Abby entered the quiet office at her normal Monday morning time. Only she and the other secretaries arrived this early, and even though it was 7:30 a.m., the other two were already there. She smiled at Parker’s secretary who was heading towards the kitchen, no doubt to make the morning’s first of many pots of coffee. The other woman gave a quick wave in reply. Rhonda came out of the restroom just as Abby reached her desk. Giving Abby a timid smile, Rhonda headed toward Hughes’s office, turning on the lights as she went.
Abby sat down in her chair and absently reached for the stack of papers she left in the center of her desk the night before. Instead of paper, she felt cool glass. She pulled her hand back and spun in surprise. On her desk where her papers should have been, sat a single red rose in a small vase. She scanned her desk looking for a note, but she found nothing. Abby sighed, “Zach, no doubt.” Flowers never were his style, but he probably just wanted to surprise her on her first day of work as Mrs. Abby Dresden. Her eyes found her nameplate on the front of her desk and mused that she should get a new one made with her married name. Then she remembered she might not live to see the new nameplate. She sighed again and resolved to get a cup of coffee before diving into the abyss of heavy thoughts.
Parker’s secretary was nowhere to be seen as Abby crossed the small kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee. She leaned against the counter as she sipped the hot liquid and pondered what may be her last week alive. It’s not too late to quit and leave everyone to their own devices, she thought. The file didn’t have good news last time she wanted to ditch the party, and she didn’t think things would be any different now. Not much better than what it said last night. Refilling her cup, Abby made her way into Piper’s office to make sure everything was ready for a busy morning.
The sound of dishes falling to the tile floor startled Abby out of her thoughts. Across the table, Zach picked at his fries as he talked of everything and nothing at the same time. Abby wondered if he was trying to take her mind off of the current situation by engaging her in idle talk. Except that she wasn’t paying attention, and he hadn’t noticed. He popped a fry into his mouth and talked around it, hardly pausing in his story about the latest break in the cold case he’s been looking into. “So this anonymous tip I was telling you about, they may have completely broken the case wide open. I don’t know why they didn’t run the DNA under the girl’s nails, in fact, I don’t remember seeing anything about DNA on the victim, but now that they’ve gone back and tested it, they found it’s from a man. They’re supposed to be testing the DNA some more in hopes to get a better idea of who they’re looking for. The Sherriff is optimistic that they’ll get this case solved soon.”
He finally looked up from his fries to meet Abby’s blank stare. He cleared his throat. “So, how was your morning?”
Abby blinked. She shivered as the restaurant doors swung open. An old couple entered and shut the doors quickly against the cold, but Abby huddled deeper into her sweater. “It was busy. We had a few short meetings, mostly with staff, but it was ok.” She forked a carrot from her salad and put it in her mouth. She stared at the table as she chewed, once again letting her thoughts wander. Zach crammed the rest of his cheeseburger into his mouth. “Oh,” she said, sitting up and leaning across the table. “Thank you for the roses. I thought you weren’t into giving flowers.” She smiled.
Zach blinked in confusion. “I’m not.” He swallowed his mouthful as Abby’s smile slid slowly off her face.
“But, where did they-“ she mumbled as her thoughts raced. “Who then?”
Zach shook his head slowly. “How many?”
“One on my desk this morning, then two in the kitchen after the first meeting. And then three sitting at the reception desk. I know they were meant for me because they were the same color and in the same vases as the others.” The color had drained from Abby’s face as she remembered finding the flowers.
“Did you ask the receptionists who put them there?”
She shook her head. “I thought they were from you.”
“Maybe you’re stealing someone else’s flowers thinking they’re yours?” Zach stuffed a fry into his mouth.
“No, they’re for me,” she tossed an annoyed glance at her husband, but he was pushing another group of fries through the remains of a mound of ketchup and didn’t see it. He shrugged.
“Rhonda was with me the last two times I found the flowers, perhaps you should interview her,” she said dryly.
“Rhonda, huh?” He chewed the ketchup-covered fries before continuing. “Have you figured out what part she plays in this whole thing?”
Abby shook her head. “No, but I’m beginning to think she doesn’t survive simply because she refuses to leave my side. She has been my shadow since our first meeting this morning. Every time I turn around, she’s there, coffee in one hand, stack of papers in the other.” She rubbed her temples in annoyance. “I actually hid from her before lunch. I needed a lunch break, not a three wheel excursion to the diner.”
“Maybe she figures following you around would be a good learning experience. Isn’t she new to the position?”
Abby nodded. “And I have no issue with that. She’s a great person to be around, just not all the time.” She enunciated the last few words and stabbed at her salad.
Zach chuckled to himself. Checking his watch, he stood and grabbed his wallet to toss a few bills onto the table. “I need to go, Abs, I’ve got a meeting with the Sheriff in a bit, and I’m not ready.”
Abby nodded. “Alright. I’ll see you tonight then.” She accepted a kiss on the cheek. “Oh, have you checked the file today?”
He shook his head. “I haven’t had time. I was going to look after my meeting this afternoon.” He kissed her again and pulled the door open, disappearing into the cold afternoon and letting another wave of chilled air make Abby shiver and huddle into her sweater once again.
Zach was already home when Abby arrived. He sat in his customary place on the floor as he navigated through his laptop files, too engrossed with the contents open on the screen to notice Abby’s entrance.
“Did you lose a contact again?” Abby’s question startled him out of his task. His rarely worn glasses had a tendency to slide down his nose, forcing him to constantly push them back up, which he did now as he watched Abby deposit her purse and laptop case onto the counter. “I got your text about dinner just as I was grabbing the phone to order Chinese. Good timing.” She smiled as she moved toward the large pot simmering on the stove. Zach rarely cooked, but when he did, it was magnificent, and it was always for a reason. She lifted the lid and stirred the contents. Pepper steak; one of his favorite comfort foods. Replacing the lid, she glanced into the living room and wondered what was bothering her husband enough that he would pass on Chinese to make pepper steak.
Grabbing a beer from the refrigerator, Abby sat on the couch behind Zach, allowing her to see what he was so enamored with on the screen. Immediately she could see footage from a security camera playing and knew he was looking at the “Love, Abby” file. She contemplated getting back up and ignoring the file for the night, but Zach’s fascination piqued her curiosity.
“Anything new today?” She sipped her beer as he shook his head.
“Same old, same old. A few more pictures, a handful of video taken from different cameras in and around the firm, but I haven’t found anything new. Yet.” He pushed his glasses up again and replayed the video on the screen.
“Are you looking for something in particular?”
He nodded, but said nothing. She took another sip before continuing. “Like what?”
He cleared his throat. “I want to know who put that gift on the table.”
“Ah. Any leads?”
“Not yet. None of these angles show the table, so I’m looking for anyone entering the building holding a big box or even walking through the parking lot with one.” He closed the video and opened another, this one footage from the parking lot security camera. “It’s got to be here, I just can’t find it.” Zach’s tone was slightly agitated and his forehead was covered in a thin layer of sweat.
“Are you ok?”
“No, I’m not ok,” Zach scoffed and rubbed his eyes behind his glasses and stood up. “If I’m to believe this stuff,” he gestured to the laptop, “then I believe some deranged idiot is going to set off a bomb in a crowded room, possibly killing my wife and an undetermined amount of other people, and I can’t do anything about it.”
Abby stared at her husband.
“Why doesn’t this bother you? Do you know something I don’t? Why don’t you care that you may be dead in a few days?” His voice rose as he spoke until he yelled the last words.
She stared at the bottle in her hands as she pondered his questions. “I guess I haven’t really thought about it. I mean, I understand what going to work on Friday entails, but it hasn’t sunk in that I’m not walking back to my car afterwards.” She frowned, “I don’t think I’ll be walking ever again if we’re to believe last night’s research.”
“So why do it? This isn’t your problem, why put yourself in the middle of it?”
“I don’t know, Zach,” her beer sloshed as she shrugged, “the file just says that I’m there. Even when I had decided that I wasn’t going, it still showed me there, only with worse results. It’s almost as if I’m supposed to be there. I just,” she pulled her knees up onto the couch and wrapped her arms around them, the cold bottle bumping against her shins. “I can’t explain it. I just feel like I’m supposed to be there.”
Zach stared at her, but she didn’t meet his eyes. “I’m a journalist, Abby, my job is to share information, not to ignore it. I can’t do this.” He angrily rested his hands on his hips before running a hand through his already disheveled hair. “No, I’m not doing this. We’re not doing this. You can’t go.” He shook his head as the objection became clear on Abby’s face. “No,” he continued, “you’re not going to that damn party. End of conversation.”
“Zach, let’s be reasonable here,” Abby let her feet fall back to the floor and she leaned forward as she spoke.
“I’m the only reasonable one in this room, Abby! Are you seriously going to argue about going to an event where you will more than likely get blown to bits? Why would I be ok with that? Why would I be ok with losing the love of my life when I could have avoided it by not letting you go in the first place?” His face was red as he yelled, but his voice faltered and tears rimmed his eyes. “Abby,” he lowered his voice as he knelt before her on the couch and placed his hands on either side of her face, forcing her to look at him, “I can’t lose you. And if I have to turn into a control freak for a few days to keep you with me, then that’s what I’ll do.”
Abby opened her mouth to protest again, but Zach shook his head. “No. You’re not going. Period.”
Abby sighed. “Ok.”
Zach nodded and rubbed his face with his sleeves before standing and making his way to the kitchen to get dinner ready.