By Chris Bedell
Steven, Chace and I met in the school hallway the following Monday morning after our sleepover.
I took in a deep breath, gazing at the two of them. “I’ve been thinking about it all weekend.”
Laughter fell from Steven’s mouth. “What are you talking about, Esme?”
I bit my lip, thinking about the matter for several more seconds. “I have the perfect plan to take down Horatio. It’s genius.”
“And what’s that?” Chace asked.
“I’m going to get him talking because he’s bound to slip up if I push his buttons. And I’ll record the whole thing on my iPhone or wear a wire or something.” The smile widened across my face.
Coming up with a plan to deal with Horatio was the first reason I had to be happy in months. And my opinion had nothing to do with being arrogant. It was simple logic, as there was no denying my plan was dangerous. The truth went back to the expression about poking a bear. Sometimes making the first move was necessary despite being risky.
Steven raised his eyebrows. “No offense, Esme, but you’ve been watching too many spy movies. Maybe Horatio needs to take away your Netflix account.”
The blood disappeared from my face, causing my cheeks to turn white.
Steven nudged my shoulder in a playful fashion. “Relax, Esme. I was joking.”
I tugged at the sides of my jacket. “Your comment wasn’t funny.”
I didn’t care about seeming uptight. There was no way to find anything related to Horatio funny, because I couldn’t. Not after everything that happened.
Steven forced a polite expression. “I’m sorry, and I’ll use my brain next time.”
“If you even had one,” said Chace while he put his hand on his mouth, attempting to hide his laughter.
He adjusted his baseball cap. “What did you just say, Chace?”
Chace had a point. Steven was nice to look at, but no one could deny he wasn’t as smart as the rest of us. Although not being smart wasn’t his fault. Some people weren’t good at school, and that was okay even if teachers didn’t realize it. I understood it. Or at least I tried to. Yet I couldn’t deny there were times it hurt. Intelligence was one thing Chace had going for him, though. He could hold a conversation about any classic book whereas Steven never even finished reading one book from cover to cover. Not even the required ones in English Class. The truth was obvious from his blank stares or dozing off in class. Whatever. At least he could hold a conversation about sports even if it wouldn’t get him far. At least not with me.
I shot Steven a warning look. “Now who can’t take a joke?”
His cheeks turned red. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who needed to lighten up. It was a shame we didn’t have more fun at the sleepover the other day.
“All joking aside, do you guys like my plan?” I asked.
They nodded their heads. It might not have been much, but it was nice to have their approval. I didn’t know who I could trust if I couldn’t put my faith in them. My opinion had nothing to do with burdening them, though. People were supposed to be able to tell their friends things. Unless that friend was Horatio.
I decided to bathe when I came home from school, and stepped into the shower, approaching the knob before moving it all the way to the left. Water oozed out a minute later. It soothed my body like the comfort of hot chocolate on a winter day while thoughts such as how was I supposed to live the rest of my life without Mom, would I succeed in taking down Horatio, and would I ever be able to move on with my life flashed through my mind. They were natural thoughts, though. Caring also meant I was anxious because verbalizing my thoughts was still scary.
I wet my hair before rubbing the shampoo through my locks. I made sure it seeped in before stepping in front of the stream of water, allowing it to splash onto to my head. The red trickled down my neck and splattered against the tub until it washed away in the drain. And it was now time to wash the rest of my body.
Stepping out of the shower happened minutes later, and I grabbed the towel from the nearby hook. I then wrapped the towel around my body, covering myself from the chest down. I inched forward, gazing at the cloud of condensation that cloaked the bathroom mirror.
Sighing was necessary no matter how universal the gesture was. Mom was on my mind. I would never forget her, because I couldn’t. Her blood ran through my veins, and would always be a part of me even if she were dead.
Blood poured out of the mirror. It was official. If I didn’t know it before, this house was haunted. And it didn’t take a genius to figure the truth out. Horatio killed Mom in cold blood.
It wasn’t long before I forced the clothes onto my body, after which I shifted my focus back to the bathroom mirror. The blood flow also increased in pace.
I barreled out of the bathroom, not even bothering to hang up the towel. There just wasn’t a “real” reason to. Manners weren’t necessary when living with a monster.
My screams echoed through the third floor the moment I stepped into my bedroom. “What are you doing here, Julian?”
And no. My attitude wasn’t harsh despite how some people might have thought I should have appreciated an ally. Having proper boundaries was an essential life skill. Although there was a good chance Julian might not have understood that point.
He swallowed the bit of carrot before opening his mouth. “Your plan isn’t going to work.”
I locked my arms together. “And why is that?”
“Trust me,” he squealed. “I’ve been around longer than you think.”
I pointed my finger at him. “You want to know what I think? You’re nothing but a useless rabbit because you haven’t done anything useful other than telling me Horatio killed my mom. Because no offense or anything, but I thought you were supposed to be helping me? Besides, I’d listen to Horatio if I wanted to talk to a jerk.”
He rubbed his whiskers. “Such an opinionated girl. Maybe that’s why Steven is losing interest in you.”
It didn’t make sense. He shouldn’t have known about my fondness for Steven. But he had been in Social Studies Class, and could have seen him.
My eyebrows swung up my face. “Shut up! You don’t know anything about Steven.”
“Calm down, little girl. No need to get annoyed.”
My breathing picked up, getting louder with each passing breath. “You should go because you clearly have no interest in helping me take down Horatio. And you know what I hate more than Horatio? Wasting time. And you’ve done nothing but that.”
He shuffled over to me. “I have more interest in the situation than you think.”
The vein on the top of my head surfaced, almost popping. Yeah. I had every right to be annoyed. Julian had already used that one-liner before, and should have at least feigned better creativity. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
Julian scoffed. “I get to transform back into a human if I get Horatio out of your life.”
“Are you kidding me?”
It was too late. A crackling sound rolled through the air. Julian was gone now, and there was nothing I could do. I was at his mercy. And that was horrendous. I needed answers because I refused to be at someone else’s mercy. Life was complicated enough. It also wouldn’t kill the universe to let something good happen to me. It was the truth because every motherless child needed at least one good thing to happen. I would find some way to crush Horatio. I had to; it was a necessity.
I zipped into the kitchen an hour later, knowing I’d find Horatio. He always went to the kitchen for coffee at five in the afternoon. He might have been a sociopath. But at least his life was like clockwork. I made sure to turn my iPhone recording app on before tucking it into my purse. Wow. The journey to Horatio’s endgame started now.
I did my best to force a smile. “Hi, Horatio. How was your day?”
He whirled around. “Fine. What about you? You have a good day at school?”
“Yeah. It was great. We’re reading this book. It’s about this villain who masquerades as a hero, and everyone is fooled at first. Although the truth comes out eventually.”
Horatio snorted at my comment. “Sounds like a real page turner.”
I tugged at the strap on my purse, pulling tighter. “Yeah. It was great. At first there was a lot of smoke and mirrors. But that’s what made it interesting. I knew all along who was responsible despite all the bad things that happened.”
The coffee continued dripping down from the coffeemaker into the pot. “What’s your point?”
I huffed, expelling a series of breaths. “Something occurred to me the other day. Mother’s funeral was closed casket.”
He folded his arms together, making his emaciated figure stand out more. “I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.”
Fine. Horatio could play dumb all he wanted. He was his own boss. Doing so would only make things more difficult, though. So, yeah. Horatio’s stubbornness shouldn’t have surprised me. He was like a bug crawling on a kitchen that just wouldn’t die no matter how many times a person smacked it. Wow. I compared Horatio to a bug, which proved my life had become too morbid.
“You beheaded her, and didn’t want to people to see it.” I threw my hair over my shoulders with a flick of my head.
His eyes dilated a little. “Fine. Let’s say I did do it for the sake of argument. It still doesn’t change how you have no proof.”
My chest bobbed up and down several times. “I don’t need any proof. I know you’re a bad guy. And the rest of the world will soon know the truth too.”
He smacked his hand across my right cheek. I took my hand to the spot, touching it. The burning sensation lingered for a beat before disappearing.
Horatio did it. He really hit me. But good thing I got it on video.
I was the last one to go to the lockers the next day after Gym Class. I yanked open my locker, discovering my iPhone was gone. I didn’t understand it, as it didn’t make any sense. My iPhone couldn’t have vanished into thin air. There just had to be an explanation…
The truth hit me after another few minutes of pacing and thinking. It made perfect sense. Horatio snuck into the locker room during class and stole it. That was the only explanation. He would only have to say I forgot a homework assignment and he was coming to drop it off. And bam! The school would let him in. I screamed at a pitch I never heard before, causing my voice to echo through the whole school.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, as I figured a way out of this living nightmare. But no. I was trapped with nowhere to go. Tears flew down my face, and it wasn’t long before my screams became mixed with more tears.
There was no way out of my predicament. I would have to accept Horatio won and there was nothing I could do about it.
If only I hadn’t been so arrogant. Whatever. Hindsight was 2020 even when hubris was involved.
The bell screeched, signaling the start of next period. I would be late to Science Class, and there was nothing I could do about it.
This was going to be a long day and week because I didn’t need achy bones to know the truth. Horatio would be my undoing. There was no denying it. He knew it, I knew it, and the rest of the world would know it at some point.
Wait a second. Someone should have smacked me in the face. My opinion had nothing to do with believing in violence, though, because it I didn’t. I just couldn’t give up. That corny expression was right. Good things didn’t come easily. Having a small amount of hubris also didn’t make me a bad person, and I would enjoy Horatio’s downfall.
This was war. Game on.