A/N: In case the warning on the side bar isn’t enough, there will be adult content in this chapter.
Also, woah… this chapter was supposed to be out a week ago. Stupid Internet troubles. Sorry, guys!
I’ve been sleeping a lot lately. Dreamless. A welcome change from the nightmares, perhaps, but it has put me on edge. My sleep is restless, disturbed by twinges of pain. Phantom screams. I wake sometimes with the frantic urge to run, but my body is as heavy as lead. It doesn’t respond. All I can do is cry out and it brings them running, bleary-eyed and stumbling. I wake with tears hot on my cheeks, with the sheets soaked through with sweat. The nightmares have become invisible, evasive, and even I don’t know why I’m so afraid.
On nights like these, I beg them to let me die.
I went outside today, walking gingerly. Tentatively. My tomatoes had rotted on the vine and I couldn’t tear my eyes away. So much potential, withered away in its prime. I wish I could have saved them. The doctor says that, although any danger to my life has passed, I still have to be careful. Any strenuous activity could reopen my wound and I could bleed out, or get infected, or…
I’m getting ahead of myself again, aren’t I? I’m sorry; the pain and the sleepless nights are most vivid in my mind. The memories of what came before are hazy now at best, but I’ll try to make sense. You need to understand.
Let’s go back to where I left off.
Susie pulled on the shirt I had worn that day for our wedding, hugging the thin fabric around herself like a shield. Though it was warm, she was shivering violently. At a loss, I tugged on a spare t-shirt to buy myself some time, listening to Susie’s shuddering breaths as she tried to hold back sobs.
“Susie?” I ventured after a moment.
My hand reached out to touch her shoulder but she flinched away. I let it drop back to my side, heart sinking.
I flopped down on the bed beside her, not so close as to be able to touch her but close enough to lend what little support I could. Susie hugged her knees, her knuckles white where she had clenched her hands into fists.
“I was so stupid,” she whispered. The words seemed so fragile that they could break.
I turned my head so I could see her, but – though every part of me ached to do so – I didn’t reach out to touch her. Susie swallowed, psyching herself up to speak; I heard her take a steadying breath.
“My first boyfriend –” Susie broke off and laughed, a short humourless laugh. “My only boyfriend apart from you, Gabe. It wasn’t working. He didn’t treat me right, though it took me a, well, stupidly long time to realise it.”
“If he didn’t treat you right, he didn’t deserve you,” I said. The words sounded lame even as I said them, just a rather pathetic attempt to salve the wounds I didn’t yet know existed.
Susie shook her head, fiddling nervously with the top button of the shirt.
“I got him to meet with me, so I could break up with him. He told me – he told me that only he could decide when he was done with me.”
I moved and sat up, a knot in my stomach.
“What happened?” I asked, though I had the horrible feeling I already knew.
“He –” Susie broke off again, took a breath and then tried once more to speak. “He forced himself on me. Then… then, when he was done, he told me that now he was done with me.”
“He left me there, and I had – I had to make my own way home. M-my sister, Mia – she heard me crying in my room and that – that was the first time we’d properly bonded.”
Susie started to sob in earnest as her voice failed and died. Trembling more violently, she curled up on her side and hugged herself, trying desperately to hold herself together.
I moved and rested my hand on her hip, stroking her side gently through the fabric of my shirt as she continued to cry. She didn’t, thankfully, flinch from my touch.
“And then – and then –” Susie pressed a hand over her mouth, putting a stop to the violent tumble of words. “I’m sorry, Gabe. I’m sorry I just – I can’t do this tonight.”
I had a feeling there was more that she wanted to tell me, that she was struggling to come to terms with, but I didn’t want to push her. Not tonight, when she was already so upset. Instead, I leant over and pressed a kiss to her hair, breathing in her clean, safe scent.
For a moment, I believed that everything would be okay.
“I’ll wait for you as long as it takes for you to be ready, Susie. Even if it takes years.” She peeked up at me from behind her arm, and I brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. “We can take this as slow as you want. Okay?”
Susie rolled over, winding her arms around one of mine as I shifted back on the bed. Her head rested against my chest as she pressed close to my side.
“I love you, Gabe,” she whispered tearfully. “Th-thank you for being so – so understanding.”
Her arms tightened almost uncomfortably around mine. I reached over to stroke her tense fingers.
“There’s nothing to thank me for.”
Susie sniffed, wiping her eyes on the back of her hand.
“I – I wish we’d met s-sooner. I wish – I wish -“
Her voice stuttered and died, and my hand tightened impulsively over hers.
“You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” she said shakily. “I know that sounds really cheesy, but…”
I said nothing, just sat up and pulled Susie into a gentle kiss. As she wound her arms tightly around me, I felt hot tears sting my eyes and slide unhindered down my cheeks. I could see – could feel – Susie’s pain. I could feel her love and her trust for me.
I didn’t deserve to be the best thing in her life. Not whilst I was still lying to her.
After a moment, I pulled away. I shivered as her breath skimmed my lips.
“I have… I have something I need to tell you,” I murmured, though every part of me wanted to stay silent and keep gently kissing her.
“You can tell me anything,” Susie said softly.
I pulled away then, needing to focus. I didn’t know where to begin.
“My name,” I managed after a moment. “My name is Lucas Carter.”
Shock blossomed on Susie’s face, staining her cheeks a deep red.
“What? But -“
“Don’t. Let me finish or I’ll never say all this. Please.”
Though I could see that she was brimming with questions and perhaps a little anger, Susie fell silent.
“I’m Gabriel Nesaren now. Legally and everything.”
Elena Holmes, of Doo Peas, had inevitably discovered that I was lying about my name. Far from being angry or asking a lot of questions, Elena had helped me legally change my name, using the same contacts and channels she had used to help me adopt Jamie. A part of me wondered at her kindness, but another, more cynical part had the faint uneasy sensation of a noose being pulled forever tighter around my throat. Doo Peas owned me and, now I was married, the contract promising one of my children to them seemed ever more likely to be fulfilled.
“But, my name used to be Lucas Carter. I grew up in Bridgeport, like I told you before. My mother… she’s currently married to Matthew Hamming, if you can believe that.”
Susie’s eyes widened, but she didn’t speak.
“My father was heartbroken when she left, as you know. The orphanage, my friendship with Kami… all that is the truth.”
After a moment of silent, Susie cottoned on to where I was headed.
“And… the prostitution?” she said softly.
I looked away.
“That’s true, partly. I mean, I lived with a guy in return for sexual favours. We never actually had sex. I mean, he wanted to and… if I’d stayed any longer he’d have probably just taken what he wanted.”
Susie made as though to wrap her arms around me, but I shook my head. Having her sympathy right then, when she only knew half the truth, could shatter me.
“Please, don’t.” My voice was weak. “I can’t… I mean, I haven’t finished.”
Susie nodded, crossing her arms over her chest and watching me intently. I took a deep, shuddering breath.
“The guy… his name was -” I broke off, closing my eyes for a moment. This was the moment of truth, the moment that could make or break our relationship. The moment I had been dreading. “It was James Frank.”
Susie was silent. She moved and sat on the edge of the bed, pressing her hands shakily against her mouth as she put together all the things I’d left unsaid.
“You… you killed James Frank?”
I bowed my head, feeling as though a weight was crushing my chest. I couldn’t speak. I could barely even breathe.
Susie stood up, seemingly unable to decide between anger, sympathy and God knows how many other emotions swirling around in her head. After a moment of heavy silence, anger won.
“You mean to tell me you murdered him? And you didn’t think it a good idea to tell me before you married me?”
“I wanted to,” I told her, standing up myself. “Really, I did. B-but I didn’t want you lying for me. I didn’t want you to have that on your conscience too.” I paused to wipe my eyes on my hand, and then told her my real fear. “I didn’t want you going to the police.”
“Oh my God,” Susie moaned, holding her head in her hands. “I need to go to the police. I can’t just – I can’t just not tell them. B-but -” She broke off, and looked up at me, her expression frightened. “How could you kill someone?”
“I didn’t mean to, I swear. I just – I just pushed him away. And he fell down the stairs.” I shook my head, my voice pleading. “It was an accident, Susie. An accident.”
“Then why didn’t you just go to the police and tell them.” Susie was attempting to keep her voice strong, but it trembled. “Why did you just run away?”
“Do you really think anyone would have believed me? I was less than human in the city, and James Frank was… he was a celebrity. Even if the police believed it was an accident, the public would have been baying for my blood. You saw the papers, Susie. You saw what people were saying.”
Susie was silent again. I couldn’t even begin to tell what she was thinking.
“I just…” I swallowed. “I’d take it all back if I could, Susie. I’d have let him take what he wanted. I’d have stayed with him, and eventually he’d have got tired of me and moved on to some prettier, younger thing. Maybe he’d have let me stay and clean or, if he’d thrown me out, I could have – I could have done something.” I tried to keep control of my voice and, although the words were falling out faster than I could think, it remained miraculously steady. “Being free from him isn’t worth the nightmares. And – and it’s definitely not worth losing you.”
“G-get out,” Susie croaked, tears sliding unchecked down her cheeks. “Please. Just – just go.”
“Susie, I -“
“Leave me alone!”
I didn’t know what else to do. Talking would do no good, and begging, screaming or crying would probably just do even more damage. Perhaps Susie only needed some time to think about what I’d dumped on her that night, or perhaps she wanted me out of her life forever. At that moment, I didn’t know.
All I knew was that she wanted me gone and, loving her as I did, I couldn’t deny her that.
I pulled on some trousers and ran. I didn’t stop in the living room, even when Jamie appeared from his room and shouted after me. I didn’t stop in the garden. I kept running and running, heading to where the stars touched the horizon. I knew that, if I stopped, I would just break down and cry.
As I ran down the road, I heard Susie calling after me. But I didn’t stop, though I couldn’t make out the words. I didn’t even look back.
I just ran.
I stopped running when I reached the gazebo, out of breath and out of motivation to keep going. The wedding arch from earlier that day was still set up, but the flowers and leaves that had been so vibrant were drooping sadly now. It made my heart hurt to look at it. The happy memories from that afternoon seemed faded now, as though they had happened a lifetime ago.
Had I ruined my relationship with Susannah forever?
I turned away from the wedding arch and looked out over the town. The raw pain that had swamped me when I had begun to run had numbed now. I just felt cold, and that had more to do with the night breeze than with any emotion within me.
“Lucas… what are you doing here?”
My stomach turned over at the sound of Kami’s voice. This was exactly what I didn’t need.
“I’m just… thinking,” I mumbled, without turning around.
Kami came up beside me, quirking an eyebrow.
“On your wedding night?”
Kami jumped down off the steps.
“You don’t want to talk to me, I get it.”
When I didn’t reply, Kami turned and faced me.
“But you at least need somewhere to stay that’s out of the cold. There’s a spare room in my house that you could use until whenever your tiff with your wife has ended.” I opened my mouth to protest, but Kami cut across me. “And don’t try to say you’re not having a tiff, Lucas. No self-respecting man would be out here alone on their wedding night if nothing had happened.”
I felt uncomfortable accepting Kami’s offer of shelter, but where else did I have to go? If I’m entirely truthful, there was a part of me that was just waiting for Seeley Moss to descend on me like a vengeful tornado.
“All right,” I said reluctantly after a moment. “Just for one night, though. I’ll go home and try and patch things up in the morning.”
I knew that, the longer I left it, the more likely it was that Susie would never forgive me. And what would I do then?
Kami lived with her coworker in a modest detached house in the middle of the town. It was definitely a step up from when she had been living with me and I knew, once again, that our separation had been for the best.
We had walked in silence here from the gazebo, both of us wrapped in our own thoughts. I was dwelling on Susie, trying to compose an apology (or at least some sort of grovelling) in my mind. I don’t know what Kami was thinking, but, as she unlocked the front door, I couldn’t help but feel a tingling unease.
What if Kami was so angry and hurt by my rejection of her that she decided to trap me in her house forever? Or killed me and buried my body under the floorboards? Or did that sort of thing only happen in horror films?
My fears seemed largely unfounded, however. Kami led me up to the spare bedroom and then left me alone to stew in my own misery. She seemed to have realised that I was in no mood for talking and had decided the best thing to do was to leave me be.
Of course, once she had gone, I felt incredibly lonely and wanted nothing more than someone to talk to. I wanted Jamie. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, but I knew that I’d been waiting for Jamie at the gazebo. I’d been waiting to him to come and persuade me to come back, to reassure me that Susie just needed to think things through. I shouldn’t rely on him like that so much – what kind of father was I that I expected him to come and make everything right again? When he was still obviously hurting over Jenna?
But even so, I needed him.
I don’t know how long I sat there, staring into space. I didn’t cry; right then, I was past tears. The numbness from earlier had returned with a vengeance.
I thought I would feel relieved and perhaps a little healed once I’d told Susie the truth, but I felt nothing. Empty. The secret I’d been guarding for so long had become such a part of me that it had left a gaping hole in my chest. Though maybe it was the potential loss of Susie that had me feeling so… so apathetic. I don’t really know how I’d been expecting her to react. Perhaps stupidly, naively, I’d been hoping she would say that she understood. That it didn’t matter.
But of course it mattered. You can’t just shrug off something like murder.
A knock at the door dragged me out of my depressed wallowing enough that I looked up. Though I wanted to continue licking my wounds in peace, I tried to shake myself into a more sociable mood. A distraction would be good, particularly as my thoughts were spiralling darker and darker.
“Come in,” I called. My voice sounded weak and pathetic and, at that moment, I hated myself.
Be a man, Gabe. Deal with this. Hasn’t life taught you anything?
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been shocked or surprised when the door opened to reveal Kami, clad only in a bathroom towel.
But I was very surprised.
Awkwardly, I looked away.
“Uh, Kami… hi.” My voice was hard to hear over the pounding of my heart against my ribcage. “Look, I’m flattered, but… this really isn’t why I came here. I just… I want to be left alone.”
When I chanced a glance back at her, she was smiling slightly.
“You’ve always been rather clueless, Lucas. You know I want you and, judging from that bulge in your trousers, you want me too.”
I felt heat flood my face, feeling angry at myself for my body’s reaction to her presence. Her practically naked presence.
“I think I should just leave,” I said firmly, trying to move past her to the door.
She blocked my path and I stopped dead, startled.
“Come on, Lucas… don’t be like this,” she said softly, her voice practically a purr. “Your wife doesn’t have to know.”
As she leant close to me, taking my hand with her own, I caught a hint of the alcohol on her breath.
I pulled away from her, holding my hands up as a flimsy shield between us.
“Jeez, Kami, you’ve been drinking. You’re not yourself. And even if you hadn’t been drinking, I’m not going to sleep with you!”
“I haven’t drunk that much,” she protested, her chin jerking up stubbornly. “You try and watch the man you love get married to another woman, then see if you don’t drink.”
“I have a wife. I’m not going to betray her.”
Kami’s eyes flashed.
“A wife that kicked you out on your wedding night? What kind of a bitch does that?”
A pulse of anger shot through me then, hot and red.
“Don’t talk about Susie like that. I deserve everything she’s said to me tonight – she’s not the one to blame here.”
“You’re so frustrating, Lucas! Why can’t you just forget her for one night?”
“Because I love her! Because I love her and she hates me!”
Even now, I’m not sure how it happened. Kami’s lips were suddenly crashing against mine, her hands at my waist. Her body was crushing desperately against mine. The taste of alcohol on her lips only served to heighten the danger of the kiss.
And I kissed her back.
All my pain and anger and hatred of myself was suddenly channeled into kissing Kami, into losing myself in her touch and forgetting everything else. I didn’t want to think. I didn’t want to dwell.
I wanted oblivion and Kami was my ticket.
Of course, the more sensible side of me rebelled at this sudden reckless abandon. Guilt made me pull back and turn away, but Kami wrapped her arms around me from behind, pressing up against me.
“See?” she murmured, trailing hot kisses down the side of my neck. “You do want me.”
“I can’t do this,” I whispered. “Susie…”
But then Kami’s hand slid down into my trousers and wrapped around me, and my wife’s name died on my lips.
After that, my mind shut off.
I wanted Kami, I really did, but I wasn’t engaged. To start with, it was like I was with James Frank back in his apartment, switching off whilst he made use of me. It was almost like I was watching us from above, like I wasn’t really part of what was happening.
For a little while, at least.
Soon, all the emotions I’d been feeling earlier that evening came rushing back, like colour pouring into a previously grey world. It was as though Kami had flipped a switch in me.
I pushed her over onto her back, moving above her and staring down at her face, breathing hard. She looked back at me, her gaze calm, and my last resolve snapped. I kissed her then, roughly. There was anger in that kiss, boiling rage and hatred and pain. I hated Kami. I hated Susie. But most of all right then, I hated myself. The kiss was tainted with salt from tears I hadn’t even noticed, but Kami didn’t care. Instead, she tangled her fingers tightly in my hair and kissed me back with equal vigour.
Soon, I had nothing to think about but gasping breaths, tangled bodies and rushing pleasure.
I had found my oblivion.
Afterwards, Kami retrieved some pyjamas from under one of the pillows (she had evidentally been prepared) and slipped them on, sliding out of bed.
At the door, she turned and looked back at me, a satisfied smile playing around her lips.
“I’ll go make some coffee or something, okay? Stay here.”
Oblivion had long since passed.
I felt sick, dirty and ashamed of myself. Any chance of Susie forgiving me felt like it had slid out of reach. How could she forgive me now, after I had cheated on her? On our wedding night, no less. No amount of anger or hurt or anything could excuse me, and I knew it. I had wanted to forget, but all I had done was make things worse.
But I knew one thing for certain. This time, this time I wasn’t going to lie to her. I was going to go straight back home and tell her the truth. I was going to home and beg her to forgive me, beg her to let us start again.
And if she wanted to call the police or – worse – her father, I was going to let her.
No more running away.
It was with that thought that I tugged my clothes on and sneaked quietly out of Kami’s house. The cold night air washed over me as I walked quickly through the streets and on the path towards home, sobering me up from the intoxicating depression I had been under. Knowing that I was about to do the right thing, after months of doing the wrong thing, had filled me with a new sense of purpose. Even though I could lose everything, I knew that telling the truth was what I had to do.
As I walked up the hill towards my house, my pace quickened. My heart was beating fast. I felt as though I was teetering on the brink and, after tonight, my life would change one way or another. Susie would either be willing to forgive me (though I admit it would take her some time) or she wouldn’t. I would either keep her or lose her forever. I deserved the latter, but hoped, wished, prayed for the former.
I noticed the lights on in the living area and gritted my teeth, steeling myself for the conversation I knew would come. I hoped that Jamie would let me be alone with Susie for a while. I couldn’t bear for them both to turn against me at the exact same moment.
Determined, I started across the lawn towards the house.
It was then that the gunshots shattered the silence of the night.