As Harper drove home, her anger came in waves. Sometimes it was so strong that her skin grew hot, and her knuckles tightened on the wheel. Then it would fade, replaced by a sense of brooding bewilderment. How had Chloe's brooch gotten into her pocket?
Her apartment awaited her. She climbed two flights of stairs and let herself in.
"No more swing shifts," she told herself, hoping to find the silver lining about her job loss. She didn't like Patrick's, no matter what she'd told Chloe, but she didn't like her bank account sitting pretty at only $53 either.
"There's always Afterlife," Harper's voice was an unflattering imitation of Chloe's. She laughed and then wilted. "Do I own a dress? Of course I own a dress."
She went to the fridge and got out the rest of her turkey club from a few days before. She took a few bites in the kitchen, then chased it with ginger ale. She tossed the can at her garbage, missed, and glared as it landed on the floor and rolled away.
She considered picking it up, then left it. She went to her couch, flopped down, and turned on her television. After trying to get anything to load for five full minutes, Harper realized her Internet must be down. Bad timing, or the charges had been declined.
She almost turned it off but then changed her mind and switched over to over-the-air channels. There was some stupid infomercial about a self-sharpening knife set, a movie about winning over some guy using voodoo powers, and the news.
Harper closed her eyes and leaned back. Her arm still throbbed, and her mind kept spinning. How would she pay rent now? She didn't want to ask her parents for money. This was the first place that was hers, and if they helped, it wouldn't be. Maybe she could sell her guitar, she played little these days, and it was…
"—Sterling, here at Patrick's Pub, and—"
She frowned and opened her eyes.
The news reporter was still talking, but Harper couldn't hear anything else; her attention was on the bar behind the woman. It was burning down.
In the background, she could hear screams. Firefighters yelled back and forth at each other and working to contain the situation. Eric led Ruby past the camera, he of the four-drink habit. She was crying, and there were streaks of grime down her face.
She watched for a while, then saw him. Scotch, Neat. It was only for a moment — the camera turned for a different angle, and it captured his face in the pivot. As Harper stared, he smiled. It felt almost like he smiled at her.
"Don't be ridiculous," she told herself but fumbled for her remote. She turned the news off and tried to relax. But when she grabbed her cell, her fingers were trembling, and she could almost hear the thudding of her heart.
She texted Brittney Goodwin, her best friend, then realized she had five missed calls and three voicemails. Two were from her mother, which she skipped for now, and the last from the friend she'd just texted.
Harper hit the speaker button, and Brittney's voice filled the room. Music played in the background, and she sounded buzzed. "Girl, check your phone. God, I want to tell you about this guy I met. He's cute, Harper. Not in a little-boy way either, but in the OMG-muscled way. Tall too, eyes to die for. Oh, here he comes. Okay, I have to go, we're going to his place, but listen, you can't keep working nights. It's not fun. You're missing out on nights like tonight. This club, Afterlife, had neon splash lights. Seriously. Okay, bye. Call me. Love you."
The voicemail ended, and Harper dropped her phone like it was on fire. Afterlife. It was a coincidence, that was all.
She wanted to talk about the fire, but she knew Brittney wouldn't answer while on a date.
"A date, hah," Harper said out loud. She grimaced and picked her phone back up. She scrolled to her contact for Ruby and started to text. Then she deleted it and went to take a shower.
The hot water felt wonderful on her tense shoulders. She relaxed some, but her arm throbbed after only ten minutes. She got out and inspected the cut. It was jagged, and she wondered if it would scar. Probably not.
She dumped peroxide over it, then put on her fluffy bathrobe and padded back out to her kitchen. She picked up the soda can and tossed it, then washed her few dishes. Her mind kept returning to the burning image of Patrick's, but what did it matter? She hadn't been there.
"I wasn't there," she said, as the realization hit. The woman from the bar, Chloe. She'd said that Harper was in danger. "No, don't be stupid. This wasn't about you."
Her doorbell rang.
Harper screamed, dropping the handful of silverware she was about to put away.
It rang again, and she went to it. She leaned forward on her toes, peeking out to see who was there. The older man from the downstairs unit was waiting.
Harper opened the door. "Hi, Robert. How are you?"
Robert smiled, but it wasn't his usual cheerful grin. "Well, Harper, I hate to bother you so late, but I had a strange visitor about ten minutes ago."
He nodded. "He was looking for you; that's why I'm here. Must have had the wrong unit number. But he was suspicious, so I told him you were on the other side of the complex. If he's a friend, you might want to call and correct that."
Harper shifted feet. "I'm not expecting anyone. What did he look like?"
Robert considered. "He was tall and clean-looking. He had a mustache. An older gentleman, very polite and professional. And he wore a—"
"—pinstripe suit," Harper said.
"Yes, you know him then?"
She shook her head. "No. Not well anyway. If he stops by again, please call me right away. You have my number, right?"
"My wife does," Robert said. "Harper, are you in trouble?"
She tried to smile, but it fell flat. "I don't know. Please let me know if he comes back. I hope he didn't wake you."
"We were up," he said. "My wife watches this show, it's silly, but she likes it. Eight women all trying to win over one man. He's not even that handsome."
"No, he's not," Harper said, distracted.
"If you need help — legal help — let me know. I'm retired now, but I practiced law for over thirty-five years, and my baby brother still does."
She was touched but too upset to do more than a nod. "I'll keep that in mind."
"You do that."
He headed downstairs, and she shut the door, her heart loud in her ears. She locked the door and went to her room. She put on a pencil skirt, a long-sleeved blouse, and some low heels. After adding some light makeup and refreshing her lipstick, she texted Brittney where she'd be.
It was time for answers.