Speaking into the dead receiver felt stupid, but being back in the office with its ample overhead lighting and shut door gave Sophia more peace than trying to avoid the guys in the galleries. She hated being a prisoner in the bedroom.
Soon after they’d freed Kieron from the overturned shelves, in an effort to make sure Josh and Sophia weren’t an item, Kieron dragged the cot from the bedroom and set it in the break room beside the sofas. He, Ajay, and Josh slept there, giving Sophia the pull-down bed in the bedroom on her own. Yes, she had privacy, and her own en-suite, but the isolation in such a big building felt unnecessary.
Slipping upstairs, she returned to the office where she’d found the sketch of David and shut herself inside. Kieron had encountered a voice over the phone, and she was determined to hear that voice again. She sat in the swivel chair for half an hour with the receiver silently to her ear before the receiver on the other end clicked.
Sophia sat up straight. “Hello?”
“Who is this?” The man asked, weary as the first time.
He sounded American, weary as the first time she’d heard him.
“Sophia Stewart. I’m locked in a museum — an abandoned building. I don’t know where it is exactly —”
“Do the lights flicker on your side too?”
“I’m in a lobby of some sort,” he said. “Tickets. Coats. Gift shop. Everything’s bolted tight.”
“Bolted? Wait, are you in the same —? We’ve never found a lobby.”
“Are you alone?”
“How long have you been there?”
“Oh … week or two. Hard to tell time.”
She found herself nodding silently. A week in solitude … “That must be awful. What’s your name?”
Sophia’s eyes went to the drawing she’d done of David, her manager, and for a moment, she wasn’t sure what she’d heard. “Wait, David?”
“I guess I’m a little paranoid. We’ve been in here a week or two as well.”
“With others, though.”
” must be uncomfortable.”
Sophia chuckled. “They’ve been making things rough on me. At least I have a bed.”
“Like, people used to live here. It’s hard to remember sometimes I don’t live here too. I’m —” she stopped herself. She wanted to admit out loud how even after her relatively short stay, she was getting used to the place, establishing a routine, falling into place with the other inhabitants. She wanted to admit she was falling in love with Josh; they had to be careful around Kieron and Ajay. Every time two of them appeared to make an alliance, the others in the group took it to mean they couldn’t be unified or trusted.
Even in their small group, cliques formed, rumors spread.
Kieron had taken it upon himself to scout the museum daily, picking out possible weapons and storing them in one of the offices he’d found a key to. Nobody knew how many he’d found or what his criteria for weapon was. Nobody knew what he planned to do with them.
Ajay explored the space, poking into every corner and opening every door, which was more or less what Sophia and Josh did themselves, but if Ajay caught Sophia in the kitchen on her own, he’d cozy up to her.
“You got anyone back home?” He’d ask.
“What, like family?”
He leaned against the counter, popped the tab on a Coke, and handed it to her.
“Thanks.” She sat at one of the tables with the drink and a can of tuna.
“Someone special, I mean,” he continued.
Sophia shrugged, taking a bite. “I had a boyfriend a few months ago. A guy from work: Jonathan. I wasn’t allowed to see anyone there, so we kept it secret.”
Ajay nodded and sipped another can. “So you’ve got practice.”
“What do you mean?”
“You and …?”
“I have a wife,” he said. “A little son who looks just like me.”
“Are they actors too?”
He shook his head. “I married her the old fashioned way: being set up by my parents. In fact, I kind of loved her more because she wasn’t a fan. I could come home and switch off.”
” actually makes sense.”
He sat beside her on the bench with his back against the table, touching her thigh with his. “And now in here,” he paused, shrugging. “Nobody knows me either. You all think I’m lying.”
“No one thinks you’re lying Ajay. We’re all trying to figure things out.” She scooted an inch away from him, hoping he wouldn’t notice. “I mean, Kieron makes sense because he and Blair were seeing each other and it obviously didn’t go well. Josh is a famous singer —”
“I don’t think he’s famous,” Ajay said, smirking.
“And there’s you, mister I-can’t-walk-down-the-streets-of-Mumbai-without-being-molested —”
“That’s really true of anyone, though.”
“Why me, though? I’m not connected to Blair in any way. I’m not famous. I don’t understand why I’m here.”
Ajay gently brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “Maybe she saw you on the street and thought you were beautiful.”
“I doubt that.”
He guided her chin toward himself and held her gaze. “You’re really pretty.”
“There’s no reason for you to be lonely here.” His hand went to her thigh.
“Ajay!” She overturned the can of Coke in her scramble to get off the bench.
“We could comfort each other. Think of it as a public service.”
She overturned the can of Coke in her scramble to get off the bench.
“They have their way with you?” Demetri asked, startling her back to the phone conversation.
“Confined space. One female. Do the math.”
She swallowed the dryness in her throat. Flicking through the papers on the desk gave her something to do with her hands. “I can take care of myself.”
“Men get desperate sometimes.”
“But it’s not like —”
“Like we’ll never escape? It’s been a week, maybe two. You ever not found your way out of a building before?”
They were silent.
“I’m gonna grab a bite,” Demetri said, and hung up.