Chapter Twenty Four
The word was a dissonant echo inside the cavern of my mind. Marcus had started talking again. I could see his mouth moving and his earrings shimmer in the dim light, but I couldn’t hear any actual words over the buzzing in my ears. Mason was Smith? Smithlol was Mason?
What if things were different?
Slowly, hardly able to move the body that no longer felt like mine, I turned and saw Mason watching my reaction.
“Smith?” I could barely force the word from my lungs as I thought of every interaction we’d shared these last days. From fighting and insults to friendship and more.
His face was shadowed with something akin to regret, or maybe guilt. “The one and only.”
Not even in my wildest dreams would I have thought this a possibility. Even when Mason reiterated the things Smith had told me in confidence, it never occurred to me they could be one and the same.
What if things were different?
What do you mean?
I mean... What if things were different? What if I wasn’t the jerk you met online?
His eyes were soft as he waited for me to speak. Replacing his hat, straightening his shoulders, slipping his hands into the pockets of his coat.
Marcus wasn’t even paying attention. He was too busy prancing around, completely distracted by the fact that both first and last of Mason’s names were occupations. He drew enough of the group’s attention that Mason and I were practically alone.
What if I was the guy you met in a coffee shop?
I heard the question in my head, and it no longer came from Smith, but from Mason, sitting so close and asking me to put the pieces together. Pieces I’d dumbly thought came from several different puzzles.
“You knew this entire time?” I asked, feeling a little embarrassed and wondering how many times I’d put my foot in my mouth not knowing...
“Not the entire time.”
“And you just let me think you were two different people?” My voice was rising. “Why would you do that? Was it all just a game?”
I didn’t even give him a chance to respond before practically yelling, “You’re actually SMITH!?”
The room went completely still.
Even Marcus paused his monologue to give us his full attention. When nothing more interesting happened, though, he practically giggled, aglow with intrigue. “We’ve got quite the firecracker on our hands, don’t we? Probably takes after her father,” he mentioned conversationally to Cat and Sarah.
Numb, I turned away from one revealing to another. “What?” I asked.
“You are Laura Donahue, right? The Laura Donahue?” he asked me with a knowing and colluding smirk.
“How did you know my name?”
Our captor rolled his eyes as emphatically as a teenager in question of his parent’s intellect. “Please, sister.”
Sarah was looking especially guilty, standing in the corner. She wouldn’t even make eye-contact with me.
“Donahue?” Mason was saying. “As in, Donahue Enterprises?”
My silence was affirmation.
“You are the heir to Donahue Enterprises?” He asked me, as though he had room to judge my secrecy. “Your dad is Melvin Donahue the billionaire? And you didn’t tell me?”
“Are you kidding, Smith?” I shouted through a bubble of hysterical laughter. “Does any of this seem just a little bit ironic to you?”
He shrugged a single shoulder and almost smiled. “Touché.”
Marcus clapped his hands together in delight. “Isn’t this incredible! Everyone has a secret! Does anyone want to hear mine?”
All of us hoped his secret was that he celebrated April fool’s day in January. Maybe he’d rip up the check and call it a day. We waited patiently, as though we had much of a choice, while he circled the room to let the anticipation build.
Finally, he spoke words we couldn’t quite believe. “None of you are leaving until the famous Donahue writes me a bigger check.”
“What?” I asked. “I’m not writing you any-”
“Oh, but you would.” His interruption was accompanied by far too much confidence for someone who looked like the underage member of a boy-band. “If I were talking about you.”
My hands were clenched at my sides to keep them from reaching out and strangling him. “If you think my father would ever give into the demands of a kidnapping drug-dealer, you’re a bigger moron than I thought.”
“Whoa! No need for name calling, now,” he laughed. “This isn’t grade school.”
“You see,” he began explaining. “Sarah here was an easy target. I knew about her roommates, knew about her weaknesses. It was no problem to help her create a debt she would need you,” he lifted a hand in my direction, “to fix.”
His smile was in obvious celebration of his brilliance. “And here you are - a fly in my parlor.”
Cat’s catatonic stare was broken with realization. “This was a trap?”
“Yes!” Marcus exclaimed. “Very good.”
Just then, one of the guards offered him a new cigar, and Marcus clipped the end before lighting up and dusting the room with his exhale. “A million dollars. And this isn’t a ransom, either. Once you decide to the affirmative – and you will – you’ll be making the arrangements with your father to transfer the funds – he’ll have to know without doubt that it’s for some extravagant purchase. A car, a house. You can make up your own excuse.”
He turned and exited before we could argue, his entourage followed. The door closed. The door locked.
And, once again, we were alone.