Tim’s car is beat-up old Corolla. It’s the sort of car that a computer science teacher at the worst high school in Manhattan might drive. I don’t own a car, but if I did, it would be a nicer car than this. Richard’s got a Porsche.
“Sorry I can’t open the door for you,” he says.
“I don’t expect that. I’m perfectly capable of opening the door myself.”
“Well, that’s a relief.” He slides into the driver seat, and I settle down next to him. He shoves his crutches into the backseat. “So where to?”
I tell him my address, and he lets out a low whistle. “Wow. Architects do better than I thought.”
I search my brain for another lie to explain why I live in such an expensive apartment, but I’m coming up blank. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I’m never going to see him again after tonight. Why bother with lies?
The gears in Tim’s car are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Granted, it’s been many years since I’ve been behind the wheel. But given this is a Corolla, I feel like it should be pretty easy to figure out. He notices the perplexed expression on my face and says, “Hand controls.”
He smiles crookedly. “I can’t work the pedals with my right leg. So I control the gas and the break with my right hand.”
He glances at me as he starts up the engine. “Cerebral palsy.”
He rolls his eyes as he backs out of the parking spot. “You’re wondering. So I’m telling you. I have cerebral palsy. I’ve had it my whole life. I was born too early, and this is what I was left with.”
He shrugs. “It could’ve been worse. Fortunately, it only affects my legs. Arms work fine. Intelligence—not too shabby. But when I was born, the doctors weren’t sure how bad it would be. They told my parents I might not ever walk. Or speak. Or even be able to feed myself. They had no idea.”
“Well, I might not have been able to walk if my parents weren’t such great advocates. They had me in physical therapy starting when I was a baby. Even after my dad died and we didn’t have much money, my mom made sure I got the therapy I needed. When I think about it I feel really guilty. I mean, we were dirt poor. It wasn’t fair to spend that money on me.”
Before I can stop myself, I blurt out, “So were we. I mean, poor. When I was a kid.”
He raises an eyebrow at me.
“My dad took off when I was seven.” I tug at my designer shirt. “He just… disappeared. With some other woman. He had a business and she was his secretary, and then the business failed, he took off before the creditors could come after him. She went with him, and he left my mom and me and my sister behind.”
I turn away, looking out the passenger side window into the dark night. I had promised myself I wouldn’t tell him all this, yet here I am. “He was a crappy dad, so it’s not like I missed him. But it was really hard on my mom. She relied on him too much, and when he was gone, she had to start over with nothing. It was awful for her. And for us. And all I could think of was that I would never let myself be in that position.”
The car eases to stop at a red light. “So is that why you only do first dates, not second?”
“Maybe partly,” I admit.
“You know, not all guys are dirtbags.”
“To be honest, I’ve yet to meet one who isn’t.”
“You’re sitting in the car with one.” The light changes to green and he increases the speed of the car with his right hand. “Obviously, I’m not perfect. But I’m a good guy. I always treat women right. I can promise you that much.”
“I believe you.” But it doesn’t change anything. I don’t have room in my life for a relationship. “Anyway, I’m killing the mood, right? Usually I avoid this sort of serious conversation when I’m about to hook up with a guy.”
“Please. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. I don’t think you can possibly kill the mood.”
“I am not the most beautiful woman you’ve ever met.”
“Uh, yeah, you are. And right now, I feel like I should be driving faster so we can get to your place before you change your mind.”
“I’m not going to change my mind.”
“It’s not impossible.”
“No. I won’t. You’re too hot.”
Tim laughs as he slows down at another red light. “Hey, I’ve got a question. You’re an architect, right?”
Uh oh. “Right…”
“So the building over there on the left. I always wondered—would you call that Federal or Greek Revival?”
I look at the large white building with thin pillars surrounding the entrance. I haven’t the slightest idea. I don’t know a damn thing about architecture. “Oh. It’s Greek. For sure.”
Tim nods. “That’s what I thought, but sometimes I have trouble telling them apart. How do you distinguish?”
It’s true that I don’t know anything about architecture. But I am very, very good at acting confident when I don’t know what I’m talking about.
“Well,” I say, “Greek style always has those pillars. Whereas Federal style has more of a governmental appearance.”
“Governmental appearance.” Tim nods again. “I see. That makes sense “
I let out a breath, but when I look back at Tim, he’s trying not to laugh. “I took a few architecture classes in college. You don’t know anything about architecture, do you?”
“Uh…” My cheeks feel hot. “No. I don’t.” I avert my eyes to look out the passenger side window. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” He shrugs. “You don’t have to tell me what you do for a living.” He glances at me. “But for the record, I was telling the truth. I’m really a high school computer teacher.”
I never doubted that for a second.
There’s a handicapped parking spot right in front of my building. It’s empty, and he pulls into the spot. Now that we’re so close, I’m shaking again. I can’t believe this is about to happen. God, it’s been ages. I can almost feel his hands running up my naked body…
He hauls himself out of the car and eyes the entrance. Something occurs to me too late. “There are a few steps to get in,” I say. “Is that all right?”
“It’s fine. I can manage.” Although he doesn’t seem thrilled.
But before we go upstairs, there’s something I need to do. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it to him. If he finds out what my nightly routine is, he’s going to think I’m out of my mind. But on the other hand, I have to do this. I can’t let them down by not showing up tonight.
“Can you give me a minute?” I say.
He frowns as I start to walk in the direction of the alley behind my building. He grips the handles of his crutches and does his best to keep up with me. “Hey, what the hell are you doing? You’re going to get yourself mugged back there.”
“No, it’ll be fine. You don’t need to come with me.”
“Yeah, I’m not leaving you alone in a dark alley.”
I stop walking and turn to look at him. I don’t say what I’m thinking, which is that if some bad guy came out of nowhere, I don’t think he’d be able to do much to protect me. Unless he’s got a gun stashed away under his coat.
But even though I don’t say it, Tim gets the idea. “Don’t look at me that way,” he says. “These crutches could give somebody a concussion if I swing hard enough.”
I raise my eyebrows.
“Theoretically,” he adds with a crooked grin.
He’s going to think I’m crazy. But what the hell. “Okay. But like I said, it’ll just be a minute.”
The tapping of Tim’s crutches sounds like gunshots against the pavement as he walks beside me. He looks a bit baffled, and I can’t blame him. This is something I’ve been doing for years now, and I can’t stop.
Given that I am a single woman without any prospects, I’ve always been concerned about evolving into a cat lady. The problem is, I love cats. When Polly and I were kids, we spent a good year wearing down my mother until she got us one. I wanted one at my apartment here, but I specifically chose a place that didn’t allow pets so I wouldn’t be tempted. I’m not turning into a cat lady. That is not a path I am going down.
But the path I’ve taken is just as weird. Possibly worse.
About half a dozen cats live in the alley behind my building. And every day, I lug around six cans of cat food in my purse so that I can feed them before I come home. I have been doing this every single night for two years. I’ve never missed a night.
Yes, it’s very odd. Tim is watching me, his mouth hanging open as I systematically pop the tabs and open the six cans of cat food in my purse and lay them down on the pavement.
“You’re feeding the cats?” he finally says.
“Well.” I shrug helplessly. “I don’t want them to go hungry. Look how skinny Duncan is.”
I almost clasp my hand over my mouth. I should definitely not have let on that I have named all the cats in the alley.
But instead of looking freaked out, a smile spreads across Tim’s lips. “You named the cats?”
“All of them?”
I take a deep breath. “Duncan. Zoe. Alexander. Stripes. Kitcat. Lucy.”
Alexander meanders over to my leg and rubs against me. Each of the cats has their own personality, and Alexander is the most affectionate. Sometimes petting Alexander is the only physical affection I get the whole month. “I know. It’s…”
My breath catches in my throat. “You don’t think it’s crazy?”
“Hey, I’m a guy who teaches at a school where I could get shot. I don’t think I’m in any position to judge crazy. But it’s definitely sweet. You’re a really nice person.”
Tim has no idea what sort of person I am. He has no idea that I just fired an old woman who bakes cookies for the whole office. He doesn’t know that I’m forcing my staff to come in on Christmas Day. That I threw a tantrum over a Christmas party. That I broke a bunch of ornaments on purpose. If he knew all the things I did today, he wouldn’t think I’m a nice person. I’m not a nice person.
But for now, I’ll let him think that. I’ll be Ebbie, the architect who feeds stray cats in an alley every night for the last two years.
He leans in again to kiss me. His balance isn’t the greatest, but fortunately we’re near the brick wall of the building. He lets go of one of the crutches and leans it against the wall, then uses that free hand to pull me closer to him. As he presses against me, he kisses me even more deeply than he did in the bar. My lips tingle. My whole body tingles. God, this man can kiss. If it’s any indication of what else he can do, I can’t wait to get upstairs.
“Ebbie,” he breathes.
“Let’s go,” I say.
He takes my hand for a second, but then he has to let go to reach for his crutch. I calculate by his strides how long it will take. How long to get into my building. To get up in the elevator. And for him to take all my clothes off.
We can’t get enough of each other.
Tim throws his crutches next to my bed, and almost tackles me onto the covers. He can’t stop kissing me. I never want him to stop. But then his lips leave mine, and he’s still kissing me, but he’s going south.
Now this isn’t something I’ve experienced in a very, very long time.
Richard did it. Once. It certainly wasn’t his thing. I had to ask, which was super embarrassing. He made up excuses for a while, but eventually gave in. And as you would imagine, it wasn’t great.
Tim isn’t shy about it. He asks permission before he does everything, which I appreciate. As if I would say no. As if there was a point when his lips were on my belly button when I would actually tell him to stop. My panties are almost dripping when he takes them off. And then… oh my God. How does he know how to do this? Moreover, how does a guy who knows how to do this end up single?
He gets me right to the brink. Right where I’m sweating and squirming, then he keeps me there. I grasp at strands of his hair with my fingers and squeeze his head between my thighs. And then with one flick of his tongue, I’m totally gone.
I’ve never been a multiple orgasm kind of girl. But right after that first one, I climb on top of him. My hands are shaking as I put on a condom on his dick, which is decidedly above average. Seconds after he plunges into me, I come again. And again.
At one point, I think I black out.
By eleven o’clock, I can barely move. I’m lying next to Tim in bed, his muscular arm around my body, holding me close. I’m sticky with sweat, but so is he. I get a sudden rush of an emotion that I have trouble identifying right away, because it’s been so long since I’ve felt it. I really like this guy. Really, really like him.
I know I said this was a one-time thing, but I don’t think I can deal with that. I need to do this again. Soon.
“How are you so good at that?” I manage.
“I took a few night courses at the community college.”
I swat him in the shoulder. “Shut up.”
“I did. I almost got my doctorate, but I didn’t want to write a whole dissertation with my tongue.”
“Ha ha. Very funny.”
He grins at me. “I’m not that good.”
“Yes. You really are.”
He laughs and kisses the top of my head. “Well, first of all, I really love going down on girls. Really, really love it. But they don’t all scream the way you did. Sometimes two people just have chemistry. You know?”
“Yeah,” I say.
He squeezes me against him, and I nuzzle closer. It’s very quiet in my bedroom, and I’m lost in thought. I keep thinking how good that was, how I’ve never felt that good in my whole goddamn life. And how it would be criminal not to experience something like that ever again, now that I know it exists. I don’t have room in my life for a relationship, but that doesn’t mean I have to deprive myself of all the pleasures of life.
After a few minutes, it strikes me that he’s equally quiet. At first, I think he might have dozed off, but then I look at his face and see his eyes are open.
“What are you thinking?” I ask him.
“What am I thinking?” he repeats. “Honestly?”
“I’m thinking it’s a damn shame that we’re never going to see each other again. A really damn shame.”
“Yeah,” I murmur. “I was thinking the same thing.”
I want to take it back. I want to tell him that we can have that second date. Maybe a third. And maybe more after that.
But even if I did take it back, it wouldn’t matter. He doesn’t want me—not really. He wants Ebbie. The girl he met in a bar who feeds stray cats and is a nice person. I’m not her.
But I don’t know. Maybe if I have a decent guy in my life, I could be better. This guy makes me want to be better.
No. I’m not going to change. It’s naïve to think otherwise.
“I think it’s for the best,” I say, even though it almost kills me.
Tim’s face falls. “Is there anything I can do? Any way I could possibly change your mind?”
I sit up in bed beside him. He struggles into a sitting position, propped up on my pillow. He has a really nice chest. Muscular with just the right amount of dark hair. “I’m sorry. And I’ve got an early meeting tomorrow, so…”
He winces. “Are you kicking me out?”
“Sort of. I’m sorry.”
Everything considered, he takes it well. He runs a hand through his tousled hair, then swings his legs carefully around the side of the bed. He lets out a long sigh, then grabs his jeans from the floor. His legs are skinny compared with his arms and chest and it’s a bit of a struggle for him to lace them through the baggy legs of his jeans. He doesn’t look at me while he’s doing it, and I wonder if he’s self-conscious.
When he’s done with that, he slides his shirt back on over his head in one easy motion. I grab my own robe from the dresser by my bed and throw it over my naked body.
Tim’s brows bunch together. He’s sitting at the edge of my bed but not making any move to reach for his crutches on the floor. “So this is it?”
I wring my hands together. I don’t want this to be it. “Tim…”
“Listen.” His blue eyes meet mine. “Why don’t you let me put my number in your phone? You don’t have to call me, but if you want to, you can. No pressure.”
I take a deep breath. “Okay.”
He lifts his eyebrows. “Okay?”
I can’t suppress a tiny smile. “Okay. You can put your number in my phone. And… maybe I’ll give you a call.”
No, not maybe. I’m going to call him. As I look at him sitting on my bed, my body still on fire from what he did to me, I know this can’t be over. I want this guy. Again. And not just for sex. I want to have dinner with him. I want to know what it’s like to date a nice guy for a change. Especially one who also happens to be incredibly hot.
And Tim knows I’m going to call him. That’s why he’s got the same dopey smile on his face that I probably have as I hand over my unlocked phone.
“No pressure,” he says as he punches in the numbers, “but I know a great Italian restaurant a few blocks away from here.”
“Best ziti you’ve ever tasted. I swear.”
“Well, I happen to really like ziti.”
“I thought you might.” He hands my phone back to me. “So, you know, give me a call.”
I look down at the screen, where he punched in his number. And he even put his name in. Tim. Tim Craft.
Oh no. No no no no…
I feel like I can’t breathe. This is not possible. The man I just had the best sex of my life with is not the son of the woman I fired today. He’s not the same guy who screamed at me on the phone only hours ago. That can’t be true.
Although that does explain why his voice sounded familiar when I first met him.
I stare down at the screen of my phone, hoping I read it wrong the first time. But the words haven’t changed.
He frowns at me. “Are you okay, Ebbie?”
“Um…” I clear my throat, hoping this is some kind of misunderstanding. But how can it be? “What were you doing at that bar earlier, by the way?”
He rolls his eyes. “Like I said, it’s complicated. Stupid story.”
“I’d like to hear. If it’s okay.”
“Uh, I guess.” He runs a hand through his hair again and grabs one of his crutches from the floor. “Well, my mom works for this advertising company over there. Well, she worked there. She got fired today.”
“Oh?” I say weakly.
Tim shakes his head. “Three days before Christmas. Can you believe that? Anyway, this bitchy boss of hers yelled at her and canned her in front of everyone. When my mother called me crying, I lost my temper and I actually called the boss to yell at her. Stupid, right? And pointless. Women like that—they thrive on making people upset. She’d probably got a sick thrill out of how upset I was. You could hear it in her voice.”
My knees tremble beneath me and I have to sink down against the bed. “That might not be true…”
“Trust me. You’re too nice. You don’t know what women like her are like.”
I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Tim.
“Anyway,” he sighs. “The reason I went over there is I was going to confront my mother’s boss. Not yell at her, but try to… I don’t know, appeal to her better nature? Maybe try to get my mother her job back.” He snorts. “But then I realized there was no chance. Obviously, a woman like that doesn’t have a shred of decency. And I thought maybe she’d…” He looks down at his legs. “I thought she’d just laugh at me.”
I swallow a lump in my throat. “Maybe she’s not as bad as you think.”
“No way. I’m telling you…” He stops talking mid-sentence. His eyes are pinned on something. I follow his gaze and realize what he’s looking at. Oh, great. The gig is up. “Ebbie?”
“Uh huh,” I manage.
“Why do you have a photograph of yourself with Marley Jacobs on your nightstand?” He looks so baffled, I want to throw my arms around him in the few seconds before he starts to hate me. “How do you even know Marley?”
And now he’s looking at my robe. My personalized robe with my first name, Elizabeth, in script over the right breast. Why did I get a personalized robe? Who wears a personalized robe? What was I thinking? And now my personalized robe is giving me away.
“Elizabeth,” he reads slowly. “You’re not… are you…” He blinks up at me. “Elizabeth Scribner?”
“Um…” I squeeze my knees with my hands until I feel pain. For a moment, I consider lying. But what’s the point of that? He’ll figure out the truth sooner or later. “Yes. I am.”
“Are you…” He’s still trying to wrap his head around it. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Tim.” My mouth feels really dry. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
“You’re out of your mind, you know that?” He grabs for his other crutch on the floor, but in his haste, he drops it again. He takes a deep, steadying breath. “You’re a psychopath.”
“I didn’t know it was you.” My voice is pleading. I’m not sure what the point is. Just as I predicted, he hates me now. But I at least don’t want him to think I’m some sort of manipulative bitch. “It’s not like I found you and tricked you. I’m as shocked as you are.”
Tim struggles to his feet, gripping the handles of his crutches so hard that his knuckles turn white. “So what is your game here, Elizabeth? You fuck your former employee’s crippled son, and then what?”
“It wasn’t a game!” I cry. “I didn’t know until you put your name in my phone. I swear!”
“How is it possible you didn’t know?”
“Well, you didn’t know.”
Tim’s neck is bright red, but he doesn’t have an answer for that one. Maybe he actually believes me.
“It’s just a coincidence,” I insist. “A really, really horrible coincidence.”
“Yeah, no kidding.” He adjusts his grip on his crutches. “First girl in years that I…”
I know exactly what he’s talking about. He’s the first man I’ve met in a long time that I really liked. And now that’s down the toilet. Before it even began.
“What you did to my mom was really shitty,” he says.
I fold my arms across my chest as I remember the rage I felt when I found out the mistake Roberta had made. “I’m sorry I hurt her feelings, but I stand by my decision.”
“It was a bullshit decision. My mother is a smart woman and a great secretary.”
“Yeah?” I raise my eyebrows at him. “Did you know your mother thought the shredder was the fax machine? Everything I gave her to fax in the last two months, she shredded. She has no clue how to use any sort of technology. How could I not fire her after that?”
Tim opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. He must realize on some level, I’m right. After all, she’s his mother. He must know she barely understands email.
“Marley was happy with her,” he finally says.
I shrug. “Even Marley made mistakes sometimes.”
“You’re the one who made a mistake. Trust me.”
I shake my head at him. “No. I didn’t make a mistake. Not this time.”
Tim narrows his eyes at me. My chest aches as I remember the way he was looking at me only a few minutes ago. “Delete my number from your phone,” he says. “Don’t call me. Ever.”
I snort. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to call you.”
He gives me one final look. “You’re a horrible person.”
And the next thing I hear is him slamming the door shut as he leaves my apartment.
His words won’t stop echoing in my head. You’re a horrible person. A few minutes ago, I had cared more than anything what this man thought of me. And the truth is, I still do. I hate that he thinks I’m a horrible person. And maybe he’s right. Roberta is a really nice lady. How could I fire her right before Christmas?
I’m a horrible person.
But so what? Maybe I did a few things I’m not proud of today. But the fact of the matter is, I’m really good at my job. I’m going to be the next CEO of Janetta Advertising, and I’ve earned it. I’ve worked harder than anyone else in that company. And yes, maybe my social life is a disaster. Maybe I never see my only sister anymore. Maybe the only consistent physical contact I get comes from stray cats. But there’s plenty of time to fix that, if I want to.
I’m successful. And that’s all that matters.
Marley would be so proud of me. I just wish she were here.
Usually after some great sex, I drop off right to sleep. I mean, I think I do. Honestly, it’s getting a little hard to remember.
But after Tim leaves, I can’t sleep for anything. I pace around the house for a while. I dig out a container of salted caramel gelato from my freezer, which isn’t doing my cholesterol any favors, but it’s too delicious for me to care. I load up my DVD player and do a Jillian Michaels workout from my collection and discover I am woefully out of shape. I dig out my laptop and try to get a little work done for my presentation tomorrow.
And then I lie in bed with my eyes shut tight. I try counting sheep. I try naming all the capitals in the United States. And when I run out of states, I start on countries. When none of that works, I chant to myself, “Go to sleep, Elizabeth. Go to sleep.”
Apparently, it works. Because the next thing I know, my phone is ringing and I’m blinking sleep out of my eyes.
I look at my watch on the nightstand. Half past three. Who the hell would call me this late? Or this early? Whatever it is. Three is a gray area.
This person is going to get an earful, whoever they are. I pick up the phone and see that the call is actually a FaceTime request. From Marley Jacobs.
How is Marley Jacobs calling me? Marley is dead. She’s been dead for two months. She isn’t making any phone calls. That’s one thing I’m sure of.
So that means somebody is playing a really tasteless joke on me.
I consider letting it go to voicemail. But I’m not even sure how voicemail works with FaceTime. And I want to know who is doing this to me. The only way to find the culprit is to take the call.
Before I can second-guess myself, I press the green button.
“Elizabeth!” a familiar voice barks.
I sit up straight in bed, clutching my phone. This is a joke somebody is playing on me. It’s obviously a joke. But at the same time, the woman whose face is filling the screen of my phone looks a whole lot like Marley Jacobs. And she sounds like her too. That’s exactly the way Marley used to say my name.
What the hell is going on here?
“Who is this?” I say, trying to keep my voice steady.
“Elizabeth! It’s me—Marley!” The woman, whoever she is, takes a drag off the cigarette in her left hand. Her eyelids flutter the way Marley’s always did when she was smoking. Then she blows a smoke ring, like Marley did when we went out to Bull’s Head together. “God, that’s nice. They don’t let you smoke here too often.”
“Listen,” I say firmly. “I know you’re not really Marley. I don’t know who this is, but you have some nerve—”
Marley lets out a laugh. When I first met her, her laugh was sharp and clear. But when she got into her mid-forties, her laugh developed a bit of a rasp at the end.
This woman’s laugh sounds just like Marley’s.
“Elizabeth,” she says, “I don’t blame you for being skeptical. I would be too if I were you. After all, I’m dead, right? How could we be FaceTiming? You’re right to question me.”
The wheels in my head are turning. How could this be happening? I suppose it could be a dream. Maybe Marley is actually that burger I ate last night… or a handful of nachos. But I don’t feel like I’m dreaming. How are you supposed to know if you’re dreaming or not? Maybe I should pinch myself.
I squeeze some of the extra skin on my thigh between my thumb and my index finger.
Okay, I’m not dreaming. So what’s going on? Maybe…
Tim had my phone. He could have done anything to it while he had it in his hand. And it’s not like I’m his favorite person. He must’ve done this. He’s got to be responsible.
“Tim,” I say triumphantly. “Tim Craft put you up to this somehow, whoever you are.”
The Marley look-alike laughs again. “Tim Craft? Are you talking about Roberta’s son? Do you really think that Boy Scout did this to you? He wouldn’t. And honestly, I can’t believe you threw him out.”
“Or maybe he slipped me a roofie and I’m hallucinating all this…”
“Little Timmy slipped you a roofie?” The Marley lookalike snorts. “You’ve got to be kidding me, Elizabeth. That boy is a nice boy. He wouldn’t do something like that. I thought you were a better judge of character. Richard, on the other hand…”
I shift in the bed. I was sound asleep five minutes ago, but now I’ve never been so awake in my life. I don’t know what’s going on here. But I know this can’t be Marley Jacobs. It just can’t. Marley is dead.
“Ask me a question.” She takes another drag from her cigarette. This woman really does look a lot like her. Except she’s very pale—Marley had a year-round tan. “Ask me something only Marley would know.”
“Okay…” I close my eyes for a moment, trying to think. “What did you get me for Christmas last year?
The woman who looks like Marley smiles at me. “Well, that’s an easy one. I got you the first edition Wonder Woman comic book. Mint condition. It’s got the picture of her riding that white horse on the cover. I got it on eBay. I was debating between that and the Wonder Woman doll, but I thought you might think the doll was silly. I mean, it was a doll.”
My heart is pounding in my chest. She’s right. That’s what she got me for Christmas last year. And she even mentioned the doll thing to me.
But I still don’t believe it. How could this woman be Marley? Marley is dead, for God’s sake! I saw her body go into the ground.
“What do you want?” I say.
“Look, Elizabeth.” Marley’s eyes grow misty. “This place sucks. It’s like… the worst club in the city. All the time. And you never get to go home. And it’s hot. So goddamn hot. Like that time we went to Tampa for that meeting in July.”
A lump forms in my throat. How does this woman know so much about me? “Marley…”
“I wasted my life.” She turns her head away and her hair falls into her eyes. “You know, I was forty-nine years old when I died, and I never once was in love. Not really. I had my career and I thought that was enough, but it wasn’t.”
For some reason, my mind goes back to those moments when I was lying in Tim’s arms after he screwed my brains out. I wasn’t in love with him. Not yet. But it was the first time I thought there was a chance that maybe someday…
Why am I thinking about this? I’m never going to see him again.
“I never had any kids,” Marley says, “but I had you, and even though I never said this, you were almost like a daughter to me. I love you, Elizabeth.” She swipes at her eyes with the back of her hand that isn’t holding a cigarette and takes a shaky breath. “I don’t want you to end up here. I don’t want that for you. You’ve got a chance to turn things around.”
“But I don’t want to turn things around.” Oh God, now I’m having a conversation with fake Marley. But it seems like her. I really feel like I’m talking to her… I missed that. “I’m happy. I’m doing great at work. I’m going to be the next CEO.”
“I know you, Elizabeth.” She shakes her head. “I know you better than anyone, even your sister. You’re not happy. You don’t want to end up like me.”
“Yes, I do!”
“No.” She looks around, her eyes focusing on something in the distance that I can’t see. Her face fills with sudden fear. “You don’t want to end up here. Trust me.”
A cold breeze washes over me and I shiver. “Marley,” I murmur.
“It’s too late for me.” She frowns into the camera. “But it’s not too late for you. You still have a chance.”
“A chance for what?”
“A chance for something better.”
“I’m not going to just change, Marley.”
“Of course not.” She takes another long drag from her cigarette. “It’s not like I expected to snap my fingers and you change who you are. You’re going to need some convincing. Fortunately, I planned for that.”
“Planned for what?”
“Over the next two days, you’re going to get three visits. One will be from the spirit of the past, one from the spirit of the present, and one from the spirit of the future.”
“What are you talking about, Marley?”
Her face is grim. “You’ll understand soon enough.”
I start to ask her another question, but the line goes dead.
To be continued....