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Out of an old researching habit, I rewound the YouTube clip to his flight academy picture, zooming in on the faint grey digits etched in the side of the photo—his student ID. Then I searched for the number of The Flight Academy—dialing the listed extension the second it hit my screen.

“Admissions Department,” a male voice said after two rings. “How may I help you?”

“I’m—” I cleared my throat. “I’m doing some research for The Times. We’re doing a profile on a graduate of your academy.”

“Oh, great.” He sounded honored. “We love seeing those. What do you need from me?”

“I’m just fact-checking, want to be sure I have the right background for our person.”

“I got it.” The sound of keyboard keys clacking was in his background. “You can never be too sure these days, huh? One second...” More typing. “Per our policy, I can only confirm or deny based on a student ID number you give me first. Do you have that?”

“Yes. Five, four, eight, nine, seven.” I stared at the photo. “One, zero, zero, nine.”

“Got it. What do you need to know?”

“Did this student graduate with honors?”

“High honors. Won every damn award in the goddamn book.” He laughed. “Looks like we even made one up for him his senior year.”

“Can you confirm the name?”

“Only after you give it to me first.”

“Right...Um, Pearson. Evan Pearson.”

“No, Miss. That’s not the name in our records. Perhaps you mixed up the—”

“No, I’m sorry.” I cut him off. “I was looking at the wrong sheet. Weston. Jake Weston.”

“That’s him. Jake C. Weston.” He paused. “He agreed to be profiled?”

“Took a lot of convincing.” I started to hang up, but I thought of one last thing. “Do you have a yearbook by chance? A digital copy?”

“I can send you an access code for it that’ll expire in an hour. You don’t have permission to use any of the images for your paper, though.”

“I won’t.” I recited my email address, thanked him, and ended the call. I stared at my inbox, waiting for the message to come through. When it did, ten minutes later, I immediately clicked on the link and scrolled through the scanned pages of the yearbook, stopping in utter shock when I reached the W’s.

There, at the top of the page, was a fresh-faced Jake, smiling proudly. I pulled up Evan’s interview picture right next to it and realized he’d photo-shopped his face over Jake’s.

I pulled up a few other photos of Evan from the press—pictures of him playing on the lawn of the academy and standing in front of small planes. And as I continued to scroll through the academy’s yearbooks, I saw that every single one of those photos were photo-shopped, too.

What the hell...

I searched for “Sarah Irene Pearson” and images of her pretty face, her smiling with Nathaniel, and her funeral appeared. There were no biography pages for her, only links that circled back to Flight 1872 and pictures of Nathaniel crying, with Evan at his side the day they buried her.

Jake was nowhere to be found in any of the pictures or files. He wasn’t even briefly mentioned in her public obituary. It was if they’d erased his very existence.

I immediately shut down my laptop, deciding that I needed to drop this for good. I didn’t need to dig any deeper, I didn’t need to know anymore.

I lay back on my bed, trying my best to stop wondering about why someone would do that to Jake and why he would let the charade continue to happen for so many years. I rolled over to set an alarm, but there was a knock at my door.

Confused, I got up and opened the door, coming face to face with Jake.

“What the—” I stepped back. “Aren’t you supposed to be in Hawaii right now?”

“What the hell does this text message mean?” he asked, holding his phone in front of my face.

I blinked, still unable to process that he was standing in front of me right now. Looking absolutely livid, he was dressed in a casual grey T-shirt that clung to his muscles in all the right ways and dark blue jeans that brought out the shining azure jewels in his latest watch.

“Gillian?” He narrowed his eyes at me. “What the hell does this text message mean?”

The sound of the elevator doors opening filled the hallway and I pulled him inside my room.

Shutting the door, I avoided looking directly at him and cleared my throat. “It’s my attempt at saying goodbye.”

“Don’t you think it’s a bit cruel to deny me a goodbye in person?” He tilted my chin up with his fingertips, forcing my eyes to meet his. “You could’ve waited and told me this in New York next week.”

“Before or after I let you fuck me?”

“After, preferably.” He smiled. “Is this some type of joke?”

“No.” I shook my head. “I really did want to say goodbye and end this, for me.”

“Fair enough,” he said. “I need a reason.”

“I just gave you one.”

“Wanting to say goodbye is not a reason.”

“Fine.” I swallowed as he trailed a finger against my collarbone. “It’s against the rules.”

“You knew it was against the rules when we started. Try again.”

“My supervisor knows and threatened to have me fired. I’m not willing to lose my career over sleeping with you.”