“I’m telling you,” Chloe said, “there’s something really weird going on.”
Mia clamped her phone tighter between her shoulder and her ear, the morning air burning cold in her lungs as she hurried down the crowded street.
“I have to get to work,” she mumbled, stuffing the last of her cereal bar into her mouth.
“Your concern is touching.”
Mia swallowed, swiping the crumbs from her mouth and checking her watch. Three minutes until she was officially late. She sped up, her scarf scratching itchy with sweat against her throat. “Look, I’ll come round tonight, okay?” she forced her voice to soften, forehead pinched tight. “We can talk about it then.”
“I think someone’s following me,” Chloe hissed.
“What do you mean someone’s following you? Who?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Well, what do they look like?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t seen them.”
“Then how do you know someone’s following you?” Mia asked. “Have they done anything?”
“No. I just-” Chloe’s voice strangled over a sob.
Mia’s stomach dropped.
Chloe’s life had always been a series of escalating dramas better suited to a soap opera than to its surprising reality. Really, it would have been weird if Chloe was having a perfectly normal week devoid of any earth-shattering revelations or strange coincidences. But Chloe usually took it in her stride.
Mia squeezed her eyes shut, trying to think. Chloe would drop everything if it was the other way round and Mia needed her help. She always had. One minute until she was officially late. “Tell me what happened from the beginning,” Mia said. She opened her eyes and kept walking.
“Just come over, please. I think I’m going mad!” Chloe’s voice cracked.
“What about Thomas?”
“I don’t want to bother him.”
“He’s your fiancé!”
Chloe’s silence stretched over the phone.
Echo Antiques loomed across the street, its building as old and grand as the miscellaneous items it stocked. Mia crossed over, checking her watch again.
She couldn’t lose this job, she couldn’t. It would be career suicide.
“I’ll come round the second the shop closes, okay?” she said. “But I really have to go now. Just – just breathe. Everything’s going to be fine. Promise. Love you.” She hung up with a cold twist of guilt and shoved her phone into her bag before Chloe could respond, hurrying to let herself into the antiques store while patting down her short mop of windswept red hair.
“You’re late,” Adelaide said without looking up from the gold ring in her hand. She held it up to the pale sunlight with narrowed eyes as Mia wilted.
“I’m sorry! The bus was full.”
“Then you should have left the house earlier.”
Mia’s heart pounded against her ribcage, and she appraised Adelaide with the same focus as Adelaide examined the ring. Her boss seemed to be in a good mood today.
“I’ll make it up to you,” Mia said, the tension flooding out of her shoulders. It was only a few minutes, she wasn’t a failure.
“Of course you will. The new shipment arrived earlier, you need to take stock. I’ve written out a list of what should be there.”
Mia weaved her way around a precariously balanced hand painted Japanese tea set and squeezed past an Edwardian Mahogany dressing table to get to the back room.
“Not now,” Adelaide said. “I need you at the counter. You can do it after the shop closes.”
“But I-” Mia stopped herself as Adelaide’s stare stabbed through her.
“Did you have something better to be doing other than your job? Because if you don’t want to find the time to be here-”
“No! It’s fine. Tonight is fine, I had no plans.” Mia tried her best smile.
“Then that’s settled, dear,” Adelaide tossed a perfect copy of Mia’s smile back at her and turned her attention back to the ring.