Dermit Williams Holding Company
I scan and find an email from my new boss, and his signature, which is no signature at all. It’s just his name typed. There is no script and there is no symbol to tell me I should trust this person. I’m baffled. I’ve been told this job is my cover story. A fake cover story. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe this is a real job, just like my lease was a real lease. The letter clearly references a conversation with someone pretending to be me. But the instructions I received clearly stated that I was not to get a job. Flipping open the folder, there really are property listings. Maybe my boss isn’t real. Maybe he, like the job, is a cover that is meant to be convincing. This is not a comforting thought. It tells me I have reason to go deep into hiding.
I remove the computer from the box and find it’s not new, but close. It powers right up and I create a Gmail account for Amy Bensen and email my new boss. A muffled beeping sound reminds me the phone Liam gave me is still in my bag by the door and I head that way, unpacking what items need to be removed and finding the phone lit up with a text message.
Don’t eat dinner. I want to take you out.
I press the phone to my forehead and try to weigh my worries for his safety as valid or not. I have no real reason to believe anyone but me is in danger, and unlike Chloe, a man like Liam has the money and resources to protect himself. But he cannot protect himself from something he doesn’t know about and I do not know him well enough to risk trusting him, no matter how much my gut says I can.
The phone beeps. I look at the screen. Amy?
He’s going to call me if I don’t answer. I’m here. I’m doing some work my new boss gave me. Call me when you head this direction.
Your new boss?
My brows dip. Yes. My new boss.
Interesting. I can’t wait to hear all about him.
Avoidance mode kicks into gear. What time will you be here?
Around six or seven. Headed into a meeting and I’m not sure how long it will take.
I glance at the clock. It’s three. How did it get to be three? See you soon then.
Not soon enough.
My chest burns with what could be nothing more than a flirty message, but it feels like more. He feels like more. The very more I have ached for deep in my soul. Which is exactly why I have to walk away. I will trust him. I will pull him into my hell. And then one or both of us will crash and burn.
After two hours of searching the internet for clues about my new boss to no avail, I left a message for Meg about changing the locks on my apartment since the office was already closed.
Trying to clear my head to think straight, I decided to shower and freshen up. For the time being, I put my shorts back on, but I will change to meet Liam. Or not. I don’t know. I shouldn’t change. It will send the wrong message. Seeing him again might too, but it’s a risk I have to take to return the phone. I considered just dropping it off, but I feel I know enough about Liam to know he will just march to my door. If I am ending this, I need to really end it. If. No if. I am ending it. I will meet Liam at the hotel bar, nice and public, and then be on my way.
Feeling jittery, I decide to run to the store to grab a few staples, hoping it will work off my nerves. It doesn’t work. Thirty minutes later, I return from the quick trip, and while I felt better while on my little excursion, I am right back where I started the instant I step into my “fake” apartment and more jittery than ever. I decide I probably need food and should force myself to eat to see if it will help, though I fear it will not sit well on my stomach. It’s not like I have to worry about ruining my dinner I am not having with Liam.
Deciding on a can of soup, I pull out one of my new pans from a bag and then grimace at my newfound, should-have-been-obvious problem. I have no can opener or bowls. Paper plates are not going to cut it. Brilliant move. Just brilliant. My list has failed me and I eagerly jump on another excuse to get out of this cage I’m supposed to call home. The very idea that it will ever be that is laughable. This place is not home. Home is in Texas, where I can never return.
Considering it’s already five o’clock, and Liam should be calling soon, I quickly find my way to the street. The instant I step off the elevator I know this trip is different from the last.
Unease prickles through me and the hair at my nape lifts. The sensation of being watched I’d had walking to the bank earlier is back, and it is powerful. Each step I take seems to magnify the feeling. I speed up more and more, until I am all but running as I cross the main street to the grocery store.
At the door, I glance behind me, searching for the source of my discomfort, but finding no one obvious. If I could flippantly call this paranoia I would gladly do so, but I’ve seen death and heartache. I am not hiding from no one and for no reason. Desperately, I wish for some sign from my handler that I am safe in this new location with this new identity, but even this is troubling. I am blind to the colors around me, trapped in a world that is only black and white.
Run or be caught. Hide or die. My throat thickens. Like everyone else I loved has died.
Inside the store, I begin to shop, and momentarily I am relieved. I am in a public place. I am safe and the sensation of being watched is gone, but I am deeply troubled by the idea of being watched, even by my handler. He saved my life, I remind myself. He is trustworthy. No one else can be trusted. But Liam. I play that idea over and over in my head and in every version of how and I think of all the good ways that might end. And the bad. I think of him being in danger. I think of me being in danger.