The girl pulled up into Wayne’s driveway, slamming the car door with such force that the whole vehicle shook. She didn’t knock, didn’t give any warning that she was there, and yanked open the side door, entering. She went to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of opened white wine, uncorking it. She drank from the bottle.
Wayne stepped into the kitchen a moment later. “What the hell, Cass?” He held a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other.
“Gimme one of those.” She gestured toward the cigarette.
He snorted and pulled a pack from his pocket, handing it to her.
The girl snatched the cigarette. “Lighter?”
Wayne complied, raising an eyebrow. “Since when’d you start smoking?”
She lit up and passed the lighter to him. “Since now. Maybe you’re a bad influence on me, although I’d like to think it’s the other way around.” She smirked. Oh, sweetie, you have no idea.
“Whatever. So, you here for a little bootie call?”
“I need something to distract me. I’m gonna go crazy if I stay in that house a moment longer.”
“Then why not move in with me, babe?” Wayne wrapped an arm around her, pulling her close. He exhaled into her face, then kissed her.
The girl had never been big on smoking or drinking, but the mom was enough to drive her to both. I should just finish her off and be done with it, but I’m having too much fun right now. I’m not quite ready to end it just yet, and Wayne is the first guy I’ve been with in years--decades--who knows how to give me just what I want.
“Maybe it’s time to make the move.”
And which move would that be? nagged a tiny voice at the back of her mind, chiseling away like an archeologist at a site. Move in with Wayne or move on with killing the mom and the dad and maybe even the little brother… Move on to another life. Her stomach clenched. The little brother… She hadn’t given him much thought. Children were where she drew the line. In the darkest recesses, she recalled her baby brother dying. Her thoughts soured. There was no grace for me after he died, nothing or no one to stop him from doing what he did to me. Randy’s wife--what was her name?--Danielle, right. She’d been pregnant but miscarried. Not my fault. Not my fault these people never had to suffer as I did. Not my my fault my father--
“Babe?” Wayne’s voice interrupted.
She blinked, hating herself for letting her mind drift. What the fuck is the matter with me? She faked a shiny smile. “Call me a glutton for punishment, but part of me wants to stay living at home just to make the mom resent me more.”
Wayne took her by the hand and led her into the living room. The girl tried not to wrinkle her nose as they sat on the stained wrap-around sofa. Across the room, a 72-inch high-definition TV played sports highlights. Takeout containers, crushed beer cans, and dirty laundry littered the floor.
“‘The mom?’ Wow, she that bad? Fuck knows my own old lady weren’t nothin’ to write home about.”
“Why don’t to clean up in here, Wayne? Jesus, it smells like something died.” And I know what that smells like. A small smile tugged at the girl’s lips.
“Thought you liked it dirty?” He finished his cigarette and smashed it out in an overflowing tray on the coffee table. Ashes joined others on the surface. He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and licked her lobe, whispering, “Finish up your smoke and I’ll show you dirty.”
The girl rolled her eyes. She took a drag from the cigarette and made a show of snuffing it out. “Maybe I’m getting bored with you. Ever consider that?”
He chuckled. “Whatever.” Setting his no-doubt empty beer aside, he scooped her up in his tattooed muscular arms and took her into the bedroom.
Fifteen minutes later, Wayne dozed while the girl watched him sleep. Resting her head on her hand, her elbow pressing into the pillow, she considered him. Big, tough guy who likes to act like he’s so in charge, yet he was the kid who pissed his pants in class because he ran from his daddy in fear of the belt. A dad who was an angry drunk who didn’t work most of the time and thought the world owned him something.
She flopped back into the pillow, staring at the ceiling. A hundred years of head-hopping and so many pathetic lives, people just going through the motions, all sad sacks of shit...and she made their lives worst. Pathetic lives came in two flavors--those who had it easy and didn’t know what it was to suffer...so they must suffer...and those who knew suffering from the day they were born. The girl frowned.
What’s different this time? It’s like that Cassie girl got to me when she got back into her body. That was one time. One time. She can’t beat me.
Yet her thoughts faltered.
The mom was acting especially strange this morning. What if--? No, don’t even finish that thought, Helen.
She bolted up in bed, swinging her legs over the side and grabbing up her discarded clothes. She tugged them on, hating herself for remembering her name.
You’re not her. You’re not the first pathetic fucker who started this all. You’ve moved on, been so many people. You’re so much more than that, than her.
Her nails dug into her scalp as she pulled her shirt over her head. She wanted to scream.
Off-balance. Something isn’t right. I know it. It needs to stop. Stop. Just stop, like when I stopped him from hurting me anymore. I won’t allow the pain back. I won’t.
“I’m Cassie Meadows,” whispered a faint voice.
Shut up! The girl dashed from the bedroom and returned to her car. As she backed out of the driveway, a tear tracked down her cheek.
She wouldn’t name the reason behind it. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t. Shouldn’t.
But her brain wouldn’t shut down. Relentless images of fathers played through her mind. The times she’d visited Wayne’s body while he slept, she’d seen firsthand the monster his father was. Randy’s father was, likewise, wasted space on this earth. And her own father...she wouldn’t even go there. Cassie’s father had left, no doubt heartbroken that his only daughter was a different person--literally--now. The girl grinned.
“A different person, yes, Daddy Dearest. You were the smart one, weren’t you? You worshiped this skinny little bitch like she was some kind of goddess, but the smart ones know there’s no god or goddess or anyone between us and death. I’m my own goddess--the closest thing to it. I’ll be immortal, while the rest of you die. And I might just have something to do with that.”
She pulled into the driveway of Randy’s old house, a for sale sign in the front yard. The grass was overgrown, the once-beautiful mansion an over-large tomb. She wasn’t sure why she returned here, except that she knew she didn’t want to be back at Cassie’s house, not with that meddling mother.
She put the car in park and closed her eyes, remembering when she was Randy and had visited his father. He still lived in the same trailer in the same park where Randy had grown up.
She banged on the door, rattling the thin metal. When no one answered, she pounded harder.
“Gimme a minute, will ya?” grumbled a geezer’s voice. The door opened. The old man wasn’t looking at who was standing on the stoop as he started to speak. “Now, listen here, ya stupid--” His rheumy eyes met hers. “Randy?” He gasped, then began hacking.
“Hello, Father,” the younger man said.
The old man’s face drained of all color. He dropped the beer bottle by his side. It shattered as it hit the threshold. His lips worked furiously, like he was trying to speak but couldn’t. He stepped back, holding up his hands in front of him. “What the hell d’you mean by showin’ up here like this?”
The younger man chuckled. “Is that any way to greet your only son, Father?”
The laughter angered the old man. “What? You come here to rub it in my face that you’re better than me? Or that you think you are? I seen you on the news, boy. Ain’t nothin’ to be proud of, what you’re doin’.”
The younger man stepped into the trailer, advancing on the father until he cornered him between the tiny kitchen table and the recliner. “I see you’ve still got your throne.” He eyed the recliner with disgust, wrinkling his nose. “I also see it still smells like piss and booze.” He poked the old man in the chest, hard. “Here’s the thing, Dad. I made my money, so I get to spend my money. I did it all on my own, while you’ve been here wasting away.”
“And what about your wife?” the old man spat, finding more gumption than the younger man thought he possessed. “That pretty little thing you said you loved? You been screwin’ everything with tits and two legs this side of the Mississippi.”
The younger man threw back his head and laughed. “I learned from the best. Or do you regret it now, what you did?”
Sadness, fear, shame...something beyond naming filled the old man’s eyes. He stared at the man he thought was his son. “I don’t know you. You ain’t my son. So, why’d you come back here, huh?”
“You were right. I came here to rub it in your face that you’re pathetic, a fucking waste of space, the biggest sort of loser. I’d say you should’ve never been born, but then that would’ve meant I’d have never been born, and, well, we just can’t have that. You always told me to ‘man up.’ Here’s me manning up, Dad. Guys like you with your belts and your fists, you think you got the upper hand, but you have no idea. Not a clue. You’re a monster, but your type create bigger, scarier monster who devour you.”
The old man cowered.
The younger man considered him as he stared him down. His eyes tracked to a knife lying on the counter next to the sink. Nah, let him suffer. He doesn’t deserve the mercy of a killing. Besides, I’m not done playing in Randy. He imagined Danielle, that pretty little thing the old man had mentioned. She was probably pacing the bedroom, worrying and wondering when her husband would be home. The younger man spat on the geezer and rushed from the trailer, the slam of the door reverberating through the thin walls for the second time in minutes.
As the younger man got in his car, red glinted in his brown eyes. He gazed at himself in the rearview mirror. “You know what would look good on you, Danielle? A nice red slit across your pretty little neck. A forever necklace. It gives a whole new meaning to those forever diamond jewelry commercials.” He chuckled.
Now, as the girl’s thoughts drifted away and she stared at the abandoned mansion, she wondered if she should have stayed as Randy longer. Danielle had reminded her of Matilda--beautiful, kind, smart.
“Matilda,” the girl scoffed. “If there’s someone to blame besides my father, it’s you, dear. You just couldn’t love me the way I needed.” Her voice wobbled. She clenched her teeth and slammed her fists down on the seat on either side. “No!” she whisper-yelled. “I’m not some fucking cry-baby! Love doesn’t even exist. It’s a lie, an illusion. Hell knows that’s been the story of my life.” She finished the last part in a barely audible voice.
She held the wheel in a white-knuckled grip that loosened as her head fell forward and she sobbed 100-year-old tears into those youthful hands. What’s a lie is every life you’ve lived that wasn’t your own. Cassie’s parents loved her. Randy’s wife loved him. Even Jimmy, who was alone for so long, he’d known love. Helen nudged her. She was brought back 100 years as she looked up at the sky through the trees in the forest behind her old home, a home that she long ago burned to the ground. The forest had been cleared for a housing development sometime in the 1980s.
“Shut up.” She lifted her head and stared at nothing. “Shut the fuck up. I always finish what I start.”
She met her gaze in the rearview and sneered, then plastered on a smile. The red returned to her eyes for a fleeting second. She’d had enough, she decided. It was time.
I always finish what I start.