Monsters – Melissa Jane

I hit the floor hard, bones and skin angrily protesting. The raging storm was drowned out by the sound of my pounding heart, the pressure throbbing in my ears. Wide-eyed, I stared ahead into the darkness, barely noticing the shadows of oak leaves dancing hauntingly on the far wall of my bedroom. What did I just see? The images played over and over, my mind questioning and denying. I blinked hard and swallowed harder. Turning, I placed my sweaty palms flat against the wall for balance. “Get up,” I demanded of myself. “Don’t be a coward.” A sense of foreboding hung thick in the damp stormy air, tree branches angrily scraping the side of the house with each howl of the wind, the house shaking with every rumble of thunder. Reluctantly, I crawled back up to the window, just high enough to peer over the ledge and look down to the neighbors’ driveway. They were expecting me. Our stares locked as the lightning flashed once more. One looked terrified, the other glaring through narrowed eyes. They were brothers I’d known for years. Brothers I’d spent my afternoons with, riding in the streets and playing house on the weekends at our cabin.

Brothers who were now loading something long and heavy, something wrapped in a tarpaulin into the trunk of their mother’s car. Brothers who were now covered in blood that not even the midnight light could disguise. Chapter 1 NOW “Can I have everyone’s attention, please?” The gallery was buzzing with tipsy art lovers chatting about their latest acquisitions when someone clinked on their champagne glass. Voices hushed, their attention drawn to that of Maximus Kline, the current artist exhibiting his collection at the Pierson Gallery. He was a photographer who’d spent every day and night with his beautiful muse over the four seasons capturing the array of human emotions. From his tens of thousands of images, he had selected only fifteen of his finest—ones that ranged from euphoria to intense grief, humbleness to spite. Humans were a complex creature, and his raven-haired muse with the large pale blue eyes was a patient woman. Maximus stood in front of his most popular piece, dominating the entire wall it was fixed on. He twirled the end of his hipster mustache with one hand and raised his glass with the other. “Thank you all so much for braving the sweltering New York City heat.

I’m so pleased…” “I can feel the sweat dripping down my ass crack with every breath.” “Jesus, Charlie,” I groaned, cautious to not draw attention to us. “Too much!” I playfully reprimanded my assistant who despite his denials had consumed a perilous amount of Moët in a misguided effort to cool down under his heavy suit jacket. “What was a drip, now feels like a steady stream,” he continued, oblivious to the annoyed frowns turning his way. “How are you not sweating?” I delivered a sharp jab to the ribs in an effort to silence him, and scanned the crowd for my boss. David, who had been standing only a few bodies to the left, was now no longer in sight. He wasn’t hard to miss. Over six feet tall, chiseled jaw and startling blue eyes, he was appreciated by most women, and men for that matter. Beside me, Charlie removed his jacket to reveal a sweat-stained collared shirt. “Are you feeling all right?” I asked, concerned he could suddenly pass out.

Charlie was on the plump side, and I stood no chance in securing him a soft landing if he fell. “Maybe I ate too much curry at lunch,” he admitted, swiping his sweaty brow before claiming somewhat of a defeat. “Or maybe the champagne is off.” Shaking my head in amusement, I turned back to the proceedings. This was opening night, and Maximus Kline had been a huge acquisition for me in my role at the Pierson Gallery. It was the result of almost a year of negotiations, perseverance and late nights. So proud of it, in fact, I had assisted in hanging his smaller works myself, joyous in the sight of his work finally displayed on our walls. “But mostly,” Maximus continued, his gaze resting on mine. “Mostly, I would like to thank gallery curator, Gemma Sinclair.” A soft applause sounded, and I returned his warm smile while raising my glass with his.

“Miss Sinclair has accommodated my every wish, and I couldn’t have placed my trust in anyone else but her. If only all galleries ran as smoothly as this one does.” I mouthed a thank you at his glowing praise as a voice whispered into my ear, his lips grazing the skin, the sensation causing a shiver to travel the length of my body. “Good job, Sinclair,” David murmured. “If you can secure Renaldo Ruiz you might be looking at a promotion.” When I could feel his body move away from mine, I exhaled. I had to tread carefully with David. As my boss, he couldn’t quite grasp the concept of personal space and always seemed eager to invade mine. I wanted to believe there was nothing more than sincerity behind his attention and compliments, but I wasn’t naïve. He employed me, and I loved my job, so I wasn’t about to welcome his advances or reject too harshly.

It was a delicate balance. I couldn’t let him faze me. I’d been waiting to hear that one word for years. Promotion. This was what I had been tirelessly working toward. And now it was only one more artist away. The crowd began to disperse, platters of hors-d’oeuvres and trays of champagne were offered. Patrons gravitated back toward their favorite works of art, critically analyzing every inch of the photograph and using obnoxious vocabulary that only existed within gallery walls. Overall, I couldn’t be happier with how the evening was panning out. To my right, Charlie expertly swiped two champagnes and handed me one.

“To you, my darling Gem.” He raised his glass, and we clinked in celebration. “Onward and upward from here, and may nothing and no one bring you down.” ~ “Have you seen Charlie?” I asked the doorman at the gallery entrance, my heels echoing through the now empty halls. It was almost eleven, and my bed was definitely calling my name from across town. “No, ma’am.” “It’s fine,” David’s casual voice sounded behind me, his suit jacket now hooked over his shoulder. “I’ll walk Ms. Sinclair to her car.” Damn.

“That’s not necessary. I—” “Nonsense.” He stopped next to me, a smile twitching his lips. Sometimes I wondered if he could sense my discomfort and got off on it. “It’s far too late for you to be walking the streets by yourself.” “I’m just down the road.” “Me too.” “Okay then,” I conceded. “That’s very kind.” We farewelled the doorman, who tipped his cap in response, and once we were on the street, the door lock slid shut.

The night was still warm, and the humidity instantly dampened my skin. A heat wave was sweeping the city making even breathing a difficult task. “I’m in basement parking down the street,” I said, breaking the awkward silence. “Me also.” David smiled, placing a hand on the small of my back. We started walking, the only noise the clicking of my heels on the sidewalk and the honking of horns in the distance. It was David who continued the conversation. “I really am impressed with your work ethic, Gemma. The Ronaldo case, however, I feel might be a challenging one.” “Oh?” David loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt.

“There are many gallery directors who have refused to work with him ever again. He’s burned a lot of bridges and his reputation isn’t great.” This piqued my interest, and as long as we talked business, it reduced the chance of anything inappropriate. “What’s he done?” “Ronaldo’s a known diva who expects everything and gives nothing in return. He’s often quite vocal about any shortcomings. Usually, I would shy away from high-maintenance artists like that, but Ronaldo Ruiz is like striking gold. The people love him, and his artworks have basically quadrupled in price in the past four years. I actually have one of his pieces hanging in my bedroom.” A suggestive silence followed, and heat flushed my cheeks. I refused to take his bait, but it didn’t deter David.

My discomfort was often the goal. We came to a stop at the flight of dimly lit stairs that led down to the illuminated basement. “I can assure you, David…” I said, getting the conversation back on track, “… if we do secure Ruiz, he and I will work side by side without a hitch.” “Your negotiating skills would be better used in the UN, I’m sure of it.” “You don’t have to worry. Look how well Maximus turned out, and he had some fairly interesting demands and expectations.” David’s eyes softened, his hand lifting to tuck a strand of loose hair behind my ear. His knuckles intentional or not brushed against my skin, and I pulled slightly away, cautious to not cause offense. He was a good-looking, self-assured man and I was certain he was rarely rejected, but I simply wasn’t interested in kissing my career goodbye. “I should go,” I said, embarrassed.

David was married to a beautiful woman. He had no business trying to get up in my business, but he was a man who wanted his cake so he could scarf it down too. He nodded, undeterred by the deflection. “Peter still in the picture?” he asked of my boyfriend of five months. “Yes, he is,” I answered, ignoring his scrutinous stare. “He’s away a lot with work which is why he can’t join me at the openings.” A shoe scuff on polished cement in the basement caught our attention. We both glanced down the stairwell at the well-built man who was silhouetted by the light. He stood motionless, wearing a thick hoody on a sweltering night. He appeared to be waiting for us to go down first before he could make his way up the narrowed staircase.

“Come,” David said, taking the lead. We were halfway down when the hooded man took to the steps two at a time meeting us in the middle. He by-passed David with ease given it was a tight squeeze but made little effort to avoid contact with me. His broad shoulder knocked mine in a deliberate barge. I was mid-step when thrown back onto the dirty step, my palms scraping the concrete. “Hey!” I snapped at his blatant rudeness. “What the hell is wrong with you?” Offering no apology or assistance, the man turned left and disappeared from sight. The only thing that remained was the sweet, spicy scent of his cologne. “Jesus, Gemma.” David turned, somewhat startled by the altercation.

Gripping my elbow, he hauled me to my feet. “Are you hurt?” “Just a grazed palm.” I grimaced while dusting myself off and smoothing out my dress. Offering a hand, David assisted me down the remainder of the stairs. “We’ve obviously disturbed him because it’s only our two cars left here.” “You think he was trying to steal a car?” “Quite possibly. “Are you okay to get home?” he asked, genuinely concerned as we stopped next to my Audi. “I’m fine, truly. It was Charlie who guzzled most of the champagne.” “Well,” David beamed.

“Speaking of champagne, be sure you’re free on Friday night.” Anxiety returned. What had he planned? Or more to the point, what was he trying to get me into? “David, I’m not sure—” “Relax…” he said, raising his hands in defense. David winked and smiled playfully while walking backward to his own car, “… everyone will be there. Not just me.” I felt foolish and ashamed I was so quick to judge everything the man did. “Sure,” I agreed, hoping it would get the conversation back on track without the awkwardness. “I’m free.” “That’s my girl,” David said, winking once more before he pivoted on his heel, whistling the rest of the journey to his brand-new Mercedes. Sinking into the driver’s seat, I exhaled heavily, exhausted from the hectic day and still just a little shaken from the stairwell encounter.

A fragrance lingered. It was on my clothes. It was on my skin. It was a sweet, spicy scent belonging to the hooded man. My stomach churned, and my eyes anxiously searched the rear and side mirrors. I could have been overreacting. I could have easily mistaken the situation. I hadn’t smelled that scent in a very long time, over a decade, in fact. It and the memories it incurred were buried in my past, and that’s where I needed them to stay. So why did I have the feeling my nightmares were returning to haunt me? Chapter 2 “Another two, please,” Carleen cooed seductively to the young muscled-up barman.

Leaning forward on the marble counter, she allowed her newly acquired double D’s to bulge from her blouse. Carleen was Pierson Gallery’s receptionist who had a love for the nightlife, stiletto heels and men half her age. She also had a gut made of cast iron, handling enough alcohol that would see four grown men out cold before the clock struck twelve. “No more,” I begged, but it was too late. The tequila shots were already being poured, the rim coated with salt and a slither of lemon on a small plate was placed in front of us. “You’re going to hell for this, Carleen.” “Honey, I’ll meet you there,” she practically squealed, her excitement blending in with the rest of the joviality in The Cocoon Lounge. David had chosen an upmarket lounge bar in Soho to celebrate my twenty-sixth birthday. It was a popular venue for those who worked the business district, keen to unwind on a Friday night. “Lick, sip, suck, baby,” a smooth voice with soft lips grazed my ear.

I shivered in delight as a hand snaked around my waist pulling me against a hard body. “Hey, Peter,” Carleen cooed once again, playfully, curling a lock of hair around her finger. Everyone knew Carleen as a playful flirt and now was no different. She had no shame and wore her heart on her sleeve. This sometimes made a dangerous combination. “Hey, Carleen,” my boyfriend replied. “Your hair looks great. New color?” Carleen placed a manicured hand over her breast and looked through her long fake lashes. “You noticed? You’re too sweet,” she gushed before turning to me. “If you ever get bored, honey, send him my way.

” While Peter and I hadn’t been together long, our relationship, if you could call it that, was one built on a long-distance connection. He frequently traveled for work, and when he was present in the same room, he wasn’t ‘present.’ The phone calls were endless, and his duty to work was paramount over everything. But what we did have was a mutual respect for each other, and the time we did manage to spend together was always filled with laughter and sex. Carleen’s fickle attention diverted back to her boy-toy behind the bar. “Another shot, my love,” she practically purred. With a playful smile and eyes only for his prowling cougar, he poured another shot in front of Peter. “All right, come on, baby…” Carleen raised her glass, and we followed suit. “Happy fucking birthday, sweetheart, and if you need a good surgeon in a few years, I know just the place. A place where they give you cocktails while in recovery and a pool lapping at your toes.

” “Thanks,” I laughed. “But I think I’m good for the next few years.” “Just saying,” she continued. “I went there to get my…” her eyebrows raised while her eyes gestured downward, “… my hoo-ha re-sculptured after pushing out Bryson. That kid had a head the size of a fucking bowling bowl on steroids, and he ripped me to shreds, front and back. Bits were falling out where shit’s not meant to fall out and ‘it’ went from looking like a peach crack to a melting alien face with droopy fucking eyes. You know what I mean? But now, I have the va-jay-jay of a virgin, and I plan on breaking myself in all over again.” She cast a glance at the barman who thankfully hadn’t heard her horrifying overshare. Carleen turned back to me wearing a wicked smile. “And I know just the man to pop my cherry.

” Beside me, Peter looked torn between a brave curiosity and soul disturbed. On auto-pilot survival mode, he raised his glass and shot the tequila. His face barely contorted, his eyes scanning the room briefly. “I’m gonna find some… men to talk to. About… manly stuff.” “Okay,” I encouraged, giggling at his discomfort. Carleen raised her shot glass. “Salud.” “Salud,” I said, returning the gesture. Carleen locked eyes with the barman while elongating her tongue around the rim.

Her target slowed the polish on his wine glass, smiling wide at her seduction attempt. Together, we shot the burning tequila and quickly followed with lemon. My face contorted and a warm body pressed against my back where Peter had been standing only moments ago. Except this time, it wasn’t Peter. “Happy birthday, you beautiful girl.” Lips met my cheek. Carleen’s eyes widened in surprise, her brows remaining perfectly in place courtesy of Botox. She observed the interaction with amusement and curiosity. I wanted to tell her she was misreading the situation between boss and employee, but I couldn’t. Not with David being so touchy-feely.

Instead, I sashayed a side-step so we could interact on a more platonic level. I cast a nervous glance at Peter, but he remained engrossed in presumably a manlier conversation with his back to me. “Thank you, David.” I smiled enough to be polite but not to encourage. “Is Vanessa coming?” His gaze searched around the room before landing back on me, his indifferent tone catching me off guard. “Vanessa has moved to Florida and is staying with her sister for a while.” This admission had me lost for words. It all made sense now why he appeared overly eager. It didn’t make it right, but now I understood. “I’m so sorry, David.

” “I’m not. It was a long time coming.” He smiled playfully, appreciative eyes traveling the length of my body. “I have to say that dress highlights all your best features.” “And hides all the bad,” I finished off his sentence with an awkward laugh. Despite his unwanted remark, I smiled more to myself knowing the epic struggle I had fitting the tight number over my ass. David’s eyes narrowed holding my gaze with his intensity. “There are no bad. Certainly, none that I can see.” His voice was a low growl and my cheeks heated at the suggestiveness in his tone.

“What. Is. Happening?” Carleen asked quietly, her mouth like a ventriloquist. I was almost certain she hadn’t blinked since David appeared. “Everything okay over here?” Peter’s voice broke the discomfort. David held my gaze a moment longer before zeroing in on my boyfriend. Clearing my throat and feeling a nervous sweat roll down my back, I smiled at Peter’s handsome face and pulled him to my side. “Yes, everything is fine. In fact, I’d like to finally introduce you to my boss. Peter, this is David.

David, Peter…” Unimpressed with Peter’s sudden appearance, David’s eyes hardened, and my anxiety worsened. “Peter also frequents the Alps every season,” I continued as neither man greeted the other. “A pro snowboarder, just like you.” I felt the overwhelming urge to remove myself from the silent standoff. “Right… well… if you’ll excuse me, I better circulate and thank everyone for being here.” Before either could stop me, I swiveled on my heel and migrated through the crowd and toward the others who sat against the far wall, laughing, drinking, and forgetting about the work week. My clutch vibrated, stopping me mid-step. Placing my wine glass on the high table next to Charlie, I headed out the front and onto the sidewalk. The music and lively chatter was cut off, replaced with beeping horns and blaring sirens. The warmth prickled my skin just the way I liked it, the humidity having dropped since the start of the week.

Around me, people were strolling past, couples hand-in-hand, drunks eager to get to the next bar. I looked at the screen. Mom. “Hey, Ma,” I answered, always happy to hear her voice. “Hi, sweetie, happy birthday.” “Thank you. How’s your trip?” I asked, idly playing with a loose sticker on the parking meter in front of me. “The trip is going well. Your father, to no surprise, didn’t listen to me and is now glowing red and feeling a little nauseous. But what does one expect when drinking a dozen sangrias in under five hours of blistering sun with no sunscreen…” While my mother continued talking about my father’s antics, my skin once again tingled, but this time it wasn’t from the heat.

At first, I saw nothing of interest that warranted that response. I glanced over my shoulder, but no one I knew had walked out of Cocoon. On the right-hand side, however, a few yards down the street, a man and woman sat in a dark blue sedan, wearing suit jackets. Their faces were shrouded with shadows caused by the position of the street lamp above. But one thing was obvious—they were watching me. The only movement was the woman’s finger tapping on the door to a nothing beat. “Dad does this every year,” I sympathized, albeit distracted. “He never learns. Thank goodness you take after me. Anyway, my darling, have fun with your celebrations.

I’ll plan a dinner for when we return.” Moments later, after our farewells, I ended the call. Throwing one last look at the sedan and the unmoving people within, I headed back into Cocoon, the air conditioner hitting me with a welcomed relief. With an aching bladder, I made a straight line to the ladies’ bathroom, dodging the patrons. Again my cell buzzed, this time signaling a message. I smiled at the name. Christina and I had been friends all through college. She met her husband in the last year and moved to Maine to be with him, only half an hour from my parents’ house. Stopping amidst the crowd, I opened the message and squinted at the screen, caught in a moment’s confusion. “What the… fuck is … Jesus!” Placing the phone against my chest, I covered the screen.

I’d been staring intently at a close-up picture of a man with his hand gripping his penis and a message reading, “Happy Birthday, bitch.” A naively drawn red smiley face was on the knob of the cock which took up almost the entire screen. “Shit!” Although I was laughing at her antics, I cursed Christina for sending me her porn and cursed myself for foolishly opening something from her while surrounded by people. Slipping the cell into my clutch, I continued through to the restroom. A group of barely-legal girls filed through the door, their lips set in perpetual pouts. This wasn’t an uncommon sight in this place. Many young girls came here hoping to win the attention of wealthier men they wouldn’t otherwise come in contact with. Once inside, it was just me. After relieving myself, I washed my hands at the marble basin and studied my reflection. I’d been on edge for most of the night, and the stress showed.

Flicking my dark hair over my shoulders, I applied some gloss and paid no particular attention to the restroom door opening. Only when I could feel a watchful stare did I notice the woman blocking the exit. Catching her reflection in the mirror, her gaze was stern and far from friendly, arms folded over her chest. I recognized her by her clothes alone, as one of the occupants of the blue sedan I’d seen parked on the curb. “Can I help you?” I asked because she made no attempt to initiate. The woman tilted her head slightly to the side before answering. “Gemma Sinclair?” I hesitated. “Yes.” “It’s your birthday today?” she asked, wearing a peculiar smile and not waiting for an answer. “Hmm…” she agreed with herself.

“How interesting.” Closing my clutch, I turned to her, slightly puzzled over the interaction. She looked like a hard woman. Her make-up free face was slightly pock-marked, and she had deep hollows under her pale blue eyes. She wore her hair out, and it looked two days overdue for a wash. “If I can’t help you, who at least are you?” “I’m Agent Walsh, I work for the Delaware County Police District.” Delaware. A cold shiver ran up my spine. “And you can help me,” she insisted. “I understand you haven’t been back to Delaware for quite some time.

” I swallowed hard. “That’s right.” “Any reason for that?” “I can give you plenty of reasons, but none that could help you in any shape or form.” This time her smile was condescending. “I’d certainly like to hear those reasons, and I’ll be the judge whether or not they help.” “Would you like to share what this is about? We’ve barely made introductions.” “Speaking of sharing… you share the same birthday as Lucas Carter.” Bam! My heart thudded so hard, I had to clutch the counter for support. That was a name I hadn’t heard muttered in many years, those closest to me knowing never to breathe it. But every year on this day I remembered Lucas Carter.

To hear his name, however, it always rattled my soul. “So what if I do?” I turned away defiantly, pumping more soap into my already washed hands and proceeded to scrub. It was a mere distraction to avoid her crushing insinuations. “Well, you were best friends after all. For best friends to share a birthday… that’s a special bond, don’t you think?” I yanked hard on the towel dispenser pulling out way more paper than necessary. “Perhaps. What you’re referring to was a long time ago. I haven’t heard from Lucas Carter in ten years.” “What about his brother, Mason? Heard from him?” I could feel my face visibly pale. The Agent noticed, her eyes narrowing ever so slightly.

Internally, I died a little, my heart pounding out of control. “There was never any reason to stay in touch,” I replied firmly, “especially with Mason Carter.” Stepping forward toward the door, she moved to block me. Irritated, I faced off with the woman. “If you don’t mind, I have a party to get back to.” Reluctantly, Agent Walsh stepped to the side, her arms still crossed. I had already pushed the door open when her voice stopped me. “Ms. Sinclair?” It was a tone loaded with promise that this, whatever it was, was far from over. I met her gaze over my shoulder, eyes glistening with a familiarity I was uncomfortable with, a smile playing on her thin lips.

“Happy Birthday.” “What happened to you?” Charlie asked as I walked back to the group, his brows knitted together, one arm draped around a man I didn’t know. Over his shoulders, however, another set of watchful eyes met mine. A man with sandy-colored hair and a strong jawline sat perched on a bar stool, observing my every move with keen interest. Judging by his demeanor and the glass of water next to him, he was the second half of the detective team. “I’m fine,” I lied, answering Charlie. He unhooked himself from his acquaintance and gave his sole attention. “Fine is not the word that comes to mind. Spooked maybe, but not fine.” Charlie was not only a colleague but a dear friend, and he saw right through my lies.

I could feel the detectives watching, their stares burning right through me. Whatever news they brought with them, it couldn’t be good, and it certainly wasn’t something I was mentally ready to address. I felt the overwhelming need to run. Fight or flight. I was indeed flight. I had no intention of reopening that portal to the past. “Truly, I’m fine.” Without another word, I squeezed his arm and sought out Peter. It was time to leave or in this situation, escape. He and David were exactly where I’d left them, but instead of conversing, David watched on as Peter engaged in flirty conversation with one of the barely-legal girls I’d seen leaving the bathroom.

She threw her head back, laughing at something Peter said, while affectionately touching his arm in what I considered overfamiliarity given they were perfect strangers less than five minutes ago. I approached, oddly unaffected by the obvious display. For a moment, I stood awkwardly waiting for the girl to finish her flighty, lack-of-substance story before Peter finally glanced my way. “You disappeared,” he greeted with a casual smile. Beside him, the girl pursed her duck pout together, obviously put out by the intrusion. “Someone was chatting to me in the bathroom, and I um… I’m just not… well…” the words tumbled out. Three sets of confused eyes watched me flounder. “Look, do you mind if we head off?” David’s curious look passed between us knowing something was off but unsure exactly what. “Of course,” Peter obligatorily replied. The unimpressed young thing rolled her eyes at the time wasted on a taken man, and left to find her pack without so much as a ‘nice meeting you.

’ We both farewelled David, his kiss on the corner of my mouth and caressing hand on the small of my back noticed by Peter. Despite David being separated from his wife, I was not in the market for his advances, and it was a dreaded and uncomfortable conversation that would have to be had on the Monday morning. Once again leaving Cocoon, the warm air greeted us, and this time so did the hardened faces of the two detectives. They both leaned against the newspaper stand waiting for me, arms crossed. I came to a stop in front of them, swallowing hard at their scrutinizing stares. They excelled in making me feel implicated in whatever it was they were investigating. Detective Walsh stepped forward, arm extended, a card in hand. When I made no effort to claim it, she raised a challenging eyebrow. Simply to appease the situation and avoid confrontation in front of Peter, I accepted. “Call us if you feel the need to chat?” Feel the need to chat? A subtle, silent message passed between us.

One that carried a warning. One that told me to make the right decisions. I couldn’t think of those right decisions because I was being watched. My skin prickled. The detective noticed. I shuddered. She frowned. Searching the street, I looked for the cause of my unease. Her suspicious eyes followed. This feeling was one I’d experienced many times before tonight, yet it seemed amplified after the impromptu meeting with the detectives.

“Something wrong?” asked Detective Walsh. There was a lot wrong. “No,” I lied. “Goodnight.” I steered Peter down the street, and despite his curious glances, we remained silent until we entered my apartment. I needed that time to stomach the events of the night. I needed to figure out why my past had reared its ugly head and how deeply I was implicated. ~ Wiping a circle of steam from the mirror, I pulled the brush through my long dark hair. Behind me, Peter sat on the edge of my bed, his face downcast to the floor. There had been a huge shift in the evening’s mood, and I knew he had questions. “So…” he finally started, breaking the silence between us. “Are you going to tell me who they were or are we going to pretend like everything is fine?” “Who?” I asked, returning the brush to its rightful place in the drawer. “The two detectives whose card you now have in your purse.” I stood in the doorway to face him. The soft light from the nightstand cast a golden sheen over his already golden tan. He flew to LA every week and had acquired a healthy Californian sun glow. “They just wanted some information,” I casually said hoping that would appease him. He shrugged his shoulders confused by my indifference. “Information about what? Did something happen at work? Are you okay?” “Nothing happened at work, and I’m fine. Really!” “If you’re fine, you would tell me why they were at your birthday celebration hassling you. You’d tell me why they handed you their card in case you ever wanted to ‘chat.’” His tone was sharp. In his line of business, he expected everyone to cut to the chase. There was no room for misinterpretation if everyone got their point across the first time. He could be relentless. “They just wanted some information regarding the neighbors I grew up with back home.” Somewhat satisfied with my clarification, he crawled to his side of the bed, and I got into mine. “You said you were from Delaware, didn’t you?” “Yes.” “But you haven’t been back there for almost a decade.” “I know.” “So how could they possibly think you’d have any information about the place? You left when you were a teen.” My frustration at Peter’s insistence and anxiety over the past had formed a dangerous concoction. I snapped. “I don’t know, Peter! I had nothing to offer them, and they didn’t give much away either. So I don’t have any more answers to your persistent questions.” He raised a hand in defeat, and I pushed aside the feeling of guilt. “Okay,” he said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to nag you.” “It’s fine,” I reassured, my voice dropping the tone. “I’m really tired from the whole week.” I leaned over and kissed his warm cheek then turned away and switched the light off. Normally, when he was in town, we would make the most of our time together and not one night would pass without intimacy. Tonight, however, I couldn’t force it even if I tried.

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