If you’d like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com. If you have suggestions or corrections, please don’t bother as that’s the job of my publisher’s editor.
Come visit me at: www.officialaspfilms.com or my publisher at: www.pdpublishing.com
The shadows were deep, far too deep to peer through. Braxton could feel her heart pounding, the cold hardness of whatever she hid behind seeping into her back. She closed her eyes, holding her breath. Don’t let him find me. Please, oh please, don’t let him find me.
She craned her neck, trying to peek further into the darkness. A shadow. Shape. Glowing red eyes. With a gasp, she pressed herself back against her hiding spot. She could feel a cold sweat break out over her palms and trickle down her spine and between her breasts. She wanted to cry as her fear began to grow, breath harder and harder to capture.
Braxton screamed as cold fingers found their way to her throat-
Braxton’s scream echoed in her head and bedroom as she shot up in bed, covered in sweat, eyes wide and wild. She started when she saw the figure at the side of her bed. “Christ, you scared me!” she flared.
“Sorry,” the low voice said. “You were having a nightmare.”
“Yeah, no shit.” Braxton blew out a loud breath, instantly feeling bad. She glanced at her reclusive roommate. “Sorry. Did you wake me?” The woman nodded. “Thank you.” Braxton ran her hands through her hair, brows drawing. “Hey, what’s your name, anyway? You’ve been living here for three weeks, and we never see you.”
The brunette stood to her full height, grinning down at the disheveled blonde. “Becca.”
“Nice to finally meet you, Becca. Even if it is under crappy circumstances. I’m Braxton.”
Becca hesitated for a moment before taking the proffered hand. “Nice to meet you. You okay now?”
Braxton nodded. “Yeah. Sorry to wake you.”
Becca smirked. “Makes up for all the times you told me turn down my music. Night.”
Left alone again, Braxton flopped back down into the bed, staring up at the dark ceiling. Shadows and shapes played across it as a car drove by outside, the headlights moving the night images.
Pushing the sheet aside, her feet hit the floor with a dull thud, looking around. She saw her sketchpad on the chair near the window and grabbed it. She had an unfinished drawing for class, and the inspiration that had been lacking earlier in the night raged through her body.
By the light of the moonlight, she began to sketch, curled up in the chair that unbeknownst to her, Margot Crowley had favored during her stay with the roommates. Her hand scribbled furiously across the page, images bursting to life from the shadows of her memory. Gruesome faces lurked, watching her every move, every stroke. Fifteen minutes later she gasped, Becca looking back at her from her sketchpad. She looked into the eyes, far more intense than her roommates, an almost dangerous quality to them. The hair was dark, nearly black in the world of color.
Braxton sat back in the chair, studying the world she’d created around the large face at the center. A cemetery, endless rows of stones, forgotten and dreary. It certainly reflected her mood of late, as well as the circumstances of a month ago. But was that all there was to it? Had she merely drawn what was in her heart, in her life currently?
Somewhat disturbed and uncomfortable, Braxton ripped the page from the pad, about to crumble it in her hands when she stopped, holding it up to the light of the window, studying her handiwork. With a heavy sigh, her exhaustion beginning to make her eyelids droop once more, she put the drawing away in a safe place, then crawled back into bed.
Jared accepted the bit of quasedilla from Karen’s fingers, kissing the tips before chewing contentedly. She sat on his lap where they sat in the oversized armchair. He ignored his roommates eyerolls at the gesture. Braxton was curled up in the corner of the couch, her sketchpad balanced on her knees, only half listening while Carrie went on and on about the virtues of Becca.
“I’m telling you,” she said emphatically, sipping from her bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, “she the like the fucking hottest chick ever!” She flopped back against the couch cushions behind her. “Man, I’d love to-“ she stopped herself, face flushing as red as the couch beneath her ass.
Braxton glanced up to see what had caught her horny roommate’s attention. A grin split her face as Carrie’s object of just traipsed into the room. Karen and Jared tried to muffle their chuckles.
“Hey, Becca,” Jared said brightly. The new roommate nodded acknowledgement at his greeting. “Come join us.”
Becca walked to the archway that separated the kitchen from the living room, thumbs tucked into the back pockets of her ripped jeans. She tossed her weight onto a hip. “What are you doing?”
“Just sitting around, chewing the fat.”
“Watching Jared feed and water his pet,” Lydia muttered, making Carrie and Braxton grin as they shared an amused look.
Becca crossed her arms over her chest, amused. She had heard what the woman - who she thought was named Carrie – had said. Her gaze fell to Braxton briefly before darting to Jared and his “pet”.
“Yeah, come sit with us,” Lydia said, patting the couch cushion next to her. “I just learned your damn name two days ago.”
Amused but silent, Becca pushed off the wall and took a seat on the hard piano bench, out of the circle, but in the room. She sat forward, elbows resting on her thighs, hands dangling between her spread knees.
“So where do you come from?” Jared asked, giving Karen a quick kiss as she hopped off his lap and headed into the kitchen.
Becca suddenly looked very uncomfortable, rubbing her palms on the thighs of her jeans. Clearing her throat, she said, “I was born in San Diego. Been here for the past three and a half years.”
“I love San Diego,” Karen said coming back into the room with an armful of hard lemonade. She passed a bottle to everyone in the room, including Becca.
“Oh, uh, thanks.” Becca set the bottle on the bench next to her, unopened. Braxton’s gaze traveled from the unopened bottle back to the quiet woman, whose gaze met hers for a moment then jumped to Lydia, who was telling an amusing story about a trip she’d had to San Diego as a kid. After a moment, Becca stood, scooting the bench back under the instrument. “Well, guys, uh, I gotta get going.” With a small wave, she was out of the house. Braxton followed her with her eyes.
“Jesus, she’s hot,” Carrie muttered with a wistful sigh, which set everyone off laughing again. All except Braxton.
Braxton blew out a puff of smoke, watching as it drifted up into the night sky, beyond the circle of the porch light. Flicking a bit of ash off the side of the porch, she looked back out into the street, watching as a cat scurry across, chasing after some unseen rodent.
The night was quiet, kids ready to go back to school the following morning. She was glad; the basketball games in the street until all hours of the night got old quick. The air was beginning to cool at night as September began. The sound of an approaching car drew her attention, Braxton absently taking another drag from her bummed cigarette. Becca’s van pulled to the curb in her regular space.
“Hey,” the taller woman said, strolling up the walk, a mere silhouette until she stepped into the porch light. She stopped, in customary stance of thumbs hooked into the back pockets of her jeans. Her thin, brown leather jacket gleamed in the light. “Got another one of those?” she nodded toward Braxton’s smoke, held half-hazardly between two fingers.
“Didn’t know you smoked,” Braxton said, handing Carrie’s pack to Becca.
“I don’t,” the roommate said, snagging a smoke, tossing the half-empty package back to the porch step next to the blonde. “Didn’t think you did, either,” she said, taking the proffered lighter.
“I don’t,” Braxton smiled. “Just sounded good tonight. Guess you could say I’m a casual, casual smoker.”
Becca chuckled, plopping down next to Braxton. She took a deep drag, holding for a moment before blowing out the smoke, coughing slightly. “Been awhile,” she explained with a chuckle.
“Yeah. Me, too.” Tongue burning and a nasty taste in her mouth, Braxton smothered the cherry on the cement next to her thigh, tossing the butt into the rusted coffee can Carrie used when she sat on the porch smoking.
Becca blew out another mouthful of smoke, eyeing her companion. “You go to the university?”
Braxton nodded. “Yup.’ She sipped from her bottle of water.
“What are you studying?”
“That is a great question. Here I am, a senior, and basically starting over. Pretty ridiculous, really.” She grinned at herself. “I’ve decided to change my major at the last minute. Now I’m trying for art.”
“Art.” Becca blew out one final puff then snuffed the cigarette, tossing it into the can. “Can’t draw to save my life.”
“What do you do?” Braxton leaned back on her hands, glancing over at the other woman. She wondered what was bringing on this surprising bout of friendliness, considering Becca basically wandered around the place like a ghost. When she was there, anyway.
Becca looked down at her shoes, one toe tapping absently on the step. “Right now I’m working at my Aunt Barbara’s place. She owns a tattoo parlor.”
“Thought you couldn’t draw.”
“Can’t. I’m her official clean up girl.” Becca rotated her head around, as though loosening the tendons.
“That’s cool. Get a good price on tats?”
“Yeah. If I want one, I guess.”
“How did you end up working there-“
“I need to get to sleep.” Becca stood abruptly, startling Braxton with the sudden move. “It was nice talking to you,” she called over her shoulder, disappearing into the dark house.
Stung, Braxton once more studied the night around her. “Ooookay.”
Margot smiled at the kind words directed at her husband, admiration for a good sermon. Dutifully, she stood by his side, wearing her Sunday best.
“You look lovely today, Margot,” Denise Swanson said, taking in Margot’s yellow and red spotted dress.
“Thank you, Denise. How’s Larry Jr.?” Margot asked politely, hiding her distaste for the redhead standing before her with an expert mask of the perfect preacher’s wife.
“Oh, my son’s fine. He and his wife just bought a new place over in Rifle. You should see how big it is!”
“Oh, how wonderful for them.” The plastic smile plastered on Margot’s face was an award winner. “Well, I need to head on home and get ready for the bake sale here tomorrow.”
Fletcher continued his conversation with Larry Sr. as he watched his wife walk to their car. “Well, Larry, I need to go.” He clapped his longtime friend on the shoulder. “You and the little wife have a good day.”
Margot got herself settled into the old Chevy, fastening her seatbelt. Her stomach clenched, just as it always did, as Fletcher got settled behind the wheel. She could feel the weight of his stare, but said nothing. Fletcher studied the profile of the woman he’d seen just about every day of his miserable life for more than two decades.
He started up the car and got them headed home, the muscles in his jaw working. “Why were you rude to Larry’s wife?”
Margot looked at him, surprised. “What?” She gasped, hand coming up to cover her mouth, already tasting the blood as it gathered. She figured her teeth must have cut Fletcher’s hand. Her face flooded with the heat of pain and humiliation.
“Don’t talk back to me,” he said, voice a low growl. “You just wait till we get home. Make me look bad in front of my parishioners. Who do you think I am in this community, Margot?” he demanded, speed of the car matching that of his temper. Soon Margot was hanging on with white knuckles. “I’m a leader here. I am the father of their spiritual values! How dare you make me look bad in front of them. Make me look weak, as though I can’t control my own wife.”
Margot stared straight ahead, knowing that to say anything, even if it were just agreeing with him, which she didn’t, would make it worse. She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, trying to sink into that place where she went, a place where she saw happy things and happy people. A place where she saw her daughter’s smiling face. Her daughter who escaped.
Fletcher’s face was beat red by time they reached the house. He slammed out of the car then stormed around the car, tugging Margot from her seat and dragging her by the wrist toward the house. Once the door was unlocked and pushed opened, he threw her inside.
“You embarrassed me today, Margot,” he spat, watching in satisfaction as she cowered in the corner of the couch. “You ask me if you can go see your daughter, leaving me and your duties to me as your husband, and then you act as you did today.” SLAP “You’re my wife!” SLAP “You need to-“ SLAP “- act like it!”
Breathing hard, Fletcher looked down at the woman who was now curled up on the floor. He stepped back from her, disgusted, not allowing his guilt to bubble up. Margot was a woman. She was his property and his wife, and a wife was to obey thy husband.
Margot flinched when the front door slammed shut, soon followed by the car revving back to life. She waited until the squeal of the tires to get up. She was unsteady on her feet, holding onto the back of the chair for support. Her head throbbed. Her mouth hurt. She wanted to throw up.
She flipped open the medicine cabinet before turning on the bathroom light. She didn’t want to see the results of Fletcher’s “teachings”. Instead, she reached for the hydrogen peroxide, Neosporin and bag of cotton balls from underneath the vanity. Taking her supplies with her, she headed into the guest bedroom, which was once upon a time Braxton’s.
Sitting on the bed, she sighed, wincing with a hiss as she dabbed the cuts with a peroxide-saturated cotton ball. Silent tears ran down her cheeks as she tended to her wounds. There was no need to look in a mirror to know where she hurt.
She quietly twisted the cap back onto the brown bottle, as well as the small cap on the hard, squishy tube of antiseptic. She looked around the room: white walls, completely functionary furniture and the quilt spread Margot had made herself, more than fifteen years before. What she found ironic was the fact that the room had been converted into a guest room once Braxton had left for college, but it looked the exact same. Fletcher never allowed their daughter to decorate or give it her own touch or flair. She’d been so glad to see that Braxton seemed to have made her room in her new home her own. She had good friends who cared about her. Was getting a good education.
Margot gathered the medical supplies and put them away, then headed into the kitchen, wincing slightly as she shifted her weight off her left ankle, which was twisted during the attack. She quickly prepared the coffee pot, and while it gurgled and sighed, she picked up the wall phone.
Braxton groaned as she turned over, blindly grabbing for the phone. “Hello?” she murmured.
“Honey? What’s wrong?”
Braxton rolled her eyes at the instant worry in her mother’s voice. “Nothing, Mom. Just got a nasty head cold.” She sniffled to emphasize her point. “What’s up?”
“I was thinking of coming up to see you. Maybe stay for a few days.”
Brows drawn, Braxton pushed herself up in the bed, resting against the headboard. “Okay. Why?” She tugged a Kleenex from the box lying on the pillow next to her, groaning as she rubbed her already-sore nose. The wadded up tissue found a home in the small pile of its comrades.
“Because I love and miss you.” Margot glanced out of her kitchen window, making sure Fletcher didn’t pull into the driveway. She was never sure how long he’d stay gone.
Braxton’s brows drew once again. Something was wrong. “What is it, Mom?” she asked softly, knowing damn well what it was. “Are you okay?”
“Oh, yeah! I’m fine, honey. Just fine.” Margot busied herself making a cup of coffee, her hands trembling the entire time. “How are you? How are your new classes?”
Braxton didn’t answer for a moment- her mother had never asked about her classes in three years of college. “They’re fine,” she said slowly. She swallowed, deciding to tell her mother of her change in major, first readying herself for the backlash that would come from it. “I’m taking some art classes, Mom.”
“Art classes?” Margot was confused. She wrapped her hand around her mug, wincing slightly as the edge of the cup hit her newest split lip.
“I’ve… I’m not going into English anymore, Mom. I know how badly you wanted me to follow in grandpa-“
“I want you to be happy, Braxton,” Margot interrupted, her voice almost a harsh whisper from the passion behind it. “There is so much hurt in this world, honey, and the patches of light are small and far and few in between. You grab onto what makes you happy and you hold on for dear life. Do you understand me?”
Braxton was left speechless. “Uh, okay. Thanks.”
Margot felt a finger of fear tap her heart when she saw Fletcher’s car pull up into the drive. “I need to go. Remember, Braxton. Follow your dreams, and follow your heart. I’ll see you soon.” She slammed the receiver down, making herself seem as casual as possible. She quickly set about making a mug of coffee for her husband, just exactly how he liked it.
Fletcher walked in, unbuttoning his suit jacket as he did. He could hear Margot working in the kitchen, so didn’t bother to look that way. He found his place in his chair and grabbed his well-worn bible from the side table.
“Here you are, honey,” Margot said quietly, setting the cup of coffee next to her husband. He didn’t reply, merely reached over and slipped his fingers through the ceramic handle. She backed away toward the kitchen, no longer able to hide the hatred on her face.
Return to the Academy