16 | Dirty Little Secrets
I call Terrence three times only to have no answer. I leave three voicemails in return, each one more aggressive than the last. It’s late evening and I feel he is ignoring me on purpose, making me sweat it out a bit. He is punishing me for giving him the gift he wanted more than he had ever wanted me.
I roll a joint and spark it up, the first inhale of smoke mollifying my firing nerves. My hands shake and tears roll down my face. The feeling of powerlessness and guilt keep me awake at night. I spend all my time thinking of Blythe; I wonder how Terrence and Spencer are treating her, and if Lawrence is watching out for her. I wish I hadn’t been so harsh with him on the phone. If I had been well-behaved he might have agreed to my terms and conditions.
I have no idea how I’m going to return to work in the upcoming week. I cannot focus and my stress is near debilitating. I’ve aged ten years in the days since Blythe has been taken. If she ever does get to taste freedom again I doubt she will allow me to celebrate it with her since I was the one who took it from her in the first place. I’m not sure there’s a way to right the wrongs I have committed against her.
I get halfway through the joint and decide to give Lawrence another call, uncertain if he will pick up or not. I am not his cup have tea and I don’t think I ever was, even while Terrence and I were married. He would always regard me with chariness and the walls never came down. He liked Blythe more than me upon their first introduction.
I call him and his phone rings for a while before he answers, voice gruff with irritation. He doesn’t say hello nor do I. I hear tires against gravel. He is on the road. It’s awful late for that. I take a puff before I speak.
“Did I catch you at a bad time?” I ask.
“Yes, Terrence and I are doing a job right now. He’s beside me in the passenger seat ignoring you.”
“Clearly,” I snap, rolling my eyes. “Where is Blythe? Is she with Spencer?”
“Yes, back at Terrence’s place. She’s doing fine. I know that’s what you’re going to ask.”
Terrence starts speaking to Lawrence and Lawrence confides this isn’t the first time I’ve called him. He fills him in on the details—nothing too concerning if not, in fact, too pitiful. He leaves out how I’ve asked him to watch out for Blythe because by his previous answer it seems he has been keeping an eye on her despite telling me he wouldn’t. Terrence tells Lawrence to hand him the phone, which he does.
“Hello, Beth,” Terrence says.
“Terrence,” I greet, hostile. The smoke entering my lungs does not dilute the hatred I feel for him who has brought out the worst in me; parts that had already existed but would have never surfaced had he not introduced me to his lifestyle.
“Do you think making phone calls is going to get your sister back?” he queries.
“I don’t have many options. I have no idea where any of you are and I know the police are already on your side. What do I have left to do?”
“You’re talking as if that’s my problem. I’ll give you a hint: it’s not.”
“What if it was one of your brothers who were being held hostage?” I cry out, placing the rest of the joint in the ashtray. “I bet you would be making phone calls too. I bet you would be just as desperate as I am.”
“Well that depends. Did I put them in a position to be a hostage? In your case it’s coming from a place of remorse, not concern. Or, at least, concern is secondary.”
“Terrence,” I plead. “If I was ever able to come up with the money in full, would you accept it? I know I missed the deadline by a mile but money was our primary deal. Couldn’t we make a trade?”
“Hmm let me think about it,” Terrence mocks, pausing for a second. “No.”
“What if I double the initial amount?” I rush out impulsively. It doesn’t matter, it’s an offer he’s not intrigued with anyway.
“You could never, and I would never accept. Blythe is priceless. You cannot buy her back. Goodbye, Beth. Better luck next time.”
Terrence hangs up and I cannot bring myself to remove the phone from my ear right away, shutting my eyes. My house is as silent as ever. I have never been so alone in anything—I’ve always had mom or Blythe. Now I have no one. My outlook is bleak. If I keep moving at the pace that I am, then I will never get Blythe back. I have to do better.
But what can I do?
The hairs on the back of my neck stand up and goosebumps sweep over my entire body. I stand in front of the threshold of the spare bedroom, peering down at the floor, but my eyes slowly make their way up to face Spencer. He sits on the sofa by the window on the far side, ankle crossed over his knee, arm extended behind the cushions. I lick my lips, hesitating.
I take a step into the spare bedroom, prepared to go back and read Gone with the Wind. Yet I am not compelled to lay on the bed, close the door, and open the book. I step back outside and make my way into the living room, hands laced behind me. Spencer’s eyes trace my every move, as menacing as thunderclouds that like to dwell in the distance.
I sit on the sofa chair with my back to Spencer, focus glued to the television. The Usual Suspects is rolling the opening credits. Summer is like this in terms of movies: so many channels will play the same ones over and over again.
I make myself comfortable, dangling my legs over the arm of the chair and lacing my hands under my thighs. The overhead fan casts cool air in all directions and it feels nice against my hot skin. I play with my fingers, feeling nervous, aware of the set of shaded eyed homed in on the back of my head.
“Why do you insist on sitting over there?” Spencer asks after a few moment.
“Better view of the television,” I answer aloofly.
“Ha ha,” he antagonizes. I purse my lips. “Why don’t you come over here, Sunshine? I don’t bite.”
“I’m fine here.”
“Alright, suit yourself,” Spencer concedes. “Can I ask you something?”
“Do you trust me?”
I furrow my brows. It’s an odd question. I tilt my head to the side and remove my legs from the arm of the sofa, tucking them underneath me as I turn to face Spencer. If he wanted to gather my full attention, he has succeeded.
“Why do you ask? Do you want me to? Am I supposed to?”
“Terrence is my brother but he is not my friend. He thinks I like stirring trouble between you two, but I’m telling you right now those aren’t my intentions.”
“Then what are your intentions?” I ask.
“I like having you around. I like staring at you. I like being near you. You were the only thing that made Lawrence and I feel okay with Terrence marrying Beth. We’ve never told him that, and we never will. You’re just...so much different from her.”
“What was it about her that you didn’t like?”
“It was her potential, the way she was able to turn a blind eye to everything. She never cared to be informed, she just cared about the lifestyle—what Terrence could provide for her. Terrence saw it as respecting his privacy, but I saw it as her not giving a shit as long as she was getting spoiled. The first time you and him went shopping for Christmas, you asked more than Beth ever did. She only ever scratched the surface, but you always dug a little deeper. You watched out for her, but you never judged Terrence.”
“I think you’re misjudging Beth,” I say. “She didn’t care to be informed not because she wanted Terrence’s money, but because she was afraid that by digging too deep she would ruin what her and Terrence had. She never asked for Terrence to buy her things, or spend the money he did on her. He did that on his own volition, and she is not manipulative for not saying no. He wouldn’t have taken no for an answer anyway. We both know that.”
“He bought her silence for as long as he could but once the luxury wasn’t enough she demanded answers, and he gave them to her. How she reacted is what began driving a wedge between them.”
“Did she react poorly?”
“No,” Spencer shakes his head. “She took it too well.”
I lean back, pursing my lips. It doesn’t make much sense to me and I assume it’s probably not supposed to. I rub the back of my neck, twirling a loose ringlet around my finger. The movie flashes in my periphery but I pay no mind.
“Why did you ask me if I trust you? Are you going to tell me what you three do for a living, or are you going to keep stringing me along?” Spencer chuckles.
“I’m not going to tell you what we do for a living. I don’t think you are ready to hear it yet.”
“I know whatever it is you guys do, it’s illegal. The prowess in which you three attacked my sister and I was just...too good to have never been practiced before. You guys must be a crime family.”
“Well, in all honesty we had never attempted something like that before,” he says to which I narrow my eyes. He holds my stare. “At least, not in terms of outcome.”
“But you have carried out similar acts?”
“Say, how about we play a game?” He smirks. I already know this about the game: risk is high. “I will give you three chances to guess what my brothers and I do for a living. If you get it correct, I will say yes and satiate your curiosity. If you don’t get it correct, you have to come join me on the couch.”
I ponder for a moment. I feel that I’m getting the short end of the stick but realistically there isn’t anything else Spencer can give me except for an answer. My gut warns me that I’m going to be sitting next to him shortly.
“Alright, it’s a deal,” I agree. Spencer holds out his hand for me to shake, which I do, and we make it official. He squeezes my hand on the final shake and then releases it. I sit back, nervous. “Kidnappers who hold victims for ransom.”
“Strike one,” he says, victory lighting up his grey eyes.
“Thieves; you guys break into businesses or homes for money and riches.”
“Strike two,” I sigh, pressing my hands together and holding them to my lips. I only have one more guess and I have a feeling I’m not even close to hitting the mark.
“Strike three,” he smirks, patting the spot next to him. “Come sit, Sunshine.”
I clench my teeth. A deal is a deal, I suppose. I don’t want to live up to my end of the bargain but I also, for some reason, don’t want to go back to my room. I stand up, tipping my chin with pride, and sit on the couch beside Spencer, as far away from him as I can get. I cross my legs and fidget with my hands in my lap.
“Why so far away?” he asks, a trace of humor in his voice. “Are you shy?”
“You never specified that I had to sit close to you,” I respond, smiling, glancing at him before looking at the television again. I have no idea what is happening in the movie.
“Playing hard to get, hey?” Spencer moves and sits closer to me. My heart beats madly against my chest and my body is buzzing. He places his arm on the back of the sofa, fingers grazing my shoulder. I get chills. “Would you like to know why I asked you if you trust me?”
Without looking at him I answer, “yes.”
“I hate Terrence as much as you, just in a different way. All my life he’s treated me like I owe him something. We are brothers because we have to be, not because we choose to be. He’s given me a place to stay, he’s given me work, and he watches my back. It is only because he feels obligated to, and I am reminded of that through most of our interactions. He never wanted a second little brother, but now we are dependent on one another.”
“None of us have friends. Our lifestyle doesn’t allow for it. We have always only had each other. Lawrence enjoys living alone, Terrence never has. Without me he would have gone crazy; I give him something to do. And now that you’re here, I’m a convenient live-in babysitter.”
“Do you think you could live separate from Terrence?” I ask. I look at him as he rubs his lips together, sliding his thumb under my bra-strap.
“I’m sure I could. After all, there was a time where Lawrence and I lived with our father and Terrence lived alone. Once Lawrence left, though, I left with him and I have lived with Terrence since. He always had me pegged as a bit of an oddball. He never wanted me to be on my own, didn’t think I could handle it. He thinks I’d get into trouble without him to keep me in check. I know he likes to dictate what I do.”
“What makes you such an oddball?” He licks his bottom lip and smiles, meeting my eyes.
“What Terrence considers a chore, I consider sport. I enjoy doing what we do, I always have. Our father enjoyed it, too. I’ve always been more like our dad than either of my brothers, which can be seen as concerning in some cases.”
“When did you start working with your brothers?”
“I shadowed at fifteen, starting participating by sixteen around the time we were first introduced,” for some reason this gives me chills. “My brothers were taught around the same age. We were all quick learners.”
“Why do you work less than your brothers—from what I’ve seen so far at least?” I ask.
“I serve a special purpose you can say,” his hand blooms to cover my shoulder, calloused palm against pampered skin. “I have a different technique from my brothers. They do quick and easy, I do slow and steady. Different process, same conclusion.”
I squint my eyes at him. Spencer starts to knead my skin with his fingers and my cheeks flush. I look away from him and at the television. I have no more questions I want to ask. Suddenly I want to return to the spare bedroom and continue reading my book. Spencer, however, is not finished discussing hushed matters with me.
“My brothers and I, we are the usual suspects,” he says, index finger brushing the side of my neck. He leans in close, lips brushing my ear as he says, “except we are guilty.”
I’ve had enough. I stand up and prepare to make my way to the spare bedroom but Spencer grabs my wrist and pulls me so that I’m standing in front of him. He sets his hands on my hips and sits up straighter, face level with my chest. His grey eyes are turbulent, unreadable. I should be scared, but I’m not. I assume this is the real reason why Spencer asked me if I trust him.
He throws me onto the cushion beside him and I squeal, crawling rearward until my back hits the side of the couch. Spencer pounces, placing himself between my legs as he hovers over me. I start breathing heavily, head hanging in the air. The butterflies return with a fury, in protest against my mind that cautions me against enjoying this. I know it is only out of spite for Terrence—that is what makes Spencer so tempting.
The eye-contact is competitive. The attraction is mutual but feelings are absent. We are doing this because we want to, not because it means anything. We are each others dirty little secret. Terrence won’t know anything, but we do and that is enough. We’re going to be smug; stealing glances from one another, smiling behind Terrence’s back, pretending like nothing is going on behind the scenes.
It’s vengeful and, therefore, fragile. We must be careful and cover our tracks.
He leans in close and stops, reading me. I dip my chin at him, riveted, a smile of contempt pulling at the corners of my lips. He reaches his hand around to the back of my head and releases the clip from my hair so it spills down. He tosses it carelessly onto the coffee table and then he’s kissing me. Hard.
“Are you a virgin?” he asks, cupping my breast.
“No,” I whisper.
“Good. So I don’t have to be gentle.”