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Black hugged the night sky while rays of light shined down from the moon after the car pulled into my driveway.

I tilted my head while sitting in the front passenger seat. “Thank you for tonight, Patrick.”

He gave my hand a squeeze. “You’re welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.”

I winked. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

The color disappeared from his cheeks. “Nothing. I just noticed you seemed stressed with the SAT’s coming up. I didn’t mean anything bad by it, Rachel”

The lump lingered in my throat and I was unable to swallow it. I couldn’t. I might have been having fun with Patrick, but he still didn’t know the real me. Not yet. It was too dangerous.

“Is this the part where I kiss you goodnight before your Mom notices?” Patrick asked.

I flipped my hair over my shoulders. “I don’t want a guy to ask if he can kiss me.”

“Fair enough.” Patrick leaned in for a quick peck on the lips, managing to wrap his hands around my face. The embrace lasted for what must have been a good ten seconds, allowing me to inhale the sweet and earthly mixture of whatever cologne he put on for our date.

“Text me tomorrow.” I undid my seatbelt before getting out of the car and closing the door.

His smile widened, showcasing his well-aligned teeth. “Will do.”

The clunky sound of the ignition started a moment later before Patrick honked his car horn goodbye and pulled out of the driveway. I then made my way up the front steps and took out a key from my pocket before unlocking the door.

Locking the front door was a precaution my Mom had to take because we couldn’t afford any surprises. It didn’t even matter if we lived in a safe neighbor or that there hadn’t been a murder in Clarkton in over a decade. Leaving the door locked was a reflex born out of necessity-like breathing.

My Mom sat on the living room couch with a glass of wine on the table. But unfortunately for me, the vein on her forehead surfaced to the top of her head. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

I rolled my eyes at her. “I don’t know why you’re so mad, Mom.”

She bit her lip. “I can’t help it. It’s my job to care about you.”

“As you can see, I’m fine. Maybe you’d feel better if you finished your glass of wine,” I said.

Her jaw twitched. “Don’t change the subject, dear. You know what’s at stake.”

I huffed at her. “You should be glad I found happiness with Patrick.”

“I am, but we can’t afford to take any risks. Not after last time.” My Mom reached for her wine, taking a good sip before putting it down on the oak coffee table.

I crossed my arms. “I think we’re fine. He’s dead.”

“I’m aware of that, but that doesn’t mean we’re safe.” She picked at one of her nails, giving herself a distraction.

“You like Patrick, don’t you?” I said, stuttering.

She inhaled several deep breaths. “That’s not the issue, and you know it. But for the record, yeah, Patrick’s nice.”

An awkward silence ensued for a couple of minutes while we stared at each other, as if we were waiting for the other person to speak.

My Mom waved her hand through the air. “You’re right. Maybe I should get back out there too.”

I forced a polite expression. “That would be good. You deserve to have some fun. But I hope you know how sorry I am. I never meant for things to get out of control with Mr. Stan.”

She sighed. “I believe you, dear. You don’t owe me any explanations; not now. I trust you.”

My eyes traveled to the end of the table, making me almost grunt at the photo. “I don’t even know why you’re looking at his picture. He was my boyfriend, not yours.”

“Don’t remind me,” My Mom said.

“The age of consent in Connecticut is 16. Although maybe I should have known better than to get involved with my teacher.” I started pacing back and forth, unable to make direct eye contact with my Mom.

Cackles fell from her mouth. “I wouldn’t brag about that.”

“What happened was your fault, and you know it. You should never have told his wife the truth.” I paused, taking in another breath. “Yeah. I know what you did.”

“It’s not like he got arrested and was branded a sex offender. The relationship might not have been illegal, but it was still inappropriate.” She averted her gaze to the family portrait of her, my Dad, and I that was taken around my tenth birthday, which was one of the last times we were happy. It was before my Dad died of cancer.

I pursed my lips. “So you finally admit your betrayal? Pretending to be supportive while scheming behind my back?”

She remained silent.

“Here! Let me take care of it.” I reached for the photograph, tearing it up into a bunch of pieces and letting them fall to the ground.

She wagged a finger at me. “They never found a body, you know.”

I snickered. “You watch too much TV, Mom. So. Yeah. You don’t need wine-just take a Xanax.”

“This isn’t a joke. We’re lucky I got us new identities from my FBI friend because I don’t think I could do that again. Anyway, I’m glad you had fun, but I’m going to bed.” My Mom got up despite her half full drink and trudged up the stairs without another word, letting me ponder my thoughts alone.

I couldn’t help but glance down at the ripped up pieces of the photo on the carpet…

 

I hadn’t realized what Jake did the moment it happened since I was asleep on my bed. But the last thing I remembered was eating dinner with my Mom and Jake a.k.a. Mr. Stan.

I yawned, rubbing my eyes before putting my hand against my forehead. Sweat currently stuck to my face, making me run out of my bedroom door.

A sea of red, orange, and yellow engulfed my previous house in Connecticut while the smoke grew thicker by the minute. I just didn’t understand it.

“I had to say goodbye to you,” called out a hoarse voice.

I spun around, noticing him. “What the hell did you do?”

He smirked at me. “Because of you and your Mom, Jill left me and took the kids. I have no idea where she went.”

“Think fast.” I grabbed the lamp from my nightstand, unplugging it in the process before smacking Jake across the head. His body made a thumping sound after hitting the floor.

I raced out of my bedroom as fast as I could, darting down the hallway to my Mom’s room. She woke up a couple of seconds later, and we didn’t have time to think after glancing out of her bedroom. The fire had spread everywhere, and we did the one thing we could do. We went out the bedroom window. It was the second floor, and there was only a garden underneath it, as opposed to a driveway-meaning there was a chance we wouldn’t break our necks.

The house was reduced to ashes by the time the fire department arrived. Not that my Mom and I wanted to live there after what happened. We couldn’t. Not after Mr. Stan shook up our lives by his act of violence. Thinking Mr. Stan drugged my Mom and I wasn’t absurd since there had to be a reason we fell asleep after dinner-proving he had no traces of innocence left. Because trying to kill my Mom and I wasn’t a crime of passion, it was premeditated.

 

The sound of the wind rattling against the house brought me back to reality, and I went to bed. I would put the thought of Mr. Stan out of my head since there was no reason to think about the situation. I was done with him.

***

The hairs on my back pricked up the following morning when I went for my daily walk, but I tried not to get upset because good girls don’t think about psychopaths. It’s not polite. Besides, I was determined to get a good night sleep even if every night over the last two years had been spent with the burned image of the fire flashing through the my mind while trying to fall asleep, only to finally doze off so late in the night that rest wouldn’t make any difference since I would wake up tired in the morning.

***

I went for another walk the next day on Sunday evening around twilight while a car engine roared in the background, pulling up next to me.

I looked in the backseat of the car, gasping at the person with the dry bloodstain on his forehead because I would have recognized the blond hair anywhere. It was Patrick.

I smacked my hand over my mouth, muffling my screams before the front driver’s seat window rolled down.

There was something familiar about the man even though I didn’t want to admit it.

“Hello, Clarissa,” the person said, snorting. The window rolled up a moment later before the man drove out of sight.

It couldn’t be Mr. Stan since the fireman hadn’t even found so much as one tooth in the fire. But calling me Clarissa? That was my old name, which was something Mr. Stan would have known.

Tears trickled down my face while I walked home.

My Mom plopped up from her garden the moment we crossed paths after she yanked a weed.

“Something wrong, honey?” she asked.

“It’s Patrick.” I continued sobbing even louder this time. “Mr. Stan killed him.”

“We should get inside,” My Mom said before grabbing my hand and guiding me up the property and into the house.

The details might have been murky, but I didn’t need a label to tell me what was true because I knew who was in the driver’s seat. There was no doubt about it. But everything would be fine despite how I had unfinished business with Mr. Stan. I was prepared to kill him because he stole Patrick from me, and I wasn’t going to back down.

***

The ignition halted once I took the key out of it after pulling up to a lake house hours out of town several days later.

I knew what I had to do even if it would be difficult. The place was Mr. Stan’s. He had given me a key so I could take the train and sneak away to his second home on the weekends (which was before I had my license). The fact was, Mr. Stan would be there if he were alive. It made sense because that was the only thing he got when his wife and kids left.

I grabbed my beach bag that contained my supplies before walking up to the front door and opening it.

I waited for him, standing against the wall (before the turn in the hallway) in the dark until clicking on the light when Mr. Stan trekked into the living room.

“Think fast.” I smacked him with a weight several times across his head, making him crash to the ground.

I grabbed the canister from my beach bag, pouring gasoline all over the place before striking a match and dropping it next to his body.

The fire started spreading and I hurried out of the house while there was still time, as I shoved my hood up, concealing my face.

He took Patrick from me, so I stole his life from him and put an end to this twisted cycle.

Game over because I won.

 

End

 

Bio: Chris Bedell's previous publishing credits include essays on the online magazine Thought Catalog. He has also had short stories published on the following online literary magazines: Crab Fat Literary Magazine, Short-story.me, Quail Bell Magazine, Pidgeonholes Magazine, Abbreviate Journal in addition to creative nonfiction on Inklette Magazine and Sprout Magazine. He will graduate with a BA in Creative Writing From Fairleigh Dickinson University in May of 2016

 

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