“You better be,” I say, attempting my best teacher voice, but my throat is too tight to do much more than croak out the warning. “Call me as soon as you arrive so I know you’re safe, and I want pictures. Lots of pictures.”
Ella smiles brightly, “Yes, Ms. McMillan.” She turns and rushes away, giving me a last-second wave over her shoulder before she rounds the corner. She is gone, and I am fighting unexpected tears I don’t even understand. I am happy for Ella but worried for her, too. I feel...I’m not sure what I feel. Lost, maybe. My fingers curl around her keys, and I am suddenly aware that I have just inherited a storage unit and the journals I swore I wouldn’t read again.
And then, the moment I know I will die remembering. The moment when the steel of a blade touched my lips. The moment that he promised there was pleasure in pain...
Those words written in the journal replay in my head early the next evening, the same day of Ella’s rapid departure. They haunt me to the point I feel downright icy every time I think of them. They are why I’m here, standing inside a temperature-controlled storage unit the size of a small garage, that at some point I assume the journal writer leased. Thankfully there is a dim light and the neighborhood is good. I stand here, unsure of what to look at first, uneasy about digging through a stranger’s things.
…the moment he promised there was pleasure in pain.
Unbidden, the words replay in my head again. I shiver, and not just because the journal is explicitly arousing. I shouldn’t be aroused. Not by painful pleasure and bondage. I refuse to be aroused. I am worried about this mysterious woman. Besides, I am my father’s daughter, just as my mother had been my father’s wife, which translated to his puppets who didn’t dare walk in the same shadows he did. My mother had escaped him in death, and I’d chosen to leave him out of my life since. Despite five years without him, I remain all too aware that the lingering effects of his heavy hand are far too present in my life.
I grind my teeth at the memories. I have no idea how my mind has gone to places I try never to go. Forcefully, I refocus on the neatly stacked furniture and boxes lining the walls, as well as what looks like well-packaged artwork. A life left behind, forgotten. Who did that? Who left things that they’d clearly cared about enough to neatly pack and organize them, behind? I’m not buying the idea that some rich boyfriend had whisked this woman away to some exotic life. No one who hadn’t seen bad luck, or maybe even tragedy, did this. I’m not about to be a part of adding to this woman’s troubles by selling off her things. Not this woman, I corrected myself. Rebecca Mason is her name. That’s what the paperwork said, and as per the management they couldn’t give me her phone number and ‘it’s disconnected anyway’.
“I’m going to find a way to contact you, and return your things,” I whisper to the room, as if I’m speaking to Rebecca, and a chill races down my spine. I feel like she is here, like I’m talking to her and it’s downright creepy. Somehow, it makes me more determined to find her.
I sigh with grim realization at what my vow means. I have to invade her privacy and dig through her things to find a way to contact her, a way to return what was left of her life. If she’s alive, I think grimly, hugging myself.
“Stop it,” I murmur, chiding myself. The Grim Reaper mentality isn’t me. I don’t even like horror movies. The world has enough real monsters without creating fictional monsters.
There really could be a happy reason Rebecca left her life behind. Winning the lotto. There. Yes. There was a good reason to leave all your things behind. Unlikely, but still possible. Ten million to one or so, I imagine, but possible. So why does the idea do absolutely nothing to dismiss the eerie, hollow feeling of the room?
Eager to get this over with, I drop my purse to the ground and run my hands down my soft, faded jeans, scanning the items around me until my gaze catches on a box neatly labeled "personal papers". Seems a good place to find contact information, if I ever saw one.
Two hours later I am sitting against a wall, thumbing through information I have no business seeing. School records, bills, legal paperwork that amounted to pennies of inheritance from the death of Rebecca’s mother and last living relative, three years before. I think of my own mother, of the woman who’d tried so hard to shelter me from my father, but would never do anything to shelter herself. I squeeze my eyes shut, wondering if the pain of losing her will ever go away. If it will ever go away. She’d been my best friend, my closest confidante. I wonder if Rebecca was close to her mother, as I was mine? If she’d hurt as I did with my loss, as I still do.
With effort, I refocus on the paperwork, and realize I’m not going to find any family connections to reach Rebecca. But thankfully, the mail and a bunch of bank statements have, at least, given me her address though I’m not overly certain it will be accurate.
Feeling not much closer to finding Rebecca, I shove everything back in the box and stand up, feeling stiff and cramped in a way that defies my morning jogs.
“Try the dresser,” comes a male voice from behind me.
I yelp and whirl around to find a man wearing a staff shirt standing in the doorway. The hair on the back of my neck prickles, my nerve endings humming with warning. He is a handsome man in his mid-thirties-—blond, clean shaven, with short, spiky hair, but it’s the dark interest in his deep-set eyes that sets me on edge. The already small room seems to shrink and close in on me, that eerie feeling I’ve been unable to shake no longer hollow but focused on me, like an invisible weight on my shoulders and chest.