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My Wife Is Missing
Author:D.J. Palmer

My Wife Is Missing

D.J. Palmer



To Dr. Romy Valdez.

Thank you for setting me on the path to mindfulness.





CHAPTER 1





MICHAEL


As Michael Hart rounded the corner to his hotel room, he saw a small, lifeless shape lying on the floor of the hallway.

It was Teddy.

Teddy’s arms were splayed open wide like the T-shape of a cross, legs straight as boards, feet pointed up at the ceiling. Still as stone, his two dark glassy eyes, black like onyx, gazed unblinking upward, seeing nothing. Wrapped around Teddy’s neck was his familiar blue kerchief, frayed at the edges from time and touch.

“What on earth are you doing here?” Michael muttered to himself, bending at the knees to retrieve the beloved stuffed bear. He uncoiled his fingers from the pizza boxes he’d been carrying so he could latch onto Teddy’s plush arm. Careful not to tip tonight’s dinner, Michael rose to standing. In the back of his mind tumbled a thought: Where is Bryce? Wherever Bryce went, Teddy went with him.

Michael endured a spurt of frustration—the kids dropping things everywhere, Natalie not thinking straight enough to keep track. Who was there to pick up the slack? He was, that’s who. Chances were the old Natalie would have noticed Teddy had become separated from his owner. This new Natalie—his wife who managed only a couple hours of sleep on a good night, who suffered tremors, visions, and memory problems as a result, who these days had a fuse shorter than a matchstick—could have quite conceivably left one of the children behind (let alone a teddy bear) without realizing her oversight.

Michael exhaled his annoyance and concern in a single breath. No harm done. Teddy was safe. The cleaning crew hadn’t swept him away. He figured Natalie and the kids had gone off exploring. Addison and Bryce had both been wide-eyed with wonder on their first trip up in the hotel’s famed glass elevators so chances were they’d gone riding them again, and Teddy got left behind in all the excitement.

With the bear still dangling in his grasp, Michael gave the hotel room door a gentle kick, hoping the kids had returned from their adventures so he wouldn’t have to fumble for a key. He waited. Down went the food (and Teddy) as Michael fished out a plastic rectangle from his wallet.

The room was dark when he entered. A heavy smell of vanilla and cedar clung to the air. It was a trick of the hotel trade, he knew; a little scent to help set the mood, like a new car smell. Normally the pleasing aroma didn’t last long once the occupants arrived, but the vanilla odor was still quite strong. Something about it made Michael feel strangely alone.

Curtains thick as X-ray blankets blocked out the view of Times Square. He pulled them open to let in the last bits of daylight. They’d arrived close to sunset, and Michael couldn’t wait to show Addie and Bryce the explosion of neon when darkness came. There was so much he wanted his kids to see and do here.

The city held a special place in Michael’s heart. When he and Natalie were newly married, they’d make frequent trips from Boston to New York to take in shows and dine at fancy restaurants, but this was their first time coming to New York as a family. Today was all about getting settled and acclimated to the neighborhood. The plan was to check out Times Square from above and then on the ground. Of course Addison had already scoped out her primary stops, and no doubt the M&M and Disney stores would soon be getting some of Michael’s hard-earned cash.

After setting the pizzas on a dresser, Michael tossed Teddy onto the bed Addison had claimed. The cot Bryce would occupy for the five nights remained folded up in a corner of the room. The cot wasn’t exactly necessary, considering his son could sleep perfectly well in a sleeping bag on the floor. Michael knew the kids would be comfortable here, but he worried how Natalie would fare. She couldn’t sleep at home, and it had been a shock to him when she suggested they take a family trip to New York during the kids’ April vacation.

“Are you sure?” he said in response. “What are you going to do if you can’t fall asleep? Wander the hotel halls like Marley’s ghost?”

“I’ll be fine. It’ll be good for us,” Natalie assured him.

He saw the outline of sadness in her tight smile and in her eyes, which were the color of the dark ocean. She was already anticipating the difficulty, but clearly she wanted to do it, so he made the reservation.

Good for us, Natalie had said. Goodness knows they could have used some quality time together. It was something the marriage counselor had suggested. The truth was that he’d been planning to approach Nat about a getaway, just the two of them, leaving the kids with her parents for a stretch. More than family time, they needed time to reconnect, or at least hit the reset button on their marriage. The past few months had been, in a word, eventful. But Natalie had insisted on getting away with the kids as well, so family time it would be.

It took some fiddling, but Michael finally managed to get the room lights on—no small feat, given how modern hotels eschewed the old-fashioned switch for touch technology. Honestly, he was surprised everyone wasn’t in the room eagerly awaiting his return, ready to pounce on the food. He checked his phone for a text from Natalie letting him know where they’d gone.

Nothing.

He checked the watch he wore obsessively—a throwback, Natalie called it. The Citizen timepiece with its thick leather band, darkened at the edges, couldn’t send and receive messages, but it did tell him the hour was getting late.

They’d arrived in New York utterly famished after a four-and-a-half-hour car ride from their home in Lexington, Massachusetts. Michael had suggested going out to eat, but Natalie was too tired (no surprise there) and wanted takeout from a nearby pizza place she’d found on Yelp that had fantastic reviews. But given the dinner rush hour, delivery would take too long, so Michael was dispatched for pickup.

“Where is everyone?” he said to the empty room, plopping himself down onto the bed he’d soon be sharing with his wife. He sent her a text.

Food is here. Come and get it.



Wherever they were, he imagined the kids had to really be enjoying themselves to delay dinner for even a minute. A savory whiff of sauce and cheese tickled Michael’s nose. He contemplated downing a slice, but managed restraint. He was a big believer in eating together as a family, and always made it a point to get home from his job at Fidelity in time for dinner. They’d only recently begun a new dinnertime tradition called Three Things, a conversation starter game that Natalie got off the internet. They’d take turns going around the table, each sharing one thing that had gone well that day, one thing they were grateful for, and one thing they’d have done differently.