“Nicholas?” Britney was starting to feel dizzy. She shook her head, “No. This isn’t real.”
“Britney are you okay? What’s going on?” Brad stepped forward and looked over her shoulder at the picture of her brother on her phone.
“I have to call Nicholas.”
Britney quickly called Nicholas and begged him to pick up the phone, “Come on Nicholas pick up…pick up…pick up.”
“This is Nicholas. You know what to do.”
Britney could feel the panic rising within her when her brother’s voicemail message played. She decided to leave a message, “Nicholas where are you? Call me back now!”
She dialed the same number again only to hear, “This is Nicholas. You know what to do.”
“Nicholas this is the second message I’m leaving you! Where are you? Call me now!”
She was about to dial his number again when Brad grabbed her shoulder, “Britney what’s going on?”
She shrugged off his hand and dialed a third time. Her message this time was of her trying not to cry in fear, “Nicholas…I’m begging you please call me.”
“Is Nicholas okay?” Brad asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m going to call the police. I can’t lose him too,” her words were strung together and Brad was having a hard time keeping up.
Britney was about to dial 911 when the front door opened and in walked Nicholas.
“Nicholas!” Britney ran to her brother and had him in a tight hug.
“Whoa sis’ I’m glad to see you too but can you let go a little? I can barely breathe,” Nicholas laughed trying to extract himself from his sister’s bear hug.
“Why didn’t you pick up your phone? I’ve been calling you nonstop?”
“You were? I’m sorry. I must’ve forgotten to take it off silent mode after my meeting,” Nicholas said, pulling his phone out of his pocket. “Three missed calls and three messages. You really were blowing up my phone.”
“Nicholas he’s coming for you.”
“Who’s coming for me?”
“The man that murdered my friend,” Britney whispered.
“What? Why are you saying that Britney?”
Britney pulled out her phone and showed him a picture. He looked at Brad who was staring at the two of them curiously. Nicholas gave a nervous laugh, “It’s…it’s fine Britney. He’s probably just trying to scare you.”
“Well he is. I don’t want anything to happen to you too Nicholas.”
“I’m not sure I’m following everything that’s going on but if you feel threatened you should call the police Britney,” Brad stepped suggested.
Twenty minutes later, Officers Dean Winters and Shelby Diaz were at her house.
“Is this the text?” Diaz asked.
“Don’t worry Dr. Chong. Technology is pretty advanced these days and we can detect which cell tower was used when the message was sent.”
“Will that matter?” Brad asked getting everyone to stare at him. “Well…it was clearly taken wherever Nicholas was at.”
“If the phone is on maybe we still trace a signal.”
“Why don’t you change your number in the meantime?” Officer Winters sighed, his hands in his pockets.
“Why don’t you shut the f-”
“Nicholas,” Britney stopped him from finishing his sentence.
Officer Winters smirked.
“I guess you’re happy you got to see Gabby,” Britney said directly to Officer Winters.
“What was that?” Winters caught a quick glimpse of his partner Shelby who rolled her eyes.
“I talked to Gabby. You know, your ex-girlfriend. She said you told her all about Ivy’s death and how it was my fault. As I said, I bet you were glad to have spoken with her. I’m sad to say that being the messenger is not the equivalent to being a knight in shining armor to a woman. If anything you’re now someone she may associate with the death of her friend.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Winters practically spit in his anger.
Nicholas laughed, “What she’s saying is that you don’t have a chance in hell with this Gabby chick.”
“No one asked you,” Winters sneered.
“Regardless of your personal feelings for me, your job is to serve and protect Officer Winters. I would suggest you do so without spreading malicious gossip,” Britney lifted her chin when she spoke.
“Malicious gossip?” Winters scoffed. “How is it malicious when it’s the truth? There’s someone after you and he’s targeting your friends and even your brother. You don’t feel the slightest bit guilty?”
She did, but she wouldn’t admit it. Especially not to someone like Officer Dean Winters, “Why should I feel guilty? I’m not murdering anyone. I’m concerned and I care. These are people that I love. Why should I feel guilty? I can’t control the actions of a madman.”
“That’s right sis’ you can’t control what this guy is doing. None of it is your fault,” Nicholas draped an arm around his sister’s shoulders.
Officer Winters smiled, “I wonder if he’ll think the same once this guy comes after him.”
“That’s enough!” Diaz said stepping in between her partner and the Chong’s. She turned to Britney and apologized, “Listen I’m sorry but we should get going. We have all the information we need. I’ll send some patrol cars to drive around the area.”
As they were leaving, she noticed the electronic key pad, “You have an alarm?”
“Yes we just had it installed,”Britney answered.
“Good. They’re a great preventative measure. Keep in touch Dr. Chong.”
“Thank you Officer Diaz.”
After they had left Nicholas cleared his throat, “Well it’s been a long day. I think I’m going to hit the sack.”
“Nicholas. Don’t you want to talk about all this? Aren’t you worried?” Britney asked her brother.
“Britney I love you but I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to rest. I’ll see you in the morning.” Nicholas walked upstairs to his bedroom without looking back.
“He’s scared,” Britney whispered.
“So am I,” Brad answered, startling her. She had forgotten he was there. “I’m scared for you. Why didn’t you tell me sooner what was going on?”
“How could I? Someone has been sending me texts, notes, and targeting my friends. It’s been horrible,” Britney said as she sat down on the sofa.
“Tell me about it,” Brad urged her.
She didn’t need much prodding. Before she knew it, she had given the entire story to Brad who was now pondering the situation.
“Britney why do you think he’s targeting you?”
She shrugged, “Honestly I think he’s angry with me. He doesn’t seem to be obsessed in a way that would make me think he has feelings for me other than hostility. To come after my friends and now Nicholas makes me think he wants me to suffer. To be all alone.”
“Then the suspect list could be huge.”
“What if this is someone that’s upset because you caused their relationship to deteriorate?”
“That’s ridiculous! Why would someone try to kill me because I caused a relationship to fail?”
“People have killed for less. Besides, what if this person was already mentally unstable? You might have been the last straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak.”
“I don’t know what to do anymore. If something happens to Nicholas…then I’ll be all alone.”
“Not true,” Brad whispered.
“You won’t be all alone. I’ll be here for you Britney. And don’t worry. Nicholas seems like he can take care of himself.”
“Are you kidding? He pretends to be tough but he’s very sensitive. When we were younger, I once caught him crying because he accidentally pulled the wings off of a butterfly.”
Brad laughed, “Why would he do that?”
“He thought it would turn back into a caterpillar. He was so devastated when he found out. Besides, Nicholas works out and all…but when that guy broke into our house, he got his ass kicked.”
“Someone broke into your house? You didn’t tell me that just now.”
“It feels like nothing compared to everything else that’s been going on but yeah. It’s one of the reasons we had the alarm installed.”
“I’m sorry you’ve been going through all this Britney.”
“I feel bad for my friends and their families. My friend Gabby won’t even speak to me anymore. She’s so upset.”
Brad was sitting next to Britney and hugged her when she began crying, “I feel like I’m slowly losing control over everything and I’m scared Brad. What’s next? What’s he going to take next?”
Brad patted her back and tried to soothe her.
“I wish I had an easy solution for you Britney. Instead, just know that I’m here for you. I got your back.”
Britney let herself soak in his comfort but she still dreaded what the next day had in store for her.
The Following Day
“Are you sure you don’t have to go anywhere?” Britney asked her brother Nicholas.
“Yes, I’m sure. Are you sure you weren’t a prison warden in a past life?”
“If it’ll help keep you safe, then I’m glad if I was.”
“Spare me. Britney go to work already. I have some Karate Kid to watch. I need to brush up on my fighting skills.”
Britney smiled and gave Nicholas a hug, “I love you brother.”
“Yeah…yeah…I love you too sis’. Now hurry up and go to work.”
Britney turned on the alarm and walked outside. She walked to her car and saw a red note attached to her windshield. She stopped and looked around. She didn’t see anyone. She walked forward and picked up the note.
In the envelope was a picture of her, dressed in her undergarments. It was an old picture, before the baby monitor had been found in her room. She remembered the day she last wore her sports bra and she hated to admit it but some very unflattering underwear. She sighed, “So he’s letting me know he has pictures of me in my underwear. Big deal Britney. Don’t be bothered by this. It’s the same as if you were in a swimsuit.”
She got in her car and drove to work. As she walked in, she waved at Jose who simply nodded and blushed when he saw her.
“That’s weird,” she muttered.
Britney started to get an uneasy feeling when she noticed people around the office staring at her strangely.
“Britney!” she turned around to see Mack down the hall. “In my office now!”
Britney followed him into his office, “What’s going on Mack?”
“Explain this,” he held his cell phone up to her and she saw it. The picture of her in her underwear.
“Where? How? I don’t…how did you get that?” Britney could feel herself getting hot with embarrassment.
“I was going to ask you why you sent it to everyone.”
“What? I didn’t send anything Mack!”
“I didn’t think you did Britney but almost everyone in the building got this text message of you in your underwear. Not even good underwear Britney!”
She couldn’t laugh at his attempt to joke about it. She felt like her world was caving in on her. The door suddenly opened and in walked Brad, “Britney are you okay?”
“Who asked you to come in here?” Mack slammed his hand on the desk, “I’m trying to sort this out.”
Brad ignored Mack, ” Britney, how are you feeling?”
“This isn’t real. It can’t be real,” Britney whispered to him.
Another male voice that she recognized came from the door, “Oh it’s real alright.”
Mack stood up, “Officer Winters. Did you find out who the sender was?”
Britney could hear him smirking, “It’s the same phone number that’s been sending messages to Dr. Chong. The same phone number that’s registered under her name.”
“This is ludicrous! She would never send compromising pictures of herself to anyone! Besides, she probably doesn’t even have everyone’s cell numbers,” Brad had a hand on one of her shoulders as he stood behind her.
“A staff directory has everyone’s contact information, doesn’t it?” Winters asked Mack who nodded.
Officer Diaz walked in and stopped the conversation, “We’re still trying to find out who the true owner of the cell phone is. Please advise your employer to advise the building employees that the message was not sent by Dr. Chong.”
A few minutes later, the officers left.
“This is a mess Britney. Just a mess,” Mack was sitting behind his desk, tapping his fingers against the wood.
“Mack, I didn’t send that message,” Britney said feeling numb.
“I know you didn’t Britney but until everything blows over, I’ve been given directions to put you on leave.”
“What?” Brad looked at Britney who seemed resigned, “Then who will do the show with me?”
“No one. You’ll do it on your own. We may get guest hosts. All of this has to blow over. We don’t know who but some of the workers have posted your picture on the internet already Britney. The message boards are blowing up. Everyone’s making a big deal about it. Even the janitors are upset. They wanted to know why you were wearing granny panties. The big boss is asking for your resignation. I convinced him to put you on leave until we can figure things out.”
“What if I refuse to do the show without Britney?” Brad asked.
“You’re on contract Dr. Clooney. You’ll only be hurting yourself.”
“No,” Britney shook her head, “Brad you have to continue. Things will get cleared up and I’ll be back.”
“No! I’m so sick of this right now. I don’t know why he sent those pictures. It doesn’t matter. I have bigger problems to deal with so maybe this is a good thing.”
Brad tried to stop her from walking out of the office but couldn’t. She walked to the parking lot where Oliver was doing his rounds.
“Hi Dr. Chong. How are things?” the old security guard asked.
“They’ve been better.” Britney wondered if Oliver had also seen the picture of her in her underwear.
“I’m sorry to hear that. Did you and your boyfriend fight?”
Britney laughed, “No. I think I’m going to take some time off so I’ll see you in a few weeks, okay?”
“That’s good Dr.Chong. You take some time for yourself. You deserve it.”
Britney waved goodbye to Oliver and got in her car. Instead of driving to her home, she found herself going to the cemetery.
She passed what seemed like endless graves until she stopped in front of two that she hadn’t visited in a long while.
“I’m sorry I’m coming empty handed. I just wanted to stop by and say I miss you guys and I really wish you were here. You two were the best parents I could ever dream of and I’m so grateful that you adopted me. I love you both so much.” Britney was sitting on the ground in front of the graves of her parents, bawling. “Dad, you used to always give me such good advice. Mom, you always listened to me talk about boys and work. I need you guys. I really need you guys right now. I don’t know what to do. I’m sure you’re watching over me and Nicholas but if you can…please just watch over Nicholas. I don’t want anything to happen to him. Especially not because of me. Please.”
As Britney wept, a solitary figure in the distance watched, smiling.
Gabby was watching Luke inhale some Doritos while typing on his laptop. He said he was designing a new security system. She didn’t understand how he could still be working. Gabby never remembered him working like this in the past. They had dated after she broke up with Officer Dean Winters. Luke was fun and a few years younger than her. They fought a lot but that was probably because they were so much alike. He was handsome and successful but he was very immature. He was no Dr. Brad Clooney, that’s for sure.
“Boom shakala laka boom,” Luke was chanting under his breath.
“Luke,” Gabby called out to him.
He didn’t respond. Instead he kept chanting, “Boom shakalaka laka boom.”
“Luke!” Gabby said in a sharper voice, almost yelling.
“What’s wrong, babe?” Luke pulled himself away from his laptop and glanced at Gabby who was scowling.
“I’ve been trying to think and I can’t because you keep mumbling.”
Luke chuckled, “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was doing it.”
“Well stop. It’s annoying.”
Luke shook his head, “I know you’re upset because your friend passed away but you need to watch the attitude.”
Gabby frowned, “She didn’t pass away Luke. She was murdered. Killed! How can you be so insensitive?”
Luke shrugged, “I didn’t know her. Besides, I offered to go with you to the funeral tomorrow but you said no. What else do you want from me?”
“I’ve told you what I wanted.”
Luke rolled his eyes, “Gabby, you’re older than me but you need to grow up.”
“Me? I need to grow up? What’s that supposed to mean?”
Luke sighed, “I’m tired of playing these games with you.”
“What games?” Gabby asked.
“You know what games. You need to stop being such a downer all the time.”
“If I’m such a downer, why did you ask me to go out with you again? Didn’t you break up with another girl to date me again? We were apart for three months. Why ask me out again?”
Luke shut off his laptop, “Honestly, I’m asking myself the same thing.”
“What did you say?” Gabby asked, shocked.
“You heard me. I’m sick and tired of you always nagging at me. I can’t even hum to myself or you get all bent out of shape. You still won’t let me introduce you to my friends. You’re always putting me down. I don’t get it. If you’re so ashamed of me then why go out with me?”
Gabby was breathing heavily, “Luke, I’m going through a tough time right now.”
“Yeah? Name someone who isn’t.”
Gabby took a step back, Luke had never gotten upset with her before. “Why are you being a jerk to me right now?”
“I’m not being a jerk Gabby. I just want an answer. Are you ashamed of me?”
Gabby took a second too long to answer. Luke cursed under his breath, “You know what I don’t understand Gabby?” He didn’t wait for her to respond, “You act like I’m not good enough for you but the truth is, you’re not all that.”
“Excuse me?” she said, offended.
“Did I stutter? You’re not that great a catch. You’re older than me. I make more money than you. Even my friend Nicholas’ sister, Britney, is better looking than you.”
It was a direct hit, and Luke knew it. He knew how Gabby was secretly jealous of Britney Chong.
“I’m way prettier than her!” Gabby shouted.
Luke shrugged, “Maybe in your eyes.”
Gabby was sputtering in anger.
“I never understood why you didn’t want to meet my best friend Nicholas. You and I dated for four months, broke up for three, and even now you still don’t want to meet him. The only thing I can think of is that you’re embarrassed.”
“This is my apartment too. You get out!” Luke yelled at her.
Gabby ran towards him and tried shoving him out the door. He held his ground, making it difficult for her. She wouldn’t be able to open the door and push him out. Gabby threw her hands up and attempted to scratch his face. Luke cursed and pushed her up against a wall, holding her arms above her head, “What the hell’s the matter with you?”
“Let go of me!”
“You need to calm down,” Luke muttered.
“Let me go!” she shouted, trying to kick her leg up to hit him in the groin. Luke threw his weight against her and said in a deep voice, “I’ll leave, but I’m getting my stuff first. If I were you, I wouldn’t piss me off anymore right now.”
Gabby was frozen in fear and anger. She wasn’t afraid of Luke but this was the angriest she had ever seen him. She rubbed her wrists where he had held her and whispered, “Hurry up. Get your stuff and get out Luke.”
He called her a few curse words as he gathered some clothes in an overnight bag. His parting words to her were the same ones he gave to her the last time, “You’ll regret this.”
Home of Britney Chong
Britney was making some hot cocoa and her brother Nicholas was standing next to her holding a bag of tiny marshmallows.
“Remind me again why we’re making hot cocoa when it’s hot outside?” Nicholas asked.
“Because it’s delicious.”
“Does your boyfriend know what a weirdo you are?” Nicholas asked.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Britney said softly.
“Really? You could’ve fooled me. He comes over all the time now,” Nicholas said while eating a handful of marshmallows.
Britney slapped his hand, “Stop or we won’t have any for the cocoa!”
“Marshmallow Nazi!” Nicholas cried after she took the bag away.
“Before I was adopted, we used to make hot cocoa in my foster home. I used to love drinking it. Even in hot weather, I’d drink it,” Britney smiled.
Nicholas nodded, “Yeah yeah…I’ve heard this story before Britney.”
“So rude,” she laughed.
“You’re lucky though. You had a good foster home and mom and dad adopted you.”
“They adopted you too Nicholas,” Britney reminded him.
He gave a thin smile, “Yeah but I still had to see some rough parts of life before they adopted me.”
Britney pulled out two mugs and placed them on the counter. She stayed quiet to let Nicholas continue talking. It was very rare for him to discuss his life before the adoption. Britney had only really known him as her obnoxious but lovable little brother. She couldn’t imagine him suffering as a young child. The thought made her heart ache.
When he didn’t continue, she asked, “What was it like Nicholas?”
He started outlining the rim of one of the mugs with a finger, “I don’t know.”
“I only ask because mom and dad never really told me and you never told me. It’s weird to think there’s this entire chunk of your life that I don’t know about. I’m your sister. I should know everything about you.”
Nicholas smirked, “Is that so?”
“Yes. No secrets between siblings.”
Nicholas shook his head, “I don’t think so Britney.”
“Nicholas you’re an adult now. It’s okay to talk to me about it.”
“I thought psychologists weren’t supposed to be pushy about getting people to open up,” Nicholas jested.
“I’m not talking to you as a psychologist. I’m talking to you as a sister. A big sister that’s tired of not knowing everything about you.”
“I think it’s best that you don’t know Britney.”
“Really? Do you mean that?” Britney asked, a little hurt.
Nicholas sighed, “Oh and she’s pulling the big sister puppy eyes card on me.”
“No I’m not. I’m just surprised. You know everything about me.”
Nicholas shook his head, “No I don’t and honestly, I find it hard to believe that you don’t know everything about my biological parents.”
Britney turned away, “I know some stuff.”
Britney cleared her throat and began pouring the cocoa into one of the mugs, “That your parents were addicted to drugs.”
“True, and what else?” Nicholas knew his sister well enough to know that she always knew more than she let on.
“That they were arrested and put in jail,” she mumbled.
“And what else?”
“That there were allegations of abuse.”
She wasn’t facing him, but she could hear him inhaling a gasp.
“How did you know all that Britney?”
“A couple of years ago, I looked into some old records of mom and dad and then followed up with police reports.”
“All that just to find out about my childhood?” Nicholas mocked.
“You’re my brother Nicholas. Of course I did that. I wanted to know more about you.”
“Why not?” she asked.
Nicholas rubbed a hand over his face, “Britney, I’m an adult. I know you mean well but sometimes you treat me like a kid and it really bothers me.”
Britney knew she went overboard sometimes, “I’m sorry Nicholas. I shouldn’t have snooped. It’s nothing to be ashamed of though.”
“I know that!” Nicholas raised his voice more than he intended to. There was a moment of awkward silence. “I’m sorry Britney. It’s just not something I ever wanted to talk about.”
“I understand Nicholas. It must be tough to have been exposed to that.”
“Britney, I know you’re a shrink and all that but could you spare me the understanding BS. You have no idea what I went through.”
“Of course I don’t. You won’t tell me.”
Nicholas cursed, “You want to know? Fine! I was raised by the two most selfish people I know. They didn’t care about me one bit. All they cared about was their next fix. If I bugged them and told them I was hungry, I’d get a whipping. And not with a hand or even a sandal Britney. They’d beat me with whatever was close to them. You ever been spanked with a bottle of beer before, Britney? It hurts like hell.”
Britney was shocked but Nicholas continued, “Still, being bruised by a bottle was nothing compared to when they made me get in a bath full of water and hit me Britney. I don’t know if you know this, but the water makes it hurt more.”
Britney could feel tears forcing themselves out of her eyes as she watched her brother’s face crumple in the sadness of his memories. “I hated them Britney! I really hated them. I was glad when the cops busted them for drugs. I never wanted to see them again. All they ever taught me was pain. The ins and outs of it. I know it well. I practically have a doctorates in it. You treat me like I’m some kind of kid and it bugs the hell out of me Britney because I haven’t been a kid since I was old enough to walk.”
Britney heard him take a deep breath, “I’m sorry Nicholas.”
He raised his head and looked at her, “For what? It wasn’t you that made me go hungry or kneel on broken beer bottles because I asked for a cake on my seventh birthday.”
Britney wanted to hug Nicholas but she knew if she did, he would reject her affection. Instead she said, “It must have been very different coming from that world to being adopted here. Mom and dad were amazing and loving.”
Nicholas gave a bitter laugh, “Different? Try alien. I used to wonder when they were going to show their true colors. It took me two years to finally trust them.”
Britney nodded quietly, “Nicholas?”
“I love you. You know that right?”
Nicholas nodded, “I know that Britney. Deep in my heart I know it. I know I joke around a lot Britney but please don’t ask about my past anymore. It’s not something I like to think about.”
“I understand, Nicholas.”
“Would you stop saying that? You don’t understand Britney. You could have a million psychology degrees but unless you’ve lived through what I’ve been through, No amount of empathy is going to make you understand. I’m scarred for life! Can you get that through your head?” Nicholas took a deep breath and cursed. “I’m sorry Britney. I’m sorry.”
Britney could see the tears he was trying to wipe away, “It’s okay. I know that was difficult for you but you shared it anyway. Thank you Nicholas.”
He didn’t respond so she grabbed his mug and poured some cocoa in it. She then put a small mountain of marshmallows in his cocoa. “Cheer up brother. I’m here for you.”
Nicholas was about to speak when the doorbell rang.
“Was your boyfriend coming by?” Nicholas asked, his voice gruff with left-over emotion.
“No,” Britney murmured.
“Ah ha! You didn’t deny it so you admit he’s your boyfriend!” Nicholas was trying to lighten the atmosphere and Britney went along with it.
She laughed, “I plead the fifth.”
“You can’t plead the fifth!” Nichols cried.
Britney stuck her tongue at him and replied, “Says who?”
She walked over to the front door and opened it. Outside was not one but two handsome men. “Brad! Luke!” Britney said in surprise.
Nicholas walked up from behind and greeted his friend. They all stared down at the overnight bag, “What’s going on Luke?”
“My girlfriend and I broke up again. Do you mind if I spend a few nights here?”
Nicholas looked at Britney who gave a slight smile, “Not at all. Mi casa es su casa.”
“Thanks guys,” Luke stepped forward and followed Nicholas to the living room.
Brad waited in the doorway, “How are you doing?”
“I’m holding up,” Britney answered.
“Your eyes are all red. Have you been crying?” Brad asked.
Britney nodded, “Yes but not for the reason you’re thinking.”
“What reason am I thinking?” Brad asked playfully.
“That I’m crying because I lost another friend.”
“Actually,” Brad corrected her, “I was thinking your eyes were red because of allergies.”
Britney genuinely laughed and allowed him to come in. Neither of them noticed Nicholas and Luke, quietly watching them from the kitchen. Both were wearing a frown.