My stomach coils and I nearly back away from her, but she grips my hand instead. “What the fuck is it, Laura?”

“Promise,” she demands.

“Whatever it is, I promise.” The pit in my stomach grows heavier as the trunk creaks open, darkness flooding it and hiding what’s inside at first glance.

It’s only when she pulls it out and shoves it into my chest that I see it’s a black duffle bag.

The trunk shuts and the thud of it closing is all I can hear as I hold the bag. It can’t be more than fifteen pounds, but until the hood is shut I have to hold it with both hands and then rest it against the flat back of the car.

“Don’t open it. Just take it.”

I look Laura dead in the eyes as I answer her, “You’ve lost your fucking mind if you think I’m not looking at what’s in here.”

“Don’t. In case someone’s watching.”

“What is it, Laura?” I ask her again, my voice even but somehow sounding eerie in the bitter air.

“Your way out of the debt,” is all she tells me until I grip her wrist, forcing her to look at me instead of walking back to her driver’s seat like she intended.

She glances at my hand on her wrist, and then back up to me before turning to face me toe to toe.

I don’t expect the words she says next. The casualness of her statement, yet how matter of fact it is.

“If you want to be with him, this is the world you live in. There’s a risk of people going after you. If you don’t… I think you’re still in that world, regardless. It has a way of not letting go.”

A silent shrill scream rings in my ears from the need to run, the need to do something. It comes from anxiety, from the need to fight or flee. I choose fight. I was born to fight.

She finishes, “But at least this gets rid of the debt.”

It takes a second and then another for me to comprehend what she’s saying.

“The debt? I owe him-”

“Three hundred grand.” She nods as she speaks. “And now you have it to pay off.”

“No fucking way.” I’m adamant as I shove the duffle bag into her chest but she doesn’t take it, she doesn’t reach out for it and the bag falls to the icy cracked ground. “Where did you get it?” I hiss the question, with a wild fear brewing inside of me. “Take it back,” I beg her before she even answers.

Her baby blue eyes search mine for a moment and I’m left with disbelief and confusion.

I tell her with a furious terror taking over, “You don’t have that kind of money.”

“I didn’t and then I did,” she answers simply.

Emotions well in my throat. “Take it back, Laura. However you got it, give it back.”

“No,” she says first and then adds, “I can’t anyway.”

“No, Laura, fuck! No.” I have to cover my face as it heats. “Please tell me-”

“I’m more than fine,” she cuts me off. “I wanted to do something for a long time. An offer I had and wasn’t sure if I wanted to take or not.”

It’s only the ease of her confession that settles me slightly.

“You can always go back.”

“No,” she answers me, “I can’t and I don’t want to. I’m not taking the bag back either and I have to go, I have the night shift and you promised me. You promised you’d take the bag.”

“What did you do?”

“I can’t tell you,” she murmurs. There’s no fear or desperation when she speaks to me and my head spins with the denial that this is even happening.

“You can, you can tell me anything.” I feel crazed as I reach out to her, stepping forward as she steps back and kicking the bag at my feet.

“I can’t tell you,” she says, stressing every word and pulling herself away from my grasp. “That bag is yours. And I have to go.”

She leaves me there with the duffle bag at my feet, the snow clinging to my hair and the cold of the night settling in to wrap its arms around me, the same way I wrap my hand around the strap to the duffle bag.


Years ago…

I knew something was off before I even opened the door. I spent the hour before coming here arguing with Carter about even bringing Angie here.

I didn’t trust her at The Red Room though. Not with the shit I have going on and the people that come and go. I tried to help her before and she took off, coming back worse. And the last three nights she destroyed the place, searching for anything to numb the pain she was in. She was fucking skin and bones. Her cheeks were so hollow. Addiction will do a lot of things to a person. It turns their curious smirks into glowers of pain, their bright eyes into dull gazes to nowhere.