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The lovers promise, p.7
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       The Lover's Promise, p.7

           J. C. Reed
 
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My heart pounded hard against my chest as I prayed, the scissors in my hands cutting into my skin.

  I was crippled with fear and tears began to stream down my face. First the key, then the knock. Whoever was out there, I just wanted them to stop and go away. I wanted to escape. To wake up and discover it was just another dream. That this was real filled me with anger.

  “Fuck you.” The words stumbled out of my mouth before I could stop them.

  The knocking stopped and was replaced with silence. This time there was no doubt that they had heard me. What would happen now?

  My legs continued to tremble as I listened to the shuffling sounds outside the door. More shuffling, then retreating footsteps. Someone walked away, the shuffling sound growing softer, until I couldn’t hear it anymore. I pressed my back against the wall, realizing it was too good to be true. Too easy.

  I stared at the door, expecting it all to be a trap. But no more sounds came. No one entered. No one pushed the handle. No one turned the key to open the door.

  It was as if nothing had happened.

  One minute passed. Then another. Eventually, a door slammed shut, before silence befell the building once more. Somewhere, someone started the engine of a car.

  My heart skipped a beat.

  Whoever had been at the door, was leaving, and about to drive away. Grasping my only chance, I dashed across the living room and looked out the window, my gaze scanning the darkness. But I was too late. The distant sound of an engine speeding away carried over. There was no sight of anybody. No clue as to who had been at the door. For a long time I stood rooted to the spot, staring at the street below, countless shivers running through my body until I was convinced I would have them for the rest of my life.

  I wondered what they had wanted. Why did they knock? If they had intended to hurt me, they could easily have done so. After all, they had a key, and they could have easily entered….

  Unless the key didn’t work. Maybe that was why they knocked.

  Why would that be, Stewart? You think they would ask for an invitation rather than kick the door in?

  The entire scenario didn’t make any sense. Nothing did. There had to be a reason—an explanation—maybe one of the neighbors tried to unlock the wrong door, or why else would they leave after I told them to fuck off?

  My attention snapped back to the hall, my heart hammering harder at the thought of what I was about to do.

  “Crap,” I muttered as I grabbed the phone from the table, vowing to always carry it with me from now on. Walking back to the hall, I ignored the new pangs of dread washing over me at the prospect of coming within walking distance from a door again.

  I had always had an irrational fear of wrapped gifts, but after the previous night’s events, doors brought new levels of terror. Both fears had something in common: you never knew what was in store for you. One push at the handle, and you might never be able to close that door again.

  My eyes fell on the dark slit below the door. The lights in the hall were out again, and no sound carried over. I groaned as I pushed the dresser out of my way, stumbling over my bag in the process, and rattled the handle.

  The door didn’t open. Whoever had been outside had never turned the key, meaning either the key didn’t unlock the door or they had left the door locked on purpose. I stumbled back, unsure whether to be relieved or worried. I grabbed my bag, fished for my own keys, and unlocked the door. It opened with a soft squeak, revealing an empty dark hall. I switched on the lights and scanned my left and right out of fear that someone might jump out any minute and hurt me. But there was no one and the hall remained quiet. No scent to place, no sign of anyone, nothing to indicate someone was here. Whoever banged on the door, had left.

  Frowning, I turned to head back to my apartment when my gaze fell on a white envelope building a strong contrast to the charcoal doormat beneath.

  I stopped still as another cold shudder ran down my spine.

  It was my only proof that I wasn’t mad, nor was I crazy.

  Suddenly feeling nauseated, I leaned against the door, taking deep breaths—to no avail. Someone had left me a letter.

  Seconds passed but the streets remained as dark and quiet as before. If it weren’t for the letter in my hands and the ugly reminder that Gina was dead, I would have taken into account that I might be on the verge of needing a mental health check-up. For some reason the thought that I wasn’t imagining things didn’t bring me much peace, because that meant I had been right:

  Someone had been outside, following me. Someone had been in here, watching me. Someone had been in the corridor, lurking in the darkness, leaving a letter outside the apartment.

  There was no doubt that whoever left it there wasn’t Sylvie. And most importantly, they had a key.

  Just like Jett had in my dream.

  The thought popped up in my mind again. Great, just great.

  I didn’t know what was creepier: that someone had been watching me as I arrived home, waiting for me like a hunter would wait for prey. Or that they had been following my every move like a crazy stalker. Or that I dreamed of Jett having a key to my apartment and it turned out that someone really did.

  Every part of my being urged me to call the police, but what if I was making a mistake? Maybe whoever sent the letter was trying to help me by giving me answers. Back at the hotel someone had left me an envelope, too. If I hadn’t been told the news that Nate was out of prison, I would never have known Jett was keeping secrets from me. However, the first letter had been handed to me. This one was different—I could feel it. Who would leave a letter in such a creepy way?

  A psycho, Stewart.

  Another shudder ran down my spine as memories of the last hour flooded my mind. Warning or not, after a friend was killed I had to take precautions. From the kitchen I grabbed a pair of rubber gloves and put them on. I had no clue how it all worked, but I had to preserve the fingerprints in case I needed them. My hands remained surprisingly calm and steady as I studied the letter. There was no name written on it, no stamp; just a simple white envelope that was so light I doubted there was anything inside. My pulse sped up only so slightly as I opened it and pulled out a sheet of paper. It was a single white sheet covered in black, wide font. I stared at it, taken aback by what looked like a poem. I frowned as I skimmed the text briefly.

  Tiny drops fell from the sky

  Like tears from the eye

  Falling fast and hard

  Until they hit the ground,

  Gathering in a puddle,

  In the darkness in which they lay idle.

  She dares not step in

  For fear she might fall in

  And get swallowed up like the tears brushing her skin

  And the pain trapped within

  I turned the paper over and found no name, no signature, nothing to disclose the sender’s identity. I had no idea what to make of it. The poem made no sense. Who was she and why would anyone send anything like it? What did it even mean? New questions began to circle through my mind, as if I didn’t have enough already. For what seemed like an eternity, I stared at the paper, reading the text over and over again, until the words started to echo in my head like a twisted melody.

  I wasn’t exactly a literary genius with an ability to interpret metaphors, but I knew and doubted that the poem was a mere weather forecast predicting that it was going to rain, because it already had been either raining or snowing in the past few days.

  Could Jett have sent me the letter after realizing how much pain he had caused me? I hoped he didn’t. The thought that Jett might be playing with my mind again, without an explanation, without a single discussion that included the word “sorry”, while scaring the shit out of me, made me furious.

  So, I considered another theory: what if the letter was intended for Sylvie?

  I nodded to myself. It sounded so plausible I almost slapped my forehead for not taking it into account sooner. Sylvie had always attracted strange admirers. For all I knew, one of h
er exes might still be trying to win her back.

  Oh, self-deception had never felt so good.

  However, the problem with self-deception was that, while it could trick my mind into believing things that I knew weren’t the way I wanted them to be, my gut feeling could not be switched off. And right now, it told me that something was off. I just had to figure out what.

  Maybe the fact that Sylvie’s admirers have never knocked at four in the morning to leave a letter. How’s that for starters, Stewart?

  I groaned at the irritating voice in my head.

  In the silence of the room, I almost jumped out of my seat when the teakettle made a loud, whistling sound. I removed it from the cooker. As I sat back at the table, biting my thumbnail, a horrible realization occurred to me. I scanned the letter again, my eyes stopping at the one sentence:

  Tiny drops fell from the sky like tears from the eye.

  An ice-cold shudder ran down my spine as I pictured the image of Gina’s dead face. It had been raining when Jett drove me home. Gina had been found dead with two dots painted on her face. What were the odds that they represented tears?

  Oh, my God.

  My mind raced a million miles an hour. If the letter was linked to Gina, I wasn’t safe. As much as I wished I’d just call the police, what could I possibly tell them? That someone sent me a poem?

  Yeah, right. Totally life-threatening! They would send me home, laughing. Under different circumstances I would have laughed myself. The hysteria building at the back of my throat turned into a lump as hard as a rock. I had never felt so alone and scared, except when Nate attacked me and Jett saved my life.

  Saved my life.

  I swallowed past the lump in my throat. The mere thought of him was enough to send my heart aching for him. My whole being pleaded with me to get that final proof that he’d never hurt me. Even if he was a primary suspect in a murder case, a part of me refused to believe that he’d ever harm a woman. For some inexplicable reason, a part of me continued to belong to him. A part I had no control over. A part that said we created a child together, and he deserved my trust. Whether I wanted it or not, he had always made me feel safe. When Jett saved me, he created a new me. Even though the detective had clear evidence, I couldn’t believe Jett would commit such a horrible crime. Then again, I didn’t know him particularly well.

  I grabbed my phone from the table and stared at the screen. Still no text message. No call. Nothing to indicate he was still interested in a future together or that wanted me in his life. Weeks ago, whenever we’d meet, he’d text me. He couldn’t wait to call me or leave a naughty note inside my handbag for me to find at the most unfortunate moments. How things had changed. Disappointment washed over me at the thought that Jett had given up on us, that maybe he didn’t want me to contact him, which was why he cut our conversation so short, and for some reason the realization hurt me more than I had anticipated.

  Why did I have to check for his calls, anyway? Why did I even miss him?

  This constant need to see him even though I didn’t want to made no sense to me. The constant need to hear his voice even when I felt like pushing him away was testing my sanity. I wasn’t supposed to have those desires, because for all I knew he could still have killed Gina and sent me the cryptic letter. I knew I should be scared of him—not scared that I’d lose him. If only I could get rid of the pain his absence caused me and stop thinking about him once and for all. Maybe if I sent him a text and asked to come over now…

  No, Stewart. Don’t you dare!

  I took a sharp breath and pushed my cell phone across the table, as far away from me as possible. Contacting him again would be wrong. After all the things he kept from me, I wasn’t going to take the first step. There was no point in contacting him again when I had already given him a chance to explain his lies and justify his actions. Instead of removing my doubts, he had decided to leave me in the unknown.

  No, contacting him now was not a possibility. Not when I’d see him in less than sixteen hours. Not when I had no idea if he was playing one of his games with me.

  The truth was that even if Jett turned out to be a cold-blooded killer with bad intentions, I knew I’d still care for him. Stupid of me, but my heart would still beat for him. And for that very reason, I hated him, hated love, hated myself for being so weak. Because as much as I wanted to delude myself, I knew I had to get away from him—far, far away—rather than seek to lie in his arms and look into his beautiful green eyes.

  Heck, it wouldn’t surprise me if I’d still love him even if he killed me.

  Loving him was like drinking from a pond—this love would never get less, but after some time, stagnant water would become flat, infested, dirty, just like my feelings for him.

  Outside, the sky slowly turned into early morning twilight as I sat in front of the television, watching a show about a dog with severe anxiety disorder. Maybe I could get a dog, just like the one on TV, whose only issue was being too overprotective.

  I sure could use one. A dog would warn me of a possible intruder. He would know before a situation became threatening or someone’s bad intentions turned into imminent danger.

  Somewhere a neighbor slammed a door, the noise carrying through the silence around me. Night turned into day but Sylvie remained gone. By 7.a.m.¸ worry set in. Where was she? I had tried to reach her countless times since I found the letter on our doorstep, but her phone had remained switched off.

  So when the landline rang, I jumped up from my seat and dashed over, knocking my ankle against the table in the process. The caller ID showed an unknown number. Swallowing down the curse at the back of my throat, I rubbed my sore ankle and answered.

  “Hello?”

  “Is this Brooke Stewart?”

  My heart sank in my chest. It wasn’t Sylvie.

  “Yeah. This is she,” I said.

  God, I hoped nothing bad happened.

  The last thing I needed was that Sylvie turned up in a hospital or worse yet…

  Oh God.

  The mere thought stirred tears in my eyes.

  How could I possibly live without my best friend and our usual Thursday nights?

  “This is Judith Altenberg from BankTrusts,” the voice on the other end of the line said, cutting off my morbid trail of thought. “I’m calling to inquire if you’re interested in keeping your account with us.”

  Tremendous relief streamed through me. It wasn’t the hospital. It was some woman talking about God only knew what.

  “I’m sorry. What account?” My fingers curled around the phone cord as she confirmed with me the details and my account number.

  Of course, Judith Altenberg. Debt collector. Bank adviser. The kind of person people like me avoided like the plague.

  I faintly remembered her name. She was the lady who had sent the debt reminder. Instantly, my temples started to throb as my smile slowly vanished.

  Crap.

  “I know I’m behind payments, but I promise I’ll pay as soon as I have more money,” I said apologetically. “You see, I’ve just started a new job, and the hours are irregular. Can you give me two more weeks to sort out my little problem, maybe even a month?”

  “Actually—” she paused for a moment and the sound of furious typing on a keyboard echoed in the background “—your account is settled. I’m calling to confirm that your debt has been repaid. Do you want to keep your account open or can I offer you one of your special deals?”

  “Wait,” I said, catching my breath. “I don’t understand. Are you telling me that I don’t owe you any more money? Is that what you are saying right now?”

  “Yes,” she replied, her voice monotone and patient. “Yesterday, you received a one off payment to cover the amount you owed in full. As of today, your account balance is zero.”

  I stared at the phone in complete shock. “A one off payment made by whom?”

  There was a short pause during which I heard yet more typing.

  “Mayfield Realties,” sh
e stated matter-of-factly. “The payment says ‘Advance.’ You’ll receive a form letter from us to confirm that the account has been settled and your debt paid in full.”

  Oh, my God.

  Jett.

  “Is there a problem, Ma’am?” I could hear the sudden suspicion in Judith Alternberg’s voice.

  “No. I just—” My temples throbbed harder as I tried to find my voice and the right words. “I just didn’t expect such a generous advance from my employer, that’s all.”

  Ex-employer.

  Ex-boyfriend.

  “I see. Well, might I interest you in one of our special deals?” Her tone was back to its previous chirpy sales pitch self.

  “Not at this time,” I mumbled.

  “Sure. I’ll be happy to call again in a month. Since your loan’s paid off, can I advise you to keep your account open to improve your credit score? As per regulations the delinquency will still be reported on your credit report for seven years. So I advise—”

  I stopped listening. Thousands of thoughts raced through my mind.

  “Ma’am?” Her voice drew my attention back to her.

  “I’m sorry.” I blew out the breath I didn’t know I was holding. “I really appreciate the call, but do you mind if I contact you later this week?”

  Without waiting for her reply, I ended the call. My mind was spinning, my blood was boiling.

  No way.

  No way!

  Jett had paid off my loan—without even asking me. It was the exact thing I had never wanted. I didn’t want to owe him. To make him feel like he had some sort of power over me.

  How did he find out about my loan with BankTrust anyway?

  While I might have mentioned my student loan at one point or another, I never told him who held the loans, especially since I poured a great effort into making sure he wouldn’t find out that all my credit cards were maxed out. My stomach flipped at the thought.

  Millionaires like Jett Mayfield had connections and as such the power to snoop around other people’s business. If he knew people with the kind of authority that allowed him access to my private details, all he had to do was look into the National Loan Data System. But surely it wasn’t that easy.

 
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