Jeremy was standing in the living room of Sarah and Andrea’s apartment holding a cup of coffee and listening intently to Sarah. The inviting aroma of freshly made cappuccino filled the kitchen and living room. From the living room, everything within view was clean and bright, with light from the rising sun beginning to come through the kitchen windows and glass door of the balcony. Splashes of warm colors and art adorned the walls, illuminated by subtle rays of sunlight trying to peek in and growing taller with each passing minute. It seemed cozy, the kind of place Nicolette would have loved.
Sarah was moving around in the kitchen, pacing as she tried to get out as much information as possible. She had already finished cleaning the kitchen and the machine she had used to make drinks for the two of them. All of the details were a repeat of everything she had mentioned a couple hours earlier in Jeremy’s apartment. She had stopped crying but had become much more manic in her summary of events – moving her hands constantly as she spoke.
Sarah’s unexpected boost of energy only reminded Jeremy of how tired he was. He turned slightly around the room, studying everything in view from top to bottom as he took his first sip of the cappuccino. It was delicious with a hint of caramel, and he instantly regretted the numerous times he had made fun of others at his old precinct for drinking the stuff. The small coffee table was cleared off except for a fanned stack of art and fashion magazines. Jars and a spice rack were perfectly organized and positioned on the counter in a line. Nothing was out of place in the kitchen or the living room – it all seemed too perfect to Jeremy.
“Is your place always like this?” Jeremy asked as he glanced toward Sarah. As he looked around, he couldn’t help but wonder – how had he ever gotten by in his life drinking coffee black?
“Yeah. I clean a lot, especially when I’m stressed.” Sarah responded matter of factly.
Jeremy took another sip as he leaned back against the counter and listened.
“Andrea was kind of the opposite. She wasn’t a slob, but a little mess never really bothered her like it does me. Aside from the police coming in and looking around, her room is the way she left it.” Sarah added.
“Two things,” Jeremy began. “One, god damn this is good,” he said as he pointed at his drink, awkwardly trying to lighten the tone. “Two, do you mind if I take a look at her room?”
“Thanks,” Sarah replied. “I work at a coffeehouse a couple blocks from here.” She shook her head softly in response to Jeremy’s question and ushered him down the short hallway off the living room. She opened the door to Andrea’s bedroom and stepped back out of the way, waving her hand into the room – inviting him to enter.
He stood in the doorway for a full minute. His eyes scanned the bedroom and occasionally darted at something new or of interest to him. An easel with a cloth draped underneath it stood in the center of the room where light from the window would hit it directly. Dozens of paintings and photographs were hung on the walls of the room. Windows facing out into the city were covered with bright, patterned curtains casting the whole place in pastel colors.
“Most of the artwork in the house is hers. She was pretty optimistic for an artist despite how she grew up.” Sarah spoke as Jeremy’s eyes focused on the easel and paintings near the wall.
“She’s good,” he replied. He nodded his appreciation as he studied a blurred and vibrantly colored self-portrait Andrea had painted of herself. In the painting, she was smiling with her arms crossed triumphantly or defiantly – he wasn’t sure. He looked at the unfinished work on the easel. There wasn’t much to it, but he could tell that the subject was a man sitting down somewhere. The scene so far had been depicted in a deep blue with the man seated at a table washed in crimson. The only feature that had been put into detail of the man’s face, so far, was his eyes.
“Sarah, I need you to think real hard. When the officer came in here, did you come with them?” he asked as he looked back at the woman, now in the doorway. He turned slowly around the room, his eyes still searching.
“Yeah,” she said with a shrug. “I stood right here.”
“Okay. Do you remember what they touched or moved?” he asked.
“Um,” she hesitated as she looked around – her mind recalling what it could. “I’m pretty sure he just opened her desk and closet.”
“Just the desk and closet?” Jeremy repeated back.
“Yeah. Then he wrote some stuff down on a notepad and said he’d get back to me,” Sarah replied.
Jeremy made mental notes. The bed was unmade, but only on one side. Two outfits were laid out on the other side. The desk was scattered with sticky notes, sketchbooks, and photos of Andrea with a man Jeremy recognized as her former boyfriend.
It was a large room, with the bed centered against the wall opposite the door and a small desk pushed into the corner next to it. Angled in the corner nearest the door, was a white dresser and mirror. A closet faced the windows, its door wide open with clothes hanging from the doorknob.
Jeremy remained silent for a minute as he stood in the room, slowly turning around in the room as he glanced at everything once more. He stopped abruptly, facing the desk and then moved over to it. His eyes scanned everything in plain view, and then he reached out to lift a sketchbook from the top of the desk’s pile. He slowly thumbed through the drawings and sketches, brief glimpses of faces and objects disappeared with each page flip. The last page’s picture was dated several months prior.
“She’s got tons of those things scattered all over,” Sarah began. “She’s almost always drawing something, but she doesn’t have an order to them. She just grabs whichever is closest and flips to an empty page.”
Jeremy nodded and set the sketchbook back down on the table.
Sarah remained silent as she watched him move about, her eyes pleading for hope – for anything.
Jeremy stepped into the doorway of the closet and saw the shelves of the closet had several stacks of sketchbooks as well. The garment rods were bowing, stuffed with Andrea’s clothing and aside from a lack of organization, nothing stood out to him. The closet was filled with colorful clothes, including several shirts with splotches of paint that refused to ever wash out. A small laundry basket was pushed into the corner behind the door.
Aside from clothing left out and art supplies scattered around the room, it seemed to be devoid of any clues and gave Jeremy no feeling that anything could be wrong. Indeed, aside from the fact that Andrea had apparently not returned – there was no indication of foul play. The only thing that honestly bothered Jeremy about the whole situation was the easel sitting in the middle of the room. Perched on the easel, facing the window – there stood an unfinished painting. Having lived with an artist, albeit Nicolette had been a musician and not a painter, Jeremy knew that anyone with that much passion about something would hate to leave something in an unfinished state. It was obvious she had spent quite a bit of time on it, but there it was – incomplete.
For the next half hour, he studied everything again, retracing his thoughts and casually sipping his cappuccino until it was gone. The bed. The desk. The closet. The dresser. The easel. The painting. The damned painting. It just seemed wrong.
“So her boyfriend broke up with her?” Jeremy began as he turned back to face Sarah.
“Yeah, about two months ago,” Sarah replied as she stepped into the room.
“How’d she take it?” Jeremy continued.
“She was kind of moody at first, but she seemed to snap herself out of it,” Sarah shrugged.
“She started trying to meet guys online, but never went on any dates. She wasn’t really interested in anyone that she had talked to.”
“Are you sure about that?” Jeremy asked as he set his empty cup on the desk.
“Oh yeah,” Sarah started. “She and I would look at profiles, and she’d show me some of the crazy shit guys would say to her while we were drinking wine and watching tv.”
“So, what happened?”
“Eventually, she got fed up with pervs, and she started going out at night to get out of the house.”
“Any idea where she was going?” Jeremy asked.
“Not specifically, no,” Sarah said with a shake of her head. “ I just know she went to bars and clubs. I never went with her, because I have to be up early either for school or work – depending on the day. She always got a ride home, though.”
“Until a week ago?”
“Yeah,” Sarah replied flatly.
“Do you know if anything changed?”
“She met somebody, but she never told me his name, and he never came over. I don’t think so, anyway.” Sarah’s uncertainty was apparent on her face as she spoke, even as her voice trailed off.
“What did she say about him?” Jeremy questioned. His interest was piqued at the mention of someone new potentially in Andrea’s life.
“She practically daydreamed about him, but she never really went into much detail. Usually, she would just say she couldn’t wait to see him again or how entrancing and dreamy his eyes were.”
“She never said his name though?” Jeremy stressed the question.
“No,” Sarah shrugged again. “She would joke that he was her secret and she wasn’t allowed to tell.”
“Christ. Did you mention that to the police?” Jeremy asked as he massaged his temples. He could feel a headache coming.
“Of course, but without any idea what his name was or what he looked like…” Sarah trailed off.
“Yeah, I see where that’s headed,” Jeremy paused. “So, any idea who this is?” he asked as he nodded at the painting.
“I’m not sure, but I think that may be the guy she started seeing,” she said as she moved next to him and looked at the painting.
“The eyes are the only thing she’s really given detail,” he began as his hand waved in front of the unfinished painting. “Not a whole lot you can do with that.”
“Do you think he had something to do with her disappearing?” she asked as she wrapped her arms around herself.
“I don’t know,” Jeremy replied as he glanced around the room. “It could be something, it could be nothing.”
“It’s got to be someone she actually knew though,” Sarah said as she stood, fixated on the eyes of the painting. “She draws pretty much anyone she knows. I’m sure if you flipped through enough of her sketchbooks, you and Nicolette are in there somewhere. It’s just the way she was.”
Jeremy looked around Andrea’s room one last time as Sarah spoke. His gaze searched for all of the stacks of sketchbooks in view, between the bedroom and closet. There had to be at least twenty sketchbooks, right next to a pile of bills and junk mail.
“Hey Sarah,” Jeremy paused as he tried to figure out how long it would take him to get through them all. “Do you think you could get me Andrea’s last bank statement and round up all of her sketchbooks for me?”
“Sure, I can grab them and drop them off later,” she began. “Do you think it’ll help?”
“It might. I’m going to try to get some rest and then look into a few things this evening. I’ve got a friend who works the night shift still, so I’ll hit him up.” he looked at the watch on his wrist and sighed at the time. It was nearly eight o’clock in the morning. It was going to be a long day considering the fact he hadn’t planned on seeing another day. Now, all he could do was roll questions and scenarios around in his head about what had happened to his neighbor.
“Hey. You should probably not drink so much when you’re alone too,” Sarah warned with a smile. “Next time, just come over, and we can have a glass of wine or something.”
“Am I that obvious?” he looked at her and sighed.
“I was crying, but I’m not blind” she started. “Also, you left the bottle out.”