PROLOGUE

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| PEYTON |

I'm walking down Beacon St. headed to my shift at the bookstore when my phone chimes with an incoming message. I pull it out of my pocket, and almost cause a traffic collision on the busy sidewalk when my steps falter suddenly.

UNKNOWN: Miss me?

I wrench my gaze from the message and hurry down a side street despite the slight haze panic casts over my vision. When I've tucked myself in a private corner, I take a deep breath and read the text again.

UNKNOWN: Miss me?

The new message sits neatly stacked below the one from last week, words I've stared at so many times they may be branded in my brain:

UNKNOWN: No Cali this summer?

To anyone who might glance at my phone, the messages look harmless, maybe even nice. So nondescript they could be from anyone. And that's not an accident. It's how he operates, an integral part of the game he's always played so well. He never missteps, never leaves a trace that could tie back to him, always leaves a door open for plausible deniability.

From the outside he is innocence and perfection incarnate, a veneer so flawless that no one could possibly believe he has a dark side. It's a side he seems to show only me, a burdensome distinction that ensures my isolation, and my silence.

I've always known there is no use in telling anyone. No one would read these texts and see them as proof of insidious intent. Because he knows I'm the only one who can see their real message.

I found you.

When I left California I got rid of my old phone and bought this one with a brand new credit card. No one from that life has this number. They can email me, but this phone was supposed to be untainted, untethered, a first step toward my future life. It was one way I knew he couldn't reach me, and like a fool I thought I'd won this small victory.

I haven't forgotten.

3 years. For 3 years I lived in naive ignorance, believing that putting the full distance of the country between us had let me slip outside his firing range. It's not as though I've been in hiding - he knows exactly where I am. So I viewed every day without threat or provocation from him as proof that he was done with me.

After a while I started to feel like I could breathe safely, could finally find out who I am without the vice of fear that used to limit my every word and act. It wouldn't be right to say that I've been putting the pieces of myself back together, because you can't reassemble something that was never whole to begin with. Rather, I've been grabbing and tightly guarding any scattered bits I find and trying to combine them into some semblance of a whole.

You're still not safe.

2 messages. 6 words. That's all it took to shatter my illusion of freedom. I don't know why he's doing this, after all this time. Why now, when I'm just a year away from getting my degree? He could just be taunting me, taking pleasure in the knowledge of my distress. Or it might just be the beginning of something new he has planned.

My vision tinges black at the edges as the fear hits me all at once. I double over, fighting the nearly forgotten yet all too familiar feeling of helplessness.

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Author's Notes:

Thanks for reading! Tell me what you think about the beginning :)

I have trouble writing in order, I tend to write scenes as they come to me and jump all over a story's timeline. So I actually have about half of this story already written, but I'm going to post on here in order as I manage to fill it all in.

The title...what do you think? Originally I named the document where I've been writing "WIP" as a placeholder, but the further I got into the story the more I realized that although never intended as a long term title, it actually fits and resonates with the story. Peyton is a work in progress. Like any WIP she's imperfect and she makes mistakes, but you can never have a finished product without feeling your way through that first draft. At its heart this story is about how she is creating herself and becoming whole.

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