Darla growled angrily and stomped a foot to the ground. That stupid boy, always getting lost when she wasn’t holding his cute little hand. This was an anger that would get Kaden slapped when she found him, but only once, before she was all hugs and kisses again. That way, he wouldn’t want to hide from her, would he?
He loves hugs and kisses… she thought with resignation as she started backtracking through the dark neighborhood, pulling out her phone to dial him. But he’s earning a slap for this.
Darla didn’t know why Kaden kept getting lost so much lately; for as long as she’d known him, he’d never struck her as the type to space out and lose track of where he was, even at night. This was their neighborhood, for crying out loud, and she was already thinking of what to say when he finally answered his phone that she’d been ringing for a solid minute, reaching the last street corner she knew they’d been together at.
As she held the phone to her ear, pushing aside her long, black hair, Darla stopped at the street corner and glanced around in the dark, up and down the intersecting streets, no sign of movement other than some old guy walking his dog. She grunted again as the phone gave her everyone’s absolute favorite thing to hear when trying to get ahold of a missing person:
“We’re sorry, the person you’re trying to call, (and this part is delivered almost tauntingly in the person in question’s voice) Kaden Urstood, is not available. After the tone, please leave your message.
Darla closed the phone and shoved it in her annoyingly small pockets, folding her arms and leaning against a tall streetlamp as she thought about what to do next. She wasn’t used to him not answering his phone; he almost always did the first time, and if that didn’t work, the second time was sure to reach him. He hadn’t replied to her text message either.
Now it’s going to be two slaps, Darla decided as she set out further back, calling his name.
“Kaden! Kaden, where are you?”
After she had nearly come to another intersection, her phone started to ring.
“Hello?” she answered so fast she hadn’t even checked to see who it was from. But on the other end, she just heard more ringing, as if Kaden were in the room with someone whose phone was also ringing. There was no voice that answered her.
“Kaden?” she asked with a frown. “Who is this?”
After a few more moments of phone call sound-quality ringing, she lowered the phone from her ear and looked at the sender. The caller’s ID was a picture of her house with the name Home.
“What the hell…” she muttered, and hung up. As Darla scanned around the nighttime neighborhood once more, with still no sign of Kaden, the old man and his dog long gone, she started to get nervous. She lived in a nice part of town, and felt safe even as a 19-year old girl at night, but something about that phone call and her missing boyfriend was starting to get under her skin. She was already angry; she didn’t need fear to feed the fire.
Then, Darla heard a phone ringing. Not the one in her pocket; one that sounded far away, much further away than she should have been able to hear a simple phone ringing. But hear it she could, so Darla headed out after the noise, turning the corner and finding something even more out of place: her house.
Darla’s home was at least another few blocks away; had she only gotten this far away in her nighttime walk with Kaden? The house was in the wrong place, and none of the lights were on. On the porch, she saw the phone she’d heard ringing, vibrating hard against the welcome mat.
How can nobody hear that? Darla wondered as she crossed from the sidewalk to the porch and reached for the phone. She didn’t recognize it as Kaden’s, and she knew exactly what his phone looked like and what he did with it. But as her fingers closed around the small device’s case, it went silent, and as she lifted it to see the screen, it showed nothing but a single message in deep blue letters:
I’m inside. Please come inside. Slap me if you want. I don’t care.
After she read the message, the screen cracked in several places. Darla shrieked and threw it away into the bushes alongside the porch, where she had no intention of retrieving it before morning, if she didn’t make Kaden do it instead.
Three slaps, then. She thought, fuming as she punched in her door code and yanked it open.
Inside her house, Darla felt much better. She hadn’t realized how cold it was outside, and she really didn’t like being alone in the dark without Kaden. Now, where was he?
“Kaden!” she called as she turned on the lights, not very concerned with waking her parents. Darla could play her favorite movie climax themes on the huge grand piano if she wanted and they’d sleep right through it.
But the only answer she got was silence from the big house, except for a scratching sound from the kitchen that sounded like her dog Duff begging to be let out of his cage even though he and everyone else was supposed to be asleep. The front room was empty except for Darla and the furniture, everything neat and clean like she and Kaden had left it, so Darla decided to investigate, walking past the spiral staircase that led to the upper and lower house.
As she entered the kitchen, Darla flipped the light switch, watching the dog’s cage in the corner as she did so. Immediately as the lights came on, the scratching stopped, and there was nothing in the cage for Darla to see.
“Kaden!” she shouted again, louder than intended. Darla was glancing over her shoulder every now and then as she wandered through the kitchen, looking for Kaden as she made her way to the dog’s empty cage. She was starting to shake a little bit with nervous anger as she knelt down in front of the cage’s closed door, the only thing inside being Duff’s bed scattered with his fur. Looking closer, Darla saw Kaden’s wallet of all things nestled in the middle, and when she picked it up, she found that it was completely empty of money and ID cards. She still knew it was his just by the case, and she withdrew it from the cage and pocketed it for now.
The dog’s missing too, now. Darla seethed.They always kept Duff in his cage at night; he was never allowed out between nightfall and sunrise, so he didn’t poop on the floor or wake someone up.
That’s four slaps.
As Darla stood up, her phone buzzed a ton, as if several people were spamming her with messages at once or she’d just closed her laptop and the phone was catching up with every unread notification she’d gotten before doing so. She pulled it out and saw that half of the notifications were in the same blue text as the message on the loudly ringing porch phone, and the other half were in red. It didn’t say from the lock screen which chat they were in, and who was sending them, but when Darla unlocked the phone with a swipe of her finger, it opened straight to her chat messenger app of choice, in a chat with a nameless, pictureless person, even though the last place she’d been inside her phone had been the call app. Afraid it would go away if she exited out, Darla sat in a chair at the table and read the messages, starting at the top:
-Hey babe, woud you like to eat at rowdy’s or fullyoo
-I would, but could you help pay for it this time?
-I meant excuse me? Come on babe, you always pay 4 me
-That’s the problem
-Because i’d rather not pau for both of us everytime
Besides don’t you have money?? Your older than me
-By a year! That doesn’t matter
-I’m only 18 ok, i don’t have a college job yet like you
-We both work at fast food, dummy
-So why do i have to pay for everything?
-Because I love you?
-I love you too
-What do you mean
-Ugh nvm ok i’ll pay for it. Fullyoo sounds good to me
-I’d actually like rowdy’s instead if that’s ok
-Rowdy’s costs more
-But I want rowdys
Darla frowned as she reached the bottom of the chat window. This was a conversation she’d had with Kaden a few weeks ago. Her messages were in red, and his were in blue. She’d forgotten this after apologizing and paying for her own food the next night. Not his, though.
Who is this contact?
Tapping the top of the touchscreen, where the photo of the contact normally was, did nothing except exit Darla out of the window, and return her to her normal lineup of conversation windows. Mom, dad, Kaden, her friend Triss, et cetera. Nothing useful. Darla’s parents were upstairs, even if she was going to stoop so low as to ask them of all people to help her find her missing boyfriend in their house. They were an option, yes, but a last resort one only.
Where was the dog? Darla guessed Duff might be in the backyard, stuck out there on accident by someone who’d let him out to go to the bathroom but forgotten to let him back in. So, she put her phone back in her pocket and walked to the sliding back door. But it was locked, and when she tried to unlock it, she found that the lock was on the other side of the door, on the outside.
What?! She thought with frustration. But before she did anything, she saw Duff laying on the back porch, curled into a furry ball. As she looked down at him, though, Duff’s head slowly rose from the ground and, even more slowly, turned to look right into Darla’s eyes, his own eyes made red by the light reflecting off of them from the kitchen through the glass. Suddenly, Darla was totally ok with not going outside anymore, and she maintained a wide eyed, trembling eye contact with her dog until Duff finally lowered his head to the ground again and closed his eyes.
Darla’s horrified stare did not leave that dog as she stepped away from the door, not until she was nearly in the front room again and her phone buzzed once. She took it out, and after one more look at the still dog on the back porch, Darla read the blue message.
I said, I’m inside the house.
Darla put the phone away, betting that the front door was also locked.
That’s. Five. Slaps.
Darla turned around and noticed the lights had turned off in the front room.
There was a sound like whispering coming from one of the couches, her favorite one with what were in her opinion the softest cushions. It sounded like the distant voice of someone talking on a phone that isn’t pressed up against your ear. A conversation from someone you loved and was meant for you, but that you didn’t want to have.
“Kaden! Come out right now!” she called as she flipped the lights back on and the whispering stopped. The lights in the kitchen turned off, but the scratching didn’t return.
Still no reply, and Darla sat down on the couch, out of view of that awful dog. Her phone buzzed furiously once more, like it had in the kitchen, and she found a similar set of messages as before:
-Your parents are the worst
They don’t listen to anything i say but they also say they trust me
-They do listen
-No, they listen to you more than me
-What?!!!! That’s even sadder
-No its not
I’m their kid
I do what they say
You have a voice of your own
-Not in my house
*My* parents listen to me sometimes
-Good for you
I really am
That was mean
Ur parents r cool
-Can I come over
-Only if you cuddle me the way I like 😉
Darla smiled at that last message, especially since she was sitting exactly where he’d cuddled her the way she liked. He didn’t particularly like touching her chest or sitting in her lap, but he did it anyway because he loved her. Darla didn’t know why she was so much more confident thinking about asking him to touch her in new ways than she was asking him to marry her, and she didn’t want to. Instead, she pretended it was because they both still lived with parents, “and all that”.
The scratching was back in the kitchen.
That’s seven. And he’ll be kissing my neck if I tell him to.
Darla had zero intention of going back into the kitchen, and going downstairs didn’t even cross her mind. She saw that the door to the front porch was just as she’d predicted: rearranged so that the lock and the button pad were both outside.
Darla stood up and headed for the spiral staircase, towards the upstairs. She ascended the steps quickly, her heart rate utterly unaffected by the sudden exertion. When she reached the top, the hallway lights were off, and the door to her room on the left was closed shut. The bathroom door at the end of the hall was slightly open, and the door to her parents’ room was…
…nowhere. The right side of the hallway didn’t have anything in it but the door to the upstairs closet where they stored all their pillows and bedsheets and whatnot. Darla’s “last resort” was gone.
Darla approached the bathroom door after turning on the hallway light. Whether or not the front room’s light was still on was not a mystery or a concern, Darla refused to be concerned about anything more than she needed to after the way that dog had looked at her. Putting a hand on the doorknob, and taking a moment to steady herself, Darla glanced over her shoulder at her own door.
It was now completely open.
Luckily for Kaden when she finally found him, Darla found nothing odd in the bathroom, so she used it. When she was done and had washed her hands, but before she opened the door out into the hallway again, she felt her phone buzz hard and read the third chat from the mysterious sender of past conversations with Kaden:
-I want you
-You know what I mean 😉
-Yes you do
-Ok. Come pick me up.
On my way, cutie
-My parents will be mad
-Your parents are always mad
That’s why I don’t care
Also it doesn’t cost money so yeah
-Make it worth it 😉
Darla’s eyes were wide as she exited the conversation and closed her phone.
She’d never said that to him.
But she’d been about to, the next day after their walk tonight.
Darla opened the door to the hallway once again. To her relief, the lights were still on. Her bedroom door was still open, and her parents’ bedroom door was still missing. She decided the last place she’d look before she gave up and tried to sleep somehow would be her room, so she made her way over the carpet, but before she reached it, the door to her room slowly closed itself, with the click of its lock.
But the sound that followed, as Darla put a hand on the knob and tried unsuccessfully to turn and open it, was so, so much worse.
Through the door, Darla heard the sound of someone getting slapped across the cheek.
Then again. And again. Darla counted each one, each one thundering louder than her voice and louder than the one before it.
They stopped at ten.
“Kaden…” she whispered in a shaky voice, almost as shaky as her hand when the door unlocked.
As she opened the door, Darla felt someone rush past her so quickly she didn’t see who they were, just a blue blur the same color as Kaden’s messages. They were already down the stairs and out of her sight before she could turn to look, and the sound of the front door closing almost as fast as it had opened signalled the house’s return to silence. Slowly, her finger trembling, Darla turned on her bedroom light.
And found herself alone. The bed was a mess, far messier than she usually let it get, and there was a little note on the table next to it. After shutting the door behind her, Darla crossed the room and read the blue handwriting, ignoring the odd smell from her bed.
I loved you, Darla.
I know you love me too.
I just wish you didn’t make that so hard to forget.
I feel like I’m in a cage, but only when you aren’t looking.
I don’t like the way you look at me when I get upset.
I wish I could pretend to like the way my parents parent me.
I wish you weren’t so distracted by the food I can buy you and the ways I can touch you.
I love you.
Please wake up.
Please let me wake up.
Darla opened her eyes. She was still in her room, but she was also now lying in her bed, which was tidy and neat, and the note on her desk was gone, replaced by her phone. It was morning now, and she was wearing her pajamas.
Oh, thank god. She thought to herself, putting her hands on her face as she breathed a sigh of relief. It was all a dream.
Darla turned over to look at her phone as it buzzed once. She reached over and picked it up, unlocking it to see the notification from Kaden.
-Good morning, babe. We going on a wak tonight?
Darla smiled, her shoulders shaking slightly.
Time to stay awake this time.