TW: Strong language, violence, mature themes. Reader discretion advised.
My lungs are screaming for air, my legs are seizing and my heart aches with every breath. But I don't care, because I'm scared shitless.
And that overwhelming fear is what carries me the last leg of the trip to the bus stop. I hop though the door, scan my bus pass and take a seat, attracting stares as I collapse on the bench. Finally, after my breathing returns to a normal pace, I begin to feel the weight of how insane this night has been.
I'm gonna need fucking therapy for the rest of my life.
Correction. I'm gonna need therapy if I make it to the morning.
I look out the window, terror settling into my bones, trying to process the events that led to tonight. And even though hundreds of what if's rattle around in my brain like pinballs, the one I keep coming back to is:
"If only I hadn't found that stupid fucking heart shaped box."
The events that led to tonight began a week ago, when I moved in with my new coworker Renee. I had just been kicked out of my parents house, and I was crashing at a friend's temporarily. My parents pulled the whole, "You're 18, you're an adult. Time to fend for yourself" B.S. and gave me a week. Keep in mind they told me this the day after my birthday.
A week later, I was couch surfing at my friend Anne Marie's apartment, desperately searching for a place to live. I put up "Roommate Wanted" posters everywhere, including in the coffee shop I work at, "Bean There, Ground That." Renee saw the ad, and that's how I ended up in her, no, our apartment kitchen, eavesdropping on Renee and her boyfriend Richie's particularly heinous fight. Although I don't think eavesdropping is the right word, because I'm 98% sure our only neighbors on the opposite end of our very long street could hear the fight.
"YOU BITCH, HOW COULD YOU LET A COMPLETE STRANGER MOVE IN OVER ME?"
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the fight was about me. Richie was not happy she picked a stranger to live with over him. Based on what I knew about Richie though, I didn't blame Renee for picking me.
"BITCH? HOW DARE YOU CALL ME A FUCKING BITCH? WANNA KNOW THE REASON WHY I DIDN'T ASK YOU TO MOVE IN?"
Renee's voice seethed with hatred and the windows rattled with the sheer force of her voice.
"BECAUSE YOU FUCKING SUCK?" Richie yelled in answer, not taking notice of bareky contained rage written across Renee's face.
"NO, BECAUSE YOU'RE A SLOB RICHIE, AND YOU FUCKING SUCK WITH MONEY."
They both take a moment to breathe, then Renee knocks the wind of the fight by quietly saying, "I want to break up."
Ooop, there it is.
"What? Renee, no come on baby, please. I'm sorry for yelling, I take it back." It was too late though. Much, much too late.
"I'm sorry Richie, but no. I've been thinking on it for a while and I think it's time we ended things. I can't handle any more of these fights."
Richie was quiet for a long time. Then,
"Fine, we're done Renee, but you're gonna fucking regret this."
Then Richie was gone, slamming our front door so hard that it rattled in its frame on his way out. Renee came around the corner, pausing to stare at the space Richie used to occupy. Surprisingly, she looked unfazed. Even though her particularly violent boyfriend - no wait, ex - had essentially threatened her, nothing but a detached look filled her features. I wanted to ask her what she was thinking, but she finally noticed me out of the corner of her eye. Almost instantly, the dead look in her eyes was gone, replaced with a smile.
"So sorry you had to hear that. Are you okay?"
I snorted and shook my head as I responded, "I'm fine. Are you okay?"
A brilliant smile crossed Renee's face as she replied, "Never been better."
Fast forward to this morning, when I came home from work at the coffee shop. Nothing had happened of note after Renee & Richie's highly dramatic break-up, and the fight had all but escaped my mind. Especially with how grueling work had become. I had the 4:30 AM opening shift at Bean There, so I was exhausted most days. By the time I came home, there was nothing I wanted more than to take a nap before my shift at my second job started. I scarfed down my food, set my alarm and laid down for a solid nap before I had to shuffle back to work.
However, I woke up around 2 to the sound of the front door slamming open and then weird scuffling sounds. I peeked out my bedroom door and saw Renee and Richie liplocked and scrambling towards her bedroom like a scene from a B-level rom-com. Rolling my eyes, I quietly closed my door, put on some headphones, turned on some ASMR and went back to sleep. When I woke again at 4:30 pm to my alarm, I took my headphones off to see if Renee and Richie were still going at it. Based on the grunting, I surmised I still needed to be quiet, so I quickly got dressed and slipped out the front door as soundlessly as I could manage.
I got back to the apartment around 11 PM, dead tired from my serving shift. I was so beat that I had completely forgotten about Renee and Richie's afternoon tryst earlier. Nor that I would've cared, as all I wanted to do was pass out from exhaustion in my own bed.
Or at least, that was my goal until I walked in and noticed the overpowering smell of bleach.
Putting my mask from work back on to shield my nose and mouth, I called out for Renee. Maybe it was the hundreds od hours of CSI I had watched or Richie's threat lingering in the back of my head, but I had a bad feeling about this. Receiving no answer, I went to Renee's door and knocked. Nothing. At this point, my stomach was tailspinning into my lower intestines, but I needed to make sure Renee was okay.
I opened the door and the bleach smell was so strong that my eyes watered and I immediately gagged. Something had happened in here that someone was trying to cover up. My gut told me to call the police immediately, but besides the offense to my olfactory nerve, I didn't see anything else suspicious. Except for maybe a wooden, antique, heart shaped box.
It was sitting in the middle of Renee's desk with an envelope placed on top. I couldn't tell you why, but something about the box screamed off to me. Shaking, I pulled the letter out of it's sheath. Scrawled in unfamiliar handwriting, the note said,
You stole my heart. So I stole one for you."
Panicked, I reaches for my cell and with trembling fingers dialed 911. As the phone rang, I gingerly opened the lid of the box. A moment later, the operator picked up & heard me scream as I beheld a severed heart sitting in a pool of blood.
"Can you tell me what's wrong?" Says the 911 operator.
I try to respond, but only a rasp comes out.
"I have dispatched police officers to your location, but it'll be about 10 minutes before they get there. So I need you to stay put and tell me what's going on."
I swallow a few times, manage to get out the bit about the heart before my phone is whisked out of my hand. I turn to grab it and stop like I've seen a ghost.
Wait, not like a ghost. I had seen a ghost, or at least someone that I had just moments before assumed was dead. But there Renee stood, holding my cell phone and a very unnerving smile on her face. And in her eyes, nothing but that detached, void of emotion look stared back at me.
"Did you like my letter my love?"