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Disclaimer: The events in this story are fictitious, though the members of Matchbox Twenty are, in every sense of the word, real. This story is for the purpose of entertainment and possible recognition from the band, (hee! ; ) I have no connection with Matchbox Twenty or any corporation or entity connected to them… yet.

Summary: Rob goes missing

Rating: PG

* Please e-mail Califorma_Freakface@email.com with questions, comments, theories, complaints, or words of wisdom.

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Chapter One

I drummed my fingers to the tune that had been stuck in my head all week. Phrases and melodies raced through my head as a blank notebook page glared at me from the desk. I could hear loud voices in the hallway outside the hotel room. It had to be the guys.

“You are SICK!” I recognised Adam’s voice. “You ordered McDonald’s food?!? There’s better stuff here!”

I leaned closer to the desk. Strands of my currently blond hair slipped over my eyes, and I brushed them aside. Then closed my eyes. I took in a lungful of air and relaxed my shoulders.

“Life’s melodramatic stage plays host to death’s ironic drama,” I whispered. I opened my eyes and recorded the line before it could slip away. Again, I closed my eyes.

“And don’t let me down!” Kyle’s tenor resonated off the hotel walls. The door flew open. Kyle stepped in, clutching a full drink tray in one hand and McDonalds bags in the other. “Don’t let me down!”

He crossed the room in three strides and set the drink tray on the desk. “Whatcha doing, Pookie?”

Covering the page, I mumbled my reply. “Nothing.”

Kyle shrugged and plopped down on the bed. Grabbing the clicker, he switched on the television. Adam whisked into the room and hit the power button as he passed the tube.

“Bad Kyle!” Adam exclaimed. “This ain’t TV time!” He turned to me. “Hey, Pookie, did you tell him it’s playtime?”

“I didn’t tell him anything,” I murmured. The words of the song that Kyle was singing earlier were now stuck in my head, and it was tough to write anything else. I dropped my pen and sighed.

Kyle lay back on the bed, his knees bent and pointing to the ceiling. The window beside the bed was open, allowing a cool breeze to whisper over him. Light trickled through the parting of the drapes; its beam left a stripe across Kyle’s shirt. He sighed. Closing his eyes, he hummed to himself.

“What? Now that you made Frank go through all that trouble, you’re not even gonna eat?” Adam seated himself in another chair beside the desk.

Kyle’s eyelids fluttered open halfway. Furrowing his eyebrows, he said, “I’m waiting for the others.” He shut his eyes again, with another sigh, and the muscles in his face relaxed.

Adam stared at him for a few seconds before turning to me and mouthing the words, “Can you believe this guy?” He slid off the chair and crept over to the bed. He hovered over Kyle for a full minute, probably to make sure that he was asleep. Reaching for the pillow above Kyle’s head, Adam raised an index finger to his lips. I smiled. I had to stifle a laugh too, once that psychopathic expression crossed his face.

“Ahhh!!!” Adam lunged forward, slamming the pillow into Kyle’s face. Kyle’s arms and legs flailed about, and he jolted upright. THUD! Adam hit the floor. Rolling off the bed, Kyle fell on Adam and throttled him.

I wish I had popcorn.

Just then, Paul peered into the room and found me watching Adam and Kyle beat the crap out of each other. He didn’t seem phased. “Hey, guys?” he called into the fray. Shrugging, he turned to me. “Have you seen Rob?”

“Not lately,” I shook my head. “He was raiding the vending machine a few hours ago though.”

Paul grimaced and turned back to the children. Adam now had Kyle in a chokehold and was laughing maniacally. “Guys!” he yelled. Realising that they were ignoring him, Paul sighed. He headed for the open door.

“Wait!” Kyle rasped, tugging at the arm pressed into his neck. Paul turned as Adam released Kyle. Gesturing toward the desk, he said, “dinner?”

Paul raised a hand. “No thanks, Smooches! I ate!”

“What’dyou have?” Kyle asked as he and Adam stood up.

“Just some seafood.”

“Ooh!” Adam sauntered over to Paul. “Fancy seafood or Capt’n Jack’s Goldfish Grill-a-long?”

Shrugging, Paul replied, “It was just fish, haddock or something.”

“Nice!”

“Hey, listen,” Paul must have remembered the real reason why he was here in the first place. “Have either of you seen Rob lately?”

“Yeah,” Adam replied. “I had a Rob siting about an hour ago. He was across from the hotel gym, doing his laundry.”

I stared at Adam. There had to be a punch line. “He was what?!?”

“Doing his laundry. Yeah, I know it’s strange. I asked him about it. He just said he really wanted to this one shirt clean for tonight, he needed to have it, and there was no time to get it dry cleaned.”

Paul raised an eyebrow. “Well, was it the one he wore last night?”

Flinging his arms up in the air, Adam cried, “Hey, I’m not the man’s fashion coordinator! I never remember what he wears!” He smiled at me. “But I do notice what Pookie wears!” his voice went up a few octaves. “’Cause he’s just so fine!”

I glanced over at Adam with a smile. " Do I make you horny, baby?" I asked in my best Austin Powers voice. Adam and Kyle burst into laughter, and I couldn’t help but chuckle. My smile faded, however, when I saw the expression on Paul’s face. Though tinted by pink sunglasses, the concern in his eyes still showed. He furrowed his eyebrows and shook his head.

“He was doing his laundry,” Paul stated as he stared into space.

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Chapter Two

Adam started his baby-doll head kissing ritual early tonight. During the Jay Hawk’s opening song, he planted a kiss on the Toy Story baby’s forehead and proceeded down the line. He whispered something to the original baby head, spoke to him for a while. So long that it was starting to scare me. But, as I watched Adam close his eyes, I understood why the ritual was especially important tonight. He was afraid.

I could hear Kyle strumming his acoustic guitar behind me. His beat was off. Way off. I don’t think I’d ever heard Kyle hit a wrong note before.

Paul paced a patch of floor that stretched before the chair where I sat. He dug his fingernails at the inside lining of his jacket, and the black enamel flaked off his nails. When Frank approached him, Paul stopped picking at his jacket hem to face him. Frank whispered something. The message was only intended for Paul, but I heard it. “No sign of Rob”.

I needed a cigarette. Fear was welling up within me, and a smoke seemed to always make things a little better. I pulled out my Marlboros.

Paul plopped into the seat beside me and sighed. Turning to me, he asked, “Can I bum a smoke?”

I nodded. Pulling out a cigarette, I offered the carton to Paul. He took it in his right hand. We fumbled for a light.

Paul was the first to find his lighter. But as he flicked at the flint, the lighter wouldn't light. He cursed under his breath. By then, I had found my lighter. I lit his cigarette, then mine, then returned the lighter to my pocket.

Staring at Adam, Paul inhaled the first puff of his cigarette. “Brian, what are we going to do?”

“Only one thing we really can do,” I replied, as I exhaled my first puff. “Cancel the concert.”

I made it sound so easy. But even as the Jay Hawks played, I heard some fans demanding Matchbox Twenty. How could we go out there and tell them that we weren’t going to play for them? But how could we play without Rob?

“I know,” Paul breathed. “Let me handle that, okay?”

I nodded.

“Would you still be up for signing autographs?”

“Yeah,” I replied. I’ve signed my name so many times now that it’s reflex. All fans have to do is slide something under my hand, and they’d have an autographed… whatever. Not just posters, T-shirts, and CD booklets. I’ve signed arms, backpacks, sneakers, whatever.

Groaning, Paul got to his feet and walked away. I could hear him and Kyle whispering behind me; I just kept my eyes on Adam. He was still talking to that baby head. His forehead was pressed into the doll’s, and his eyes were shut. I thought I saw tears in his eyes, but it could have been the reflection of the trillion lights overhead. I adjusted my glasses, hoping I could focus my eyes better. No.

Paul strode into view. When he put his hand on Adam’s shoulder, Adam jumped. Paul was taking longer drags on his cigarette, nearly sucking the life out of it, as he whispered to Adam. Adam’s face fell. His replies to Paul seemed directed to his baby-doll heads.

Then Paul wandered off. I didn’t realise it until I reached for another cigarette, but Paul still had my pack of smokes. Oh well. I bummed one off Kyle, though they weren’t my brand.

The Jay Hawks continued to play, unaware that one of their biggest fans was missing. And, though things were going the way they were, I had to admit that Jay Hawks were playing at their all-time best tonight. I sighed, thinking how Rob was missing it.

Kyle took up Paul’s pacing. I watched him go through at least three cigarettes. And when I glanced over at Adam, I found him lying on his back on the floor. I kept half-expecting Rob to come whisking in any moment, with some story about traffic or losing track of the time. I waited. But the next band member to walk into view was Paul. I realised the Jay Hawks finished their finale. And that Rob wasn’t coming.

I saw the curtains part several feet away from me. The Jay Hawks exited the stage. Behind them came a rush of cheering. Marc Perlman, Jay Hawks’ bass player, smiled as he passed me.

“All warmed up!” he commented, motioning his thumb toward the stage.

“We’re not performing tonight.”

“What?” Marc slid into the seat beside me. “What’s going on?”

Before I could say anything, Paul rushed past us. We stared after him, as he stepped through the curtains, onto the stage, alone.

“What’s he doing?” I heard Marc mumble under his breath. Wondering the same thing, I kept my mouth shut and listened for Paul to explain.

The audience exploded into cheers, then died down. Paul must have been motioning to silence them.

“Hey, everyone,” his voice resonated through the coliseum. He sounded so strange, so small. He never uses a microphone, except when we accept awards. But those times, Paul has the rest of the band to back him up. Now he was alone. “Uh, I should tell you all that we’re not performing tonight.”

Whispers arose from the crowds, along with some booing and shouting.

“Listen,” Paul’s voice wavered as he continued. “You’ll get your money back, or a voucher to another concert. And, um…” He gulped. The audience was drowning out Paul’s voice. “And… can you all please quiet a minute?”

The crowds hushed.

“And you’re all welcome to, um, hang around and we’ll do autographs. Well, me, Kyle, Adam, and Brian will anyway…”

Again, the audience became loud. At least five hundred people were saying Rob’s name.

“Yeah,” Paul’s voice immediately hushed the crowds this time. “Rob’s not here. He’s, um, taken ill. Nothing serious. So don’t worry about him.” Paul’s voice trembled, and I could tell from it that he was wracked with fear. And here he was, telling everyone else not to worry. Just made me more afraid.

Glancing over at Adam, I saw that he was now sitting. He was talking to Jay Hawks’ Jen Gunderman, who was crouched beside him. Shocks of her fiery hair covered her face and swayed as she spoke. She tucked them behind her ear. Her eyebrows were raised as Adam mumbled something to her. She drew her hands to her face, and I could hear her exclaim, “That’s terrible!” Adam nodded and continued.

Paul stepped through the curtains. I could smell cigarette smoke on his, even from several feet away. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out my carton of smokes and pulled out the last one. And I’d had half a pack! He got a light off Kyle’s cigarette, then walked away. I could still smell him.

Jen got to her feet. Squeezing Adam’s shoulder, she said something with a grimace. She released his shoulder and wandered off.

“So what’s he got?”

I jumped; I had completely forgotten that Marc was still sitting next to me.

“Is it something like a cold or laryngitis?”

I wish Paul had told me the cover story before he told the audience. Were we supposed to tell everyone that Rob was sick? I know that’s what we were telling the audience, but shouldn’t we tell the Jay Hawks the truth? Or were we just going to pull this again tomorrow night in Atlanta…

Atlanta! That’s right! We had a concert tomorrow night! If we didn’t find Rob tonight, what were we going to do?

Marc was just staring at me, his eyebrows raised. I realised I hadn’t answered his question.

“Yeah,” I replied without further hesitation. “Something like that.”

But, as I said these words, I wondered what Adam had told Jen. The Jay Hawks were going to hate us for this.

“Oh,” Marc said, leaning back. He pushed on his knees and rose from his chair. “Well, tell him we missed him. And that we hope he’s feeling better.”

Wish I could.

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Chapter Three

Usually, I enjoyed meet and greet time. I get to meet some of the fans, joke around with them a little, basically just hang out and have a good time. But, tonight, meet and greet was hell. I felt like an assembly line worker. As I received items that passed through my friends’ hands and now required my signature, fans leaned over the table and demanded to know about Rob. If he was all right, what he had, how long he’d be sick. Paul decided that Rob had the flu; the illness was unpredictable enough.

I must have told six hundred people that Rob Thomas had the flu. There were so many people! Normally, we restrict meet and greet to a cozy number, so things don’t get too out of control, like what was happening here. Their voices were still in my head when we filed into our bus.

Rob’s stuffed koala greeted us. It was laying on its side, where Rob had been sitting on the way to this city. The koala was from Australia. He bought it there, on one of our many trips to the country, and it was now his travelling companion. The fur around its midsection was matted, where Rob had often held it. The ends of the ribbon around its neck were starting to fray, and the tag on its ear was wrinkled. I looked closer at the tag. I had never really looked at it before. The brand name was “Hug ‘Ums”, and there was a picture of a boy hugging a koala who looked to be the same size. I couldn’t help but smile. We should have stuck a picture of Rob’s face over the boy’s a long time ago.

I picked up the koala. I stared at it, and it stared back at me with its glossy black eyes. It seemed to be saying, “Where’s Rob?”, but maybe I’m just losing it. I returned the koala to where Rob had left him.

I slid into my usual seat, behind Rob’s, in the back of the bus where all the rowdy kids go. But I didn’t feel like getting rowdy.

Adam dove into his side-facing seat on the left. I could tell when he went to sleep; his face muscles relaxed. His arm slipped off his stomach and dangled off the seat. I sighed, wishing I could do the same.

Kyle boarded the bus. He sat down beside me, just as Paul came up the steps of the bus. Paul stood in the aisle, at the front of the bus.

“I told Jay Hawks what’s going on,” Paul announced. “Needless to say, they’re upset.”

I sighed. Marc must be especially upset at me, since I’d lied to him.

Paul took a seat across from Adam. He and Kyle were staring at our sleeping band member as we sat in silence. We could hear the crew loading our gear into the compartments under the bus. It would be a while before we’d go.

The silence must have been killing Kyle. He jumped up and flicked on the radio.

“I would give my world to lift you up,” Rob’s voice sang over the airwaves. “I could change my life to better suit your mood. ‘Cause you’re so…” Kyle smacked the off button and slumped back into the seat beside me.

“Who’s going to tell Marisol?” Kyle asked. Of course, Rob’s wife came to mind after hearing her song.

What are we going to tell her?” Paul corrected him. “That we lost her husband?” He sighed.

Shaking my head, I said, “Guys, we haven’t lost him yet.” Maybe I was just in denial, thinking that Rob would be there when we got back to the hotel to check out. But I didn’t want to think about the other possibility, the more real one…

What if he wasn’t?

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Chapter Four

Paul, Adam, and Kyle were standing behind me as I worked to unlock the door to Rob’s hotel room. My elbow kept hitting against Paul’s rib cage. His cigarette smoke blew past the right side of my face, and his breath tickled my neck.

“Paul, do you mind?”

“Oh,” Paul mumbled, stepping back. “Sorry, Brian.”

As he spoke, I heard the doorknob click. I jiggled the handle, and the door opened. Flicking on the light switch, I glanced about the room.

“Guys, there’s nothing in here,” I announced. Paul pushed his way past me.

“What?!?” Paul ripped off his shades and rushed to the centre of the room. Looking about, he exclaimed, “What the hell is going on?”

No one answered. We were all afraid that Paul would rip our heads off if we did. Paul sighed. His hands went to his head, and he fell back into the bed.

“Maybe we should search the room anyway,” Adam braved. “He might have left something behind that will help us figure out where he went.”

Paul sat up and nodded. “Okay. I’ll search the bathroom.”

“I’ll check the closet,” Adam said as Kyle wandered over to the bureau. I scanned the room again. Besides what they said, there were only pictures hanging on the wall, a wastebasket, the bed, and a refrigerator with a mini-bar beneath it. I opened the door to the fridge. Nothing. Then I checked the mini-bar…

Nothing. All the alcohol was gone. Considering the mini-bar in my room, I remembered that it’d had about forty units of alcohol inside. And mine still had forty. It’s not like we’ve been there long enough to do any drinking; we had just arrived this afternoon.

“Guys,” Paul called us from the bathroom. Kyle, Adam, and I turned as Paul stepped out of the bathroom, holding up an electric razor. “He left this. But it was under the shower curtain. He probably just dropped it.”

I sauntered to the bed. I hadn’t noticed how neat it was before. There was a ruffled area where Paul had been laying. Besides that, the bed was perfect. Rob had even done hospital corners! Where did he pick that up?

Under the bed was immaculate too. But I saw something across the way from me, a dark rectangular object. No matter how far I stretched out my arm, I couldn’t reach it. So I got onto the bed and reached down the side. My hand brushed against a plastic card. Grabbing it, I pulled it from its hiding space and looked at it. Rob’s picture was on it, under the word “Florida”…

Rob’s driver’s license.

I stuck my hand further down the side of the bed and reached the object I had seen before. Before I could see it, I knew what it was. Rob’s wallet.

“Found something,” I announced. Adam and Kyle turned to me, and Paul emerged from the bathroom. I held up the license in one hand and the wallet in the other. Each looked from the wallet to the license and back again.

Paul raised his eyebrows. “Then how did he get out of here?”

“Hitchhiking, I guess,” Adam replied, sitting down on the bed. “I mean, you know Rob!”

“But why’d he leave?”

Shrugging, Adam said, “Hey, I ain’t the Psychic Friends Network!”

“I found something too,” Kyle piped up and held a piece of paper in the air. “It was in the wastebasket. The handwriting is his, but it’s in Spanish!”

“Huh?” Adam reached over and snatched the paper from Kyle. Scanning the sheet, he said, “Yeah, it is in Spanish!”

“What’s it say?” Paul asked, sitting behind Adam, looking over his shoulder. I realised he wasn’t smoking and figured that he must have gone through Kyle’s cigarettes too.

Adam shook his head and mumbled, “I ain’t an interpreter either.”

“So let me get this straight,” Kyle said, crossing his arms. “Rob washes a shirt, packs up, takes off, doesn’t tell the rest of us, and leaves his wallet and something written in Spanish?”

Lying back on the bed, Paul sighed. “None of this is making any sense,” he breathed. Then everyone was quiet, and we heard nothing. Nothing at all. Not even the traffic outside, or an air conditioning unit kicking on, or someone noisy in the hallway. Dead air. I was beginning to understand “Kody” better. The words ran through my head. So please hand me the bottle, I think I’m lonely now

Oh, that couldn’t be what this was about! I stared at the empty mini-bar. He would just take off with a bunch of alcohol to get drunk somewhere, would he? It was kind of weird. Then again, considering everything we knew thus far…

No. There had to be something else going on. Somehow, this all made sense.

“We gotta call Marisol,” I broke the silence. Paul, Adam, and Kyle stared at me, like I had destroyed something sacred. Then Paul nodded.

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Chapter Five

I was brushing my teeth when someone came knocking at my hotel room door. Toothbrush still in hand, I sauntered away from the sink. I opened the door, keeping the chain latched.

Paul was standing there with his hand over his eyes. He rubbed his temples, then moved his hand away. His eyes were red, his face pale in contrast.

“What’s going…”

“Can I come in?” Paul whispered. I unlatched the chain and admitted Paul into the room. He settled in the chair by the desk with a sigh.

“You’d better sit down, Brian.”

Sitting down at the edge of the bed, I watched Paul rub his hands against his nose. He sniffled. Then, straightening his posture, he said, “Somebody found Rob.”

If Paul was this upset, that Rob was found…

No.

Shaking my head, I asked, “So where is he? In his room? With Adam and Kyle?”

“Brian…” His voice trailed off. He swallowed hard and continued. “A jogger this morning found…,” his voice wavered and rose an octave. He cleared his throat. “Found him in a lake a few blocks from here. They think he was…, was drinking…”

“Is he okay?” I leaned forward. “Is he at the hospital?”

Paul turned from me and stared out the window. “No,” he stated.

I stared down at my hands, at the black rose that I was holding. Its form was so perfect, even as a pedal slipped off and fluttered to my lap.

“Brian Yale.”

I raised my head and saw the funeral director looking at me. I rose. Marching down the black velvet carpetted aisle, I glanced at the people around me. I saw Kyle. He was sitting with his wife, who held their daughter in her lap. Adam sat beside Kyle, his head in his hands.

Then I saw Marisol. She knelt beside a coffin in a long sleeved black dress. A veil and her hair covered her beautiful face. Pressing her head against the side of the coffin, she sobbed quietly. I could only hear her sniffling.

As I passed her, Marisol grabbed my arm.

“No, Brian,” she whispered as she raised her head. “He’s gone.” I reached for her hand and squeezed it. She pulled at my arm with one last tug, then drew her hands over her eyes.

Leaning forward, I gazed into the coffin…

The empty coffin.

“He’s gone,” Marisol repeated.

Shaking my head, I stepped back. “Where is he?”

Paul touched my shoulder. “Gone,” he replied, his eyes wide and tearful.

“But where? Where?”

Gripping me by both shoulders, Paul shook me. “Brian!” My head snapped back as he shook me more violently.

“You said they found him!”

“Brian!”

Bolting upright, I grabbed Paul’s wrists and shoved him away from me. He stumbled back a few steps and stared at me. I looked around. I was in my hotel room, and it was dark. Sweat rolled down the sides of my face, and I shivered.

“Whah…,” I began but forgot what I was going to say.

Paul stepped closer to me. “Hey, Brian, man, you all right?”

I moved my head up and down as I tucked my hair behind my ears.

“’Cause you were screaming.”

My face heated up as I said, “Yeah, I’m okay.”

Paul sighed and closed his eyes. “So,” he asked, “What was your dream about?”

Shrugging, I replied, “It was just a dream.” I wasn’t about to tell him that I’d dreamed Rob’s death, at least not until we found Rob, when we could all laugh about this. I noticed that Paul was still staring at me. “Can I go back to sleep now?”

Such a simple request. But, when Paul left the room, I found myself staring at the shadowed wall. And thinking about the empty coffin. Rob was alive, I thought, as I breathed a sigh of relief. But is he safe?

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Chapter Six

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