Kate Foley snored[She sleeps like the dead with him, and with other boys, but only when she wasn’t at work. She never slept much while on the job.] alone in bed, deeply asleep in a way her boyfriend never could snore, who shared the bed and in fact owned it, in fact owned just about everything in the apartment, had still not in months become used to the noise or gravity of that mountainous inhalation. It came from nowhere he could ascertain, not her throat or chest or deeper. But he’d grown to it, and it wasn’t wonderful but what could he do?[Repeat this.] He stood barefoot twenty feet from her, his back to her and a wall between them, his downturned sleepily half-watching the foggy brim of water turn from still to feverish, half-watching his phone[Ollie always has a phone in his hand.] in the other hand, flicking, flicking, flicking. He’d been awake since the snoring broke through his dreams, as it did every morning she stayed over, which was invariable as of late, since he asked her to basically move in and she basically did even though she brought basically nothing, which caused a suspicion he brought up during third-beer rants about privacy and trust, her defense being she didn’t like to own things, as if that was a rational stance about anything[Repeat this.].
Ollie poured water into a contraption that eventually produced decent coffee, not worrying about making noise. Cups clanged on the breakfast tray, a small silver plate with foldout legs, a pattern of an aluminum flower against an aluminum sky underneath two cups of coffee and a plate of bacon, scrambled eggs, leftover sausage. Ollie made or reheated these things while listening to a dulcet podcast[Ollie listens to podcasts about nicer versions of the things he does.] about fancier ways of making coffee. He put the tray down on the floor beside her, and he sat on the bed and put his hand gently on her hair, petting it slightly. She didn’t stir, but she stopped snoring and started to sort of purr, and then in a few moments rose to consciousness, a vacation smile appearing on her face as she remembered where and who she was.
“Do I have to get up?” She asked like a six year old.
Ollie said, “I made you breakfast. Then you can do what you want.”
“I’m going to try to not get too used to this,” she said. “You spoil me. You treat me like a princess.”
“I treat you like a person,” he said, getting up and heading towards the shower. “It’s just that most people don’t know how to do that.”
Next to Kate on the reclaimed alabaster nightstand sat an alarm clock, black, analogue, with hands that glowed in the dark. She had bought it as a joke, because it was her second one. The original sat just right of it, digital and glowing with green numbers, an army of buttons above and behind them to help out with settings and radio preferences. Sitting comfortably just behind the original was a third, this one a cute Japanese ball clock shaped like the head of a cat. To snooze, you had to pull a level in the back that slowly lifted up again to trigger the alarm every ten minutes. There were two other alarms, but they didn’t matter. What mattered is that her nightstand was just alarm clocks, 5 trinkets recognizing hearty ambition and futile practicality. She would buy a new one and within days her unconscious muscle memory would figure out the exact motion needed to not only hit snooze but disable the alarm entirely. She had no real power to stop it. At first, she had them trigger all at the same time, so she would need to exert some real effort to kill them all. Later, she scheduled them at 5 minute intervals. Nothing helped. She sleepily gazed over at her collection of attempts at a possible morning. None of them really did the trick.
Kate chewed on bacon in bed. She flipped around on her phone, liking posts and deleting spam. The coffee was perfect and nothing hurt[This is a reference to something. Find it?]. She’d been seeing this guy for about six months, and he knew how to wake her up and not ask too many questions. She hadn’t once thought of running. Well, she’d thought about it as a routine measure, but not because of anything he did. In his bed, eating his bacon and using his wifi, she considered the possibility of it actually working out. Could she just coast like this forever? She’d lied well enough. He wasn’t suspicious of anything. He didn’t seem to stress about the unknowns. Ollie didn’t seem to stress about anything, as if he’d bottled the ability to glide through life. Did this bother her on some level? She asked herself this before, and the answer was no, then. It was still no. So many problems she usually ran into with her life and with her relationships was still turning up no. She almost didn’t know how to deal with it, except with the dumb reminder that there was nothing to deal with. So long as she could keep up a healthy facade, there was no drama.
“Oh!” Ollie yelled from the shower. “You got a letter. This morning. It’s on the desk in the living room. Three hours before the mail guy usually comes. And even though you don’t live here.”
Kate’s toes tightened, head cocked out to the window. She stood, consciously feeling the adrenaline that came to her in these moments.
Ollie yelled from the shower. “Did you change your mailing address?”
Kate found her shirt and shorts crumpled on the floor at the foot of the bed, everything wrinkled and tired and yesterday. She buttoned up and scrambled to find the letter. It was the only thing on the living room table counter, save his laptop and her purse. She snatched it up, as if the haste of possession would wipe away the fact that he knew about the thing, and they could go back to normal. But as she fingered the lip and tried to suss out its contents without actually ripping the thing open, she knew this would make things curlier than she was willing to handle.
There was the further complication of the letter arriving on a Saturday.
Neither Kate nor Ollie had to work today. They hadn’t made plans. They hadn’t made plans past Friday night. It wasn’t the first weekend where this had happened, spurs dug deep in the moment. A date turning into a weekend. Kate smiled at this rarity in her life. Ollie made her feel like she didn’t have to worry about mysterious mail. But yet she did, as such a thing was in her hand, brought to his attention by the fact that this wasn’t even close to her address, was a whole day off from normal mail hours, and would surely prompt at least a few questions.
About the topic of work, Kate had been thin. In the blurry first few months of this relationship, Kate had equally blurred what it was she did. He knew there was an office she occasionally visited. He knew a lot of correspondence happened over email, and that the work seemed both important and classified (at least, classified from him). Ollie asked few questions, but the ones he did ask illuminated borders around the answer.
“So what is it you do with your days?” He asked once while on an early date in his most mid-western American accent, something he did when making fun of dating tropes. It was an accent that came a little too easy for him, as if he had family or business of his own south from Alberta.
She answered with nonsense. “It depends on the day.” On this date, they sat opposite each other on a long bench, christmas lights above them spidered around planks that let in the moon, creating an atmosphere of old country idealism, the smell of months of barbeque and endless summer in April. There were other people flanking both of them but nobody noticed one another until they wanted to be friendly. She said, “Some days I file reports. Some days I stop buildings from exploding. Some days I make people fall in love. And some days I stop that.”
Kate didn’t know how Ollie took this, except that he picked up another rib bone and smiled and said, “That sounds like quite the job,” and somehow didn’t ask any questions about any of the obvious things to ask questions about. He didn’t pry into the actual goings on, her odd hours, the unbelievability of anything she’d said in this moment or in similar subsequent scenarios. Kate and Ollie went on a lot of dates. He knew so many great hidden places in a city not particularly known for its mystery. The night before the letter appeared, they’d eaten in the kitchen of a Kensington second floor. A friend of a Facebook friend cooked them duck in her kitchen and played George Jones songs on the violin in the other room while they enjoyed her view.
And now Kate sat full and hungover, needing more coffee and time and not needing the drama that comes from letters that had no business here. They couldn’t have sent it to her house? They couldn’t have just emailed her? The act was upsetting, but not entirely without precedent. They did know where she was just about all the time. What employer didn’t these days, if they wanted to? This wasn’t the first item they’d sent to her out of nowhere. She’d had this job for close to ten years. Other pieces of unwelcome mail had made it into her hands, sometimes very far away from home.
She did not want to open the letter with Ollie around. She’d have to explain its contents, but mostly her reaction. She decided to fetch coffee for them, from the third closest coffee shop two blocks away. She chose it for distance, and their dynamite dark roast. As well, nobody bothers people who open their mail in busy coffee shops.
“I’m just going out to get us some coffee, back soon!” She stubbed her toe on a baseboard near his door. She didn’t bleed. She wasn’t even sure if Ollie heard her. Sneakers on, she exited into the daylight, walked down his steel steps[Detail: Ollie lives in a second-flooor walkup.] and found the street. Beaming daylight, evaporating a little bit of morning hail.
Kate’s laceless blue[Shoe detail.] sneakers make no noise. When she bought them, she felt like a cat burgler. She exclaimed, “for sneaking!”[Homer the Vigilante. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Recap/TheSimpsonsS5E11HomerTheVigilante] in her most fangirl voice when the salesgirl asked her if she had any special plans for the shoes. Her excitement mostly proved accurate. They were exceptionally helpful when sneaking was required. Kate could get right up behind a person—and sometimes right in front—without them noticing, which afforded her the moments that eventually got her paid. She wondered what sneaking she’d have to do for this letter, besides the paper bastard thing itself.
She reached the doors of the coffee shop. She still had no idea what the coffee shop was actually called, since there was no actual signage. Still, everyone knew about it and at eight on a Saturday was almost full. Of the dozen or so seats, there were only two free. Kate sat down near the window looking out on the street. She could see out a lot easier than she could see in. Holding the letter in her hands, she took a deep, experienced breath, and tore a corner.
“Kate?” An excited voice echoed from several feet behind her.
Kate pulled the letter to her chest, moved it down into a shorts pocket, then turned.
A tall, fit girl in difficult-looking long red curls approached Kate with the slick confidence of finding lost treasure. “Holy shit, I can’t believe it. How are you?”
Kate’s eyes went wide as performance. “I…great. I’m great.”
“You look amazing,” the girl said. “I mean, you always looked amazing, but it’s been forever, you know? What are you doing now?”
The girl stood and towered over her by a few inches. The stool made her feel inadequate, but standing up to greet her wouldn’t really help with that.
Looking past the girl, it was then Kate noticed the man. He sat on a couch next to the sugar and milk table, and the traffic from that area concealed him half the time. What she mostly noticed about him was that he was looking back at her. He wasn’t doing that thing you see in coffee shops, where people look around and maybe linger on a pretty face or an engaging conversation. He looked like he was searing her image in his head, as if she’d wronged him in his ancient past, and he’d just found her after all these years. It was entirely possible. Nobody had ever tracked her down, but she’d entertained the idea that someone she had altered would figure out the whole racket and track her down, try to rattle the truth from her somehow, exact a kind of revenge, though she had no idea what sort it might be. But perhaps he was just a creepy guy in a public place. These things do happen.
Perhaps this wasn’t the place to open something like a Saturday letter after all.
Kate’s face thankfully didn’t communicate how much of a misfire it had been to come here. Of course, the moment she needed some proper city privacy someone (possibly two people) would recognize her (possibly from two different pasts). What it did communicate, however, was that she had no idea who this girl was. She thought maybe the best thing to do was be clear about that much, at least.
“Sorry, maybe it’s your hair, which is goddamn awesome by the way. It must be a lot of work, and maybe leave-in conditioner? I’m seriously envious of the colour. But yeah, I’m sorry, can you just remind me where we know one another?”
“Are you serious?” the girl responded, her ego maybe a little bruised. But she bounced back. “It’s fine. You’re Kate Foley. Of course you don’t remember me.”
“What’s that supposed to…” Kate stopped herself. “Do I do that?”
The girl nodded. “I’m Alice.”
A beat went by.
“You know, Alice.”
Kate reached in her mind for an Alice file of any kind. She had a turtle named Alice when she was six. The girl was probably not her turtle come back to life with curls out of a Victorian-era BBC series.
Alice stressed, “I used to live with Shawn.”
“Oh right!” Kate lied with the exclamation of an amateur. “Alice. How are you? How’s Shawn? How’s everyone? Everything?”
Alice blinked twice in acknowledgment of her own apparent forgetfulness. She shrugged.
“Look, there’s a thing tonight if you want to come. Shawn might be there. I don’t know. He’s…well, I guess you haven’t kept in touch.”
Alice shifted her weight, waiting for Kate to grow some curiosity about this whole side of things she’d left alone for apparently more years than she’d realized. Where had it gone? She was friends with these people at one point. It felt like she’d just left the room, gone to do some other thing for just some small amount of time, and then eight years went by. Kate apologized in recognition.
“It’s fine,” Alice said. “It’s just really nice to see you, to see that you’re doing all right.”
Across the room on the couch, the man who was looking at her wavered. He instead looked down, and was probably looking down to his phone, likely typing with a vigor of an early teenager, the type who’s primary computer was their phone, had in fact never become good at the old big keyboards adults felt were the “real” kind. She couldn’t see all of him so he appeared to just be pushing his hands into his crotch. It wasn’t the best visual, but it was just so common that she knew exactly what was happening. There were two other people in the shop doing it. But he did look up for a moment and lock eyes with her. That he knew she was looking back did nothing to deter him. Her heart rate did not go up.
“Let’s get back in touch,” Kate said. She surprised herself. It’s not that she was hoping Alice would just disappear, but Kate didn’t always look forward to the unexpected. She had to do unexpected for work. She did not call unexpected up for more later. But she pulled out her phone and made a new contact. “What’s your number?”
Alice smiled again, like she did when she first saw Kate a few moments ago, before the awkwardness. She typed her number into Kate’s phone and handed it back. They hugged, palms touching shoulders, but no fingers, and Alice excused herself, saying she needed to get to work.
Kate waited until the last polite second and asked, “Will Scott be there?”
Alice turned on her heel and looked down, opened her mouth, and lifted and eyebrow. “Why the fuck would Scott be there?” She didn’t wait for an answer. Maybe she didn’t even want Kate to show up, now, having been so far removed.
She checked back to the couch to see if the man was still watching her. Her face flushed when she found an empty seat. He may have had nothing to do with anything. This happened, from time to time. She had visions of being followed, or led, watched, or studied. She pictured a larger ring of influence on her. What kind of file did they have on her? When would they strike? Or would they never? Would they just watch her, forever, to make sure events in which she stood key went as they wanted.
Kate reminded herself. A side effect of knowing that there’s something bigger going on is dreading the ever bigger thing going on. How big does it get? How far up does it go? She told herself, *all the way to the top, usually*. This is normal. This is expected. She should be wary of strangers who leer a little too long. She should watch out for the quiet ones. She was right to notice him. This is just how it was.
She remembered the letter in her pocket. Finally alone, she walked up to the till and asked a woman with the most dedicated half-pompadour she’d ever seen for a pair of coffees to go. After waiting seven minutes, she sat back down again in the corner seat near the window, unopened and unsweetened black coffees sitting beside her elbow, and placed a fingernail in the envelope’s crevice.
Kate read nonsense. She knew better to just minimize it like that, but that’s how she usually took these things at first. She’d re-read it until a meaning arrived, or until an event or person came into her life that gave the cryptic bastard[Sinfest lil’ Buddha.] a home in the universe. But until that time, it would be gibberish. But Kate knew that was also kind of the point. A physical letter could be read by anybody. It couldn’t make all that much sense. It had to look like the ramblings of a fan fiction enthusiast. Kate kept an eye on the shop as she read, but almost every person just stared at their phones. What was the point in being paranoid in a world where nobody cared about anything? You could conspire about the worst things imaginable out in the open, and most people would just assume you were talking about a tower defense game.
“Agent F,” it began, as if that was a thing she’d ever called herself. She’d accumulated a couple of nicknames she’d liked[Come back to this later.], but her official designation was never cool. “In ten days, you’ll board a ship that’ll eventually take you to Pago Pago[http://www.princess.com/excursion/exlistfordestination.do?portid=PPG&t=H&exType=S]. The trip will take approximately two months[Modify this with facts later.]. More instructions to follow.”
Kate’s job required her to be in certain places of the world for long enough amounts of time to make sure the things she affected actually worked. She would sometimes have to spend months holed up in small hotel rooms while watching a single street with binoculars. She’d spent six weeks frequenting a single internet cafe in South Korea, so much so that she succumbed to a lol[League of Legends.] habit that still itched. Kate lost a year of her life “married” in “Minnesota.” Two months was a short trip in comparison, but still long enough to make her swear out loud, alerting none of the several people close enough to hear.