It Was Him

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3

“I’ve come to attend his funerals,” Ellery declares. He seems too relaxed over the idea his brother is dead. But more importantly, funerals? Resting his elbows on the edge of my desk, he stares down at me. “You wouldn’t want to accompany me, would you?”

“To his funeral?” I emphasize the fact that it’s singular.

“Right,” he agrees. Reaching over my desk, he slips a pen from the jar behind my laptop. I don’t remember those ever being on my desk. I furrow my brow at the jar of pens until Ellery presses a note in front of me. In scribbled hand, it reads both his name and his phone number. My phone! They’d never recovered my phone. Boss is going to kill me for that.

“Sorry,” I begin, clearing my throat, “I’m not interested.” I lift the note and push it back towards him. “Funerals are not my idea of a date, especially with...a brother.” My instinct is to refer to Theo as my boyfriend, but something about the assertion doesn’t sit right with me. I’m really not convinced that this is “normal.” Ellery snorts before a boisterous laugh rumbles out of him.

“No!” he shakes his head. “No, no. It’s not a date. It’s an invitation from the family.”

“His parents-” I bite my tongue as soon as the words leave my mouth. Why am I even entertaining the idea of attending his funeral? I’m holding onto my prominent memories. There were only five casualties in the earthquake, that was the first time I met Theo, and that means he is not my boyfriend. That, and this isn’t my occupation. I am not a secretary. But if that’s all true, what is happening?

“Our parents won’t be there. But I have all the information you need.” Ellery tilts his head at me, examining my face. “Even information you’d believe I shouldn’t have.” Is he trying to scam me? He may have similar features to Theo, but can I really believe he’s his brother? He hadn’t presented me any ID, he hadn’t proven to me that what he claims is true.

As if reading my thoughts, Ellery slaps his wallet down on my desk. He gestures for me to open it. Not that I have it, I’m hesitant. Theo and I both had prophetic dreams, can his brother read minds? Eyeing Ellery, I relent and pluck his wallet from where it rests. Half-expecting him to take the chance to abduct me or murder me, I glance back up at him. He’s just standing there.

“Ellery Tempin.” I read the name on his ID aloud.

“Brother of Theo Tempin,” Ellery offers. But I’m not done with his wallet just yet. The ID is strange. No, it’s more than just strange. Most IDs have the state written at the top with a picture pasted to the left and the information pasted to the right. But not his. His picture is stretched down the middle of the card, on the right of it a country is listed. On the left, his information. But it’s far from typical. Occupation. Years in occupation. Schooling. Highest level of schooling. Grades. It’s like his ID is a resume, but has no information about his physical person at all.

“What is the country of York?” I can’t help sputtering out the question. But he doesn’t seem surprised.

“I’m telling you, I have all the information you need,” he reemphasizes. “The funeral is tomorrow.” He places his phone number in front of me again. Then, he holds out his hand for his wallet. “Unless you’re planning to steal my identity, I need that to drive home.” I’m not ready to give his ID back to him. It’s almost fascinating to me.

“Is it a military ID?” I wonder.

“No,” he rips the wallet out of my hand and stuffs it into the pocket of his long jacket. “It’s just a driver’s license.” His eyes flicker from mine towards Boss’s office. He gives it a once over before returning his gaze to me. “I know you’re not from here. If you want my help-” He gestures towards the note with his phone number on it. After doing so, he slaps my desk and turns on his heel.

“Wait.” I burst out of my seat. What does he mean? I’ve never been a fan of cryptic people. I’m direct. I prefer it when others are direct as well. “You come in here throwing aro-” He’s quick to press his hand over my mouth, then tilts his head at me in warning.

“That would be a great place to meet,” he speaks the words loudly. I shoot him a glare, which he returns. He’s not easy to threaten it seems. Lowering his hand from my mouth, he moves to snatch the note from my desk. Underneath his phone number, he pens another line. Taking my arm, he opens my palm and crumples the note into my grasp. “My interview is paramount for the upcoming article, I promise.” Article? Are we a newspaper?

He steps back, keeping his stern gaze on me. When his back brushes against the door, he finally turns around to open it. As he leaves, it slams behind him. Once again, I’m torn into two reactions. The first is to immediately demand answers from him over the phone. The second is tearing the note in my hands to shreds. I don’t care if he’s Theo’s brother. How can I trust a man who speaks of his own brother’s funeral with such an impassive tone?

“He left?” Boss asks from across the room, her head poking around the door of her office. In surprise, I shove Ellery’s note into my jacket pocket. “Is he willing to give his testimony for our article on the Earthquakes?”

“Yes,” I stammer. “The Earthquakes?” We really are a newspaper. That is not what I remember.

“Apparently his own parents are causing them,” Boss explains. “A story doesn’t get any juicier than that.”

“How?” I turn to Boss, eyes slightly widened. Theo’s own parents had caused the earthquake that became his grave? Had it been intentional? And Ellery. Are their parents as emotionless as he is over Theo’s death?

“No one knows.” Boss shrugs. “But if anyone has a clue, it’s him. He’s the son of two of the most famous scientists our country has ever known. But I thought you knew all this. Theo didn’t mention any of it?”

“Theo didn’t like to talk about his parents,” I lie. Well, I don’t know if it’s a true lie, but I also don’t know whether Theo spoke of them or not.

“I suppose you’ve only been dating for three months,” Boss agrees. “If my parents were the source of death for hundreds of people, I wouldn’t talk about them either.” Three months. My dreams started three months ago, exactly. Whatever is happening here, it’s related to the dreams we were sharing.

“Me either.” I fake laugh under my breath.

“Would you mind fetching me some coffee?” Boss suddenly wonders. “I’m parched. I’ve been here all night, planning. You were on the scene, which means this is the exclusive of the decade. Grab yourself a coffee too, I want a full account of the events you went through. Are you ready for that?”

“Sure,” I murmur. My brain is telling me to give an account of the dream it’d shown me last night. Does my subconscious know more than it’s currently willing to share with me? Perhaps my indecision is stemming from the rift forming in my own mind. My subconscious and conscious mind seem to be at war; I’m just the battlefield where they’re firing upon each other.

Boss retreats to her office but leaves the door open. Coffee. Have I ever made my own coffee in my entire life? Maybe once. With my busy schedule, I either picked up coffee on the way to work or drank the coffee that Tracy used to make. She had a talent for it. I’m doubting I inherited that talent. But here’s to hoping.

I set the somewhat questionable cup of coffee on the desk in front of Boss. Without even glancing at me, she reaches for it. After a long sip, her brow furrows, and her gaze slides to meet mine. “I see you’re still recovering,” she murmurs. Setting the coffee back down on the desk, she subtly pushes it away from her.

“This’ll be a standard interview,” Boss promises me. “Don’t get too nervous. I won’t drill you for any information you’re not willing to give.” The war of my mind is ongoing, but my subconscious has the upper hand. I give a stiff nod.

“Perfect.” She flips a few pages in her journal and then clicks her pen open. “I’ll start easy. Who do you remember being present?” My subconscious slugs my conscious, dragging its limp body across the threshold of my tongue. The war is over. It won.

“Tracy, Anne, her son James, and my boyfriend Theo.” The words ache. I’ve never had more difficulty pronouncing boyfriend in my entire life.

“Anyone else?” she presses, pen at the ready. “No one suspicious or otherwise shifty?”

“I wasn’t very aware of my surroundings at the time,” I explain, a blush rising to my cheeks. “Theo had my full attention.” She snickers at the admission. In both memories, the same would have been true. Theo was the center of my focus until I tried to rescue the other three. But in my dream, I didn’t. I was a coward.

“How about how the earthquake began?” she continues. From here, I can see that she hasn’t written anything on the journal page yet. But she still has her pen ready, almost anticipating information to come spilling out of my mouth.

“It was a rumble.” I try to recall my dream clearly. “The ground beneath us just began shaking.” My subconscious is approving of my words. What does it know that it’s refusing to tell me? The omission of information is frustrating. It shouldn’t be possible for my own mind to be as vague as the flesh and blood Ellery. But it’s almost worse.

“You didn’t hear any unusual sounds? There wasn’t a machine or other object present?” She’s starting to get more specific. Her bias against Theo and Ellery’s parents is becoming clearer. I doubt she’s the only person who holds one though. It sounds as though the whole city--country--does.

“No.” I shake my head. “It was hard to hear anything over the screaming.” That statement catches her cold, but her ability to recover is impressive. It always has been.

“How did you make it out of the train station so quickly, but Tracy, who was with you, ended up dead on the stairs?” Now she’s just pointedly showing her dislike of me. We’d worked together for three years, slightly more, and I’d never once had her act so apathetic towards me. I’m not sure what’s changed between us, but it’s insulting.

“If you’re going to speak to me in such a tone,” I begin, straightening my shoulders, “I won’t continue this interview.” I don’t care if she’s my boss. In any such circumstances, I won’t tolerate being spoken to like that. The Boss I know would laugh at my insolence, slap me on the shoulder, and tell me to do what I’m told. I’m not so sure this Boss will do the same.

Her piercing eyes meet mine. The pen she was holding falls to the desk. Is she about to explode with anger? I watch her carefully, my muscles tensing. If she attacks me across the desk, I’ll be ready for her. She’d never stand a chance against me. At one point in my life, I’d trained to be a boxer, until my father left the world and my ravenous determination transitioned from physical violence to mental fortitude. That’s what made me such a talented fact-checker. Boss knows that. Or she did.

“Tracy should have lived,” Boss suddenly snarls, standing out of her chair. I rise to meet her. She won’t look down on me. “If you weren’t so useless, she would have.” My fists clench at my sides, but I hold myself back. I can’t, in my right mind, just slug her. But I’m certainly tempted to.

“Then allow this useless secretary to make something clear to you.” I roll my shoulders back. “Your crucial interview with Ellery is dependent on me. And I’m no longer an employee here. Sorry, you’re going to lose such a rare exclusive.” I keep her gaze, before sharply turning around. I’ve traded jobs before. It’s nothing new. Just breathe Miriam.

Walking to my desk, I grab both pictures of me with Theo. She’s not even chasing after me. That just proves my decisions all the more appropriate. I am more useless to her than she is hungry for Ellery’s interview, or she simply doesn’t believe I have the power to turn Ellery against her. She’ll be in for a rude awakening in that case, because I imagine persuading him will be easy.

Jogging down the stairs of the office, I step out onto the sidewalk. There’s a payphone just two streets over. I rush to meet it, pulling several coins from my wallet. With the coins, I produce Ellery’s note and carefully uncrumple it. I’d never even read the other message he’d placed beneath his number.

This isn’t your life. You’ll need me to get back.

Is he the master of ambiguity? But, is he wrong? I dial his number and then wait. I’m almost impatient. It rings once, then twice. Is he really going to leave me to his answering machine? My hand slowly closes around his note again, impatient. Crackle. The line connects.

“I knew your curiosity would drive you to call me,” Ellery’s voice announces.

“Don’t do the interview,” I state, disregarding him.

“What?” he replies, confused.

“The interview with my company, don’t do it,” I insist.

“The interview? Of course not. I just used it as an excuse to get to you.”

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