Kyle Centowski is 56; Willow Centowski is 54; Ashley Pitts is 65; Allyn Pitts is 60; Cory Green is 48; Rose Green is 34.
You do what you have to do. That was all Kyle had said. Willow didn't know what she'd been expecting, but she would have preferred almost any other reaction - if he'd been hurt, if he'd been angry at her... hell, even if he'd been pleased... that would have been better than his calm, emotionless response.
She wiped her eyes and tried to concentrate as she pulled into the staff car park of the Bluewater Natural Science Institute. She was already late, but she didn't care. You do what you have to do.
Going to work had been her lifeline these past few weeks, leaving early in the morning to drive to Bluewater Village, finding reasons to return home later and later as the weeks passed... she had a daughter and grandchildren to visit out here, she had extra work, shopping... she wasn't sure if he ever listened to her excuses anyway, and lately she'd stopped offering them.
He was hurting too, that much was clear, but the part that hurt her the most was the way he'd shut her out. They'd been married for over 30 years, raised four children of their own, and foster children as well. But lately she couldn't really remember the last time they'd had a normal conversation, one that didn't end with him walking off, at best disinterested, but more often, angry. Every time she thought that she'd figured out the topics that were off-limits, there would be something else to upset him. Eventually, it was easier just to not talk at all.
For what it was worth, he had seen the doctor like she'd wanted. She'd been hanging all her hopes on that, but nothing had changed, really. Nothing was going to change, she realized, unless she was the one to change it. This morning, she'd told him that.
He'd just told her to do what she had to do.
She tried to concentrate on her work, without much success. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been able to give her full attention to her job.
It was funny how you become absorbed into another person, over the years. Her family was Kyle's family, her friends were the wives of Kyle's friends. Her boss was Allyn Pitts, Ashley's wife, and she'd made an appointment to see Willow today. Willow was dreading it, and not just because of her recent poor job performance. It was only a matter of time before Kyle talked to Ashley, and Allyn could say all the right things about keeping professional and personal relationships separate, but Willow couldn't imagine their working relationship not being affected, if she left Kyle.
She'd planned to say very little in the meeting, just to acknowledge whatever failings Allyn identified, apologize, promise to do better... get it over with as simply and cleanly as possible. She hadn't planned to break down and spill out the whole mess and everything she was feeling...
All things considered, Allyn had been surprisingly sympathetic, as a friend and as a boss.
She'd promised Willow as much time off as she needed, if it came to that. For now, Willow had declined - at the moment, it felt like coming to work was all that was keeping her sane.
Stuck in the heavy Friday evening traffic for almost an hour between Redwood City and Richmond, Ashley Pitts looked at his watch yet again, and wondered why they called it rush hour when, actually, nothing was moving. He couldn't even phone Allyn and tell her he'd be late, as his phone battery had run out just after he left the hospital.
He was reminded of the kinds of reasons he'd been anticipating retirement five years ago. It had been easy to leave behind his job as Chief of Staff, but he soon realized that what he really missed, was hands-on medicine. His retirement had lasted all of six months, and if any of his colleagues in the emergency room of Redwood City Hospital ever found it awkward to work alongside their former boss, they got over it quickly. He worked part-time now and found it incredibly fulfilling. Traffic or not, he was kidding himself if he thought he would retire again any time soon.
When he arrived home, Allyn met him at the door. He could see as soon as he walked in, that something was wrong. "I've been trying to call you." she said.
"My phone battery's dead. What's wrong?"
"Have you heard from Kyle today?"
Ashley shook his head. "No. What's going on?"
"Willlow got home from work and found the house empty. No message, no sign at all of where he's gone. She's phoned around everyone she could think of, but no one's seen him all day. She's worried. She said he hasn't left the house in weeks, and just suddenly disappearing like that - "
"Is she at home now?" he asked.
"No, she and Cory are out looking for him. Rose is at the house."
"I'm going around there."
"Wait - ", Allyn said suddenly, "there's more you should know. I had a meeting with Willow today, about her job performance. Its really slipped in the past few weeks."
Ashley frowned. "That's not surprising, really.""Well, I had to talk to her anyway... she's a mess, Ashley. She's hurt and she's scared and she can't handle Kyle always pushing her away. She's thinking about leaving him, and he knows it... "
"So he never saw his doctor in the end?"
"He did, and they started him on some medication or something, and that was it. His regular doctor was away, and the one filling in said his own doctor would follow him up, but no one ever did."
Ashley cursed to himself. He should have followed up on this. He and James had both agreed to give Kyle some space, but that was weeks ago...
"Ashley, Willow talked to me in confidence, I really shouldn't have told you but - "
"I'm glad you did." He gave her a quick kiss. "You did the right thing. I'm going over there to see what I can do. I'll call you if there's any news."
The sun was setting as Cory got out of the car. He didn't know what possessed him to let Willow bring him here. It was crazy... he'd only gone to Kyle's house to drop off the shop accounts for the week, and he should never have let her rope him into this.
He supposed it made sense that Kyle might have gone to his father's grave, but it would be dark soon. Surely not even Kyle, in whatever state of mind he was in, would want to hang around a cemetery after dark. Cory certainly didn't. He took a quick look around. "There's no one here, " he said to Willow.
"I want to look properly," she said, walking towards the gate. She looked back at him, expecting him to follow. He stayed in the shelter of the car, though, one hand cupped around the other as he attempted to light a cigarette in the rising breeze. "Oh... ok," she said, "I'll be back shortly.".
He watched her go, relieved, and gave up on the cigarette. He could do with out it . He didn't believe Kyle was there, and he'd really just wanted an excuse to not wander around the graveyard in the half-light of dusk. He wasn't sure if he believed in ghosts, but the place was just too creepy in any case.
With an involuntary shudder, he looked towards the older graves at the back of the cemetery. His mother was buried there somewhere. He only really had one memory of her, and that was one he didn't want. He'd never visited her grave, at least not as an adult, and nor did he want to. And he just didn't like graveyards after dark. Too creepy...
He changed his mind again, pulled out his lighter and had another try with the cigarette.
He forced his attention back to the newer part of the cemetery. Willow was at Kyle's parents' graves, looking around, even though there was clearly no one else there. She stopped, as something on the ground caught her eye. She bent to pick the object up, pocketed it, then started searching with new energy. She walked the whole boundary of the cemetery, checked the little chapel, then returned briefly to the family graves, before returning to the car.
"Look," she said, pulling her find out of her pocket, "He was here".
Cory turned the familiar pen over in his hand. Silver, with Kyle's initials engraved, a gift to from his father some years ago. He had always carried it with him.
Cory looked around again. Faced with this evidence, he almost expected - hoped - that Kyle would suddenly appear. He tried to keep the uneasiness out of his voice. "We should go back. Maybe Rose has heard something".
Ashley was at the house when they arrived. "We've been trying to call you," Willow said.
"My phone battery was flat. Allyn just told me what happened when I got home. Any news?.
"He's been to the cemetery, we found his pen there. But he's not there now."
"Its probably the obvious place, but have you checked the shop". Ashley asked.
"We thought of that," Cory said, "but he couldn't get in, anyway. I have his keys."
Ashley frowned. "I think we should call the police."
"Because an adult has been missing for less than a day?" Willow said.
"We've got good reason to be concerned, I think. Allyn told me about the meeting you had with her today."
"That was a private conversation." Willow felt her face flush, and glanced over at Rose. This wasn't how she wanted her daughter to find out...
"I know it was, and it will stay that way, but she... wait a minute!" Ashley said suddenly.
"You said you didn't check the shop because Cory has Kyle's keys, right?"
Cory and Willow nodded.
"But who has Orlando's keys?"
The following silence was broken by Willow's gasp. From her pocket, she took out a small object, a little metal globe on a short, broken chain. Wordlessly she showed it to the others. Cory and Rose recognized it immediately.
"Orlando's keychain." Cory said. "Where did you get... " his voice trailed off as he realized the answer.
"At the cemetery.., " she confirmed. "I found it with the pen, but I didn't realize what it was... if he's got the shop key, then..."
Ashley was up and on his way to the door before she'd even finished speaking, with Cory not far behind. Dropping the little globe back in her pocket, Willow jumped up and ran after them to the car.
All the way to the shop, Willow quietly cursed herself for not recognizing the key chain sooner. Cory was attempting to comfort her, but Ashley barely heard them. He was thinking about what Allyn said, about the doctor, the medication... about something he'd heard a long time ago, maybe right back at medical school: Antidepressants can increase energy and motivation, before they improve mood... which may be why some patients are at an increased risk of suicide in the early stages of treatment... the patient is still morbidly depressed, and now they have both the energy and the means to do something about it...
He parked the car across the street from the shop. "It'll be fine," Cory was telling Willow. "He'll be here, we'll talk to him, and we'll sort out what's going on, for once and for all."
Ashley didn't say anything. Somehow, he knew that wasn't going to happen.
Somehow, he knew that they were already too late.
(For general details on how this came about in-game, see the bottom part of this gameplay note... I'll be writing something more specific to this story after the next couple of posts.)