1. The Prodigal Daughter
I stared at the grandfather clock attentively as it stood at the corner of the living room, ticking to noon. It was ancient, transcending the passage of time from the Victorian era into the modern world. For generations, the De Beaufort family kept it for what I assumed was for sentimental value. It was old and out of place but blended with the dark gloom the weather brought in the state of Louisiana. Usually, it was always sunny in Le Corbeau but it was as if it knew I was returning and as punishment, it’d rain.
Le Corbeau was so small, consisting a little over ten thousand people but it was a type of town no one would know if it was wiped from the face of the earth. I’d tell people where I’m from and they’d have no clue what I’m talking about. It was on the map so it wasn’t completely unknown.
I scratched my itchy arms, feeling on edge after my long seven years absence. I wasn’t particularly fond of this town.
Her voice brought me back to reality and I turned to her, my mother Alexis Joseph De Beaufort. She remarried. There was an edge to her usually soft-spoken voice. We were nothing alike apart from sharing the same bleach blonde hair. I was my father’s daughter in every aspect with my deep tanned skin, brown eyes and features that spoke of my Arabic heritage. Alexis was pale, blue-eyed and petite from a European background, specifically France, with her ancestors migrating to the southern states in the nineteenth century. At times, she reminded me of a modern southern belle with her grace and elegance. After all these years, she fell in line with time, moving on with her life, whilst I stayed in the past. It was good for her; she deserved everything after the hell we’d been through.
“You haven’t said anything?” With shaky fingers, she took a sip of her tea. Dark circles marred her skin beneath her eyes. “I thought it’d be better to tell you in person rather than a phone call,"
“I’m sorry,” My fingers skimmed her hand, her tremors fading when she clutched onto me tightly. Her watery blues threatened another round of tears and I kissed her knuckles lovingly in assurance. She will get through this. It was like all the odds were against us. The moment she thought to find a little piece of happiness, something would get in the way. Desperately, I didn’t want her to give up, we’ve faced many bumps on the road and this was would she would overcome in time. “How many weeks before…?”
“Twelve,” She answered swiftly, wiping her nose with the back of her hand. I didn’t expect her next question. “Do you take your meds regularly?”
“I take them when I can. There are side effects, you know?”
In theory, I should be taking my medication and attending therapy for a better outcome. I was a victim of bipolar disorder. Yes, I lived an ordinary life but it wasn’t like a cool walk in the park like other people who were considered ‘mentally fit’. God, I hated that term. Some days, it was a living hell. There was a stigma against those with mental illnesses so I never hung out with many people, not willingly as they wouldn’t want anything to do with me.
“I know, you’ve told me about this countless of times,” Alexis frowned quizzically. “Where have you been?”
New York, New Orleans, Mississippi... I thought but I didn’t say it aloud. I didn’t go to college but to stay in a big city like New York demanded a lot of money. The job I was hired for wasn’t reputable but it made a lot of money. It was dangerous and I didn’t stay as I knew I wouldn’t be able to escape.
“Just travelling,” I said vaguely.
I glanced at the door when I heard it unlock and John entered the kitchen with bags filled with groceries. His dark eyes landed on me and a grin stretched across his handsome dark face. I’d always given him the ‘cold - shoulder’ yet he’d been kind to me. I felt bad at times.
“How are you, Ken?”
“I’m good,” I frowned, noticing he was alone. “Gladys isn’t with you?”
“No, she went to the gym. It’s recently new, called Atlas,”
My frowned deepened at the familiar name, a name I knew all too well. “Atlas?”
“It opened a year ago and it’s super popular,” Alexis said with raised brows. “Do you still work out? You could check it out if you’re interested,”
“I might,” I bit the inside of my cheek in thoughtfully. “Will she be back anytime soon?”
John frowned at my question as he shook his head slowly with a light shrug.
“I’m not sure, maybe her boyfriend will drop her off,” John unloaded the heavy bag, putting everything in their rightful place. Alexis stood to her feet to help him and in response, I nodded. I wasn’t bothered by who her new boyfriend was so I held my tongue. We weren’t close in that aspect. I helped unload the groceries, being quiet, as I usually am as they spoke to one another. I hoped I wasn’t intruding on their personal space; this was John’s house and Alexis move in right after they got married. It’s only a couple of weeks, I said mentally. Talking to Gladys was vital if I was going to survive my stay here. We needed to clear the air
“I’m going to unpack,” I kissed Alexis on the cheek.
“Alright, if you want, you can join us for dinner at six?” John suggested and I offered him a tight smile. “C’mon, you came home! We should probably go out tonight.
I twisted my lips, apologetically. “I’m tired so I’ll probably be knocked out by then.”
His eyes softened considerately. “You’re always welcomed if you change your mind,”
I thanked him, said goodnight one last time and headed towards the stairs, to my temporary bedroom. It was tainted with my past, filled with dark memories. But it was the only place I could stay. I endured the presence of my father, Yusuf, and knew he was waiting for me, smiling at my arrival. But he wasn’t actually there which made everything wrong for him to be there – he was dead. He’d been dead for the past seven years now.
A few days after his death, I saw him. Of course, it freaked the living daylights out of me. When nobody else could see him other than myself, I thought I was going insane. He was everything I despised, leaving his disorder as a lasting legacy. Bile rose in my throat at the decaying scent of his flesh and slowly, I pushed the door wide open to find him sitting on my bed. I refrained from gagging, covering my nose in revulsion. He angled his head to stare at me, a gleam of promised torment brightening his dead eyes.
“McKenna, my sweet,” He croaked, his grin was so wide the weakened skin around his lips tore slightly. No blood spilt as he was just my imagination, I knew this as Alexis couldn’t see him whenever he was in the room with us. Yet, the longer I stared at him, I believed he was real. He was a ghost…
“What do you want?”
Faster than lightning, his smile dropped and his nose wrinkled with rage as if I asked a stupid question. I stepped away in fear and he stood to his feet so slowly and calmly; I prepared for the storm.
“You shouldn’t be here,” He said ambiguously, disappointed. “This is your first mistake,”
Was he talking in riddles? He threw me off guard. I thought he’d be thrilled by my arrival. The last few days before I left, he was my tormentor, blaming me for his death. Young and naïve, I believed him and carried the weight of guilt wherever I went.
“What are you talking about?”
The defences I built before returning cracked a little in his company and I needed time to mould it back to perfection so my façade would continue. He wanted to hurt me with his words but I wouldn’t allow it.
“That is your first mistake,” He repeated, shaking his head slowly, torturously, menacingly. “Just remember this, don’t pull the trigger,”
Frowning in confusion, he walked to the door unhurriedly, passing the threshold and disappeared into the corridors. His footsteps echoed around the house and when I looked out my door, I didn’t see his large frame. In fact, I didn’t hear any footsteps. It was like he wasn’t there in the first place. Now, the house was eerily quiet and I shivered as goose-bumps dotted my flesh. Frightened, I kicked off my shoes and crawled into bed, hiding under the duvets like a child hiding away from the closet monster.
My monster wasn’t in the closet. He was in the house, somewhere, waiting to destroy me.
I jolted awake and wondered what woke me. Then, the obnoxious groan of a car engine dying filled my ears. I fluttered my eyes open only to be met with darkness. Begrudgingly, I moved to the living area because I couldn’t stand my room. I saw Yusuf, he was a figment of my imagination but his presence was so real, it was as if he never died. Sooner or later, I would have to go back. Disorientated, I lifted my body and heard voices which drew me closer to the window. Pulling the blinds aside, I watched Gladys talk to a guy I didn’t recognise at first but with closer inspection, I knew who he was. Everybody knew who he was - Bruce Atlas.
His presence drowned Gladys’ voice as I paid attention to him. He always had the ability to hold my attention. He was completely magnetic, exuding an aura where others found it impossible to resist him. Bruce was a tall imposing man, possessing rugged features which accentuated his hard edge persona. With his rigid, muscled body leaning against the car, he wrapped an around Gladys’ waist and pulled her closer. I ignored the pang of jealousy invading my body. What right did I have to feel that way?
Gladys openly accepted his inviting lips in a chaste kiss before stepping away and sashayed towards the front door. As if he could sense my presence, his silver eyes darted to meet mine and I stumbled away quickly in a reflexive move. I wasn’t expecting that. How could he see me? The house was completely dark.
I placed my hand on my chest, willing my beating heart to cool down. What was I reaction to? It’s just Bruce Atlas; the same guy I’ve seen countless of times. The door opening distracted my train of thoughts and Gladys entered the living area, her eyes landing on me. Her cool, carefree demeanour diminished and the glassy sheen in her eyes bared the cool iciness of her personality. Truly, she was my evil step sister but I wasn’t doormat Cinderella in this story
“What are you doing here?” She asked, her angelic features morphing into a look of displeasure.
Straightening my posture, I tilt my head back challengingly. Despite our parents’ union, I never liked Gladys. No, I despised her. The hatred burning within the depths of my gut could mirror hellfire.
She held a dainty elegance that I never possessed. Beautiful wouldn’t be the word to describe Gladys, a seductress, the personification of sexual sin. Too many times, I’d seen her destroy relationships, basking in the pleasure of destructive and complete misery. I was at the receiving end of it. She was a ruthless Viper and another reason why I left Le Corbeau
The dim lighting of the bedroom darkened her cocoa complexion but yet ever so flawless than I could ever imagine.
“You know why I’m here,” My ma's miscarriage was the reason for my homecoming other than that, I wouldn’t have done so.
“Is that the only reason why you’re here?”
Cocking my head to the side, I frowned. “What do you mean?”
She arched a brow, that simple act leading to the unspoken answer to my question.
“I have no motivation for revenge, Gladys. Once I know ma has fully recovered mentally and physically, I’m leaving,”
She had every reason to be wary. Last I saw her, she was in the hospital. I placed her there. There was no remorse lingering inside to question my judgement and especially, not when I caught her sleeping with my then boyfriend. I saw nothing but fiery crimson. The worst part was I couldn’t remember anything else other than being deeply depressed. It’s because of her, I was doubtful of myself, more so than I was before. Her hazel orbs scanned my appearance, searching any signs that would show the deceit of my words. She relaxed slightly when she discovered how truthful I was.
“Who dropped you off?”
“Bruce?” she answered casually, shrugging her shoulders as if it wasn’t a big deal. It was to me and she knew it.
“What did you do to get him interested, voodoo?” I remarked. I viewed Gladys as a witch with her spiteful behaviour. Her lips tightened before plastering a fake smile.
“I didn’t need to do anything. Bruce is a wolf, always on the prowl,”
It was one feature I remembered about him, distinctly, when I was younger. Bruce was three years older than me - making him twenty-seven - so I admired him from afar. I watched as he easily picked up any girl he desired and discarded them when his interest dissolved; he was a ruthless womaniser.
Gladys smirked brazenly, her eyes smug. “He came after me,”
I was in la-la land thinking that there could ever be anything between Bruce and I. I didn’t stand a chance and he hardly noticed me. It wasn’t a surprise they were together but it stung like a bitch.
“Whatever, I’m going to bed,”
Aiming to move past her, she blocked my exit. Shifting my gaze to hers, I blinked, unfazed by her pathetic attempts to intimidate me. Seven years away in solitude moulded me into the person I couldn’t fathom. For one thing, I wasn’t naïve anymore so I followed everything my conscious told me when it said ‘forget about Bruce’.
“He’s with me, remember that,”
Scoffing at her pathetic attempts to warn me off, I shouldered past her to my bedroom. I don’t care. I don’t care. The mantra was a haunting echo. I thought distance would burn the flames inside but they increased when I saw him not even ten minutes ago. Slapping my hands over my eyes, I groaned and plopped down onto my bed. It’s only for a couple of weeks, I repeated, hoping the reality of those words would seep into my frazzled brain cells.
They’ll fly by faster than expected.