I spend the entire day with Eric and Dahlia playing along to pass the time. We go out to eat for lunch and do a Hollywood tour with a guide and visit a museum before heading back to our hotel, exhausted. At least, I pretend to be exhausted enough that I’m ready to call it a day. Really what I need to do is get ready to go to Hamburg’s restaurant tonight.
Dahlia already thinks there’s something wrong with me.
“Are you coming down with something?” she asks reaching between our poolside lounge-chairs and feeling my forehead.
“I’m fine,” I say. “Just tired after getting up so early. And when’s the last time I did this much walking around in one day?”
She leans back against her chair and adjusts the big, round sunglasses on her face.
“Well, I hope you won’t be tired tomorrow,” Eric says on the other side of me. “There are so many things I want to do. I haven’t been to L.A. since before my parents divorced.”
“Yeah, it’s my first time back in two years,” Dahlia adds.
A teenager jumps into the pool several feet away and splashes us a little. I raise my back from the chair and shake the droplets of water from the magazine I had been reading. I pull my sunglasses off my eyes and rest them on my head. Swinging my legs over the side of the chair, I stand up.
“I think I’m going to head up to the room and take a nap,” I announce as I grab my mesh pool bag from beside me on the concrete.
Eric sits up straight and removes his sunglasses, too.
“I’ll go with you if you want,” he offers.
I gesture toward him, indicating for him not to get up. “No, you hang out here and keep Dahlia company,” I say, shouldering my bag. I slide my sunglasses back over my eyes so he can’t detect the deceit.
“Are you sure you’re feeling all right?” Dahlia asks. “Sarai, you’re on vacation, remember? You’re supposed to be having a good time, not napping.”
“I think I’ll be one hundred percent tomorrow,” I say. “I just need a long, hot bath and good night’s sleep is all.”
“OK, I’ll take your word for it,” Dahlia says. “But don’t you get sick on me.” She shakes her finger at me sternly.
Eric reaches out and curls his fingers around my wrist. He pulls me down to him. “You sure you don’t want me to join you?” He kisses my lips and I kiss him back before rising fully into a stand again.
“I’m sure,” I say softly and leave it at that.
I leave them by the pool and head to the elevator.
The second I’m inside the room, I lock the door with the chain so Eric and Dahlia can’t walk in on me. I drop my bag on the floor and open my laptop, punching in my password. While it's booting up, I look out the window to see my friends, although small from this height, still lounging at the poolside. I sit down in front of the screen and for probably the hundredth time, I look at every page on the web site for Hamburg’s restaurant, double-checking the hours of operation and scanning the professionally-shot photos of the building, inside and out. None of this is really helping me with what I intend to do, but I still find myself looking at it every day.
Feeling defeated, I slam the palm of my hand down on the tabletop.
“Dammit!” I say out loud and slouch against the chair, running my hands over the top of my hair.
I still don’t know how I’m going to get Hamburg by himself without being seen. I know I’m in over my head. I have been since I conjured up this crazy idea, but I know if all I do is sit around and think about it I’ll never get past that phase.
I came here with a plan: go to the restaurant in a disguise and act as any other guest. Scope the place out for one night. Where the exits are located. The entrances to other areas of the building. The restrooms. But my number one priority was to find the room where Hamburg sits watching the guests from above and listening to their conversations from the tiny mic hidden at every table’s centerpiece. Then I would sneak inside and slit the pig’s throat.
But now that I’m here, not six blocks from the restaurant, and now that the days I have to do this are ticking away, I’m feeling less confident. This isn’t a movie. I’m a stupid girl to think I can waltz into a place like that unseen, take a man’s life without drawing attention and escape without getting caught.
Only Victor can pull something like that off.
I hit the tabletop again more lightly this time, close the lid on the laptop and stand from the table. I pace over the red and green speckled carpet. And just as I resolve to head down the hall to the room I secretly rented separate from Dahlia and Eric, the door cracks open but is stopped by the chain.
“Sarai?” Dahlia says from the other side. “You gonna’ let us in?”
I sigh heavily and walk over to unlock the door.
“What’s with the chain?” Eric asks, walking in behind Dahlia.
I plop down on the end of the king-sized bed.
They both drop their things on the floor. Dahlia sits at the table by the window and Eric lies across the bed behind me, crossing his ankles.
“Thought you were going to take a nap?” Dahlia asks.
She carefully drags her fingers through portions of her wet, tangled hair, grimacing every now and then with the effort.
“Dahlia,” I say, looking at them both. “I haven’t been up here long. I thought you two were going to hang around the pool for a while?” I hope I hid the aggravation from my voice about how soon they decided to join me. I just can’t help it; I’m too stressed out, plus I’m worried about them being here with me at all. I don’t want them to get hurt or to be involved in any way with why I came here.
“We can go if you want,” Eric says gently from behind.
Instantly I regret my words because it’s obvious I didn’t hide the aggravation as well as I had hoped.
I tilt my head back and sigh, reaching over and rubbing the top of his ankle.
“I’m sorry,” I say and smile up at Dahlia. “You know, I…,” then suddenly a perfectly reasonable excuse for the way I’ve been acting materializes and the floodgates open on the lies. “…I’m just kind of nervous about being back in L.A.”
Dahlia gets that oh-I-see look and shoves Eric’s feet to the side and sits down next to me in place of them. She drapes her arm around my shoulder and fits her hand around my upper arm.
“I had a feeling that might be what was wrong.” I notice her glance back at Eric, giving me the impression that this is what they talked about while they sat down there at the pool together once I left.
I bet it’s also why they decided to come up here with me so soon.
“We wanted to check on you,” Eric says from behind, confirming my suspicion.
I feel the bed move as he sits upright.
I stand up before he has a chance to wrap his arms around me. It’s in this very moment that I realize I’ve been doing that a lot lately for the past month. How much longer I can keep leading him on, I don’t know. I know I should just tell him how I feel, that I’m not as into him as he is into me. But the truth is that I can’t tell him the truth. I would just have to make up yet another lie and I’m so deep in lies right now that I’m drowning in them.
At the same time, I’ve let this go on between us for as long as I have because I really wanted to feel as deeply for him as he seems to feel for me. I wanted to get on with my life, to forget about Victor and be happy with the life he left me with.
But I can’t. I just can’t….
“He’s not going to know you’re even here,” Eric says about ‘Matt’. “And besides, if he did find out, I’d kick his ass if I saw him.”
I smile weakly across at Eric.
“I know you would,” I say, but I just feel even worse because the only two friends I have in the world have no idea who I am.
I cross my arms and walk to the window, gazing out.
“Sarai,” Dahlia speaks up, “I hate to say this to you, but if you’re that worried about Matt finding out you’re back in town, I don’t think it’s a good idea to visit your friends here.”
“I know, you’re right,” I say. “I know they wouldn’t tell him, but it’s probably best I just stuck with the two of you while we’re here.”
I turn around to face them.
“Sounds like a plan,” Eric says, beaming.
It’s definitely a plan, because now I don’t have to come up with another excuse to not introduce them to my old friends who don’t exist.
Dahlia walks over to stand next to me.
“We probably should’ve vacationed in Florida or something, huh?”
I gaze out the window again.
“No,” I say. “I love this city. And I know how much you wanted to come.” I smile over at her briefly. “I say we have as much fun as possible this week.”
She bumps her shoulder against mine playfully.
“Now that’s the Sarai I know.” She smiles.
Yes, but I’m not that person….
She walks over and grabs Eric by the elbow, pulling him from the bed.
“Let’s get out of here and let the girl rest.”
Eric cooperates and then comes over to me, turning me around with my elbows cupped in his hands. He looks into my eyes with his baby-blues and gives me his best pouty face.
“If you need me for anything,” he says, “call me and I’ll be here.”
I nod and offer him a real smile. Because he deserves it for being so kind to me.
“I will,” I say.
Then I shuffle them out the door with both hands in front of me.
“I would say don’t have too much fun without me, but that would be asking too much.”
Dahlia laughs lightly as she steps out into the hallway.
“No, it’s not asking too much.” She holds up two fingers. “Scouts honor.”
“I don’t think that’s how it goes, Dahl,” Eric says.
She brushes him off.
“You just get some sleep,” she says. “Because tomorrow you’re going to need to be fully charged.”
“Agreed.” I nod.
“Bye babe,” Eric says just before I close myself off inside the room again.
I stand with my back pressed against the door and let out a long, deep breath.
Pretending is so hard. It’s far more difficult than just being myself, as abnormal and reckless as I may be.
“I know what I have to do,” I say aloud—talking to myself has become my new thing as of late. It helps me to visualize and to figure things out easier.
I walk back to the window and gaze out at the city of Los Angeles, my arms crossed loosely over my stomach.
“A disguise is necessary, but not to hide from Hamburg. Just from the cameras and from anyone else. I want Hamburg to see me. It’s the only way I’m going to get in.”
Dahlia and Eric didn’t come back up to the room until a couple hours later, just after sundown. I had made sure to shower and change into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and to leave the lights off in the room to make it appear as though I had been asleep. The second I heard the card key sliding into the door, I leapt into bed and sprawled out across the mattress, the same way I always do when I’m really sleeping. Eric crept in quietly, trying not to ‘wake me’, but I rolled over and moaned and cracked my eyelids open to let him know that he had. He apologized and asked if I wanted to go with him and Dahlia to a nearby nightclub and insisted that if I didn’t go, he wouldn’t, either. But I rejected that idea quickly. I could tell he really wanted to go and I can’t blame him; if I were in his position I wouldn’t want to hang out in a dark hotel room at barely eight o’clock on a Friday night in one of the most active cities in the U.S.