Marissa was sporting deep, dark bags under her eyes the following morning.
Thanks to her mental terrorist of a best friend she couldn’t get any decent shut-eye. All she could do was sit up and think about Kaleb and wonder if what Jada said was true.
Considering her luck with men, what if he was just as bad as Jamoy? Maybe he had a girlfriend lurking somewhere, maybe even a kid or two. Damn, he could just be waiting to take her to bed and then leave.
What if he was like Shawn?
She groaned then and rubbed her temples. She had to thank Jada later for her headache. There was nothing she loved more than being paranoid.
As if things weren’t annoying enough, Butch was back up and running, following her every move again and he was much more violent than usual. Thankfully, he managed to condone himself while she was at work. However, his presence was a big slap to the face. He stood at the entrance of the restaurant; a big, brooding, glaring wall of muscle and rage, and intimidating everyone.
“Are you okay?” Kaleb asked when he finally arrived. He was at least half an hour late…and his face was swollen.
“Me? What about you?” Marissa held his face, gently rubbing her thumb against his bruised cheek.
“You need to sleep better,” He casually averted her question and removed her hand from his face. “I gotta get to work. We’ll talk later,” and he disappeared into the kitchen.
They never had that talk. When closing time came, he was nowhere to be found.
She tried calling his phone, but he didn’t answer. When she called again, it went straight to voicemail.
She left him a text, insisting he call her back.
Her phone was silent on the ride home.
No messages hours after she arrived.
When she woke up the next morning, No calls, No texts, Nothing.
Marissa was staring at the phone as though willing it to go off.
“Jada? Jada are you up?”
Sehjada cursed and sat up, revealing a serious case of bed head and angry, sleep deprived eyes.
Glancing at the clock, she sucked her teeth. “It is 4 in the fucking morning, no one, not even baby Jesus, is awake.”
“So help me if you say another word…” She plopped back down on the bed and pulled the covers over her head.
Despite her inner protests, Marissa returned to sleep as well.
By eight in the evening, Marissa lost all hope of hearing from him. Instead of being worried, she was thoroughly pissed. She was sure she had done nothing to anger him, so why was he blowing her off? She had even thought about going to his place and give him a piece of her mind, but didn’t. If he was avoiding her, going there would be pointless.
Part of her wanted to blame Sehjada for jinxing everything, but there was no way it was her fault. Again, her taste in men just sucked.
He didn’t show up for work either. Mr. McCormic was seething all night because they were short staffed. Some waitresses were missing as well. Thankfully the workflow slowed to a snail’s pace as the night went on and the doors were locked by 10 p.m.
She was wiping a table when he told her to go home.
The air outside was frigid; a sure sign that winter was here.
Tomorrow would mark the end of November, and the start of much colder temperatures. Rarely did it snow, but the drop in temperature was enough to make you bundle up. The start of December also meant classes were coming to an end. Finals were in a few days and she had to study hard if she planned on graduating.
She still didn’t know what she would do when school was over. Would she continue to work at the Purple Hermit? She had grown so accustomed to the people there that the thought of leaving dampened her mood. Lately, being a Maître D’ sounded interesting. Perhaps she would try her hand at that.
Maybe I should just move.
She could start over. Move somewhere far away from home where no one knew her. Have a different life. She could leave the afternoon after she graduated. Don’t tell anyone. Just take what money she had and leave. It sounded easy in theory.
The ride home was silent as usual. Times like these, she missed Claire. Jerk as he was, at least he spoke to her.
He grunted in response.
Her father told her he went on vacation, but nothing about that sounded logical. She couldn’t see him leaving, not without Butch. Butch’s depression that followed also spoke volumes. She was sure she already knew the answer, and in a way, she was being cruel by asking.
“Your father already told you.”
He tightened his grip on the steering wheel. Never took his eyes off the road.
“Butch?” She pressed. He kept quiet.
“What happened that night?”
The car sped up. No doubt he wanted to get her home fast and away from him. She looked out the window.
“What a time for a sudden vacation. One minute you’re shooting up outside, then you wake up the next day and decide to leave?”
She spared him a glance. At any moment he could rip the steering wheel off. His body was stiff, enough to make him look very uncomfortable. But did she stop? Of course not.
“Why didn’t you go with him?”
“Didn’t want to.”
“Where did he go?”
“Not your business.”
“Oh….” She shrugged. “I hope he went somewhere with beaches and warm weather.” The man was tough she’d give him that much. She should have stopped and left well enough alone, but she was determined to get an answer out of him.
“When is he coming back?” She continued.
“Again, not your business.”
“Are you going on vacation n—”
He stomped the breaks. Had she not been wearing her seat belt, she would have flown out the windshield.
“Will you shut up!” Butch blurted out. “What do you want to hear?”
His hands were on her shoulders. “Do you really want to know what happened?” He shoved her against the door. The awkward positioning made her side sting.
“My brother is dead!” He pulled her forward, bringing her face far too close to his. “He never went on vacation. He’s not on some fucking beach. He’s not coming back.” Again he shoved her back against the door. “He. Is. Dead!”
Butch let her go, slumped into his seat and covered his face with his hands.
Marissa freed herself from the restraints of the seat belt. She wanted to be able to escape if he lost his mind again.
There was more she wanted to know; how did he die? What happened that night? Who were they shooting at? But her curiosity was bound to have her wounded before the night was over.
Words escaped her. Her eyes remained focused on him, not wanting to miss a second of his movements.
“It should have been you,” His voice shocked her, and she gripped the door handle, ready to bolt. He looked over her, wearing the same forlorn expression as the following weeks after the incident. “They wanted you.”
Marissa remained quiet, hoping he would continue.
“Who wanted me?” She asked at last when he didn’t speak.
He didn’t answer. He merely shook his head, then started the vehicle again.
“Butch, who wanted me and for what?” She demanded an answer, though she was terrified on the inside.
“Ask your fucking father.” Was all he said, and didn’t utter another word for the remainder of the drive.
“When were you going to tell me that Claire was dead?” Marissa hollered as she stormed into her father’s study.
“Did I never teach you how to knock?”
“Who murdered Claire?”
“Unless he died on vacation, I haven’t the faintest clue what you are talking about,” His eyes never left the book on his desk.
Marissa swatted the book off his desk, and then slammed her hands down on it. “Butch already told me the truth!”
That seemed to jostle him a little, earning her a quick, but noticeable glare. “Did he?” Her father adjusted himself in his chair, sitting straight up to watch her directly in the eyes. “What exactly did he tell you?”
She matched his gaze and dropped into the chair on the opposite side of his desk. “That Claire died the night of that little shootout, and that whatever or whoever was responsible, wanted me. So fess up.”
“Alright.” He answered simply.
“Yes, alright. What would you like to know?”
This was too good to be true. “You’ll tell me everything?” She was skeptical.
“Okay, well, Who killed Claire?”
She knew it. It was too good to be true. “Who wants me?”
“Someone or something?” She would play his little game. Maybe if she kept it up long enough she would get some answers.
“A little of both.”
“Why did they kill Claire then? I was inside. They could have just come inside.”
“You think it’s easy to get into the house?” He scoffed at the thought. “Claire was a casualty.”
“Why do they want me?”
“Why wouldn’t they?” Marissa groaned. She hated when people answered her question with a question.
“I’m not important.”
“Not to yourself.”
“So I am important?”
“Something like that.”
“Important enough to murder someone over?”
“This surprises you?”
She raised a brow and gave him a “duh” look.
“You come from a family of important people. You don’t think you would be a target at some point in your life?”
Well, now that he put it like that. Still, she doubted this was that type of situation. “So why now?”
“You’re not asking the right questions.” And then he laughed. He wasn’t’ taking her seriously at all.
“Just tell me what the hell is going on already!”
“No. If you’re so curious, then look for the answers yourself.”
Something dawned on her then.” Is this why Melanie went missing?”
“Yes and No.”
“So you know where she is.”
That was it. She threw her hands up in defeat. “You know what. Forget it.” She pushed herself out of the chair. She would look for the answers herself as he told her.
“One more thing,” Her father called, stopping her at the door. “Kaleb, are you still dating him?”
“No.” She answered curtly.
That raised her interest. “Why does it matter?”
“I’ll tell you this much. Him and Jamoy,” That was odd, she never mentioned Jamoy to her father, “stay away from them.”
“Can I ask why?”
He became deathly serious then. “They’re trouble. It’s safer if you do.”
“I’ve known Kaleb for a while, why is he only dangerous now?”
“Why is he only interested in you now?”
There he went answering her question with a question again. “Maybe he was just waiting for the right time.”
“Oh, He most definitely was.”
She left her father’s study with a pounding headache. He hadn’t told her anything helpful. Her mother was worse. The woman didn’t even entertain any of her questions. She wanted to try her hand at Butch again, but he was nowhere to be found.
The only comforting thing was that her sister was probably fine wherever she was. No wonder her father was so carefree about her being missing. He knew where she was…or so it seemed. How do you know, but not know something?
It was impossible for her to sleep that night. For one, she was over thinking the possibilities of the situation at hand and secondly, she was terrified that someone might be watching her. What could someone possibly want with her that would lead them to go as far as to murder someone? Did it have something to do with Shawn? She wished she had asked her father about him before she left his study, but at the time, it didn’t occur to her.
The weeks that followed were nothing less than strange. Her father was distant as was Butch. Neither of them attended her graduation. The only excuse they offered was that something came up that demanded their attention, something that was apparently more important than his own daughter’s graduation. What happened to all those talks of safety? Suddenly she didn’t need a bodyguard?
Her mother was the only one that was still normal, well as normal as she ever was; still, a shrill, demanding woman that never listened to reason. Since her father was doing his best to stay out of reach, she tried to get her mother to let her move again, but that was a failed attempt.
It was a late Saturday evening when things went even further downhill. She was about to enter the kitchen, in hopes of getting some tea to help her fall asleep—she was starting to think she was developing insomnia—when she heard voices coming from inside.
“You might as well tell her at this point.”
“For what? She doesn’t need to know.”
It was Butch and her father. She planted herself against the wall and listened quietly.
“You can’t hide it anymore. At this rate, she’s going to find out regardless.”
Her father rubbed his temples, obviously frustrated. “How did it get here? We were doing so well.”
“It was bound to happen,” Butch’s tone was grave, “and if this keeps up, everyone else will find out as well.”
“What do you suggest?”
“You know my answer.”
“She’s my daughter,” Her father bit out.
“My brother is dead because it got too far. You need to handle it before someone else does.”
“I can stall…I just need a little more—”
“How long do you plan to wait before someone else dies? You know how they handle things. They won’t stop.”
“How did they even find out? I was so careful.”
“Maybe it wasn’t you. Maybe she told them.”
“She wouldn’t, that would be suicide.”
“Only four of us knew, and my brother took it to his grave. It had to be her.”
Who was this woman they were talking about? What were they talking about exactly and what did it have to do with herself? Again there was the mention of a “they” that was left unspecified. She wished they spoke more specifically.
“I’ll try to contact her.”
“I’ll find a way.”
“If you’re not going to take my advice, why not just send the girl to her?”
His father shot Butch a glare, “And how would she explain her to them? Do you honestly think she won’t be killed?”
“They’re trying to kill her now anyway,” Butch shrugged as though her life meant nothing.
“Anything involving her death is not an option!”
“You don’t have many options, Robert. And let’s not forget you’ll still have to explain this all to your wife.”
Her father slumped further into his seat. He brought the glass before him to his lips, casually sipping it, and then he tossed his gentleman ways aside and downed the contents in a swift gulp.
“Why not right now. She’s wide awake anyway, aren’t you Marissa?”