I remembered you saying you’d long loved New York, ever since visiting over the various summers of your childhood. I remembered the delight on your face when we visited, your family letting me join in a long-running summer ritual. I knew that if you were to vanish, you’d try to do so in a city packed full of people. Exiting my hotel, I made a line for the nearest bookstore, a tiny place easily missed if you walked by too fast.
The salesgirl glanced up from a thick paperback as I walked in, my presence announced by the creaking door, and decided I seemed the type who didn’t need assistance. Somehow I was drawn to the second-hand section, where I found a battered copy of The Fountainhead. It had the same cover as you’d had, and I flashed back to one winter night when I’d been at your house. I’d found you in the library, curled up by the fireplace, reading a book with this cover.
The front page bore an inscription, inked in purple, and phrased in Latin. The handwriting was yours.
I took the book to the till, and the girl smiled slightly. “We just got this in yesterday,” she commented, as if talking about the weather. It infuriated me at how calm she was – didn’t she realize what that meant to me?
I paid and took it, less concerned with reading it than scanning for notes and annotations, as you were wont to do.
You’d been here just yesterday. That was definitely a good omen.
I hit the accelerator, not caring for the fact that trees and buildings were blurring past. I no longer recognized the area I was in, driving on autopilot. I’d seen you as I met a friend at the airport, and recognized you instantly. You were no different, other than aging eight years, and I couldn’t risk you seeing me. That would undo all my hard work.
Glancing in the rear-view mirror, I ensured that my hair was still the ink-black and purple I’d coloured it and that my eyes were still gray.
Signs sped past, telling me the roads I was on, and if I’d cared to look I probably could’ve identified my location to the nearest city.
Not for the first time I allowed myself to think about how much easier life might be if I turned around and went back. I rarely felt this out of control and took that out on my driving, speeding more than I should have and ignoring the petrol gauge.
An hour later, I guided my car into the parking of a rundown-looking motel that declared itself to have vacancies. I checked in, ignoring the strange looks for not having any other possessions than an oversized handbag, and lay down on the bed, covering my face as if to shield myself from others.
It had been a close call indeed.