“A Night Out”

This is a section of a novel idea that I had but decided to rework. This scene was still one of my favorites, though, and works well as a standalone–though it may be missing some context. The main character, Sam, has borderline personality disorder, which basically translates to emotional instability. For a general overview of this disorder, you can check out this website. Enjoy!

I couldn’t stop smiling at the girl across the bar. Golden hair flowing over her shoulders, silk shirt with a low neck over a pleated black skirt, an expression that was either naive or nervous—but either way was adorable… I couldn’t be blamed for having a tiny crush.

The girl came over a few minutes later, sitting down beside me and flashing me a cautious smile.

“Hello,” she said with a lilting British accent that made me smile wider. “Can I… buy you a drink?”

I chuckled, raising my unfinished whiskey. “Already got one.”

Her face fell. “Oh… I just thought… I’m sorry, I was being presumptuous.” She stood again. “I’m sorry for bothering you.”

“Hey,” I said, motioning to the seat. “I didn’t say leave. You can buy me a second.”

Slowly, her smile returned, and she sat again. “I never do this,” she said quietly. “You know… flirt. With… girls… But I saw you dancing with someone earlier… so I just thought…”

“You’re really bad at this,” I said, draining my glass and waving the bartender over. “Don’t worry. I’m really good at it, so we’ll balance each other out.” I gave her a wink, then turned to the bartender. “This beautiful lady is buying me another whiskey, and whatever she might want.”

“Gin and tonic,” she said, laying down a twenty dollar bill on the bar.

“IDs,” the bartender said, taking the money and holding out his hand.

We both pulled out our IDs—both were fake, unless this girl was older than I’d thought, but that was unlikely. He glanced at them like he didn’t really care—it was a college bar, after all—and handed them back before going to get our drinks. I snatched her ID from her hand before she could put it away, scrutinizing it.

“Mine’s better,” I said after a moment. “This is trash. You should ask for a refund.”

She put a hand to her chest in mock offense. “I resent that! I am most certainly twenty-one!”

I smirked. “And I’m a fish.” I showed her my card. “See? Professional work here.” PAL work, of course. We’d learned to fake identifications by the time we were twelve. But she didn’t need to know that.

She grinned. “You may need to put me in touch with your supplier, Danielle Spinetti.”

“And you should tell me who yours is, so I can beat him up, Martha Lucien.” I met her eyes—ice blue and sparkling. “Really? Martha? That’s what you picked?”

She rolled her eyes and held out her hand to me. “Cora,” she said softly.

I took her hand, her slender fingers soft against my palm. “Sam,” I replied.

Cora smiled at me. After a moment I realized our hands were still clasped and quickly dropped hers, my stomach fluttering.

Dammit, girl, what are you doing? I chided myself. It was one thing to dance with a girl or two but… it wasn’t like that was actual flirting.

I had to remember Abby. I had to remember how I would feel if I found out she’d let someone else buy her a drink, bat their eyes at her.

In this moment, I was starting to think I wouldn’t really care…

The bartender returned with our drinks, and I took a sip, avoiding her eyes. Gorgeous eyes, really…

“So,” she said after a moment. “What brings you to a bar alone on a Friday night?”

“What brings anyone to a bar alone on a Friday night?” I said, raising an eyebrow. Then I cursed at myself again—and at PAL. Flirting just became so easy when it was drilled into you…

Cora grinned and raised her drink to her lips, holding it so daintily, so properly. “Looking for a spot of fun?”

I nodded. “I was in town for work, but I leave tomorrow. Figured I could spend the night binging on Netflix in my motel room, or I could actually do something.”

“Work?” she asked, her brow furrowing slightly. “Are you an intern?”

“Something like that,” I said with a shrug. “What about you?”

Cora looked down into her drink, her expression going a little dark. “My boyfriend proposed to me tonight.”

I blinked. That was not what I had been expecting. “I… see.”

She chuckled. “No, you don’t.”

“No I don’t. Explain.”

She absently traced her finger along the rim of her glass. “I said I never flirt with girls,” she said quietly. “That… wasn’t an exaggeration. I… You have no idea how hard it was to come over to you…”

I gave her a sympathetic look. “Your boyfriend doesn’t know?” I asked.

Cora shook her head. “No one knows.”

“Then… what did you tell him? When he proposed?”

She took a drink. “Yes. I— I had to. My parents… they really want us to be together… I’m not even eighteen yet…”

I winced. “I’m sorry… What are you going to do, then?”

Cora shrugged. “Marry him. I guess.” She sighed. “I just… wanted to prove to myself that… it’s not just that I don’t like him. Because I do like him… he’s a nice man… but I don’t love him. I wanted to prove that it’s for more than some… shallow reason.”

Being used as a sexually confused girl’s proof. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

But she was really pretty…

No. No, I had a girlfriend. It wasn’t worth it.

“Cora… I can’t be your proof,” I said quietly. “I’m sorry.”

She glanced up at me. “What?”

“Look, I know I’ve been… leading you on a little… but I have a girlfriend back home. I can’t.”

“I— I wasn’t asking for you to do anything—” She flushed.

“Trust me,” I said, “the only way you’ll be able to find your proof is by getting well and truly kissed. You’ll know then if it feels right. And… I can’t do that for you.”

Cora looked down at her glass again. “Right. Of course. I understand completely.”

I hesitated a long moment. God, I should not even be considering this…

“I— I’m probably going to break up with her soon…” I said quietly.

She glanced at me, raising an eyebrow. “Are you really?” she asked. “Or are you just looking for an excuse to cheat?”

It was my turn to flush. “You realize I might ask you the same question?”

She floundered with her mouth open like she wanted to retort, but didn’t have the words.

I sighed. “How about this. You finish that drink, I buy you another one, we go and dance for a little bit… and if you’re still feeling confused… I…” I swallowed. This felt so much like a job, in some ways… “I’ll take you back to my room and we can talk.”

“Your motel room?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. She liked doing that, I noticed. I mean, if I had perfectly manicured eyebrows like hers, I’d probably show them off, too.

“We won’t do anything indecent,” I promised, my fingers twitching over the fabric of my jeans just below my hip.

Cora hesitated. “I… I really can’t be seen going into a motel, tipsy, with a girl…”

I cocked my head. “Seen? By who?”

Another hesitation. “My family… is very… affluent, in certain circles. And people love a scandal. I can’t be the cause of one.”

I smiled slightly. “Don’t worry. I excel at not creating scandals. No one would see you.”

“Now see, that just sounds a bit menacing,” Cora said, a hint of a smile returning. “How do I know you aren’t going to do terrible things to me? Kidnap me? Kill me?”

I shrugged. “You don’t. For all you know, I’m a dangerous assassin.”

That gave her a moment of pause, then she chuckled. “I like you, Sam… I really do.”

I slid her drink closer to her with one finger. “Drink. Drink again. Dance. And we’ll see.”

Cora picked up the glass and raised it to her lips. “Just… I don’t want to be what gets in the way of your relationship… I don’t want to facilitate you cheating…”

“It would just be a kiss,” I said quietly. “I’ve kissed others…”

She met my eyes. “You’re that faithless?” she asked quietly.

I shook my head, wincing. “Not… Not like that… I— don’t know how to explain, but… it’s for my… work.” I felt my face heat up. That sounded terrible…

Cora hesitated, not dropping my eyes. “What do you do for work, Sam?” she asked cautiously.

I seduce men and then slit their throats… “It’s… nothing indecent…” I mumbled. “And besides—she hates me. She’s always getting on my case about something… I don’t want to be with her.” And you’re gorgeous and witty and I’d very much like to kiss you.

Cora was silent for a long moment. Then she took a long drink, draining her glass, and waved the bartender over. “Another gin and tonic, please. …actually two.” She glanced at me. “I think I need to be a little more drunk than this…”

I nodded and paid for her drinks, and after a minute he brought them over. She drank deeply from one glass like she was dying from dehydration.

“Careful…” I said—like I could judge.

When she’d finished that one, she picked up the other glass, but took it slower.

“This day is going a lot differently than I thought it would,” she said quietly. “When I woke up… I thought I would just go to my classes, have a nice dinner with Sam—my boyfriend Sam—then finish an essay…”

“And now you’re an engaged woman at a bar with a hot girl.” I smiled at her.

She chuckled slightly. “Yes… that I am.” She sighed heavily and took a sip.

I cleared my throat, feeling a little awkward. “So, you’re a student?”

“NYU,” she agreed. “I graduated high school early—I was homeschooled, you see. So I was able to start at the university this year.”

I nodded. “What are you studying?”

Cora laughed a little. “Good question. It’s been… a lot of things. But right now, it’s philosophy. Ethics.”

“Oh.” I realized my head was just bobbing with little nods now and stopped myself. “That sounds… boring. I’m sorry. It sounds boring.”

She laughed again, a little looser. She had a very nice laugh… “To some people, perhaps. I find it fascinating.”

“What do you even do with a philosophy degree?”

“Teach,” she said simply. “You teach. That’s about it.”

I grimaced slightly. “I don’t have a good track record with teachers…”

“Well, considering my track record with majors, that’s not something you’ll have to worry about,” she said, smiling at me.

I chuckled and finished my own drink as she finished hers, then held out my hand to lead her out for a dance. I slipped my hands around her waist as she draped her arms around my neck, fingers playing with the ends of my blue hair.

“I hope you appreciate how strange this is for me,” she said softly, swaying in time to the music.

I grinned up at her—she was somehow slightly taller than me, though it might have just been the heels she was wearing.

“Good strange?” I asked.

She smiled tentatively. “A strange… that I think needs to be further explored.”

I felt my heartbeat quicken. “I… I think I can do that.”

~~~

We got into a cab together, and I awkwardly fiddled with the hem of my shirt, not really knowing what I was doing. Could I really kiss her? I mean, she was gorgeous, and fun, and naive, and… new. My impulsive brain was ready to start making out with her here in the taxi… and usually my impulsive brain won out. But she was staring silently out the window, so I didn’t.

I knew I was being awful. That I could love her tonight and tomorrow she’d just be gone, and then Abby would be gone, too… and I would have no one and I would deserve that. I deserved that for these thoughts, for what I wanted to do. Cora should leave now before she realized just how much of a monster I was.

No. I wasn’t going to let her leave. Not tonight.

The taxi stopped outside the cheap motel PAL had put me up in, and I led her up to my room, pulling out my phone to quickly text my sister.

SAM: Heading home 2morrow morning. Kinda drunk

There was a pause as I unlocked my room, then her reply came through.

CAL: Are you ok? Should I send Allen to come get you?

I rolled my eyes.

SAM: Im FINE. Stop worrying. See u 2morrow

CAL: Alright… see you. Night, Sam

SAM: Night, cal

Cora glanced at me questioningly, and I realized I had stopped in the doorway of the room to text her. I chuckled nervously.

“Sorry… Just had to tell my sister I’m staying an extra night. She gets paranoid.” I motioned inside and she went in.

“You have a sister?” she asked.

I nodded. “Callie. Good girl. Good sister. Vastly overprotective.”

Cora smiled. “That’s sweet, though.”

“Yeah, or something… What about you?”

She slipped her coat off, tossing it over a chair, and sat on the edge of the bed. “I have a twin brother and a younger brother.”

“A twin, huh? Are you close?” I sat beside her, kicking my heels off and tucking my legs up under me on the bed.

Cora nodded. “He’s my best friend.”

I smiled at her. “Callie’s not my twin, but she might as well be. We’re close enough in age to be in the same class, we do everything together… Yeah, she’s my best friend, too.” I glanced away. “Which is hard sometimes. Because we’re actually pretty different.”

“Oh?”

“She’s the… cautious, introverted, chess-player type. You know, strategic, always thinking ten steps ahead. I mean, I am, too—occasionally…”

“But you’re more the impulsive, pick-up-girls-at-bars type?” she said, raising an eyebrow with a small smirk.

I lightly shoved her. “You don’t have to put it like that… I’m helping you out, that’s all.”

She nodded. “Of course. And you get absolutely nothing out of it.” She lightly covered my hand with hers, smiling softly at me.

I swallowed. “Cora… my brain likes to be really weird sometimes…” I said quietly.

“Doesn’t everyone’s brain?”

“I…” I had no idea how to put this so she would understand how every particle of me wanted to jump in, how I was ready to throw it all on the line for a single night, how I was dreading the thought of her leaving tomorrow. How right now, there had never been another person as perfect as she was, but a week from now she could be evil incarnate.

“Sam…” She lightly touched my cheek—I could feel her fingers quivering slightly against my skin. “Stop letting your brain ruin things for you.”

I tried to force a smile. “I don’t deserve to be here with you…”

“Shh…” She leaned in a little closer.

I closed my eyes. “I— I’m going to fail you—”

“Why?” she said softly.

I met her eyes, my body shaking, tears threatening to come forward. “Because… that’s what I do.”

“Sam…” She ran her fingers through my hair, down to my neck. She was good at this. Almost PAL good. “I’m failing myself and my entire family right now. Trust me… you won’t fail me.”

I leaned forward slightly, the air in the few inches between our faces electric. I felt that strange, hot, twisting feeling in my stomach, like butterflies but more intense. But I made myself wait. This was for her. Not for me. I had to remember that…

“I… I’ve never done this…” Cora whispered.

“Do you want me to lead?” I asked softly.

She hesitated, then nodded. I took a shaky breath, then leaned in and let our lips meet. She seemed frozen for a moment, then slowly started to kiss me back, going a little deeper with every breath, eventually giving in entirely, wrapping her arms around me and opening her mouth, kissing me passionately.

I felt completely overwhelmed, and I didn’t want it to ever end.

Eventually she pulled away, breathing heavily, and fell backward onto the bed with a grin.

“Yeah. I’m gay.”

I laughed a little and lay down beside her. “Satisfied?”

“You are very good at that,” she breathed.

I was trained very well… “You’re not half bad yourself.” I smiled at her.

She turned over on her side to face me. “So… what comes now?” she asked quietly.

I hesitated. I had already given to her… broken promises, proven that I was nothing, deserving of whatever she did to me.

That’s what Fortier said, at least.

I lay back, letting myself be prone as he always asked.

“Whatever you want,” I whispered.

She looked down at me, brow knitting. “Sam?”

“I won’t fight,” I murmured, closing my eyes, my body shaking with fear and panic that I forced myself to push aside. Comply and it’s quicker. “I won’t resist.”

“Sam, that’s enough.”

I opened my eyes and looked up at her. Her expression was… concerned. And almost afraid.

“I don’t want you,” she said quietly. “If anything… right now I just want to talk to you. And possibly ask if everything’s all right at home…”

I almost laughed. Almost.

I shakily sat up. “I— I’m fine. And I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be sorry,” she said quietly. “You just… weren’t yourself for a moment.”

“I thought you wanted to…” I said, avoiding her eyes.

“Not if your response is to do… whatever that was…” She gently took my hand. “Do you want to talk about it?”

I hesitated. Talk about it. I hadn’t talked to anyone about it, not even Callie…

I looked away from her, slowly drawing my knees to my chest. “You don’t even know me…”

“No,” she said gently. “I don’t. But I want to, I think.”

I shook my head. “I’m a mess. A dangerous, highly skilled mess.”

“And I’m a rebellious, highly financed mess,” she said with a small smile.

“Good for you, princess,” I muttered.

She stiffened just slightly, then scooted back on the bed so she was leaning against the headboard. “You know I’ll keep your secrets if you keep mine,” she said softly. “Mutually assured destruction. Or trust. Whichever you’re more inclined to.”

“Destruction,” I said, moving back to sit beside her. “But… Not to downplay your identity crisis, but my secrets could get me in a lot more trouble if they came out.”

“I would be disowned,” Cora said quietly. “Literally disowned. Homeless. Not a cent to my name. I would go…” She took a breath. “I would go from being an actual princess to having nothing in the world.”

“I would die,” I said bluntly. “If the wrong people found out I told, I would be killed on sight.”

Cora hesitated. “That’s—”

“And if other wrong people found out, I would be arrested. So. Stakes are a little higher.”

She shifted, like she was debating whether to run. Of course she was. It was only a matter of time, anyway. Might as well send her on her way.

“Are you a… criminal?” she asked quietly.

“I kill people.” I looked over at her. “For money. And if you try to turn me in, I’ll have to kill you, too.”

She looked down, fidgeting with one of the rings on her fingers. “I won’t turn you in,” she said finally. “But… can I ask why?

“Why I’m an assassin?” I asked. She nodded, and I sighed. “It’s the life I was born into. I’m a Legacy in the program—my family’s been in it for generations. It’s all I’ve ever known. I was raised to kill.”

“That’s… so sad,” she whispered.

I looked over at her. “Sad?”

“All you’ve ever known is death? That’s tragic, Sam…” She met my eyes, her own starting to water slightly. “How— How many people have you killed?” she whispered.

I closed my eyes. “Three. Callie’s only killed two. We’ve only been doing this about six months… actually working jobs, I mean.”

“And you were here to… take a job, weren’t you?” she asked quietly.

I nodded.

Cora was silent a long moment. “Is it me?”

I looked up at her again. “What?”

“Is it me?” she repeated quietly. “Am I your mark?”

I shook my head. “No… No, I already got my mark… Why would you think that? Did you do something awful?”

She gave me a look. “Did you miss the part where I said I was an actual princess?

“I thought you were exaggerating…”

Cora shook her head. “I’m inordinately wealthy, and will have a lot of political power… except that Ben will probably take the position instead of me, which is honestly fine…”

“Oh,” I said quietly. “Well… no. I’m not here to kill you. I’m here… because I make really bad choices… and you’re really pretty…”

She smiled shakily. “I don’t know if I should take that as a relief or get out of here as fast as I can…”

I looked down at my legs. “You should go. It’ll be easier for everyone in the long run.”

Cora shook her head. “No, Sam. I’ll stay.” She lightly took my hand. “You clearly need someone to.”

I glanced up at her. “You say that now, but you haven’t… you haven’t seen any of me…”

“What do I need to see?” she asked, brushing a lock of hair behind my ear with surprising tenderness for someone who had just found out the girl she’d been making out with was a trained killer.

I hesitated a long moment, then slowly undid my jeans and slid one side down to just below my hip, letting her see the scars.

Cora’s breath audibly caught. “Sam…”

“I’m fine,” I said quietly. “But you asked.”

She shakily held her hand over my leg, meeting my eyes with a silent request for permission. I nodded, and she lightly ran her fingers over the scars. I tried not to shudder—she was much gentler than Fortier was when he touched them, but she was still touching them.

“Why?” she asked quietly after a moment.

“I—” I didn’t have a good answer for that. I never had a good answer. So I just whispered, “It felt good. A release. For… For all the stupid emotions that run around in my head every day.”

“Sam…”

I looked up at her face, dripping with sympathy. “Don’t look at me like that,” I said, pushing her hand away and pulling my jeans back up. “Please. I’m fine.”

She took both of my hands in hers. “Who hurt you, Sam?” she asked quietly.

I tried to pull away. “No one. Really. I just— freaked out…”

Cora gave me a look. “I was a psychology major for a little while, Sam. I know what PTSD looks like.”

“It’s not PTSD…” I mumbled.

“Sam…”

I yanked my hands away and lay back, staring up at the ceiling. “He’s one of the leaders of my organization,” I whispered. “Okay?”

She lay down beside me. “I’m so sorry… Have you gotten help?”

I scoffed. “Help from who? The police would just arrest me. No one— No one in the organization cares—”

There it was. The honest truth. No one cared. This would just keep going on and on forever… or until he got sick of his perfect prize…

“I care,” Cora said softly.

I looked over at her, realizing after a moment how wide my eyes were, how much I must look like a pathetic puppy dog.

I hadn’t realized how long I had yearned to hear those words, spoken in earnest to me.

“Cora… I…”

She was in my arms before I realized what I was doing, and I kissed her long and deep, wrapping myself around her with complete reckless abandon. Slowly, I slipped my fingers beneath the hem of her shirt, and she allowed me to draw it off over her head. I closed my eyes and kissed her harder, not thinking about anything but this moment—

Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me maybe!

The obnoxious music started from the next room over, echoing through the walls, the bass of the song vibrating in my gut.

We both stopped, pulling apart, and just stared at each other as the pitchy voice intruded on our private moment.

Then we both burst into laughter, falling down on the bed and shaking with laughs until tears came out of our eyes.

I handed Cora her shirt back once we had both caught our breath. “Sorry…”

She shook her head and pulled it on. “It’s fine.”

“I told you my brain is strange…”

Cora smiled at me. “Mine must be, too, then.”

…and this is crazy,” the song continued, unhindered by normal rules of social politeness. “But here’s my number…

“Call me, maybe?” I said softly, meeting her eyes.

Her grin widened and she nodded. “Yes. I can do that.”

I smiled and lightly kissed her again. “Thank you. For being here tonight.”

“Any time,” she said softly.

From a different room, someone shouted for the person to shut the music off, and after a moment everything went silent again.

I scooted a little closer to Cora, putting an arm around her and resting my head against her chest, closing my eyes. She gently kissed the top of my head, holding me close.

“Thank you for doing this for me, Sam,” she murmured. “It means… so much.”

“You care,” I mumbled. “You don’t know how much that means.”

She lightly rested her cheek against the top of my head, her warm breath stirring my hair. “Sleep… I think you need it.”

“Mm…” She was right, of course…

I was asleep before I could even open my mouth to reply.

~~~

When I woke up the next day, Cora was gone.

Panic welled up inside me, followed by rage. She had left. Of course she had left. I was a damned idiot, who had fallen asleep on top of her but gave her nothing, who showed her my scars and scared her off.

I pulled my knees to my chest and started to sob. This was so typical of me. I fall head first for a pretty girl and just get my heart ripped out of my chest for it…

It was all my fault. I’d expected too much of her, I’d expected her to care. As if she would ever care about me, as if I deserved that from her or anyone…

And Callie. What would Callie say if she found out about this? I might not have slept with her, but we’d still gone far enough to call it cheating… Straight-laced Callie would hate me, and Abby would hate me—not that she shouldn’t already hate me, for all the shit I put her through on a daily basis. She was going to leave me too, especially now that I’d done this

I hated them. All of them. They all just left, all the time… they all hated me, too… There was no point in any of this.

I grabbed a pillow and buried my face in it, screaming into it, holding it to my nose and mouth a little too long. I hated myself… Because it was my fault they hated me, it was my fault that I was hating them for it…

As spots began to dance in front of my eyes, I threw the pillow aside, then grabbed the first thing in reach—the table lamp from the nightstand—and smashed it to the ground, trying to get some of this anger out somehow before I decided a knife would be the best way.

That was when I noticed the note.

It had been scrawled onto the provided notepad by the telephone—just a phone number and the initials CT, signed with a lipstick kiss. I dove for it, tumbling off the bed and onto the floor as I did so, landing on a couple of plastic shards from the broken lamp but not caring. I snatched the note off the nightstand and scrutinized it, then immediately picked up the hotel phone and dialed the number.

One ring. Two. Three. Four. Five…

“Hello?” a voice answered on the other end. Cora’s voice.

“You left!” I practically shouted into the phone. “You left, and you didn’t even say goodbye, and I didn’t know where you went or if you’d ever see me again—”

“Sam,” she cut me off, a hint of laughter in her voice, the bitch. “I’m sorry. I had to be in the city by nine this morning, and I didn’t want to wake you. I probably couldn’t have woken you, honestly. You were out like a light.”

“That— That’s no excuse!”

“I left you my number, didn’t I?” she said.

I hesitated. “Yes…”

“Well then, I clearly didn’t mean to abandon you. I just had to go. I’m sorry.”

That still didn’t make things better. That still didn’t mean she hadn’t left.

So I called her some names into the phone and hung up.

Two seconds later I scrambled to punch the numbers in again and frantically pressed the receiver to my ear, praying she would pick up.

She did on the first ring.

“Yes, Sam?”

“I—” I faltered, not knowing what to say.

“Yes?” she prodded.

“Please don’t leave me.” The words slipped out before I could regulate them.

There was a long silence on the other end. Oh god… what was she thinking? She was laughing at me, wasn’t she. Laughing at the desperate, broken girl…

“I won’t, Sam,” she said softly. “I won’t leave.”

I let out my breath. “You promise?”

“I promise.”

I let myself smile, and relaxed—slightly. “Thank you.”

There was a brief pause. “Was there anything else you wanted to talk about? Or were you just calling to shout profanities?”

I flushed. “Shout profanities, mostly…”

Cora chuckled. “Okay. I’m going to go, then. I’m in the middle of a meeting.”

“On a Saturday?” I asked suspiciously. Stupid suspiciousness…

She hesitated. “It’s… Well, it’s with a wedding planner, Sam,” she said quietly.

Oh. That was right. She was engaged. To a man.

“Have fun,” I said softly.

“I— I’ll tell him eventually—”

“When you’re walking down the aisle?”

“Sam…”

“No, it’s fine.” I sighed.

“It’s obviously not.”

“I can’t expect you to keep cheating on him,” I said quietly. “And… And I really… shouldn’t cheat on my girlfriend…”

“Who you said you were going to break up with.” I could almost hear her raise an eyebrow.

“Yeah. Yeah…” I looked down at the note in my hands, tracing a light finger over the red impression of her lips. “I—”

“I’ll tell him, Sam,” she cut me off again. “I promise. Once I work up the courage… I’ll call this whole thing off. You’ll break up with your girlfriend… and I’ll get you away from that organization of yours.”

I hesitated. “You’re misunderstanding one thing,” I said softly.

“What’s that?”

“I don’t want to get away from my organization.”

Cora went silent. “Then I’ll change your mind about that. Call me again, Sam. Please.”

I nodded, then remembered she couldn’t see. “I will.”

“Good. Now I really have to go—they’re glaring at me through the window. But I’ll be back later if you need me. Bye, Sam…”

“Bye, Cora,” I whispered, then heard the quiet click of the line disconnecting.

She cared. What a strange feeling, that…

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