She pulled her hood up and drew it tight around her face. Emerging from the trees, she reached under the garden shed window frame and slipped the spare backdoor key off the hook. She had checked again last week to make sure Stephanie had not changed the lock. She hadn’t.
Really, why would she? What possible threat could there be, given that Hope McLanden was locked up tight in Bedford Hills serving 25 to life.
She padded around the corner and caught a glimpse of her reflection in the sunroom window. Good to note that applying a darker matte foundation as well as a sharpie to the reflective bits on her shoes made her almost invisible. She reached under the Powerwall to find the additional circuit she had installed last week, pushed the button on the tiny EMP generator, and then restarted her phone to – yes, good – check that the network hub on the other side of the wall was no longer broadcasting Wi-Fi. She had used a similar hack to knock out the three nearest cell towers, which meant that there would be no streaming media in this house for the next few hours. Someone would have to notice the outage, and report it, and then who knows how long it would take to send a tech to figure out why the backup fuel cells hadn’t kicked in. All highly unlikely to happen fast at 4 am.
She had time.
She slipped in through the back door and took in the silent house. A few things had changed in the years she had been away. A bigger television, a smaller dining room chandelier. She was a different person, too, than the last time she'd been here. She was Amanda Clarke now, had been for the last year since leaving Bedford Hills. Her parole was over and as long as she didn't fuck it up, she was free. She breathed in. She wouldn't fuck this up.
She turned toward the stairs and –-
She slowly blinked awake and wondered why the ceiling was so far away. Was she back in prison? No, wait, there were no pot lights in her cell, and the cots were hard, but not – that hard. She felt like she was lying on granite. She tried to sit up, but couldn't. She pressed her hands down and realized with a grimace that she was lying on her River White Granite kitchen island. The room was still dark, with only the undercounter night light on. Which was a good thing, because her head hurt where someone had hit it.
“What do you want?” Stephanie’s voice came from behind her. She pictured her with her arms crossed, dangling a rubber mallet. Damned brotherfucking woman. Probably wearing flannel pajamas. “Why are you here, Emily?”
Emily. It sounded strange to her ears, even though she had been Emily for more years than she had been Hope. It had been maybe a year after she had split with Faith at the bus station, she had found another homeless girl – Emily Nelson – dead under a bridge. She looked at the girl’s face, her hair, and thought, that could be me, and it had been almost instinctive to steal the girl's wallet. Then she had been Emily for, what, 16 years? 17? She had become Emily. And then Sean's wife, Nicky's mom. That was before the world shoved her back into being Hope for her trial and prison. And no Sean, no Nicky.
Then since she had been out, she had been Amanda. Or rather, she had played at being Amanda. It hadn’t really worked; she wasn't the type to blend. It wasn’t that her different selves were split personalities, they were more… experiments. Claudia, Julia, Annabelle, all people she had tried on, like a new fashion trend. And apparently, she couldn't put Emily back on any more.
“Not Emily,” she said.
“Okay... you,” Stephanie replied, walking around to look at her. Stephanie looked good. She was, surprisingly, not wearing flannel but a cute t shirt, undies, and no bra. No crossed arms trying to hide it, either. She looked different than she did on her Mommy vlog these days. So much more woman than the girl she used to be.
“And why aren’t you in prison?” Stephanie tilted her head. “I mean, you are still in prison, because I check the Bedford Hills site regularly. But also, here you are.”
Fitting into he Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women had been another experiment. She was ultimately glad her lawyer was a fucking pitbull and she was not on death row. Stephanie must have paid the legal bills; Sean couldn’t afford a lawyer like Jeri Hogarth and wouldn’t have hired her even if he could. And Sean and Nicky had never visited.
But neither had Stephanie.
Even so, Bedford Hills wasn’t a bad place. Most of the girls there were great. She had made friends. It hadn’t even been her idea to get out – it was Amanda who said it was "too bad" they couldn't switch places. Amanda was up for parole, except she had no family, no place to go, and was terrified she would fall back into drugs and thieving. They were close enough in looks, the same build, same eye color, the girls over on E block called them the terrible twins. Emily never wore her hair down, always in braids; Amanda never braided her hair; and so they switched on game day. The guards, well. There had been too many accusations of guards leering at the girls, so they never really looked. It was almost too easy. All of the girls wished her well.
Stephanie crossed her arms and tapped a finger against her chin. “And, given you have somehow escaped, why would you come here? It wasn’t because you missed me, was it?”
She couldn’t stop a tiny smile. “No,” she said, shaking her head.
“Oh, I think you did,” Stephanie said. “Because I missed you.”
She stared up at her. Now that was interesting.
"Yes, I did," Stephanie said. "Confession time. Which is why I set up a perimeter alarm. I know how smart and how amazingly persistent you are." She turned her head, then. "Give me a minute," she said, and disappeared toward the garage.
Alone, she took a breath and blew it out, staring at the ceiling. She tugged harder at her restraints, but apparently Stephanie knew a lot about bungie cords. Damn her to fucking hell.
She was thinking through the tenth way this could go when Stephanie came back in through the sliding door. "All taken care of," she said. She padded over to the island and pushed herself up on the counter, sitting next to her, hip to hip. "Now, talk to me."
“I –” she swallowed, deciding on a possible path through this. “I was thinking I could convince you to help me get access to Nicky.” And by convince, she meant force. Something significantly harder to do when you were the one tied to the kitchen island.
“Oh, sweetie, that’s not possible,” Stephanie said, knocking her heels against the cupboard door. “However,” she added, looking at her sideways, “I was thinking about getting Sean to send Nicky to the same summer camp that Miles goes to. So not 100 percent impossible.”
“I would really appreciate that,” she said, breathing a sigh of something like relief. Stephanie laid a hand on her face. She didn't flinch at the touch, though she didn't press into it, either. Doing neither seemed... safest.
“But really, you can’t have thought this would work, did you? I mean, you can’t be a fugitive and still see Nicky.”
Of course she understood that. She just didn't have any other choice.
"But," Stephanie said, her face scrunching up into a smile. "I think we can work something out."
She did smile then. “Does that mean you’re going to untie me?”
“About that.” Stephanie leaned over her again and she tried not to melt into the warmth. “I kind of like you all tied up.” Stephanie trailed that warm hand down her neck, unzipping her jacket and accidentally brushing the back of her hand across her breasts. She could feel her nipples harden and wondered if this new Stephanie ever did anything accidentally.
Stephanie looked down at her with a different smile. She leaned closer and she felt those sly fingers pinching her nipples, wandering down her body, pressing into her inner thigh. “If I do this,” she said, suddenly grabbing her pussy hard, “will you tell me what you really want?”
“I told you –” she started. Her fingernails pressed into her palms. She tried to twist away.
And then Stephanie oh-so-calmly dipped her fingers past the waistband of her pants, pressing slowly lower. And lower. She whispered in her ear, “I know you want this.” And then, “And there’s more you want to tell me, isn’t there?” as she reached into her panties.
“What are you – “ she groaned. And then she forgot to breathe as those clever fingers started touching her everywhere.
Stephanie kissed her ear, her cheek, then her mouth, hard, just as those fingers dove deep inside her. “See, I know what you really want,” she breathed.
She tried to think about something else, anything else, but this Stephanie, the Stephanie who wanted her, was overwhelming. She felt the white heat building and she curled into it, gasping into Stephanie's mouth.
Afterward, she blinked hard and took a deep breath. What do you say to your most bitter enemy when she had just made you come like that?
Her phone dinged: Refills
“Yes, miss,” she said to her phone.
The response was automatic, even though she was alone in the kitchen. That was all she was allowed to say now. Yes, miss. No, miss. It hadn’t taken long to learn that saying anything else meant wearing the ball gag overnight.
She checked her outfit, knowing she had to be perfect today if she wanted anything good later. Her domino mask was perfect, her hard, pink nipples peeked out through the French lace, and the inches of skin between her skirt and the tops of her stockings would be just at eye level to the guests seated on the deck.
Her world now centered on such small things. Things that mattered so very much to Stephanie. She didn't have to think about who she was anymore, because Stephanie did that for her.
She took the steel pitcher of martinis from the freezer. As she strode outside, confident on her perfect heels, she realized being no one at all was the most interesting experiment yet.