The road was long, but she knew where she was going. Her hand grasped the steering wheel in the two and ten o’clock position. The wheel was cold, but not as cold as it had been where she first got in the car. The interior of the car, along with the wheel, was heating up due to the exhaust of the car. She gripped it tight, paying close attention to the road.
Lights attached to big commercial buildings flew in and out of her sight as the car drove along the nearly empty street. These lights were her old friends, never changing or leaving. If one had burnt out, it was simply replaced with another one. Of all the things her journey had taught her, it was that everything could be replaced. Some of the things, like lights, wouldn’t be noticed. But the bigger things always were.
When she began, the road seemed so fresh. She was a brand new woman on the road to self discovery. Nothing but her own self-doubt would get in her way. And even then, she had been so confident. So sure that everything would work out for her in the end. Just like in the movies. But the problem with living a life like the movies is that no one ever told you if you were the star. You may just be a supporting character.
Or the jilted lover.
Or the villain.
Every now and then, she would get stopped by a stoplight. They were a pain, but they kept the journey going longer. If there had been anything she wished, it would have been to have more stoplights on the road. There was a reason she didn’t take the highway. Back roads were always more enjoyable. At least, that’s what she told herself in the beginning.
At every stoplight, she couldn’t stop her heart from picking up its pace. It was like her own body was working against her. Reasonable, she knew there was no need to worry. Stoplights in small towns no one drives through won’t have cameras. And even if they did, she was always careful never to run a red light. On this journey, after everything, she could never be too careful.
There had, of course, been a time when she couldn’t have gone on this journey even if she wanted to. Back when she was too young to drive. Too young to do anything she wanted with her life. Living with her mother had been like living as a child. A child who, once grown, was ready to take flight, but couldn’t seem to find her wings. A naive doll, growing up painted and prodded, ready to be played with again and again. This journey, now that she was old enough, was her escape.
Her mother used to always tell her to watch where she was going, because once a decision was made, it was permanent. There was no way of taking back something you did. She should have fucking listened to her mother’s warning. But that escape seemed like a dream come true. And her mother had just been stunting her growth, keeping her from leaving their shitty life.
A car had pulled out in front of her, causing her right foot to jam on the breaks. She wanted to yell and scream. This close to the end, and she had almost gotten into an accident. Her hand brushed gently over the horn, but pulled away before any noise was made. This was her character. Passive on the outside with a raging fire on the inside. She simply settled for one angry word said aloud in the comfort of her car. No one could hurt her in her space. Not now.
The other car quietly turned off the main road and drove off into the distance. She felt like she made the right choice. Honking her horn would have just made someone else angry, and there is no point to that. She drove silently, wondering who had been driving that other car and where they were going so quickly.
When she was a kid, her mother used to drive their car around like that. Quick and loud was her motto. Reckless and dangerous, she thought, felt more appropriate. Her mother never listened to her about driving safety. After all, what did a little kid know and understand about driving? She had gotten that habit from her boyfriend at the time. Chuck had started living with them off and on when she was still in elementary school. At the beginning, he would occasionally show up to pick her up from school. By the end, he would never get off their couch unless it was to scream at her mother.
She knew that was one of the reasons why she didn’t see through the lies. He was so different from Chuck. He was attentive and always wanted to ask about her day and what she did. He had a job working for his father, though he was cagey about what he did. But he brought her home expensive gifts, things she could have never afforded. He didn’t fit the type that she knew. She was too fucking blind.
She stepped on the gas pedal a little more, willing the car to pass the speed limit. She knew this road like the back of her hand. There wouldn’t be any cop cars around until later that night. She was safe for the most part. As long as she resisted the urge to regress into her mother’s driving instructions. Never again, she promised herself, easing up on the gas. As helpful as some of her mother’s advice had been, driving wasn’t one of them.
Her hand reached out to the button to turn on the radio. Normally, listening to the radio was a distraction. She would much rather be in her own head. But today, listening to a radio might be nice. It might prolong the journey. She pressed the button and turned the volume up.
“…a wonderful story. Thank you, Jill, for sharing with us.”
“The pleasure is all mine. I just hope that my story can help change other people’s stories as well.”
“What a fine idea. If you are just joining us, this is The Story Tree on 88.7 the Buzz. We are listening to viewers’ stories. If you have a story you want to tell, go to our website to submit it. You might just be lucky enough to come one air and share it. We just had on Jill, who shared a heartbreaking story of growing up in the foster care system. For our final story of the night, we have on George who will be talking with us about relationships and love. Take it away George.”
“Thanks. I’ll keep this brief, since everyone probably has a story similar to mine. You see, there was this girl. An amazing girl who was perfect for me. We got along great, never fighting in the beginning. But when things got really serious between us, the relationship started to change. This girl decided she was too good for me. But instead of telling me that, she just decided to go off with some other guy.”
Her hand pushed the button, stopping the story in the middle. There wasn’t anything else she needed to hear. She knew that story. And there was no way she was going to live it again. Not from a man’s point of view. While she debated turning the station to something else, she decided it wasn’t worth it. She drove in silence. The only sounds were those that her car made.
She didn’t need some guy telling the world that his stuck-up, bitchy girlfriend left him because she got scared. Or that she had left him because she was a snob who couldn’t see that the one man in the world who would put up with her bullshit was him. More likely, the guy was a lazy jerk who took her, her money, and her body, for granted. And when she finally realized that and left, he did everything in his power to turn the story around. The last thing she needed in her life right now was a fucking story like that.
Or maybe that story was more like hers. A naive, inexperienced young girl, desperate to get away from her mother and her string of shitty boyfriends. Eager to latch onto the first available guy who ever showed her any interest. Unaware of the danger that guy possessed. So willing to look past all the lies and believe there was nothing wrong. Because he was rich and charming. And his family seemed welcoming and helpful. A stupid girl who fell for the boss’s son. And fell so hard, she didn’t even realize the danger until she was standing over a dead body.
She wasn’t even aware mobs were still a thing. It seemed like such a thing of the past, where families would fight each other for territory. As she quickly found out after the first body, mobs were more sophisticated than that. Instead of drive by’s, there were underhead corporate takeovers, prepped but conveniently timed bombs in hotels. Or blackmail photos taken with prostitutes that were then sent to the wife anyways, just for fun.
The one thing the movies got right was the loyalty. If someone had any doubts, they’d best keep them to themselves, because the minute someone else knows is the minute someone ends up dead. Of course, like any illegal business, there were just enough people who had no idea such things went on. Plausible deniability. Low level employees, like cashiers and waitresses. Or receptionists before they catch the eye of the boss’s son. But even they are groomed to breed loyalty. She guessed they were wrong about how loyal she was.
Her hand fiddled with the radio again. There were only a few more miles to her destination, but it almost seemed wrong to arrive silently. It seemed more suspect. No one, not even in the middle of the night, arrived at a beach house without a soundtrack. She hoped there wasn’t anyone there, though she doubted it. This beach house wasn’t part of the fashionable part where she had gone with her boyfriend. It had been abandoned since Chuck ran out of money years before. In the end, she didn’t put on the radio.
She was getting tired of driving. While there was only a little more left, every time she moved her leg on the gas pedal, she felt more energy leave her body. Her eyes were still staring out at the road, but they were less alert. There was a haze that clouded everything. A haze she couldn’t get rid of. She was driving, but her body was on autopilot. She turned into the dirt driveway and turned off her lights. After going down this road so many times, there was no wonder why she didn’t have to pay attention anymore. She could have driven this road with her eyes closed.
The tires skidded to a halt. She thought he was dead. No, she knew he was dead. But there he was, standing in front of her car, grinning. The smirk on his face just like the last time she’d seen him. The moonlight offered only a silhouette, but she knew it was him. He was wearing the pair of black jeans that had cost more than her paycheck for two months. It matched the black leather jacket with the white shirt underneath. It was the outfit he was wearing the first time he had killed in front of her. But not the outfit he was wearing the last time she saw him alive.
Automatically, her foot stepped on the gas pedal. The engine revved and the tires screeched as they moved forward. The car kicked up dust from the driveway as she drove forward to hit her boyfriend. She closed her eyes at the last moment. Then, she stepped on the brakes.
She didn’t hit anything. Not even the lightest thump. Not even a little bump in the road signifying a ran-over foot. Not that she expected anything. She took a breath and opened her eyes. In the distance, she could see a light from a house, likely a group of teens throwing an under-aged drinking party at one of their parent’s beach houses. Fucking kids. She moved the car into park and took the keys out of the ignition.
Getting out of the car, she let the cool summer breeze wash over her. It felt nice to get out of the city. It had been years since she had been here, but memories of her mother and Chuck flooded her brain. That had been before Chuck turned out to be a gigantic asshole. Still, she knew this place couldn’t be traced back to her. And if it was, she was prepared. She walked back to her truck to get out the bag. It seemed heavier than it did when she put it in there.
Not bothering to look behind her, she dragged the bag onto the steps of the beach house. The air around her felt calm. Even the kids from the party couldn’t be heard. Animals had long since gone to bed with the anticipation of waking up with the sunrise. She could hear the water lapping up against the beach, but it was calming and soothing. Her bag thumped on each step she lugged it up, but it couldn’t be helped. A body was heavy.
She opened the door. The lock had long since been destroyed by looters or vagrants. The air inside was musty and damp, but not overly scented. It had been a long time since anyone was here, judging from the thick layer of dust on the old broken furniture. The end of her journey was here. The body bag was on the floor near the entryway. There was no need to bring it in any further.
Before walking out the door, her self-confidence faltered. Crouching down, she unzipped the bag, just a little. Just to see the face. Just to clear her self-doubt.
Sure enough, the face of her dead boyfriend, the one she had killed, was staring up at her. Her face was blank and unemotional.
She had seen enough dead bodies by this point. No thanks to him, the fucking asshole who dragged her into his life. Serves him right, she thought, to get left at an abandoned house in the unfashionable part of the beach. His body wouldn’t be found for months, maybe even years. Or maybe, when someone else finally bought the property, they would just take a wrecking ball to the house without even looking inside. Then, he would never be found.
Not that anyone would be looking. She’d planned this perfectly, leaving just the right amount of clues for his father or any other members of the family to follow. A string of large cash withdrawals from the bank. A payment to a known counterfeit passport maker with a large enough payment for two purchases. Quiet words to outsiders of the family there was a planned trip with a girlfriend.
No one would suspect he was actually dead. And even if they did, it would look like the person who did it also killed her, his beloved girlfriend.
She closed the bag and stood up. Letting the door slam behind her, she moved to her car. There, in front of the driver’s door, he stood again. His grin piercing her skin, making her want to shout. This time, she didn’t bother to close her eyes as she reached for the door and opened it into his body. He was gone. Gone from her life and gone from this earth. Finally.
The journey had been long, there was no doubting that. No matter how it was counted, in miles, in bodies left behind, in time. But still, the long journey had a short ending. A small pill dropped into a drink in the middle of dinner. And if the only consequence was occasionally seeing him in the mist, in her mind, it would be worth it. And there was nothing else to do about it.
She got in her car and left.