“Daniela, will you please just trust me on this?”
I think she’s going to balk, but instead she takes out her phone, opens an app, and orders a car.
Looking up at me finally, she says, “Done. It’s three minutes out.”
I glance around the lobby.
The officer who escorted me here from the booking room is gone, and at the moment, we’re the only occupants aside from the woman at the welcome window. But she’s sitting behind a thick wall of protective glass, so I feel reasonably sure she can’t hear us.
I look at Daniela.
I say, “What I’m about to tell you is going to sound crazy. You’re going to think I’ve lost my mind, but I haven’t. Remember the night of Ryan’s celebration at Village Tap? For winning that prize?”
“Yeah. That was over a month ago.”
“When I walked out the door of our house that night, that’s the last time I saw you, until five minutes ago when I came through those doors.”
“Jason, I’ve seen you every day since that night.”
“That man isn’t me.”
Her face becomes dark.
“What are you talking about?”
“He’s another version of me.”
She just stares into my eyes, blinking.
“Is this some kind of trick? Or a game you’re playing? Because—”
“Not a trick. Not a game.”
I take her phone out of her hand and check the time. “It’s 12:18. I have office hours right now.”
I type in the number to my direct line on campus and hand Daniela the phone.
It rings twice, and then I hear my voice answer with, “Hi, beautiful. I was just thinking about you.”
Daniela’s mouth opens slowly.
She looks ill.
I put it on speaker and mouth, “Say something.”
She says, “Hey. How’s your day going so far?”
“Great. Finished my morning lecture, and now I’m seeing a few students over the lunch hour. Everything okay?”
“Um, yeah. I just…wanted to hear your voice.”
I grab the phone from her and mute it.
Jason says, “I can’t stop thinking about you.”
I look at Daniela, say, “Tell him you’ve been thinking, and that since we had such an amazing time in the Keys last Christmas, you want to go back.”
“We didn’t go to the Keys last Christmas.”
“I know that, but he doesn’t. I want to prove to you he’s not the man you think he is.”
My doppelgänger says, “Daniela? Did I lose you?”
She unmutes the phone. “No, I’m right here. So, the real reason for my call—”
“Wasn’t just to hear the dulcet tones of my voice?”
“I was thinking about when we went to the Keys for Christmas last year, and how much fun we all had. I know money’s tight, but what if we went back?”
Jason doesn’t miss a beat.
“Absolutely. Whatever you want, my love.”
Daniela stares into my eyes as she says into the phone, “Do you think we can get the same house we had? The pink-and-white one that was right on the beach? It was so perfect.”
Her voice breaks on the last word, and I think she’s right on the verge of losing her composure, but she somehow manages to hold the scaffolding together.
“We’ll make it work,” he says.
The phone begins to shake in her hand.
I want to tear him slowly apart.
Jason says, “Honey, someone’s waiting out in the hall to see me, so I better jump off.”
“I’ll see you tonight.”
No you won’t.
“See you tonight, Jason.”
She ends the call.
Reaching down, I squeeze her hand and say, “Look at me.”
She looks lost, addled.
I say, “I know your head is spinning right now.”
“How can you be at Lakemont and also sitting here right in front of me at the same moment?”
Her phone beeps.
A message appears on the touchscreen, advising that our car is arriving.
I say, “I’ll explain everything, but right now we need to get in this car and pick our son up from school.”
“Is Charlie in danger?”
“We all are.”
That seems to wrench her back into the moment.
Rising, I give her a hand up out of the chair.
We move across the lobby toward the precinct entrance.
A black Escalade is parked at the curb, twenty feet ahead.
Pushing through the doors, I pull Daniela along the sidewalk toward the idling SUV.
There’s no trace of last night’s storm, at least not in the sky. A fierce north wind has raked away the clouds and left in its wake a brilliant winter day.
I open the rear passenger door and climb in after Daniela, who gives the black-suited driver the address to Charlie’s school.
“Please get there as quickly as you can,” she says.
The windows are deeply tinted, and as we accelerate away from the precinct, I look over at Daniela and say, “You should text Charlie, let him know we’re coming, to be ready.”
She turns her phone over, but her hands are still shaking too badly to compose a text.
“Here, let me.”
I take her phone and open the messaging app, find the last thread between her and Charlie.
Dad and I are coming to pick you up from school right now. There’s no time to sign you out, so you’ll just have to excuse yourself to the bathroom and head out front. We’ll be in the black Escalade. See you in 10.
Our driver pulls out of the parking lot and into a street that’s been plowed clean of snow, the pavement drying out under the bright winter sun.
A couple blocks down, we pass Daniela’s navy Honda.
Two cars ahead of hers, I see a man who looks exactly like me sitting behind the wheel of a white van.
I glance through the rear window.
There’s a car behind us, but it’s too far back for me to see who’s driving.
“What is it?” Daniela asks.
“I want to make sure no one’s following us.”
“Who would be following us?”
Her phone vibrates as a new text arrives, saving me from having to answer that question.