Authors: Minka Kent
Every latch and lock and screen.
When this house was first built nearly a century ago, it was designed with a servants’ entrance and servants’ quarters.
If you ask me, there are entirely too many points of entry in this place, but boarding any of them up would ruin the historical accuracy this street is known for, not to mention all the guff I’d get for turning this place into an eyesore.
It’s half past one when Niall comes out of his office. I have a rag and a can of lemon-scented Pledge in my hand when he passes the dining room. Might as well wipe down the windowsills while I’m making my rounds.
“Hi,” he says, stopping and resting his hands on his hips. “Need help with anything?”
“I’m good.” I turn my back to him, running the cloth along the dusty wood. “What do you have going on today?”
“Going to meet up with a friend for coffee,” he says.
I wonder if that’s code for his estranged wife. Will they be discussing a reconciliation over coffee? That’s something classy Niall would do. He’s so sensible, allergic to drama. It’s one of the qualities I admire most about him.
Trying to get a rein on my thoughts, I force away any miniature nightmare I have of Niall packing his things and moving out because he’s decided to try to make it work again with his wife.
I’m getting ahead of myself, an old childhood habit of always assuming the worst-case scenario. My mother only had custody of me for eight years, but in those eight years, it seemed like anything that could go wrong always did. Evictions. Repo’d cars. Empty cupboards. My mom disappearing for days at a time . . .
My grandparents insisted on placing me in therapy to quell my anxieties, and it took years to undo that early damage. I fear the attack might be bringing those thoughts to the surface again.
“Want me to bring you back anything?” he asks. “We’re going to that new café on Carter. I could grab you a scone or something. Blueberry, right?”
I love scones. Blueberry scones to be specific. He remembered because that’s what good friends do.
I turn to him, fighting the urge to grin like a schoolgirl. “That would be amazing.”
“Consider it done.” He fishes in his front pocket, producing his key. “See you in a few.”
I offer a casual wave and watch from the dining room windows as he backs out of the driveway a minute later, the flash of his shiny silver Volvo glinting in the sun.
Glancing toward the stairs, I realize I haven’t been in his area in months. I generally try to avoid his space, but his bedroom and study are the only rooms with windows I haven’t checked today, and I could use this opportunity to run up there and look real quick.
With the rag and cleaner tucked under my arm, I charge the stairs and trek to the end of the hall. He has the last two rooms on the left plus the bathroom that separates them.
My heart undulates in my chest, heavy and in slow motion almost, and my fingertips tingle as I curl them around the black doorknob of his study.
The door swings open with a faint creak, and the scent of leather and old books fills my nostrils.
Two double-hung windows take up most of the east wall, and I make a beeline in that direction.
I check them twice.
Locked and latched.
Turning, I find myself face-to-face with one of his bookshelves. Tracing my fingers along the spines, I read the titles in my mind:
The Bethesda Handbook of Clinical Oncology
AJCC Cancer Staging Manual
Cancer Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapy Review
Skeel’s Handbook of Cancer Therapy
. . .
And then the classics:
The Canterbury Tales
The Count of Monte Cristo
. . .
I love how traditional his tastes are. I love how he isn’t the type to sit in front of a TV all night, a beer in his hand, passing out to an ESPN highlight reel.
Moving past his bookshelf, I take a seat at his desk, my eye drawn to a vintage La Fendrich cigar box with one of those cardboard lids that flips open with the flick of a finger. And then, without thinking, I open the box.
It’s filled—dozens of wrapped Cuban cigars.
Maybe I’m oversimplifying, but if smoking causes cancer, why would an oncologist want anything to do with cigars? I guess if it’s a once in a while type of thing, maybe the risk is negligible? I’ve never once known him to smell like smoke, and there are obviously a few cigars missing. Perhaps he’s careful about it? Perhaps he’s respecting the fact that I’m not a smoker myself? Or perhaps he’s ashamed . . .
I inhale the tobacco scent one last time, shut the lid, and place the box back where I found it.
We all have our vices.
I have every intention of seeing myself out when I spot a small notebook leaning against the lamp on his desk. How I missed it before, I’m not sure. The jacket is covered in tropical flowers, hibiscus and the like, and the spine is turquoise—hardly Niall’s style.
With a lump in my throat and guilt flooding my veins, I swipe the notebook from its place. Upon careful inspection, I realize it isn’t cheap. It isn’t some four dollar back-to-school notebook from a big-box store. The floral cover is leather and embossed with the initials K.E.
Flipping to the inside, my heart comes to a sharp stop when I’m met with the words: P
Fingertips buzzing, I page through what appears to be a handwritten journal.
Niall worked late again last night. It must have escaped him that it was our anniversary, just like it escaped him last month that we had tickets to Aida and the month before when it escaped him that it was my birthday . . .
I’d prepared his favorite dinner complete with candles and ambient music. Dinner went cold and uneaten after I’d lost
my appetite. I blew the candles out shortly after nine. He didn’t come home until eleven and I pretended to be asleep as he kissed my cheek and climbed into bed.
I know his career is everything, but once upon a time I was his everything too. Some days it’s as though I’m sharing him with another woman . . .
I’m not sure how much more of this I can take—the forgetfulness and loneliness. I miss him. I miss my husband. I miss the man I married.
There’s a familiarity about the handwriting, though I can’t quite place it . . .
It’s almost like mine, I suppose, but not quite. One-off, maybe?
“What are you doing in here?”
My stomach plummets when I look to the doorway and find Niall standing before me. The notebook falls from my hands and lands on the floor. To my surprise, he doesn’t appear angry in the slightest. There’s no flash of rage in his ocean-blue eyes. No pinch to his aquiline nose. No set to his angled jaw.
“I was checking the windows, making sure everything was locked,” I say, speaking so fast my words blur together.
I rise from the chair and move toward the doorway, a gesture to show him I’m done here.
“I’m sorry,” I say as he studies me, his expression unreadable. “Please don’t be mad. It’s just . . . the other night was so real, I—”
“It was a visual disturbance, I can assure you,” he says, his tone calm and steady and reassuring. “All the doors and windows were locked both nights. It was just me and you here. No one else.”
His words ease my mind, but my body is still tight, wound.
I don’t address the journal. The heat of shame is too hot, too fresh. I need to find the right words, though I’m not sure those exist in this situation.
I was in the wrong.
I let curiosity steer the ship.
And now I’m humiliated.
“Here,” he says, wrapping his long fingers around my wrist. He leads me to his bedroom next, and I realize I still haven’t asked why he came back. “Why don’t you check the windows while I’m here? It’ll make you feel better.”
Now I feel silly. But we’re standing in the middle of his room now, so I check the windows.
“All good?” he asks a few seconds later.
I’m grateful he hasn’t mentioned the journal. If he’s as tactful and understanding as he’s proven to be, I could see him letting it go—at least for now.
I nod, wasting no time leaving his room and trying not to gawk at the perfectly tucked corners of his made bed. There’s nothing personal about this space. It could pass for a bed-and-breakfast room. And that tells me he has no plans to make himself at home, at least not for an extended period of time.
We’re in the hall when I watch him return to his study, grab a stack of papers from his middle desk drawer, and tuck them under his arm.
Divorce papers, perhaps?
“I’m sorry, Niall,” I say again.
He places his hand on my left shoulder, his pale-blue gaze softening. “Don’t ever apologize. This is your home. You deserve to feel safe here. Just know that I would
do anything that would jeopardize that.”
“No, I mean . . .” My words fade. I’ve never been good at just letting things go. They tend to eat away at me and become unhealthy obsessions until they’re addressed properly. “I shouldn’t have . . .”
He offers a gracious wince, a silent acceptance of a silent apology. His hand leaves me, a cool spot taking its place, and he makes his way to the stairs.
I stay on the second level, checking the windows in the remaining spare rooms—two more bedrooms outfitted for guests who will never use them.
I go up the stairs. I pass his study, where the door remains wide open and the colorful journal rests splayed on the floor.
Every part of me wants to pick up where I left off, wants to stick my nose deep in his marital business despite the fact that it has no business being there. I was three paragraphs into the emotional dissolution of their marriage, his wife revealing Niall’s human and imperfect side, and now I’m
But I can’t.
It wouldn’t be right.
And if I were to get caught again? I can’t imagine he’d be so gracious the second time around. He’d have every right to put me in my place, pack up, and leave.
I make my way downstairs and vow to spend the rest of the day distracting myself from the pages all but calling my name from upstairs.
“The destination is on your right,” the GPS plays through my car speakers.
Both of my hands grip the steering wheel, and I’m certain they haven’t moved an inch since I backed out of my driveway fifteen minutes ago. The number of times I’ve left my house in the past six months I could probably count on two hands, and even that number might be generous. But the way I see it, I don’t have a choice in this matter.
I pull into a circle drive outside a ten-story Art Deco giant just south of the square late Monday afternoon, my heart in my teeth and the prick of sweat threatening the nape of my neck. It’s not far from my old office on the square. I’ve passed this place a thousand times before, never giving it a second thought. In fact, I’d heard it had recently gone through renovations, but I had no idea it would be turned into an apartment complex.
I locate a guest parking spot, pull in, and kill the engine before climbing out and preparing my umbrella for the short walk to the front door.
A small sign to the right of the entrance reads T
and then 138 H
. An inset plaque reads B
1921. A white sign above the door that reads N
is a modern if not jarring juxtaposition that almost ruins the otherworldly effect.
There’s no doorman. No other residents in the entry. A small camera is mounted on the ceiling in one corner, but there’s no blinking red light. For all I know, it’s for show—that or it hasn’t been connected yet. The remodeling job is so new on this place that it still has that distinct new-construction smell while simultaneously making me feel like I time traveled. Terrazzo floors with marble inlays, hand-painted murals, and impressive etched glass pendants fill the expansive lobby.
All I need is a flapper dress, a champagne flute in my hand, and a dashing Gatsbyesque gentleman on my arm.
A small door to my left has the words “Manager’s Office” fixed on a plaque along with office hours and an after-hours emergency line. It’s after five now. Any staff has left for the day.
It took me most of the day to work up the courage to come here. For hours I waffled. I hemmed and hawed only to conclude that this was my only option. Without proof of identity theft and financial fraud, I don’t feel like I have a case I can take to the police.
I’m on my own, and if I don’t stop this woman now, who knows what she’ll do next with my information.
I stop at a cluster of mailboxes, scanning the rows upon rows of names corresponding to each shiny door.
Gasping, I almost choke on my own breath.
APARTMENT 2B—B. DOUGRAY
I shouldn’t be surprised, but there’s something about seeing this in person that makes it all too real.
Gathering my wits, I linger in the lobby, head spinning. It could be said that I watch too many true crime shows. Too much
. Too many of those episodic Netflix crime documentaries that take you deep into the minds of murderers and psychopaths. My thoughts are filled to the brim with possibilities, hundreds of ways this could go.
It could be a trap. A setup. A lure.
But who would draw me here?
My social circle literally consists of Niall and sometimes Enid Davies next door.
The attack was random (say the police).
And to my so-called friends, I might as well be nonexistent, completely written off.
To my knowledge, I don’t have a single enemy.
Fishing inside my purse, I retrieve my self-defense key chain, readying my keys between my knuckles like a makeshift shiv.