Please Read Previous Chapters First!: Chapters 1-18
Because I’m posting several chapters in a short time span, I wanted to give links to what’s gone up recently in case you’ve returned to the story and don’t remember if you’ve read to this point or not. If you have not read chapters 16 or 17 with Evelyn’s and Corbin’s respective POVs in Westview Park, please click: ch 16 (Evelyn) and ch 17 (Corbin). Plus, chapter 18 with Evelyn and the shadow man in Zigby theater. Please, read them first as this is a continuation of those chapters! :) Also, the Chapters page now includes brief descriptions/titles to each chapter to make it easier to tell what’s in them and what you’ve read already. Enjoy chapter 19!
Friday 2:20pm, Lyre’s Car
When Evelyn had stood in front of me, I was certain there was an explanation for everything. I didn’t want to blame her without hearing what she had to say. But after she rejected that opportunity, and with time and space to think about it, I began to convince myself that there wasn’t a satisfying explanation that she could give me. All roads seemed to lead to deception. She happens to know the woman from the house? She happens to know about Reena? And she conveniently walks off when confronted?
“Why did you have to tell me that you’re pregnant?” I asked Lyre.
Not that Lyre said it because she knew Evelyn was there, but I was still pissed about the whole thing. I don’t know who I was more angry with: finding out that Evelyn knew way too much to be innocent in all this or Lyre for blurting out crap in the first place.
“To test it out.” Lyre said, braking at a four-way stop. We were driving to Reena’s school to pick her up. “Men are softer around pregnant women. When I tell that to Paul he’ll feel more sympathy toward me.”
I looked at her hoping all the you are a psycho that I felt was clearly expressed on my face.
“Are you even actually pregnant?” I asked.
“That’s none of your business.”
“Leaving you alone to be with Henry would have been the best revenge ever. Why did I have to mess that up?”
She glared at me. We drove in silence for awhile.
“So, what are you going to tell Reena?” I asked. “When she sees me, what’s the story going to be?”
She pulled into the parking lot of Pear Tree Academy. My nerves flashed like crazy. I was so close to seeing her again. I could barely catch my breath. The last time I was with Reena she was fifteen months old. I could still remember the way her little chubby arms wrapped tightly around my neck. How her bubbly giggles warmed my heart and her smile brought me to tears.
I didn’t think I could give her the best life. I believed I wasn’t a good father. Sitting in front of the school I didn’t even know she went to confirmed all my fears.
“We don’t have to tell her who I am today,” I said. “I could be an uncle. You and Harley should break the news to her. Gently, and–”
“Oh, shut up.” Lyre parked the car. “Like Paul won’t say anything to her.”
Right. Taking her to my father would mean she would have to know the truth fairly quick.
“Do you want to call Harley, first? He could meet us there and I’ll talk to Paul while you two–”
“Harley won’t come. He left us almost a year ago. He said I messed up his life, he can’t get credit anywhere, and blah blah blah.”
“When you came to my apartment, you said Harley wanted to give the money back.”
“He did. He thought you were toying with us. Giving us the tiniest bit of help without going full blown like you could if you wanted. He didn’t want your pity charity.”
“If you wanted the money, why did you try to give it back to me?”
“I wanted you to see that I was a changed, better person so you’d feel sorry for me. It’s all part of the plan I wanted to talk with you about.”
“Your plan?” She had mentioned that she had a better plan before blurting out that she “pregnant”.
Lyre nodded happily. “The way I figure, the best situation for all of us is for me to be back in the recording studio where I belong. My reality show will get me there, but I won’t have as much time for Reena. I could leave her with one of my friends, but they already watch her a lot. And I don’t have enough for a nanny yet. So, I thought, why not you?”
I blinked at her. Yesterday, she assured me she was taking the girl away from me and today she wanted to put her in my care?
“You want to give Reena to me?”
“For a few months. Just until I can get situated. After that we could figure out joint custody.”
Just Reena and me without any Lyre drama? It sounded perfect. Too perfect.
“What’s the catch?” I asked.
Lyre’s smile broadened. “That’s the best part. You tell Paul that Reena’s some other chick’s daughter. Then once he’s good and attached to her, you tell him the truth. See? He can’t do anything to me once I’m the mother of a beloved granddaughter. Brilliant, huh?”
I rolled my eyes. Yeesh. Leave it to Lyre to come up with a dramatic idea.
“What happens when my father asks Reena about her mom?”
Lyre waved her hand dismissively. “Tell him Reena doesn’t like to talk about her.”
“What about my mom?” I asked, feeling the smugness stretch across my face. “She’ll never keep quiet about you. No one will be able to convince her to go along with it.”
She unbuckled her seat belt. “Ms Pern always puts Reena’s interests first. She would do it as long as it benefits Reena.”
“How do you know what my mom would do?”
“She tells me all the time.”
“What do you mean all the time?”
She opened her door. “Oh. I’m not supposed to say, but Reena’s known your mom since she was two.”
She tried to jump out of the car, but I grabbed her wrist.
“My mom? How?”
“I don’t want to say. Your mom scares me.” She pulled her arm out of my grasp and shut the door.
“Do you ever tell the truth?!” I yelled.
She paused, smiled and waved at me before walking up to the school. I knew it! I knew she was lying to me the other day. Now she added crazy to her insanity with this ridiculous plan. I have to make up some random baby mama for my father and take her word that my mom wouldn’t squeal on us. I had no idea what was true in anything she told me. There was one person who could confirm or deny Lyre’s words.
I hate when she calls me that and she knows it. I pressed the phone to my ear. “Hi, Mom. Have you ever met Reena?” I had to get right to the point. I didn’t know how soon Lyre would return and I had to know before I saw my daughter again.
“Yes. I visit her every time I’m in the city.” Unless it about a topic she “can’t discuss” my mom is also very direct.
“Are you serious? Every time? How often is that?”
“Several times a year, at least.”
I didn’t realize she was in the area that often. Every time I talk to her she’s overseas somewhere. “You don’t even see me that often.”
“I go where I’m wanted, Corbin. I’m not wasting my free time begging for attention from my son while he ignores me or listening to you whine about how I was a terrible mother. All I ask for is a few hours a year and you can’t even wish me a happy birthday on my actual birthday. My granddaughter, however, enjoys being in my company and that’s who I choose to be with.”
Yeesh. She always made me sound like I was the worst son ever. But I didn’t have time to rehash that old arguement. “We all agreed to leave Reena alone with Lyre and Harley until she was eight.”
“That agreement was between you and the mother. I made my own contract with that little hussy.”
“Mom, you should have told me.”
“Why? So you can talk me out of it? Just because you weren’t ready to be a father, didn’t mean I wasn’t ready to be a grandmother. Besides, I’d die before I left my Reena in the hands of that woman. Someone had to keep her in line.”
“She’s a grown woman, Mom. You can’t ‘keep her in line’.”
“Ha. Why do you think old greedy guts hasn’t asked you for one cent all these years? The only way to ensure our baby was well taken care of was to support the entire family. How else could they afford a premier private school like the one you’re standing in?”
“How do you know–”
“I can see you, Cubbie.”
I spun around. Standing next to a red sports car that pulled up next to me seconds after Lyre left was my mother. She gave me a short wave and nod. I jumped out of Lyre’s vehicle. How the heck did she know where to find me? Bigger question: why was I still surprised by my mother’s abnormal behavior?
“What are you doing here?” I asked as she walked up to me.
Instead of an answer, she smacked me upside my head.
“You wished me a happy birthday months before my birthday. I took that to be code for an emergency. I got here as fast as I could.”
She smacked me again. This time on the ear.
“Don’t ‘sorry’ me.” Mom chided. “It’s much worse than I imagined.”
“It is?” I rubbed my stinging ear with my fingers.
She lifted her hand like she was going to hit me again. I ducked down, but she waited until I rose up again to get me on the other cheek.
“Stop doing that!” I covered my face with my hands.
“What’s the number one rule?” She demanded.
“The number one rule, Corbin?”
Why did I have to feel like I was a little kid every time she came around? Begrudgingly, I told her, “Pay attention.”
I sighed. “To every little thing at all times.”
“Have you been paying attention?”
“Yes, Mom, can you leave now?”
“No. I cannot. Because my son is casually showing his face in public when he’s wanted for murder.”
I wanted to laugh. She had to be joking, right? Mom looked up something on her phone and handed it to me. There it was. A public alert for Matteo and me on a triple homicide charge. I leaned against Lyre’s car and ran my hand through my hair.
Susanna had been right.
“What happened?” Mom asked, sliding her sunglasses off her face. “And if you say you actually killed someone, I swear I’ll take your life myself and, unlike you two idiots, I know how to get away with it!”
I gulped. It was all so stupid. She wasn’t going to like it. I gave her the condensed version. “I was going to turn myself in,” I told her. “I wanted to get Reena somewhere safe first. We were taking her to stay with father.”
“Hmm. That explains why I tracked you here of all places.” I felt her hand on my arm. “Getting Reena to safety is a good idea.”
I looked at her with a half smile. She didn’t hand out compliments like candy. It meant a lot when she gave her approval.
“Corbin, there’s something very important we need to talk about–”
A child’s loud excited cry startled me. I turned to face the school. Lyre stood near the doors to the building. Running toward the parking lot straight for us was a small girl. Black pigtails bounced against her slim shoulders. Her features reminded me of Lyre. The way her face filled with light and happiness, I thought I was looking at an angel.
Mom got down on one knee as Reena raced passed me and into her grandmother’s arms. Reena squeezed my mom’s neck so tight it’s a wonder she didn’t break it. They had the same smile, I realized, as a big one spread across both their faces. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen Mom so at peace and happy.
“Granny, Granny,” Reena bounced on her feet as they pulled away. “I didn’t know you were coming today.”
“I wanted to surprise you,” Mom said.
Reena kissed my mom’s cheek several times in a row. I watched both in fascination and agitation. I wanted to grab her up and hold her. At the same time, an almost irresistible urge to sprint down street to get far away seized my feet
Lyre came up beside me.
“Granny comes, takes her for a few days, and brings her back more spoiled than before,” Lyre whispered to me. “It’s so annoying.”
“Why don’t you tell her to get lost?” I whispered back.
Lyre straightened her shoulders and looked away from me. “I wouldn’t deny Ms Pern the right to see Reena.”
“Or the right to her money.” I muttered.
Lyre gave me a side glare. That confirmed my mom’s version of events. Not that I hadn’t believed her. Mom didn’t explain details to me, which I can’t stand, but what she did say was the truth. My mom got to her feet.
“Reena, your mother has another surprise for you.” She said. “There’s someone she wants you to formally meet.”
Lyre took a step back, her expression like a deer caught in headlights. “Oh, um, you’re much better at–”
“We don’t have time for this,” Mom said, placing her hands on Reena’s shoulders. “Tell her.”
Lyre huffed with irritation at being told what to do, but then bent at the waist to get closer to Reena’s eye level. “Right. So, sweetie, remember how mad we were when first daddy left? Well, mommy got you a new daddy!” Lyre gestured toward me. “His name’s Corbin. Mommy did a good job. Isn’t he a cute little thing?”
Why was she talking about me like I was a new puppy?
“What! Why?” Reena stared up at me with tears in her bright brown eyes.
“Oh, you don’t like him?” Lyre patted Reena’s cheek. “I can take him back.”
“Lyre.” My mom said sternly.
“It’s just a joke.” Lyre said. “Fine. Reena, it’s like how your Granny is your grandmother? Well, Corbin is Granny’s son and that makes him your real daddy.”
Reena looked from me to Lyre and back to me. I guessed it was my time to step forward. I wasn’t sure if I should hug her or what. I started to crouch down then decided to stand. She pushed back against my mom’s legs. Finally, I held out my hand to her.
“Hello.” That was all I could think of for a minute. “I’m Corbin.”
Reena shook her head.”No! I don’t want another daddy! I don’t like you!” She ran to Lyre’s car and pulled on the back door handle. “I want to go home. Now!”
My heart sank. I wasn’t expecting hugs and kisses, but I had hoped for a nice to meet you.
“See? We should have went with my plan,” Lyre said, taking out her buzzing phone. “Then she’d have no choice but to accept you.”
“She’ll accept him, eventually,” Mom said. “What she accepts him as is up to you two. Isn’t that right, Corbin?”
“You’re not using your own failures as a teaching moment, are you?” I asked.
“What else are they for? I can’t change the past and there’s little I would if I could.” She said, her penetrating focus on me. “I told you what your father was, but not who he was. When you finally connected with him you had nothing to go by to assess his character against his actions.”
“You’re admitting that you were wrong?” I snickered, not because it was funny, but because this was so unbelievable I was waiting for the punchline.
“I made a mistake, yes, however, that doesn’t make me responsible for what you’re doing. You’ve tried so hard not to act like your father and me with your daughter that you’ve become us. Worse than us. We had a genuine concern for your safety. The two of you are only concerned about yourselves.”
Lyre and I exchanged accusing glances. Once I looked away, though, guilt swarmed over me. With the help of Matteo’s two older sisters, I had taken care of Reena from four months until she was sixteen months.
I found a screaming infant Reena on the floor of Lyre’s apartment while she was passed out drunk. I thought I was saving this random baby. I had every intention of returning the kid so I didn’t take her to child protective services. When I’d gone back to Lyre a week later, I found out the truth. So, I’d kept her. My father’s side of the family wanted nothing to do with me making it easy to keep them in the dark about the situation.
After a year of scraping by, living with friends, trying to care for her, I just didn’t think I had what it took. When Lyre asked for a second chance, I gladly caved. Lyre feared I would change my mind. She was certain I’d bring my family into it and use their power to take Reena from her again. We’d made the deal–I’d stay away until she was eight.
I figured I’d have my life together by then. I still don’t have it together. What if I never do? My parents did in some ways and didn’t in others. Maybe that perfect moment doesn’t exist.
Lyre excused herself and stepped away from us, her phone to her ear. I looked back to see Reena glaring at me. Off to a great start there.
“Straighten your face, Reena,” my mom told her. “If I hear you’re not respecting your father, I’ll be very disappointed in you.”
Disappointed? I get smacked upside the head and she merely gets disappointed? That’s unfair. I really missed out not having grandparents. I met my father’s father once before he died, and my mom says her parents are none of my concern. How can it not be my business to know who my own grandparents are? Obviously, I needed them round to slap her once in awhile.
“Corbin.” My mom tugged on my arm pulling me to the side. “Don’t go to your father’s. The police will be waiting to see if you show up there.”
“Okay.” I nodded. “One or two?”
There were certain things my mom didn’t like to be said out loud. For instance, should we go to safe house #1 or #2? In case someone figures out that’s what “one or two” means, she answers with either ever or never. “N” comes after “E” in the alphabet that means “go to the second safe house”.
“This whole situation smells like a setup,” she said. “The question is who and why.”
“Then you don’t think it’s Matteo?” I asked, hopefully.
“Do you?” She put the question back to me.
I couldn’t answer that and she nodded her agreement.
“You stay low while I look into it. Based off the story of the murders, I have a possible idea. I need to confirm a few things first. If my hunch is correct, this is very bad. You, Reena, and Lyre must disappear immediately.”
“What do you think? Who is it?”
“I can’t say until I’m certain, but impulsivity would be the worst move. You’ll need to pay attention and use your whole brain. I’ll join you as soon as I can.”
She reached up a gently pulled on a lock of my hair. “There are some details about myself that I should have told you already, but you never want to talk and I don’t want you thinking worse of me than you already do. If we see each other again, I’ll tell you what I can.”
She patted my cheek. “When. Get your girl and yourself hidden away.”
I was overcome with a desire to hug her, but we weren’t the touchy feely type and the moment passed.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” she said, backing toward her shiny red car. “If you’ve been paying attention to what’s been said about that house, you’ve already come across the name of what I fear.”
Fear? Was my mom actually afraid of something? I tried to remember what little I’d heard about the house. Nothing, really, except it was the… that’s right! The site of a previous triple homicide some years ago. A serial killer’s first victims. Was that what scared her? A serial killer? I’d always pictured my mom fearing something larger than life like an assassin, a rogue spy, a terrorist, or the mob… I don’t know, I just never really thought about a killer. Well, the ones I’d thought of were killers, usually killing many also, so one that isn’t as “professional” wasn’t really far fetched.
“Granny!” Reena shouted out Lyre’s rolled down car window. “I want to go with you! Please!”
“Not this time, sweetie.” Mom said. “You know what to do when you need to feel me nearby?”
Reena nodded, tears filling her brown eyes. “Hold the necklace you gave me.” She clutched the black and white panda pendant that hung on the chain around her neck.
Mom stuck her head in the back of the car and kissed Reena’s forehead. “I only leave you because I have to not because I want to.”
She used to say that to me, too, when I was young. I stopped believing her a long time ago. She left so often on her jobs that I was convinced she wanted to get away from me. But watching my mom’s soft smile and Reena’s brightening face, I wondered if I had been wrong to doubt the truthfulness of my mother’s parting words.
“Watch out for this one,” mom said to me, pointing toward Reena. “She’s a lot like you.” Mom gave me a look that said “take care of her or else” before sliding into her sports car and driving off. Standing there, I felt completely alone. Like Reena, I wished I could have gone with her, too. Not only did I want to investigate who was really behind all this, but I wanted to be with the person who seemed to know what she was doing.
Instead, I walked over the driver’s side door where Lyre already sat behind the wheel.
“Hey, I should drive,” I told Lyre not yet wanting to share where we were really headed. She’d see when we got there. “You haven’t been to my father’s house in ages.”
“True.” Lyre started up the car. “But I need to get gas anyway so I’ll drive to the station. We should get some kid friendly snacks for Reena, too.”
“Fine.” I closed the driver’s door and walked back to the passenger side.
Lyre pulled out of her parking space. We were on the road for five minutes and I noticed all the gas stations we’d driven by.
“I get 10 cents off the gallon at the one near my house,” Lyre explained.
I didn’t think we should waste time on small discounts, but any time I started to raise an issue with Lyre, Reena would cut in with a concerned “Mommy?” That small voice made me feel so guilty that I shut up and let Lyre drive.
To keep myself from looking back at Reena or worrying that she still had that hard scowl on her face, I took out my phone. Garland street murders in my search popped up both what had recently happened–with little information–and the old one. There was one name that came up. A serial killer named “Trifold”. The name was linked to a slew of sites and articles. I did recall hearing about him six years ago. He terrorized the city for a few weeks then he was gone. Soon we all relaxed and life returned to normal, the fear forgotten.
He was a pretty terrible guy murdering a number of people over a couple decades usually in threes. There no real pattern based off of what I read. He picked three victims, killed them, and marked them. He was never caught. Was my mom afraid this guy Trifold was coming for us? Did she know something all these articles and blogs didn’t? Lyre, Reena, and I did make three. But there was no way this killer could magically know we were together. Right?
I felt an invisible vise tightening around my neck. He killed three women, took Matteo and Lola, sent a note to me along with the tri-disc and my phone… there was one person I knew connected to all these: Trey Parker. Maybe he was Trifold.
The car slowed down as we pulled up into the driveway of a two-story house, I realized that I should have nagged Lyre longer and harder.
“This is not a gas station.” I told her.
“It’s my house.” Lyre said in a chipper tone. “Reena needs clothes, too.”
“We can buy her more clothes. Scoot over, I’m driving us to my father’s. Now.”
I opened my door and, at the same time, so did Reena. She jumped out.
“Get back inside!” I ordered.
But she was already racing up to a side door of the house. Lyre stepped out and followed her.
“This’ll only take a minute,” Lyre promised, rushing to catch up.
I stood behind the open car door. “Both of you get back here. Now! We don’t have time for this. It’s too dangerous!”
It’s too dangerous. Great, I sounded like my mom. Oh well. It was true. I didn’t want Trifold Parker finding us.
They both ignored me and entered the house. I stood there for a minute debating whether I should take the car and leave them. But Lyre had the keys, and I wouldn’t leave Reena behind, though I was tempted to do so with Lyre. With a sigh, I slammed my door shut and followed them inside. The blue grey colonial style house was very nice with two big yards. I bet my mom bought it. As desperate as she is for money, Lyre couldn’t afford this place. What did she want a career for when she had a sugar mama?
“Go upstairs and get your overnight bag,” Lyre was instructing Reena as I walked through the back door that opened into the kitchen.
“But I don’t want to go.” Reena grasped her mother’s hand in both her small ones. “I want to stay here.”
“You have to,” Lyre said. “I’ll help you pack, ok?”
Reena nodded tearfully like she was agreeing to her death. While I was waiting for them, I figured I’d help myself out. The Bridgeport police had a tipline anyone could access online anonymously. I’d report my theory on the identity of Trifold. The police would find Parker, arrest him, get a confession, and then we’d all be safe again. I knew it usually wasn’t that simple, but maybe this time it would be. No matter what, I was giving them another suspect, just like Susanna suggested, to help take the heat off Matteo and myself.
I sat down at the kitchen table and pulled up the website on my phone as Lyre grabbed two bottles of water from the fridge.
“Thanks, Lyre.” I reached out for one.
“You can help yourself to your own water.” She said opening one and taking a sip while keeping the other tucked under her armpit.
“As soon as Reena’s ready, I’m so leaving you,” I told her. “And I’m taking all your bottled water with me.”
“Can’t. I have the keys.” She stuck out her tongue then flashed me a genuine smile. Much more dazzling than her fake one, I couldn’t help but grin back. I didn’t sleep with Lyre solely to get back at Henry. She’s always been beautiful and fun. But we were never able to stay sane together long enough for anything to work out.
I started to type out my message to the police.
“Corbin?” Her bright smile turned down as her face became serious. “Corbin, I want you to take Reena to Paul’s. Just Reena.”
“Mom says we should all go.”
She shook her head. “I can’t.”
“Lyre, I swear my father won’t bother you.”
“It’s not that.” She twisted and untwisted her bottle’s cap. “I have a once in a lifetime opportunity today. They can only shoot the promo interview for my show this afternoon. I can’t miss it.”
I stood, the phone and message to the police forgotten. My heart bounced like a yo-yo sinking into the pit of my stomach then rising into my throat. “The one with Trey Parker?!”
“I have to. This might be the only chance I have to get back in the business.”
“You won’t get anywhere with him. He’s a murderer, a kidnapper, a thief! Probably a complete psycho.”
“It’s just an interview, Corbin. I’m not going home with him.”
“You’re putting Reena in danger.”
“Reena will be with you! Corbin. Everything will be fine. The interview will take maybe an hour and then, I don’t know, I’ll stay with friends tonight if that’ll make you feel better. As soon as Reena’s ready, take her and go.” She opened her purse on the table. “Here are the car keys. Maybe we can meet up tomorrow. I can’t deal with any more of your family today.” She grabbed my hand and placed the keys in my palm.
I closed my hand around the key, but I wasn’t ready to give up. Mom made it clear that all of us needed to go to the safe house. She knew something important. I could feel it. I don’t always listen to her, but this time was different. Whatever frightened her, scared me. How could I make Lyre see that the danger extended to her? That I wasn’t being paranoid or making it all up? “Lyre, you don’t understand–”
“Mrs. Schooffer?” A male voice said from a nearby room.
Lyre and I both jumped.
“I was beginning to think you’d be a no show.” The voice continued.
Recognition filled Lyre’s face along with concern. She pointed her finger at me.
“Don’t move out of the kitchen. I’ll get Reena.” She ordered me, holding her hands up as if to halt any movement I might make. She backed out of the kitchen then quickly moved through the dining room and into the living room where the voice came from. “It’s Andrus. Lyre Andrus, I told you that. You weren’t supposed to be here for another hour.”
A man was in here? It wasn’t Harley. From what Lyre had told me earlier, I could guess who. Why did she always have to lie? Dammit! I knew we should have gone straight to my father’s.
“Yes. I’m sorry about that. My schedule had a hiccup today and I needed to rearrange a few things. It was easier for me to push the interview up. I found the house key under the doormat and let myself in, if that’s all right. I’m all set up, if you’re ready–”
“Oh. Um… ok. Well, let me get my daughter’s bag packed so she’ll be out of the way. Reena go to your room.”
Reena had reappeared, followed her, and stood in the dining room near the stairs. She craned her neck back at me with suspicion-filled eyes then turned to look into the living room again.
“Reena! Pack. Now!” Lyre ordered.
Reena raced upstairs. Once she was gone I moved down the hall.
“We need to start right away,” the man insisted, his tone harsher. “We’re behind schedule as it is. The kid stays.”
I walked around the corner. “It’s not up to you, Trey Parker.”
He was a stocky man. White haired with brown streaks, khakis, and a pathetic red sweater on. His eyes widened at the sight of me. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose with a trembling finger.
He recognized me. That was all I needed to know. I came at him with my fist raised, slamming it down into his pudgy cheek. All the anger, fear, uncertainty of the past 24 hours filled me. Trey Parker had fallen to the floor. I jumped on top of him.
I could hear Lyre screaming at me, but I ignored her. Matteo was usually the brawn in our duo. Suddenly, I understood why he liked to fight so much back in the day. Giving it to Parker was immensely satisfying. I grabbed the collar of his sweater to hold him down then punched his ugly doughy face again and again.
My knuckles were throbbing already after only three punches and I was thinking that this would be my last hit (fighting was more exhausting than I remembered). Behind me, someone grabbed the collars of my shirt and jacket. They pulled me off Parker with a solid yank. At the same time that I felt myself flying backwards, something connected and pushed against my clavicle, forcing me back even faster. My backside smacked into the wall. I found myself being held up against the plaster with one arm. Once the room stopped spinning, I focused on the person who had me pinned.
“Matteo?” I whispered.
I couldn’t find the words to express the shock, fear and anger that swirled through my chest. My jaw flopped open. He had some bruises on his face, smelled terrible, but it was him.
I smiled. “Matteo!”
A weight lifted from my heart. Excited, I pushed his hand off my chest and moved to put my arms around just to be sure he was really there. As I stepped forward, Matteo reached behind his back. Next thing I know, he had the barrel of a handgun shoved in my face.
“No!” Lyre shouted.
I could see Lyre with her hands pressed against her lips. She stood near Parker who was still on the ground holding his bleeding face. My gaze glided back to Matteo’s hardened face. His dark eyes were blacker, and there was something unstable with the way he kept blinking. I got a surreal feeling in my gut that it was Matteo, and not Matteo. Like it was less of him, or maybe him and something else? I wasn’t sure, but he felt off.
“What are you doing, man?” I asked, keeping my voice light. “Put the gun away.”
“I can’t.” Matteo said. There wasn’t a hint of emotion in his voice. A robot may as well have stated a fact.
“Stop playing around,” I said, trying to hide the fear that was swirling in my belly. “Let’s get out of here. Two against one. Parker can’t win.”
“You have no idea what you’re up against,” Matteo said.
I recognized the words. The woman last night, Lola, had said that. Matteo reached up with his left hand, pulled back the slide of the semi-automatic and released, loading a round into the chamber. I raised my arms up in surrender. What the hell was he doing?! I swallowed, hard, trying to come up with something, anything to snap him out of this insanity.
A soft creak sounded on the floorboard to my left.
“Mommy?” Reena’s small voice broke the silence.
Lyre squeaked in answer. I slid my gaze in the little girl’s direction. Her wide eyes were full of terror as she stared up at Matteo and his weapon.
“Reena.” I said, slowly. “Go back to your bedroom. Pack your bag so you and mommy can leave, ok?”
“Nobody move!” Matteo ordered. “Nobody leaves.”
Reena clasped her hands over her chest and pressed herself against the frame of the archway. A small whimpering floating up from her throat.
I turned my attention back to Matteo. His eyes had never left my face as far as I could tell. The gun was still pointed at my head.
“Matteo, please,” I said, “not here. Not in front of my daughter.”
He narrowed his eyes at me. “Sorry.”
Matteo was my friend, my brother. We were inseparable. Thicker than blood. In the end, he betrayed me. I should have known better. I’d been down this path before. That’s what brothers do. They betray each other.
“Where are we going, Henry?” Corbin asked, looking out at the highway they were on.
“Don’t worry.” Henry said. “It’s somewhere safe.”
They slowed down and exited onto a ramp. Corbin was quiet until they turned down a gravel road.Tall trees with huge brown trunks that held up colorful umbrellas of red, yellow, orange, and brown leaves grew on either side of it.
“Are we in the woods?” Corbin asked.
“Yeah. I used to go camping with my troop here.”
After their father hung up, Susanna and Henry had taken Corbin to one of the guest rooms in the hotel. There was a huge bed that they let Corbin jump on while watching cartoons when they went into the bathroom to talk. They were in there for a long time. Sometimes there was yelling. Finally, they both emerged with angry looks on their faces. Henry left slamming the door behind him and Susanna lay on the bed silently watching TV until she fell asleep.
Corbin wasn’t sure exactly how much time passed, but Henry returned. After making sure Susanna was asleep, he invited Corbin to get a snack with him. They left the hotel, got into a red car, and drove off. They were both quiet most of the ride.
“Are you mad at me?” Corbin asked.
Henry didn’t answer. He looked straight ahead into the woods.
“Is dad mad at me?”
“He’s not your dad!”
Corbin shrunk back against the seat.
“Sorry.” Henry said. “Everything’s going to be fine. I’m taking you to your mom.”
Corbin perked up. “Really?”
“Dad told me to bring you. He’s going to meet up with us later.”
Corbin smiled with excitement. Henry turned off the gravel road onto what barely resembled a path. The vehicle barely made it through the close bushes and trees. Henry leaned forward straining to see ahead of him as the vegetation above them entwined tighter blocking what was left of the setting sun. The wind picked up causing branches to claw at the vehicle. They drove for what seemed a long time before Henry suddenly stopped.
“We’re here.” He announced. “Get out of the car.”
Henry stepped out into the darkening trees leaving the driver’s door wide open. Corbin looked out his window. He didn’t see anything except woods or forest or whatever the place was. Henry appeared at the passenger door and opened it.
“Where’s my mom?” Corbin asked.
“She’s nearby. We have to walk the rest of the way.”
Corbin hesitated. What was his mom doing way out here?
“Can I wait in the car while you get her?” Corbin asked.
“No. Hurry up before it gets too dark.”
Corbin groaned, but did as he was told. Outside, the wind whipped through the trees. Corbin shivered. Henry slammed the passenger door shut.
“Follow me.” Henry ordered, turning away. “She’s in a cabin not too far from here.”
Henry moved so fast Corbin practically had to run to keep up. His heavy schoolbag held him back and he had to stop every once so often to adjust it on his shoulders before catching up with his big brother again. After walking a couple of minutes in silence, Corbin had to ask,
“How much further?”
“We’re here.” Henry said. He pointed his finger out. “There. Don’t you see it? Your mom’s waving on the porch.”
Corbin walked a little ahead of Henry to get a better view. All he saw were trees and darkness. No cabin. No mom.
“I don’t see–” Corbin had turned his head to look up at his brother, but there was no one there. “Henry?”
Snap! A branch cracked ahead of him and he could just make out the sky blue of Henry’s school jacket sprinting away.
Corbin took off after him. He pushed his legs as hard as he could. Henry was so much faster and he’d had a head start. Corbin’s bag slowed him down even more. He could still see Henry but his brother was too far to catch up to.
Somewhere up ahead, he heard a door slam and an engine start. The car!
“Henry! Henry wait!”
Red glow from the tail lights beamed on the trunks.
“Don’t leave me!”
The two lights began to move.
Faster and faster they zoomed away.
“Please! No, no!”
In no time, they were specks of red in the distance that vanished into the night. Corbin tried to chase after them, but the woods were completely dark now. He couldn’t tell if he were going straight or in circles. He was getting scratched by branches, running into bushes, tripping over his feet, and spooked by creepy animal noises. He kept going though. He refused to give up. Henry wouldn’t really leave him. He must not realize Corbin wasn’t in the car. He would come back for him. As more time passed, Corbin wondered if Henry did know that he wasn’t there, but was lost in the woods, too, searching for him. Corbin had to find him. Corbin was certain that it was just a little further and he’d stumble on the red car.
A little more. Keep going. Another step. He must be almost there.
His breathing became labored and his mouth dry. His footsteps were unsteady. When he tripped over a hard lump, hitting his knees and hands hard on the ground, he was too exhausted to get up. He stared into the darkness, squeezing the cold earth between his fingers as tears spilled out from his eyes.
“Hennn-rrryyy!” He screamed between gasping sobs.
The wind whipped his cry up into the sky, but if it delivered the message to his brother he never knew. What he did know with stabbing heartache was that his brother had left him… and he wasn’t coming back.
Note: So, you may have noticed that Matteo holds a revolver in the pictures, but is described as having a semi-automatic in the story (sorry for ruining this for everyone who didn’t notice! lol). Basically, I took the pictures for a future chapter using a revolver then wrote this one. Then realized I’d taken pictures with a different gun. Then took pictures for this chapter with the revolver for continuity’s sake… Then was too lazy to change the description. But it would have went something like: “Matteo pulled back the hammer with his thumb sending a sharp click echoing across the room.” Er, I dunno know. Something like that. :P
Note II: My laptop broke right before I posted the last chapter. I had already uploaded the pics so could post it as the story is saved online instead of on my computer. However, I hadn’t gotten around to uploading the pics for this chapter at the time. But, I was able to fix my laptop myself! (yay for saving money on overpriced electronics repair shops!) Now I can continue working on the story!!! Happy Dance!