Authors: Minka Kent
“Mar, you’re one of my best friends. Why would I do something like that?” I ask, only now I’m fighting back tears. Javier was always a bit of a flirt, but he flirted with everyone. And I never flirted back, never let it flatter my ego, never once fed into it. I remember how much it bothered Marisol and how many fights were had between them because of his Casanova tendencies, but I always stayed out of it unless she asked me for advice.
“All I know is what I saw. On his phone. With my own eyes.” Her arms are crossed tighter than ever, her lower lip quavering. Her bulldog act is just that. An act. Deep down she’s hurting. And she won’t admit it, at least not here and now, but she misses me just as much as I miss her.
“On my life, Marisol, I did not text your husband.”
She’s quiet for a moment. “I wish I could believe you, Bri. I really do. But after your assault, you had the head injury, and there were times you weren’t yourself. I’ve tried not to be angry with you because I know you weren’t in your best state of mind, but—”
“I get headaches. Migraines. And sometimes I forget things. I struggle to remember almost all last year. But I swear to you, I did not text your husband.” My cheeks are wet now, and I realize I’ve shed a few tears.
I dig in my bag for a tissue, only to glance up and find Marisol handing me one.
It only makes the tears fall faster.
“Thank you.” I take the Kleenex and hand her my phone. “Go through it. My pictures. My texts. Everything.”
She studies me, but she doesn’t take the phone.
“I will do whatever it takes to prove it wasn’t me,” I say. “It kills me that you’ve spent the last six months believing I would’ve done that.”
Her expression softens, but her posture remains rigid. “I have an appointment. Should be here any minute.”
“Can we finish this conversation another time?” I ask because it’s far from over. “You know, if you hadn’t changed your number, we could’ve—”
change my number.”
I pull up my contacts in my phone.
“Then explain this.” I press her name on my screen and place the call on speaker, letting her hear the disconnected recording with her own ears.
“Let me see that.” She takes my phone, her thumb swiping across the screen a couple of times before handing it back. “Okay,
not my number.”
“What are you talking about?” The area code is the same. As is the prefix. But I have to admit, I’d never taken the time to memorize anyone’s numbers since there was never any need.
“The last four of mine are five, three, two, three,” she says. “That’s five, three, two, eight.”
“I don’t understand.” I pull up our friend Stacia’s number next and show her. Months back, when I thought Marisol had changed her number, I tried calling Stacia to figure out what was going on, only to get some strange man’s voice mail.
I assumed she changed her number as well, which was why I didn’t even try to call Amber. She was always one to go with the majority no matter what the issue was. I didn’t expect her to have my back or take a stand if no one else did.
“That’s not Stacia’s number either,” she says. “I don’t know who that is, but it’s not her.”
I don’t bother pulling up Amber’s information.
This has Niall written all over it.
He had to have changed their numbers in my phone so I wouldn’t be able to reach them. And while I’m not sure where the nude photos came from, I’m certain now that he had something to do with sending them from my phone to Javier’s. That or he downloaded an app that let him spoof my number.
“Marisol . . .” I cover my hand with my mouth. “This . . . this is all . . . I didn’t do any of this . . . This was him.”
“Him?” she asks.
“Your tenant?” Her nose wrinkles. “The doctor?”
Oh, my God. I get it now.
“He needed to isolate me,” I say, darkening my phone screen and shoving it into my purse.
“Why would your tenant need to isolate you?” she asks. “What are you talking about? You’re not making any sense.”
“How much do you know about him?” I ask.
Her arms fold tightly across her chest again. “I don’t know. Just that he was some doctor who answered your ad for a roommate. But we never actually met him, and you rarely talked about him. Seemed like he was always gone or at work.”
Marisol’s desk phone rings, and she takes it. When she hangs up, she runs her hand down her blazer. “My appointment is here, so . . .”
I hate that we can’t continue this conversation because I still don’t know if she fully believes me yet. And I don’t blame her. She’s held on to this belief for months now, that I did something so atrocious, that I was instrumental in ruining her marriage. That’s a lot of resentment to let go of, and it won’t happen in one afternoon.
“I’d like to sit down together sometime,” I say. “All of us. Stacia and Amber, too. There’s a lot I need to tell you.”
She reaches for a silver pen and blue Post-it and scribbles down a number—her number—before handing it over.
I fold the note into my bag and inch to the door. “Thank you, Mar. For hearing me out today. I’ll text you, okay?”
She nods, lips tight and eyes studying me.
Within minutes, I’m climbing into my car outside, letting my thoughts gather while my engine idles.
Niall still doesn’t know I’m back.
And I don’t know what I’m going to say to him when I see him again.
I check the clock and calculate that he’ll be home in less than two hours.
I have time to prepare.
A call from Sam comes over my Bluetooth Thursday as I’m driving home from another dumpster fire day at the hospital. The ZZ Top song I’ve been jamming to fades away as I answer.
“Hey, babe, what’s going on?” I ask.
“Hey, there’s some weird car in the driveway,” Sam says. “What does Eleanor drive?”
“What kind of car?” I answer her question with one of my own before adding, “Eleanor doesn’t drive.”
“I don’t know. It was tan,” she says.
My grip tightens on the steering wheel. “What kind of plates on it?”
“I didn’t get that close of a look. I just saw it, and I kept going,” she says. “I’m at the apartment right now. Also, all the lights were on in the house.”
My stomach drops.
In all the time I’ve lived there, she’s never had a visitor that I’ve seen. And I can’t think of anyone else who would just pull up and let themselves in. Then again, I have been leaving the back door unlocked lately.
“Oh,” I say after I’ve collected myself. “Totally forgot Eleanor mentioned she might be coming back early. Maybe it’s her brother’s car? I bet that’s what it is.”
Five minutes later, I pull into the driveway, parking behind a shiny tan Toyota Corolla with South Dakota plates. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s a rental car.
I hide my work badge and replace it with my doctor version before locking up the car and heading inside, but when I get to the back door, I find it locked.
She’s definitely home.
But more important . . . how the hell did she manage to get out of Crestview? Last I knew, the doctor wanted to keep her at least a couple more weeks. Hell, he said that just a few days ago.
Guess I’ll have my answer soon enough.
Digging in my pocket, I retrieve my key and jam it in the lock.
“Hello?” I call out a couple of seconds later when I step inside.
The light above the sink is on, even though it’s nowhere near dusk, and there’s a trail of light coming from the hallway.
“Kate?” I ask louder. “Is that you?”
“Surprise!” Brienne jumps out from the doorway between the kitchen and dining room, and while there isn’t a lot that scares me in this life, I’m pretty sure she’s almost given me an actual heart attack just now.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, though I make my voice upbeat so the question doesn’t put her on guard. I go to her, wrapping my arms around her and swinging her around like I’m Ryan-fricking-Gosling in
. “I thought you weren’t coming home for a while . . . I thought . . . Dr. Schneider said . . .”
“Turns out all I had to do was write a letter and ask the board to let me leave early,” she said. “With Dr. Schneider’s blessing, of course. He was pretty happy with my progress, so . . .”
“Happy with your progress?” I ask. “I thought he said a couple more weeks?”
She shrugs. “Are you disappointed?”
“God, no. Of course not.” I force myself to hug her. “So you drove all the way here? By yourself?”
Her left eyebrow rises. “Yes. I wanted to surprise you. Are you surprised?”
“You have no idea.” I hug her again, tight, wishing I could hug the life out of her. And then I make a mental note to grab the mail before she does. Two checks are still en route, and I can’t let her see them.
“How long have you been home?” I ask.
“Maybe five minutes . . . if that.”
Brienne runs her mouth about the drive home, the weather, the lackluster music stations in some of the smaller towns, some podcast she listened to, and all the things she wants to do now that she’s home, but I only half listen. It’s almost like she’s talking just to talk, talking about nothing of any substance.
All I can think about is whether or not there’s anything I need to clean up before she sees it.
“Hey, honey, let me go upstairs and get changed. We’ll go out for dinner and celebrate, okay?” I suggest the kind of thing I think a good husband would propose so I can buy time. I need to check the bathroom upstairs and make sure none of Sam’s things are in there. This morning before I left, I had the forethought to slide Sam’s overnight bag under my bed at least, but lately she’s been getting sloppy about picking up her toiletries in the bathroom in the mornings. It’s my fault, though. I told her Eleanor was going to be gone at least another week, and I got lax. “You feeling up to it?”
“Yeah, I’d love to,” she says as I let her go.
I take the steps two by two until I find myself in the doorway of my bathroom. The second I switch the light on, Sam’s orange-and-pink makeup bag fills my vision and spurs me into action.
I hide it in one of the vanity drawers and cover it with a hand towel from another drawer. If Brienne’s only been home five minutes, there’s no way she’s seen this yet.
There’s no time for a shower, so I tear myself out of my work clothes and into some khakis and a navy gingham button-down, simultaneously trying to think of anything else I might have missed.
I stop when I get to the third button from the top.
I’d meant to clear out the myriad of password reset emails, but I hadn’t gotten around to it since I thought I’d have more time.
I finish dressing in record time and jog downstairs, praying she hasn’t had a chance to check her email since she’s been home. I would think she’d have other priorities—unpacking, relaxing, whatever—but who knows?
“Hey,” I say, relieved to find her in the kitchen messing with her phone. “Ready?”
“Yep,” she says, eyes on her screen. “This is so weird. My phone is saying I changed my email password, but I didn’t. I can’t get in.”
The stiffness in my shoulders leaves, making its way up my neck before stopping at my jaw. “I can take a look at it later if you want.”
I’ll spend some quality time with her laptop tonight, and in the midst of “fixing” her email, maybe I’ll “accidentally” spill some cabernet on the keyboard.
I place my hand on her lower back and steer her toward the door.
“We should get going,” I say, “if we want to beat the rush.”
“Can’t I change first?” she asks, and I realize she’s wearing the very same clothes she wore when I took her to Crestview a couple of weeks ago: yoga leggings and a Morningside College T-shirt.
“What have you been doing this whole time?” I chuckle, wishing I knew the answer to that question.
“Where are you taking me?” she asks.
“It’s a surprise.” For both of us. I don’t know yet.
She disappears down the hall, and I pull up my phone, checking my Table Finder app for last-minute reservations. I manage to snag one at Hesperides, which looks like a decent place. New and trendy and exactly the kind of spot that would impress someone like Brienne.
“Okay, I’m ready.” She emerges a minute later, dressed in a summery floral dress, with her dark hair piled into a messy bun on top of her head. Her lips are shiny and lacquered, and dangling earrings hang from her lobes.
She’s truly dressed for a date, for a celebration.
Taking her hand, we head out. I lock the house behind us, making a good show of it so she knows it’s “important” to me and I haven’t forgotten.
The ride to the restaurant is quieter than I expected. She’s not filling the silent void with chatter about nothing—which means she’s thinking.
I have no doubt the wheels in that little head of hers have been spinning, and I have to admit, while I’m frustrated by the fact that she’s here in the flesh, I’m also impressed that she managed to pull it off.
I may have underestimated her.
We’re halfway there when she taps my hand and says, “Oh, Enid said your sister was in town? Why didn’t you tell me? I’d love to see her.”
I hide my smirk at the fact that she’s pretending to know I have a sister. As long as I stay one step ahead of her, this game might actually be fun.
She should’ve stayed put at Crestview. By the time she would’ve been discharged, I’d have been long gone. Her pockets would be lighter, but she’d be fine. She’d still be able to carry on and retire and live the comfortable lifestyle afforded to her by her selfish grandparents.
“My sister went home last weekend,” I tell her. “But she sends her regards.”
I park outside Hesperides and decide that tomorrow on my lunch break, I’m going to stop by the AutoZone on the square and pick up some antifreeze. No need to get fancy or creative when a squirt in her mouthwash or milk will get the job done.
It had worked on Sam’s stepdad fifteen years ago like a charm.
No reason to reinvent the wheel.