The Unsettling - (Book 5 of the Marvelous 3 Saga)

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Summary

The final chapter of this Saga takes place on the heels of Rogue Gone RaVage. After Tiana’s heroic sacrifice to stop a catastrophic event, Kiara’s brilliant development of a world-saving cure, and Gabrielle’s strategic stop of a deadly global pandemic, the world practically owes their lives to The Marvelous 3. Things are finally looking up for our 3 heroines and the men who love them: Tiana beat cancer and is engaged to her three lovers (never mind the dead people she keeps randomly seeing). Kiara is pregnant and ready to birth the world’s first vampire-wolf-witch tribrid (if you can ignore that little prophecy hanging over her head). And Gabrielle has only risen in prestige, status, and admiration as one of the most philanthropic doctors of her field (just as long as she can contain the strange, random outbursts of violence from her own staff). With so much going right, what can possibly go wrong? Just about… everything… At what point do you decide that the horrifying dreams keeping you up at night are not actually lunacy but a look into an impending grim reality? Kiara, Tiana, and Gabrielle are about to find out. Something more sinister than they’ve ever faced before has taken hold of the world they call home. Perhaps the world of mortals and immortals is not as separate as they think.

Genre:
Thriller / Erotica
Author:
Smauggy
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
1
Rating:
5.0 1 review
Age Rating:
13+

1 - home for the holidays

“We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Good tidings we bring...”

“Eh... if I give you guys $20, can we, ya know... cut this short...?”

“Dad!”

Dennis glanced over at his daughter who leaned against the door pane next to him. Her bright blue eyes widened with joy as she listened to the Christmas carolers sing.

“We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”

“WOO! ENCORE!” Elena squealed, clapping her hands. Her long platinum blonde hair dancing around her porcelain face with each excited bob.

“Yea, I don’t think so, kiddo,” Dennis said putting a few bills in the carolers’ bucket. “Thanks. Merry Hanukkah. Happy Christmas. Holy Kwanzaa.”

“Daddy!” Elena groaned as her father pulled her to the side and closed the door shut. “Why are you being such a Grinch?”

“Me?! A Grinch?!” Dennis said, abruptly tickling his daughter. The 14-year old immediately burst into laughter as her body contorted.

“Would a Grinch take a whole week off work to spend time with his favorite daughter?” Dennis grinned as he held her tight.

“Dummy, I’m your only daughter,” she said pinching him.

“Mhm.. and would a Grinch buy his favorite only daughter all those gifts under the Christmas tree?” Dennis mused.

“I guess we’re just done with Santa then, huh, daddy?” she smirked.

“Santa’s just a made up fairy tale adults tell their kids so they can leave them alone while they go and do something nefarious.”

Elena and Dennis glanced towards the dining room to see the youngest Burns son, Billy, playing on his Nintendo Switch.

“Now there’s the real Grinch,” Dennis smirked.

“I’m the jolliest person here!” Billy grinned. “Know why?! Cause I finally beat the 9th level boss. Archie’s gonna be so pissed when he finds out I passed him.”

“God... how am I related to such a dork,” Elena rolled her eyes.

“Sorry I don’t sit in my room watching YouTube make-up tutorials to make myself look like a clown,” Billy said sticking out his tongue.

“You jerk!” Elena said running after him.

“That’s that Christmas spirit,” Dennis laughed as he watched his daughter chase after his son.

Maggie stirred the marmalade absentmindedly as she watched her husband and children from the kitchen. Her light blue eyes darted frequently between the three, lingering on her husband.

She smiled as he picked up their youngest son and tossed him on the couch as their daughter cheered him on.

They looked so... happy...

Maggie swallowed thickly as her fingers clammed up. She subtly shook her head trying to knock away the invasive thoughts that had been plaguing her mind.

“Mom! Are you done with the oven yet?” Elena shouted. “I still have to bake the cake!”

Maggie’s eyes glazed over as she got lost in her thoughts.

“MOM!”

She jumped startled when she felt her daughter tugging at her arm.

“Oh! Sorry, sweetie, did you say something?”

“Yea like 5 times. You’re so off into space today,” Elena teased.

“Sorry, I guess I’m just tired,” Maggie smiled.

“You should take a break,” Elena said grabbing the bowl. “You’ve been cleaning, and cooking, and decorating like... non stop. Go nap or something.”

“Your brother will be here soon and I need to pick him up from-,” Maggie protested.

“DAD! CAN YOU PICK UP RYAN FROM THE TRAIN STATION?” Elena shouted.

“Sure thing, cupcake!” Dennis said from the living room. “Billy, you’re coming.”

“WHAT?!” Billy blurted from the couch. “But I just reached the next level-”

“It’ll be like 5 minutes. Come on... father-son bonding time,” Dennis smirked as he nudged his son in the waist.

“Just make him walk. It’s like 10 minutes,” Billy said keeping his eyes on his switch.

“How thoughtful of you, Billy, making your brother who’s visiting home from college drag his suitcase in the snow,” Maggie said sarcastically. “Where’s that holiday spirit?”

“Under the tree,” Billy said. “Can we open our gifts yet?”

“Not until your brother gets home,” Maggie said.

“Ugh...” Billy groaned.

Maggie watched her husband texting on his phone. He had been texting all night.

“Mom, I think it’s done.”

Maggie anxiously bit her lip, her eyes following her husband’s every movement as he disappeared behind a wall to take a call.

“MOM!”

Maggie jumped startled as she looked at her daughter shaking her head in frustration.

“The ham is done,” Elena said. “The oven beeped like 5 minutes ago.”

“Oh, right... so silly of me...”

Maggie wiped the sweat from her forehead as she bent over and pulled down the oven door. Carefully pulling out the large ham, she placed it on the stove.

She quickly glanced behind her as she saw her husband turn the corner, tucking his phone into his pocket.

“Ryan’s train just got in,” Elena said munching on a protein bar. “You’re up, Daddy-O.”

“Can I try some?” Billy said snatching the protein bar from her and biting into it.

“Excuse you!” Elena blurted. “I paid $8 for that!”

“GROSS!” Billy said spitting the protein bar out of his mouth. “You paid $8 for crap?”

“It is not crap, you loser!” she said shoving him. “Taylor Swift ate these to get the perfect body for her new role.”

“Uhhh... Taylor Swift probably got the perfect body with surgery and a professional trainer. Not some crappy expensive, protein bar, ‘loser’,” Billy said making a face.

“You’re such an annoying little brat! That’s why your only friends are imaginary people on your little gameboy!” Elena snapped.

“First of all, it’s a switch, stupid. And at least I’m not starving myself to impress those rude plastic barbie dolls at school!” Billy shot back.

“RUNT!”

“BITCH!”

“HEY!” Dennis barked at them. “We don’t use that kind of language in this house! It’s Christmas! What’s wrong with you two?!”

Elena and Billy looked in opposite directions as they frowned in dismay.

“You guys are supposed to love each other. You’re family. Your games and your friends will one day disappear, but you’ll still have each other,” Dennis said. “Now apologize to each other right now.”

Elena muttered in annoyance.

“I said NOW!” Dennis demanded.

The two siblings looked at each other and pouted.

“Sorry...”

“I’m sorry...”

“There,” Dennis said. “Now give each other a hug.”

“Dad, come onnnnn,” Billy whined.

“Hug your sister or I’m donating all your gifts!” Dennis threatened.

Billy sucked his teeth as he dragged his feet to his sister and awkwardly wrapped his arms around her.

Dennis smirked amused before he turned his eyes towards his wife. She had been rather quiet and her face was slightly flushed. Her eyes were trained on him as if she were in a trance.

“You okay, Mags?” Dennis asked.

She snapped out of it once she realized he was looking at her and quickly put a smile on her face.

“Yes, of course,” she said. “Are you going to pick up Ryan?”

“Yup, we’ll be right back,” Dennis said leaning over. He gently pecked her on the cheek and pulled back to see a frown on her face.

“What?”

“My lips are right here, Dennis...”

“Oh, well you could have just asked,” he chuckled as he leaned in and quickly kissed her on the lips.

Maggie frowned as Dennis quickly turned around and headed for the door.

“Come on, Billy!” Dennis said grabbing his keys.

Maggie waited until she heard the car start up before it reversed out of the driveway.

“He can be so annoying,” Elena groaned. “Like what does he know about staying fit?”

Maggie looked down with furrowed brows.

“Mom, what is up with you today? You’re like... not even here,” Elena said annoyed.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. All those college admission essays I had to proofread drained me,” Maggie chuckled.

“Yea... I get it... you’re America’s best teacher,” Elena smirked.

“I don’t know about that,” Maggie smiled. “What were you saying?”

“Just that Billy doesn’t get me,” Elena sighed. “I mean I know we’re only like.. 3 years apart but his maturity is just like... nonexistent.”

“Your brother is only looking out for you,” Maggie said.

“By making fun of my protein bars?” Elena scoffed.

“You don’t need protein bars to be beautiful, Elena. You already are.”

Elena rolled her eyes. “You have to say that cause you’re my mom. But they don’t let ugly people on the cheerleading squad.”

“You shouldn’t assume that not being slim means you’re ugly,” Maggie frowned. “There is beauty in all sizes.”

Elena scoffed. “Yea, okay, mom. Tell that to Hollywood and Kaitlyn the cheer captain who’s like a size 2 and has every boy in school drooling over her.”

Maggie glanced at her reflection in the cabinet window. Her face slowly dropped as she analyzed the lines on her face and the bags under her eyes. She had gained significantly more weight since she had kids. Her eyes watered in frustration.

“Mom?” Elena said looking at her mother concerned.

Maggie looked from her daughter to the living room window that flashed headlights.

“Oh good! Your brother’s home!” Maggie said quickly wiping her eyes before any tears could escape.

Maggie ran to open the door and immediately took her eldest son into her arms.

“Hey, mom,” Ryan said warmly embracing his mother.

Maggie beamed as she pulled back and grabbed her son’s face between her hands. He towered over her. With dark brown hair and light brown eyes, Ryan was a spitting image of his father. The only trait he seemed to get from her was her smile.

“How was the ride?” she asked.

“Not bad,” Ryan said walking into the house. “The train station is always crazy around the holidays.”

Maggie smiled at her son when she noticed her husband at the corner of her eye.

On his phone again.

“But I Facetimed Chrissy for most of the ride, so it wasn’t that bad,” Ryan continued.

“Oooooh Chrisssyyyy!” Billy teased. “Is that your girrrrllllfrieeennnnd?”

Ryan smirked at his little brother. “What do you think, squirt?”

“I think it’s gross,” Billy said going back to his game. “I’m never getting a girlfriend. Girls are stupid.”

“Yea, wait till puberty hits you,” Ryan grinned.

“Ryan!” Elena said running up to her brother.

“Hey, Ellie,” Ryan said bending over and hugging her. “Oooh smells like Christmas ham!”

“Mom just finished it,” Elena said. “I can’t remember which glaze she used. Mom, is it the pineapple or the orange?”

Maggie didn’t hear her daughter. Her jaw twitched seeing her husband isolate himself in the hallway.

On his phone.

Again.

“Mom?”

"Dennis!”

Dennis jumped startled and looked over at his wife.

“Yea?” he asked surprised.

“Can we talk for a minute?” Maggie said tensely.

Dennis furrowed his brow in confusion. “Sure, honey.”

“Kids, we’ll be right back. Billy, go wash your hands. Ryan, I cleaned your old room. There’s a fresh set of towels on the bed,” Maggie said walking towards her husband.

“Thanks.. mom...?” Ryan said confused as he watched his father follow his mother into the home office.

~

Dennis leaned back against the desk as he watched his wife pace in front of him.

“You gonna tell me what’s wrong or just-” Dennis started.

“Are you cheating on me?”

Dennis’ eyes nearly bulged out of his head. “What?!”

“Are you having an affair,” Maggie said walking up to him. “Is it Rachel?”

Dennis shook his head in disbelief. “What the hell, Mags?! Are you kidding me?!”

“Answer the question, Dennis!”

“NO!”

Maggie looked up at her husband and searched his eyes, looking for some semblance of the man she fell in love with. The man she learned to trust.

She tore her eyes away from him and continued pacing.

“Why the hell would you ask me that?”

“Why not?!” Maggie blurted. “You’re always on your phone!”

“It’s my work phone, Mags! You know how demanding Mr. Beaumont can be. He runs a tight ship-”

“On Christmas?!” Maggie blurted. “He’s texting you on Christmas?! And you can’t tell him you’re with your family?!”

“Honey, you know I’m on call-”

“That’s bullshit!” she snapped. “I thought Michael Beaumont was a family man? Shouldn’t he be spending time with his family? Why the hell is he contacting you?”

“Maggie,” Dennis sighed. “You know how high-level this project is. Ever since that explosion at Chelsea Piers, it’s been New York’s number one priority to make sure that entire mess is cleaned up. For the safety of everyone, including our family.”

“But-” Maggie started.

“He pays really well, Mags,” Dennis continued. “You know what this job has done for us. Especially since I got laid off from my last job.”

Maggie shook her head as tears brimmed in her eyes. Dennis gently grabbed her shoulders and looked at her tenderly.

“How could you think I was cheating on you?” Dennis frowned.

“How could I not?” Maggie croaked. “Dennis, you don’t... you don’t touch me anymore. We don’t kiss. I can’t remember the last time we had sex.”

Dennis twisted his mouth and diverted his eyes.

“Are you even still attracted to me?”

“Mags...”

“You’re not even looking at me now!”

Dennis sighed with fatigue. “You’re overreacting-”

“Overreacting?!” Maggie blurted with tears in her eyes. “Dennis, I never see you anymore! The kids don’t see you! This is the most time you’ve spent with us in months and you’ve been on your freaking phone all night!”

“I told you, it’s work-”

“Bullshit!” she snapped. “We’re your family! What’s more important than us?!”

“I’m trying to provide for this family!” Dennis shot back. “I work hard every single day for 14 hours to make sure we have a roof over our head and food to eat!”

“Then cut back on your hours!”

“Are you kidding me?!”

“I’ll get a second job-”

“What does that solve, Maggie?!”

“I GET MY HUSBAND BACK!” Maggie screamed.

Dennis paused watching his wife trembling before him. Tears streamed down her reddened face as she held herself. Her long blond hair curtained around her face and it suddenly occurred to Dennis that her hair had drastically thinned. It no longer had the full luscious bounce he was so used to.

“I want you back, Dennis!” she cried. “I can’t... live like this! You’re never here! And even when you are here, you’re not present! I feel like... like I’m living with a stranger. You used to send me loving texts from work. Bring me flowers when you got home. God, we used to make love! I have never... I’ve never felt more ugly in my life that I can’t even hold my husband’s attention for more than 3 freaking minutes!”

Maggie stared at the ground as her tears blurred her vision. She had never felt so helpless, so broken, so vulnerable. She didn’t recognize the man in front of her. The man who once couldn’t keep his hands off of her. Who went out of his way to cater to her. He now left a cold chill in the room that made her feel as if she were alone.

“I’m... I’m sorry, Mags...”

Dennis slowly exhaled as he slumped his shoulders and looked to the side.

“I didn’t know you were feeling that way...”

“Of course you didn’t...” she said weakly. “We don’t talk anymore, Dennis...”

Dennis walked up to her and gently grabbed her arms.

“Well, I wanna change that,” he said softly. “Mags, look at me.”

Maggie slowly raised her tearful blue eyes and looked at her husband. Her chest tightened as she held her breath.

“Can we work on changing that? I want my wife to know that I love her more than anything,” Dennis said. “Will you give me that chance?”

Maggie slowly nodded though the hollow feeling in her chest seemed to only worsen.

Her husband gently pulled her into his arms.

“I love you, Mags...” he said resting his cheek on her head. “I’ll always love you.”

~

“So my co-si club got in touch with him to see if he’d be willing to help us out. And he was like ‘dude, of course! I freaking love robotics.’ And then he agreed to mentor us for the competition and I’m totally stoked!”

Billy rambled at a million miles per second as the family finally sat down for dinner.

Maggie looked down at her food and every so often lifted her eyes to meet her husband’s gaze. It calmed her a bit to see the reaffirming warmness in his eyes when he smiled back at her.

“Isn’t he 4 hours away in Boston?” Dennis asked his son.

“Yea, but he comes to New York often, and we can Skype and stuff. He’s like so freaking smart. He created all these cool robots when he was in high school and now he’s like giving back to other kids in robotics. He even told me I could get a career in game development,” Billy said excitedly.

“You’re like... barely in high school,” Elena rolled her eyes.

“So! Jeremy’s a genius! He graduated high school early so I can too,” Billy argued.

“Uh... just cause he’s a genius doesn’t mean you are. People don’t graduate school early by playing video games all the time,” Elena scoffed.

“Whatever. Jeremy’s already a star student in college, right Ryan?” Billy said.

Ryan looked at his brother and smiled. “Yea, he’s pretty popular since he hangs out with one of the Marvelous 3.”

“That’s so cool!” Elena blurted. “I wanna meet the Marvelous 3!”

“Ask dad. Doesn’t he work for one of them?” Ryan shrugged.

Dennis looked up from his phone when he realized all eyes were on him.

“Uh... yea... the doctor. But she’s pretty busy, honey,” Dennis said.

Elena sucked her teeth as she leaned on her elbow.

“Well once I meet with Jeremy, I’ll ask him if he can introduce you to the other one. Kiara,” Billy smiled.

“And she’s gonna have a baby!” Elena beamed.

“Yea, she was on the news the other day. She looked huge like she was gonna pop like a balloon,” Billy snickered.

“Billy, that’s not nice,” Maggie said. “Women are sensitive about their weight.”

“She’s so pretty,” Elena sighed.

Maggie looked at her husband again to see him texting on his phone. She cleared her throat in frustration but Dennis didn’t even react.

"Dennis!”

Dennis quickly looked up from his phone.

“Yep?”

“Care to join the conversation with your family?” she said irritably.

“Right,” Dennis said, his cheeks flushed pink. “You guys should see Chelsea Piers right now. It’s practically unrecognizable.”

“Did you get to board the carrier?!” Billy asked excitedly.

“Better,” Dennis grinned as he scrolled through his phone and showed them a picture of the site. “I got to sort through the wreckage of the plane that was supposed to infect New York. Looked like something out of a sci-fi movie.”

“So cool!” Elena and Billy said together as they looked at a picture of their father wearing a hazmat suit.

“Were there any bodies?” Billy asked.

“Billy!” Maggie snapped.

“Whaaaat? Come on, mom, they said it was like a graveyard!” Billy beamed.

“I’m concerned that excites you, squirt,” Ryan grinned.

“No bodies,” Dennis said shaking his head. “But I did bring back... this...”

The kids leaned across the table to see a broken shard from one of the planes. He placed it in Billy’s hand.

“This is so freaking cool!” Billy blurted.

“You could probably sell it on ebay for like a thousand dollars,” Elena said. “Buy yourself some friends.”

“Elena,” Maggie said with warning.

“No way, I’m gonna collect this,” Billy said looking over the metal. “Wait till I show Archie!”

“Another made up friend,” Elena smirked.

“SHUT UP, ELENA!” Billy said throwing a bread roll at her.

“Billy!” Elena said throwing food at him in return.

“NO THROWING FOOD!” Maggie barked but it was too late as gravy, bread rolls, mac and cheese, and potatoes were soon soaring through the air.

~

Maggie sighed in frustration as she combed corn out of her youngest son’s hair.

“Sorry, mom...” Billy said meekly.

“Mhm..” Maggie muttered.

“Can I still open my gifts?”

“No.”

“BUT IT’S CHRISTMAS!”

“You’re not opening those gifts until you scrub the potato salad out of that carpet!”

Billy sighed as his shoulders hunched over in defeat. He felt his mother wipe more food from his cheek before she planted a soft kiss on the side of his face.

“I still love you,” she said. “Even if you drive me up a wall.”

Billy smirked as he turned around hugged her tight.

“I love you too.”

Ryan watched his mother and brother in the bathroom before he turned to see his dad sweeping up food in the dining room.

“Hey... dad?”

“Yea, son?”

“Something going on with you and mom?”

“Why would you say that?”

“You guys just... you’re acting kinda strange...”

Dennis leaned on the broom and smiled at his son. “We’re fine, Ryan.”

Ryan analyzed his father’s face before twisting his mouth in concern.

“Hey look,” Dennis said. “We need more ice cream for dessert.”

Ryan watched his father pull out a few bills.

“Why don’t you go pick up another carton? Oreo is Billy’s favorite. Your mother loves vanilla.”

“Sure... okay...” Ryan said with a bit of doubt in his voice. He went to turn around when his father called his name.

“Ryan.”

“Yea?”

“It’s just... the growing pains of marriage. We’re fine. I promise.”

“...okay, dad...”

~

Ryan tightened his coat around his body as he waited for the phone to stop ringing. His face immediately lit up with excitement once her face came on screen.

Her silky raven hair fell to her lightly-tanned shoulders. Her dark brown almond eyes staring back at her love with pure excitement.

“There’s my yummy bear!”

“Hi babe,” Ryan beamed at his girlfriend on camera.

“I miss you, Rye Rye,” Chrissy said leaning on her hand.

“I miss you too, beautiful,” Ryan smiled. “How’s family?”

Chrissy rolled her eyes. “I haven’t really spent time with anyone. Papito has been locked away in his office for half the night speaking to his clients. Mi madre is literally attached to her bottle of wine. I think I’ve spoken to our groundskeeper more than any one else.”

“The life of a rich daddy’s girl,” Ryan smirked.

Chrissy scoffed. “Trust me. It’s not all that great.”

“What about your sister?”

Chrissy shrugged. “It’s nice seeing Anna but during dinner all she did was talk about her friend Tiana. Which... big fucking deal you stopped a bomb or whatever. Thank you. Next.”

“It is kind of a big deal,” Ryan chuckled.

“Yea, but I don’t wanna hear about it all the damn time! It’s like hearing Mariah Carey’s stupid Christmas song on repeat like... shoot me! Please! I’m so sick of hearing about the damn Marvelous 3. Jeezus! And then she left after dessert to go spend time with her new Chinese boyfriend.”

“I thought he was Korean.”

“Whatever,” Chrissy rolled her eyes. “I’d rather be with you.”

Ryan’s lips turned up into a smirk. “What are you wearing?”

He saw Chrissy shuffle on screen before she dangled her panties on camera.

“Not these...” she teased.

***

Maggie perched herself on the toilet seat, anxiously pulling her fingers. Tears fell from her face as she breathed out shakily.

She looked up at her husband leaning against the wall with his arms folded across his chest. He stared at the ceiling, his past words echoing in the small quaint marble bathroom they renovated when they first bought the house.

The couple had never uttered the word in their entire time knowing each other. Yet the moment it escaped his lips, Maggie’s entire body had swollen with dread.

“Can we talk about this, Dennis?” Maggie said shakily.

“What else is there to talk about, Mags...”

Tears streamed down her reddened plump cheeks as she felt her heart tighten. The desire to puke overwhelmed her, but she was glued to the toilet lid.

“I don’t want this...” she choked out. “I don’t want a... divorc-”

“You think I’m cheating on you, Maggie, regardless of how many times I tell you I’m not. So what do you want if not a divorce?”

“I just want to know who she is. Is it Rachel?”

Dennis closed his eyes and shook his head in disbelief. “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”

“You spend all your time at work with her.”

“She’s my medic partner, Maggie! We don’t really have the choice!”

“Is that who you’ve been texting all night?” Maggie persisted.

“When did I lose your trust? When did me working my ass off translate to you thinking I’m sleeping with my co-worker?”

“When you stopped sleeping with me! Stopped touching me. Stopped kissing me. When you stopped responding to my calls, my texts. When you refused to go to freaking marriage counseling!”

“I went with you-”

“You went to one session, Dennis!” Maggie blurted. “And you left halfway through. You never even gave us a chance!”

“Because we don’t need it, Mags!”

Maggie raised her hands in surrender. “SERIOUSLY?! Do you even give a crap how I feel? Marriage is about sacrifice-”

“And I’ve made plenty for you! But it’s never enough for you, is it, Maggie?!”

Maggie could feel herself breaking down as she put her face in her hands and started sobbing uncontrollably. The argument felt helpless.

Dennis groaned in frustration as he leaned on the counter.

“I never stopped loving you, Mags... never. But if you can’t trust me then... why the hell are we still together?”

“Divorce is not the answer, Dennis! Please! I’m asking you to try! To fight for us! To act like you still give a damn!”

Maggie stared at her husband helplessly. Hoping to get some sort of reaction out of him, but it’s like he completely shut down.

“...what do you want me to do,” he said finally.

Maggie swallowed thickly as her jaw tensed. A glimmer of hope that they might be able to salvage what they once had.

“Counseling,” she said. “I want you to attend at least 3 full hour sessions with me.”

Dennis loudly exhaled as he looked into the bathroom mirror.

“Whatever you want, Mags...”

Maggie couldn’t tell if he was being sincere or if he had just completely given up. But he still said the words, giving her something to hold onto.

She got up from the toilet lid and hesitantly walked up to him.

“Dennis...”

Dennis glanced at his wife and felt his heart break. The confident, funny, witty woman he had fallen in love with over 25 years ago looked so fragile and broken. A shell of the woman she once was.

He wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her body against him.

Maggie breathed in her husband’s scent as she shuttered against him. He hadn’t held her like this in so long she nearly forgot what it felt like.

“After dessert... and the kids open their gifts... let’s talk,” Dennis said.

Maggie stared into his eyes and felt a glimmer of hope from the sincerity reflected in his light brown orbs.

Those beautiful eyes reminded her of the best day of her life. Their wedding day. When he looked at her like she was the only woman in the room.

“...for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part...”

Those words seemed so harsh lined against the fragile state of their broken marriage.

A tear slipped from the corner of her eye that Dennis gently wiped away. He softly pushed his lips against hers for a kiss so tender it was like the first time.

And like the first time, he stole her breath away.

Maggie weakly smiled at her husband before nodding and leaving him alone in the bathroom.

Dennis looked at himself in the mirror, not sure he liked what he saw.

He was stressed.

Beyond stressed.

Between working and trying to provide for his family including financing his son’s tuition, he felt drained.

Being laid off from his past job of 20 years had hurt them significantly. Maggie tried to help with her job as a teacher, but it did little to make a dent in their expenses. Though it spawned from such a tragic event, Dennis was grateful for the job under Beaumont-Richardson Corp. as it was their main source of income.

The back of his neck hurt from the tension.

He opened up the mirror to grab his bottle of medication to help with the stress. He popped two pills into his mouth before sipping water from the faucet and waited for it to work its usual magic.

He wished his wife was more understanding of the stress he was under. But counseling felt like punishment. And to assume he was cheating?

It was true he spent a lot of time with his partner, Rachel, but they were just friends. They spent the majority of their work day together, of course they were close.

All he was doing was wishing her a Merry Christmas. She was lonely. And he was her friend.

Maggie just didn’t understand. She didn’t get it.

In fact, Dennis thought she was being rather selfish.

Why couldn’t she be more appreciative? It’s not like he wanted to spend 14 hours at work.

“She doesn’t get it..” Dennis muttered.

Dennis wondered why his wife couldn’t be more like Rachel. At least she was logical. Rational. Not overly emotional.

He enjoyed their lunches together. It gave him some peace from his rather hectic life.

Rachel gave him peace.

Maggie gave him stress.

“She doesn’t fucking get it...”

All Maggie did was yell at him. She complained they never touched anymore, but it’s only because she never made herself approachable.

Why was this all his fault? Why was he getting all the blame? He’s the one working hard. He’s the one providing for the family. Without him, they’d have nothing. What the hell was she doing?

“She doesn’t fucking get it!”

Dennis slammed his fist on the sink and shook his head. He couldn’t remember the last time his wife actually made him happy. All she did was complain. Nothing made her happy. She was always miserable. She made him miserable. Being with her was like being imprisoned. What was the point of trying to save something he didn’t want?

“Ungrateful. Selfish. Bitch!”

~

Elena tip-toed down the hallway and peeked into her parents’ room. She could hear soft sobbing.

It was Christmas...

...and her mother was crying...

Elena worried her bottom lip. Was it because of the food fight? She didn’t mean to make such a mess, but Billy was so annoying.

She peeked through the door to see her mother sitting on the edge of her bed looking through her old wedding album.

It occurred to the curious blonde that her mother was upset over something else.

She went to knock on the door when she saw her father open the bathroom door that led to her parents’ room. She quickly backed up and watched as her father approached her mother.

She knew her dad would make things better. He always made things better. It’s why they worked so well together. Her dad was a lovable goofball with a heart of gold.

Elena smiled as she saw her mother stand from the bed and walk up to her father.

~

“Dennis...” Maggie said softly as she reached for him.

Dennis’ hand jutted out as he quickly grabbed Maggie by the throat.

Maggie’s eyes bulged as she instinctively reached for his hand around her throat. His fingers tightened around her trachea as she struggled to breathe.

“De-nnis!” she choked out before he slammed her head back against the wall.

“If you only knew... how much I fucking hate you...” he snarled at her, his eyes clouded.

Maggie’s eyes widened in shock before she started to lose consciousness.

“Den-nis..p-please..” she choked out.

She saw something shiny flicker in his free hand.

The sound of metal tearing through flesh silenced Maggie’s gurgling as Dennis drove an envelope opener through her stomach.

~

Elena’s eyes bulged as she watched her father pull out the long, sharp envelope opener before driving it through his wife’s stomach again.

And again.

And again...

Maggie’s soft white cashmere sweater soaked with more blood each time the envelope opener went through her abdomen.

The sound was grotesque and Elena nearly puked from the blood that splattered along the bedroom walls.

She covered her mouth in shock as she watched her father drop her mother’s body to the ground before he leered over her and continued to stab her over and over again.

Tears brimmed in Elena’s eyes as she quickly moved back down the hall. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

She started to hyperventilate as she frantically ran to Billy’s room.

“Elena!” Billy said once his sister barged in. “Get out! I just got to level 14 and I need to defeat this bos-”

Elena quickly rushed to her brother and covered his mouth, shushing him and holding her finger to her lips.

Billy looked at his sister confused when he saw the terror in her eyes.

“Q-quiet...” she croaked out as she removed her hand from his mouth.

“..What’s going on?” Billy whispered as he watched his sister tiptoe to his bedroom door.

She peeked outside to see her father was no longer in the bedroom.

There were wet bloodstains on the walls.

“Elena, what’s going on?” Billy asked again.

Elena looked at her brother and held out her hand. “C-come on. We h-have to get out of h-here!”

“What?”

“D-dad just..” Elena tried to calm down as she spoke. “H-he k-killed mom.”

Billy looked at her like she was stupid.

“That’s not funny, Elena.”

“I’m not kidding!”

“ELENA! BILLY! WHERE ARE YOU?!”

Elena immediately shut the door at the sound of her father’s voice.

“Elena, what are you doing?” Billy said annoyed. “Dad’s calling us! He probably wants to open the presents.”

“I j-just told y-you that h-he killed mom!” Elena cried fearfully.

“Stop joking around, Elena, this isn’t funny!”

Suddenly there was a loud bang on the door that made both kids jump.

“ARE YOU GUYS IN THERE?!”

Elena looked at Billy in fear and frantically shook her head putting her finger to her lips for him to stay quiet.

Billy wanted to think his sister was playing another joke, but the tears rolling down her face led him to think otherwise.

He watched as she pushed a chair in front of the door and turned off the light before she ran to him to get under the bed.

Both kids shimmied under the bed and watched in terror as the bedroom door handle ferociously jiggled.

“M-maybe h-he’s just p-pranking us,” Billy said anxiously.

Elena shook her head and grabbed Billy’s hand.

“He’s not.”

Elena covered her mouth when the door finally broke down and sent the chair flying across the room.

Billy’s eyes widened in shock to see the blood on his father’s hands and the bloody footprints on the light grey carpet in the hallway.

“Billy? Where are you, buddy? Thought you wanted to open your gifts? Where’s your sister?”

The two children watched as their father slowly walked around Billy’s room. Their hands covering their mouths to suffocate the screams bursting to escape.

“Come on, son, where are you? Wait till you see what I got you for Christmas...”

They watched as their father disappeared into one of the large walk-in closets. Elena signaled to her brother to crawl out and run for the door but Billy shook his head in fear.

“You have to! We have to get help!” Elena whispered. “You go first. I’ll cover you.”

Billy swallowed hard as he eyed his path out of the room. He slowly shimmied out from under the bed and stood to his feet to see his father wasn’t in the closet.

Suddenly Elena’s scream rang out as he saw his sister get dragged under the bed.

“BILLY!!” Elena screamed.

Billy fell to the floor and reached for his sister’s arm to keep his father from dragging her in. He tugged on both of her arms as he used his foot to push against the bed post and pull her.

“Go, Billy! Just go!” Elena cried.

“I’m not leaving you!”

Billy saw his father’s head underneath the bed and nearly gave him a fright. He kicked his dad’s face several times until he finally let go of his sister.

Elena quickly crawled out from underneath and ran towards the door with her brother when she felt her hair get yanked back.

“BILLY!”

Billy turned around just in time to see his father yank his sister back and raise the envelope opener above her head.

“You’ve been a very bad girl, Elena,” Dennis said. “And you know what bad girls get for Christmas?”

“Daddy, please!” Elena cried as she struggled to writhe free from his gasp.

“Wrong answer,” Dennis said as he shoved the envelope opener into her stomach.

Billy stared in shock as blood gushed from his sister’s mouth and her stomach and spilled onto the floor.

“ELENA!” Billy screamed.

“R-run... B-Bill...y...”

Billy felt a surge of fear skyrocket through his small body as he immediately ran down the stairs. He could hear his sister’s body drop to the floor above before he heard his dad’s terrifyingly loud footsteps.

He grabbed the house phone and ran towards the pantry, closing the door behind him as he hid himself inside next to the bread and cereal.

His fingers trembled as he dialed 9-1-1.

He could hear his father’s boots in the living room as he waited for the phone to stop ringing.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“M-my d-dad is t-trying t-to kill m-me! P-please come quick! ”

“Biiiiilllyyyy...”

“Are you somewhere you can’t be seen?”

“..y-yes...th-the pantry..”

“Just stay put. The police are on their way.”

Billy saw his father disappear around the corner.

“P-please hurry!” he whispered.

~

Billy took deep breaths as he tried to think of a way past his father who had blocked the front door with the recliner. He could’t risk trying to move it himself and getting caught.

He thought about the small hand gun that his mother kept underneath her bed.

If he could just get the gun, he could fend for himself and hold his dad off long enough until the police arrived.

He slowly opened the pantry door and waited to see if he heard or saw his father before he made a quick dash for his mother’s room.

“BILLY!”

Billy ignored his father’s shouting and ran as fast as he could when he tripped and skidded on the carpet. He looked down to see what he tripped over and went into a full panic attack to see his mother’s corpse on the floor. Her eyes wide open as if she were still alive.

Billy tried to hold back his sobs as he crawled under the bed and searched for the gun. He heard his father’s footsteps again and immediately grabbed the gun before he crawled out again.

The door swung open and his father barged into the room.

“There you are,” Dennis grinned. He noticed the gun in Billy’s hand and his grin only widened.

“Now just what do you expect to do with that, son?”

“Stop, dad, please!” Billy cried as he held the gun pointed at his father. “Why are you doing this?! What’s wrong with you?!”

“Give me the gun, Billy,” Dennis said walking towards him.

Billy vehemently shook his head as he aimed the gun higher.

“You really think you can shoot me? A snot-nosed punk like you?”

Billy was already in shock that his father murdered his mother and sister, but for some reason these insults stung in a way he didn’t expect.

“You’re fucking pathetic,” Dennis scoffed. “I never wanted a brat like you!”

Billy’s eyes welled up with tears that spilled down his face.

“You don’t mean that,” Billy sobbed.

Dennis chuckled amused. “This is why you don’t have any friends, you pathetic little shit!”

Dennis reached for him when Billy pulled the trigger and the gun went off.

Billy stared in shock at the hole in his father’s shoulder, bleeding profusely.

“You little-” Dennis snarled as he reached for his son again before another gun shot went off.

~

“My mom always bombards us with a little Christmas photo shoot every year, but I’ll see if I can escape after we’re done unwrapping gifts.”

Ryan smiled as he walked up to the front porch of his house. He had taken extra time on his walk back so he could talk to his girlfriend.

“I love you too, babe... I’ll text you in a few.” Ryan hung up the phone and pulled the keys from his pocket.

He went to open the door when he heard a gunshot go off followed by another.

He jumped startled when suddenly a body came crashing down from the 2nd floor and impaled on the mailbox’s wooden pole, splattering him in blood.

Ryan’s mouth parted in shock as he slowly walked over to the body.

His eyes widened in horror to see his little brother’s face, wet with blood and tears, his mouth twisted in fear.

Ryan screamed at the top of his lungs.

~*~

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