If you missed the previous chapter, you can find it here:
I stand in the frigid air for several moments stretching my arms and legs. Dallas has gotten colder since I left. My hand finds the door and I am able to walk into my home again. I’ve barely been here a week and it is already feeling like a place I can relax in. I throw my clothes in the wash and then walk into the bathroom. Thankful for a tankless water heater, I turn the handle all the way to the hot side. I step into the steaming waterfall and sigh as it washes over me. The gooseflesh on my arms and legs quickly subside. My skin is an angry pink from the heat but I pay it no mind. It is a good sting that warms me down to the bones.
I am not ready for what the day holds. It is the first time in my life that I have to face something this real. A lot has happened this past week, way more than I would ever want to deal with. Suddenly I am very envious of people that live in blissful ignorance. Why am I chosen to be a part of all this? In ways I feel thankful, at least I am able to spare myself the horrific death that the Demons have shown─ but in others it is a burden that no person should have to bear. I think of them as pretty much the evilest of the evil, nothing so sinister could be benevolent no matter whose side they’re on.
I’m so frustrated over this shit. All the scientific journals and empirical data in the world can’t explain this away. Not the witty talks I used to listen to detailing mental illness that correlates with supernatural experiences, not drugs, not even the potential of me having a mental breakdown. Which now leaves me with the burning question─ why in the hell is this happening to me? I could try to chalk it up as some sort of freak phenomenon that’s the product of stress and possibly question my mental state. Yet that leaves out the fact that Zedd saw it too. He believed it so much that he had taken his own life. I look over at the cool tile on the floor, the pattern somehow soothing against the morning light. We couldn’t have both fabricated the same exact thing. And if it is true, then there has to be others. It’s just a shame that I can’t find them.
I finish hooking the last button on my slacks and stare at my reflection. I frown at the obvious dark circles beneath my eyes. I look like hell. I dab on some under-eye concealer and spread blush across my cheeks. It helps liven my face a bit, not that I am trying to gain anyone’s attention, I just want to appear functional─ not like some sleep-deprived lunatic. I hate being in this position, it is my worst nightmare. Just the thought of having to approach all these people with an air of confidence that I have never possessed in my life, is terrifying. I often dream of what it would be like to feel comfortable in your own skin. I sigh and frown at my thin frame. I never have grown into my body. I had hoped as a teen that I would fill out a little more but in the end I am stuck in this childish body with barely any hips and small, humble breasts. My face doesn’t do me any favors either, I have wide eyes but a narrow jawline. I am about as baby-faced as they come. I get carded everywhere I go and they will eye my birthdate and then study my face dubiously. I might have learned to enjoy that later in life, but I wouldn’t live to see another week. My chest tightens as I think about how I will end my life. I can fantasize about it all day but the truth is, I don’t want it to hurt more than it needs to. A gun sounds so violent and so awful for anyone that finds me. A knife sounds─ painful and what if I miss my heart? No sense in any of that. I have done several hours of research and decide that I am going to go with pure nitrogen. All I need is an oxygen mask, some good, strong tape to seal it around my face, and I will drift away into blissful nothingness. That sounds way better than being tortured alive.
I hop onto the next train and sit quietly through the next few stops. It may be cold but the sky is bright and blue. Even through the tint of the train I can see just how blue it is─ Blue like a dream. I blink as the wetness gathers in my eyes and then tilt my head to dab them away. I will have to be strong today, and even stronger tonight. When I live stream all of this people need to believe that I have my shit together. I can’t be overly emotional which isn’t a foreign concept to me but it is especially important tonight. The office building comes into view and my heart leaps into my throat. Time to put on my big-girl breeches. I cross over to the building and gulp down as much air as I can. I suddenly feel sick to my stomach. By the time I am on the elevator, full-blown panic mode is creeping it’s way up. I bite down on my lip as the doors open to at least a hundred people, if not more. I wade through the crowd and make my way over to my desk. I try not to make eye contact, I need to steady myself before the service. Devon’s email mentioned that we are going to meet here first and then travel over to the service at ten. I imagine it is probably a way for people to remember him, but not have to attend the service. It is uncomfortably quiet as I log in and check my email. I frown at the screen as an instant message pops up. It is from Devon.
Devon: Hey, can you please meet me in my office asap?
I hesitate, then respond: Sure, be there in just a minute.
I quickly make my way over to his office, then stop at the door. I knock quietly and wait.
“Yes, Jeff I’m sure. Look, we’ll talk about it later─ hold on a second. Come in” he calls loudly. I wait half a beat and then open the door. He mutters something else inaudible and then hangs up the phone. I promptly blush, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude” I offer quietly. “No, no” he says waving his hand, “please, have a seat.” I ease into the chair and grin nervously, “you, uh, needed to speak with me?” He nods, absently running his hand through his hair. His gaze is fixed on the shelf behind me. I glance over and smile at the picture. It is Devon and Zedd holding up an award. They both look to be at least a decade younger. Devon hasn’t changed much, maybe his hair is a tad longer but he still has that youthful smile and sparkle in his eyes. Zedd, though I am able recognize him, looks completely different. His beard is missing and his hair is nearly to his shoulders in the photo. He is wearing a black hoodie and there were several piercings on his face. He was thin before all this happened, but he is impossibly thin in this photo. Like, unhealthy thin. “We hadn’t slept in three days,” Devon says quietly, “it was our first real competition and we were graduating during the recession. No one was hiring and we were fighting to find a place in the field.” I turn back to him and smile. I remember my dad mentioning that economic downturn a little over a decade ago. “Instead, my dad co-signed on a loan for me and Zedd and we opened our own company.” Devon stands and then walks over to the photo. He picks it up, rubbing across the frame absentmindedly.
“The thing is, I know Zedd. He wouldn’t have done this unless he had a reason. A big reason.” He sets the picture down and turns toward me. His face is calm, but I can see a strange fire building in his eyes. “I hope you’ll forgive me, but I got curious the day before he called in and checked the cameras.” My throat goes dry. It would have shown me and Zedd talking and then leaving the building together. Devon is quiet for several moments. “I don’t think you did anything to him, Kate.” I relax a degree, but my shoulders are tense. “But, I would like to know what the two of you talked about. You left in his car, so I assume you at least rode home with him.” I sit up and shift my legs to cross in the other direction. I fidget with my fingers unsure of what to do with them. His voice comes out calm, soothing, “you don’t have to answer me if you don’t want to. I just can’t imagine what he could have been going through to make him do this and you were the last person he talked to. I’m asking as a friend, Kate. Not as a boss.” I look up at him and nod. I’m not sure what my plan is here, but I can’t just keep things from him. It is very apparent that Zedd meant a great deal to Devon. They graduated college at the same time, they started a company, they had to have gone through a tremendous amount of life together in that time.
I choose my words carefully, “We went out to eat that night and he seemed pretty upset,” I pause, searching for the right words, “he kept pointing out that our drawings were very similar even though I hadn’t seen his before later that day. When we had met earlier in the day, he wanted me to use my character as a main, which I said someone else should do it,” I add hastily, “but he said that it wouldn’t be an issue and that he had decided to keep me as a lead designer.” Devon smiles and nods, “Zedd has a good eye for talent, he was right in deciding that.” I flush and look at the ground, “but─ I dunno, he just was fascinated by the fact that ours looked nearly identical and asked if we could talk more about it over dinner.” Devon raises a brow, “were you two─” I blink a few times and then my eyes widen as I realize what he means, “oh goodness no,” I say quickly. “I see,” he says, “did he say anything else at dinner?” I’m really torn, I’ve never been good at hiding the truth. I would be a horrible poker player. I bite my lip and shake my head, “not really. I mean, he did seem like something was bothering him.” I trail off and look at the ground. Devon is quiet for a while. He’s so quiet that I sneak a peek at him. He’s turned to the side and looking out the window. His eyes look misty, I’m starting to lose my nerve. I want to be strong but I hate lying to him. I know he won’t believe me though. Just like the waitress he would rationalize what I tell him and he would definitely look at me different. Somehow the second part stings worse than the first. “I’m sorry, I wish I could be of more help,” I offer quietly. He turns back toward me and smiles that gut-wrenching smile. I can feel my stomach turn in knots. He deserves the truth, that’s why before I blurt it out I stand and excuse myself from the room. I can’t bear any of it anymore. The look on his face, the betrayal and hurt so wildly apparent. I want to throw up at the lie but I manage to push it down and walk over to my desk. The service will be in less than an hour and I need to pull it together.