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Becca slammed the door to her van, the vehicle rocking slightly at the move, and headed up the front walk. The house was lit up, which told her it was likely everyone was home. She started when the front door slammed open, and a seemingly upset Braxton hurried out into the cool night, nearly running over the taller woman.
“Whoa!” Becca exclaimed, putting her hands up to stop the collision. Stunned green eyes looked up at her. “You okay?”
“No. No, I’m not. I need to talk to Jared, and his goddamn cell phone is turned off. Again! So, I’m heading over to his goddamn girlfriend’s house to see if I can catch him.”
”How are you getting there?”
Braxton stopped for a moment- good question. She hadn’t thought to ask for her mother’s keys to her car. “Guess I’m walking.”
“No, come on. I’ll take you.” Becca guided Braxton back to her van, unlocking and tugging open the passenger side door for her, then slamming it shut once the blonde was settled. Slipping in behind the wheel, she glanced across the large expanse at her roommate. “Where does she live?”
Braxton thought for a moment, then her face crumbled as realization struck. “I don’t know.”
“Whoa! Hold the phone, here.” Becca knelt in the space between the passenger and driver’s seat in the spacious van and pulled Braxton to her. The blonde cried, grabbing onto Becca in an almost painful grasp. Becca was starting to get scared, as these weren’t the tears of a woman frightened from a nightmare, these were tears of anguish. “You know, I may not be Jared, but I’ve been known to have a strong shoulder from time to time,” she said softly.
Braxton pulled away, sniffling and laughing nervously. “I keep destroying your clothes with my crying.”
Becca grinned. “That’s why washing machines were created. You okay?” she brushed some strands of hair out of Braxton’s eyes, using her thumb to wipe away a lingering tear.
“No.” She looked into Becca’s concerned gaze. “Um, do you think maybe we can just… drive?”
“Sure.” Becca moved back into her seat, belting herself in and bringing the large engine roaring to life, and got them heading off into the night.
Braxton stared out the window, her arms hugging across herself. She felt cold and afraid, and very alone. The night passed by in silence, only the soft murmuring of the radio for a soundtrack of what would be one of the worse nights of her life. She knew she had scared Becca, and could feel her gaze on her from time to time, but Braxton wasn’t ready to share quite yet. She wasn’t entirely sure she should share with this woman who was a virtual stranger.
The streets were surprisingly quiet for a college town, the streetlights bleeding their circle of light at intervals. A light, cold rain from earlier turned the street into a smooth, black canvas, the street and traffic lights shining brilliantly upon them.
The van came to a stop, pulling Braxton from her visual musings. She looked around them and saw that they were in a parking lot, then realized it was the tattoo shop. She turned questioning eyes to the driver.
“It’s closed. Figured this would give us some privacy to talk. That is, if you want to.” Becca tapped the steering wheel as she waited for an answer. She got it when suddenly the cab of the van was filled with light as Braxton opened her door. She joined her, locking up her vehicle as she searched for the right key to the barred door of the shop.
It was strange for Braxton to be inside the tattoo shop when it was closed. Becca didn’t turn any lights on, their only guide were the emergency lights that burned all through the night, draping everything in a dim, buttery light.
“Want some coffee?” Becca asked, tossing her keys on the reception desk after locking them in.
“Please? That sounds really good.”
“Coming right up. Make yourself comfortable.”
Left alone, Braxton wandered around, looking at the tattoos on the walls briefly before turning toward where the sitting area was. Heavy shades had been drawn over the huge, storefront windows, so they were in relative seclusion.
“We should be in business in about five minutes or so,” Becca said, standing just outside the doorway of the office, hands tucked into her back pockets. She watched Braxton, who was staring off into space, her hand resting casually on the back of one of the couches. “Braxton?”
As though in a daze, Braxton heard her name called, and turned to see Becca standing in the shadows, concern written on her chiseled features. “Five minutes? Okay. Great. Thanks.”
“Do you want to get settled there, or back here in the office?” Becca asked, hitching her thumb back over her shoulder.
“Instead of answering, Braxton walked over to her, following the taller woman back into a small, square room with a desk running along one wall, a closed lap top tucked into the corner, and a set of metal filing cabinets running along the other wall. The gurgling coffee maker sat atop it.
“I feel a little less vulnerable back here,” she said, sheepish as she sat in one of the three office chairs scattered across the room.
Becca smiled in understanding, getting two mugs ready for the coffee, which was nearly done. Her back still to the blonde, she began to speak. “So, talk to me. What had you so upset?”
“My mother killed my father.”
Becca halted, nearly choking on her tongue by the words, devoid of any emotion. She was glad she hadn’t been facing Braxton because she knew her face would have betrayed her true feelings on what she’d just heard. “Wow.” She poured two cups, bringing them to the desk where Braxton sat. “Cream? Sugar? Splenda? Got it all.”
“Sugar and cream, please.”
After a moment Becca was seated next to her, both readying their coffees. The older woman wasn’t sure what to say, or if she should even say anything at all. She waited.
Braxton sipped slowly, gathering her thoughts and swallowing her regret of just spitting it out like that. She couldn’t meet Becca’s gaze, afraid of what she’d see there. Finally she spoke. “I need to explain something to you. About my parents.”
“Alright. Go for it.” Becca sat back in her chair, assuming a casual posture that she didn’t feel.
“Well, first off, let me tell you about my father.” Braxton took a deep breath before continuing. Her emotions were rattling around in her head, trying to discern which emotion she actually felt. How did she feel about the fact that her father had been beaten to death? Clearing her throat, she began to tell the story of her childhood. She spoke of Fletcher’s drinking, the beatings she’d witnessed and endured herself.
Becca listened, after awhile forgetting to drink her coffee, instead the mug balanced on her knee. She stared in awe and wonder at what Braxton and her mother and endured from Fletcher Crowley, whom she’d never met, but had heard plenty about. She felt rage fill her at the things Braxton described, then outright sorrow at the lost time and life of Margot.
When finally Braxton’s story came to an end, a heavy silence sat between them. Becca was allowing everything she’d been told to process in her mind, her own emotions trying to vie for space in her head.
As the silence stretched on, Braxton began to feel uncomfortable, and pushed up, grabbing her empty coffee mug, and Becca’s cold one, refilling them both from the 6 cup maker.
“I have to admit, I’m stunned,” Becca said at length, accepting the fresh coffee. “How is your mom doing after all this?”
“I don’t know. We didn’t really get that far.” Braxton ran her fingers through her hair, her hand shaking.
“So, the police are on to your mother?”
“I don’t know. I can only assume.” Braxton blew out a shaky breath.
“How do you feel about all this, Braxton? Where’s your head?”
“Hell if I know,” Braxton blew out, rising and beginning to pace. “I hate… hated my father for years. But still, he was my father. Without ten minutes of his time, I wouldn’t be here, you know? God, I just don’t know how to feel. Am I supposed to feel angry? Should I be grateful? Relieved? Fucking pissed!?” Braxton’s shout echoed off the walls of the small office. Braxton’s bag of emotions were blending together, her unable to separate what was what, which made her angry. “What the hell was she thinking, Becca? Christ!”
“I think she wasn’t thinking,” Becca said softly. “I think she was defending herself, Braxton.”
“But, she killed him, Becca,” Braxton said softy, taking her seat again. “She didn’t have to take it that far. He let her go.”
“But for how long? I’m not trying to justify what your mom did, but do you honestly think a man like your dad would allow your mom to just say, ‘oops, sorry’? Braxton, he would’ve come after her. And maybe you.”
Braxton heard every word, and knew that a lot of it made sense, but it still didn’t help clear her mind. “Are you close to your family, Becca?” she asked.
The taller woman was stunned silent for a moment at the seeming non-sequitur. “Uh, I used to be. But now I’m only in contact with my aunt.”
“What would you do? If you found out she’d murdered someone?”
“Braxton, I can’t answer that. Mainly for two reasons,” she held up two fingers. “First off, it hasn’t happened to me. Secondly, I’m not you. I’m going to react far different than you, and my choices will be different than yours.”
Braxton sat back in her chair, sipping her coffee. “Damn, this is all so crazy.” She chuckled lightly. “I must say, he had it coming. I’m actually surprised that no one else whacked him before now.”
“I gotta say, I’ve seen dysfunctional families before, but…” They both cracked up laughing, effectively relieving the tension in the room.
“I’m sorry, Becca. You must think I’m a mess. You always end up coming to my rescue when I’m in tears. I’m honestly not always this unstable.”
Becca chuckled. “No worries. I know you’ve been through a lot. And this… Well, let’s just say I’d be a mess, too.”
Braxton reached across the short distance between them. “Thank you, Becca. I mean it. Thank you.”
Becca met Braxton’s steady gaze, nodded. “You’re welcome.”
Margot sat in her daughter’s bedroom, curled up in the armchair and looking out the window. She wasn’t sure what exactly she was expecting to see first: Braxton or the police. The latter hadn’t shown up yet, so she was relieved when she saw Becca’s van pull up to the curb, her and Braxton getting out.
Braxton saw Jared’s car parked behind Carrie’s, and felt immediate anger build in her. She rarely saw him anymore, and if he was at home, he was either with Karen, or was so distracted with talking on the phone to her that he wasn’t there at all.
The house was quiet, Carrie sitting on the couch watching TV, only a lamp in the corner on for light. Braxton eyed her carefully, looking for any indication that the short brunette knew anything about what was going on. She simply glanced at her two roommates and waved a greeting then turned back to her show.
“You want some ice cream?” Becca asked as she shrugged out of her jacket.
Braxton shook her head. “No. I don’t think I’d keep it down. But I’ll join you.”
The two women headed into the kitchen, a sudden burst of loud music penetrating the quiet murmur of the television as Jared opened his bedroom door. “Jared’s home,” Becca observed. “You can talk to him now.”
Braxton glared over in his direction, hurt. “Nah. I don’t want to have to repeat myself.”
Jared turned off his stereo, wanting to join Carrie for their favorite sit com when he saw Braxton and Becca heading into the kitchen. A huge grin on his face, happy to see his best friend after being at Karen’s for the past couple days, he followed.
Becca was dishing up some ice cream in a bowl, Braxton hopped up on a nearby counter, the two women were chatting. “Hey, guys!” Jared said, opening the fridge and grabbing himself a can of Dr Pepper.
“Hey,” Becca said absently, sucking some of the sweet treat from her thumb before closing up the container of Ben & Jerry’s.
Braxton glanced at Jared, but quickly looked away, something he did not miss. Walking over to her, Jared wondered what the problem was. “Hey,” he said, leaning in to place a kiss on Braxton’s cheek. She moved away, hopping down from the counter and across the kitchen. “Hey!” he followed, grabbing her by the arm and swinging her around. “What the hell?”
“I’ve got things to do, Jared.” Braxton turned away from him and continued out of the kitchen, headed towards the stairs, but was commandeered and shoved toward the front door and out into the cold. “Damn it, Jared!” she exclaimed, trying to move past him and back into the house, but he blocked her path.
“No, you’re going to talk to me and tell me what the hell I did to piss you off, cause you’re obviously mad about something.”
“Well, maybe if you bothered to turn your phone on once in awhile, you’d know,” she fumed, crossing her arms over her chest.
“What?” Jared was completely baffled. “I was busy, Braxton.”
“Yes, I know. While you and your girlfriend are rutting around like rabbits, shit is going on here.”
Jared looked away, flushing slightly as that is exactly what he and Karen had been doing. “Brax, I have a right to be with my girlfriend if I want to.”
“Yes, you do. But I want you to keep one thing in mind, Jared. What you’re doing is exactly what you accused me of with Andrew. I really needed you today, and you weren’t here, which is fine. But you disappear off the face of the earth.” Braxton stared him down, not flinching at the look of surprise on her long-time friend’s face.
“I’m sorry. What happened?” he asked, shoving his hands contritely into the pockets of his cargo pants.
Braxton shook her head, moving to walk around him. “I’ve already had to talk about it once tonight. I’m not doing it again. I’m off to bed. Good night.”
Jared stood out on the front stoop for a long moment before heading inside, locking the front door behind him.
Braxton slowed as she entered her bedroom, noting her mother asleep in her armchair. She closed her door and sat on the end of her bed, sighing heavily, shoulders slumped. She studied her mother, the peace on her slumbering features that was noticeably absent when Margot was awake. Braxton couldn’t recall ever seeing that peace before.
“Mom?” she said, gently shaking her mother’s shoulder. “Wake up.”
Margot’s eyes fluttered open. “Hi, honey. Are you okay?”
Braxton nodded. “Just a lot to take in. Come on, it’s bed time.” She helped her mother stand, then was enveloped in a hug. Braxton rested her head on Margot’s shoulder, allowing herself to be held for a long moment before stepping away. “We’ll talk more later.”
“Alright. Good night, honey.” With a kiss to her daughter’s cheek, Margot left the room.
Braxton looked around, bouncing lightly on her heels for a moment as she tried to decide what to do. She had class in the morning, but felt like doing anything but sleeping. She knew the nightmares would be bad, and for just a moment contemplated asking Becca if they could skip the middle and just invite the taller woman to stay with her, cause she knew it was more than likely that if Becca were in her room that night, she’d be the one to awaken Braxton.
Chuckling at the ridiculousness of the thought, Braxton did what she always did when bored, troubled or couldn’t sleep- grabbed a sketchpad. She flipped through the pages, looking over her work, and marveling at how much it had changed and matured over the weeks since classes had started. She’d always been a talented natural, but there were things she had never dreamed she could do until her professors had gotten to her.
She stopped on a page that immediately caught her attention. She had no recollection of drawing it. In the drawing was herself, penned against a wrought iron fence. Her eyes were wide and face filled with horror. Coming out of the left hand side of the page was a man with light-colored hair, pulled back into a ponytail. From the angle he was drawn, she couldn’t see his face, but knew instinctively she felt fear looking at him.
Something in the shadows of the drawing caught her eye, however. Behind her own right shoulder was a figure, barely able to be seen. The figure had a hand resting on Braxton’s shoulder, almost as though offering comfort. On closer inspection, the blonde realized that the figure looked amazingly like Becca. She’d drawn that figure before, long dark hair, intense gaze. Even as she looked at it and saw the amazing resemblance, she knew somehow that it wasn’t meant to be Becca.
Her musings were interrupted by a knock at her door. “Come in,” she called, flipping her sketchpad closed and stowing it next to her backpack on the floor. Her bedroom door opened and Jared peeked a tentative head inside. “Come in, Jared,” Braxton said, her voice tired, when he didn’t enter. Her best friend stepped inside and closed the door softly behind him. “What’s up?”
Braxton already sat in the chair so Jared took the bed. He ran a hand through blonde hair before speaking. “I’ve been thinking about what you said. And though I wont’ apologize for falling in love with Karen, or having her in my life, you are right about what you said. You know me,” he said with the charming smile that made women swoon. “I’m an extremist. All or nothing, right?”
“You don’t need to apologize for Karen, Jared. She’s great.” A mischievous glint entered green eyes. “If you like older women.”
“Hey! Five years isn’t that big a deal!”
Braxton laughed. Her merriment died quickly. “Do you remember last summer when we were at the county fair? That strange psychic lady?”
“Mysterious Martha,” Jared remembered.
“Yes. Mysterious Martha. She told me that this year my life would change drastically. I’ve been thinking about that. At first I thought that maybe it was the accident, which, yes. It definitely changed my life. But there’s more to it than that.” She eyed Jared, dreading having to tell her story again, but needed Jared to be involved. Needed his wisdom and emotional help.
“This is about your mom, isn’t it?” At Braxton’s nod, he leaned forward. “She left him, didn’t she?”
“It’s more than that, Jar. Much, much more than that. Fletcher’s dead.” If the situation hadn’t been so fatal, the look on Jared’s face would have been amusing. “It gets worse.”
Jared stared at his friend when no more was forthcoming. Something… there was something more. A light bulb blinked to life in his imagination. “No. She didn’t-“
“She did.” Braxton moved to the bed, needing to be physically close to Jared, and from his pallor, realized he might need her to be, too. “It was a bit of an accident/self-defense thing. Either way, he’s gone. The police were sniffing around here earlier today.”
“This is why you were trying to get hold of me, isn’t it.” At Braxton’s nod, Jared felt horrible. He took his friend in his arms. “God, I’m sorry.” They held each other for a long moment of silence “What’s she going to do?”
“I don’t know. We didn’t get that far in the conversation. She told me what happened, and then I needed some space.”
“What are you going to do?” Jared flopped back on the mattress, taking Braxton with him. She rested her head on his shoulder.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the cops are already on to her. Does she plan to hide out here?”
Those were all questions Braxton had been asking herself for the past four hours since she’d been told what Margot had done, and she wasn’t any closer to an answer. “I don’t know. It’s so wrong what she did, but he’s such a bastard. There’s a part of me that says Fletcher got exactly what he deserved. I’m so torn.”
“Would your mom ever have left him?”
Braxton snorted. “Hardly. Theirs was definitely a ‘til death do you part’ type arrangement. Honestly, I’m not completely surprised one of them is dead. I just figured it wouldn’t be Fletcher.”
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