“We had a toxic relationship. He would hit me for every little thing.” My mother fidgeted with her hands on the table. I pushed myself to look her in the eyes. They held the truth and affliction she endured.
“But why did you—”
“I didn’t want to commit any crimes, Hope. They were all forced by him. But I can’t say that. Calvin has men all around the town, especially in the East. Telling the truth will result in death,” she was not tentative to divulge.
She raised her arm, revealing her singed or scorched marks and dark bruises. Some of them were curative and a faint shade of red, but there were a few in dark carmine red. It was execrable to know I was not discombobulated that Calvin would do such a repugnant thing.
“Have you tried informing the police?” I asked, realizing my past was nothing compared to hers.
“You know what he’s capable of and how much money he had. It’s been ten years, and that day along with many others still haunts me. I still see blood on my hands. He terrorized me, saying I must annihilate your father to prove that I loved him, or he’ll do it himself and exterminate both you and me too.” Tears started to prick her eyes. “The last few years were a nightmare; he’ll constantly be having affairs with other women knowing I’m in the same room. But he can’t lay a finger on me anymore.”
I frowned, not knowing what else to say. There was indeed another side to the story, the darker part which exists as a shadow of the truth.
She wiped the tear that trailed down her cheek. For the first time in ten years, I could look her properly in the eyes without forcing myself.
“I couldn’t sleep that night after I found out you knew about the real cause of your father’s death. I can’t imagine how hard it was to witness it at such a young age,” she said. “You never once talked to me like how a daughter would talk to a mother. It hurts me knowing I never knew how you were doing in school. If you had friends or found a boy who you liked.”
I could not agree more with the fact that we were distant even when we lived under the same roof when I was younger.
My mind then drifted to the day before, Tyler. The feelings were disconcerting me. Every time I am alone to think, my mind wanders to that moment. It is how much I craved it that made me distressed.
“I never had the chance to tell you this,” she started. “I am proud of you, Hope, I’ve always been. For your achievements in school, how you’re independently living alone and going up against Calvin.”
I smiled, treasuring this conversation I was having with a member of my family. I had forgotten what it was like to view her as a mother figure.
“How are you now? Is there anyone who makes you feel unwelcomed?” I asked, wondering how Calvin was mixing in the crowd of people who might have hearts as diabolical as his.
“It’s a prison. Some want people to feel intimidated by them. You don’t know anyone and have no idea where to sit,” she told me, sounding as if desolation finally released its excruciating and pernicious grasp on her. “How are you coping in school?”
I raise an eyebrow at the change of topic, considering my reply. I have so much to tell my mother, and I did not know where to start, especially since she missed years of my life.
“In secondary school, most students thought I was mute. I didn’t talk much or make friends. It was until a few months ago when I started talking to one person. It increased from there,” I told her, registering the fact that I never once talked about Tyler.
“Who is this ‘one person’? They must have been exceptional. Valentinos are hard shells to crack.” She gave me a knowing look.
“His name is Tyler. You’ve met him, but we’re just friends.” I think.
Her lips formed a beaming smile, “If you ever find a boy, make sure he’s a good guy that will fight for you.”
I gave a little titter, standing up from my seat.
“Sure. Thanks, Mom. I’ll come back really soon,” I said. We exchanged our goodbyes, and I set off to the mansion, looking forward to seeing my baby brother.
I borrowed Tyler’s car to have lunch with Ashley and to visit my mother after we met up. He was with Justice in the meantime, back in the mansion. He left my home after Seth, who stayed in the cell next to Grayson’s in Calvin’s basement, came knocking on my door the day before. He expressed his gratitude for setting him free from that atrocious place and gifted me two advanced baby monitors after discovering I have a baby brother. They were undeniably expensive, but very useful.
The monitors will be able to sense movement and will be saved in my phone, recorded without missing a beat. I positioned one of them in Justice’s room and the other on the first level of the large house.
I unlocked the door, feeling the side of my lips twitched upwards at the sight of Justice on Tyler’s lap, looking clueless at the open book of alphabets he held. My brother yawned, looking away from the book and into the distance.
“Hey,” I said as I entered the house.
“Angel,” he greeted, and for a moment, everything seemed ordinary. “How was your day?”
I abominated how we were dissimulating our feelings as if the day before never happened. I need to speak about it refused to be the person that starts that conversation. The last thing I wanted is for it to be awkward between us.
I sat on the couch beside him, gently scooping Justice into my arms. “Lunch with Ashley was fine, and I got along with my mother too. I’d say it was a magnificent so far.”
“I was exploring this house a few moments ago, and I got lost upstairs. I think it’s impossible not to,” he mentioned, putting the book away and holding out his finger for Justice to hold.
“You’re talking to someone who still takes the wrong turns despite living in here when I was younger,” I told him as Justice yawned once again.
I got on my feet, heading to the kitchen where I found the nanny.
“Danielle,” I greeted as she closed the distance between us and used his bib to wipe his mouth.
“Aw, baby’s exhausted,” she stated in her accent, lifting Justice from my hand. “I’ll take him out for a walk around the neighbourhood in his stroller.”
I nodded while she pulled out the pram and laid Justice on it. She then left the mansion, leaving just me and Tyler in the house.
“Are you going anywhere after this? Like visiting your father or having one of those nights where you invite Grayson over?” I asked, causing his attention to shift from his phone to me.
“I think I’m going straight home. My father’s still unconscious, and Gray is bonding with his family.”
I nodded, about to answer when the sound of shattering glass rang in my ears. Our heads turned, and our eyes landed on the silhouette emerging from the demolished window. He came back, just days after leaving the repulsive note and gift outside Tyler’s car.
Josh had a bottle of alcohol which he casually placed on the wooden table beside the window.
“Nothing but death can stop me today,” he said firmly, stepping closer to us as each second passes.
“Josh, maybe you should think about this. This is not what you want.”
“I made up my mind, Tyler!” Josh roared. He was gone. The boy I met who used to play hide and seek with me was completely gone. In his place was someone brimming with abhorrence and retribution and I know he is not stopping at any cost because I had been exactly where he is.
From his right pocket, he dug out a small pocket knife, portable but useful. He held it in front of his face, wordlessly telling us that we will be using our fists for a weapon fight.
Since he was an inexperienced fighter, I know innumerable ways I could use to knock it away or take it without a scratch. But I wanted his visits to end, and there was only one way to achieve such results for someone brimming with abounded of determination.
I ambled towards him, disregarding Tyler’s warning look. The moment I was close enough, I threw myself towards his right hand, twisting it while locking the other behind his back.
The knife dropped with a sharp cling. Tyler darted forward to grab it, clutching it in his palms. I then moved behind Josh to secure both his hands.
“You think you’re smart? I came knowing you can fight.” As he uttered those words, he threw his head back to hit me square on my nose. From the same pocket, he dug out a knife identical to the one in Tyler’s hand and shoved it towards me.
It grazed my skin, leaving an open wound on my lower arm. Before Josh could cause any more harm with the knife, Tyler grabbed onto his wrist. They struggled to push the blade away from nearing them.
“Are you okay?” he asked while battling for the knife.
“Yes.” I checked on the cut that palpably isn’t fine. Crimson liquid started to flow profusely from the deep wound. Josh really did not hold himself back.
Tyler knew almost immediately I was lying, glancing at the gash on my arm worriedly. I got this, he mouthed while he dropped the first knife he held, and both of them raised their other hand to fight over the second small weapon.
“I’ll fight for you,” he used a promising tone. The knife was then removed from Josh’s hand, freely falling onto the ground. Tyler used his feet to sweep the two identical knives away from reach.
He delivered a clean punch, landing on Josh’s chin. He was fortunate to be able to move away before Tyler inflicted another.
I wanted to step in and help, knowing an injury would not be able to hold me back. Yet I had trust in Tyler. I know he is able to finish this, and joining would not make a difference.
Josh roughly pushed his former best friend away, towards the table beside the window, causing the bottle he brought over to topple over and splintered to smithereens from the harsh impact when hitting the ground.
“You just made my job easier,” he flashed a sickening smile.
After Tyler’s back collided with the table and the drink spilt, Josh’s hand curled into a fist and threw some punches towards Tyler.
He moved out of the way when he had the chance, throwing his arms around Josh and applying force to push him down. He then kneed him agonisingly on the nose and shoved him away. Stumbling back, Josh narrowed his eyes and flung himself towards Tyler to throw two sloppy punches to the side of his head.
After he blocked them with ease, he kicked Josh where he was not expecting. To know he was performing moves that I taught him made a delighted smile form on my face.
He outsmarted Josh by switching from a jab to a kick. The liquid which flooded the floor caused him to slip and land on his back. In just a short moment of relief from Tyler and me, Josh fished out a match and a matchbox from his left pocket, lighting it with a single motion. We were imprudent to think he did not bring them along.
“This house will burn if any of you make sudden movements.” He held the lit match closer to Tyler, causing him to take a small step behind. The alcohol will help the fire grow malevolent. It was the reason he brought it along.
No sudden movements were made, yet in the matter of a few seconds, the match released from Josh’s grasp. It fell of its own volition, into the pool of liquid, evolving into rancorous flames.
He spent no time before rushing towards me, and I hastily reached out to grab his hand.
“We have to go!”
“Wait,” he exclaimed, turning to his childhood friend. As vindictive as Josh is, the unrelenting fire surrounded him. He had no way to escape. Josh made an injudicious decision. He wanted us to atone and burn in the malicious fire, but instead, he ended up being the person standing impotent outside death’s door.
I looked back at Tyler, about to rush to exit when I realized the expression on his countenance. He did not want this. Repentance was evident in his eyes. If I hadn’t stopped him, he would have bolted back into the fire to save Josh.
“Let’s go. There’s no way you’ll make it if you went in!” I screamed.
Josh’s exclamations for assistance extinguished as he sprinted outside grudgingly with me beside him before the door obstructed.
We rushed towards each other, and I melted into his embrace, warm like November autumn with a side of impeccably flavoursome lukewarm tea. I feel every ounce of his heavy emotions—protectiveness, torment, despondency and consolation.
“Are you okay?” he asked before stepping back. My arm was still bleeding, but it will soon be treated. I disregarded the barbaric pain.
“Yeah, are you?” I received a nod.
I called the ambulance, eyeing the disquieting cut as I fill them in on the address.
“What can we tell the police? Josh might be dead,” he said before his eyes widened in realization. Reality dawned on him right then. “He might be dead,” he repeated.
Although he never admitted it, it was perceptible that his childhood friend still meant something to him. Despite the hostile notes and unbidden visits, he will always be someone Tyler once trusted with his life.
Josh would not escape this time. For all we knew, he is already deceased, burnt alive.
“The baby monitor. It caught everything,” I answered.
We turned towards the house, observing the inimical and fluorescent flames engulf the mansion through the windows. Like a creature voracious for its meal, it devoured and spared scarce thoughts for the boy, who was once so animated and ebullient.