“I hope you don’t mind.” Theo saunters his way over to me, garnering my attention with a wide gesture. “I couldn’t help but buy you a coffee.” He rests the coffee in front of me and then sits in the chair opposite.
Reaching for the coffee, I lift it and place it back in front of him. “I do mind,” I retort. Lowering my gaze back to my laptop, I ignore him. Except he won’t be ignored. He laughs, grabs the lid of my computer, and claps it shut. That burns a fire deep in me.
“What’s your problem?” I bark, glaring at his wide smirk.
“Now that I have your attenti-” he begins, but I cut him off.
“-I’m not interested.” I stand, pulling my laptop under my arm. With one final huff, I turn to walk away from him. But he doesn’t let me.
“You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve seen. I’m not giving up easily.” He takes a loud swig of coffee and then stands. “Say you’ll have coffee with me. Or dinner.”
“I can’t believe she’d turn him down.” I hear the whispers behind me, taunting me for standing my ground against this arrogant jerk.
“No,” I state.
My dreams were right. I want nothing to do with this man.
I gasp awake.
“You’re up early,” Ellery announces. Blinking the sleep from my eyes, I sit up on the couch. He’s dressed already, drinking coffee in his tiny kitchen. Right, he still has a job he has to attend to. I’m sure the higher-ups won’t be happy with him skipping out on the incident yesterday.
“Yeah,” I mumble it dumbly. The contents of my dream are still swimming through my head. The dizziness is almost overwhelming.
“You alright?” he wonders, pouring another mug of coffee. He walks it to me, setting it down on the coffee table. “Bad dream?”
“Strange dream,” I correct him, reaching for the coffee.
“I have some time,” he offers, subtly glancing at the empty space at my feet. We don’t have secrets anymore. I guess we both made that promise yesterday by revealing everything. But I don’t really know what to say about my dream. It wasn’t real for me. But for their Miriam? Maybe. I take a long drink, waiting for the caffeine to kick in. “If you don’t want to-”
“-No, sit,” I murmur. He does as I command, plopping down at my feet.
“If your dreams are anything like mine, I understand,” Ellery explains. “I keep reliving Theo’s death. There’s something not sitting right about it. I just haven’t figured it out yet.”
“What do you mean?” I inquire, lifting my brows. Hearing about his dreams first will give me a chance to wrap my head around my own.
“How he was acting was just strange.” He stares into the mouth of his coffee, frowning. “He kept secrets better than anyone.”
“Well, what happens in your dream?” I press.
“He’s leaving with Miriam and then when the rumbles began he-” he has to clear his throat, “-he pushes her as though hoping the rubble will crush her.”
“W-what?” I stammer out. Comparing his dream with the one I had when I first arrived here, it fits. He shoved her up those stairs, but she didn’t hesitate at all. Her lack of hesitation saved her from all the falling rubble that crashed down behind her.
“Right?” Ellery sighs, leaning back against the couch cushion. He stares up at the ceiling, jaw set.
“You think he wanted to kill her?” I can’t help the words. They’re crass, but right now, they’re the truth. I had wondered why Miriam was a coward, running up those stairs just because Theo told her to. But her actions are starting to make sense. If she knew what he was trying to do, if she was having dreams about it...I would have left him too. “I think I dreamt of the first time they met.”
“At the coffee shop?” Ellery confirms.
“You know about that?” I meet his gaze. He shrugs. “She had dreamt about him coming onto her and was hellbent in saying no. But he was really aggressive. He kept insisting.” Wait, she had dreamt about him coming onto her before they were even dating.
“She was having dreams prior to everything.” My realization comes out in a whisper.
“The same as us.” Ellery scratches his head. “It’s just getting more complicated. I was hoping when you came everything would just become clear. Wishful thinking, I guess.” He stands from the couch, chugs the rest of his coffee, and then returns to the kitchen. After depositing his mug into the sink, he dons his jacket.
“All my research about the earthquakes is at the office.” He turns back to look at me. “I’ll bring it with me when I come back. In the meantime, is there anything you need?”
“My sister!” I practically shout the words and then feel my cheeks redden.
“I’ll look into her, too. Anything else?” He starts towards the door, straightening his sleeves. I shake my head. “If you get bored enough.” His hand lifts, pointing to a punching bag in the back corner. “Gotta keep that left hook polished.”
“I might take you up on that offer.” I laugh. A smile pulls at the corner of his mouth for the first time this morning. We’re both rather grim.
“Bye.” He tugs the door open and exits. He doesn’t even wait for my reply. Typical Ellery. As the door slams behind him, I turn back to the coffee table. The awful pink sweater is crumbled in a heap beside her black jacket. In the pocket of her jacket, I can see her wallet. I’ve never taken a moment to look through it. Now might be the time.
I pull the wallet free, lifting it to eye level. It’s one of two possessions that aren’t pink. The black leather is worn, aged. But it’s still in decent repair. Inside, there are only four cards. Two of them are credit cards, at least that’s a commonality between our worlds. The third is a card I don’t recognize, and the fourth is her driver’s license. I investigate that one first. It’s almost identical to Ellery’s license, save for a distinct rectangle under her picture. Furrowing my brow, I pick at the picture. Is it fake? Sure enough, it peels free.
And I laugh.
Underneath the picture is another picture, one that is horribly unflattering. She covered it with what can only be described as a “fashion shot.” It must have been torturous to see herself so disheveled every day. I place the tape back down. In her memory, I’ll allow her to be remembered as the meticulous beauty she was. Just the thought brings a fresh round of tears.
It’s hard to believe that the other me is dead. How could they have possibly known she would be there at that time? No, that’s an easy question to answer: they have informants in my world. The question I really need to ask is how did they get those informants over safely? How had they known to send them over in the first place? And what are they trying to accomplish?
Damnit. If my day is just going to be an endless onslaught of unanswerable questions, I’ll die of mental strain. Standing from the couch, I glance around myself. No harm in a little exploration. With my coffee cup in hand, I pace towards the corner of electronics. All the computers are turned off. That’s not much of a surprise, but it doesn’t give me much to see. Although the brand is certainly different. Instead of a tiny half-eaten apple, there’s a single stalk of rhubarb. I almost spit out my coffee. I can’t imagine those commercials.
Just beyond the electronics, there’s a stack of moving boxes. Lifting one of the flaps, I peek inside. It’s just binders. Opening the first binder, I read the title: Birming Massacre. I guess they’re cases. Turning just one more page, I read the subheader: “four dead in a hate massacre in Southern Birming.” I snap the binder shut.
Being a fact-checker was hard enough, but being a detective? I could never handle the sadness that would come with the territory. Seeing more young women like my sister, murdered, would ravage a heavy toll on me. Ellery must have an iron stomach, either that, or he hides his suffering well. I close the box, hiding away his pain.
I walk to the punching bag next, giving it a soft tap. I’d played along with Ellery earlier, but I don’t use punching bags anymore. As odd as it is, they remind me too much of my father. Boxing is unappealing now, even if I still employ a few of my skills. With a heavy breath, I glance away from it. I can’t delve into those memories right now, my memories of my sister are surfacing enough.
She was a beautiful little one. Her name was Flora, which fit her image almost perfectly. Her curly hair was always in a ponytail at the nape of her neck, though hair often escaped, framing her cheeks. That darling heart-shaped face was my favorite sight, especially with the tickling hair bouncing freely along her cheeks. More often than not, she got herself in trouble with that cute face. But she loved the freedom of her rebellion and promised me she’d never stop. She didn’t, but someone certainly stopped her.
I glare at the floor, tighten my grip on my mug, and sigh. She and Miriam were both taken before their time, and for what? Both of them grew attached to people they shouldn’t have and paid the ultimate price. I dry laugh, my heart tugging against my chest.
I can’t avenge either of them.
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