Shivers walked up her bare arms. She sat up and hugged herself, a small smile on her lips. The smell of him still on her skin, in her hair. She turned to look at him but found his pillow indented, the sheets rumpled where he'd slept.
Her feet hit the floor. She snatched up the shirt she'd worn last night and put it on, buttoning it as she left the bedroom.
"Peter?" She came to the kitchen, scanned the counter tops and sink for evidence of their night together. Everything gleamed.
"Peter?" Her heart stood against her ribs, its wild hammering brought on a headache. She pressed her temples with her thumbs and padded around the corner to the living room, the place where it all began.
The throw pillows and blanket they'd knocked to the floor were folded and replaced on the sofa. The cream vase full of lilacs, that she'd kicked over when the kissing and touching got out of hand, stood upright in the center of the coffee table, empty.
Maybe he had to go to work after all.
Her eyes skimmed every surface of his apartment for a note. Nothing. She twisted the edge of her shirt and thought.
She went to the coat closet near the door and pulled open the door. Her stomach plummeted. Silver strapbacks, black pumps, a pair of hot pink sandals with cork wedge heels--her favorite shoes--lined up on a wooden shoe rack next to her worn, white running shoes. Not a single pair of Peter's shoes. She ran a hand over the coats hung there: faded hoodies, windbreakers, her black pea coat with its striped scarf looped around the hanger, but nothing of Peter's.
How did her things get here?
An envelope slid under the door and skittered across the tile to a stop near her feet. It was addressed to her.
She retrieved it, then ripped it open. A tremor rippled through her as she read the letter.
Melissa, your rent is 60 days past due. I've been very patient because of your circumstance, but I can't let you remain for free. You have one week from today to move out.
Sincerely, Harry Blackwell (landlord).
Circumstance? Her body flashed hot then cold. She grabbed her purse from the chair and dug through it for her cell phone. Receipts and gum wrappers fluttered to the floor. She turned her phone on and several text messages popped up on her screen. All from her mother.
Mel, you can't hide in that apartment forever. Come have lunch with me today.
Honey, call me please. I'm worried.
Several more with a similar, concerned tone. She scrolled through them with her thumb to the last one. The sender's number was unknown.
You'd want to keep me. I'd want to be kept. What a disaster that would be.
What the hell?
She tossed her phone into her purse and bent to pick the scraps of paper off the floor. She didn't remember chewing so much gum. Her phone beeped. She tossed the handful of wrappers in her purse and pulled out her phone again.
Enjoying the taste of your new life?
Anger and fear fizzled up her throat. She swallowed hard and texted back:
Who is this?
A moment later the reply came. Call me Cypher.
Her thumb hovered over the power button, but for some reason she couldn't bring herself to turn the phone off. She set it on the coffee table and picked up two receipts she'd missed. The date on the first one was dated two months from now. She straightened it.
The Stone Cellar Restaurant. She'd never been there. Peter had mentioned it last night when he was running his fingers through her hair in bed after...
She bit her lip. The other receipt was for a bed and bath shop also dated two months from today.
What was going on?
Her phone beeped again. A strangled breath escaped in a small cry. She looked at the screen, still holding the receipts.
Figured it out yet?
She needed a smoke. She dumped her purse on the chair and hunted through the contents for her pack of Camels. A minty aroma assaulted her nose as she tossed aside three packs of gum, a tube of lip gloss, two sets of keys, numerous receipts that she didn't have the courage to read, and a crumpled card still in its envelope. She pulled out the thin cardboard and frowned at the cheery cartoon house on the front with the greeting: Welcome Home! Inside, a message penned in neat block script said:
"Take this key. It's to OUR apartment."
She moved her finger to read the endorsement at the bottom.
"Love, Peter. Happy 6 months! I knew you could do it!"
She dropped the card. It wasn't possible.
She snatched her phone off the table and opened her social media app, thumbing through post after post of selfies with captions about quitting smoking, her next date with Peter, and several posts had pictures of her and Peter together; his sunny blond head tipped towards her dark brown one both facing the camera wearing rapturous grins. Each post had been set to private. Her profile picture was a black and white selfie, her long hair covering one eye. Was it supposed it be sultry or angsty? She didn't remember taking it.
She went to Peter's profile picture. Her mouth went dry. A mystery girl was kissing his cheek. Me and my wife, he'd titled it.
Peter was married. Well, she knew that. Didn't she? She'd blotted out the image of the pale band around his finger when he touched her hand for the first time. She'd turned a blind eye to the photo that fell from his wallet when he offered to pay for her drink in the bar. She went home with him anyway.
Her phone beeped, making her jump.
This is your future. When you chose him, you also chose me.
Who the hell are you? She texted back. While she waited for an answer, she looked again at her own profile picture. Something about it bothered her. She scrolled down to read the caption. Today Peter left me. Went back to his wife. I have no life to return to. No job. No money. Only an apartment I can't afford.
Her phone beeped in her hand, bringing Cypher's final reply.
I'm your secret.