One week after Belle’s birthday party, I walked into my apartment for the last time. One of the broken-down boxes threatened to slip from my arms as I made my way through the front door. I shut it with my foot and set the boxes in the entryway.
Anthony was at his apartment—soon to be our apartment—clearing out space for me. He’d be by later to pick up the heavy stuff.
I walked around admiring my place. There were a lot of good memories. It was the first home I’d lived in by myself, where I’d found my independence and learned to enjoy it. The day I’d moved in had been terrifying and exciting, all at once.
‘Are you sure you don’t want to be roommates? This apartment is way too big for just me.’ I’d plopped the heavy suitcase on my bed and unzipped it to start unpacking.
‘It’s a one-bedroom, Rach.’ Sarah had rolled her eyes and laughed at me before joining in, putting my clothes on hangers to put into my new closet.
‘I can get a sofa bed. We’ve been roommates since freshman year. It’s not going to be the same without you.’
I had looked for a two-bedroom close to my new job for months but could only find one-bedrooms available. The new place hadn’t been too far from the one Sarah had found for herself, but I was used to having her in the same dorm. Before that, I’d lived at home with my dad.
‘You’ll be fine. Besides, aren’t you ready for a break from all my overnight guests?’
‘I will get a lot more sleep without the headboard banging against the wall all night.’ I’d chuckled and Sarah had thrown one of the couch pillows at me.
I laughed at the memory and ran my hand along the back of the sofa as I walked toward my bedroom. I fought my way to the back of my closet and pulled out my three suitcases, so I could start packing.
I filled one with the clothes from my dresser and had just zipped my overstuffed case when the silver jewelry box caught my eye. My stomach sank as I thought about the necklace inside.
I stared at the silver oval like it was Pandora’s box, grazing my fingertips over the rim—but I couldn’t open it. Every time I thought about seeing the necklace again, my chest tightened, making it hard to breathe.
Maybe you should just throw it all out. Get rid of the whole box and don’t bother even looking at it. But I couldn’t do that. I had to face it. I should sell the necklace and do something good with the money to make up for all the horror Ian Knight—my ex-boyfriend but really cartel kingpin and all-round horrible person—had put me through. It’s probably a fake. God knows he was.
I decided to wait on opening the jewelry box. Instead, I wrapped it in a plastic bag and tucked it into the case with all my intimates. I’d go through it later. I still had a lot of stuff to pack.
I dreaded going through all of it but it needed to be done. I walked into my closet and grabbed a handful of clothes—hangers and all. As I walked out, I heard a knock at my door.
I threw the pile of clothes onto my bed and hurried through the living room. Looking out of the peephole, I saw Sarah standing with extra boxes and packing tape in her hands. As soon as I opened the door, I was bombarded by Sarah’s energy and enthusiasm.
“Oh, my gahd, Rach, this is so exciting. I still can’t believe you and Anthony finally got together. It’s about damn time.” She laughed then scowled when she looked around the place. “Why aren’t you packing?”
“I am. I started in the bedroom.”
“Good idea. Gotta hide all the toys before Anthony gets here?” Sarah grinned and bumped my hip.
I chuckled and rolled my eyes. “Sarah, I’m not you.”
I sent Sarah into my closet to grab a bunch of clothes while I put together one of the boxes.
Sarah came out with her arms full. She tossed everything on the bed with a huff. “Girl, you have too many clothes.”
“I have about half what you do. What are you talking about?”
“Well, it sure seems like a lot more when we have to pack it all.” She chuckled. “How many black skirts and white tops does a girl need?”
“Those are for work.”
“You’re not going to be working there anymore, are you?”
“No, but I’ll need them again once I become a lawyer.”
“Rach, once you’re a big-shot lawyer, you’re gonna want new high-end stuff. When you get that job you’ve always wanted, we are going shopping.”
“And once that happens, I’ll get rid of some of the older pieces.” I turned to set up a box. We were going to need a lot of them.
After struggling for a few minutes to get the box taped, we started folding clothes and packing them away.
“So, how are things going with you and Wilson?” I asked my best friend as we folded.
“There is no more me and Wilson.”
“What? Sarah, why didn’t you tell me you guys broke up? What happened?”
“It’s nothing. It was just a casual fling, like I told you. Those always run their course.”
“Sarah, you and I both know it was more than that. You never spend that much time with one guy.”
She plopped down on the bed with a sigh and I sat next to her. “He wanted more.”
“More? Like, what, marriage and stuff?”
“He wanted us to be exclusive and to know that marriage was an option one day.”
“That doesn’t sound unreasonable. What was the problem?”
Sarah tilted her head to the side and gave me the ‘you know me better than that’ look.
“Were you seeing someone else?”
“No.” Sarah sounded almost…offended?
“No, of course not.”
“So, what was the problem? It sounds like you were already exclusive.”
“Unofficially, maybe. But once you make it official, there are expectations. And expectations lead to disappointment. Those are the things that get you hurt.”
“Rach, I really don’t want to talk about this. It just wasn’t meant to last. Nothing good ever lasts.”
“Gee, that’s comforting, as I’m in the process of moving in with one of my best friends-turned-boyfriend.”
“I meant for me, not you. You and Anthony were made for each other.”
“And why do you think you’re so special that the same rules don’t apply to you?” I crossed my arms and gave her a challenging stare.
“Love…that everlasting, lifelong love, like in the movies? It’s just not in the cards for me.”
“Sarah, I know that Matt—“
“Don’t say his name. I don’t want to ever hear that name again.”
“I know that you were hurt before, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find love again. That was freshman year. You can’t keep yourself closed up like this forever. One day that’s not going to be enough.”
“Okay, I’ll give it some thought, but for now, can we just change the subject, please?”
“Yeah, sure.” I offered her a sympathetic smile and we went back to packing.
After four trips to my closet and another box packed, my clothes were ready to go. Once my bedroom was finished, I moved on to my office space while Sarah packed up my bathroom.
“Hey, Rach, get in here,” Sarah called.
I left the stack of papers I’d been sifting through and hurried into the bathroom. Sarah was crouched down in front of my favorite painting, which had been hanging above my tub and was now sitting on the floor. Her back was to me and she blocked most of the picture.
“What the hell is this?” Sarah turned toward me and pointed to a small hole in the canvas. I’d never noticed it when it was hanging up.
I moved closer to examine the damage. I couldn’t count the number of times I’d come home after a hard day at the office and soaked in the tub while letting the tropical image take my mind to that relaxing spot on the beach.
I ran my fingertips over the flaw that was hidden within the leaves of a palm tree. There was a perfectly round hole, smaller than a BB.
“That’s odd. I wonder if it goes all the way through.”
I turned the painting around to examine the back. Secured to the back of the canvas frame was a thin black box, along with a couple of wires.
“What the hell is that?” Sarah interrupted from over my shoulder.
I held a finger to my lips to silence her then leaned the art against the counter and called Anthony.
“Hey, Rach, I just dropped Belle off and I’m on my way now.”
“Good,” I said as I pulled my friend into the bedroom with me. “Sarah and I are here packing and we found something I think you need to look at.”
“What is it? I know that tone. What’s wrong?”
I lowered my voice and said, “We found a little black box with some wires behind a painting in my bathroom.”