Joe Kleen woke up on the couch just as he’d done hundreds of times in the last few years but this morning he awoke highly discombobulated. Alone on the couch rather than in bed with his wife had become more frequent as Joe’s sleep cycle had become more trapezoidal than circular. Misty had long ago given up on shooing him into the bed they shared and, “Let sleeping dogs lie,” had become her unspoken code of conduct when Joe was snoring in the family room.
Snoring had begun to plague Joe a decade and thirty pounds ago and he could hardly blame his bride for not nudging him to semi-consciousness and helping him up the stairs to the bed they’d purchased back in June of 1986 just so her slumber could be disturbed by his raucous noise. Joe, still madly in love with his wife after thirty-three years of marriage, got it but that didn’t mean he liked it. Joe knew the worth of a loving life-mate and Misty was his be-all, end-all paragon of excellence.
Waking up on the couch was no surprise but the fact that the sun was up certainly was. Joe was used to waking up sometime after midnight, whether in the bed he shared with Misty or alone on the couch, and trying to fall back asleep until at least 3:00 a.m. Joe considered sleeping until three a benchmark, a line in the sand he hoped not to cross and with his sleep issues awakening after five was considered a huge victory, thus waking to a sunny 6:35 a.m. was a milestone he hadn’t achieved in years.
“Wow!” Joe exclaimed, looking at the wall clock, “Six-thirty-five. Amazing.”
Joe, a morning person by nature, usually awoke with clarity and energy, two of life’s essential commodities that would wane as his day progressed. Awakening after six he figured he’d be full of life but instead his head felt full of sand, “Must be getting sick,” he thought as he trudged up the stairs to snuggle with Misty before she rolled out of bed to start her day.
Joe entered their bedroom expecting to find Misty’s clock radio playing and Misty asleep in their bed. Neither condition was found. “Huh,” he muttered, checking the master-bath to see if she’d awoken a bit earlier than usual, he again found nothing. The fact that the bed was untouched made Joe scratch his head. When Joe’s snoring disturbed Misty’s sleep she would retreat to a spare bedroom but why would she sleep in a spare if Joe had been snoring on the couch? This made no sense to Joe as he walked to Misty’s preferred nocturnal noise retreat. Empty.
Joe’s heart began to pound from more than his trudge up the sixteen steps from the first to second floor. Joe checked the other spare room. Again empty. Again bed made. He checked Misty’s office, their second story screened in porch. The first story screened in. Nothing.
“Misty!?” he yelled, opening the door that led from the kitchen to the garage and finding her car gone. “Misty!” he yelled again, his reaction having morphed from perplexity to panic. “Misty!” He looked in the driveway. He circled the house. No Misty. No note. Only fear.
Joe calls Misty’s phone. No answer. He texts her, “I phoned and you didn’t answer. I’m going to call 911.” Disinclined to call 911 Joe hesitates, curses, bemoans, “What do I do? What do I do!?” and phones.
“This is 911. Please state your emergency.”
“My wife is missing,” Joe gasped. “I just woke up and she’s not here.”
“What is your name, sir?”
“Joe. Joe Kleen. She isn’t here and the bed is still made. She’s missing.”
“Okay, Joe. My name is Steven. When did you see her last?”
“Last night. She went to exercise class at Orangetheory and she hasn’t been back. Her car’s not here and the bed’s still made.”
“What time was that, Joe?”
“Five, five, five, uh, five-thirty? Yeah. Yeah. Yes. She left here around 5:30 and she hasn’t been home. I, I must have fallen asleep on the couch. She’s not here.”
“The one on the parkway? I don’t know the address,” Joe responds, his voice cracking as he hyperventilates.
Steven provides an address for the fitness studio which Joe confirms. Steven asks the typical questions, is there a reason why she would leave? Could she be with a friend? A litany of reasonable yet irrelevant inquiries. Finally he asks, “What is your address, Joe? I’ll send an officer over.”
“Uhm, uhm, it’s, it’s hang on. I know it. Just hang on,” Joe sobs as he reaches for his wallet. Looking at his driver’s license he provides Steven with the street name and number. “She’s not here,” he moans one more time.
“Okay, Joe. I’m sending an officer right away. Just hang on. We’ll find her.”
‘Empty promises,’ Joe thinks while proclaiming sincerely, “Thank you. Thank you. Okay. Goodbye.”
Fear is a noose around Joe’s neck, a need to share his horror with someone palpable. His family is scattered with one child five-hundred miles away and the other a thousand. His closest siblings are three-hundred miles north. There is no one close at hand.
Joe rejects calling his sons immediately. “Don’t burden them. Get facts first.” He considers his youngest sibling but she lives a time zone earlier. “No. No. Not yet.” He calls his brother Justin. The call rings to voicemail but the mailbox is full. Joe sobs and calls his brother Phil. Phil answers.
“What’s up, bro?” Phil asks expectantly.
“Uhm, uhm,” Joe gasps.
“Hang on,” Phil says, levity stripped from his voice. “I’m on speaker; should I get off?”
“Yes,” Joe cries, “yes.”
“Okay,” Phil says, “what’s going on?”
“It’s Misty,” Joe gets out. “She’s missing. I haven’t seen her since last night.”
“Okay. Okay. Could she be at work?”
Joe is perplexed by the thought of Misty at work so early. “No. No. She left for fitness class and I fell asleep on the couch and she never came home.
“Is there any place else she could be?”
“No! No. Nowhere. She’s missing.”
“Okay, it’s okay. Calm down. Breathe.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Joe replies knowing that Phil’s empty words are meant to soothe, not to irritate. “Hang on!” Joe adds. “I’ll call you back. Phone’s ringing.”
Joe disconnects, takes the next call and asks, “Hello?”
“Joe. It’s officer Steven. We found your wife. She’s okay. She’s at Orangetheory. She’s fine.”
“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!” Joe cries. “Thank you, Steve. Thank you. Oh my God.”
“She’s okay, Joe. Are you okay?”
“Yes. Yes. Thank you.”
“Okay. If you need us call.”
“I will. Thank you,” Joe repeats, hanging up the phone and wondering why even a devoted fitness fanatic like his wife would go to a fitness class Wednesday night only to attend another at six a.m. Thursday.
That’s when it hits him. It’s still Wednesday night. Joe hadn’t slept twelve hours, he’d napped one. Misty hadn’t slipped away Wednesday night. She hadn’t been missing for 13 hours she’d only been gone 90 minutes. Laughing and crying at himself his phone rings again.
“Joe?!” Misty demands in greeting. “What the hell is going on? Nine-one-one just called me at Orange Theory. Are you okay? They said you reported me missing.”
Joe laughs out loud. “Hey, honey?” he asks, “Did you know that it’s Wednesday night, not Thursday morning, because I sure as hell didn’t. Everything’s fine. I’ll explain when you get home. Jesus Christ I love you so much,” he sobs. “Come home.”
After disconnecting Joe calls Phil right away and explains. “It’s okay, bro. Your story’s safe with me.”
“Who are you kidding?” Joe laughs. “This is too great not to share. Makes you know what’s important. Love you, Phil.”
“I love you, crazy brother. Talk to you soon.”