Identity Series Book 2: I Am Sarah

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Chapter 7

I looked at my watch. I was early for our lunch date at Delmonico’s, but my meeting hadn’t lasted as long as I thought it would. It was now only eleven, but the maître d’ had graciously seated me anyway. I had just dropped my hand to the table when I heard my name called. I looked up at the door, a smile on my face as I prepared to greet my new fiancé, when I realized that the name had been a question.

“Sarah? Sarah McAllister?”

I turned my head to the left and saw a tall, handsome, blond man walking toward my table from the bar. I frowned, trying to place him, but I failed.

“It is you!” he exclaimed. “I thought it was.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “do I know you?”

The man laughed, a dimple appearing in his cheek, and a memory stirred. “Well, it has been five years since I saw you last.” He gestured toward his chest. “Dino, Dino Bergman. From St. Xavier’s.”

My eyes went wide, and a grin was plastered across my face in an instant. “Dino! How good to see you again! Please, sit down.”

“Are you sure?” he said. “You look like you’re waiting for someone. I don’t want to intrude.”

“Nonsense. Erik won’t mind. He’ll be here soon.”

“All right, if you’re sure.” Dino slid into the chair across from me and rested his elbows on the table and his chin on his hands. He studied me for a moment. “You look good, Sarah. Better than good. You look amazing.” He smiled. “You’ve come a long way from that shy, mousey little girl I knew in high school.”

I blushed and looked down at my hands, and when I saw Erik’s ring, a flush of joy flowed through me. I looked back up at Dino. “A long way,” I agreed. “As a matter of fact, I’m getting married in a month.”

“Really? Congratulations! Who’s the lucky guy?”

“His name is Erik Desmond.”

This time it was Dino’s eyes that widened. “The Erik Desmond? The genius artist everyone is talking about? That Erik Desmond?”

“That’s the one.” I glanced at my watch again. “If you’d care to stick around, I’d love to introduce the two of you.”

“I’d like that.”

For the next ten minutes, we talked about our time at St. Xavier’s Catholic High School. I laughed when he recounted stories of his numerous trips to the Headmaster’s office. I had never been sent there myself, so hearing what had gone on behind that closed door was educational. Dino had been known as the clown of the school, but when I started my first day of high school, it was he who noticed that I stayed away from the other students as much as possible, and it was he who decided that, despite being a senior, he was going to be my friend. And he was for that blessed year before he graduated. He made sure that others treated me with respect, and he made it known that if anyone picked on me, they would have him to deal with afterwards. Even though he was only there for my freshman year, his influence followed me all four years, and no one bothered me, even after he was gone. He was also one of the few people who knew what my mother had done to me.

At one point, Dino reached across the small table, picked up my hand, gave it a light kiss, leaned close, and whispered, “I truly am happy for you, Sarah. You deserve to be happy, and I can see that Mr. Desmond makes you so.”

I was about to answer when a sharp hiss behind him brought my eyes up, and the sight that filled them shook me to the core.

Erik was standing in the archway, the fury in his eyes so intense that it took my breath away. His teeth were clenched, as were his fists. I stared at him in confusion, wondering what could have caused such anger, and then Dino’s hand flexed on my own, and dread pooled deep within me. I knew exactly what was going through Erik’s mind at that moment. He had seen Dino’s innocent gesture and interpreted it as something else. I quickly pulled my hand from Dino’s and stood up. As soon as I did, Erik spun on his heel and stormed out of the restaurant.

“Erik!”

I vaguely heard Dino calling my name as I ran after Erik. I caught up to him as he stood at the valet station.

“But, sir, you just got here,” the confused valet was saying.

“And now I am leaving,” Erik growled. “Just get my car!”

The man’s head bobbed up and down once. “Yes, sir, right away,” he said quickly and scurried away.

I skidded to a stop just to Erik’s right, and I placed my hand on his arm, but he yanked it away.

“Don’t touch me.” His words were quiet but deadly, and I froze.

“Erik…”

“Did you have fun, Sarah?”

“What are you talking about?”

He whirled to face me, the rage inside him contorting his face into something unrecognizable, and I took a step backward, my hand coming up to my mouth.

“Did you have fun setting me up? Did you have fun humiliating me? Telling me you were mine just to betray me the next day!?”

“Erik,” I breathed, “I would never do such a thing to you. I love you.”

“You love me,” he scoffed. “You love me so much that you let another man touch you like that!” He flung his hand back toward the restaurant. “So sorry I was early and interrupted you two.”

I tried to touch him again, and he flinched away. Tears filled my eyes at his rejection, and I said, “It’s not like that. Dino is an old friend from high school. I got here early, and he just happened to recognize me. We were just talking about old times, that’s all.”

Erik’s eyes narrowed. “I know what I saw, Sarah! I’m not a fool.” His lip curled in contempt as his eyes raked over me from head to toe. “Then again, I suppose I am. A fool for believing you.”

My tears dried up instantly, and I glared at him as my own anger flared. “What is that supposed to mean?”

He didn’t answer my question. “Tell me, Sarah, did you really have a meeting this morning, or did you spend it with him?”

White-hot fury raced through me at his lewd suggestion, and I raised my hand to slap him, but he caught my wrist in an iron grip.

“Don’t you dare,” he snarled.

At that moment, the worst possible thing happened.

“Sarah? Are you all right?”

Erik’s eyes narrowed to slits as he slowly turned his head to the restaurant’s entrance. Mine followed, and I cringed when I saw Dino striding toward us, his face a mixed mask of concern and displeasure. Erik’s grip on my wrist tightened, and I cried out, “Erik, you’re hurting me!”

Instantly, his head snapped back to me, he dropped my wrist as if it burned him, and he stepped back, a look of horror on his face, all traces of anger gone.

“No,” he whispered, and he shook his head back and forth several times before fisting both hands in his hair. “No, no, no, no, no.” Then he whirled around and raced down the street, his black overcoat flapping behind him.

“Erik!” I took one step after him before Dino grabbed my arm. I yanked it free and glared at him. “Let me go!”

He grabbed me again. “No! I won’t let him hurt you, Sarah.”

Tears began streaming down my face, and I shook my head. “You don’t understand! You can’t possibly understand!” I wrenched my arm free and took off after Erik.

My shoes were not made for running, though, and after two blocks, I was just barely able to see his coat disappearing around the next corner, and by the time I reached it, he was nowhere to be seen. I slowed to a walk and kept on in the direction I thought he had gone, my breath coming in hitching gasps as I tried to stop crying.

I scanned each alleyway as I passed it, desperately needing to find Erik before he did something crazy. I knew that my pained words had triggered his deepest fear—that he was his father—and I was afraid of what he might do, to himself or someone else. After about fifteen minutes of wandering the streets of Lower Manhattan, however, I gave up and hailed a cab.

“Where to, Miss?”

I rested my head on the back of the seat and tried and failed to keep the tears at bay. “The Desmond Building, please.” My voice cracked on the last word, and the cabbie turned to look at me.

“Are you okay, Miss?”

I turned my face away from him toward the window and whispered, “No.”

The cabbie stared at me for a moment longer, and then he shrugged his shoulders and drove. It took about half an hour to reach Erik’s building, and I cried the entire time.

“We’re here, Miss.”

A deep sigh escaped me as I paid the man and stepped out onto the sidewalk. I wiped my face and took a deep breath, but the tears wouldn’t stop completely. I walked to the gallery door and hesitated only a moment before knocking. No one answered, and I knocked again. Still nothing, and I knew that Erik hadn’t come back there. The only other place I could think that he would go was home, and so I walked to the main door of the building. The doorman, Samuel, held the door for me, but he frowned.

“Miss McAllister, is everything all right?”

“No, Samuel, it’s not. Have you seen Mr. Desmond?”

“Not since about an hour ago. I saw him drive away in his Spyder.”

“And he hasn’t come back yet.” It was a statement, not a question.

“No, Miss. I would have noticed.”

“Thank you, Samuel,” I said as I entered the building.

I made my way to the elevator and when the door slid open, the operator took one look at me and snapped his eyes to the front of the car.

“Mr. Desmond’s floor, Miss McAllister?”

“Yes, please,” I mumbled and then I leaned against the back wall of the elevator. The ride up seemed to take as long as the cab ride had, but eventually, the bell rang, and the operator opened the door.

“Forty-ninth floor, Miss.”

“Thank you.” I stepped out and walked heavily to Erik’s office door. I slowly pushed it open and stepped inside.

“Sarah! What’s wrong?”

Abigail Parker, Erik’s secretary, shot around the desk and took my arms, looking at me in concern. We had become close friends in the months that I had known Erik, and I had to press my lips together tightly to keep from falling apart.

“Is he here, Abigail?” I could barely speak.

“No, I haven’t seen him for about an hour. Sarah, what happened? Why are you crying?”

At her worried tone, I sobbed, and she wrapped her arms around me and led me to a chair against one wall.

“Talk to me.”

“Oh, Abigail, it was awful!” Between sobs, I told her what had happened. “How could I be so stupid? I know how insecure he is, and I had to have another man at our table when he appeared. And then I actually tried to hit him! After all he’s been through, I tried to slap him, Abigail!”

“Oh, Sarah,” she said, gathering me to herself, “we all get angry, especially with the ones we love. Plenty of women have slapped their man. You certainly wouldn’t be the first.”

“But it caused him to hurt me! Do you understand what that means?”

“A little,” she admitted, “but I don’t think it’ll be as bad as you think. Just let him calm down, and you two will be just fine.” She took my face in her hands and forced me to look at her. “He loves you, Sarah, never forget that.”

I nodded. “I know he does, which only makes this whole mess that much worse.”

She looked confused for a moment, but I had no desire to explain if Erik hadn’t told her anything about his childhood, which it seemed he hadn’t.

“Listen,” Abigail said, standing, “why don’t you go upstairs and clean up. You can wait for him there. He has to come home sometime, right?”

Unless something bad has happened to him. I shivered at that thought and slowly stood before moving to the connecting door to his office. With my hand on the knob, I turned back.

“Thank you, Abigail.”

“You’re ever so welcome, Sarah. Now, take heart. I’m sure everything will work out.”

“I hope so,” I whispered, and I entered Erik’s office.

I stopped as the door swung shut behind me and looked around. Everything in the office screamed elegance, and it all was very much Erik. I walked to his desk and gently ran my fingers over the polished mahogany and then I sat down in his chair. I breathed in the scent of the leather, and the tears fell faster when I smelled his cologne mixed with it. I pushed myself to my feet and walked to the stairs that led to his apartment. I hesitated before I started up, unsure what he would do when he found me waiting for him. I knew that I had to talk to him, however, and I slowly trudged up the steps.

At the top, the door was locked as it always was when Erik was away, but I pulled the key he had given me from my purse and it clicked open. I shuffled into his home, and haltingly made my way into the living room. I stood and looked at his studio door, and then I slowly walked to it and pushed it open.

A closed sketchbook was on the table, and I caught my breath when I opened the cover and saw myself. I was watching children skate on The Lake, and I was smiling. The sunlight was low in the sky behind me, and my face was partly in shadow, but I was beautiful. The viewpoint was from someone watching me from just in front of me to my left. I turned the pages, and every one of them had a picture of me. In all of them, I was depicted as far more beautiful than I knew I was, and I finally realized how Erik saw me.

I closed the book and left the studio, the pain in my heart making it hard to breathe. I thought about waiting in the living room, but my feet instead led me to Erik’s bedroom. I had never been in there before, but now, I walked in and sat down on the bench at the foot of his bed. I rested my arms on the plush black comforter and laid my head on them while I curled my feet underneath me. I thought I was cried out but was quickly proven wrong as more tears streamed down my face to soak the fabric beneath me.

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