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Crime Drama

By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. The flames lit up the lawn below. I ran.  

I ran as hard and fast as I possibly could, the crackling and popping from behind me propelled me forward. In the distance I could hear the approaching sirens. 

Ducking into the woods that ran alongside the drive, I was careful to stay out of sight. Minutes later, I came across a main road. I darted across quickly to the waiting woods on the other side. Another mile and I should be at the cabin and safe there for the night. 

I looked back in the direction I had come. Flames licked the air above the trees as the mansion burned relentlessly, lighting up the night sky.  

I turned back around and disappeared into the darkness.

**********************************************

I woke the next morning, rested but still very anxious. I would need to get moving soon. I made myself a hot cup of tea and stepped out the crisp morning air. The fall leaves looked beautiful, drifting down from the trees. Early fall had always been a favorite time for me. A time when the colors tantalized the senses, air invigorated the soul. But I had no time to enjoy that now. I had to get to Garland. He could protect me, get me to a safe place. I stepped back inside to grab my bag. 

********************************************

Sticking to the cover of the woods meant at least an extra thirty minutes of travel but it would be safer. Soon I was standing across the road from the diner where Garland’s cousin, Malcolm worked. He knew he could contact Garland for me. Straightening my clothes and hair, I took a deep breath and made my way across the road.  

**********************************************

As I entered the diner, a waitress looked up and smiled. 

“Welcome to Lily's. Take a seat and I’ll be with you in a moment.”

I smiled and headed for the seat at the far end of the bar. It was the only one that gave a view into the kitchen. I could see a man donned in an apron, flipping an omelet by tossing it in the frying pan. That had to be Malcolm. He was tall and strong looking, just like Garland, with salt and pepper hair, his apron smudged with food. 

“What can I do you for, sweetie?” the waitress asked, smiling and holding her pencil poised above her notepad. 

“Um...just tea and toast, thanks.”

“Alright, coming right up.” She turned and yelled back to the kitchen, “Malcolm, whole grain toast!”

Malcolm looked up and met my eyes. I mouthed the word “Garland”. He paused, processing what I had said. Then with a slight smile he nodded and winked. 

**********************************************************************

Twenty minutes later, my toast gone, I sipped my second cup of tea. I looked out into the parking lot and saw Garland exiting his car. Relief flooded through me and I fought back tears. 

We had known each other for years. Ours was a quiet friendship, involved in each other's lives only through stories told to each other over emails. We had met in a waiting room of a cancer ward, total strangers sharing in each other’s pain as his wife battled end stage cancer, same as my mother. We had talked with ease, not even knowing each other’s names for weeks, sharing intimate details of our emotional journeys. Three weeks after we met, his wife passed. He had raced to the waiting room, sobs wracking his body as he tried to literally run from the pain. I had been sitting there, knowing my mother wasn’t far from the same. I had held him and let him sob, like a mother holds her broken hearted child. Eventually he dozed, his head in my lap. I had silently sobbed after he fell asleep, my heart aching for him, his family, my own mother and family. It had all just seemed so unfair.  

He had apologized profusely when he woke up. I brushed him off, tried to make a joke.

“Normally I at least know a man’s name before I sleep with him…” 

A slight smile crept up on his face, trying to reach his eyes but his broken heart wouldn’t allow it. 

“Garland Matthews.” 

“Well, Garland Matthews. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Ella Johnson.” I paused as he wiped a rogue tear from his cheek. “It’s been nice knowing you these past few weeks. I wish it had been under different circumstances for sure.”

“Same to you, different circumstances for sure.” Taking a breath he added, “Miracles can happen, you know and your outcome may be different than mine.” I smiled slightly, appreciating the sentiment. 

I wanted to offer more, I hated to lose his friendship so soon. I reached into my purse and scribbled my name, email and telephone number onto an old receipt. 

“Here, take this. You may still need a friend to talk to in the future. I want you to know I am still here. Reach out anytime. You will never be a bother, ever...ok?” 

With tears coursing down his cheeks, and by this point my own too, he nodded, took the paper and tucked it into his pocket. We both looked at each other, our pain making it hard to speak. He nodded again and wrapped me up in a hug. We were just two human beings, put into each other’s lives at exactly the time we needed to be in order to help each other over this painful hurdle in life. 

And now he was here to help me over another one. 

************************************************************

 “Hey there!” Garland said as he gave me a quick hug sliding into the booth across from me. 

“How was the trip in?” I asked.

“Not bad, traffic was light.” 

Another waitress appeared to take Garland’s order. He ordered a tuna salad sandwich and lemonade. 

“So tell me what’s happened that you need my help with.” 

In hushed tones I told him, only pausing when the waitress brought his food. 

Two years ago I had met Jamie. Charismatic and charming, he treated me with respect and graciousness. He had a knack for making me feel like the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. We used to fantasize about getting married one day, buying a big beautiful home and filling it with babies. We wanted to travel a bit first and he had career aspirations. He was a lawyer working for a high end firm in downtown. Although he shone in the city, his heart was more country. He dreamed of buying one of the Mayfield Mansions just outside of the city limits. 

The Mayfield Mansions were a set of three hundred year old homes built for prominent businessmen at the rise of the business world in Clayton City, where Jamie worked. The families had commuted to the city for work, plays and gallery openings. It was an area of the rich and elite. 

The homes were stunning, built with the most up to date quality materials of the time. Some things, like the kitchen tiles were shipped in from Italy. The rooms were enormous, as were the windows and the fireplaces in each room. Servant housing was located at the back of the properties, although most of those had been converted to detached garages, workshops, or guest houses over the years. 

The next year was a whirlwind of romance and excitement. Jamie had proposed to me at the restaurant where we had enjoyed our first date. He had hidden my family in the kitchen with a waiter filming the whole thing. My family had come running out after I said yes, full of hugs and happy tears. The ring had been stunningly perfect, a vintage band with a princess cut diamond.. 

Six months later we were married in a vineyard in California. The reception had been in a barn on the property where we had danced for hours after. The weather had been perfect, the doors to the barn thrown open wide, the party spilling out onto the lush green lawn. The dogwood trees outlining the space sprinkled their petals as the breeze carried them through the air. It had been magical and absolutely beautiful. 

His parents had surprised us with a down payment on a home. Jamie had surprised me with one of the Mayfield Mansions. We had often driven past it and I had loved so much. 

“Jamie! We can’t afford this!” 

“Don’t you worry!” He had said with a mischievous grin. He loved surprising me. “I got some good news two days before our wedding. Donovan pulled me into his office. The partners had a meeting at the beginning of the week and it turns out, they think I'm ready to be a partner!”

“What? Oh my gosh! Jamie, that’s great!! I am so proud of you!” I jumped into his arms hugging his neck hard as he spun me around in what would be my new dining room. This would be OUR PLACE. The thought of it had taken my breath away.

“This all sounds wonderful, Ella! And I’ve heard of the Mayfield Mansions. Very impressive.” he raised his eyebrows, taking a drink of his lemonade. 

“Yeah, at first it was. It was all so magical and romantic. Everything I could have dreamed of.”

“At first?” 

Yes, at first it had been magical. They had shopped for furniture together, made plans for landscaping the grounds, and even planned for a bigger pool...for when there were children. They relished being able to have dinner together, sometimes by candlelight, and enjoying a cup of tea by the fire before bed. But that had all soon changed.

********

“Jamie, honey, you said you would be home an hour ago for dinner. You aren’t answering your phone and it has me worried. Please call me as soon as you get this message and let me know you’re alright.” 

********

“Jamie, it’s me again. It’s been two hours. I don’t know where you are or if you are ok. Please call me!”

********

Finally at half past ten I heard his car pull into the drive. I breathed a sigh of relief and rushed to open the door. 

“Jamie! You’re home! I’ve been so worried about you!”

“I don’t know why. I’m a grown man, not a child. You don’t need to worry about me.”

“But you weren’t here for dinner and I called and left several messages…”

“My phone must have died. I’m exhausted, let me take a shower and get to bed. I have an early briefing in the morning.”

“But, Jamie…”

He turned toward me slowly, sighing loudly. 

“Look, I’m sorry you were worried. Work was crazy today and time just got away from me. I just want to go to bed now.”

Looking exasperated, he left to take a shower. Moments later, with a curt “Goodnight” he climbed into bed, turned off his light and was out. By the time I woke up the next morning he was already gone. 

I ate breakfast alone, feeling an increasing measure of unease in my soul. 

He came home late every night the next week and the week after that, only thinking to call me once in that time to let me know. Sometimes he came home a little bit earlier than some nights always refusing his left over dinner saying he had already eaten. 

He didn't’ kiss me hello or goodnight. He didn’t touch me at all. He barely even looked at me. I knew what was going on. 

He had found someone else. 

An involuntary shudder ran through me as tears filled my eyes. Garland reached out and placed his hand on my arm for reassurance. 

“I’m here.” was all he said and the tears broke free and cascaded down my face. My voice cracked and stuttered as I finished telling him what had happened. 

The next weeks had been horrendous. I had no idea that they would soon be getting worse. Jamie came home one night and told me he had to go out of town for a company meeting. He said it was a firm in Costa Rica that wanted to pair up with them for a case. The partners wanted him to fly down to meet with them face to face. When I began to voice my opposition to him he immediately blew up.

“Geez, Ella! This is my job! This is what I do to provide for us, to pay for this house and all your expensive furniture! This is what pays for the gardener and the obnoxiously big pool you want to put in. How do you expect me to give those things to you, huh?” He had moved closer to me, backing me against the wall.

“You are so ungrateful for everything I give to you, aren’t you? Spoiled brat is what you are! How dare you complain that I need to work. I’m a partner for God’s sake! Do you know what that means?”

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I just miss you is all. I barely see you anymore, not even for dinner and then you’re gone by the time I wake up. We don’t live like husband and wife anymore. I can’t remember the last time you’ve even kissed me…”. Tears ran down my face as the sadness took over. 

“Geez, we’re married now. We’re past all that clingy, holding hands, kissing each other every second crap! We aren’t children you know. This isn’t high school. Grow up, Ella.” He tossed a box of tissues to her. “Go clean yourself up. Your face is a mess.”

I took the box of tissues and walked numbly to the bathroom. What had just happened? Why did I feel like I had done something wrong? I looked at my reflection in the mirror and thought, “You know you aren’t in the wrong. Don’t let him get inside your head. He is the one that’s wrong. Costa Rica? Really?” I knew he wasn’t going alone.

I cleaned my face and headed back out to the bedroom. Jamie was not there. I stepped into the hall. The light in his study was on downstairs. With the stealth of a cat trying to capture a mouse I made my way to the door. His voice wafted out to me as he spoke on the phone. 

“Yeah, she is so annoying. I can’t wait until this is all over. Then it’s just you and me and the sandy beaches of Costa Rica. I can’t wait to see you in that new bikini. Better yet, I can’t wait to get you out of it.” He chuckled, pleased at his own remark. 

“I knew it!” I thought to myself. Anger bordering on rage began to boil in my belly. I leaned a little closer to the open door. 

“I have it all set. I clogged the flu in the chimney in the living room below her bedroom. It will allow the heat to build in the fireplace and set the wall on fire downstairs. By the time she wakes up the flames will already be eating her bedroom floor away. She won’t even be able to get off the bed. They’ll find her later, total fluke, you know these old houses. They’ll rule it as death by smoke inhalation. And you and I will be in Costa Rica with a full alibi. We’ll be in the clear!”

My heart stopped. He was planning on murdering me? Trembling, I quietly made my way back to my room. 

My mind went into overdrive. I changed into regular clothes beneath my robe, stuffing my ID, cell phone and cash into my pockets. I was going to run, as soon as I possibly could. 

Jamie came back into the room, shortly after I slid into bed. He packed the rest of his bag in silence as I strained to keep my breathing normal. He rolled his suitcase to the door, paused and turned back to me. 

“I’m sorry I was so rough earlier. I just need to do well with this client. Our future depends on it. I’ll call you when I’m on my way back. I should be there for a week at least.”

I nodded as a horn sounded from outside. His cab was here. 

He looked at me again, with an almost sadness in his eyes, nodded and left. 

I waited until I heard the cab pull off and jumped from the bed, tossing my robe aside and grabbing a jacket. I grabbed my purse and headed downstairs. 

I was sitting at the dining room table finishing a cup of tea when I first smelled the smoke. I wandered into the living room and saw it clinging to the ceiling. The temperature of the room had gone up by about ten degrees causing a sheen of sweat to pop out on my forehead. 

I looked around with sadness. This beautiful house, caught in the crosshairs and paying the price. If Jamie wanted me dead, then he was going to think I was. He was going to think he had gotten the best of me. And then when he least expected it, I was going to wreck his world.

I had made my way outside and sat in the swing that hung from the tree and watched as the flames burned the side of the house, the leaves of the tree next to it burning bright. The flames grew until neighbors were able to notice them. 

And then I ran….

“And this, Garland is where you come in. I need your help to get me somewhere safe. Somewhere no one knows me, where I can reinvent myself. I need to do this, Garland. I need to disappear. And then I need to make Jamie pay.”

Garland took a sip of his lemonade, set it down gently and looked me square in the eye. 

“You can always count on me, Ella.”

October 13, 2020 18:28

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2 comments

Gip Roberts
20:37 Oct 16, 2020

I can't wait to see what Ella's plan for revenge turns out to be. What a rotten sociopath Jamie was!

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Kristy Reynolds
15:58 Oct 20, 2020

I am working on the next chapter to see what I can make happen. I had fun writing this one. :) Thank you for reading it!!

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