Corey holds up a champagne bottle. “Thought we could celebrate the new contract,” he says, handing me the bottle. I’m appreciative he doesn’t mention the eviction. It’s not as dire now that I have a paycheck on the horizon. What I’ll do until then...I’m not sure. I might have enough money for a few days in a hotel.
I can always pawn what’s left of my mother’s things.
Corey has already taken off his coat and is loosening his tie. This used to be our routine, before my mother moved in. He’d show up and begin losing pieces of his clothing until we were under the covers in my bed.
That came to a complete halt when I found out through social media that he had been on a few dates with a girl named Rebecca. I didn’t stop our sexual relationship out of jealousy—I stopped it out of respect for the girl who wasn’t aware of it.
“How’s Becca?” I ask as I open the cabinet to find two glasses. Corey’s hand pauses on his tie, as if he’s shocked I’m aware of what’s going on in his love life. “I write suspense novels, Corey. Don’t be so surprised that I know all about your girlfriend.”
I don’t watch for his reaction. I open the bottle of champagne and pour two glasses. When I go to hand one to Corey, he’s seated at the bar. I stay on the opposite side and we raise our glasses. But I lower mine before he can make a toast. I stare down at my champagne flute, finding it impossible to think of anything to toast about other than the money.
“It’s not my series,” I say. “They aren’t my characters. And the author responsible for the success of these books is injured. It feels wrong to toast to this.”
Corey’s glass is still paused mid air. He shrugs and then downs his entire glass in one sip, handing it back to me. “Don’t focus on why you’re playing the game. Just focus on the finish line.”
I roll my eyes as I set his empty glass in the sink.
“Have you ever even read one of her books?” he asks.
I shake my head and turn on the water. I should probably do dishes. I have forty-eight hours to be out of this apartment, and my dishes are something I want to take with me when I go. “Nope. Have you?” I pour dish soap into the water and grab a sponge.
Corey laughs. “No. She’s not my style.”
I look up at him, just as he realizes that his words double as an insult to my own writing, considering I was offered this job because of our supposed similar writing styles, according to Verity’s husband.
“Not what I meant,” he says. He stands up and walks around the bar, standing next to me at the sink. He waits for me to finish scrubbing a plate, and then he takes it from me and begins rinsing it off. “It doesn’t look like you’ve packed anything. Have you found a new apartment yet?”
“I have a storage building and plan to have most of it out by tomorrow. I’ve put in an application at a complex in Brooklyn, but they won’t have anything for two weeks.”
“The eviction notice says you have two days to be out.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“So where are you going? A hotel?”
“Eventually. I’m leaving Sunday for Verity Crawford’s house. Her husband says I’ll need to go through her office for a day or two before I start the series.”
Immediately upon signing the contract this morning, I received an email from Jeremy with directions to their house. I requested to come on Sunday, and luckily he agreed.
Corey takes another dish from me. I can feel him staring at me. “You’re staying at their house?”
“How else am I supposed to get her notes for the series?”
“Have him mail them to you.”
“She has thirteen years’ worth of notes and outlines. Jeremy said he wouldn’t even know where to begin, and it would be easier if I sorted through it myself.”
Corey doesn’t say anything, but I can sense he’s biting his tongue. I slide the sponge down the length of the knife in my hand and then hand it to him.
“What aren’t you saying?” I ask.
He rinses the knife in silence, sets it in the strainer, then grips the edge of the sink and turns his head toward me. “The man lost two daughters. Then his wife gets injured in a car wreck. I’m not sure I’m all that comfortable with you being in his home.”
The water suddenly seems too cold for me. Chills run down both arms. I turn off the water and dry my hands, leaning my back against the sink. “Are you suggesting he had something to do with any of it?”
Corey shrugs. “I don’t know enough about what happened to suggest anything. But has that thought not crossed your mind? That maybe it’s not the safest thing to do? You don’t even know them.”
I’m not ignorant. I’ve been digging up as much as I can find about them online. Their first child was at a sleepover fifteen miles away when she had an allergic reaction. Neither Jeremy nor Verity was there when it happened. And the second daughter drowned in the lake behind their home, but Jeremy didn’t arrive home until the search for her body was already in place. Both were ruled accidents. I can see why Corey is concerned, because I was, too, honestly. But the more I dig, the less I can find to be concerned about. Two tragic, unrelated accidents.
“And what about Verity’s car wreck?”
“It was an accident,” I say. “She hit a tree.”
Corey’s expression suggests he isn’t convinced. “I read there weren’t any skidmarks. Which means she either fell asleep or she did it on purpose.”
“Can you blame her?” I’m irritated that he’s making baseless claims. I turn around to finish the dishes. “She lost both of her daughters. Anyone who suffers through something like that would want to find a way out.”
Corey dries his hands on the dish towel and then grabs his jacket off the barstool. “Accidents or not, the family obviously has shit luck and a hell of a lot of emotional damage, so you need to be careful. Get in, get what you need, and leave.”
“How about you worry about the contractual details, Corey? I’ll worry about the research and writing part of it.”
He slips on his jacket. “Just looking out for you.”
Looking out for me? He knew my mother was dying, and he hasn’t checked in with me in two months. He’s not looking out for me. He’s an ex-boyfriend who thought he was going to get laid tonight, but instead, was quietly rejected right before finding out I’ll be staying in another man’s home. He’s disguising his jealousy as concern.
I walk him to the door, relieved he’s leaving this soon. I don’t blame him for wanting to escape. This apartment has had a weird vibe in it since my mother moved in. It’s why I haven’t even bothered fighting the lease, or informing the landlord that I’ll have the money in two weeks. I want out of this place more than Corey does right now.
“For what it’s worth,” he says, “congratulations. Whether you created this series or not, your writing led you to it. You should be proud of that.”
I hate it when he says nice things at the height of my irritation. “Thank you.”
“Text me as soon as you get there Sunday.”
“And let me know if you need any help moving.”
He laughs a little. “Okay, then.” He doesn’t hug me goodbye. He salutes me as he backs away, and we’ve never parted more awkwardly. I have a feeling our relationship is finally as it should be: Agent and author. Nothing more.
I could have chosen anything else to do on this six-hour drive. I could have listened to “Bohemian Rhapsody” over sixty times. I could have called my old friend Natalie and played catch-up, especially since I haven’t even spoken to her in over six months. We text occasionally, but it would have been nice to hear her voice. Or maybe I could have used the time to mentally prep myself for all the reasons I’m going to stay far away from Jeremy Crawford while I’m in his home.
But instead of doing any of that, I chose to listen to the audiobook of the first novel in Verity Crawford’s series.
It just ended. My knuckles are white from gripping the steering wheel so tightly. My mouth is parched from forgetting to hydrate on the drive over. My self-esteem is somewhere back in Albany.