By Chris Bedell
I whirled around when someone tapped my back the following morning at my locker. It was Steven.
“What do you want?” I asked.
He pressed his arms together. “We need to talk.”
“Fine. Tell me what’s on your mind.”
His eyes narrowed, refusing to take their focus off me. “I know you visited my mom at the police station the other day.”
My shoulders jumped up. “So? It’s a free country, and I can do what I want.”
“I thought you weren’t going to do anything?”
“I made no such agreement.”
He wagged his finger. “You can’t drag my mom into this, Esme. Actions have consequences. Don’t you pay any attention in school?”
Steven didn’t just mention school. My ears must have played tricks on me. Steven had a C+ average at best, and was the last person who should have mentioned school. I wasn’t going to laugh at him, though. That was something Horatio would have done, and I wouldn’t dream of being so cruel.
I feigned a polite expression. “I’m sorry I upset you. But you can’t control me.”
He scowled at me. “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.”
I scoffed. “I think I have a pretty good idea. The social worker visited me yesterday. And that wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t talk to your mom. See. My plan is working.”
“Not for long. I would hate to see anything happen to you. I care about you too much,” Steven said.
I giggled. “No need to wear your heart on your sleeve.”
I regretted my comment the moment I said it. That was something Horatio would said. Although I wasn’t Horatio. I was just an angry kid who sometimes put my foot in my mouth because I didn’t know better.
Steven remained silent. Although he was usually one for being quiet when angry, proving I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Seeming pushy didn’t matter because I did what was necessary. Steven meant well, but he had no idea what it was like to live my nightmare. It wasn’t his mother that lost her head. He also didn’t have to live with his house always bleeding.
He extended his arm, and attempted to give me a pat on the shoulder. But I recoiled. Wow. Living with Horatio damaged me too much if I was afraid of a comforting touch.
Steven rolled his eyes. “I can’t keep doing this. Maybe it would be best to spend more time by ourselves.”
“Are you breaking up with me?” I asked.
This was crazy. I was too young to worry about losing my boyfriend. It wasn’t even a serious relationship, as the most we did was hang out his house or have his parents drive us to the movies or something. In fact, we hadn’t even kissed. But we did hold hands, and that was nice. My current age was one that entailed being consumed about their internal drama as opposed to acting mature.
I grimaced. Going back to being friends wasn’t a pleasant thought even if it wasn’t shocking. It was nice knowing I had someone in my life that cared about me a little extra.
Chace strutted over to the two of us, tugging at his backpack straps. “Hey, guys. What’s up?”
Steven didn’t even blink at the thought of screaming. “Leave us alone! We’re kind of in the middle of something. If we wanted to talk to you this morning, we would have.”
I gave Steven a dirty look.
Steven needed to know what he did wasn’t okay. Chace did nothing wrong because there was no way he would have known we were in the middle of a fight.
Steven shot Chace an apologetic stare. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you, man…”
“Don’t worry about it,” he murmured.
Chace and Steven. Steven and Chace. It was an interesting idea. Although I didn’t have time to think about the real reason why Steven snapped at Chace. Because it was more than being mad at me. If only the two of them knew it. But no. This was “real life,” and not some TV show, which meant it took time for events to unfold. And it didn’t matter if the truth was in the subtext. Steven and Chace was like the Horatio situation since I didn’t need a label to tell me what was true.
Julian popped up at the most inconvenient time today. I wasn’t even five minutes into my Social Studies test when a squeaky voice rolled across the air. “How’s it going, sunshine?”
I remained silent, hoping Julian would go away if I ignored him.
He waved his arms at me. “Hey! You can’t ignore me. I’m talking to you.”
I didn’t lift my eyes off my paper. I couldn’t. Doing well on the test was the only thing that mattered, and a distraction wouldn’t help.
His teeth crunched on his carrot. Almost like when a knife smacked a fruit or vegetable on a cutting board. Although Steven and Chace were the only ones beside me who were privy to Julian’s presence. “It’s great you talked to the social worker. I have a feeling this time is going to be a real winner. I’d still check in his shed, though.”
I furrowed an eyebrow at him. Doing so was the best I could do since I couldn’t dare talk during the middle of a test. The saddest part was Mr. Tanner wouldn’t have given it much thought even if I did talk during the test. He was too engrossed in his book at the moment. It must have been a real page-turner for him to not care about us cheating. Not that there was a cheating problem or anything-even if there were still those occasional teachers who were paranoid and constantly monitored their students during a test.
“It’s a real bummer about you and Steven, though.” He finished the rest of the carrot.
It was too late.
Steven and Chace looked up from their desks, glancing at Julian, which reminded me of how they could see him too now. Steven moved his head back and forth while Chace smacked his hand over his head.
This was some test.
I chuckled. There was no denying it was funny even if it was too bad Mr. Tanner was so oblivious. Any other teacher would have fallen off their chair at thought of some whimsical rabbit interrupting a test- proving the reaction would bear an uncanny resemblance to the Red Queen in Alice and Wonderland. Yup. I loved that movie. I smacked my head. Thinking about Alice and Wonderland during the test was inappropriate because I could watch it when I was done with my homework tonight since it would be my reward after a long day.
A beeping sound rolled through the air while I made my way through the hallway after the test. I pulled out my iPhone. I got one new text message from a blocked number: Why don’t you have a look at the shed today when you come home from school? I promise you won’t regret it. It’s time for you to find the axe Horatio used to kill your Mom. And don’t worry; your secret is safe with me.
Caring about who sent the text didn’t matter. The universe was on my side for once, and I wouldn’t miss the chance to revel in it. The opportunity might not happen again.
I sighed after realizing I was walking to my next class all by myself. So much for the three musketeers! I exhaled another long breath. Steven popped back into my head. I would have to do something about him. We were in hot water since there was only so much more pressure before the foundation collapsed on us.
I walked out to the shed after dumping my backpack in my bedroom when I came home from school hours later. My heart pounded faster and faster while beads of condensation fell down my face without mercy or warning.
I was only a couple of feet away from the shed when it hit me: I was really doing this. I was going to go into Horatio’s private space.
The door was unlocked like the text message said it would be, and I went into the shed without giving the matter more thought. Doing so wasn’t necessary since it was like some sweet dessert. There was no reason to think about the downside when the reward was so yummy.
My head moved from side to side. I couldn’t believe it. A small desk with files on top of it was the only thing in the shed. I raced over to the desk, yanking open the drawers. But there wasn’t anything in them. Nothing would ruin my good mood, though, because I could look through the files. If I got lucky, they could have revealed some sort of accounting irregularity or fraud, and I could send Horatio to jail. I just needed to adjust my plan a little, which wasn’t a big deal despite how the whole thing seemed staged.
Rubbing my hands together was necessary. Today was like my birthday and Christmas Day was rolled into one. Although I was unsure of where to start first since there were so many possibilities.
I got too involved with looking through the files-which from what I could tell were just previous income taxes-to notice the door slamming shut.
It took several more minutes to notice the stench of something burning.
I took another waft, causing smoke to fill into my lungs while glancing around. I screamed in disbelief since this wasn’t a dream. The shed was drenched in a sea of red, yellow, and orange. And there were also thick clouds of smokes. Sweat also oozed out of my pores and clung to my skin. Almost as if it were an accessory I had to wear.
A reality check was necessary if I was too clueless to notice the shed caught fire. However, that would have to wait till later. Saving myself was the only thing that mattered.
The file fell from my hand before I scurried to the door and tried opening it. It wouldn’t budge. I tried again. I couldn’t believe it. It was locked from the outside! But there was nowhere else to run. This couldn’t be. I couldn’t die in here since I came too far. I was almost done with my quest against Horatio.
The flames crackled, expanding in height, and it wasn’t long before I collapsed onto the ground.
I rubbed my eyes sometime later. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have thought Julian just appeared.
Julian was gone after I blinked several more times.
I glanced around at the outside of my front lawn, and clapped my hand over my mouth. The shed was reduced to rubble. Wow. The fire must have torched it.
The text message lingered in my mind. It wasn’t Chace or Steven that sent it. The number was blocked, and I knew one person wouldn’t think twice about having a blocked number. Horatio. It wasn’t an accident I got the text. Nope. This whole thing was planned since it felt convenient. Like it was supposed to happen.
The conclusion I reached made me shriek, sending all the birds on the property zipping out of out of the trees. Horatio almost killed me. It was a fact.