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Copyright © 2016 Callie Hart
copyright © 2016 Callie Hart
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This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to peoples either living or deceased is purely coincidental. Names, places and characters are figments of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously. The author recognises the trademarks and copyrights of all registered products and works mentioned within this work.
“Are you kidding me? You’re the one up here, finger fucking some twenty-one-year-old, and you’re giving me shit?”
These are not words I ever expected to hear coming out of my sister’s mouth, and yet as I climb the stairs of the Aubertin mansion, on the hunt for her and my best friend, Jamie, these are the words I hear.
Jamie speaks, his voice thick with amusement. “What’s wrong? You never been caught in flagrante before, Laura Preston? Never been caught with your panties down?”
Oh, boy. The ball Jamie’s father is hosting downstairs is in full swing, his guests chattering and laughing loudly like the rich, over-fed, over-stuffed hyenas that they are, so they can’t hear the conversation taking place in one of the guest rooms on the second floor. I can, though, and it sounds like the shit has just hit the fan. I creep along the hallway, hugging the wall, not making a sound as I approach the open bedroom door. Lore and Jamie stand on opposite ends of the room, Jamie’s hair tousled all over the place, the top button of his shirt undone, Laura’s cheeks bright red, her brow creased in anger.
“No!” she cries. I nearly burst out laughing when she stoops down, snatches one of her golden pumps from her feet and launches it across the room at Jamie’s head. She misses the first time, so she yanks off her other shoe and hurls that, too. This time she hits the huge mirror hanging on the wall behind Jamie’s head, and the thing shatters into a million pieces.
“What the fuck, Laura?” Jamie yells.
Jesus wept. I have no idea what they’re fighting about, but they need to calm the fuck down. I should go in there. I should knock on the door or something so they know I’m here.
“You! I can’t—” Laura covers her mouth with her hand, and even from here I can see her eyes are wet with tears. “I can’t fucking believe you,” she says softly.
Jamie’s outrage at the smashed mirror melts away as concern overtakes his features. “Hey. Hey. I’m really fucking confused. Do you want to tell me what’s going on, or should I go and get Cade?”
My sister looks like she’s about to explode. “Don’t you dare go and get fucking Cade. You and Cade, joined at the hip, twenty-four-fucking-seven. You and Cade, vanishing off to fucking Afghanistan, leaving me here on my own. I waited here for you for four goddamn years, Jamie. Four years of waking up in a cold sweat every single night, wondering which one of you was going to die first. And then you come home and hardly even…hardly even look at me, and…”
What? No. No way. I must be imagining things right now—the way Laura looks like her heart has just been crushed. The way she’s looking at Jamie like it would all be okay if only he took her in his arms and kissed her. How did I not see this before? She has feelings for him? It seems impossible. My sister is many things: stubborn; self confident; beautiful; fiery as all hell. I never thought she was stupid, though. Falling in love with Jamie must be pretty similar to falling off the top of the Empire State Building. The whole way down, you’re praying you’re going to survive the experience, but in your head you know you’re gonna be fucking destroyed by the impact. Jamie doesn’t date girls. Jamie doesn’t fall in love with them. He has sex with them, and then he leaves them. In fairness, it’s not as if he ever lies to them. They know what to expect from him from the very beginning, he’s honest to a fault. Laura’s seen him screw so many girls and then never call them again, so why the fuck would she be dumb enough to develop feelings for the guy? Jamie looks pained, like he’s pondering the same question.
“Laura…” He reaches out, trying to tuck a curl of her shockingly bright blonde hair back behind her ear, but she shies away from his touch.
“No. Don’t! Fuck, Jamie, you just had your fingers inside some girl’s vagina.”
Jamie tenses, clearly not knowing what to do. “Lore, is there something you want to tell me?”
“Fuck you, Jamie. I shouldn’t have to tell you. You should already know! Ahh! Men! Why are you all so fucking oblivious? How can you be that completely blind to what’s been staring you in the face since we were kids, Jay? I just…I gotta get out of here.”
Shit. I was about to knock, to put an end to this train wreck, but now it’s too late. Laura’s heading for the doorway, and I’m about to be busted eavesdropping. Quickly, I open the door next to me, slipping silently into another of Jamie’s father’s bland, soulless guest bedrooms, drawing the door almost closed behind me. Almost. I can still see into the hallway through the inch-wide crack. Laura storms into view, and the gold sequins from her dress cast fragments of golden light over the walls and the ceiling like scattering fireflies. Jamie’s only a second behind her. He grabs her by the wrist, and her face is a mask of pure rage as she spins around and slaps him. Damn. That looked like it hurt. Jamie jerks back, releasing his hold on her.
“Shit.” Lore covers her face with her hands. “Shit, I’m so sorry. I just…”
Jamie shakes his head. “It’s okay.”
“I just can’t—”
“It’s okay,” Jamie repeats. “It’s fine. We can talk about it tomorrow.”
She’s crying. Laura and I are always at each other’s throats, but at the same time we’re close. She’s my sister. My only sister. Seeing her upset is like a knife in the gut. For a second, I want to knock Jamie the fuck out. It’s not his fault, though. I know that. Laura’s been hanging around with us since we were kids. He thinks of her as a sister, just as I think of him as a brother. Hitting him would be fucking pointless.
Laura nods. She wipes a tear away with the back of her hand and sniffs. “Tomorrow.” She turns and hightails it, racing down the stairs before he can stop her. Jamie stands there, watching her go, his hands on his hips, frozen like he can’t believe what’s just happened. He bows his head, sighing, and then slowly goes down the stairs, leaving me staring at an empty hallway.
I find Laura around the back of the house, leaning against the crumbling brick wall of an old outhouse, where Jamie’s grandfather used to store cattle feed back when the mansion wasn’t just a mansion but the main house of a huge farming estate. Jamie and I always used to hide from her here when we were yo
“Your hands are shaking,” I tell her.
She nearly jumps out of her skin. “Jesus, you nearly scared me half to death, Cade Preston.”
I hold out my hand and she passes me the cigarette. Taking a deep drag, I close my eyes as my head starts to spin. Been years since I smoked. I didn’t even smoke when I was deployed. Leaning back against the wall with her, I nudge her with my shoulder, passing back the Marlboro.
“Wanna talk about it?”
She glances at me out of the corner of her eye. “No.”
She takes another drag, and then another. We stand in silence, both looking up at the stars, listening to the soft strains of music overflowing out of the back door. “All right, then,” she says after a while. “I don’t like feeling this way. I don’t want to feel this way.”
I put my arm around her, drawing her to my side. “I know.”
“I mean, who would? No one in their right minds, that’s for sure. He’s Louis James Aubertin the third, for fuck’s sake.” She flicks the butt of her cigarette away, and the ember of the cherry flares in the darkness before it disappears into the long grass a few feet away.
“What does that mean?”
Laura lets out a frustrated sigh. “He’s just…more than everyone else. He doesn’t even know it, and yet he is. He can have any girl he wants. He does have any girl he wants. Regularly. He’s an asshole.”
“Then why are you out here, beating yourself up over him?”
“Because…I don’t know. I always thought he was going to be my asshole, y’know. Ever since we were kids. It just seemed as though it was always going to be us, the three of us, together.”
I don’t know what to say to that. I suppose, in a way, I figured that in the back of my mind, too. Or maybe I just never really considered that Lore might end up getting married to some guy I don’t know, and that Jamie would carry on being Jamie.
We’re silent again. She gets another cigarette out of the pack in her purse, and we share the whole thing this time, passing it back and forth between us.
“It doesn’t help that he looks the way he does,” she says eventually.
I let out a bark of laughter. “I can mess his face up if you like.”
“Yeah,” she says, leaning her head against my shoulder. “That would actually be really great, thanks. If he looks like a hideous, disfigured monster, I won’t be in love with him anymore.”
It rattles me to hear her say that—that she loves him. I sigh sadly, planting a kiss on the top of her head. “You think so, huh?”
She answers almost immediately. “No. Not really. I think it wouldn’t matter what the fuck he looked like. I’d be in love with him all the same.”
I hug her, my heart aching for her. “You know that old saying?” I ask.
“If you tell me time is a great healer, I’m gonna kick you in the balls.”
Laughing, I shake my head. “No, not that one.”
“If you’re going through hell, keep on going?”
“Oooh, Churchill. Nice. But, no. Not that one, either.”
I clear my throat, trying to give my words some gravitas. “I hope you step on a Lego, you arrogant motherfucker.”
She bursts into laughter, digging me in the side with her elbow. “Yeah, I do know that one.”
“Well, you’re my sister, and I love you. So I’ll start putting Lego in his shoes for you. It’s the least I can do.”
“The very least,” she agrees, nodding. And then, softly, “Thank you, Cade.”
“You are more than welcome. You wanna go back inside?”
“No. I think I’m gonna go home. This party is fucking terrible.”
“God, I know. Isn’t it?”
Next morning, I go into Laura’s room and her bed hasn’t been slept in. Not even a wrinkle marks the sheets. Downstairs, Mom and Dad are at breakfast, silently hating each other from across the table, as is their custom. I sit down, helping myself to coffee. “I didn’t know Laura left already. I thought she was going to hang around here for a couple of days before she headed back to the firm?” She’s just been made partner at Dad’s law practice. While her work ethic is intense, she did promise to stay home for a little while, though. We haven’t seen each other in a long time, after all, since she’s been away at college, and I’ve been on the other side of the world, dealing with insurgents.
My father looks up from his newspaper. “Her car’s still in the garage. She must have gone out for a run or something.”
I keep my doubts to myself. She wouldn’t have made her bed if she’d gotten up to run so early. And Laura hates running.
Hours pass, and still there’s no Laura.
I have a sick, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I don’t know why, but I can’t get the feeling out of my head that something bad has happened. Something fucking awful. I never should have let her walk home on her own last night. You can see our place from the Aubertin mansion, though. It’s literally a stone’s throw. She’s run across the back field and slipped through the small gate in our fence line a thousand times before without any trouble. Why should last night have been any different?
“If she doesn’t hurry up and get back soon, I’m going to miss my bridge game over at the O’Brien’s house,” my mother complains. “She promised she’d drive me so I could have a glass of wine.”
“Fuck, Mom. If a glass of Chardonnay is so important to you, I can drive you over there,” I snap. “Damn it, I’m going out to look for her.”
“You are being ridiculous,” Mom says in a sing-song voice. She kisses me on the temple. “Thank you, though. I really would appreciate the ride.”
I leave the house, slamming the door behind me. Fucking unbelievable. They really are callous bastards. I walk slowly through the gardens, my eyes sharp, looking for anything suspicious. My parents’ place is nowhere near as big or grand as the Aubertin mansion, but the grounds are still considerable. It takes me fifteen minutes to reach the tiny, hidden gate at the perimeter of the property, and I still haven’t seen anything that might give me an idea where Laura is.
Down the hill I go, over the massive back field Jamie and I used to run riot through as children. My cell phone buzzes in my pocket. I get it out, and the man himself is calling me, the name ‘Duke’ flashing up on the screen. He hated the nickname he was given by our unit back in Afghanistan. He used to tease the shit out of me over the fact that he was ranked higher than me, though, so storing him in my contacts as Duke was just fair turnaround.
“Hey, man,” I answer, distracted, my eyes still scanning the land around me.
“Hey. I’m up on the roof. I can see you.” Jamie’s always loved hanging out on the roof outside his bedroom window. I look up, and sure enough there he is, a centimeter tall, sitting with his legs dangling over the guttering of the small, flat platform. “Listen. Shit, dude, I don’t even know how to say this,” he begins. “I have something to tell you. About Laura. I think I fucked up last night.”
“I know. I saw the whole thing.”
He groans. “Fuck. You did?”
“Yep. It was like watching the Apollo mission explode midair.”
“Damn. Is she okay?”
“I don’t know. I can’t actually find her. She seemed all right when she left to go home last night, though.”
Jamie goes quiet.
“Don’t worry, man. I’m sure she’ll get over it.”
“Yeah, I hope so. Hey, stop a second.”
“Stop walking. Check your three o’clock. There’s something weird in the grass there. About fifteen feet away.”
I pivot, turning to my right, scanning the tall gras
“What is it?” Jamie asks. “It’s shiny. I can see something bright refracting the light over there.”
“It’s sequins,” I answer numbly. “Gold sequins.”
For a minute, it feels like the entire world is standing still. Jamie says something, but I don’t hear him. I’m looking at the bundle of clothes wadded up in the grass. At the small patch of dark soil, that looks suspiciously like it’s stained with blood. His words reach me finally, echoing inside my head.
“Don’t move, Cade. Don’t fucking move. I’ll be right there.”
The line goes dead.
I can’t wait for him to find out what this is, though. I move slowly, dread sinking deep into my bones. It’s not a body, thank fuck. Carefully using the toe of my sneaker to disturb the pile of material on the ground, panic shoots through me like a series of lightning bolts.
It’s her dress.
It’s her purse.
It’s her bra.
It’s her panties.
And every single item of clothing looks as though it’s been cut with a knife.
Dirt. Dirt everywhere. Dirt for days and motherfucking days, working its way into my helmet, getting in my eyes, into my ears, making my nostrils burn. Seriously. So much fucking dirt. The sound of my brand new Yamaha scrambler snarling as the tires eat up the road beneath me. The universal smell of Subway foot-longs, gas station toilets, and leaking oil filters as I pass through small town after small town, trying not to notice the gaunt, starved-looking locals and countless shot-up signs, riddled with bullet holes. The language starts in English, quickly turning to Spanish when I cross the border. The gun holes get bigger.
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