Authors: Minka Kent
“Your number?” she asks.
“It’s in my wife’s file,” I say in a monotone. And then I rattle off the ten digits anyway. “It’s imperative that she call me
as soon as possible
“Of course, Dr. Emberlin.”
I debate making a larger stink about this, offering to hold on the phone until Nancy is free again, but a quick glance at the dash clock tells me I’m eight minutes from having to head inside.
“Thank you.” I end the call.
I don’t know what could possibly keep her from coming to the phone or require that I speak to a nurse first, but something tells me I’m not going to like the answer.
It’s the funniest thing.
I don’t remember driving to the hospital, and yet here I am, parked in front of the main entrance, gripping the steering wheel so tightly the whites of my knuckles shine through my skin, bright and distracting.
My insides are icy. But my flesh is hot.
I keep thinking of my empty bank accounts—the swindling of my grandparents’ hard-earned legacy—and for pockets of time, it almost makes
feel empty. But then that sensation gets pushed aside, and I get filled with anger instead.
Not just anger.
Pure, unadulterated rage.
I kill the engine of my rental car and storm up to the entrance, stopping at the front desk, where an innocent bystander working as a receptionist greets me with nothing but kindness in her tone.
Her soft expression evaporates the instant she gets a closer look at me. I’m on a warpath, and I’m sure it shows.
“I need you to page Dr. Niall Emberlin,” I say. “Immediately. It’s an emergency.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. If it’s an emergency, we’re going to need you to go around to the west entrance to the emergency room. They’ll be able
to help you there,” she says, impressively maintaining her patience and professionalism.
“It’s a personal family emergency,” I say. “I need to speak to him right now.”
“Have you tried calling him?” she asks. “If it’s personal, I mean?”
No. I didn’t. I didn’t want to give the weasel a chance to run before I had the opportunity to confront him.
Exhaling, I come to a stark realization: as of now, he has my money. I don’t know how much of it. Could be some. Could be all. So I need to be careful. One misstep, and the bastard gets a heads-up, and then he’s gone, never to be found again. You can do that sort of thing with the amount of money we’re talking about here. You can disappear. You can make people disappear. You can buy yourself a whole new life.
Shifting my demeanor, I offer a slow smile. “It’s a surprise actually.”
The poor woman is clearly confused, but I watch as she reaches for her receiver and punches in three numbers. She tells the person on the other line that she has a visitor here for Dr. Emberlin, and a moment later, she thanks them.
“You can head on up to the cardiac floor,” she says. “Four-north.”
“He’s a surgical oncologist,” I say, chin angled down and to the side.
The woman reaches for a stapled list on her desk and pages through it, chewing the inside of her mouth. “No, no. Emberlin’s a cardiologist.”
Refusing to waste another second arguing about this, I make my way to the elevator and press the button for the fourth floor. The nurses’ station is located just off the elevator, and I do my best to compose myself before scaring another innocent soul who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Hi, I’m here to see Dr. Emberlin,” I say in my sweetest tone, though my lips feel wavy and electric, and I’m sure my skin is noticeably flushed.
The woman doesn’t say anything as she lifts a finger and makes a quick call.
“He’s finishing up a consult. He’ll be out shortly,” she says, studying me.
“Thank you.” Looking around, I don’t see a waiting area, so I find an empty bit of wall space and stand out of the way, arms folded.
Minutes pass. Five, then ten, then fifteen. I scan and scour the faces of every white coat that passes, and after a while, I begin to wonder if he saw me first or if someone tipped him off and he’s avoiding me.
I check the time on my phone.
Over twenty minutes now.
I half pay attention when a tall, thin man in a white coat with hair to match sidles up to the nurses’ station.
The woman who helped me earlier points at me, and the doctor turns my way.
I give a quick, polite smile to acknowledge them, and then I turn back to my screen.
The scuff of his soft tennis shoes quiets, and he comes to a stop in front of me.
“Hi, there,” he says. “I’m Dr. Emberlin. I was told you were looking for me?”
I attempt to say something, but my lungs are void of all air. All I can do is stare at his name badge: D
The man I’ve been living with these last six months is not Dr. Niall Emberlin.
The man I’ve been living with is a con artist.
“I . . . I’m sorry,” I finally say. “I think I have the wrong person.”
Before he responds, I all but sprint to the open elevator doors, managing to catch a ride down before it closes.
It’s almost as if I blink, and I’m back in my car, the last three minutes walking back to the parking lot nothing but a blur that I couldn’t remember if I tried.
I drive away with shaking hands and a realization that I’m not just dealing with a con man—I’m dealing with a dangerous stranger. And now that I’m back, I’m not just some minor inconvenience—I’m an obstacle: the only thing standing in the way of the one thing he wants.
I hated being in Crestview.
But at least there, I was safe . . . from him.
Brian is on his third fifteen-minute toilet break of the day when I pull my phone out and check my bank account.
The numbers on the screen are bigger than yesterday, which means the latest deposit went through. I grin until my face hurts, and then I send a text to Sam. Just a plain old
I love you
. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just a little something to make her day brighter because she’s my person and she deserves the brightest of days. But a second later, I decide I want to hear her voice. I’ve got at least another ten minutes before Brian comes back, so I grab the phone on the desk and punch in Sam’s cell number.
“Hey,” she answers on the third ring. “You must be bored.”
“Nah. Just missing you. Wanted to hear your voice.”
She releases a soft sigh into the phone. “How’s work?”
“Same old.” I rest my elbows on the desk and stare out the glass partition that separates our tiny headquarters from the hallway and the nearest nurses’ station. “I was thinking. I want to take you somewhere.”
“What do you mean? Like a vacation?”
“Yeah. Like a vacation. Somewhere warm. Palm trees. Ocean. Weather that makes your hair curly like it gets in the summer.” I’ve known Sam long enough to know she’s never seen the ocean. Hell, she’s
never been on an airplane in her almost thirty-five years. Sonya flew herself and me to Idaho once. One of her friends died, and we went to the funeral. It was my first, last, and only plane ride. The only thing I remember about it was that it was unexceptional until we flew above the Rocky Mountains. Everyone should get to see what the world looks like from an airplane window at least once in their life. “Somewhere exotic.”
“Like Myrtle Beach?”
I laugh because I know she’s just being cute. “I’ve got to get back to work. Start thinking of places you want to go, okay?”
I hang up and spin in my chair, only to have the bejesus scared out of me when I’m met with Brian’s Rubenesque frame filling the doorway.
“Was that a personal call?” he asks. I can’t tell if he’s messing with me or not.
“No, I was just telling Dr. Lucas how much I loved him.” My sarcasm is probably lost on Brian, but oh well. “You going to turn me in?”
His stoic expression morphs into a fit of laughter as he makes his way over, rapping me on the shoulder.
“Dude, you should’ve seen your face,” he says. “I wouldn’t do that to a friend. What kind of asshole do you think I am?”
Oh, God. He thinks we’re friends now? Were all those cold shoulders for nothing?
I swallow the response I want to give him and instead offer a simple, “Appreciate it.”
Focusing on the AT-A-GLANCE calendar hanging on the bulletin board behind my desk, I remind myself it won’t be long before all this will be behind me, along with the nauseating smell of sanitizer that clings to my skin no matter how hard I try to wash it off and my sorry excuse for a paycheck.
A hospital page comes over the system for Dr. Emberlin.
The irony makes me smile.
I leave the hospital and head straight to Marisol’s law firm now that I know she was, in fact, a friend of mine and that not all my memories were false. She changed her number shortly after my incident, and we haven’t spoken in months. I hate that I’m seeking her out now, with our unresolved issues and while I’m in dire straits. But I need her. If anyone’s going to help me make sense of all this and point me in the right direction, it’s her.
It’s funny all the things I can’t remember, all the memories and parts of my life I lost from my traumatic brain injury, but here I am, standing in the lobby of Marisol’s law firm, and it feels like only yesterday I was standing in this very spot waiting for her to finish up a call so we could grab a quick lunch at Chez Mimi on Oakmont Avenue—our spot.
It’s as if nothing has changed. Same mahogany walls and vintage-reprint wallpaper. Same overstuffed leather chairs. Same yawn-inducing elevator music playing from overhead speakers.
“Hi. Can I help you?” A receptionist, one I’ve never seen before, appears from around the corner, taking her chair behind the front desk. I wonder what happened to Annette. I used to bring her Belgian chocolates from the Stam every time I’d stop by. It was right next to my office, and they were her favorites.
“I’m here to see Marisol,” I say, clammy hands clamped in front of me. I offer a silent prayer to anyone listening that she’ll talk to me.
“Absolutely. One moment.” The chipper receptionist, who can’t be older than twenty-two, lifts the receiver of her phone and presses three numbers. “Hi. Ms. Valdes? Your three o’clock is here.”
I step forward, waving my hands and trying to correct her, but it’s too late.
She hangs up. “She’ll be right out.”
“I’m not actually her three PM,” I say. “Just an old friend.”
The young woman lifts her hand to her mouth. “Oh. Oh, no. Um . . . hold on . . .”
With unmatched urgency she tries to call Marisol again, but it’s too late.
Marisol is standing next to the front desk, arms folded across her chest, standing tall in her signature red-bottomed shoes, cream blouse, and navy power suit. “What the
are you doing here?”
“I tried to call your office yesterday, and—”
Marisol’s dark, hooded eyes narrow. “You have some nerve.”
“I just want to—”
Pointing to the door, she says, “Leave. Now. Before I call security.”
Since when has she had security? She has to be bluffing.
“Marisol,” I say, uttering some semblance of a laugh. This situation is ridiculous. We were friends. No.
friends. We used to do everything together. We used to tell each other everything. There were no secrets between us. I’d have taken a bullet for her, and now she’s threatening to have me escorted out of her office by security?
“Please, Mar. One minute of your time.” I place my hand over my heart.
She glances to her receptionist, then to me, before exhaling. “Fine.”
Turning, she heads back to her office, and I follow.
“You have one minute. That’s it,” she adds.
Once we’re inside, she closes the door and stands before me with her hands on her hips and a sharp stare pointed at me.
“Something has happened,” I say. “These last six months. Since the assault.”
She lifts a thin, manicured brow. If I know her, she’s half-curious, half-annoyed. She’s always been one who appreciates those who cut to the chase and don’t waste her precious time.
“It’s a long story. And I know you’re busy,” I say. “I know you don’t want to talk to me. But that’s why I’m here. And I need to ask you something before we begin.”
“O . . . kay?” She checks her watch.
“I need to know what I did.”
Marisol coughs, choking on her spit. “You can’t be serious.”
“I wish I wasn’t.” I shrug, hand tight around the strap of the weighty purse that digs into my shoulder. “All I know is that you guys came around shortly after my assault, and then all of a sudden, I stopped hearing from you. And then when I tried to call you, everyone had changed their numbers.”
“Okay, Bri. First of all . . .” Her voice trails off, and her face is pinched. “You’re not making any sense.”
“Right. I’m aware . . . That’s why I’m here.” I don’t tell her that I’m finally making sense out of the con man attempting to swindle my retirement, inheritance, savings, and investment portfolio out from under me, but I need to understand why my friends abandoned me in my time of need.
“So you’re telling me you have zero recollection of texting nude selfies to my husband?” she asks.
I laugh, as inappropriate as it might be, because her statement is preposterous and the last thing I expected.
“I’m not sure how you find any of this funny, Brienne,” she says. “Javier and I are separated right now because of you. I saw the
screenshots. The pictures and the disgusting text messages that accompanied them came from
number. There was no denying that.”
“I haven’t taken a nude picture of myself in my life,” I say, fingers splayed over my sprinting heart.
She rolls her eyes. “Right. I must have been hallucinating then. Must have imagined it all.” Marisol huffs. “I’m sorry, but the denial route doesn’t get anywhere with me. Just ask Javier. You can find him at the Motel 6.”