by Chris Bedell
Horatio didn’t wait to be invited into the office. I couldn’t say I was surprised, though. He never respected boundaries, which was evident by him always hovering behind my door.
“What is she doing here?” Horatio asked. “Esme is supposed to be in school.”
“I needed to talk to her about Steven,” interrupted Mrs. Daniels. “Besides, I already called the school and excused her absence so she won’t get in trouble. But you know what? Stop pretending you care about Esme. We both know you wouldn’t even notice if she was lying dead in a ditch.”
I would have laughed at any other dramatic situation. But not this one. The whole thing was seriousness enough as it was.
It was also kind of nice seeing an adult stand up to Horatio. He couldn’t flaunt his age as an excuse to condescend me or be a jerk. I only wished Mrs. Daniels had the courage to drive her letter opener through Horatio’s heart.
He scowled. “That’s not the point, and you know it. I’ve been wondering where Esme is getting all these crazy ideas about me killing her mom, trying to kill her, and the social worker.”
She stood, and a scowl morphed into place on her face. “They aren’t crazy ideas if they’re true.”
Horatio tilted his head. “Come on, Esme! Let’s go.”
I didn’t budge. I remained seated in my chair. It was my only option, as I wouldn’t leave with Horatio if he were the last guy on Earth. It was that simple.
The vein on his head sprung to the surface, almost exploding. “I said let’s go.”
“She isn’t going anywhere, Horatio.” Mrs. Daniels continued glaring at him. This was awesome. She was sticking it to Horatio, and there was no holding back, as it was actually happening. “I’ll drive her to school myself.”
Steven, Chace, and I hung out in Chace’s tree house after school because my homework could wait. They needed an update on the Horatio situation.
Chace beamed his eyes at me. “What’s going on with Horatio?”
I coughed before deciding to drop the yellow pages on them. “He buried the social worker’s body in the clearing behind the woods on my property.”
Steven took a sip of soda.
“Anyway,” I continued, looking in Steven’s direction. “I visited your mom this morning and she aggress with my suspicions about Horatio.”
The soda trickled out of his nose. “You did what?”
I inhaled a long breath. “You heard me. I didn’t have a choice. But that’s not even the weirdest thing.”
Chace’s jaw dropped to the floor. “How could it possibly get weirder?”
“The autopsy said my mom died of natural causes because of cancer. Steven’s mom did detective work a while ago and figured out my mom hadn’t even been to a doctor during the last year of her life,” I said. “But the funny thing is the medical examiner died in a skiing accident a few days after the autopsy.”
Steven expelled nervous laughter. “Wow. That can’t be a coincidence. Anyway, did you tell my mom about the body in the woods?”
I reached for the bag of chips. “I couldn’t.”
“Who would have thought our lives would turn into a horror movie.” The smile widened across Chace’s mouth.
He had a point. My life couldn’t have been more like a horror movie if I tried. But at least it wasn’t one of those predictable horror movies. After all, I had seen my fair share of horror movies on Netflix. And I could only hope I would win my battle against Horatio. I just had to. Failure wasn’t an option when I could die.
I placed the bag of chips back on the ground. “I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Steven furrowed an eyebrow at me. “What do you want to happen next?”
It was a good question. And it was also something I wasn’t sure of. I needed Horatio to go even if he resembled one of those monsters that had nine lives and couldn’t be killed.
I glanced at Steven and Chace, noticing that Chace was staring at Steven. Chace didn’t have to explain himself. The conclusion was written all over his face. There could only be one reason to explain his constant stares. I wasn’t even threatened by it. It had nothing to do with my age and not being too consumed with dating. drama Not that my relationship amounted to much. Because I would have been lying if I said Steven and I would end up together in some faraway future. And that was okay. I’d let whatever it was between the two of us run its course. It was the one thing I’d be okay with.
It was fun to think about if Chace would ever say anything to Steven. A part of me liked living through Chace even if I was the one dating Steven.
“That’s a really good question.” I ran my fingers through my hair. “But the thing we should be concerned about is what Horatio’s next move will be. I refuse to be caught off guard again.”
Horatio should have played chess. Because he would have been good at it. He was ruthless enough and would have no qualms about taking a pawn or any other piece. In a lot of ways, my battle with Horatio was like a chess game. We were both coming for each other. And it was only a matter of time before one of us lost. The only thing that mattered was how long we could keep the game going. Prolonging defeat wouldn’t work forever, though. Not with Horatio. I wanted my life back sooner rather than later.
Steven nudged my shoulder. “What are you thinking about?”
“Not much.” I didn’t return his nudge.
Steven and I were also two different people. And even if it was okay that he wasn’t as smart as me, it wouldn’t change the divide between us. Because he was a great friend. Yes. I would give him that. But that was all he could ever be.
My relationship with Steven was also almost like a bomb. Because I had to take control of the situation before it blew up on me.
Damn. I watched too many adult movies.
I forced a smile at Chace. “Could you please give us a minute? I need to talk to Steven about something.”
“Sure,” said Chace. He headed towards the exit, leaving Steven and I alone.
Steven’s jaw twitched. “Is everything okay?”
I sighed at him. Knowing what I had to do didn’t make it any easier. “I think we should only be friends.”
Steven didn’t say anything.
I took in a deep breath. “I’m not trying to hurt you or anything. But I don’t think there’s anything more between us than friendship. I hope that’s okay.”
“That’s fine. You saved me the trouble of bringing the matter up.”
I almost choked on a gulp of air. “Are you saying that you’re okay with just being friends?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
I was sure Chace would be happy Steven and I were just going to be friends. He now wouldn’t have to feel guilty for all the stolen glances. Not that I thought Chace would ever take pleasure in my pain. Because there was no way he would. Chace was too nice of a person.
At least one thing went easy, which was something to be happy about. I meant what I said. I did want to be friends with Steven. Some romantic relationships just weren’t meant to last. But I would survive like I always did.
Although it was great how Steven, Chace, and I had such a cool dynamic. And I only hoped it would last forever.
I returned home 20 minutes later, finding two men dressed in white from head to toe, sitting on the couch next to Horatio.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
He flashed me a grin, revealing his crooked teeth. “These men are here to take you to the Richford Mental Institution.”
My eyes almost popped out of their sockets. “What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything wrong.”
His mouth widened even more, as if that was even possible. “But you have. I told the police about how you killed the social worker because she wouldn’t go along with your delusion about how you think I killed your mom. Your hair was discovered at the crime scene and they found your blood on Mrs. Roberts.”
My blood couldn’t have been on Mrs. Roberts. It didn’t make any sense. I was too young to give blood for a blood drive, which meant it would have been impossible for Horatio to steal my blood that way. Hmmm. Maybe Horatio stole a blood sample from me when I managed to doze off to sleep. The theory was farfetched, but wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. Stranger things happened all the time. Like how I still remained flabbergasted about how Mom married Horatio in the first place.
“I went to the police and spoke with the district’s attorney office. I just had to help you, Esme. I didn’t want to see something bad happen. I know it’s not your fault. You can’t help that you aren’t well,” revealed Horatio.
I folded my arms. “What do you mean?”
He expelled a faint laugh. “I told your psychiatrist you stopped taking your medicine.”
My gaze narrowed. “What are you talking about? I’ve never been too a psychiatrist before. He’s lying. Don’t you see what he’s doing? He’s trying to make you think I’m crazy. He killed my mom, and he tried to kill me, and even killed a social worker. He has to be stopped.”
Horatio sighed. “It’s okay, Esme. I just want you to get better.”
I turned to the men in white. “You have to believe me. I didn’t do anything. You can’t let him get away with this.”
“Watch me,” muttered Horatio in such a tone I only heard him because I stood right next to him.
A brief silence ensued for a beat.
Horatio cackled. “Take her.”
I sneered at him, revealing flared nostrils. “You can’t legally take me away without the authority of two doctors.”
“We have that,” said Horatio. “Your psychiatrist and his colleague. There isn’t a thing you can do about it, darling. I ultimately support their decision. I am your legal guardian after all.”
Darling. He must have been joking. Because I would slap him in the face later. I was fighting for my innocence at the moment. We also weren’t close enough for him to use that word. Being honest meant calling me, “darling” was more than a little unnerving.
“Who knows,” continued Horatio. “Maybe you’ll be able to rejoin society with the right help.”
The two men got up as they each took one of my arms before dragging me out the door before I could even blink.
I screamed. “You can’t do this! I did nothing wrong! You’re going to pay for this, Horatio!”
They shoved me into the backseat of the town car. And they didn’t even bother doing my seatbelt. Apparently, I was old enough to do that myself now.
One thought popped into my head while I watched the landscapes roll by on the way to the institution. I was in it deep now, and if things seemed bad before, I was wrong.
It would take a miracle to come back from this. But maybe, just maybe, Mom was on my side. Divine intervention seemed to be the only way I could get out of my current debacle. Unless Julian saved me. Although I wouldn’t hold my breath. Doing so would make me suffocate. Besides, I wasn’t a betting or hopeful person. Because my innocence died a long time ago.