MY NAME IS ALL THAT’S WRITTEN on the plain white envelope taped to the mirror. It wasn’t there when I entered the ladies’ room at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The laughter and pleasure of tonight’s charity event evaporate as fear and dread slam into me, adrenaline shooting through my body. No. No. No. This can’t be happening—but it is.
Suddenly the room begins to fade, and everything goes gray. It’s been years since I had a flashback, and I try to fight it, but I’m already right there in it. The scent of smoke burns my nose. The sound of blistering screams shreds my nerves. And all the pain and heartache, the loss of all I once had and will never have again, threatens to overwhelm me.
Fighting the meltdown, I swallow hard and shove away the gut-wrenching memories. I can’t let this happen. Not here, in a public place. Not when I’m certain that danger is knocking on my door.
On wobbly knees, clumsy in the four-inch black strappy heels that made me feel sexy only minutes ago, I step forward and press my palms to the counter. I can’t seem to make myself reach for the envelope, and my gaze goes to my image in the mirror—to the long, white-blond hair I’ve worn down tonight in honor of the heritage of my Swedish mother that I’m tired of denying. Gone, too, are the dark-rimmed glasses I’ve often used to hide the pale blue eyes my parents shared, making it too easy for me to see the empty shell of a person I’ve become. If this is what I am at twenty-four years old, what will I be like at thirty-four?
Voices sound outside the door, and I yank the envelope from the mirror and rush into a stall. Two women enter the bathroom, and I tune out their gossip about some man they’ve been admiring at the party. Leaning against the wall, I open the sealed envelope to remove a plain white notecard, and a small key drops to the floor. Cursing my shaking hands, I bend down and scoop it up. For a moment, I can’t seem to stand up. I force myself to my feet and blink away the burning sensation in my eyes to read the few short sentences typed on the card.
I’ve found you, and so can they. Go directly to JFK airport. Do not go home. Do not linger. Locker 111 will have everything you need.
My heart thunders in my chest as I take in the signature: a triangle with some writing inside. The same symbol that was tattood on the arm of the stranger who saved my life and helped me start a new one—and who’d made sure I understood that seeing that symbol means that I’m in danger and I have to run.
I squeeze my eyes shut, fighting a wave of emotion. Once again, my life is about to be turned upside down. Once again, I will lose everything—and while it’s so much less than before, it’s all I have. I crumple the note in my hand, desperate to make this all go away. After six years of hiding, I’d dared to believe I was safe—but that was a mistake. Deep down I’ve known that, ever since I left my job two months ago as a research assistant at the central library to work at the museum. Being here is treading water too close to the bridge.
Straightening, I listen as the women leave and the room goes silent. Anger erupts inside me at the idea that my life is about to be stolen from me again. Inhaling, I tear the note into tiny pieces, flush them down the toilet, and shove the envelope into the trash. I want to throw away the key, too, but some part of m"Intoxicating, intense and deeply seductive."