In my dreams Iâ€™m consumed by lava. This is how it starts: there I am sitting on a beach, a soft breeze blowing across my golden skin, my hair loose, the sand hot against my toes, the water so blue it makes me acheâ€¦Itâ€™s really perfect is what Iâ€™m getting at. Iâ€™m
|Bound to the Infinite by Caroline Hanson|
minding my own damned business when I see something odd on the horizon. Itâ€™s bright, shiny, red with shades of brilliant burnt orange. It glows and glistens, and all I can think is that itâ€™s beautiful. Itâ€™s the lava, of course, so hot and deadly that it leaves nothing behind, not even ash. And there I am thinking itâ€™s pretty. Iâ€™m a moron in this dream. Unfortunately, itâ€™s quite apt for my life and sums me up quite neatly. You could put it on my tombstone. Rebecca Finner: Hypnotized by that which will kill her. And then I see the smoke, just a curl, and a dense, dark shadow that spirals up from the sluggishly moving mass, a little inkling of whatâ€™s to come. Then it expands, this darkness, this all-consuming blackness, like a tumor that devours until it consumes every bit of healthy tissue, growing and growing until it blocks out the sun, casts everything around me in shadow. I donâ€™t feel the heat of the sun any more, thatâ€™s all gone, but Iâ€™m not cold exactly because Iâ€™m too busy watchingâ€”maybe even waitingâ€”as this pouring river of lava moves closer. â€œIs there sound?â€ the psychiatrist asks, snapping me out of my memory. Not memory, I remind myself, just a dream. I blink. I always get caught up in it, as if Iâ€™m almost there. And now heâ€™s talking to me, and I feel like a moron in real life too. Which is a bummer. I donâ€™t like feeling stupid. I already canâ€™t remember anything because of the amnesia, so the last thing I need is to be an idiot on top of that. I swallow and think back, trying to remember if there is sound in this dream. But the more I try to grab on to that memory, the more elusive it becomes. Like trying to get eggshells out of raw egg. Theyâ€™re slippery little bastards. â€œIâ€™ve never noticed any sound,â€ I say and feel myself shrugging apologetically. Iâ€™ve had the dream almost every night for as long as I can remember. How come I donâ€™t know if there is sound? I laugh. The therapist appears concerned. â€œWhatâ€™s funny, Miss Finner?â€ â€œI was just thinking how silly it is that I donâ€™t know if there is sound when Iâ€™ve had the dream every night for as long as I can remember. Even if that is only two months ago.â€ My first memory is waking up in a hospital. And then I watched a lot of TV. For two weeks it was all I did. There was a strangeness to it. Seeing all of these things for the first time. Cars, electricity, dishwashers, phones. You get the idea. These people on television used them as though they were normal, and I found myself watching it in fascination and horror. How could I have forgotten all of this? Simple things like working a remote control? Dr. Brown gives me a smile. I think itâ€™s supposed to be kind, but it seems perfunctory. He can check it off his list now: smiled to put the patient at ease. Iâ€™m not at fucking ease. But weâ€™re both puppets in this. I come to his office every few days, we talk about nothing, and all the while there is someone standing behind a one-way mirror. I canâ€™t see whoâ€™s watching me. And I really donâ€™t know why anyone would want to. Iâ€™m just a nameless girl who is probably in her early twenties and has no family. At least none that can be found. And I go to a shrink. Brownâ€™s an average guy. Average age, average brown hair, average brown clothes, maybe even browning teeth. His fingers press the tip of his pencil down hard into the yellow pad of paper. Thatâ€™s a tell. A poker term that means he gives information away by making that gesture. He does it every time heâ€™s heard something he doesnâ€™t like. I repress a smile, feeling proud of myself for figuring that out. Poker is another thing Iâ€™ve learned from television. Itâ€™s very important to pay attention to people. Not just what they say, but how they look when they say it; where their hands are, their eyes, if their posture is open or closed. People lie with words. And if I miss that, if Iâ€™ve read a situation wrong, it could kill me. My hands are shaking. Why do I think that? Because surely thatâ€™s a little extreme. â€œAnd then what?â€ he says, and he reaches up, touching the earpiece he has in. A psychiatrist with an earpiece, a patient with a microphone, a wall made of glass, and itâ€™s all so ridiculous that I could scream and scream and never stop. I do know that none of this is normal. I know because Iâ€™ve seen shrinks on TV, and this is more like a good cop investigating a crime I may have committed rather than a therapeutic experience. Whoever is on the other end of that earpiece, the person speaking, has said something the doctor doesnâ€™t like. Brownâ€™s brown eyebrows rise a little. He even makes a sound of negation, looks toward the large mirror in the office and gives a small shake of his head. Even Iâ€™m intrigued now. Brown doesnâ€™t usually put up much of a fuss. In fact, he seems quite bored by our appointments. He asks me the same questions every time, fills out his forms, and then asks a few others that seem a bit random. And then there are the questions that the watcher asks. Watcher or watchers? How many people are behind the mirror? How many people are interested in the mundane details of my life? Yesterday was a pasta day, and I broke down and ate a Kit Kat too. King-size. â€œWhatâ€™s he want to know?â€ I ask, unable to help myself, and now the doctor looks flustered. He doesnâ€™t like it when I acknowledge the person on the other side of the glass. Probably because it undermines his authority. Lets everyone know heâ€™s not the top banana. Top banana. I like that expression. When Iâ€™m not here or watching TV or going to school, I read. Terrible stories of villains and monsters. I read about vampires. In fact, thatâ€™s all I read. I discovered them in a bookstore. I think one of the authors uses that phrase. Top banana. Brown doesnâ€™t know about the books I read. Too lurid. I would feel a bit ridiculous explaining that a vampire bite is just another form of penetration. Ahem. Brown says, â€œLet me remind you that the person or persons behind the glass may not be male.â€ He sounds annoyed. I donâ€™t really know that the person on the other side of the mirror is a man, but in my mind it is. Plus it annoys Dr. Brown, and since I donâ€™t really want to be here talking about my dreams and the blank spots in my head, I try to annoy him whenever the opportunity presents itself. â€œYou say â€˜heâ€™ sometimes,â€ I say oh, so casually. A flash of a glance to the mirror and all I can think is, Gotcha! â€œAs Iâ€™ve told you before, itâ€™s easiest to refer to your benefactor as a generic â€˜he.â€™â€ â€œLike God?â€ He purses his lips. â€œBecause God could be a woman, but everyone says he, so we assume itâ€™s a he. Whatâ€™s God want to know?â€ Isnâ€™t he my gGod, the man behind the mirror? He pays for me, after all. Brown clears his throat and presses the pencil into the paper so hard that I see his fingertips turn stark white. Like a vampire. â€œYour benefactor wants to know why youâ€™ve not mentioned this before. Youâ€™ve been coming here for weeks, you say you have it every night, and yet this is the first we are hearing of it. There isâ€¦skepticism, which is, in my medical opinion, counterproductive,â€ he says, his tone superior. Itâ€™s one thing the doctor and I shareâ€”an annoyance at being bossed around by whoever is behind the glass. I turn my head to the window, away from Brown and the watcher. Beyond the glass is an endless view of buildings and life. What are all those people doing behind those windows? Do they wish they were somewhere else? My gaze drifts to the sky. It could be bluer. Itâ€™s slate grey, like itâ€™s going to start pissing buckets of rain. The back of my neck prickles, and I have the sensation that someone is staring at the back of my head very hard, almost willing me to turn around and look at the mirror. To answer the question. I suppose my looking out the window is my own tell. I do it when Iâ€™m annoyed, feeling vulnerable, or when all I want to do is start screaming about how unfair it is that I have no history, no memory, no family, just this appointment like clockwork. Sometimes they ask me to look at the mirror, and I really donâ€™t like that. Especially because itâ€™s not a request from Brown, but from my benefactor, my watcher. He wants to see me. I take a deep breath, watching a pigeon strut by the window, looking pleased with himself because heâ€™s two hundred feet up in the air and unafraid. Do I envy a pigeon? A heavy sigh oozes out of me. I do. I do envy a pigeon. â€œMiss Finner?â€ Brown asks, and I realize Iâ€™ve done it again, disappeared into my thoughts longer than I should have. Sometimes I think that my head is so empty that my thoughts get lost in there, and thatâ€™s why I space out. Because my mind is like an empty warehouse when there should be densely packed boxes of memories. â€œCan I have some water?â€ A stall for time. He points to the cup beside me with his pencil. â€œItâ€™s empty,â€ I say, not looking at it. Out of the corner of my eye I can see itâ€™s half-full. Whoops. â€œIâ€™ll get it while you answer,â€ he says and stands, heading to the back of the room. â€œWhatâ€™s the question?â€ I ask, all faux-innocence. His silence manages to convey how irksome I am. I donâ€™t know how, but it does. â€œWhy have you not mentioned this dream before now?â€ And suddenly Iâ€™m tired. Too tired for this bullshit. â€œThe dream scares me,â€ I confess, feeling blood heat my cheeks. I donâ€™t like confessing fear. Itâ€™s weak. It can be dangerous. My fingers dig in to the soft leather of the chair. He brings me some water, and I take it, drinking a small sip before putting it next to the other cup. He is staring at the other cup, half-filled, and he rolls his eyes before he goes back to his seat. â€œLet it be noted that Miss Finnerâ€™s water cup was not empty when she asked for another one. These diversionary tactics help no one.â€ The doctor settles himself back in his chair. He opens his mouth, closes it again and then flashes a look to the mirror. He clears his throat and makes eye contact with me. â€œI apologize, Miss Finner,â€ he says and itâ€™s obviously not by choice. Whoever is behind the glass made him say it. They donâ€™t like it when heâ€™s rude to me. I make my expression bland. â€œWhat are you apologizing for, Dr. Brown?â€ A glare. More blank face from me. â€œYouâ€™re perfectly entitled to fresh water when you want it,â€ he says begrudgingly. His pencil slaps the pad of paper in a staccato rhythm. â€œAs you were saying, Miss Finner.â€ â€œI wasnâ€™t saying anything. I said it already. The dream scares me, so I didnâ€™t want to talk about it.â€ I lean back in the chair, aware that Iâ€™ve just crossed my arms over my chest. This is what they call a defensive posture. The doctor makes a little note of it, and Iâ€™m tempted to give him another gesture. A minimalist, one-fingered gesture. â€œItâ€™s quite all right to be scared of our dreams. They can be very powerful and give insight into our most private fears and desires.â€ He nods, clearly pleased at this doctor-like explanation. In that moment I hate him. It doesnâ€™t last for long though. Hating someone is a lot of work and he isnâ€™t worth it. â€œAll right. So you are at a lake, on the beach, and there is lava in the distance.â€ â€œI didnâ€™t say lake. Itâ€™s the ocean. Iâ€™m on an island,â€ I say, correcting him. I like to point it out when he gets it wrong as I think it undermines him to whoever is watching. Wait, did I say island? I let that roll around in my vacant mind. It sounds right. An island. I take a steadying breath and try to sound casual. â€œThe lava reaches me and itâ€™s suddenly around me, like, everywhere, and I know I couldnâ€™t escape it if I tried,â€ My voice trails off. â€œDo you know how they cook a frog?â€ â€œWho?â€ he asks quietly, hoping I remember something or disturbed by the non sequitur, I donâ€™t know which. â€œPeople. French people, I guess.â€ Because I donâ€™t think anyone else is cooking frogs. â€œThey have to put the frog in cold water because if itâ€™s too hot, sheâ€™ll jump out. So they start out with cool water, and it warms up slowly, and the frog doesnâ€™t try to save herself. She cooks to death.â€ He frowns. â€œThe frog is a she?â€ I meet his gaze, the instant anger making me want to snarl. â€œFrogs are male and female. It doesnâ€™t mean anything that I describe her as female.â€ His eyes nearly twinkle as he leans forward. That damned pencil of his is pointing at me, and I want to grab it, break it in half and kill him with it. Deep breath. Of course I donâ€™t want to kill him. â€œThatâ€™s not quite true, Miss Finner. In our sessions Iâ€™ve noticed that your pronoun choices are not random. For example, people in authority are generally â€˜heâ€™; victims are generally female. Like the frog.â€ â€œThe frog is a victim?â€ I shouldnâ€™t argue. I never win. â€œDonâ€™t you think the frog is a victim?â€ His tone is soothing, smug. He thinks he knows me now, that heâ€™s revealed something profound. I hate him. â€œI think the frog is food.â€ But Iâ€™m beginning to sweat, my palms damp, my heart picking up speed. â€œAnd you donâ€™t eat meat,â€ he says, pouncing. â€œSo?â€ â€œYou told me you donâ€™t eat it because the cow is a victim and she doesnâ€™t deserve it. And now we have a female frog.â€ â€œFemales, victims, food. Youâ€™re reaching, Doctor,â€ I say, letting him hear how much I despise him. I swallow because my voice is trembling. â€œItâ€™s an imaginary fucking frog!â€ and I do snarl at him. â€œAnd the hour is over.â€ And Iâ€™m up. I rip off the microphone thatâ€™s attached to my sweater, pull off the armband that keeps track of my heart rate, and then Iâ€™m out of there before he can say another word. I donâ€™t take the elevator but the stairs, all five flights of them, the sound of my shoes echoing loudly as I try to escape. I know how to walk quietly. Like oddly quietly, as if, in my previous life, I made sure to never draw attention to myself, and so I always hear it when Iâ€™m clumping around loudly like now. Iâ€™m panting as I get to the bottom of the stairwell. Iâ€™m still weak from the accident, and I get tired easily, but Iâ€™m getting better, faster, stronger, and soon I wonâ€™t be panting from the stairs. The receptionist is on her feet, apparently waiting for me because she looks anxious. â€œMiss Finner, the doctor called down. You left your drugs upstairs. He wants you to go back up for them.â€ Defeat. My shoulders slump and Iâ€™m staring at the marble floor. I manage a thank you even though Iâ€™m on the verge of tears. Heâ€™s won. I have to go back up there and get my pills. I canâ€™t even storm off and make a dramatic exit. I trudge to the bank of elevators, pushing the up button. Five flights up is beyond me. I wait and my chest feels heavy, weighted, the urge to cry sneaking up on meâ€”not unlike the lava, I think morbidlyâ€”and I try to push it back. I donâ€™t want Brown to see me flustered. I can fall apart later at home if I have to, but I wonâ€™t do it in front of people who see me as nothing more than a project. An experiment. A frog in a nice warm pot of water? Was he on to something there? Something even I didnâ€™t realize? That I think of victims as women and men as the abusers? That somehow Iâ€™ve reached this opinion and I donâ€™t know why or how or if it has anything to do with my previous life that I may never remember? And this might be stating the obvious here, but I am female. So doesnâ€™t it stand to reason that I am the original victim who shaped this worldview? The elevator doors open, and I take a step forward, my eyes glazed with a sheen of tears, my mind a riot. I have to get my drugs. The pills I take in the morning and at night. Wonâ€™t I feel better then? Suddenly I crash into a wall of black. I feel the fabric against my face, soft cashmere, and instantly know it for what it is. Luxurious and expensive. A manâ€™s large hands close around my arms gently and push me back from him. He actually lifts me off the ground and sets me back. At least I think he does. It happens fast. He smells like heaven, like a being who doesnâ€™t belong on earth. Somehow crisp and woodsy, somehow like the sea and the grass, or cologne and darkness, maybe even like sex and death. It fills me and I want to drown myself in that scent, and at the same time, it makes me sick. My head snaps up and Iâ€™m looking into a godâ€™s face. Not the Christian God or a monotheistic god, but an ancient one. One of those gods that seduced virgins and were capricious. One that was prayed to even as the peasants realized that it was just as likely their god would smite them as save them. His hair is dark brown, matching his eyes and heavy lashes. His lips are pressed into a forbidding flat line, and if he has a flaw at all, itâ€™s his nose, which might be a touch long. Heâ€™s tall, my head pressed back into my neck as I stare into his fathomless eyes. He doesnâ€™t speak but stands there, all aristocratic hauteur, his hands still on my arms, the heat of his fingers searing me. Is this how the rabbit feels when it sees the animal thatâ€™s going to eat it? In awe and afraid at once? Stunned by the animalâ€™s magnificence even as it fervently wishes itâ€™d never been noticed at all? I donâ€™t have anything to say to him. Still he doesnâ€™t let me go. His eyes travel my face. Carefully, slowly. He watches the tear that I can feel sliding down my cheek. And then his fingers lift away from me, one at a time, oddly slowly, and if I could speak, I would ask him if it was hard to let me go. I shudder as though I have chills. Stupid, stupid girl. Heâ€™s still staring at me, neither of us speaking. Then the moment is broken. A smile flashes across his beautiful face, and he takes a step back, his head inclining toward the elevatorâ€”an invitation to enter. His arms are still up, palms open as if he wants me to know just how non-threatening he is. Itâ€™s the same gesture a thief makes when the cops get himâ€”surrenderâ€”which is crap. Or maybe itâ€™s a careful gesture because heâ€™s one moment away from grabbing me backâ€¦and so heâ€™s staying very still, very careful. Total restraint. A flutter of awareness twists through me. â€œI wonâ€™t go in there with you,â€ I say, shocked Iâ€™ve said anything. I wipe the tear from my face and then the other side, finding it wet too. â€œIâ€™m not going in the elevator,â€ he says slowly. His voice is deep, dark, accented, and it makes me want to cry. I haul in a breath, wet and filled with my voice, a small choked sound, and I donâ€™t know why Iâ€™m suddenly losing myself, but I am. I need my pills because I am absolutely losing my shit in front of this stranger. â€œIâ€™m leaving,â€ he says quietly, and he takes a step to move past me, taking himself away since Iâ€™m frozen in place. I yelp as he moves toward me, stumbling backwards, my back banging into the elevator doors. Instantly he has me again in his grip. How did he move so fast? â€œI need my drugs,â€ I say. Instantly regretting it. He releases me and Iâ€™m in the elevator. He turns his back on me and leaves me there, gawking. Heâ€™s over six feet tall, his coat long, black and custom-made. He doesnâ€™t have a briefcase or anything like that. Where is he going at two in the afternoon? A meeting? To meet a lover? The doors start to close, and I punch the open button and stand there like a fool watching him as he exits the glass doors and emerges onto the New York street. He pauses and I think heâ€™s going to turn, to look back at me, as if he can feel me still there watching him, but he doesnâ€™t, and then heâ€™s gone. I wish Iâ€™d never seen him. Which is, admittedly, a slightly peculiar thought. Who is he? Where is he going? Those would be more appropriate. Itâ€™s not every day one sees manly perfection. I want to follow him. With every beat of my heart, I think I should follow him. The doors close, decision made for me. Heâ€™s gone, and in a city this big, Iâ€™ll probably never see him again. A relief, really. Fifth floor. To get my pills and then I can go home. Or at least Iâ€™ll go to the apartment where I live, because if I ever had a home, I sure as hell donâ€™t remember it. 2 My neighbor is named Jessica. Sheâ€™s a twenty-five-year-old starving actress. (The starving part is intentional.) She always says that she waitresses on the side and that acting (plus the inevitable auditioning) is her living. But from what I can tell, waitressing is her living, she goes to lots of auditions, and occasionally she acts. I feel bitchy just thinking it because sheâ€™s the only friend I really have. Weâ€™re both relatively new to the big city, we live across the hall from each other, and we both like to commiserate over wine and chocolate and cheese. Sheâ€™s more into the wine, and Iâ€™m more into the chocolate and cheese. Sometimes I think she likes me just because there is no danger Iâ€™ll down more than my ration. And I suppose Iâ€™m a novelty. The girl with no memory. Itâ€™s a talking point. Unfortunately. As I stand outside my door, fumbling for my keys in my purse, she jabs her head out of her apartment and calls my name in a squawk. This is not the only avian similarity. She could be described as flighty. And she has the delicate bone structure of a bird. She also eats like a birdâ€¦although she drinks like a fish, so I donâ€™t know where that leaves it. â€œI was beginning to think youâ€™d gone shopping without me,â€ she says, her overly plump lower lip in a pout. Iâ€™m still rattled from the therapistâ€™s appointment. â€œI donâ€™t understand how I canâ€™t find my keys. I know theyâ€™re in here.â€ I begin to mutter obscenities. â€œYour purse is too large. You need something smaller.â€ Oy. â€œI canâ€™t. I have too much junk.â€ She peers inside my purse, makes a murmur of agreement. â€œAnd how old is that apple?â€ she asks accusingly and fishes it out with two fingers. â€œHey. I might eat that.â€ She snorts. â€œCarrying it in your purse doesnâ€™t make you virtuous. You canâ€™t claim the fiber by osmosis. You have to eat the fruit.â€ I give her big, surprised eyes. â€œAre you serious? Oh my god. Iâ€™ve been doing it wrong all along!â€ I rummage some more. â€œHere, hold this,â€ I say and hand her a blue scarf. She sighs. I find my keys and jingle them at her triumphantly. â€œTa da!â€ â€œYou could have been mugged and raped in the amount of time it took you to find those keys.â€ â€œThereâ€™s round-the-clock armed security on the ground floor. I think Iâ€™m safe.â€ I open my door, and she follows me in, throwing my scarf on the couch along with the beaten-up apple. I consider putting it back in my purse, but it is getting a bit wrinkly. Iâ€™ve experienced the horror of rotting fruit in a bag. Thereâ€™s smell and squishâ€¦Itâ€™s not good. One would think Iâ€™d learn, but I donâ€™t. Itâ€™s like a compulsion: put fruit in handbag and think about eating it. And the most important partâ€” absolutely critical to the whole sick processâ€”donâ€™t actually eat the fruit. Ever. I do think about eating it all the time, though. I set the white bag filled with pill bottles on the granite countertop and feel the same zap of pleasure that I always feel when I walk into my apartment. Itâ€™s beautiful. I think itâ€™s literally a few pages of a Pottery Barn catalogue come to life. It costs a fortune. I donâ€™t know how much because I donâ€™t pay for it, the foundation does, but with its location, amenities and bizarrely extreme security, itâ€™s more in a month than I may ever make in a year. And thatâ€™s assuming I ever finish school and get a job. â€œI see youâ€™ve got your pills,â€ she says, voice light. â€œI do. I almost forgot them actually.â€ I pull out the half-drunk bottle of pinot grigio from yesterday and some soda water. I like a white wine spritzer although Jessica clearly disapproves. Diluting the wine defeats the purpose, apparently. But she tries to keep quiet about it because it means there is more for her. Mentioning my almost-forgotten pills reminds me of my encounter with tall, dark, and frightening. Not that Iâ€™d really stopped thinking about him since it happened. Who was he? The building is a skyscraper, and he could work on any floor for all sorts of important companiesâ€¦or he could have been there for a meeting. Iâ€™ll never see him again. Screw the soda water, Iâ€™m going for straight wine. Iâ€™m glad Iâ€™ll never see him again. I shiver just remembering the feel of him so close, his smell, his voice. And the feeling isnâ€™t nice, either. Itâ€™s fear. I jerk my head toward the thermostat. â€œItâ€™s cold in here. Can you turn on the heater while I pour?â€ â€œOh my god, itâ€™s not cold at all. I swear you must be from Hawaii or Fiji or something. Iâ€™ve never seen anyone so cold all the time.â€ â€œYeah, because I really look exotic,â€ I say, and I know sheâ€™s looking me over, like I might have a clue stamped on me and sheâ€™s just somehow missed it. Iâ€™m pretty average, even if I do say so myself. Dark brown hair, muddy brown eyes, decent lips, not too plump or too thin, need a sports bra if Iâ€™m going to run (although I do try to avoid that at all costs). Average height. If there is anything about me that anyone might comment on, it would probably be just how nondescript I am. I can blend and be ignored with the best of them. Itâ€™s a skill. Kind of. If this were the 1800s and I were going to a ball, I would be a wallflower. Jessica takes a gulp of wine and launches into a recitation of the dayâ€™s failed audition. At least she assumes itâ€™s failed. Sheâ€™s becoming a bit disenchanted by the whole New York experience. I know how she feels. Iâ€™m barely paying attention, just nodding and agreeing until itâ€™s time to open a new bottle. My mind is on him. Why was I so scared of him? â€œI met someone today and I felt like I knew him,â€ I blurt out, interrupting her story of some famous actor who was a shitty tipper. Her eyes widen. â€œGo on,â€ she says, all melodramatic. I feel myself flush. â€œWell, Iâ€™m sure I didnâ€™t know him.â€ â€œHow can you be sure?â€ she asks, voice sharp. â€œI thought you didnâ€™t remember anything before the accident?â€ â€œBecause he wasâ€¦beautiful andâ€¦worldly.â€ My hand is fluttering in an inane way as I try to describe him. My descriptive abilities are inadequate. Like a child writing an essay in crayon. I set my hand down flat on the marble, the coolness nice against my suddenly hot palm. I turn my hand over, looking at my wrist, at the pulse that beats there and the faintest white lines that cross my skin. Little scars, ranging in size from one to two inches all along my forearms. They say I was a cutter. When times got rough, Iâ€™d slice myself open apparently. Maybe itâ€™s better I donâ€™t remember my past. I clear my throat, get back to the man in the elevator. â€œPlus, he clearly didnâ€™t know me.â€ I want to smack myself of the forehead. I should have said that last part first and left out the beauty part. Beautiful. Who calls a man beautiful anyway? â€œI was leaving my appointment and I ran into him at the elevator. Like, literally ran into him. It was actually quite mortifying.â€ â€œDo you think he could be one of your pimps?â€ I frown at her, because I hate it when she says I have a pimp. Mainly because it implies Iâ€™m a prostitute. Well, it means I would be a prostitute. No implication about it. And I ainâ€™t. Obviously. When she initially coined the term, we were quite tipsy and it seemed funny. But it really isnâ€™t. Itâ€™s weird to have some unknown benefactor paying for my apartment, my schooling and meals. I even have a few credit cards and a bank account with a very large balance. And then there is the therapy. Canâ€™t forget about that. I cost the foundation a bundle. Iâ€™ve been told Iâ€™m a charity case. Part of a philanthropic mission to help people. â€œHe doesnâ€™t watch me,â€ I say, trying to imagine this god of a man watching me through a mirror and asking questions about me to Dr. Brown through an earpiece. Impossible. Comically improbable even. â€œHe was coming down when I was in the lobby already.â€ Not that itâ€™s conclusive. I suppose he could have left right after me and come down in the elevatorâ€¦maybeâ€¦nah. It just didnâ€™t make any sense. There was no way in the world a man like that would have any interest in a girl like me. And he certainly wouldnâ€™t watch me every week while I give boring accounts of my time and answer lots of questions with I donâ€™t remember. Hell, even I know how boring I am! â€œWell, I think you shouldnâ€™t rule it out. Far better to think itâ€™s some hot guy watching you rather than the reality.â€ â€œWhatâ€™s the reality?â€ I ask, a wave of loneliness washing over me. â€œItâ€™s probably the Smoking Man from the X Files.â€ Jessica loves TV, and I rack my brain trying to come up with the reference. She spends a lot of time trying to educate me about the last twenty years of music, movies and TV. I guess itâ€™s like a hobby for her or something. I draw a blank for the Smoking Man though. Although Iâ€™m willing to hazard a guess sheâ€™s talking about a man. Who smokes. â€œLetâ€™s hope not!â€ I say, because it seems like a safe response. She laughs so I think Iâ€™m in the clear. I laugh too, because thatâ€™s the right response. I try to draw as little attention to my differences and lack of cultural knowledge as possible, and Iâ€™m not in the mood for a TV marathon tonight. In fact, I donâ€™t want to think about my life or absolute lack thereof at all. â€œSo how much was the tip?â€ I ask, and take the opportunity to open my bag of pills and take a few, letting the attention shift back to her, just where we both like it. 3 The next few days pass quickly. Or at least it feels like Iâ€™ve only just left this chair in Dr. Brownâ€™s office all too recently. Somehow I imagine that I can smell, ever so faintly, just a trace of the man from the elevator. As if heâ€™s been in this room and Iâ€™m so attuned to him that Iâ€™d recognize him anywhere. I feel a tremble starting deep inside of me, like a freight train rattling over my bones. How can I be afraid of a man? How can I react like this just from the thought of him? â€œSo, Rebecca, how was your week?â€ Dr. Brown asks. Heâ€™s got a mug of steaming herbal tea in his hand. On the table next to him is a small box, so small it could fit into the palm of my hand. Itâ€™s a slightly dingy white, maybe made of ivory or even bone. Itâ€™s certainly old and so out of place in this sterile chrome and glass office that my eyes keep going back to it. I suspect heâ€™s watching me look at it, registering my interest. Iâ€™m tempted to ask about it, but I think he wants me to so I wonâ€™t. Itâ€™s a petty game we play. I smile at him, even show him some teeth and try to crinkle my eyes and make it look sincere. â€œI had a fine week, Dr. Brown.â€ â€œHow are your classes?â€ he asks. â€œGood.â€ A beat passes, the hamster in his head running frantically on the wheel as he tries to think of how to phrase whatever heâ€™s going to say. â€œI hate to remind you, Rebecca, but these sessions are very important to your benefactors. Itâ€™s their opportunity to check on you, and I would encourage you to make your answers as full as possible.â€ He doesnâ€™t hate to remind me. Anger boils inside of me, and I imagine myself screaming at him, throwing myself forward and slapping him across the face in rage. It startles me, the anger, and every muscle inside me locks down tight, keeping me in my seat. When did I last take my pills? An hour ago? This morning? Last night? The days all blend. Iâ€™m going to scream. I swallow hard, then again. My hands squeeze into the cushions, keeping me civilized. I would never do such a thing as slap him. Never. Ever. Do such a thing. Heâ€™s waiting. Heâ€™s watching. Answer. Who is on the other side of the mirror? I bite it back. Bite it back and swallow again. The question is a little monster with claws thatâ€™s scraping up my throat and wonâ€™t go down. I should be full inside with all the things I keep down. The rage, the anxiety and the fear. My memories. Interesting. Are they swallowed or are they gone? I fear that I am hollow inside. Swallow. â€œCan I have some water? Iâ€™m sorry, my throat hurts.â€ I think there is a little alien trying to climb up my esophagus. Even if I said it and laughed, he wouldnâ€™t think it was funny. He puts his steaming mug down next to the little box and gets up to fetch me water. I want that box. The sudden hunger for it surprises me. Is it the pills? Do they not work well enough? Does the dose need to be adjusted again? Why the fuck canâ€™t I remember if I took them this morning? Brown brings me the water with one hand, his other hand on the earpiece. It lets me know that what heâ€™s about to say comes from the watcher, not him. â€œAre you coming down with something? Maybe you should see your doctor? He can make a house call,â€ he says and then looks surprised. â€œYour doctor makes house calls? Wow. Lucky you.â€ Lucky me? Thereâ€™s a joke. I manage not to scream although itâ€™s there, building and building. Is it like a wave on the beach? Is it the lava? Burn me up and leave me as ash. Now I want to laugh. Pretty sure it isnâ€™t funny. Deep breath. Truthfully, I feel fragile today. Very fragile. Like I might slip and say something unexpected. Somethingâ€¦knowing. I keep my gaze from the box. â€œI donâ€™t want a doctor.â€ â€œVery well,â€ he says, because he doesnâ€™t really care, â€œjust something toâ€”â€œ He looks pained as he listens to the watcher. A grimace. â€œYou may not want a doctor, but maybe you need a doctor.â€ My gaze drops to my lap. My black skirt has a thousand pleats, and my fingers are busy pressing them together, worrying the fabric nervously. â€œIâ€™m fine. Thank you,â€ I say, and my voice is too quiet. Never. Ever. Never, I think, on repeat. Iâ€™m tired. â€œI think we should let that go for now.â€ Brown is talking to the watcher behind the mirror, not me. â€œNow, your classes?â€ Brown prompts. I drag air in until my ribs make a cricking sound that I feel in my body. Itâ€™s a lifeline, this banal topic. â€œIâ€™m hoping to help one of the professors on a project. Heâ€™s working on using hemoglobin from hemophiliacs and trying to boost their clotting cells using their own immune systems.â€ He hesitates. â€œAnd do you like that work?â€ â€œItâ€™s interesting,â€ I say. And thatâ€™s true. I could talk about school all day actually. Keep the attention off me. â€œItâ€™s an autoimmune thing, meaning the body turns against itself. I find that rather fascinating.â€ â€œWhat exactly is fascinating?â€ he asks and takes a sip of his tea. Heâ€™s getting more comfortable, and I feel like weâ€™re both in agreementâ€”letâ€™s exhaust this subject today and get this hour out of the way. â€œThat someone could be so in control, soâ€¦powerful and otherwise healthy, and yet his body, his blood is working against him.â€ I note the pronoun at the same time he does. Please let it go. Miraculously, he does. After making a note. Stockpiling ammunition for later. â€œYouâ€™ve shown a repeated interest in science,â€ he says. Is that a question? A car honks from down below and somewhere outside. Itâ€™s amazing to me how loud car horns are. Brown nods, clearly getting instructions. The subject changes like musical chairs. â€œSo, in our last session we were talking about your dream. Have you had it again?â€ Damn. I want to lie. â€œI like your box,â€ I say. â€œIs it new?â€ â€œItâ€™s an antique.â€ He picks it up carefully. That box isnâ€™t his, I think, with a flash of knowledge. Heâ€™s never touched it before. Heâ€™s cautious with it. Ivory is strong. â€œI know that. I mean, is it new to you?â€ A hesitation. Heâ€™s being fed the answer. Why? â€œItâ€™s from the 1750s. It was a jewelry box.â€ â€œFor what? Not a ring.â€ His gaze is sharp. â€œWhat makes you say that?â€ â€œBecause itâ€™s bigger than a ring box.â€ I feel like thatâ€™s two points for me. It seems pretty obvious. He nods, a concession. â€œHave you ever seen anything like it?â€ â€œI think so.â€ His back straightens; he even leans forward. â€œWhere?â€ His voice is soft. If I didnâ€™t know better, I would think that Iâ€™m supposed to know the box. I shrug. â€œA museum, I guess. Maybe an antique store. I like antiques.â€ â€œDo you own any?â€ he asks. â€œAntiques? No.â€ â€œYouâ€™re never tempted to buy any?â€ I hesitate. Itâ€™s an odd questionâ€¦but I do like antiques. I have enough money to buy things for my apartment so why donâ€™t I ever buy one? In fact, itâ€™s never even crossed my mind. â€œI like to look at them sometimes. But theyâ€™re soâ€¦ I like having new things. Antiquesâ€¦theyâ€™re not for me. Iâ€™m not sure that makes much sense.â€ I look at the clock and the door. Too much time left. â€œAnd yes, I have had the dream again.â€ Because Iâ€™d rather talk about my dream than the box. What do I feel when I look at it? Fear? Revulsion? Desire? Hunger? That feeling of fragility, of being near tears, is close today, fills me up inside like water, like blood. Heavy and sharp, light and intangible. â€œTell me about the dream,â€ he says. â€œI did.â€ â€œRepeat it.â€ I hate you. I smile. Make the eyes crinkle. â€œIâ€™m on a beach and I see lava in the distance. Itâ€™s coming closer.â€ I take a sip of water. Turn to look at the mirrored glass, trying to see beyond my reflection. Who is behind the mirror? Sometimes the need to know fades a bit. But right now I want to know, so much so that I look to the mirror and try to see through it, to the people on the other side, even though I know I canâ€™t. I just canâ€™t help myself, I guess. Iâ€™m still looking at the mirror, and I imagine him, the man from the elevator. Is he sitting in a chair, wearing that cashmere coat and an expensive suit? I can see him there, relaxed, watching, powerful. A man at ease in every situation. And who wouldnâ€™t be when nothing was ever a surprise? Heâ€™d have one leg crossed over the other, a gentleman-at-leisure pose. Or was he standing, arms crossed, legs spread, staring at me with a scowl? Annoyed. I almost feel the weight of his gaze. Go ahead and look at me. Look and donâ€™t touch. Look and let me go. This is all your fault. I blink and jerk my gaze back to Brown. â€œThe lava isnâ€™t hot. Even in my dream, I know that lava burns and thisâ€¦stuffâ€¦doesnâ€™t. This is justâ€¦red all around me. Red covering me, swallowing me.â€ I feel like I can smell the copper. I hate the smell of blood. I hate the feel of blood. I hate the tackiness of it and the way it cakes on skin when itâ€™s dry. I reach for my cup of water, because itâ€™s something to do, but I canâ€™t drink now that Iâ€™ve thought about the lava. I put my hand back in my lap, glide a finger along the soft, black pleats of my skirt. â€œThe blood should burn. And when it doesnâ€™t, then I decide to stay there. I donâ€™t fight it or try to escape. I wait. Iâ€™m stillâ€¦and so it rises and rises and I just wait.â€ Iâ€™m looking back at the mirror and I donâ€™t know when I did that. My heart is pounding, and itâ€™s as though Iâ€™m not even me, like Iâ€™m watching myself and I canâ€™t even hear my voice clearly. â€œIâ€™m waiting for you. Like that stupid frog in the blood.â€ It takes me a moment to catch up with what Iâ€™ve said. Shit. Double shit. Triple shit with a cherry on top. Brownâ€™s eyes are wide and I can tell Iâ€™ve fucked up. I chuckle and itâ€™s not quite right, either. â€œWhat is the story with the frog?â€ I ask, but the sound of my voice is brittle. Brownâ€™s head is cocked to the side. Maybe heâ€™s imagining all the things heâ€™ll buy with the money heâ€™s going to get now that he gets to ask me all about the blood and the frog. The frog. Why did I mention the frog? The monster in my throat is there and wants out. It hurts and so I let it out. â€œWhatâ€™s going on with the fucking frog?â€ I yell. Oh no. Heâ€™s going to change my dosage for sure now. I look at Brown from under my lashes, wanting to seem contrite. I speak softly now, because Iâ€™m back inside me, and I know what Iâ€™m saying. I laugh nervously and he looks nervous so we match. I donâ€™t know what to say to convince him that I am sane. I smile and shrug. His expression doesnâ€™t change. That was not the right reaction on my part. I finish the dream quickly. â€œAnd then suddenly itâ€™s hot and I feel my skin burning and I scream and then I wake up.â€ I slump back against the leather, cross my arms over my chest and wait. â€œBlood?â€ he says finally. â€œWhat?â€ My heart jumps. Heâ€™s frowning, looking down at his notes. â€œYou said blood. Instead of lava. You said it was red and that blood should burn.â€ Never, ever, never. Itâ€™s getting loud in my head. â€œI meant lava,â€ I manage, and itâ€™s hard to get enough breath into my lungs. God, itâ€™s hot. â€œWhy did you say it?â€ Before I can answer, heâ€™s got his finger against the earpiece. He clears his throat. â€œLetâ€™s move on.â€ The watcher doesnâ€™t care that I said blood instead of lava. Thatâ€™s something. It was just a slip of the tongue, obviously. Brown flips the pages back and forth. Iâ€™m surprised itâ€™s not just covered with doodles. Imagine being paid to listen to my rambling. â€œWhat do you think the dream means?â€ he asks quietly. Fuck if I know. I think about saying that. I would never, ever say that though. â€œI think it means that I donâ€™t recognize danger when itâ€™s around me.â€ He nods thoughtfully. â€œInteresting. And quiteâ€¦knowing, I would say.â€ â€œKnowing as inâ€¦Iâ€™m not a total idiot?â€ His head jerks back a little like Iâ€™ve struck him. â€œI didnâ€™t say that. Youâ€™re a very smart young woman.â€ â€œBut?â€ I laugh and itâ€™s not happy. I feel reckless. And why not? Heâ€™s going to mess with my pills anyway. I lean forward and adjust my posture because Iâ€™m wearing a low-cut shirt and it squeezes my breasts together and makes them really noticeable. I want to make him uncomfortable. â€œBe honest with me for a minute. Iâ€™m boring. And you think Iâ€™m broken, donâ€™t you? Just a boring girl with a benefactor and no memory. Other crazy people are on the street or locked up. Iâ€™m in an apartment. I have money and things. Have I gotten what I deserve, Doctor?â€ â€œNo, I donâ€™t think youâ€™re broken,â€ he says firmly. â€œI think you were hurt and thatâ€”â€ The clock strikes twelve and I shoot to my feet. â€œTimeâ€™s up!â€ â€œOh, so it is. Well, umm. Oh, just a minute.â€ Heâ€™s listening. â€œAre you alone? In the dream?â€ he asks me. I turn to look at the mirror, anger rising inside of me, making me want to pick up a chair and throw it through that fucking glass. I let him see how much I hate him. â€œIâ€™m always alone,â€ and the bitterness seeps through, like blood soaking cloth. I grab my bag and head to the door. The receptionist hands me my drugs, the bag weighing me down even though itâ€™s only a few ounces. It rattles like a snake as I shove it deep into my purse. My words are haunting me, and I might need to take a pill earlier than usual. I hear myself: Iâ€™m always alone. Never, ever, never. Itâ€™s like a chant inside me. I hear it at night before I go to sleep. Iâ€™ve woken up saying it, pulling myself to consciousness. I say it, but now I hear that manâ€™s voice saying it to me. Never, ever, he would say. Quietly. Roughly. A secret. You left me and I hate you. In the hallway I open the bag, hands shaking, and pop the pill container, taking one dry, feeling it lodge momentarily in my throat. Soon it will be quiet. 4 I keep thinking about the box. The drug kicks in and makes me stop thinking rage-filled thoughts on loop, which is good. But it makes me sleepy too so I go to Starbucks for coffee. I order the flat-white. Basically a latte but with whole milk. People are amazed at how creamy it is. Thatâ€™s fat, my friends, I want to say. Itâ€™s delicious and makes people happy. Is it that much of a revelation? As ridiculous as it seems, I do feel like Iâ€™ve seen that box somewhere before. And I want it back. I pause mid-sip. Back implies itâ€™s mine. Itâ€™s not mine. Obviously. Ownership? I let the thought spin out, practice it: thatâ€™s my box. I own that box. That seemsâ€¦wrong, somehow. And if it was mineâ€¦if it was some clue from my pastâ€¦then that would mean that whoever is behind the glass knows who I was. And theyâ€™d tell me. Theyâ€™d stop paying for me and want their money back from my family. Assuming I had one. They would help someone else in need, which is what foundations do. An antique box. And then I know where Iâ€™ve seen it or at least something similar. It was on loan to the Museum of Trade, and I went to see the exhibit they were having on eighteenth-century furniture. I realize that seems overly specific and makes me boring, but there you go. I like history and museums. Before I can question the impulse, Iâ€™m heading to the museum, going to the third floor and searching through cases of antique pill boxes, cameos and stickpins that were tucked into the exhibit. There are museums for everything. Particularly in New York. The Museum of Trade is my favorite. I like to think of ships sailing the world and discovering new lands. One of the display cases, covered in glass, has an empty space where something has been removed, the little card identifying it still there. Late eighteenth-century or early nineteenth-century jewelry case, carved ivory, with original velvet lining the interior. That certainly sounds like the box I saw. But why would a one-of-a-kind, priceless jewelry box be removed just so it could sit on Brownâ€™s scuffed-up Pier One coffee table? To see if I recognized it? Wasnâ€™t thatâ€¦ridiculous? Crazy. The word Iâ€™m looking for is crazy. Batshit level. I can still hear myself screaming about the frog. Next week Brown is going to go nuts with that. A curator stands at the corner of the room, waiting patiently for someone to ask questions. I always feel a little sorry for these volunteers. All they want is someone to ask a question. His ship just came in, I think. What a dumb pun. â€œExcuse me, do you know what happened to the box in that case?â€ I ask, pointing across the room. The man turns to me slowly. Heâ€™s old and sleepy-looking. Itâ€™s possible he was actually sleeping with his eyes open. He grunts and shuffles over to the case with me. He squints at the card describing the box. â€œItâ€™s been removed,â€ he says, deeply unhelpful. My sympathy wanes. I smile. â€œDo you know where it went to or when it was removed? I was here last week and saw it.â€ â€œThis exhibit only opened last week.â€ â€œThis is true. What can I say, Iâ€™m a fan ofâ€¦history. Trade history.â€ It sounds so lame. But itâ€™s enough for the volunteer, who is suddenly outrageously loquacious. â€œWe do not get a lot of young people into the museum. A shame, I think. Trade and discovery is what most countries were founded on.â€ I let him ramble for a while. Itâ€™s not like I have someone to go home to. â€œNow, if youâ€™ll follow me over here, I can show you a lovely cameo that belonged to Napoleon. Itâ€™s of his wife, Josephine, and uses ivory.â€ â€œOh. Iâ€™m really just interested in that particular box rather than the ivory. Is there someone else who might know why it was removed?â€ Now he looks put out. â€œIâ€™m sure the head curator would know. But sheâ€™s very busy. Youâ€™d have to leave a note or a message.â€ â€œOkay. How do I do that?â€ His mouth opens, closes. These are not the questions he wants to be answering. â€œAsk at the front desk on your way out.â€ He jabs a finger up in the air, stopping me from backing away. â€œAnd while youâ€™re down there, you can stop by and see the painting on loan from the Marchant Estate. A lovely old cityscape.â€ A last-ditch attempt to gain my interest. â€œThe Marchants?â€ It takes me a minute. â€œOh! The owners of the box.â€ Now my smile is genuine. â€œThank you. I think Iâ€™ll do that.â€ The museum is almost empty as itâ€™s late afternoon and close to closing time. The painting is easy to find and takes up an entire wall. Itâ€™s stunning and damned familiar. I read the information panel next to it and frown. Painter unknown. 1700-1750. Generously loaned by the Marchant Foundation. Thatâ€™s pretty uninformative. The painting has it all, the water, so still and yet shimmering from the noon-day sun, the docks and wharves, even some large boats that have come into harbor, men unloading goods and what could be sacks of flour. A dog is sniffing at the contents. Rather oddly, there are people coming off the boat, and it looks like theyâ€™re in chains, but the scale makes it hard to tell. Slaves? Prisoners? Beyond the wharves are people doing laundry, baskets on their heads, a market in full swing selling vegetables. The town is low and close in, but in the rocky hills the houses get bigger, larger, a few even becoming castle-like. Whoâ€™s inside the castles? The rich families? Their servants? One castle, tucked into the left-hand corner of the giant painting, catches my eye. The pebbled path that leads to the front yard, the way part of it is perched on a cliff. But you can reach the beach if you go out the back. I blink. Iâ€™ve just made that part up. I canâ€™t tell if there is a beach or not. Women with parasols are in a courtyard, servants standing at attention, ready to fulfill their every need. Their wealth shines through, their dresses voluminous, their faces shielded from the hot sun. And what I really notice, what makes me back away and not want to see it anymore is how pale they are. So white, their starkness in contrast to those who wait on them. The waiting servants are not particularly dark, itâ€™s just that theyâ€™re alive-looking (for lack of a better description), which I guess means that the ladies in their fancy clothes, drinking tea and staying in the shade, lookâ€¦dead. Strikingly dead. As I walk home, in somewhat of a daze, I try to figure out if Iâ€™ve actually discovered anything at all. I mean, what do I really know? An antique box was in Brownâ€™s office. It looks like another box that is missing. And I think itâ€™s supposed to mean something to me. Maybe. But if that were true, then Iâ€™d have an identity. I go to therapy because I have no identity and they want me to remember. So it makes no sense. What if the box is really just a box? Maybe itâ€™s a coincidence that a highly unique and unusual-looking box went missing from the museum and a very similar one has turned up in Brownâ€™s office? When I get home, I knock on Jessicaâ€™s door but she isnâ€™t home. Iâ€™d imagined having a conversation with her, wondered what she might make of the situation. Possibly sheâ€™d think I was crazy. I donâ€™t feel well, and it reminds me of Brownâ€™s question, asking me how I feel and if I need a house call from the doctor. But it wasnâ€™t Brown who asked, it was the watcher. Do I? My classes start early tomorrow, and I know the best thing to do is go to bed, but I canâ€™t. And Iâ€™ve already maxed out on my drugs for the day so I shouldnâ€™t take any more. Iâ€™ll just have to deal with the anxiety. The fear. Itâ€™s one of those nights where Iâ€™m scared. Where I double-check the locks on my door and am grateful I live in a building with round-the-clock security. The safest building in New York, they say. The security is all ex-military or law-enforcement and armed. Isnâ€™t it odd that Iâ€™m here? Odd that my benefactor put me up in this particular building? I mean, Jessica lives here because her parents insisted on it and are rich. But itâ€™s an odd choice for me when some random foundation is paying for it. Right? I donâ€™t want to go down this rabbit hole again, but Iâ€™m already walking to my dresser, opening it up and moving aside my bras to the folder I keep in there. Underneath my most intimate things. Iâ€™m sure that says something about me. Inside that folder is everything I know about me. My life fits in a manila folder. A very thin one. I look again at the police report. Everything in it, I know by heart. Caucasian womanâ€¦dumped in front of New York General Hospitalâ€¦ Witnesses report sighting a dark, nondescript car, a man over six feet tall with dark hair wearing dark clothing and a blue or black long coat who took me out of the backseat, placed me on the ground, and drove away before the approaching nurses could ask any questions. No relatives found. Prints have no match. No criminal record. I arrived with a recently broken arm, brain hemorrhage consistent with head trauma, scrapes and wounds on my neck, forearm and thigh. I stayed in the hospital for weeks, in a medically induced coma as I fought for my life. Thatâ€™s what the doctors and nurses all said. That I fought to live. But do they really know? Did I fight for my life or did I just not die? The first emotion I remember feeling when I awoke in that hospital is loneliness. The odd sense that Iâ€™d lost something, maybe everything. And then I felt fear. Because wherever this was, it was wrong. It was new and foreign in a way that, memory or no, I knew I had never been in a place like this before. And it still feels that way two months later. Iâ€™d bet my life I didnâ€™t grow up in a city. Brown and I talked about it in the beginning. He said my reaction was normal. Typical of someone with amnesia. I was and am a missing person. A missing person who was never found. Or maybe an orphan. Iâ€™m sitting at the computer and type in Marchant Foundation. Because why not? Better than ruminating on my lack of identity. The results are numerous but unhelpful. Rich family. Owns half of Manhattan and some private islands sprinkled around the world. Who owns an island, let alone a plethora of them? Their headquarters, rather shockingly, are in the same building as Dr. Brown. I feel almost light-headed, my stomach cramping as I read the name of the man in charge of the Marchant empire. Leander. Odd name. I say it, quietly, make my lips shape it. Have I ever said that name before? I click on the images tab, and the shock of seeing him is like a tsunami hitting shore. Itâ€™s the man from the elevator. His black, fathomless gaze staring at me from the screen, lips curving into a hint of a smile. Very professional. His beauty is still overwhelming. Terrifying, really. Here is a picture of the man who put his hands on me and made me feel better and worse than I have ever felt before. Itâ€™s just a picture, and I want to turn away and never see it again. I scroll down, past the picture, and read about Marchant Enterprises, a company that has specialized in shipping for over two centuries and has numerous side businesses, all around the world, that range from agriculture to finance and even hospitals. New York General is listed as one of the hospitals where they have a donor wing. I had to look it up because I hadnâ€™t heard that term before. It means that Leander Marchantâ€™s company gives so much money to the hospital that he has an entire area reserved just for him and his family. I search the Internet and find no mention of a family or a wife or anything. There is remarkably little information, considering. I pull up a map of the hospital and find my old room. It overlooked a courtyard with a giant fountain. And there was a sculpture of a flower that I kind of liked. Using them as reference points, I find my old room. Shocker. I was in the Marchant donor wing. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a letter from the foundation that pays for me. A brief note that reminds me that five thousand dollars has been deposited in my account and the rent paid for the month. L.M. Charitable Foundation, it says. I never thought about what the initials stood for. I never looked. How could I have not wondered where the money came from? I was told it was a charity and I accepted it without question. Iâ€™m a fool. My mind spins with possibilities, a truly fantastical possibility coming to me. What if Leander Marchant was the man whoâ€™d taken me to the hospital? The man who was paying for all of this and the man who watched me? What if he knows who I am orâ€¦I donâ€™t want to follow the logical conclusion but I have to. What if he is the man who harmed me, dumped me at the hospital and is now keeping tabs on me? Ridiculous. Impossible. It makes no sense. Maybe he feels guilty and heâ€™s making up for it by paying for me. Would he want me to remember if he was the one who hurt me? Maybe thatâ€™s why he sent me to therapy, so heâ€™ll know if I remember, be prepared in case I turned him in to the police for hurting me? Does that even make sense? I look longingly at my pills. Is it plausible than an anonymous donor generously gives me a place to live and money? That they require me to go to therapy and school and have no ulterior motive? Nothing, not a damn thing about my entire fucking life makes any sense. Liquid drips on my hand and I realize Iâ€™m crying, tears all over my keyboard. And thatâ€™s it, the last straw and Iâ€™m crying in racking sobs, doubled over, snot everywhere, so miserable I just want to die. I crawl into bed and cry myself to sleep. The next morning I feel terrible. Like the time Jessica and I polished off two bottles of the cheapest, roughest wine. But I huddle in the shower for a while and shuffle my way to class even though I feel like a decaying zombie. I donâ€™t have a lot of routine in my life and part of me craves order. So I go and sit there even though I donâ€™t absorb a thing or take a single note. And on the way out, I get yelled at because I walk too close to the construction site, where the college is busy building a new library. It takes me a minute to understand what Iâ€™m seeing. Itâ€™s the plan for what the finished library will look like. The building is all modern chrome and glass. Paid for by the generous donation of the Marchant Foundation. I laugh and people turn and give me a weird look. Iâ€™m the strange girl laughing at nothing in the middle of the sidewalk. So I stop. Jessica thought it was odd that I got into college. I had no grades or any proof of prior education, after all. Hell, I didnâ€™t even have a name or a social security number, and they let me attend. At the last minute. Even though they reject eighty-five percent of applicants. I wonder if they would let someone in if their benefactor, Leander Marchant, asked them to. Probably. I go home, take my pills, then sleep, the dream coming to me instantly, as if it were waiting, just lurking at the edge of my subconscious, like a memory thatâ€™s faded but dear. The beach, the hot sun, and the lava that glides toward me, dark as blood. Itâ€™s rising and rising, covering my chest, and yet I wait. I tilt my head up, trying to keep the blood out of my mouth and nose, and still I wait, not swimming or screaming. Heaven forbid I try to survive. Waiting. And then, just when I know Iâ€™m going to die, there is a hand, reaching out to me and offering me help. Help or just a different way to die? I think as he pulls me up and against his hard chest. I start to wake up, and this time there is a voice, and I know itâ€™s his, this Leander Marchant, echoing through the empty walls in my head. Itâ€™s different though. Not cautious like before, but low like a lover or worse. Youâ€™ll never escape, he says, and I feel my heart race, a snap of desire go through me, because I donâ€™t want to escape him. I would never, ever escape him. 5 I wake early and am ready and out the door before itâ€™s light outside, taking a cab to the Marchant headquarters, half-afraid Iâ€™ll see Brown in the lobby, on his way into work and starting his day with other patients. Iâ€™m rational and Iâ€™m just clinging on enough to know it but not stop. Brown would say I was crazy. If I go into his office and tell him that I think Leander Marchant, a well-respected god of a man, might have hurt me, left me to the hospital, and was now keeping tabs on me to make sure I didnâ€™t remember, heâ€™d think I was crazy. Maybe I am. Youâ€™ll never escape. And in my dream I didnâ€™t want to. Sadly. Although I sure as hell did want to escape when I met him at the elevator. Heâ€™d scared me. And yet, part of me canâ€™t believe heâ€™s the man who hurt me. He just isnâ€™t. Unless he is. I take the elevator to the top floor. Of course Marchant Enterprises is on the top floor. Iâ€™m instantly stopped by a woman in the reception area. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds of employees, and lots of meetings. What did I expect? For the elevator to open and heâ€™d just be standing there? She wears a Bluetooth at her ear, and her lips are pinched as she waits for me to tell her why Iâ€™m standing there at eight thirty a.m. when itâ€™s clear I donâ€™t have a meeting with anyone here. Sheâ€™s very pretty. Much prettier than me. What possible interest would Leander Marchant have in me in the first place when women like this exist? â€œMiss, can I help you?â€ she says, more firmly this time. â€œI want to see Mr. Marchant.â€ It doesnâ€™t occur to me to call him Leander. â€œDo you have an appointment?â€ she asks, looking me up and down quickly, my jeans and my J. Crew top not cutting it apparently. â€œI do,â€ I lie. My eyes flash to the clock. â€œAt eight thirty.â€ She frowns. â€œI believe Mr. Marchant is just leaving the office for an appointment.â€ A hard swallow. â€œYes, thatâ€™s right.â€ Her look is skeptical. â€œHis appointment is with Mr. Holland.â€ Oh. Think, Rebecca! â€œIâ€™m his assistant. Mr. Hollandâ€™s. Iâ€™m supposed to give Mr. Marchant a message,â€ I say, surprised my voice is confident and that I donâ€™t turn around and run away screaming. Would she call security? She must know Iâ€™m lying. â€œJust a moment. Whatâ€™s your name?â€ she asks, barely concealing her unhappiness with me. An endless moment. My mind blanks. â€œRebecca Finner.â€ She picks up the phone. My hands are gripped tight behind my back, my breath held, anxiety pouring through me as I wait. Didnâ€™t she say he was leaving? Should I have just waited for him in the lobby and seen him from a distance? Surely, I donâ€™t really mean to speak to him? Why the hell did I tell her my real name? A perfectly dressed woman, beautiful and lovely, comes out to meet me. â€œMiss Finner?â€ She looks me up and down, smile fixed, too polite to let her curiosity show. I can almost hear her thinkingâ€”whatâ€™s a girl like her doing here to see a man like Mr. Marchant? GQ meets the beast. And I am, unfortunately, the beast. I follow her down a long, wide hallway. She stops before a closed door, knocks and then opens it, gesturing for me to go in. At first all I can see is windows. There are too many of them, from floor to ceiling, and I have a touch of vertigo. They have some sort of film over them, tinting them so that the room isnâ€™t overly bright, although that doesnâ€™t lessen the impression that this room is floating high in the air. And then Leander Marchant catches my attention, and the view and all of its terrifying splendor is replaced by something truly terrifying and splendid. The man from the elevator. My memory wasnâ€™t wrong. His dark hair is tamed, heâ€™s clean-shaven and, if possible, he seems even more autocratic than before. He stands up from his desk and comes toward me. His expression is fairly neutral. Curious, maybe. Mr. Marchant buttons the single button of his suit jacket with a hand as he comes closer. Iâ€™m not prepared somehow. The reality of seeing him is not what I expect. Certainly not what I want. Does he watch me? Did I know him once upon a time? Did he hurt me? The distance between us closes to several feet and he stops. Waits. His expression is guarded, no smile on his firm lips, and I understand that he wonâ€™t speak until I do. As if itâ€™s some sort of test or a gamble. A buzzing grows in my ears, and suddenly Iâ€™m falling, leaving the world in a dead faint. I wake up on a leather couch, a suit jacket thrown over me, I guess to warm me up, and it smells of him. I want to pull it over me, sink down into the couch and sleep forever. Lord Marchant will keep me safe, I think drowsily. Like a fool. He would never, ever hurt me. I could sleep and heâ€™d watch over me. I couldâ€” The reality of where I am and what is happening comes back to me, and I shove the coat off of me, trying to scramble away from it as if it were alive, breathing deeply to clear my lungs of him. Just his scent is overwhelming, making my heart hammer and my eyes fill with tears that make no sense. Heâ€™s talking to me. The words make sense. He tells me to take it easy. He tells me Iâ€™m safe. Why wouldnâ€™t I be safe? â€œIâ€™ve got some water for you,â€ he says, and picks up a glass from the table. He holds it toward me, his fingers long, the nails immaculately trimmed and cleaned. His hands are large, and he offers it to me with two fingers, the glass dangling. â€œNo,â€ I say, and move away from him, shoving my side into the couch. I donâ€™t want him close enough to touch me. How could I forget, even for a moment, what I suspect him of? He terrifies me. I never want to see him again, never want to speak to him, and he isnâ€™t safe or someone who would protect me, but possibly the person who caused me to lose everything I ever had. If he was in fact my benefactor, my watcher, there wasnâ€™t an altruistic reason for it. â€œIâ€™m sorry. This was a mistake. I was confused,â€ I get to my feet. He puts the glass down and stands, the motion showcasing how much taller he is than me. How broad-shouldered he is, the material pulling just a bit over his muscled arms. His shirt is a crisp white, his tie dark and silk. It is odd seeing him in a suit. Compared to what? I think, somewhat hysterically. â€œItâ€™s all right, Rebecca. You probably shouldnâ€™t get up yet. Youâ€™re still unsteady. Can I get you some food? There is a wonderful cafÃ© down the street, best BLTA youâ€™ve ever had.â€ He smiles as if I were a child on the verge of a tantrum. â€œThatâ€™s my favorite.â€ A pause. â€œIsnâ€™t it everyoneâ€™s?â€ he says smoothly with a raised brow. â€œI donâ€™t know.â€ I move around him, giving him a wide berth. His voice is deep, accented, but I donâ€™t know with what. I donâ€™t know that sort of thing. English? French? Australian? â€œMissâ€¦Finner, is it?â€ he asks, and I almost think heâ€™s never said it before. Maybe even has no idea who I am. Bullshit. He called me Rebecca a moment ago, didnâ€™t he? At the door I stop. Maybe I feel more comfortable because Iâ€™m close to escape. My hand is on the knob and I could get out before he could catch me. Not that he would. I mean, how ridiculous. This powerful businessman chasing me down? He could do it though, if he wanted to. Leander Marchant is not some guy who spends every day behind his desk and occasionally does some exercise. No, this is one of those regimented guys who probably does something dangerous and manly in his spare time like rock climbing or scuba diving with sharksâ€¦maybe on the same day. Heâ€™s more like 007. A man who cleans up nice, and yet, there is a lethality there, a raw physical power to him that one canâ€™t overlook. I think I can see it in those impenetrable black eyes, the distance and cool calculation heâ€™d apply to any given scenario. Everything about him is cold, precise, and if it doesnâ€™t fit into the box he wants it toâ€¦well. Iâ€™m not the sort of girl who fits into boxes and meets expectations. My knees almost buckle in terror. Deep breath, Rebecca. Be a big girl. I face him squarely, even though Iâ€™m not letting go of the door. Itâ€™s a lifeline, a way to escape, and honestly, I couldnâ€™t let go even if I wanted to. His gaze dips down to my hand thatâ€™s cemented to the doorknob. He nods once and takes a step back, then two, until he reaches a leather chair thatâ€™s across from the couch I woke up on. It puts the coffee table between us, gives the impression of even more room to escape. He undoes his jacket again, and I watch his fingers, watch them, the perfection of them that goes so neatly with the rest of him. Could I imagine them covered in blood? Do I believe that he could hurt me so badly that every memory I ever had fell out of my head and left me in a coma? He knows Iâ€™m terrified. He doesnâ€™t look like heâ€™s getting off on it. If anything, he looks grim, almost pained. He sits down, leans back in the chair, crosses one leg over the other, as if heâ€™s waiting for me to hand him a cup of coffee. So calm. So non-threatening, his body language says. Just a businessman who looks like sin and has a body that could kill a man any number of physical and violent ways. It will take more than this faÃ§ade and furniture separating us to put me at ease. He takes a breath, breathing deeply, and I wonder, rather oddly, if I have a scent too. If heâ€™s trying to take me into him as I did on that first occasion at the elevator. Right before I remembered and became afraid. What did I remember? â€œDo you pay for me?â€ I ask, voice thin and shaking. His nostrils flare, and then his harsh brows draw together in a look very similar to confusion. â€œDonâ€™t lie to me,â€ I say, firmer. He uncrosses his legs and leans forward. A sound comes from my throat. Fear given voice. I can see his instant recoil. His hands come up again, the same gesture I saw in the elevator, hands up, non-threatening. â€œIn a manner,â€ he says quietly. â€œWhy?â€ â€œBecause you have no one.â€ â€œDonâ€™t I?â€ His gaze sharpens, eyes narrowing slightly as he watches me. â€œHow do we know each other?â€ It hurts me to ask it, the ramifications of what that question means taking a moment to sink in. If I know himâ€¦god, what if I have an identity after all? â€œYou donâ€™t know me,â€ he says, and his smile is sympathetic. Poor broken girl with no one, the smile says. My hand is going numb from squeezing the handle so hard. â€œThen why would youâ€¦pay for me? My medical bills, my apartment, my food, itâ€™s thousands of dollars every month.â€ â€œItâ€™s not me but the foundation. The foundation helps people in need. One of the nurses at the hospital told someone on the committee about you.â€ That hint of an accent is more pronounced, some of the vowels rounder, others a bit harder, nothing one could place or anything too specific, but it makes his voice interesting. Compelling. â€œI assure you Missâ€¦Finner, I know you only because I signed the approval to help pay for you and your adjustment to this new world.â€ Thatâ€™s an odd way to phrase it. â€œA new world,â€ I repeat slowly, and his jaw clenches. I know he wishes he said something different, even if his expression is nothing but polite interest. I suppose his description wasnâ€™t too far off. Most things are new to me. â€œAnd the elevator?â€ A flash of a smile, a glimpse of white, even teeth. â€œIâ€™ve been many things, but never a wall. We ran into each otherâ€¦.â€ He shakes his head a little. â€œMaybe I donâ€™t understand the question.â€ â€œIt was just a coincidence?â€ â€œThat two people who have business in the same building would run into each other at the elevator? Iâ€™m having a hard time imagining anything nefarious, Iâ€™m afraid.â€ I donâ€™t return his smile. â€œAnd Dr. Brown?â€ He hesitates. â€œWho?â€ â€œDonâ€™t lie to me.â€ â€œIâ€™m not,â€ he says, leaning forward again but making no move to stand. Donâ€™t frighten the food, I think, ridiculously, as if he were a predator. â€œI see him every few days. People watch me through a mirror.â€ I want to say, â€œYou watch me,â€ butâ€¦what if he does? What if he doesnâ€™t? I canâ€™t stand it either way, I realize. â€œAh,â€ and he drums his fingers once against the chair. â€œI remember reading this. The hope was that the therapy might help you remember.â€ â€œYou donâ€™t want me to remember,â€ I say, my voice almost a growl. Something sparks in his dark eyes. â€œNow why would you think that? I assure you, Miss Finner, it makes no difference to me one way or another beyond human compassion. Now, as much as Iâ€™m sure weâ€™re both enjoying this, there are other people who can give you more information than I can. Iâ€™m a busy man, and beyond paying your bills, as well as the bills of several other charitable cases around the country, I donâ€™t know anything about you.â€ His smile is hard, impersonal, dismissive. â€œI pay the bills, Miss Finner, and that requires I work rather thanâ€¦â€ The way he looks at me, from head to toe, is vaguely insulting. He doesnâ€™t like what he sees. â€œRather than what?â€ Annoyance. â€œRather than whatever you imagine I doâ€”watch you, pay attention to you. I donâ€™t know the doctors assigned to your case, I donâ€™t know you and Iâ€”,â€ He stops speaking, done. Wonâ€™t even bother to finish the sentence. Iâ€™m not worth the extra four words, apparently. I open the door and he visibly relaxes at the idea of me leaving. With one foot out the door, I hesitate. My escape route is clear. Which makes no sense because weâ€™re in an office surrounded by people. He wouldnâ€™t harm me here. Or at all. I have nothing but a gut reaction to make me think heâ€™d harm me. â€œWhy was the box there?â€ I ask, watching him closely. His voice is deadly soft. â€œI donâ€™t know what you refer to.â€ Heâ€™s lying to me. I think. But I canâ€™t look at him any longer. The overwhelming fear of him is making me shake. I close the door and leave, controlling my pace, counting each step back to the elevator so I donâ€™t break into a dead run. 6 Jessica is waiting for me when I get home, her door opening before I even find my keys, a bottle of Gloria Ferrer in her hand, which she waves at me like a lure. â€œAh, the good stuff,â€ I manage, my voice sounding flat. â€œWhere have you been? Youâ€™re usually home by three on Thursdays.â€ She knows that? Is that normal? Her smile is radiant, so friendly that I feel guilty. Sheâ€™s my only friend. If I become suspicious of her tooâ€¦Maybe I am crazy. â€œLetâ€™s crack that open,â€ I say, opening the door. She follows me inside my apartment, and sitting on my counter are more pills. Who brought them and when? My eyes go to the deadbolt. Who had a key? Was it security who put them here? Iâ€™m going to get a chain across my door. Jessica opens up the bag of drugs, removing pill bottles and stumbling over the names on the labels. â€œIf you run out of money, you could sell these on the black market and make a fortune. At least I assume you can. What are all these?â€ she asks, holding two bottles in each hand, three more arranged on the counter before her. â€œWhat do you mean?â€ She shakes them at me. â€œSuzanne Sommers doesnâ€™t take this many pills. Why do you take them?â€ â€œWho is Suzanne Sommers?â€ I ask, but she doesnâ€™t take the bait. â€œIâ€¦need them.â€ My arms crossing defensively over my chest. â€œFor what? I mean, Iâ€™m not trying to pry, or if I am, itâ€™s only because I care about you, but this canâ€™t be right.â€ She scrutinizes the labels. â€œThis is an antidepressant, this is for anxiety, but that leaves four bottles, and those are like horse pills.â€ â€œI justâ€¦take them,â€ My mind shies away from thinking about it too closely. I get up and grab glasses for the champagne. â€œDo you know what they do? What condition theyâ€™re for? Have you looked them up?â€ â€œNo,â€ I say and the bizarreness of that registers. Barely. â€œWhoâ€™s Dr. Patkar?â€ â€œI get them from Dr. Brown,â€ I say, suddenly tired. Itâ€™s hard to shape the words. Why canâ€™t we talk about something else? â€œWell, thatâ€™s not the doctorâ€™s name on here.â€ She turns the bottle. â€œYour name is on here at least. Take twice a day. You take this shit and you donâ€™t know what itâ€™s for?â€ Her voice is getting louder as she gets more disgusted with me. â€œItâ€™s my medicine,â€ I say rather weakly, suddenly feeling a headache coming on just above my right eye. She puts the bottles on the counter and comes toward me, her expression pure sympathy. â€œAre you sick?â€ she asks me, and I know she really cares about me. â€œFocus on me, Rebecca,â€ she says softly. â€œWeâ€™re talking about the pills you take. Why are you taking them?â€ The question seems to come from somewhere else, but itâ€™s important to her, so I try to think about it and give her a proper answer. â€œI have panic attacks and anxiety, Iâ€™m depressed, and I have no idea who I am. These are for my head. Like a brain injury, I guess.â€ â€œSo is this doctor a neurologist? Dr. Patkar?â€ â€œI donâ€™t see a neurologist.â€ â€œYou have to figure out why you have these drugs. Who the doctor is. What conditions theyâ€™re for. If your brain is injured, youâ€™d have a neurologist, right? This is probably really hard on your kidneys and your liver, and we come over here and we drink like fish, and youâ€™re popping all these pills. This is why youâ€™re a basket case!â€ I rub my temple and walk away from her, opening the bottle of champagne for us and pouring two glasses. Sheâ€™s glaring at me as she takes the glass. Itâ€™s a peace offering. â€œWhat are we celebrating?â€ At first the conversation is stilted, but by the time Iâ€™m pouring us the next glass, I barely remember talking about it at all. 7 I arrive at Brownâ€™s office for my appointment with two minutes to spare. Iâ€™m always punctual. I find it stresses me out if Iâ€™m late in a way thatâ€™s not reasonable. My mind starts spinning on worst-case scenarios, and I work myself into a state where Iâ€™m jittery, sad, anxious, and on the verge of a freak-out. I know because it happened once. One of the first meetings I ever had with Brown and I was late because of a traffic jam. He told me my response was atypical and gave me more drugs to take. He seems to think medication is the best way to deal with everything. My way of dealing with my atypical reactions is to always be a bit early. When I told him my solution, he just stared at me, and I still donâ€™t know if he thought my solution was beyond obvious or a bit profound, but there we go. Itâ€™s the general way our sessions go actually. I say something, his reaction is incomprehensible to me, he prescribes more drugs or alters the ones I have, and voila, another session is out of the way. Brownâ€™s secretary comes out of his office carrying papers and a thick manila folder. Her eyes widen at the sight of me. Is this what people mean when they say someone looks like a chicken in the headlights? â€œMiss Finner! We left you a message. Dr. Brown had to meet withâ€¦had aâ€¦meeting so we pushed the appointment back half an hour.â€ â€œWell, no one told me,â€ I say, and smile although my voice is sharp. No eye crinkle of sincerity. She licks her lips nervously. Not a lot happens to Dr. Brownâ€™s secretary, I decide. â€œUmm, well, I have to take these upstairs to Dr. Brown, so why donâ€™t you just go grab a coffee or have a seat or something, and when he gets back, then you can see him?â€ Her cheeks turn pink and she tries to scoot around me. My gaze slides to the folder in her hands. R. Finner is typed on a white label. â€œThatâ€™s my folder? How come itâ€™s so thick?â€ â€œI donâ€™tâ€¦know,â€ she says, backing toward the door. Definitely a chicken caught in the headlights. â€œWait. Is his meeting about me?â€ Iâ€™m following her into the hallway. She keeps backing away, shoulders rising in apology. And then Iâ€™m alone, the whir of the air conditioner my only company as she speedwalks down the hallway. Theyâ€™re talking about me. Right now. Brown is meeting with the people who watch me, maybe even with Mr. Marchant, and theyâ€™re talking about what a mess I am, how many drugs I take, my dreams. Theyâ€™d probably even talk about how often I go to the bathroom if I volunteered the information. It hadnâ€™t occurred to me that they would do this. I just thoughtâ€¦I guess that they observed and left. But they actually talk about me. Thatâ€™s wrong, right? Shouldnâ€™t I have confidentiality or know whatâ€™s being said? And if not, shouldnâ€™t I at least know who itâ€™s being said to? Why didnâ€™t I grab that folder right out of her hands? Why didnâ€™t I follow her down the hallway and cause a scene? Because then Brown really would shove meds down my throat. My feet are moving, my teeth clenched tight Iâ€™m so angry. I enter Brownâ€™s office, the lights still on, and see my box sitting on the table beside his chair. I donâ€™t even hesitate but take it, holding the cool ivory in my hand, feeling a sense of exultation and fear all at once. I hurry to the door, slip out into the hallway and toward the stairs. Iâ€™m not going to wait around for the elevator and get caught. I go one floor down and to the womenâ€™s restroom, straight into a stall, looking underneath each one for feet, and am relieved to be alone. The doorâ€™s locked, my back pressed hard against it, my breathing uneven. Let them talk about me. I have my box. Iâ€™m so happy that I giggle. Similar to a crazy person. I hold it between two palms, as though itâ€™s a baby bird or something precious, something that could vanish and be gone forever. Forgotten. My eyes are closed, and I can barely stand to open them and look at this thing Iâ€™ve stolen. Put the fucking thing back. Never. That will never, ever happen. Do you hear me? Never. In my mind that sounds different, and I wonder if Iâ€™ve ever spoken those words aloud. Never, ever. But who would I have said that to? Jessica? A barista at Starbucks? A professor? Itâ€™s not like I have a wide range of acquaintances. Or maybe someone said it to me. I can imagine Marchantâ€™s voice saying that to me, low and urgent. Itâ€™ll never happen and yet here we areâ€¦. But the box is more important than an imaginary conversation. The box is everything, and the suspense might just kill me, so I open my hands and look at it. A bird is engraved on top of it, a little sparrow, its body so lifelike that it could have been real. All those centuries ago. Because there is no way this box was made in the last hundred years. On the sides are leaves, vines, all of it woven together like briars, and I think of Sleeping Beauty and the castle she was in, surrounded by walls of thorns so deadly that they kept out everyone except for one. Except her prince. But of course thatâ€™s where the similarity ends, for I have no prince. Hell, I donâ€™t even have a cat. In all the world, I have a neighbor who drinks my wine, a psychiatrist paid to spend time with me, and professors who also have been paid to interact with me. And now I have a box. That Iâ€™ve stolen. Joy runs through me like water pouring over rocks. I close my eyes, imagining what it will be like to open said box. What might have been in there nestled against the black velvet lining? It has to be the one from the museum, doesnâ€™t it? Maybe there is a ring inside? For some reason that still seems wrong. A necklace then? The lid is a little stuck, like maybe itâ€™s gotten warped or damaged over time. I canâ€™t wait anymore but take the lid off and stare at the empty space within. I want to throw up. I want to scream and rip my fucking hair out because itâ€™s red inside. Red velvet lining and itâ€™s supposed to be black. Itâ€™s the red of blood and death, a maroon so dark itâ€™s like heartâ€™s blood, like lava in the dark, and itâ€™s not black. Not. Black. I put the toilet lid down and clunk myself down on top of it. Tears are already streaming down my face. Why am I such a wreck? I donâ€™t even know what this means, havenâ€™t even worked it out yet, and Iâ€™m crying. This isnâ€™t the box from the museum. It canâ€™t be. That box had black lining, didnâ€™t it? I even search the inside to see if it looks like itâ€™s been newly replaced. The tears are still falling, and Iâ€™ve even got a little sound coming from me thatâ€™s a cross between a hiccup and a whimper. I should take the box back. If I keep it, Iâ€™m just a thief, right? Maybe I was a thief before this. After all, I have no idea about my past. Or maybe I was just a little dishonest and a bit of a kleptomaniac and thatâ€™s why I want to keep it even though I know itâ€™s wrong. Can one be a bit of a kleptomaniac? I stand up and lift the lid off the toilet tank. Iâ€™m not taking the box back. I donâ€™t care what it makes me. So what if itâ€™s red inside? Itâ€™s not Brownâ€™s. He didnâ€™t have the faintest clue about the box. As my finger traces the lid, I can almost feel where it came from, feel the heat of the sun on my back, smell the salt in the air from the sea, hear the laughter of the pretty girls, the girls who think theyâ€™re more than food while Iâ€™m justâ€¦ Iâ€™m shaking now. I have a Ziploc bag from my unfinished snack in my purse and I dump out the goldfish and put my box in there, sealing it up tightly. I put the box in the toilet tank, resting it carefully in the corner so it wonâ€™t get wet if someone uses the stall, and then I replace the lid. I donâ€™t want to leave it there but I canâ€™t take it with me right now. Theyâ€™ll suspect me and I imagine Brown searching me for it. I wash my hands and examine my blotchy face in the mirror. I put on some lipstick, a nice plum color that makes me look a bit better. I brush my dark brown hair and put it in a braid over one shoulder, the end of it resting over my heart. My bangs are a wreck too and I brush them, shove them over to the left and give up. Itâ€™s hopeless. Iâ€™ve been crying and Brownâ€™s going to know it. Heâ€™s waiting for me when I get back to his office. â€œMiss Finner, I hear there was a bit of confusion on what time we were supposed to meet. My apologies. Why donâ€™t you come in and weâ€™ll get started.â€ Heâ€™s looking at my blotchy face. Iâ€™m not a pretty crier. Although now that I think about it, Iâ€™ve never seen anybody look good crying. Except for actresses and maybe thatâ€™s just because theyâ€™re not really crying but have water dripping down their face. I mean, who really looks better with puffy eyes and a red nose that isnâ€™t a reindeer? I have a seat on the couch and position myself so that Iâ€™m slightly away from the mirror. Theyâ€™ll have a good view of my shoulder and a smidge of my profile. Itâ€™s the petty things in life that get me through. â€œNow, Miss Finner, I canâ€™t help but notice you look a little upset. How are you feeling?â€ â€œI feel great. This is what I look like when Iâ€™m happy,â€ I say and regret it. I donâ€™t want the lecture on why sarcasm is counterproductive and how Iâ€™m not being open to the process or receptiveâ€¦blah, blah, bullshit, bullshit. â€œIâ€™m sorry. I shouldnâ€™t have said that. I guess I was just a little miffed about the time change. I have something after this. Class.â€ He looks down at his notes, shuffles his papers. â€œI donâ€™t see a class on your schedule. I specifically checked it before I bumped you back.â€ Oh. â€œItâ€™s aâ€¦study group.â€ He gives me a look under his lashes, and if this were poker, heâ€™d be upping the bet to call my bluff. Whatever heâ€™s going to say next, though, gets interrupted. His head tilts to the side as he listens to my watcher speak to him through the headset. He nods and then stands. His smile is perfunctory. â€œIâ€™ve got the sun in my eyes here, let me move my chair,â€ he says, shifting himself about. Which means I have to move too. Have to keep eye contact. I shift my chair and of course Iâ€™m now forced to stare at the mirror. And my watcher can see my face. TouchÃ©. I throw a glare at the mirror. â€œNow why were you crying?â€ Brown asks. Iâ€™m here, paid for by my watcher. My watcher looks at a folder of my life, and I donâ€™t even know whatâ€™s in it. Itâ€™s so thick. Whatâ€™s in there? Why canâ€™t I know my own life? Who does he think he is? And now Iâ€™m sad, and I just want to hide a little, and what does he do? He makes me become visible to him. I donâ€™t get to hide. If Iâ€™m weak, itâ€™s going to be seen, written about and talked over. Like Iâ€™m a monkey in a lab. I canâ€™t win anything. The slightest rebellion and Iâ€™m shoved hard into the dirt. I feel hot, as if the lava is rising inside of me instead of around me. Itâ€™s red and itâ€™s angry and itâ€™s this all-consuming need to scream and hurt something. My watcher wants my face, he wants to see my tears and every thought in my head. As if itâ€™s his right. â€œWhy doesnâ€™t he ask me himself?â€ My voice is shaking. â€œYouâ€™re just a puppet, you know.â€ Brownâ€™s image blurs before me. My nose is running, and I need a tissue, and I donâ€™t want to get one because itâ€™s an admission of how damaged I am, how much Iâ€™m falling apart. But I donâ€™t want to wipe snot on my sleeve either, so I do it, get up and go over to Brown, getting the box of Kleenex and throwing myself back on the couch grumpily. He looks down at his pages, probably waiting for instructions, for how to play this. â€œI sense a lot of hostility today,â€ he says. â€œWell, thatâ€™s why they pay you the big bucks. How much do you get paid for this? Is it more than a hundred dollars an hour? More than one hundred fifty dollars? We both know Iâ€™m not that interesting. Is it two hundred?â€ I wipe my nose, pissed beyond belief to be crying and angry at once. I want to be stronger than thisâ€¦fiercer than this. I want to be angry and not be weak. â€œIâ€™ve been informed that you went up to Marchant Enterprises last week. And I assume by your mention of â€˜heâ€™ that you mean Mr. Marchant himself. I must tell you, Miss Finner, that Iâ€™ve never met him. Heâ€™s not in that room, and Iâ€™m concerned that perhaps youâ€™re beginning to fixate on him in a rather unhealthy way.â€ His shoulders square, heâ€™s gaining confidence. â€œProve it.â€ â€œProveâ€¦what?â€ I get up and go to the closed door that leads to reception and open it, startling his secretary from the game of solitaire she has up on the computer. There is another door, on the right, that leads to the mirrored room. â€œThat heâ€™s not there. Open the door and let me see who watches me.â€ I try the handle but itâ€™s locked. He looks appalled. â€œI will not condone this fantasy of yours by giving in to your whims.â€ I laugh and I can hear that itâ€™s not quite right. My laugh is molten. â€œWonâ€™t it disabuse me of my fixation if heâ€™s not there? Wonâ€™t it prove me wrong?â€ He stands up, puts his papers on his chair and says calmly, â€œNo, it wonâ€™t. Youâ€™ll make an excuse as to why heâ€™s not here today. Youâ€™ll think he managed to leave or that heâ€™s on the phone speaking through someone else. This mania of yours, this delusion wonâ€™t get disproved by something so simple as him not being there. Iâ€™ve seen it a hundred times, and I will not give credence to this behavior.â€ I almost believe him. I even feel a moment of doubt. He takes a step closer. â€œBut Iâ€™ve seen Mr. Marchant, and I can tell you that heâ€™s a very wealthy and powerful man. Older than you by a decade probably. How would you have met him? What do you imagine?â€ The twist on his lips is not kind. This amuses him somehow. â€œDo you think that he was your friend, or maybe even your lover? Iâ€™m sorry to say this, Miss Finner, but you are not even in the sameâ€”â€ He stops speaking, nods sharply, having been cut off by the watcher. But I know what he was going to say. Leander Marchant could have any woman he wanted, and Iâ€™ve decided he somehow wanted me? Ridiculous. Should I clarify to him that I donâ€™t think Leander Marchant ever wanted me, but I do suspect he might have hurt me? â€œCome sit down. I apologize. How often have you cried this last week?â€ he asks and itâ€™s only then that he looks at the little table next to him, frowns at the empty space where the box should be. I take a tissue and make a production of blowing my nose, hoping it conceals any guilt that might be on my face. He shuffles papers, speaks softly and into the microphone rather than to me. â€œHmm, I was given a few things to ask you about, and one of them was the box, but itâ€™s been removed. Should we still discuss that?â€ he asks, looking toward the mirror for direction. My stomach flips unpleasantly. What if someone was in there and saw me take it? I have an urge to confess the whole thing. My fingers are twisting the Kleenex, shredding it, and I make myself stop. â€œNo, I didnâ€™t remove it,â€ he says, looking around the room like the box might be on the floor or in a corner. His gaze comes back to me. â€œMiss Finner, please give your coat and bag to the secretary. You can collect it on the way out.â€ â€œWhat do you mean?â€ â€œThe box is missing, and I want to make sure it hasnâ€™t gotten mixed in with your things.â€ â€œFine.â€ I shrug angrily out of my teal-blue winter jacket. The secretary comes bustling in, takes it from me as well as my purse, blushing and apologizing for having to go through my things. Dr. Brown reproves her, and she clams up and scurries out of the room. Inside Iâ€™m triumphant. Iâ€™m a fricking genius for hiding that box. I force myself not to smile. â€œThe dream and the crying. Thatâ€™s where weâ€™ll focus with the time we have left,â€ he says, muttering into his headpiece. â€œIt concerns me that youâ€™ve been crying so much and I got a call from your pharmacy saying you tried to get a refill four days early.â€ â€œI lost them,â€ I lie. The truth was that Iâ€™d been taking more antianxiety medication than I was supposed to. Ever since my meeting with Leander Marchant and the realization that he might have hurt me, Iâ€™ve been a bit of a mess. Brown makes a hmming noise, considering. â€œPerhaps this particular combination isnâ€™t effective. Iâ€™ll write you a replacement prescription for the week and consult with your physician before our next appointment.â€ â€œWhy donâ€™t I consult with the doctor?â€ He looks shocked. He waits a moment and then continues, as if I havenâ€™t spoken. â€œNow then, the dream.â€ My lips purse, biting back my instant response. Because I already know what Iâ€™m going to say. Iâ€™ve been thinking about it, waiting for this moment all week. â€œHave you had it again?â€ â€œI have. And I donâ€™t know if itâ€™s changed or I just remember more of it, but Iâ€™m not alone anymore. Iâ€™m about to die and then someone offers me a hand to help me.â€ â€œAnd who is that?â€ he asks. â€œI donâ€™t know.â€ â€œIs it a man or a woman?â€ â€œA man.â€ â€œDoes he say anything to you?â€ â€œYes.â€ And then Iâ€™m improvising, going on a hunch. â€œHe says itâ€™s all right. That heâ€™ll never, ever let me go.â€ â€œAnd how do you feel when he says that?â€ â€œI feel like heâ€™s a fucking liar. A coward.â€ His brows raise and my answerâ€™s really hanging out there, still in the air like too much perfume. â€œAnd is that all?â€ â€œNo, actually.â€ I shift forward in my seat, leaning toward him. â€œHe also tells me I should get a new shrink,â€ I say and then Iâ€™m heading for the door. It takes him a moment to speak, and Iâ€™m a little pleased to have shocked him. â€œMiss Finner, this is not acceptable! You need to come back and finish the session,â€ he says. But I donâ€™t care. Iâ€™m not doing this now, maybe never again. The secretary squeaks as the door bangs open, my bag on her desk, my coat in her hands. â€œFind anything?â€ I ask, grabbing them up. Iâ€™m feeling more than a little uncertain now, but the rage is fueling me on, so I need to keep hold of that. I push the down button for the elevator and go to the stairs. Instead of going down them though, I go up a floor and press the elevator button to go up. He thinks Iâ€™m delusional? That I have an unhealthy fixation with Leander Marchant? Maybe I do. Brown basically told me I wasnâ€™t good enough for him, that there was no way a man like that would look at someone like me, and I canâ€™t disagree. And yet itâ€™s his hand and his voice I hear in my dream. Itâ€™s him I see in my nightmares, him who gave me the boxâ€”or so I thought. Itâ€™s him whoâ€™s behind the mirror and who wants to see my tears. Isnâ€™t it? So when the elevator doors open, I go to the top floor, to the Marchant Enterprises reception area, where I take a seat in the corner of the lobby, picking up a copy of The Economist and hiding my face behind it. The receptionist on duty has her back to me and is on the phone, the lobby filled with men and women in business suits, and although Iâ€™m not dressed like them, there are enough people around that I should go unnoticed for a little while. And all it takes is five minutes, five minutes for the elevator doors to open and for Leander Marchant to stride out of the elevator, a fearsome scowl on his harsh features. I find myself standing, walking toward him, and he turns to look at me, a muscle jumping at the corner of his jaw, the only indication that I have surprised him. He jerks his head toward his office, takes another few steps and then stops, his suit jacket opening, displaying the gray silk lining and the impressive flatness of his stomach. He gestures for me to go before him. He means it to be chivalrous, letting the lady go first, an abrupt remembrance of his manners even now. I come within five feet of him, his hand still extended, urging me to walk in front of him, and I canâ€™t do it. The pressure of my fear increases the closer I get to him. I stop several feet away, my breathing faster. â€œI canâ€™t. You go first.â€ His hand drops flat to his side, and he turns stiffly, facing me directly, and I think that I can feel the anger of him, the restraint it takes for him to have a civil conversation with me. â€œYouâ€™re so frightened of me that you donâ€™t trust me at your back? And yet youâ€™re here, lying in wait for me? Does that seem like a wise course of action to you?â€ â€œLeander,â€ I say, trying it out. â€œI wonâ€™t do this in the lobby, Rebecca.â€ His voice is low and tight. I swallow hard, feeling stupid. People are looking at us and itâ€™s none of their business. Their watching, their knowing frightens me even more than he does. I think. Itâ€™s pretty close. â€œYouâ€™re right.â€ His chin jerks toward a conference room. â€œThat room there, is that safe enough for you? Clear glass, where everyone can see if I make a move to ravish you?â€ Disgust fills his whispered words. I blink in confusion. Ravish me? I was afraid heâ€™d kill me. â€œBetter than behind a mirror,â€ I snap and he shakes his head, annoyed. I shouldnâ€™t have confronted him. I shouldnâ€™t have come up here. All my convictions are gone. Can I turn around and leave? My hands are fists at my side, and heâ€™s looking at them, his gaze running over me slowly from foot to head, not dwelling too much on anything above the waist. Not that I wanted him to. Itâ€™s just noticeable that he skipped that part. â€œYour fearâ€¦â€ he says, and I can get no read on what he wants to say, how he feels at this moment. He rakes a hand through his dark hair, causing a section of it to rest on his forehead, which is unreasonably attractive. â€œAll I know is fear,â€ I whisper. To him and myself. A reminder or a warning. That sets him into motion, and he walks before me, opens the conference room door and waits for just a moment, so I can go first. And I see him realize that I would then have to pass by him and probably wonâ€™t do it. He sighs, the sound dark and unhappy, and stalks into the room, all the way to the far wall, as far away as he can get from me, and stands behind a chair, his hands resting on the top of it, the tightness of his grip more evidence of how much he does not want anything to do with me. â€œNow, Miss Finner, what can I do for you today?â€ His tone conveys that he doesnâ€™t want to do a damned thing for me. â€œI was Rebecca a moment ago.â€ His expression is inscrutable. But he doesnâ€™t blink. Cold disdain, boredom, those dark eyes trying to see into me, the steady rise and fall of his chest as he breathes and watches, waiting for me to get to it, long moments passing. Speak. â€œYou watched me.â€ I wish my voice were more confident. His lip curls into a sneer. â€œAre you asking me or telling me?â€ I donâ€™t know. I take a step back, reaching for the door handle, instantly feeling safer when my fingers wrap around it. â€œJust tell me the truth. Please.â€ My voice cracks, and I cover my mouth with my hand, not wanting him to see my lip wobbling. â€œThis infernal cryingâ€¦I donâ€™t know what to do,â€ he says, and he looks up at the ceiling, revealing the strong column of his neck. â€œI donâ€™t know what to do, Rebecca.â€ It sounds like some sort of confession. Brought out under great torture. He breathes deeply. â€œWill that fix this? My answer?â€ â€œIf youâ€™re honest. I hope. I see you in my dreams now, I imagine things youâ€™ve said to me, and maybe Brown is right, itâ€™s a fixation, because I think youâ€™re there and I donâ€™t know. I donâ€™t know anything. Not who I am or where I belong. Iâ€™m watched and I donâ€™t even know who watches me. I have no control over anything in my life.â€ Oh my god, the freedom of saying it, of putting it into words and having it be coherent is enough to make me dizzy. Heâ€™s not looking at me but at the wall to the right. â€œTurn your head so I can see your face,â€ I say, throwing it back at him. His shoulders stiffen but he looks back, meeting my gaze. His eyes are glittering with what I think must be anger. â€œIâ€™ll leave,â€ he says. He rubs his hand across his eyes, pinches the bridge of his nose. â€œI can leave New York for a while if that will help.â€ A shocked laugh escapes me. â€œWhat will help is you telling me the truth. I mean, how bizarre does it sound that you would leave the city because of me? Youâ€™ll leave rather than answer a simple question?â€ â€œItâ€™s not a simple question,â€ he says, and he crosses his arms over his chest, every muscle in his body alert and waiting. We are watching each other and heâ€™s weighing, considering, deciding. I angrily wipe a tear off my cheek. He looks away, to the ground, lips pressing tight for a moment. More moments pass, and then he drums his fingers against the top of the chair, just once, and I realize itâ€™s a tell too. Heâ€™s done that before. Heâ€™s made a decision. His gaze is almost defiant. â€œI was on my way back from a meeting and met Dr. Brown in the lobby. He thinks you stole something. Tell me why you took it.â€ I hate him then. How can he ask me a question? What right does he have to ignore what I need and make this about him and his fucking box? â€œYou mean right now? Just before you came back to your office? You just happened to run into him at the elevator? And you got here just now because, what, a meeting ended? Not because you were down there watching me? Stop lying to me!â€ And Iâ€™m moving toward him, fear subsumed under the anger as I get closer to him. He is as still as the dead, doesnâ€™t move an inch as I close the distance between us but waits, gaze narrowing as I get closer. Heâ€™s so confident that I could never do anything that would hurt him. Never, ever, never. â€œYou were there! You watch me. You like to see my face when Iâ€™m crying, you like to watch me falling apart.â€ My voice throbs with conviction, my fist hits his chest, and he backs up a step, raises his hands but doesnâ€™t stop me. If anything, he seems curious, dispassionately interested in what I might do. Like a kitten batting at a pit bull. He can afford to be patient. â€œYou did this to me and now youâ€™ll leave me here?â€ Iâ€™m screaming at him, and I am sure that the people in the lobby are looking through the glass in shock, but I donâ€™t care. In the heat of the moment, I want them to know, I want witnesses and proof. I want him to get down on his knees and beg for an apology. I want to hurt him, harm him, draw blood so he has some notion of the harm heâ€™s caused me. Heâ€™s a monster. Heâ€™s sick to be doing this to me. My hand rises, fingers like claws, ready to scratch his face, his beautiful face that scares the hell out of me and looks at me as if he doesnâ€™t know me. He grabs my hand in his, containing me. â€œYouâ€™re lying to me! I know it! I know you are!â€ And I collapse against his chest, maybe falling there rather than moving toward him. â€œStop it. People are looking, goddamn it!â€ He squeezes my hand in his. â€œYouâ€™re right. Christ, Rebecca.â€ His breathing is harsh against my hair as I sob into his shirt. His free hand settles on the back of my head, keeping me pressed against him. â€œItâ€™s me. I watch you. Itâ€™s me in that room and Iâ€”â€ The door opens and itâ€™s a security guard who enters. I pull away from him and he lets me go reluctantly. My skin is tingling, heart racing, and the fear is everywhere. Maybe even in the guardâ€™s face as he watches us and decides weâ€™re both nuts. And somewhere inside of me I think this is how it always is. The fight. The push and pull and one of us giving in. Have I won this round? Heâ€™s confessed and I should feel relieved to have my question answered. But it doesnâ€™t actually get me anywhere or tell me anything. Itâ€™s like climbing to the top of a hill and realizing thereâ€™s a whole damn mountain range to go. He tells the security guard to leave, his voice a rumble of sound that surrounds me. He takes my wrists in his hands, probably not trusting me, which is undoubtedly wise of him, and the security guard leaves, closes the door, and Leander takes a step back from me but doesnâ€™t let me go. His black brows are slashed together, his expression hard as he looks down at me. â€œDonâ€™t come at me again. I donâ€™t do well with that. Do you understand?â€ Iâ€™m ashamed and I try to jerk away from him, but heâ€™s immovable, too strong for me to even make him budge. â€œIt was wrong of me,â€ I whisper and he releases me, hauls in a breath. My mind is blank. â€œThis has gone on too long. It isnâ€™t safe. Iâ€™ll come to your apartment,â€ he says, and then he freezes, an eternity passing in that moment as he comes to some realization. He laughs miserably and gives me a look that makes me shiver. â€œAre you happy now, Rebecca? Iâ€™ll come to you.â€ And then heâ€™s heading for the door. Heâ€™ll come to me. I didnâ€™t want that. Iâ€™d never, ever want that. 8 Note to selfâ€”this is a recovered memory. Iâ€™ve been told that accuracy is a problem. Itâ€™s as though the memories, once disturbed, are never properly reset. This is a stupid analogy but I think of it like nail polish. You put it on, wait for it to set, and then, if you bump it before it dries, it gets all messed up. It might still be there, but itâ€™s wonky and you canâ€™t smooth it out and the only option is to live with it being uneven or take it off and start again. I donâ€™t want the memories taken off. Removed. Theyâ€™re mine. But I donâ€™t know if theyâ€™re a little bit wonky and off. The color is there at least. But the smudging of it, the jostling when things were not set, means that some things might get put in there that never happened. Maybe that I wanted to happen or maybe that I was afraid of. Which is unfortunate because fear is my best friend. And sometimes the real events are never recovered. As if the human brain is so fragile that it just canâ€™t give it back. So maybe none of this happened or half of it did. For all of these recovered memories, I have to go with my gut when determining what really happened. My gut tells me that my memory of this night is true. And yet itâ€™s everything I ever wanted and was scared of, so maybe none of itâ€™s true after all. There are many things I could have asked Leander after he made that cryptic statement about coming to visit me, but the most pertinent one would have been, â€œwhen?â€ because I go home and donâ€™t know what to do with myself. Should I wait around all day? I have no milk and Iâ€™m a cereal junkie. I have no other food and pills on an empty stomach make me feel sick. What if he comes and Iâ€™m not home? The grocery store is literally across the street. After an hour and a half of my stomach growling and the window for taking my pills passing, I decide that I have to carry on with my life like normal because staring at the clock for hours waiting for him to maybe show up is ridiculous. Part of me doesnâ€™t even believe heâ€™ll really come. Maybe it was just a ploy to get me out of his office. I put on my coat, then head for the lobby. The advantage of having security in the building is that theyâ€™ll make sure to give Leander a message. Leander now, is it? â€œIâ€™m expecting a visitor. If he comes, will you let him up? And if he gets here and Iâ€™m not back, have him wait. I wonâ€™t be gone for more than five minutes, eight tops.â€ The security guard looks vaguely interested. Probably because Iâ€™ve never made any sort of request before. â€œName?â€ â€œWho, me? Iâ€™m Rebecca Finner on the fifteenth floor.â€ He scowls. â€œYes, maâ€™am. I know that, maâ€™am. I need the name of your visitor.â€ Iâ€™m an idiot. â€œHis name is Leander Marchant. Do you want me to tell you what he looks like or spell it?â€ â€œNo maâ€™am. We know Mr. Marchant.â€ I suddenly want to throw up. â€œHow do you know him?â€ â€œHe owns the building, for a start.â€ He taps something into the computer and then looks back up at me. â€œAnd heâ€™s your emergency contact.â€ Now Iâ€™m speechless. â€œMy what?â€ I try to peer over the desk but canâ€™t see the monitor. â€œIf something happens, we are to call Mr. Marchant directly.â€ It takes me a moment to process that information. â€œWhere does it say that? No one has ever asked meâ€”like, Iâ€™ve never filled out a form or anything saying I want him as an emergency contact!â€ Now he looks confused. â€œDo you want to see your contract?â€ â€œYes, I do.â€ He holds up a finger, the universal sign for just a minute, and goes through a door. I hear the clanging of a metal file cabinet closing with a slight squeak. He returns with a piece of paper. It has my name, my apartment number, the amount of deposit paid, and the emergency contact does, in fact, say Leander Marchant. I pull out my phone and take a picture of the form front and back. Then I turn it over and the lease is signed by him. And the dateâ€¦ itâ€™s before I went into the hospital I feel sick. Confused. He knows me. He knew me before I was hurt and got amnesia. Wait. That means Iâ€™m not a charity case for his foundation. Iâ€™m someone he knew and who he rented an apartment for and paid for even before I was hurt. What kind of relationship did we have that he pays for me? Why pretend he doesnâ€™t know me? Does this mean that he must have hurt me? Is there any other possibility? And yet, I can feel my uncertainty rising, coupled with a vague sense of confusion and a headache lurking between my temples. I lean against the counter heavily as all the ramifications of him knowing me try to sink in. I could have a family or friends and he would know who they are. Oh my god, what if heâ€™s hiding them from me? â€œHave youâ€¦ever seen us together? It would have been several months ago. Probably.â€ He looks at me like Iâ€™m crazy. â€œIâ€™ve only been here a month, maâ€™am. But if you come back later tonight, Eddie will probably know. Heâ€™s always saying heâ€™s been here since the building was built. Like itâ€™s a good thing to have no ambition.â€ â€œGood point,â€ I manage, because Iâ€™m not really listening anymore, Iâ€™m thinking about me and my lack of a past and this guy whoâ€™s keeping things from me. Besides the mystery, I feel like Iâ€™m missing something obvious. Leander Marchant knew me and probably hurt me. I lick my lips. â€œWhat do you do ifâ€¦you know something is not right? Likeâ€¦danger. Getting hurt. If someone hurts meâ€¦â€ Iâ€™m overwhelmingly tired all of a sudden. I need a nap. I push away from the counter. â€œMaâ€™am?â€ I blink. Thatâ€™s me. My head turns slowly, like Iâ€™m encased in quicksand. â€œIf someone is hurting youâ€¦?â€ he asks me. I want to say Leanderâ€™s name, but Iâ€™m walking away and then Iâ€™m back in my apartment. Sans milk. I just wait there, pacing, feeling sick and staring at the number on the contact form. It doesnâ€™t even occur to me that I donâ€™t have any clue what the security guard was going to tell me. That I just wandered away and didnâ€™t get help. Why did I do that? Leander Marchant. Thatâ€™s what matters. I keep that with me, next to my heart and at the front of my mind. I will never, ever forget Lord Marchant. Who? I gag and dash to the bathroom in case I throw up. At seven there is a knock on the door. I check my appearance in the mirror, hands clammy as I fluff my hair. Why am I doing that? My outfit is a bulky turtleneck and jeans. What was I thinking to wear such an unflattering outfit? I confess that part of me now wonders if he planted the idea in my mind. To cover up and not be too enticing or if it was my own sense of self-preservation that kept me from wearing something prettier. When I open the door, he looks me up and down once. I think he even nods. As though he approves of my form-hiding outfit. â€œAre you going to invite me in?â€ â€œDo I need to? Youâ€™re paying for the place.â€ The look on his face gives nothing away. He moves a step closer, and I jerk back, stumbling, my ankle rolling so that Iâ€™m falling, about to hit the ground, and he grabs me, hoists me upright and lets me go after a long moment. â€œAll I wanted was for you to move out of the way,â€ he says, voice low. â€œBut heaven forbid you make anything easy or let any comment pass.â€ â€œYou say that like I do this all the time.â€ He lets me go and dusts his hands as though Iâ€™ve left a residue on them. Itâ€™s annoying. Insulting even. Heâ€™s inside my apartment, turning slowly, examining the place carefully. I see him pause, looking into my bedroom, and when he meets my gaze again, his cheeks are a bit red. Embarrassed to be caught looking? He doesnâ€™t belong here. Heâ€™s too large, too handsome and powerful. His mere presence is taking up everything. The air, the light, my attention. Itâ€™s like every molecule in my body is yearning toward him. Scared and attracted at once. Heâ€™s here. Heâ€™s real. What would it be like if I went up to him and kissed him? Would he respond? Did he hurt me? Bloody me and dump me at a hospital? I think he can read my mind. â€œI donâ€™t have time for this,â€ he says and he sounds disgusted. â€œIf you have questions, ask them. Quickly.â€ That jerks me into motion, and I pick up the copy of my lease the security guard was kind enough to print out. â€œYou signed this. Not your corporation but you. And itâ€™s before the accident. How do we know each other?â€ He closes his eyes for a moment. â€œThe devil is in the details,â€ he mutters. â€œI canâ€™t answer that question.â€ He grimaces, perhaps recognizing how ridiculous it is that he canâ€™t answer the very first question Iâ€™ve asked. Those dark eyes lock on to mine. â€œRebecca, you used to trust me. You donâ€™t now though, do you? There is noâ€¦â€ I can practically see him sorting through words in his vocabulary to find the right one. â€œVestige of that.â€ â€œVestige? Thatâ€™s the word you came up with? Iâ€™m not even sure what that means! I canâ€™t imagine I ever trusted you. You terrify me.â€ Hysteria is my co-pilot. â€œWhich is amusing,â€ he says, laughing unhappily. â€œWhat does that mean?â€ I feel more confused than I did before. â€œThis bumbling around in the dark is ridiculous. You donâ€™t need to know how we met or where. It simply doesnâ€™t matter. Here we are, you donâ€™t even remember me, and stillâ€â€”he hesitates, the anger making each word precise and hardâ€”â€œyou wonâ€™t let me go.â€ Something in his demeanor changes. His eyes go over me again, from the floor and back up, and he lingers, heâ€™s examining me, and I just know heâ€™s imagining taking off my clothes. â€œYouâ€™re so weak, Rebecca. So deluded and yet you hold on. Why? Youâ€™re finally, finally afraid of me after all this time and yetâ€¦â€ His voice is softer now, lower, almost hypnotic, rubbing over me like warm sunlight. â€œI donâ€™t know if your fear is finally stronger than your desire. And me, maybe Iâ€™m even worse than you, because here I am. In your apartment and alone with you. What is fear to you now, Rebecca? Is it finally death that scares you? Because that hasnâ€™t been my fear for a very long time.â€ I canâ€™t help but stare at him, at his mouth and his neck, at the way heâ€™s suddenly alive and real before me. The coldness is gone, the pretense that weâ€™ve never met, and somehow he looks different, feels different. Did he hurt me? Could he? Heâ€™s standing here talking about death and fear, and somehow I donâ€™t think he put me in a coma. â€œDear Miss Finner,â€ he says, whisper soft. Heâ€™s close now but Iâ€™m not sure who moved or when. â€œSometimes I think you always knew. That you watched, somehow perceived. Fear is vulnerability and weakness.â€ He takes a step closer to me, and I back up, maintaining the distance, some slight sense of self-preservation still rattling around inside me. â€œYou are my fear, you know,â€ he says, like another man might confess love. But heâ€™s on a roll now and Iâ€™m not even sure heâ€™s talking to me. Maybe heâ€™s talking to himself or to us, trying to speak sense into his own mind even though his body is moving toward me. â€œYou are my own personal plague and nightmare made flesh. And you just wonâ€™t stop fighting me. Even though you donâ€™t remember, you fight. God help us both if you do,â€ he says. Those dark eyes are on mine, his voice low and hypnotic. Itâ€™s persuasive and I could listen to him until I die. Until he kills me. Iâ€™ve stopped moving, because I donâ€™t fight him. The real me doesnâ€™t move away from Leander Marchant. Thatâ€™s not in my blood, my cells, or DNA. If Leander Marchant wants me, then he can have me. Maybe thatâ€™s all I am and all Iâ€™ll ever be. The totality of my desires and ambitions is this man before me. I feel his hand on my face but I donâ€™t remember him reaching out to me. Itâ€™s just there. Heat and familiarity. His lips are near mine but he doesnâ€™t kiss me. â€œYou have to stop doing this, Rebecca. To us. We canâ€™t do this, and some part of you must know that. I think thatâ€™s why you cry, why you struggle. Because you wonâ€™t let go and you need to. You wonâ€™t let go even though it almost got you killed.â€ He cups my face in his hands, my head tilted back, and now I know heâ€™ll kiss me, but instead heâ€™s speaking and, even as heâ€™s talking, itâ€™s like Iâ€™m losing myself. As if Iâ€™m not in my head or my body, but outside of it. Heâ€™s taking it over, his voice surrounding me, taking away my fear and rearranging it. My brain is like a messy drawer or a cupboard, and heâ€™s taken everything out, and heâ€™s trying to put it all back together. Me. Heâ€™s organizing my mind. Iâ€™m just a wind-up doll waiting to be set down and released as I stare into his eyes. â€œYou wonâ€™t remember me being here. You donâ€™t care about who you were. You want peace and quiet.â€ His hand is in my hair and I feel his fingers clench on my scalp. My mouth opens, a gasp, and I arch into him. He makes a sound. Rough. Urgent. I know that sound. It reverberates through my body and is a part of who I am. His need and his desire, the way he makes me feel. â€œThatâ€™s mine,â€ I say and my hands reach to him, to his waist and the muscles there. His body goes rigid. â€œYou make that sound for me.â€ â€œNo, Rebecca.â€ But heâ€™s flush against me. Maybe I am his fear. I can feel him, hard and heavy, pressed against my stomach. This is the truth. The only real thing. This is what we are. And I must have said it out loud because his eyes flash oddly. Like a trick of the light, but somewhere in my body I think hunger. His hands move to my shoulders, and heâ€™s going to push me away from him. My gaze locks on his neck, and Iâ€™m purring with desire, aggressive, a fine tremble going through him as I press my face against his neck. He says my name, his hands convulsing on my arms, pulling me closer. Away. Almost instantly heâ€™s letting me go, then gripping me again. I want to bite him, mark him, take his skin in my mouth and taste him. Itâ€™s going to happen. â€œDo not,â€ he says, and heâ€™s breathing hard. He means it; his tone is foreboding. My arms go around his neck, my fingers clenching in the silk of his hair. â€œDamn you, Rebecca.â€ And I canâ€™t wait any longer, canâ€™t see anything wrong with what I want to do, so I bite him, sink my teeth into his neck, and he cries out, suddenly moving, picking me up, my legs around his waist as he takes me to the back of the couch, his hands on my ass as he sets me down, pressing himself into the ache between my legs, to where I need him more than Iâ€™ve ever needed anything in my life. Even more than I need to remember who I was, I need him inside me. My leg goes around his waist, the hard muscles of his ass flexing against my calf as I try to get him closer to me. Heâ€™s just as urgent as I am, mimicking sex as he rubs his cock against my core through our clothes. His hands clench on my thighs, demanding I open for him as he forces himself closer. His mouth is firm on mine, his lips sliding against mine, his tongue in my mouth, tasting me, claiming me. My hands go to his waist, to his buckle and his zipper. â€œDonâ€™t wait,â€ I say, and anything else I want to say gets taken, stolen from my heart and my lungs into his mouth, consumed by his desire for me. His mouth is on my neck. I feel a hint of teeth and his body shudders. Close, I think, and joy goes through me to think that just this can push him close to the edge. â€œI need you inside me,â€ I say, and he stops, panting, his breath warm on my neck, then my temple as he holds me still against his chest. I can feel the beat of his heart against me, and I know he can feel mine, hear mine, even. â€œI wonâ€™t, Rebecca,â€ he says, like a vow, and his hand moves down my back, possessively, and with a groan he rocks against me, the thick ridge of him pressing hard to my core, sending jolts of pleasure through me, a gush of desire flooding me. His eyes close as though heâ€™s in pain, nostrils flaring as he moves against me. If he took me now, heâ€™d fuck me. It would be rough and urgent. Heâ€™d bite me, pour himself into me, consume me. No affection, no love-making, just desperation. How many different versions of us are there? Then he shifts, cool air rushing between our bodies as he leaves me. I donâ€™t try to get him back but wait, legs open as he presses his palm against me, cupping me, rubbing me through my clothes, and I canâ€™t stop myself from crying out, from coming in his arms like he wants. He closes his desire down, locks it away, ever focused on the goal before him. Thatâ€™s the appeal of one like him. What if, after all this time and his experiences, I can be the one to bring him to his knees? Heâ€™s not looking at me anymore, not really. Heâ€™s looking beyond me and my passion, beyond his, into the empty core of my soul, and he takes the tiny scrap thatâ€™s left, the hint of him and what we were or might have been, and he demands that too, using his abilities to force me into nothing. You made me come, made me receptive, and then you took my memories, my suspicions, and you had no right. I didnâ€™t consent. I didnâ€™t give you permission. Is it a form of rape, Leander? The way you treated me? But I shouldnâ€™t speak to you, should I? How egotistical of me to think you might care enough to read this. And it doesnâ€™t matter. This isnâ€™t for you anyway. Itâ€™s for me. So I remember who I was, am, and are, even when Iâ€™m supposed to forget. I like to think he didnâ€™t know. That if he knew what he was to me, that he was everything to me, that maybe he wouldnâ€™t have left me with nothing. But I was never that important. â€œForget that I was here,â€ he says while Iâ€™m weak and my body is still reverberating from his touch. This time itâ€™s different. This time when he tells me to forget, there is strength, power, like an electric wave that swamps me, tells me what to say, what to believe as he takes me apart, empties me out and slams the door of my mind closed. Iâ€™m repeating it back to him, everything he wants. I canâ€™t fight him. Not really. Iâ€™m just human. I only win when he wants to lose. Thatâ€™s his secret. He says fear is vulnerability but thatâ€™s a smokescreen. Something easy he tosses out to deflect from the truth. The truth is that sometimes Leander Marchant doesnâ€™t want to win. He doesnâ€™t want to be that strong. Heâ€™s a coward to do it this way. To kiss me and make me come solely so he can get past my defenses and try again to keep me at bay, fucking with my memory. â€œYou werenâ€™t here,â€ I find myself saying. Itâ€™s so cold. â€œYouâ€™ve never heard of Marchant Enterprises.â€ â€œIâ€™ve neverâ€¦â€ I hesitate, and he says it again, more firmly, his eyes boring into mine, voice hard, resolute and final. His will is greater than mine. Always has been and always will be. Itâ€™s part of my desire for him. Such power and control so tightly contained. And now itâ€™s focused on me and all I can do is give in. â€œIâ€™ve never heard of Marchant Enterprises,â€ I whisper. â€œYouâ€™ve never heard of Leander Marchant,â€ he demands. I donâ€™t say it but gasp instead, try to pull away from him, but he wonâ€™t let me go. I think it surprises him that Iâ€™m still fighting, wanting to keep a scrap of my old life, when everything else is gone. I mean, itâ€™s not like I knew the value of it. He says it again, over and over, until Iâ€™m tired, until I donâ€™t know why I wonâ€™t say the words he wants me to. I hardly know what they even mean anymore, just an odd jumble of sounds that are supposed to go in a certain order. By the end, ten seconds, maybe five minutes, who knows how much time passed, but by the end I couldnâ€™t have told you my own name let alone his. I canâ€™t say he broke me. He didnâ€™t. He wouldnâ€™t. Leander Marchant would never, ever break me. I know what thatâ€™s like and heâ€™s not capable of it. But he did wear me down, did it for a greater purpose, maybe even for my own good. Leander Marchant tells me what to say, every single thing he wants me to believe, to forget or let go, and so I do. And then Iâ€™m standing in my kitchen alone, with the sense that Iâ€™ve just missed something or I was supposed to be somewhere and Iâ€™m not. Itâ€™s a terrible feeling. Iâ€™ve heard that when a woman has a newborn, sheâ€™ll dream sheâ€™s forgotten the baby. Sheâ€™ll go to the grocery store and leave the baby in the cart and, when she wakes up, the relief is so great, the fear so terrible that her heart is pounding and sheâ€™s shaking even though it wasnâ€™t real. Thatâ€™s where I was after he left. Unable to escape the feeling that Iâ€™d just lost something or forgotten something precious. My apartment is horrendously quiet and yet the emptiness is odd. I find myself opening all the doors, even the closets to make sure Iâ€™m alone. My front door opens and Iâ€™m so startled that I let out a little scream. Jessica is looking at me like Iâ€™m nuts. â€œWho was that?â€ â€œWho was who?â€ I ask and my head is killing me. The worst headache ever is pounding in my head. â€œThe man who was just here. Oh my god, he was sooo hot.â€ â€œThere was no one here,â€ I say, faintly robotic, and I want to tell her to leave, that I have a headache and I need to go to bed. She comes up to me, concern on her lovely face. â€œIf you donâ€™t want to say, then thatâ€™s okay. I suppose weâ€™re all entitled to our secrets, but donâ€™t lie to me.â€ â€œI have no idea what youâ€™re talking about.â€ Iâ€™m going to tell her that there wasnâ€™t any man here. But my head is on the verge of explosion, so I leave her in the living room and go to the bathroom to find my migraine medication. Thereâ€™s a box on the counter next to the sink. Small, ivory, and I know that box. Thatâ€™s my box. â€œWho was just here?â€ I say, filled with panic. Thatâ€™s my fucking box. Sheâ€™s nervous now. Iâ€™ve gone crazy and sheâ€™s feeding the crazy gal information. â€œI donâ€™t know. A man. He came, he was here for a while, maybe twenty minutes, then he left. And he was hot,â€ she says, as if that piece of information is too important to leave out. Iâ€™m out the door before sheâ€™s done speaking, heading for the elevator. The doors open, and Mrs. Sackowitz comes out carrying a bag of groceries, and Iâ€™ve never been so happy to see her in my life. The elevator takes ages to get to my floor, and if Iâ€™d had to wait for it, Iâ€™m sure I wouldnâ€™t have had a chance to catch this mystery man. But now I might. I punch the ground floor button and pace like a trapped animal until the bell dings and the doors open. I burst into the lobby and scan it. No one there besides the guard. He sees me and gestures, wanting me to come over to him for some reason or another. I donâ€™t have time. I need to seeâ€¦something. Someone. He calls out to me as I run past him. â€œYou looking for Mr. Marchant?â€ I freeze. â€œWhat?â€ â€œHe just left. Probably getting a cab down at the corner. Rudy said you wanted to know about your lease.â€ I have no idea what heâ€™s talking about, but the name Marchant slams through me, and I run out to the street, to see this man who was just in my apartment. His name is in my head; itâ€™s shaped on my tongue. Marchant. Marchant. Leander. There are two people standing at the corner, where itâ€™s easiest to catch a taxi. A couple, I think, but I donâ€™t slow down. The woman is tall, in a fur coat, everything about her screaming glamour and money. The man looks rough, bulky, like he belongs down at the docks. She looks at me and laughs, the sound high and tinkling. â€œLeander!â€ I shout because there are people everywhere, wandering the streets in the dark, and I donâ€™t know which one he is or where he went. A man whirls around to look back, the glamorous woman and the rough man between us. The woman in the fur is approaching me, obstructing my line of sight, and I move to see this man who turned around. Heâ€™s tall, powerful. It exudes from him. In the ruthless set of his mouth and the way his hand fists at his side as he sees me. Heâ€™s furious, moving fast to get to me, and Iâ€™m scared because I donâ€™t know what a man who looks that ruthless and quietly cold might do to me. I want to go back, turn around, but suddenly there is a hand on my arm, the brush of fur against my bare skin as the woman who was laughing stands next to me, lightly urging me to stay still. In a blink he is suddenly there, this Leander Marchant, who I apparently know but have somehow forgotten. Heâ€™s not looking at me but the woman beside me. â€œNo,â€ he says, so much threat in the word that I bite back a whimper even though heâ€™s not talking to me. Another feminine laugh. â€œThat was practically a growl. How very uncivilized!â€ Her grip has hardened, and although I try to pull away from her, my arm doesnâ€™t budge. â€œYou harm her and I will finish you,â€ Leander growls. â€œIsnâ€™t he brave?â€ she says, leaning toward me, a sotto voice murmur. â€œItâ€™s his own fault. Here he is dangling you around for anyone to use.â€ She shudders theatrically. â€œItâ€™s vulgar of him.â€ Her attention shifts to Leander. â€œAnd I wonâ€™t condone it. Iâ€™m not going to talk to you on the street, where anyone can see us. You know, I donâ€™t care whether she lives or dies,â€ she says, so sweetly that it scares the hell out of me. â€œI just want to talk to you, Lee. Letâ€™s go into the alley,â€ she says and I feel something hard digging into my side. â€œNow that is a gun you feel pressed up against your side,â€ she says conversationally. â€œItâ€™s just the sweetest thing. I have no intention of using itâ€¦unless I have to.â€ â€œYouâ€™re not taking her into that alley,â€ Leander says. â€œLeave her here and Iâ€™ll go with you.â€ â€œNo. You donâ€™t control this. Your money, your scheming and clout, she makes it useless. Pardon the triteness, but she is your Achillesâ€™ heel. You are strong, indestructible almostâ€¦.â€ Her gaze rolls to me. Me? Iâ€™m this guyâ€™s weakness. â€œYou must have me confused with someone else.â€ She ignores me. â€œGet into the alley or Iâ€™ll put a hole in her. You may be fast, but no one is faster than a bullet. Itâ€™s genius, really. Probably wise keeping them off the island.â€ Leander takes a step back, his dark eyes never leaving the woman standing next to me. With a nod he moves past us into the alley on my right. Itâ€™s dark and the smell of urine is eye-wateringly powerful. Iâ€™m calm, I donâ€™t know why. Not calm as in ready to take a nap, but Iâ€™m not screaming. Iâ€™m not panicking even though this woman has a gun on me and this man scares me. Iâ€™m listening to the exchange with a peculiar detachment. â€œItâ€™s so much quieter here,â€ she says conversationally. â€œNow then, how have you been? Howâ€™s Cassandra? All recovered, I take it? I miss her.â€ â€œNo games, Diana.â€ She pouts, the move practiced and artificial. Sheâ€™s beautiful, unbelievably attractive. â€œYou love my games. Iâ€™ve come up with new ones in the time weâ€™ve been apart. Just imagineâ€¦â€ She lets it trail off, planting the idea in his mind, I guess. He doesnâ€™t even blink, just watches her. â€œWhy are you here?â€ â€œStephen sent me. He wanted to reconnect. The world grows smaller every year, you know. Planes, telephones, the Internet especially, we are all so interconnected that it doesnâ€™t make any sense for us all to be apart anymore.â€ â€œSo why isnâ€™t he here?â€ She sighs with dramatic exaggeration. â€œWell, you know how it is. Busy, busy, busy. Running an empire is terribly exhausting. All work and no play can make you men very, very dull,â€ she says, the words flat and dangerous. â€œTell me what you want and leave.â€ She smiles, slow and seductive. â€œAre you saying I can have whatever I want?â€ A pause. His voice is rough. â€œIâ€™m saying Iâ€™ll consider it.â€ She makes a sound that reminds me of an angry kitten. â€œYour subjects are unhappy. They want to leave their little paradise and rejoin the world. Apparently, youâ€™ve become quite the dictator.â€ â€œWho reached out to you?â€ he asks, attention fixed on this fur-clad woman. A chuckle. â€œAs if Iâ€™ll tell you for no reason. Spoil the game. Youâ€™re never there; you donâ€™t know what goes on in that little paradise of yours. For example, I saw Helene last week.â€ â€œYouâ€™re lying.â€ â€œNo.â€ She raises a pale hand, an obscenely large diamond sliding to the side of her finger. â€œCross my heart and hope you die, itâ€™s true. She was in London. And I saw Jeffrey a month or so ago. Why, Lee, you look astonished!â€ She jabs me in the side with her gun. â€œDoesnâ€™t he look surprised?â€ Frankly, he looks just as quietly murderous as he did a few moments ago, his expression unchanged from an evil scowl, but Iâ€™m not stupid enough to argue with a woman pointing a gun at me. â€œTheyâ€™ve all been leaving the island. Making their moves, establishing bases in the outside world. And you just assume that theyâ€™re all waiting at home quietly until Daddy returns. Youâ€™ve become complacent.â€ This sounds like an insult. As though she said the word fool instead. â€œAnd youâ€™re here to help me?â€ he says, disbelief in his dark voice. â€œHeavens, no. Iâ€™m here to keep you occupied. We heard a rumor, you see, that there was a little mortal keeping you distracted, that youâ€™d chosen her over family. Over your own kind! So I came to see. For myself,â€ she says, and she comes around to face me, sliding the gun along my arm, up my chest and resting it under my chin. I whimper, the coldness of it, the deadness in her eyes making me terrified. â€œSee where the gun is, my love?â€ she says, clearly talking to Leander but looking at me. Her brows rise as she studies me closely, enjoying my fear. â€œWell, I certainly donâ€™t know what anyone is all concerned about. Sheâ€™s obviously mortal, bizarrely quiet, and apparently canâ€™t remember a damned thing.â€ â€œYou donâ€™t harm her, Diana. This has nothing to do with her,â€ he says. His attention flickers to me and away. Dismissing me. He hates me, I think. â€œYou made her a part of this. You stole her away, you brought her here, and you let her wander around, your weakness roaming the city. I wonâ€™t kill her,â€ she says, even as she shoves the barrel of the gun into my throat. â€œIâ€™m not here to harm her. Iâ€™m here on a mission of peace. Isnâ€™t that funny? Me? Peace? Stephen wanted you to know that sheâ€™s being spoken of. That there are others who want her and that if you truly value her, you better keep her close. The whole world knows she isnâ€™t dead. I mean, if you canâ€™t count on defenestration to get the job done, then goodness gracious, whatâ€™s left? Stephen didnâ€™t have to tell you, Lee. I wouldnâ€™t have.â€ Iâ€™m frantically searching for a way to escape, but there is nothing. The alley dead ends. The only way out is to go back the way we came, to get past the woman with the gun, and how would I do that? In the blackness I can see trash, cardboard and paper, sludge that in a previous decade might have been food, but nothing metal or wood, nothing that might be a weapon. â€œWe can figure this out, Diana,â€ he says. And he takes a step closer to her. She rolls her eyes, and because sheâ€™s facing me, I can see it when he canâ€™t. â€œGod, I hate you,â€ she says vehemently. And I donâ€™t know if she means me or him. She moves quickly, too quickly for me to make sense of the noise and the red thatâ€™s spreading down his shirt. I think I heard the sound after he was shot, as if the blood came first, the quiet snick of the silencer an afterthought. He jerks backwards as she shoots him again, abruptly falling to his knees before us. I throw my body into her, reaching for the gun with two hands, acting on instinct, screaming loudly, rage and pain making my cry guttural. With one hand she shoves me back, that small touch so forceful I slam into the wall shoulder first, pain radiating outward through me, a reverberation. Off-balance, I go down to the ground, losing time, too much time. Two steps and sheâ€™s standing over him. A heartbeat later and sheâ€™s emptied the clip into him. Heâ€™s trying to speak, blood pouring from his mouth. Miraculously still alive. â€œVoila. There is no ignoring that message.â€ she says and turns to me, head tilted lightly to the side, lips pursed. â€œListen well, girl. When the ambulance comes, you need to go with them. Heâ€™ll take you down with him, the selfish bastard. Do you understand me?â€ No, I donâ€™t, and I donâ€™t know if I say anything or not. The only thing I can hear is the wet breathing of the man dying a few feet away. She points a finger to the sky. â€œHear that?â€ Itâ€™s a siren, shrill and getting louder as it comes closer. â€œHere they come. And Rebecca, itâ€™s been just lovely to meet you. Best of luck with your new life.â€ She turns away, heels clicking loudly as she saunters away. I want to go to him, want to move, but I canâ€™t. Iâ€™m shaking, trembling, my body oddly numb. All I can do is sit there, back against the wall, my eyes on this man whoâ€™s dying before me. A final gurgle, a sound to haunt my dreams for the rest of my life, and heâ€™s gone. I see it happen. The sudden utter stillness of his body, the absence of him. Heâ€™s dead. I donâ€™t even know who he is, and yet I feel like Iâ€™ve been ripped open by sharp grief. Itâ€™s a poltergeist made manifest, this sense of loss, as though my life and soul is hemorrhaging out of me to him, tied to him by invisible cord. Iâ€™m falling into darkness, a black faint as the world goes quiet around the edges. Heâ€™ll take you down with him. Thatâ€™s what she said and itâ€™s true. Iâ€™m dying. Even without a bullet hole, Iâ€™m finished. 9 I wake up to the sound of beeping. Iâ€™m not in my own bed, but the smell is sterile and the walls are a horrendous blue. Oh god. The hospital again. I flex the fingers of my right hand and feel the IV in my vein. IVs suck. No breathing tube, which is good. I move my legs and they feel fine. No casts, no pain. Why am I here? I want to sit up, but that hurts like a son of a bitch. My stomach. My fucking stomach. I hate my body and how soft it is. How weak it is. Everything cuts it. Knives, guns, metal, so many things that can shred flesh. Why are we covered by something so flimsy as skin? Why donâ€™t I have a shell or something harder, made ofâ€¦calcium? Whatâ€™s an exo-skeleton made of? I canâ€™t focus. My mind is sluggish and my eyes heavy. Iâ€™ll go back to sleep. Thatâ€™s all one can do in the hospitalâ€”go back to sleep. Fall into it at every opportunity so that at some point you wake up and youâ€™re well enough to get the hell out. My door opens and a nurse comes in, smiling at me. Easy to smile when youâ€™re not in the bed, I think grumpily. â€œMiss Finner, so glad youâ€™re awake.â€ â€œThat makes two of us. Molly, how are you?â€ My words are slurred. I hear it but donâ€™t mean to do it. Sheâ€™s happy I remember her. From the last time. My throat is suddenly tight. â€œWhat happened?â€ Enunciating properly is hard work. Sheâ€™s looking at my chart, reading machines and writing things down, but saying nothing. She pulls the sheet down from my chest, exposing my abdomen and the three small dressings scattered around my stomach. â€œWe need to stop meeting like this,â€ she says and lifts the dressings to look at the wounds underneath. â€œYou almost bled to death.â€ And then I remember. â€œHe was shot!â€ â€œNo, you were not shot,â€ she says, misunderstanding. â€œIt just happens sometimes, a freak occurrence really, sudden internal hemorrhage. Youâ€™re quite lucky you were so close to the hospital. There are only a few hospitals in the US who have the proper imaging equipment. Laparoscopic, you see. Thatâ€™s why you have these dressings. Youâ€™re going to be bruised inside, feel very sore, but it shouldnâ€™t be too bad. The surgery entry points were very small. Youâ€™ll be up soon.â€ â€œNo, I was with someone who was shot. She shot him!â€ The name hovers on my tongue, just out of reach. Her face is lined with concern. â€œNo, dear. Thatâ€™s not what the paramedics report says. You were found in an alley and transported here on your own.â€ â€œNo.â€ Thatâ€™s a damned lie. The nurse flicks a glance at the heart rate monitor, which is beeping more frequently as I become more agitated. â€œJust relax. Everything is going to be fine,â€ she says, which we both know is total crap. She goes back to writing on my chart. â€œNo,â€ I repeat. â€œThatâ€™s not right. A man was there. I was in an alleyâ€¦.â€ Why was I there? What sort of moron goes into a dark alley at night? I close my eyes tight and see a flash of a woman in a fur coat, and sheâ€™s got a gun. Is that real? â€œI want to see the report.â€ She looks me over, concern sincere. â€œIâ€™ll get it off the computer. I just have to finish writing you up.â€ â€œHow long was I out?â€ â€œOh, itâ€™s been a good few days.â€ The door opens, another nurse poking her head in. â€œMolly, youâ€™re needed in three.â€ She nods. Squeezes my foot through the blanket. â€œIâ€™ll come check on you later. Itâ€™s Thursday. Thatâ€™s your favorite, right? And Iâ€™ll bring you two puddings just like I used to.â€ â€œTurkey,â€ I mutter, and maybe I smile at her even though Iâ€™m dying inside. Itâ€™s a reflex. Iâ€™m expected to smile, so I smile. Iâ€™m expected to be happy about something so I have to show happiness, or else. Or else what? â€œYou just missed meatloaf, so thatâ€™s something.â€ A soft laugh, because the meatloaf is like poorly-shaped dog food. I want to scream at her that I donâ€™t care, that sheâ€™s wrong or lying and that I need to know whatâ€™s going on or else I will tear her the fuck apart. But in my state, I couldnâ€™t terrify a chicken even if I was in the middle of eating a bucket of fried chicken. She puts my chart back on the end of my bed and leaves me alone in the room. I go in and out of sleep for some amount of time, and when I next wake, there is someone else in the room with me. The rustling of a newspaper page being turned. I have the strangest thoughtâ€”I didnâ€™t iron it! And I wake up, feeling almost scared that Iâ€™ve screwed up somehow, failed at a task. â€œIâ€™m sorry, my lord,â€ I mumble, thinking it must be the remains of a bizarre dream I was having. My throat is dry so I cough. The man puts down his paper, and I see his face and want to cry or die or scream, I donâ€™t know what. I know that face. But I canâ€™t remember ever meeting him or think of a name, but I feel like I know him. Heâ€™s good-looking enough to be on TV. Is that where Iâ€™ve seen him? But why would he be here, in my room? I take the opportunity to look at him, analyze every piece of him, from his hair thatâ€™s a color between mahogany and black, thick and with a hint of a curl, to his eyes, which are dark, inscrutable; maybe theyâ€™re the windows to someoneâ€™s soul, but it sure as hell ainâ€™t his. Heâ€™s wearing a dark blue suit and pale blue shirt with a silk tie that has small geometric designs on it. Heâ€™s perfectly presented and impossibly expensive, everything about him perfect. So perfect. Restrained, even. There is a flash of silver cufflink as he takes a glass of water from the tray on the wheelie table near my feet. His face becomes more set, almost grim in the few steps it takes to bring him close to me. Heâ€™s looking down at me like Iâ€™m a problem, as if this is his room and a sick woman has suddenly appeared in it. He offers me the water and I read the initials on his cufflinks. LM engraved in a frilly script. I reach for the water, our hands brushing as I take the glass and have a few sips of it. LM. The alley. Is that him? â€œNot too much at first. Itâ€™s been a while since youâ€™ve had food or water,â€ he says, and I make myself stop drinking even though I want to guzzle the whole thing. â€œWhat are you sorry for?â€ he asks, taking the glass from me and setting it back on the tray. â€œWhat?â€ â€œJust now, when you were waking. You said you were sorry and you called me my lord. Why did you do that?â€ A warm wash of color floods over me. â€œI donâ€™t know. I was waking up. It must have been a dream or something.â€ His eyes close briefly and then reopen. Somehow, he looks even more distant than he did a moment ago. He sighs heavily. â€œWonderful,â€ he murmurs. â€œYouâ€™re dead,â€ I manage. â€œI saw it.â€ â€œHmm, all right,â€ he says, nodding slowly. â€œWhatâ€™s the last thing you remember?â€ â€œI saw you die.â€ Tears are filling my eyes. Itâ€™s not the grief of a stranger but deeper. I reach out to touch him, extending my hand. His shoulders straighten as he braces himself for something terrible, and I think heâ€™s going to take a step back from me, but then he flashes a smile, and he grasps my hand in his lightly, the warmth of him, the tightly contained strength and power in that grip something I inherently know. I try to pull him closer to me, and he takes a small step, the bare minimum really, his eyebrows rising in polite inquiry. There is no invitation there, no indication that he wants to come closer to me. Or that I have any right to touch him. He tries to let go of my hand but I wonâ€™t release him. â€œYouâ€™re alive.â€ He gives my hand a squeeze, friendly but impersonal, and pulls away, leaving me no alternative but to release him. And then I kind of feel like an idiot for reaching out to a total stranger. Or is he a stranger? He sits back in the chair, crosses his legs and watches me, hawk-like. He doesnâ€™t speak. Did I follow him into that alley? â€œWhat does LM stand for?â€ â€œLeander Marchant,â€ he says with a small smile. My head sinks back onto the pillows. The name is familiar. I wish I were in my apartment. Jessica must be worried sick. Iâ€™ll tell her about this man whoâ€™s here in my room, and I know what sheâ€™ll sayâ€”he sounds hot. A memory squiggles to the surface of my brain, Jessica telling me a hot guy was in my apartmentâ€¦ I went after him. I open my eyes and see that heâ€™s watching me, waiting, apparently, for me to speak. â€œShe told me you were in my apartment. I followed you and there was a woman with a gun. Thatâ€™s why I went into the alley.â€ â€œWho told you I was in your apartment?â€ he asks tonelessly. Who is he to me? â€œNo. You donâ€™t get to turn everything around. Come in here andâ€¦. I know you. How?â€ A demand. He covers his face with his hands and rests his elbows on his spread legs, blocking out me and the room. Seconds tick by. I can practically see him thinking very, very hard. His watch is a Rolex thatâ€™s peeking out from his cuff. He blows out a breath, drops his hands and laughs. The sound, even the look on his face makes him seem younger, more approachable. It doesnâ€™t do anything to jog my memory. I may know him, but I donâ€™t know a happy him. Ugh. What a crappy thought. â€œI donâ€™t know where we are with this. Really, itâ€™s just soâ€¦.â€ Heâ€™s searching for words. He stands abruptly, the chair knocking backwards and falling to the ground. He grimaces and rights it, clearly annoyed. â€œI am fairly certain Iâ€™ve not knocked a chair over in yearsâ€¦decades even.â€ Then heâ€™s pacing. All coiled agitation in my ugly hospital room. He stops, seems to gather himself or make a decision, I donâ€™t know. And he says, â€œItâ€™s almost two months ago now that you woke up in this hospital with no memory of who you were or where you came from. Do you remember that?â€ â€œDo I remember not remembering?â€ His expression isnâ€™t friendly. â€œYes, I rememberâ€¦not remembering. Although I think there must be a better way to say that.â€ â€œWhen you woke up, you were going to therapy, and during that time you developed aâ€¦fixation on me,â€ he says and Iâ€™m mortified. Is this true? Heâ€™s so handsome that I could imagine him having a stalker or two but to think that Iâ€™m one of them? â€œSo why are you here if I stalked you?â€ He scrubs a hand over his jaw. â€œIâ€™m not done yet. You developed a fixation on me and accused me of knowing you before your accident.â€ â€œI donâ€™t remember that.â€ And itâ€™s all so curiously blank, what heâ€™s telling me, that I donâ€™t know what to think. There are little pieces of conversations or images in my mind. Like someone has taken a film, cut all the images into individual squares and then tossed them into the air and made a big mess. And I have some of those squares as memories and thatâ€™s it. I blink, process what heâ€™s just said. â€œYouâ€™re telling me I had amnesia and now I have it again? That sounds medically impossible.â€ â€œYou hit your head in the alley. That can cause short-term memory loss.â€ My hand goes to my head, searching for a bruise or some evidence of what heâ€™s saying. â€œI donâ€™t have a bump or a cut or stitches. And that wouldnâ€™t cause me to lose two monthsâ€™ worth of memories.â€ Maybe it would, I donâ€™t know. But my instincts tell me heâ€™s lying to me. I just donâ€™t believe him. Something is way off. â€œAnd how do I know you?â€ He stops pacing and turns to face me, leaning against the hospital wall with his arms crossed forbiddingly. His lips flatten into a hard line. â€œBecause we do have a history.â€ I almost stop breathing. â€œWe met before your accident. We dated. And when you lost your memory, I was sympathetic to your plight. Iâ€™ve been paying for you ever since.â€ â€œYouâ€™re my boyfriend?â€ Because amongst all of this, that explanation stands out as particularly bizarre and unlikely. â€œNo.â€ Ah. â€œYou were my boyfriend?â€ His mouth opens, closes. â€œI supposeâ€¦yes, I was,â€ he says, nodding slowly. â€œHow long did we date?â€ â€œNotâ€¦long.â€ â€œAnd even though we broke up, youâ€™ve been paying for my apartment, hospital, everything?â€ â€œYes,â€ he says, his smile devastating. It doesnâ€™t help me untangle this unusual tale heâ€™s feeding me. â€œWow. What did you do? Cheat on me with a poodle or something?â€ He shakes his head, not understanding. â€œWe dated for a while, and youâ€™ve been paying for me ever since? Thatâ€™s pretty generous. So what did you do that makes you feel so guilty youâ€™d spend that kind of money on someone you dated for a short period of time?â€ A flash of a grin. Itâ€™s fake as hell. â€œOh, I see. No, nothing like that. Iâ€™m very wealthy, and since you have no family, it seemed like the right thing to do.â€ My heart plummets. I have no family? â€œRebecca, itâ€™s very important you listen to me right now. Youâ€™ll be released soon, perhaps as early as tomorrow, and youâ€™ll be coming with me. Just until we can work something else out.â€ â€œWith you?â€ My voice is loud. Disbelieving. â€œI can protect you better than anyone else. Youâ€™ll come with me, and once things are more settled, you can go your own way.â€ I feel like thatâ€™s a lie but am sure heâ€™d deny it. But why wouldnâ€™t he let me go my own way? I clearly donâ€™t mean anything to him. He wouldnâ€™t even hug me. â€œThe problem is that I have enemies, very powerful enemies who have assumed that youâ€™re important to me.â€ I drag in air, feeling like he punched me in the stomach. â€œHow silly of them,â€ I manage. As if I could be important to him. To anyone apparently. After all, I have no family. â€œYou seem to remember what happened in the alley. You know that Iâ€™m lucky to be alive, and I hope that remembering that situation will impress upon you the seriousness of this. My enemies will come after you.â€ I think about the woman in the alley. My memory of the alley is getting clearer and clearer. â€œYou mean Diana? Sheâ€™s your ex, right?â€ â€œIt has been a very long time since we were together.â€ â€œHow long?â€ The answer seems important. It also occurs to me that he seems to have very odd taste in women. He tilts his head to the side as though heâ€™s genuinely calculating the answer. â€œThree hundred years? Give or take a decade?â€ â€œScrew you! Your batshit crazy ex tries to kill you in an alley, threatens me with a gun, and you still donâ€™t want to tell me the truth? We never went out, did we?â€ â€œWhy not?â€ he asks, seemingly genuinely curious. Now itâ€™s my turn to hesitate. â€œItâ€™s like a cat dating a hamster. I donâ€™t know! Youâ€™re too terrifying for me to have gone out with youâ€¦and youâ€™re not very nice. This is ridiculous. You died in that alley.â€ The absurdity of that statement sinks in, but I push on. â€œTell me how youâ€™re here, alive and well, and yet Iâ€™m the one in the hospital bed?â€ I say, jabbing a finger toward him, forgetting Iâ€™m injured until my stomach seizes in agony and steals my breath. Heâ€™s suddenly beside me, his hand on my face, and heâ€™s leaning over me. â€œThatâ€™s not important,â€ he says clearly. â€œIt was a scratch. Iâ€™m fine. You wonâ€™t dwell on my being shot in the alley. You will remember that Diana is dangerous.â€ He steps back from me, arranging the immaculate knot in his tie. â€œDiana is dangerous,â€ I repeat and she is. Of course she is! â€œSheâ€™ll hurt you. And if she decides youâ€™d be more helpful as a bargaining chip, then sheâ€™ll kidnap you.â€ Which makes perfect sense because sheâ€™s terrifying and capable of anything. Althoughâ€¦ â€œAnd if she realizes that I mean nothing to you, maybe sheâ€™ll leave me alone?â€ I try to tamp down the bitterness. â€œOr sheâ€™ll kill you. Just to make a point. And sheâ€™s not the only enemy I have. It was stupid of me to think you were safe. I justâ€”â€ Another shake of his head. â€œI just wasnâ€™t thinking.â€ He sounds weary. I have nothing to say. I donâ€™t know how to feel. Iâ€™m just numb and tired. I feel slow, like my brain is filled with drying cement. I want to go home and be in my own apartment, tucked up in my bed with the soft covers pulled high and a crappy movie on in the background. Maybe Jessica will come over and we can order pizza. I suddenly want that so badly that I can almost feel the cotton sheets against my skin. To have a moment of something normal, some routine. The door opens and the doctor comes in, voice booming. â€œMr. Marchant, what a pleasure. Weâ€™ve taken good care of Miss Finner,â€ he says, barely looking at me. Theyâ€™re shaking hands, ignoring me. â€œDr. Patkar, nice to see you again. Iâ€™m sure you have. How is she?â€ he asks. The doctor is a nice-looking man, wears glasses, is the wrong side of fifty and has a bushy mustache. He sits down on the rolling stool and wheels over to me, taking my pulse and asking me questions while Leander Marchant waits and watches, making everything deeply uncomfortable. I imagine saying his name. Leander. Or Mr. Marchant. None of it seems quite right. How about my lord? Is that better? He makes a note in my chart and clicks his pen closed. â€œSheâ€™s recovering nicely,â€ he says. â€œIâ€™ll just get her a few prescriptions and you can take her home.â€ â€œToday?â€ Leander says, barely concealing his shock. â€œWhich prescriptions?â€ I ask, dread going through me. He looks to Marchant instead of me, which enrages me. â€œWhy are you checking with him?â€ I snap. â€œWell, for your panic attacks, of course. Then there is the anxiety, the antidepressants, etc.â€ â€œI donâ€™t want any pills.â€ And I mean that. In fact, it seems bizarre to me now that I took all those stupid pills without question. Even when Jessica asked me why I was taking them, even though she was worried and there were a ton of them, it simply didnâ€™t occur to me to question it. â€œWait. Youâ€™re Dr. Patkar? You prescribed all the pills I was taking. Of course you want me to keep taking them!â€ The doctor hesitates. â€œMiss Finner, I can understand you not wanting the drugs, but at this point, I believe they are a necessity. You canâ€™t stop taking them abruptly, certainly not with your history,â€ he says softly, in the same voice one might use to speak to a petulant child. â€œWhat history is that?â€ Can he see that itâ€™s taking everything in me to not call him any number of highly obscene names? â€œYour history as a cutter. The marks on your arms,â€ he says, frowning at me. The doctor reopens my chart. I know the marks. I know what they must mean butâ€¦thatâ€™s not me now and it never was. It just couldnâ€™t have been. I would never, ever do such a thing. Doubt is an ocean inside me. â€œI donâ€™t want the pills. That needs to stop.â€ My stupid voice wobbles. He looks to Leander Marchant instead of me. â€œStop looking at him! Iâ€™m your patient. Who the fuck are you to come in here andâ€”â€ â€œStop,â€ Leander commands, and heâ€™s back at my side, his hands cupping my face, tilting my head, so I look into his eyes. He says something, his voice like water, a nice arrangement of sounds that means absolutely nothing to me. A flash of light explodes behind my eyes, every muscle locking tight in rigid agony as pain floods me. The doctor comes forward, pushes Leander out of the way, his expression of wide-eyed terror probably the only genuine expression Iâ€™ve seen from him since I woke up to him being in my room all cool and distant. â€œDamnit, sheâ€™s bleeding,â€ the doctor says, and uses a corner of the sheet to wipe away the blood. I taste it, feel it as a warm gush running from my nose. The doctor urges me to look back at him, looking into my eyes with a light. He hands me gauze and presses it to my nose firmly while we wait for the bleeding to slow. â€œThatâ€™s it, Mr. Marchant. I donâ€™t know much about your people and your abilities, but you canâ€™t do anything else to her. Whatever effectiveness the drugs had in calming her is apparently gone, and itâ€™s clear that whatever youâ€™re doing to her mind is causing her physical harmâ€”â€ â€œThat shouldnâ€™t have happened,â€ he snarls, close to yelling. The doctor recoils a little, frightened by Leanderâ€™s angry response. As if he were a child who suddenly realized the friendly Doberman wasnâ€™t as domesticated as he thought. â€œOut. Side,â€ Leander says, voice low and dangerous. The doctor stands upright, the click of his penlight loud and somehow defiant. Leander goes to the door, jerking it open, waiting for the doctor, whoâ€™s telling me to keep the pressure up, promising heâ€™ll be right back. Leander hesitates in the doorway, swallows hard, looks me over, hesitating on the blood thatâ€™s on my face and hands. â€œThe sight of you, Rebecca,â€ he says, and I donâ€™t know what he can possibly mean. Is he disgusted? Does he feel bad? Was that some sort of reprimand? My hands are trembling. I want to get dressed. I donâ€™t want to talk to people and be in a hospital gown. It puts me at a disadvantage, makes me feel like an invalid. I hate the hospital. Iâ€™m going to get dressed, and if that doesnâ€™t kill me, then I might just leave. I want to go home. Itâ€™s agony getting out of bed, torture to shuffle over to the closet and find my clothes. By the time Iâ€™ve gotten the pants on, Iâ€™m reconsidering my break for freedom. Iâ€™m sitting on the bed with my shirt half on, feeling dizzy, when the door opens and Leander comes in, looking me over from head to toe. â€œIâ€™m leaving,â€ I say, keeping my voice hard. The mild panting from too much strenuous exertion undermines my credibility. I shift the shirt so it covers most of my exposed bra. â€œIâ€™m sure thatâ€™s a terrible idea,â€ he says without a hint of surprise. He tucks his cell phone into the pocket of his jacket, then leans against the door and crosses his arms. I feel like weâ€™re playing chess. Is it my move? Alas, I have no idea how to play chess. â€œIt would be better if you could wait here one more day. My apartment isnâ€™t set up for guests.â€ Ah, so itâ€™s his move. â€œThatâ€™s okay because Iâ€™m not going anywhere with you,â€ I swallow a wince as I raise the shirt in front of me. â€œIâ€™m going home. Today.â€ I feel a fat drop of sweat roll down my forehead. â€œWe talked about this. Youâ€™re going with me. Tomorrow.â€ â€œYou talked. Iâ€™ve been pretty out of it. You have enemies. I donâ€™t think theyâ€™ll come after me. Probably the safest thing for me to do is not be around you. Youâ€™re the one people try to attack in dark alleysâ€¦Iâ€™m the one with constant amnesia.â€ â€œIt isnâ€™t safe. Iâ€™ve told you whatâ€™s next and thatâ€™s it,â€ he says, expecting me to give in. â€œI donâ€™t belong to you. You canâ€™t force me to go with you.â€ â€œDo not do this, Rebecca.â€ His voice is hard as steel. My eyes narrow. â€œOr youâ€™ll what?â€ He pushes off the wall and saunters toward me, stopping close enough so that I have to look up to him to see his eyes. He leans in close to me, and I suck in a breath, uncertain of what heâ€™s about to do. But heâ€™s taken the other sleeve and is pulling it up my arm, adjusting the collar of it on my neck and starting on the buttons, not lingering on my chest, somehow keeping it as impersonal as it could be, having a beautiful, frightening man towering over me, his hands almost on me and yetâ€¦distant. His voice is quiet, calming even, the rough cadence of it, his slight accent alluring as though he wants to lull me into trusting him. â€œAnd where will you go, Miss Finner? The locks on your apartmentâ€”my apartmentâ€”have been changed. You have no job. Your bank accounts have been frozen. Which was easy to do since itâ€™s my money. How will you support yourself? Iâ€™ve given you everything youâ€™ve ever had. You owe me your life, your fealty. You exist not by the grace of god but by the grace of me.â€ The shirt is buttoned, but he doesnâ€™t step back. Instead he reaches for my hair, lightly combing his fingers through it, careful not to snag on the knots. â€œYou, my dear heart, donâ€™t remember who youâ€™re dealing with. If you leave, Iâ€™ll find you. I can track you, hunt you down if you make me. And I will.â€ I can hear the anger, the passion in his soft tone. â€œIt wonâ€™t be an army of people or the police, not a private detective, but just me.â€ His gaze meets mine, eyes narrowed with intention. â€œYou donâ€™t remember me, Miss Finner, but I know you. You donâ€™t run from me. You donâ€™t escape me,â€ he says, deadly serious. â€œHow very caveman of you. To what end?â€ Itâ€™s hard to swallow, hard to speak, and I have so many things to say, am so flummoxed I donâ€™t know where to start, that I feel stupid, like everything is obvious to everyone else but me. Abruptly he smiles. â€œHow very caveman of me,â€ he says as if itâ€™s funny. A cute pet that did a little trick. â€œI donâ€™t understand why you want me at all. You clearly hate me.â€ â€œI donâ€™t hate you,â€ he says, sounding vaguely surprised. â€œYouâ€™re terrified Iâ€™ll remember my past. Why? Just tell me why?â€ The hysteria is creeping in. â€œYouâ€™re wrong, Rebecca. Everyone is afraid of something.â€ He shrugs, breaking eye contact for a moment. A slow and steady breath before continuing. â€œBut you remembering does not scare me. I do not profit from this.â€ He goes back to the closet, pulls out a pair of grey suede flats and crouches down, slipping them on my feet. â€œI thought you wanted me to stay here?â€ â€œI did. You donâ€™t. If I donâ€™t take you with me now, youâ€™ll leave. And I donâ€™t have time to come after you.â€ â€œYouâ€™re an arrogant asshole.â€ One dark eyebrow rises, then lowers. â€œYou used to find it charming,â€ he says, a murmur. â€œYouâ€™re threatening me. I donâ€™t believe I ever found that charming.â€ God, I hope not, or what does that say about me? â€œThatâ€™s the way youâ€™ve interpreted this? Iâ€™ve supported you and kept you safe. I want you with me so that I can protect you with my body if it comes to it. Here I am with enemies after me and my kingdom falling apart thousands of miles away, and yet Iâ€™m here, with you, because your life is the only thing that matters now.â€ And he actually sounds sincere. â€œI never trusted you.â€ An unhappy laugh comes from him. â€œTrust. You loved me. If I told you that I was taking you with me, you would have come without hesitation.â€ â€œYou make it sound like I was a dog that obeyed well.â€ â€œYou are deliberately being obtuse.â€ â€œJust because you use big words doesnâ€™t make you right. It makes you sound pompous. Maybe you did snap your fingers and Iâ€™d come running, but Iâ€™m not that girl anymore.â€ He blinks, appears totally bewildered. â€œYou didnâ€™t obey me blindly. You believed that I knew what was best.â€ That makes me sound like a fucking fifties housewife. â€œThen why did it end? Why did we break up?â€ â€œCome with me and Iâ€™ll tell you.â€ Well, hell. â€œAnd weâ€™ll go to your apartment? The one that isnâ€™t ready?â€ â€œMaybe I meant me. Iâ€™m not ready.â€ His hand scrapes through his dark hair. â€œMaybe itâ€™s better this way. Perhaps it was always meant to be this way.â€ â€œLike fate?â€ â€œFate is so trite. More likeâ€¦inevitability.â€ And with that cryptic comment, he checks the drawers, packs up my things, and before I know it, weâ€™re walking out the door. Someone brought my suitcase to the hospital. Was it him? The idea of him choosing my things and going through my apartment is unsettling. The elevator opens, and he picks up my suitcase, carrying it for me. â€œB2,â€ he says, looking at the buttons on my side of the elevator. I push the button, watching as we go down several floors, feeling more nauseous as the moments go by. The doors open, and he walks straight to a black Tesla parked in a reserved spot. He pops the trunk remotely, putting my bag inside and then coming to open my door. It would have been more gentlemanly if he hadnâ€™t looked so impatient and annoyed about the whole thing. â€œThanks,â€ I mutter, feeling awkward. Fear snakes up my spine as I get closer to him. â€œYouâ€™re very intimidating,â€ I say as I sit down, the leather butter soft. A sigh. â€œAnd yet, itâ€™s never made a damned bit of difference,â€ he says, and shuts the door. The interior is immaculate, as though itâ€™s brand new, just detailed, or maybe heâ€™s a neat freak. It doesnâ€™t smell brand new, but the smell of leather is there, the smell of his cologneâ€¦It just smells rich. Masculine. He opens his own door, slides into the seat, buckles up, and soon weâ€™re in the city, streets passing in steady silence. â€œIs it far?â€ â€œNo.â€ â€œOh, good, stilted conversation. So how long have we known each other? You said you gave me everything Iâ€™ve ever had. That sounds like a lot longer than casual dating. Wait.â€ I lay the sarcasm on thick. â€œDoes that mean youâ€™ve been lying to me?â€ He stops at a light and turns his head to look at me. â€œYou put me in this position, Rebecca. You did this to us.â€ His eyes are dark, almost glittering in the darkness, his features cast in harsh shadows. Unaccountably I suddenly feel ashamed, even doubting, and Iâ€™m glad he canâ€™t see my hot cheeks. As if he knows or can see me, he says on a sigh, â€œItâ€™s all right, Rebecca. We do the best we can.â€ The light changes and we drive the rest of the way in silence. He parks under the building and we take the elevator up. â€œIâ€™m surprised youâ€™re not in the penthouse,â€ I say, although the building is lovely. There is no response as he opens the door. The lights turn on automatically, revealing a spacious interior. He puts my suitcase down next to the front door, then picks it up again. Heâ€™s hesitating and Iâ€™m not sure why. â€œWhere do you want to go?â€ he asks quietly. â€œWhat do you mean?â€ I turn to look at him, watching him watch me. With a half smile, he looks away, tilts his head toward the body of the apartment. â€œOne is a bathroom and three are bedrooms. Choose.â€ â€œYou sound like itâ€™s a test.â€ â€œI suppose it is. I donâ€™t know why. I do know you donâ€™t remember anything. It justâ€¦ Sometimes it seems like you know. Hints of things, intuition.â€ He wonâ€™t meet my gaze now. â€œDid you think I was lying? About the amnesia?â€ A slow nod. â€œYes, Rebecca. I did. At one point.â€ â€œBut you donâ€™t now?â€ â€œNo.â€ â€œAnd we lived here together?â€ â€œChoose a room,â€ he says, moving past me, still holding my small suitcase. It doesnâ€™t occur to me that he hasnâ€™t answered my question. â€œOne of them is yours. One is mine and the other is for guests that we must pray to never have.â€ There is almost a hint of a smile as he says it. Although itâ€™s possible I imagined it. I donâ€™t bother to hide my skepticism. â€œYouâ€™re saying we lived together?â€ A pause. â€œIt does seem that way, doesnâ€™t it?â€ I move forward and stop in front of the first door. My hand hovers over the knob. I can feel his tension behind me. God, I want to feel something. I want to recognize it, have it be familiar, but itâ€™s not. He says Iâ€™ve been here but I donâ€™t believe it. I open the door and know instantly that itâ€™s his room. A giant bed, plush carpet, and the furniture is modern, which is a little surprising, but I donâ€™t know why. I can see an en suite bathroom, and itâ€™s ridiculous, but this room is almost as large as my entire apartment. His expression is unreadable. The next door is a bedroom, but itâ€™s quite plain. I frown. â€œThis looks like a guest room if you ask me. But maybe thatâ€™s just because itâ€™s so impersonal.â€ I open the last door, and there is a desk and a giant closet, one door open. I can see clothes inside, womenâ€™s clothes, and a dresser that has a few things on top of it. A snow globe of the New York City skyline, some books. This was my room, I guess. Leander isnâ€™t looking at me. Heâ€™s very consciously avoiding looking at me, in fact. â€œThis was my room?â€ But itâ€™s not really a question. I pick up the snow globe, feeling a strange pang go through me at the sight of it. Shaking it, I watch the small blizzard swirl around the city. â€œThese are your things,â€ he says, which is, of course, a different answer than the question asked, but I donâ€™t notice the difference. â€œItâ€™s kind of overwhelming. And itâ€™sâ€¦ But it looks like it hasnâ€™t been touched.â€ All he does is nod. â€œYou didnâ€™t get rid of my things?â€ Heâ€™s looking at the wall, head away from me, his face in profile. He has the sort of profile that should be stamped on an ancient coin. His features are beautiful, defined, maybe even regal in a Grecian sort of way. Heâ€™s still his stern, controlled self, and yet I wonder how much of that is a lie. An act. â€œItâ€™s been months but youâ€™ve kept this room just like it was when I left?â€ I put the snow globe down and move into his field of vision. He shifts, runs a hand through his dark hair. â€œIt sounds rather macabre when you put it like that,â€ he says, trying to make light of it. â€œNone of it seems familiar?â€ I shake my head, trying to imagine myself here and failing. â€œWait. You didnâ€™t change this room at all?â€ â€œNo, why?â€ â€œThereâ€™s noâ€¦bed,â€ and it comes out a whisper. â€œAstute as always,â€ he says and walks out of the room, leaving me open-mouthed. â€œThe other room has a bed, take them both.â€ I take one glance around and then Iâ€™m following him to the kitchen. There is a bag of groceries on the counter. Heâ€™s taking the items out of the bag, setting them in a row on the quartz counters. Eggs, bacon, milkâ€” â€œFroot loops! I love Froot Loops!â€ He raises a brow and sets down an apple and a Kit Kat. â€œAnd I love Kit Kats. But I canâ€™t buy more than one because Iâ€™ll just eat them until I feel sickâ€¦â€ My words trail off as he folds the paper bag closed. â€œWhich is fine because you only bought one,â€ I say, my suspicion growing. He looks around as though he doesnâ€™t know where to put the flattened bag and then throws it in the trash. â€œSoâ€¦those are all my favorite things. Itâ€™s actually what I usually buy at the grocery store.â€ Which is unsettling. â€œI suppose that some things donâ€™t change,â€ he says, a hint of bitterness in his tone. â€œIf I didnâ€™t know better, Iâ€™d think you were a stalker.â€ He leans against the counter, crossing one foot over the other, his fingers lightly drumming the counter behind him. He looks relaxed, but heâ€™s eyeing me like a hawk eyes a lizard. I canâ€™t stand it anymore. â€œWe lived together, slept together, knew each other well enough for you to know what groceries to buyâ€”â€ â€œTo be fair, I didnâ€™t buy them. But I ordered them quite competently. Itâ€™s the thought that counts.â€ His smile is roguish, disarming, and it affects me just as he wants it to. I close my eyes, hold out a hand to stop his flippant words. â€œYou kept my clothes and that room like aâ€¦shrine to me. All it needs are mourning curtains. Itâ€™s like I died or something.â€ Which is so bizarre because this man is likeâ€¦heâ€™s like Christian Gray but not dysfunctional or Jerricho Barrons without the demon. Leander Marchant is so out of my league, and yet it really looks like he was my lover or boyfriend. Like this dude really loved me. What if he still loves me? His head tilts slightly to the side, bringing me into focus. â€œDidnâ€™t you die? To me at least?â€ he says, and I donâ€™t know what to do with that. â€œI want to take a shower.â€ Iâ€™m suddenly exhausted, and my stitches are burning, my stomach throbbing. â€œI apologize. Youâ€™re not well. Letâ€™s get you into bed. Iâ€™m sure we will talk more later,â€ he says, clearly enjoying the prospect as little as I do. Great. 10 Itâ€™s weird to be in a place and have no memory of it when one is supposed to. Itâ€™s a nice place. The furniture is tasteful and pleasant, maybe a bit cold, but maybe thatâ€™s what I liked, or maybe I didnâ€™t even pick it out but he did, before we got together. I feel like every time I get an answer, I only wind up with more questions. Itâ€™s as though Iâ€™m fighting a hydra, sealing my doom as I chop off another question and two more sprout in its place. Nice. Very grim, I think sarcastically. I take pain-killers and then have a shower, feeling much better and cleaner after that. Itâ€™s given me a second wind, and although Iâ€™m tired, I donâ€™t want to go to sleep yet. I have too many questions that need answers. Iâ€™m just vain enough to put on a splash of makeup and fluff my damp hair before I make an appearance in the kitchen. I can smell coffee from the living room and that makes me happy. There is a white cream jug and a sugar bowl next to it, along with a matching mug that has been set out for me. Did I really live here? In this expensive apartment? With this man who has model good looks and now seems to hate me? What happened? And why is he still helping me? Altruism? Who does that? If I was such a bitch to him, wouldnâ€™t he just be happy to get rid of me? I pour myself a cup of coffee, add in some cream and sugar and start with my first question. â€œWhat did you know about me?â€ I ask, still stirring my coffee. I know heâ€™s behind me, waiting in the kitchen doorway. I turn to face him and I have to blink and look away, heâ€™s so gorgeous. His dark brown hair is still wet from his own shower, his attire more casual in a blue wool sweater and dark, expensive jeans. His feet are bare, and it seems rather pathetic of me, but even his feet look good. Ugh. He leans against the doorframe, arms crossed over his chest. â€œWhat do you mean?â€ â€œWe dated. What did I tell you about myself, my past?â€ â€œNot a lot. You didnâ€™t want to talk about it. You said your family died. You had a mother and sister, and they passed when you were quite young. Five. Your father died too, but Iâ€™m uncertain when.â€ â€œI was only five?â€ He looks pained. â€œIâ€™m sorry.â€ â€œItâ€™s not your fault,â€ I say, feeling dull and brittle around the edges. â€œThey all died together?â€ â€œI believe your father perished first.â€ â€œHow?â€ A hesitation. â€œYou didnâ€™t say.â€ â€œAnd you didnâ€™t ask?â€ Heâ€™s looking at me steadily, and I wonder what heâ€™s thinking, how much of the past heâ€™s hiding. But why would he hide my past from me? Iâ€™m being paranoid, right? â€œWe all have secrets, Rebecca. It was our deal from the beginning to respect each otherâ€™s privacy. I didnâ€™t pry into your demons, and you didnâ€™t pry into mine. And if there was something I wanted to know that you didnâ€™t want to tell meâ€¦â€ He shrugs. â€œWhat?â€ His gaze rakes me from head to foot. â€œWell, you could be very distracting when you wanted to be.â€ â€œDistracting? Youâ€™re telling me that if you asked something and I didnâ€™t like it that Iâ€™d, what, jump you?â€ My heart is beating faster, and lots of debauched scenarios are running through my mind of various ways I could be distracting. I focus on the moment, pushing aside my mortification and the rising tide of desire heâ€™s roused with a few simple words. â€œThe physical side of our relationship was not an issue.â€ My gut tells me heâ€™s hiding something, but I canâ€™t imagine what. His comment shuts me up, though. And heâ€™s got to be right because even now I want to climb him like a monkey. Even though heâ€™s a stranger, has been lying to me, spying on me, and Iâ€™m still terrified of him, the fact is I would be willing to do all manner of unspeakable, illegal-in-the-Bible-belt sorts of things to and with him. Wait. Am I terrified of him? Heâ€™s taken me in, gotten me medical treatment at great personal cost and expense, heâ€™s watched over me, protected me, and now Iâ€™m here. â€œWas I scared of you?â€ â€œIf only,â€ he says, but it sounds sad. â€œSo why did our relationship end?â€ He rubs a hand over his face. â€œIt was better for both of us.â€ â€œAre you saying it was mutual?â€ â€œI just did.â€ He doesnâ€™t answer me but he doesnâ€™t look away either. Iâ€™m the one who breaks eye contact, rubbing my arms as I try to make some distance between us. â€œYour skin looks cold. Paler.â€ I donâ€™t know what to say to that. Itâ€™s kind of odd that heâ€™s noticed it, right? Have I ever looked at skin and thought it looked cold? â€œWhat did I do when you met me? What was my job?â€ â€œWhy?â€ â€œNo! What does it matter why I want to know? Of course I want to know! Itâ€™s my life, my past, and youâ€™re the only person who has any answers. Why do I have to justify every question, explain to you my motives? You donâ€™t own me. In fact, we were not even together anymore, right? When this all happened? Is there any chance itâ€™s because you were too controlling?â€ He presses his fingers against the bridge of his nose, eyes squeezed tightly shut, searching for patience. â€œYou didnâ€™t tell me that either. You were new to the city and you were living off something. You had money and you said you were starting over. That you were going to do everything new. But then we moved in together, and you didnâ€™t look for a job anymore.â€ Bullshit. I feel like itâ€™s all lies heâ€™s making up on the spot. â€œI lived with you but you donâ€™t know what my job was? You just started paying for me and let me move in without knowing a single thing about me? Like a whore? And I let you?â€ â€œYou may not like what I tell you, but that doesnâ€™t make it less true. Maybe you donâ€™t want to think you were a kept woman, but you were.â€ â€œUntil we split up? Why did that happen?â€ His cheeks get a wash of pink, and I wish I knew what he was thinking. â€œSomethingâ€¦unforgivable happened.â€ â€œI donâ€™t believe you.â€ I donâ€™t know why I said it. It wasnâ€™t like he was trust-worthy or anything. But it just sounded wrong. And damned vague. A hard laugh. â€œI donâ€™t care what you believe. You should get some sleep, Rebecca. Youâ€™re still weak. â€ I need to think, regroup. â€œI just need a few weeks, and then you can go wherever you want.â€ â€œBack to my apartment?â€ I cross my arms over my chest and he frowns. His gaze is penetrating. â€œLetâ€™s be clear that itâ€™s the apartment I pay for. If I decide itâ€™s not safe, then I just wonâ€™t pay for it anymore. Iâ€™ll get you a new one elsewhere and youâ€™ll move.â€ â€œI donâ€™t want to stay here.â€ â€œNoted.â€ His tone implies there is no compromise. Itâ€™s unyielding. And I think thatâ€™s the real him. This is not a kind man. And then he smiles, as if that should be enough to change my mind about him. Disturbingly, for the briefest moment, it almost is. 11 The next day I have a plan. It consists of trying to function without getting too freaked out about stuff and going back to my apartment to get some of my things. Iâ€™d managed to make some decisions in the middle of the night, and I was going to try to stick to them and not get my panties in a twist of indecisiveness. Firstly, he was right in the fact that I didnâ€™t have anything beyond what he gave me. At least not that I knew of. Whether he did it because it was just so â€œeasyâ€ for him to pay for me or if it was because he still had feelings for me, I donâ€™t know. He said he was in danger and I believed him. Iâ€™d seen it in the alleyway. I canâ€™t really see how his enemies would want anything to do with me, but I since Iâ€™d had a gun pointed at me, I had to believe that too. And, I did believe that he wanted me safe. In fact, I think heâ€™d have done whatever he could to protect me. Although I still couldnâ€™t see how we wound up together. Maybe the sex was good. I mean, sure, he looks like heâ€™d be pretty good at it, and I like to think Iâ€™d be pretty good at it (although I canâ€™t remember ever having it, which seems uber-pathetic) but to be so good that I landed a hot billionaire way above my hotness pay grade? Wow. I must have done some filthy, filthy things. I must have done circus tricks or backdoor sorts of things. Maybe it wasnâ€™t what I did but what I let him do to me? Which was somehow a much more depressing thought. â€œI thought we could go by your apartment and get your things,â€ Leander says, sneaking up on me and my mental reverie of all the perverted things I probably got up to with Mr. Millions. I can feel myself blushing everywhere, from the tips of my toenails to the ends of my hair. My hand is shaking as I pour myself a cup of coffee. â€œIâ€™ll go get my shoes,â€ I squeak and fleeâ€¦but I take the coffee with me. When we get to my place, Mrs. Sackowitzâ€™s door is open, and the superintendent is inside, looking it over with Carlos, the repairman. Itâ€™s empty. â€œWhereâ€™s Mrs. Sackowitz?â€ The super looks past me, eyes widening at the sight of Leander. â€œMr. Marchant, a pleasure to see you again,â€ he says, totally ignoring me as he moves forward to shake Leanderâ€™s hand. Leander greets him, gives a banal compliment about how the building is being kept in good repair, and then repeats my question. Kind of. What he says is, â€œIt looks like Mrs. Sackowitz left abruptly. What prompted her to leave?â€ The building manager swallows. â€œOh. Her family came and got her. Thought sheâ€™d be better off living with her daughter. The city was too much for her.â€ â€œShe only has sons.â€ I think. â€œDaughter-in-law then,â€ he says with a shrug. â€œMy mistake. So many people to keep up with. Anyway, she left last night. The movers finished quite late. But you know how it is; no apartment in New York stays vacant for long. Weâ€™ve got a long waiting list and people who want to see it as soon as possible.â€ This last part is clearly for Leanderâ€™s benefit as I could care less. â€œDid she leave a forwarding address or anything?â€ I couldnâ€™t believe she had left so abruptly. Sheâ€™d been so kind to me over the last few months. Inviting me over for tea and cookies. She was a bit old though, which meant the cookies were sometimes amazing and sometimes inedible depending upon whether or not she got the salt and the sugar mixed up. â€œNo, afraid not.â€ â€œShe was Miss Finnerâ€™s friend. Surely there must be some way to figure out where she was going?â€ Leander asks smoothly. The super puckers his lips, reminding me of a fish, as he thinks. â€œWell, sheâ€™ll have to get in touch if she wants her deposit back. I can let you know as soon as I hear anything.â€ â€œGood. Thank you,â€ Leander says, then places a hand on my back, urging me back toward my apartment. I step away from him. It annoys me to have him touch me, makes me disconcerted and distracted, which I donâ€™t want to be. I unlock my door and go inside, having a strange flash of vertigo as I watch Leander enter my apartment after me. â€œHave a seat. Iâ€™ll be back,â€ I say and go into my bedroom, closing the door. I go and sit on the bed, wanting nothing more than to curl up and stay there for, well, possibly forever. I donâ€™t want to deal with who I might or might not have been, with fighting and neighbors disappearing. My pocket vibrates as I get a text message. Considering how few people actually have the number, I grab it. Itâ€™s from Jessica. â€œSaw you come back. Tell me when Mr. Hot Stuff leaves and weâ€™ll have a drink. Rehydrate you after all the dehydrating sex!â€ I frown as I text a response, â€œWeâ€™re not having sex.â€ She sends me back an emoji with his mouth open in horror. Which is mildly amusing. â€œItâ€™s not too late to start,â€ she says. I tap my phone absently against my forehead. Itâ€™s a long explanation that I donâ€™t want to make, and I canâ€™t for the life of me think what an appropriate emoticon response might be. The happy face that makes heart kisses? A thumbs up? Hell, maybe a sad face? Crap. I have to tell her something since weâ€™re not staying. â€œTurns out heâ€™s my ex and has been paying for me this entire time. He wants me to stay with him for a while, but Iâ€™ll be back ASAP. Maybe we can sneak out for a drink sometime soon?â€ I contemplate erasing the message. Nah. I send it and start packing. It doesnâ€™t take me long to pack up my stuff, including the beautiful ivory box thatâ€™s sitting in my bathroom. I frown and stick my head out the door, finding him standing at my window looking out at the view below. â€œWhen we were together, did I own an ivory box? Small, antique with birds on it?â€ â€œYou mean like the one you stole from Dr. Brownâ€™s office?â€ he says flatly, not even bothering to look at me. I stick my tongue out at him, not that he sees it. â€œYeah, like that one.â€ â€œI hate that box,â€ he says, and turns to look at me. â€œThatâ€™s not the reaction I was expecting. Where did it come from?â€ â€œI gave it to you. Sort of.â€ A feeling of triumph goes through me. I donâ€™t know why, but that seems like a score for my side. â€œSo you put it in Brownâ€™s office hoping Iâ€™d remember?â€ â€œIt looks that way,â€ he says, sounding tired before giving me his back and staring out the window again. I go to stand near him, trying to see what heâ€™s looking at. He turns and walks away, sits on a barstool and waits. â€œIs that your building? In the distance?â€ â€œIt is. I was trying to find my window.â€ â€œYour window faces my window?â€ I have no idea how that makes me feel. Like Iâ€™m in an elevator that stopped too fast. But is it a good feeling or a bad one? A sigh. â€œAnd what do you think that means, Miss Finner?â€ â€œNothing,â€ but I wonder if he has a telescope pointing at my apartment. â€œIâ€™m ready to go. Turns out I donâ€™t have much that I need to take with me.â€ â€œYouâ€™ve never been particularly materialistic,â€ he says and picks up my suitcase from outside my bedroom door. We go down to the lobby in silence, but my butt vibrates when we get to the lobby. Itâ€™s Jessica. â€œI need to talk to you ASAP. Whatâ€™s the soonest you can get away?â€ Which is a good question. How the hell could I meet Jessica? Would he let me go if I asked? It was all I could think about as we drove through the congested streets. â€œSo if I wanted to go shopping this afternoon, could I?â€ â€œMaybe. I have a call with Tokyo at five.â€ â€œItâ€™s a Saturday.â€ â€œYouâ€™re not wrong. The work ethic of the rest of the world is downright terrifying,â€ he says, and I think heâ€™s joking, but I donâ€™t really know. â€œI meant alone. Can I go shopping on my own?â€ â€œNo. Itâ€™s not a good idea.â€ â€œBut I can go if you go with me?â€ A moment of silence. â€œProbably. It depends on where you want to go.â€ â€œI donâ€™t like being accountable to you,â€ I say, determined to stay calm and discuss this like an adult. He pulls into his parking space, turns the car off but sits there, not looking at me. â€œAll you have to do is decide, Rebecca.â€ His words are soft, compelling. â€œYou either believe that I want to keep you safe, that there really are people who want to hurt me and would hurt you as a substitute, and thatâ€™s it. If you believe that, then this works. Itâ€™s not forever,â€ he says and looks at me, the sincerity in his dark eyes enough to make me doubt myself and every fear I have. What have I done to deserve your distrust? I can practically feel the question hanging there in front of me. â€œJessica wants to get a drink. She says itâ€™s important.â€ His hand opens and closes on the steering wheel. â€œJessica is your friend?â€ â€œYes.â€ â€œShe lives in the building, doesnâ€™t she?â€ That question makes me hesitate but I tell him anyway. He nods. â€œWe will both go then. Iâ€™ll change the call.â€ Gulp. â€œYou donâ€™t have to. Iâ€™d hate to get between you and your job.â€ â€œYouâ€™re not going on your own.â€ I bite back a swear word and throw open the door, climbing out of the car and restraining myself from shutting the door hard. Back in the apartment, we go our separate ways, me to my room and him to the living room. I text Jessica. â€œDrink sounds great. But heâ€™s coming too.â€ A few minutes pass. â€œDoes he have to?â€ â€œUnfortunately.â€ She doesnâ€™t complain further, which seems generous of her. I spend the rest of the day going over the room that Leander said was mine. It still seems odd to think of him as Leander, and I keep trying to imagine myself calling him other names. (Not like jerk or ass, although it would have been appropriate) but Lee, which seems like the natural nickname, or even Mr. Marchant, which seems odd. I remembered him saying I owe him everything I had, that I owe him fealty, which is an odd word to use. Like chivalrous or something. Maybe thatâ€™s why I keep thinking â€˜my lordâ€™. That maybe thatâ€™s what sounds the most natural and comes to mind when I see him. But that would be weird. What kind of whacked relationship would we have had if that was actually how I referred to him? And surely he wouldnâ€™t want to be called my lord, right? I spend some time in what was apparently my room. The closet is particularly fascinating. There are a lot of clothes in the closet and in different styles. As if I were a schizophrenic shopper. My tastes were not cheap. This wasnâ€™t Old Navy with the occasional Banana Republic dress thrown in but the quirky brights of Kate Spade, the patterns of Tory Burch, and the flashy vacation vibe of Michael Kors all packed into the small space, all with tags still on, and all indicating that I didnâ€™t have a style per se. Are you sure theyâ€™re yours? a small voice whispers inside me. And when the time comes for us to meet Jessica, Iâ€™m still confused about the girl I was with him. We drive in silence while I sit there feeling sick. I want to ask questions, want to know and yet I donâ€™t. The neighborhood, despite Leanderâ€™s protestations when I told him where Jessica wanted to meet, is not that bad. I donâ€™t want to set my purse down and wander away or come back in the middle of the night, but it could be worse. The cafÃ©, on the other hand, is a shit hole. Not a phrase I use lightly. This place has e.coli-based health code violations crawling all over it. As I walk in the door, I get a text from Jessica. â€œIn the bathroom, red tide emergency. Tell me you have a tampon?!?â€ An immediate follow-up text. â€œOr a quarter.â€ â€œIs she here?â€ Leander asks, scanning the restaurant like a cop in a movie. â€œGet us a table. Iâ€™m going to go to the bathroom. Be right back.â€ He goes over to the waitress/hostess, whoâ€™s only memorable quality is the quantity of mascara thatâ€™s puddled under her eyes which gives her a nocturnal animal look. I head to the bathroom located at the back of the cafÃ©, concerned Iâ€™m a total bitch for thinking such a thing. I push open the sticky bathroom door. â€œIâ€™m here and I come with feminine products! I have one with a girl playing soccer on the front and a slogan that says, â€˜live your dreams.â€™ Ironically, itâ€™s a regular, but itâ€™s yours if you want it.â€ The stalls are all open, and for a moment I donâ€™t understand why I donâ€™t see her. The she moves out from behind the door I came in through. I yelp in shock. â€œYou scared the bejesus out of me!â€ Not for the first time, I wonder what exactly bejesus means. â€œNow whoâ€™s your friend?â€ I ask, holding out the tampon to her. She waves it away. â€œIt was just to get you in here. Thereâ€™s a way out back we can sneak out.â€ â€œWait. What?â€ â€œThe guy youâ€™re with, Leander Marchant? Heâ€™s not a good guy. Heâ€™s dangerous. Come with me now and Iâ€™ll prove it.â€ â€œWait. What?â€ My inability to come up with other words is a problem. â€œIâ€™m your friend, right?â€ â€œYes, butâ€”â€ Grabbing my hand firmly, she opens the door and peers around the hallway, then heads down to the back of the restaurant, pushing open an emergency door that unsurprisingly has a broken alarm. Considering this place doesnâ€™t even pay for bug spray, it makes perfect sense the electronics donâ€™t work. â€œHurry!â€ she urges, holding the door for me. I stand there dumbly. Leander is waiting for us. Although, to be fair, I donâ€™t like Leander, and Iâ€™m kind of convinced heâ€™s holding me hostage. And she is also my only friend in the entire worldâ€¦.so I go with her. Her car is parked out back and we hop in, her tires contemplating squealing as she hurtles us into traffic. â€œWhere are we going?â€ â€œIâ€™m going to prove to you that he is not who you think he is.â€ I blow out a breath, snapping my seat belt on. â€œI donâ€™t know who I think he is.â€ â€œWhatâ€™d he tell you?â€ she asks, staring at me rather intently. â€œWatch the road! Youâ€™re really scaring my bejesus away!â€ That doesnâ€™t sound right. I clear my throat, watching the neighborhood stay seedy as we get farther away from the cafe. â€œHe says he used to be myâ€¦â€ Hmm, is there a better way to describe this? â€œMy sugar daddy. I think I was like Julia Roberts to his Richard Gere. Except heâ€™s better-looking and younger than Richard Gere, and I, alas, am no Julia Roberts. Watch the damned road! Itâ€™s like you have a death wish.â€ She stops at a light and shoots me a look. Itâ€™s a very serious look, like sheâ€™s going to memorize me or something. â€œDonâ€™t worry about me, worry about you.â€ â€œWell, thatâ€™s nice and ominous.â€ I gesture to the road and the green light. â€œLeander Marchant is not what he pretends to be. Heâ€™s part of a club, like a BDSM/Fifty Shades of Gray thing but with less pouting and more bleeding.â€ â€œBleeding?â€ Unconsciously I grip my arm where my cutting scars are. Whether to protect them or deny them I donâ€™t know. â€œTheyâ€™re into pain and violence. Lots of drugs andâ€¦itâ€™s really depraved, and you donâ€™t want anything to do with him.â€ â€œHow do you know?â€ Sheâ€™s quiet for a moment, and I canâ€™t decide if I want her to continue or if I should jump out of the car because, letâ€™s face it, this conversation wasnâ€™t going to get any better. She checks her rearview mirror and changes lanes. â€œI had a boyfriend who took me there a couple of times. A few months back. And when I saw Leander come out of your apartment the other day, I knew he looked familiar but I couldnâ€™t place him. And then Eric sent me a text, and we met up for a drink, and he wanted to go back to this club, swore it would be different this time, and like a moron, I went and there he was.â€ â€œAt this club? Leander Marchant was at this blood and violence sex club?â€ Iâ€™m over-clarifying because I need to make sure weâ€™re talking about the same damned thing here. â€œYeah,â€ she says, and I donâ€™t even register that sheâ€™s parked and is watching me like a hawk as she tells me this sordid information. â€œWhen was he there?â€ â€œTwo nights ago.â€ â€œWhen I was in the hospital?â€ â€œYeah. You were in the hospital almost dead, and he was fucking some girl at a kinky sex club.â€ I feel sick. So sick. Because it doesnâ€™t just sound crazy, it soundsâ€¦possible. Maybe him cheating was the something unforgivable that happened which caused us to break up. Maybe he paid for me out of guilt. â€œI donâ€™t believe you,â€ but even I can hear how weak a denial that is. â€œThatâ€™s why weâ€™re going to go in and wait for him. Heâ€™ll show up and theyâ€™ll let him in and youâ€™ll see.â€ â€œWait, what?â€ She reaches over to take my hand, and I instinctively flinch away from her touch. She looks sad. â€œThatâ€™s what I mean,â€ she says, oozing concern. â€œYou always do that, flinch away from me, get scared someoneâ€™s going to jump out at you or something. Normal affection scares you. Thatâ€™s not normal, honey.â€ She reaches for my hand again, and I force myself to relax and let her touch me. â€œThis isnâ€™t right,â€ she says, and she runs a finger along the faint scars on my forearms and wrists. â€œI asked around once I recognized him, showed your picture that I have on my phone, and the bouncers know you, Rebecca. You were Marchantâ€™s girl. He brought you here and sliced you up, tied you downâ€¦you canâ€™t really be considering staying with him?â€ I open the car door, feeling sick, a gag trying to roll its way up from my stomach like a fist coming up to lodge in the back of my throat. â€œNo, thatâ€™s not true,â€ I say, and I get out of the car and walk over to where a brick wall meets a chain link fence, throwing up on a half-dead clump of weeds. I hear Jessicaâ€™s heels clacking on the asphalt as she comes over to me. â€œHere, I have water,â€ she says and reaches to push my hair back from my face. My arm flies up automatically like Iâ€™m blocking a punch, my eyes closing in a flinch. Iâ€™m ashamed at my reaction, and sheâ€™s smiling at me because Iâ€™m pathetic. Oh, fuck. Yup. Itâ€™s time for the big-girl swearing. Dang, damn, hell, even bejesus, those words are for small problems like broken nails or even amnesia. Rich boyfriends who cut and abuse me get the real bad words. And if sheâ€™s right, then heâ€™ll hear them from me directly. And there may be some castration thrown in for good measure. Why donâ€™t I just tell Jessica sheâ€™s wrong? At least make a start at denial. But itâ€™s like Iâ€™m physically unable to say the words. I have them in my head, No youâ€™re wrong, itâ€™s a mistake, I wouldnâ€™t let someone hurt me like that, and Iâ€™ll even laugh when I tell her. Like itâ€™s so silly to think Leander and I are these two weird people sheâ€™s saying we are. â€œYouâ€™re sure itâ€™s not some kind of mistake?â€ â€œCome see, Rebecca.â€ I laugh and itâ€™s like a half-dead cat is living inside my voice box. It explains so much. Why a beautiful man like that would be with a girl like me. If thatâ€™s what he is into, something so terrible and degrading, then one takes anyone they can find whoâ€™s willing to be their victim, right? Maybe the supermodel or actress that heâ€™d naturally be with would have more self-respect. Standards. So he takes a plain girl, showers her with money and attention, and sheâ€™s so blinded sheâ€™ll do anything for him. Right? Thatâ€™s me, isnâ€™t it? Victim. Always I come back to this word, have this feeling that just maybe victim is written into my DNA. Fixed in the stars, to be engraved on my tombstone. My core identity = victim. And goddamn, I donâ€™t want it to be true. But maybe it is and thatâ€™s why it always resonates inside me, why I feel like someoneâ€™s walked across my grave when I hear the word. Because itâ€™s me? Who I was and who I am? â€œDo you know why it ended? Between us?â€ I donâ€™t want to say his name. I love that name. I catch myself thinking it, saying it, like itâ€™s cool water over the blank rocks in my mind, pouring through me and inside me. I think I woke up saying it, a dying echo in my bedroom last night. Not my bedroom, his guest room. â€œBecause you came to your senses. The bouncer told me that he heard you broke it off with him. And then there was an accident and you didnâ€™t go back.â€ â€œWhat do you mean, accident? The amnesia?â€ â€œI think he hurt you and thatâ€™s why you donâ€™t remember. I think he made you not remember and now he wants you back. If you donâ€™t remember how awful he was, then he can have you again. Youâ€™re like a toy to him.â€ A toy he drugged and watched as I spilled my guts to a therapist. And now he has me again. Iâ€™m back in his apartment, dependent upon him. I wish Jessica wasnâ€™t standing there watching me like Iâ€™m an animal in the zoo. It makes it hard to think clearly. How does the incident in the alley fit into all this? Jessica starts talking again, and I open my mouth to tell her to shut up, to stop talking because I canâ€™t take any more when she really goes off the deep end. â€œSo letâ€™s go to the club and prove it.â€ â€œProve it because theyâ€™ll recognize me? Theyâ€™ll know him when he shows up?â€ â€œExactly,â€ she says, pleased Iâ€™m on the same page. Iâ€™m not really. Iâ€™m more in traumatized shock than sensible-course-of-action-mode. A door opens, and I hear a wall of sound coming at me, like a slap of leather against my ears. Jessica has a smile on her face. Itâ€™s cold and hard. â€œAh, the back door. We left through one and now weâ€™ll go in one. Come on, letâ€™s go wait for your psychopath.â€ â€œI thought we were going to go through the front?â€ Am I stalling for time? â€œThey might not let us in. Might call Mr. Marchant and make us wait. Heâ€™s a rich man who probably gives them a lot of money. Then you wonâ€™t know. Come on!â€ she says, expecting me to follow her. The door thatâ€™s opened is next to the kitchen. A bus boy wearing a hairnet, gloves and a filthy apron looks at Jessica with wide eyes as she bounces closer. Wide eyes are pretty standard when men see Jessica. Itâ€™s the mane of blond hair, the big tits, and slutty heels. Let me tell you, that shit works. As a bystander whoâ€™s seen it, I can say it with one hundred percent confidence. And itâ€™s no different now. A little sashay of her hips, a tilt forward so he can see down her top, and weâ€™re inside the building. It smells horrible. Copper. Is that blood? I gag and start breathing through my mouth. A cold sweat breaks out over my body as we walk down the hallway...I stop and close my eyes because I donâ€™t know anything yet, but I feel like I almost do, my memories are so close, pounding inside of me, separated by a pane of soundproof, one-way glass. Or is that bullshit and Iâ€™m just trying to convince myself. Like some sort of hypochondriac looking for a disease that fits my runny nose. I take another breath, the scents all rolling into one sick mass: hamburger, blood, perfume, alcohol. My mouth fills with saliva and I hold down a retch. Jessica is waiting for me. I can do this. Big girl. I nod and keep moving. The club is filled with people. Not packed, but most tables have someone sitting at them. Iâ€™m relieved to see that everyone is dressed. Maybe sheâ€™s wrong. Maybe itâ€™s not that bad. On the right is a bar. Have I really been here before? â€œYou said itâ€™s a sex club. I donâ€™t see anything beyond a fish tank and a bunch of drinking yuppies.â€ My confidence is a thin veneer. Like a fresh scab over a deep wound. Sheâ€™s going to pick it off but Iâ€™ll be the one bleeding. She points up. Thereâ€™s another floor upstairs. Of course there is. I nod. Upstairs. Yeah. Thereâ€™s a basement too. Iâ€™d bet money on it. At the staircase is a rope preventing just anyone from wandering up. A huge, beefy guy is guarding it. I head straight for it, feel Jessica try to grab me again and shrug her off. This is bullshit. If this is me, I want to know. I stop in front of the guard. He looks confused at the sight of us. â€œWeâ€™re supposed to go up,â€ Jessica says. â€œJust in time,â€ a man says from above us and his accent is similar to Leanderâ€™s. Heâ€™s jogging down the stairs toward us, another excruciatingly attractive rich, accented man. He has blond hair and blue eyes, little laugh lines that radiate from his eyes and make him look rugged and flirty. Heâ€™s a fucking monster. Thatâ€™s what my gut tells me. Heâ€™s wearing jeans, a form-fitting black T-shirt and has a beer in one hand. And then he looks me over a little closer, even leans in and puts his nose next to my hair, breathing deep in a way I find intensely terrifying. But I donâ€™t move. Like a deer with a gun trained on it. Iâ€™m still. I hope the predator will move on. I wait. Like meat. I donâ€™t like that thought. He pulls back and his smile is hard to read. Is it sincere? â€œI love it when things go according to plan. Iâ€™m sure Lee, stuffy bastard that he is, will be here soon enough. Hot on your heels,â€ he says, and itâ€™s clear he actually canâ€™t imagine why Leander is interested in me at all. That makes two of us. â€œWho am I?â€ He laughs. â€œOh, bless. You still that confused?â€ He makes a clucking sound under his tongue. â€œPoor thing. Come on up. Let me give you a tour. Letâ€™s see if you find something you like. Poor, poor girl without a memory. Personally,â€ he says, putting his hand on his chest, â€œI donâ€™t like my girls to be so blank. Sure, you donâ€™t remember the bad times, but you donâ€™t remember the good either. All of our experiences build on each other. If you have no memory, then youâ€™reâ€¦nobody.â€ His voice is very quiet. A stiletto in the dark. â€œYou have Lee to thank for that. Heâ€™s stolen you from your home, your station in life, even your punishment.â€ My mouth is dry and Iâ€™m blinking back tears. â€œYouâ€™re saying heâ€™s made me forget everything?â€ Iâ€™m not tackling the punishment comment. â€œCome on up,â€ he says, and extends an arm for me to take so he can escort me up the stairs. I shake my head. I canâ€™t touch him. I wonâ€™t. â€œHard to get. I like that in a girl,â€ he says, instantly understanding, and heads up the stairs before me. He stops halfway up and looks back at me, somehow knowing, even with the blaring music and conversation, that Iâ€™m rooted to the spot. I donâ€™t want to go. Scared to stay. Scared to leave. At least be brave enough to know who you were. In my confused state that seems pretty damned profound, so I go up the stairs. There is another bar at the top, the space behind the counter ripped out and replaced by a custom refrigerator that runs the length of the wall. Itâ€™s lit from inside, softly, the glass doors see-through, and inside are decanters of all kinds. Different sizes and labels. But the contents, from what I can tell, look thick and impossibly dark. It must be wine. Itâ€™s blood. â€œHow rude of me. Iâ€™m Alistair. You can call me Lord Dalmaine if you want but Iâ€™m willing to make an exception considering the circumstances. Call me Alley. My friends do.â€ He pauses, seems to ponder. â€œMy enemies do too.â€ â€œHow do you know me?â€ â€œYou were just another girl untilâ€¦Well, then you were the scandal.â€ He leans closer, a whispered secret. â€œYou were half the scandal anyway. But thatâ€™s not what they remember. Why are the men always forgiven?â€ he asks, barely concealing his amusement at giving me these snippets of information that only confuse me more. I hate him. â€œI have nothing but respect for you, Rebecca Finner. Iâ€™d respect you more if youâ€™d done the job properly butâ€¦â€ He shrugs and walks toward some curtains. Theyâ€™re a dark red. He waves at them airily. â€œThese curtains are a bit theatrical for my taste. Oh, the look on your face! You donâ€™t quite know, do you?â€ Heâ€™s laughing at me. Heâ€™s enjoying my terror and fear, that my past is being revealed and itâ€™s fucking awful. â€œSo afraid and yet so curious.â€ He comes back toward me, wags a finger before my face. â€œThatâ€™s the sort of attitude that will kill you. Never hesitate. Itâ€™s a life lesson Iâ€™m giving you. Pay attention.â€ And he grabs my chin, hard, forcing me to look him in the eyes. I look down, instinct and self-preservation, not wanting to get caught. â€œYou shouldnâ€™t be alive. And you certainly shouldnâ€™t be here.â€ His eyes narrow into slits; his nostrils flare. â€œI could rip you open right here. Take those entrails of yours and wrap them around you like a fucking bow. You might even still be writhing when he gets here.â€ â€œIâ€™m more valuable alive.â€ My fingers are clawing into his hands, wanting him to let me go. I whimper and with a snarl he shoves me back, and I stumble, every part of me trembling in fear and anger at being so powerless and ignorant. â€œFlirt.â€ He licks his lips. â€œDonâ€™t fuck the help, thatâ€™s what the people say. Terrible advice really. Always fuck the help. Youâ€™re a bit of an expert on that, arenâ€™t you, Lee?â€ And I know heâ€™s there, can feel him like an almost tangible warmth at my back. I canâ€™t help but feel relief. Heâ€™ll save me. I know it. â€œI was just going to give her the tour. What do you think?â€ he says, gesturing around them. â€œYou should see the London club, Lee. Now that itâ€™s all up and running. Thereâ€™s been a lot of carnage though, which is a pain. Itâ€™s all the pent-up blood lust. Finally getting to tear someone open again after all this timeâ€¦Itâ€™s a damned messâ€¦but beautiful in a way.â€ I take a step back, away, wanting to keep both of them in my line of sight. Alistair, who is glowing with joy at the drama before him, looking devilish and happy at the ruination of my world, and Leander, who is motionless, calm, as though heâ€™s positively underwhelmed by everything and everyone. Leanderâ€™s dark gaze slides over to me. He extends a hand in my direction. â€œLetâ€™s go, Rebecca. Itâ€™s time to leave now.â€ Alistair laughs. â€œYou canâ€™t leave already! Stay. I simply must tell you what your sister has been up to. She took your leaving hard, Lee. She always does. This is for you, you know. People are expecting you.â€ Leander takes a step forward, the move casual yet threatening as he closes the distance between him and his friend. I notice that he cuts in front of me, a form of protection. â€œBe very careful, Alley. I will not welcome your intrusion into my personal affairs.â€ â€œBe careful? Is that the veiled threat, Lee? What on earth could you possibly do to me? Send me home?â€ I turn to the closed curtain, reach out a shaking hand, my fingers hovering over the blood-red fabric. Wasnâ€™t that a tacky choice? Blood-red curtains when what went goes on behind the curtain was blood, blood, blood. I donâ€™t want to touch it, to pull back the truth. Veil. My hand hovers there momentarily as my mind races. The scar tissue on my arms appears to shimmer in the dim light. I canâ€™t be a coward. Pull back the curtain and see. I grip the fabric and a hand settles over mine, staying me. Leander is behind me, around me, his body pressed close. â€œLet me go, Leander. I want to see whatâ€¦â€ Words fail me. What we were are the words I was going to say and that might not be accurate. What you did to me or what I let you do to me might be more fitting. â€œThis wasnâ€™t us. Think, Rebecca. I swear to you that weâ€™ve never been here.â€ I donâ€™t know if heâ€™s lying. I can barely understand anything, comprehend anything because Iâ€™m so terrified and desperate to know whatâ€™s behind the curtain. At this point I need answers. I hear him drag in a breath, feel the faint convulsive squeeze of his hand over mine as he keeps me from learning the truth. â€œThis isnâ€™t real. Whatâ€™s behind the curtain is for desperate people and the monsters who exploit them. Come away with me now, and I swear to you that Iâ€™ll tell you everything. You donâ€™t belong here.â€ â€œDonâ€™t you mean â€˜weâ€™? Both of us donâ€™t belong here? Leander doesnâ€™t respond fast enough, and itâ€™s Alistairâ€™s voice I hear instead. â€œHim? Oh, heâ€™s a reprobate of the first order. He definitely belongs here. A right bastard, arenâ€™t you, my friend?â€ â€œI have to see if I remember.â€ â€œYou wonâ€™t. Youâ€™ll be frightened. You already donâ€™t trust me, and you donâ€™t know it, donâ€™t know how dangerous this is, but Iâ€™m all you have,â€ he says, enunciating each word, wanting to persuade me. It has the opposite effect. That pisses me off, and I jerk against his grip, determined to see it now. â€œDid I buy that once? That I just had you? Is that why I let you do those things to me? Do you know what Iâ€™m afraid of? Iâ€™m afraid theyâ€™re right, that this was my life. That youâ€™re so beautiful and I was so pathetic that I let you hurt me, abuse me.â€ â€œYou did. We all talked about it,â€ Alistair says, intruding on our conversation. â€œGo away, Alley.â€ â€œOh no. I canâ€™t. Itâ€™s all changed, my friend. You shouldnâ€™t have left. The natives got restlessâ€¦and hungry.â€ â€œHome?â€ I ask, my attention turning as I drop the curtain, the idea of home more important than whatever is back there. At least for the moment. The smile on Alistairâ€™s face is not kind. â€œOh yes, there will be a big party when you get there. Iâ€™ve been sent especially to collect the both of you. Trial, you see. Such an ugly business. And a foregone conclusion where a human is concerned.â€ â€œTrial?â€ Human? â€œAttempted murder. One of our kind. If it had just been a human, Lee could have paid everyone off with a bit of blood money. That was a joke. Anyway, attempted murder, my dear, that gets you dead right quick. Well, not quick as in dying quickly, no, your death will be quite bloody and take a long whileâ€¦â€ He looks up, pretending to think. â€œIt should involve at least a bit of disemboweling and quartering. Tell me, Lee. I canâ€™t rememberâ€¦1800? 1843? When was all that business with the Lady Capor and her poodle?â€ â€œYouâ€™re not taking her back,â€ Leander says, firmly positioned between Alistair and me. Alistair shakes his head slowly. â€œIf youâ€™re smart, it wonâ€™t be me taking her back. Youâ€™ll do it. Come to your senses, man. You can still make this right. Probably.â€ Leander draws himself up, taking a step closer to Alistair, their heights similar but their builds different. Where Leander is tall, almost aristocratic, Alistair is all bulk. The sort of muscle that can kill a man with a single punch. If anyone can make Leander look like he might lose a fight, itâ€™s this guy. The very air around them crackles with the promise of imminent violence. â€œWhat do you want? Why are you being the councilâ€™s puppet?â€ Alistair sneers. â€œYou really are a prig. This is all about you and your complacency. No one is above the law. Not even your whore,â€ he growls. â€œI am the law,â€ Leander says in such a cold, hard voice that I shiver. â€œI provide everything for them and you. From comfort to food, I can give it and I can take it away. If they force me to, Iâ€™ll show them what deprivation is.â€ Alistair laughs. â€œOh please, no, you wonâ€™t. You know exactly what theyâ€™ll do. A slaughter. A mass slaughter of every man, woman and child they can find. Theyâ€™ll pile the harbors with corpses, a fucking decoration to ward off sailors, and then youâ€™ll cave. You always do.â€ He smiles, pokes a finger at Leanderâ€™s chest. â€œYouâ€™re smart. Youâ€™ve always been smart. But youâ€™re not ruthless. This proves it,â€ he says, gesturing at me. â€œThis pathetic attachment to meat. She smells like your blood, you know. She reeks of it. No one else is allowed to drink from the vein, but you are? No, Lee, youâ€™ve gotten a bit too high in the instep, and itâ€™s time you got brought down a peg or two.â€ And faster than I can follow, his hand reaches out, grabbing Leander around the neck and squeezing hard as he lifts him off the ground. Leander makes a sound, like a choked growl, his hands going to Alistairâ€™s shoulders as he head-butts him, the crack of breaking cartilage audible. Alistair roars, blood pouring down his nose as he flings Leander away, wiping his face and regrouping. Leander turns to me, points. â€œGo!â€ he says, his eyes a luminous brown as he looks at me. And then Alistair slams into him, both of them flying across the room, slamming into tables, the sound of splintering wood jerking me into motion. I jerk open the curtain and Jessica is standing there, which is more than a little surprising as Iâ€™d completely forgotten about her, so involved in my own personal BS. She just stands there, wide-eyed and useless. I dash past her and hear her following me, begging me to forgive her, swearing she had no idea what was going to happen. Itâ€™s dark and empty, but I can make out the equipment, the odd pieces of furniture and array of knives along the wall. Itâ€™s the sort of room I imagine they used during the Spanish Inquisition. Wooden frames and leather straps, chrome and steel, hooks and manacles with troughs at the base of them. Did I really do these things? An emergency exit looms ahead, and blocking it are rolling carts with gleaming knives and scalpels, but the oddest are the cups, little cups that look specifically designed to collect blood. A flash goes through me, like a memory, Leanderâ€™s mouth on my neck, his voice rough. â€œEasy, easy,â€ he says, and heâ€™s pressed along my side, the weight of his aroused flesh against my hip, my neck a river of fire. The alarm blares as Jessica opens the emergency exit, holding it open while I catch up to her. Suddenly she jerks back and cries out, what looks like a dart lodged in her chest. I jump to the side, my instincts kicking in before I can make a conscious decision. Hide. Thatâ€™s what I was trained to do. As a victim. As prey. Violence comes and I hide. I run. That is who I am. Curtains run the perimeter of the room, and I slip into an opening, hoping I somehow got there before the people coming up the stairs reach the top. But even if they didnâ€™t see me, it may not matter. I donâ€™t know how hidden I am, how much the curtains are bulging out around my body or how intent they are on getting to Leander and Alistair versus looking for me. I bite my lip, bite down hard so that I donâ€™t scream and cry out in terror. Heavy feet run past, and itâ€™s clear the fight has expanded. Itâ€™s grown beyond Leander and his friend. Or former friend, I suppose. Lord Dalmaine, he called himself. Is that why I thought it was okay to call Leander my lord? Because I was used to it? I imagine all the people from downstairs, the bouncers and security getting involved. The curtain is ripped away from my hiding place, the light blinding me. Leander stands there, shirt torn, blood running down his chin, smeared across his face. His knuckles are bloody, his breathing harsh. His hair is wild, and he looks deranged, demented, truly a monster out of a nightmare. He holds out a hand to me, and I take it, jerked forward as he hauls me toward the stairs. â€œJessica!â€ I gasp, because her body is lying there in the doorway. I try to pull away from him, to go to her, but he snarls at me and grabs me around the waist, his grip like iron as he lifts me, holds me a few inches off the ground. Itâ€™s effortless, as if I weigh nothing. He goes down the stairs inhumanly fast. â€œMy friend! We have to help her!â€ â€œShe is not your friend,â€ he says, tone guttural. â€œShe betrayed you. They always do,â€ he says and then he lets me go with a hard push, and I fall, hitting the ground, pain radiating through my palms at the impact. Heâ€™s engaged in another fight, two men attacking him at once as they come in the back door. With a quick move, heâ€™s grabbed one, slammed him into the wall and turned to the other one. He lunges at him, mouth open. His teeth sink into the manâ€™s neck, a high scream of terror cut off in an abrupt gurgle as Leanderâ€™s teeth tear into the manâ€™s neck. Leander is drinking, drinking, blood pouring down the manâ€™s clothing, and I scramble to my feet, to the door, everything confusion and falsity. Run. Go. Escape. I bolt into the night, wanting to scream at what Iâ€™ve seen and how terrified I am, but I know, I know that if I do that, Iâ€™ll draw them to me, and then what will happen to me? Who will kill me then? Everyone, my dear. Donâ€™t you know that everyone wants you dead? And I donâ€™t know if Iâ€™ve made up the catty feminine voice that resonates in my mind, if itâ€™s some mad delusion or a hint of my past breaking through. I run and run, down alleys, across traffic, my feet bleeding in my flats, my hands scraped from the brick walls of buildings that I find myself stumbling into. Iâ€™m somewhere in New York City. I donâ€™t know where. But I canâ€™t keep running, the pain eventually becoming larger than my fear. I slow to a walk, because I have to keep moving. Taxi. Thatâ€™s what I need. And Iâ€™ll goâ€¦where? Leander is a monster. They all are. Real monsters? Is he a real monster? Are there such things? The blood, the speed and the violence. Leander Marchant, the man I lived with, drank that manâ€™s blood and killed him. Right? The look of hunger on Leanderâ€™s face as he ripped into that manâ€™s neck, the unleashed evil of him. Thatâ€™s real. Right? It kind of has to be. I think. 12 He catches up to me in a diner. I didnâ€™t know what to do or where to go. Not my apartment. Not his. I donâ€™t have a lot of money, but I do have five bucks crumpled in my pocket and I needed to stop. At least for a little bit and think about what I can do next. A shelter? Some strange emotionâ€”dark, slithering and horribleâ€”winds through me at the thought. Not slowly but like a car crash, instantaneous and permanent. Life-altering in its all-encompassing span. I might need to go to a womenâ€™s shelter. Wow. Who goes there? Women whoâ€™ve been hurt by men. Women who have nothing and no one and are in desperate straits. I could just imagine what I might say: â€œI have no memory, but it appears that maybe, just maybe, I let my boyfriend drink my blood and slice me open. You know, for fun. Maybe even for a kinky thrill. Although itâ€™s a bit possible heâ€™s a vampire.â€ If Iâ€™m lucky, itâ€™s domestic violence. That is a very bad sign. Iâ€™m fucked. What if my lack of memory is a blessing? And what does it mean that, until the very end, he is trying to keep it from me? Is it because he feels guilty? Is he somehow helping me by pretending ignorance? And did I in fact try to kill someone like Lord Dalmaine said? How? When? Some variation of all of this is going through my mind when he comes in. I donâ€™t know. I really have no idea where I am in terms of being rational or well-adjusted. Somewhere left of center. Maybe off the chart and on the floor squished under someoneâ€™s shoe. The coffee is bitter, burned- tasting from sitting on the hob for too long. The lighting is garish, the light blurry in a way that makes me think I might be in for a monstrous migraine soon. And there are only three of us in this dump besides the waitress. People who are slumped and hollow-eyed. Am I lighter because my mind is a blank? Heâ€™s wearing a clean shirt, crisp and white, a work shirt, open at the throat. Heâ€™s even wearing new slacks, which are a bit incongruous with his more casual shoes. He doesnâ€™t have blood on his face or his throat, his hair is immaculately styled, and he looks so ruthlessly perfect and out of place that all I can do is blink at him. Terror is stuck in traffic behind shock and disbelief, even incomprehension. He instantly finds me, locks eyes with me and saunters over to my booth, casual, confident, and patient. He slides in opposite me, and waits. I pick up my mug, willing its warmth into my cold fingers, squeezing so hard a lesser cup might have shattered. Tears slide down my cheeks. He frowns at the liquid sliding down my face. His hand makes a fist on the table and I laugh darkly. â€œSad you didnâ€™t cause it?â€ He looks taken aback. â€œExcuse me?â€ â€œThe salty discharge leaking from my eyes. Isnâ€™t that what this is about? You want to hurt me? You make me bleed andâ€¦drink it? Because youâ€™reâ€¦.â€ Itâ€™s as if the tension seeps out of him, the stress that I hadnâ€™t even noticed, that had made his jaw hard, his eyes intent. Suddenly heâ€™s just a gorgeous man siting in a crummy diner with a shell of a girl. He spreads his arms along the top of the bench, fingers open, loose, and I think I can see a bit of dark black dried blood, on his watchband. The only indication that what I saw back at the club was actually real. Whatâ€™s behind the curtain? Itâ€™s for desperate people and hungry monsters, heâ€™d told me. Hungry monsters. My mouth shapes the word but I donâ€™t say it. Heâ€™s waiting. The waitress comes by. â€œIâ€™ll have a coffee,â€ he says, â€œand sheâ€™ll need a refill. Iâ€™m sure weâ€™ll be here a while.â€ He smiles charmingly and the woman blushes. â€œDo you have anything with chocolate?â€ he asks. â€œMud pie,â€ she says, already writing it down on her notepad. â€œPerfect. A slice of that.â€ The waitress looks to me to see if I want something, and he speaks for me. â€œItâ€™s for her. Just bring two forks.â€ She wanders away and Iâ€™m the center of his attention again. The tabletop is suddenly the safest place to look, and so I stare intently, refusing to look up even though he wants me to look at him. I know he does. I donâ€™t know how, but I do. Itâ€™s like a silent message: Look up, Rebecca. Look at me. See me for who I am, who we were. My hands are trembling under the table and I grip them tight. He rubs his eyes with one hand. Maybe he has a headache too. â€œJust say it. Nothing happens if you say it.â€ â€œDoesnâ€™t it?â€ And my voice is raw. How do I tell him that I think heâ€™s a monster? How do I let that become part of my world? â€œDoesnâ€™t everything change? The dangerâ€¦â€ And I donâ€™t want to say it. That he might hurt me, that others will, have done and could again in the future. He laughs unhappily. â€œThis is the aberration. Us. Here. You with no knowledge of anything. As youâ€™ve probably noticed, youâ€™re already in danger. Thatâ€™s just a given,â€ he says, like itâ€™s not a big deal. â€œYour heritage,â€ he says. I donâ€™t think heâ€™s joking. â€œWait. I justâ€¦â€ Deep breath. â€œAm I better off not knowing?â€ His dark brows pull together. â€œI donâ€™t know, Rebecca. Iâ€™m not even sure thatâ€™s the right question.â€ Now itâ€™s my turn to do a brow raise. â€œWhatâ€™s the right question then?â€ â€œThe question is can you stand not knowing?â€ There is an odd smile on his lips, and I donâ€™t know what it might mean. â€œThe girl I knew would have to know. Thatâ€™s who youâ€¦were.â€ I know he stopped himself from saying are. Because he doesnâ€™t feel like he knows me, not this version of me, and maybe thatâ€™s something. Maybe it says Iâ€™m not the same girl who allowed him to do terrible things to me. The waitress sets down his coffee and a piece of pie that actually looks good. â€œYou love chocolate,â€ he says, and sticks a fork into the pie. He takes a small bite and I watch him do it. His mouth. Boy, do I have problems if I can still be so distracted by how hot he is when Iâ€™m pretty sure heâ€™s a monster and Iâ€™mâ€¦ Iâ€™m so angry and terrified that my voice is a whisper. â€œItâ€™s just pie. And everyone likes chocolate. You donâ€™t know me. Stop saying you do.â€ He leans closer, words soft. â€œBaby, I know everything there is to know about you. I know you better than you do.â€ My heart leaps at the idea. And I donâ€™t know if itâ€™s excitement or terror. â€œIs that how you found me tonight?â€ â€œIn a way.â€ â€œYou thought Iâ€™d wander into a crummy diner on the Lower East Side?â€ He picks up his coffee cup, and I watch his fingers close on the handle. The strength in them, how well-manicured they are. Artists hands, they say. I feelâ€¦ Crap, I donâ€™t know how I feel. â€œYou killed those men, you were covered in blood, and now youâ€™re fine. Undamaged and even wearing clean clothes.â€ â€œI had dry cleaning in my car. Besides it helps to be prepared.â€ He has the nerve to smile at me, going for disarming. â€œAre you tracking me? Like, my phone or something? Is that how you found me?â€ A sigh. â€œLetâ€™s go back to before. You were just getting ready to say something. What you thought I was. If we get that out of the way, this will all go a lot faster.â€ He takes another small bite of pie. â€œYou eat food,â€ I say. His gaze is flat and cold. â€œI do. It doesnâ€™t have a lot of flavor, but the texture is interesting, I suppose. Iâ€™m just eating this to put you at ease.â€ â€œIâ€™m terrified. Youâ€™re not doing a very good job.â€ He puts the fork down, hands back along the top of the bench seat. All his attention is on me, and I feel my heartbeat pick up speed again. He arches a dark brow like he heard it, as though he liked that little spot of acceleration. â€œI think youâ€™re a vampire,â€ I say, and instantly feel like an idiot. â€œGood girl. But you donâ€™t remember anything?â€ I look at the pie, pick up my fork, feel my cheeks heat. That tiny hint of memory is there before me, the lust in his voice as he surrounds me. Itâ€™s more real and vivid than it would be if it were a fantasy. I can practically hear the cadence of his voice rumbling against my body, feel the muscular solidity of him as he presses against me, wanting me, wanting to be inside me. Iâ€™m not going to tell him that. â€œNo, nothing.â€ His hand clenches into a fist, then releases. â€œDo not lie to me, Rebecca. What is it? Just a flash?â€ I study his face. â€œHow do you know?â€ A small shrug, his biceps flexing in his shirt. â€œIâ€™ve spent a lot of time looking into amnesia over the last six months. Your memories might return in snippets, maybe all at once.â€ He looks away from me, out the window to the nearly empty street outside. â€œMaybe never,â€ he says with no emotion. â€œI meant, how do you know Iâ€™m lying?â€ A secretive smile. He makes a tsking noise. He wonâ€™t tell me. Which is annoying. â€œMaybe it has,â€ I say, and he looks back, his eyes roaming my face, my chest, and there is heat there, desire. â€œMaybe I remember everything.â€ â€œNot a chance.â€ â€œWhat? You think Iâ€™d be all over you, begging you toâ€¦drink my blood if I remembered?â€ It sounds ridiculous saying it aloud. His laughter is an abrupt bark, quickly silenced. â€œNo, Rebecca. If you remembered who I was and who you wereâ€¦â€ Itâ€™s as though I asked about something truly fantastical, cats driving cars or something. The ridiculousness of it is what amuses him. â€œWhat would I do? If I remembered?â€ His gaze never wavers from mine. â€œI think youâ€™d be apologizing and crying. Youâ€™d take off your clothes and try to rip off mine because you always had a knack for manipulating me and turning me into a fool.â€ â€œI canâ€™t imagine I ever thought you were a fool.â€ A bitter smile. â€œSo, see? Proof. You donâ€™t remember. And maybeâ€¦just maybe youâ€™d be terrified that Iâ€™d make you pay for your betrayal.â€ â€œWhat betrayal?â€ A swift frown. The silence becomes uncomfortable, and instead of screaming, I distract myself by taking a bite of pie and wish I hadnâ€™t. Itâ€™s cool and greasy in my mouth, my stomach so tied up in knots that the idea of swallowing seems beyond me. But I do and then shudder in revulsion. â€œI thought you were lying,â€ he says, and it takes me a minute to catch up with the subject change. â€œAbout having amnesia?â€ He nods, lips tightly sealed. â€œWhy would I do that?â€ â€œSo you wouldnâ€™t have to explain yourself. Maybe you thought Iâ€™d forgive you, maybe even doubt your guilt if you never confessed. You tried to kill me.â€ Wait. What? â€œSo youâ€™re crazy and a vampire?â€ â€œFamily trait,â€ he murmurs, then takes a sip of coffee and grimaces. Jesus Christ. Is he really a vampire? Am I really contemplating believing it? â€œHuh. Do you know that I read vampire books? Like, a lot of them. Itâ€™s all I read.â€ He makes a dismissive motion with his hand, like a half-chop motion, still lounging on the bench, still relaxed. Still alien. â€œIâ€™m sure theyâ€™re total rubbish. Deeply inaccurate.â€ I blush but canâ€™t stop myself from saying, â€œTheyâ€™re romances.â€ Am I baiting him? His mouth opens, then closes. â€œDefinitely wrong then,â€ he mutters, but he appears almost flustered by the comment. â€œOur relationship wasnâ€™t romantic?â€ Heâ€™s staring at me, and I blink, give in first, blush and look away. I hate silences. â€œHow did you know I was lying just now?â€ And now he looks me over, a thorough, heated look from my breasts to my neck and then my lips. His own curve into a smile. Itâ€™s actually genuine. And itâ€™s quite stunning to be the object of that sort of attention. Heâ€™s looking into my eyes, and I know that the sensible thing to do is to look away. He raises a finger halfway to his ear and tilts his head toward it briefly. â€œI heard your heartbeat speed up. And the expression on your face at this momentâ€¦obsession, Miss Finner.â€ â€œWhat obsession? Iâ€™m sure I was never obsessed with you. Or you with me, for that matter.â€ And then Iâ€™m waiting for him to say something because, really, there is nowhere for me to go after that. And now heâ€™s leaning forward, ever so slowly toward me as though heâ€™s going to kiss me, and suddenly I want it. More than anything Iâ€™ve ever wanted. â€œIt was both of us. A disaster from the very beginning.â€ He slides out of the booth in a smooth motion, adjusting his shirt cuffs before he holds out a hand to me. â€œItâ€™s time to go. Iâ€™ll answer your questions along the way, but we have to go.â€ â€œWhere?â€ He doesnâ€™t even bother to respond but waits, that large hand extended, expectant. And really, what am I going to do? I have no money. He is my past. Thatâ€™s clear. And I want it. Even if itâ€™s fucked up and wrong, I want to know who I was. I remind myself again that just because itâ€™s who I used to be doesnâ€™t mean it has to be who I still am. I donâ€™t have to be that girl again just because I learn of my previous mistakes. I put my hand in his, the contact electric, and let him pull me up. He doesnâ€™t let go of my hand but turns it, palm up, and suddenly heâ€™s placing something in it. Metal, slightly cool from being in his pocket. His hand is covering mine lightly, keeping me from seeing it, the width of his hand swallowing mine. â€œYou wanted to know what was in the box,â€ he says, and he curls my fingers over the object, making me hold it for a moment before I see what it is. As soon as he releases my hand, he turns away, giving me his back, and I know, just know, that he doesnâ€™t want to see my face when I see what it is. He doesnâ€™t want to see my reaction as I examine whatever it is that was in that box I was so strongly drawn to. Itâ€™s small, silver and old. There is a tiny button, set with a ruby, that, when pushed, releases a blade with a tiny snick of sound. I suck in a shocked breath. That box I thought was mine and I thought held jewelry or something romantic holds a knife. A fucking knife! Leander is paying the bill, and then heâ€™s finished, and still he wonâ€™t turn to look at me, which is good because I donâ€™t have my expression under control, and who knows what I look like. Pale, scared, disturbed. I follow him to the car, get in and buckle my seat belt. All I know so far is that my ex is a vampire who used to drink my blood. And we had a special bladeâ€¦like some sort of bizarre commitment knife. And itâ€™s housed in a little box that, when I saw it, even when I didnâ€™t know my own damned name, age, or where I grew up, I knew that box was mine. I wonder if he loved me. Or if I loved him. Could I have loved someone who gave me a knife so I could bleed for him? â€œWait. Who made this? You or me?â€ The tension rises between us. He is not happy to answer my questions. â€œIt was in my family. Knives that are similar to it are made forâ€¦humans. But this one was a particularly special one.â€ â€œBecause you feed off humans?â€ That isnâ€™t getting any less weird to contemplate. â€œI donâ€™t usually. My kind prefer blood from the vein, but for a variety of reasons, we donâ€™t drink that way.â€ â€œHence the knife. And youâ€¦cut me?â€ The silence is heavy, and I can see a muscle ticking at the corner of his jaw. Finally, he says, â€œItâ€™s typical that the human makes the offering.â€ â€œThatâ€™s not how the club is set up.â€ A nod. Which doesnâ€™t explain much. He comes to a stop at a light and turns to look at me. Dark, handsome, totally unfathomable. â€œNow why donâ€™t you tell me about your friend, Jessica.â€ And the way he says it indicates that, as far as heâ€™s concerned, she is not my friend. â€œShe lived across the hall from me. I thinkâ€¦I think she was my friend. She didnâ€™t want me to take the pills I was given. She warned me about you andâ€”â€ â€œShe took you to an illegal vampire club and put you in danger. She wasnâ€™t your friend. She was keeping an eye on you until you were needed. You were bait,â€ he says coolly. â€œBecause youâ€™ll eat me? Iâ€™m bait for you, apparently.â€ â€œPerhaps bait was a poor choice of words. They knew I would go after you. That you are my weakness. That is a completely different thing.â€ â€œDid youâ€¦ No, thatâ€™s not what I want to ask. Did I love you?â€ He pulls into the garage under his building, parks and continues to sit there, staring forward. â€œI donâ€™t know. I know you thought you did. But it wasnâ€™tâ€¦fair, I suppose.â€ â€œWhat do you mean?â€ He has a small smile on his face, but the bitterness in his words confuses me. A self-defense mechanism, perhaps? â€œI saved your life. When you were very young. Itâ€¦affected you. Biased you.â€ I think about that. What heâ€™s not saying. â€œHow old was I?â€ â€œFive.â€ â€œAnd youâ€¦looked like this?â€ I ask, gesturing at him. Because of course vampires donâ€™t grow old. Thatâ€™s vampire lore 101. â€œWe donâ€™t change.â€ The beauty of him. How amazing must it have seemed to a young girl? Like a fairy-tale prince. And for him to have saved my life? â€œFive? Did you kill my family?â€ â€œNo. Your father died before you came to my attention. Your mother and sister died in a plague.â€ â€œThatâ€™s why I let you cut me? Because you saved my life when I was a little girl?â€ My voice has gone high and thin. â€œIn the books, vampires can erase memories, make people believe things or forget things. Is that real?â€ â€œYes,â€ he says quietly. â€œAnd yet youâ€™re telling me I have amnesia? I think thatâ€™s a lie,â€ I say, and itâ€™s a very soft statement as I know, on some level, that accusing Leander Marchant of lying to me is a grievous insult. â€œI did not do it,â€ he says, voice low, vowels crisp. I believe him. Put it on my tombstone. I believed him. Moron buried here. â€œOkay. Someone else then. Another vampire. Your friend back there. Lord Dalmaine.â€ I donâ€™t even like saying his name. â€œThatâ€™s impossible,â€ and itâ€™s clear he doesnâ€™t even feel the need to entertain the idea. But I do. â€œThere are other vampires. I donâ€™t understandâ€”â€ â€œEven if another of my kind made you forget, you would have remembered months ago. I compelled you to remember and you didnâ€™t.â€ Heâ€™s beginning to sound annoyed. â€œAnd thatâ€™s your proof?â€ â€œItâ€™s a question of power,â€ he says, as if thatâ€™s an obvious and definitive answer. â€œWhat about power?â€ â€œThe only way another vampire could have removed your memories and kept them hidden from me was if they were stronger than me.â€ â€œWow. Is that what this is about? Your ego? You canâ€™t believe some other vampire might be stronger than you? Is it really impossible?â€ His eyes become slits, reminding me of a cat contemplating murder of a fat mouse. â€œStrength comes from drinking from the vein, the essence thatâ€™s there. It doesnâ€™t happen on the island.â€ â€œYou mean the island thatâ€™s trying to overthrow you?â€ He looks away from me and out the window, eyes roving restlessly, brow furrowed in thought. â€œFine. We will check to see if your blood is tainted by another.â€ â€œYouâ€™ve never checked?â€ And I have to be missing something because he suddenly looks very aristocratic and distant. â€œIf you knew how much of an honor it is for me to drink your blood, you wouldnâ€™t be quite so blasÃ©.â€ â€œSo this wasnâ€™t some sort of on-tap arrangement where you just cut me open and drank when you wanted to?â€ His hands are tight fists on the wheel. â€œNo, it was not. That is not how we are.â€ The blade is still clenched in my hand, and I push the button, the weapon making a tiny snick as it opens. Iâ€™m pretty sure he flinches. Which is funny because that should be my reaction, right? I put the blade to my finger, resting the tip of it against the pad of my index finger. If heâ€™s going to sample my blood, I want to get it over with. â€œWhat are you doing?â€ he demands, the hostility startling. â€œLetâ€™s just get it over with.â€ My cheeks are hot and my stomach flip-flops. â€œI am the prince of House Marchant. If you think Iâ€™m just going to slurp up a drop of your blood while sitting in a car, you are mistaken.â€ Itâ€™s almost funny. â€œWhat was your plan?â€ * * * â€œI was going to take you to my apartment,â€ he says, hands opening and closing on the steering wheel â€œThere are preparations.â€ â€œWhy? How much blood are we talking here?â€ â€œYour blood is currently toxic. When we return to my apartment, you will drink a tonic that makes your blood safe.â€ â€œOh.â€ He turns off the car and gets out, waiting for me impatiently. Weâ€™re both silent as we go into his apartment. I follow slowly as he goes directly to the kitchen, opening a cupboard and pulling out a small bottle, the stopper made out of cork, the writing on it done by hand. It looks, rather oddly, like my handwriting. He sets it on the counter and looks at me disapprovingly. â€œTake a spoonful.â€ â€œYou could say please,â€ I say sarcastically. I get a spoon from the drawer and pour a spoonful of liquid onto the spoon. Itâ€™s thick, syrupy and brown. The smell is woodsy and uninviting. A shudder of revulsion goes through me. â€œOh my god. I feel like I can remember how awful it is. Like even though I donâ€™t remember it, my body does.â€ Iâ€™m grimacing. He sighs dramatically and goes to the fridge, opening it. He sets a cold Kit Kat on the table next to me. â€œA chocolate chaser? Thatâ€™s something, I suppose.â€ And I do it quickly, before I can second-guess myself. Itâ€™s just as awful as I thought it would be, and it takes two sticks of Kit Kat to get the taste out of my mouth. He sets a glass of water down next to me. â€œNow what?â€ A shrug. â€œWe wait five minutes.â€ â€œThatâ€™s not very long.â€ â€œYour blood isnâ€™t very toxic,â€ he says, sounding bored. â€œItâ€™s absorbed rather quickly.â€ â€œWhere did you get this concoction?â€ I ask, curious. Heâ€™s looking at me with a curiously blank expression. â€œNo guesses, Miss Finner?â€ â€œYouâ€™re telling me I made it?â€ â€œIsnâ€™t that why youâ€™re asking? I saw you looking at the handwriting. Itâ€™s yours. You made it.â€ â€œAnd I took it a lot?â€ He raises a brow. I hate his minimalist answers. I hate that I know that was an answer. â€œIâ€™m going to take a shower. Iâ€™ll be back and thenâ€¦â€ Forget it. Iâ€™m too tired to finish sentences. Iâ€™m going to be minimalist too, let him see how it feels. I close the door and lock it, my body trembling with stress and latent fear as I peel off my clothes. I kick them to the corner of the bathroom for later. Iâ€™m going to throw them away. Not that disposing of them will really do anything to help me, but I donâ€™t want any extra reminders of what all happened today. Big day, I think dumbly and numbly as the hot water pours down on me. I wish I had run a bath. I feel cold and miserable. Eventually I have to get out. I dress in a sweater and comfy pants, padding in to the living room wearing overly fluffy socks. Leander is standing in the living room, a drink in his hand. Itâ€™s amber-colored, and I know itâ€™s whiskey without being told. He likes whiskey. Doesnâ€™t like brandy. Iâ€™m not sure why I feel like thatâ€™s true, but I do. I think he knows Iâ€™m there but he doesnâ€™t turn around to look at me. â€œIs that brandy?â€ â€œNo. I hate brandy,â€ he says, sounding tired. He still hasnâ€™t turned around. And I was right. My instincts dead on, but that doesnâ€™t make me feel any better. â€œLooking for something to read?â€ I ask, moving into the room, hair still damp from the shower. He finally turns, focuses on my damp hair and the towel Iâ€™m blotting it with. â€œWhy are you looking at me that way?â€ Iâ€™m blushing. He shakes his head. â€œYou look beautiful. Fresh, I suppose, with the wet hair. Iâ€™ve never seen youâ€¦â€ He trails off, sighs and looks back at the books. Is it possible heâ€™s even more maudlin than I am? â€œYouâ€™ve never seen me just get out of the shower?â€ The oddness of that, considering our history, leaves me stumped on what to say. And heâ€™s still looking at me. â€œYou stare at me,â€ I say and wish I hadnâ€™t said it. â€œDo I?â€ Itâ€™s not really a question. If anything, Iâ€™d say he sounds resigned. â€œYou donâ€™tâ€¦like me.â€ Another brow raise, punctuated by a quick swallow of his drink. â€œHow do you know what I feel? You donâ€™t know me, remember?â€ He closes his eyes for a long moment. I shrug. â€œI think I must have known you well. Or spent a lot of time watching you when we were together. Because I look at you and I know, even when your expression gives nothing away, I feel like I know what goes on in your mind. I suppose what I donâ€™t understand is why you stare at me.â€ Because Iâ€™m not glamorous or tough. Iâ€™m the girl who puts on baggy clothes and fluffy socks as a form of comfort and protection. I open my hand, showing him the blade. â€œTake it. You do it. I donâ€™t know how much blood you need, anyway.â€ Itâ€™s as though Iâ€™ve asked him to take a poisonous spider. He swallows his drink and sets it down. â€œItâ€™s not a lot. Just a drop or two. A taste, you see.â€ â€œOkay,â€ and I extend my hand toward him, demanding he take the blade. A slow nod and he takes it gently from my hand. He pushes the button. The blade shines in the light. He clasps my hand in his, keeping it steady, the contact stealing my breath. Heâ€™s so close and yet so distant. The tension between us is like two opposites forced together. A strange pushing and pulling. Heâ€™s not looking at me but the palm of my hand, the blade hovering out of my peripheral vision. â€œDo you know you were never afraid of me? Not until we got here, with the memory loss. Now when you donâ€™t need to fear me, you do. Itâ€™s amusing in a perverse sort of way. Here we are in New York, where I couldnâ€™t hurt you and get away with it, now youâ€™re worried andâ€¦â€ When he looks at me, he blinks, as though suddenly returning to himself, becoming aware of where we are and what heâ€™s saying. He places the point of the blade against the tip of my finger and holds it there for a moment as he contemplates my skin, my finger. â€œDo you know youâ€™re not the only one who wonders what the draw is? This person you are nowâ€¦timid, angry, distrustful of me is so far removed from the girl I knew. Whom I saved.â€ His gaze is cold, brilliant, as he locks with mine. â€œMost people fear vampires. Even in our own little world, where humans only know vampires as their masters, they fear us. Because we make mistakes, we are in fact monsters. But you, Miss Finner, my Rebecca, you werenâ€™t scared of me. You looked at me andâ€¦â€ I want him to say it; I donâ€™t want him to say it. His gaze dips to my mouth. â€œYou wanted me so badly you were willing to die for me. Which is lovely, obviously, but the kicker, the real draw, as far as I can tell, was your utter conviction that I would never kill you. Never make that mistake no matter how much you tempted me to. You made yourself a test, a constant display of my self-control.â€ â€œThat doesnâ€™t sound appealing,â€ I manage, a whisper. â€œMaybe it wouldnâ€™t be, for others. But for meâ€¦.â€ â€œDid I want you to kill me?â€ â€œI donâ€™t know. It wasnâ€™t the sort of question I was inclined to ask.â€ And then he cuts me. Quick, barely painful, blood welling to the surface. He flicks me a glance, full of self-deprecation, maybe a bit of self-loathing. â€œAnd now I donâ€™t have to, do I? This new you wants to live. Is smart enough to be afraid and recognize the monster I am.â€ His grip on my hand has tightened, making me want to pull away from him. I jerk hard but heâ€™s immobile. There is a reaction in his eyes, as though that bit of fight has pleased him. The drop of blood is large now, precariously balanced, ready to drip off my finger and to the ground. Now his words are cold, this version of him frightening. â€œAs charming as it was having you desperate to die in my arms, ideally while I fucked your brains out, this is probably better for your longevity,â€ he says. Is this the real him? My heartbeat speeds up and I think he growls. My body is screaming at me to run even though nothing has actually changed. He waits for my reaction, the blush that steals over me at his saying obscenities. His grip tightens, the bones of my hand grinding together so tears fill my eyes. I make a squeak of pain and he ignores it. And then he leans down, swipes his tongue across my finger, closes his eyes and savors the taste in a way that fills me with desire and terror in equal measure. â€œLet go of my hand,â€ I say, pulling against him, but all he does is smile at me. Heâ€™s mocking me, maybe both of us, making me fear him while being perfectly restrained and poised. This is a lesson, I think. His attempt to frighten me. Itâ€™s working. His voice is a purr. â€œDo you know this is even sweeter than the taste of yourâ€”â€ And thatâ€™s it. Fuck this. I slap him across the face with my free hand. All instinct, pure rage, pain and sadness fuelling me onward. I jerk again and he releases me. He moves his jaw back and forth, as if I actually hurt him. â€œBetter. You did that before too, you know. Slapped me. Harder this time, though.â€ He snaps his fingers and holds out his hand, demanding I give him my hand again. I obey automatically and instantly hate myself. His mouth is warm, his tongue rasping gently across the pad of my finger. There is even a faint pull as he urges more blood from the tiny wound. He drops my hand, and I donâ€™t know what to do, so I make a fist, holding my hand against my chest as though I can protect myself. He paces away from me. Caged. Violent. â€œDo you need more blood?â€ My voice trembles. He walks to the sideboard, giving me his back, hiding? He pours himself another whiskey and takes a large sip, washing it around in his mouth like mouthwash before swallowing. He seems poised, calm even, but I feel the danger of him, the quiet. He raises the glass again, but itâ€™s hovering halfway to his mouth, and I donâ€™t understand what heâ€™s thinking, where he is as he seems almost lost to me. His arm moves faster than I can see, the glass shattering into a million tiny pieces as he throws it against the wall. â€œGive me the blade.â€ Bizarrely, I do. â€œStay here,â€ he orders, voice arctic. â€œWhere are you going?â€ His smile is feral. â€œTo get your memory back. By the end of the night, youâ€™ll remember it all.â€ â€œAnd youâ€™re taking my knife? What does that mean?â€ â€œIt means Iâ€™ve been an arrogant fool. You were compelled. I can taste it. And Iâ€™m not strong enough to take it away. But I will be.â€ â€œYou canâ€™t just go out into the night and start slashing people like Jack the Ripper so you can get my memories back! Thatâ€™s psychotic!â€ â€œNo, itâ€™s called eating,â€ he says, teeth bared. â€œIâ€™m going with you!â€ As soon as I say it, I wish I could unsay it. What the hell do I want to go for? â€œAll right. Get changed and weâ€™ll go.â€ Wait. What? I almost say it out loud but I donâ€™t. I go and get changed, putting on a big coat and something with a hood, shoes I can run inâ€¦ I feel light-headed. Am I really dressing like I imagine a criminal would? As if I donâ€™t want the police to catch me? I walk back to the living room and heâ€™s pacing. â€œWhy donâ€™t you drink my blood?â€ A laugh. â€œNo.â€ â€œWhy not? Isnâ€™t that better than a strangerâ€™s?â€ A heavy sigh. â€œNo, actually, it isnâ€™t.â€ And then somehow weâ€™re out in the street, walking, and all I can think is that this canâ€™t be real. He canâ€™t really be about to drink someoneâ€™s blood. And I canâ€™t really be here ready to watch. â€œWill you kill him? Or her?â€ His glance is narrow. â€œHim.â€ â€œI canâ€™t believe that actually makes me feel a bit better. Maybe Iâ€™m sexist.â€ â€œMaybe youâ€™re traumatized from your past and would identify too much with the victim,â€ he says. â€œWell, wouldnâ€™t Dr. Brown give you a gold star,â€ I mutter. But heâ€™s not next to me. Heâ€™s turned down a narrow side street, his pace quickening on a solitary man whoâ€™s twenty feet ahead. Chills race over my body, and I stop, just stop there, scared by the man in front of me. Heâ€™s different in this moment. I canâ€™t hear him walking. Heâ€™s somehow blending into the shadows, and without effort, heâ€™s gaining on the man. And then heâ€™s on him and Iâ€™m running forward to see or stop him or something. I donâ€™t see the blade, but the man gives a strangled groan, and Leanderâ€™s head goes down to the manâ€™s neck like a cobra striking. I stop ten feet away. I canâ€™t go closer. Can I hear the sound of him swallowing? The manâ€™s knees give out and Leander supports him. â€œStop now,â€ I say, but itâ€™s not loud enough. â€œLeander, stop. Stop or youâ€™ll kill him. Leander!â€ I run forward and shove at him but heâ€™s immovable. The man gives one last rattling breath and thatâ€™s it. I donâ€™t know how I know, but heâ€™s dead, and Iâ€™m crying, my fists beating against Leanderâ€™s coat. He lifts his head, lowers the man down to the ground surprisingly gently and turns to me. His eyes are dead, there is blood on his mouth, and all of his attention is focused on me, his breathing rapid and his nostrils flared like heâ€™s a stallion and Iâ€™m a mare. I want to back up, but I donâ€™t. A sane person would turn and run, scream for help and call the cops. I close my eyes, a sense of odd peace going through me as I stand there waiting. My palms are up like Iâ€™m waiting for someone to put a tray on them. Why am I doing that? Because thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m trained to do. Fuck that. I move to run, but heâ€™s grabbed my wrists, and heâ€™s pushing me back against the wall. â€œLet me go. Please, let me go. I wonâ€™t tell anyone, I swear,â€ I say, babbling, as tears run down my face. â€œLook at me,â€ he says, â€œand then Iâ€™ll let you go.â€ I look at him and heâ€™s different too. More attractive, somehow vital and magnetic in a new way. â€œRemember everything, Rebecca.â€ My mind shifts in a rainbow of colors, like a childâ€™s kaleidoscope, resolving into images. Blood, desire, long dresses and the feel of a corset. A womanâ€™s laugh and the heat of the sun. The stench of death and what it was like before. Leander Marchant is holding me in his arms as I sway, things and people coming back to me. I remember screaming at him as he turns his back on me at the end, that he swore heâ€™d never, ever let me go. I remember Lord Marchant standing with his sword raised as he fought Lord Dalmaine in the courtyard. A display for all of us girls to see how magnificent the Infinite are. Not vampires. We call them the Infinite. His hands convulse on my arms, but I pull free and throw up on a pile of old newspapers. Heâ€™s my better. My Lord and master. And I remember the end. How I lost my memory. Every detail of my life from a young girl to the day that I walked out of a window, ordered to fall to my death. And he wasnâ€™t there to save me.