Updated ending 3.22.2021
Previous: Chapter 18 – Violet Makes Amends
If you would like a soundtrack to go along with this, check out my playlist on Spotify. This chapter’s songs: “How It Ends,” “10 Seconds From Panic,” “Nightmare,” and “Ok.”
I’d avoided thinking about Winters until the day his malicious grin greeted me in the reception area, tongue rolling over his nicotine-stained teeth. “Well, hello there, you pretty little thing.” His sinister tone gave me the sudden urge to vomit.
I hid behind the computer monitor, hopeful that he wouldn’t recognize me outside of my childish clothes and hairstyle. “How can I help you?”
“Where has Gabe been hiding you?” he asked with a wink. “I haven’t seen you here before…”
Before I could respond, my boss walked out of his office to rescue me, greeting the sleazy old man with a firm handshake and making small talk.
I suddenly felt heated, sweat rising on my forehead and cheeks. My vision blurred and the men’s conversation seemed distant, despite standing only a few feet away. I could feel the blood pulsing through my veins with each loud heartbeat.
A hazy Violet strolled in shouting on her phone, iced coffee sloshing around as she emphasized her point. I latched onto the arm of my chair, fingers gripped tightly to ground myself as I steadied my breathing.
“Hasn’t your ass had enough?” Gabe pointed to his watch and clicked his tongue as he shook his head in displeasure.
“Bro, what the fuck, it’s not even eight o’clock yet!”
“If the client is here before you, then you’re late. How many strokes of the cane do you think for her, Miss Patterson?”
It took me a second to realize he was speaking to me, and I tried to snap out of my fog. When I looked up, I noticed that Winters had stepped inside the office and my colleagues were staring at me, slightly concerned expressions.
“Bro, you don’t look so hot. White as a ghost.”
My tummy grumbled, threatening to send up my breakfast. “I shouldn’t have trusted the food cart…”
Gabe and Violet shook their heads at me, mumbling about tourists, then disappeared into his office together.
I sat there for a moment taking deep breaths, but eventually, the anxiety was too strong and I picked up the phone. I’d learned how to eavesdrop silently on Gabe’s conversations with clients, which he didn’t mind as it allowed me to finish my work quicker. And since he hadn’t explicitly instructed me not to listen…
“Let’s see the video.” I almost couldn’t recognize Violet’s professional-sounding voice.
There was an uncomfortable silence until Gabe cleared his throat. “She’s trustworthy.”
“Not a word to anyone.”
“Obviously, but I can’t do my job if I’m missing evidence.” A hint of her ghetto accent came back, but she impressively kept her cool.
A loud groan. “Fine.” I heard shuffling and another sigh.
“Just carrying a memory stick in your pocket like nothin’? And no encryption or passcode at all? Bro, no wonder you got hacked.”
Gabe grumbled something under his breath, and I imagined the glare he was shooting Violet.
“What’s she talking about?”
An awkward silence. “You gotta do a better job with security, um… sir? You should guard that USB with your life cuz if shit gets out, you’re fucked.” Now she sounded like herself, though somehow maintained a level of respect.
Before he had the chance to respond, the video started playing… a familiar childish murmur:
“I realize this must be confusing for you: credit cards maxed, checking account dry, the safe empty. All your money is gone. You’re lucky to still have a business, but rest assured, fuck with any kids again, I’ll sabotage your career, too.
“Do NOT search for me or contact law enforcement. Even if you try, you will fail… You’ll NEVER find me. And if you ignore my warning, everyone in your family — everyone in the world — will see this video.”
My body sat frozen in place. The speech was too familiar; I had practiced it thousands of times. A hotel bed would now pop up on the screen, a naked old geezer holding a folded belt as the young woman lay bare before him. Her thick blue hair hid her face, but nobody would notice, because her legs were spread wide, exposing her most intimate regions.
“Such a naughty little whore,” Winters sneered, slapping the leather down and provoking a genuine sob. “If your ID didn’t prove it, I’d never believe you were 17 years old with the slutty way you dress.”
The sour remnants of breakfast rushed to my throat, prompting me to throw the receiver down and bolt to the restroom, reaching the toilet just in time to purge my stomach contents.
Wait, did this mean Violet was hired to find… me?????
After washing up, I sat on the cool tile floor, leaning my head against the wall. Millions of thoughts cluttered in my mind, panic worse than it’d ever been. Can I steer them in the wrong direction or should I run?
I was never good at planning… oh, how I missed Sage. We hadn’t spoken in so long to keep me off the radar. Not that hiding had helped…
I dug out my cell phone and dialed my partner in crime’s landline, disappointed when it continued ringing, no answer. Sage was the only person who could aid me in deciding how to proceed. The anxious thoughts were too strong to do it on my own.
I left work early claiming food poisoning and rushed home, thankful Izaak was gone. After bolting the front door, I booted up my laptop and searched for the accounts associated with my old aliases. There was no way I’d remember them all — Sage was the one who’d handled the technology.
After pulling up a few profiles, I hit a dead-end and contemplated next steps. When I couldn’t think of anything, I called Sage again, and she finally answered!
“I need your help.”
“Heyyy, it’s been a while, friend! We have company so time is limited…” Her code to use caution, people are listening. “Are you okay?”
Taking a deep breath, I checked to ensure the door was still locked. “No. It’s really frosty here and I’m worried.”
“Wait… Frosty? Are you sure?”
I gulped. “Yeah. I literally saw him at my new job. What should I do?”
“What? You can’t expect me to tell him. He’s…”
She cut me off. “I know, but talk to him. He can help.”
I blinked in confusion, pulling the phone away from my ear to make certain I’d dialed the correct number before speaking again. “How??? I wasn’t planning on telling him at all! I need a practical…”
“Listen, I have to go — there’s a lot of bullshit ’round here. If you won’t talk to Izaak, there must be someone else, but be careful. Frost is dangerous. Get a solid defense.”
“We’ll chat soon, I promise, just don’t take any crazy risks. Big brother is always watching.” Then hung up.
I sighed and fell back onto the futon, no closer to figuring out my next steps. Sage had been my best friend for many years… the only person I trusted besides granny. Why had she assumed I could disclose my crimes to Izaak? She’d known how close we were during college, but also that he’d deserted me and was in the FBI, which would make him totally off-limits.
It must be code for something else…
Snuggling up in my blankets, I buried my face into the pillow and tried to push the terrifying thoughts away.
Izaak woke me up when he arrived home around 7pm, concerned because I hadn’t answered his earlier text messages, but relieved when he saw I was okay. “You don’t have a fever,” he said as his rough hand grazed my forehead. “Wash up for dinner and get to bed early tonight. Tomorrow you should be good as new.”
“I’m not hungry.” With the overwhelming dread filling my tummy, I knew digestion would be impossible.
“You must stay hydrated. At least have rice and seltzer.”
He began asking entirely too many questions, so I rolled out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom. I splashed water on my cheeks, peering up in the mirror. Violet had been right, I looked paler than normal. My hollow eyes seemed confused, staring at an unfamiliar face.
You have to figure out a plan.
Izaak chatted at me happily while I picked at my food, still panicky but in a daze from the half-nap I took earlier.
“Have you started your applications for art school yet?”
I shrugged. There was no use applying if I’d end up in prison, but I couldn’t admit that to him. “Haven’t had time.”
His lips pressed into a fine line of skepticism.
“Work has been busy.” I shoved a fork full of rice into my mouth to avoid having to discuss the topic further.
“We will review the papers together this weekend and set a goal. No procrastinating on your dreams, kiddo.”
My heart warmed at how much Izaak seemed to care about me, but the image of Winters wouldn’t leave my brain. “I promise I’ll get it done.”
The portfolio was an acceptable excuse to hole up in my “room” after dinner while I busied myself with trying to find the rest of my online presence. I was so absorbed in my work that I only became distracted when Izaak tapped on the wall, then pushed the divider aside.
“How’s it going?”
I slammed the laptop shut before he saw what I was up to. “Not so great yet. I’m out of practice.” I blushed and shifted in my seat. “You’re not gonna spank me, right?”
He half-laughed. “No spankings tonight. Your behavior has been terrific lately, so you’ve earned a reward.”
My eyes brightened in excitement, and I stood to check what he hid behind him. “What is it?” I squealed, standing on the futon with a giggle to grab his arms.
“Someone is suddenly feeling better,” he said without budging from his position, holding in a smile as he instructed me to sit back down. “I’m proud of you, kiddo. You have come a long way since we began working together — you haven’t smoked and you’ve stuck to the routine with only a few minor hiccups. I have even noticed your increased participation in running group.”
I blushed, mixed feelings of pride and shame, but quickly snapped out of it when he revealed the present: an iPad for illustrators, equipped with everything I needed to get into digital art. Tears slid down my cheeks as I tackled Izaak in a hug, gripping him tightly. “I can’t believe you did this, it’s so great!”
“You earned it.”
Sleep was nearly impossible, but when I finally dozed off, it wasn’t peaceful. Nightmares plagued me all night, causing me to toss and turn, waking every few minutes in a startle. Most of the visions I forgot, but my final dream was so vivid, it stuck with me.
My naked body trembled on the bed in that hotel suite, goosebumps all over. A belt buckle jingled, and I looked up to meet an unexpected frown: Gabe.
“Young Lady, you created a monster.”
Blue hair fell in front of my eyes and I attempted to push it away, but my arms were stuck. I wanted to argue, but words refused to come out. Now Gabe wore the same smirk as he did around Violet.
Struggling to free myself, I was finally able to speak. “I’ve been a good girl!”
Winters suddenly appeared next to him, licking his crusty lips. “Yup. This is her.”
“It wasn’t me!”
Gabe took a step closer to me. “Would you rather me tell your Dom?”
Sage’s voice echoed through the space: “Where is my memory?” I glanced back and saw her in a jail cell in the corner. She was behind her desk like I used to see her on webcam, bookshelf at her side. “Thankfully, my technology is password protected.” She grabbed a thick, red hardcover book and started reading.
Now Izaak appeared, voice thundering so powerfully it shook me. “Tell me what?”
“No! Don’t listen to them! They’re wrong, I’ll prove it!” My throat was getting hoarse as I was determined to convince them of my innocence.
Sage butted in. “Just tell him.”
“Homegirl is more badass than I thought. She’s this slutty bitch.” There was Violet, scrolling through pictures on an iPad and showing them to Izaak. “I didn’t know you had it in you!”
Izaak’s gaze was disappointed as he turned to Violet and said, “I always liked you more.” Then escorted her out.
“Wait! No! I’m sorry!” I closed my eyes to weep, but no tears came out.
When I opened them again, Toby was at my side and pressed a finger against his mouth to keep me quiet as he helped me up. We crawled under the mattress and exited into a long, narrow hallway. When I stood and brushed myself off (now I was wearing clothes), I turned to see Winters and Gabe running towards me, an army of uniformed police officers close behind. It urged me to run faster, but then I tripped and plummeted to the carpet.
I was grabbed under my arms and pulled into a closet by Toby and Violet. They were talking to each other in a foreign language as Violet stood guard and Toby checked my vitals. I caught a glimpse of Violet’s iPad in the background with two windows open: one holding a picture of me with Winters, and the other an image of my doppelganger, cut out to be photoshopped.
“Chloe, watch out!”
The door was thrust open and the uniformed men marched towards me, hands encircling my upper arms. When I peeked up, it was Izaak….
I awoke drenched in sweat, heart racing. My stomach rolled, and I rushed to the bathroom, arriving just in time for my dinner to spill into the sink. Gross. Good thing I hadn’t eaten much.
My breathing was heavy as I cleaned up, glancing at my pale face in the mirror. Beads of perspiration stuck to my forehead, but a chill went down my spine. I tried to inhale deeply and remind myself that I hadn’t been caught…. Yet.
I’d give anything for a cigarette right now…
When I opened the bathroom door, the sky had brightened, and Izaak was already up and about. Trying to avoid conversation, I stumbled back to bed, feeling like I hadn’t slept at all. And my tummy… it hurt so much.
“Stay home and rest today,” Izaak said from the kitchen.
I didn’t bother responding, just flopped onto the futon with my teddy bear. Since I hadn’t closed the privacy screens (AKA: my door), I could see Izaak near the sink, dressed in his black name brand running shorts and matching sleeveless shirt. He moved around gracefully, almost as if dancing, putting away dishes and packing his lunch. Then he poured a glass of water and brought it to my nightstand.
“Remember to stay hydrated and try to eat something later.”
With a nod, I closed my eyes, still too shaken from my nightmare to face him.
“If you’re not feeling better by tomorrow, Toby will check you out.”
I blushed as I imagined my running buddy coming home with Izaak. He’d probably take my temperature and listen to my racing heart, only to realize that I wasn’t actually ill, just guilty and panicked. Then he would force the truth out of me.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine,” I said, not sure if I was trying to reassure myself or Izaak.
My roommate planted a kiss on my forehead, pulling the blankets up to tuck me in a little, then closed my “door.”
I stayed in a nightmare-y haze, somewhere between slumber and consciousness, until shortly after Izaak went to work. That’s when I finally pushed myself out of bed and reached for my laptop. I spent the morning remembering my old aliases and deleting pictures, chat conversations, and profiles as they came to mind. As each piece of my past disappeared, a hollow space grew inside me, nostalgic for simpler times. Never getting attached. Not caring about anyone except Granny and Sage. Attachment always leads to hurt. Pulling wild scams and running is better.
Damn, I sound just like my dad.
Opening a new tab, I searched for bus tickets to Canada — it was less than $100. Part of me wanted to run away, follow the plan Sage had made for us years ago. With my unused alias, I could easily cross the border and never get caught. Sage’s connections could get me a safe house in a small town in Alberta (one positive of having criminal parents). Nobody would ever find me.
I’d be alone forever.
After raising myself and taking care of everyone else, the idea of living on my own in the wilderness should’ve brought me joy. A do-over. Nobody to worry about. A life of solitude. But really, it made me sad. Now that I had real friends — a family — being alone seemed… boring. I wanted to stay in New York, the only place where people sorta cared about me.
For now, anyway.
Closing my laptop and snuggling into my blankets, I pushed the thoughts away, feeling my anxiety creep in again. But what if I get caught? What if deleting isn’t enough? What if Violet found a profile I’ve forgotten about? My teeth chattered as I shivered, an image of cigarettes coming to mind. Just one pack will be fine. Izaak won’t find out. The voice that usually argues back (my conscience?) was silent, prompting me to get dressed and walk to the gas station.
The woodsy tobacco was so delicious that I smoked three in a row before climbing back upstairs and plopping on my bed with a smile. I was finally calm enough to sink into a deep sleep.