:: previous – Do Not Disturb
I’m sitting in the creamy leather passenger seat of Mr. Paper’s fancy car as we approach Long Rifle Drive.
Seductive chill plays on the radio.
Shame rises within me.
“Stop—what about the neighbors?” I shield my face with my hand, turning to Mark in a panic.
People usually tend to their yards or receive deliveries at this time of day. Me going to Mark’s home? That’s suspicious. I’m not even sure his dimmed windows can hide me… Especially when everyone knows me and Mili from SkyGrim!
“Hm.” He thinks for a moment. “Put your head down. I’ll pull into the garage and tell you when we’re clear.”
I slide down in my seat, watching the towering trees through the windshield. Mark speeds up, likely sensing how awkward this is, too.
He makes a sharp turn and I grip the seat to hold on.
Why did I agree to this?
I rise and look back as the garage door lowers behind us.
“I’ll get your door.”
He exits and jogs to my side to let me out.
I gaze around. His garage is spacious and neat, much like how Emilian keeps our own.
Above us, top racks hold labeled storage bins. A tall shelf stocked with camping gear has mounted fishing poles beside it. On the opposite side of the garage sits a workbench with heavy-duty tools surrounding it, some hanging on the wall.
I wonder what he works on in here.
I trail behind him quietly.
We’re walking through his spotless kitchen that smells of sweet berry cheesecake when he turns to me, “Can I help you to a water or juice?”
“Oh no thank you, I’m fine.”
He nods. “Well, I’d give you an official tour, but we’re on limited time. Although I assure you, you’re not missing much.” His love for his home shows in his proud smile as he gazes around. “Hm. Let’s go to the study.”
I follow his lead across the house, passing by the living room, bedrooms, and bathroom. Everything is cozy and proper with a relaxing cottage type feel to the interior design.
“Here we are.”
He opens a set of double doors leading to a spacious study.
Natural afternoon light fills the room, beaming down on his desk positioned in front of the window. On one side of the study, a built-in bookcase takes up a single wall with every shelf filled. On another side is a cozy fireplace with two couches in front of it facing each other, perfect for reflection or conversation.
Out of nowhere, the center of my forehead vibrates and I rub it, feeling the outline of a circle growing beneath my skin.
I look at his desk again, imagining him at his computer typing. On sunny days. Rainy days. Evenings. Mornings. Sometimes he wears headphones or blasts the speakers depending on what he’s working on. Or he abandons the desk altogether, opting to write in his journal instead beside the fire.
I see it all.
“You wrote Redemption of the Accountant in this room.”
“I did.” His eyes shimmer.
Our attention turns to the fresh breeze moving through the open window, blowing the curtains toward us.
Mark looks at me. “How did you know, Misa?”
I can feel your words.
“Just a guess.” Change the subject. Change the subject. “Um, it’s pretty in here with the windows open and the trees outside. I love that, seems perfect for a writer—”
Outside, rolling thunder speeds down the street.
I throw myself on the couch to hide.
“What’s wrong?” Mark asks confused.
“Emilian’s home!” I whisper beneath a gray quilt I’ve snatched from the armrest and wrapped around my head.
I open it to see.
Mark goes to the window. “Oh. Yes he is.”
“Does he know I’m here with you?”
“No one was behind us driving here—”
“What’s he doing?”
“Well, he’s parked… the truck is still on and… another man is with him.”
“They went inside. Seemed like they were in a hurry.”
I lower from the couch and crawl across the soft carpet with the quilt as my disguise, standing on my knees beside Mark at the window.
I grip the ledge for support as I rise to peek.
Please don’t come here. Please don’t come here.
Mili runs out to the truck with his uncle East, then takes off like bad guys on the run in old Earth movies.
“Oh my gosh.” I can’t stop shaking. What was he doing? Was he looking for me? Maybe he changed his mind about lunch, then found out I wasn’t at work and thought I was home! “Do you think he knows we’re here?”
“No.” Mark chuckles. He extends his hand as he helps me from my crouched position. “Quite the adventure today. I suppose this is another secret we share.”
I nod and head back to the couch, not sure what he said. My heart is racing. My mind feels like scattered puzzle pieces. I was certain Mili knew I was here and would come to get me.
“May I share another secret with you, Misa?”
“Why do you pour yourself out to me?” I blurt. “Your secrets and all.”
He’s lucky I don’t have a big mouth.
“Because I know you don’t have a… big mouth. Isn’t that what you called it?”
“I did…In my—”
“I should—” I fling the quilt aside and get up.
“No, no, Misa, don’t go.” He grabs my hand to stop me. “Please. I’ll stop. That was an intrusion. I apologize, truly. I couldn’t help myself.”
I snatch my hand away. “How long have you been doing that? Are you always intruding?”
“Once before. I try not to.”
“When Emilian proposed to you on the bed of sunflowers.”
He was there!
Don’t give into this, Misa.
Quickly, I imagine mighty walls of water washing away my thoughts. Clearing my mind.
Mark watches me like he knows what I’m doing.
“Where’s the book?” I sit near the armrest on the couch, avoiding eye contact with him.
The sooner I can read it, the faster I can get out of here.
Ugh, stop thinking… Wash it away.
“Of course, Misa,” he agrees, grabbing a small book from the bookshelf.
Chills run through me when he hands it over. He takes a seat on the other couch, giving me my personal space.
I skim through the pages, avoiding touching the handwriting inside. It makes me queasy when I do.
“This is someone’s diary… I can feel the emotion.”
The land knows. The final entry on the last page states.
“Yes. Thoughts jointly shared between me and… Well, you’ll… I would write in this back and forth, for years.”
I turn to the first page when I see her name.
The bitch. The stupid fuckin’ ex. The manipulator. The murderer of my brother.
“You knew her?”
Mark nods slowly. “As a different person. Same initials.”
“Who was different? You?”
“This is what I know.” He moves to the couch I’m on and sits beside me, making me get up again. “I won’t hurt you.” He reassures. “Please, Misa. Let me show you.”
“You said you had a book for me.”
“Indeed. It’s in your hands, but there’s more. My former self holds the complete tale, and it is within me. It exists today as a museum of stains on my soul beneath a mask I wear to contain shadows of the past.”
Mask… “Who are you?”
“Please sit, Misa.”
He stares at me, and the weight of uncertainty slips from my shoulders like silk, minimizing my fear. I sit, thinking about Emilian with his sour face, running out to the truck in his collared shirt and slacks.
I miss him. I feel like he needs me now…
I turn from Mark’s sight, staring at the open double doors to his study.
Just get up. Walk through. Go home.
“Look at me.”
I don’t want to look at Mark, but something pulls at me, turning my head, keeping my eyes open.
Mark’s gray-blue eyes rest on mine again.
The vibrating circle on my forehead returns.
“Keep breathing, Misa, I’m here.”