The heating had turned itself off and as Jean waited in the dim kitchen she began to shiver. When the phone rang again part of her didn’t want to answer it.
“He’s not there. Jean, he’s not there. His dad’s away, in Germany, he hasn’t seen him for over a week. Where is he?”
Although her heart was racing and a cold chill had enveloped her, Jean had to keep her sister calm. Lesley could go into a wild panic at the smallest thing, and this was now not a small thing. The clock on the cooker showed that it was well past one o clock. It was unlike Carl to worry his mum but when all was said and done, he was a teenaged boy and, though he was usually considerate, unreliability came with the age, didn’t it?”
“Okay, look Lesley. Think back, are you sure he didn’t have some sort of arrangement. Think.”
“No, I’m sure. When I told him I was going to the pictures he said that he would be doing some course work and he asked me to bring him a Shawarma, if it wasn’t too late. I remember that distinctly. Then I got the message to say he was coming to see you and so I didn’t bother to bring him anything.”
“What did he say when he left you?”
“He just said goodbye, he’d been helping me with some computer stuff and it all got a bit involved and so we didn’t really have much time for ‘chat’. Then when he went, he just went. Obviously, I assumed he was going home. He was on his bike.”
“Well the bike’s not here. I went to look. I’m getting really worried, Jean. This isn’t like him.”
“I know, I know but don’t panic. After all he’s a grown man now and, well, maybe he just changed his plans at the last minute. Is he still seeing that girl, Sarah, was it? Perhaps she rang him and he’s gone over to see her.”
“Sharon, it was. No. They’re not together now, she’s off on some sort of student exchange and they decided to split before she went. I thought he’d have told you.”
“Well, as I say we didn’t have a lot of time for chat. Okay, so he’s not with her – who else is there that he might be with? We have to think logically.”
“I’ll ring his best mates. I’ll ring Steve and Charlie; do you think it’s too late?”
“Well yes, it is really but I don’t see we have any choice. Give me Charlie’s number I’ll do that one, while you do Steve. Look love try not to get upset. He’s going to be fine. He probably met up with someone after he left here and they’ve got wrapped up in something and then it’s been too late to ring you.”
“So, why is his phone off. Even if the battery is flat he could charge it if he’s at someone’s house. Okay Charlie’s number, here we are.”
Jean stabbed the number into her mobile. “Yeah, well maybe he hasn’t realised it’s flat.”
“Hasn’t realised. Have you heard yourself, it’s fused to his hand you know that.”
It was true, Carl and all his mates seemed to be able to do everything they had to while tweeting, texting, phoning, filming and all the other functions on his phone. Of all of it, the lack of mobile contact was the most worrying.
Her sister was speaking again. “Oh, I just thought, we should look on Facebook and Twitter, if he has gone to any of his mates I bet there’ll be pictures. I’ll do Twitter, you do Facebook, oh yeah and I’ll do Snapchat. Right ring me back if you find anything, use the landline.”
Jean ran to the bedroom taking the handsfree phone with her. She grabbed her Kindle, and then dialled the number Lesley had given her while she waited for it to boot. He wasn’t there and a sleepy, befuddled Charlie could think of no shared plan, no new girlfriend or reason for Carl to be anywhere but where they all expected him to be, at home, in bed.
Nothing showed on Facebook and though she knew her sister would be scrolling through she looked on Twitter as well. Nothing since the early afternoon, when he had posted to his friends about the plans for a training run the next morning.
She waited for the news from her sister that he was safe. The longer she waited the more distressed she became, so that when the phone rang her hands shook as she lifted it to her ear.
“He’s not there. I’ve rung everyone I could think of. Everyone. Jean, what am I going to do now? Where is he Jean?”
Though her own worry was building it was nothing compared to that in her sister’s voice. There was no other option, and as she spoke Jean was already pulling off her nightdress, struggling to hold the phone and undress at the same time.
“Hold tight Lesley, hold tight love. I’m on my way over. I’ll be with you in twenty minutes or so. Don’t panic. It’s all going to be alright. Don’t panic.”
She pulled on jeans and a sweatshirt and as she ran through to the bathroom to grab a couple of aspirins, to ease the headache that she could feel building in the background, she heard the click, click. She assumed it was Slumpy coming home through the cat flap but as she went back into her bedroom she saw him curled on the top of a sweater thrown on the chair by the window. He was deeply, definitely asleep.