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Danielle Steel

“No, I work for a human rights organization,” she said vaguely, fighting waves of fatigue as she sat in the warm, comfortable cab. She didn’t want to fall asleep until she got back to her apartment, had a shower, and could climb into her bed. She knew that the fridge would be empty, but she didn’t care, she had eaten on the plane. She didn’t want to eat that night and could buy whatever she needed the next day.

They drove on in silence then, and she watched the skyline of New York come into view. It was undeniably beautiful, but it looked like a movie set to her and not a place where real people lived. The people she knew lived in old military barracks, refugee stations, and tents, not brightly lit cities with skyscrapers and apartment buildings. With the passing years, she felt more and more separate from this way of life each time she returned, but the organization she worked for was based in New York, and it made sense for her to keep an apartment here. It was a shell she crawled into briefly once every few months, like a hermit crab needing a place to stay. She had no attachment to it, and had never considered it home. The only personal things she had were still in boxes she had never bothered to unpack. Her sister, Rebecca, had packed them for her when Ginny sold her house and left L.A., and shipped them to her in New York. Ginny didn’t even know what was in them, and didn’t care.

It took them just over an hour to reach her apartment, and she paid the driver with a generous tip. He smiled at her again and thanked her, as she looked for her keys in a pocket of her backpack, then stepped out into the frigid air. It felt like it was going to snow. She stood fumbling with the lock to her building for a moment, with her bags on the pavement beside her. The facade looked faintly battered, and there was a chill wind coming from the East River a block away. She lived in the upper eighties near East End, and she had rented the apartment because she liked walking along the river in warmer weather, and watching the boats drift by. After living in a house in L.A. for years, living in an apartment seemed less oppressive and more impersonal, which she preferred.

She let herself into the building and pressed the button of the elevator to the sixth floor. Everything in the building had a dreary look to it. She noticed that several of her neighbors had Christmas wreaths on their doors. She didn’t bother with Christmas decorations anymore, and this was only the second time she’d been there for Christmas since she’d moved to New York. There were so many more important things to think about in the world than putting up a tree or a wreath on the door. She was anxious to get to the office, but knew that it would be closed for the next several days. She was planning to do some reading, work on her latest report, summing up her mission, and catch up on sleep. The report would keep her busy for the next week, and all she had to do was pretend that it wasn’t the holidays.

She turned on the lights when she walked in, and saw that nothing had changed. The beaten-up old couch she had gotten at a garage sale in Brooklyn looked as tired as it had before. She had bought a well-used, secondhand leather recliner, and it was the most comfortable chair she’d ever owned. She often fell asleep in it while she was reading. There was another large chair facing the couch in case she had a guest, which she never did. But if so, she was prepared. Her coffee table was an old metal trunk with travel stickers on it that she had bought when she got the couch. There was a small dining table and four unmatched chairs, and a dead plant on the windowsill that she had meant to throw away in July, had forgotten, and it had become part of the décor. The person who cleaned her apartment didn’t dare throw it away. She had a few old lamps that cast a warm light around the room, and a television she almost never used. She read the news on the Internet, which she preferred. And the décor in her bedroom consisted of the bed, a chest she had also bought secondhand, and a chair. There was nothing on the walls. It wasn’t a cozy place to come home to, but it was a place to sleep and keep her clothes. She had a cleaning woman who came once a month when she was away, and once a week when she was there.

She dropped her suitcase and backpack in her bedroom, came back to the living room, and sat down on the couch, which was welcoming, despite the way it looked. She leaned her head back, thinking about how far she’d come in the past twenty-eight hours. She felt as though she had been on another planet, and had just returned to Earth. She was still thinking about it when her cell phone rang. She couldn’t imagine who it was since the SOS/HR office was closed, and it was ten o’clock at night. She fished it out of the pocket of her parka and answered it. She had turned it on in customs, but there was no one she wanted to call.

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