It’s been a long day. My body begs to stretch, to move. To do anything besides sit in a car for another moment.
Once I get home to my small studio apartment, I set my briefcase on the coffee table. Later I’ll go through what’s in the folder Justin gave me. I want to get better acquainted with the case before I turn it down. But not now.
After I change into shorts, I go for a run, needing to clear my head before I fill it with more shit.
The air is humid, but at this evening hour with the sun low in the sky, it’s cool enough. I run until my lungs burn and harder still when I feel that anxious knot in the pit of my stomach that never seems to go away.
It’s dark by the time I make it back. I stand at the kitchen counter, downing the contents of my water bottle, and stare at my brown briefcase. I’ve yet to open the folder with the job I don’t want to do. Peter Cage’s case. He said he’d already followed his wife, tried to find answers himself, but there was nothing. That’s so often the situation. Love blinds people to the small details that are so blatantly obvious to everyone else. Their heart refuses to accept what their brain is telling them.
Sometimes it takes someone with an indiscriminate eye to see the little things, someone who has nothing to lose. Someone who doesn’t care about the outcome one way or another.
It’s those little things that I’m hired to find and then capture with a camera, video, sound—anything. I’d give Mr. Cage what he needs. What he chooses to do with it after would be his business.
Deciding to get it over with, I take the file and pull out its contents. There are past bank statements that show no extra influx of money and copies of bills paid from accounts unknown.
With her name in front of me now, I search for information on Mrs. Eva Jean Cage. Age thirty-five. Also known as Eva Jean Free. Related to Peter Cage III, Andrew Free, Georgia C. Free. Born in North Carolina.
She doesn’t have any social media accounts, which is unusual, especially for someone her age. Someone with children. Usually, I find media walls full of all the “Look at what I did!” and “Look at how good I look!” type of bullshit that grates on my nerves. But not her. No Facebook. And no Twitter or Instagram.
There are no bankruptcies, no liens, no criminal records.
I don’t dig further, because what I need can’t be found in any public record. What I need, I have to see for myself, then snap a picture and hand it over.
“This is fucking stupid.” I shake my head and pinch the bridge of my nose.
Closing my laptop, I shove the documents aside and go to the bathroom to take a shower, thinking if I ignore this nagging feeling, it’ll somehow go away. It doesn’t. When I come back, it’s still there.
Taking the folder to the couch, I riffle through it again.
There’s a sheet that lists the schedule of where the wife is during the day, or at least where her husband assumes she is. Mrs. Cage starts early, getting their twin sons ready for school and driving them there at eight a.m. She then either returns home to perform her daily chores or heads to her friend’s house to make jewelry. At two p.m. she picks up the children and goes home.
She wouldn’t do anything while she has her kids around, and on weekends, Mr. Cage is there. This means that whatever she’s doing is somehow happening between eight a.m. and two p.m.
Next I pull out a letter-sized envelope that contains the photographs of Mrs. Cage from different angles we would have requested.
My finger slips against the edge of the flap, slicing it open. Then when I yank it back, I drop the pictures, which scatter around me at my feet as I inspect the damage. A line of blood forms along the thin cut, and my eyes follow as a crimson bead falls to one of the photographs, where I see the face of Eva Jean Cage for the first time.
Slowly, I drop to my knees, staring in confusion and reaching for the photograph of the woman smiling back at me. With a frown, I examine it more closely. I blink to clear my eyes, hoping it’s a mirage. The blood runs along a path from her lips, to her jawline, and down her chin.
“What the fuck?”
My first reaction is to think this is some twisted joke. Maybe Justin put these pictures in by mistake. But he wouldn’t do that.
I’m shaken to my core by the sight of her, and I quickly scramble to my feet, racing to the television cabinet where I’ve stored my past and going through it until I find what I’m searching for—a picture of Lena in just about the same light, the same angle. I compare the two since I can’t trust my own memory right now.
But my mind hasn’t betrayed me. Eva does, in fact, look almost identical to Lena. Pale skin that contrasts against dark hair pulled up in a messy bun that doesn’t detract from her beauty. The straight nose and fleshy pink lips with a pronounced cupid’s bow. The oval shape of her face, high cheekbones, and long graceful neck. All the unique features that I’d stared at for hours, falling in love with them over and over again in Lena, are all there in Mrs. Cage.
Everything screams Lena to me. The only thing that belies the fact that somehow this woman is my wife reincarnated is the color of her eyes. Missing is the deep brown that shone gold in the sunlight, warming me to my core, and it’s replaced by cat-like eyes so clear and gray, I assume it has to be a trick of the camera. But for that…
I fall back and sit on the floor, feeling numb and uncertain as I scan the scattered pictures. For a long time, I stay like this, with Lena’s photo in my hand and Eva’s smile surrounding me. Taunting me.
When the moon is high enough that light pours in through the glass patio doors, I stand and go to my bed, taking Lena with me and setting her on the nightstand. I turn on the lamp and lie there, staring intently at her features and reminding myself that there was only one Lena. Only one person with that face and that smile that stole my heart.
When sleep finally drags me under, it’s to nightmarish depths, where I hold Lena in my arms and look down into her lifeless eyes. Only, they’re no longer brown; instead, they’re gray and sad.
I wake every time the bad dreams begin, startled, reaching over for someone I know isn’t there. When my hand meets the coldness of the sheets on her side, I recoil. The bed feels emptier than ever.
Turning on the television does nothing to alleviate my fear of sleep. Now it’s more than mere whispers that haunt me. It’s a vision in my mind that’s beyond the possibility of being shut out.
I know it means nothing. So many people resemble someone else. It happens every day all around the world.
But not Lena. She didn’t have that sort of face that could be found just anywhere.
Except in Mrs. Cage, it appears. The uncanny resemblance is frightening. My mind goes to her now. If I were to accept the job, would it be like seeing Lena again? Breathing. Walking. Talking.
Would she have the same gentle voice? Would she smell the same? Would her smile reach her eyes and touch my soul?
This picture of Lena was taken five years ago, when she was still happy. And it shows. Her smile is genuine. Warm. It’s a warmth I miss. A warmth I’d do anything to experience again.
Fear of my dreams makes me get up. I clean up the pictures that still lie in a mess because I couldn’t bring myself to touch them earlier.
As my eyes move over to this other woman’s face, something inside me shifts. It’s inexplicable yet seems desperate.
She was supposed to be a simple case. But I know now that nothing about this can be simple. Now it’s not just about a woman having an affair. Now it’s about me and my need to see her.
It might be three in the morning, but I don’t care. Besides, Justin has never had the courtesy to check the clock before he calls.
“The fuck? Do you know what time it is?” he grumbles.
“Who is it?” I hear Natalie’s voice in the background.
“It’s fucking Matt,” he tells her before threatening me with, “You better be dying.”
“I’m taking the case.”