“Dresser?” I manage to croak despite the dryness in my throat.
“Everyone has a secret bedroom drawer,” he says. His voice lowers, takes on a husky quality. “A place almost as personal as their soul.”
I stiffen, a new rush of discomfort slicing through me. He's been in here. I knew it with every piece of my being. He'd gone through Rebecca's things. He knew what was in that drawer. I don’t like this man, and I’m suddenly immensely aware of the fact that I am alone with him, miles from the highway, not another customer anywhere near—at least not that I've seen or heard thus far.
“I don’t want to know her secrets,” I say firmly, keeping my voice remarkably steady considering my knees are wobbly. “I want to find her and return her things to her.”
He studies me a long moment, his gaze as sharp as the slice of discomfort digging deeper inside me. Then finally, when I am about to choke on the silence, he says, “Like I said. Check the drawer.” His lips hint at a sardonic smile, and he pushes off the doorjamb. “I’ll be back to lock the exterior building at nine. You won’t want to be inside when I do.” Without another word, he is gone.
I don’t move. I can’t move. I want to slam the door shut but don’t dare, not when it locks from the outside, a thought that terrifies me. Seconds tick by and I wait as the man’s footsteps fade away into the distance. Away. Yes. Away. I have to get away from this place. I rush to the glossy mahogany dresser against the wall and yank open the top right drawer. Empty. I try the left. God, my heart is in my throat, threatening to choke me. I have to stop and force myself to inhale, and slowly exhale. I am shaking and irrationally frightened. I count to thirty and I can breathe again. I’m okay. Everything is okay. I open the left drawer and the breath I’d finally found again hitches at the contents. A black, twelve-by-eight, velvet box with a lock. A red silk scarf. Three red leather-bound journals.
My teeth worry my bottom lip. I dart a look toward the hallway and then back to the drawer. I am intrigued despite my nerves, but afraid the creepy man will return.
I quickly refocus on the drawer, and search for a key to the box, telling myself there might be contact information inside. That I am not caving to carnal curiosity. I flip open each of the journals, shake them for loose papers, for a key. A brochure falls from inside one of them, and I start to shove it aside, exposing several more brochures in the process.
I pick one of them up and read "Allure Art Gallery," San Francisco. They are all Allure brochures. Allure is the largest, most prestigious gallery among San Francisco’s many. I remember Ella mentioning art she’d found in the unit. It appears that despite our vastly different love lives, Rebecca and I share a common thread in our interest in art. I love everything about art, from the history to the creative process. There was a time when I might have cut off my right arm to work in the art world. It’s what I went to school for, what I’d dreamt of. A dream I’d given up years ago when life, bills, and responsibilities took precedence.
A loud crash sounds somewhere outside, and I nearly jump out of my own skin. My hand balls on my chest, willing my heart not to jump right through it. Thunder. The sound had been thunder. It is about to storm. Another loud rumble radiates through the walls, echoing as if I am in a cave–-almost like an omen of warning telling me to hurry the heck up. Oh good grief, my imagination is running wild, but I won’t ignore this feeling of unease.
I grab my purse, stack the journals in my arms, which I justify taking because they are my only hope of finding a clue to Rebecca’s recent whereabouts. I am about to exit the room, but I hesitate for a moment before turning back and rushing to the dresser to retrieve the box. My hands are still shaking as I manage to juggle the items I’m holding and attach the lock to the storage unit.
Quickly, I head down a narrow, dimly lit hallway, past rows of locked units like the one I’ve just left. I feel like I am Alice in Wonderland about to be sucked down the rabbit hole. I exit the garage-style main doorway to find a now dark parking lot made darker by the brewing storm. How has time gotten away from me so quickly?
I fall into a half run, half walk, in stealthy silence thanks to my light blue, Nike cross trainers, closing the distance between myself and my silver Ford Focus. My keys are still in my purse, and I don’t know why I haven’t pulled them out before now. I set the items I’m holding on top of the hood with the intent of digging in my purse and manage to drop one of the journals. I reach for it and drop another.
“Dang it,” I mumble and squat, scooping them up, but the hair stands up on my neck again, and despite the cold droplets of water smacking my forehead, I don’t stand. My gaze shifts to a shadow near the open garage door, and I search to find no one there. I jerk myself upright, stomach lurching. Get in the car. Get in the car. Why are you outside the car?
Hands shaking now, I dig out my keys, and curse the out-of-character paranoia I can’t escape. I yank open the car door and throw my purse inside, get in, the journals and the box awkwardly on my lap. I can’t lock the door fast enough. A heavy breath escapes me at the sound of the clicks that seal me inside and I haphazardly stack the journals and box in the passenger seat.
I’m about to start the engine when a trickle of awareness draws my gaze to the side of the building I’d just exited, and I gasp. Standing in the shadows, beneath a slim awning, one leg propped against the wall, is the man who’d visited me a few minutes before. Watching me.