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Chapter Two: I Have Failed You

August 15

When I parked outside my house, I rested in my seat for a minute. All the positive energy left even when I reminded myself that the day was over and the following morning would bring new life. Just one encounter. That was enough to steal away my confidence. My head rested back on the seat while my gaze rested existentially on a window looking into our new house. My family had left everything behind in Bellingham to escape from my possible death. Although I was used to larger towns, Shoreline was even more congested being close to the bigger city. I got used to the crowd, just like I did back in Bellingham.

Beside our little lawn stood another house for sale. Our previous neighbors had just moved out, and it would only be a matter of time before the estate would be seized by someone, which was too bad. I had just gotten used to the previous homeowners and their vocal terrier. Too many things changed so suddenly and too often. Why couldn’t life be stable?

I forced myself out of the car and entered my house. Right as I closed the door behind me, the lights flipped on and a unified cry bounced off the walls.

“Surprise!”

I gaped at my family and friends who waited in the living room with balloons strewn around them. Dad stood in the front holding up my diploma. Sherry and Sean waited next to Mom and Hannah while Mikey was on the other end with his girlfriend, Becky.

Dad approached with a proud grin. “I hope you don’t mind that we throw you a graduation party.”

I smiled at him, pushing away my shock and replied, “Of course not. Thanks, Dad.” I hugged him.

Our modest festivities continued.

“Congratulations on the engagement,” I told Sherry and Sean.

“Thank you! I sent out invitations for a celebration party in November. Sean and I are planning to have the wedding in the Spring,” Sherry replied enthusiastically and hugged Sean’s arm to her body, lovingly.

“Sounds perfect,” I said.

“It will be perfect,” Sean added, playfully. “I plan to be the best husband ever.”

“I’m sure you will. I’ve always loved you guys together,” I told them to which they “awwwed” to appreciatively.

“If possible,” Sherry continued, “do you think you can bring a plus one to the party and the wedding? Your date can be your brother or anyone you know and trust.”

Everyone was so cautious about who I hung out with especially when it was a male. I couldn’t blame them; I felt the same way.

I nodded. “Of course.”

“What are you guys going to do after the wedding?” Hannah asked.

“We have been saving up for our own place,” Sean explained. “We are both looking forward to moving in together. It’s going to be nice getting out of my parents’ house. My younger brother discovered these older, European heavy metal bands, and he’s blasting them all the time. All. The. Time. I need a break.”

Sherry nudged him playfully.

Sean laughed and added, “Oh, and yeah, it will be great to have privacy with my future wife.”

“What are older, European heavy metal bands?” Hannah queried with an inquisitive laugh.

“They are these, like, black metal bands from the eighties called Celtic Frost, Venom, and Báthory,” he explained.

My stomach dropped slightly. Báthory. The name brought a small spark of déjaù vu.

“The point is, we are excited for our full independence,” Sherry said.

Hannah sighed, contently. “We’re all grown up. College. Marriage. Life is so beautiful.”

Although I agreed with the sentiment, I was slightly jealous. I missed out on at least two years of my life for no apparent reason, leaving me behind to catch up with everyone else. Sherry and Hannah already finished at least one year of college while I was just about to start. As far as romance, my mind had reset to when I was not looking forward to it. Under my current circumstances, I couldn’t imagine anything else more taxing and complicated than a romantic relationship.

However, I swallowed my disgruntlement towards the life I was given. They all went out of their way to make the evening special for me, so I was determined to enjoy it.

***

One by one, my friends left the party as the evening stretched on until the house was full of its normal inhabitants. Although very pleased by the grand gesture, my mind was exhausted, and I was glad to have a moment alone once I retired to my room.

A gentle knock rattled my door.

“Come in,” I said.

Dad slowly entered. “Hey.”

I grinned. “Hey. Thank you so much for the party. It was very sweet.”

He looked sad, but he answered, “You’re welcome. I’m glad you liked it. I mean-” his eyes glistened. “I mean, it’s something I can do to make up for the bullshit I have done.”

I furrowed my brow at him. “What do you mean?”

My heart fluttered to see his bottom lip tremble. He said, “Maybe if I tried harder, we could have brought you back sooner. If I said ‘no’ to Romania, you wouldn’t have gone. Hell, had I been a better father, maybe you wouldn’t have been pressured to keep your love of writing a secret and none of this would have happened!”

“Dad, it’s not your fault.”

“I’m your father, Julia!” He started crying. “I’m supposed to protect you, and the worst thing imaginable happened to you! I have failed you!” He kicked my clothes basket, knocking it over and spilling its contents.

I turned rigid, though it wasn’t the unexpected outburst that startled me; it was the phrase that Dad used.

I have failed you!

Someone had said that to me before. Someone very distraught. But I couldn’t be sure if the memory existed just by how faint it was, like the scent of a perfume lingering in a room.

Dad realized my sudden discomfort, and he sniffled before picking up the mess, muttering, “I’m so sorry.”

I helped him as I responded, “It’s not your fault. No one could have known what would happen. I don’t blame you for anything. Besides, I can’t remember any of it. It’s okay. Let’s just be happy with now.”

Dad shared with me a look; however, the guilt remained molded to his face. Most times, I didn’t mind not remembering what happened to me, but when I saw my family like that, I wished I knew why.

And why did it have to happen to me?

“You’re right,” Dad said. “We are all very lucky that you are here. Again, I’m sorry about that.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I emphasized.

Dad shared a few more sincere comments with me before he left, allowing me to lay on my bed and mull over the things that happened before recording them in my journal. The unpleasant encounter with the strange man resurrected into my consciousness. I hated that I had to write about it, but it was important. Most likely, it was nothing apart from a guy who may have been just staring in my general direction. Shortly after scribbling down the situation, the unique name Sean brought up from earlier fought for residency in my brain.

Báthory.

Unable to recycle the thought, I grabbed my phone and casually typed the name into the Google search bar. The first result that popped up was the black metal band. Right when I was going to wave aside what Sean said, a small entry under the link explained that the band’s name was inspired by the infamous Erzsébet Báthory. Coincidentally, right under their information was the wiki page for that specific person.

I clicked on the link.

...Countess Erzsébet Báthory was an aristocrat from the mid 1500s to early 1600s…

...known as the most infamous female serial killer in the world…

...murdered 650 young women…

...torture such as beatings, stabbings, hacking off limbs, inserting hot rods into girls’ vaginas…

“Jesus…” I muttered, disgusted.

I exited the page and tossed the phone to the side of my pillow before releasing a flustered sigh.

Sick fuck.



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