Music echoed softly from the living room as Sarah stood in silence – staring into the bedroom of her missing roommate, Andrea. The sound was intended to help Sarah not feel so alone in the apartment. In the end, she was uncertain if it helped or hurt. Her eyes scanned the self-portraits and photos of Andrea that decorated the room and somewhere deep in her chest, she ached. The sun was setting, and the room’s overhead light cast a soft warmth over everything – replacing the day’s light.
Did I miss some sign that Andrea was in trouble?
What could I have done differently?
Earlier, Sarah had spent part of her day with Jeremy searching through sketchbooks. The last few hours, she had helped cover a shift at the coffee house for someone who was sick. Working her regular hours wasn’t enough, and it had become necessary to start picking up extra shifts as the bills continued to pile up. Now, though, she was all alone in her apartment again. She wanted nothing more than to have Andrea back and safe, but, here and now she would settle for just the knowledge of what had happened to her.
The easel stood at the foot of the bed with its unfinished painting as Sarah walked in and moved the sheet and cover back to make up the side of the bed on which Andrea usually slept. The outfits that had been left out on the bed were still there. She had been unable to bring herself to move anything in Andrea’s room until now and worried she would have to pack everything up for someone who would not return.
Somewhere under her, a spring half-squeaked as she turned and sat down on the edge of Andrea’s bed. There was no one now – no one with whom she was genuinely close. Slowly the reality of it all was setting in and becoming too much. Her best friend was missing. It was a struggle to make ends meet. Other than her neighbor and coworkers, there was no one close for support. Family members were a phone call away, but it wasn’t enough – not now. In this big city, the realization of isolation and seclusion was overpowering her.
Unable to take the pain of loss and solitude any longer, she felt flood gates open behind her eyes as tears began to stream down her face. Uncontrollable sobs accompanied her tears as she glanced around the room. There was so much happiness that Andrea had created through her art and photos. Every smiling picture or brightly colored painting caused Sarah to slip further away. She wiped away tears only to have them replaced.
Giving in, she shifted her weight to lay down on Andrea’s bed. Thoughts became blurred as she lost focus of any way to reason through her emotions. She pulled her bare feet up off the floor, resting her body in the same spot where Andrea had slept. She wished she could go to sleep and wake to find it all a horrible dream – that she would hear her friend’s voice waking her up. It never happened. She would never get to say goodbye. Instead, she continued to lie there – drifting in and out of fits of crying and sniveling.
Reaching under the pillows on the bed to adjust them as she rolled flat onto her stomach, she buried her face into the coolness of the pillow. Her long blonde hair was down out of its bun, and she could feel strands of her hair matting to the sides of her face. Shifting the weight of her small frame to brush the hair away from her face, she heard something clatter against the floor and wall near her.
Lifting her head, she looked around, almost sure that a painting or photo had fallen. As she moved her hair back away from her eyes, there was nothing on the walls was out of place or missing. Convinced she had heard something fall near her, she wondered if she knocked something off of the bed.
In her confusion, the sobbing subsided. She rolled over the side of the bed and stood again, searching the floor around her feet. Seeing nothing, she moved back and leaned down to look underneath Andrea’s bed. The light barely illuminated under the bed, but Sarah could still see something on the floor, leaning against the wall. Climbing down onto her hands and knees, she slid partially under the wooden frame of the bed. She stretched her arm out as far as she could without moving further underneath the bed, and her fingertips brushed against the object and grasped it.
Sarah shimmied back away from the bed, bringing the object in her hand back as well. Resting on her knees, she turned it over to look at the cover. It was one of Andrea’s sketchbooks – a smaller sketch pad than her normal ones, but the same brand that Andrea had sworn by. Unable to control her curiosity, she flipped open the sketch pad and began to turn through its pages.
Still kneeling on the floor next to Andrea’s bed, Sarah turned over each of the pages slowly. Other than the size, initially, the book seemed just like any other sketchbook to her. As she continued to turn through the usual sketches and notes that Andrea left in her books, it became apparent it was not a typical sketchbook. The expected drawings and comments the artist wrote to herself were slowly replaced by the same partial images that Sarah and Jeremy had found earlier in the day.
Andrea had drawn features of a face independently on separate pages. A chiseled and masculine jawline, a featureless head, piercing eyes, smirking lips – all alone on each page and each incomplete. Some of the pages that followed began to have quickly scrawled notes accompanying them.
A drawing of the penetrating eyes bore the words “He draws me to him.”
Another image of a mouth and part of the face showed a confident smirk and the words “More and more, I want to be with him.”
One page was blank save for the words “His eyes pull me in.”
The pages continued throughout the last half of the sketch pad’s pages. Sarah continued. It was like getting a glimpse into Andrea’s mind as she worked. The quality of the drawings and notes began to deteriorate and grow more frustrated. Andrea would start something only to scribble through the illustration roughly.
The notes along the sides of the pages began to change to questions.
“Why can’t I draw or paint him?”
“Why can’t I picture him fully?”
The pencil work in the drawings became more defined, and some of the images began to take up the whole page. Sarah flipped through several sketches of solitary eyes that took up the entire page to stare back at her. Finally, she reached a page that was torn through by how heavily the lead had run over it. The sheet underneath was blank save for the unintended markings. Sarah took a moment as she thought about Andrea’s state as she had been drawing and writing in the book. Andrea must have been breaking down, and Sarah had never even noticed.
Andrea had seemed so happy. She’d finally met someone, and he was amazing and dreamy. That was all Andrea would say about the man she had joked about keeping as her secret. Sarah had demanded details, but her roommate would only smile and say that she wasn’t allowed to tell. Andrea had struggled to draw him as well, while her sketches and notes had become bleak. Something was wrong.
Sarah flipped to the next sheet and found a single, clearly written note across it. “I can’t finish the painting of him, no matter how hard I try.”
At the bottom right of the page, there was a small arrow drawn in the corner – guiding Sarah to turn to the next page. It was a little thing they had started doing in their class notes, and notes left for each other around the apartment. It was something the two women did when they left a message for each other on the reverse of a piece of paper.
Instinctively, Sarah turned the page once more and found the clear and carefully drawn outline of the smirking mouth she had seen in other drawings. An arrow was drawn in the corner of the page again. Was this a note for Sarah? Had Andrea known that Sarah would eventually find this sketchpad?
The next page featured a wave of thick hair and sideburns on an otherwise blank page. Another arrow directed her to flip the page. This time, eyes were drawn on the page – the same piercing eyes that Andrea had sketched so many times before. Another arrow. Sarah turned the page yet again.
Several more pages and several more arrows and all of the features were there. Andrea, for whatever reason, had been unable to draw the man she had become obsessed with all at once. Instead, she had put down each of his features on separate pages, but the lines were substantial enough to allow Sarah to see the page immediately underneath. Had this been Andrea’s final message to Sarah?
The final arrow turned to a page with a note, addressed to her and confirming what she had suspected. “Sarah, I have to go see him. God help me. I can’t stop myself.”
Maybe this sketchbook was it. Maybe the sketchbook and the note were the clues that Andrea’s case needed. Sarah sprung to her feet and ran barefoot from her apartment and into the hallway.
Sarah had to show Jeremy what she had found.