Sea of Stars - Coming 6.4.19

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Blurb:
Everything I have ever known is a lie. And I’m not saying that in a dramatic teenager way. I mean that my parents lied to me my whole childhood. My friends lied. The love of my life lied. 

They hid what I truly am, apparently for my own safety. But now that I know I’m the last of my race to be born with the gift of sight? I’m not so sure it’s a gift at all. And I’m not sure they were trying to keep me safe either. 

I think they feared me. Feared what I’d one day become. Because I can’t control the symbols appearing on my skin. I don’t know what any of them mean. All I know is that I’m running of time.

No, it’s no gift. I’m pretty sure I’m cursed.

Sweet Like a Psycho - Ch. 2

Chapter 2

Tucker

Cops and firefighters were already swarming the scene, ruining any chance we had at gathering untainted evidence. Not that I was expecting any evidence. It was probably a gas leak. Tragic, but just an accident. Case closed.

I pulled up to a house on the opposite side of the street and put my unmarked Dodge Charger in park. There wasn’t anything to be done except wait until the fire was under control. I was drawing close to the end of a twelve-hour shift, and this mess would be better handed off to someone who wasn’t dead on his feet. Or the cops could just handle it. There was no point in sitting here counting down the minutes.

“Think the captain will care if we leave it to the night shift?” I asked and turned to my partner.

“She was the one that requested we get our asses over here,” Damien said. “So I’m guessing yes.”

Fair enough. I drummed my thumbs on the wheel. It took me a minute to realize that the song stuck in my head had played the first night I had met Julie. I remembered dipping her in my arms and her smile making it impossible to stare at anyone but her. I used to be able to look forward to going home to a warm bed after a long shift. Until I realized that I wasn’t the only one she’d been sharing our bed with. My hands tightened on the wheel.

“You have to stop thinking about Julie,” Damien said.

“I wasn’t.”

“You were.” He put his feet up on the dash. “She sure as hell isn’t thinking about you, though, so why are you wasting your time?”

I ignored him.

“When was the last time you got laid?”

“Recently enough.” It was a lie. It had been four months since I broke it off with Julie. And I hadn’t found anyone else I was interested in. I didn’t have time to date anyway.

“You’ve been hard to work with ever since the two of you split.”

“You’ve been hard to work with ever since we got paired up.”

Damien put his hands over his heart. “That hurts, man.” But then he immediately smiled. “Not that I believe it for a second. I’m the best thing that ever happened to you.”

I shook my head. “It’s questionable that you think another man in your life is the best thing that ever happened to you.”

“You’re switching my words around. I said that I was the best thing that ever happened to you.”

“Yeah right.”

“Let’s hit the bar after this. Get you out of your slump.”

“I’m not in a slump.”

“So you have gotten laid since your split?”

It wasn’t worth the time lying to him. We could both sense a liar a mile away. It was part of the training.

“Tucker.” He drew out my name in a weird seductive way. And I was worried that he was right. If I thought him saying my name was seductive, I was most definitely in a slump.

“Four months isn’t that long,” I said instead of giving in. I was too tired to have this conversation with him right now.

“Um…yes. Yes, it is. As soon as we get the all clear from the goddess, we’re going out.”

I wasn’t sure whether to focus on the fact that he had just called our captain the goddess or the fact that I was 100 percent not going to a bar with him tonight. If I was in denial about my lack of a sex life, he was certainly in denial of his chances with the boss. But before I could respond, his phone bleeped in this hand.

“Speak of the sexy devil. I’ll put on my charm and plead our case to get out early. Don’t see any reason for us to be here when the officers clearly have it covered. You know she can’t resist me. Torres speaking,” he said as he opened the door and stepped out into the cool night. He slammed the door, leaving me alone in the car.

I let go of the wheel and sighed. Damien was right. I needed to move on. But this town didn’t exactly have a high population of bachelorettes. It was filled with suburban housewives like the women who resided in this neighborhood. I stared out the window at the fire. Two covered gurneys were being ushered away from the flames. Shit.

I was hoping for an easy case. That was impossible now. It would be elevated to a homicide investigation. I was about to open up the door to get filled in by the local cops when the printer beside me whirred to life.

I lifted up the first page. It was a file about Benjamin Harlow. I scanned the page. Not a civilian. He was a detective like me. There were only three reasons his file would be coming out of the printer. Either he was a suspect, he was dead, or he was injured. Detectives didn't tend to do much arson, and based on those gurneys and half of the house literally being blown to bits, I was worried that he wasn't just injured.

Suddenly I wasn't tired anymore. Not only had this arsonist blown up a house, but they'd possibly killed a detective. That meant this case was a top priority. Which meant solving it would help get the captain off my back about my recent uh...less than stellar job performance.

I grabbed the paper and stepped out into the cool night.

Damien was still talking on the phone. I ducked under the caution tape and flashed my badge at the nearest cop. “Any idea what happened here?”

“Arsonist. Took out two of our own.” He shook his head.

Two? Damn. I'd go from narrowly avoiding suspension to being the hero of the department if I solved this one. “You sure it was arson?” I thought he might have a few guesses, but he seemed pretty sure.

“Don’t you smell that, detective?”

I took a deep breath. Despite the smell of smoke, there was one more pungent scent in the air. “Kerosene?”

“The house was doused in it. A trip-wire was attached to the front door. We didn’t stand a chance.”

I wasn’t expecting him to say that. I thought they had arrived on the scene after the explosion. “Cops were here before the explosion?”

“Yeah, we were called in as backup to an ongoing investigation.”

“What ongoing investigation?”

The cop laughed. "It's above my pay grade. Guess it's above yours too.” He turned his head. “Ma’am, you have to stay on the other side of the tape.”

There was an older woman in a housecoat wrestling with the yellow caution tape. She ignored his request. He put his hand on his gun and started to walk towards her, but I put my arm out to stop him.

"I got this," I said.

He laughed again. "You don't have the case file and now you're helping with crowd control? No wonder more cases don't get solved around here."

I ignored him. Damien would fill me in on all the details when he was done flirting with the captain, but for now, I figured I might get some valuable intel from the neighborhood gossip. Or I'd end up driving an Alzheimer's patient back to their house. It could go either way.

"Ma'am, you really can't come any closer. This is an active crime scene. And that house could blow again any second."

The woman proceeded to stomp on the tape dividing us. “But I know who did it. I knew that woman wasn’t quite right in the head. I knew it. I told everyone so. I have a great eye for this sorta thing.”

"I want to hear all about her, but first we need to move to a safer location." I guided her over to my car.

“I think her husband was beating her. She must have finally snapped and blown the place up.”

“What woman blew the place up?” I asked.

“The one who lived here.”

Lived. In the past tense. It would be fitting if the woman responsible was killed in her own death trap. “What did you say your name was?” I asked.

“Sally. Sally Bennett. I know everything that goes on in this neighborhood. And she was having an affair with her gardener. Who just so happens to live right down the street.”

“And how is it that you know all this, Ms. Bennett?”

“Mrs. Bennett.” She held her head up a little higher. “People like to tell me things.”

“The woman who lived here told you she was having an affair?”

“No, but it was so obvious. She and Ben were always together. It was as clear as day. Don’t know how her husband didn’t know. Or maybe he did. Oh! Maybe he was the one who set off the explosion!" She seemed so excited by the prospect of such juicy gossip.

 “What did you say this woman’s name was?”

“Aren’t you supposed to know that? By the way, I'd be happy to identify the body...bodies?”

I bet you would. She was totally fishing for information. “Yeah…I…” I looked down at the papers.

“Adeline Bell is her name. Oh and that right there is her gardener.” She pointed to the paper in my hand.

“Benjamin Harlow?” I lifted up the picture of the detective.

She shook her head. “You have the last name wrong. His name is Ben Jones. Such a gentleman. But yes, that’s definitely him. My God. Did he have a secret family? He did, didn't he? It's always the ones you least suspect.” She shook her head.

I rubbed my eyes. It would have been hard to pick out the truth from this woman's gossip when I was fresh. It was nearly impossible after a twelve-hour shift. By the morning she would probably have everyone in the neighborhood believing that Mr. Bell had blown up his cheating wife and that Ben Jones was a polygamist. “What did Adeline look like?”

“Long blonde hair. She was quite beautiful. If you ask me, she could have been a model in her prime.”

“And you think she died in the explosion? You said that she lived here. Not lives.”

“Oh, no. I just meant I doubt she’ll be coming back anytime soon. I wouldn’t come back if I was her. And there isn’t much to come back to." She gestured towards the still-burning shell of a house. "Her house is basically dust. And she took off so fast…”

“Wait, you saw her?”

“I’ve been trying to tell the cops, but they haven’t been listening. She took off in the woods a few minutes ago. Saw her with my own eyes.” She pointed towards the woods.

I glanced over at Damien still flirting on the phone. And all the cops were just standing around. I could easily catch up to the culprit if she only had a few minutes head start. This was my big chance. “Thanks for the tip, Sally.”

“Any time, officer.”

I didn’t have time to correct her. I was a detective. Not a beat cop. And I was about to prove it to her and Officer Prick. I folded up the picture of Ben Harlow or Ben Jones or whoever he was and shoved it into my pocket. The guilty woman would crack over a picture of her dead lover. Not that there were going to be many beautiful blondes who smelled like kerosene out in the woods on a cold night like tonight. I shoved the rest of the printouts into Damien’s hand as I ran past him.

“Where are you going?!” he yelled from behind me.

I ignored him as I ran toward where Sally had pointed. It didn't take long to find the trail. It had rained earlier, and there were clear shoeprints in the muddy, crunchy leaves. I turned my phone's flashlight on and ran into the woods.

 

***

 

Gotcha. The house was clearly abandoned. Paint was chipping off every visible service. There were dozens of cracked boards on the porch. It was practically as dilapidated as the house that was on fire. Yet, the lights were on in one of the rooms upstairs. And I could see the silhouette of someone walking around inside.

The trail from the crime scene had led straight here. It was like she was begging to get caught. In a lot of ways that aligned with what Sally had said. This woman could be lovesick. Dying to be caught after her regrettable decisions killed the man she was having an affair with. I looked over my shoulder and noticed how good the vantage point of this house was. It was located on top of a hill that looked down on the woods surrounding it. But it also gave a damn good view of the neighborhood where the fire was still being fought.

I paused by the rundown pickup truck and pulled out my gun. Maybe this situation wasn’t so black and white. It felt sinister up here. A chill ran down my spine and I tried to ignore the feeling. I was tired. I needed to wrap this up so that I could go home. To my cold bed. Get a grip.

I lifted my gun and tried to quietly walk up the decrepit porch steps. Each creak echoed in the quiet night. I should have told Damien to have my back. As far as I knew, he was still on the phone with the captain, though. I was out here all alone. All my backup down the hill was at least ten minutes away. I should have called in a bomb squad. But then they'd get all the credit. If I got blown up...well, the odds of that were pretty small. She wouldn't have trip-wired two houses. Right?

Before I could lose my nerve, I banged on the door. "Police! Open up!"

No answer.

Of course. The arsonist wasn't just going to invite me into her lair. I lowered my gun and was about to kick down the door when it squeaked open.

A woman stood there with her gaze trained on the ground as she pulled the silk sash closed around her robe.

“I’m Detective Reed,” I said, keeping both hands on my gun instead of offering a handshake.

She didn’t respond. Instead, the silence stretched between us as she tied the sash three times. Not that the sash being tight hid a damn thing. Her thin, silk robe didn’t leave much to the imagination. My eyes snapped back up to her face.

She was staring at me staring at her. And even though the accusing expression on her face should have made me look away, I just couldn’t. She was indeed beautiful. High cheekbones, full kissable lips, a perfect pale complexion with rosy cheeks. But her hair was brown, not blonde. And I felt myself breathe a sigh of relief.

“Can I help you?” she asked. I thought her voice would be filled with indignation based on how she was staring at me. But it wasn’t at all. She sounded timid. Scared.

I realized I was probably terrifying her. I slid my gun back in its holster. “What are you doing out here?” In the middle of the woods? In a robe?

“I live here.”

I wanted to laugh. But it didn’t look like she was joking. And she was…wet. Her damp hair was piled on top of her head in a messy bun. And there were splotches on her robe like she had thrown it on instead of taking the time to dry off properly after a shower. A very recent shower. Here in this house. She really lived here? “You live out here in the middle of the woods?”

“In a house. Why is that so strange?” She stared at me.

“It’s literally falling apart.” I tapped one of the broken floorboards with my heel. “This must violate all sorts of codes.”

She stood up a little straighter. “I’ve been fixing it up. I’m not breaking any codes.” But she didn’t sound very sure of herself.

If this was fixed up I didn’t want to think about what it had looked like before she got her hands on it. Or maybe she was just the worst house flipper on the planet.

“Is there something I can help you with, Detective Reed?” She put her hand on the doorknob. “If you don’t mind, it’s getting rather late and I…”

It was pretty clear she was trying to get rid of me. “I have a few questions for you.”

“For me?” She didn’t look surprised. She looked like she was expecting it. Only a guilty person expected questioning.

I cleared my throat as I pulled the paper out of my pocket. “Do you know this man?” I unfolded it and held it up for her.

She leaned forward slightly to get a better look. “No, I’ve never seen him.”

“Are you sure?” She didn’t look back at the page. Instead, her gaze met mine.

“Positive. I’ve never seen him in my life.”

“Maybe you know him as Ben Jones?”

“I don’t know him at all.”

“What about the name Adeline Bell?”

“Doesn’t ring any bells.” She laughed awkwardly at her own joke for just a second and then pressed her lips back together. “I don’t know anyone by that name.”

I folded the paper back up and slipped it into my pocket. Either she wasn’t sorry at all about his death or she really didn’t know him. But I couldn’t read her at all. And usually I could read strangers like the back of my hand. “Have you seen any suspicious activity outside tonight?”

“There was an explosion in the neighborhood down the hill. Windy Park. You should look into that instead of tramping around my property.”

“That is what I’m looking into.”

She stared at me. “And you’re here because…”

“A trail from the house on fire led me right to you.”

“Do you go following every path you see? There's a sidewalk out front of that house that blew up. Why not follow that around the neighborhood?”

“So you didn’t see anyone outside your house? A blonde woman perhaps?”

“Nope.”

It was a lie. There was only one reason to lie. She was somehow involved in all this. I looked back up at her wet hair. Was it wet with water, or wet with dye? It was the only thing that didn’t fit Sally’s description.

“You’re sure?” I asked. “No one? Nothing unusual at all?”

“Nope. Absolutely nothing.”

Absolutely a lie. “Would you mind letting me take a look around…”

Her hand shot to the doorjamb, blocking any view I had inside of her home. “Yes, I mind. This is private property.”

Damn. I really wished cop shows didn't make it so clear that people can refuse to let law enforcement in. “Fair enough,” I said. For just a moment my eyes traveled down her body again. I silently cursed. Maybe Damien was right. I needed to get laid so that I’d stop ogling murder suspects.

She cleared her throat.

I snapped my attention back to her face. “You really shouldn’t live out here all alone.” I couldn’t help it. No one that looked the way she did should be alone period. And now a murder suspect was loose in these words. Or maybe she was the suspect.

“I never said that I was alone,” she said. It should have sounded harsh, but her voice was timid again. Like there was something more hidden in her words.

But it didn’t matter what she meant. It was clear she wasn't going to give me any more information. “I’m sorry to have bothered you. If you hear or see anything, though, let me know.” I handed her one of my business cards.

She took it from me, grabbing it with the tip of her index finger and thumb like she was worried our hands might touch.

“And be careful out here, Mrs…” I waited for her to give me her last name but she didn’t. Instead she slammed the door in my face.

END OF CHAPTER 2

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Sweet Like a Psycho - Ch. 1

Chapter 1

Violet

Everyone has secrets. It was a phrase my mother used to say. The words echoed in the wind around me, a ghost from my past whispering in my ear. I tightened my scarf to help block the cold. Again. And again. Until the fringe hung evenly on the front of my coat. I breathed a sigh of relief even though the wind still rushed past my ears.

The rain from earlier tonight should have left the ground slippery, but the dense canopy of trees in the woods had preserved the freshly fallen leaves’ texture. And I was thankful that it had. My feet crunching through the brown leaves helped to drown out the sound of the wind.

It was growing colder every night. Soon the woods would be covered in a blanket of peaceful snow. And with the snow would come silence. There was nothing better than silence.

I wound through the trees, ducking beneath broken limbs as I descended the hill from my house. It had been a long time since I walked to the lake. My usual trail was hard to make out. The path my feet had made over the years was nearly covered in fresh foliage and buried under a layer of autumn leaves. I preferred staying in my house. Indoors, to be more specific. There was too much noise out here. And too much uncertainty. There was really no reason to come out when I had such a beautiful view of the lake from the comfort of my own home. But I had been itching to see it in person again.

Before the woods could block my view at the base of the hill, I glanced to the right to see the row of cookie-cutter houses in the distance. My family had lived in one of those houses. A perfect house. In the perfect neighborhood. A perfect little life. At least, that’s how it looked from the outside. You could never truly be sure. After all, everyone has secrets.

I grimaced at the phrase and adjusted my scarf higher this time in order to cover my ears. Once. Twice. Three times, until it lay perfectly even again.

It was only another minute until I reached the edge of the lake. It was beautiful. And deserted. And freezing. I resisted the urge to adjust my scarf again. Instead, I pictured my mother kneeling beside the water. Sometimes I wondered if it was really a memory or just a figment of my imagination. Because in all honesty, it was one of the only vivid memories I had of my mother from when I was a child. She had knelt down to look me in the eyes, holding my face and wiping away the tear stains.

“One white lie never hurt anyone,” my mother had said. “Everyone has secrets. But a big lie?” She lifted her ruined silk blouse that I had butchered to make a dress for my Barbie. “You do not lie about big things. Big lies have big consequences.”

The gentle touch of her hand on my face had become sharper, her fingertips biting into my skin.

I had wanted to confess. I had wanted to tell her I was sorry. But for some reason, the words hadn’t wanted to escape. And I couldn’t nod my head because she was holding my chin so tightly in her hand.

“Consequences, Violet. There are consequences to big lies.”

I remembered her pushing my head under the cold water for so long that I breathed in a lungful of it. I could still hear my stepfather’s laughter in my head. He had watched it all unfolding and didn't care one bit that my mother was trying to drown me.

I blinked and the image of her disappeared. One of my only living, breathing memories of my mother. It was bittersweet. There had been such a tender moment there. But I wasn’t sure it outweighed the feeling of fire in my lungs when I couldn’t breathe. I still missed her desperately, even though I shouldn’t have. I stared out at the still water of the lake. I most certainly shouldn’t have.

But it was better to hold on to the sweetness of a moment. It was better to remember the good things instead of the bad. I knew that better than anyone. I had lost my mother when she was far too young. A short life was one of the hardest things to cope with. It made you forgive any wrongs. Or maybe it just made you crave even the bad memories because you just missed the person so damn much.

I felt a tear run down my cheek. And I was very aware of the fact that there was no one to wipe it away now. I drew closer to the lake and stared down at my reflection. I wasn’t a little girl anymore. I was well into my mid-twenties, yet I still cried at the lake like a child. I still escaped here when I needed a moment to myself. Everything had changed, yet nothing at all.

The silence suddenly felt overwhelming. Maybe a part of me still craved being in one of those stupid perfect houses in that stupid perfect neighborhood. I wanted the façade even if it wasn’t real. I didn’t want to hurt this much.

A loud boom echoed through the trees, sending birds fleeing to the sky. Through the layers of my scarf it sounded like a gunshot. Every now and then a crazy person would hunt in these woods even though it was against the law. Another shot went off and I flung myself to the ground. Only I was on the edge of the lake...so instead of solid ground, I plunged into the water with a splash that sounded almost as loud as the gunshot in my ears.

 For a moment it felt like my head was being held underneath the surface. Like my mother's hand was gripping my hair so tightly it hurt. But then it felt a lot more like I was being pulled into the cold depths from below. Something heavy and sinister clutched to my ankle. Pulling me lower and lower. I reached for the surface as I continued to sink.

It was the layers pulling me deeper. I knew how to swim, it was just impossible with these heavy clothes. I wrestled with my scarf that was much too tight after all my adjustments. And I unzipped and pushed my coat off my shoulders.

This time when I kicked my legs, I easily rose to the surface. I gasped for air as I hauled myself up onto solid ground. On my hands and knees, I choked and sputtered up water.

I finally breathed out only air and saw my exhale in a puff of smoke. It was cold, but it wasn’t that cold. I lifted my head and squinted my eyes. A soft orange glow was on the horizon in the distance. Fire. I was still trying to catch my breath, but the enormity of the situation made it harder to fill my lungs. Shit. It felt like my heart was beating out of my chest.

I pushed myself up onto my feet and ran back toward my house, to the hill that overlooked the perfect little neighborhood below. It didn’t look so perfect anymore. One of the houses was completely engulfed in flames. Or what was left of it. There was barely any house there. It was just rubble ablaze. The boom hadn’t been from a gun. That house must have exploded.

I could already hear sirens in the distance. They’d take care of the flames. They’d make sure they didn’t spread into the trees. They wouldn’t let them reach me.

But nothing I thought eased my rapid heartbeat. My mother’s words still echoed in my head. Everyone has secrets. The problem was, I had three of them. And I lived out here for a reason. I shook my head. One white lie never hurt anyone. And as far as I was concerned, neither did three. I reached for my scarf to adjust it, but my hand came up short.

I looked back at the lake. I had a dozen other scarves, but that was my only winter jacket. For a moment I was frozen. It wasn’t just because I was freezing cold. It was because I didn’t know what to do. Run back down the hill to help? That house would be swarming with people in just a minute. Jump back into the water and find my jacket? It was too cold. But it wasn’t the temperature of the water that was preventing that option. I didn’t want to feel like I was drowning again.

A chill ran down my spine. And it wasn’t from the cool wind against my wet clothes. Or even from the horrific scene in front of me.

I started walking farther up the hill. My mind was having trouble calming down, but it was like my body knew what to do. I had to get home. Houses didn’t just explode out of nowhere. Well, maybe sometimes they did. A gas leak or some other easy explanation. But sometimes a person caused the leak. Human error. Or worse. There’d be an investigation. Cops would swarm the woods searching for the culprit. I was the only person that lived out here. And I did not want them invading my privacy. I had too much to lose.

My whole body was shaking by the time I reached my house. I wanted to believe it was because of my soaked clothes and the cold wind. But I knew it wasn't. I felt like I was running out of precious time.

The chipped white paint on my wrap-around porch was already illuminated with the red and blue of distant sirens. The cops would be here soon. I opened and closed the front door as quietly as possible, but the creak of the rusty hinges marred the silence.

I tried to take a slow, steadying breath so I could concentrate on everything I needed to do. Wet clothes. I touched my soaked sweater. Changing wasn’t an important task, but I couldn’t stop shaking. Maybe it would help. I pulled the thick layers off, jumping on one foot then the next as I removed my jeans. I tiptoed upstairs to my bedroom with the pile of wet clothes in my hands. Each creaky stair made me cringe. No matter how much work I put into this house, it still seemed to be falling apart.

I discarded my wet clothes on the bathroom floor and grabbed my robe. After I took care of everything, I could take a nice hot shower and try to rid the image of the cool lake from my mind. And hang up the clothes. But my feet wouldn’t move. I just stared down at the pile of clothes on my spotless tiled floor. Ignore the wet clothes! I backed out of the bathroom. And then went back in. Backed out. Then in. Then out. Then in. Three times. Damn it! I ran out of the bathroom and grabbed some hangers from my closet. Stupid wet clothes. I carefully hung up the soaked garments on the shower curtain bar above the tub. And then evenly spaced them out. It was absolute perfection. It was also an absolute waste of valuable time.

My mind was racing. How long had I spent doing that? Five minutes tops? They’d still be taking care of the fire. I grabbed my binoculars from the vanity, pulled one of the horizontal blinds down, and peered out the window. There was no sign of the fire spreading into the woods. Just its glow in the distance and the red and blue lights in the sky.

And…and a person. I blinked. There was a woman running through the woods. More specifically, running up my hill in the middle of the woods. The woman glanced over her shoulder at the fire and then picked up her pace. She ran right past my pickup truck and into the cover of the trees again.

I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that the lunatic running through the woods was the culprit of the explosion. Which made my deepest fears a reality. The cops would follow her. They’d follow her all the way up here, directly toward me. I glared daggers at the spot where the woman had disappeared through the trees. She’d just led the cops straight to my doorstep.

I put the binoculars down next to the other identical two and tried to focus again. It had taken me a few minutes to run back home. A few minutes to hang up my wet clothes. I pulled my hair into a bun on the top of my head as I paced around the bathroom. There was still time. The cops wouldn’t necessarily know that she had run into the woods. It was dark now. It would be hard for them to find her trail even in the light since the ground was covered in fall leaves. They wouldn’t know she had basically run up to my house. I’d be fine.

My pep talk didn’t calm me down. At all. Especially since it ignored the fact that someone may have seen the woman run into the woods. Nosy neighbors could probably point the cops in the right direction. My direction. And I knew for a fact that the Windy Park community was full of nosy neighbors. I heard their whispers. I knew what they said about me.

I ran out of the bathroom and crouched down at the foot of my bed. My fingers dug into the side of the loose board as I pried it up. Just like it had been a long time since I had been to the lake, it had been a long time since I had lifted up this loose board as well. Things were good. I was good. I hadn’t let my memories bother me in a long time. But here I was. Staring down at every incriminating thing I owned. Well, not necessarily incriminating. Just…suspicious. Suspicious to stupid cops who heard stupid gossip from stupid neighbors.

The ironic thing was that I had planned to go through all of this tonight anyway. I let myself remember once a year. I used to always do it on the anniversary of when my heart was shattered into a million tiny pieces. But it had gotten pushed back every year, had changed seasons a few times even. Sometimes it was just a little too hard to remember. Maybe six years was the amount of time that would finally allow me to find peace.

I picked up the shoebox and tossed the lid off. Inside were just a bunch of short letters from my boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend. How unusual was it to keep notes from an ex? I didn’t really know. I had no one to ask. But it felt unusual that I hadn’t dated anyone since he had skipped town. Six years. Six years I had waited for him to come back. That wasn’t exactly bad, just pathetic. I looked down at the letters. In a lot of ways, this box held my most valuable possessions. It was like I had packaged up my heart in this box and closed the lid on it. I could practically feel my heartbeat in my fingertips as I held the box in my hands.

Why was I hung up on him anyway? He was a complete asshole. He had just left in the middle of the night. He left me. He was the reason I was at the lake tonight. It was our meeting spot. We had both grown up in Windy Park and it was an easy place to sneak off to. We were young and in love. And then…we suddenly weren’t.

He was the reason I was stuck in this godforsaken rundown house. Some of my best memories of him were here in the woods. Throwing rocks at the window of this house. Telling ghost stories of its previous inhabitants who had left it abandoned. I shook my head. There was nothing haunted about this house. It just held all the memories of him. And I couldn’t leave. I don’t know why I couldn’t leave. But I felt most at home tucked away in the woods. Stuck in the past.

I lifted up the letter from the bottom of the box. The last note I had ever gotten from him. We used to sneak them to each other between classes. A slight brush of skin as our palms touched to exchange them. A tingle that made me feel more alive than I ever had. My eyes scanned the creased page.

 

Vi,

Only three weeks until we’re out of here. Us against the world, babe. Us against the world.

Forever and always,

Joel

 

Six years ago we had planned to run away together. He was going to take me to LA. We had big dreams, the two of us. Until he decided he didn’t want to be a we. He was probably a screenwriter in Hollywood by now. I wouldn’t know. I didn’t own a TV. And I never went to the movies. I barely left the freaking house. He had never needed me to accomplish his dreams. All I'd ever done was hold him back.

I stared down at the page, still confused about what possibly could have changed in the several hours between him writing this note and the time that evening that he skipped town early without me. But in my heart I knew. He had figured out my secret. And abandoned me. I needed him more than ever and he had abandoned me. Big lies have big consequences. My mom’s words rattled around in my head again. She was certainly right about that. The problem was, I never meant to lie. I was always going to tell him. I was just waiting until he whisked me away from this town like the knight in shining armor I thought he was. Yup, he was most definitely a hotshot in Hollywood by now. I wasn’t much of a dreamer, yet I had believed every word out of his mouth. Surely the box-office numbers would reflect his master storytelling.

I tossed the letters back in the box. They weren’t the reason I had opened up the floorboard. A few harmless notes from an ex weren’t incriminating. All they meant was that I was a creepy broken-hearted loner in the woods. No, the letters weren’t the incriminating thing hidden beneath my floorboards. It was the handgun that I was worried about.

END OF CHAPTER 1

COME BACK NEXT TUESDAY TO SEE CHAPTER 2!

*CH. 2 NOW AVAILABLE HERE*

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Sweet Like a Psycho is a romantic suspense/thriller that will have you guessing until the very last page.  If you loved the Made of Steel series or The Truth in My Lies then you're going to loooove Sweet Like a Psycho.  Oh I can't wait for you to read it!!

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