It was five minutes after closing. Normally I’d be on my way home in ten but this is hockey night— adding about another thirty or more minutes to my time. My uncle, Thomas de Luca is the owner of the Pub that I volunteer in (between photo shoots and runway shows of course) and holds the local hockey tournaments at the pond in his backyard. It covers nearly three acres giving the players plenty of room to slap the stick around while the families gather at the opposite end of the pond to skate and drink Mrs. Hanigan’s famous homemade cocoa that she brings. After the game the players all hit the Pub afterwards which means the place is in shambles within an hour after their arrival.
I leaned the broom handle against the brass railing of the counter and looked around. Aside from the floorboards covered in peanut shells, all the wooden chairs are flipped and set atop the marred tables. The corner booth remained cluttered with bottles from the last customer which Lily had already begun to tackle.
“I told you to go home.” A light smile touched my escaped sigh as I took the tray from Lily.
“I don’t mind staying to help you clean up.”
I balanced the waiter’s tray on my palm and started collecting the last of the empty Coors. “Eagan asked me if you could be home by midnight and I told him that I would make sure of it. So, go.”
“Why does he want me home by midnight?”
I shrugged my shoulder. “If you ask me, he wants to spend more time with you.”
“That late?” Lily asked doubtfully as she made her way behind the bar to retrieve her beanie and galoshes.
It was moments like this that was just another reminder on how innocent Lily was. Which was one of the many attributes that I liked about her. Being that I was surrounded by nothing but male testosterone most of my life, seldom did my conversations contain anything but fighting, training, cars and women. There was no question as to why Lily’s husband, Eagan, wanted her home at a decent hour—they were trying to have a baby (which wasn’t going all that well for them) and with their clashing schedules, their time together was slim. Still, I didn’t have the heart to tell Lily what Eagan probably had in mind; I figured that I’d leave that surprise to Eagan. So, again, I shrugged my shoulder as if I hadn’t a clue.
“Are you sure you’re okay with me leaving?”
She pursed her lips. “Ok.” She disappeared in the coat closet in the back.
I cleaned another table and when I turned around I took one look at my BFF of seventeen years as she entered the room.
Lily was truly one of a kind. Fashion was never a priority; she merely saw it as a meaningless way to spend one’s time. She gave rage de la mode an all new catastrophic meaning. Beneath Lily’s tattered wool jacket, her wintergreen pullover stopped at mid-thigh. By the looks of Lily’s tightly wrapped scarf, I wouldn’t be surprised if she keeled over from asphyxiation. Her boy cut jeans were tucked into her old brown and yellow moon boots. And why Lily chose to cover her Shirley Temple locks was beyond me.
Still, no matter how many pieces of designer clothing that I bought for my five-one, hundred-and-thirty pound framed BFF, Lily refused to wear them.
“What?” Lily rolled her eyes.
“If the moon boots don’t speak for themselves, I don’t know what does.”
Lily swung her crocheted purse over her shoulder. “These are popular.”
“Yeah, like…forty years ago.” I laughed. Honestly, I couldn’t help it. “I can’t believe you even managed to find those. I thought that they would all be incinerated by now.”
“Make fun of me now, Jayden, but I can tell you that when the day comes and you ever get stuck on the side of the road somewhere you’ll look back and say…hmmm,” Lily tapped her chin in a sassy manner, “maybe, I should have dressed like Lily.”
“Hmmm...I doubt it.”
Lily pointed to my fur lined boots. “At least mine aren’t covered with the alphabet.”
“Ah, it’s a single letter and they’re Coach.” I winced.
Lily flashed a smile. “Whatever they are, they’re ugly.”
Leave it to Lily to not know what Coach was. “You think these are ugly and yours aren’t?” I laughed. I did receive a glare in turn. But I had to admit, it was worth it.
“I’m going to take you up on your offer and leave early.”
“Lily, wait.” I said, causing Lily’s hand to freeze just short of the handle. I didn’t need to see to know that Lily had closed her eyes briefly before letting her hand drop to her side before turning around.
“My answer hasn’t changed, Jayden. I’m not going with you next week to New York.”
I shrank back. I planted my hand on my hip and eyed my best friend. “How did you know I was going to ask you about that?”
“Because, you’ve been pestering me like an obnoxious bloodhound for the last three days now.”
“My answer hasn’t changed Jayden. I’m not going with you.”
“The photo shoot will take a few hours. After that, I can take you around and show you the city. Go shopping...”
“I promise you’ll have fun.”
“You take forever when you shop.”
Honestly, there was nothing that I could say to that. She was right. I did take forever.
“Can’t Brock go with you?”
“I don’t want to go with Brock. I want to go with you and have a girls night out. And besides, I’ve taken Brock. Several times actually.” My boyfriend, Brock, was born and raised as a farm hand in this town. His family owned the largest beef farm in the Inland Northwest. He is a man’s man through and through. So, when it comes to decision making on the matter of fashion, he’s just as much help as Lily. Besides, I had to twist his arm every time to go with me to the Big Apple. He did enjoy Tahiti though.
Lily let out a groan.
“Say, yes.” I urged.
“Trust me, you aren’t going to want me there.”
“Of course I want you there.”
“Jayden, I’m not going to be any help to you while you shop.”
“Trust me, I already know that.” I smiled, before adding, “But I want you there with me anyway.”
Lily stared at me with a frown. She was slowly caving in. I could see it. I had to tread carefully if I was going to get her to go with me.
There was a moment of silence. Clearly Lily was arguing with her eternal self on how to get out of going with me. But, if it took this long with only silence hanging between us surly she was struggling with finding reasons as to not to go. It was taking longer than I had expected but Lily finally gave a heavy sigh.
“Did my ears just deceive me? Because I’m sure, you just agreed to go.” Smiling at the hazel eyes glaring down at me, I held my breath and waited for the slump.
“Jaaaaay…” Lily drug out my name. And then she slumped her shoulders.
“You’ll have a blast I promise. You won’t regret it. Now, I have already made reservations for us to stay at a hotel and I’m taking you out to dinner.”
“They better not be anything fancy.”
“No, of course not.” I lied with a wave of my hand. Little did Lily know that I had an outfit waiting for her so we could have a night on the town.
“Jayden?” Lily warned.
“Yeah.” There was no need to cross my fingers behind my back because hair strands counted, right?
“Alright.” Lily’s voice came with a deep warning. Nothing that I hadn’t faced before.
Damn, I’m good. But I didn’t dare smile.
Lily reached for the door for the second time. Again I stopped her with a question. “Are we still going to Franks Diner for breakfast in the morning?”
“It is Friday. I’ll pick you up at eight as always.”
“Drive careful, the ice always—”
“Collects on the corner of Clairmont and eighth.” I finished.
“Smartass.” Snow whirled into the entry as Lily stepped out into the bluster of winter.
Though it probably was a wasted cause, I stared at the closed door and yelled. “Drive safe.”
I glanced around the bar once again. Drowning Pool played in the jukebox. I grabbed the damp towel off my tray and gave the table a quick wipe down, trying to ignore the peanut shells crunching beneath the soles of my boots. I pushed through the double-swinging doors and dropped the towel in the hamper and tossed the Coors bottles from my tray into the bin marked ‘recycling’. I collected the garbage and recycling and opened the back door. The bitter air touched my face and sent shivers shooting all throughout my body. Honestly, I don’t care for cold weather. And if I could have my choice I’d have the snow without the bitterness it brings along with it. I step out into the blustery weather, my hair spewing every which way.
Tossing the bags into the appropriate bins I turned away to go inside when a sudden wave of fear passed through me. Immediately, I was under the thumbnail of vulnerability. As if someone was watching me from a distance. I stood stiff and listened. The wind picked up, whirling and howling in the direction of the woods that were not but thirty feet away. Still I listened. A crunch in the snow sounded out from behind me. By the dullness of it, it could have been a heavy load of snow given way from a tree branch. But no matter how hard I tried to convince herself, I knew it to be unlikely.
“Hello?” Squinting, I tried to see through the dime-size snowflakes in all directions. But saw nothing, heard nothing more. Suddenly the hair on the back of my neck started tingling.
“Lily is that you?” There was no answer. “Very funny Lily.”
My heart began palpitating.
“Oh, this is ridiculous. Everybody knows everybody in this small hole-in-the-wall town. It’s not like anything exciting ever happens here.” I said under my breath. Though it’s true, I wasn’t sure if I said it to make myself at ease and if I had—it hadn’t worked. I walked around the side of the building. Other than my ’77 Land Cruiser covered in snow, the parking lot was vacant. Lily’s tire tracks had already partially covered.
The flash of movement caught my eye and I whipped around. There was no sign of the dark figure that I was sure I had seen.
“Alright, you got me.”
Come on Lily, knock it off. You know I hate freak-ass movies. Jason in particular. Childish?
Probably. But the mask thing just freaks me out.
“Screw this.” I muttered, carefully stepping in my tracks that were now beginning to disappear. Hastily I locked the door behind me. I pushed my way through the set of swinging doors that led to the bar and came to a halt. The front door lay wide open, the floor of the threshold was covered in snow.
“Get over it already Jay…the wind just blew it open.” I stepped forward with caution. It didn’t help matters that the current song just ended leaving the tavern in complete silence. Luckily, the jukebox automatically switched to the next song in line.
“Nice.” I whispered, as Van Halen came on.
Biting my bottom lip, I dipped down, giving a quick scan beneath the tables as if a hand was going to reach out and grab my ankle as I passed. It came as no surprise that they were all empty. The nudge on the back of my calf made me nearly jump out of my skin.
“Cheese and rice,” rising to my full height of five-ten, I whipped around and looked at the black ball of fur. I closed my eyes with heavy relief. And tried to stop my rapid heartbeat. pressed the back of my hand to my forehead. “Cue Ball, you scared me.” I said shakily. Taking a deep breath and I tucked my hair behind my ear. “So you were the one who pushed the door open, eh?” The cat was damp from the blizzard but I picked it up all the same. Giving it scratch beneath the collar, I moved to the door.
“Ah, ah, ah, not my shirt.” I lowered my arm, carefully removing its nails one by one as the cat kneaded at my Celine cashmere sleeve. I gripped the tarnished brass handle and began to shut the door. A heavy hand landing on the other side of it stopped me. Startled, I let go of the handle and stumbled back.
“Damn it Lily!” The irritation in my voice was evident.
I placed my hand on my stomach and caught my breath. “You scared the daylights out of me.”
I was more than ready to let her have it when the door was slowly pushed open. But it wasn’t Lily that I had expected to see. It was a man. A man dressed in all black. A man who had his identity concealed behind a black mask and dark wrap around shades. The snow that covered him was slowly melting.
I couldn’t breathe, let alone scream.
My body froze.
I didn’t see it coming. In the blink of an eye, he reached out and grabbed me by the biceps. His fingers painfully digging into my skin. I shrieked out, sending the cat into a frenzy, raking its nails down my forearms in the process.
The man grunted as if he was in sudden pain and I wasn’t sure as to why. Nor did I focus on it. I didn’t care. I needed to get free from his grasp. When his grip on my arms loosened I twisted from his hold and ran as fast as I could away from him. I heard the front door slam behind me. His long strides sounded like drums as they closed in. Remembering my uncle stashing a baseball bat behind the bar, I went for it. The heavy shove between my shoulder blades made me lose my footing. Splinters scraped into the palms of my hands as I tried to brace my fall.
“No!” I scrambled to my feet and reached for the bat. My aching fingers were just inches away. But when his hand threaded through my hair, yanking me back, I had no choice but to claw at his gloved hand. His grip was nearly ripping the roots of my hair free from my scalp. Feeling his arm slither around my waist, I tried to disentangle myself as I was drug backwards through the swinging doors of the kitchen. No matter how much I twisted and squirmed and fought, I couldn’t get away.
“No!” I screamed. Stopping my attempt to free his grip of my hair, I reached further back until I found the cotton mask that he hid behind. I clawed at his mask as best I could and when I heard his low grunt, he let go of my hair. With both arms snaking around me, he whipped me around and seeing the counter in front of me, I kicked up and planted my feet on the edge and pushed off as hard as my legs would let me. He stumbled back into the refrigerator, taking me with him. He flung me to the side and before I knew it we were falling. No longer feeling his poisoned arms around me, I rolled to the side so I could gain my feet only to have him wrap his hand around my left ankle, sending me to my knees. I turned to kick at him but once he caught my right ankle as well. I barely saw his fist flying towards me but the pain it caused was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Pain shot through the side of my face and began to numb. When his hands came around my throat I gasped as his fingers.
“Help!” I knew that no one could hear me, I could scarcely hear myself. But that didn’t stop me.
My eyes glossed over, clouding my vision.
Come on Jay…
Adrenaline rushed through my veins, wave after wave.
I had to get away.
This couldn’t happen.
His hand left my throat and I could barely hear his grunts over my own coughing as I fought him. But his hands moved quickly to my arms and no matter how hard I tried to get free of his hold, my strength was no comparison to his as he pinned my wrists to the floor above my head.
I tried to buck him off. My hundred and twenty pound build was nothing compared to his.
My screams were no longer pitched but muffled and strained. But that didn’t stop me from trying to cry out. “Please.” I cried. “Please. No.”
I hadn’t realized that he had maneuvered both my wrists to one hand until cold metal pressed against the side of her neck. And I knew that this was my final warning.
My body shook. Harder than it ever had.
And as he went for the fastening of my jeans I heard the front door open. My attacker paused, indicating he had heard it too. His head whipped to the closed swinging door of the kitchen. His hold of me tightened. The blade pressed deeper into my skin.
“Hey, Jayden. Where are ya?” At the sound of my brother’s voice, I called out no matter how bad my vocal cords hurt me. “Knox.”
A feeling of hope washed through me at the sound of my brother’s quickened steps. My attacker then shoved off me; a sudden jolt of pain sliced my neck before he raced out the back door. I pressed my hand to my neck and pulled it back. I saw my blood covered hand. Everything around me was beginning to fade. I tried to fight against the darkness that was swallowing me whole. My body suddenly went cold like the bitterness of winter as the warmth of my blood ran down my neck.
Just then, Knox entered the kitchen. And before everything went dark I thought— things like this don’t happen in the town of Deer Park.
* * *
If only she hadn’t fought me. His inner voice, Beak, seethed as he stared at the claw marks running down the length of his neck. The blood had dried. His hands shook from the animosity that filled his very core.
“Did you think she wouldn’t? This brands you the monster that you are.” He proclaimed to Beak that revolted against his moral standing.
’You know nothing.’
Beak had tuned in on his fifteenth Birthday and had scolded him on his very own prideful deeds that lured him in like a worm on a hook. For the last ten years, he has been harassed by this feeble voice that never seemed to cease. He was constantly contradicting all that he took pleasure in. If only he would disappear for good. But that was just wishful thinking.
“In time she’ll find out what you’ve done.”
“You can’t stay in hiding forever. Soon people will find out.”
I’ve made it this long...
Taking a deep breath, he let his head drop back. His eyes landed on his water damaged ceiling. His plan had been perfect. Everything was falling into place, just as he had expected, that is until her brother had strolled through the front door. Damn her brother...Knox was always getting in the way. He may have been able to overpower Jayden, but he was no match for Knox de Luca. Though Jayden’s screams were muffled, it was only a matter of time before Knox came into the kitchen—leaving Beak no other alternative than to escape out the back door.
“You won’t get away with this.”
Yes...I will. In time she will be mine.
“Go Away.” He groaned out. Closing his eyes, he let his breath out in a rush and threw his head forward, the sudden jolt making the miscellaneous items rattle behind the cabinet mirror. Luckily it hadn’t broken. It wasn’t hard enough. Pressing his forehead against the glass, he waited for the voice to self-terminate. Sometimes Beak left as swiftly as he came and other times, he lingered around like a stray animal.
He stepped back and opened the mirrored cabinet. He ground his teeth as his medicine and toiletries rolled out and landed in his sink.
“Shit.” Giving a disgruntled frown, he reached in, grabbed his Peroxide and removed the lid. Placing his hand over the sink, he poured the clear liquid over the inflamed wound. Immediately it sizzled. The jar of pain made him hiss. His muscles became rigid. He leaned forward, held the brown bottle over his neck once again and clenched his jaw.
Beak had finally tuned out.