This deleted scene from Shift has some spoilers in it so I don’t recommend you read it until after you’ve read Shift. Other than that, happy reading!
Renee’s stomach was a fluttery mess, but her reflection in the mirror was all smiles. She could hardly believe that she was about to meet a complete stranger for coffee. Well, not a complete stranger… she’d been interacting with Sam on Your Ideal Mate for nearly three weeks. Liz, her roommate, thought she was crazy for using a dating site, but she didn’t care. She didn’t see how meeting someone online was any different than meeting someone at a bar, which is where Liz went for most of her hookups. And Renee wasn’t looking for a hookup. Besides, everyone starts out as strangers, no matter where you meet them. Right?
“What if he’s a serial killer?” Liz said.
Renee could see Liz’s reflection in the bathroom mirror. She was leaning against the door jamb with her arms crossed and a displeased look on her face. Renee sprayed another blast of hairspray into her hair and said, “He’s not a serial killer.”
“How do you know?”
“The same way I know that everyone you meet at CJ’s isn’t a serial killer.”
Renee glanced over at Liz’s reflection. “The chances of me meeting someone creepy online is the same as you meeting someone creepy at the bar.” She turned back to look at herself in the mirror. She applied some lipstick then pursed her lips. “Besides, we’re just meeting for coffee. So it’ll be pretty hard for him to kill me.”
“Promise you won’t go with him back to his house or something?”
“Liz! You know I don’t sleep with guys on the first date.” She placed her hands on her hips and inspected herself in the mirror, turning from side to side. Then she looked over her shoulder at her butt. She decided that her yellow dress was conforming enough to be enticing, but not so much as to suggest she was willing to put out. “It’s not really a date, anyways. It’s coffee.”
The phone sitting next to the sink chimed. Renee picked it up and saw the notification that her date—coffee—was in thirty minutes. She took one last look at herself then walked past Liz out of the bathroom.
“So, how long are you going to be there?” Liz said.
“We agreed to keep our first da… meeting to an hour.”
“And you’ll text me as soon as it’s over?”
“Quit being so paranoid, Liz. But yes. I’ll let you know the moment I’m safe.” She made air quotes when she said ‘safe’.
“Promise you won’t go back to his place even if he invites you?”
“I promise, Liz. Besides, maybe you should take your own advice every once in a while.”
“I know how to take care of myself,” Liz said.
“So do I.” Renee dropped her phone into her purse and gave Ollie, her black and white Border Collie, who was lying half on and half off his dog bed, a rub behind the ear. Ollie thumped his tail and licked her hand. “You be a good doggie while I’m gone.”
Liz followed her out of the apartment and stopped at the railing at the end of the landing. When Renee got to the bottom, she called out, “Don’t forget to text the moment you leave Connie’s!”
Renee looked up at Liz leaning over the railing, waving down at her. Liz loved her like a sister, she knew, but Renee didn’t know how many different ways to assure her that she was going to be okay. Whenever they were at CJ’s together, she usually tried to stop Liz from going home with a guy that she had just met there. But, of course, Liz was never interested in heeding her warning, so she didn’t understand why she was making such a big deal now. Whatever stigma about online dating that may have existed in the early days of internet dating was long dead. It was silly. Besides, had anyone ever actually met a serial killer online? She shook her head as she plopped into her yellow VW bug.
She pulled out of the Pinetop Apartment complex and arrived ten minutes early at Connie’s Coffee Shop. She adjusted the rearview mirror and checked her reflection. Then, satisfied that her face was in order, she grabbed her purse and hopped out of her bug. No one was in line inside, so she went straight to the counter.
“Hey, Renee!” the barista jovially said. “How’s it going?”
“Hi, Becky! Great!” Renee tried to emulate Becky’s pep, but her stomach didn’t agree. “Can I get a medium non-fat latte?”
It wasn’t a date if she bought her own drink, right?
“Sure thing.” Becky rung her up then glided over to the espresso machine. Before long, the machine delightfully chugged as exquisite crema poured from twin nozzles. “How are things over at Tex’s?”
“Really good. I mean, a steak’s a steak, but I like it a lot. Especially the tips!” She loved working at Connie’s when she was in college and still missed it; she came in as often as her budget allowed. But she couldn’t pass on the opportunity to make more money. “How’re things here?”
“Great!” Becky exclaimed over the hiss of the milk steamer.
Renee fiddled with the strap of her purse while she waited.
When Becky finished, she set a pink cup wrapped with a sleeve—also pink, just a few shades darker—on the counter. “Here ya go!”
“Thanks,” Renee said as she scooped up her latte.
“Good to see you, Renee.”
Renee found a table by a window and sat facing the door. She took a sip of her beverage, which Becky had frothed to perfection. She tried her best not to be nervous, to exude Liz’s confidence with men, but she was failing miserably. She’d been nervous all morning, and her butterflies were getting worse the closer the appointment got.
She desperately wanted to retrieve her phone from her purse to distract herself, but at the same time, she didn’t want to make a bad first impression on her date by being one of those people constantly checking their phone. It’s not a date! But that left her with nothing to do but fidget with the lid of her cup. She twisted it around until the spout aligned with the double C logo on the cardboard sleeve.
The minutes ticked by. Renee’s fingers idly fidgeted with the bent corner of the sleeve. Customers came in and ordered drinks. Some stayed. Some left. She pushed the sleeve down onto the table and spun it around the cup. After finishing her latte, she finally gave in to the urge and retrieved her phone from her purse. She pushed the side button to light up the screen. It was 3:10 pm. She continued to wait, but she gave up on trying not to give a bad impression by being on her phone. At least she was on time…
Renee distracted herself by browsing various news apps and checked if she had any new email. Then she scrolled mindlessly through her social media apps. Whenever the door chimed, she peered up but never saw a face she recognized.
At 3:30 pm, she texted Liz: I think I’m being stood up.
Liz: Maybe he got caught in traffic…
Renee: Traffic? Seriously?
Liz: I’d say text him, but you don’t have his number.
Renee: I told you that’s for safety. YIM doesn’t recommend sharing personal contact info at first.
Liz: Because of serial killers…
Renee sighed and closed the messaging app.
She sat for a few more minutes and thought about leaving. Well, this sucks. It was the first time she’d attempted meeting a match from Your Ideal Mate, and she got stood up. She pushed the button on her phone again—3:45 pm.
The numbers suddenly got blurry. Renee squinted and adjusted the phone, but she could no longer read it. She looked up. Her surroundings were entirely out of focus.
Her skin started tingling like a million ants crawling all over her. It was like they just appeared on her skin and were running around frantically.
Then her heart started beating as though she’d just finished an exhausting run.
Then everything went black.
The crawling ants disappeared just as suddenly as they appeared, and her heartbeat began to slow.
But everything was still black.
And everything felt weird.
She wasn’t sitting on a chair anymore but on the ground. And her back was against a wall. The smell of fresh paint accosted her nose. She tried to get up, but her stomach prevented her from bending forward. So instead, she rolled to her side and got on her hands and knees. She labored to her feet, unable to move with her accustomed nimbleness, and had to push against the wall as she worked her way up. Her arms felt heavy. Saggy. And her back hurt.
What the fuck?
A sick feeling in her stomach replaced the butterflies that had been there for most of the day.
Renee felt along the wall, still unable to see, and searched for a light switch or a door. A moment of relief washed over her when she found a switch.
She flipped it, but nothing happened.
She flipped it several times—down, up, down, up, down, up—but still nothing. No light. The sick feeling crashed back over her like an unexpected wave at the beach. She gasped for breath as she frantically felt along the wall. Near the switch, she found a door. She tested the knob, but it didn’t turn. She pulled on it and twisted it from left to right and right to left several times. The door was locked.
“Hello? Is anybody out there?” Sheer terror filled her at the sound of her voice. “H-hello?” she said tentatively. Something was wrong. She didn’t sound like herself. Her voice sounded… deeper. Not particularly deep, but it certainly sounded manlier. And was certainly not hers…
And her body…
Rene’s hands went to her chest. Instead of feeling her perky twenty-two-year-old chest held snugly in place by a push-up bra, she felt a flabby unsupported chest beneath thin fabric. Her hands slid down to her stomach. She nearly puked. Instead of the toned midriff she worked hard to maintain, her stomach was thick and bulged out grotesquely. Renee slowly inched a hand below her stomach to her crotch. At the feel of a bulge, the panic growing in her exploded into a blood-curdling scream. Both hands went to her mouth as she tasted bile. She staggered backward until she hit a wall then slid heavily to the ground. She sat with her back against the wall and sobbed.
“What the fuck is happening to me?” she yelled into the darkness.
She no longer had the strength to stand, so she crawled back across the room. When she found the door again, she pushed herself up onto her knees and fumbled for the knob. It still wouldn’t turn.
Renee pounded on the door as hard as she could and repeatedly yelled, “Help me!”
She pounded until the heel of both hands hurt and yelled until her throat felt raw.
But no one came to help her.
She crawled around the room again, looking for something… anything. She felt along the wall, feeling it up and down, but found only the light switch and door, which was sealed tightly. No light seeped through the edges.
She used up the little strength her body had to turn and sit against the door. The breath that came easily to her during her morning exercise now came in lumbering gasps. She cried. It didn’t matter whether her eyes were open or closed; she couldn’t see either way.
Renee lost track of time. An eternity passed. There was no way to tell how long she sat there because she didn’t have her phone or any belongings in her possession. Was it an hour? Two? Or was it only twenty minutes?
She rolled sideways onto her hands and knees again. She banged and screamed more, but to no avail.
Then, suddenly, Renee’s skin started tingling again.
Next, her already racing heart switched into overdrive. She felt her pulse places she didn’t usually feel it. Her head throbbed with each beat.
The onslaught forced a gasp as she fought to breathe.
Swirling spots began dancing in her already black vision.
Then painfully bright light enveloped her.
Her ears were ringing like she’d just left front row seats at a rock concert.
An aroma resembling fireworks assaulted her nose.
The blazing light slowly dimmed, and her vision slowly focused.
She looked her surroundings over quickly, finding herself in an unfamiliar room. There was a couch, a TV, pictures on the walls. Her searching eyes froze on the body lying on the ground. Something heavy slipped from her hand and hit the carpeted floor with a thunk. She looked down. A… gun? She looked at the body again. There were two growing circles of red: one on the man’s chest and another on his stomach.
She took a tentative step forward, then another, praying that the man was still alive. But panic consumed her. She spun on her bare feet, saw the open door behind her, and fled through it. The street outside, lined with manufactured homes, was unfamiliar. Someone had parked her bug in the driveway. But who? She certainly didn’t drive it here.
Where am I?
How did I get here?
She stumbled toward her car, mind spinning, processing, trying to make sense of what happened—the coffee shop, the room, the voice, the body, the gun. She couldn’t do it…
Her strength gave out.
Renee fell to her knees halfway down the driveway. She looked around at the people standing in doorways and on curbs. She looked down at the cracked cement and fell back onto her butt. She drew her legs up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her shins. She started rocking back and forth, shaking her head in small, quick bursts, and whispered, “I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it.”