I take off my clothes and put on the long white dress with the slanted shoulders. It looks good on me, and my knees are neatly tucked away underneath the dress, which are always an eye sore. I bunch up my hair and push in the hairpin. When I put on the pumps, the picture is complete. It looks fabulous … but I don’t feel the same way. There’s a pang of guilt in my stomach, and it shows on my face.
“Yes?” I look up and hold my breath. It’s Jill. “Easton? Why are you calling? Is something the matter?”
“Oh no, that sounds bad,” she continues. “A notebook? No, I haven’t seen her carry it.”
How does he know the notebook is missing? I still have his key in my panties. There’s no way he could’ve looked inside his drawer unless he has a spare key.
My mind is reeling, and my body is shaking right now.
What do I do now? Easton knows I stole the notebook, and he won’t take it lightly. I can’t go back to the mansion. But now that Jill’s found out too, she’ll probably take me back on his orders.
She can’t see me, not now. I have to get away.
“Hallo? Heb je hulp nodig?” It’s a voice I don’t recognize and language I can’t speak, so I lift away the curtain a tiny bit. It’s the cashier, and she’s smiling at me as if she’s trying to sell me something and I don’t think Jill knows. But maybe I can use this to my advantage.
“Do you speak English?” I ask in a hurry.
“Oh, yes, of course.” She clears her throat. “Do you need any help?”
“I love the clothes,” I say, sucking up to her. “I just … I was wondering if I could use your bathroom?” I add a cutesy smile as a gesture of goodwill.
She frowns and parts her lips, then rubs them together as though she’s contemplating it. “I’m sorry, but it’s for staff only—”
“It’s just that I’m pregnant, and I have this terrible urge every time I leave the house, even if just to shop. Maybe I should’ve stayed home.”
I’m making it up as I go along, but her eyes light up the moment I mention that I shouldn’t have come here.
“Oh, congratulations! Hmm … I’m sure we could make an exception for you,” she says with a wink.
Of course, she suddenly can. No one likes to lose a customer, especially not when they’re loaded with cash, which I’m sure she knows, judging from the way she’s staring at my diamond ring.
“That’d be amazing. Thank you,” I answer, and I push the curtain farther back.
“C’mon, it’s in the back,” she says, walking off through the store.
Before I follow her, I check to see if Jill’s around, but she’s still staring at the clothing racks, comparing two different sizes of the same dress.
I tag along behind the cashier, who’s walking as though she has a plug up her ass. But her slow walk through the door in the back causes me to catch a glimpse of something important. A key dangling out of her pocket. A key that might open the escape door right in front of us.
She swiftly spins on her heels as we reach the bathroom door. “There you go.”
She holds the door open for me as if she’s waiting for me to go inside so she can lock it behind me, but I know that’s not how these toilet doors work. I’m just paranoid.
So paranoid … that I bump into her on the way inside.
“Sorry!” I mutter as she catches me. “Sorry. The pregnancy’s made me all woozy.” I laugh, and she laughs too. Then I go inside and lock the door behind me.
But I don’t pee.
I sit there in complete darkness … staring at the key in my hand.
She didn’t even notice that I took it when I bumped into her because she was too busy trying to keep me from falling. I can’t believe this sly trick worked.
My heart pounds, and beads of sweat trickle down my back as I wait a few seconds until I hear nothing but my own breaths. Then I unlock the door and go out. Jill’s voice from the front of the store is audible right through the door.
“Charlotte? Where is the girl with the pink hair? Uh … War iz Charlotte? Rosé har?” She’s trying to speak Dutch and failing miserably, but she sounds more agitated by the second. I don’t have any time to lose, so I don’t think twice before I turn the other way toward the fire exit with the large green “escape” button on it. The irony isn’t wasted on me as I slip the key into the lock and open the door.
I burst out into the sunlight, blinking a couple of times so my eyes can adjust to the brightness. I breathe in a couple of times, cherishing the smell of freedom …
And I come face to face with one of Easton’s guards.
He was probably keeping the coast clear here, in case I’d try to escape.
I can’t even blink before he grabs me and holds me tight.
I squeal, but he covers my mouth, so I stomp on his foot. His grip on my body loosens for a second, and I spin on my heels to make a run for it. He catches up within three steps and jumps on me from behind. We tumble to the floor, and I claw at his face, scratching his cheeks.
He twists me around on the ground and grabs me with his burly arms, throwing me over his shoulder. My heart races, and my mind is reeling.
No. I can’t go back. I can’t ever go back.
In desperation, I grab the hairpin in my hair … and stick it right into his side multiple times.
The bodyguard collapses to his knees, and I fall right on top of him.
I scramble to my feet and glance at him over my shoulder. My feet are ready to go, but I can’t leave him like that, can I?
Blood pours from his wounds as he growls in pain, and guilt rushes through my veins. But I can’t tend to him. I won’t get another chance to escape, I have to grasp this moment. I have to go … now!
“I’m sorry,” I mutter, and I turn and run off.
A sharp voice makes me turn my head.
It’s Jill, her eyes widened, her jaw dropped as we come face to face while she clenches the doorpost, and I’m outside in the alley. The moment of silence seems eternal. Her eyes reflect the pain of betrayal, the regret of not stopping me, and all the consequences she’ll have to endure because of my escape.
I’m sorry for putting all of this on her because I know Easton won’t treat her well once he finds out, but I can’t stop now that I’ve come so far.
I wish I could say goodbye. That I could tell her I didn’t hate her, I don’t blame her for what happened to me, and I wish she’d make a better choice the next time around.
After all, Easton will still be the same power-hungry control freak.
But one thing’s for sure … it’s not going to be me.
And with a final smile sent her way, I drop her pager on the ground and run.