“Your card declined.”
“Do you have another card? This one declined.” I shook the incredulous stare from myself and dipped another card into the machine. Again: Declined.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” I fumbled. “I think I’ve got some cash somewhere…”
“Don’t worry about it, Sonya,” the purple-haired barista smiled. “You’re in here every day. This one’s on the house.”
“Thank you!” I picked up the steaming beverage of caffeine, grateful karma was on my side. This Monday was already a tough one, and I needed all the help I could get. It wasn’t every day you got suspended. I knew the financial discrepancy wasn’t my fault, but there would be an investigation to prove that truth. Until then, I was to stay out of the way at home.
Maybe I could move up my vacation time? I speculated. I was supposed to go to Italy with my boyfriend next month, but the cheating bastard had stuck a knife in those romantic plans last week. So now I had two plane tickets and one excellent excuse for some time away.
I sipped the latte, attempting to drink its warmth as optimism into my soul. I needed to see the shitty glass as half full. My chunky heels clicked on the parking garage pavement as I took short steps in my pencil skirt to reach my Tesla.
The car door wouldn’t open. Huh? The key fob clicked, but nothing happened.
“Hello? Customer service?”
“Yes, Sonya, I have your file open here,” My coffee was empty, and my feet hurt from pacing by the time a friendly voice answered. “It appears you’re fallen delinquent on your payments.”
“But, it’s on autopay…” I protested.
“Unfortunately, the last payment due on February 9th didn’t post. The loan agreement requires timely payments, or we remotely prevent continued use of the vehicle. Once you’ve made the payment, we can reactivate—”
I hung up before losing my temper, and instead, I used my phone to summon an Uber. I need to get this bra off and sit on my couch before I have a meltdown. My ombre-glittered manicured nails snapped against the screen like an angry pecking bird. I clicked through the screens to accept the next ride until… Please reauthorize payment method. Frustration coursed through me as I pulled my card from my wallet and scanned it to no avail.
Okay, something is wrong. In exasperation, I tossed the back of my head a little too hard against the concrete wall of the parking garage.“Ouch,” I cursed. Well, if trouble came in threes, then I’d just hit the magic number. Someone must have stolen my credit card number! I took a deep breath, counted to three, and reopened my eyes. I can deal with this; I’m an adult.
I quickly called my bank to put a hold on my account.
“I’m sorry, Sonya. But that security password isn’t correct. Can you please provide your mother’s maiden name?”
“It’s Pastrano. Pastrano!”
“That’s not what I have listed on your account, Sonya. Unfortunately, I can’t help you without the correct security password. Please try calling us back once you remember.”
What was going on?
I somehow avoided crying on Facetime to my friend Stephanie, who finagled me a free ride to my small townhouse. Two hours later, Jake, a friend of a friend who had a car but not a job somehow, dropped me off. He looked like an out-of-season ski bum and probably was with his dreadlocks almost rattling with the heavy metal from the car stereo. It was summer, and the noon sun baked the decorative stone façade of the duplex. Yet it was only cheap, pressed concrete, so it smelled like an unwashed shirt. It made me yearn for a salty, Italian villa that much more. I imagined the terracotta smelled like citrus and glazed croissants. Alone again, a tear of relief slipped down my cheek as I walked to the open door.
Wait. The door was open?
I ran to the door, grabbing the handle and looking at the doorjamb for signs of a break-in. How bad was it? The foyer was empty; the mess of old movie tickets, weekend lipstick, and a scarf was untouched on the side table. My ankles hurt as I strode to the kitchen, again seeing nothing out of place.
“Hello?” I shouted curiously up the carpeted stairs to the bedroom.
To my surprise, a woman appeared at the top of the stairs.
“Ah, you’re here!” She said graciously like she was welcoming me as a guest.
“And you are?” I gawked. There wasn’t a reason to run… yet, but I gripped my phone in case I had to dial 9-1-1.
“I’m Sonya!” the woman chirped. “Isn’t that wonderful? But maybe you should ask me another question.” She walked down the stairs in exaggerated steps like a princess at a ball. The summer dress of baby blue displayed plunging cleavage, but the full skirt went past her knees and bounced with each step. She had brown hair, carefully curled, and bright red lipstick, accentuating her equally carefully curled smile. If I didn’t know better, I’d say she looked like me.
“I’m Sonya,” I said, backing against the wall.
“I said you should ask a question,” she said.
“Who are you, and what are you doing here?” My certainty finally grabbed my voice.
“I’m Sonya, and this is my house!” the woman said, frowning. “I don’t know who you are.”
“This is my house,” I attempted to correct her as she joined me in the foyer at the foot of the stairs. She was shorter than me, but I didn’t dare think she was pretty.
“But you’re not Sonya,” the woman said, “not anymore.” She pivoted to adjust a framed picture on the wall. A black frame that used to hold a beach picture of my friends and me at Stephanie’s bachelorette in Cancun, each with blue Curaçao drinks in hand. It was still a picture of the ocean, but now it was a single cocktail glass with a seagull flying above artistically.
“What are you talking about? This isn’t your house!” I reveal my phone to further my threat. “I think you need to leave. I’m calling the police!”
“Oh, that wouldn’t be a good idea,” the woman looked concerned, but not for herself. She genuinely looked like she was worried for a friend drinking too much and about to leave the bar with the wrong guy. I hesitated. I’m not in danger; maybe I should hear her out first? “I don’t want you to be arrested. It’s not your fault, just a misunderstanding. I don’t want to press charges.” She took a step towards me. “But I will press the matter. This is my house.”
“What are you saying? You sound crazy!”
“This isn’t your house anymore. Just like the other things in your life that you thought were yours. They are mine now.” The woman walked into my kitchen, opened my cabinets, got two glasses, and began to fill them with water from my fridge. “Beginning with that boyfriend. Boy, is he juicy!”
My jaw fell. My mouth dried.
“You?” I spat. “You are the woman Kyle cheated on me with?”
“He was easy to convince,” she said, her eyes twinkling seductively. “His tongue is so wild when he kisses me. He’s such a catch. I’m lucky he loves me now.”
“How dare you!” I screamed. “You need to get out!”
She calmly handed me the glass of water. “Girl, don’t dwell on it. It’s not worth it.”
“What did I ever do to you?”
“Do? To me?” the woman looked offended. “Nothing! Unless you call being perfect a crime.” She giggled like it was an inside joke. My eyes were still wide, watching her and waiting for a reason. Finally, the woman who called herself Sonya abated. “You have a perfect life, perfect credit, perfect identity for my next operation.”
“That’s all I’ll say to you. No one will believe you since I’m Sonya now. Or more likely, they’ll believe you’re me and throw you in jail for fraud.” She shrugged. “You really shouldn’t go around trying to get arrested.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I drank the water as a distraction for my own brain, hoping the delay would produce an answer. What could I do? No boyfriend was the least of my worries. I had no house, no car, no credit card, nothing except…
“These are still good,” I said, stomping to the fridge and pulling down the two tickets with Rome written across them. Thank God I had printed them!
“Yes,” the woman admitted. “I won’t use those, so you can try! Although your passport might give you some problems,” she smirked.
“Worth it,” I said, stuffing them into my purse. But now what? I just walk away? I turned to face this new Sonya who leaned against the kitchen counter, one hand on her hip. Her confidence made me feel envious and insulted, like Dutchess Kate Middleton. I would never be a princess, and I would never be like this woman, yet she had stolen my identity!
Her eyes spiked in astonishment as the kitchen knife sucked her soul into drops of red death. I didn’t expect that either. The washed knife was next to the sink, and it had called to my carnal impulse. I remembered picking it up and turning towards her, but my hand had done the rest.
Then I left. I left that Sonya in her townhome with her perfect, fake life. At the airport, I exchanged the two tickets for a single one-way ticket to Rome leaving today. I was cautioned by the TSA, saying if my claim of identity theft was valid, I shouldn’t be getting on a plane. I won’t be able to come back, they said.
Now I sat in an aisle seat, next to a mother and daughter, airplane doors closing. Reflecting on what had happened, I tried to sort out whether I hated her or my old life more. Life should be more than a finance desk job to pay a mortgage and fighting the online dating game to have screaming kids, right? Suddenly it felt like freedom. I had just escaped the biggest trap of my life.
“Here,” I said, offering my seatmate my phone. “Do you want a phone?”
“To play with?”
“No, to keep!”
“Wow!” Both of her tiny hands gripped the phone to not drop the new treasure. “Thanks, lady.”
“Call me,” I paused, thinking of who I was about to become. “Kelsey. Kelsey Pitchett.”
Writing Inspiration: Globe Soup Challenge #5