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Rabbits in the garden, p.12

Rabbits in the Garden, page 12

 

Rabbits in the Garden
 


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  “She told me you were a bit intense,” Noah said, and Faye chortled loudly.

  “What a lovely euphemism.”

  “Miss Hayworth, I care very deeply for Natalie, and I won’t allow you to insult her.”

  “How gallant you are. I’m sure it didn’t take you long at all to worm your way into her bed.”

  “What is wrong with you? You don’t even know me.”

  “What I already know is more than I need to judge you,” she replied as she leaned over and squinted at him. “I know men like you. You’re the kind of man who would cheat and steal and feign love to get what you want. The kind of man who would lead a woman on until you meet some pretty young thing without kids or responsibilities. Do you know what happens to men like that, Noah? Do you know what happens to men who can’t keep their pants on and priorities straight? Do you know the punishment for poisoning the garden?”

  “It’s a girl!” Paul exclaimed as he burst through the doors. “I have a daughter!”

  “Can we see her?” Faye asked and Paul nodded emphatically, but when he disappeared back through the door, Faye turned back to Noah and hissed, “Break it off with her. I don’t care how. Just break it off.”

  “Miss Hayworth, I love your daughter. I love her more than her husband does, and she loves me. I won’t break anything off unless she wants it,” Noah replied. “I don’t know who you think you are, but you don’t scare me.”

  “Thank you, Noah.”

  “For what?”

  “For making it even easier,” Faye said and pushed through the doors, leaving him in stunned silence.

  Little Sophie was perfect, but when Faye looked down upon her, she could only see the potential for the girl’s perfection to be spoiled. Sophie’s blank stare seemed to be mocking her, and with each blink, she saw her failure reflected in large ice blue eyes.

  “Isn’t she beautiful?” Paul sang dotingly.

  “She has her father’s eyes,” Faye said but added devilishly, “No, actually, they look a bit more like Noah’s.”

  “Noah’s eyes are green,” Natalie said.

  “What an interesting detail to know about your husband’s best friend,” she commented coyly.

  Oh, how she wanted to let the old Faye rise. It had been so long she last tilled the earth. After Avery’s arrest, the frequency of her gardening had to be severely toned down, spaced out and made more covert. As much as she’d loved numbing her victims and drawing out their poison with brutality, she had to be more careful now. If someone was found mutilated in the same way Avery had supposedly done, there would be questions and Faye would be forced to divine answers. Luckily, she’d been given a bit of inspiration that had spurred her toward new methods of gardening thanks to the ingenuity of Jack Gilbert Graham. Acquiring the materials needed to pull it off proved easier than she’d thought. The hard part was going to be getting in and out of Noah’s apartment without being detected. She stayed three car lengths behind him at all times as she followed him home from work several weeks later. and stealthily tailed his ascent to the seventh floor of his high-rise apartment. As she followed him, she had to admit that Noah seemed a far better match for her daughter than Paul, but it was the principle of the thing that mattered most. Natalie had to be taught a lesson, and when the authorities found the charred body of her lover, she would learn. She would remember it for the rest of her life: what Mother says, Mother means. Natalie couldn’t be allowed to fly around doing as she pleased, jumping from one man’s bed to another without consequence.

  As soon as Noah disappeared into apartment #73, Faye ran down the hall and pressed her ear against the door. For a while, there was nothing but the sound of running water, dishes being stacked, and the occasional melody of Noah's whistling. However, when the apartment suddenly fell silent, and the doorknob started to twist, Faye dashed down the hall and around the corner. When she peeked out again, Noah was emerging from his apartment. He locked the door and dropped his keys into his coat pocket, but with a cautious look left and right, he placed a single key under his doormat. Faye couldn’t believe her good luck. It was as if the fates had endorsed her plan so wholeheartedly that they were demolishing every roadblock in her way. She waited until Noah’s car disappeared around the bend and then retrieved her paisley gardening bag from her backseat. Too elated to be sneaky, she rushed back up to the seventh floor and kicked aside the doormat in front of Noah’s apartment. The key winked at her, and she was so eager that it jumped the keyhole a few times before she was able to unlock the door.

  The kid had a nice place; too nice for a home wrecker, she thought. Everything was tidy, almost frantically so, and when she flung open the closet door, she knew for sure. The closet was loaded full with junk that appeared to have been hastily swept from the surfaces of the living room and kitchen. Having raised two daughters, Faye knew the look of a quickly yet shoddily cleaned room. She shook her head in disappointment, but at least she knew where to stow the bag. She placed the gardening tools in the back of the closet behind a stack of magazines, and to cover it all, she used a sweater she recognized as Natalie’s. Faye had lovingly knitted that sweater with her own two hands and her thoughtless daughter had left it in Noah’s apartment to be stashed away like just another piece of filth.

  Faye’s heart pumped with the adrenaline she’d been missing for so long. The deed was not done, but with her tools stowed in Noah’s apartment, it nearly was. The bag would ignite within four hours, and even if the ignition wasn’t enough, the kindling in the closet would help it along. Noah, the other man, was as good as dead. Although she didn’t have the usual gardening grime on her hands, it only took a moment to conjure a dozen memories of the sensation on her fingers: slippery at first but becoming sticky as it dried. The sensory aspects of gardening had always intoxicated her, but as Faye drove away from Noah’s apartment, she thought she could easily learn to love the smell of smoke instead.

  From outside Natalie and Paul’s apartment, she could hear Sophie crying and it tugged at her heart. She couldn’t imagine how lost the new parents felt whenever Faye wasn’t around to guide them. They were still so young and rebellious. How could Sophie possibly learn the right lessons when reared in such an environment? Children need order and stability. They need a house and a yard and the kind of life Natalie and Paul just couldn’t provide. But Faye could. As much as her baby having a baby still disappointed her, it provided another chance to correct the mistakes she’d made with Natalie and Avery. She had sincerely thought that her youngest daughter wouldn’t fall victim to the same headstrong streak as Natalie had, but she’d been proved horribly wrong in that aspect. For years, she felt like a failure. She’d tried so hard to raise good girls, but the harder she tried, the more impetuous they became. But over time, she realized that it wasn’t her fault. It was Jason’s. He’d put the defiant streak in them, and he deserved the blame for every one of their missteps. Sometimes she missed Jason though. She missed going down into the cellar and being able to discern his corpse from all of the others. She used to love staring into his empty eyes and laughing in his pit of a face, knowing that despite all of the nonsense he’d put her through, she’d won. His death had also afforded her the means to groom bigger and more tangled gardens. Being a doctor’s wife had provided Faye with certain perks, but as a doctor’s widow, she had money, sympathy, and enough medical supplies to heal even the sickest of fauna. When it came down to it, Jason was far more useful dead in the cellar than he ever was walking the earth. Since the bodies had been taken away, she’d felt a certain emptiness from not being able to stare down at him in success. When she looked down at her granddaughter, she saw nothing of Jason, and despite the fact that the child had Paul’s eyes, she mostly saw herself in Sophie’s face. It was enough to grant her a hint of victory. She was like an adorable ball of clay in Faye’s hands, and each of the girl’s smiles seemed to say, “Take me away from this place, Gramma. I’m always happier when I’m with you.”

  “Where
’s Natalie?” Faye asked as she pulled Sophie out of Paul’s arms and hushed her cries.

  “Class,” he replied wearily. “You know I don’t like it when you just burst in here, Faye.”

  “Why not? Afraid I might stuff you into a trunk?”

  “That would be funnier if it wasn’t true.”

  “You know, it's wild imaginations like that lead people into situations like these, You would’ve been much better off if you’d just towed the line. Not just you, of course. Lots of people would be better off if they’d followed the rules.”

  “Like Avery and Natalie, right? And your husband? Oh, and Natalie’s ex-boyfriend. Not to mention the countless others you murdered in cold blood.”

  “Paul, if you really believe that, why haven’t you thrown me out of your home? Why haven’t you ripped your child away from me? You’re so quick to accuse me, but when it comes down to it, you’re still just that scared little boy who poisoned Avery against me.”

  “You’re delusional.”

  “The authorities didn’t seem to think so. They seemed to think that anyone who accused me of murder was insane themselves,” she replied. “Maybe you don’t have to be so far away from Avery after all, Paul. Taunton has a men’s ward.”

  “You still think you have the upper hand, don’t you?” he chuckled. “Well, it might interest you to know that Natalie and I have an appointment with a lawyer next week. We’re getting Avery out of Taunton, Faye, and you’re taking her place.”

  “I don’t believe you.”

  “You will next week. My testimony will be quite an eye opener, but Natalie - she’s going to be the one to save Avery.”

  “You’re wrong. She would never testify against me.”

  “Why not? Because you’ve treated her so well?” Paul replied. “Face it, Faye: it’s over. You’ve gotten away with a lot of shit for a long time, but not anymore. You’re going to pay for everything you’ve done.”

  Just as Faye oozed up to him like a snake about to strike, the phone rang, but before Paul answered it, he glared at her for a few seconds to show her that he wasn’t the slightest bit afraid.

  “Hello? Hey, Tom, how are you?” Paul said, and almost immediately, his jaw dropped and his face blanched to a deathly white.

  “Is something wrong, Paul?” Faye asked innocently, knowing full well what inspired his terrified expression.

  “I’ll be right there,” he said, slammed down the phone, and frantically flung on his coat.

  “Paul, what is it?”

  “There was an accident at Noah’s apartment. A fire. No, an explosion. I don’t know what it is, but I have to get over there.”

  “Oh my goodness! That’s the boy who was your best man, right? I hope he’s okay.”

  “I don’t know. It sounds bad,” he replied shakily. “Can you watch Sophie?”

  “Of course. That’s what I’m here for,” she said, and when she hugged the baby close, Sophie’s giggle was the predecessor to the one that burst from Faye’s throat once Paul had left.

  Faye was giddy in anticipation of her daughter’s arrival home. Waiting to see the horror cross her daughter’s face upon hearing of Noah’s “accident” was sheer torture. She stared at the door intensely, waiting to hear the lock click open, but instead, she heard the phone’s abrasive ring. She’d always thought it slightly rude to answer another person’s telephone, but figuring it might be Natalie with an explanation for her tardiness, she broke her rule.

  “Hello?”

  “You’d better get over here.”

  “Paul?”

  “501 Lakewood Avenue.”

  “Paul, what’s going on?”

  “Get here as soon as possible,” he replied and hung up the phone.

  She suddenly became so nervous that it felt like her brain was sweating. She thought back: was there anything she’d left at the scene of the crime? Was there anyone who could’ve identified her? She’d been careful; maybe not as careful as she could’ve been but careful enough. She left Sophie with the neighbors and reluctantly made her way down to the car.

  From the street cattycorner to Paul’s she saw the smoke mixing with the clouds and staining the sky with gray billows, and then, the cacophony of sirens began. She was still nervous, but she was starting to get excited too. She hadn’t expected to see her handiwork, and when she laid eyes on it, it was far more amazing than she imagined. The sheer destruction was absolutely divine. Everywhere she looked, there were people in distress, and she assumed that most of them probably deserved to be. The firefighters had already doused the flames, but Noah’s apartment had become nothing but a charred void in the corner of the high-rise. Paul was talking to the police when Faye pulled up, and as soon as she stepped out of her car, an officer marched over to her.

  “This is just awful,” she said, desperately trying to hide her glee.

  “Yes, ma’am, it is.”

  “That poor boy.”

  Just as she was about to bury her face in her hands in dramatic sorrow, she noticed the gurneys being wheeled out of the building side by side.

  “My God, how many people were hurt?”

  “A dozen injured. Two killed.”

  “Two?” she asked with a large lump forming in her throat.

  “Yes, Faye. Two,” Paul said robotically, and when he tried to lead her toward one of the gurneys, she wilted back in refusal.

  “What are you doing? Let go of me!” she shrieked as she pushed Paul away. “Don’t let him come near me.”

  “Faye, its procedure. You have to identify her. After Noah...I can't bear another.”

  “What are you talking about? Identify who?” she asked, but Paul’s face said it all, and when he nodded, the tears came fast. “No, not Natalie. It can’t be her.”

  She inched toward the gurney, but the moment she realized that she was reaching out to pull away the sheet in morbid curiosity, she shrank back and shook her head furiously.

  “No, it isn’t her. How can you be sure? How do you know it’s her?”

  “Her car. It's right over there,” Paul replied, and when Faye saw her daughter’s Dodge Coronet, her knees turned to rubber and she hit the ground with a sob.

  “Fine, I’ll do it,” Paul growled as he gritted his teeth and glanced under the sheet.

  “Is it? Is it her?” Faye asked, and when Paul nodded dismally, she sank to the ground, wailing. “How could this happen?”

  “They don’t know yet. Bad wiring maybe.”

  “What was she doing here? She wasn’t supposed to be here. You said she was in class.”

  “We should talk about this later.”

  “About what? Did you know she was here?”

  “Yes,” he sighed and then added softly, “Natalie and I had an arrangement.”

  “What sort of arrangement?”

  “Natalie and Noah: they were in love, and I knew it. I knew about everything, but who was I to stop them?”

  “You’re telling me that you knew your wife was having an affair with your best friend, and you didn’t feel compelled to do anything about it?”

  “Why would I? I didn’t love her. Not like a husband should love his wife. But I did love her enough to not wish her despair. Noah made her happy, and I understood her love for him just as she understood my love for Avery.”

  “You are pathetic,” Faye hissed. “Is your life so empty that you have to cling to some fleeting childhood lust?”

  “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

  “I understand perfectly: this is your fault. You knew she was here. You lied for her, and you lied to me, and now my daughter is dead,” she wept.

  Although she felt true devastation, there was a note of happiness in her sorrow and it came from realizing that Natalie could no longer testify against her.

  Deep down, Paul knew that it wasn’t his fault, but his emotions were raw and when Faye dug in her claws, he allowed himself to be torn apart.

  Meanwhile, Avery was still reeling with jo
y over the birth of her niece. In Taunton, if one was given a reason to be happy, they held onto it for dear life. Even though she hadn’t seen the baby, the news of her birth was enough to keep Avery going for months, and no amount of Taunton’s tedium or torture could steal the smile from her face. She was expecting another call from Natalie and Paul soon after, one to announce their plans to visit and discuss their strategy for getting her out of the hospital, but much to her dismay, it was her mother who called next.

  “What do you want?”

  “I’m afraid I have some bad news, Avery,” Faye said, but knowing that her mother’s definitions of good and bad differed greatly from her own, she replied apathetically,

  “Yeah? What is it?”

  “It’s Natalie. She had an accident.”

  “What kind of accident? What did you do to her?”

  “Me? Why would you think I had anything to do with it?”

  “Because you always do.”

  “It was an accident, Avery. A faulty gas line and bad wiring.”

  “What are you saying?”

  “Avery, she’s dead,” Faye whimpered. “Natalie’s dead. There was an explosion at her friend’s apartment, and he died too.”

  “Oh my God! What about Paul? Is he okay?” Avery asked frantically.

  “What’s wrong with you? I just told you that your sister is dead, and all you can think about is your childhood crush? I really don’t understand you kids. Affairs and arrangements and persistent lust? It’s enough to make me sick.”

  “Arrangements? Oh, wait. You knew, didn’t you? You knew about Natalie and Noah.”

  “How do you know about it?”

  “Because she told me,” Avery replied. “Natalie came to see me a few months ago and told me everything, but she especially told me the truth, that everything I saw that night was real. Paul remembers it too.”

  “Of course he does. He remembers it for you, to make you feel like your normal, but he’s wrong to do that to you. It isn’t going to get you better any sooner.”

  “Why are you still playing this game, Mom? You’ve already lost. Paul and Natalie spoke to a lawyer.”

 
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