She Told a Lie

she told a lie

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chapter-1

drop-cap-zachary tried to stay in the zone he was in, just on the border between sleeping and waking, for as long as he could. He felt warm and safe and at peace, and it was such a good feeling he wanted to remain there as long as he could before the anxieties of consciousness started pouring in.

The warm body alongside his shifted and Zachary snuggled in, trying not to leave the cozy pocket of blankets he was in.

Kenzie murmured something that ended in ‘some space’ and wriggled away from him again. Zachary let her go. She needed her sleep, and if he smothered her, she wouldn’t be quick to invite him back.

Kenzie. He was back together with Kenzie and he had stayed the night at her house. It was the first time he’d gone there instead of her joining him in his apartment, which was currently not safe for them to sleep at because the police had busted the door in. It would have to be fixed before he could sleep there.

Kenzie lived in a little house that was a hundred times better than Zachary’s apartment, which wasn’t difficult since he had started from scratch after the fire that burned down his last apartment. While he was earning more as a private investigator than he ever had before, thanks to a few high profile murder cases, he wasn’t going to sink a lot of money into the apartment until he had built up a strong enough reserve to get him through several months of low income.

Zachary had been surprised by some of the high-priced items he had seen around Kenzie’s home the night before. He supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised, given the cherry-red convertible she drove, but he’d always assumed she was saddled with significant debts from medical school and that she would not be able to afford luxuries.

Maybe that was the reason that she had never invited him into her territory before. She didn’t want him to see the huge gap in their financial statuses.

Once Zachary’s brain started working, reviewing the night before and considering Kenzie’s circumstances as compared to his, he couldn’t shut it back off and return to that comfortable, happy place he had been just before waking. His brain was grinding away, assessing how worried he should be. Did any of it change their relationship? Did it mean that Kenzie looked down on him? Considered him inferior? She had never treated him that way, but did she think it, deep down inside?

Once he left her house, would he ever be invited back? He had only been there under exceptional circumstances and, while he hoped that it was a sign that Kenzie was willing to reconcile and work on their relationship again—as long as he was—he was afraid that it might just have been one moment of weakness. One that she would regret when she woke up and had a chance to reconsider.

With his brain cranking away at the problem and finding new things to worry about, Zachary couldn’t stay in bed. He shifted around a few times, trying to find a position that was comfortable enough that he would just drift back to sleep, but he knew that it was impossible. His body was restless and would not return to sleep again so easily.

He slid out of the bed and squinted, trying to remember the layout of the room and any obstacles. The sky was just starting to lighten, forcing a little gray light around the edges of Kenzie’s blinds and curtains. Enough to see dark shapes around him, but not enough to be confident he wouldn’t trip over something. Zachary felt for the remainder of his clothes and clutched them to him as he cautiously made his way to the bedroom door and out into the hallway.

He shut the door silently behind him so that he wouldn’t wake Kenzie up. There was an orange glow emanating from the bathroom, so he found his way there without knocking over any priceless decor. He shut the door and turned on the main light. It was blinding after the night-light. Zachary squeezed his eyes shut and waited for them to adjust to the light that penetrated his eyelids, and then gradually opened them to look around.

Everything was clean and tidy and smelled fresh. Definitely a woman’s domain rather than a bachelor pad like Zachary’s. He needed to upgrade if he expected her to spend any time at his apartment. He’d used her ensuite the night before rather than the main bath and, even though it was more cluttered with her makeup and hair and bath products, it was also cleaner and brighter than Zachary’s apartment bathroom.

He spent a couple of minutes with his morning routine, splashing water on his face and running a comb over his dark buzz-cut before making his way to the living room, where he’d left his overnight bag when he and Kenzie had adjourned for the night. He pulled out his laptop and set it on the couch while it booted up, wandering into the kitchen and sorting out her single-cup coffee dispenser to make himself breakfast.

chapter-2

drop-cap-it was some time before he heard Kenzie stirring in the bedroom and, eventually, she made her way out to the living room. She had an oriental-style dressing gown wrapped around her. She rubbed her eyes, hair mussed from sleep.

Kenzie yawned. “Good morning.”

“Hi.” Zachary gave her a smile that he hoped expressed the warmth and gratitude he felt toward her for letting him back into her life, even if it was only for one night. “How was your sleep?”

“Good.” Kenzie covered another yawn. “How about you? Did you actually get any sleep?”

“I slept great.” Zachary wasn’t lying. He didn’t usually sleep well away from home. For that matter, he didn’t sleep that well at home either. But after facing off with Lauren’s killer and dealing with the police, he had been exhausted, and the comfort he had found in Kenzie’s arms and the luxurious sheets in her bed had quickly lulled him to sleep. There was a slight dip in the middle of her mattress, testifying to the fact that she normally slept alone, and that had made it natural for them to gravitate toward each other during the night. It had been reassuring to have someone else in bed with him after what seemed like an eon of lonely nights.

It was the best night’s sleep he’d had in a long time.

“You couldn’t have slept for more than three or four hours,” Kenzie countered.

“Yes… but it was still a really good sleep.”

“Well, good.” She bent down to kiss him on the forehead.

Zachary felt a rush of warmth and goosebumps at the same time. She didn’t appear to regret having allowed him to stay over. “Do you want coffee? I figured out the machine.”

“Turn it on when you hear me get out of the shower. That should be about right.”

“Do you want anything else? Bread in the toaster?”

“The full breakfast treatment? I could get used to this. Yes, a couple of slices of toast would be nice.”

Zachary nodded. “Coffee and toast it is,” he agreed.

He saw her speculative look, wondering whether he would actually remember or whether he would be distracted by something else.

“I’ll do my best,” Zachary promised. “But it better be a short shower, because if it’s one of those two-hour-long ones, I might forget.”

“I have to get to work today, so it had better be a quick one.”

He did manage to remember to start both the coffee and the toast when she got out of the shower, and even heard the toast pop and remembered to butter it while it was hot. He had it on the table for Kenzie when she walked in, buttoning up her blouse.

“Nice!” Kenzie approved.

“Do you want jam?”

“There’s some marmalade in the fridge.”

Zachary retrieved the jar and made a mental note that he should get marmalade the next time he was shopping for groceries. If that were her preferred condiment, then he should make an effort to have it for her when she came to his apartment. He tried to always get things for her when he was shopping because, as Bridget put it, he ate like a Neanderthal. Not one of those fad caveman diets, but like someone who had never learned how to cook even the simplest foods. Most of his food was either ready to eat or just needed to be microwaved for a couple of minutes.

Or he could order in. He could use a phone even if he couldn’t use a stove.

“So, your big case is solved,” Kenzie said. “What are your plans for the day?”

“I still need to report to the client and issue my bill. Then I’ve got a bunch of smaller projects I should catch up on, now that I’ll have some more time. And I need to get my door fixed. I wouldn’t want to impose on you for too long.”

Kenzie spread her marmalade carefully to the edge of the toast. “It was nice last night. I’m glad you called.”

Zachary’s face got warm. All they had done was to talk and cuddle, but he had needed that so badly. He had been concerned that she would be disappointed things had gone no further, so he was reassured that she had enjoyed the quiet time together too. Their relationship had been badly derailed by the abuse Zachary had suffered at Archuro’s hands, which had also brought up a lot of buried memories of his time in foster care. However much he wanted to be with Kenzie, he couldn’t help his own visceral reaction when things got too intimate.

“Hey,” Kenzie said softly, breaking into his thoughts. “Don’t do that. Come back.”

Zachary tried to refocus his attention on her, to keep himself anchored to the present and not the attack.

“Five things?” Kenzie suggested, prompting Zachary to use one of the exercises his therapist had given him to help him with dissociation.

Zachary took a slow breath. “I smell… the coffee. The toast.” He breathed. “Your shampoo. The marmalade. I… don’t know what else.”

His own sweat. He should have showered and dressed before Kenzie got up. Greeted her smelling freshly-scrubbed instead of assaulting her with the rank odor of a homeless person.

Kenzie smiled. “Better?” She studied his face for any tells.

Zachary nodded. “Yeah. Sorry.”

“It’s okay. It’s not your fault.”

He still felt completely inadequate. He should be able to have a pleasant morning conversation with his girlfriend without dissociating or getting mired in flashbacks. It shouldn’t be that hard.

“Are you going to have something to eat? There’s enough bread for you to have toast too,” Kenzie teased.

“No, not ready yet.”

“Well, don’t forget. You still need to get your weight back up.”

Zachary nodded. “I’ll have something in a while.”

He still hadn’t eaten when he left Kenzie’s. She was on her way into work, and he didn’t want her to feel like she had to let him stay there in her domain while she was gone so, by the time she was ready for work, he had repacked his overnight bag and was ready to leave as well. She didn’t make any comment or offer him the house while she was gone.

“Well, good luck with your report to Lauren’s sister today. I know that part of the job is never fun.”

Zachary nodded. “Yeah. And then collecting on the bill. Sorry your sister was murdered, but could you please pay me now?” He rolled his eyes.

Kenzie shook her head. “At least I don’t have to ask for payment when I give people autopsy results.”

They paused outside the door. Zachary didn’t know what to say to Kenzie or how to tell her goodbye.

“Call me later,” Kenzie advised. “Let me know whether you got your door fixed or not.”

Zachary exhaled, relieved. She wasn’t regretting having invited him in. She would put up with him for another night if he needed her.

“Thanks, I will.”

Kenzie armed the burglar alarm on the keypad next to the door and shut it. Zachary heard the bolt automatically slide into place.

“See you,” Kenzie said breezily. She pulled him closer by his coat lapel and gave him a brief peck on the lips. “Have a good day.”

Zachary nodded, his face flushing and a lump in his throat preventing him from saying anything. Kenzie opened the garage door. Zachary turned and walked down the sidewalk to his car. He tried hard not to be needy, not to turn around and watch as she backed the car out onto the street, checking to see whether she were still watching him and would give him one more wave before she left. But he couldn’t help himself.

She waved in his direction and pulled onto the street.

Late in the afternoon, Zachary headed back to his apartment, hoping to find when he got there that the door had been repaired and he could feel safe there once more. Of course, if the door had been fixed, he would need another reason to go back to Kenzie’s. Or he could invite her to join him and they could go back to their usual routines. Just because she had allowed him over to her house once, that didn’t mean she would be comfortable with him being there all the time.

But he could see the splintered doorframe as he walked down the hall approaching his apartment. The building manager had promised to make it a priority, but it looked like whatever subcontractor he had called hadn’t yet made it there. Zachary pushed the door open and looked around.

Nothing appeared to have been rifled or taken in his absence. Of course, he didn’t have much of value. He’d taken all of his electronics with him and didn’t exactly have jewelry or wads of cash lying around. Anyone desperate enough to rifle his drawers and steal his shirts probably needed them worse than he did.

Though he hadn’t thought about the meds in the cabinet. There were a few things in there that might have some street value.

Zachary started to walk toward the bedroom, but stopped when he heard a noise. He froze and listened, trying to zero in on it. It was probably just a neighbor moving around. Or a pigeon landing on the ledge outside his window. They spooked him sometimes with the loud flapping of their wings when they took off.

He waited, ears pricked, for the sound to be repeated.

Could it have been a person? There in his apartment?

The last time he’d thought that someone was rifling his apartment and had called the police, it had been Bridget. She’d still had a key to the old apartment. She’d checked in on him at Christmas, knowing that it was a bad time for him, and had cleaned out his medicine cabinet to ensure that he didn’t overdose.

It wouldn’t be Bridget this time.

She didn’t have a key to the new apartment, though he would have been happy to give her one if she had wanted it. Bridget was no longer part of his life and he needed to keep his distance from her, both to avoid getting slapped with a restraining order and because he was with Kenzie, and he needed to be fair to her. There was no going back to his ex-wife. She had a new partner and was pregnant. She didn’t want anything to do with him.

There was another rustle. He was pretty sure it was someone in his bedroom. But it didn’t sound like they were doing anything. Just moving quietly around.

Waiting for him?

He hated to call the police and have it be a false alarm. But he also didn’t want to end up with a bullet in his chest because he walked in on a burglary in progress.

Unlike private investigators on TV, Zachary didn’t carry a gun. He didn’t even own one. With his history of depression and self-harm, it had always been too big a risk.

Zachary eased his phone out of his pocket, moving very slowly, trying to be completely silent. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do when he got it out. If he called emergency, he would have to talk to them to let them know what was going on. They wouldn’t be able to triangulate his signal to a single apartment.

Just as he looked down at the screen and moved his thumb over the unlock button, it gave a loud squeal and an alert popped up on the screen. Zachary jumped so badly that it flew out of his hand, and he scrambled to catch it before it hit the floor. He wasn’t well-coordinated, and he just ended up hitting it in the air and shooting it farther away from him, to smack into the wall and then land on the floor.

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

She Told a Lie

By P.D. Workman

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