by Chris Bedell
Trying to kill me was a new low for Horatio since I could have died in the fire. Although there was no way he set fire to the shed. He might have been demented. Yet he couldn’t be this depraved. The whole thing seemed unfathomable. But this was Horatio. And he was capable of almost anything. The truth couldn’t be denied because I would have to accept that my “legal” guardian wanted me dead. Yeah. He was my legal guardian no matter how hard admitting the truth was. Mother made him sign official adoption papers when he married her.
I scowled. The whole situation was disgusting, and I needed a way out of my living nightmare ASAP.
I stood from the ground, rubbing my arms together after a gust of wind roared in the background, hoping to create friction. Spring might have been near, but winter would still have to be kicked to the curb. Winter needed to know it wasn’t welcome. Spring needed to stay, and that was the way it would be.
A figure popped out at me, zipping from the backyard to the front yard. And I only needed one guess to realize who it was.
I slashed after the figure, ignoring the burning sensation in my lungs. I wasn’t going to let Horatio get away with what he did. I couldn’t. Too much was at stake. It was one thing for my Mom to be dead, but it was another for me to be a victim. Nothing would stop me from changing my fate. Wow. I took Mr. Tanner’s empowered woman less a little too seriously. Whatever! At least I learned something, as it was better than sitting on the sidelines and hoping someone would rescue me.
I opened the front door; not even caring when the slam echoed behind me. The scent of warm coffee wafted back to my nose, and traveled into my lungs. Horatio was in the kitchen. There was no doubt about it.
I shuffled into the kitchen, realizing I was right.
Horatio turned around from his current position by the coffeemaker. And he even had the nerve to make eye contact without flinching. “How was your day, Esme?”
I raised my finger at him. “I know you tried to kill me.”
He rolled his eyes. “No offense, but I have no idea what you’re talking about it.”
I hissed. “Please. You knew I was onto you. The jig is up, Horatio. You killed Mom for the life insurance policy. But you want to know what I can’t figure out? Were you really keeping the axe in the shed or was that just a ruse to lure me into a trap?”
He didn’t say anything. Not that I was shocked. It was a typical Horatio move.
“You want to know something, Horatio? I’m not stupid. I was the one who got the social worker to come to the house in the first place.”
The coffee continued trickling down, and splattered into the pot drop after drop even if it would be a couple of minutes before it was done.
A burning sensation formed in both of my eyes. I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer, and they crashed down my cheeks without any warning. “I also know you alienated Mom and me from her family. I hacked into your email. I also have proof about the life insurance policy. And I also know her grave is empty. You never buried her in the casket, did you? Couldn’t risk getting caught, could you? And that means this isn’t only conjecture anymore.”
He licked his lips. “You have a wild imagination.”
“It’s not an imagination if it’s true.”
Horatio swallowed the lump in his throat. “Prove it.”
I didn’t care about showing my hand too soon. Doing so needed to be done. Horatio made a big mistake by thinking he would get away with messing with me, as it wouldn’t happen. I was better than that, and wasn’t as dumb as he thought I was. My age might have impacted my size. But it didn’t impact my intelligence. I saw right through his nonsense because he wasn’t fooling anyone.
Horatio would burn if I had my way. It was a matter of if; not when.
I guided Steven and Chace to an empty hallway at school the following morning. My near-death experience was too urgent to let go of.
Steven raised his eyebrows at me. “What’s going on, Esme?”
Chace continued staring at me. “Steven’s right. Spill it.”
I coughed into the sleeve of my pea coat before opening my mouth. “Horatio tried to kill me yesterday afternoon.”
“What are you talking about?” Steven asked.
I rubbed my neck. “He lured me to the shed with a text. The only problem was the text was from a block number. He torched the shed, hoping I was in it.”
The smile vanished from Steven’s face. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say…”
I moved a lock of hair behind my ear. “That isn’t even the worst part.”
Steven’s mouth opened, forcing out a gasp. “What are you talking about?”
“I told him off. I was just so mad. He had to know I was on to him.” I paused for a good twenty seconds, glancing at the both of them. I had never been more grateful for silence before. “I know it was stupid, but it had to be done.”
Steven frowned at me. “If you say so.”
Steven needed to be more supportive ASAP. He was supposed to be the one person who always believed in me. I also didn’t need any of his nonsense. Not now. There was enough drama going on.
I sighed. “I just wanted to warn you in case you guys were next.”
Chace flashed a grin. “Thank you, Esme. I’m sure I can speak for Steven when I say this, but we don’t mind helping you.”
The phone rang within a few minutes of arriving back home after school later in the day, and I answered the call. “Hello?”
“Hi,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “Is this Esme?”
“Yes, it’s me.” My teeth chattered a little. Because it didn’t even matter if it wasn’t freezing. The gesture was one of those nervous reactions you couldn’t help. “What’s up?”
Her breaths picked up, blowing into the phone. “I wanted to talk to you about Horatio.”
The blood vanished from my face, revealing a pale color. “I can’t talk right now.”
There was a brief pause on the other end of the line. “Look, I don’t normally reach out like this, but I felt I didn’t have a choice.”
I whispered into the phone. “I’m sorry, but I can’t talk right now. It’s not safe.”
“No problem,” said Mrs. Roberts. “Is there a time when you can talk safely?”
My jaw twitched. “We can talk tomorrow morning in the park on Main Street at 7:30. School doesn’t start till 11:30 because of some teacher development workshop nonsense. Is that okay?”
“That’s fine. But I want you to know there’s no need for you to worry any longer. I’m here to help.”
Goosebumps spread across my back. Someone might as well have dumped a tub of ice on me. It seemed like there was no way for things to get any worse.
Something tapped my back. I turned around despite how nobody was there.
“I’m sorry. But I have to go.” I smacked the phone back down on the cradle without bothering to make sure I hung up the call.
I couldn’t believe it. Horatio had to pay. There was nothing like thinking someone was there when they weren’t because it was enough to shake me to my core.
It didn’t matter that I couldn’t sleep tonight. I would win the war tomorrow even if footsteps squeaked by my door like all the other evenings since Mom died. They stopped for a moment before scurrying off down the hallway, which was another thing I would have to remind Mrs. Roberts about.
I shouldn’t have complained. A part of me couldn’t deny being surprised since the whole thing did seem unprofessional. I mean, I might not have known anything about being a social worker. But I imagined she had a boss and couldn’t just report to me without talking to the person first. This was a special case, though. Horatio was a living nightmare, and there was no way to make a “normal” person understand that point.
I continued tossing and turning, not even bothering to hide under my blankets since morning couldn’t come fast enough.
I left the house at 6:00 A.M., giving myself plenty of time to walk to the park.
A murder of crows clipped through the sky while screeching sometime later. I had just shuffled into the park at 7:25 A.M.
Gazing around the park made me realize I was the only one there before tilting my head, and scanning the park a couple of more times. There was no room for doubt.
Whatever. Everything had to be fine since Mrs. Roberts must have gotten stuck in traffic, as that was something that happened all the time.
Glancing at my watch later revealed it was now 9:00 A.M. Wow. The current situation couldn’t be a coincidence.
An uneasy feeling formed in my stomach. I couldn’t deny the truth any longer. Mrs. Roberts wasn’t going to show up. I shrieked, sending echoes throughout the park. It didn’t matter, as it was just one of those moments I needed to let it all out.
Grinning was the appropriate reaction when I arrived at school later in the morning. I didn’t even have to do much work. Chace and Steven were near the front entrance of the school. I shoved my way through the crowd without caring about brushing up and smacking into people. Telling my friends about the latest development was the only thing that mattered.
I moved my arms through the air. “Chace! Steven! Turn around; it’s me.”
They whirled their bodies around, giving me a second to catch my breath.
My sneakers squeaked across the ground en route to them. “We need to talk.”
Steven shot me a concerned glance. “Everything okay?”
The trees danced in the background, reminding me of some surrealist painting we learned about in Art Class (not that I remembered the name of the painting or anything). “Not here. Let’s go to our usual spot in the second-floor east wing hallway.”
They bobbed their heads.
“The social worker your mom called was supposed to meet me in the park this morning,” I said when we entered the hallway.
He stuck his hands in his jean pockets. “I’m not following.”
“Yeah. I’m with Steven,” Chace said. “I don’t know understand why the social worker would want to meet you in the park. That’s not really how these things work.”
My eyebrows crawled up my face like caterpillars moving horizontally. “That doesn’t matter. The point is she never showed up to the meeting. I think Horatio killed her.”
Steven snickered. “Are you sure you aren’t reaching with this one?”
I put my hands on my hips. “I’m sure. Besides, I think Horatio was listening in on my call when I talked to the social worker on the phone.”
Chace’s eyes widened. “Why didn’t you use the burner phone I gave you?”
My shoulders sprang up. “She was the one who called the house phone.”
“You could have called her back on your burner phone,” added Chace.
I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter. The point is I don’t know what to do. It’s like that story in English class we read about the girl who acts out because she feels backed into a corner. That’s what Horatio has done to me.”
The three of us stared at each other while nobody said a thing. We didn’t have to be psychic to know what we were all thinking. Horatio was winning, and we’d be lucky if we were left with our lives.