After

27 - Jessica

"What is it, Greg?" My voice almost breaks as I finally pluck up the courage to pick up my cellphone and call him back.

"Jessica," Greg breathes on the other end of the line, relief crackling his own voice through the line. "Oh, thank heavens. I thought something had happened to you!"

I'm almost frozen on the spot. What? Is he saying what I think he's saying? My words are stuck in my throat like toffee.

It was only in the comfort in my own apartment that I'd decided I was brave enough to face up to Greg. In a place where I had no audience - something I rarely get to experience. I was sure he'd be raving mad, snapping at me to report to him immediately. And threatening to fire me.

"You were... worried about me?" My voice is smaller, surprised, the tiniest pinpricks of hope gleaming through. Greg has never once given a crap about me. It's only ever been about the money, about how much profit he can get. I never thought he'd ever be concerned about me. Slowly, I can feel myself pull down my shields, the real me peeking through.

Maybe I was too hard on him after all.

"Oh, hell no," Greg scoffs, dropping his facade, any glimpses of worry gone from his voice.

Okay, I was definitely not hard enough on him.

I shake my head in disbelief, instantly yanking my walls back up, shielding my real self behind them. Like usual. Of course. Greg never fails to win the worst manager of the year award.

"Where the hell have you been?" He snaps.

"Didn't you get my message?" I bark back, my fingers stressfully and angrily tangling into my hair. "I was helping a friend. In hospital."

Greg laughs humourlessly on the other end. "Well, couldn't you have at least got someone to snap some photos? You know, publicity?"

I almost choke. "Is that all you really care about?" I ask incredulously.

"Jess?"

Matt's voice is quiet on the other end of the hallway.

Great timing.

Correction: I have an audience of one.

I jerk my attention back to Greg, only to say blatantly, "I'll call you back later," and hear Greg's incessant "Jessica, if you dare hang up, I'll-". But I drop my hand and cut him off.

I collapse back onto the sofa as my energy drains from me.

"Jess?" Matt pries again, his voice sounding so much softer than last night. But I suppose that was when he was drunk - and before he knocked his memory out of him. He looks almost like a shadow in the dim light of the hallway. But I can still see the outline of his bruise and his shifted shoulders, like he constantly has a weight hunched on them.

"Yes?" I ask weakly, covering my face with a shaking hand.

I'd had to take him here. There had been no other choice. The hospital had discharged him, despite my insistence and constant throwing money at them. But, apparently, there was no need for him to stay anymore overnight. All he'd need were psychiatric sessions to restore whatever memories were obtainable.

Like he'd want to do that with the kind of memories he had.

Turns out I didn't trust him to remember where he put his apartment keys, let alone whether he was reliable enough to stay there on his own. Especially with all those newspaper clippings of Emily's death he'd stashed away.

Imagine him stumbling upon them on his own. I couldn't live with that possibility.

Turns out I care about him after all.

"Emily won't pick up her phone," Matt admits, defeated. Slowly, he steps towards me, into the living room. He cradles his cellphone in his hand, constantly glancing down at it. The glow from it illuminates the damage on his face. "She's going to kill me when she knows I'm here."

I let out an exasperated - nevertheless weak - sigh. "Emily isn't ever going to call you. Okay?"

Matt's face crumbles in hurt and confusion. Just as the light bulb above my head flickers.

I snap my head up. A shiver slithers over my shoulders. My hairs prickle along my arms.

"What the hell?" I whisper. That's never happened before. I narrow my eyes cautiously in the direction of it, an inky blackness spreading underneath the glass of the bulb. I stretch myself up to inspect the lamp that it's screwed into when it flickers again, this time, the main light bulb in the room joining in.

Something doesn't feel right. My stomach curdles, my whole body suddenly feeling freezing. My heart is pumping in my chest, my teeth chattering. My left eye is itchy, aching. I reach up. To scratch it-

A huge bang crashes against the wall behind my head.

My body vaults to my feet. I spin around. My heart is pounding. "Matt?" My voice cracks, glancing in his direction in panic. As if I could accuse him of doing any of this. He's frozen on the spot, his eyes bulging, staring straight at the spot where the bang came from. He's a statue, unblinking, his bicep twitching from strain. His bruise looks particularly menacing under this harsh light, the bloody red a contrast against his dark skin.

Then his jaw goes slack like someone has unhooked it. And he opens his mouth to speak.

But it isn't his voice that comes out.

It's Emily's.

"Stay away from my man, you whore."

As soon as the words have escaped his lips, his joints unravel and he collapses into a heap on the floor. And the room settles into a calm hum.

The exact opposite of my heart.


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