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Suspense Thriller

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Content warning: sensitive subjects including physical violence.

Full list of TW at bottom of the story.


Pizza for Shane Corey?


If I could review this place, I would give it one star. I have felt more pleasure in a paper cut. Don’t bother coming here, I would write, the cutlery is blunt, the food is greasier than a homeless man’s beard, and along with your dish, the man will serve you a tight-lipped scowl. I didn’t order anything complicated: pepperoni pizza, a side of fries and a large strawberry milkshake. Hell, how can you screw up milkshake? Isn't it just milk and strawberries? Still, I’m sat here now and my stomach is growling, so I take another bite into the congealed cheese and watery tomato pie. Oil dribbles from my mouth and I think of you, Julia. How could I not?


The first time we met, you had a pizza box in your hand and the smell of oregano clung to your clothes. 'Pizza for Shane Corey?' You said, and the sound of my name dancing from your lips made my skin hum. Immediately I knew you were a New Yorker, you had a zing in your accent rarely found around here. A voice that breathes life into staleness, each syllable tickling the inside of my brain.


Do you remember when you passed me the box? I do. Our flesh met for a moment. It was brief, the light graze of passing hands, and you probably thought nothing of it, but for me, it was everything. I wanted to cling on a bit longer. Long enough to count the freckles on your arms and warm the numbness from your fingers. Then, the door swung shut, and you vanished as quickly as you appeared.   


I couldn’t eat the pizza, despite the warm smell of sour dough wafting around the kitchen. In truth, my appetite for food had dissolved completely. All night your voice with that big-city twang bounced about my mind and I couldn't help imagining how the lullaby of your laugh would sound pressed against my ear.


I have now consumed six slices, and the memories of you make swallowing bearable. You always had that effect; I could digest life easier when you were near.


It took three weeks to pluck enough courage to order from the pizzeria again. I prayed it would be you, and not some acne riddled boy standing on my doorstep, but you’ve never let me down, Julia. I tracked you from the window. First, I saw your hair, bright as a wildfire blazing in the sun and my hands began to shake. Ten seconds were spent fumbling with the door until I managed to open it. Did you think I was a dummy? If you did, you hid it well.

'It’s you again,' you said with a smile, yet it didn’t meet your eyes. Your voice was flatter, too, like all the joy had been strained out. And that’s when I noticed it - the peck of a mustard coloured bruise under your left temple. Boyfriend? Father? I wanted to ask you there and then, but patience... we had all the time in the world to share secrets.


'Are you hungry?' I realise now this was your first time hearing me speak. Did it jolt your insides, like your voice did to mine? Or, did it swell around you, making the air feel lighter and easier to breathe? It's a shame I didn't ask you, but whatever reaction you had, I'm just grateful you said yes. 


You were even prettier with pepperoni stuck in your teeth. We split the pie in half. Six slices for you, and six for me, just like the ratio in front of me now. I still think about how you ate it. You sandwiched two slices together, the base facing out so the toppings kissed. ‘This is how we do it in the city,’ you said, and your zing had returned, bursting from every word. Between mouthfuls of cheese and wiping oily residue from our chin, we talked and laughed and cried. Yes, that was when I learnt it was your step-father with the steel fists.


'I’m scared to go home,' you said. 

'Then, don’t.' That’s all it took.


Later, I would ask where your mother was and your response intrigued me: 'Queens Cemetery, buried beneath the berries'.


All that faces me now is an empty box, the only remnant is a ring of grease staining the cardboard. I’m glad it’s gone. Pizza will never taste the same without you and I move on to the fries. They’re housed in a yellow polystyrene box, so my expectations are low and I add to my imaginary review: food presentation is subpar. Wait - I take it back. As the salt dissolves on my tongue, I am pleasantly surprised, the potato is soft and fluffy, yet the memories that arise are anything but. 


We had lived together for a week. I returned from the grocery store to find you huddled in the corner of our bedroom, limbs intertwined like roots and your chin resting upon your knees. You didn’t look up, and somehow your body sunk deeper into the walls. You were angry at me for something, I see that now, but I can't recall why. Perhaps you were unhappy that I left you alone. If you were sitting opposite me now, Julia, I would swear to never leave again. I like to think that would have changed everything. 


'Are you hungry?' I asked, hoping it sparked joyful memories of us slouched on the sofa and eating pizza in strange ways. If it did, you blocked it from showing, except a quiet nod of the head.


I contemplated calling the pizzeria. We could have split it in half, six slices each, just like old times. Eventually, deciding against it, I pulled a box of microwave fries from the paper grocery bag. Julia, as you know, I have many flaws and cooking is one of them, but please believe me when I say I tried. I heated them for the correct length of time, sprinkled salt on the top and even grated in Parmesan, making sure it was the brand you liked. You didn’t say thank you, although you ate them all, and that was good enough for me. 


I can’t finish the fries. They are making me feel emptier rather than full, and the box is pushed to the side. The milkshake is all I have left. The texture is wrong, it’s too thick and I have to use all my lung strength to suck it up the straw. Still, it’s worth it for the flavour. Yes, it tastes just like your lips, fruity with a subtle tang. Was it the balm you used, or is your skin naturally sweet? I’ve always wanted to ask. Of course, I like the memory of your mouth against mine, but that's not the only reason why strawberries remind me of you.


Only once did we venture outside together and it was to see the strawberries grow. Your brain was full of nonsense that morning, spewing thoughts about returning to the pizzeria, thoughts about going 'home'. Tell me, why did you want that, when your step-father’s hands had broken your skin, and mine had only ever caressed it? I'll admit it, jealousy curdled in my stomach like putrid milk and that is why I snapped. Why I threw the plate. Why I made you cry. And that is why I'm sat here now, alone.


I'm embarrassed to say, I can't recall whether I apologised. If I didn't, please hear this:

I'm so sorry, my beautiful Julia. Fighting with you will always be my biggest regret.


The house was suffocating after our argument, and we both needed fresh air, so I drove us to the strawberry farm sixteen miles away. Do you remember? Despite darkness nestling in the sky and the drizzle of rain, I hoped you would like the sentiment, that perhaps you would feel your mother in the earth and smell her on the rotting leaves. Covered in dirt, your hair crusty with pulp, we stretched out on the ground with our eyes fixed on the stars. You were right, Julia, I needed to let you go. It was time to say goodbye.


Nineteen. You had nineteen freckles on your arms. Twelve on the right. Seven on the left. That evening, as we laid amongst the berries, I counted them for the last time.


The straw slurps at the bottom of the plastic cup, and the man returns. “Done?”


Are you wondering yet what’s the point to all this? Are you thinking: yes I know these stories, Shane, I was there?! The point is that everything and everyone contains a memory of you. You are threaded in the fabric of my clothes, your name is etched into this table, when I blink you're carved from the darkness, and your shadow is bound to mine.

Now that you understand that, I'm ready to go. 


With a final glance towards the empty pizza box, the yellow polystyrene and the milkshake clogged straw, I reply: “Yes, I am done."


***


Metal nips at my wrists as I’m escorted down a hallway. I’m taken into another room. A new room I haven’t seen before. There’s a sturdy chair in the middle and I’m told to sit. A cushion would have been nice.

Curtains open and strangers with knitted brows, some with watery eyes, ogle at me from a locked window. There, sits an older gentleman with wiry hair and I wonder if that’s him. The man with steel fists. The man that you called 'home'. 


An electrode is attached to my head, I'm bound to the chair by thick leather straps, and I think of you, Julia. How could I not? I'm reminded of those pretty scars coiled around your limbs like bracelets, and the chain that tethered you to our bedroom corner. A blindfold is offered and I decline. Consider this as my last gift to you, my love: the pleasure of watching life drain from my eyes, just as I watched you, fifteen years ago.


A voice distorts through a speaker and I recognise the lilt of the guard that served me. Strangely, he seems more upbeat now. “Mr. Corey, any last words?"


I'm quiet, not because I don’t have anything to say, but because my last words are solely for you. Yes, you. My zingy New Yorker, the girl buried beneath the berries -


Julia, I’ll see you soon.


***

TW (contains spoilers): Kidnap, implied murder, implied SA

September 04, 2022 22:04

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2 comments

Daniel Rains
19:04 Sep 14, 2022

I enjoyed this story. Getting in the mind of someone deranged is never easy, but I think you did a good job showing how he distorts reality to sooth his fantasy. Two quick critiques. Italics is difficult to read online, I would suggest using it sporadically. Also, six pieces of pizza seems a little much at one meal.

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L Key
20:20 Sep 14, 2022

Hi Daniel, thanks for reading and your feedback. I agree with your italics comment! Will take it onboard. Regarding the pizza, I have been known to eat double that!! But maybe I'm just greedy, haha! Thanks again. Lx

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