Chapter 14: A Gut Feeling
I quickly ordered a second gin and tonic and paid the bartender as Drew chased after me. I kept my back to him as he caught up to me.
“Maddie, is everything okay? You look spooked,” he observed. I didn’t turn to see his expression, but instead gratefully accepted the cool drink the bartender served me.
“I’m fine,” I mumbled before shuffling away to hang out at a cocktail table.
Drew joined me and raised his eyebrows. “Were you just nervous to meet the Chief?” He wondered.
My lips flattened into a line. “I don’t trust him,” I whispered, flicking my gaze around the room quickly to make sure he wasn’t anywhere near me.
Drew frowned, his steely eyes muddled with confusion. “What are you talking about?”
I cocked my head to the side. “You’re really telling me you didn’t get an ominous vibe from him?” I hissed. My body felt like it was on high alert. My hairs were standing on end, my back was straight as a pencil, and I felt like my eyes were frantic.
He shook his head. “I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.”
I sighed and ran my finger around the rim of my cup. “I’m telling you, something isn’t right, Drew. When he touched me…” My voice faltered as I swallowed thickly, then took a large gulp of my drink.
Drew gave me a sad smile. “Do you think maybe it’s because you hate when people touch you? You were really standoffish in the beginning when I did, too.” His eyes glittered with nostalgia.
I glowered at him, tipped the rest of my drink back, and pinned him with a glare. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” I snapped. “And I’m going to prove it to you. I know how to identify evil, and that man is definitely evil.” I stormed past him and out of the large room the event was held in. Once I reached the hallway, I raced to the bathrooms, suddenly feeling my chest squeeze and my heart accelerate.
I stumbled into the bathroom, made sure no one else was in there, before I clutched the edge of the counter tightly, until my knuckles whitened. I gasped for air and hung my head as I tried to reign in the panic that was ensuing deep inside me.
The pleasure is all mine.
That’s what he’d said to me. He laid a hand on me, bore his beady eyes into my soul, and bared his wickedness to me. He wanted me to know it. He knew I’d feel helpless and no one would believe me. He knew my history and how easy it would be to play off as just my childhood trauma flaring up. He’s the Chief of the FBI; such a powerful position that it would be damn near impossible to prove he was doing anything wrong.
After a few more breathing exercises, I straightened up and met my own gaze in the mirror. I hardly recognized the woman that stared back at me. She looked… stronger, both physically and emotionally. My jaw was set, my amber eyes rimmed red with anger, fear, and anxiety, but my chin was held high and my shoulders were rolled back. I tousled my hair with my fingers, fixing some of my platinum curls, before turning and exiting the bathroom, my heels clacking on the tile below.
As I emerged into the hallway, I heard the Chief’s gravelly voice resonating off the walls. I froze just outside the bathroom and whipped my head to the right, where I saw him standing with his back to me, his phone to his ear. He was talking in somewhat hushed tones and peering out the window at the end of the hallway.
I thanked God for carpet as I crept down the hallway and hid in an alcove containing water fountains so I could listen in on his conversation.
“Trust me, she doesn’t suspect a thing,” he purred into the phone.
My brows furrowed. Who?
“The only complication is her little romance with Drew Matthews. They seem quite fond of each other,” he spat. My blood ran cold as I realized he was talking about me. “I expected her to be more reserved for longer, but I’ll find a way around that.”
I fought the urge to run at him full force and attack him, but that was Old Madelyn emerging. New Madelyn knew she had a job to protect.
“Don’t worry. I’ll handle it. She’ll make a beautiful addition. She’s really… blossomed,” he said with a hoarse chuckle. “I’ll keep you updated, Darryl.”
My heart stopped. Darryl was involved with the Chief? ‘Beautiful addition?’ Those words rang a distant bell in my memory, but I couldn’t place why.
My chest tightened again and my stomach knotted itself. The Chief was wrapping up his conversation, which meant I had to get the hell out of there before he spotted me. I booked it down the hallway and paused by the bathroom once more, glancing over my shoulder to see him hanging up the phone. As he started to turn, I pushed the bathroom door open to make it appear like I was leaving.
“Oh, Agent Carver!” Chief Webber called after me.
I stopped in my tracks, stiffened, and slowly turned to face him. I plastered a fake smile on my face and clutched my purse for dear life. What the fuck did he mean I’d make a beautiful addition? Addition to what? And what is his connection to Darryl? And where have I heard that before?
“Chief Webber. Meeting twice in one night,” I noted, feeling ill despite the smile on my face.
He sauntered toward me, and in the dim lighting his eyes looked blacker than before. This man was smart, which means he’d be able to read body language extremely well. I fought the urge to gulp, frown, widen my eyes, or drop my smile in any way. I was skating on thin ice as it was.
“You know, you’ve had quite the honor bestowed upon you,” he stated. “Being the first person to make it through an experimental program, and successfully, might I add.”
I nodded slowly. “Yes, I have,” I responded, keeping my eyes trained on him. “It was difficult, but worth it.”
The Chief bobbed his head as he came closer, stopping nearly three feet in front of me. “I was just talking to one of my associates about you.” A sinister smile crept across his face, showing yellowing teeth with darkening plaque between. I resisted gagging. “We think you’ll be very promising.”
I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My lungs were on fire, my head felt like it was swimming, and sweat pricked my underarms. I suddenly couldn’t tell if it was the alcohol or the fear, or a combination of them both. “Well, I hope you know I appreciate this opportunity.”
He paused for a moment, scrutinizing me and running his eyes up and down my body. I shifted from one foot to the other nervously, feeling squeamish and dirty with the way he was assessing and objectifying me. “So, tell me, what’s your involvement with Agent Matthews?”
He finds my relationship with Drew a threat. Good. Lean into it, Carver, I thought.
I clicked my tongue as I thought about how to methodically respond to this. “My personal relationships seem a little inappropriate to talk about, Chief Webber,” I told him. I knew this statement would raise a red flag for him, for two reasons: one being that I mentioned my relationship with Drew was personal, and the other being that I called him out on an inappropriate question.
Chief Webber raised his eyebrows. “While normally I would agree, relationships between two FBI agents have to be disclosed to HR. I just like to be kept informed.”
I nodded kindly, even though both of us were bullshitting to one another. “Completely understood. Mr. Matthews and I are in fact dating each other, but it is very recent.” I realized it was the first time I’d admitted Drew and I were actually dating. It felt foreign to say, but also completely right.
After a moment of silence and leveling with each other, he reached out and patted my shoulder. I involuntarily cringed into myself as he did so, and I once again had a dark feeling rattling deep inside me. “Thank you for your honesty, Ms. Carver.”
I turned my face away from him, feeling utterly disgusted with the situation. He intentionally brushed his shoulder against mine as he walked past me. I stood there for several moments, paralyzed, until I was certain his presence was no longer in the hallway. I collapsed against the wall, my body sagging and trembling in what I could only describe as trepidation.
“There you are, Dee! I’ve been looking for you!” Joan exclaimed as she raced toward me, then came to a screeching halt in front of me. “Dee, what’s wrong? Are you alright?”
I rested my hands on my knees as I inhaled and exhaled deeply, doing my best to tune her out so I could calm down. After a minute or so, I straightened and turned my attention to her. “I need your help,” I muttered. “But we’ll have to discuss this later when we’re alone.”
Joan’s eyes went wide. “Okay. Is everything okay?”
I shook my head. “Not in the slightest, but we have to keep this between us, okay?”
She nodded, concern coloring her pretty features. “Let’s go back to the party. You look like you need a drink. Plus, Drew was looking for you. I think he was worried.”
I barked out a sharp laugh. “I kind of stomped away from him because he disagreed with me.”
Joan giggled. “In typical Madelyn Carver fashion, right?”
I looped my arm through hers. “I guess some things never change.”
We re-entered the event and I did a brief scan of the room. The Chief was at the back side of the room by the bar, and the team was intermingling with the many guests in attendance. Finally, my eyes settled on Drew, and even though I was pissed at how he’d undermined me earlier, I felt relief in seeing him.
Joan released me and turned to me. “You look like you need some time with him. I’m going to head home,” she told me.
I searched her eyes. “Thank you for coming,” I said. “It was really big of you to come talk to me today. I missed you.”
She simpered. “We’re all stubborn at times. You more than most, but I’m not one to judge. I’m just glad we’re able to put it behind us and continue moving forward.”
I sighed. “Yeah, me too. I’ll text you about that thing, alright?”
She nodded before hurrying out the door.
I returned my attention to the room, which was buzzing, lively, and energetic. Almost everyone had a drink in their hand, people were dancing, celebrating, chatting. And yet here I was, a recluse in the corner feeling uncomfortable and whittled down to nothing thanks to one Chief Luther Webber.
“You’ve been gone for a while,” Drew declared, suddenly behind me.
I jumped in surprise, before glancing over my shoulder at him. “I was upset and needed a few minutes,” I grumbled, looking away again.
He snaked his arm around my waist, and I wanted so badly to want to lean into him, but my stomach was still churning from my earlier altercation with Webber. I recoiled from him and folded my arms self-consciously across my chest, refusing to meet his eyes.
“Are you mad at me?” He wondered, stepping in front of me.
I huffed. “A little. I tried telling you how I was feeling earlier and you completely disregarded me. If we’re going to work together, you need to trust me as an agent too, not just as your girlfriend.”
There it is again. Me admitting we’re dating, but this time to his face.
I chose not to react to my own choice of words even though he looked shocked. His gaze softened.
“You’re right. I should have listened to you, and I’m sorry. You have a gut instinct for a reason, and yours never leads you astray. Do you want to tell me about it over a dance?” He extended a hand.
I pondered his apology for a moment before accepting his offer to dance and letting him pull me onto the dance floor. He rested his hands on my waist while mine were clasped behind his neck. We swayed for a few seconds in silence before he spoke up.
“So you decided what we are, huh?” Drew teased, his blue-grey eyes glittering with glee and mirth.
I scoffed. “Don’t let it get to your head. I told Webber we’re dating too.”
“Wait, you spoke to him again?”
I nodded. “I went to the bathroom after talking to you, and when I came out, he was on the phone.” I lowered my voice and leaned in to talk into Drew’s ear so no one could hear me. “He was on the phone with Darryl talking about how I’d make a ‘beautiful addition,’ whatever the hell that means.”
Drew jerked back and looked at me with fear. “Oh, my God. Maddie, are you sure?”
I nodded, and caught Chief Webber looking at the two of us. I smiled up at Drew. “He’s looking at us now so pretend like we aren’t talking about this,” I said through clenched teeth. “Something’s up, Drew, and it has something to do with me. He was looking at me earlier like…” I stopped as I searched for the words. “He was body-checking me as we were talking. He talked about how our relationship complicated things, and when he came over to talk to me after, he asked about our relationship. It was so bizarre.”
Drew took a deep breath. “We should leave. I don’t want you around him any more than you have to be. Not until we figure out what’s going on.”
I nodded in agreement and followed Drew out of the event.
I tossed my keys onto my entryway table and let the door fall shut behind me. I was overcome with exhaustion and in no mood for any more interaction for the remainder of the evening.
I’d told Drew in the car that I needed to be alone for the night but asked him to come by in the morning. He seemed a little disappointed, especially given our new titles as boyfriend and girlfriend, but respectfully agreed and kissed me goodnight.
I locked up for the night, pulled off my shoes, and wandered down the hallway to get myself ready for bed. It was nights like these that made it suck to be a woman. I wiped my face with a makeup wipe to remove my makeup, washed my face, moisturized, brushed my teeth, pulled my hair back into as much of a ponytail as I could, and stripped out of my dress.
I was relieved to crawl into bed. The darkness enveloped me and sleep pulled at me almost instantly. The room was dead silent, and for some reason that unsettled me. I tossed and turned, and even though I was exhausted, I couldn’t get my mind to shut off. I turned onto my back, reached for my phone, and turned on a sleeping sound app. The noise of rain and thunder rang through my room in a comforting way, and within moments, I was able to fall asleep.
It was a rare occurrence for it to rain in Arizona, yet here we were with the downpour of the decade taking place. I sat in the living room staring out the window, my chin resting in my hands. I loved the sunshine, but the rain was a welcome change. It made me sleepy, and made me want to curl up next to Mommy with hot cocoa.
As if on cue, Mommy sat down beside me and handed me a mug of cocoa with marshmallows on top. She ruffled my hair as I took it gleefully from her.
“What do you think of the rain?” She asked me.
I shrugged as I took a sip of the rich, chocolatey liquid. “I like how it sounds, and it smells really good,” I told her.
We had just found out she was sick, so we were spending lots of time together. I didn’t know what they meant by “sick” but she was starting to look more pale.
Mommy laughed. “Me too, kiddo. So, my little sunshine, what do you want to do today?”
I smiled up at her, and she reached over and wiped cocoa off my lip. “I was thinking we could watch Hocus Pocus today!”
Mommy laughed again and stood up. “Okay, baby, let’s watch it.”
I jumped up and accidentally spilled some of my cocoa. “Uh-oh, Mommy. I’m sorry,” I whimpered, looking up at her with shame.
She hurried to the kitchen to grab a towel and began cleaning up the mess. I set my mug down and wandered down the hall to the bathroom. After I went potty and washed my hands, I came out of the bathroom to see Darryl. I cowered away from him as he squatted down in front of me and tucked a wayward ringlet behind my ear.
“Oh, Dee, you’re so pretty. You’d make such a beautiful addition to my group of girls,” he whispered.
I jerked away from him. “Don’t touch me,” I hissed as I flounced down the hallway to cuddle up with Mommy.
I sat upright so fast the blood immediately rushed from my head, causing me to feel dizzy momentarily. I gasped for air and clutched a hand over my heart, but my stomach flipped and I felt bile rise in my throat. I raced to the bathroom just as my stomach upchucked everything I’d consumed that evening. I heaved over and over again, until my abs were sore, my arms were shaking, and my throat was burning.
I sobbed as I leaned against the cool porcelain of the toilet. Of course I’d heard that term before. I couldn’t believe I’d blocked that from my memory. That sick, twisted fuck was trying to kidnap me into his sex ring, but how the hell was I supposed to know that at six years old?
A second round of vomiting ensued, and I leaned over the toilet again as clear liquid was regurgitated from my body.
She’ll make a beautiful addition. She’s really… blossomed.
I froze as I put the pieces together. They were still trying to kidnap me into their sex ring. No wonder Webber was concerned about my relationship with Drew; he was worried Drew would notice I was gone.
I scrambled to my feet, swished mouth wash in my mouth before spitting it out, and raced to the door. I pulled on a pair of combat boots over my joggers and oversized t-shirt, grabbed my keys, wallet, and phone, and ran to my car.
I had to tell Drew, and I had to tell him now.
I buckled my seatbelt and locked the doors, when I realized I didn’t know where Drew lived. I hit my steering wheel in frustration, but screeched out of the parking lot and raced to Joan’s instead. I couldn’t be alone right now, but I couldn’t bring this to Richard without concrete evidence.
I pulled into Joan’s complex and raced to her apartment, pounding on the door incessantly until it swung open, a sleepy-eyed Joan standing before me.
“Dee, what’s wrong? What are you doing here in the middle of the night?” She asked with a yawn.
I frantically glanced over my shoulder before pushing past her into her apartment. “Shut the door and lock it.” She did as I told and I went to make sure her balcony door was locked too.
“Dee, what the hell is going on?” She demanded, this time louder and more awake.
I whirled to face her. “Jo, the Chief of the FBI is working with Darryl in his sex ring. They’re after me.”
Joan’s eyes flickered with disbelief and concern. “Dee, that’s a really serious accusation. Is that what was bothering you all night?”
“Yes!” I cried, tucking my loose hairs behind my ears. “He was talking to Darryl on the phone, Jo. I heard him. That was right before you found me.”
She sighed and sat down on the couch, tucking her legs underneath her. “You could just be reading too far into this. I mean, Darryl is a popular name, and you’ve been prone to self-sabotage before. Are you sure that’s not what you’re doing right now?”
I shook my head vigorously. “I’m telling you I feel this deep inside me. I knew something was wrong the second I met the guy, and the conversation I had with him after confirmed that eerie feeling I had. You have to believe me,” I pleaded, collapsing beside her on the couch.
She picked up her phone, typed something out, and then set it down again. “I want to believe you, but you’re basing this off two conversations with the guy. And how would he even get away with something like this? You don’t get appointed Chief of the FBI without having a pretty squeaky clean record.”
My shoulders drooped as I realized she wouldn’t believe me. “You’re probably right,” I mumbled in defeat. “Do you mind if I at least stay here tonight? I don’t feel safe at home.”
Joan gave me a solemn smile, her brown eyes matching it, as she reached forward to pat my hand. “Of course. Let me make you some tea. You look like you need it to soothe your nerves.” She rose to her feet and wandered into the kitchen, puttering around as she waited for the water to heat up.
I wrung my hands in my lap. Normally I’d be angry that she didn’t believe me, but I sounded crazy and paranoid. There was no denying that. I mean, had I not overheard the Chief’s conversation on the phone, I would probably think I was crazy. I closed my eyes and counted to four as I breathed in, then counted to four once more to breathe out. I repeated this over and over for several minutes until I heard Joan speak to me.
“Dee, what are you doing?”
I slowly opened my eyes again to look at her. “It’s a breathing exercise the FBI taught me,” I told her, my mind distant as I tried to calm myself down.
“Wow, look at you. I’m so proud of you,” she told me as she set a cup of tea down in front of me.
I gingerly picked it up and wrapped both hands around it. “I’m sorry I barged in here in the middle of the night,” I said numbly, staring straight ahead. “I just couldn’t be home alone.”
Joan opened her pouty mouth to respond when there was a light knocking on her door. I frowned as I watched her rise to her feet calmly and walk to the door. Without looking through the peephole, she opened it, and for a brief second fear spiked in me as I awaited to see who was on the other side. Joan stepped aside and revealed a sleepy-looking Drew, with leaning on one arm against the doorjamb and his eyebrows raised expectantly at me.
Joan looked over at me meekly. “I felt like he was the only one who could help you right now,” she murmured, lingering by the door beside Drew.
My jaw locked and I lowered my gaze. I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t even turn to my best friend without her thinking I belonged in the looney bin. I set my cup down, the warm liquid untouched, and slowly rose to my feet. I glanced at my friend, suddenly at a loss of words and not knowing what to say to her. On one hand, I was relieved to see Drew since he was the person I wanted to turn to in the first place, but on the other hand I trusted her and told her not to tell anyone about this.
I couldn’t bring myself to say anything as my gaze shifted between the two of them. I knew I shouldn’t be mad, and that left me feeling conflicted. I suppressed my emotions, allowing my face to go stoic.
“I should get going,” I said tersely, my voice monotone. “Goodnight, Joan.” I brushed past the two of them, not acknowledging Drew as I lightly raced down the stairs to my car. As badly as I wanted the company, I knew it wasn’t worth feeling like a paranoid psychopath over.
As I unlocked my car, I heard Drew’s voice pipe up behind me. “Maddie, where are you going?” He wondered softly.
I opened my car door and glanced over my shoulder at him. “Home. I’m sorry Joan dragged you into this.” I started to climb into my car and shut the door behind me when he grasped the door to hold it open. I looked up at him with shock.
His blue-grey eyes darkened in the pale light of the moon, and his curls were adorably disheveled. “Are you forgetting I’m already part of this? Why are you shutting me out? You don’t get to decide the terms of our relationship and then retreat back into your shell the second things get difficult. That’s not fair.”
I scowled up at him. “Joan thought I was crazy,” I snapped. “I didn’t want you jumping on that bandwagon.”
He sighed and shook his head, his curls bouncing as he did so. Then, he squatted so he could look up at me sincerely. The moonlight washed over his skin and made his veins appear darker. “I’ve told you before, you’re not the only one with a fucked up past. There’s nothing you could do that would make me think you’re crazy. Life is just plain shitty, but if you find the right people, they can make it a lot easier to handle. I’m trying to be that person for you, but you have to stop shutting me out.” He searched my eyes frantically. Every bone in my body screamed at me to believe him, so after a deep sigh, I gave him a fleeting smile.
“You’re right,” I whispered. “This is just…” I paused, glancing away from him and through my windshield to gather my thoughts. “This is all new territory for me. This relationship, this new job, the fear that the Chief of the FBI could be after me.”
Drew chuckled and placed a hand on my leg. “It is a lot, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Let me help you.”
I shifted my eyes to meet his once more and swallowed thickly. “So you don’t think I’m being paranoid?”
He cracked a small smile. “You are, but rightfully so. Do you want me to take you home?”
I reached out and brushed his soft curls off his forehead. It was getting long again, and I knew he was probably going to get it cut soon. “I should bring my car home. Will you stay with me tonight?”
He nodded and rose to his full height. “Drive safe. I’ll see you in just a few minutes.” He shut the car door and I watched as he strolled to his car.
I sighed, started my car, and zoned out the entire drive home.
Drew followed me into my apartment and locked up behind us. My place was dark, giving me an eerie feeling of discomfort in the walls of my own home. I flipped on all the lights and opened all the closets to make sure they were empty. I felt silly when I realized they all were.
I collapsed onto my couch. “I know it’s late and you’re probably exhausted, but I think we should talk about your past for once. I’m tired of thinking about mine all the time.”
Drew laughed and joined me on the couch, pulling my legs to rest them in his lap. “I don’t even know where to start. I’ve spent weeks thinking about this conversation, but…” his voice faltered.
“Well why don’t we start with your nightmares?” I prompted. “You said you get them and that they stem from memories of your past.”
His lips just barely tipped up. “You remembered,” he murmured before his eyes flashed with pain. “I guess that’s a good place to start.” He took a deep breath, and the story he told me next was as dark, somber, and fucked up as my own.