One that gets me off everyone’s radar, including my handler.
I walk to the living room to assess the rest of the apartment in the daylight and my breath hitches as I spot a package sitting on the kitchen table with a note. I reach for the wall to steady myself, an icy chill sliding through me at what this means. My handler has a key to the apartment.
The air feels thicker, my breathing more labored, and I barely remember walking to the table. I am simply there, staring down at what has been left for me. The box is white with an Apple logo on the top, and this does not seem like good news to me. Is the new phone I received last night, and haven’t used, already compromised in some way? Am I moving again? Is this location unsafe? My adrenaline spikes and I grab the small white envelope and pull the card from inside out.
It’s not safe to be without a phone. This is yours to keep and the service is paid for a full year. And don’t say “no” when I’m not there to argue the many reasons you have to say “yes”.
Think about your safety and convenience. Besides, I selfishly do not want to wait to hear your voice until I see you again. My number is programmed in the phone. Text me when you get this and I’ll call you at a break from my meeting.
A sense of relief washes through me and I become aware of my free hand balled at my chest, where my heart is beating like a drum. I inhale and will it to slow. I’m okay. Everything is okay. The note isn’t from my handler. I am not leaving another city. I am not running. I am only hiding. Or maybe I am running. I don’t know how to define what I am or what I do anymore, and suddenly I am exhausted when I’ve only just woken up.
I sit down and touch Liam’s signature, blocking out everything else. He didn’t walk out the door today without saying goodbye. He doesn’t intend to say goodbye at all. I’m blown away that he took the time before heading to his meeting to go out and buy me a phone. No one has done anything like this for me since I was still living at home. Home. The word, the place, the past, crashes over me. Sometimes I dream of throwing away fear and returning. Sometimes I think that facing the danger rather than running from it is my better option. But how do you face what you do not fully know?
My gaze falls on Liam’s neat, masculine script and my lashes lower. For a few moments, I let myself indulge in the memories of Liam’s velvety, warm kisses and sensual caresses. I remember the “pi” tattoo and the numbers that formed a triangle that disappeared deliciously below his belt line. I remember his husky voice when he’d said, “Baby, you can examine it, lick it, do whatever you want to do to it and me, after I feed you. I promised. I meant it.” A shiver of pure desire tracks down my spine, but my eyes land on the envelope with my lease inside and it’s like a knife has cut open the sultry veil of fantasy I’m hiding beneath. My handler wasn’t here today, but he could have a key. I wonder if he’d had a key to my first place in New York. I shiver again, and this time it is not with desire. I am creeped out in a big way, and I’m having my locks changed.
I shake myself and stand up, setting the note from Liam back on the table, uncomfortably aware of my circumstances. Liam is a distraction and a problem I cannot afford. No matter how much I might want to see him again, I cannot. I won’t. Sleeping through the sound of a feather dropping isn’t an option to me, let alone relaxing with a man I barely know to the extent I sleep through the opening and shutting of doors. Liam was good for one night, a bridge to the next day in the face of a crisis. I’m on the other side. I hope.
Thirty minutes later, I’ve showered, and I’m looking ridiculous in my new t-shirt and a skirt, with high heels I intend to replace quickly, but the t-shirt seems better than a gaping blouse.
To add to my disorderly appearance, I stare at the light blonde poofball that is my hair in the absence of a styling product and a flat iron, and decide I look like I just stuck my finger in a light socket. I am what my mother would have called a “hot mess”, and I try to hear her voice in my head and fail, which is why I normally don’t try. Failing hurts.
Giving up on my appearance, I snatch my small purse and head to the kitchen table, and put all my new cards and ID in my wallet. Gathering my lease and the cell phone I intend to return to Liam, I decide I need to take my now empty carry-on with me. I load it up with my purse, paperwork, and the phone. I’ll be dropping it by Liam’s hotel sooner than later to avoid any chance of running into him. And thanks to the to-do list I wrote and rewrote about five times before I dried my hair, I head to the door feeling a tad more in control than when I woke up. Lists do that for me. I write things out when I need structure. I rewrite them when I still don’t feel I have it all pulled together. Or I clean and organize. Or I write lists in between cleaning and organizing. Maybe that should be my cover. I’ll be a maid. No one would expect to find my father’s daughter cleaning up after other people, and it would control my stress. It isn’t my dream career, or what I went to school for, but I have to find a way to get back to where I was before the museum, where surviving was more important than dreaming.
I step into the hallway outside the apartment (I’m not ready to call it “my apartment”) and I’m locking up when I hear the door directly behind me open and shut. I turn and jolt to find myself locked in the penetrating stare of a man as tall and devastatingly male as Liam, but that is about where the comparison stops. While Liam has a worldly, refined, and somehow edgy air about him, this man is a rugged bad boy from his torn, faded jeans to his long, light brown hair tied at his nape.