran from my car through the glass doors into the cosy interior of the college canteen for my first cup of coffee to start my day. I was on an adventure of learning at thirty-two years of age and nine years out of university. Josh, my boss had offered to enrol me on a digital marketing course in the interest of bringing his antiquated business into the twenty-first century. I had no complaints until the rain started falling several days ago without ceasing and my underground parking at the office was exchanged for an open car park twenty meters from the door I had just entered. Shaking off the raindrops that evaded my umbrella, I composed myself and headed for the counter to order my coffee.

Jess was sitting in her usual spot at the window gazing out at the falling rain. Shoulders hunched, both hands holding the warm mug of steaming brew. Putting my satchel on the chair opposite her, she never turned to smile and greet me as she usually did. I put it down to the fact that it was the day of our first assessment and that she was mulling over the issues that were bothering her the day before. The coffee queue was longer than usual and by the time I got back to the table, Jess was gone. I decided to head to the lecture room and see if she was there. I had met up with Jess here again after not seeing her since our school days. We hardly recognised each other at first. My brother Rick had dated Jess for a few months in high school and we had always enjoyed each other’s company back then.

She was not in her usual seat and not in any other seat either. The lecture would start in five minutes, so I sat and waited for Jess to show up. The hall filled up at the last minute as usual and still, there was no sign of her. This was very strange. She had been in the canteen, so she should have been in the lecture hall by now. I couldn’t focus during the assessment and could not wait to get out and find her.

Her voicemail told me to leave a message and have a great day. That was not happening right now. I swung by the canteen on my way out, but she wasn’t there. I had to get back to work straight after class, but I needed to know why Jess had disappeared like that. I couldn’t fathom why she had disappeared, but I felt super uneasy about it. I dialled her number again as I eased into the driver’s seat. Her voicemail told me to have a great day. I haven’t left a voice message since who knows when and wasn’t going to start now. I never listen to mine and I’m pretty sure no one else does either nowadays. Except for my mother, that is. Apparently, she has left over a hundred for me and I get to hear about each one every time we see each other. As I pulled out of the parking bay, I noticed that Jess’s Honda was still parked two bays down. Reversing back into the vacant bay my thoughts were racing. She never pitched in the lecture hall, isn’t taking calls and hasn’t left the campus. Well at least, not in her Honda. What’s going on? Where do I start looking?

I need a coffee before I do anything. It will help me calm down and figure out what to do next. I know she was nervous about the assessment because her boss had threatened her about losing her job if she failed. Jess worked for her aunt who had given her the job despite her lack of experience as a favour for Jess’s mother. Now she was finding it really difficult to fit into the role and afraid that she would let her mother down. My phone buzzed. My boss was asking me to swing by his house and pick up his laptop on my way back to the office. That was not what I needed to hear right now. I couldn’t just sit here, I had to do something. I looked around for a familiar face. The other students were a lot younger than Jess and I, so we hadn’t made friends with any of them, other than to greet one another. It just made my job that much more difficult.

I had a hunch that Jess could be in the Ladies bathroom. I would find a random girl and ask her to go in for me and see if Jess was there. How do I ask a stranger to look for a friend in a bathroom when they don’t even know what she looks like? Wait, I have a photo on my phone. A selfie we took being silly about showing my brother who I had started dating. Now, all I needed was a willing accomplice. My desperation grew as I headed towards the Ladies bathrooms and didn’t see anyone around. The hallway was deserted when I got there. I banged on the door, opened it a crack and called Jess’s name into the tiny opening.

“Sorry, I’m alone in here.”

I decided to wait for her to come out and ask her if all of the cubicles were vacant. She confirmed my fears and compounded my despair. Where to now? I had no clue, but I knew I had to do something. I tried her phone again. I was told to have a great day.

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