The good news first: I’ve been spending some time this month reworking April’s novel, People for the Ethical Treatment of Zombies (PETZ) and my efforts have garnered some interest by agents/publishers who want to now see the manuscript in its entirety. Since the entire reason for starting this project was to essentially get published, it would be backward thinking for me to not take advantage of these great opportunities at publication. Therefore, this brings me to the bad news: after 32,156 out of 50,000 words for the novel this month, I’m going to have to put things on hold in order to allow me the time to do a 2nd and 3rd draft of PETZ in order to submit it to the previously stated interested parties. I anticipate this taking 1-2 months. It is my hope to still complete the project by finishing 12 novels by February, but as of now, it is certainly more important to explore these new and exciting opportunities. Thank you all for reading my stories and I hope you enjoyed them. Wish my luck!-Steven
Thursday, May 31, 2012
Novel #4 CHECK! Only 8 left!
Okay... so a couple things: First of all, I'm sorry that this novel was a bit shorter than the others and ended rather abruptly. I've been going over 50k words with each of the other novels and that's been reeaally cutting into my subsequent books. For that reason, this had to be a bit shorter. Second of all, I am going to have to do things differently for the first couple weeks of this month. Since this project is ultimately aimed at building my portfolio and writing experience, I am going to take a different approach with June's book. It is a Horror that has a complicated plot line. For that reason, I will still be writing ~1650 words per day, but I will wait about 2 weeks to post any actual material because after running into many complications with the book you just finished, I don't want a repeat of that situation. To maintain accountability, each day, I will post the number of words I completed so I will be sure to make my 1650 word quota. Once I have enough material to where I feel the story is solid enough to continue on a day-to-day posting pace, I will back-post everything and you will have plenty to read. Thanks for sticking with me and I do hope you enjoy the book for June. As I said, it's a horror book with hopefully plenty of scares and nightmares to keep you up at night. I'll keep it pg-13, but I aim to make you feel uncomfortable. I'm super excited about this one and hope it turns out like I'm envisioning!
“Are you okay?” Jason asked once I was able to sit up and swing the door shut.
I tried to slow my breathing. “I’m fine,” I managed.
The car swerved back and forth as Jason weaved dangerously through traffic. He found an opening and I felt the car speed forward as my body pinned against the seat.
“You can slow down,” I said. “We’ve lost him.”
Jason nodded and eased up on the gas. “Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked again. “Last time I died I got plowed into by a bus. This time it was only a couple shots to the face. Of course I’m fine.”
He couldn’t even manage a weak smile as his face twisted in concern.
“I have this, remember?” I said, holding up the phone. “I can’t die.”
“You don’t understand…” he said, “They’ll figure out how to get it back. You’re not invincible.”
The moment the words spilled from his mouth memories flooded my mind. “How did you call Mortimer’s phone?” I asked in a demanding tone. More memories became clear and before he could answer I glared at him and asked another question. “And how did you know I was being attacked in Dylan’s loft? You said you knew,” I reminded him in case he tried to play dumb.
“I’ll tell you everything once we’re safe. I promise,” he said.
I looked around as if to check for any cars following us. “This looks about as safe as we’re going to get. Start talking.”
He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. His brow creased with concern and he looked genuinely upset at having to continue.
“Please,” I started over in a softer tone. “Please, just tell me what’s really going on.”
We were both silent for several minutes. I watched the streetlights flash by as my breathing still took some time to regulate.
“I didn’t know how to save all three of you…” Jason said after some time. The lower rim of his eyes brimmed with tears. “We were both so young…”
I looked up at him but didn’t interrupt.
“I didn’t want you to go to the ballet that night because I knew what would happen… I knew you would die.”
My heart stuttered as he mentioned the ballet. I closed my eyes and ached for my parents. It had been so long since I had heard anything out loud about their death. Something about hearing it through someone else’s voice made it so much worse. But his last words cut through the pain and stopped my thoughts.
“You knew? How?”
He somehow looked even more ashamed than he had a moment ago. “Mortimer… he’s… he’s my grandfather.”
A blast of shock jerked through my chest. “He’s what?”
“He’s my grandfather.”
“You’re kidding me.” I said, not knowing what else to say. “I don’t understand.”
“The reason my parents are never around, is because they usually work… over there.”
“At Mortimer and Freeman?”
He nodded. “I’m supposed to learn the trade—learn to kill people. I told my parents I wouldn’t do it. They made me learn anyway. I sat in on meetings. Lists and lists of people. Sentenced to die in manipulative ways. One day, I heard your name. I took the list to double check. It was your whole family. I tried to get them to take you off the list but they wouldn’t listen to me. So I decided to stop it myself. That’s why I convinced you not to go to the ballet that night. That’s why you survived.”
My voice was stuck in my throat. I didn’t know how to respond. Was I supposed to say thank you? Was I supposed to hate him? I stared at my shoes in silence.
“Why didn’t they just kill me right after the fire?” I asked.
He stole a glance at me. “Have you seen what they have to go through for even one tiny detail?” he shook his head. “I knew they couldn’t do anything right away… After you escaped, Mortimer filed paperwork for an Independent Contractor to finish the job. Not much of a surprise that the paperwork took five years to finally process, which was when Dylan received the job.”
“So he’s like a hit man from the dead?”
Jason shrugged and nodded. “Yeah. They usually target morally flexible candidates in positions of power. Dylan fit the description. I knew I recognized his face, but I couldn’t quite remember where I knew him from until recently. Even then, I didn’t know he was assigned to kill you or I would have told you the truth right away. I’m so sorry, Zella.”
“What do we do now, go back and kill him?” I said, only half-joking.
Jason scoffed. “Killing him wouldn’t do much good. He passes back and forth probably as much as I used to.”
“After I saved you, my parents were furious. I was a disgrace in their eyes. They refused to let me back until I really died.”
I cringed. “Like when you got hit by the bus?”
He smiled. “Yeah, like that.”
We headed out of the city and joined the quiet line of cars onto the freeway. As I slumped back into my seat, I let the darkness envelop me like a blanket. I felt safe in Jason’s car, but I knew it wouldn’t last. The second I left its comforting enclosure, I knew more assassins would be waiting. Around every corner—in my house—in my bedroom. I looked at Jason. I didn’t want him to have to worry anymore. I thought of his voice on the phone. He had sounded so panicked—so concerned.
I sighed to myself and decided to worry about it when we were far away from Manhattan. Before I could close my eyes, a bright light shone up ahead.
“What is…?” but before I could finish my question, I knew the answer. Headlights. But not just any headlights—headlight from a semi-truck, and they were headed straight for us.
Jason’s hands stiffened around the steering wheel and his face turned white. A horn blared. I couldn’t tell if it was from us or from him. The lights grew brighter until they were all I could see.
I didn’t feel the impact. Suddenly, the white lights became white fog, and I was falling for a third time.
This time as my vision began to congeal into clarity, I knew something was wrong. The lobby was silent and when my eyes finally found their focus, I saw that the whole place was completely empty.
I turned around. The slight shift in my feet echoed in the emptiness about me.
A man stood somewhere in the center of the room, his arms behind his back. I recognized the smart black suit and immediately knew it was Mortimer. He turned around and clasped his hands in front of him.
I pulled the phone from my pocket and flipped on the display. Mortimer held up a hand and shook his head.
“No one’s here. It’s just me, and all I want to do is talk.”
I hesitated. Everything inside me told me to send myself back, but for some reason I didn’t. My finger hovered over the display.
“You’ve caused quite a stir up here.”
I didn’t respond. I didn’t know what to say. For some reason I thought he’d be screaming obscenities at me, not acting the reasonable way he was acting.
“Do you know what I’ve gone through to try to get that thing back?” he pointed at the phone in my hands. “You’ve seen this place… we do mountains of paperwork over the most insignificant details… and let’s just say your escapades haven’t been exactly insignificant.
I feel a little guilty at his words. Every time I had used the phone, I knew what I was doing was reckless and probably crazy. But what else was I supposed to do?
“We’ve had to restructure the entire way we do things because of you,” Mortimer continued.
“If all you’re going to try to do is make me feel guilty, then I’m leaving,” I said, touching the screen.
“Wait,” he said, lifting his hand. “That’s not what I’m trying to do. Well… I suppose I was trying to make you feel a little bit guilty. But I’m here right now to find out what you want.”
“What I want?”
“I want my phone,” he said. “What do you want?”
I thought about it. “Well, I don’t want to be dead.”
He nodded. “That seems like a fair trade. I can guarantee you that your timeline is never tampered with for as long as you live. How does that sound?”
He’s making a deal? I hadn’t expected that. They must be more desperate than I thought. I looked down at the screen. Thoughts swirled around in my head. I suppose that’s all I really wanted in the first place.
“How do I know you’re not lying?” I said the words before I really thought about it. Only after they came out of my mouth did I realize that I was actually considering his offer.
He gave me a frank look. “Think about it… paperwork… contracts… rules… that’s all we do here. You won’t have to take my word for it. I will draw up a binding contract that ensures you the rest of an untampered-with life.”
As I my thoughts continued spinning, one truth stood out and I blurted the words from my mouth.
“You killed them.”
“My parents. You killed them.”
“I didn’t kill them.”
“I know about Jason,” I said.
Mortimer nodded slowly then sighed. “Ah, Jason.”
At that moment I realized Jason wasn’t here. I spun around and scanned the enormous lobby. “Where is he?”
Mortimer nodded. “He’s still bleeding to death. He’ll be here soon.”
My stomach clenched at the horrifying thought.
“But,” Mortimer continued, “If he talked to you about what happened with your parents, then you must know I had nothing to do with it personally. I approve proposal packages, that’s it. They come to me in the tens of thousands. I’m truly sorry for what happened, but I wasn’t trying to single anyone out.”
“Oh, I see… that makes sense… I guess that would mean blowing up a hospital is much better than murder. At least the bomber didn’t have to see any of their faces.”
“Everyone dies, Zella. This is what happens and how it happens.”
“I want to see them,” I said. “I want to see my parents.”
Mortimer started to shake his head, but before he had a chance to say anything, I continued. “You killed them, and if you want this back,” I held up the phone, “you’re going to fix what you did and bring them back to life. Both of them. Do you understand?”
He lowered his head. It looked to me as though he was almost ashamed to say what he was thinking.
“Well?” I demanded.
“Zella… unfortunately, I must tell you that your mother died.”
I rolled my eyes at him. “Yeah, I know that. I’m not stupid. They both died. And I want to see them.”
“No, you don’t understand. Pinch your arm.”
I raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“Just do it. Pinch your arm.”
“I’m not going to play your little—”
“Indulge me for one moment,” Mortimer interrupted. “Pinch your arm. Please.”
I took some skin between my thumb and forefinger then squeezed. I winced as pain nipped through my arm. I looked up at him. “Why did you tell me to do that?”
“People feel pain here. And… they die here too.”
I shook my head. “That doesn’t even make sense. They were dead when they came here.”
Mortimer nodded. “Yes. They were.”
I released my skin and stared at him. “I don’t understand.”
He took a step toward me and I retreated the same distance. “This is just another life. People get sick, they get hurt, and they die.”
I was quiet for a long time. Mortimer didn’t try to interrupt the silence. He simply stared at me with sympathetic eyes. I hated the look. I wanted him to disappear. Somehow, his words seemed true and the genuine look in his face made me believe him even more.
“Where do they go?” I finally asked.
His shoulders lifted ever so slightly. “I don’t know,” he said shaking his head.”
I felt tears nudge the back of my eyes. Ever since my parents died, I clung on to the hope that one day when I died too, I would see them again. “You’re lying,” I mumbled in an attempt to stop myself from crying in front of him.
He shook his head. “I’m not lying. I don’t know what happens after people die—just as those from where you come from, don’t know where they’re going when they die.”
“You’re lying,” I tried to say again, but this time my voice choked as I said it.
Mortimer sighed and gave me another pitying look. “You know I’m not lying.
I missed my mom. I missed her so much. For years I did what it took to cope with the grief, but to be so close—to be dead, yet even then, not be able to reach her. I felt sick—lost.
“I want to see my dad.”
“I can’t bring him back to life,” Mortimer said. “It’s been too long.”
“Yeah, I know that. I already tried.”
“Of course you did.”
“So, where is he?”
Mortimer smiled. “He’s happy.”
“That’s not what I asked. I asked—”
“I know what you asked,” Mortimer interrupted. He sighed a heavy sigh. His eyes softened like warm chocolate and a heavy sincerity met my gaze. “Everyone has to die, Zella. This isn’t the business of tearing families apart—it’s the business of making homes for them so they can find each other later. Your father has found his home.”
“You’re not touching this until I see my dad,” I insisted.
He sighed again then nodded and walked away.
I waited alone. My thoughts spun with mixed images of Jason bleeding in the accident and the memory of my father’s eyes.
After what seemed like forever, a figure entered the lobby from the back.
“Daddy,” the word slipped from my mouth barely louder than a whisper.
His eyes lit up, and he broke into a run.
“Zel!” he shouted, opening his arms.
I ran forward and jumped into is embrace. His strong arms wrapped around me and lifted my body a few inches off the ground. He swung me around and a circle and set me back down.
“Daddy,” I said again, this time loud enough for him to hear.
“Hi sweetie,” he sniffled and rubbed his wet eyes. “I’m so happy to see you again.”
He released me and looked me over. His eyes were exactly as I remembered them.
“You’ve grown into such a beautiful young woman.”
I smiled as tears streaked down my cheeks. I heard footsteps behind me and I jumped back. Mortimer nodded at my father who nodded back.
“Now, may I?” he said, extending a hand.
I clutched the phone in my fingers.
“I promise—you will have the rest of your earthly life. No assassins. No timeline changes.”
My dad gripped my shoulders and me my eyes. “Mortimer told me the deal he offered you. I think you should take it.”
Tears flooded my eyes. “I want you to come with me.”
He shook his head. “I can’t do that. There’s a time limit for returns and I’m a bit too old for it. But there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish I was with your mother and you.”
“So you want me to stay?”
He shook his head. “No. I don’t want you to stay. I want you to go back and live your life. I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere, and I’ll be here when it’s time for you to come back.”
I looked up at him and nodded.
“I’ve been watching your timeline through these years. I’m so proud of what you’ve become. You know that Jason kid loves you more than you know.”
He shook his head and interrupted me. “He didn’t want you to get hurt. Trust me. I watch timelines for a living. Isn’t that right, Jason?” He looked up.
I followed his gaze. Standing next to us was Jason, an awkward grin on his face. He shrugged and his grin widened.
“He tried saving you from that bus,” my dad continued. “That’s how he got hit in the first place.”
He shrugged again.
“You two go live a happy life. I’ve gotten pretty good at contracts while I’ve been here. I will make certain that what that Mortimer is promising you is ironclad. I won’t let anyone take advantage of my little girl.”
As I opened my fingers, the phone slipped into my father’s grip and Jason’s hand took my own.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
White light flashed across my vision and I felt myself falling. I tried to steady myself but I couldn’t get a sense of my surroundings. It felt like what I imagined skydiving would feel like even though I had never been skydiving. When the color returned, I was once again standing in the center of the lobby of Mortimer and Freeman.
Thousands of people wandered around me, some wailing, some simply confused. I was back. I looked up. The scoreboard ticked away, adding deaths and saves to the totals.
I frantically patted my pants pockets. Relief surged through me as my hands traced the contours of Mortimer’s phone. I pulled it out of my pocket and as I flipped the display on, immediately noticed a missed call. A missed call? Who would call Mortimer’s phone?
As I read the name, confusion jarred my senses. Jason? Another message popped up. You have (1) new voicemail.
I hit the voicemail and waited.
After a few seconds, Jason’s voice came on the speaker. “Zella, is everything alright? What happened? What’s going on? You won’t answer your other phone. I thought you might… you might be… Anyway, call me as soon as you can. Please. I’m worried.”
My head spun. How in the world did he get Mortimer’s phone number? I tapped his name and hit ‘send.’ The phone barely rang once before a frantic voice picked up.
“Zel? Is that you? Are you okay?”
Was I okay? I didn’t really know how to answer the question. “Um… not really…” I said.
“Where are you? I’m driving into the city now.”
I didn’t answer.
“Zel? Where are you?”
“I’m sort of dead.”
“I’m back at Mortimer and Freeman.”
Just then I felt someone grab my arm. “Hey lady, do you get reception here? Can I use your phone? Please—it’s important—I need to tell my girlfriend I love her. I didn’t get a chance—I was leaving the house and—”
He grabbed at the phone. I drove my elbow into his chest and kicked him in the knee.
“Hey!” he shouted loud enough for everyone to hear. “Hey, she’s got a working phone.”
Every person within my line of sight turned and stared at me with vulture eyes.
“I need to make one call,” someone said. “Please I just need to make one call.”
“Get out of my way!” an elderly woman shouldering past him. “I need it,” she held out her hand. “My grandson is in surgery. I need to talk to him before I move on.”
“Someone get it away from her!” a third voice yelled.
“Umm…” I said to Jason, “I—I got to go. I’ll call you later.”
A woman to my left swiped at my hand. Her nails sliced my skin open and I saw a line of blood well up. I turned around and punched her in the face. She looked so shocked that I hit her, that I had a second to retreat.
A pair of arms grappled me from behind. “Give me the phone!” the attacker shouted.
I tipped forward and fell to the floor. Bodies piled on top of me and pressure was so much I could barely breathe. I yanked my hand up to my face and started tapping on the display. A stray arm knocked against the phone and it tumbled to the floor.
“It’s mine!” someone shouted, gripping the phone.
I grabbed whosever hand it was and clamped my teeth around his knuckles.
“Ouch—ouch—what are you doing—ouch—stop that!”
I bit harder, and he finally dropped the device. I wrenched my other arm in front of me and snatched the phone. As quickly as I could manage, I pulled up my profile and hit changed my status once again.
Whiteness surrounded me and the pressure from the pile of bodies abated. I was lying on the ground in the alley. I felt a wet stickiness on my cheek and my head began to throb. He shot me in the face? For some reason it made me upset. I don’t know why being shot in the face would be different than being shot somewhere else, but I just didn’t like it.
The pounding in my head worsened, but I didn’t want to move. I could hear Dylan’s voice. He was on the phone with someone.
“It’s done. She’s dead.” After a moment of silence he spoke again. “I’m sure this time. Two to the head. And I checked her pulse. I’m sure.”
He shot me twice in the head? Once wasn’t enough? I thought about his fingers on my neck and I wanted to vomit.
The aching sank into my skull and it suddenly felt like my brain had gone through a sewing machine. I snuck Mortimer’s phone up to my face as soon as Dylan’s head was turned and hit the refresh button. I felt two slugs of metal slide through the center of my head out above my eyes. The welcome relief was short lived as I heard Dylan’s next words.
“I don’t care what your records say, she’s dead. I’m standing right next to her… Maybe she just hasn’t gotten there yet… Fine I’ll check again and then I’ll put her body in the dumpster… Of course I’m wearing gloves.”
I looked at his hands. He wasn’t wearing gloves. I hated liars.
“Alright… I’ll call you soon…”
I knew it was now or never. The second he hung up the phone, I jumped to my feet and ran.
“Hey!” Dylan shouted after me. “Stop!”
A shot rang through the air and a metal trash can beside me hummed from the impact of a bullet. I ducked my head and swerved as I ran. Two more shots blasted through the alley.
I ran as fast as my legs would allow. As soon as I reached the opening to the alley, I jumped into the street. Car horns blared as vehicles swerved to avoid me. I didn’t care if they hit me or not—if I didn’t from a car, Dylan certainly wouldn’t stick around to make sure I was dead, and I could return just as easily. If he caught up to me however, he might find the phone—I then I would be really dead.
Mortimer’s phone lit up and I felt it buzz in my hand. Jason. I answered and held the phone to my ear.
“I’m at 97th and Madison!” I yelled into the speaker. “Where are you?”
“Head north,” Jason answered. “I’ll meet you on 106th.”
“That’s nine blocks!” I yelled back. “Dylan’s chasing me—he’s trying to kill me!”
“Run, Zel. I know you can make it. I’m close.”
I hung up the phone and let adrenaline fuel my legs. I peeked over my shoulder. Dylan was right on my tail.
“Help!” I shouted to passersby. “Help that man is trying to hurt me!” But the stunned onlookers didn’t do anything to help. I swore in between breaths and kept sprinting.
Up ahead I could see it—I could see 106th street. I punched redial and Jason picked up immediately. “I’m here,” he said. “Where are you? Wait—never mind, I see you.”
I spotted his car and hope rushed through me. But just then, I heard the Dylan’s slapping footsteps less than a few feet away.
I swerved back into the road and into oncoming traffic. The angry car horns screamed at me and the headlights blinded my vision.
I checked over my shoulder to see that Dylan was still following me.
“Zella!” I heard Jason call—but this time, it wasn’t just through the speaker, it was from up ahead. The passenger door of his car was wide open. I pumped every last bit of energy I had left into an all-out sprint for my life. As I reached the car, I dove head first into the seat and Jason slammed on the gas while Dylan’s footsteps faded away behind us.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
As the elevator doors closed, I looked in Dylan’s hands. “What is that?” I asked even though I knew exactly what it was.
“Take it,” he said, holding out a silver gun.
“What? Where did you get that?”
“My dad keeps one hidden in the kitchen just in case. I can’t let you chase some guy down unprotected. Go on, take it.”
“I’ve never shot a gun before. I don’t even know how to use it.”
“Point and pull the trigger. Not that hard.”
I looked at the shiny metal surface. For some reason, the gun scared me almost as much as the assassin.
“Just take it,” Dylan insisted.
I gripped the textured handle and another jolt of fear swept through me. We reached the bottom of the elevator and the doors opened.
Before we could even step out, Dylan’s eyes widened and he pointed across the parking lot. “There!” he took off running and I followed. “He’s headed out into the street!” he yelled.
I struggled to keep pace. We ran through the open gate and Dylan stopped. He looked around frantically until his eyes froze to the left. He bolted down the street and once again I did my best to keep a close pace.
“I think I saw him turn down here,” he called back to me as he rounded the corner to an isolated alleyway. “Hurry !”
I chased him halfway down the alley then froze.
He glanced back at me and waved his arm. “Come on, quick!”
I didn’t move.
He slowed to a stop and waved again. “What are you waiting for? Come on.”
I shook my head and took a step back.
“What’s going on?” he said, walking toward me.
I held up the gun and aimed it at him.
“Don’t come any closer,” I said.
“What are you doing? Why are you pointing that at me?”
I took another step backward. “I didn’t see anyone in the garage—or in the street—or down here. If the guy escaped down the elevator in your loft, why was the elevator at the top floor when we used it to leave?”
“He must have… he…” Dylan shook his head, searching for something to say.
“It was you… you were in my bedroom. Were you trying to kill me?”
Dylan sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Why did you have to make this so complicated, Zella?”
My heart lurched and I took a step back. “What?” I had hoped he would deny it—that he would give me some elaborate reason why I was being crazy.
“You were supposed to be an easy hit. I seriously don’t understand how that bus didn’t kill you. I’ve never had a problem with the bus trick.”
“The—the bus trick? You pushed me in front of the bus?”
He averted my gaze. “I’m not a bad person. I don’t want people to suffer. I figured, one push then bam—you’d be gone. I promise—I didn’t think you’d survive that. If I knew… I’d have picked something a lot more sure.”
“But you saved me. From the restaurant guy.”
He flashed a chastising look at me. “I don’t know what messed up stuff you’ve gotten yourself into or who you’ve pissed off, but if it’s not me that does the deed, I don’t get paid.”
“Paid? You’re a hitman?”
“That makes it sound like worse than it is… I prefer to call myself an independent contractor.”
“That was you…” I mumbled, thinking back to the notes on my timeline.
He arched his eyebrows in a look that said, “Didn’t we already establish that?”
“What about Devora?” I asked, raising the gun.
He laughed. “Okay, don’t be mad,” he smiled, “it was me. I colored all over the clothes.”
My blood lit on fire and my hand shook. “You?”
“I had to make you think it was Glynn. I’ve got a reputation to protect. I can’t leave a trail to me.”
My fingers tightened around the handle of the gun. “I’m calling the cops,” I said through clenched teeth. “You’re going to jail.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver object. “Don’t move!” I yelled.
“Or what? You’ll shoot me? Did you really think I’d give you a loaded gun while I planned to murder you? Please… I’m not that stupid…”
I pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
He shrugged. “I figured it’d help give you enough confidence to get here,” he pointed at the ground. “This one, however,” he wiggled a silver gun in the air, “this one works. Now hold still.”
My heart thudded in my chest and I said the only thing I could think would delay him. “So did you burn your sister alive?”
He hesitated and his face turned pale. “She wasn’t my sister.”
“Half-sister is still a sister.”
“She was a filthy thief. I couldn’t let her make a mockery of my parents.” He spit on the ground. “She deserved what she got.”
“Just like me? What do I deserve? Why are you even trying to kill me, huh?”
He shook his head. “I don’t ask questions anymore, okay? Your name was on the list.”
“Who do you get the list from?”
He chuckled. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“It wouldn’t be Mortimer would it?”
He cocked his head and gave me the most intrigued look I had ever seen on his face. “How did you…”
After a moment of shock, he spoke again. “If you know something like that, then you probably know why you’re on the list.”
“I’m pretty sure I know why he’d want to kill me now, but not before—not with the bus.”
He rubbed his eyes and let out a heavy sigh. “I don’t want to get mixed up in these problems. That’s not what I do. I’m sorry.”
With that, he raised the gun, aimed it at my head, and pulled the trigger.
Monday, May 28, 2012
A soft buzzing from Mortimer’s phone in my pocket woke me. I didn’t know what time it was, and I didn’t care. If it was still black outside, I wasn’t about to wake up. As I reached to my pocket to suppress the vibration, I heard the faintest rattle of the doorknob to my room. My hand stopped as if paralyzed. I held my breath and listened in silence, convincing myself that I hadn’t actually heard anything. But then out of the corner of my eye, I saw a sliver of light stretch across the floor. The light widened into a narrow triangle.
At that moment, I knew what the buzzing had been. Someone had made a change to my timeline, and I was about to die. The slit of light widened slowly until it was at least a foot across. I stared at the shaft of light, my heart pounding in its chest. My muscles tightened but I didn’t move. I laid paralyzed. Should I scream? I considered it, but wondered if the attacker would silence me quicker for it.
I tilted my head toward my blank phone on the nightstand. I knew I couldn’t risk reaching for it, but it was my only hope.
A soft footstep brushed through the thick carpet. I held my breath. My hand crept up along my torso, ready to grab for the phone.
Another step. I heard breathing in the silence around me. I held my own breath and listened to the breathing get closer.
As I stared at the phone, I knew I had to make a move or I was going to die again. I sucked in a deep breath and opened my hand.
Before I could reach for the phone, its display lit up and the obnoxious ringtone I assigned to Jason blasted through the speaker.
I couldn’t hear the breathing—the footsteps—anything. I had no idea where the assassin was and I knew that if I didn’t reach for the phone now, I was dead. I jumped up in the bed and snatched the phone from the nightstand.
“Jason, help!” I yelled, as I answered the call.
I spun around to face my attacker, expecting his face to be inches from my own. Instead, I saw a dark shadow run from my room and slip around the corner.
“Zella! Zella, are you there? What’s happening?”
I curled up into a ball against the headboard and hyperventilated into the phone.
“Zella, answer me!”
“He ran away,” I managed to say.
“Who ran away? Who is with you?”
“I—I don’t know. He was gone before I saw his face. Jason, I think they were trying to kill me.”
“I know,” he said. “I called as soon as I found out.”
“Found out? You—you knew someone was coming for me?”
“Zella, you’re not safe there. You need to get out.”
“Okay. Will you stay on the line with me the whole time?”
“Of course I will.”
I crawled out of the bed and crept to the doorway. I peeked around the corner. The hallway was empty. Silence and darkness filled whole floor. I snuck through the opening and made my way past half-a-dozen rooms until I reached the area where the party had been.
Glasses, platters, and hors d’oeuvres littered the room. At my next step I heard a snapping sound. I froze in place and looked down. A broken champagne flute crunched under my foot.
“What was that?” Jason asked.
“I’m okay,” I whispered. “I just stepped on some glass.”
I negotiated my way through the room, careful not to make the same mistake again. When I reached the kitchen, I about dropped the phone.
“Dylan,” I whispered.
I ran over to a body lying on the floor. A thin line of blood snaked away from his head.
“Dylan,” I said again, shaking his body.
Dylan mumbled something incoherent as he stirred awake. “What happened…” he said.
“Are you okay?” I set the phone down and lifted his head.
“Zel, what’s going on?” Jason asked. “Zella?”
I scooped up the phone. “I’ll call you right back.”
“No, wait—” he started to say, but I hung up the phone.
“What happened?” I asked Dylan.
“I heard something… I walked out into the kitchen and someone came out of nowhere… I think it was the same guy that attacked you in the alley. I tried to stop him but—” Dylan cringed as he clutched his head. “He hit me with something and took the elevator out of here.” He pointed at the elevator.
“You're bleeding,” I said. “We need to get you to a hospital.”
He shook his head. “I’m fine.” Crawling to his feet, he looked around. “We should call the police.”
I suddenly felt awful for dragging Dylan and his family into my mess.
“We can’t call the cops,” I insisted.
“I—I have to go. I need to take care of this. I’m so sorry for causing all of this.”
“What? What are you talking about? How is this in any way your fault?”
“I have to go,” I repeated.
Dylan looked at me. “I can’t let you go alone.”
I shook my head helping him to his feet. “I’ve caused enough problems just by being here.”
“I don’t care what you say, I’m not letting you out of my sight,” he said.
I gritted my teeth. How was I supposed to explain it to him? I didn’t have time to waste—I couldn’t let the attacker get away.
“Fine, but I’m leaving now.”
I rushed to the elevator. As I punched the button the doors opened and we stepped inside.
Sunday, May 27, 2012
I sat on the bed and set my purse on the nightstand. I pulled my own phone from my pocket and laid it next to the purse. The screen was black and I realized I hadn’t turned it back on since Jason’s call. I pressed the power button and waited for it to light up. Before I even had a chance to lie down, a voicemail icon appeared. I dialed my voicemail and the automated voice said, “You have nineteen new messages.”
Nineteen? I listened and Jason’s voice cut through the speaker.
“Zella, this is Jason. I need to talk to you. It’s important.”
I hit delete and waited for the second message.
“Zella, it’s Jason again, please call me back. Trust me this is important.”
“Hey, it’s me again, please call me.”
“Zella, if you are getting these messages, you have to call me back. Your life is—”
But before the message could finish, the display flickered and an indicator told me that Jason was calling on the other line. I glared at the phone. Most of me wanted to ignore the call, but part of me hesitated. Jason had never acted like this. Something seemed off. I waited a few seconds more as I debated my decision. Finally, I tapped the answer button.
“Zella? Zella are you there?” His voice sounded panicked.
“Yeah, it’s me. What is going on? You called me like twenty times.”
“Zella, listen to me. I think Dylan is the one who’s trying to kill you.”
I nodded, glaring at the wall. “Really? Is that the best you’ve been able to come up with?” I rubbed my forehead and chuckled under my breath. “He just saved my life.”
“What?” Jason sounded genuinely confused.
“Did you seriously not hear me? I said, ‘he saved my life.’”
“That—that doesn’t make sense…”
“Why? Why doesn’t it make sense? Someone was trying to kill me and he stopped them. He saved my life, Jason.” I sighed and shook my head. “I asked you before to give me one good reason why I shouldn’t see him, and you take a full day to come up with that? You’re not my big brother. You’re not my dad. Stop acting like you get to choose who I date. You lost that chance when you rejected me.”
My finger itched to end the call.
“I need you to trust me. “I don’t know what he’s trying to do, but he’s not interested in dating you. I know him.”
I hadn’t thought that anything he could have said would make me turn around, but apparently I was wrong. I tightened my grip on the phone.
“You know him? Is that what you’re telling me? Two days ago, you couldn’t even remember who he was, and now you’re saying that you somehow have a deep knowledge of his inner desires or some crap like that? Why would I ever believe that? Either you lied to me two days ago, or you’re lying to me now. Which is it?”
“I didn’t lie to you—and I’m not lying now. I just… I know something more about him and now it’s all different.”
I cocked my head at him. “What are you even talking about? If you’ve got something to say, then say it. What’s this new secret you supposedly found out?”
His voice cracked with hesitation. “I—I can’t say.”
I rolled my eyes even though he wasn’t nearby to see. “You used to be there for me, Jason. You were the only one I could count on. When did we start keeping secrets from each other?”
Jason was silent on the other end. “I don’t want to keep secrets from you, Zel—I just don’t want to hurt you.”
“If you don’t want to tell me what you’re keeping from me, then don’t. But I don’t want to talk to you anymore. I’m tired.”
“I’ll tell you. Just let me tell you in person. Where can I meet you?”
“Not tonight, Jason. I’m tired. And,” I hesitated before I spoke again—I knew it would probably hurt him, but I didn’t want to lie,” I’m at Dylan’s parents’ house right now, so I can’t exactly leave.”
I sighed, knowing I shouldn’t have mentioned it. “Don’t start with me again, Jason. I’ll talk to you about it in the morning.”
“Please just meet me tonight. I’ll drive there right now.”
“No. We’ll talk in the morning. Please don’t call me again tonight.”
I hung up the phone and set it on my nightstand. A guilty feeling swirled through my stomach. Jason had never acted like this. I knew I was being a jerk and I didn’t know why. Maybe it was because of how much he had hurt me in the past. Not purposefully, but for some reason I had always thought that he liked me. I still remember the night that I told him how I felt.
The scene danced across my mind as clearly as if it was yesterday. We were sitting outside on my front porch. He was listening to me ramble on about why fat people should not be wearing skinny jeans. I remember the look in his eyes. It was the kind of look that stopped my heart. I was sure—I was so sure that he loved me. Like the idiot I am, I told him that he was perfect. The sudden apprehension in his eyes made me instantly regret my impulsiveness. He took a long moment to respond. When he did, he looked at the ground and closed his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Zella. I—I don’t think we’d work out.”
It was probably the most humiliated I had ever been. I cried that night.
My thoughts snapped back to the present and I instantly regretted the way I had just spoken to him. I should have apologized. I should have let him talk to me. As I sat on the edge of the bed, I stared at the dark screen, hoping for him to call back. Five minutes passed. Ten. Fifteen. But the screen didn’t light up.
The longer I waited the more scared I became. He had seemed so frantic. I knew the killer wasn’t Dylan, but as I sat in the silence, I started to wonder if someone else in the house was. I shook my head. The thought was stupid. Why would the man who wanted to kill me randomly be here at the Whitlock’s party? As much as I tried to tell myself I was acting crazy, I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling that settled into me.
Still waiting in silence, I pulled Mortimer’s phone from my pocket. This was the first time I had been able to check the phone since the restaurant. I stared at the green timeline that made up the rest of my life, knowing that it didn’t really mean anything anymore—well not after what had happened at Bellini’s at least. If someone on the other side was making changes to my life, I knew that no matter what I did on my end, I was in danger. I slipped Mortimer’s phone into my pocket then reached over and picked up my own phone. I almost dialed Jason’s number but was too much of a coward to actually press ‘send.’ Just in case he decided to ignore me and call back during the night I took the phone off silent and crawled into bed fully clothed. As soon as I rested my body inside the bed, the soft mattress and down comforter enveloped me like nothing I had ever felt before. At some point in every person’s life, there are certain times that just make you want to be rich. For me, this was one of those times.
The gentle warmth spread through my body and I forgot that an assassin was trying to murder me, long enough at least to fall asleep.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
As we pulled up to Whitlock Tower, I gasped. I hadn’t realized that he meant the skyscraper was their home.
“Are you okay?” he asked, eyeing my expression.
“Yeah, why?” I said, trying not to look as surprised as I was feeling
We pulled into an underground parking lot through a private gate. Inside, it looked more like a giant garage than a parking lot. A dozens flashy cars lounged throughout the area. He parked between a yellow Ferrari and silver Porsche.
After he shut off the engine, I opened the door and stepped out. My footsteps echoed in the emptiness.
“Over here,” he waved me over to a set of elevator doors.
“Are these all yours?” I indicated the cars.
“Well, my parents’ cars… but yeah.”
We reached the private elevator and took it to the penthouse at the top of the building. As the elevator doors opened, music pulsed inside.
Even through the heavy beat, I heard Dylan release an irritated sigh.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t expect my parents to be home. I figured they’d take a break from all of this after what happened at the Lima.”
I shifted guiltily in the elevator.
“Come on,” he continued, “I’ll find somewhere quiet for you.” He grabbed my hand and led me through the bustle of people.
I met eyes with dozens of people I had only ever seen before in magazines. Some of them eyed me curiously, others, looked down at my hand in Dylan’s and flashed intrigued glances and even whispers with one another. I felt uncomfortable and excited all at once. As Dylan led me along, I almost wanted to resist his pull. This was a dream come true, and he was trying to haul me away from it.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled again. “I didn’t expect there to be anything going on here tonight…”
We walked past the main room into a long hallway where the music finally began to fade.
“It’s fine,” I said, trying to flash a longing set of eyes in hopes that he’d catch on and ask if I wanted to go back and meet some people.
He noticed my look and hesitated. My heart jumped at the hope of returning.
“You look tired,” he said and my heart slumped.
“Um… I’m not too tired…” I glanced back at the crowds.
“Here, follow me. I’ll find you a place to lie down.”
We walked past a dozen rooms until he stopped in front of a door. He opened it and motioned for me to enter. The room was a frosting-pink color. The fluffy comforter billowed across the bed like puffy clouds.
“This was my sister’s room. Lilly.”
I turned around and looked up at him. “I didn’t know you had a sister.”
“None of us did for a long time… She died a few years ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
He shrugged. “I wasn’t really close to her. She was only my half-sister. One of the products of my dad’s… escapades…” he sat on the edge of the bed. “Lilly showed up one day with her prostitute mother. They tried conning my dad into giving them money. Her mom threatened to expose the affair if he didn’t. My dad paid her. She died of a drug overdose a week later. After that, he told my mom everything. She was actually pretty cool about the whole thing and they even adopted Lilly a few days later.”
“How did she die?” I asked.
His eyes softened and a flicker of pain stung through his face. “House fire. In the kitchen. Firemen don’t know how it started. The fire spread across three rooms before the sprinklers put it out.”
“I’m sorry,” I said again.
“I haven’t told anyone this, but after she died, I went through her room and found out that she was stealing from my parents. Credit cards… cash… jewelry… She pretty much got whatever she asked for anyway, but she was stealing from them? I didn’t even understand it.”
“Do you parents know about that?”
Dylan shook his head. “I never told them. They were so sad about her death, how could I say anything? How could I tell them that she was just using them?”
“That’s awful,” I offered.
He nodded. “Anyway, they pretty much haven’t touched her room since then. I figure you’ll probably get the most privacy here.”
Privacy? I could barely hear the thumping music from all the way back here. I wish he knew that I didn’t want privacy—I wanted to be in the middle of the party.”
“I’ll try to make sure nobody bothers you tonight.”
“It looked like a few people were a bit curious about you,” he smiled.
I smiled too. “It’s fine. I don’t mind.”
He stood up and walked to the door. “Get some rest.”
He opened the door then turned around. “Don’t worry, I promise I’ll introduce you to my parents in the morning.”
My heart rushed with excitement but I tried to sound casual. “Thanks. I’d like that.”
Friday, May 25, 2012
My gut lurched with panic. I jerked my attention to the watch around my wrist. The hands were tiny and I had to squint to make out the exact time. 8:48. Adrenaline surged through me and I sprang up from my chair.
I collided into a waiter who tossed a tray full of dishes threw the air. Plates and bowls smashed into pieces on the ground as I spun around scanning the faces next to me.
“Zella? What’s going on? Are you okay?” Dylan’s voice faded into the background noise.
Everyone was now staring at me so I was able to get a clear view of their faces. I searched Devora’s table. Glynn was still missing. My head whipped back and forth frantically. Dylan was now standing as well. “Zella, tell me what’s going on.”
I looked at my watch. 8:49. I soured the faces of the people in my immediate vicinity. The waiter glared at me as he scrambled to gather the broken shards of plates. As I turned around, I saw a shadow duck around a corner of the restaurant.
“Stop!” I shouted at the figure.
I bolted from our table and chased after him.
“Zella, wait,” Dylan called after me. “Where are you going?”
As I reached the corner and peeked around, the dark figure looked back at me and ran into the kitchen. I was not just going to let him get away. I followed, negotiating my way through tables and waiters until I reached the white kitchen.
He glanced back at me again, and I finally got a better look at him. Dressed in a black leather jacket, he was short, thin, and looked like he hadn’t shaved in a few weeks. My eyes dropped to his hand where, clutched inside his fingers, was a clean knife.
My heart stuttered as I saw the object. Suddenly everything seemed more real than it had just a moment before. He was here to kill me. At the table, I knew this was true, but it felt so much thicker as I stared at the knife. He paused for a brief moment, then turned and ran again.
I swallowed the new fear and chased after him. Inside the kitchen, I collided with a cook and heard a cacophony of pans and silverware as he reared back against the counter. I mumbled a half-apology and maintained my pursuit. The figure opened a door to the outside and ducked through it.
As I ran for the door, I cursed my four-inch stilettos. I shouldered the door open and it slammed the outside wall. The man was gone. I looked up and down the dark alley, but he was nowhere to be seen. As the door rocked closed, I turned around.
In front of me, knife held above his head, the dark figure took a step in my direction. Fear surged through me and I stumbled away. The heel of my shoe caught against an uneven section of pavement and I tripped onto my back. The man loomed over me and drew back the arm holding the knife.
Just then, the kitchen door flew open and smacked the brick wall. “Get away from her!” Dylan shouted.
The man turned his attention away from me for half-a-second. I pulled back my leg and drove the pencil-thin stiletto into his knee cap. His leg jerked and he grabbed his knee.
Without a second’s hesitation, Dylan rushed forward and tackled the man. I scrambled to my feet and searched the ground for some kind of weapon to help. The best I could find was a chunk of brick. I scooped it up, but when I turned my attention to the tangled wrestlers, I could barely see who was who in the darkness.
A shaft of moonlight glinted off the silvery knife blade and I chucked the brick at its owner. The projectile crunched into a leg or an arm and I heard a yelp that didn’t sound like it was from Dylan. After another second of struggle, the boys broke apart and the man scampered away down the dark alley.
“Are you okay?” Dylan asked, hurrying over to me.
“I’m fine,” I said, even though I could tell that the sound of my voice was anything but fine.
Dylan picked up the knife and gripped it his hand. He searched the alley once again and the returned to my side. The kitchen door opened again and one of the cooks began shouting at us.
“What is going on out here?” He held out a frying pan as if it were the knife in Dylan’s hand. “Was that you two makin’ a mess of my kitchen?”
“Someone was attacking her—I had to—” Dylan started.
“Get out of her! Go on, get!”
Dylan led me out of the alley. The cook watched as though making sure we had no intention of returning.
“What was that all about?” Dylan asked when we were safely amongst a crowd of people.
“I—I thought I recognized him,” I lied. “I went after him, and he—he attacked me.”
“Yeah, I saw that part. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine. I think I should probably just head home.”
I could feel my hands shaking. It had been so much easier with the bus. One second I was fine, then one second—bam—I was dead. This sort of thing made me feel sick, and weak, and horrified all at the same time.
“Your home is at least an hour from here. My parents live ten blocks away. Why don’t you just crash there tonight?”
As though his words were an instant magical cure to the terrifying feelings in my body, every thought of the murderer and what had just happened vanished. Crash at the home of the Whitlocks—the gods of fashion?
“Of course I can call you a cab if you’re uncomfortable with that…” Dylan said as he saw my expression.
“No—no,” I said as quickly as without sounding too creepy. “No, that sounds perfect.”
“Okay, I’ll get the valet to bring the car around. Wait right here.” He jogged to the front of the restaurant and spoke with the valet then pointed in my direction. The valet nodded and a few minutes later, we were driving to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Whitlock.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
I shut up and suddenly felt incredible stupid. He probably thought I was crazy.
“I don’t think that other part sounds too unrealistic though,” he said after a moment.
He glanced at me. “I know Devora. She’s nuts. I wouldn’t put it past her to do something crazy to save her crappy line.”
I giggled. “So I’m not the only one who thinks she’s terrible?”
His lip twisted up in a half-smile. “Terrible? Now you’re just being nice. Did you see what she was wearing last night? I think she must have heard that it was a disco-super hero party or something.”
“That’s what I said!” I shouted in delight. “An orange cape? Was she serious?”
“Like I said… nuts.”
My grin faded as I thought more about it. “Do you think she really could have done that to me…? Or at least had her assistant do it?”
He thought for a moment then nodded. “Yeah. I think she could have. It doesn’t matter though… we wouldn’t have any evidence even if it was her. She might be a lot of things, but I don’t think she’s stupid. She was careful enough not to get caught by you with the dresses, right?”
We pulled up to Bellini’s and a valet took Dylan’s car. When we were seated, the waiter set a basket of bread in front of us.
After we ordered our food, I dipped a chunk of bread into the dish of oil and vinegar before me. As I brought it to my mouth my eyes spotted a table across the room. Mouth open, I paused mid-bit.
“Zella? Are you okay?” Dylan asked.
“Look,” I jutted my chin in the direction of the table.
Devora sat alone wearing an obnoxious gown that looked like it was splattered in various safari animals and glitter. Around her shoulders hung a shawl that looked like it was made out of alligator skin. As my eyes finally made it to her red felt boots, I couldn’t quite understand how she found herself this far in the fashion industry.
Sitting next to her, in a conservative black dress, her assistant Glynn poked at a salad with her fork as Devora prattled on about something.
“Do you want to leave?” Dylan asked me. “We can find another place.”
“Leave?” I scoffed. “I’m not going to let her make me leave.”
“I promise, it’s no problem. I know a great French place just down the street.”
I shook my dead. “No. Let’s just stay here. She probably won’t even notice us.”
As if Devora heard what I just said, she turned and met my gaze. A wicked grin lit up her face. She patted her face with a napkin and stood up.
I flushed. Why did this have to happen right now… She was going to ruin everything… again. As I watched the ridiculous outfit I suddenly wanted to light it on fire—possibly while Devora was still in it.
“Well, hello there, darling?” she said. Glynn scampered up beside her. “What a night yesterday, no? Never seen anything like that in my life. Absolutely frightening.” She shook her head in shock. “And what a shame it was not to get to see your presentation. I’m sure we all would have been stunned.”
“Yes… I’m sure you would have…” I said under my breath.
“What was that, dear? You really shouldn’t mumble. It’s not… attractive—especially,” she looked at Dylan, “not on a date.”
She then leaned over and whispered something to Glynn. The assistant nodded then scurried off.
“I don’t suppose you’d mind if I joined you this evening?” Devora said, pulling out one of the chairs at our table. “I’d love to get your opinion on a few matters,” she added looking at Dylan.
“I’m sorry, that’s quite impossible,” Dylan said before she could sit. “This is a private outing.”
“Oh nonsense, dear,” she persisted, settling into the chair and crossing one leg over the other.
“I must insist—” Dylan started, but my voice invaded the situation before I could help myself.
“Listen, you hag,” I almost spit, “pick up that offensive zoo you’ve wrapped around you and crawl back to your own table before I ask the waiter to call security.”
Devora’s jaw looked like it was about to fall off her face. “Why, you little brat. I have never… never been treated like such a—” Devora searched for the word.
“Animal?” I prompted. “Sorry, I guess I got confused at your mutant-wildebeest costume.”
She gasped and shook her head in utter contempt.
“Why don’t you go forage around for company at another table okay? I’m allergic to… whatever that is…” I pointed to one of the nondescript animals on her outfit.
“I—I can’t believe you would dare speak—”
I waved my hand to cut her off. “People are staring at you and I don’t think it’s because of your jungle tribeswoman outfit. Don’t embarrass yourself anymore…”
Devora was silent. Her eyes narrowed and for a moment, I thought she might actually try to kill me in front of everyone. My heart skipped a beat and I almost coward backward into my seat.
But she didn’t try to kill me. She turned around and stalked back to her table alone. I braved a glance over at her, and she returned my stare with even more murderous eyes.
“That was…” Dylan started “…a bit harsh.”
“Harsh?” I snapped. She ruined my line—my whole line. I don’t care if it was her or that bony assistant—she ruined my chances at that show. And you said it yourself; she’s probably trying to have me killed.”
“I just said that I recognized the hair—that’s all. It might have been someone else. I don’t know.”
“Why are you defending her? She’s a horrible person.”
Dylan laughed. “Okay, fine. She’s a horrible person. Now let’s enjoy the rest of the evening. Shall we? Forget about Devora.”
“Fine,” I sulked. I snuck another glance. Devora was staring daggers into me, but now she was on the phone, her stiff lips barely moving as she spoke. Glynn was still missing.
I looked up. The waiter set a plate of spaghetti in front of me.
“Thank you,” I said. He nodded and gave Dylan his food as well.
Just then, Mortimer’s phone buzzed in my pocked. I pulled it out and turned on the display. A red notice flashed at the top of the screen.
Unapproved timeline alteration of subject: ZELLA TERRENCE
Barely a sliver of green extended past the black. I scanned the five remaining lines that made up the rest of my life.
8:49 Chews a mouthful of spaghetti and stares and Dylan Whitlock’s teeth
8:49 Stabbed four times in left lung
8:50 Lung pools with blood
8:50 Unable to draw breath
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Dylan: Then if your middle name is Zella, what’s your real name?
: Yeah, I know. I hate the name too. I’ve always hated it. It makes me sound like I was born in 1920… I mean, can you think of anyone who’s not dead, or over eighty named Mirabelle?
Dylan: Um… my mom’s name is Mirabelle.
I stopped reading and wanted to slap my forehead. What was I thinking? I even knew her name was Mirabelle Whitlock. I realized if I was slipping up with comments that were that stupid, I’d probably have to study the entire night’s dialogue.
But as I continued reading, the green line flickered back and forth and every awkward piece of dialogue changed to something else. I couldn’t read anything without changing something. I remembered the last time I tried looking ahead in my timeline. Every time I knew something about my life, it would change since I likely wouldn’t make the same stupid mistakes I already knew about.
While I read more dialogue, I could barely focus on a single line of text before it disappeared, replaced by something slightly less awkward. Even lines that I thought sounded pretty good, smudged a bit into stiff conversation after I read them—probably because now that I had read them, I’d likely try to force myself to say them when the time came.
I gave up trying to force the timeline to run the way I wanted to and sat back in the couch for the remaining few minutes. A couple minutes later my phone rang. I picked it up and looked at the name. Jason… I about hit ignore, but for some reasoni answered.
“Yeah, what’s up, Jason?”
“Hey, I just wanted to call you and apologize about last night.”
“Oh… yeah, that’s fine. I was kind of a jerk to.”
Jason’s voice smirked. “I didn’t say I was a jerk—I just said I was sorry. But I totally accept your apology.”
“Shut up,” I said, my voice smirking back.
Just then the doorbell rang.
“Was that your door?” Jason asked.
I didn’t know what to say. “Um… yeah…” I stood up and walked across the room. “I actually have to go…”
“Oh.” Jason was silent for a moment. “Are you going out with Dylan?”
He was silent again as though he wasn’t saying what he wanted to, in order to avoid a fight. “I should probably go…” I added.
“Please don’t do this again,” I said before he could finish. “Look, we’ll talk about it later.” I hoped the last line would appease him enough so we wouldn’t get into another fight, but his silence wasn’t convincing me he would. “Jason, I got to go. He’s at the door.”
“Zella, please listen to me. I have to talk to you.”
“Jason, I can’t. I have to go. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.” I hung up the phone. I hated hurting Jason. He was my closest friend besides Nova. But I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
I pushed the thought from my mind and walked to the front entry. As I opened the door and a perfect set of white teeth flashed a smile at me. I smiled back and Dylan held out his arm.
“Are you ready?”
“Do I look ready?” I said with a sarcastic grin.
He chuckled and took my arm. “Let’s go then.”
I stepped out onto the porch and gawked at the car parked in my driveway. I didn’t really know cars—but this one made me want to start learning. Its sleek red body had better curves than my cocktail dress. Dylan walked around to the passenger side and opened the door.
“Thanks,” I said.
He nodded and walked around to his own door.
As he sat down and turned the ignition, the car roared to life with a sexy purr. I held back a childish smile.
“So where are we going?” I asked as though I didn’t already know.
“I actually was hoping to take you to a place called Bellini’s. Do you know it?”
“Yeah,” I said as casually as possible. “It’s nice.”
As Dylan drove, we talked about the show almost the whole way there. I probably should have sounded more interested in the helicopter incident, but every time the topic turned toward it, I tried changing the subject. I already felt guilty enough without having to make it the center of conversation on my date.
“I wish I would have been able to see your line,” he said.
“No you didn’t,” I said honestly.
He cocked his head at me. “I didn’t?”
I released a thoroughly irritated sigh. “You know Devora?” He nodded. “She sabotaged every piece of clothing we brought.”
“What?” His instant anger at the idea made me happy.
“We had to switch rooms at the last minute, because they needed to use ours for the after party,” I started.
“I heard about that,” he said. “A fire, right?”
I nodded. “We put our racks in the hallway and Devora was there. Her assistant had this blue marker—”
Dylan’s eyes contemplated for a moment. “Glynn, right?”
Glynn… that name did sound familiar. I knew I had seen the assistant before. But for some reason I pictured her differently.
“I almost didn’t recognize her at the show,” Dylan said. “I think she bleached her hair or something.”
I nodded to myself. “Yeah…” I searched my memory and realized he was right. “Glynn used to have red—”
But before I could get the word ‘hair’ out of my mouth, my thoughts flickered back to yesterday morning after Dylan pulled me out from under the bus.
“Red hair,” I finished.
“Yeah it was—” he looked over at me. “Are you okay?”
I fell silent and met his eyes. “You don’t think…?”
He arched an eyebrow. “Think what?”
“Remember when that cop asked you if you saw anything suspicious?”
“Yeah, I told him I saw a girl with—” his voice cut off for a moment then returned. “No… no, that couldn’t have been her…” he said, his voice unsure. “Why would she do something like that?”
“Why do you think?” I said. “Only three lines showed up at the show last night. If Devora had her take me out, that only leaves one other competitor.”
“Take you out? You sound like she’s in the mafia.” He seemed to be trying to make a joke, but the tension in the air, made his voice sound stiff. His “Are you saying the helicopter was somehow her idea to take out the other competitor?” his tone now made me sound like a conspiracy theorist.
I gave him a frank look. “Of course not… that would have been a pretty stupid plan. Especially since she was one of the closest people to the windows.” I closed my eyes and hoped he somehow hadn’t heard what I had said. I thought about my timeline and knew that ‘awkward dialogue’ was almost certainly stamped around those sentences.