The Cold Case Of Caera Petals

Submitted into Contest #98 in response to: Write a story involving a character who cannot return home.... view prompt

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Crime Fiction

There was a string of physical dwellings, quite a number of them, which made up Caera's life. A dozen moves, a dozen circumstances, and a dozen decisions which landed her here, in bed with him, sleeping carelessly, as though reality disappeared during slumber. As though he would wake up suddenly and all the trouble he caused would be gone. Sleep was such a waste. Caera had been awake thinking all night. She had to get out of here and if she knew what was good for her, she had to make sure not to get caught while at it. She had a way out, and tonight, she would take it.


It was a funny story, how she ended up here. She had met Alan, her husband, two years past. Her life with him had been perfect throughout the first year, but then things had begun to change. Caera acknowledged that she should have paid more attention to the red flags. They were always there. She saw that now. Love had blinded her wholly, and she had allowed herself to get wooed out of her strict yet dysfunctional parents' household and into the domains of a defence attorney she had known for a mere two months. The glimmering ring on her finger had felt like the rarest treasure back then, an adornment which had made her feel as though she were of royal blood. Now, it felt like a heavy lump, an unwelcome weight serving as a constant reminder of her misinformed decisions.


Upon finding out about her engagement, her parents had given her an ultimatum. It was their fault that this was happening. Why couldn't they have just accepted him?


"You're just jealous because he has money," Caera had spat contemptuously. She had been trying to be nice about it when she'd told them about the hasty proposal, but they had been so adamant about the wrongness of her decision that she could not help her rudeness.


"You're a seventeen-year old little girl!" Her mother had countered passionately. "I'll be damned if I have you do this and still live under my roof." As if Caera would have listened to that woman. Her mother, Lucy, had been and still was a borderline alcoholic who came and went as she pleased. She'd had no right to dish out such an ugly ultimatum. Caera would be damned if she let her win this time.


"Pappa?" She had been desperate, reaching out to her last lifeline, the man who had finally married her mother.


"Sorry honey. But I'm with your ma on this one," had been his response. 


And just like that, she had lost her final lifeline.


"I will never forgive either of you for this," she'd affirmed vengefully the following day as Pappa stacked the last of her baggage in the boot. His expression had been solemn. But neither he nor Mamma had tried to shift their resolve to accommodate their so-called precious daughter's wishes.


Caera stared hatefully at the man laying besides her, arms resting heavily across his hairy chest. The curls of his head were scruffy and unkept. There was a time she used to think that Alan Frost was clean and elegant. He'd always presented himself in that fashion. It'd been mostly because of that that she had felt strongly attracted to him. Expensive cologne was now replaced by dreary sweat. 


"Why don't you ever lie on my chest anymore?" He would often complain during one of his accusatory rants. In his warped lens, it had made sense to him that, because she'd become more hesitant with giving him affection, that she was seeing someone else.


Alan was not the man that Caera had envisioned him to be. She had envisioned the façade he'd been displaying from the onset. She had completely fallen for a lie.


That was the one thing that she hated Alan most for: he was a good liar. He had lured her in with his charm and asked just the right questions to get her to say just the right things. To confess the perfect blackmail material. As nineteen-year old, former Caera Petals stared at a man twice her age, she remembered how he had called her his own personal flower and how he'd expressed his "love for your blossoming body. Like pretty baby petals under the rising sun." She'd felt so special, so loved. He had been poetic - still was - but he'd used his talents for the wrong reasons. Reasons which suggested a quest for power and control. Reasons whose true intentions had dawned upon her awareness a bit too late.


It had been two years since Caera had spoken to her parents. She'd completely cut them off, and it never truly stopped causing her pain, the fact that they had not reached out since the day she moved out. She needed them, needed their help and protection. She'd had no way of knowing that people could be so bad. She'd watched too many romantic movies and read too many romantic novels, and she had genuinely thought that she'd been transitioning into her happily-ever-after.


Within her lifetime, Caera had moved thirteen times. Her mother had gotten into the habit of moving in with her string of boyfriends. Lucy had never had a stable home and could never afford her own place. All she had done had been to drag Caera along with her almost every year, until she had settled in with Maxwell. Maxwell had been a father that she had never had since she'd been thirteen years old. He was a well respected police officer and took great care of her mother despite her unruly behavior. He had swooped in like a real champion and saved the Damsel in distress, her dearest mother, without knowing the extent of what he had been getting himself into.


Caera's mother was a beautiful woman of depth and extreme intelligence. She was also extremely difficult to shake off once she won one's affections. Caera loved her mother, but she did not know how to forgive her. Lucy had always been the decision-maker in the household and it'd seemed as though her stepfather, Maxwell, had always gone along with what she said. She could shrug off Maxwell's disloyalty - she was not biologically his - but Mamma had decided to cast out her own daughter. She had chosen to betray her.


It was because of her mother that Caera was stuck with a wolf. Her fault that she had lost all courage to even attempt to contact the borderline maniac and ask her to return home. Besides, Alan had too much ammunition against her should she flee back to them. He would tell this secret. He would expose that flaw. He would leak the sex tape they'd made a year past across all social media. Or he would catch her when she least expected it and he would make sure that her body would never be found. He loved her too much to let her go. He'd told her this many times. All she had to do was stay with him. Everything would work out, she would see.


All Caera saw now was an opportunity to act on her poorly thought-out plan. Slowly, she slid herself off the bed, the smooth linen sheets facilitating her otherwise self-sabotaging movements. She tried to be as quiet as possible, as invisible as possible.


This was her only chance.


Caera had been recently speaking to her old high school teacher, Brad, with whom she'd developed a bond. Brad knew Caera's story. He was no stranger to Caera's tales of the physical beatings which had begun thirteen months after she'd tied the knot with Alan. As a teacher, Brad had tended to keep an eager eye out for particularly troubled students, and, as he'd later confessed to sixteen-year old Caera Petals: "I saw the weight you carried from the first moment you entered my class. I knew right then that you needed help, in one form of another."


Brad, an excellent geography teacher, had begun asking Caera to stay behind after class. Gradually, Caera had opened up to him to the point comfortable familiarity, and they'd begun meeting up after school hours. Nothing sexual had happened between the two of them like the rumors had said. Nasty gossip was an indispensable part of high school. What did happen, however, was a rapid bloom of a close friendship between the two of them.


Two weeks past, after a solid year and ten months, Brad had contacted her on social media. It'd been nice to hear from him. He had enquired of the state of her domestic circumstances, and she'd broken the news of her wedding.


"Congratulations," Brad had texted back. "I'm very happy for you."


"Don't be," she'd responded. And just like that, Caera had again found herself using her old friend, Brad, as her one and only trusted confidante.


"I don't exactly make as much as he does," he'd said over the phone days after they'd begun speaking, "but I can offer that you stay at my place until you can get on your own two feet. My place is spacious. You'll be safe and comfortable here. And you know me. You know you can trust me."


Brad had just wanted to help as always, but Caera had needed a lot more persuasion to finally accept his offer. It was a big change, one which was all too familiar. She had already packed all her essentials and had dumped her two sports bags in the garden.


Caera began tiptoeing on the carpeted floor towards the slightly open bedroom door. It was completely dark but for the rays of moon spilling in through the wide windows. The curtains were not drawn, as was Alan's preference. He thought that the view was too beautiful. Caera had not been able to truly see that view for a long time. How could she, when all her energy was centered around the imposing and stifling presence of her lawfully-wedded husband?


Before they had settled into bed earlier, an incident had occurred which had inspired Caera's decision to escape. She could never go back home, but she also could not go on living the way that she was. Her thoughts had been along those lines when Alan had returned home with news of an unsuccessful rape case and given her a firm, backhanded slap across her cheek for going for an evening walk without first asking for his permission. "It's dangerous out there," he'd shouted lividly. "You make me so angry, Caera!"


"I had nothing to do with it," she had dared answer back. "You walked in here angry. You are nothing but a cowardly loser and even on your most successful days, you still LOSE because you let criminals go! You, Alan Frost, make this world a worse place, not only for me, but for society as a whole!"


Her swollen, right eye was a direct consequence of her "smart mouth."


An hour past, Caera had sent a message to Brad. "I'll take you up on your offer. I can't take it anymore. He has attacked me again. I'm leaving tonight while he sleeps."


Brad's response had still not come through, but that was not going to stop her. 


Caera had no access to car keys except upon Alan's permission, but she had the keys to the gates. She would sleep in the streets if she had to. Either way, this was happening. As Caera successfully slipped through the door and into a lush passage of framed walls and rows of decorative pot plants flanking her advancing steps, she sped up her movements.


Her sock-clad feet rushed down stunningly curved wooden treads, hand sliding swiftly along the well-polished balustrades. She almost slipped as she descended into the base and started along the lounge. She cursed as she bumped into a barstool laying across the floor. A flash of memory emerged in her mind's eye. The heavy blow of his fist. Her staggered fall. The pulsing pain engulfing her head. The stool had been in the way and neither husband or wife had bothered to recover its position. Caera carefully went over it and navigated her footsteps with more caution.


She could have sworn that her heart was giving away her position. It was so loud in her own ears that she was almost sure that it would wake Alan.


Taking note for the first time of a feeling that there was something she'd forgotten, but shrugging it off quickly, Caera brought an eager hand over the sliding door handle and drew it open. She stepped out into the verandah overlooking a plush garden and descended further down the stairs of the deck. At this point, she did not care much about being deathly silent. The crisp midnight air caressed her clammy, sallow skin, and she felt a renewed sense of confidence in her decision. All she had to do was grab her bags, slip out through the gate, and call Brad when she reached a safe distance. She walked into the garden and retrieved her bags behind two particularly large adjoining bush shrubs, slipped in a pair of shoes she had packed, and flung the strips along each shoulder.


Feeling a tight knot in her stomach, Caera said a small prayer and began rushing down the walkway towards the main gates. Cricket sounds reverberated everywhere and the sky loomed high, with seemingly too few overhanging celestial orbs dotting its velvety fabric. There was peace and nature all around her. but none within her. Did any amount of luxury matter at all when she was this unhappy? Was she truly as ungrateful as Alan had often said she was for not actively noticing and participating in nature? Was she really the bad person for being in her own world most of the time, and not in the world that he was forcing upon her?


Caera wrenched the key from her blouse pocket, inserted it into the slot of the small gate, and twisted.


"Going somewhere?"


Of all the possible scenarios that could have played out at that very moment, this was the very worst. Caera turned to the image of her shirtless husband, his fingers curled loosely around the flashing phone she had forgotten under her pillow. She was too scared to mutter a curse. Of COURSE she would sabotage herself in this way. "Your boyfriend's calling," Alan said smoothly, casually taking a step towards her. Caera was frozen. Her mind told her to run. To run as fast as she could. But her body was frozen in place, terrified of what the man she called her husband would do to her now.


"I've had the pleasure of skimming through your latest message in between his calls. I must say, I'm hurt."


As Alan slowly advanced towards his wife like the predator that he was, Caera's feet instinctively scooted backwards until her back was pressed against the gate. His calm countenance had always been a great indicator of an overwhelming encounter about to take place. "I'm sorry, Alan," she said quickly, trying to be as calm as possible. Perhaps by talking, she would be able to make him understand where she was coming from. "I just can't take the beatings anymore. You don't hear me when I speak and I feel like I had no choice-"


"No choice," Alan interjected silently. "No CHOICE?!" Her phone was flung so fast that by the time it hit the gate behind her, just three inches short of her battered face, she was bringing her arms up in protection. When she slowly brought them down, her gaze caught segmented pieces laying on the ground just as she saw Alan advancing towards her in an unexpected, sudden sprint.


Before Caera knew what was happening, her body was on the ground and Alan's hands were clasped tightly around her neck. Her scream would have been guttural, but all that came out was a whispered squeal. She scratched and thrashed and flailed, but the pressure around her neck was unrelenting.


"You think you can leave me after everything that I've done for you?" She heard through the thudding echoes of her staggering heart. "Ungrateful BITCH!" The grip did not loosen, and after a while, her weak fighting attempts quickly lost their fervor. Caera simply was not made for fighting. She gave up quickly and began to feel a strange sensation come upon her, one which overrode the panic that she'd felt up until then. It was acceptance of the fact that she could die at any moment, and that there was nothing that she could do about it. She had not taken his threats about one day wringing her neck and discarding her body seriously. It was her own fault that this was happening.


"You think you can double-cross me and get away with it, little Petals?" His mouth was pressed against her ear, his putrid odor flooding her nostrils.


Was this really how she would die?


Flashes of her life came before her in her mind's eye. She saw her mother, who would probably not care much upon hearing the news of her death. She saw all the men who had been in her life. Most of them had probably even forgotten her name. Then the image of Brad came to light - probably the only person in this world who would miss her. Just then, she decided that Brad was the only reason she was glad she had given school a try. The only reason that made living worthwhile. But for him, she was glad that this was happening. Death would be a good release. She knew that Brad would be sad, but Caera had done her best. He would know that.


As Caera's consciousness descended into the dark, strange and murky space, the grip around her neck did not loosen.


"I'm sorry, Brad," were her last thoughts before everything that existed as she knew it, became absolutely nothing at all.


June 18, 2021 19:47

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