After

12 - Jessica

I don't know what stupidity convinced me to do this. I didn't even have the luxury of regaining some composure and touching up my smudged make up.

When I'd been hovering in front of the hall mirror and dabbed at my dry, pink lips, Tag had merely tugged at my elbow and made his opinion entirely known in saying, "This is more important."

As he'd practically dragged me out of my apartment complex, hardly giving me enough time to lock the door on my flat, I was very tempted to argue that not much is ever more important than make up.

It's a shield, a mask, something to construct myself with. I cling onto it because it feels like it's the one last piece of me left - and it's not much of me at all. It feels kind of empty in the shell of my body. I'm only ever surrounded by people who use me as a money making device. They can't see past the mask I've made for myself to the crumbling remains of the Jessica I used to be. It's... lonely.

I scold myself for even admitting that as Tag ushers me out of the double doors of my apartment building to the eerily quiet street in front. It's hard to admit that I barely spend much time on this street at all, only ever stepping on the sidewalk for a brief period between walking from my apartment building and into a generic, black car to take me to the next conference.

Tag mutters about not having much time left as he keeps checking his phone, swearing under his breath at something he saw on the screen. Swiftly, he sweeps his head up, looking around as if he's searching for something or someone. Never once does he stop moving.

But I do. "Excuse me," I pipe up confidently, standing stock still in the middle of the sidewalk, tugging at my hair enough that it crudely resembled the results of a hair iron. "How do I know you're not going to drag me to some alleyway and murder me?"

"If I had wanted to murder you," he mutters, unfazed, as if he had expected and rehearsed all possible answers to multiple possible questions. Never once did he lift his eyes from his cell phone screen, swiftly coaxing me by my elbow to start moving again. "I would have done it back in your apartment."

I shiver at the thought, wrapping my arms around my parka jacketed self. I don't want to even imagine my apartment splattered with my own blood, ripped to shreds and left tumbled in a pile on hollow floor, blood creeping into the cracks and grains in the wood. But it's not hard visualise anymore; not after the numerous nightmares that play out that exact storyline - though the killer isn't ever Tag or any other human.

Tag ushers me quickly into a nearby cab like I'm a rag doll, climbs in after me and slams the door behind.

And I keep on muttering about how much of an idiot I am.

"Listen," Tag explains slowly, the back of the cab quiet except for the rumbling of the engine and muffled horns blaring outside the window. "I know you don't trust me-"

"What gave you that idea?" I scoff, not even trying to hide my sarcasm as I lean my chin against the palm of my hand and train my eyes on the world beyond the window. I am, however, trying to hide my erratic heartbeat and the incessant fidgeting of my fingers.

Tag sighs, acting like he didn't hear any of what I just said. "You're the only one who can do this. He won't speak with anyone else-"

"Who?!" My eyes snap to Tag in alarm, my hand inconspicuously slipping down to the handle of the door, ready to grip it and jump out of the vehicle. But Tag notices and tries to calm me down with a gentle smile. I only shake my head in disbelief, averting my gaze in case he sees the fear in them.

"Don't worry," he says rhythmically. "You know him."

I dare to close my eyes, breathing slowly in throw my nose and out through my mouth like I was tutored in rehab. My soft, broken voice whispers, "That's what I'm most afraid of."


"Matt?!" The word drops from my mouth before I can even shove it back in.

He stands in his grungy apartment doorway, his eyes worn with tears and skin dry like ripped paper.

"Jess?" He asks tentatively, his voice hoarse. He looks like he's just come back from court, his suit jacket pulled off his shoulders and his white shirt unbuttoned to his stomach. "What are you doing here?"

I want to ask that question myself but when I glance angrily to my side to retort Tag, he's no where to be seen.

Tag's voice echoes in my mind, repeating the words he had said just before we reached this apartment number; "He's lonely too."

"I- er," quickly, I mentally switch into the motivational speaker version of me and flicker on a bright smile like I'm a television screen. "Can I come in?"

By some miracle, he lets me.


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