Caroline murmured in her colleague’s ear, nodding towards the strawberry-blonde woman occupying the table behind them. “It’s been three weeks, Caroline. Give the poor thing a break.” Alexandra rolled her dark eyes, sipping at her green tea. The blonde woman angled her chair sideways, making the observing process much easier on her prying blue eyes.
Sherrie felt uneasy under the scrutinizing gaze of the other woman. She purposefully directed a warning glare in the direction of her least favorite colleague, causing Caroline to abruptly focus her attention on her warm beverage.
“Oh, so you’re telling me that it’s not at all suspicious – her giving up on her husband’s case like that?”
“Sherriff Nelson announced the case as ‘cold’. There’s not much to be done about it.” “Well, she sure doesn’t look so bummed about it.”
Caroline insisted, sipping her sweetened coffee while cynically averting her eyes to the side. “What exactly are you insinuating, Caroline?!” Alexandra lowered her voice to a scolding whisper. “Just look at her; she never looked anyone in the eye since the moment she stepped in!” The blonde matched her coworker’s tone, glancing in Sherrie’s direction. “Some sick psychopath had her dead husband mailed to her, what the hell are you expecting her to do?! Walk with a skip in her steps?!” Alexandra quietly defended, abandoning her half-finished drink and fetching her purse. “Seriously, Caroline; get a goddamn hobby that doesn’t revolve around other people’s lives.” She added, before the sound of her ringtone went off inside her purse.
As the black woman left the cafeteria to answer the phone call, Caroline blew out a frustrated breath while glowering in Sherrie’s direction. Having no gossip partner and her working hours coming to an end, the young woman decided to head home and binge watch her favorite drama series.
Alexandra came back shortly in a haste, she was dressed in her casual attire instead of the green uniform she wore. “It was mom, Archibald ran away.” She explained, stress evident in the creases on her forehead. “What kind of a dog name is that?” Caroline snorted as she perfected her rosy-pink lipstick. Eventually, Alexandra’s scorching glare succeeded in gaining the other woman’s attention. “It’s just a dog.” Caroline stated nonchalantly. “A seizure alert service dog; a dog that saved my mother’s life countless times.” Alexandra corrected irritably, extending an open palm towards her friend. Caroline sighed grudgingly, fishing their shared car keys and dropping them in her open palm.
“So I’m just gonna stay by myself until your dog’s found?” “I know, right? Life’s really tough.” Alexandra shrugged, walking away. Caroline huffed, stomping her way out of the cafeteria, but not before tossing Sherrie one of her infamous dirty looks. Sherrie returned the lowly gesture with a much harsher one.
Not long after, Sherrie’s working hours ended, leaving only the simple task of preparing the health charts for her colleagues working the night shift.
Unable to shrug it off, she allowed her mind to wander back to the conversation which Caroline Grayson orchestrated this afternoon. What the shallow blonde woman suggested deeply unsettled her, causing her already relentless conscience to rage. It made the young widow wonder just how many supporters she had, or if she had any at all. She even began to calculate the possibilities of her being held accountable for Devin’s death. The guilt, shame, anger and anguish were becoming more intense and less bearable with every passing day.
Caroline couldn’t be the only one with the same theories and speculations; the people want a story – a truth. Sherrie felt a pinch of bitterness in her chest, remembering how no one –not even herself- might know the truth. It was like history repeating itself, all over again; her beloved murdered in cold blood, with possibly the same killer on the loose and feeling herself spiraling into the endless abyss of hopelessness and lonesomeness.
History repeating itself, all over again.
Someone tapped her hunched shoulder lightly, startling her in the process. She whipped around, only to be met with the soothing, warm grey orbs of her coworker. “Whoa,” Samantha held her hands up in mock defense, a nervous smile stretching her lips. Sherrie sighed stressfully rubbing her eyes. “I’m sorry, didn’t know you were zoned out.” The ginger said, “Are those for me?” she nodded towards the scattered papers on the desk behind Sherrie.
“I-I’m sorry, they’re not ready yet. I slacked a few extra minutes in lunch break, I’ll ge—“
“Hey, hey, hey… it’s fine, I’ll take it from here.” Samantha assured comfortingly, beginning the task right away. “I’m actually surprised to see you here; it’s kinda late for you.” She nodded towards the clock hanging on the wall ahead, ticking away the time. “I’m just trying to make up for all the work I’ve missed.” Sherrie justified, silently praying the other nurse wouldn’t pressure her with anything related to her situation.
“Are they paying you for that?”
“And they won’t, so you shouldn’t be doing it.” Samantha scribbled something over one of the paper sheets, and then turned to Sherrie. “I know what kind of a person you are, Sherrie. But giving a lot for free’s gonna do you no good and I’m not just talking work-wise.” She offered a small smile, probably an attempt to sugarcoat the ‘stop being a wimp’ part. However, Sherrie didn’t bother hiding the hurt which flickered in her green eyes, bidding Samantha a goodnight before walking off.
“Sherrie,” the addressed woman turned to face her friend. “Don’t bother with Caroline, okay? You’re better than that.” Samantha affirmed, wearing a stoic expression. “You said you know what kind of a person I am; can you tell me why I feel so guilty?” Sherrie queried, a blank stare residing in her irises. The other female was thrown off guard by the unanticipated turn the conversation took. It wasn’t like Samantha to be speechless in any scenario, let alone unable to conjure a solution – an advice, at the very least. Perhaps, it was the sensitivity of the dire matter and of course, Sherrie’s fragile state. Her logic advised her against answering with something specific; the poor woman’s plate was already full.
“I don’t know.”
“No; Caroline is a high school girl in a twenty-seven-year-old body with no life and a big mouth, who watched the entire eight seasons of The Vampire Diaries, seven times.”
The room fell into an awkward state of silence, and Sherrie didn’t know if what her friend said was supposed to make her feel better about the situation. Out of courtesy, she cracked a small smile as a sign of appreciation to Samantha’s efforts. “It’ll be fine. No matter how dark it gets; things do look up. They always do.” The ginger reassured, her freckled cheeks lifting in a warm beam.
- - - - -
Usually –prior to the horrendous three weeks- Sherrie would plug in her earphones, enjoying her favorite playlist as she walked the fifteenminute distance from Buckley’s Memorial. However, it had become frightening to distract any of her senses, despite her reassuring herself that there was nothing to fear other than insignificant threats – if it deserved the label of ‘threat’. Nonetheless, she chose to keep her senses heightened, out of precaution.
Only seven minutes through her way home, she realized that Samantha was correct; she had stayed much later than she was supposed to. Picking up her pace, she tried to occupy her mind with something more productive than her unreasonable paranoia. Therefore, the young woman’s mind wandered back to what Samantha had said – things always look up, eventually.
Perhaps, her misfortunes and poor choices weren’t the only explanation for the rough path her life keeps taking. Perhaps, it was the neglect she committed against her own self. It had been too long, too much time wasted of her offering the love to undeserving others, disregarding how she was rightfully more deserving of that love.
And she decided that it was finally time to choose herself instead, maybe then, life would start choosing her, too.
Sherrie whipped to the direction which the ruckus resonated from, a scream trapped in her throat. Her wide, apprehensive emerald eyes frantically searched the surrounding area, searching for whatever or whoever was behind that noise. Every nerve in her body seemed to go numb with adrenaline, causing the illusion of the world spinning around her.
Was she being followed? Was she wrong all along? Was there a truth she had dismissed and she was going to pay the price?
A diminutive, pitch black silhouette walking on four limbs was visible in the periphery of her vision. Hesitantly, she averted her eyes to scan the figure – a stray cat. A sigh of relief, with a hint of frustration escaped her lungs, her not even knowing she was holding her breath all the while. Sherrie ran her fingers through her hair in a frustrated manner, glancing back at the black cat, standing by the garbage bin it had doubled over, which created the noise.
She couldn’t help but whether she had experienced one of those moments in low-budget horror movies, where something trivial would startle the character, before the killer makes an appearance and consequently end their life in a gory, sadistic manner. Dismissing the notion and mentally scolding herself for over-thinking, she finally –safely- unlocked her front door.
After going through the nighttime routine she had designed for herself, as part of the new self-care and self-love process, she sat by the television. She wasn’t going to watch the news, for sure. Netflix had nothing that would spike her interest at 9:56 p.m., and reading one of her favorite novels was out of the question for she was far too drained to bother. The only remaining energy only allowed her to vacantly and repetitively scanning her living room.
Reorganizing the aftermath of the result of the rampage James had orchestrated made Sherrie realize just how lonesome this house has become. Multiple times, she nearly called out for Devin to come over and assist her with the hefty loveseat – what’s left of it, at least. Perhaps it was the fact that there were very few pieces of furniture left, which made the house feel so… lifeless.
Yeah, that just might be it.
- - - - - -
Sweat seemed to pour out from every pore in her body, as she continued to push the muscles in her legs further. It had been a long time since Sherrie had trained her body in any way. Thus, she couldn’t keep up a running streak for longer than ninety-seconds, at a time. The young woman stopped in her tracks as she panted out of exhaustion, bending her body forwards, she felt the sweat trickling down the curve of her button nose.
After catching her breath, she decided that a kilometer was enough, even though she wasn’t quite satisfied. Nonetheless, it felt refreshing and energizing; waking up early with the quiet chirps of birds, enjoying a drink of lemon water, and running a good distance. The fresh routine fresh start- felt wonderful; an inkling of hope.
The dehydration in her throat inclined her to stop for a moment, leaning her body against a nearby vehicle and took a chug of her water. Despite the loud volume blasting from her earphones and to her ears, the piercing and alarming noise of a police siren managed to reach her hearing. Sherrie instinctively plucked one of her earphones out, straining her ears to locate the source of the siren. The sound was nearing dangerously fast, and her mind began to race relentlessly.
Images flashed before her eyes of that fateful day; dozens of police officers and there were oh so many police vehicles, surrounding the area as they all stared astonished, while Mitchell Jefferson knelt before them in surrender with his bloodied hands above his head.
Eventually, two police automobiles zipped by her at a distressing speed.
Red-blue. Red-blue. Red-blue.
A few morning strollers halted in their tracks with flabbergasted expressions, hastily glancing around them, hoping to detect no threat near them. Panic stricken, Sherrie could no longer restrain herself from following the wailing siren to wherever it may lead her. She bolted after the two vehicles, using the remaining energy in her system to push her muscles beyond their limit. She had to get there.
Something ominous had gripped her insides, twisting her nerves and engulfing her body in a scorching rush of adrenaline; something was wrong. Awfully wrong.
Her feet nearly reached her back with the amount force she pushed out of her. However, she managed to reach the location which the two vehicles were headed. The sight of law enforcement vehicles and numerous officers, who swarmed the area, overwhelmed her to the point of a near anxiety attack. She could hear her palpating heart pulsating in her ears, as goosebumps erupted across her skin.
It was Alexandra and Caroline’s rented house.
All color drained from her face as she absentmindedly made her way closer towards the horde of law enforcements. A middle-aged police officer restricted the young woman from proceeding, “Ma’am, I’m sorry, but I need you to keep your distance; this is a crime scene.” He instructed, blocking her path with his buff figure. Sherrie stood dumbfounded, unable to comprehend his words. Her wide doe-like eyes stared up at the man of law before her, begging him to take back his last statement.
“Please, ma’am, I’m gonna need you to keep your distance.” He emphasized every syllable, stressing how grim the matter was. “Tha-that’s my friend’s house,” she said breathlessly, dismissing the officer’s authority as she stepped forward. The burly man yet again ordered Sherrie to keep her distance from the crime scene, blocking her path. “Do you see me barging inside the fucking house?! Get your fucking hand—“
“—thank you, Mason, I’ll take it from here.” Spoke a familiar voice. She felt a placid touch on her shoulders, a pair of large hands gently leading her away from the officer of law. Deputy Mason nodded, walking off and leaving Sherrie to the hands of none other than Detective O’Malley. The pair made their way towards Elliot’s trusty vehicle, and half way there, Sherrie aggressively shrugged the man’s guiding hands.
The young woman appeared to vaguely allow her feet to guide her to a direction unknown to her. The police officer said it was a crime scene; a homicide had occurred. Someone’s life had been taken – taken by a culprit who was yet to be found. Reality began to sink into her clouded mind, triggering salty tears to trail down her cheeks. She slapped both of her cold hands upon her lips, preventing a wailing sound from coming through.
Someone’s life had been taken.
Elliot eventually managed to match her pace, gripping her small shoulders in his sizeable hands. His dark eyes locked onto Sherrie’s and he couldn’t see the vibrant, forest green shade in them, anymore – he only saw terror, a raw terror fading the emerald glow from her irises.
“It’s Caroline, isn’t it?” she managed to choke through the uncontrollable sobs hurting her throat. Elliot was taken aback by her accuracy, losing focus for a brief moment. The detective was left flabbergasted, unable to act appropriately, especially as Sherrie succumbed to a mental breakdown due to the reasons he was too afraid to acknowledge. He only managed to hold her, as she wailed into his clothed chest, soaking the fabric of his shirt.
“Why did you bring me here?” Sherrie croaked, her eyes appeared duller than before. “Don’t worry, James isn’t here.” Elliot assured, making his way inside the office with a cup of warm tea meant for the strawberry-blonde woman. “I don’t give a shit about him.” she hoarsely snapped, a snarl contorting her soft features. “I just need you to answer a few—“
“You’re a fucking liar, Elliot.” Every muscle in Elliot’s body seemed to go rigid. Yet, he refrained from uttering a word, as his tongue was tied in tense knots. “You said you couldn’t identify a single body, saying they were charred beyond recognition.” She maintained the unchanging snarl on her face, and Elliot began to feel his nerves going numb with adrenaline.
“And that was—“
“—a fat fucking lie.” She rebuked venomously, “They never considered identifying the bodies, because would their identities matter? They’re just a pile of insignificant, mentally insane nobodies.” Sherrie began shaking with a burning rage, and if looks could kill, Elliot would have dropped dead before her. Rage, betrayal, anguish, but what truthfully conquered all of these raging emotions – was fear.
Despite the burning passion she hated Elliot with for his unforgivable lies; it was the raw terror which shook her entire being. The skeleton under her flesh and blood trembled with dread, as the realization of how it was far too late for them to be aware of something so grim, finally dawned upon their minds.
Elliot could not live in the designed reality he had built for himself, any longer. He could not bear the reality unfolding; another life was lost, and that was the consequence he would suffer for his denial.
“Caroline’s dead and you’re to blame, Elliot!” Sherrie cried, finally giving into the panic and unyielding fear.
The detective abandoned his seat across from the bawling woman, as if his feet were being guided by his conscience to the destination he never thought he would go to. He hastily cut through the corridor which seemed to take an eternity to reach its end.
He needed to reach him – he had to reach James.
In his hurriedness, Elliot had lost awareness of his surroundings, consequently crashing shoulders with an individual anonymous to him. Glaring, Elliot whipped around to scold the careless young man which passed him swiftly. Acknowledging the limited time he had, Elliot dismissed the brunette in the cream-colored hoodie, making his way towards the opposite end.
Everything appeared pointless at that moment.
Sherrie gave up on telling whether the walls of the plain, almost empty office were choking her or her own lungs. As if she had lost control over her pupils, her eyes kept bouncing from one place to another in a vicious cycle she couldn’t break.
Breathe. Squeezing her eyes shut, she buried her face in her cold, clammy hands as a method to rest her senses for a brief moment. What was happening? It had been three weeks since Devin’s death, and then Caroline or Alexandra – perhaps, even both. She didn’t know. She didn’t know anything. Her head pulsated with adrenaline, on the verge of exploding.
Something grim had gripped her heart in a vice grip, a feeling she never seemed to brush off since the early hours of the morning. Her intuition was telling her something, and it made her unbearably lightheaded; she wasn’t able to grasp what it was, she couldn’t understand.
Although nothing appeared to form a solid reality she could make sense of, something filled her with enough will; she shrugged off the blanket Elliot had wrapped her with, bolting towards the exit of the office. However, she halted in her tracks. Where was she going? What will her destination be? A whiff of cold air penetrated the thin sweat pants and shirt she wore, inclining her to face the open window behind her.
Run. Get out.
Sherrie’s body went rigid; her eyes instinctively landed upon James, engaged in what appeared to be a heated argument with Elliot, just outside Buckley’s Police Station Department. She had a clear and vivid notion of the subject of that conversation, and that terrified her beyond what her brain could comprehend.
The distress evident on both of their faces was something which had further intensified the knots in her gut. If she was going to run, where was she supposed to go? Because it was obvious just how defenseless both James and Elliot were; she was vulnerable and she hated herself for it. Was there any place to hide from him? Sherrie didn’t know the answer to any of her questions; however, she was certain of one thing – there was nothing for her in Buckley, anymore. She was leaving, for good.
Sherrie bolted for the door with no hesitation. As she wrapped her clammy palm around the metal knob, the wooden portal was wrenched open unexpectedly. Sherrie tumbled backwards, a nearby chair ramming into her side, causing her to lose balance and lay on the floor, moaning in pain while clutching her bruised side. Alarms were going off inside her head and she couldn’t dare to bring herself to look up from the maroon carpet she laid upon. All that she heard was the sound of the door shutting, followed by the screeching sound of one of the heavy chairs she crashed into; they barricaded the door.
Impulsively, Sherrie’s eyes moistened with salty tears. She couldn’t contain the soft whimpers escaping her throat, as she gradually curled her body into a ball. Footsteps - slow, taunting footsteps approached her quivering form. The closer they drew, the tighter her hold around her body grew, bracing herself for whatever that was coming.
“Look at me.” A male ordered, drawing closer. Sherrie remained in the unchanging feeble position. The sound of heavy boots became so incredibly close, inclining her to open her sealed eyes and lock onto the soiled footwear, planted nearly inches away from her face. She was petrified of the fact that one of those feet could effortlessly kick in her teeth, with one wrong move from her end. The man knelt before her, resting his elbows on both of his bent knees, tilting his head to the side so he could give Sherrie a better view of his face.
And a better view she got.
He hadn’t changed in slightest. His clinched jaw was cleanly shaven, just like it had always been. The frosty, blank look in his chestnut irises was still present, as if the last time she had seen him was just the other day and he still maintained his matching chestnut tresses in that unchanged, tousled manner.
Mitchell was alive.
Tears were already pouring down her colorless face from her wide, fear-stricken doe eyes. No words or feeling could possibly exist to describe the state she was in. Sherrie felt frozen in place under his ruthless glower; her very vital organs appeared unable to function properly under his gaze. “Please,” she managed to choke out, “Please, ju—“
“Shhhh.” He simply pressed his long finger against her dry lips, barely able to contain the animal within him. “You know why you’re here, Summer?” he asked with a disturbingly casual manner, using the nickname he loved addressing her with. Sherrie’s stomach churned at the mention of that name, shaking her head ‘no’ to answer his question while her face scrunched in disgust. “Well, do you know why I’m here?”
She nodded, bitterly sobbing; this was it.
“Tsk. I don’t think you do.” He shook his head with disappointment, his thin lips pursed in a discontented flat line. She didn’t know whether she was supposed to be relieved that he didn’t appear to have the intention to end her life, however, she was certain that whatever he intended to do, was far worse than death. “What do you want from me? You already took everything.” She weakly whispered, attempting to distance herself from him.
Mitchell vociferously sucked a sharp, irritated breath, squeezing his eyes shut to contain his rage. He only answered her question by seizing her breakable wrist in his unyielding vice grip, yanking her almost paralyzed body off the floor along with him. Sherrie couldn’t swallow down her loud weeping, whimpering incoherent pleas and miserably failing at outmatching his strength.
Deciding that it would be much easier for him, flashed out the loaded Glock from the back of his jeans, and smacking the back of Sherrie’s head with its solid structure. The young woman’s body went instantly limp, leaving Mitchell as her only support. Swiftly, he lifted her feet off the ground and carried her unconscious body towards one of the windows in the back of the office.
“What took you so fucking long?” Aaron snapped, nearly shattering the glass of the window he wrenched open. Mitchell only answered with a hateful glare, handing Sherrie to the blonde male. “Be fucking careful.” Mitchell barked as Aaron carelessly tossed the fragile woman into the backseat of the vehicle. Aaron adjusted Sherrie’s limbs comfortably, brushing a few strands of strawberry-blonde hair, finishing his act of mockery with a kiss on the woman’s forehead, cynically looking back at his partner for approval.
“Just get in the fucking car. I’m driving.” Mitchell grumbled, climbing in the driver seat and bringing the engine to life.