Dooley Downs

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XI Aunt Gretchen

XI Aunt Gretchen

Aunt Gretchen let her seventeen-and-a-half foot long, 1983 navy blue Grand Marquis coast west along Maple Street, passing by Red’s Recovery Room ten miles over the speed limit. The V8 motor growled smoothly beneath the dark and shiny landscape of the hood.

I should stop at Red’s. There is a good chance the brats went there to look for Tim. But they wouldn’t stay there long, being as they are kids and not allowed in that rat-hole.

Tim. That was unfortunate.

Why wasn’t that freak Max in front of Sid’s? That was the agreed meeting place! Maybe he saw the Dooleys and followed them. It’s almost dark and he wouldn’t want to lose sight of them. Maybe they had gone to Red’s and he saw them out front or something. It’s only going to take a minute to drive down Maple Street and see if I can spot him or the Dooleys.

God, I’m glad it’s a weeknight and October! Light’s almost gone and people are indoors. This is going to make tracking them easier as long as they are still on foot and not indoors. But why would they be indoors? Everything’s closed.

Why would they go into town? To talk to the police? Good! That would make things easy! Well, it’s on the way, so I’ll drop by there, too.

The car barreled through the empty street, zooming past the intersection of New Goat Road. She leaned over and unlatched the glove box, fumbling inside for her cigarettes. Something thumped against the car’s grill and rolled across the hood, smacking against the windshield. Aunt Gretchen shot up in her seat, but instead of slamming on the brakes, she merely took her foot off the gas. A large, dark shape blotted out a sizable portion of the windshield. She eased the brake pedal, letting the car stop gradually. Despite her care, once the car came to a complete stop the mass slid off the windshield and rolled off the hood. It left behind a thick, dark, messy smear.

That’s blood.

Aunt Gretchen shifted the vehicle into park and unlatched the door, stepping out into the brisk air of late evening. She gazed around her immediate vicinity with hawkish eyes, scanning for pedestrians and the lights of residences.

Good. Nobody around. Nobody saw.

Her heels clacked sharply as she went around to the front of the car.

Oh! It’s Max. He doesn’t look good.

She looked back down the street.

He must’ve come running out from that alley back there.

She knelt down beside him. Blood began to pool under the back of Max’s head. His eyes fluttered, half closed. She licked the back of her hand and held it near his mouth and nose, mindful not to touch him. The spittle cooled slightly.

He’s alive… good. Maybe I can still get some information from him.

“Max,” she said quietly, but urgently. She shook his shoulder, feeling something pop and shift. A guttural moan issued from his mouth as a glob of blood popped out onto his lower lip and chin. His eyes fluttered wildly, almost spinning in their sockets. She spun her concentration to their surroundings, looking for people. None revealed their presence. She turned her attention back to Max.

“Max, can you hear me?” She touched his chest softly making sure it was clean where she placed her fingers. “Do you understand me, dear?”

Max made a rattling noise that sounded like agreement.

“Max, dear, I have something for you. I have your reward. But first, you need to tell me if you have seen the Dooleys. You need to tell me where they are.” She stroked his chest gently.

The noise gurgling from his throat sounded like a word.

Alley?

Something else bubbled out of Max; something more elaborate.

Sooth Jewel… burns? Cold?

He suddenly convulsed, arching his back violently as Aunt Gretchen jumped back, checking herself frantically to see if any blood tainted her skin. His eyes bulged, threatening to pop out of their sockets. Then he settled back into his former state. Aunt Gretchen soured her face.

Gross.

“Max,” she said, moving closer but not touching him this time. Her voice dripped with faux lust. “Max, honey, dear, you know how much I want to give you your reward; how much I want you to explore me.”

Rapid sputtering breaths huffed out of Max’s mouth. His arms and legs twitched. Aunt Gretchen smiled, finding the turn of events amusing and very convenient.

What a psychotic pervert. I can’t believe I let him squeeze my boob. He licked my neck when he did it, too. I had to push him away. Goddamn pervert tightened his grip; that horrible, greedy look in his eye. Little fucker is strong. A year or two from now, he could definitely overbear me if he wanted… might even be able to do so now. But that was the only thing I had to trade for his much needed services. I had no intention of delivering his “reward.” Slimy, little creep… I just didn’t know how I’d get out of it if he made good on delivery. He’s the mayor’s son! I let him touch me, for crap’s sake. He knows my plans. He’s got too much on me. I was trying to figure out how to flee him if he delivered… now it’s just so easy.

“Tell me what else, Max. Tell me what else and I will give myself to you.”

Underneath the horror and mess that remained of Max Shraeter’s screwed up body, Aunt Gretchen watched with glee as he summoned everything left to answer her… to get his “reward.” However, what issued forth chilled her soul and the feeling left an equally frosty expression on her face.

“M-M-Mirror F-Falls…” He visibly diminished, but still breathed. However, the twitching and sputtering ceased. Aunt Gretchen surveyed the surroundings again. Seeing nobody, she leaned in with exquisite affection, face warming passionately.

“Thank you, Max. And now,” she hushed into his ear, “here is your much deserved reward.” Disgust rippled over her features as she pinched his nose and placed her palm over his mouth, not because of the act but the fact that she had to touch his face and blood. But she soon brightened at how softly and swiftly Max Shraeter succumbed to death.

™ Ÿ ˜

Prior to entering the alley to confront the Dooleys, Aunt Gretchen dimmed the lights on the Grand Marquis, popped the trunk, and drug Max’s body with significant effort to the back of the car, where with some struggle she hefted him inside. Before closing the trunk, she found some rags and wiped off what she could of the blood from her hands and arms by the dim trunk light. Mindful of her exposure and the fleeting time, she twisted from side to side inspecting her dress. Surprisingly, it remained untainted.

She closed the trunk gently, pressing down firmly to latch it. Hopping back into the driver’s seat, she activated the washer fluid and wipers to clear what she could of the blood that smeared the windshield. At the same time she looked frantically around the car’s interior for bottled water. She found three.

Never leave home without them. Screw the environment.

Turning off the washer and wiper, she scooped the bottles of water up and returned to the front of the vehicle. She twisted off the caps and hurriedly dappled water on the areas of blood tarnishing the hood and splattered on the grill. It had begun to coagulate, so her success in removing it was marginal. She knew she was wasting precious time in catching the Dooleys in the alley, but she couldn’t risk a passerby taking notice of the gore and freaking out.

Oh well, it’s close enough for government work. Damn it! I can’t get that stupid saying of Tim’s out of my head!

She slung her body into the driver’s seat, flinging the empty water bottles and associated caps over her shoulder into the back seat, and shifted the transmission into drive. The car moved forward a few feet, covering the pool of blood where Max had perished. Shutting the car down, she left the keys in the ignition, exited the vehicle, and shut the car door, leaving it unlocked. Prudence was safe that way.

I wonder why Max ran from the alley. Maybe there is a chance my niece and nephew are still there. If not, at least I know where they will be going…

™ Ÿ ˜

Now Aunt Gretchen sat in her parked Grand Marquis facing north on New Goat Road, smoking a cigarette and hacking occasionally. Although the cigarette served her calm, it provided little relief for her cough. But at least it diminished the sulfur aftertaste from the smoke bombs in her throat and mouth. Her esophagus felt raw from coughing and retching and each pull off the cigarette tore its way into her lungs.

I’ll give them a head start so that they feel safe; so they believe that they gave me the slip. Yep, I want them to feel confident that they pulled one over on their old Aunt Gretchen. That little brat Peter might have something else in that bag, but I also know he has the Sooth Jewels and he’s protecting them fiercely.

Now they know what I’m after, my true intentions. I need to catch them off guard. I need to take care of those brats, grab the jewels, and skip town. Hell, skip the state and maybe even the frigging country. Too much has gone wrong today. I’ve got blood on my hands and more is to come. I need to blow this pop-stand tonight before the heat turns up.

Aunt Gretchen checked her image in the rearview mirror. Large strands of her red hair had escaped the confines of her semi-beehive and lay loosely curled about her cheeks and shoulder. Dried rivulets of dark blue mascara carved identical tracks through the creamy make-up base and rouge on her cheeks. The coughing and retching in the alley had flooded her eyes with tears.

I can’t remember the last time I cried for real.

But that was a lie; she could. It was at her sister’s funeral. However, those weren’t just tears of grief and sorrow, but also molten tears of fury.

Tim was supposed to die that night. It was so perfect. I’d been through enough of those nights where their loins started to tingle, they’d have a couple glasses of champagne, and then they’d call “always available” me to come and sit for the kids while they went up to the Mirror Falls Overlook to neck and pet… or do even more. They’d always come back so happy, late after the kids were asleep, giggling and throwing their stinking “love” in my face.

But each time I watched. I watched very carefully. They held to the same pattern, so frigging predictable, always leaving their glasses half-full on the coffee table in the same positions while Sarah ‘touched up her face’ and Tim did something or other elsewhere. I would have that moment to warm up to the kids, get them excited that I was there. Ten minutes later, like clockwork, Tim and Sarah would return, the ever beaming, radiant couple, coming together for one last toast before embarking on their sickeningly romantic evening.

How was I supposed to know that Sarah had been drinking more than usual? How could I anticipate that Sarah would come back in the living room and drink not only her glass, but Tim’s as well, the one I spiked with Demerol? Tim was supposed to be the one who got drowsy during their passion and fall over the railing at mirror falls. How could it have happened any other way? The plan had been perfect.

How am I to blame? Tim was to blame, letting Sarah drink like that! God, I hate men.

How did Sarah grow up so perfect? We were so close when we were little. She had everything I desired: beautiful hair, pretty face, perfect grades… friends. Mom and dad liked her best. She could do no wrong.

Why don’t you get good grades like Sarah?

Why don’t you have friends like Sarah?

Why don’t you take some pride in your appearance like Sarah? You look so homely and frumpy!

But Sarah stood up for me, yes she did. When no friends spent time with me, Sarah would. When I struggled with my homework, Sarah helped. Sarah took the time to braid my hair. My younger sister: taking care of me. Why did it end?

Tim made it end! Stealing her from home!

And then not more than a year later mom died of a stroke. And then the nightmare really started: daddy getting so morose over mom’s death, always wanting a hug and a kiss. Then the hugs got longer and more intense. Then the kisses were on my neck, my ears, my lips. His hands groped, kneaded, stroked; and all the while he cried and slobbered and said things like “sorry” and “I love you.” Pathetic, perverted, wretched, sick excuse for a man.

Oh, but I took care of that, oh yes I did! A man like that has a weak heart. Dressing like mom and turning the tables on him was a stroke of genius, as disgusting as it felt at the time. But it worked! God, it worked so well. I had plenty of time to clean him and myself up. I even slept well that night with that stone cold dead asshole in his bed in the room across the hall.

It was nice of Sarah to offer me our parent’s house after daddy died, especially since there was little in the way of money in the will and Tim and Sarah had their own place. Tim called their home Dooley Downs. What a frigging clown; what a stupid man! They even had the audacity to offer for me to live there with them because of the “memories”…

Yes, there were those memories.

There were many nights alone in that house, miles from the closest neighbor, standing in front of daddy’s closed door, screaming my guts out at him.

Then there were all the old photos to go through and alter to a different reality: cutting out my parents so it was just me and Sarah, writing ‘A+’ in red ink on my parent’s faces over and over again, blackening out their eyes, and finally decapitating them countless times over while hot tears and snot smeared and morphed their features.

And then there were those God awful, harrowingly lonely nights in my bed where I furiously explored myself with countless household objects just to feel something, anything to fill that hollow, cored out emptiness inside.

Yes, there were those memories.

But everything is fine now.

Everything is just fine now.

™ Ÿ ˜

“Tim?” Sarah looked up from her magazine.

“Yeah, babe?” Tim continued reading his book. Sarah smiled. Tims possessed multi-dimensional awareness; the only person she had ever known who did. That reaction coming from anyone else might evoke a certain amount of annoyance. But Sarah knew she commanded his full attention… as did the book he read.

Often, after they put Peter and Priscilla to bed, Tim and Sarah retired for a spell to the living room to read quietly, instead of the bedroom to do other things… like sleep, to mention one. Sarah sat in customary fashion on one end of the couch, next to the corner table lamp, a couple of soft pillows braced behind her back. She held her legs close together with one foot on the floor and the other propped against the edge of the coffee table. Tonight, her knee bobbed up and down as her foot jittered with her thoughts.

Tim’s famous position incorporated the comfortable but posture detrimental slump, his butt scooting halfway off the lounger, coupled with the nag inducing slouch of the shoulders. Both feet rested against the edge of the coffee table, bending his knees upwards. Tim nursed a beer while Sarah sipped some chamomile tea. Sarah watched her husband quietly for a few seconds, a smile threatening the corners of her mouth.

“I am listening, babe,” he assured without looking up from his book. He took another swig from his beer bottle.

“I know you are, T. I’m just playing with you.”

“There must be a good reason for that.”

“I want to talk about Gretchen.” She steeled herself.

Tim shut his book quietly, closed his eyes, and leaned his head back.

“C’mon, T, don’t get grumpy on me.” Sarah had set her magazine down and now looked at her husband over the tea cup that she held in both her hands. Her knee had stopped bobbing as she readied to explore her restless thoughts.

“Why do we want to discuss your sister,” Tim moaned, still looking at his inner eyelids.

“I didn’t say we. I said I want to discuss my sister. You can just sit there and look pretty.”

Tim opened his eyes, turned his head, and grinned at her. “Of course, that’s how it works.”

“I think she’s lonely, Tim.”

“Yep,” Tim quipped, returning his attention to his book. Sarah forgave him. She knew the routine; she knew he was still listening… and reading.

How does he do that?

“I think she’s running out of money.”

“Well, we’ve given her plenty of it.”

Sarah sighed. “Well, she is alone…”

“…and on welfare, including ours.”

“Tim, she went through both or our parents’ deaths in that house. She is a damaged person.”

“…a damaged person who just happens to despise my guts.”

“She does not!”

“She does, too. She gives me stink eye every time she comes over.”

“Tim…”

Tim closed his book, set it on the coffee table, and drained his beer. He sat forward, hunched, with his elbows on his knees. He took a deep breath.

“Sarah, babe, I don’t want to talk badly about your family situation, but I think your sister has… psychological issues. It is more than just being there for the death of her mom and dad. You are right, she is lonely. But beyond that, you know something is wrong with her, as well. And you are feeling the way you are feeling because you feel guilty in some way over her situation and her condition. Throwing money at her doesn’t change what is wrong. In fact, it just prolongs the whole ordeal. She really should be under the care of a doctor. And you deserve to be happy.”

Sarah’s jaw hung open. She was flabbergasted. She wanted to protest, to deny, but Tim merely expressed the unspoken in her. Still, Gretchen was her sister. She needed more from Tim… more evidence.

“Okay, I’ll bite. Some of what you say has worried me a bit. But out with it; you’ve gone this far, but I know you. I know you are holding back.”

“She came on to me.”

Sarah looked as if she had been slapped. “What?”

“The last time she came over to babysit. We were heading out to go see Steely Dan in concert, remember? What was that, two months ago? It was still daylight, the kids were out playing in the yard, and you went to the bedroom to finish up getting ready. This left me alone with her in the living room… probably the only time I can ever recall being alone with her. It was quiet between us at first. I was searching for something to talk about. Then suddenly she… latched on to me. It took me aback. She hugged me fiercely, clawing at my back with her hands, rubbing her pelvis on my leg. Her voice deepened into a raw whisper, beckoning me to leave you and be with her. She said that she could show me pleasures beyond my wildest fantasies… anything I wanted. I was horrified. I pushed her away and she simply clammed up, reverting back to what I knew her as, quiet and reserved.”

Sarah could barely believe her ears. “Why didn’t you say anything to me about this?”

“Because I was scared about what saying something might do. There is a time and a place for everything. Only now do you voice your doubts and concerns about her. Two months ago, the accusation could have damaged our relationship… our friendship. Now, though, you are ready to hear it… to mentally accept it.”

They talked long into the night, as they usually did over matters of importance and non-importance alike. But in the end, the complexity of the situation eroded, leaving only very simple questions.

“So what do we do? Do we still let her babysit the kids?”

“Of course we do,” Tim affirmed. “We act like nothing has changed. She’s always been good to them and they really like her. I think we bide some time. Whatever happened to your sister happened awhile back. In fact, a piece of it was always there. We don’t want to inject something into her life that causes her to snap. There was only that one incident; just a crack in the wall she has built up around herself. I’ll look into what Prudence has in the way of mental health services, but I doubt it is much. Maybe the state has some resources. Let’s just make sure that when we act, that we have a solid plan… something that will be best for all of us. She’s your sister and she needs the best help that we can give her. But, you know, in the right way.”

“I just…” Sarah bit her lip, looking away.

“You feel guilty for leaving her while she stayed behind.”

“Yes. Mom and dad were hard on her, much more so than me. I think they tried to parent us the same, expecting the same from each of us. And I…”

“You fit into their program better.”

“That sounds so unfair, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, it does, because it is. We are all born different, Sarah. The only thing we can control is our reaction to the world… and sometimes I think even that is a questionable assertion.”

™ Ÿ ˜

Men are so easy.

Aunt Gretchen spat the venom of her thoughts into her mind as if to give them physical form. She flipped through the fashion magazines strewn across the Grand Marquis’s expansive front seat; the same fashion magazines that created the look she wore today.

Cheap, cheap sluts.

All of them.

Men are so predictable. All they want are these cheap, floozy sluts. It’s all about sex to them. That’s all they think of. Daddy must’ve thought of me as some cheap slut floozy after mom died… some whore that he had the right to violate to satisfy his weakness.

But this is power, this power to look like a slut. Men start drooling over you when you look like this. But, if you are smart, if you play your cards right, you can use this against them.

It worked on daddy.

It almost worked on that pent-up Principal Hard-on guy. But he was all about rules and regulations. And then he still had the nerve to ask me out on a “date” after he denied hunting the Dooleys down. Still, it seems that he helped break up their gang.

I couldn’t get close to the Mayor, but six months of observation sure led me to the activities of his son, the perverse little creep. To think when I approached him he was torturing a cat by holding it by its tail. The bulge in his pants was so visible. I drew his attention immediately.

But I know I’m just a temporary fix for him, a curious diversion. That boy is headed for things much more violent and deviant.

I should’ve dressed up like a slut for Officer Holt, but that might have back-fired on me. I need him to believe my story and I think he would suspect my new look. This way, I can be two different people.

Tim was the prize. Poor Tim. I really wanted him. I wanted everything Sarah had. I should’ve realized that I couldn’t just woo Tim away privately. God that was a mistake! But he sure responded at the bar. Goddamn drunk. I guess I look more like my sister dressed as a slut. That must be what he liked in her. She knew from an early age what men liked. How did she ever do it?

But Tim was a sentimental fool. He just spent the night talking about himself and bawling over Sarah. It was so weird. He talked to me like I was Sarah, the pathetic loser. Whatever Tim used to be he was nothing now, just a weak-minded fool like my daddy. At least I got his stupid signature. That was easy. He sure loved to talk about himself when he was drunk. In the end, he just made me sick.

Just like all men do.

But the Dooleys: now there was a surprise. I guess Tim really spoiled them against me. That was the tragedy of my sister’s death. So now I’m the enemy? HA!

Tim couldn’t take care of those kids. Plus, I could’ve gotten a good stipend from the state for taking care of those brats. But that custody suit didn’t go my way. However, what Tim revealed at the end of that case made everything come together. It brought purpose to my life. I don’t care about the Dooleys anymore now. All I want is the money from those damn jewels… and to get away.

I need to shed these damn ghosts and carve out a new life far, far away.

™ Ÿ ˜

“It is simply amazing how much you look like Sarah,” Tim admired of his late wife’s sister. Gretchen smiled bashfully, blushing slightly as she touched one hand inbetween her deep cleavage in a gesture of slight embarrassment that also carried ulterior connotations. She watched with great satisfaction as Tim’s eyes diverted quickly to her breasts then back up to her face.

He’s trying to not let his eyes roam, but I know. I know.

“Thank you, Tim. I’m trying something new. And there was always a strong family resemblance between Sarah and myself. She was always the better one at… showing her confidence. But now I see that paying more attention to one’s appearance helps to inspire that confidence.” Gretchen sat up straight and pushed out her chest slightly to show Tim just how much confidence her new appearance had given her. Tim indeed took notice.

Gretchen sat kitty-corner near Tim at one of Red’s Recovery Room’s large shellacked cable spool tables. Her chair was a simple unfinished high-back pine affair while Tim perched on a red, cushioned, metal diner-style chair. He leaned forward over his empty whiskey glass and half-empty beer mug, elbows on the table. Gretchen mimicked the posture, exposing the depth of her cleavage in the low cut of her gold lamay dress. She purposefully wore no bra, causing the hardness of her nipples to push out noticeably against the fabric. Tim took notice and his alcohol induced buzz increased his difficulty in avoiding doing so. He abruptly tried to change the subject of Gretchen’s attractiveness.

“Would you like another glass of wine?” Tim licked his lips nervously, suddenly noticing a virtually full glass sitting before her.

“Oh, no, I’m fine for now.” She shooed her hand gently his way, intentionally staring into his eyes the whole time, showing avid interest in everything he said. “You go right on ahead.”

Tim signaled at Cindy, the bar maiden, who acknowledged his order with a nod of her own. Cindy knew to take care of Tim.

He turned back to face Gretchen, smiling broadly and trying to keep his eyes locked on hers. He kept thinking that his own eyeballs betrayed him, that despite his best efforts to maintain vision control they were inexorably being drawn to study Gretchen’s hour-glass figure. Tim’s last intimate moment with a woman had been five years ago and though he had never considered Gretchen as attractive in that way, he had never seen her like this… looking so much like Sarah.

“They certainly know you around here,” Gretchen observed as Cindy came over to refill Tim’s glass. A bubble of silence formed as they waited for Cindy to finish pouring. Tim popped it as she walked away.

“Red is a friend of mine,” he winked as he drained half the glass and chased it with a swig of beer.

“Indeed. I never knew you liked to drink so much.”

A wave of melancholy washed over Tim. “Yeah, well, time has a way of changing things.”

Gretchen reached out a hand and softly touched Tim’s wrist. “Oh, Tim, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean…”

“No, no, it’s okay, Sarah” he assured as he stared at her fingers touching his skin.

“Pardon?”

“I miss you…” Tim looked up at her, a dazed expression clinging to his face. “I mean, it’s just that I miss Sarah and you look…”

“Oh, I didn’t mean…” Gretchen pulled back in mock surprise, placing her hands on the shelf of her bosom as her eyelashes fluttered.

“No, no,” Tim waved the concern off, “it isn’t you, Gretchen. You know, it just hits me sometimes.”

“Oh, me too.” Gretchen stretched out her hands toward his on the table, but stopped short of touching him again. “That’s actually why I came to see you.”

“It is?” Tim felt unsure where this was going. Inside, he embarrassingly admitted to the fantasy, but he also feared its presentation.

“Well, yes,” Gretchen pouted, wiggling her ass slightly in her chair. “We have so much in common. I mean, we share the same loss. There is this connection of pain between us. I have come to the conclusion that it has led to a horrible misunderstanding.”

Tim still remained unclear of Gretchen’s intentions, as well as his own resolve to resist them. She seemed like an entirely different person. She seemed so open, sensitive, and sexual… like Sarah used to be; not the shy, uptight, and frumpy person he had come to know of Sarah’s sister. The transformation unnerved and thrilled him, clouding his judgment. He finished off his glass and the remaining beer, hoping that the fresh infusion of alcohol would clarify his thoughts and feelings, as foolish as that sounds.

“Misunderstanding?” Tim signaled for Cindy again. Gretchen finished off her own glass, giving the impression that she needed some bracing as well.

“You know, the whole court case, me trying to get custody of the kids.” She looked away and down at the table, her eyes wide and her expression lost. Tim studied her as Cindy brought over fresh drinks. To Tim’s boozy vision, Gretchen appeared genuinely distressed. He felt sympathy for her as he realized that she was attempting an apology of sorts.

Tim took another slug of whiskey.

“Oh, Gretchen, there’s no hard feelings here,” he said, waving away any hard feelings that might be encroaching on their time together. “I mean, I think I understand your concerns.”

Gretchen looked back up at Tim with sincerity and candidness. “You know I love your children, Tim, almost as if they were my own. I admit, when Sarah found you and moved away, I was jealous. She was the social one, but she always took care of me as well. I know that sounds weird. I’m the big sister; I should’ve been the one looking out for her. But, the point is we were close. When she moved out, I didn’t know what to do. It’s my own fault, not taking any initiative with my life, hoping somehow that your marriage and family would filter down to include me. I know that sounds crazy.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Tim consoled, enthralled with her outpouring and this revelation. “In fact, it makes perfect sense. I wish we had been more sensitive to your situation.”

“Don’t be silly, Tim. You and Sarah were so good to me and I took advantage of that. Then, with the passing of mom and later dad, I kind of got lost. All I had was Sarah, you, and the kids. Then Sarah had that horrible accident. I felt something was wrong that night, I just didn’t know what. I tried to change your plans for going out. When Sarah died, I blamed myself… and I guess I turned my frustration and anger on you. I wanted something of Sarah in my life, I wanted your children.”

As Gretchen explained herself, Tim had ordered another round for himself. The excitement of interacting with Gretchen in a real and meaningful way counteracted the growing level of alcohol in his system, at least temporarily. He had lost track of how much he was drinking. Soon, however, it would catch up.

“Really, Gretchen, it’s all good on my end. Let’s let bygones be bygones. Stress affects us all differently. I understand.”

“I wanted to meet with you, to apologize for my behavior, to share this connection that we share in a positive way, and to show you that I am changing my life for the better.” She raised her wine glass in a toast. “Here is to new beginnings.”

Tim raised his whiskey and clinked it against her glass. “To new beginnings… and new friendships.”

Gretchen’s ruby lips turned up in a wry smile. She sipped her wine as she watched Tim drain his oversized shot glass. He set his glass down and sighed. The booze was starting to sink in. Gretchen observed the level of Tim’s intoxication, gauging it. To Tim, Gretchen’s expression appeared fetching, almost flirtatious. He allowed it to play in his head lazily as he smiled at her, eyes beginning to droop noticeably.

They talked into the evening for awhile, reminiscing about their lives and the kids. Gretchen watched as Tim got drunk and increasingly talked about himself while at the same time admiring her. She struggled to maintain composure, to continue this charade that she despised. She increasingly grew tired of Tim, his weakness for alcohol and his useless pontifications. Her wistful desire for him turned toxic and reverted to revulsion. She decided to pursue the purpose of her visit.

“You know what I like about you, Tim?”

“No, what?”

She waved off the thought, dismissing it. “Nah, it’s silly.”

Tim became intrigued, soaking up her attention. “No, really, c’mon, tell me.”

“Nah, just forget it.”

“Whoah now,” Tim feigned irritation, enjoying this newly unfolding game, “you brought the subject up. Tell me! ‘New friendships,’ remember?”

“You’ll laugh.”

“I will not! Or, wait, am I supposed to?”

Gretchen giggled, adding a little high pitched squeal at the end. Tim laughed in response.

“Well, now you’ve done it! Now I am laughing! Too late now!”

“You’re funny!” Gretchen splayed her fingers over her face, peeking out at him seductively. Tim was thoroughly engaged.

“Don’t avoid the subject. What is it that you like about me?”

“Okay. I like the way you sign your name.”

Tim had not expected that answer and found it sort of disappointing. “My signature?”

“Yeah! ‘Dad.’ And then you have all these little doodads and symbols adorning it.”

“My signature?” Tim tried to absorb it through the muddiness of his thoughts.

“Yeah! It’s really cute.”

“It is?”

“Sure! Hey, this is stupid so I’ll be fine if you decline, but can I see it again?”

Tim tried to keep up, grasping at the diversion while trying to hold on to the momentum of flirtation. He patted his shirt and pockets.

“Well, I don’t have it on me…”

“Oh,” Gretchen looked disappointed. Then she brightened up as if suddenly struck by a novel idea. She reached for her hand bag and unsnapped it, removing a folded sheet of paper and a pen. She looked up innocently as she pushed them his way slowly. “Would you?”

“Uh, I don’t know, Gretchen. I’m kinda woozy here.”

“Oh, c’mon, please? It’ll be fun watching you try to write it!”

“Yeah, I don’t know…”

Gretchen leaned in, propping up her chin on her hand as her elbow rested on the table. She batted her eyelashes. “C’mon, Tim, don’t balk. Please?”

“Well, alright,” Tim caved in, “but I don’t know if it’s going to turn out very good.”

“It’s okay, Tim,” She murmured, laying on the charm thickly, “it’s just a game. It’s just silliness.”

Tim wavered in his chair, trying to study her, to read her intent, but all he saw was his beautiful Sarah, even though it wasn’t her and he knew it in some deep mental recess. He knew he had imbibed too much too quick, but he still pretended that he maintained control of his faculties. And that fantasy that continued to play in his mind egged him on to comply with her wishes.

Tim bent over the table, fumbling with the pen and paper, but finally concentrating enough to begin drawing his signature. At first it was challenging, but then instinct took hold and his hand flowed naturally under the observation of his bleary eyes from beneath his leaden eyelids. Gretchen watched with pleasure and anticipation. Tim finished and then felt exhaustion. He leaned back and looked down upon his work.

“I guess it’s close enough for government work,” he commented, rubbing a hand over his face sloppily. “Brear.” His mind felt cluttered and his eyes burned. He really felt like going home and sleeping off his drunkenness.

Gretchen, still in character, grabbed the paper and held it up, admiring the handiwork. “Oh, I love it, Tim. So what do all these symbols really mean, Tim?”

“T-that’s a story for another day. I-I’m feeling kind of tired, Gretchen.” Tim bobbed to and fro, clearly fighting inebriation. He held one hand to his brow.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Tim. I guess we got a little silly tonight. Look, I haven’t had much to drink and my car is just outside. I could give you a lift… to your house; to Dooley Downs.”

“Y-you’d do that? Okay, I guess. But none of that other stuff, okay.”

“That other stuff,” Gretchen’s eyes darkened. “Of course not, just friends. I’m taking you home to Peter and Priscilla, back to Dooley Downs and your nice warm bed.”

“Okay,” Tim wavered, “but none of that other stuff.”

Gretchen glared at Tim with utter contempt, but Tim didn’t notice. His head lolled about on his rubberized neck. Gretchen imagined Tim clumsily groping her body, slobbering on her shoulder, at some feeble attempt to demonstrate that he was still a man… just like her daddy… and it repulsed her. That is when her expression relaxed, almost into empathy.

“C’mon, Tim,” she arose and approached his side, helping his sloppy attempts to get out of his chair. With her aid, they left the bar, almost unnoticed. Gretchen carefully led a stumbling, drunken Tim to her car and helped him into it.

But they didn’t go to Dooley Downs.

And Tim barely noticed.

By the time he did, they were at the base of Mirror Falls and he could barely comprehend what was happening as Gretchen led him into the frothy, churning pool and pushed him under. Confused and disoriented, Tim assisted more in drowning himself than did Gretchen.

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