She pulled back, vertigo washing through her as she felt her life spill through the cracks of the lies, settling into a new, unknown pattern. My God. What if it’s all true? Peri’s heart pounded, and she clenched the bell until it bit into her palm.
“It’s probably encoded. Call Silas,” Jack said as he took a sip of wine that didn’t exist.
Her head dropped, and her hand slowly opened. She’d washed the ink off, but enough of a shadow remained to read it. To trust him was asking a lot.
“You don’t trust him?” Jack asked, and she brought her head up, staring at the ceiling as if it held the answer.
“I’m going to have to,” she whispered.
Jack turned to the door and her eyes widened at the sound of a car in the lot. Allen? He was back already?
“Shit,” she whispered, panicking as she rushed to attach Carnac’s bell to her key chain. Stuffing it back in her purse, she ran to the photo of her and Jack, a feeling of indecision filling her as she held it. There was nowhere she could keep it safe, and she couldn’t risk it turning up and raising questions. “I’m sorry, Jack,” she said as she dropped the photo into the fireplace and the flames licked the paper. I’m so sorry. But I do have you. I can never forget you.
“Hi, Allen!” Peri called out, turning with a smile as the front door opened. “You think I could have some space in the bathroom for my things? Two drawers, maybe?”
I can do this, she thought as he smiled back and held up a bag of cat food and ice cream. Even without an anchor.
Peri held her phone to her ear as she sat at the kitchen bar and chased the last of the marshmallow clovers around the bowl. She’d always eaten the clovers last, ever since she was a little girl. To give me luck for the day. And I need the luck, she thought, listening with half her attention to the phone ring. She wanted to meet Silas and give him the chip, but contacting him would be tricky and she couldn’t do it from her apartment.
Her phone had a bug in it, which was fine so long as she said the right thing. Allen was in the bedroom, drugged from his own pharmaceutical cache after she got him relaxed enough last night not to notice the needle. They were high-quality drugs and he’d wake with no headache, no bad taste, and no reason to check the levels of the tiny bottles. Good news was he’d be out for about four hours. Bad news was that the drugs were probably there to be used on her.
“Hello. Opti Health.”
She slid off the stool. Carnac twined hopefully about her feet, and she set the bowl of sweet milk on the floor. “Ah, hi. This is Peri Reed. I’m calling for Allen Swift and myself,” she said as she went to the window and peeked out the blind. “I’d like to switch our morning appointment to this afternoon. We had a late night, and he’s got a headache the size of Montana.”
The busy street was empty of any Opti presence, not even a drone. There was no need, not with that tracker telling them she was still in bed. She had to talk to Silas.
“Yes, ma’am. Three thirty, okay?” came the operator’s voice, and Peri closed the blinds.
“Yes. We’ll be there.” Leaving her phone on the counter, she went to check on Allen.
“Sleep well, sweetheart,” she whispered as she checked his pulse. “I’d bring you back a doughnut, but then you’d know I’d been gone.” Turning, she looked at her reflection in the mirror, seeing the fatigue under the highlights and base. “Where’s my effin’ two weeks off, Bill?” she whispered as she touched up the heavy eyeliner trailing a good three inches off the sides of her eyes. It was overly dramatic for eight in the morning but, along with the artful cheekbone contouring, would change her face enough that the street cameras wouldn’t tag her.
Satisfied, she tucked her pen pendant beneath her shirt and tugged the hem of the jacket she’d put on to try to hide a garish, flower-patterned top. Her eyes narrowed at her hair bumping about at her shoulders. Her mother would like it, but it needed to be cut, a liability in a fight.
Striding into the kitchen, she removed a drawer to reveal Allen’s knives hidden behind it. She’d made her choice last night in her search, and she slipped the slimmest into her boot sheath. Purse over her shoulder, she checked to be sure the door would lock before she stepped into the hall. The air was pleasantly cool, and after a quick look up and down the hall, she wedged a fortune cookie slip between the door and the jamb, placing it a finger’s span above the floor to tell her if anyone had entered or left while she was gone.
The streets were alive, and she enviously eyed the occasional steaming cup of coffee as she made her way to the elevated train. She hadn’t slept well beside Allen. Inconsistencies kept pinging against the top of her brain. It wasn’t so much what she remembered as what she didn’t. She recalled eating a meal, but not buying the food to prepare it with. She remembered jogging in the park with Allen, but not where she’d gotten the shoes she’d been wearing. She could remember the movies they’d gone to see, but not waiting in line for the tickets or getting the popcorn she ate. They’d lied to her. The people she’d trusted her entire adult life had lied to her, filling her with memories and ideas that were not her own—and she was pissed.
It was a short ride to her old apartment at Lloyd Park, but as she got off the sky way, her steps faltered. Everything was familiar: the neon, the tidy streets, the commons with clusters of people enjoying the spring morning at the fountain. She knew what she’d see when she looked down the side streets, the trendy shops the same as they were five years ago. The feeling of coming home hit her, a sensation lacking in the rooms she was living in now. This was where she’d felt secure, knowing every side street and alley, every dress shop and boutique, every trendy restaurant. And it hurt.