Four Months Ago
"I might not be one of your sugar daddies, Gemma Emerson, but I’m someone you’ll want to listen to. You don’t want to end this call," the man said before I could murmur a hello. His stab at my job, the mention of my name, caused my fingers to freeze around my phone.
"Everything you’ve been told about your story, your father's story, is a lie. It's up to you to uncover the truth."
Hearing the stranger’s voice rasping in my ear, I sat up straight on my couch, strands of my blond hair flopping over my face. The lazy grin still spread across my face from my last call gave way as a tidal wave of uneasiness washed over me. "What did you just say?" I whispered, receiving a response of heavy breathing, which creeped me out even more. "A-are you there?"
It wasn’t like me to stutter. Before I began working at what my best friend jokingly called, “half-naked concierge”, my line of work was solely phone sex. It hadn’t taken long for me to discover that the girls who couldn’t find their words were the ones who were hung up on instantaneously. My caller on the other end, however, was a different story. Something told me that my speechlessness gratified him.
“I’m here.” This time he didn’t completely catch me off guard, so I tried to pinpoint his voice. It was unquestionably male, which I’d already surmised, and intentionally low and gruff. Other than that, though, I was at a loss. “And you heard me the first time, Gemma.”
I’d heard him—loud and confusingly clear. The mystery behind his words, on the other hand, had me desperate for him to say it one more time. Everything you’ve been told about your story is a lie. I couldn’t think of a single person who wouldn’t demand a repeat after someone dropped a bomb like that. Grabbing the remote to mute the E! News exclusive I’d turned on after my previous call, I pushed off my leather couch.
"Who is this? Ja—" But I swallowed hard. Saying the name of the client I’d spoken to a few minutes before this guy’s call came through was a big no-no. If anything, I was professional, even if the hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end. “Who is this?”
Tiptoeing quickly through my apartment, I checked the locks on the front door and wiggled the knob. Everything was secure, thank God. "Alright, have it your way. This has been fun, but—"
The man spoke up, his satisfied smirk evident in his gravelly voice. "You don't know anything about your father or his death. Up until now, you haven't given a shit, but that needs to change. Tonight. Unless you want to be stuck in the loop you’re in for the rest of your life. Your body will only get you so far.”
His words were a powerful fist right to the center of my chest. I slumped against the white-painted steel door behind me, trying to gather my bearings.
If this guy hadn’t crossed the line before, he had just officially slithered across.
“You must have me confused with someone else,” I spat out. Infuriated, I crossed an arm under my br**sts to stop the waves of red anger crashing through me. "Obviously, you don’t know a damn thing about me.”
If he knew me, truly knew me, he’d realize I thought of my father each time I passed the last photo I had of us together—the picture Dad’s driver had taken of us at the Empire State Building when I was eight. He’d know that I purposely avoided going to Los Angeles with my best friend every time she suggested it because it brought back memories and regrets that shattered me.
No, he didn’t know me, and for this man to accuse me of feeling any different pissed me off.
“Then why haven’t you ever looked into your father’s passing?” he challenged.
I scowled. "Are you a reporter?” My question earned an indignant snort from my caller, but I continued, “Is that what this is? Because if you are, here's a story for you: Of course, I gave a shit about my father’s death.” My eyes flashed to the muted celebrity interview on the flat screen TV. “You just won't ever see me in the news battling over an inheritance he didn't want me to have. So, now that I’ve gotten that out there for you … I think I deserve to know who you are before I hang up on your ass," I sneered.
"I'm not a reporter, but I’m also not giving you a name.”
“But, since you mentioned the money, do you really think your dad left you with nothing? Or is that something you convinced yourself of, because you became too comfortable with putting your past behind you, and you’re just too lazy to go digging around for answers?"
I flinched. Deflated, I slid my back down the door until my butt hit the plush Berber carpet, the overwhelming aroma of linen-scented carpet powder rushing up my nostrils. "My father died of a heart attack, and he left everything to his wife," I whispered, nodding, attempting to assure myself all over again. When I was younger, I was bitter about my dad’s decision to name his wife his sole heir. At one time, my mother had been his wife too. I was his only child. Still, none of that had mattered.
When I stopped worrying about the hand I was dealt, I’d found equanimity —at least somewhat. I was comfortable.
But now, I was experiencing all those old emotions—doubts I hadn’t let plague me since I was a teenager were brought to the surface. It stung, and I knew I should hang up. Disconnect the call and immediately contact the phone company to change my number. For some reason, though, I couldn’t.