I turn on the engine and say a silent prayer of thank you when it starts. I can’t get out of here fast enough.
I’m halfway home when the storm explodes on the city in a fury of pounding rain and vivid lightning, no doubt the reason why, despite it being Friday night, there isn’t a nearby parking spot at my apartment complex. Thankful that a boatload of schoolwork to grade had motivated me to buy a purse the size of a small suitcase, I cram the box and the journals inside to protect them from the downpour. A wet run later, with water dripping from my hair and clothes, I flip the lights on in my apartment. I can’t shut the door and lock it any faster than I could get away from that storage facility.
Maybe my imagination is running away with me over the mystery of Rebecca Mason, but I feel like I am being stalked. That man back at the storage unit gave me the creeps. I shiver just thinking about him. Well, that and I’m dripping wet and despite the fact that it’s August, it’s a chilly fifty-one degrees outside according to the radio announcer.
Water is puddling at my feet, and I quickly pull the box and the journals from my drenched purse, setting them on the dry carpet before stripping right there in the entryway. My tan carpet is a dirt magnet but renting means you take what you can get. I start for the bathroom and hesitate, backtracking to grab my cell phone because it just makes me feel better to have it in hand, but I tell myself it’s to call Ella. I start a hot bath and dial her number, hoping she might know where to find Rebecca, and to hear she is safe and happy. Her phone rings with a fast busy signal that tells me that she was out of service range, but I still feel worried. I am one big ball of nerves and it’s making me insane.
Forty-five minutes later, freshly showered and dressed in pink boxers and a matching tee, my hair soft and dry and smelling like my favorite rose-scented shampoo, I am chiding myself for being so paranoid. I head to the fridge for my answer to all troubles—-a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Boston Cream Pie ice cream.
My gaze slides to Rebecca’s personal items still sitting by the door with my discarded clothes. I should have stayed at the storage unit until I found her information. Now, I have no choice but to seek what I need in between the pages of those journals. Or in the box...that I can’t open. I'm not even sure why I’d brought it with me.
A few minutes later, I sit down on the couch with my good friends Ben and Jerry, the stack of journals, and the box on the coffee table. The box that I still see no way to open without potentially damaging it.
With no other option, I reach for a journal and flip it open. In delicate female writing, it reads 2010 . No month. I wonder if this was written before, or after, the journal Ella had left in my apartment last night.
Thumbing through pages, I try to scan for words that might relate to a place of employment and catch little pieces of Rebecca’s life along the way. The night was hot and my body thirsty. I inhale and turn the page at the clear indication of something far more private than a place of work. This woman wrote with such flowery, exotic words. Who writes like that? My life changed the day I walked into the art gallery. Okay, that has my attention for the right reason. The gallery is clearly where I need to look for Rebecca. But did she work there or shop there? Or maybe she was an artist?
I keep reading, looking for my answers. I’ve changed. It’s changed me. This world has changed me. He says he’s simply helped me uncover the real me. I don’t even know who the real me is any more.
“He who?” I whisper at the text.
The places I go now, both emotionally and physically, are dark, dangerous places. I know this, yet where he leads-–where they lead – I follow.
I frown, thinking of the journal entry of the night before, how I’d read that someone had entered the room while Rebecca had been blindfolded to the bed.
How can fear be arousing? How can fear make me need and burn and want? But yet I want, I need, I dare things I never believed I was capable of doing. Is this the real me? That idea scares me deep down into my core. This can’t be me. I am not this person. But even more than that fear that I am, indeed, someone I do not recognize, I fear the idea of not being that person. Of going back to the past. Of once again being the good girl with a boring life, pushing paper in an eight-to-five job. Never happy, never satisfied. At least now I feel something. The rush of fear is far better than the defeat of boredom. The high of not knowing what comes next, so much better than always knowing one day will be like the last. Never anticipation, never feeling anything. No. I cannot go back. So why am I so terrified of going forward?
Thunder rolls overhead, jolting me momentarily from my absorption. Glancing at the window where rain is pattering on the glass, I absently curl up into the corner of the couch, thinking about what I’ve just read. I am so different from this woman writing the journals, yet I have an odd connection with her words. I love the kids I teach, but I feel the ache of encouraging them to follow their dreams and knowing I haven’t followed mine. Knowing my words to them are hypocritical. I understand what it feels like to have each day pass, knowing I’m no closer to my dreams. Jobs in the art world are just so few and far apart, and pay so little, that I cannot justify my passion as my job.
A heavy breath of regret trickles from my lips, and my gaze returns to the page. I am lost in a world that isn’t mine and never can be, but somehow, right now, it is.
Three hours later, the rain has calmed to a drizzle, and I am no longer lounging on the couch. Somewhere along the way, I’ve read all three journals, which have gone from erotic and thrilling to downright frightening. I’m sitting up now, hanging on the words of the final entry.