WHEN I OPEN my eyes, I’ll know whether or not yesterday was a really long freaking dream or an even longer nightmare. The sheets I’m lying on smell fresh and the satin finish is a sensation I hardly remember. The plushness beneath me is almost too soft compared to what I’m used to but I might be happy never moving again. The heaviness of my eyelids forces me to sink further into the mess of pillows as I stretch my arms and legs wildly to the sides, trying my best to take up this impossibly large bed.
With moments of comfort drowning into the memories of what I witnessed and participated in yesterday, I pull myself up against the headboard, still keeping my eyes closed. I don’t understand any of this–anything that happened yesterday, or anything that is waiting for me today. Oddly enough, with the millions of thoughts running in and out of my head, regret isn’t one of them. It’s like this is all happening for the right reasons at the right time.
I open my eyes, squinting against the brightness of the sun pouring in through the floor to ceiling window, overlooking the Boston Harbor. The hotel room is even whiter during the day than I remember it being last night. It’s kind of like I’m living in a cloud right now. Though, the cloud is hovering over a warehouse containing God knows how many people who are being kept in dark rooms.
Ugh. I need something normal right now. Searching the room for a distraction, I reach for the remote on the mahogany nightstand and power the TV on. For such a nice hotel room, they have a shitty selection of channels to choose from. Awesome. I haven’t watched TV in almost a year since the monthly cost of cable is more than a week’s worth of groceries.
Flipping back and forth between the channels, I can’t help but notice the Breaking News banner stretching across the bottom of every screen I pass by. What now? Rather than turning the volume up, I learn enough by reading the scrolling marquee below the breaking news banner. Ronald Abram confesses to bombing the US Embassy in Mexico City. Abram is in custody.
Wow…that was fast. They show the back of a man walking between two FBI agents, hands cuffed, and a black shirt over his head. The US Embassy? This is exactly what I wanted to avoid right this second. God, I can’t even watch TV. I power the thing off and fall back into the pillows and lean over to the nightstand for the room service menu. Don’t mind if I do.
There isn’t much to choose from, but everything looks amazing at the moment, even after my huge meal last night. I may need to eat like that for the next few months just so I can catch up after starving for so long.
A loud thud against the door startles me into tossing the menu toward the end of the bed. Fuck! Not that I wasn’t expecting Axel to show up at the ass crack of dawn, but he doesn’t need to scare the shit out of me. “Jesus! I’m coming.”
“Jesus is coming?” A voice yells in. It’s not Axel’s voice. I think it’s Everett, which I wasn’t expecting. I clamber out of bed, noticing I’m only in a t-shirt and panties. Yeah, opening the door like this would probably be the worst idea ever. I search around the room for the jeans I had on yesterday and find them draped over the desk chair. My head was so foggy last night that I hardly remember getting ready for bed, let alone where I put my belongings.
I open the door, realizing I probably look like I just crawled out of bed…because, well… “I wasn’t expecting to see you here this morning,” I tell Everett, finding him leaning up against the far wall with two coffees in his hands.
“I can drink both of these if you’d like,” he says, pushing off of the wall. Not that he was dressed as well as Axel yesterday, but he was presentable, whereas today, he’s got on a white t-shirt and torn jeans. I know it’s not Sunday, so I guess I’m a little confused.
“No, I’d kill for a coffee…”
“Wouldn’t put that past you,” he says, walking into my hotel room.
“Funny,” I say, snagging one of the Starbucks cups. “Where’s Axel?”
Everett scratches under his nose and makes his way over to the window. “He’s a little tied up at the moment. He wanted me to tell you to do what you wanted for the day and meet back here for dinner at six.”
“He couldn’t tell me himself? Does he have people to do everything for him?” I press.
“I’m not his person,” he corrects me. “We’re partners.”
“Like…partners, partners, or like he tells you what to do kind of partners…although, I do suppose those two can mean the same thing.”
Everett turns around with a sneer. “I mean, we started working together years ago.”
“Does this company have a name?” I ask. “Just curious since you know, I’m now employed by a ‘company’ I’ve come to assume doesn’t have a name.”
“Our organization doesn’t need a name,” he says. “I ordered your breakfast by the way. It should be up here in about five minutes. Since I didn’t know what you’d want, I ordered everything so you can choose. And I’ll eat whatever you don’t want.”
I sit down at the edge of my bed and take a sip of the steaming coffee, inhaling the mouth-watering roasted aroma. I miss this smell. “You’re having breakfast with me, in my hotel room?”
“You answered the door without a bra on and your white t-shirt isn’t as thick as you think it is, so I think we’re past the awkwardness, huh?”
Peering down at myself, I’m quick to grab a pillow from behind me and embrace it over my chest. Heat rushes through my cheeks, but for the fact that he’s laughing at me, turns my embarrassment into anger. “Maybe some warning before showing up at my door would have been nice.”
“No one said any of us were nice,” he says, taking a sip of his coffee.
“Is everything okay with Axel?”
“Why, you worried about him?”
“Didn’t know if I should be concerned with what he’s doing? If you think I’m worried about him, himself, you’re a moron.”
“Sure,” he says, patronizing me.
“So did you come here to just annoy me, or what?”
“I came to get to know our newest man,” he says, smirking against the rim of his cup.
I’m not falling into his trap of clarifying the difference between a man and a woman, but God, he’s trying to get under my skin.
Room service knocks on the door between his rude comment and my lack of response, and I keep my pillow where it is as I jog to the door.
A man rolls in two carts worth of food and I might just eat every last morsel of it, not worried in the slightest about saving any for Everett. Leaving without a word, the door closes loudly behind the room-service man. “I’m starving,” Everett says.
“I thought you said you were going to eat whatever I don’t want?”
“Yeah?” he questions.
“Well, I might want all of it.”
“And I’d get full just by watching you try to eat all of it,” he laughs.
“Did Axel tell you to babysit me today?” I ask, walking into the bathroom and closing myself inside. I find my bra on the bathroom sink and a complimentary toothbrush with toothpaste. If only I had a complimentary reflection right now, this morning wouldn’t be so bad. I tie my hair up, brush my teeth and slip the bra on before returning to my hot meal.
Of course, I come out, finding Everett eating off of one of the plates. “Come on!”
“Oh, you found your bra?” he teases.
I chuck the pillow at him, forcing him to drop his fork. Good. Jerk.
Taking the rolling tray, I pull it over to the edge of the bed where I make myself comfortable. “Mmm,” I moan during my first bite.
“To answer your question, no, Axel did not ask me to babysit you. He told me to tell you he had some things to handle and meet back here at six.”
“So, why are you still here?”
He looks at me for a long moment, as if he’s trying to figure out the answer, but instead of actually answering, he picks his fork up, cleans it off on a napkin and pulls the desk chair up to the other side of the tray. “Will you need anything today?”
Between large bites, I answer with a mouthful. “Lunch,” I tell him.
He leans to the side, pulling his wallet out of his back pocket and rummages through it for a minute before tossing a black credit card at me. “That should cover it.”
“Seriously?” I ask with a raised brow.
“I trust you’ll only be buying lunch with it and not a new Mercedes or something stupid…because if you did, I’d be forced from my ever-so-elegant schedule to find you, and teach you how to dispose of a vehicle… Which would be sad if it were a really nice car.” He’s smiling, yet his words are a little frightening.
“Lunch is all I need,” I tell him. “Maybe cab fare too.”
He pulls out a fifty and tosses that to me also. “Going anywhere fun?”
“Who knows where the day will bring me,” I groan through another mouthwatering bite.
“Look, can I trust you or what? You don’t seem like the type I have to hover over,” he asks in a leveling manner.
I think about his question for a long minute, scrolling through some of my past memories. I don’t think I’ve ever been untrustworthy, possibly unethical, but those are two completely different things in my head. “I have nothing to gain by breaking whatever kind of trust this is. I’m hungry and you people are offering to feed me and give me a place to sleep.”
“Well, I mean we also give you hot guys to look at too…with endless credit cards and a ton of unethical excitement,” he says sarcastically.
“Right,” I agree, rolling my eyes and swallowing the last bite of food from my plate. I’m a little disappointed in myself, not being able to take another plate, but my stomach feels like it may explode if I eat anymore.
“You gonna eat that?” he points to another plate with the edge of his fork.
I roll my eyes again and stand up from the bed. “Axel said I’d be taken care of. I have no other clothes. Will something be brought to me or should I…”
“Use the card, just get comfortable clothes that allow you to be physically active…like yoga pants,” he says with an obnoxious wink.
Leaning against the wall for another few minutes while I watch Everett polish off the remaining food, he grabs a napkin, cleans his face up and walks past me as if I weren’t standing here watching his every move. “Well, it’s been real. I’ll see you at six tonight. Don’t do anything stupid. And…” he looks back at me while opening the door. “Don’t go running your mouth. It could literally get you killed.”
“Okay,” I respond quietly.
“Later, dude,” he says. How nice.
I look down at the money and credit card in my hand, debating what to do with my free day. It’s not like I haven’t had plenty of free days in the past year, but today feels different. Today, I need an agenda.
Today, I need to visit an old friend.
I’d normally take the “T” to this end of Boston, but the last few times I did that, I ran into some pretty sketchy people. Since I have the funds, though, this is a much better way to get there. I step out of the cab, asking the guy to return in an hour. Whether he will or not, I don’t know, but if I can prevent standing outside of this prison for longer than I have to, I should.
I go through the normal visiting routine and wait a good fifteen minutes before they allow me into the visiting area, where I sit in front of a thick plastic window.
“Isab—Harley, what are you doing here?” Dr. Phillips asks, sitting down on the other side of the window.
“It’s been almost three months,” I tell him.
He studies my face, extracting every thought from my head. “I was scared of this happening to you,” he says.
“Are you eating? Taking care of yourself?”
“I’m getting there,” I tell him.
“You’re not living on the street are you?” He shifts his weight around in his seat, seeming uncomfortable. He looks more tired than the last time I was here. The bags under his eyes have grown larger and his skin looks paler. He’s been locked behind bars for almost an entire year now and it isn’t suiting him well.
“I’m not on the street,” I tell him, knowing how close I was to responding differently.
“You’re not finding trouble either, I hope?”
I smirk a little and narrow one eye. “Define trouble,” I laugh.
“Harley, you know what trouble causes. You’re looking at it,” he says through a loud exhale.
“Yes, but you’re innocent,” I remind him.
“Not according to our governmental friends.”
I shrug. “I’ll still fight for you; you know?”
“I’m taking my five-year sentence and I’m going to use the time wisely.” We’ve been over this. We argued about fighting for his right, but he doesn’t want to and I don’t understand. He lost his career—a good one at that. Dr. Philips is one of the most intelligent, and innovative minds we have, and he’s not doing much good for anyone behind bars.
I nod my head, looking down at my fidgeting knees. “Harley, did you get a new job?”
“Yeah,” I say, being short, even though I wanted to make it sound casual.
“What are you doing?” he presses.
“What I love,” I say, looking up at him, smiling gently.
He closes his eyes and squeezes his fingers around his temples. “Please don’t land yourself in prison. Please, Harley.”
“I won’t,” I assure him. “I’m not doing anything wron—I’m doing things for the good.” Am I?
“Time’s up!” an officer shouts.
“Don’t let me down, kid,” Dr. Philips says.
“I promise,” I tell him.
It’s amazing what I can get done in a day when I have money. Though my conversation with Dr. Philips is sort of burning a hole through my mind, I’m trying to focus on the new clothes I purchased, the haircut I got, and the long as hell hot shower I took today. I feel like a new person.
I look in the mirror and run my fingers through my dark hair, staring into the reflection of my eyes, recalling the decisions I’ve made over the past couple of years, all while still questioning whether I have regret. I’ve been separated from my family for reasons I’ve caused and every friend I ever had ran away from me a long time ago. The loneliness didn’t bother me for a long time, but this past year, it has gotten to me, especially with Dr. Philips being in prison. I tried making friends with neighbors from my apartment building, but everyone works twenty hours a day so I didn’t get to know anyone else enough to consider them a friend. I’ve spent a lot of time alone with my thoughts and I’m not sure that’s been the healthiest thing for me.
“Harley,” Axel’s voice calls from the hallway, following a light knock on the door. Unlike Everett’s demanding bangs this morning.
I walk across the hotel room and open the door for him, finding him dressed more casually than he was yesterday. Rather than a suit, he’s in dark jeans and a loose fitting white shirt with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. “Hey,” I say as he walks inside.
He looks me up and down and a hint of a smile touches his lips. “You go shopping today?”
“It’s fine, I told him to tell you to go shopping,” Axel says. “You clean up well.”
I wasn’t expecting a compliment to come from this man’s mouth, but hearing it makes me want to turn around and look away from him and his perfect face.
“Here,” he says. Axel drops a cell phone down onto the bed. “I figured you might need this so we don’t have to keep banging on your door.”
I reach over, feeling a little more freedom touch my fingers. “Thank you,” I offer.
“Ready for dinner?”
“Where were you today?” I realize this is absolutely none of my business but curiosity usually manages to get the worst of me.
“Delivering our confession,” he says as if I should have assumed. “It was all over the news, thanks to you and your sciencing”
Everything has felt confusing for the past twenty-four hours, and while I’m still incredibly confused, I feel like I have a bit more clarity too. I don’t think these guys are bad. I don’t know if the man from last night actually committed the crime he confessed to today, but he said he was on death row before Axel got a hold of him—if that was actually true. I want to assume it is because that would define this situation as being less than illegal. I think.
“Glad it worked out,” I tell him, keeping my response simple since I don’t know what to say about everything from last night.
“Your tactic last night was genius,” Axel says.
“Not sure if it was the music, the memory hacking, or both?”
“Oh,” I mutter. If he only knew…
“It was new to me and I have to say I’m intrigued,” he says, glancing over at me with a small, proud smirk. “It’s exactly what we’ve been trying to perfect for years.”
“I learned it in school,” I tell him.
“I’d love to hear more. Tonight, though, let’s just relax. Tomorrow might be another hell-on-wheels kind of day.” Hearing this doesn’t scare me. I want more.
We leave the hotel and walk a few blocks down to a bar looking restaurant. This wasn’t what I was expecting after our dinner last night but it’s more of my scene.
The lack of formality creates a more comfortable environment while sitting between the four guys. “We heard you’re some kind of crazy smart girl,” Declan says.
I shrug off his compliment. “I just have an interest in psychology. It’s no big deal.”
“Yeah, it is,” Luke says while checking out a waitresses’ ass as she walks by. This is the behavior I was expecting last night but they were probably all threatened to be on their best behavior. Axel strikes me as the type who likes his men to act a certain way.
Everett orders the table a round of beers and the first round quickly turns into four. Forgetting the fact that I’m at least half the size of the four guys, I’m doing my best to hold my own, but at the same time, I haven’t had a drink in months.
Axel orders me a glass of water and leans over, quietly whispering. “Drink this.” I hadn’t realized my intoxication was noticeable but my words might have been slurring a bit.
“I needdddd to use the resssroom…” Yeah, I’m slurring. Oops! I stand from my seat, watching the guys chuckle as I try to regain my balance once up. Shit.
I wait what feels like a half hour to get into the ladies’ room, and when I come back out, I quickly realize the quiet dinner bar has turned into a loud drinking bar. People are dancing, making out in corners, taking shots, singing at the top of their lungs. I feel like I missed the part when everyone went from sober to drunk, but that’s how this usually works. Not that I took part in the normal college partying experiences since I was always busy studying, but I guess it’s better to experience this later rather than not at all.
I find myself attracted to the dancing portion of the bar where a random guy hands me a shot. “Thank you!” I shout over the music.
“Red-Headed Slut,” he shouts back.
“Excuse me?” I snap, ready to throw the shot back into his face. I don’t have red hair? What the hell?”
The guy laughs and points to the shot. “That’s the name of the shot.”
“Oh!” I giggle, taking the shot with one swig. “That’s a good red-headed slut!”
A hand clamps down around my arm and I’m pulled away from the short, Irish-looking guy who was feeding me more booze. “What the hell are you doing?” Axel’s voice whispers into my ear with anger.
“You always take shots from random men at a bar? How did you even survive college?”
I shrug him off, not caring much about what he thinks of me. “I’m alive, aren’t I?” I retort.
He swings me around to face him. “Come on, Isabelle,” he says. “I need you to be smart if you’re going to work with us.”
“What did you just call me?” I ask. I may be drunk, but I know what he just said.
“Harley isn’t a former psych major from Boston University. Isabelle Hamell is though,” he says surely.
“Don’t call me that,” I tell him.
He puts his hands up in defense. “Fair enough. You can explain the lie later. I know better than to argue with a drunk woman,” he says, laughing a little.
No one has called me that in more than two years and I was hoping to never hear it again. I sigh heavily and look toward the bar, debating on my next drink of choice. “I need a drink,” I tell Axel.
“Uh, I think you’ve had enough for all of us,” he says. Does he realize we’re in the middle of a dance floor and people are shoving into us? He’s not moving, nor does he care that we look like idiots standing here still in the middle of all these people jumping around.
“You’re really uptight,” I tell him.
He raises a brow like I’m making no sense. “Oh yeah?”
Ugh. I grab his hands and throw them up into the air, which he fights against. “Here.” I grip my hands around his shoulders and try to make him sway to the music. “It won’t kill you, I promise.”
He allows me to push him around for a few seconds but he’s quick to pull away. “I don’t dance. Especially with my employees.”
I start dancing, ignoring his whiningless whines. Whatever. “Dude, stop being such a dud,” Everett says to Axel, pushing him out of the way. “If the girl wants to dance, let her dance.”
Everett can dance. Geez, yeah, he can dance. He’s taking the dance floor like a storm and grabbing me at the same time, pulling me into the center of the crowd. I completely lose myself in the song we’re dancing to, I’m sure making a complete fool of myself at the same time, but I haven’t had this much fun in as long as I can remember.
Everett’s hands are on my hips and I’m dancing with him in a way I probably shouldn’t—in a way I’ll probably regret in the morning, but right now, I just want to dance.
Axel doesn’t want me to dance, though.
The bar might be swaying around me, but I’m moving against my own will now. “Dude!” Everett shouts.
“Axel, cut it out!” I follow up to Everett’s shouting.
“You need to sober up,” he tells me.
“You need to let me go,” I reply.
He releases his grip on my arm and flings me into a corner. “If I’m hiring you to work with us, I need you to act responsible at all times, do you understand?”
“I don’t’ remember signing a contract agreeing to be responsible twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”
“Then leave,” he says.
“Fine,” I respond, knowing I don’t mean it. “I’ll go find a nice park bench.”
“Harley,” he says, looking at me like I’m an idiot.
“What’s the problem, Axel?”
“Nothing,” he says. “Go ahead and keep dancing with Everett. I don’t give a shit.”
I look at him for a long minute. “Yeah, except you do. I’m just not sure why.” Even in my inebriated state, I kind of do know why, but there’s no real reason for it after meeting me just a day ago. I’m nothing more than an almost bum on the street. I’m not worth fighting over, that’s for sure. “Fine, you stand here being a lame ass, and I’ll go have fun.”
He nods his head and expels a loud lungful of air. “Just stop drinking,” is the last thing he says before I return to Everett.
Ready for the next episode? Episode Four
Please note: these episodes are not edited.
Copyright 2016 - Shari J. Ryan