Authors: Minka Kent
Settling in, I heat a frozen entree for an early lunch and check the other Brienne’s Instagram to see if anything has changed.
The timer on the microwave counts down from twenty seconds, and from the corner of my eye, I spot Enid Davies’s silver head of hair passing outside my kitchen window. She’s headed for my back door, and I meet her on the steps.
“Hi,” I say.
“Got some of your mail.” She hands me a stack. “Again . . .”
“Thank you.” I tuck the envelopes under my arm.
Beatrice, who hasn’t moved on yet, wraps herself around Enid’s legs, gazing up at her and mewing as though she’s starving.
“There’s that darn cat again.” Enid clucks her tongue. “Gorgeous little thing, but she needs to go home instead of hanging out around
here all the time. I’ve never understood people who just let their animals roam the neighborhood, you know?”
“Do you know where she lives?” I ask.
“Here. There. Everywhere.” Enid swats her hand in the air. “If I did, believe me, I’d be over there in a heartbeat. This gal has trampled my begonias eight too many times, and quite frankly, I’m sick of it.”
“Try orange and lemon peels,” I say. “I heard they’re good deterrents. Cayenne pepper works, too, but that just seems mean.”
I don’t tell her that I secretly enjoy Beatrice’s visits. It’s almost like having a pet but with none of the worry and responsibility.
“She means well.” I wink at Enid before stooping down and scratching Bea under the chin.
She purrs, rubbing her furry face against me, and then struts away.
“I told Niall not to feed her,” Enid says with a sigh.
“What?” I must have misheard her.
“Niall,” she says. “I’ve seen him set food out a few times. And last time he swung by here, I told him he shouldn’t do that. But you know men. Can’t tell them anything.”
“Are you sure?”
“Sure of what?” she asks.
“Niall’s allergic. He wouldn’t have put food out.”
Enid’s brows knit, her forehead covered in lines. “I’m pretty sure it was him. I mean, it’s always been early when I’ve seen it. Predawn. Yelled from across the driveway, and he waved. Guess I just assumed it was him every time. Maybe it wasn’t. Anyway, I’ll let you be. I’m sure you’re . . . busy.”
She waves before cutting across the driveway and returning to her mauve-and-marigold Queen Anne.
I head in, locking the door behind me and checking it three times before double-checking the front door.
I refuse to believe Niall’s been putting food out for the cat.
But if it wasn’t him . . .
I’ve taken refuge in the kitchen most of Friday afternoon. This room with its abundance of windows and light and its generous views of the entire north side of my house—including my driveway and garage—feels the safest for now.
The flash of headlights through one of the windows just past five sends my heart into arrhythmia—until I spot the Volvo emblem.
The lights go out.
Niall exits the driver’s side.
I realize I’m clutching at my chest, lungs silently screaming for air.
When he comes in, I don’t tell him he startled me—or that I’ve been waiting hours to ask him one question.
“That cat was hanging out by the back door today,” I say.
“What cat?” He scratches at his temple before shrugging out of his jacket and hanging it on a nearby hook.
“That sweet tortoiseshell one that comes around sometimes,” I say.
The shallow valley between his brows tells me he’s racking his brain. If he can’t remember the damn cat, he sure as hell isn’t the one leaving out cans of tuna.
“The one you told me not to feed because you’re allergic,” I add before deciding to cut to the chase. “Enid claims she saw you feeding her.”
And Niall never laughs.
“I know,” I add. “I told her it couldn’t have been you, but she insisted. Said you waved to her and everything.”
He scrunches his nose. “Did you ask if she was wearing her glasses at the time of this supposed feeding of the cat?”
“She said it was dark. Early morning.”
“There you go.”
“But . . . if it wasn’t you, who was it?” I ask. “I found a can sitting by the back steps. It wasn’t a brand I’ve ever purchased. Someone had to have put it there.”
He slides his shoes off and aligns them at the back door.
“And why would someone do that?” he asks.
He doesn’t have to say it; I hear it in his voice—the doubt and disbelief.
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” I say, slapping my arms at my sides and shrugging. “The whole thing is just . . . weird.” Exhaling, I continue, “Anyway, I hope it doesn’t bother your allergies. She was rubbing herself all over the back steps today.”
“Yeah,” I say. “When you first moved in, you asked if I had any pets because you’re ‘deathly allergic to anything with four legs and a tail.’”
“I’m sorry. I have no recollection of saying that, nor would I have any reason to,” he says. “I’m not allergic to anything. In fact, growing up we bred Saint Bernards and had a handful of barn cats.”
I have no words.
How could I remember a conversation that never happened so vividly?
“I think we should install that security system,” I say, bringing up a talk we’d had shortly after he moved in. I’d gotten a quote for one
not long after my attack, but given the size of the place and the sheer number of windows and doors and areas that would need camera coverage, the quote, with installation, came out to just under twenty grand.
Niall insisted he could find a DIY kit and install everything himself, and I agreed, though I never pushed it. I didn’t want to nag at him. And besides, I was feeling safer with him around. And I liked checking all the doors and locks every day as it made me feel in control in what could only be described as a powerless situation.
“If you’re still interested in that, then absolutely,” he says. “You brought it up once and never mentioned it again. I figured you’d changed your mind. I’ll take a look at my schedule and block out some time.”
“I know you’re busy,” I say. “I can hire it out.”
At this point, I’m willing to pay whatever it takes for that priceless peace of mind.
And to prove that I’m not paranoid, that I’m not going crazy, that someone truly is lurking in the shadows.
Niall places a firm hand on my shoulder as he studies me. “I hate to see you all worked up like this. It’s not good. You should go lie down for a bit. Relax.”
I lie down all day some days, and it does nothing to relax me. If anything, it simply gives my mind more time to wander and roam, and I end up working myself up even more.
He lets me go and turns to the medicine cabinet. “You have Xanax, right?”
I nod. My doctors prescribed me Xanax shortly after I’d come home from the hospital and had suffered a few panic attacks when I tried to leave the house in those first weeks. I haven’t touched it in months, though, terrified of becoming dependent on it.
My mother had an addictive personality, or that’s what my grandparents always cautioned me about. Men. Money. Drugs. If it was addictive, it would find her, or she would find it.
Niall removes one of the orange-brown bottles and unscrews the white safety cap before fishing out a small pill with his index finger. He hands it to me and then grabs a bottle of water from the fridge.
“Here,” he says as I take it from him.
I swallow the pill dry and chase it with a couple of drinks of freezing water. The bottle weighs heavy in my hand, and when I look down, I realize I’m trembling.
Placing the water on the counter, I check the time. It’s far too early for bed, but this is going to knock me out in the next half hour.
Without saying a word and almost as if he read my mind, Niall slips his hand around mine and leads me to my room.
“Just relax,” he says. “And when you wake up, maybe we can go out for a late dinner or something. Get you out of the house for a bit.”
I give him a quick nod. Last time I took one of these, I was down for the count, not waking until the next morning. But it’s kind of him to offer. And it’s nice to know that the awkward kiss we shared last night hasn’t derailed our friendship.
Crawling under the covers and grateful I’m wearing leggings and a T-shirt, not jeans, I turn away from him, my cheek resting against a cool pillow.
And then the strangest thing happens.
The bed dips.
The covers shift.
The warmth of Niall’s body blankets my back, and his soft, clean scent fills my lungs.
“I’m here for you,” he whispers into my ear as he lies down next to me. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Almost as if on cue, all the tension in my body seems to dissipate, and my body melts into the mattress in the seconds before I close my eyes.
In this moment, I am safe.
When I wake Saturday morning, Niall is gone, and I try not to wonder if he actually lay with me until I fell asleep last night or if it was another “visual disturbance.”
Pulling myself out of bed, I trek to the bathroom to wash up before following the scented trail of fresh coffee to the kitchen.
“There she is.” Niall rises from one of the kitchen chairs, fishing a mug from the cupboard and pouring me a cup. “Sleep well?”
“Thank you.” I take the drink from him, blowing cool air across the steamy top. He smells like a fresh shower, and he’s dressed in khakis and a kelly-green polo.
“Thought maybe we could head to Sioux City today,” he says. “There’s a Best Buy there. We could shop for security cameras.”
“Oh, you don’t have to waste your Saturday doing—”
He silences me with a lifted palm. “Now’s not the time. I saw how upset you were last night. And if someone’s coming around the house, I want to know about it.”
I take one of the empty seats at the table, cupping my hands around my coffee. “You’re amazing, you know that?”
He beams, but it’s a humble beam if there ever was one.
I think about the journal upstairs, and suddenly I want to sneak a few more pages despite the fact that I’ve been doing so well with that
lately. It’s all still so fascinating to me, peeking behind the curtain of his marriage with Kate. A guilty-pleasure distraction, too. Sometimes a little too guilty. There was one entry that I forced myself to skip the last time—a detailed description of a tryst the two of them had in the back row of an empty movie theater during a Tuesday matinee.
My cheeks warm just thinking of the handful of sentences I read.
It is strange to me that her journal would be in his possession, but I’m sure there’s a logical explanation. Maybe he packed it by mistake. Or maybe he was wanting to pore over these vignettes, analyzing where things went wrong. Regardless, it’s pointless to wonder because I’m never going to ask him.
“I should get cleaned up,” I say, sipping my coffee. “What time were you wanting to go?”
He checks his watch. “The sooner the better.”
“Big plans later?”
“Meeting with a friend,” he says, his expression bathed in seriousness all of a sudden.
I don’t ask. I don’t pry.
I can only hope today’s the day she’s finally going to sign.
We return from Sioux City shortly after one. Niall leaves the plastic sacks filled with wireless cameras and control centers on the kitchen table with the promise that he’ll install everything before the weekend ends, and then he runs off to meet his “friend,” briefcase in hand.
I have no idea if the contents of that briefcase included the divorce paperwork or not.
I couldn’t bring myself to ask.
Retiring to the back parlor for some mindless Saturday afternoon TV, I curl up on the sofa with a wool throw and my phone, tapping on the Instagram icon and checking the other Brienne’s profile for the tenth time today.
I expect nothing new, just the same old shot of her cocktail lineup from the Clever Canary Thursday night.
Only I’m wrong.
The first image on the top left is brand-new: a selfie of her lying in bed, dark hair piled into a topknot, clear-framed glasses resting on her nose, and a book in one hand—which happens to be the very same book I started but never finished shortly before my attack.
by Daphne du Maurier.
Identical to the copy resting untouched on my nightstand.
I sit up, tossing my phone to the other end of the sofa and burying my face in my hands as I steady my breath.
Yesterday got me nowhere, and given the fact that today is Saturday and tomorrow is Sunday, there’s no way to determine her schedule with any degree of accuracy. My best bet is to lurk in the parking lot Monday morning.
Or better yet—call and schedule an appointment to see her at work.
But first, I book a cut and color. I need to look like my old self when I meet the other me. The expression on her face is going to be priceless.
I sign the credit card slip at Salon Bella Vida Monday morning, adding a 23 percent tip because I’m in a generous mood today. Hanging my Goyard bag over my shoulder, I run my hand over my sleek bob as the receptionist validates my parking and bids me adieu with her red-lipped smile and shiny blonde waves.
There’s an extra bounce in my step that hasn’t been there for a long time.
My lips are painted in a luxurious wash of rose-pink YSL gloss.
Givenchy mascara coats and lengthens my lashes.
Creed perfume fills the space around me, radiating off the warmth of my pulse points.
I’m dressed in one of my old color-blocked sheath dresses that still managed to fit with the help of a body shaper.
I haven’t looked—or felt—like my old self in ages, but the expression on the other Brienne’s face when she sees me is going to be worth all this effort.
I want her to know she’s been caught.
And that she won’t get away with this.
to be a victim again.
Heading to the parking garage, I check the time.
If I leave now, I’ll arrive twenty minutes early for my appointment. It’s a little overkill, but it’s also now or never.