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The room I was led into was stark and cold and empty. There was only a long table consuming the small room. I took a sat down on one of the hard, uncomfortable chairs and faced the two people seated across from me.
I studied them, my eyes tired, my thoughts muddled and weary. I hadn’t slept a wink last night. Who could have in the decrepit motel with the moldy smell and peeling wallpaper? If I wasn’t so exhausted and scared that someone was going to off me I would never have let them put me there. But…it wasn’t like I had a choice anymore. After all, home was no longer safe for me now.
Actually, I thought wryly, no where was safe for me now. That’s the whole point of this stupid program.
“The final paperwork has been completed,” the woman said. I looked up at her, not realizing my eyes had strayed from the two people and focused on the cracked and filthy linoleum instead.
The woman was smiling carefully at me in encouragement. She wasn’t exactly pretty—her face was too sharp for that—but she had very interesting brown eyes a warm, dark honey hue, and short medium chestnut hair that was disheveled from her running her fingers through in agitation so many times. Which was perfectly understandable. Waiting was frustrating. Filling out endless amounts of paperwork that could keep a shredding machine busy for decades was frustrating. Dealing with aggravating people who stupidly went out of their way to try and get themselves killed but whom she was forced to protect anyway was also extremely frustrating. Everything she did for her job was frustrating in my opinion.
I was frustrating in my opinion—and probably in hers too.
I caught sight of my shoes—the offspring of deadly heels and flashy violet converse. They were my favorite pair of shoes. I was bitterly surprised they’d let me take some of my clothes with me. Everything else, though, they’d forced me to leave behind. Everything I’d ever been, ever done was left behind. Even I was left behind. The me that mattered. The one that had sold millions of albums, performed at scores of concerts, completed dozens of tours, signed more autographs than it was humanly possible to count.
I wished I could go back to my job. Surprisingly enough I missed it like a physical pain. Like a limb was hacked off and abandoned, the phantom sensations still hurting. I wished I could make-out with that microphone one last time, scourge my heels into that stage one last time, lose my hearing for a while from the blasting speakers and shrieking, screaming fans one last time. I even wished I could see that annoying and slightly creepy fan/ stalker of mine. The one who I’d caught in my dressing room on several occasions and had gone so far as to follow me home and steal my garbage can and mail box.
But I did not miss my mother. Why would I miss her? I was glad she didn’t know about this. I had specifically told them not to inform her. Her life wasn’t in danger so they had no need to move her. Only I had to be moved. No one else’s lives had to be torn apart and incinerated like a confidential note or a secret lover’s letter. No one but mine.
I wondered briefly if my mother would care I was gone. Of course she would, I told myself, my mouth twisting into a humorless smile. I was her life now. Without me she’d cave in on herself and confine herself to the apartment, the lights off, the silence stifling… Not that I was the one she would be missing. The me that sang songs, performed concerts, and posed for photo shoots would be missed. The one that was an outlet for her pain and grief and ambitions. The me that feels lonely, lost, grief-stricken, afraid isn’t the one she’ll miss. The me she’s never thought existed. Or cared enough to comfort.
A broken combination of those two people was fidgeting anxiously under the discerning eyes of the professional “people protectors” in front of me.
The woman, Carly Cruz, turned to her partner. “Is the car ready?” she asked.
“Yes,” her partner said. He was a few years older than she was, probably in his early thirties, and was looking more somber than I’d seen him so far. He had a boyish face, with shaggy tawny hair and bright speckled hazel eyes. “It’s waiting around back. From here it will take her to the Safe Location. An apartment has already been secured.”
“Good, thanks, Brian.” Carly focused back on me. “Now, Eve, you understand the rules and procedures, right? We’ve been over them before, but I want to make sure you are perfectly clear on what you are and are not allowed to do. Alright?”
I delivered them mockingly. “Don’t contact anybody from my past, don’t ever tell anyone who I really am, don’t ever return to where I used to live, don’t ever try to do anything fun, exciting, or worthwhile with my life and do live as a paranoid antisocial freak who never leaves their home. Got it.”
Carly and Brian both ignored the sarcastic tone of my recital and instead Brian said, “That’s about the gist of it. As long as you follow the rules we won’t have to pay for your funeral.”
“Brian,” Carly scowled. “Don’t say that.”
“What? It’s the truth. As long as she doesn’t text an old friend or call her Aunt Sally she’ll be fine.”
“I don’t have an Aunt Sally,” I grumbled, my arms crossed tightly over my chest like I was trying to squeeze myself to death.
“Anyway,” Carly said, “just stay out of trouble, stay out of the limelight and check in with us often and you’ll be back to enjoying life again.”
“What if I wasn’t enjoying it to begin with?” I was really past the whole politeness thing. Okay, well I’d completely skipped over that, but I had tried to be at least minimally rude and unreasonable. Now, however, I was so on edge I couldn’t help it.
It was time for me to finally be moved to my permanent and unpleasant new home.
And I hated long car rides—especially ones that didn’t have leg-room or a cooler stocked with green tea and calorie-free sparkling water.
“There’s just one last thing we need you to do, Eve.”
I glared at Brian. “What? There’s more?”
“Just one final document that you need to sign and you have to sign it in your new name.” Brian pushed a piece of paper toward me and rolled a pen across the table after it.
The black blocks of words swam in front of me, and I felt a headache creeping along at my temples. “Where?” Everything ran together like a giant ugly paint spill. I was so tired I thought I saw a railing, an open door, and a pointed gun. Of course that could just be my memories haunting me again.
Carly’s finger directed my pen to the line with the X by it.
Very carefully, in my neat and dainty cursive, I signed,
Eva Valerie Starr.
My new name. Evelyn “Eve” Valentine was gone. Shut-away, erased, forgotten. Now there was only Eva Valerie. E.V. Starr. Evee.
I pushed the paper back to Brian. He and Carly got to their feet.
“Well, it looks like it’s time to go,” Brian said. “You ready, Evee?”