A tale of weddings, betrayal, murder, and revenge. He never really liked the comparison of knots with marriage. It always made him picture someone tying a noose and hanging themselves. Marriage is ...
"Oh hi," Scarlett greeted, retreating her hand from the doorbell.
"I heard you come up the stairs," Shirley explained. She lived in the upper apartment.
Just then, Scarlett heard a flurry of small steps that she almost mistook for a puppy's.
"Mama!" cried the voice of a little girl.
The child ran up to her mother and hugged her around her legs. She was barely tall enough to reach Shirley's waist. The girl noticed Scarlett and hid herself behind Shirley, peeking on the side at the redheaded stranger.
"Scarlett, this is my daughter, Zuri," Shirley said with a chuckle. She pulled open the screen door and grabbed Zuri's hand from behind her back and lightly pulled her out of her hiding place.
Zuri had the precise features of Shirley's face. The only difference was Shirley's incredible height as opposed to Zuri's small frame. She was a thin child with much darker skin than her mother, it was her most beautiful feature. Her ebony skin emphasized the light brown of her eyes. Scarlett could see golden specks floating around the middle, manipulated by the light. Her hair was braided into two pigtails and she looked extra sweet in her white and pink striped sweater beneath denim overalls.
"Hi Zuri," Scarlett said, kneeling down so she could be face-to-face with the shy girl.
"Hi," Zuri greeted reluctantly.
"I'm Scarlett," Scarlett introduced herself, offering her hand.
Zuri shook her hand and gave her a modest smile. Her unique eyes looked Scarlett up and down until they rested on her hair.
"I like your hair color. Did you dye it?" Zuri asked.
"Thanks, it's natural," Scarlett replied. "I like your hair, too."
"Thank you," Zuri said, still in her shy tone.
"Come on in, Scarlett," Shirley invited.
Scarlett stepped inside and took a seat on their navy blue couch. There wasn't much furniture except for a large television set and a coffee table, but there were many toys littered on the floor.
"Sorry I hadn't had the time to clean up," Shirley apologized.
"It's fine," Scarlett insisted. "My house can get dirtier than this."
"Zuri, why don't you go finish up your homework?" Shirley told her daughter.
"Aww!" Zuri whined in protest.
"Zuri...," Shirley said slowly.
"Okay...fine," Zuri sighed as she walked to her room in defeat.
Shirley didn't speak until Zuri shut her bedroom door.
"She's in kindergarten now," Shirley began. "They really do grow up too fast."
Scarlett had to admit that she was surprised Shirley had a daughter. She looked no older than herself.
"I was only 17 when I had her," Shirley explained. "It was hard; especially raising her by myself."
"Oh...did the father leave you?" Scarlett asked.
"No...," Shirley sighed. "He was murdered."
"I'm so sorry," Scarlett whispered, knowing the pain all too well.
"That's the reason why I wanted you to come over," Shirley said, patting Scarlett's knee. "I really want to catch this killer. Since I never did get to catch my husband's."
"You married him?" Scarlett asked.
"Yes," Shirley said with a reminiscent smile. "Our parents were supportive about it. They tried to help me as much as they could when Edward died, but they didn't have much money."
Shirley brushed back her braids behind her ear, and Scarlett couldn't help but notice her wedding band.
"You did it, though," Scarlett said. "You raised a beautiful little girl all on your own. That's amazing, Shirley."
"I care about her more than I care about myself," Shirley replied.
"That's how I feel about Annie," Scarlett said softly, her eyes glistening from the honesty of Shirley's words.
Death is supposed to be about loss. Yet, it brought Scarlett to people like Shirley and Ray. There was no substitute for a lost sister, but there was nothing like new friendships. It was soothing to find strangers who willingly care for you. There was no love like unconditional love.
Gerard wanted nothing more than to find out who the girl with the fiery hair was. He wasn't intending on killing her. He wasn't intending on hurting her. But if it becomes absolutely necessary, he wouldn't mind doing so.
He learned long ago that lovers were never meant to be trusted. He's known it all too well. He was just good at ignoring it. There was no such thing as true love. There was no such thing as "being faithful." He felt stupid for believing that someone would actually fall in love with one person and have it last forever. If forever existed, it was all too short.
Maybe he was just that foolish. He hated to admit it, but a part of him still wanted to believe in fairy tales. A part of him was still blinded by the illusion. That part was gone once reality set in. Everything around him was a lie, and he'd been believing it for too long.
If only he still had Ray. He was a good friend to him. He was his only good friend. Maybe the only genuine person he'd ever met or would ever come across. There was so much he could tell Ray, but even more that he had to keep secret. At times, he just wanted to scream out every clandestine thought in his mind. He would open his mouth and tug on his vocal cords, only to be silenced by an invisible force. Perhaps, it was fear. The fear that returned to him just as it had first encountered him at the age of 10.
She told me not to tell.
And he never did.
Or else everything will fall apart.
He didn't know why he still held his promise. It's been years since the unveiling. Besides, everything had already fallen apart.
He saw the lights inside the apartment illuminate one of the rooms. The redheaded girl had been inside for quite some time. He hoped that she wasn't planning on staying the night or he would be out there for hours. Not that he needed sleep. Sleep was the last thing he wanted. People are far too vulnerable in their slumber. All tensions aside and every muscle relaxed. It's too easy for someone else to strike. Being betrayed one too many times had made him more aware of the dangers of trust.
He was getting restless, but he couldn't let his guard down. It only took seconds for a person to turn the tables on their attacker and he was ready. He was always ready. All he had to do was wait for her to come out. . .
Shirley's diningroom was small, yet it seemed so large to Scarlett. Having Zuri in the house made everything seem larger than life. With her childish laugh, the walls seem to stretch open. Scarlett longed to be that young again. To be pure and innocent; unknown to the depths of reality.
They ate a simple meal of lasagna and mashed potatoes. Shirley and Scarlett never got to discuss the murderer because, sometime in the evening, Zuri had shed her shy skin and was going on about how wonderful kindergarten was. She took a liking to Scarlett and asked her questions about everything. Zuri learned Scarlett's favorite books, television shows, songs, and stores. She found out that Scarlett loved to swim and play football and that she was horrible at knitting.
"Do you have a boyfriend?" Zuri asked, shamelessly.
"Uh...," Scarlett blushed, gulping down her glass of water too fast.
"Zuri!" Shirley scolded.
"I was just asking...," Zuri said innocently, dropping her gaze to her plate. "I just think boys are lucky."
"Well," Shirley chuckled. "That'll change when you're older."
"This one boy in my class," Zuri began, redirecting her eyes toward Scarlett. "He put a worm in this girl's hair and just laughed when she cried."
"I'm sure he meant it in all fun," Scarlett said with a grin. "I once kicked sand in a boy's eyes when I was in first grade because he was teasing my sister."
"Wow," Zuri said, her eyes widening. "Did you get in trouble?"
"No recess for two days," Scarlett said with a shrug.
"Okay, you two," Shirley said with a smile. "I think it's someone's bedtime."
"Aww...but I was having fun!" Zuri whined.
"Scarlett is welcome to visit us, again," Shirley replied, winking at Scarlett.
"Okay, but you have to promise to come over again soon!" Zuri told Scarlett.
"Of course," Scarlett promised.
After Shirley tucked in her daughter and made sure she was sound asleep, she walked Scarlett to the door.
"Thanks for having me over," Scarlett thanked her sincerely.
"You're always welcome," Shirley replied. "And next time we'll really have that talk."
"Alright," Scarlett laughed. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight," Shirley said as she closed the door. Scarlett could hear her locking it, along with the screen door.
Coming down the stairs, Scarlett realized how nice it must be to be a mother. It was hard work, no doubt of that, but the rewards seem to surpass the sacrifice. She couldn't imagine having any children, but she wondered what kind of mother would she be. Would she give her everything to her child? Of course, she thought, that was the only guaranteed investment of love. Her child would never break her heart. It was only those who hurt her baby that will hurt her in return.
She was so caught up in her thoughts of life, that she didn't realize that death was just a step away from her. She fished in her jacket pockets for her car keys, not even bothering to look behind her. She was deaf to his erratic steps and was blind to the frozen clouds of air that came out of his mouth. Sometimes summer nights turned out to be the coldest. Then in one quick swoop, like a serpent ready to strike, a pair of arms entrapped her.
Wild thoughts swam through her mind as she blindly kicked at the stranger who grabbed her from behind. She took a deep breath and prepared to make the most ear-piercing scream she could, but she was silenced by a handkerchief, covering her mouth and nose. She could feel its damp moisture and knew what it was-chloroform. Her kicks became more frequent and less predictable, desperate to be free of the anesthetic. She pulled her arm forward and jerked it backwards in a final attempt to elbow her attacker. It worked, she heard the man groan and felt him loosen his grip. But her surroundings were already spinning and she could feel herself losing touch of everything around her. She was unconscious before she hit the ground. Her body might have been numb, but her will was still intact. There was no way she was going to let this person win.