Chapter no 44

A Flicker in the Dark

Detective Thomas rests his hands on his hips as we walk out of the station, as if he’s standing on a mountain peak somewhere, not in a parking lot, surveying our surroundings. It’s six a.m. The air is somehow both muggy and cool, an early-morning anomaly, and I’m keenly aware of the chirping birds in the distance, the cotton-candy skies, the first few motorists on their commutes to work. I squint my eyes, feeling foggy and confused. There is no sense of time inside of a police station—no windows, no clocks. The world creeps by around you as you’re being force-fed caffeine at four in the morning, smelling some off-duty cop’s slightly sour leftovers heat up in the break-room kitchen. I can feel my brain struggling to understand how it’s sunrise, the start of a new day, when my mind is still stuck on last night.

A bead of sweat drips down my neck, and I reach my hand back, feeling the salt water run between my fingers like blood. That’s all I can seem to think about—blood, the way it pools, snaking its way across the path of least resistance. Ever since I looked down and saw Tyler’s stomach, that dark puddle expanding slowly across his shirt. The way it had trickled across the floor, creeping slowly toward me. Enveloping my shoes, staining the soles. It just kept coming, like someone had taken a pair of scissors to a rubber hose, letting the liquid gush.

“Listen, what you said earlier.” Detective Thomas breaks the silence. “About your fiancé.”

I’m still looking at my shoes, at the line of red at the bottom. If I didn’t know better, I could have stepped in spilt paint.

“Are you sure?” he asks. “There could be an explanation—” “I’m sure,” I interrupt.

“That video on your phone. You can’t really get a good look at what’s in his hand. It could be anything.”

“I’m sure.”

I can feel him looking at the side of my face before he straightens up, nods to himself.

“Okay,” he says. “We’ll find him. Ask him some questions.”

I think of Tyler’s final words to me, echoing through my house, my mind.

He made me do it.

“Thank you.”

“But until then, go home. Get some rest. I’ll have an undercover patrolling your neighborhood, just in case.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Yeah, okay.” “You need a ride?”

Detective Thomas drops me back off at my car, still parked on the road outside my childhood home. I don’t let myself look up, instead shuffling straight from his cruiser into my driver’s seat, eyes on the gravel, cranking the engine and driving away. I don’t think about much on the ride back to Baton Rouge, my eyes focusing on the yellow line in the highway until I feel cross-eyed. I pass a sign inviting me to Angola—fifty-three miles northeast—and grip the wheel a little bit harder. It all comes back to him, after all: my father. Daniel’s receipts, the way Tyler had tried to stop me from going to see him that night at the motel. Chloe, it’s dangerous. My father knows something. He is the key to all of this. He is the common thread between Tyler and Daniel and those dead girls and me, binding us all together like flies caught in the same web. He holds the answers—him, and nobody else. I’ve known that, of course. I’ve been toying with the idea of visiting him, spinning it around in my mind like fingers working at a ball of clay, hoping for a shape to form. An answer to be revealed.

But nothing ever was.

I step through my front door and expect to hear chimes, now a familiar comfort of my alarm, but nothing happens. I look at the keypad, notice that it hasn’t been set. Then I remember watching Daniel on my cell phone, flicking the lights off, the last one to leave. I punch the code into the keypad and walk upstairs, straight into my bathroom, dropping my purse onto the toilet seat. I run a bath, twisting the faucet as far left as it can possibly go, hoping the scalding water will burn straight through my flesh, washing Tyler from my skin.

I dip my toe into the tub and slide inside, my body turning an angry pink. The water rises to my chest, my collarbones. I sink so deep that everything is submerged but my face; I hear my heartbeat in my ears. I glance over at my purse, at the bottle of pills tucked inside. I imagine taking them all, falling asleep. The little bubbles that would escape from my lips as I sank deeper, until finally, the last one burst. It would be peaceful, at least. Surrounded by warmth. I wonder how long it would take for them to find me. Days, probably. Maybe weeks. My skin would start to detach, little flaps rising to the surface like lily pads.

I look down at the water, notice that it’s turned a pale pink. I grab a washcloth and start scrubbing at my skin, at the remnants of Tyler’s blood still caked to my arms. Even after it’s gone, I keep scrubbing, pushing hard. Making it hurt. Then I lean forward, pull the stopper from the drain, and stay seated until every last drop is gone.

I put on sweatpants and a sweatshirt before walking back downstairs, entering the kitchen, and filling a glass of water. I down the entire thing, sighing when I’ve reached the bottom, hanging my head low. And then I look up, listening. I feel a wave of goose bumps erupt across my skin and I place the glass down gently, taking a slow step toward the living room. I can hear something. Something muffled. A subtle movement, the kind of thing I wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t so acutely aware of being alone.

I walk into my living room and feel my body stiffen as my eyes land on Daniel.

“Hey, Chloe.”

I stare at him silently, standing there, picturing myself upstairs in the bathtub, eyes closed. I imagine opening them, seeing Daniel hovering above me. His hands reaching out, holding me down. Open-mouthed screams and rushing water, sputtering to death like an old car.

“I didn’t want to scare you.”

I glance at the keypad, the alarm that had been left unlocked. And that’s when I realize: He never left. I picture him standing by the front door, exhaling before flipping that switch. The camera going dark.

But I never saw him open the door. I never saw him leave.

“I knew you wouldn’t come home unless you thought I was gone,” Daniel says, reading my mind. “I was just planning on waiting for you so we could talk. I even saw you outside last night, parked by the house. But then you left. And you didn’t come back.”

“There’s an undercover cop outside,” I lie. I didn’t see one when I pulled in, but there could be. There might be. “They’re looking for you.”

“Just let me explain.” “I met your mother.”

He looks taken aback; he wasn’t expecting that. I don’t have a plan here, but seeing Daniel here in my home, standing smug, I’m suddenly angry.

“She told me all about you,” I say. “Your father, his violence. The way you tried to intervene for a while, but eventually just stopped. Let it happen.”

Daniel curls his fingers into his palms, a loose fist.

“Is that what happened to her?” I ask. “To Sophie? Was she your punching bag?”

I imagine Sophie Briggs getting home from her friend’s house, pink sneakers pounding up the steps, screen door slapping. Stepping inside to see Daniel, hunched over on the couch, dead eyes and a sick grin. I imagine her running past him, tripping over trash as she ran up those carpeted stairs toward her bedroom. Daniel behind her, getting closer, grabbing her corkscrew ponytail and tugging hard. Yanking her neck back, a twig snap cracking. A strangled scream that nobody heard.

“Maybe you didn’t mean to. Maybe it just went too far.”

Her body at the base of the stairs, limbs flopped like wet noodles. Daniel shaking her shoulder before leaning forward, lifting her hand and letting the deadweight drop. Pulling her ring gently from her finger and pushing it into his pocket. Sometimes that’s the way bad habits start: an accident, like a broken pinky leading to a drug addiction. Without the pain, you would have never even known you liked it.

“You think I killed my sister?” he asks. “Is that what this is about?” “I know you killed your sister.”


He stops mid-sentence, scrutinizing me. The way he looks at me now, it’s not confusion or anger or longing in his eyes. It’s that same look I’ve seen before, many, many times. That look I’ve seen in the eyes of my own brother, the police. In Ethan and Sarah and Detective Thomas. In the mirror as I gaze into my own reflection, trying to decipher the real from the imagined; the then from the now. It’s the look I had been dreading to see in the eyes of my fiancé; all these months, the look I was desperately trying to avoid. But now, here it is.

That very first hint of concern—not for my safety, but for my mind. It’s pity, it’s fear.

“I didn’t kill my sister,” he says slowly. “I saved her.”

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