17. Rock Bottom
I didn’t sleep last night. I couldn’t if I wanted to. Every sound echoing through the house frightened me and for once, I didn’t suspect it’d be my father. In fact, I hadn’t seen him in a while. Watching the night fade into daylight didn’t placate my nerves. All night, I prepared for the worst. My thoughts were so loud I thought the whole town could hear them. Was Kane searching the streets for me? Damn Tony. Maybe this was the consequence of my refusal. No matter what, an old fling wouldn’t sway my decision, especially not him.
Low murmurs came from Gladys room and when I tuned in, I heard her conversation with whoever on the other end of the phone. Aside from the bathroom, the walls were paper thin. Scrambling off the bed, I pressed my ear to the wall.
“When do you want to see me?” There was silence for a few seconds. “I won’t tell her… I’ll see you at noon then,”
She unlocked her bedroom door and I grasped the door handle rapidly, meeting her gaze when I stepped past the threshold. Her hazel orbs revealed a glimmer of panic but quickly, she masked it. Resting against the doorframe, I crossed my arms.
“You won’t tell me what?”
“Not everything is about you. I could be talking about another girl,”
“You could be,” I said thoughtfully, lifting a shoulder. “Just curious,”
She gave me her mannequin fake-like smile, playing with her necklace whilst licking her bottom lip. She was shifty. She was afraid… of me?
Given she had every reason to be.
“Look, I’ve gotta go. Tell dad I’ll be out for a couple of hours,”
She jogged down the steps and later I heard the door slam shut. I thought that would give John the clear message. I sighed tiredly and pinched the bridge of my nose, hearing Alexis’ bedroom door open. John frowned before glancing down the corridors.
“It’s six in the morning. What’s the raucous?”
“Your daughter,” I fought a yawn as I asked. “You want some coffee?”
Entering the kitchen, I switched on the coffee maker not expecting sirens to blare down the street, alerting an incident. I raised my head to peer out the window. The ambulance stopped two houses away which only peaked my interest. Alexis and John entered the kitchen with looks of curiosity and I faced them.
“I think there was an accident,”
“Oh no,” Alexis marched to the window, glancing outside before reaching for the door. John followed after her, once again, leaving me alone in the kitchen.
“Mom!” I called, running after them in nothing but my PJ shorts and a tank top. The warm morning breeze crashed through my body as I caught up with the crowd forming around the ambulance. Pushing through some people to get a better view of things, I gawked as the paramedics walked through the front door towards their vehicle with a body lying on a stretcher, covered with a blanket. My heart sank, understanding the silent message.
“What happened?” I spoke loudly and a neighbour answered my question.
“Susan Porters passed away last night,”
What? The dark revelation sunk into my pores, coaxing my body to face the reality glaring in front of me. Staggering on my feet, I backed away, watching as the paramedics lifted Mrs Porters into the ambulance. Alexis held my arms, concern crossing her features.
“I… I…” My eyes darted around and from a distance, I saw him. Tony. He was on the other end of the crowd, taking in the disaster marking a permanent mark in our small town - my small town. Slowly, his eyes skimmed over to mine as if he knew I’d be there watching him. I couldn’t decipher his impassive stare but my scowl was so deadly, I was surprised he didn’t drop dead in that second. His words from last night echoed through my memories:
‘There are consequences and you’re going to regret it,’
Both of his hands were shoved into his pockets. What was he hiding? Without a second thought, I marched to him, dodging and shoving people out of my way. He didn’t move and his eyes lowered downwards the closer I was to him. He loomed over me when I stopped directly in front of him. I shoved him with all my might and he stumbled yet, I wasn’t satisfied. Those that were closer observed us but I didn’t care.
“Is this what you meant about consequences? Attacking innocent people?” I yelled, becoming hysterical. More people placed their attention on us. Good. They needed to know there was a murderer in our midst. He held out his hands as he backed away, setting his jaw firmly.
“I’ve got nothing to do with this, my hands are clean,”
“Liar!” I pushed his chest without pausing for a break but my heart pounded rapidly against my chest. He tried to stop me and my fingers morphed into claws as I scratched his skin. I wanted to hurt him, to see the pain lurking beneath his eyes. Since he arrived, there was nothing but pain. First Mikey and now Mrs Porters. But instead, one of them ended up dead. Things have gone too far and I need to stop this. He was the plague. “Where is he? I saw him last night, don’t fucking deny it?”
His eyes shone, realisation dawning on him by my implication. His eyes darkened and wrapped his fingers around my arm like a vine.
I wouldn’t relent and someone from behind hauled me away and I thrashed in the stranger’s arm. No, not a stranger, it was John. He squeezed his arm lightly, silently pleading for me to calm down. Calm down? How the hell am I supposed to calm down when there was a killer right in front of me? All those times I defended him, those memories of believing is innocence, vanished faster than smoke. Alexis gaped at me in terror as did everyone else. With fatigue consuming my body, I sagged against John, my weight relying on his strength as we went back to his house. Halfway through the journey, he halted and tucked his arm under my knee whilst the other behind my back. Alexis was right behind us with quickened steps, throwing concerned questions my way.
“Murderer!” I screamed without thought. “He’s the killer!”
“Quiet!” John snapped. Not used to hearing the hostility in his voice, I sewed my mouth shut and waited ’til we entered the house. I jumped out of his hold, hiking up the stairs to my bedroom, shutting the door behind me with the promising quake of my anger.
For the next five minutes, I spent pacing back and forward, dragging my fingers through my hair multiple times I was surprised my hair hadn’t scraped off. The walls were closing in on me, making it difficult to breathe. Why can't I breathe?Staying here wouldn’t do me any good. Immediately, my thoughts went to Bruce. Bruce… he’d know what to do. Changing from my PJ’s to my outdoor clothes, I left my bedroom but I didn’t make it far. John stepped in my way, his arm crossed with his expression stern. I sighed, dropping my shoulders; what did he want?
“What has gotten into you?” He boomed but I didn’t flinch. Nothing inside was enough to fuel a reaction. Slowly, I was becoming numb. “Throwing accusations like that can do a lot more damage than good. What the hell were you thinking?”
“John!” Alexis called from behind worriedly. “Not now,”
“No, what you did was unacceptable. You could’ve put an innocent man in jail,”
“Good,” I whispered lowly, unapologetically, meeting his gaze audaciously. “Because there’s nothing innocent about that man,”
He lunged for me, a reaction that forced a strangled scream to escape my lips. Tightening his hold on my arms, he shook me savagely and my head bobbed loosely at my lack of control. It was as if the shock escaped my body in fear, my reflexes were latent as he roared how insane I was. In my right state of mind, I would’ve retorted to his insult. Alexis’ screams ricocheted throughout the corridor, dragging me out of John’s grasp. Her blue orbs blazed with heated anger and this time, she was the one doing the pushing. Huh, at least I inherited a few of my mother’s traits.
“How dare you touch my daughter!” She screeched, manifesting her protective mama bear. Immobile, all I could do was to stare at her.
He blinked, clearing the fog in his irises and knitted his brows. Remorse poured from his expression as he avoided her gaze. She wasn’t having it. Too many times, she was fooled with Yusuf’s deceitful regrets, his pleads for mercy. He broke down all three walls of idiocy, making her wary of any apology thrown her way. Slowly, I stepped around her body, standing beside them both as they stared at each other.
“Go,” She said brusquely and I didn’t waste any time to get out of that house. I caused tension between them and guilt flourished deep my chest.
Already, in the early morning, the day took a turn for the worst. I longed for the dark clouds to break away and allow a ray of sunlight to shine through. Bruce was my light; it took a while to realise this. Collecting Alexis’ keys, I paced to her mini, leaving the driveway whilst missing a few pedestrians and speeding down the road. By car, his house was fifteen minutes away and carelessly, I parked diagonally next to his jeep and pounded my fist on the front door. Nobody answered. I knocked again yet nobody came to the door. With a frustrated grumble, I searched the area for unknown answers. Someone’s got to be home. Out of blind faith, I wiggled with the door handle, stunned to find it unlocked.
What the hell?
Walking into the house, the door creaked opened, eerily, accentuating the dead silence in the air. No one was home but who would leave their door unlocked. Bruce wasn’t the type to leave his house unprotected, especially with his nephew and sister. I didn’t hear the lighthearted voice of a little boy or the stove steaming with the promise of a warm meal.
My skin tightened as a cool draft flowed by, I stopped in front of the stairs, waiting for a beat to hear anything and climbed up the steps leisurely.
I was prepared to see what could've blinded my vision. A part of me wished it did.
Mouth opened wide, I gawked at Bruce lying in bed, his torso naked with the sheets covered over his hips. His arm was thrown over his eyes and yet, his form wasn’t what caused my blood to spike through my system. Scattered around the room were clothes belonging to another woman. My eyes were strained on the panties and bra scattered across the mattress. Frozen in place, I was hyperventilating and my vision blurred with locked emotions threatening to spill.
This was the cherry on top; a rotten, vile cherry. As if sensing my presence, one silver eye popped open and I gasped as if it was a knife slicing through my heart. His irises weren’t bright with mirth. They were cold, deadly, reflecting the cold, grey clouds I was desperate to escape. The little rays of hope were snuffed out, condemning me to the darkness.
Rising to a sitting position, he scrutinised me without a word and the sound of water shattering was deafening against the stillness surroundings us. I didn’t get the chance to barge into the bathroom to know who it was. The very woman exited the en-suite bathroom herself, wrapped in a white towel contrasting her dark skin along with her smug eyes – Gladys. I looked at Bruce, betrayal shining through the depths of my dark eyes but he showed no remorse. He switched off his emotions and I was staring at a stranger.
“You lied,” Failing to hide the pain in my voice, tears brimmed the corners of my eyes. “You… you…”
“I’m doing what you deserve,” His tone was icy. I shivered in discomfort, retreating from the mess I couldn’t bear to watch. What was he talking about? What I deserved? What did I do to deserve this? So many questions and I’ll never find the answer to them.
I felt a sense of déjà vu to what felt like decades ago. I was in the same scenario yet I caught my then boyfriend in action with Gladys. She wasn’t even my stepsister then. She’d gone so low I couldn’t comprehend how we ended up chained together.
“Get out,” He commanded, his eyes blazing with heated ire.
I didn't protest. I didn't even try to fight.
Spinning on my heels, I sprinted out of his house like my life was on the brink of death. I thought it was. I was holding onto my strength with the tip of my fingers but with the scene of Bruce and Gladys replaying over and over again, I was slipping. The gates of hell were opening, waiting to suck me into eternal torment. Did I have it all wrong? All those kisses, his words, and his touch they all meant nothing to him. I should’ve listened to my first instinct. Knowing who he was and what he did, I should’ve stayed away. I walked into his trap blindly, stupidly, and now, I was paying the price.
Clumsily, I entered my ma's car and swivelled into the road like a drunken person and raced away from the Atlas’ home. Hot tears trickled down my cheeks as I unleashed everything built inside, everything since my father’s death. Life wasn’t in my favour. Doubt tiptoed along the edge of my thoughts. Fight it off, fight it off… fight… it…off.
Pulling to the side of the road, I killed the engine, allowing everything that happened to sink in. My breathing was audible and my chest heaved as my heart bled mournfully. From my peripheral, Yusuf stared at me. He didn’t say anything, didn’t even bother to taunt me during my lowest point. The pain was so unbearable, my body detached from any specks of emotions in an act of survival. It was better this way – if you feel nothing, you can’t feel pain. But the pain wasn’t the only emotions I released.
His hand travelled over the gear, placing it on top of mine. It was freezing, radiation through my flesh, causing me to shiver. Lethargically, I raised my gaze to his. Our eyes were identical. I couldn’t help but notice this during my doleful state. His face wrinkled into a smile that looked pained yet genuine.
“You know what to do,” He said cryptically and I sent a watery frown. Tired to decode his message, I shrugged helplessly.
“What do I have to do?” I croaked and gradually, his hand pointed to another path detouring from the road. My frown deepened when I saw the houses decay the further down the lane. In my state of mind, it looked appealing. He watched me intently and hesitantly, I shook my head.
“That isn’t the answer,”
“It’s a way out.”
Sighing in defeat, I slumped back in my seat. What else could I do? My only reason for staying vanished and the day hadn’t ended yet. On autopilot, I started the engine and turned the corner. I pressed on the gas pedal to increase the speed and tightened my knuckles on the steering wheel. My body was in full control whilst my mind shut down. It told me where I was going and I didn’t have the will to fight against it.
Tony’s curious gaze landed on the car when I slowed down, soon coming to an immediate stop. I didn’t get out of the car but he made the effort easier. He was cool when he strolled to me. A pencil propped behind his ear and his lips were thinned firmly in displeasure at my appearance. After what I accused him of, I had no right making myself present in his warehouse. Rolling down the window, he lowered his body, resting his forearms on the opened space. To him, my eyes were puffy, rimmed with redness, conveying my sorrow. There was no need for questions concerning me.
“Is he here?” I asked and he knew full well who I was talking about.
“The deal is on,” I whispered solemnly, refusing to meet his hazel orbs. “Seven thousand, you have my word,”
He bit the inside of his bottom lip thoughtfully, tapping his pen on the side window. “How can I be sure your word is true?”
“My word is oak,” My reply was fast. I couldn’t stand another rejection. “You want to sell cars? You’ve got the right girl,”
It was a part of my life I wasn’t proud of but it was enough to keep a roof over my head for some time. I was lucky enough to escape the first time but would I for the second? Already, I was setting my plan in motion, get in, and get out. Grab the money needed that’ll keep me well off for the next few years and find another decent job to continue on with my life.
His lips twitched, curling into a smirk. “Attagirl,”