I finish my laundry and carry it back upstairs without bumping into Mr. Harris again. After putting most of my clothes away, I take a break to eat a grilled cheese and finally sort through my missed calls. I still haven’t solved the problem that is Harvey Yagher, so I skip him for now. Next is Hanson’s. I swallow a bite, take a deep breath, and dial the number.
It rings a few times before my manager answers. I feed him a story about getting mugged after bartending. I tell him I was injured and disoriented but that I’m fine now. He doesn’t conceal his suspicion, but he does accept my apology, asking whether I can make my shift tomorrow morning. I assure him that I will be there.
Next are the slew of messages and voicemails from Wynn, which I delete. There’s a text from Ryan and I respond to it with a similar mugger story. He immediately calls and apologizes profusely, trying to take responsibility for the whole mess. He offers to provide his surveillance footage to the police and I choke. The last thing I need is for Yagher to see Mirena on the cameras.
I convince Ryan that everything is already being taken care of and that it won’t be necessary. It takes me a while to talk him down, and I’m out of breath when he finally concedes to let it go. I feel a strange mix of pride and shame at my increasing proficiency at lying.
Last is Yagher.
As I scroll through his messages, I notice an unopened text from my mom that I have somehow missed. The date stamp is from nine last night. The message is a simple: “Call me.” I give myself permission to file it away for tomorrow; my wounds are too fresh for the salt she’s sure to through on them.
I finish my sandwich as I wrack my brain for an alibi that Yagher will believe. I’d like to keep my lies consistent, but I’m not sure Yagher will be convinced by the mugger story. For one, it’s too coincidental. And then he could always check the surveillance footage like Ryan suggested. As much as I’d like to, I can’t just pretend nothing happened – my overnight disappearance and the bruises covering my skin are a dead give away.
Shit. What am I supposed to tell him to explain the bruises? Wait – maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way. Maybe I should ignore him. Instead of giving him an explanation, maybe I should tell him something to make him forget what happened. Something that will distract him and give me an excuse not to see him until I heal up a bit. After all, the best lies start with the truth.
I look at his latest text, asking if I’ve made it home. I answer simply, “I’m home. Thx.”
It isn’t long before he calls. I send it straight to voicemail. I wait for the chime to indicate that I have a new message. I listen to his panicked voice asking why I didn’t answer and where the hell I have been. I text him, “Stay away from me.”
The phone rings again a moment later. When I let this one ring through, I start to feel guilty. It’s a confusing sort of guilt, since my reaction isn’t unreasonable even if it is dishonest.
He doesn’t leave a voicemail this time but sends me a text message immediately afterward. “Selene please answer. I need to know it’s you.”
My heart is pounding as I wait for the phone to start ringing again. It takes longer than I expect and I force myself to wait until the last ring before I answer.
“Hello,” I say coldly.
“Hello? Selene? Fuck, I was so worried.”
“Mhm,” I answer.
“What the hell is going on? Where have you been? Are you okay?” he sounds genuinely concerned. I wonder which of us he’s concerned about. What would happen to him if I died?
“Just fine, thank you,” I figure it’s time to wrap this up. Real tears are starting to pool in the corners of my eyes, and my breath is starting to catch.
“I’m coming over. Are you home?”
“Yes. No,” I stop, for a moment. I let the silence between us grow deep and meaningful before landing the final blow, “When were you going to tell me?”
He hesitates for too long and I know he’s caught my meaning, even when he feigns ignorance: “Tell you what?”
“That I gave up everything for you.”
“Selene, please, I can explain this. We need to talk in person,” he sounds almost hysterical now, and I sincerely hope he doesn’t rush over and break down the door.
“No, Yagher. The memories came back. The ones you stole. Just… just give me time at least. Goodbye Harvey.”
I force myself to ignore his pleads as I end the call. I put my phone on silent before running to the bedroom and throwing myself onto the bed. I roll onto my back and sit up enough so that I can stare into the mirror across from me. The bruise beside my eye is bright purple and swollen, partially closing the lid.
You deserve to look like a monster, I think.
I lay there for a while, drifting in and out of an uneasy sleep, before finally forcing myself to get up and do something productive. I pick an outfit from my rejuvenated wardrobe – a flowy black skirt that sits at my knees and a white tank top – then put the rest of my clothes away. When I glance at the clock, I still have forty-five minutes left before I’m expected on the third floor. I decide to run to the bakery a few blocks away and buy a treat to bring to tea.
I gather everything into my purse, throw on flipflops, and carefully lock the door behind me. I’m passing the second floor landing when the echo of a slammed door reverberates through the stairwell. I halt mid-step and listen closely. I can hear the pat pat pat of footsteps running down the stairs above me. I’m flooded with a sense of urgency and I hurry down the stairs faster and faster until I finally reach the lobby, gasping for breath. Comforted by the people shuffling in and out of the glass doors and the constant ding of the elevator letting more people off, I stand and watch the stairwell door. A minute passes before a woman steps out into the lobby. At first I only see her long, blonde hair, but I soon recognize her as a student from upstairs. She smiles at me as she passes, and I watch her jog away down the street.
I bite my lip in frustration and force myself forward, out into the bright sunlight. You can’t be afraid of everything, I tell myself. Even if she still wants you, there’s no point jumping at every shadow. Mirena would love that.
I know I’m right, but I still find myself glancing in every direction and holding my breath whenever I hear footsteps behind me. I walk quickly to the bakery, almost passing the bright pink and orange sign before chastising myself for my unnecessary anxiety. At least I hope it’s unnecessary. I order a small mixed box of pastries and cookies, and am so nervous that I have to count the money three times before I get the change right. I force myself to slow my pace on the way home, but take the elevator instead of the stairs. I rush to my door and lock it tightly behind me. Leaning there, my forehead against the cold metal of the fireproof door, I wait out the remaining twenty minutes until I’m expected downstairs.
I skip the first two elevators that stop at my floor, waiting for an empty car. Every time the doors open I almost expect to see her there waiting for me. The third time the doors open no one is inside, and I finally enter. My heart races as the elevator sinks downwards, and I’m surprised my neurosis hasn’t dissuaded me from visiting this man altogether.
When the doors open, I am greeted once more by golden-green fields and a vast blue sky. In that moment, I understand why I never hesitated to accept his invitation – some part of me knew that I had to see this impossible sight at least one more time.