Authors: Minka Kent
I’m doing this.
And I’m doing this now.
The uplifting, albeit unexpected, scent of tangerines floods my lungs when I step off the elevator and into the lobby of the Opal Green PR Agency. Modern lounge music wafts from hidden speakers.
I’ve been here once, years before, when I had just opened my insurance agency on the square and needed some help in the publicity department. The woman they assigned to me suggested a grand opening complete with catering, a live guitarist, and an open wine bar and an extensive social media ad campaign. When I told her my budget was three grand, she almost choked on her Evian.
Maybe had I used her services, my agency would still be around. After the attack, I had to close my office. No one so much as made an offer to buy me out, though one person insultingly offered to buy my client list for a thousand bucks. That’s the thing about some people—they’re opportunists. They’ll take advantage of you if you’re not careful.
I maintain a confident stride, keeping my shoulders back and my head high as I head in.
The sweeping glass double doors with the agency’s navy-blue logo close softly behind me. The visitors’ lobby is chic with its streamlined leather furnishings, neutral color palette, and geometric planters, and this place seems better suited for a Manhattan high-rise than some hidden, sleepy town in the Loess Hills of Western Iowa.
“Hi there. How can I help you today?” the bubbly receptionist asks from behind a glass desk. A headset rests on her ear, and she adjusts the reflective red frames on her face as she devotes her full attention my way. But her perky demeanor fades once she examines me.
Her jaw sets. Her eyes dart. She clears her throat.
It’s almost as though I’m making her nervous.
Maybe I look
like my doppelgänger?
“I’m here to see Brienne Dougray,” I say. It’s so strange, saying my name in reference to another person. It feels unnatural. Familiar in my mind but foreign on my tongue.
“You must be Laurelin,” she says, eyes scanning her computer screen.
I nod. I’d given her my middle name when I called this morning.
“Perfect. Let me get you checked in,” she says, clicking her mouse. “Would you like something to drink while you wait?”
“I’m all right, but thank you.”
A second later, the receptionist rises. “Okay, I’m going to take you back to her office. She’s running just a bit late, but she’ll be with you shortly if you want to follow me.”
My grip on my bag tightens, and I swallow the bulge that’s forming in my throat. This place feels like a sauna, and I’m thinking this fitted sheath dress wasn’t the most comfortable choice for this moment, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.
The young woman leads me down a long hallway, past offices that look like carbon copies of one another with frosted glass doors and lacquered white desks and matching potted plants, and when we get to the fifth door on the right, she stops.
“Here we are. Go on ahead and have a seat. Brienne will be with you shortly.” Her gaze is fixed on me for half a second before she returns to her desk, and I take the guest seat in “Brienne Dougray’s” office.
Her desktop is situated much like I used to have mine. Minimalist. Marble and rose quartz accents. Shiny silver-handled scissors. Cup
stocked full of matching silver pens. Monitor screen so spotless you could use it as a mirror.
A silver nameplate on her desk all but stares at me, taunting almost. And I’m half-tempted to turn it away, but instead I cross my legs, fold my hands in my lap, and maintain my patience.
The faint scent of Lancôme Miracle—one of my signature scents that I’ve worn since my sophomore year at college—fills the room, only serving to strengthen my resolve.
This whole thing is absurd.
My head throbs, and I check the marble and quartz clock on the wall.
It’s twenty past two already. How have I been sitting here this long? And where the hell is she? Did the receptionist tip her off?
The room begins to spin, the walls seemingly closing in on me.
Nothing made sense before, but somehow over the course of the past twenty minutes, I’ve just leveled up to a whole other realm of insanity.
I cross and recross my legs.
I gaze out the window for a moment, to the smattering of passing cars on an otherwise empty afternoon street.
Digging my nails into my thigh, I sit up straight and check the clock once more.
It’s only been three more minutes, but it feels like it’s been another hour. The knots in my stomach are almost urging me to go. To pack up. To abort this mission because something is obviously amiss.
The receptionist said “Brienne” would be with me shortly. And no professional in their right mind makes a new client wait almost a half hour to be seen.
I clear my throat and reach for my bag, digging out my phone to help keep me occupied while I wait. I’m hopeful that a distraction
might quell the nerves and nausea that are digging their claws in me deeper by the second.
I swipe the screen and tap in my passcode, bringing the apps to life. And then I tap my messages—the last one to Niall, specifically, where I told him I’d be out running errands today and asked if he needed anything. I was trying to show him that I’m okay. That I can function in the world like a normal person. I worry the recent episodes might have him pitying me again, and the last thing I want to do is take two steps back.
Also, he didn’t install the security cameras over the weekend like he promised. But it wasn’t his fault—he was paged into work Sunday, and when he came home, he seemed exhausted so I didn’t press it. I’m hoping if I offer to do him some favors today, he might be reminded of the one he offered to do for me . . .
My message to him shows as read. He read it a minute after I sent it, but he didn’t reply. Which is fine because he’s busy. He has patients and appointments. He can’t always stop what he’s doing.
The rest of my messages are ancient. Nonexistent. No one texts me anymore. Just Niall and, on the ultrarare occasion, Enid.
I place my phone back in my bag and plant my feet flat on the floor.
I’m not going anywhere, not until I talk to this audacious lunatic.
Pressing my lips together—an old nervous habit of mine—I stare straight ahead and wait.
And wait . . .
Until a figure in the doorway fills my periphery.
I swear in a fraction of a second, as I turn my gaze in that direction, my heart comes to a full stop.
Because it isn’t her.
It isn’t her at all.
“Kate? What the hell are you doing here?” Niall’s hands press against the doorjamb, though I can’t tell if I’m blocked in or blocked from getting out. He’s breathless, eyes wild and almost animalistic.
“Kate?” I ask. He stands before me, chest rising and falling as though he sprinted straight from the hospital to the Regency building. He must be so worked up, he doesn’t realize he’s just called me by his wife’s name.
“We have to go,” he says.
I’m not sure why, but I find myself laughing. Maybe it’s the way he’s acting, like a character from some cut-rate prime-time drama, or the fact that there’s nothing left for me to do at this point but to find humor in what my life has become by this moment.
Niall dives toward me, his slender fingers wrapping around my wrist, and I barely have time to reach for my bag. We’re barreling down the hall of the Opal Green agency, headed toward the lobby, when I realize I’ve yet to see another soul. Not even the receptionist.
Is everyone in hiding?
“What the hell is going on?” I ask him when we burst beyond the glass doors. “And how did you know I was here?”
He doesn’t bother with the elevator, opting to lead me to the stairs instead, and we’re practically running down them.
“Please, Niall, slow down,” I say, my heels clicking against the cement steps. The humor I’d found in this situation a mere instant ago has vanished.
He slows but only slightly, and his grip on my wrist is as firm as ever, like he isn’t letting me go.
By the time we reach the sidewalk beyond the building, I spot his silver Volvo parked in a nonparking zone, the hazard lights flashing.
He gets the passenger door for me, almost shutting it on my feet as I climb in, and before I have a chance to fasten my seat belt, he’s already jumping in beside me.
I’ve never seen him this frantic.
Cool sweat blankets my body as he maneuvers into the traffic and careens between two cars before blowing through a yellow light.
“Will you please just tell me what the hell is going on?” My tone is sharp, startling, and unfamiliar to even myself.
His knuckles are white, hands taut on the wheel, and his jaw sets.
“I don’t know how I missed this.” He shakes his head, eyes focused on the traffic, and it feels like he’s talking to himself. “I don’t know how I missed the signs. They were all there. I should have known. I should have seen this coming.”
are you talking about?”
Niall’s chest is still rising and falling as though he’s finished a marathon. Or like he’s in the middle of a panic attack. And for the first time in months, I find myself scared.
Only I haven’t the slightest clue what I’m terrified of.
And that might be the most terrifying thing of all.
Niall’s already unbuckling his seat belt by the time we fly into the driveway. He’s so distracted, he almost forgets to shift into park, the car lurching toward the garage door until he slams on the brakes.
I steady my trembling hands in my lap. My eyes sting, wet and hot. My entire world is crumbling beneath me, and I haven’t the slightest clue how or why, just that everything that
a few hours ago no longer
I follow him in through the back door, and he tosses his keys on the counter, careless and unlike him. And then he turns to me with an unfamiliar, almost panicked look in his eyes.
“You’re scaring me.” My small voice breaks.
He forces a breath from his nostrils before dragging his hand through his hair.
“Have a seat in the dining room,” he finally says. His expression is bordering on crestfallen, the way I imagine he looks when he’s about to deliver the worst kind of news to his patients. “I’ll meet you there in a minute. And I’ll tell you everything.”
There’s dust on the dining room table. The grandfather clock chimes from the hallway, three times. Niall’s footsteps on the second floor are heavy, hurried. Closet doors and desk drawers open and close. Papers rustle. More footsteps follow. It’s almost as if he’s ransacking the upstairs.
Finally, he returns, taking the chair beside me, placing a shoebox, a photo album, and a stack of papers between us. Without saying a word, he watches me, studies me like I’m some subject in his laboratory.
“What is all this?” I ask, reaching for the shoebox first.
He places his hand over mine, preventing me from exploring any of this on my own just yet.
“Your name,” he says, drawing in a long breath, “is Kate Emberlin.”
I squint at him. “No. Kate Emberlin is your
The spot beneath his left cheekbone divots.
“You are my wife.”
I’m at an extraordinary loss for words, racking my brain for any type of memory involving a wedding, vows, a kiss, a consummating night together.
But I get nothing.
The kiss we shared the other night felt as brand-new and unfamiliar as it should have, as my mind recalls no other with him. I know my memory has been shoddy at best lately, but I think I’d remember if I were married, in love, if I took vows with another person.
“I know,” he begins to say. “I know this is going to sound impossible. I know this isn’t going to make sense. But I have it all here. We’re going to sit here together. We’re going to go over everything. And we’re going to find a way to fix this. Again.”
“Kate, you have what’s called dissociative identity disorder.” He takes a paper from the top of the stack and slides it my way.
Examining the document, I find a marriage license for a Kate Conway and Niall Emberlin. According to this, we’ve been married three years next month.
How can someone erase over three years of their life?
“This doesn’t tell me anything,” I say.
He lifts a finger before removing the lid from the top of the shoebox. A second later, he produces a driver’s license.
The woman in the photo is undeniably me.
The name next to the photo is Kate Emberlin.
Next he digs out a birth certificate. The form states that I was born April 3, that my parents were Mark and Tricia Conway of Pleasant Hill, Iowa.
The date rings no bell.
As far as I’m concerned, Mark and Tricia are complete strangers, and I was born October 2.
“How do I know these aren’t fakes?” I ask. Niall has never given me a reason to distrust him, but given the absurdity of this claim, I have to ask every question, examine this with skepticism.
His shoulders sag as he pinches the bridge of his nose. When he glances across the table at me again, he looks like a man on the verge of losing all hope.
“Here.” He hands me a manila envelope. “All of your medical records are in there. I want you to read everything. Every last page.”
I unwind the cord on the back, opening the envelope and pouring out a thick stack of paperwork. My heart sinks when I read the name along the top of the first form.
Montblanc Psychiatric Hospital.
The name is as foreign to me as everything else in my presence, but I oblige and begin foraging through the documents, all of which are psychiatric inpatient medical records for a Kate Emberlin.
Niall’s knee bounces off and on as I read, and his hands form a peak that covers the center of his face.
The clock in the hall ticks.
Tension settles between us, thick and ripe.
I start with the initial evaluation, a five-page typed document signed by a psychiatrist by the name of J. B. Corcoran.