The waitress laid the check and two fortune cookies on the table. The candy hearts were an extra treat for Valentine's Day. Kali grinned at the slender woman—a thank you, not an invitation.
"What?" Kali asked, as Jeff's smile withered. He handed her the paper from the fortune cookie.
"Your life is in danger. Say nothing to anyone. You must leave the city immediately and never return. Repeat: say nothing. . ."
"This is a joke. Right?" Kali looked up and noticed Jeff scanning the room. "Jeff?" She touched his arm. "Jeff, you're scaring me."
He focused on Kali. "I. . .I don't know," he said, his words swathed in panic. "I hope so." He looked around the room again. "I received a similar note last week at work and laughed it off. Now I'm not so sure." He rose.
"Wait," Kali said.
"You read the note. It says my life is in danger."
"This has to be a practical joke. I mean you haven't done anything to cause someone to want to kill you." She read the note once more, then looked at Jeff. "Have you?"
He wiped his moist hands on his trousers and leaned forward. "I must have pissed someone off. At work maybe. I don't know. I can't think. I've got to get out of here." He tossed a twenty and a five on the table and dashed out the door. Kali snatched her purse and coat and followed.
"Jeff. Wait." She caught up to him and grabbed his arm. "You need to call the police."
"What part of 'say nothing' don't you understand?"
"Not so loud, Jeff. People are staring."
He pulled her into an alley.
"I shouldn't tell you."
"We've been dating for six months, and now I feel like I don't know you." Kali turned to leave. "Maybe this was a mistake."
"No, wait. I. . ."
Kali stood, legs apart, arms folded, her head cocked to one side.
"Okay, so maybe a few years ago I did something that got someone else thrown in jail. . .and maybe that someone got out of jail last week. . . and maybe he thinks I have something that belongs to him." He inhaled deeply and looked at Kali. "I'm sorry. I didn't think he'd find me."
"What are you talking about?"
"There are things about me you don't know—and it's better that way."
"I'm sorry. I have to leave town."
"I'll go with you," she said.
"No." He put his hands on her shoulder. "If he finds me, he. . .. Let's just say you might be in danger, too. God, I didn't mean for it to end like this. I do love you, Kali."
She thought about that. "Where will you go?"
"It's better if you don't know."
"But what if something happens? How will anyone find you? How will I find you?"
Jeff put his fingers together and placed them against his lips.
"Remember the cabin I took you to on our third date? The one near Grandfather Mountain?"
"Off Route 320."
"Yes. I never told him about that place. I should be safe there until I figure out what to do and where I can go."
"Okay, but I find it hard to believe you'd actually steal. That doesn't sound like the man I fell in love with." She reached for his hands. "Do you really have something this guy might want?"
Jeff paused. "Yes."
"At the cabin?"
Kali reached up and kissed him. "Will I ever see you again?"
"Probably not. Maybe. I don't know. I hope so once this is over." He pulled her to his chest and kissed her back. Finally, he let her go and dashed out of the alley, looking left and right when he reached the sidewalk.
Kali paused at the entrance to the alley, pulled her cellphone from her purse, and called her brother. She turned so her back was to the street.
"He's on his way to the cabin." She listened for a few seconds. "He said it's there." She listened some more. "Okay. Tomorrow at noon at the cabin. I'll see you then."