Earlier that same evening, Varvara Dragova was following a very hot lead. The blog she started writing when she first arrived in the District was called “New Perspective,” and it quickly evolved from a newcomer’s diary to a pseudo-news blog. One of her best sources was someone she’d only communicated with online, but this time he messaged her and insisted that they talk in person.
Oddly enough, her source lived right next door to Persephone Marchand, which is why Varvara didn’t feel nervous when she agreed to meet him. She told herself, “I can always go to Persephone’s place if I need to.” She confidently walked up to the door and knocked.
“It’s open!” her source called from inside the front room, where he’d been reading a book and waiting for her.
“Thank you for coming,” he said as he rose up to greet her.
“So you’re Mr. X,” Varvara stated as he set his book down. “Somehow I imagined you to be… older.”
“I have to admit that I’m not at all surprised by your appearance, Lady V. Now that you’re here, I can properly introduce myself. My name is Jared Patton. Now if you would care to have a seat, I need to tell you something.”
“All right, Jared, I’m listening… What’s your big scoop?”
“This may come as a real surprise to you, but you cannot trust Persephone Marchand!” Jared insisted.
“Oh, why is that?” Varvara questioned him. “She told me people don’t like her, so this is no surprise to me.”
“It’s more than that, V. I have evidence that’ll prove it to you: your new friend is dangerous! She’s been seen in the company of several young men in this District who have all mysteriously disappeared. One of them looked a little like me, which actually kind of freaks me out,” Jared admitted with a bit of an awkward laugh.
“I would definitely like to take a look at that evidence,” Varvara told him as her mind began racing.
“It’s all on my computer. I’ll make a copy of everything for you,” he responded confidently.
“Great, I appreciate that. If you don’t mind, may I use your bathroom?”
“Be my guest. It’s down the hall; the only door on your right,” Jared joked playfully.
Varvara went straight to the washroom. She needed space and a moment to think. She couldn’t help but think about the statement Persephone had made just before leaving for work. At the time, Varvara thought it had to be a joke, but now she needed to wonder.
Plus she didn’t really know Jared. She met him online and chatted with him before about other stories she’d written. His online persona, Mr. X, was the one who encouraged Varvara to become a citizen journalist when he responded to her post about the camp she’d been at. She thought highly of him, but she didn’t know if she could believe him.
She turned on the taps and quickly checked his medicine cabinet and peeked in the cupboards in his bathroom. Her desperate attempt to learn anything else about him turned up nothing, except that if he was on any medication, it wasn’t kept in the bathroom. “I’ll see if I can sneak into his bedroom while he’s on the computer,” she thought.
“Oh snap, he’ll see me for sure,” she realized when she stepped out of the bathroom. Instead, she approached the window to evaluate his view of Persephone’s house.
From his location, Jared could easily see the upstairs room that Persephone had joked about earlier. Varvara couldn’t see anyone in the room when she looked, and the lights were on even though Persephone was at work, but Varvara knew people in the District didn’t think much about leaving all the lights on in every room twenty-four hours a day.
There was nothing more she could do but check out Jared’s information. She returned to the front room just as Jared finished copying files to a USB stick. He’d noticed her looking out the window, so he pointed out the window by his computer, saying, “Look, from here I can see her other bedroom on the main floor. I thought it was a guest room when I walked by the house, but you could check next time you visit her.”
“You think I should poke around in her house and find out where she sleeps?” Varvara questioned after Jared handed her the USB stick.
“I know it sounds really creepy and you probably think I’m a weirdo right now, but I saw you going into her place, and I thought I need to at least warn you about my suspicions. If you don’t want to gather any evidence yourself, I’ll totally understand that.” He didn’t want to insult her journalistic integrity, so he added, “It is dangerous, and I don’t mind continuing gathering details for you.”
“I’ll think about it,” Varvara said. “I really should get going, but there’s one thing I have to ask you… Did you get dressed up special to meet me?”
Jared laughed, “Of course! I wanted to make a good impression on you.”
“Why?” she wondered. He gently held her hands, and for an instant, everything she’d been feeling became insignificant.
“It’s just that I feel like I know you so well, after all the conversations we’ve had online,” Jared confessed. “I know I shouldn’t have these feelings for you because we never really met before.”
“Wow, Jared, now I am surprised… I have fond feelings for you also; you’ve been so supportive to me.” Jared didn’t ask her to, but she ended up staying. They sat down and talked.
When she asked him what he did for a living, he said, “I used to be in the military and I stayed on for a little bit after the war, but then I was Honourably Discharged.” Of course she asked for more information, and he explained, “According to the paperwork, it’s due to ‘Condition; Not Disability’ so they don’t mean to imply that I’m unstable or anything… They did basically treat my desire to know the truth as a post-traumatic type of thing to discredit me though.”
“Oh great, now I need to wonder if you’re really crazy?” she teased him.
“Yup, I guess I’ll be seeing you… never again,” he joked in a flirty tone of voice.
They both laughed, then Varvara heard a sound in the distance and asked, “Is that a train?”
“Yeah, if you go look out the kitchen window you’ll be able to see it in a minute.”
“I love your place, Jared!” Varvara blurted out when the train made its appearance from behind the rocks. When she looked away from the train, she saw Jared looking at her. She took a deep breath and confessed, “I’m definitely crushing on you right now.”
She went ahead and boldly kissed Jared for the first time. He embraced her and gazed into her eyes for a moment before telling her, “Sadly that train means you’ve got to get going quickly! Persephone is about to get back from work, and she shouldn’t see you here.”
“Thanks for warning me,” she said and reluctantly pulled away from him. “Oh, we absolutely have to get together again!”
“You can count on it,” Jared promised her.
She was still swooning from their first kiss when she rushed out the front door. Her knees felt weak and she could barely breathe, but she knew time was of the essence and she would need to run to get out of the Raven Rock neighborhood before Persephone arrived.