By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt—Baggage: You start dating a person you met at your local grocery store. The date is going well—you’ve taken the person to your favorite restaurant (in which you both ordered the same unusual meal) and, it turns out, you both grew up in the same small town. The problem is, when you got for a walk along the coastline at the end of the date, she reveals something about her past that shocks you. (Good? Bad? You decide.)
I was pumped. Lizzie and I had hit it off so well. Even though this was only our first date, I was already thinking about reaching for her hand as we made our way across the sand.
“I still can’t believe we both ordered the steak tartare,” she said with a little chuckle.
“I know,” I said. Just thinking about it made me grin again. “What are the odds, right?”
We looked at each other, and something about the moment kind of made us look away from each other again. I didn’t know exactly what Lizzie was thinking, but I know I looked away because I didn’t want her to see the goofy look I knew was probably on my face. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt like everything was going so right with a girl.
“So, Charlie, I was wondering if I could share something with you,” she said.
“Sure,” I said. I wondered if she wanted to go back to her place. I mean, I’m usually not the type of guy to sleep with a girl on the first date, but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna pass up the opportunity if it presents itself.
“Well, um…I don’t know quite how to say this,” she said.
I looked at her, and she stopped walking. She looked at the ocean, and for some weird reason I got the idea that she didn’t want to look right at me. A funny feeling started churning in the pit of my stomach.
“It’s okay,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant. “Just tell me whatever it is.”
“It might be a little weird for you to hear.”
I shrugged. “Try me.”
She started turning around, and after a minute or two I realized she was looking for something. Then she came closer and put her arms around me. The funny feeling went away, and I felt something else. I liked this feeling a lot better.
“I’m in the Witness Protection Program,” she said softly in my ear. “My name isn’t really Lizzie, and I’m hiding from my brother and the cult he started.”
My heart started whacking against my rib cage.
“Put your arms around me, Charlie,” she whispered. “I think there’s a chance we were followed by one of the guys in my brother’s group.”
I pulled her close, but I wasn’t just doing it because she smelled good. I thought if I held on tight she wouldn’t notice that my knees had gone a little soft.
“What makes you say that?” I whispered back, putting my lips close to her neck. No sense in wasting a chance to make it look authentic, right?
“I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I just want to stay safe. It took me a long time to get away from them, and I guess I’m a little paranoid.”
“How, um…how bad was this cult?”
“I left about two years ago, and I’ve only gotten the hearing back in one ear.”
I’d noticed the hearing aid in her left ear during dessert, but I didn’t know if I could really ask about it while we broke the crusts on our crème brulee.
“Um…I’m sorry, Lizzie, I don’t know what to say. I’ve never really run into anything like this.”
She pulled back a little bit and looked into my eyes. “I’m so glad you said that. You’re the perfect candidate for us.”
That pounding in my chest came back. “What? What do you—”
I felt something cold pierce the skin in my neck. Instantly I felt sick, and if I wasn’t so busy falling to the sand I would probably have seen the steak tartare and my dessert again.
I lay on shore, and I couldn’t move my limbs. Lizzie kneeled next to me and stroked my hair.
“I’m sorry for surprising you like that, Charlie, but we need more specimens for our experiments and you fit all of the criteria. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt. Well, not after the first three rounds anyway.”
She started cackling—really, there’s no other way to put it—and she pulled a gigantic syringe out of her purse. That the last thing I saw before everything went black.