They’d found the door: the main one that would take them home. But even after taking turns hacking for hours with the ax, the thick metal didn’t budge.
Sophia would have stayed for a turn with the ax, to be out the moment they broke through if Demetri hadn’t been staring at her from the wall. No one expected him to help because of his admittedly superficial injury, but he didn’t make it easy for anyone else to work either.
For a while, Demetri’s attention was on Ajay, fanboying about the star’s behind the scenes stories of his favorite movies. The actor played along and cleaned Demetri up in the men’s room, but once Demetri caught on that Ajay was more interested in getting free than connecting with a diehard fan, the mood soured.
He told the story leading up to his capture, which for a while kept everyone’s attention because he mentioned both Blair and Ajay.
“I was watching you film a movie,” Demetri said. “On my lunch break, I passed a huge group of people, so I stopped to see what was going on. That’s where I met Blair.”
“She was in the movie?” Sophia asked.
Demetri glared at her. “No.”
He didn’t say anything else for a few tense minutes while Josh beat the door.
“I got punched in a diner,” Demetri said.
Josh kept striking.
Kieron and Ajay glanced at him from their seats by the wall.
Demetri mostly kept his eyes on his shoulder, adjusting the torn sleeve he used as a bandage, otherwise he looked at Sophia. As much as she wanted him to stop staring, she couldn’t stop checking where his eyes were.
“Blair went to lunch with me because I couldn’t stay watching the scene all day,” Demetri continued. “The actors took a break and I hadn’t seen Ajay in a few minutes. Couldn’t stay. I needed my lunch, so she went with me.”
Sophia slowly got to her feet.
“Where are you going?” Demetri snapped.
He watched her, then went back to his shoulder. “There was a homeless man there and he punched me.”
Sophia hurried around the ticket counter in the circular middle of the room, but instead of going to the restroom, she continued to the broken glass door and the staircase down.
Once out of sight, she sprinted through the galleries, the sporadic darkness no longer much of an impairment, downstairs again until she reached her bedroom. The room insulated outside noise, so she sat on the bed with the door locked, left to arbitrarily decide when to leave.
Hiding is ridiculous, she thought. The guys might not even come get her if they opened the exit; they’d focus on their own wellbeing and get the hell out of there.
“Well, I could leave too,” she muttered. They wouldn’t barricade the opening once they were out. Unless the door stuck by itself and she couldn’t unstick it.
She grabbed a package of soda crackers from the stash she’d commandeered from the kitchen and put a few pieces of candy in her pockets, then lay on the bed with a sigh.
He’d played with himself on the phone. He hadn’t said anything obscene, hadn’t threatened her. He was talking nonsense upstairs with everyone, but hadn’t demonstrated violence toward anyone. Kieron did worse than that in the last half a day and she wasn’t hiding from him.
“If you come at me, I’ll cut your heads off.”
Sophia shut her eyes and tried to focus on her breathing to make something sensible come out of her head, or stop her galloping thoughts altogether.
Even if they made it safely out of the museum, they would have lengthy conversations with the police afterward. Their lives up until the point of capture would be scrutinized, including how Sophia had snuck out of work to get to that concert and the chunk of missing time after.
Kidnapped or not, that confession was going to cost her her job.
They’d call David to corroborate the story.
When did Ms. Stewart leave your office on the night of November twenty-fourth, Mr. Ames?
Approximately six pm.
Mr. Ames, has Ms. Stewart been showing progressively insubordinate behavior since she began in your employ?
Without a doubt.
And if I told you Ms. Stewart had engaged in criminal activity on the night of November twenty-fourth, when she was supposed to be at her desk at Morgan Ames, would you be surprised?
“Stop it,” Sophia muttered. Getting kidnapped wasn’t a criminal action, nor was going to a concert she’d paid money to get into. She hadn’t hurt anyone, and David keeping her at her desk for a mandatory period was also a form of kidnapping.
Although, she had left before the seven pm minimum overtime cutoff.
Was it even worth it? she wondered. So she’d met her favorite singer, but she’d also been held in this creepy building for no apparent reason. Kidnappers are supposed to want something.
Getting through that main door upstairs wasn’t necessarily going to solve anything if someone was waiting for them outside.
She pushed out of bed and padded to the ensuite. After her eyes adjusted to the harsh light, she raked her fingers through her hair, splashed water on her face and stared at herself the same way she did in the ladies room at work when she needed to get away from her desk.
Ms. Stewart, not only are you terminated from your position at Morgan Ames, we are also charging you with criminal negligence for the cases you let fall through the cracks during your absence.
Stop it. That’s not even a thing.
Ten people will be deported because you didn’t file their paperwork with the USCIS.
First thing in the morning one of them would open the door and they’d be free. Back home. Back to work.
The displays and galleries were no longer shocking, that although quietly picking through debris in the dark never got easier. Every few steps, Sophia stopped to listen, looked for beams of light, movement. As she inched toward the staircase that would take her to the lobby, the museum was silent.
They must have gone to bed, she thought. Swinging that ax was tiring work, but resting didn’t strike her as something the guys would do. Shifts, yes, but not giving up.
…or they left without me.
Sophia winced when an automatic light blinked on. Calling out wouldn’t help; either the men escaped, or she’d make herself a target.
But then what, upstairs? If that door wasn’t open and they — he — was there, she’d corner herself. And if they weren’t there and the door was open …
Faintly, strains of live piano music drifted through the gallery. She followed a familiar song, treading lightly, but not bothering to hide. In the next room, the sound gave her a better sense of direction. The instrument wasn’t a piano, but —
“A harpsichord,” she whispered.
She approached the room — the one where she and Josh had kissed, where he’d pushed her away. “Cameras,” he’d said. After pointing them out, they were everywhere. Ajay and Kieron acted defensive, even hostile every time they saw her with Josh, so she understood why he tried to distance himself, but their relationship wasn’t anyone’s business.
“Relationship,” she spat. I’m the only female and they’re all making their move.
She paused outside the door to listen as he sang and played. Josh sounded different singing something popular. The song took on a classical air, a seriousness she’d never attributed to the pop hit.
She leaned against the wall without revealing herself and listened to the whole song, one she’d never given thought to: one that played on the car radio and maybe in a store.
Her mix tape in live form: On a crowded subway after the crappiest of workdays, Josh’s voice soothed her. When she dodged potential predators and killers, locked in a freaky, abandoned place, he was there, singing.
Goosebumps cascaded down her arms.
By nothing more than ambient light from the door Sophia peered through, Josh played with his entire body. He swayed, head falling and rising, singing with his eyes closed, oblivious to his audience. She’d never paid attention to the lyrics before, but when he sang about having the strength to get away, the words resonated.
What’s out there?
At the end of the song he paused as though choosing what to play next, positioned his hands over the keys, and faced the door when Sophia shifted.
“Oh,” he said.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean —” She stepped toward him. “What are you doing here?”
“Where else am I gonna go?”
“You didn’t get the d—”
“We didn’t get it open.”
Sophia glanced at the cameras in the corners of the room. They were still watching, then.
Josh turned on the bench with his back to the keys and rubbed his face. “I’m exhausted, but …”
“I can’t sleep either.”
“I didn’t realize I was being so loud. Could you even hear me down there?”
She shook her head. “I thought you’d all left without me.”
“Why’d you take off, anyway? The idea was to leave together.”
“Demetri gives me the creeps.” Sophia sat on the bench beside him, only then spying his bloodied hand. “Shit! What happened to you?”
He flexed his fingers. A gash ran on the back of his hand from his pinky across to his wrist. “I had a little accident with the ax. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to play, so I thought I’d try the keyboard. The violin … I don’t know.”
“You’re lucky you didn’t lose the whole thing.”
He chuckled humorlessly. “Lucky.” He drew in a breath to say something, but instead rubbed his eyes. “The guy with the shoulder, I couldn’t even help him off the floor. And it’s not like it was a one-time thing, either. I left Ajay when I found him and the blood wasn’t real. Erica had fake blood in her mouth because she thought I would —” He paused. “And then I got myself tonight and the same thing happened.”
“What do you mean?”
He didn’t answer.
Sophia put her hand on his shoulder, and when he didn’t shrug her off, she rubbed.
In a small voice, he said, “Can I tell you something I’ve never told anyone before?”
“When I was fifteen, my dad and I were driving.” He glanced around the room, at the cameras, and stood. “Not here.”
Josh approached the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves beside the harpsichord and pulled several volumes until the shelf popped open like a door.
“I used to think I wanted a secret passageway in my house,” Sophia said, “but after all this I don’t know.”
“Come on,” he said, squeezing behind the shelf.
“What’s back there?” she whispered, following.
Before her eyes adjusted to the dark, hidden room, she smelled it: cold and stony. But the tiles on the walls, the posters, the wooden benches —
“The subway?” she said.
Josh smiled as he narrowed the gap they’d come through.
“The R train. Josh!”
“Don’t get excited. It’s a dummy. But this is the most secluded room I’ve found. I don’t think the others know it’s here.”
“What about cameras?”
“I covered all of them I could find.”
Their footsteps echoed in the cavernous room. Every detail tricked Sophia’s senses into expecting something more: noise, a caustic smell, the press of strangers. Only rarely had she been in an empty subway station, and the experience hadn’t felt peaceful.
“I feel like I’m gonna get murdered in here,” she whispered.
“By me?” Josh had already boarded the stationed train.
“I mean, in an empty station.” She followed him inside the car and gaped at the Christmas lights and brightly colored pillows. “What the hell is this?”
Josh ducked into the conductor’s compartment and dimmed the lights so only the strings of twinkly ones remained. The doors closed with the familiar two-tone alert. He tossed a few pillows from the benches to the floor beside the closed doors and gestured for her to sit beside him.
“Josh, are you coming on to me?” Sophia couldn’t help smirking.
He rolled his eyes and patted the pillows. “I just want to talk where we can’t be overheard.”
“So now they can’t see or hear us?”
Sophia sat beside him. Her instinct was to put her hand on his leg or lean her head on his shoulder, but he wanted to confess something tantalizing, so she waited. “What’s this big secret?”
He flexed his injured hand and rested it on his outstretched legs. “I guess I want you to know I wasn’t always like this. Bothered by blood. It’s not that I’m afraid of it, it just —”
Their shoulders touched. After adjusting to face him, their knees did too.
“Something happened when I was fifteen,” he continued.
“Uncle Happy Hands?” She had one of those, and wished she hadn’t blurted it out. Sophia’s uncle hadn’t touched her, but at ten years old when she’d spent the night at her grandparents’ house, he walked through the living room in his bathrobe. Upon catching her eye, he said, “You wanna see it?” and flashed her. She never told anyone because she wanted to be allowed to sleep at her grandparents’ again. They bought her a new Barbie ever time she visited.
“Nothing like that,” Josh said. “Me and my dad were on a road trip and it — only I came back.”
She narrowed her eyes. “You came back?”
“Without my dad.” He sighed, gathering his thoughts or wondering if telling her was a bright idea. “He was driving, and we passed through some podunk town. Barely any cars on the road. Not many buildings. I had my permit, but dad didn’t want me driving even though I kept pestering him. He was tired and grouchy, so the mood in the car wasn’t great. No music, just stagnant silence.”
“I’ve been on trips like that,” Sophia added.
“Suddenly, we had a car on our tail, and it swerved around and cut us off. We were both startled, but me, being a little shit, flipped off the other driver. I think I yelled something out the window. Dad was smiling, but he said, ‘don’t do things like that. You don’t know who people are.’ It felt good because we finally connected; maybe we could turn the trip around. But just like that, the other driver slowed, got into the neighboring lane and evened up beside us. Their passenger window was down, and they motioned for my dad to roll down his. Dad eyed me, disappointed like now he had to deal with this because of me, and cranked down the window. He started to apologize, but the guy just pulled a gun and shot.
“I slouched as far down in the seat as I could. I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt. I’d seen the gun and heard its little pop, and really remember thinking it wasn’t as loud as it should be. Dad didn’t make any noise, no big movements, so I thought they missed or didn’t really shoot. They sped off and I didn’t look at their plate number, couldn’t remember what kind of car it was or how many people were inside. Those are all questions the police ask over and over afterward. The more they ask, the more you think you remember, but your brain fills in whatever makes sense, whatever they’re feeding to you, not necessarily what happened.
“Anyway, our car was drifting. Dad wasn’t controlling the wheel, so I grabbed it. I said something like pay attention or don’t let those guys scare you, but his head was hanging down and blood … it poured out of him.”
Josh paused, fiddling with the edge of a pillow.
“I couldn’t control the car from the passenger seat and we crashed into a tree. I’d never seen so much blood. That stuff you see on TV isn’t real. Guy gets shot and careens back, and it trickles through his fingers. This… It’s like a fountain with every heartbeat. Liters. Gallons. It goes until the heart stops and then… then it hits you: he’s dead. The longer I watched, the blacker it got.”
He dragged his hands down his face, the lighthearted mood they’d walked into the subway car with vanished.
“Before then,” he continued, dropping his hands to his lap and leaning his head against the doors, “I’d have accidents all the time. My bike or a friend’s motorcycle. We broke limbs and busted our heads open. Boys can be rough. Blood didn’t bother me, but now … And I even thought if I could get that door open upstairs, if I could get us home, I could start over. But first seeing that cut on the guy’s shoulder, and everyone’s hands bleeding with blisters from the ax, and then I got clumsy.” He looked at his injured hand.
Sophia rubbed his shoulder, kissed his forehead.
“Kieron told me I went apeshit after I cut myself, screaming, throwing things. Ajay said he thought my hand was gone. All I know is when I stumbled to the bathroom to wash off, I could barely see. My face and arms and legs were numb. I don’t remember much except how much relief I felt when I saw the cut wasn’t all that deep, that I could still move my fingers and everything was attached.”
She squeezed him close. His arm went around her middle.
“But then the bleeding stopped, so I came down to play, to make sure everything worked. Also I couldn’t face the guys after I freaked out, if it was anything like they said.”
“You play beautifully,” she said.
“And nothing happened to your voice.”
He shrugged. “I never sing stuff like what you heard in there.”
“Why not? You should! I didn’t realize how different a you sound just by switching styles.”
He smiled, his face finally relaxed. “A lot of people think popular music is like junk food: only dumb people get any value out of it.”
“You don’t think so?”
He shook his head. “There’s a time and place for everything.”
“I like pop music, but I also like classical,” Sophia said. “It helps me a lot when you sing. For a long time, I mean. You’re soothing. And it feels like you’ve been with me forever, right in my ear.” She kissed his temple, the bridge of his nose.
His lips found hers.
Sophia almost pulled away, anxious about being watched, but the cameras near the ceiling were covered with fabric scraps. The subway doors were closed, as was the hidden bookshelf that led them to the station. They were alone.
Instead of twisting to kiss him, she got up to straddle him.
“Where are you go— oh,” Josh said.
“Nobody’s watching,” she whispered. “Maybe I can help you now.”
He swelled beneath her.
She leaned her forehead on his and whispered, “Is that a yes?”
He smiled and pulled her close, parted her lips with his tongue. Soft, strong hands went to her face, to the back of her head. Dragging her hand across his chest revealed his racing heart. He slid his hand under her dress, his hand nearly spanning the width of her back.
“I didn’t tell you any of that to make this happen,” Josh whispered.
“I know,” she said. His few days of beard growth scratched her hands as she caressed his face.
He rubbed her back, the warmth of his hands spreading throughout her, and she pushed closer to him, locking her legs behind his back as they lost themselves in another kiss. He pulled the dress over her head, and when it hit the floor, something scattered from the pocket.
Two pieces of candy and a wrapped condom.
Sophia stared at it in disbelief, too aware of her current state of undress, her position. “It must have been in the drawer. I thought it was all candy.”
Josh kept a firm hold around her waist and reached for the little package. “Or maybe …?”
The broken wrapper hit the floor while they kissed.
She tore at his shirt buttons until he shrugged it off and their hearts thumped against one another. Her trembling fingers struggled with the button on his pants.
The touch made him gasp and pull away from her lips. After a few encouraging strokes, she uncrossed her legs from behind him and backed away while he looked after her. Sophia tugged his pant legs at his feet until he lifted his bum and they slid off. She crawled back up and kissed his belly before hooking her fingers in the waistband of his boxers and removing them as well. He lay against the doors naked and ready.
With a smooth motion, she removed her panties and stood before him. The pillows were soft against her knees as she approached, guided him. With a sharp inhale and a groan, he held her still, full, connected.
Embracing him around the shoulders, stealing the occasional kiss on his neck or jaw, she couldn’t help glancing at his squeezed eyes, his parted lips. When he caught her looking, he kissed her with his arms tight around her middle, and rolled her down to her back.
His weight against her was right. Warm skin on hers, heavy breath against her cheek, heartbeat racing against her breast.
He gasped and paused, eyeing the opposite door.
“What’s wrong?” she whispered.
“I heard something.”
With her ankles locked around his back, she stayed as still as her panting breath and thumping heart allowed. She didn’t think she’d made much noise, but her throat was raw.
But being so close, so charged, she grinded against him, bringing his attention back.
Sparks rushed through her abdomen, her toes, the top of her head. She only cared he didn’t let go, didn’t stop. His rhythm quickened. She dug into his back. Their hips rocked together until she arched with a cry and lay back on the pillows.
Josh panted above her with his eyes shut, catching his breath.
“Oh wow,” she breathed. But with a glance upward at the doors behind her, Sophia caught Demetri’s eye through the window.