“Are you sure you’re okay?” Trey asked Annie for the fifth time as he got his gym bag packed.
“Yeah. Just tired, like I told you. I didn’t get any sleep.” Annie was staring out the balcony window to where she’d seen the man disappear. The police hadn’t turned anything up yet. She didn’t have much hope that they ever would.
“Okay,” Trey took her face in his hands to turn her gaze. “I’ll stop by the bar tonight and check on you if you’d like.”
“It’s okay, really.” Annie tried to smile, but it was strained.
Trey kissed her and pulled her in for a hug. “Okay, babe. I’ll see you when you get home then. Be safe.”
“You too. Have a good workout.”
After the apartment door closed, Annie went back to staring out the window. She needed to be getting ready for work, but she wasn’t feeling any motivation to do so.
An hour later she arrived at the bar wearing the first pair of clothes she’d pulled out of the closet and not a spot of makeup. Her mind was full of missing posters she’d noticed on the walk over from the bus stop. There sure were more than she’d ever remembered seeing before. Was one of them the man she’d seen be pulled away?
Annie jumped and had to cover her mouth to stop the scream creeping up her throat. Her boss was standing behind her, an apron in her hand and an eyebrow raised.
“You alright?” Matilda asked.
“Fine,” Annie took her apron and tied it around her waist, avoiding eye contact. “Just a little stuck in my head, sorry.”
“Get you a cup of coffee before you hit the bar. We’ve been busy all day and I need you on your toes.”
Annie tried her best, but she kept losing focus. After three broken glasses and two incorrect drink mixes, Matilda had had enough.
“Annie, bus!” She called over the other bartender’s heads.
“Yes, ma’am.” Annie hung her head and put down the bottles she’d been staring at. But she didn’t do any better at cleaning up and Matilda had to pull her to the kitchen after another thirty minutes.
“What’s going on?” Matilda asked, hands on her hips, but a motherly tone came out instead of the strict boss. Anyone could see the dark circles under Annie’s eyes.
“I didn’t sleep last night…I saw something terrible and had to wait for the police and…I’m sorry Matilda.” Annie felt tears welling up in her eyes and tried to blink them away.
“How about you take a few days off, hun. I’m surprised you’ve been here at all after what happened to your house. You deserve a break.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Now get home safe and get some rest. Give me a call when you’re feeling better.” Matilda gave her a quick hug, even though it went against her policy of staying professional with her employees.
“Thank you,” Annie said, holding back tears.
“Don’t mention it.”
Annie dropped her apron off and collected her bag from the office and began her walk back to the bus stop. A few tears fell down her face at last as she walked. She’d been trying so hard to keep it together. She couldn’t even pin down what was wrong with her. Sleep deprived, a little shocked, and scared. Mostly scared. But scared of what?
What had grabbed that man?
The bus took her back across town to the apartment and she let herself in. Trey still wasn’t back from the gym. Did he usually work out for this long? It had been a few hours now.
Annie felt at a loss for what to do. She wasn’t hungry, and she didn’t believe she’d be able to sleep if she tried, not while she was alone. She decided to settle herself onto the couch and stared out the window to wait for Trey.
The sun had competed its decent and clouds rolled in. Thunder rumbled overhead and a flash of lightning roused Annie from her daze. She stood up and went closer to the window to watch the sky.
“Come on, Trey, where are you…” she muttered as lightning sparked again across the sky.
The rain began with a slow trickle but picked up pace in no time at all with fat rain drops pelting the window. Annie pressed her face against the glass, trying to watch for a sign of headlights or a person running through the downpour.
Forty-five minutes went by before the storm blew itself out. By that time, Annie had slid down to the floor and was staring blankly at the sidewalk below her.
Where was he?
At some point, Annie fell asleep, still huddled against the window. In the first minutes of the morning, the sun just peeking over the horizon, a knock came at the door. Annie jerked awake and stumbled to her feet.
“Coming!” she said as the knock came a second time. She flung the door open and choked on a sob when she saw a police officer standing there.
“Ma’am?” the officer asked with some concern.
“Yes?” her voice shook.
“Is this the residence of Trey Rogers?”
“Yes,” Annie was clutching her hands in front of her chest trying to hold her composure.
“Ma’am, there was an accident –“ the officer lunged to catch Annie before she hit the ground as her knees gave out. “Ma’am?”
“Is he dead?” Annie whispered after the officer had set her on the couch.
“Well, as of now, there’s no sign of a body. His car was found in a field, upside down. It’s possible he pulled himself out and wandered off in the wrong direction.”
Annie took this in and thought of all the missing posters. Trey would be one now….
“Will you be alright here?” the officer was asking. “Is there anywhere you can go? Or someone you can call?”
Annie shook her head.
The officer sighed, not happy with leaving her like this, but he still had work to do. “Here’s my card,” he said after a moment. “You can call if you need anything.”
“Thank you,” Annie took the card without looking up.
Days went by before Annie could bring herself to leave the apartment. She’d barely even left the couch in that time. But there wasn’t any food in the kitchen, and she couldn’t let herself waste away, no matter how much she wanted to.
Annie pulled on a clean pair of clothes and covered her dirty hair with a hat before making her way down to the sidewalk. She turned left, not sure about her destination yet, and walked with her head down. After two blocks of near misses, she ran into someone.
“Sorry,” she said, glancing up at the man hanging a missing poster.
“No problem,” Drew straightened his shoulder bag and went to move around her.
“Wait, I know you.” Annie stepped into his path. “You’re the man that told me to take a bluebonnet with me.”
“Uh- yeah.” Drew couldn’t place her face, but he told a lot of people about the flowers.
“What did you mean about it being for protection?”
“Um…” Drew glanced at all the people passing them. “Let’s go in this coffee shop, I’ll explain.”
“It comes in the spring every year, during the rain season. It has no official name, since very few want to even acknowledge its existence. But the few I surround myself with simply call it the rain monster.
“Under cover of the weather, it steals away the people it can. I have a theory that it controls the weather, bringing in the clouds and creating tornados. But I can’t prove it. The storms aren’t predicted all the time, but radar devices aren’t always accurate, so I can’t use them to argue my point. But I’ve convinced a few people.
“The bluebonnets are a form of protection. They grow in different conditions than most flowers and are tough, durable flowers. They work in opposition to the monster and have been used to repel it. A lot of flowers can be used as a substitute just because they represent life, but bluebonnets seem to be the strongest.
“We keep track of all the missing people, hoping we can turn something up to prove our theories. We try to protect anyone we can, so it will stop happening. But mostly we try to find a way to kill it.”
When Drew finished his story, Annie was staring at her hands. Her coffee had gone untouched.
“it took my boyfriend,” she said at last.
“Three days ago.
“Are you sure?”
“Now that I’ve heard all this…yes.”