Authors: Minka Kent
“And I think you’re insane for so much as thinking about going over there.” She crosses her arms. “What are you going to do if she’s there and
you happen to see something through the window? Are you just going to drive off into the sunset like it’s not your circus, not your monkeys?”
Again, I don’t answer.
“He blindsided her, Mar,” I say. “She loved him. She’d been with him almost her entire life. And she never saw it coming. We don’t know what he’s capable of. If he hurts her and I did nothing to stop it, that’s going to be on me.”
“If he hurts her, that’s on him. He’s clearly a psychopath who has no qualms about breaking the law and destroying anyone if it means getting what he wants,” she says.
“Try all you want. You’re not going to talk me out of this.” I check the time on my phone. It’s just past eight o’clock, and the sky is darkening by the minute.
Marisol rolls her eyes and leans against the door, arms still folded tight across her chest. “You’re brave . . . but in the worst kind of way. I’m only letting you leave if you take my Smith & Wesson.”
Before I have a chance to protest, she’s disappearing down the hall. Returning a couple of minutes later, she presents a shiny black handgun that fills most of her palm.
“It’s a peashooter,” she says. “Loaded. Not likely to kill anyone unless you
intend to, but it’s a good deterrent, a good distraction. And it’ll buy you time.”
I haven’t held a firearm since college, when I dated a criminal justice major for a couple of semesters and his idea of the perfect date night involved dollar pizza slices from Napoli Fratelli and a couple of hours at the Deer Valley shooting range. I never thought all those nights I spent trying to impress him with my natural sharpshooter skills would ever come in handy.
“Fine.” I rise from the foot of the bed and take the gun from her hand, checking the manual safety before grabbing my purse off the nearby dresser and hiding it inside. I have no intention of killing Shane, but I have every intention of protecting myself—and Sam. And I’ll do
whatever it takes to ensure we’re both safe and that Shane walks out of my home and into the back of a police car.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” Marisol says as she follows me to the front door.
I have to protect myself. And Sam. I refuse to let Shane make victims of us both.
With adrenaline coursing through my veins, I head to my car. A few minutes later, I’m soaring through the oak-lined Avenue of the Queens before coming to a hard stop when I get to my place and spot Sam’s Audi in the driveway and a myriad of lights on all over the house.
I park in the street and kill the engine before climbing out and closing the door with a soft click. Creeping up the driveway, I stop beside Sam’s car and place my hand on the hood. The engine’s warmth tells me she hasn’t been here long.
The neighborhood is bathed in dark now, crickets chirping and wind rustling the leaves on the trees that obscure what hint of moonlight tonight’s sky provides.
With my heart lurching higher and higher and anxious heat crawling up my neck, I make my way to the back of the house, gripping my phone hard in my hand.
Peering in through a window, I find the kitchen empty, so I head in through the unlocked rear door.
Voices trail from upstairs, and I tiptoe through the kitchen, past the dining room, and to the bottom of the stairs.
A door slams.
A quick glance down the main floor hall, and I find that my bedroom door is open. Someone must have been in there today. With a damp hand on the banister, I climb the steps slow and steady, trying to avoid the creaky spots. When I reach the top, I’m light-headed, and I realize I’ve been holding my breath.
. . . everything I did was for
.” Shane’s words are louder than usual and crystal clear.
I give myself a few seconds to catch my breath, and then I press my phone’s power button five times to send it into SOS mode. In mere seconds, 911 will be dialed, and they’ll trace the call and send someone to the address associated with my number. Talking to a dispatcher is too risky. Shane will hear me, and I need to catch him off guard.
I want to confront him.
I’m going to say what needs to be said.
And then I’m going to get Sam out of here.
Sliding my phone back into my purse, I exchange it for Marisol’s Smith & Wesson and disengage the safety before stepping lightly toward Shane’s bedroom door.
Charged with adrenaline, I force my way inside the room, the door swinging wide and hitting the wall behind it.
“What the . . .” Shane has his arm around Sam’s shoulders, death-grip tight. An unzipped duffel bag rests on the bed, a few items thrown haphazardly inside it.
Sam’s fingernails dig into Shane’s arm, breaking the skin, but he remains unfazed. With his clear blue gaze locked on mine, a wicked leer covers his face.
“What do you have there, Brienne?” he asks with a nod, his gaze lowering to the gun in my hand.
“Let her go,” I say, steadying the shake in my grip.
“Or what? You’re going to shoot me with that BB gun?” He snickers, his hold around Sam tightening, and she gasps.
Lifting the gun, I point it at his head. It isn’t anything I’ve ever dreamed of doing in my life, and for a moment, it almost feels like I’m outside my body, watching all this from somewhere else, but I continue on, undeterred.
“Do it,” he says, positioning Sam as his human shield. Her eyes are glassy, colored in panic. “Shoot me.”
He’s trying to call my bluff.
I’ve never been good at manipulation. It isn’t something that comes easy to me. But my mother was an old pro, and in this moment, I ask myself what she would do in this situation.
“Sam told me my mother raised you,” I say, gun still pointed at him.
He studies me for a second, like he’s trying to guess where I’m going with this.
“Do you really think she’d be proud of you? Seeing you like this? So desperate? So weak?” I ask.
He chuffs. “This is hilarious—you talking like you know a damn thing about her.”
“I know her better than you think.”
Shane rolls his pale eyes, readjusting his hold on Sam. “She might have given birth to you, but she was my mother, not yours. She raised me, not you. I was her everything. You were nothing to her. She wrote you off just like her parents wrote her off.”
“You couldn’t be more wrong.”
His eyes flash. He’s curious but also enraged.
The letters are in one of the guest rooms across the hall, in the top drawer of a rolltop desk. It’s maybe ten steps from here, but is it worth the risk of walking away and letting him run?
“She wrote me,” I say. “Hundreds of letters. Every birthday, every holiday, sometimes just ’cause. She told me all about her life in Nebraska. The job at the tire factory. The weekend shift at the casino. The piece-of-shit husband who used to beat her when she didn’t make enough in tips to cover his beer and cigarettes for the month . . .”
He says nothing. In fact, he doesn’t so much as move.
“But she also told me how much she missed me. How much she regretted the mistakes she’d made. She told me she never stopped loving me and missing me, and if she could walk away from her life in Nebraska and walk back into mine, she’d do it in a heartbeat,” I continue. I leave out the fact that the letters stopped after she mentioned
her pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Unfortunately I was several years too late in reading any of these. I never had a chance to forgive her, to tell her goodbye. “Anyway, not once did she ever mention you.”
I place my left hand over my heart, my right hand still gripping the gun pointed in his direction.
“Hand to God,” I say. “I can get the letters for you if you want to read them for yourself.”
“I don’t have time for that.” He wrinkles his nose.
“Then you’re going to have to take my word for it.” I shrug. My arms are getting tired from holding the gun in this position for so long. “She gaslighted you, Shane. The same way you gaslighted me.”
“Get the letters,” he says with a sneer.
I linger in the doorway for a moment before taking a few steps backward. When I reach the hall, I dive into the guest room and fish the bound letters from the rolltop desk. If I can get him to read them, he might let go of Sam, and that might buy us some time to get out of here. Before I head back to his room, I stop at the top of the stairs, tuck the letters under my arm, and check my phone.
It’s odd that the police haven’t arrived yet.
It had to have been at least five minutes if not ten.
Digging into my purse, I retrieve my phone and wake the screen with a slide of my thumb before checking the call log.
Gasping, I realize it never dialed 911.
I’m not sure if I didn’t swipe it the right way or if I didn’t press the power button enough times, but sure enough, the police are not on their way and have no idea I’m here.
Glancing toward the open door to Shane’s bedroom, I decide to dial 911 manually, and then I check to ensure my phone is on silent in case I have to hang up and they call back. I press the green “Call” button and stuff the phone back into my bag, but when I take a step forward, I collide with Shane, lose my balance, and stumble to the floor.
The stack of letters falls, and Shane scoops them up, examining the return address. He says nothing, but the bitter expression on his face indicates it registers as familiar.
“I told you,” I say as I rise back to my feet and rest my hands along the banister. It’s now that I realize I no longer have the gun in my possession.
Scanning the strip of hallway behind Shane as he thumbs through a handful of the letters, I spot something dark and shiny in the distance, but he’s closer to it than I am, and any sudden movements in that direction will surely not end in my favor.
An endless moment passes before Shane tosses the stack of letters, which flutter to the ground and land in a chaotic pile around our feet.
With his finger pointed in my direction, he opens his mouth to say something, only he doesn’t get the chance.
Sam has jumped on him from behind, and her hands are around his neck.
Shane’s face turns a deep shade of red, and his eyes bulge as he struggles for air. Sam is screaming at me to get out of here, but I refuse. I won’t leave her. Not like this. Not with him.
Eyeing the gun in the background, I scramble in that direction, latching on to his arm when I get there, only he jerks away with an unexpected amount of force. The impact inadvertently frees Sam’s hold on him and sends me tumbling down the stairs.
The most brilliant color fills my vision when my body comes to a hard stop at the bottom.
Seconds pass or maybe minutes. I can’t be sure.
And then everything turns black.
“You know I’d never hurt you.” I squeeze Sam’s hand as she sits in the passenger seat of her Audi and I blaze through side street after side street, driving us south of here. It won’t be long before we’re out of Quinnesec Bluff for good. “What you saw back there . . . that wasn’t me. And I didn’t know that was you . . . what were you doing in Brienne’s room anyway?”
My voice is soft, but my heart is hammering. Too much adrenaline.
She hasn’t said much of anything since we left the house. She’s scared. She gets quiet when she’s scared.
I don’t blame her. She saw a side of me she’s never seen, and everything happened so fast. Once the shock wears off, she’ll be fine.
“Seriously, babe. What were you doing in there?” I ask again.
She clears her throat, staring ahead at the dark road beyond the headlights. “That ring you gave me. The opal one. It had an inscription on the inside . . . to Brienne . . . I wanted to give it back.”
Nothing I can do about it now.
I check the rearview mirror before turning my attention to Sam for a second. She’s facing straight ahead, sitting still as a statue. Interlacing our fingers together, I tell her, “Everything’s going to be okay.”
The second Brienne’s body hit the bottom of the stairs earlier, I didn’t bother grabbing the duffel bag I’d begun packing for us—I grabbed her gun, Sam, and the keys off the kitchen counter and got us the hell out of there.
Now here we are.
“I know that wasn’t you back there either,” I continue. “People get crazy when they’re upset, and we’re no exception.”
I check my rearview mirror for the millionth time, but so far, so good.
The city is dead tonight, hardly another car in sight. Getting out of here should be a cinch.
“I’ve got so much good stuff planned for us, baby.” I squeeze her hand again. “You have no idea. First, I’m going to take you to Costa Rica. How’s that sound? Maybe we can stop somewhere on the way and get you one of those red bikinis and a pair of the shiny sunglasses you like? Those aviators?”
We reach a section of town with unavoidable traffic lights, but it’s the best route to the interstate, so I hit the gas and fly through a yellow light just as it turns red.
“I’m sure you’re thinking a million different things right now,” I say in my most soothing tone. I’m sure she’s scared. She’s never seen me act like that before. She’s never seen this side of me in its full glory, but to be fair, neither have I. “Just know that I’ve got this. I’ve got
, Sam. And everything’s going to be okay. I swear on my life.”
Her hand trembles in mine, and I wish I could kiss away her fears right now, but it’s not the time nor the place.
I blow through a red light at an empty intersection, my heart booming in my chest when we make it through.
I’m halfway to the next light when cherry lights fill my rearview.
Resisting the instinct to swear or panic, I pull over and flip on the interior lights. Cops love it when you do that because it makes them feel safer, like you’re less of a threat.
“It’s okay, babe,” I say to Sam. “Just sit tight. This’ll be over soon, and we’ll be on our way.”
I keep my hands on the wheel at the ten-and-two position and stare straight ahead. A middle-aged woman in a blue minivan passes by, slowing down and craning her neck to stare like this is any of her business.