Authors: Minka Kent
He snickers at his joke.
“You still with the woman?” he asks.
“Yep.” In a way . . .
But not for much longer.
“What’s her name?”
I turn to shoot him a look. “You’re getting all up into my business today, aren’t you?”
Brian smiles, and for a second I deem him harmless, but I also trust him as far as I can throw him.
“You have a kid, too, right?” he asks. He must be remembering that day he caught me coming out of the doctor’s quarters, when I managed to convince him I was a sleep-deprived new parent.
“I do,” I lie.
“Boy or girl?”
I stare at the phone to my left, mentally willing it to ring, but it responds with mocking silence.
“Boy,” I say.
“Got any pictures?” he asks.
“Not on me, no.” I click to another spreadsheet, leaning in to study the screen in hopes he catches the hint.
“What?” He chuffs. “You don’t have any pics of your kid on your phone or anything?”
“Of course I do,” I say. “But we’re not allowed to be on our phones during work hours. Not about to risk that to show you a picture.”
“Come on, man. No one’s looking.” He tries to coax me.
“Why are you so interested in seeing a picture of my kid? Honestly, it’s creepy.” If turning this around on him doesn’t get him to quit bugging me, I don’t know what will.
“Whatever.” Brian rises from his chair, palms lifted in the air in protest. “Going to grab something from vending. You need anything?”
“I’m good,” I say, refusing to so much as make eye contact.
I’m not sure where his sudden interest in my personal life is coming from. All these months we’ve only ever made small talk and tolerated each other, and now he’s all but asking for my Social Security number.
There’s something up with him.
But hopefully I won’t be around long enough to find out what that is.
My foot bounces as I wait on a bench by the front door of the Crestview Psychiatric Center early Thursday morning. Another half hour, and my phone should be fully charged.
My sleep these last few nights has been spotty at best and last night it was virtually nonexistent, but this morning Dr. Schneider met with me and informed me that the board approved my discharge. It happened sooner than I expected. I imagine he weighed the legal ramifications of keeping me under false pretenses and decided the liability was too great.
I’m going home.
My packed suitcase rests beside me, and I’ve already rifled through the purse I surrendered when I arrived here over two weeks ago. Everything’s intact—including my wallet, which holds the ID and credit cards that identify me as Brienne Dougray.
And that’s another thing . . .
In all the reading I’ve done on this disorder, I’ve come across enough evidence to convince me that these alters will go to great lengths to prove they’re real, but even now, as Brienne, I wouldn’t have the slightest clue how to go about stealing someone’s identity. I wouldn’t have
the nerve to set foot into the DMV with someone else’s birth certificate and apply for a new license.
An hour ago, I signed myself out. Officially. And I’ve been sitting here since, charging my phone and using my shoddy internet connection to order a rental car from Enterprise in the next town over. In a few more minutes, I’ll order an Uber or a Lyft or a taxi to take me from here to there, and then I’ll be on my way home.
Niall doesn’t know it, but in less than three hours, I’ll be home.
I pull into the driveway shortly after two in the afternoon. The house that had once greeted me with her warmth and nostalgia now stands tall and looming. Uncertainty lies behind her ornate windows and antique doors. Never have I imagined coming home would feel anything quite like this.
It takes another minute, but I shut the rental car off and climb out to retrieve my bag. From the corner of my eye, I spot Enid Davies by her front porch, bent at the waist as she pulls weeds from her tulip beds. At the sound of my slamming car door, she cranes her neck this way, and as soon as she realizes who I am, she drops the weeds in her hand and rushes over.
“Welcome home, sweetheart.” She hugs me. A first. “How are you feeling?”
I’m not sure what Enid knows and what she doesn’t, so I offer a simple, “Better,” and pray that she buys it.
“When Niall told me you weren’t feeling
, I was just so grateful that he was able to recognize that and find you a place where you could recuperate. You know, privately”—she keeps her voice down—“years ago one of my sisters was going through something, but she had no interest in being . . . sent away . . . She was much too proud. But I know times have changed. I’m just glad you’re feeling better.”
“Thank you.” I eye the house, half of me prepared to charge inside and the other half of me second-guessing on account of what I might find.
At this point, all I know is that I know nothing.
“You should come over for dinner some night soon,” Enid says. “The two of you.”
“Yeah, sure. That’d be nice.”
“I’m sure you’re not going to feel like cooking for a while. And I see takeout deliveries going to the house almost every single night. I’m sure he’s tired of eating pizza.” She laughs, waving her hand before resting it on her chest.
Niall eating pizza? Almost daily?
The Niall I know was obsessed with his healthy eating, insisting processed, fried, fattening, oily foods were a major factor in the body’s inability to ward off cancer cells. We had that discussion a handful of times—that I remember.
“And if his sister is still in town, she’s welcome to join, too,” Enid adds.
“Anyway, I’ll let you get in and get settled.” She waves at a neighbor power walking down the sidewalk in a pastel pink tracksuit. “Let me know if you need anything, okay?”
Enid gives me another hug before returning to her tulips, and I swallow a deep breath before grabbing my suitcase from the trunk of the rental.
My heart knocks in my chest as I wheel my bag to the back door. Stopping at the steps, I fish my house key from my bag and slide it into the lock. I give it a twist, but the door swings open on its own.
It wasn’t even locked.
“Hello?” I call when I step inside. “Niall? You home?”
The grandfather clock down the hall chimes.
The clock on the microwave blinks to a new time.
There’s something off about the kitchen. Dish soap left out by the sink and not tucked under. A rag drying, hanging from the neck of the faucet. Surely Niall in all his type A tendencies wouldn’t have left things sitting out after cleaning?
I think of Enid’s comments, about Niall ordering takeout almost daily, and I’m prompted to search the fridge for proof. Not that I don’t believe her. But maybe he was ordering turkey subs or grilled chicken wings and not deep-dish pizzas?
I tug the handle of the refrigerator, only to be greeted with a half-empty gallon of store-brand 1 percent milk. I’ve always purchased skim milk and always buy the local dairy farm brand our supermarket keeps in stock. Niall, from what I understand, is intolerant to cow’s milk—it’s why we always had a carton of almond milk in the refrigerator at all times.
Shoving the gallon aside, I find a couple of Styrofoam containers, and I pop the lids open to find various half-eaten pasta dishes, as well as a side of soggy onion rings.
I’ve never known Niall to eat like this.
I slam the door and make my way to my room next, passing the dining room, which appears exactly the way I left it, and stopping short in front of my bedroom door—which is closed.
My breath is shallow, and there’s a slight tremble in my hand as I reach for the knob.
Anything could be waiting on the other side.
I grip the key chain still in my hand, tighter, harder.
Heart whooshing in my ears, I charge into my room and plant myself in the dead center. Reaching above me, I pull the cord on the ceiling fan fixture until light floods the space. The faint scent of one of my perfumes fills the air—as if it’s recently been sprayed, and when I look toward the small collection on top of my dresser, I find that one of the bottles has a loose cap, like someone didn’t put it on all the way.
My bed is made—at least that hasn’t changed, but upon closer inspection, I notice a small indentation in the covers, on the edge. Like someone sat there for a moment.
I scan the rest of the room. Nothing else seems amiss. The clock on my nightstand is unmoved. The empty water glass still rests on the coaster, traces of my lip balm on the rim.
I check my closet next. At first glance, everything seems to be in proper order—categorized by color and season, but a handful of the pieces are sticking out more than the others, as though someone rifled through them.
I run upstairs to Niall’s room next.
I’m not sure what I’m looking for or what I’m going to do when I get there; I just know that I’m desperate for answers, for proof—but proof of what, I don’t know exactly.
I’m breathless when I get to the top of the stairs, and I don’t bother knocking. When I open the door, I’m met with the familiar scent of his aftershave and a made bed.
Nothing is out of place, though this is based on the limited memory I have from the short amount of time I’ve spent in his room.
I check his bathroom next. Flicking on the light, I release an audible gasp when I spot a small toiletries bag next to the sink. It’s pink and orange, one of those “free gift with purchase” kinds from a department store beauty counter. And it’s unzipped. Pulling it close for inspection, I find a powder compact, blush, mascara, and two tubes of lipstick.
This matches up with Enid’s comment about Niall’s “sister” being in town, but in a house with four other bathrooms and several unoccupied guest suites, why would they need to share this one?
I place the bag back where I found it and head to the stairs, stomach churning. Bracing myself on the railing, I make my way down, taking each wooden step with care because the ground seems to be moving beneath my feet all of a sudden.
When I reach the lower level, I stand by the front door, where I can see into the formal parlor, the dining room, and down the main hallway. From here, everything looks the same.
I haven’t checked my office yet.
Rushing to the empty room at the end of the main hall, I burst in, only to find my desk exactly the way I left it. My chair pushed in. My computer connected to the charger and centered between a pen cup and a silver stapler.
Taking a seat, I lift the lid to my laptop and watch the screen spring to life. Sliding my fingertip across the trackpad, I tap on my in-box and watch as it populates mostly with junk mail.
But one message stands out.
It’s from my accountant.
And marked with high importance.
I double-click on the body of the email and scan the words.
I was doing my monthly reports and noticed you requested cash-outs on your entire retirement portfolio. Before you deposit anything, we need to meet. I’m not sure what your plans are, but this could have major tax implications. If you’re needing to liquidate, there are better options. Call me ASAP.
Bernard Van Outen
Financial Star Retirement Advisors, LLC
My blood turns to ice water, frigid in my veins, and my vision blurs. A second later, I’m scrolling through emails, sifting through the clutter
until I find a series of messages all sent within the same one-hour time period. Password resets. Check request confirmations. Account closing notifications.
I realize now what this means.
It was about money from the start.
He needed access to all my accounts, so he made me believe I was crazy and he sent me away.
The son of a bitch cleaned me out.
“Hi, yes, this is Dr. Niall Emberlin. I was calling to speak with my wife, Kate, if she’s available?” I’ve got twenty minutes to kill on my lunch break, so I make a quick call to Crestview from the front seat of my car.
“One moment, please.” The woman places me on hold, the most God-awful elevator music filling my ear. Several minutes later, she returns. “I’m sorry. She isn’t available.”
“What do you mean, she isn’t available?” I’m relieved I don’t have to talk to her, but I have to keep up appearances. “Is she okay?”
The woman is quiet.
“Hello?” I ask. “You still there?”
“Yes, yes. I’m sorry. Why don’t I give you Nancy’s voice mail? She can give you more information. One sec—”
“Wait, wait, wait,” I say.
I don’t like the sound of this.
“I don’t want Nancy’s voice mail; I want Nancy,” I say. It’s hard as hell to maintain the politeness in my tone, but I close my eyes and envision myself as Dr. Lucas in Peds, and it works like a charm.
“She’s with a patient right now; I’m sorry. If you want, you can leave me your number, and I can flag her down as soon as I see her?”
I pinch the bridge of my nose and exhale into the receiver.