Sue Mackenzie (Early morning of September 10, 1994)
I had awoken a full hour before what my alarm clock had been originally set to. With my heart racing and my pajamas soaked in sweat, I tried my best to keep my screams to myself, not wanting to wake Jeff. Touching the top of my head, I had reassured myself it had only been a dream. Nothing to be afraid of, Sue, I thought.
Ever so gingerly, I pulled the sheets off and away from my body, slipping out of bed. Tip-toeing through the hallway, I decided to pay a visit to each of the boys’ rooms. Just a safety precaution, nothing more.
Jacob’s was the one closest to ours and the first I’d looked at. I cracked the door just wide enough to peek my head through. He lied in bed, halfway out of the covers, tossing and turning a couple of times, but nothing too abnormal. When I saw nothing out of the ordinary going on, I closed the door.
“Ma,” I heard Pat’s voice say behind me, making me jump out of my skin as if I had just gotten walked in on, doing something shouldn’t have been. As I whipped around to see him, I saw nothing more than a drowsy, soft-spoken boy, rubbing his puffy, bloodshot eyes. Nothing to be afraid of, Sue, I repeated once again in my head.
“Patrick, Sweetheart, what are you doing up?” I asked, catching my breath.
“I had a bad dream,” he responded.
“Yeah? Me too,” I said, flashing him an empathetic half-smile. “What was yours about?”
As I led him back to his room at the end of the hallway, I thought more and more about the events that had transpired in my own twisted imagination late last night. I dreamt that I’d found Adeline in Jacob’s room, watching over him while he slept. I watched as she suddenly pulled out his sixth grade spelling bee trophy (a momentum from the last time he ever partook in a school event) from behind her back. She raised it above her head, with it upside down in her grip, then quickly slammed it down on his temple. She kept at this until his brain was nearly completely exposed. I tried to make her stop, but I couldn’t move a muscle from the neck down and my screams of terror were inaudible. I was entirely helpless.
Now covered in Jake’s blood, the murderous teenage girl had made her way past and into Pat’s room. She started performing the same violent act on him as she did with his brother. Only this time, when she finished, she looked up at me, who had still been standing in the hallway, motionless. She pressed her index finger into the center of her pouty lips and hushed me, faintly. The bedroom door slammed shut soon afterwards and I had regained enough feeling in my legs to speed walk over to it. I turned the knob, but the door wouldn’t budge. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
I turned around and there she was, up close and personal. Still holding the bronze trophy in her hand, blood trickling down her pale arm as she flung it up and took a swing at me. It was that I had woken up in a panic.
“Come on, Pat, you can tell me,” I assured as I retucked him into bed. It was now sunrise and I could hear the crows starting to squawk just outside Pat’s window.
“Well, I’m strapped down to this metal table, you see? Underneath this blinding, bright light,” Pat began to explain. He went on to talk about a nearly faceless man, nothing but a mouth full of sharp yellowed teeth, with long, stringy, white hair. “He sat down on a stool beside me and pulled out a knife and fork from his pocket. He started cutting into this mystery meat and eating it, all raw and bloody. And when I looked down to see what it was, I saw that it was me. I was the mystery meat.”
As he wept in my arms, I tried to come up with something that may have been comforting. Pat has had nightmares in the past, but never quite this dark. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the house that had been affecting him. I can’t imagine moving into a once crime scene could be good on a ten-year-old’s psyche. Then again, he did get into that scruffle yesterday. He refused to tell me much about it, but I could tell that those all too familiar bruises came from one, or maybe even several of his classmates. Maybe they said something to him that freaked him out. “Oh Pat, it was only a dream. You don’t have to worry about anything like that ever happening in real life.”
“How do you know?” he questioned, tears still overflowing his ducts.
“Because I’m still alive. And as long as I’m still alive, no harm will come to you,” I assured him, combing a lock of his russet hair out of his face. I then caught a glance of his scuffed up chin and swollen lip. “Well, no more harm anyway.”
“You promise?” he asked, holding out his pinky finger.
“I promise,” I confirmed, wrapping my pinky around his.
He grinned from ear to ear as he nuzzled his head into his pillow and closed his eyes. For a minute there, I thought he had gone to sleep, but before I could get out of the bed, I heard him mention to me that he had invited Zack, yesterday, to sleep over tonight. “Could you drive over there and pick him up later?”
“Sure thing, Sweetheart,” I answered. I normally wouldn’t agree to something so short notice, but I needed to get out and go grocery shopping anyway. Might as well say “hi” to Amelie while I’m at it, I thought.
I snuck back into my own bed as if I had been an unfaithful wife who just gotten back from a night of hot sex with her secret lover. I lied there, silently awake, for a couple of hours and then finally, it had been an appropriate time for early risers like me to head to the supermarket.
I first went downstairs to start a pot of coffee, making enough for two because I knew Jeff would be up at any moment. With him in mind, I pulled out a pad of paper and pen from our “junk” drawer and wrote him a note, just in case I left without seeing him first. While I sipped my coffee, I also quickly jotted down a list of items we may need in days to come, then headed back upstairs to change.
There, I threw on a pair of simple, black yoga pants, a perfectly worn-in, grey t-shirt, and one of my old police academy sweatshirts over the top. Still fits, after all these years. I barely even bothered with my hair or face, for that matter; just a somewhat messy ponytail and some under-eye cream that the overly nice Avon lady recommended to me.
I remember it like it was yesterday that she arrived at my doorstep, claiming it to be a miracle worker for “heavy duty” bags. “Like mine?” I scoffed at her. Realizing she was only doing her job, I bought a jar out of guilt for making her feel bad, as well as two scented chapsticks: one vanilla, one strawberry. I guess it gets the job done; I don’t know. Some Days I look at myself in the mirror and think of the shit I’ve put on my face over the years to make it look “pretty”. Maybe I should just rip my skin off. I should just tear my flesh, clean off the bone, then replace my face with a brand new mask. I’d replace it with one that didn’t age, didn’t blemish, and certainly didn’t frown, even if it wanted to. Maybe then, I could stop pretending like I have it all together, all the time, and just live freely, instead.
“Well fuck it,” I said to myself, turning away from my bathroom mirror. “This is as good as it’s gonna get. Take it or leave it, town of Freehold.”
Back down the stairs, I stopped in the foyer to grab and put on my tennis shoes, heading back into the kitchen to finish my now lukewarm coffee. Snagging my purse off the table, I stuffed both my car keys and the list into one of its many pockets and headed out the front door. I didn’t bother to see if Tina had been up yet, nor did I care, frankly. The woman may have grown on me these last couple of days, but I was in no mood for taking any of her backhanded compliments (So brave of you to rock the natural look; I could never). Therefore, I just got in my car and went.
The Stop and Shop had just opened for the day and I’d been one of the few people in there, besides the employees. I had never heard a store that quiet before. Only the echoing sound of squeaking carts could be heard. I started at the produce aisle and worked my way around. When I got to the assorted snack aisle, I could hear the sound of giggling from two girls, not even ten feet away from me. At first, I thought they may have been laughing at me, but when I looked up at them, one of them had their back to me and the other was too focused on a bag of potato chips to look at anybody. Chuckling, every now and again at nothing, it seemed as though the two young women had been slowing coming down from sort of high. In fact, the girl who’d been drooling over the chips, still had last night’s makeup smeared across her face.
Although I couldn’t see the other girl’s face, I recognized that long, ginger-colored hair from anywhere. Of course I run into Adeline again on the day I look like absolute shit. As soon as she turned her head, mine faced downwards at a bag of family size pretzels that I didn’t even need. Nonetheless, I waited until I, through the corner of my eye, saw that she’d turned away again to resume creeping on the two girls like some stalker.
Until yesterday, I had only seen Adeline in the singular photograph they used in the Tommy Russo article. It was a yearbook photo that had been taken over two years ago and didn’t do her justice now, not even in the slightest. She had no longer been that timid, flat-chested fourteen-year-old from way back when. Oh, no, she is now but a striking young woman with a young woman’s body. Yet still, even being as beautiful as she, something about her presence made me uneasy. Standing there, at the bottom of my porch, she flashed me a smile and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t shake me to my core. If that wasn’t enough, Jacob had been standing right beside me, smiling back at her, not just with his mouth, but his eyes as well. Why, oh why was he looking at her like that?
Now here she was, dressed in tight leather pants and an even tighter white tank that made her near perfect breasts look even bigger. Also, unlike her friend, her hair and makeup actually remained intact. Fucking bitch, I immediately thought. With her rosy cheeks and bright red lips, she looked like the muse to a David Lynch production.
“Mornin’ Sheriff,” Adeline’s friend said almost too eagerly.
Ace Romano had then turned the corner, wearing a head-to-toe khaki sheriff’s uniform. Although I’ve been inside Amelie’s house and have seen her family pictures, this was the first time I’d ever seen Ace in the flesh. He was quite a handsome man, no doubt. His somewhat long, chestnut hair had been slicked back underneath his sheriff’s hat. He had tan skin and his eyes were a deep, warm brown. A scar placed just above his left eyebrow and he possessed a five o’clock shadow, making him look, overall, the right amount of rough. “Mornin’, Jessie. Adeline.”
“Mornin’, Ace,” Adeline smirked while she undressed him with her eyes. Fucking bitch. It was then I could understand why Amelie had a problem with her.
“Now, Adeline, you know how much I don’t appreciate you addressing me by my first name while I’m in uniform.”
“I’m sorry, Ace. I guess I forgot. You know how seeing you with those handcuffs makes me,” Adeline looked Ace up and down like a grade A steak.
I rolled my eyes and vomited in my mouth a bit as I inched my cart closer and closer to them, grabbing the snacks I’d originally come down this aisle for.
“Why don’t you run on home before I tell your grandma how dilated your pupils are? I’m sure Louise would love to hear all about that,” Ace threatened.
The two girls started mockingly backing away in surrender when Adeline caught a glimpse of me and made a kissy face. I tried to ignore her as she and her friend continued to laugh their way out of viewpoint.
Ace must’ve seen what happened because I felt a sudden tap on the shoulder. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe we’ve met. Ace Romano, County Sheriff.”
I turned to him, holding out a hand to shake. “Sue Mackenzie,” I responded, offering my hand to him, in return.
“Oh, so you’re the one my wife’s been cheating on me with? Well, I guess it’s about time we met.”
“It certainly is,” I agreed. I wanted to tell him my theories about Adeline and her father’s case right then and there. However, at this point in time, it had still only been theories. I needed to get my facts straight before filling out any police report.
“You know, I must say, I’m relieved my Amelie has finally found someone in this town she genuinely likes.”
“Well, that makes two of us.”
“She’d never say it to my face, but I know she misses her life back in New York.”
“I know how that feels: leaving a whole life behind for someone you love.”
“Is that why you’re no longer an officer of the law?” he asked, pointing down at my sweatshirt.
“Detective, technically, but yes,” I replied.
“Detective? Consider me impressed, but not surprised. I’ve always thought women made great detectives, maybe even better than their male counterparts.”
“Why is that? Not that I’m disagreeing or anything.”
“Well, scientifically speaking, they just see things differently, uncover clues in place a man wouldn’t even think to look.”
“Can’t argue with that logic,” I smiled cheerfully as I noticed the few items he’d been carrying: box of tampons, carton of cranberry juice, and some dark chocolate roca.
“Oh, uh, for Amelie,” he explained as soon as he caught me staring at them. He then leaned in close and whispered as if to tell me a secret. “It’s, uh, that time of the month and I wanted to do something nice for her before heading to work. Speaking of which, I should probably get these to her now if I want to make it to the station in time.”
“Here, I’ll walk out with you. I was actually about to head over to see Amelie, myself.”
“Yeah?” he glanced over at me as we started making our way to the registers.
“Yeah, well, also to pick up your son. Him and Pat apparently decided to have a sleepover tonight.”
“That’s right, you’re also Patrick’s mom. He’s a good kid.”