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Guys,

I'm incredibly depressed this weekend. I don't know why -- well, I do, but I don't know why it affects me the way it does. It's kind of sapped my will to be creative, and that means yet another weekend where I don't accomplish anything. This might end up being a very long process, because right now, I have no idea when I'm actually going to be able to finish this book. And so, since I not only want to give you guys some type of collateral, as well as give myself a reason to continue, I'm gonna release chapter one of book five here. This is the only preview you're going to get, aside from random passages. Sorry. I want to leave some big surprises for the release.

That said, please don't read this if you don't wanna know what happened to Michael. Or if you wanna wait to find out.

I'm gonna continue typing so no parts of the note are in the preview, just in case you guys wanna back out now before you see anything you don't want to know until the entire book is complete.

Still typing.

I hope you enjoy this. If you do, say so. I could use the kudos this weekend. I realize very few of you are interested in my moods, but I am so down on myself this weekend. I sure hope this passes soon.

Okay, I think I've typed enough to push the chapter far enough down that it doesn't spoil anyone who doesn't wanna be spoiled. Enjoy this. Have a nice week. Peace and all that other stuff.

-bex

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Chapter One:

July 24, 1966; 1:30 p.m.

Evan couldn't recall what it felt like to squeeze the trigger, but the resulting sound would likely stay with him forever. It was a loud, sharp crack – a series of them, to be more precise. Four? Five? He didn’t remember how many there were, but without a doubt, there were enough to ensure that motherfucker wouldn’t rise again.

And he didn’t. He fell, face-first, into the concrete sidewalk; a crumpled heap that, oddly enough, was nowhere near as satisfying as Evan believed it would be. He wondered why that was. Perhaps it was due to his inability to see any real carnage from this angle. Blood…where was the blood? He felt something splatter against his face at the firing of the first shot, which should’ve been evidence enough, but not being able to see it was troubling. Everything was so still it was almost surreal, and that made him wonder…was any of this actually happening?

He moved closer, gun still trained on what remained of the detective. Damn it, why couldn’t he see anything? He wanted to see it! He wanted to see pandemonium. He wanted to see chaos. But most important, he wanted to see death – beautiful, savory finality, which would provide the necessary assurance that the problem was forever resolved. He couldn’t see a goddamned thing.

From the corner of his eye, Evan noticed a woman approaching. At first, he didn’t recognize her, but as she came closer, he realized it was the waitress. What was her name? He couldn’t really remember, but it didn’t matter at this point. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Evan looked toward her, still clutching the gun. “It’s okay,” he managed – or at least, he thought he did. His ears were still ringing from the gunfire. He couldn’t even hear himself breathe. “It’s okay. I took care of it.”

She took a giant step back. The look in her eyes was pure, abject fear and it gave Evan pause. “Don’t be scared,” he assured. “Don’t be scared, it’s okay. It’s all okay now.”

“Val! Val, go inside! Go inside! Go inside now!

The muffled din of a male voice penetrated the haze that surrounded him. Evan turned his head, coming face-to-face with Shane, who approached with his gun drawn. For just a moment, the waitress stood there. She was shaking all over. “It’s okay,” Evan said again, taking a tentative step toward her. “Please don’t be scared, it’s all okay now.”

“If you take one more step, I’m gonna blow your fucking head off!”

Evan barely registered the threat, but the waitress certainly heard it. She took another step back, then darted toward the diner. Evan watched her run, the revolver still in his hand. There were people looking out the windows – two of them, that Evan could see. Mr. Huntley and Mr. Wolinski’s son. Jimmy, was it? No, Jimmy was the older one. That had to be Chuck. They both stared back at him wide-eyed. It was almost as though they were riveted to the action, though they knew they shouldn’t be. Evan wondered for a moment what this must look like through their eyes. It all must’ve seemed so random, so out of the blue.

He turned to face Shane, and was surprised to find that his hand was also trembling. For as tough as he’d tried to be earlier this morning, it was quite a humorous change. His mouth moved, but the words were impossible to discern. Evan squinted at his lips, in a vain attempt to read them. Stop it? Was that what he was saying?

“I did stop,” he murmured, in his own defense. “It’s all over now. I stopped.”

Drop it right now, motherfucker! Right fucking now!” Shane screamed, loud enough to be heard over both the ringing in his ears and the frenzy in his head.

Drop what? Oh, the gun. Evan hadn’t even realized he was still holding it. No wonder everyone seemed so frightened. They’d completely misinterpreted what was going on here. They’d taken all the rumors to heart and convinced themselves that he’d finally gone mad and embarked on some murderous rampage. They probably thought they would be next if they didn’t stay out of his way – and perhaps that would’ve been a good course of action, if he’d been planning ahead a little more. Lord knows there were plenty of people in this town who deserved to eat a bullet or two, but today was not about that. Today was about righting the wrongs of his marriage, of his life, of Marnie’s life. And there was one thing left to do.

“They took everything away from me,” he informed Shane, breathing heavily. “They took Marnie and they took my life and they took everything that mattered. They did this to me, don’t you see? They did this, and they had to pay!”

Shane took a step closer. “Drop the motherfucking gun right now, or…”

Evan didn’t hear the rest of his threat, but then, he already knew what he would say. Drop the gun, or I will kill you. It was standard cop bravado. He’d seen it all in the movies, but it wasn’t necessary here. “You don’t have to kill me,” he muttered, lifting the gun to his right temple. “I’ll take care of that too.”

“No!” Shane jumped forward, but he was not fast enough to stop Evan from squeezing the trigger one last time.

He’d expected instantaneous relief. He got a faint clicking sound. And then, he got Shane tackling him to the ground. It all happened so fast, but Evan still felt like he was in slow motion. He saw the pavement approaching and did his best to brace himself for impact, but the resulting pain was enough to make him cry out. Within mere seconds, Shane was perched on top of him. With unnecessary force, he slammed Evan’s right hand into the ground, which caused him to involuntarily release the pistol. Helplessly, he watched as Shane shoved it away – in the direction of the detective.

“You son of a bitch! You sick fucking son of a bitch! What did you just do?”

Evan locked his eyes on the gun, but his attention was quickly stolen by a magical sight. There was blood seeping from beneath where the detective’s head met the concrete, and it was rolling down the sidewalk toward him. The trickle mesmerized him. There it was, the visual confirmation he’d craved. Threat number two had effectively been neutralized, and despite his surroundings, that made him smile.

“They took her away from me. They took everything away from me. But it’s okay. Everything is okay now. Everything is going to be okay now. I fixed it. I fixed it for Marnie, so she never has to live like that again. She never has to be ashamed again, because there is nothing to be ashamed of anymore. I took care of everything. Well, almost everything.” Lying there, Evan’s gaze lingered on his gun. He knew it was empty, but Shane’s wasn’t. There were plenty of bullets in there – even though all he needed was one. If he could just get off one more shot, this would finally be over. Marnie would not have to live with the humiliation of him facing punishment. She would be completely free of every single terrible thing he’d brought into her life. If he could just get his hands on Shane’s gun, everything would be just fine.

It seemed that Shane could read his mind, and ground his face into the pavement in response. “Don’t move!” he warned, at a deafening volume. “If you try to fight me, I’m going to hurt you!”

“I don’t wanna fight you. I just wanna finish what I…” Evan allowed his voice to trail off as he looked back to the detective. He blinked a few times, struggling to process the sight. Was he crazy, or was that son of a bitch moving? He was! He was moving! How the hell was he still moving?

Don’t fucking move!” Clearly, Shane could see it too.

Evan bucked against him, in a vain attempt to break free. He had to find that gun. He had to put an end to this insanity! “Stop moving!” he demanded, in the detective’s direction. “Stop moving and die! Just die!”

Shane reached out, seizing his arm and wrestling it behind him with such force that Evan felt something pop within. “I told you not to fucking move!” he yelled, forcing handcuffs on his wrists.

The pain that followed was intense – more intense than any he’d ever felt. Searing ache radiated from his right arm, but it proved no match for the agony within. “He has to die,” Evan whimpered, with tears in his eyes. “He slept with my wife! He has to die!”

At once, Shane’s grip on him seemed to tighten. “What did you just say?”

“He ruined my life! He ruined my life, just like Harold, and he has to die just like him!” Evan looked to the still-twitching detective and shouted through his tears, “You have to die, you son of a bitch! You have to fucking die!”

If Shane offered any response to that, the screech of an approaching siren drowned him out. Evan felt like the world was spinning and he found it very difficult to regain any semblance of control. This was not how he’d planned it! He wanted to make sure that Marnie would never be humiliated again, and he’d fucked it all up! Damn it, why did this have to be so complicated? One shot was all it took for Harold. One strategically placed shot. There was no lingering, no twitching, nothing – just an instantaneous vindication. It would be just like this bastard to make things difficult.

The audacity of him to presume money was the motivation! How could he be so fucking blind? How could he have not realized the damage caused by carousing with another man’s wife? How could he look him right in the eye this morning and act as though nothing improper had taken place? He was toying with him – the same way that he was right now with that movement. He was fucking toying with him!

Hi, you don’t know me, but I know your wife.

The words played over and over and over in Evan’s mind. Surely, what he meant to say was, Hi, you don’t know me, but I know you, because I’ve been watching you. I’ve been sitting here, staking out your home. I’ve been talking to Harold and coming up with ways to drive you crazy, so I can have your wife all to myself. I’m standing here and smiling at you because I think you are a joke. I know you are a joke, because everyone in town has already told me so. I am laughing at you, because I think you’re a fag. Your wife thinks you’re a fag too, and that’s why she is sleeping with me. I made her my whore, and she likes it that way. I’m taking over your life. I’m going to finish you.

“No!” Evan screamed, as the voice within continued to taunt him. “No! You can’t have her! You can’t have her! I’ll never let you have her!”

The sound of the siren grew closer and closer and Evan felt the ground vibrate as a car pulled in mere inches from where Shane had him pinned down. The doors opened in short order, and two separate sets of footsteps approached. “What happened?” asked a male voice he couldn’t immediately identify.

Shane took a moment to reply. “He shot him. He just fucking…shot him.”

“I shot him because he slept with my wife! He slept with my wife! He…”

Before Evan could finish his sentence, Shane placed a tight grip on his already-throbbing right arm. His thumb bore into the flesh, pressing against bone with such merciless fury that Evan yelped in pain. “Shut the fuck up!”

“I got it,” came a different voice. This one sounded more familiar, and Evan struggled to place it. Was that Homer? “You check on Goldman. I got it.”

“There’s nothing to check. He shot him five times.” Shane’s voice was strained, and he refused to release his hold on Evan. “Five times. You emptied the motherfucking gun into the back of his head, you crazy son of a bitch! My God!”

“Shane!” That was Homer, Evan was sure of it. “We’ve got this. Get off him.”

Evan expected the pain would stop once Shane let go of his arm, but if anything, it only seemed to worsen. He wept as the other officer lifted him to his feet. People were still crowded around the windows of the diner, and he could see the judgment in their eyes. “I tried to fix it!” he bellowed back at them. “I tried fix it so you wouldn’t look at Marnie the same way you look at me!”

He saw Homer and Shane confer for a moment. Their conversation was hushed, but the phrase he’s lost his fucking mind jumped out at him. That was what everyone thought, but they didn’t know the half of it. If he was crazy, it was because Harold made him that way. If he had lost his mind, it was because those vultures had picked away at every single thing he loved, until absolutely nothing was left. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to any of them. They all knew their blame…especially those who’d paid the ultimate price.

Shane moved toward the detective, and the closer he got the more horrified he looked. “Shit! Oh my God!”

More than anything, Evan wanted to break free. He wanted to come closer. He wanted to see what Shane saw to produce that sort of reaction, but the only sight he was treated to was the bucket back seat of the other guy’s squad car. Without a word, the nameless officer shoved him into the vehicle, and Evan was certain it was no coincidence that he landed on the same arm Shane had likely just broken.

Pain. So much pain. There was more pain than he could ever accurately describe, but the physical part was only scratching the surface. This was not how it was supposed to end. This was not what he’d wanted at all. Marnie deserved so much better than this. Come to think of it, so did Francine.

From the window, Evan saw another police car approach, siren blaring. This one was driven by Mrs. Crawford’s grandson – he’d know that red hair anywhere. What was his name, Danny? Maybe it was Donny. He climbed out of the vehicle, took one look at the detective, then immediately dropped to his knees beside him. From his vantage point, Evan couldn’t see what happened after that, but he was willing to bet the Crawford boy was attempting first aid. He wondered if the motherfucker was still moving. Likely not. There was no way. If he’d truly emptied the gun into the back of his head, he couldn’t have possibly survived. No one could survive that, could they?

Maybe it was just a spasm, something that happened at the moment of death. Or maybe, just maybe, it was Evan’s mind playing tricks on him. That had happened far too often lately, and it was why he’d been fairly convinced that he was losing his mind. If only Marnie had listened to him. If only Harold had listened to him. If only anyone had listened to him. Maybe all of this could have been avoided. Maybe he could still have the life he’d worked so hard to rebuild. Maybe Marnie would still love him. Maybe…

Homer approached the vehicle and opened the driver’s side door. Without a word, he reached over to retrieve something, but Evan noticed something different in his eyes. It wasn’t the same judgment everyone else was showing him. It almost looked like compassion…pity, even.

“Please don’t tell Marnie,” he begged, emotion getting the better of him for just a moment. “Please don’t tell Marnie about this. Don’t tell her that you’re taking me to jail, because she will be so ashamed of me. She’s already so ashamed of me!

His plea was met with silence.


July 24, 1966; 2:15 p.m.

Despite Marnie's best efforts to kill time, Hazel Englund was still seated on the sofa when she arrived back at Mother’s home. Both ladies turned an expectant gaze toward her, and she murmured a quick greeting before darting in the direction of the stairs. Whatever they were discussing was not her business, and furthermore, she didn’t know if she could handle one more awkward conversation today. All she wanted to do was sleep…and rethink her options, once again.

“Margaret, don’t be so rude!” Mother admonished, before she could get very far. “Come sit down. It’s been ages since you’ve seen Hazel, hasn’t it?”

Cursing inwardly, she pivoted back around. She should have known escape wouldn’t be that easy. “It has been a long time, hasn’t it? How are you doing?”

Mrs. Englund opted not to answer her question, instead moving forward for an embrace. The older woman’s touch was warm and genuine, as were her eyes as she pulled back to get a good look at her. “You’re so lovely. Every time I see you, you just get prettier.”

Marnie’s gaze shifted to Mother, who did little more than look on with approval. “Thank you. You look lovely as well.”

“Ah, I’m old,” Mrs. Englund dismissed, with a hearty laugh. “My loveliness is far behind me, I’m afraid! But that’s very kind of you to say, nonetheless.”

“Sit down, Margaret,” Mother urged, motioning to the space between herself and her visitor. “You’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

Of course she did.

Marnie watched Mrs. Englund’s posture carefully as she settled back into the sofa. She was a woman of very petite stature – she only came up to Marnie’s chin, and Marnie was five-four in heels. It used to be so funny to see her with her husband. They made quite a pair, with the way he towered over her. Obviously, that was where Lance inherited his height. It was likely where he inherited his arrogance as well.

Hazel Englund had always been something of a non-conformist, and if the truth were known, Mother despised everything about her. She called her “flighty” and “inappropriate”, two terms that no polite woman of Haven Park wanted to be known by. Mrs. Englund was far from a polite woman, however, and she wore them well. Her sense of humor tended to be more colorful than other ladies her age, and her vocabulary was rich with four-letter words. She even fancied herself something of a mystic, and used to read palms quite regularly at the diner which bore her name. It was a skill she once attempted to impart to Marnie, but when Mother found out, she put a stop to it. Such “foolishness” was not to be indulged in. The Bible, after all, warned believers to beware of such types…which made it all the more ironic now that Mother was so determined to make nice.

For about a minute, there was nothing but poignant silence as the three sat there. Mrs. Englund lit a cigarette, while Mother nursed a cup of tea and Marnie wished she was somewhere else. Predictably, it was Mother who broke the silence, turning her whole body in Marnie’s direction. “I have the most wonderful news to tell you!” she began, her enthusiasm too abrupt to possibly be sincere. “You will never guess who is expecting!”

Instinctively, Marnie looked to Mrs. Englund. This wasn’t exactly news – she’d known for a few days now that Terri was pregnant, but it was the last thing that she’d expected Mrs. Englund to disclose. After all, the word on the street was the child could not possibly have been Lance’s. Marnie shook her head. How could a detail such as that one have escaped Mother? She always prided herself on being so in-the-know! Unless, of course, she did know…and this was all some sort of ploy to make Mrs. Englund feel even worse about it. It was obvious she wasn’t above it.

Marnie thought to say something, anything, in order to deflect conversation away from this so-called “wonderful news”, but before she could utter a word, Hazel Englund’s entire body stiffened. “I told you that was between us!”

“Oh Hazel,” Mother attempted to placate, “don’t you think Margaret would be delighted? I certainly am! It’s so wonderful that a piece of Lance will get to live on! That’s got to be so comforting for you!”

Marnie’s cheeks reddened on Mrs. Englund’s behalf and she shot her mother a hard look. “If she doesn’t want to talk about it, then maybe – ”

“If she didn’t want to talk about it, then she shouldn’t have said anything,” Mother pointed out, a plastic smile pasted across her face.

“I’ll keep my mouth shut next time,” Mrs. Englund muttered, from the opposite end of the couch.

“Terri is pregnant,” Mother announced, as though she hadn’t said a word. “Isn’t that wonderful, Margaret? I certainly hope this time, she won’t have the same…problems she had the last few times, don’t you?”

If she’d been thinking clearly, Marnie would have scolded her mother for sharing such personal information. She would’ve reminded her that there was such a thing as discretion, and that she needed to look into it. She would’ve done something far more than stand up and move toward the stairs again…but she wasn’t thinking clearly, and this was the only way to adequately express her disgust that she could manage.

At once, Mother shot to her feet. “Margaret! Where are you going? Don’t you want to share your good news as well?”

It was a trap. It was a trap, and Marnie knew it was a trap, but she still fell for it, like the complete dolt that she was. “What good news? I don’t have any good news.”

“Of course you do! Hazel, Margaret has finally seen the error of her ways, I’m happy to report. She is seeing Evan again. I think it is only a matter of time before – ”

“That is a lie!” Marnie erupted, before she could think better of it.

Mother’s response was directed to Mrs. Englund. “It’s not a lie. She just doesn’t want to admit that I’m right – I’m always right, but you know how children are!”

If Mrs. Englund offered a response to that, it wasn’t one that Marnie registered. All she could think about was how humiliated she felt – and how, once again, the person who was supposed to be on her side had thrown her to the wolves. Anger coursed through every square inch of her as she stood there, and she struggled for just a moment to formulate the best response. She wanted to fire off something so vulgar that even Mrs. Englund would be surprised, but could only hoarsely declare, “You’re not right, Mother! You’re never right about anything! You never have been, and you never will be, especially when it comes to me! I don’t know where you’ve been getting your information, but it certainly hasn’t been from – ”

It was clear, from Mother’s expression, that she did not at all care for such a blatant display of disrespect, especially in the presence of company. Still, she kept her voice cool. “I’ve already spoken with Evan about this and – ”

Mrs. Englund must have sensed something, because she extinguished her cigarette and rose to her feet before Mother could finish her sentence. “I think I should be going.”

Given how focused on appearances she was, Marnie would have thought that Mother would try to save a little face. All she did, however, was nod in her visitor’s direction. “Thank you for coming by. It was very nice having you.”

Noticeably, Mrs. Englund offered no reply to that, only moving toward Marnie, her arms outstretched for another embrace. “If there’s anything she’s good at, it’s pressing buttons,” she murmured, close to her ear. “Don’t let her get to you. You’re so much better than that.”

Sage advice, but Marnie wouldn’t be heeding it. She barely waited for the front door to close before charging toward Mother, both hands on her hips. “Don’t ever humiliate me like that again!”

“Humiliate you? How do you think I feel, with the way you talked to me in front of her! I should slap your face!” Mother reared back, and for just a moment, Marnie expected her to make good on the threat, but all she did was stand there, nostrils flaring. “Why do you treat me this way? Don’t you have any respect for me?”

“I could ask you the same question!”

“I have always respected you, always! I’ve always been so proud of how smart you are and what impeccable class you have, and how you always – ”

“Until I do something you don’t like, and then you tell the whole world what a terrible mistake I made! You’re supposed to be on my side, don’t you understand that? You are supposed to be the one person who, no matter what, will be there for me, and all you ever do is shove me away when I need you! Don’t you understand what this has done to me? Don’t you…” Marnie longed to finish her thought, but an influx of tears made it impossible.

Any other woman would’ve softened to see their only child break down in such a primal way, but not Mother. All she did was cross her arms. “You brought it all on yourself, when you decided you knew better than everyone else!”

“And I do know better than anyone else, because this is my life, Mother!”

“It’s your life that you are ruining with your selfish choices! What can I say to make you listen? Why do you always have to know more than I do? That must give you so much pleasure! Well, one day, you are going to realize that I know what is best for you, and you are going to appreciate all of my advice! Whether you want to admit it or not, I know what I am talking about!”

“No you don’t! And you never have!”

Mother pointed back at her, her brown eyes narrow. “I know far more than you will ever give me credit for, you selfish, ungrateful – ”

Unable to bear another word, Marnie ran up the stairs. She wasn’t surprised at all to find Mother in hot pursuit and lifted a hand. “Please, leave me alone. Just leave me alone.”

“I will not leave you alone!” Mother argued. “Not until you realize what this behavior is doing to everyone around you! Evan is beside himself, don’t you see that? He wants nothing more than to make things work with you! Don’t tease him and punish him – go home and admit that you were wrong and make things right! Evan is a wonderful man! He’s a good provider and a – ”

“And a fag, Mother! You forgot that part!” Marnie interrupted, whirling around to face her.

The words shocked Mother so, she placed a hand over her chest. “How could you say that?” she hissed.

“Because I saw them. I saw them kissing on the porch and Harold told me that they’d been lovers for a decade and…” Once more, her tears prevented her from going any further.

Once more, Mother offered no support whatsoever. Her silence was stoic, but there was a confusion in her eyes that was almost palpable. “I – I don’t understand,” she finally said. “What are you telling me?”

Marnie took a moment to gather her thoughts. Evan would be livid if he knew she’d told anyone, but she just couldn’t stand to keep the secret any longer. “Evan is having an affair. With Harold. That is why I left, Mother. I’m not the one who is selfish. I don’t know why you think I’m so selfish, because I tried. I tried so hard, Mother, but I can’t fix that. I wanted to fix him, but I just can’t fix that, and I tried. I tried so hard!”

At long last, the mighty Helen Adams softened. She pulled her daughter toward her, wrapping both arms tightly around her. But despite her outward display of comfort, she couldn’t help but get a few last licks in. “Why didn’t you tell me this? Why did you let me make a fool of myself? That is vile and disgusting! He – he should be arrested! Both of them should be!”

“He doesn’t want anyone to know about it…” Marnie attempted to reason, but she knew it was a hopeless cause. Now that Mother knew, everyone else would in short order. She’d never be able to hold her head up again.

What more could possibly go wrong today?


July 24, 1966; 2:40 p.m.

A loud clap of thunder startled Terri awake, and she wondered how long she’d been asleep. It wasn’t her intention to drift off when she settled in beside her brother, but there wasn’t much else to do, after all. She’d cleaned the house already, she’d started the laundry, and she’d even done the shopping. Besides all of that, she was completely worn out from the conflicting emotions she’d been battling for the last few days. It wasn’t much of a surprise that she passed out the way she did – what was, however, was the racket Brett was making when she awoke.

She sat up, staring at him. It wasn’t as though she’d never heard him snore before – yesterday, she could’ve sworn he set a world record for it. She’d just never heard him (or anyone) snore like that. It was a harsh, guttural sound, one that rattled her to the core. She leaned closer, squinting. Had he moved at all this entire time? It didn’t appear he had. He was still sprawled on his back beside her, and the sheet still concealed the lower half of his face. One arm still draped lazily across his forehead, while the other still hung over the side of the bed.

Terri frowned, starting for the bathroom. This was it. She was hiding those damned things, whether he liked it or not. This was not normal. Nothing about this was normal – not sleeping in a chair all day long, not melting into the bed and staying in the very same position for over an hour, not making that god-awful noise, none of it. Brett would have no choice but to agree with her. He was on a slippery slope right now, and this was not something he wanted to get involved in…especially given how difficult such habits were to break. Terri knew that one first hand.

She’d done her best to forge through, and keep her struggle a secret, but it was still very difficult even getting through the day sometimes. Her body and mind still ached for a fix. Even after all this time, when she found herself alone, it was all she could think about. Perhaps that was why she’d been so adamant to keep busy. Between that and everything else going wrong, it was a wonder she hadn’t lost her mind somehow. She placed a hand over her protruding midsection. This was the only thing that kept her going most days. After everything she had lost, in such a short period of time, she longed for nothing more than to lie down and die too, but this child symbolized hope. It was her future – a future she would never jeopardize by giving into any of her darker impulses. She had to stay firm. She could not even consider going back to that life. It was hardly a life at all.

Walking into the bathroom, Terri surveyed her reflection. She looked awful, but that wasn’t anything new. She’d all but given up fussing over her appearance over the past few weeks. It wasn’t worth putting on makeup anymore – who was going to see her, anyway? Still, she realized with a sigh, a little blush wouldn’t kill her. Her complexion was pale, and her eyes looked sunken in. It sounded crazy to say, but she looked older than she had just a few weeks before. Perhaps that was a reflection of how exhausted she was. Perhaps it was the toll of early pregnancy. Whatever the case was, it was enough to make her turn from the mirror. She’d never had the healthiest self esteem to begin with, and seeing herself in this state was only bound to make her feel even worse.

At least, though, she was keeping her weight down. One of her biggest concerns had always been gaining too much weight during pregnancy. It was an irrational fear, and she realized that – was there even such a thing as gaining too much weight during pregnancy? Carol seemed to think so. She made repeated references to how much of a “disgusting pig” Sara Lynch was during her last pregnancy, and swore she must’ve put on “five hundred pounds – seven of which was baby.” Of course, Carol never cared much for Sara, and that might’ve been why she was so quick to judge her, but the words always stuck with Terri. That was not something she ever wanted anyone to say about her, least of all Lance.

He was always so careless with his remarks, even when she wasn’t pregnant. He would say something utterly thoughtless, then have no idea how she could’ve taken offense. A few years ago, during her last ill-fated pregnancy, he told her that she was eating way too much salt, and that if she kept it up, she’d be too big to even get out of the house. Terri steamed over that comment for days, and threw out every single grain of salt in the house. Then, Lance had the gall to complain about how bland her cooking was. That man was impossible, utterly impossible – and she allowed him to be, because no matter what he said, no matter how many times he degraded her, she always just stood there and let him. She never bothered standing up for herself until it was too late to turn the tide. Their marriage never stood a chance and that was another thing that weighed heavily on her mind.

It was crazy to think she’d grieved more deeply for Lucas than she had for her husband. Terri struggled to recall if she’d even shed one tear since getting the news. That sounded so cold and heartless, and she’d chastised herself repeatedly over it. It wasn’t as though she’d never loved him – she did, at one time. Very much, in fact, but without anyone to nurture and cultivate that love, it died over the years. By the time that Lance was killed, everything she’d ever felt for him was already dead. The only thing she really regretted was they never had a chance to clear the air. They parted on such painful terms and she wished she could tell him how sorry she was. She wished she could take back so many things, and go about the breakup the right way. She never wanted to hurt him, though at the time, she thought she did. She just wanted to break free…but ironically, she found herself in yet another prison.

Those long days in that hotel in Casper continued to haunt her. If she’d had any kind of inkling that was what Lucas was hiding, she never would have gone along with him. She couldn’t believe she had been so stupid, so trusting, so blind, so much in love. Blinking back tears, Terri pivoted toward the cabinet. She was not going to dwell on this. She’d done quite enough of that, and all it ever accomplished was making her feel even worse about her current predicament. The choices were made, and the damage was done. The only choice she had in the matter was to move forward, and try to be far wiser in the future. Still, that was a lot easier said than done.

She could still hear Brett snoring from the bathroom and closed the door, in the hopes of drowning it out. Pills, yes. She needed to hide the pills, and hope against hope he wouldn’t kill her when he went looking for them. Retrieving the bottle from the cabinet, Terri couldn’t help but be struck by how light it was. She could have sworn it was heavier just last night, and at once, her heart sped up. How many did he take?

With a trembling hand, she poured the contents into her hand to count them. There were seventeen. In disbelief, she shook her head. No, that couldn’t be right, because there were thirty of them to begin with. There were thirty, and then he took three of them yesterday, which would leave twenty-seven. He told her that he didn’t take any last night, because they all fell on the floor and…were they still on the floor?

Terri dropped to her knees to look for them, craning her neck to check behind the commode. Her search turned up nothing. She must have gathered all of them up last night, and for a moment, she cursed herself for not flushing the damned things when she had the chance. Damn it, why didn’t she think to hide them before now?

Her pulse raced faster and faster as she poured the pills back into her hand, making sure to count each one aloud this time. Seventeen could not possibly be right, because Brett would never be stupid enough to take ten of them at one time! Nobody could ever be that stupid! She was just groggy, and she probably wasn’t paying attention. She just needed to focus.

Her sense of dread and foreboding seemed to intensify with each capsule that she dropped back into the bottle. By the time she got to ten, she knew – there was no mistake about it. There were seventeen pills left. He’d taken ten of them. My God, he’d taken ten of them!

Nausea gripped her stomach as the revelation sank in. She knew she had to do something, and fast, but she felt like she was frozen in place. She’d never been in this situation, and she’d never expected that she would be in this situation with Brett, of all people! Her mind raced as she thought out her options. She had to wake him up! She had to wake him up, and she had to somehow get him to a doctor, because if she didn’t…

“Oh God!” she cried. “God help me!”

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