This story contains sensitive content

~(Sensitive content: Mental health. Physical Violence. Self harm. Strong language)~

Edward examined the revolver. The police returned it yesterday morning. His mother didn't want weapons in the house, especially that one. He got rid of the rest. 

Edward pointed at the mirror and pretended to shoot. As a kid, he would play with a plastic gun as the solitary cowboy. That was before he met Keith. They took turns to be the Sheriff, yet most of the time, Keith would let him play the role. Though, that didn’t make Edward the hero. 

He studied his reflection and felt as if he was staring at someone else. A knock on the door startled him, and he began to sweat.


"Are you ok, Eddie?"

"Just changing my shirt. I've soaked it already," which wasn't a complete lie. 

"Hurry up, sweetie. I have a surprise for you. There's someone here that will cheer you up." 

"Alright, mum."

He carefully kept the revolver in its box and hid it inside a suitcase under his bed. While changing his shirt, he wondered who his mother had referred to. A funny feeling grew in his stomach. It had to be Lora. 

The relationship ended a year ago. Lora accused him of many things, above all of being immature. A colleague told him older women often said it to undermine mens confidence. "No complaints about your age when they're getting laid," he had added. Edward couldn't agree more. Lora had moved to California, but they still shared the same circle of friends. Tragedies traveled faster than usual gossip. Lora was soft-hearted and had probably booked a flight to support him. 

Edward stopped at the bathroom to comb his hair and apply deodorant. With freedom arrived opportunity. He caught himself whistling while heading down the stairs and stopped, hoping no one had heard him. Luckily, the hallway and foyer were empty. Behind an archway stood the living room, decorated with flowers and portraits of his father. The murmur of conversations drifted through the back door to the garden. His mother had hired a catering service and a violinist, who had left after playing for an hour. 

Edward avoided going outside. It was mid-summer and the hottest day of the year. And the guests made it worse, speaking from ignorance. Knots had begun to form in his stomach. His condition didn't help, making him sweat profusely. It had pushed him to the safety of his bedroom. He just wanted the day to end. However, Lora was here, and that changed everything. 

Edward passed the archway, ignoring his father's eyes, which seemed to follow him. In the garden, groups sat beneath the shade of the trees and parasols, a few wandered near the tables. Distracted in his search, he bumped into a friend of his mother, a young woman from the congregation. She had bothered him all morning. Her name escaped from him. Before she uttered a word, he heard a familiar laugh and followed it, like a sailor driven to a mermaid song. It was Lora. Edward found himself on a gravel path that serpentined to a private area. There was an artificial pond with fish and a wooden gazebo surrounded by tall bushes. He couldn't see the figures behind the foliage. As he approached, he found his mother engaged in a conversation. Edward paused, struck by the bright mood that made her look younger. She still held a stunning beauty, like a mature Marilyn Monroe. Since his father's death, he had failed to conjure a smile on her face. He had never seen her so happy. Her mysterious companion said something that made her laugh. Edward realized that his desire had tricked him. It wasn't Lora but his mother's laughter. He proceeded with his heart deflated yet peaked by curiosity. Beside her sat Keith. Edward was born two days earlier than him. Keith had always been slim. A year ago, he signed up to the gym and built some muscle. Keith had invited him to join him, but as usual, Edward had declined. 

Suddenly it hit him. Keith was the mentioned surprise. He hid behind a bush, tempted to leave. Nonetheless, something felt odd. The crepitation of the cicadas made it impossible to eavesdrop. Edward couldn't help but notice how his mother sometimes patted Keith's leg in a too-friendly manner. Her blouse was open, forming a wide V that revealed the tip of her bra. She sat with an empty glass of wine, occasionally tucking the loose locks behind her ear, with her tiptoes grazing the ground. Keith sat up straight, offering a wolfish smile. Even the scar on his chin conferred him a seductive charm. Although his presence sufficed, Keith didn't appear to make advances toward her until he handed her a card, she tried to return it, but he persuaded her to keep it. Edward managed to read her lips, "Alright. I'll call you later." His head spiraled into sickening thoughts, with the taste of bile raising up his throat.

"There you are! Come over!"

She had spotted him. Edward walked up to them, unable to fake a smile. 

"Oh my, Eddie. You look terrible. Sit over here. I'll get you a drink."

He nodded and sat opposite Keith. 

"Don’t bother,” said Keith. “I'll get someone to serve us." 

"Nonsense, you stay here. Now, tell me. What are you going to drink?"

"Not a drop on the job, mam."

"This man! Always working. Relax, will you?"

Edward gave a sly look while taking out a pack of cigars. 

"Work?" he inquired.

"I told you," she replied. "Do you ever listen?"

"I’ve tried," he muttered to himself.

His mother slapped his shoulder in reproach. It annoyed him more than he expected.

"I hired Union Delight for the catering. Keith works for the Company," she giggled, childishly. 

"Union Delight? A bit pricey."

"Oh, shush. Quality has a price." 

The Company was famous in Texas and had recently expanded to the neighboring states. Edward would have to take hold of the money before she blew it on luxuries.  

"So, you work for them? What are you, a supervisor?" he asked, lighting a cigar.

His mother cackled, and Keith drew a wide smile. Edward frowned. Did he say something funny?

"I'm Chief Executive." 

"Congratulations. Strange, I didn't hear," Edward glanced at his mother.  

"I called, but you didn't answer," he added. 

"Ups and downs have kept you apart," she said cheerily. "Now there's a chance to catch up. I'll fetch drinks for everyone!"

Edward grabbed her wrist. Above the perfume lingered the smell of wine. His mother had been drinking since they arrived from the cemetery.

"Mum, you heard him. Besides, I think you've had enough."

She freed herself from his grip.

"I can think for myself, Eddie. And we need a drink for the toast. Oh, I better go before I say too much!"

She walked down the path, disappearing behind the foliage.

Keith took out a packet of cigarettes and put one between his lips.

"If I'm going to sin, better go all the way," he searched his pockets for a lighter without luck. Finally, he asked Edward for his lighter. It was a brass vintage type, with a rose carved on one side, and a message on the other. Before lighting the cigarette, he paused to read and drew a smile. 

The item was a gift from Edward's maternal grandfather to his father. Edward rescued it from the bin and carried it as a lucky charm. His grandfather had been the paternal caring figure he had lacked at home. Edward started smoking after his passing.

"I didn't know your mother had a sense of humor."

"Me neither. What are we toasting for?" 

"It can wait. I'm concerned about you, Edd. How are you coping?"

Edward shrugged, inhaling from his cigar. Keith was the last person he wanted to talk to but the only one who had asked. 

"These people, I have no clue who they're here for. We attended the same funeral but of a different man."

"We stick to what we know."

Edward had told the truth to a few of his colleagues, who thought he had made it up for whatever reason. How can someone so charming commit such atrocities?

"You know what annoys me? My mother's complicity. Buried him with the whole facade. All those lies." 

"Might want to put it behind her. Move on." 

 With who? He thought. Edward wanted to prod Keith about what he had witnessed. 

"Your mother doesn't believe he did it."

Edward swore under his breath.

"Why can't she accept it? He was depressed. With all those guns, I'm surprised he didn't do it earlier."

They fell into silence. The crackling of the cicadas gave Edward a headache. His mouth was pasty. He really needed a drink. His mother probably had stopped to chat with some guests. 

Keith finished his cigarette and lit another one. 

"What's the plan?"

"My mother will redecorate the house, put it to her liking. Meanwhile, I'll figure out how to save the Company." 

"I wouldn't bother doing that, Edd. You can sell it and invest in something new."

Edward grabbed a napkin from his pocket and dried the sweat behind his ears. He wanted to punch Keith. His fatherly tone irritated him.

"Nothing ties you."

"You got a point. I could take holidays, visit Lora."

"That's not a good idea."

"Why so?"

Keith sighed and smoked in silence as if holding back something. Edward sat up, tense by the thought she had moved on, probably a fact he could not bear.

"What is it?"

"I don't know, it's a bad idea. When someone stops answering your calls, it's pretty obvious."  

Edward slumped back, reluctant to believe he knew nothing. Lora was still his friend. Keith moved next to him, leaning forward.

"What's your problem?"

"What do you mean?"

"With me. Since you dropped out of College, you've become distant. Did I do something wrong?"

Edward shook his head, yet waves of thoughts surfaced, little things brought by the tide that had built a wall. 

"What is it? Dammit, tell me."

"Not today, Keith," he said, patting the damp napkin on his forehead.  

"Then when? Hmm?" all his cool was gone. "At your mother's funeral?" 

Edward glared at him. Keith sat back and scoffed.

"Want to save your father's Company? Here's something I learned, Edd. Focus on the results. You see, making an idea work takes more than money. You invest time and passion. There's gotta be some sorta satisfaction, too. However, it doesn't matter how much you believe it's worth or how much you think that idea sounds good. If it fails to return what you expected, you gotta let it go."

Edward rubbed the end of the cigar on his shoe sole.

"I don't need your bloody advice. I can run my Company."

"Right, you just have to figure out a plan first," Keith crossed his arms. "So, it's your Company. What about the team? The loyal employees of your father. Hmm? How many have quit already? Seven?"

Edward shook his head, annoyed.

"My mother's gotta learn to stay quiet."

"I think she's been quiet for too long."

"And I think it's none of your business," Edward stood up, his fists tightly shut. "Once you finish this job, you're not welcome. Don't bother to call either."   

Keith calmed down and continued to smoke, gazing at the surroundings, envisioning something no one else could see.

"This is a nice location. I like it."  

Edward narrowed his eyes with contempt. Keith's smile made him uneasy. Fragments of thoughts and hints started to piece an image that turned his sweat cold. The day before, his mother said something about moving to Europe, but then she changed the subject. With what money? There wasn't enough. It was such a silly idea he didn't dwell on it. But under the new light of events, he wondered. What was Keith really doing there? Saving the remnants of an old friendship? Maybe. No. He was a C.E.O. His mother had said it. "Always working." The card wasn't what he had thought.    

Edward felt a deep pain in his chest. The dagger of treason cut deep, and the overflow of resentment spilled, his voice nearly a whisper, unsure Keith could hear him. 

"You... you know why I had to leave College. Why I stayed. And all you did was constantly throw it in my face! What a kind reminder. What a fucking good friend."

"That's not what I intended! You should have earned your own money, then get her out of here."

"Easy for you to say! If I had left, she would be the one in a casket!"

"You misjudged her. Your mother ain't a stupid woman."

"Hard to believe with her taste in men," he locked eyes with him. "You stay away from her, Keith. I mean it." 

With that said, he headed towards the house. On the way he encountered his mother, who carried a dish with a cup of wine and two glasses filled with bourbon. Edward grabbed a glass and drank it in one gulp. Then he threw it into the bushes waiting for a crash that didn't occur. His mother gaped like a fish out of the water, unable to utter a word.

"You're selling the house," he said coldly.

She froze, taken aback. He recognized the fear in her eyes. But it lasted a moment, the fear was gone, washed by anger. His mother cocked her head, standing in a defiant manner. 

"Yes. Yes, I am. And you can have your life, and I can have mine..."

Edward struck once. The dish and glasses clattered on the gravel path. His mother sat where she had landed, shocked in disbelief, with a hand on her face that had started to swell. Someone swung him around. Edward saw a blur and was suddenly blinded by a crushing pain that made his ears ring. Dazed, he fell to the ground. The taste of blood filled his mouth. Two of his front teeth wobbled. 

"You forgot this," it was Keith.

Something hit Edward on the chest, he reached for it. He lifted the lighter on the side of the message that he knew by heart: "Raise a hand to a woman, only to greet her." Edward got up with the words spinning in his head. A turmoil of shame and guilt tore him apart. The memory of his grandfather burned his conscience. What would he think of him now? 

Edward stumbled into the house, and mistakenly looked at the portraits in the living room. He could swear they stared back at him with a smirk. As he entered the bedroom, suppressed tears rolled fogging his sight. He sat on the bed facing the mirror and listened to the man who lived there. 

“It's not that hard. You did it once. You can do it twice.”

June 16, 2023 19:11

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