Authors: Sigal Ehrlich
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Copyright © 2014 by Sigal Ehrlich
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ISBN: 978-0-9914007-3-7 (eBook)
For my mom, I simply adore you.
~3 years ago, somewhere near Lake Erie, Ohio
My heart drums in my ears, beating fast and hard. I’m poised. My face reveals nothing. No stress, no panic, not so much as a twitch of a muscle or a bead of sweat. I do this thing I’ve mastered throughout the years. I hold my eyes cold and calculated – they tell nothing. I look the dark, bearded man before me square in the eyes, waiting. No matter what, I cannot blow my cover. We, that is, Ben who’s sitting on the sofa opposite me and I, can’t reveal our cover no matter what the cost. I inwardly repeat: there are thousands of lives on the line.
“Did you think you could pull it off?” the man asks. He has a deep scar across his prickled cheek and he holds a semi-automatic at my best friend Ben’s temple. “We are on to you, you son of a bitch.” He grits his teeth and kicks Ben full in the ribs.
Ben groans and my gut wrenches viciously. We manage to exchange a concealed glance between us, a flit glance that says so much, a look that feels more like a goodbye. I take inner deep breaths and summon every bit of willpower I have to stay still. A strong intuition brews within me. Something terrible is about to happen. My entire body throbs with dread. And there’s absolutely nothing I can fucking do. Nothing! At the back of our minds we’ve always known, Ben and I. Something like this could happen to either of us, if not both of us.
I’ve looked death in the eyes so many times it’s become habitual. But this time I’m petrified because it’s not my life that’s at risk, it’s my best friend who I’ve known for the last fifteen years that’s in real danger. There’s more talking in this Middle Eastern language that I’m fluent in. Words pronounced deeper in the throat are barked at Ben. I hear but I don’t listen. Inside I’m numb. I know what’s coming is inevitable, and with each ticking of the clock the anxiety within me grows. Both tanned, solemn men give me another assessing scan just to make sure they are right, that I truly am one of them.
With a small confirming nod from the guy in the expensive suit who is sitting on the plush sofa across the misty room, the gun goes off once.
For a beat, before mourning enfolds me, I’m paralyzed. I look at the scene before me, because I know I’m expected to. It could be some sick initiation I’m supposed to pass. I look, but I look through it, I don’t see it. I’m playing a part. I’m on a mission that can save many civilian lives. That’s what’s holding me back from losing control and exacting merciless retribution for Ben’s life. I cannot break down. I cannot blow this thing up. Instead, I keep my face placid, slouching back in the chair, looking the killer straight in the eyes. As Ben’s body drops, my heart stops.
last breath, I know
life would never be the same.
~3 years ago, Fortaleza, Brazil
My eyes are swollen. The purple-black marks have faded some, but nevertheless they are still evident on my face. I study my image as it reflects in my notebook’s screen and wince. I carefully touch my lip with the pads of my fingers. It’s still tender and has a sickening iron taste to it. My other hand instinctively reaches for my bandaged ribs. No matter how deep the pain I’m still nursing, or the way I look, I still want him next to me. Nothing has changed, I love him just the same. Nothing has changed, at least not for me.
The sound of the front door opening pulls me back from my thoughts. There’s a jingle of keys as they land in the glass bowl, I listen for the familiar call, asking if I’m home, but it doesn’t come. My brows knit as I wait.
I shrug and call out, “I’m in here.”
In place of an answer there’s a low exchange of words. I can’t make out what’s being said, but the tone itself seeds alarm within me. Footsteps climb the stairs to the second floor of the house.
My parents appear at my door and my heart faints at their expressions. Color has left their faces. But it’s what echoes from their eyes that sucks the air right out of me – a dual vision of fatality.
“Nia, it’s… Patrick,” My mom’s voice breaks as she tries to speak.
“They found him earlier…” My dad finishes.
Their lips keep moving but the sounds coming out of their mouths are stretched and heavy, as if they are speaking under water. My mother’s teary eyes caress me. She moves her hand to mine and I flinch back. I shake my head violently from side to side.
“No. No…. No, no, no, no, no.” I bring my hand to cover my mouth, muffling the hysterical sounds coming out. “No, no, no, it can’t be,” I repeatedly murmur. They both look at me in pain, hopeless. I shake my head and move back on my bed, digging into the corner with my feet, resembling a scared animal. My tears almost choke me, and my body shakes uncontrollably.
“It can’t be…” I whisper, my words breaking at the tail end of my sentence.
“He is gone, Nia love. He is gone.” My mother’s words are so soft but yet so powerful, they paralyze me. Something takes over me in a sudden ferocious flash. Something resilient, spreading to every part of me.
last breath, I know
life would never be the same.
Present Day, Cleveland, Ohio
“I’ll tell you what, wait for half an hour ‘til my shift ends and I’ll take you up to my hotel room,” I say, bored, running a damp cloth over the bar’s dark surface, deliberately taking my time before rewarding the redhead ogling me with a look. Her eyes dart fire at me.
she has the nerve to start playing innocent? She’s been eye fucking me the entire shift, and doing nothing short of climbing over the bar and jumping my bones for the last fifteen minutes. Besides actually asking me to honor her with what she’d been nearly begging for, she didn’t skip even one of the bimbo commandments.
She’s chemically over-red, too artificially tanned, done tits, a nice rack I must admit, but still unnaturally enhanced. Any other time I’d be all over this. Probably have her take the edge off, gladly. But not tonight. I’m not in the mood. I can’t stop thinking about what happened before my shift. I still can’t believe I allowed that kiss to happen. I could kick myself for it.
kick myself for it.
“Oh. Em. Gee!” Hugh Hefner’s employee of the month squeaks at me. Even her voice annoys the crap out of me. It’s been gradually getting on my nerves, especially when she tried to make it sound sexy, somewhere between shoving a twenty into my right, front pocket, to fucking grazing her claws over my chest. “You are so full of yourself! You must be dreaming if you think I’d set a foot in your hotel room,” Red huffs, taking a sip of her “classy” cocktail. Her pink banal drink just compliments the “sophisticated” look she's trying so hard to pull off. I send my eyes to the black ceiling. A person’s alcohol preference can reveal so much. I personally prefer women who appreciate high-class liquor.
I raise an eyebrow at her, not missing the way she’s eyeballing the ink on my bicep. “Okay, so no go.” I shrug and turn to the guy next to her. “Yep?”
“Two pina coladas.”
Are you for real? Who drinks those anymore?
I turn to mix the joke of a drink, covertly rolling my eyes. I slide his drinks toward him and take the bills. Putting the notes in the narrow tray, I slam it back with a flat hand. Why did I agree to this shift? I should’ve just told Jake no. He sounded desperate when he called for the favor earlier this evening, earlier as in right after Katie kissed me. Fuck! If there was anything in this world I should not have allowed to happen, it was that kiss. How could I? Well, when it comes to Katie, I just lose all my guard, and the little, sweet devil knows that, too well. I close my eyes and scrub my hands over my bristled cheeks, sliding them further up to rest over my dark buzz cut. Exasperated, I heavily exhale my next breath.
“You seem stressed,” my stalker determines, drawing me from my thoughts. I bring my eyes to look at her. Oh, Jesus. Miss you-are-so-full-of-yourself raises a white flag. “I could help you release that stress,” she sucks on the moon shaped orange decorating her lame drink… seductively. And I need to keep myself from snorting. Maybe I should just let her suck me off and that’s it. Maybe it will help release some of the shit causing riots in my head.
“You think you can help me take this stress away, huh?” I change tactics, sending her a hint of a smile.
And 3…2…1… huge surprise, she flings her hair back and raises her 6K boob job at me in the universal slut code of “you’ll have me in the first stall before the night ends.” I reward her with an encouraging side smile, and push myself back from the counter. Saying nothing, I start toward the back office, aka Jakes’ place, aka hiding space when I’ve had enough.
“Listen, man, I’m done here for tonight.”
Jake nods, stands up, and pats my back in a
thank you, bro
signal. He gazes at me for a long beat. His brown, straight hair falls to almost hide his piercing brown eyes.
He scratches his five o'clock shadow and says, “Thanks for saving my ass tonight. That’s the problem with the women staff. You never know when they’ll start using cramp excuses.”
“You know you can get your ass sued for saying shit like that.” I chuckle, and his black, worn leather jacket rises and falls with his shrug.
“Reeves, you okay?” his brows sink together as he searches my eyes.
I sigh and twist my lips into a hard line. “Katie.”
Jake shakes his head in overt disapproval. “She is
your responsibility.” His voice comes out curt, even irritated.
“She is. She’ll always be.” I regard him with a look that tells him not to go on any further with
“I think I should put you on a new job, send you away for a while.” His way of not exactly letting go of the subject.
“Maybe you should,” I say pensively, heading to the door. I tap the doorpost. “And Jake? Next time no bartending, okay?”
“Got it,” he says, and follows me out. I drop the white waist apron to the counter, nod at him, and fling up the little door that sets me free from behind the bar. Jake takes my place, and starts flirting with a couple of cute brunettes while taking their drink orders.
“Welcome back.” The stress therapist’s red lips shine at me as soon as I reach her side. I just send my hand to the small of her back, unspoken, telling her to stand up and follow me. “My name is Neveah.” She giggles.
Of course it is
. I don’t even bother telling her my name as I know it’ll start a series of questions I’m not in the mood to answer. Anyhow, it’s not like she’ll ever have to use it. “Oh God, yes,” works just fine. As I direct us to the toilets, she turns to look at me questioningly.
“I can’t wait,” I lie, seriously debating calling this thing off. She smiles and inches on her toes to kiss my jaw. I manage to fabricate half a smile.
As soon as I lock the door behind us, she is all over me. She licks my neck while I send myself a harsh look over the mirror. Her straightened hair moves slowly from my neck to my chest, while her hands reach to unbuckle my belt. I observe the scene over the small room’s mirror as if I’m just a spectator. My face is constricted, the muscle above my square jaw line tightly clutched. My eyes are squinted as I rerun the scene with Katie earlier today in my head. Somehow it feels unholy to think about Katie while the stress relief crusader fiddles with my zipper. She slides her hand inside my boxer briefs and not a second later I grab her wrist, preventing her from taking it any further. I collect all possible tolerance I have left in me and help her straighten.