The Prada Paradox
confusion and fear etched in his expression.

    “This has to be a joke,” I say. “Somebody in Tobias’s office has a sick sense of humor. This is a publicity stunt. It has to be.”

    “Does it?” he asks, sounding a little shell-shocked. “I hope you’re right. And if it is, someone is getting their ass fired in the morning.”

    “I’m calling Tobias,” I say, heading toward the phone.

    “Wait.”He’s beside me in an instant, his hand tight on my arm. “What if it’s not?”

    I shake my head slowly, my brain really not ready to process the what-if-it’s-not line of thinking. “It has to be,” I say.

    “I know. I agree.” He hooks a finger under my chin and tilts my head up until he’s looking me straight in the eye. “But what if it’s not?”

    His voice is strong, and firm, and I hate him for being right. “It can’t be real,” I say, but weakly this time. “But you’re right. We can’t call anyone until we know for sure.” I’ve spent enough time with the script and with Mel to know that if this really is PSW, then the rules are clear: no outside help. If I call Tobias to ask if he’s pulling a prank on me, he might fess up, and all will be well. But if he says no…

    Well, no matter how hard I try to explain away the reason for my call, he’s going to know something is up. And if he gets worried…if he calls the cops…if he calls Mel…

    I shudder, because the ramifications are just too horrible.

    “There has to be a way to prove it’s just a PR stunt,” I say, clinging desperately to the hope that itis just a PR stunt, even though a tiny part of me keeps whispering that no one I know would be so cruel as to pull that kind of crap. Not knowing what I went through with Janus. That would just be evil, and the people I work with aren’t evil. Are they?

    “There’s one way to know for sure,” Blake says, holding up the clue. “We follow the trail.”

    I shake my head. “No. No.” I can’t explain why that’s so horrible, but, “No. That would make it real. And I can’t deal with—”

    “Youhave to deal with it,” he says. “We both do.”

    He steers me toward the couch, and we both sit down. And when he takes my hand so intimately, I don’t pull away. I’m confused and scared, and I want the comfort, and I’m not too proud to take it. Even from Blake.

    “What do we know?” he asks, but gently.

    “That I got a weird message from PSW.”

    “Itsays it’s from PSW,” he clarifies. “But we both think it’s a publicity stunt.”

    I nod. I’m not entirely sure thatthink is correct. But I’m definitely hoping it’s a stunt. Because right then, that little shred of hope is like a thin red thread on which my hold on reality depends. Snap the thread, and I snap with it.

    “We can’t call anyone and ask,” he goes on. “So the only way to know for sure is to start playing.”

    I look up, my heart pounding, as I suddenly realize that there is another way. “We can check the game,” I say. “The real game.”

    Now it was Blake’s turn to look confused.

    “We log in,” I say. “Remember the script? When Mel played, there was at least one message for her in the real PSW’s message center.”

    He considers that for a moment, then nods. “All right. Let’s check. But Devi,” he adds, looking at me intently, “if there’s something there, it proves the worst. But if you’ve got no messages, that doesn’t prove anything.”

    I nod, quick and sharp. I know he’s right. All that the lack of a message would prove is that I have no messages. But it would calm me down. Give me one more thread to grasp throughout the night. Because I’m certain that if itis a PR stunt, we’ll find out in the morning when we go to the set. All I have to do is keep my head on straight until then.

    My laptop is in my new bag, and we haul it out and set it up on the coffee table in front of the sofa. And even as Blake urges me on, I enter the address in my Web browser, head over to the game, and log in with my user ID. It’s been years since I played, but I use

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