“Did she call you?”

“No, I haven’t heard from her in days. I assumed she was busy with finals or that new boy.”

“Her professor phoned me this afternoon. She missed her final. She would never miss her final. Forget my birthday? Yes. Her final? No. Never. What should I do?”

“You know any of her friends? Maybe call them and see what’s up?”

“Ok. I’ll do that. That sounds like a good place to start. I’ll call Mary first. Mary always knows what she’s doing. They practically pee together.”

“Well call me and let me know what you find out. I doubt it’s anything drastic. She’s always been such a good girl. Maybe this once she’s being a typical twenty-something. I’m sure there’s a logical explanation.”

“I hope so. I’ll let you know what I find out. Bye.”

“Bye.”

* * * *

“Hello? You in there, luv?”

Jessica’s eyes fluttered open; then quickly closed. The light overhead was blinding. Which did nothing to help the pounding in her head. She thought she should sit up but that proved to be more difficult than it should have been. The world spun around her. She quickly gave up that idea and just lay there with her eye squeezed shut.

“Easy now, luv. Here, take a sip. Cold water will do you a world of good, yea?”

Jessica tried again to open her eyes. Just one this time. Slowly letting her surroundings filter into her brain. A silhouette stood over her. She blinked her right eye rapidly. Trying to force the world to focus. Pink hair? I don’t know anyone with pink hair. I must be seeing things.

“There now. Drink a bit more. You’re probably a bit dehydrated as well. That goose egg on your head don’t help matters neither.”

A British accent? Jessica was certain now. She definitely didn’t know anyone with pink hair and British. So who was this water giver?

“Name’s Liv, in case you’re wondering. You shrivel your nose when you think too hard. You need to work on that before you play poker. You’ll give your hand away in 2 secs flat. Too easy to read you are.”

“Who are …you? Where…. I’m… what?, ” Jessica tried to ask. Words seemed to hide from her.

“All in good time, luv. For now just concentrate on drinking. Getting  yourself hydrated. It’ll be easier to handle what comes next. You’ll have 24 hrs to adjust. 24 and not a second more. You’ve already wasted a good half of that, being unconscious and all. Just concentrate on drinking and if you can manage it, try to eat a bit. You’re going to need your strength. The first few days are the hardest. It gets easier. I promise, luv, it gets easier. The quicker you learn the rules, the easier it’ll be on you. I know you’re probably thinking this is all a sick joke or a dream. You’re going to wake up or someone is going to jump out and yell “PUNK’D”, I promise you, luv, this is all very real. And the quicker you wrap that pretty lil head of yours around that, the easier life will be for you. Now lie down and close your eyes. Whatever you do, don’t open them. Pretend to be asleep. You’ve gone eight hours left. If he thinks you’re sleeping, he’ll leave you be. If he knows you’re already awake, then he’ll want to play.”

Jessica lowered her head back on the cold slab of concrete. Eyes squeezed shut. I need to slow my breathing. I’m breathing too fast. Think! What was it her psychiatrist was always telling her? Find her happy place. If the pink haired girl hadn’t been so adamant, Jessica might have laughed out loud. She had no clue where she was, but she believed every word the pink haired girl said. As the steel door creaked open, Jessica thought back to her kids in the special dance class. Their beautiful down syndrome faces, always smiling as they twirled and spun to the music. She allowed herself to float out of her body and into the dance studio. As she floated she couldn’t hear what the pink haired was saying. At least not all of it, bits and pieces penetrated her brain. “Not yet. Still sleepin’ she is.. bump on her head the size of an ostrich egg… might be tomorrow before she wakes up….” In between Jessica could hear the gruff voice of a man. Words mumbled in a whisper that filled Jessica with a fear she didn’t know existed. She could feel her heart starting to race as she was slowly losing her grip on the happy place. Breathe, Jess, breathe. Slow. In. Out. Breathe.  The pink haired girl returned. “Kay, luv. He won’t be back until tomorrow for sure.

“Who..who is he? Where..where am I? What is this? A joke? Please tell me this is some sick joke Sarah’s playing on me. I’m being hazed, right? This is one of those hazing things  you always hear about on the news? Where are the girls? Are they hiding?”

Pink haired girl sighed loudly before speaking. The words leaving her mouth in a rehearsed fashion. As if this wasn’t the first time she’d been asked these questions. Jess stared blankly at the pink haired girl. Not believing this was real. That she was a captive. And tomorrow she’d be initiated. She’d either become one of his girls or she’d be worm food.

Jess squeezed herself back into the corner of her cell. Cell? Yes that’s what it was. A cell. She just noticed. Concrete encircled her. Jess shivered at the realization. Wrapping her arms tight around her knees, Jess rocked. Back and forth. Willing the motion to bring a warmth to her cold body. A warmth she somehow knew she’d never truly ever feel again.

Pink haired girl, Liv? wasn’t that what she said her name was? sat a bowl of soup and bread in front of Jess. “Eat,luv. It’ll warm your cold bones and it’ll be awhile before you’ll be given anything else. Eat. Don’t think. Just eat. Spoon. Bowl. Lips. Swallow. That’s all you need to think about right now. Spoon. Bowl. Lips. Swallow. Rinse and repeat.”

Jess watched as Liv stood and walked down a corridor she hasn’t realized was there before. She glanced down at the meager offerings. Spoon. Bowl. Lips. Swallow. Once the bowl was empty, Jess lay down and wrapped the thin blanket Liv had laid on her slab which apparently was her new bed. Jess didn’t think she’d be able to sleep a wink. But suddenly her body felt heavy and her eyes betrayed her. Jess drifted off into a dreamless sleep. Not realizing Liv had poured enough sleeping pills in her soup to knock out an elephant. Jess wasn’t the first girl Liv had helped through the process, but the last two didn’t make it. The protector was anxious. His need for a new girl overwhelming his sense of control. Liv stood and watched Jess sleep. Trying to will all Jess needed to know into her sleeping form.