Killing Julie

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Chapter 5

August 2005

How dare she! The cunning, snide, sneaky little bitch! How dare she! Telling everyone... God, she’d pay, and he would make sure she’d pay for every snicker and glance he suffered. The brazen whore...

He couldn’t get her out of his mind.

Leaning back in his chair, staring out the window, the black-haired twenty-six-year-old played it over in his mind to the smallest detail, letting it tumble around, sorting it through. Rory had taken him, teased him, pushed him, and then screamed and cried. Kicking up a fuss about ideas such as “consent” and “mutual.” Hell, what was passion but the bending of a few rules?

When had it started? Probably when she came home with his sister Julie during their first break their freshman year. Maybe it was cliché, but that day he had seen her, sitting in the kitchen with his Julie and his mother, laughing and so at ease, he wanted nothing more than to say she was his. But then...oh, shit, how could she? How could she do something as cruel as to write that essay? She didn’t understand. She never did. He’d loved her, wanted to show her that she loved him, too. But now, look at him. Twenty-six and a struggling artist without a creative thought of his own. Living at his parents’ house, rent-free and dependent.

His hands ran through his hair in frustration. How could she do this to him? Useless hands. Useless. For a moment, he studied them – long fingers, short ragged nails, paint in the creases of his knuckles, and perfectly flawless, soft skin. Staring at them reminded him of how they had been wrapped around her wrists that night, white-knuckled, tight. Her own hands had simply flexed, clenching, releasing, clenching again, and trying to scratch him, to play her part.

It was Rory’s idea, after all. The whole scene. The ripped clothing, the force... remembering made his blood rush. He thought about what had happened and what would happen. His body surged, remembering how soft she’d been, remembering the contrast of her white skin on the black earth. His eyes closed in memory, and he felt his body respond.

This would be a perfect night to hit the bars with Alex, meet some women, practice a bit with them. Maybe he would. He leaned back in his chair, remembering her struggles.

I just made you, darling.

How he would like to have actually said that to her. He would make her, someday. Create her. Just as he reached his favorite part of the fantasy though, it was broken by his mother.

“Richard! Get down here! It’s time for dinner!”

Startled, he nearly fell from his chair, regaining his balance just in time.

He didn’t grant her a response. He never did. Instead, he just stretched his six-foot body into a standing position and glanced in the mirror. Finger-combing his bangs out of his eyes, he absently contemplated a haircut in the near future. For a moment, he studied himself. What was there to dislike? What could be wrong with him? He was built well enough: strong arms and a firm jaw. Even the old jeans that he wore, paired with a black concert t-shirt, looked good on him. The answer eluded him. He just knew that he was twenty-six and still living with mommy.

Twenty-six and jobless. Scowling at his reflection, he walked away, heading down to a meal that he was sure would be a disaster. How could it be anything but with the chef off and his mother playing the role of housewife? She’ll probably try to play the concerned mother, too. I should've gone out to eat.

He entered the kitchen. It was empty but for his mother. She eyed him closely, gauging his mood. “Dinner’s about ready, honey,” she said gently. “Have a seat. I’m finishing up your favorite: hand-mashed potatoes.”

He took his seat as commanded, slamming his body into his chair. His eyes were blank, sullen, staring at something only he could see. He crossed his arms.

“Natalie’s here,” his mother said.


“She opened her third hair salon in Pittsburgh today. It’s her seventh one total, you know.”


She watched him openly, refusing to be intimidated. “Do you want to talk about anything?”

He raised his eyes to silently stare at her. You wouldn’t offer if you knew, Mother. He dropped his gaze, deciding that the vegetable-and-fruit pattern on the ancient 1970s Lenox plate – Laura’s favorite out of the six full sets that she owned – was more interesting. His eyes traced the weaving of the green vine on the plate before him.

Behind an apple. Around some lettuce. Over an ear of corn. Behind the asparagus. Around some oranges. Over a bunch of carrots. Some leaves clustered to indicate the pattern repeat. Behind an apple. Around some lettuce. Over an ear of corn....

She had been everything that Mother never was. With his stepfather Charles, Mother was warm and affectionate to the point of being sappy. Charles ate it up and returned the affection.

With him, however, his mother was distant, harping and always asking: “Where are you going? What are you doing?” Always after him for something: clean your room, take out the garbage. But he was no longer five. He was twenty-six, too old to be bossed around.

Unlike his mother, she had never been harping or sloppily affectionate. Every gesture was reserved and measured, sophisticated. The kind of grace he would want any woman to have while she stood at his elbow in the gallery where he would someday premiere. She was a beautiful muse, a goddess. His mother was a slobbering puppy dog.

He knew her eyes still watched him, waiting for an answer. She always did that, ask and then wait, with that look of false concern plastered on her face. Dismissing her from his mind, he studied the leaves that were background to the colorful foods. Natalie was eating with them – that would be difficult enough. With her mud-brown, all-over-the-place curls and those fingernails polished to match her clothing, and that stupid act-like-nothing’s-wrong smile. God, why do you hate me? His stepfather would probably think that she and mother were funny tonight, too.

If he played his cards right, he could escape unnoticed.

“Hey, little brother.” Natalie came into the kitchen and took the seat next to him, placing her hand on his arm. Her nails, he noticed, were recently manicured and painted a soft pink. “How are you?” She was invading his space now, sitting too close. It was all he could do not to move. Her presence reminded him once more of what a failure he was. Seven hair salons. All of them a wild success. And here he was, uninspired and living at home.

He shrugged, refusing to look at her.

Behind an apple. Around some lettuce. Over an ear of corn. Behind the asparagus. Around some oranges. Over a bunch of carrots. Some leaves clustered to indicate the pattern repeat. Behind an apple. Around some lettuce. Over an ear of corn....

The hair he hated was pulled back by an elastic band at the nape of her neck. Dozens of delicate curls escaped its hold. Unlike Natalie, Rory was able to control her hair. It matched her poise. Her hair was beautiful, sensual, dark , just curly enough – not wild or drab brown like his sister’s. Wavy, that was it. He raised his eyes to look at Natalie, saw he was right about the hair, and finally forced a reply. “Hello.”

You look like you’ve been under a bridge for the last week, Natalie wanted to say. Instead, “How are you?”

After a minute of contemplation, Richard tilted his head and glared, “I’m just fine, sister dear.” It wasn’t exactly a snarl, but it was close. Natalie and her mother exchanged looks. Laura mouthed the word art.

“Are you working on anything exciting this week?”

“Nothing.” He didn’t want the olive branch, and he wished she’d take her hand off his arm.

“Mom told me that you were working on a series? Something with dragons and wizards?”

“It’s nothing you’d care about.”

“Really, Dicky,” she said, using his childhood nickname. Her hand moved from his arm to his shoulder, and she gave an affectionate squeeze.

He didn’t flinch, but he didn’t respond, not knowing how to react. For a moment, he wanted to throw his arms around her and tell her he was sorry and that he missed having her at home and that he really was proud of her. He wanted to say it was lonely with just Mom and Charles; that they were too wrapped up in their lives to notice him. He wanted to scream that he missed Julie more every day, but no one ever talked about her. Just as he was about to give in, she finished her sentence: “I do care.”

His stomach clenched. That was what Rory had said and she had lied. He swallowed his original response to his sister’s kindness and shut his eyes, unable to separate the two women in his mind, closing his eyes for a long moment, slowly opening them again. He glowered at her; the sheer anger in his eyes made her recoil, and she finally removed her hand.

“It’s about death, Natalie. Death and brutality,” he paused for effect. “Towards women.” Before either of the two women could respond, he shoved away from the table and stalked out of the room.

Stupid, cunning, sneaky... the list went on. He hated them! Hated every one of them! Mother and Natalie planned that! They wanted to see him lose his cool; they wanted to break him and make him a little boy again. But he hadn’t caved or done anything that would show them weakness. Little Dicky. Everyone’s sweet little boy who never causes anyone a minute’s grief. Screw them all. Castrating females! I’m nobody’s little boy. I’m a man, dammit. A grown man!

He prowled his room, pacing furiously. He knew the truth. He’d be a little boy forever until he proved that he was a man. Somehow, he had to get her back. He refused to rejoin them until his mother called three more times and his stepfather threatened to physically remove him from the house should he cause any further problems.

Dinner that evening was a typical Sarazen family affair: conversation with the women chattering and the men listening. Richard was neither excluded nor included. His earlier outburst was never mentioned. Par for the course, he thought, watching them talk and laugh. Ignore the bad stuff and it will go away. If you don’t talk about it; it never happened. If you don’t mention her, she never vanished.

He hated his mother’s and sister’s yapping. His stepfather, the eternal politician, said nothing and just presided over the table, smiling at whatever the two laughed at. Sometimes he would laugh with them. Richard hated him, too.

He studied the plate’s design again while waiting to serve himself. Behind the apple. Around some lettuce. Over an ear of corn. Behind the asparagus. Around some oranges. Over a bunch of carrots. Some leaves clustered to indicate the pattern repeat. The repetition was soothing; he began to relax, to ignore his mother talking about her work in the nursing home and about all of the old people that he thought should have died long ago. Behind an apple. Around some lettuce. Over an ear of corn.... He wondered if he was losing his mind.

“Natalie, didn’t you have an interview about your newest location with that magazine today? Which one was it?”

“It was American Faces, Dad. You’ll never guess who interviewed me, by the way,” she said, turning to Laura.

“Who, dear?”

“Rory Haverly.”

Richard nearly choked on a mouthful of beans. He wondered what would happen if he vomited on Natalie. He ate faster, wanting to escape the inevitable discussion on why he let her get away. The kitchen was closing in. Hotter and louder.... Natalie’s hair was wilder, redder.... Like her hair that night. Spread out under her like a pillow, her curls rioting, cushioning her beautiful face as she shook her head “no.”

He dropped his fork.

The clatter barely startled the others. They looked at him, and, when he didn’t do more than pick it up, returned to their conversation. But their words made no sense. Rory. Rory. His Rory. She misses me. Otherwise, why would she go to Natalie? He was euphoric! He was furious! How dare Natalie mention her? He needed to humiliate Natalie the way she was trying to humiliate him. Instead, he took a gulp of water and shoveled in another mouthful of beans.

“How is she? She was such a dear, always so polite,” Laura chimed in. “Out of all your girlfriends, Richard, I liked her best.” He glared at her. She ignored him. Bitch.

“She started there just about a year ago and this is her first cover story. Can you imagine how hard that must have been? Your first big story and you get to interview the woman whose little brother you dated and dumped.” Natalie laughed lightly, and he saw how warmly Charles smiled at her. Natalie had always been the favorite. After Julie.

He wished Natalie had cut her dead and refused to talk, had ruined the interview and the article. He crammed half of a roll into his mouth to keep from speaking.

“Whenever I run into her, she always has a smile and a friendly word.” He caught his mother’s glance and narrowed his eyes until she returned her attention to the others. He hated when she spoke to others and looked to him, as if she wanted to see his reaction.

“And, Mum, she said she’s engaged to that young man, Paul DeLuca, who just got a partnership at the accounting firm on the corner of Carson and Eighteenth. Remember how we commented on the new sign? She been dating him seriously for just a few months, and he popped the question just last week. Get this, they met when she was interviewing him for a story about the firm. She said he just kept calling until she went out. It’s been a whirlwind from what I gathered.”

Richard was suffocating. His lungs refused to work and a pain began to form in his gut. Rory was engaged to Paul. After everything, she chose that worthless bastard over him. Natalie was going on about Rory’s wonderful romance, but he couldn’t understand her words. All he could hear were Rory’s cries as she begged him to stop that night. With what strength he could muster, he set his fork down, swallowed the food stuck in his throat, and stood up, unable to focus on their faces for the tears that now threatened. All he could see was Rory, as her own tears ran down her face and she sobbed in his arms, refusing to believe that he would hurt her like that.

I’m sorry. I thought you wanted it, he had whispered that night. And she’d clung tighter, burying her face in his shoulder and shaking her head.

“I’m going to Alex’s,” he announced, leveling his gaze on his stepfather.

“Sit down, young man, you haven’t been excused.”

And she’d clung tighter. Even then, she needed him. What would she think of him now? If he bent under an old man’s orders?

“Richard, please, not tonight,” Laura’s soft voice broke through the heavy silence.

There was a leaded crystal highball glass on the counter, just two steps to his right. He knew it had held the old man’s whiskey. The drink of choice after a long day in the office. One glass, on the rocks, each evening when he came home. Just one, though. Excess was never one of Charles’ vices.

“Sit down, young man.”

“Charles, please, he’s an adult…”

Two steps and it would be in his hand. In high school, he’d been a fairly good pitcher. Coach always started him. Two steps was all it would take and he could shatter the glass against the wall over that son of a bitch’s head. Show him what he thought of his orders. Show his mother that he could take care of himself.

You aren’t the only one who can hurt people.

“Richard, honey, don’t. Charles, not tonight.”

Don’t. How many times did Rory cry that word? He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Don’t. Please don’t. And he didn’t. He hadn’t. He’d stopped, for God’s sake. He’d stopped.

“If you don’t sit down…”

Always a threat. Always. If you don’t sit down… if you don’t turn your music down… if you don’t get a job…

Two steps to the right. That was all it would take, then the glass would shatter over his stepfather’s head, showering the old man with crystal shards.

“Richard, please. What’s wrong? Why won’t you listen?” His mother’s voice. Pleading.

He walked out, ignoring her, imagining instead the sound of shattering crystal.

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