Cross Roads

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Chapter One: Criminal

I am sitting on the couch, a half-gallon of chocolate ice cream all to myself, watching an Indiana Jones marathon. There is a ladle in one hand, the remote in the other. I have my favorite rainbow woolen blanket wrapped tightly around me and I am more than comfortable.

I am prepared to enjoy my first night off from the worst place on earth in weeks.

And then the front door swings open and my older sister comes running inside.

I jump, ice cream missing my mouth to land on my boob. I stare at it, wondering if I should toss it – this T-shirt is on the old and slightly dirty side – or if I should just give into my caveman desires and eat it anyways.

Instincts on preservation – of the dessert, of course – kick in, in the end, and I slurp up the ice cream. The taste is not diminished in the slightest and I know I have made the better choice. Waste not, want not, and all that jazz.

My sister rounds the couch, sinking down beside me in a boneless huff. She takes the tub from my lap, snatches the ladle from my hand, and digs in. I stare, dumbfounded, instantly knowing that something is wrong. My sister, no matter how depressed she is feeling, no matter how horrible her cramps are during her period, never indulges in such unhealthy foods. She is a health-nut, hitting the gym five times a week, eating salads as meals – how very sad indeed – and taking constant care of herself.

She is now eating ice cream, one of the Forbidden Foods. Queue the scandalized gasp.

I know that something is up; seriously wrong.

She is crying, tears falling down her cheeks and dripping into the tub. She sobs and eats, tears and snot mixing with the ice cream. It is disgusting just watching her go.

It is also saddening, watching as the ice cream I bought for myself in anticipation of this one night is slowly disappearing into someone else’s gut. The frozen sugar was to be meant for me and ME ALONE!

I sit there and keep watching, though, probably too shocked by it all to even perform a coordinated action at this point. The ice cream melts in the tub and on the ladle, making a very fine moustache for my sister. It drips onto her shirt but she doesn’t care – another red flag for her.

Anabelle Carson Goode puts effort and pride in her appearance – hence the constant visits to the gym – and especially in her wardrobe. Under normal circumstances, the second she got food on her clothes she would whip out her Tide-to-Go pen and set to work on removing any possible stains. The ice cream falls and she completely ignores it.

She continues to eat my most sacred treat.

There is most definitely something wrong with her.

“Are you okay?” I finally ask her, ignoring the obvious fact that, no, she is not alright.

She explodes, flinging the ladle out and spraying me with spit and ice cream. I flinch and jump away, disgusted. She doesn’t notice, and goes into a sobbing explanation for her attitude.

The only problem is that her mouth is full, she is sobbing, and she is a complete mess.

She is speaking in Cry-ese, a language of which I am not even close to being fluent.

I have no possible way of understanding a word she says. All I hear are a bunch of whines and squeaks, mumbles and cries. She decides to be Italian, too, speaking with her hands and flinging more gross-ness onto me.

My poor gay blanket will never be the same again.

I wait a full five minutes listening to her share her story. When her lip quivers and she returns to the tub I say, in the nicest tone I can possibly manage, “Okay, Anabelle, I need you to put down my ice cream, swallow your food, and then repeat that. In English. Alright?” It came out like I was speaking to a trantruming four year old diva . . . which I guess could be pretty accurate.

She whines, lips drooping to the point of drool falling out. She tosses the ladle into the tub, sets it aside and swallows what remains in her mouth. She lifts her feet onto the cushion, hugs them tightly to her chest. Anabelle is silent, staring and crying and refusing to make eye contact.

Belle,” I push, shoving her not so gently in the shoulder.

She glares. “He dumped me, Spencer!” she cries, pressing her face into her knees. She continues, voice muffled and words unintelligible.

“Who dumped you?”

The look my sister gives lets me know what a blonde I truly am. “Adrian.”

“Oh.” I think about it, letting the name sink in. “Oh! What a jerk! Why? When? How?”

“I don’t know why,” she wails, wiping her dripping nose on the back of her hand. “We went out for dinner – it was our one year anniversary today. It was nice. And then we went to the Knicks game. Everything seemed fine, and then he broke up with me in front of everyone. He . . . He made this big scene when the Kiss Cam focused on us. He wouldn’t kiss me, pushed me away, and then he broke up with me. He acted like I was a creepy stalker or something! And then he had security escort me out. He’s been seeing someone else behind my back. He threw me out of my seat and brought her over.” She screams, tugging on her hair. “The problem is that I was fooling myself into thinking that I really liked him. I just . . . he was my first real boyfriend and I was just so naïve and . . . I’m so stupid! How could I think a guy like him would go for a girl like me?” She laughs, humorlessly. “Well, he broke up with me and made me the laughing-stock of the entire stadium. I can’t go out in public anymore. Ever again. Everyone will know and they’ll laugh at me.” Anabelle gasps. “How can I go to work tomorrow?”

I don’t see the dilemma. “Um . . . you get into your little Bug of a car and drive there, same as always?” I suggest.

My entire brain is focused on the cheating bastard and what a . . . a . . . a bastard he is. How DARE he treat my sister like that? She wouldn’t hurt a fly! She’s the shyest, sweetest, most obnoxious big sister you could ever meet. She doesn’t deserve what he did to her. A simple ‘It’s over’ would have sufficed, but the rich turd just had to let the entire Manhattan population know about it. And, because he’s the son of one of the wealthiest businessmen in the city, he will have no repercussions for it.

He will still have girls hounding after him, whether or not he’s in a public relationship.

I must remedy that fact.

But how?

“You don’t understand, Spencer!” she continues. “It was on public television! Everyone will have seen it and everyone will laugh at me! How can I go out and face the world after being humiliated like that? I will be laughed at, and no guy is going to want to date me because they’ll think I’m an obsessive, clingy stalker. I’m screwed for life!”

“You’re being a little overdramatic, Belle,” I say, still trying to come up with the best way to hurt the sorry sucker.

I could egg his house, but there are cameras there. I will be caught on tape and so will begin my criminal career – and possibly my admittance to a correctional facility.

I could simply go up to him and punch his lights out. That would be fun. But it wouldn’t have the lasting damage that I am so searching for. No, it will have to be something more . . . horrendous; unthinkable.

Something completely devious that only a scorned woman could ever come up with.

I tap my chin and stroke my imaginary goatee.

“Spencer!” my sister cries. “How can I face the world after what he did?”

I am drawn from my thoughts of utter destruction of a certain player named Adrian Knightly. “You want to know what you do, Anabelle? You go out tomorrow looking smoking hot and like you don’t have a care in the world. You go to work and you don’t take crap from anybody. Someone laughs at you, you ignore them. They’re just losers anyways. You move on. If no guy wants to date you for a while, then fine. You don’t need them. Guys are tools. What you don’t do, Belle, is you don’t let that bastard ruin you. He’s a jerk, plain and simple, who has nothing better to do than try and make people miserable. You’re better off without him.”

“But it still hurts, being dumped like that. And to add salt to the wound he was cheating on me the entire time.”

I nod. “Yeah, but you don’t let anyone else know it. You act like it doesn’t matter; like you’re over it. He broke your heart, but you keep that to yourself. Outside you are indestructible. I know these kinds of guys. They get tired easily and they move on, but the second you show that you’ve moved to bigger and better things he’ll want you back. When that happens, you make him feel exactly how you did. You throw his heart into the dirt and run it over with your little Punch Bug.”

She shakes her head, drying her tears with her sleeves. “I’m not like you, Spencer. I . . . I’m not tough like you. I can’t pretend to be like you. You don’t take crap from anyone and . . . I wish I was more like you but I’m not! I can’t move on like that.”

I nod my head, unwilling to see her get dragged down by a guy who doesn’t deserve to be cried over. She is so much better – deserves so much better – than him. She shouldn’t be crying over him. Yes, she can cry about what he did, but as for the reason why, she’s so much better off without him. “Yes you can, because you don’t want to give Adrian the satisfaction of hurting you.”

Anabelle is quiet, drying her eyes and thinking. “Okay.”

“Good. Now go take a shower. You’re covered in boogers and ice cream.” I shove her off the couch.

She stumbles, looking down at herself. What she finds horrifies her and her eyes widen. “What the—”

“Adrian isn’t worth it, Belle. You deserve someone better anyways,” I tell her honestly, trying to be sincere for probably the fourth time in my life.

She smiles, looking better and less depressed. “Thanks, little sis,” she tells me, going up the stairs.

I wait until the shower turns on before I bolt off the couch, ready to start my plan of revenge. I sprint up to my room, rummaging through my closet until I find my blackest pair of jeans, and a hoodie. I change into what I will call my Criminal Clothes, preparing myself for a night of illegal activities – I DID NOT just giggle like a crazed maniac . . . okay, maybe a wee bit. Black boots join the ensemble, my trademark footwear, and then I deem myself ready to go.

In the kitchen I scribble a note for my sister, letting her know that I have decided to go to bed early, preparing for a ten-hour closing shift tomorrow night. I tape the note to the fridge, knowing she will see it when she comes down for her nightly glass of calcium.

On my way out to the driveway, I grab a pair of gloves, knowing that whatever I decide to do will require it to be hands-on. I don’t want to give the cops any possible way of finding me, and that includes fingerprints.

Ooh, and hair follicles!

I add a beanie to my outfit, and sprint out the door. I climb into my jeep, rev the beautiful monstrosity of an engine and floor it out of the driveway.

Tonight will either be the most productive of my life, or the most damning. Either way, I will be sending a message.

Never mess with the Goodes.

[ — ]

It is nearing three in the morning when Adrian finally pulls through the gates, his million dollar car rumbling down the drive and into the garage off to the side of the main house – mansion. I watch and wait, hunkered down in the bushes to avoid the rotating cameras and periodic gate patrols. I listen as Adrian Knightly leads a tripping, giggling red-head from the garage and through the side door of the mansion. My blood boils at first sight, and I resist the urge to break cover and clothes-line the sucker.

My legs twitch so badly, wanting to do just that.

Logic wins out, reminding me that I won’t get any farther along in my plan for revenge than knocking the wind out of the eldest Knightly son.

So I stay where I am, cracking my knuckles. The side door shuts, lights turn on and off in the house as the duo stumble up to the second floor where they will be enjoying each other’s company for a little while longer. The guards at the gates make their hourly rounds, flashlights sweeping and completely missing me. The cameras spin slowly, and I wait until they’re turned away from the garage before making my heart-pounding sprint inside.

The nearby garden hose is clenched tightly in my hand.

If my cousin saw me now he would be so proud, using what he’d taught me last summer. Gas tanks, engines and water do not mix well, according to him.

I smile wickedly to myself, unscrewing the gas cap of Adrian’s most-prized possession. The Hennessey Venom GT is, quite literally, a million dollar car. It was a gift to the cheating bastard for his twenty-third birthday just last month. The second he’d opened the box containing the keys he’d taken the thing out for an hour-long joyride, leaving my sister alone with the rest of his rich friends.

If there was one thing he loved more than girls and sex, it was that car.

I planned on destroying it, just like he’d broken my sister’s heart.

What was it my grandmother called me when she thought I wasn’t listening? Oh, yeah, creatively sadistic. My mom had taken great pleasure in lecturing me about using my creative mind for good rather than evil. If she saw me now I know I would be grounded for life; put on latrine duty for the rest of my pathetic existence.

It is a good thing she isn’t here, then.

I feed the hose into the tank, twisting the nozzle on and listening as water poured in. A manic giggle bubbles up in my throat, and I clamp down on it in case the guards are making an early sweep. There is no way I am going to be caught in the middle of my act of revenge.

Absolutely no way.

That would be devastatingly humiliating for me – even worse than being dumped on live television.

The tank floods and I know my plan is coming to a close. I twist it close and pull the nozzle free. I put the gas cap back on, wipe down the side of the prissy, beastly car to get rid of the lingering traces of water.

I am quite pleased with myself for executing things so flawlessly.

I wind up the hose and return it to its place a dozen yards away at the shed. Keeping low to the ground, avoiding the cameras and the guards, I slip off the Knightly property through a break in the iron fence. And then I run, feeling exhilarated; liberated, after a heist as successful as this one.

Then reality slams into me with the weight and force of a semi as I realize I have a long walk – or run, depending on how in shape I feel – ahead of me. My jeep is miles away, parked safely in the parking lot of the place where – hint, hint – I’m hatin’ it.

In layman’s terms, that would be McDonald’s, the food franchise that I am currently employed at as a shift manager, making $9.55 an hour.

I had gotten a ride from a coworker who lived several miles from the Knightlys’, hoping to prevent myself from being connected to this hate-crime. My jeep isn’t a common vehicle, made even more uncommon by the Chevy 350 engine that is lying beneath the hood. Not only is my mode of transportation noticeable, it is also quite loud; quite distinct. If I’d driven my sweet little Armageddon to the scene of the crime as a quick getaway, I would have been uncovered as the culprit behind the inevitable Hennessey Venom GT explosion.

I like to pride myself on also being criminally wise.

Just ignore the fact that I have to make a twenty-mile hike in the middle of the night, and hope I get home before my dad wakes up at seven to get ready for work.

I am so screwed.

I pick up my pace, needing to get home so my parents won’t be even more disappointed than they already are with me. Who knew that dropping out of college – no matter how well intentioned and necessary – could lead to one being labeled as a black sheep? I sure didn’t until I’d already made my decision.

The night is cool and crisp, dry for once since the snow started to melt and winter gave way to spring. Now summer is approaching and I am looking forward to the warm, sunny weather. Beaches and tanning, shorts and tanks, a lack of shoes for much of the day; I can’t wait.

But for now I am focusing on keeping my breathing even and my legs pumping. The miles melt underneath my boots. I have to take off my hoodie after mile four, getting too sweaty and warm to keep it on. I tie it around my waist and keep going. I don’t give myself a moment to think about how my legs are burning, my lungs aching. I only focus on the trouble I will be in if I don’t get home before my parents realize I was out all night.


I take a detour through a cute little development, pine trees aplenty and streetlights shining brightly. I make my way down the sidewalk, the occasional midget dog yipping inside houses that I pass. They’re easy to ignore and I keep going, intent on making it home in time to save my ears a lecture.

And then I am scared crap-less when a giant dog comes bounding down a driveway that I am close to passing.

This thing is massive, terrifying in merely size.

It growls and barks, loud and echoing and deep.

It is going to eat me, I swear.

I scream.

The dog runs at me, tongue hanging out, getting ready to taste my salty flesh.

“No! Bad doggie!” I squeal, running to a nearby lamppost and throwing myself up it. I cling to the slick metal, hoping and praying that my sweaty palms will hold me up. “You don’t wanna eat me. I’ll taste bad.”

The dog barks again, stopping beneath me. It stares at me with soulless eyes, preparing to devour me. It leaps into the air, front paws swinging, trying to claw at me to get me down.

I scream for a second time and skootch my butt higher, trying to mold myself to the lamppost. “GO AWAY! I don’t have time for this!”

The dog starts barking in tandem, running around the lamppost while continuing to stare at me.

I am trapped.

I have no chance of getting home before seven now. In fact, I doubt I’ll be getting home at all. Looking at that massive jaw and those teeth, I’m pretty sure this dog will eat me, bones and all.

“Hey, Benji, get over here!”

The dog and I look up at the same time as a shadow climbs down from the jeep parked in the same driveway this monstrosity of an animal has come from. The dog barks once and prances away, coming to a stop beside the shadow. I don’t move, unwilling to risk it going after me again.

“He won’t bite,” the stranger says, advancing towards me.

“I don’t believe you!” I squeal out, tightening my hands. “That thing is huge!”

The stranger laughs, deep and distinctly manly. “He’s an English Mastiff. He’s supposed to be huge.”

“That is unnatural,” I quip back.

The man walks closer, stepping into the lamp light. He is tall and gorgeous, dressed in plaid bottoms and a simple T-shirt. He is without shoes, barefoot on the concrete. Something around his neck catches in the light, shining and reflective. I get a glimpse of dog-tags.

“You can come down now,” he says, scratching the Mastiff behind the ears. The dog’s tongue hangs lazily, a thick and heavy tail thumping against the concrete. It leans against the man’s side, its weight threatening to send the guy falling over into the street. “He just gets over-excited with strangers.” He is smiling widely, dimples deep and entirely too cute and endearing for this dark at night.

I am still hesitant. “Are you sure?” I demand to know, watching the dog warily as it lies down and flips into its back.

“What do you think?” Dog-Tags asks, kneeling to rub the Mastiff’s belly. “It’s safe.”

“Fine.” I loosen my hold and squeal down the lamppost, coming to land on my feet. I take a step forward, slowly, watch as the dog does nothing but continue to pant. I take another, and another, my irrational fear fading with each inch. “Thanks.”

He nods. “You might want to be more careful the next time you go for a run at four in the morning.”

“I’ll try to remember that,” I say, breaking into a jog. I continue on my way, running to the end of the block and crossing to the next. I chance a look over my shoulder, finding Dog-Tags and his dog to still be beneath the lamppost. The stranger is still kneeling; the dog has rolled onto his stomach. Both are still watching me.

I thought I would feel a little creeped out by it.

Instead it makes me blush. Dog-Tags is looking at me. Queue the girly skip and leap – in my own thoughts, of course – as I realize I am worthy of being looked at.

I raise my hand in a wave.

Dog-Tags does the same.

I turn the corner and I leave the development, sprinting to get back to my jeep and then back home before my dad can have an aneurysm of the brain.

The clock ticks to seven-oh-four and I am just tumbling through my bedroom window. I get tangled in my curtains, the rod threatening to snap in half under my weight. My landing is far from graceful. I will blame it on my being exhausted and barely able to catch my breath.

I can’t believe that I actually made it.

My doorknob turns and my relief is short-lived.

I dive for my bed, messing up my comforter as I climb underneath. My haste has made it look like my bed was slept in. Luck seems to be on my side as I sprawl out and hold my breath to keep my chest from heaving.

My dad pokes his head in. I can feel his eyes on me, burning holes into my back. He stares for a full minute. My lungs feel as though they are about to burst. I am just about to give in and take a lung-ful of desperately needed air – therefore blowing my ruse – when he closes the door.

I gasp and flop onto my back staring up at the ceiling. I breathe heavily and deeply, trying to catch my breath after the arduous climb from the back patio trellis up to my bedroom window. It’s only when I’m no longer feeling like I’m going to suffocate that I come to a shocking conclusion . . .

I did it.

I actually did it.

A smile forms and I don’t fight it.

If my career in the fast food industry doesn’t work out, maybe I can open my own business in EX Retaliation. I’m sure I could make it work; make a living off of it. I am creatively sadistic.

I settle back against my mattress, kicking my boots off and to the floor. Curling up I don’t fight a yawn.

Hey, criminals need their beauty sleep, too.

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