The Reckless Secret

By: Alexa Wilder

And he didn’t disappoint. Ronald Mitchell, Maggie’s mistake of an ex-boyfriend, had a sneer the size of Texas on his face when she hurried in, breathless and apologetic.

“For someone so determined to have independence,” he said, spitting the same word back at her that she’d yelled at him months ago, “you’d think you might figure out how to set an alarm.”

“Family crisis,” she snapped at him, half lying, as she yanked off her coat and stuffed it in her locker. “Don’t you have work to do?”

He was always here in the staff room with her whenever she needed to use it, almost like he was stalking her, but for the sole purpose of chipping away at her, berating her, reminding her—daily—of why she’d split up with him.

“Unlike you, I’ve been here since dawn.”

“And unlike you,” she said, “I don’t have my mom at home to wake me up every morning.” The sass came out without any real bite, and she sighed as she slumped onto the bench, bending over to pull off her shoes. “I couldn’t fall asleep.”

He paused. And then, stiffly: “I told you to stop drinking coffee so late in the day.”

“You also told me to quit my job and spend my life serving you.” Work shoes slipped on, she smiled up at him as she stood. “So forgive me if I completely ignore you.”

The icy smugness of his voice stopped her as she headed for the door. “Dr. Stevens is looking for you,” he drawled, the unpleasantness of it creeping down her spine, “so I’d wipe that smirk off my face if I were you.”

She swallowed and turned to face him, biting back her utter repulsion of his presence enough to ask, “Did he say what he wanted?”

He sniffed in a way that said he knew exactly what it was, but he wasn’t going to tell her about it.

She huffed, rolled her eyes. “Fine, whatever,” she said, leaving the room with what she hoped was a modicum of dignity, even as her heart hammered against her ribcage and her stomach churned with anxiety. Dr. Stevens hated her, and there was no way he wanted to see her for anything that would put a smile on her face.

But neither could she think of anything she might have done wrong, except her lateness this morning—and that wasn’t enough for him to punish her in any way, was it? She was only late by a few minutes, and she still had twenty minutes before her first round.

She passed her friend Ashley at the nurses’ station as she headed to Dr. Stevens’ office, and they shared a troubled smile, making Maggie’s stomach tense even more as she realized that Ashley knew, too. Whatever it was. Whatever had happened this morning that she’d missed, being a couple of damn minutes late. And Ashley wasn’t the only one: three other people gave Maggie worried looks as she walked past, almost like she was heading down the green mile and at the end of it was her last meal…

There was a slight tremble to her hand as she knocked on Dr. Stevens’ office door.

He called her in, and then didn’t bother to look up at her as she entered the room, closed the door, and stood in front of his desk. He continued to write instead, scrawling on a large document, glasses perched on the edge of his bulbous nose and the silence in this room so thick and oppressive that the scratch-scratch of his messy writing was deafening to her, matching the amplification of her thunderous heartbeat in her ears.

“Ah, Ms. Emerson,” he said eventually, his tone soft and sneering. He placed his pen back in its holder and folded his hands on the desktop. “Good of you to join us.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I overslept, and traffic coming in this morning—”

“Traffic?” He raised a disdainful eyebrow. “I would’ve thought your driver might know how to avoid midtown rush hour…”

She blinked. “My driver?”

“Yes,” he said, dragging the word out. “Your family makes use of an entire fleet of town cars, do they not?”

“I—yes?” This was new. Dr. Stevens wasn’t exactly subtle about his dislike for her, but he’d never brought her family into it before. “I don’t, though.”

He tipped his head as if to say, “If you say so,” his disbelief entirely evident, and she had half a mind to set him straight, if it wasn’t for him catching her off guard with his next words.

“You know about the stealing, yes?”

It was like someone had very slowly, very delicately, dropped an ice cube into her gut. “No. I don’t know anything about the stealing.”

He observed her for a long moment. “Hmm,” he said, and then, “Have a seat, Ms. Emerson.”

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