“I heard that Rory’s redecorating already. My mother said Isadora’s having a fit, thinks that her daughter finally went over the edge.” Alex was loitering in Richard’s studio again; a habit he’d developed since Julie’s body was found. He claimed that he wanted to avoid the reporters that still hounded him.
“Isadora’s too busy worrying about public opinion. If she bothered to pay attention to things other than her little sorority at the country club, she’d know that the bastard isn’t worth remembering,” Richard said absently, studying the canvas before him.
His new series featured Julie growing into a young woman, depicting what he remembered, from her playing with her dolls, to climbing trees, to her final year. With her burial, he’d found a degree of peace that had previously eluded him. Knowing where she was, he slept better. No longer was he wondering if she was out there, cold or hurt, or held prisoner. He visited her grave regularly, tending to it and talking to her.
“That’s not the point,” Alex snapped, walking over to stare out the window.
“So what is?”
Alex said nothing. He just stood there, hands behind his back, looking out at the yard. “You’re pretty isolated here.”
“I like it that way. You want to tell me why you’re still acting like this? It’s been two weeks, Alex. Get the hell over it.” Richard believed that the way Rory didn’t fall for Alex’s attention helped. He’d talk to Julie about it when he visited her next and tell her about the night that Rory had left Alex at the club.
Alex had driven straight to see Richard, barging in without knocking
“She chose that goddamned writer over me!” Alex had screamed by way of introduction that night. “She let him paw her all fucking night on the dance floor and then, when I stepped up and told her to stop it, she actually told me to leave her alone! The stupid bitch told me to leave her alone!”
“Then leave her alone. There’s other women out there. Better ones.”
“That bitch doesn’t know what’s good for her!” Alex kicked Richard’s easel, sending it and the painting Richard was working on to the floor.
“What the hell is wrong with you, man?” Richard shoved Alex away from the canvas. Picking it up, he was relieved to see that no damage had been done to his work. “Don’t take it out on me. Jesus, you know what she’s like. Why’d you even waste your time?”
Back in the present, unable to push the memory of his friend’s drunken tirade away, Richard studied Alex a moment longer, noting the subtle shift of power between the two of them since that night. Once, he was the one obsessing and hurt. He was the one who ranted and stormed while Alex watched with barely-veiled amusement. But Alex wasn’t hurt. He was angry. Why? The question haunted him. “What’s your point, Alex? It shouldn’t matter to either one of us. She doesn’t want us.”
“She got under my skin. You know what that’s like. Don’t tell me she didn’t get under yours.”
“She’s not under it anymore.”
“Right.” Alex helped himself to a beer from the small refrigerator and sat down on the sofa. “Who the hell does he think he is?”
“That writer. Who the hell does he think he is?”
“Apparently her new lover.”
“Fuck that! He doesn’t deserve her! What’s wrong with her to let him touch her?”
“Nothing as far as I can see, except that she never let you touch her. Face it, Alex, she’s a big girl now.”
“She doesn’t know what she wants right now. What do you want me to do? Charge in and push her around like her husband did? Ransome’s just trying to cozy up to her name. She’ll figure it out eventually. Since when are you so calm about her?”
“Since I buried my sister. When did my place become so much more attractive than yours?”
“I hang out here because I’m fucking sick and tired of the media camping at my door. They still won’t let it go,” he said. “If they’d focus on finding her killer, I could go home.”
“You ought to use some of that influence you’re always bragging about to get the investigation moving a bit faster.”
Alex didn’t give an indication that he heard the change of tone in Richard’s voice. Everyone knew Julie was dead long before she was found. No one would have wasted all these years thinking that she was alive somewhere, he was sure of it. Burying her certainly hadn’t brought about some emotional catharsis for him as it had for Richard.
“I’d like to know, too. She was going to be my wife.”
“You two ever fight?”
“Every couple fights. It means you’re human. I loved her enough to fight with her.” Alex studied the bottle’s label. “I’m sure you and Rory fought.” He liked the way Richard winced.
“That doesn’t matter anymore.”
Really. Rory’s still alive. Richard gave up all pretense of trying to sound cavalier. “You know that Julie called me the night she disappeared.” It was a bluff; she’d called only Natalie, sobbing that Alex was like all the others, but how Alex responded to his lie would determine what he did next. “She said she broke up with you.”
He saw the color drain from his Alex’s face.
“What happened that night? What happened to my sister?”
“She passed out in the parking lot,” Alex said slowly. “I helped her into the car. Then I went back to the bar. We were both drunk. I… I wasn’t thinking clearly. If I had been, I would’ve taken her home. As it was, I left her in the car, figuring that she’d sleep it off.”
“Why did she leave?”
“I don’t remember exactly. We’d had a fight, that’s all.”
What had Julie told Richard? No one told him she’d made a second call. Alex tried to calculate just what his response would be, but never finished the thought. Richard had him by the throat, pulling him off of the couch.
“What did you do to my sister?”
“You killed Julie! You took her away from me!” Richard screamed, slamming his fist into Alex’s perfect face. He’d never been as satisfied by blood as he was right now. Another punch and he shoved Alex away, letting him fall onto the couch.
Alex knew he had to get out of there. He didn’t have a chance against Richard. “This isn’t solving anything,” he tried to snarl, forcing himself to stand.
“It’s solving everything. You killed Julie. I’m going to kill you.” Richard advanced slowly as Alex backed up, working his way toward the window behind him.
“Then what? Sit in jail for the rest of your life? I’m innocent! I didn’t kill her and you know it!” A few more feet and he’d be there.
“It would be worth it.”
“Are you insane?”
“Oh no. I’m quite sane. You’re the bastard who killed an innocent girl. Not me. I’m going to kill a murderer.”
“I didn’t do it!”