Chapter no 53 – DAWN

The Coworker

THE MOTEL ROOM is dark and Caleb is sound asleep next to me.

I was right—this new motel is no better than the other one. The bed is just as hard and uncomfortable. The television is even worse. It’s mostly static. This is the kind of place to stay for one night. Maybe even just an afternoon. It’s not the kind of place you live for weeks or even months.

This is a necessary sacrifice though.

I clutch Turtly while I watch Caleb sleep. I do that sometimes. He doesn’t snore, but he breathes deeply through his mouth and sometimes there’s a little whistling sound. His hair is mussed by the pillows, falling almost into his eyes if it were a little longer. He has long eyelashes for a man, and they flutter slightly as he sleeps. Maybe he is dreaming.

I wonder what he dreams about. He told me once that he never remembers his dreams. But he must have them. Everybody dreams. Maybe he’s dreaming about Natalie.

The truth is, I was already in love with Caleb the first time he kissed me. We were so close by then. We saw each other constantly, and while at first we mostly talked about Mia, we had started to talk about other things. The other things were always his idea. But I never dared to imagine he might feel the same way about me that I felt about him.

That first kiss was wonderful in a way I hadn’t expected. I had never been kissed before, not by a man. It wasn’t one of those gross kisses from the movies where a guy’s tongue is practically in her stomach. It was a nice kiss. Just his soft lips on mine—he had popped a mint after dinner so even his breath smelled nice. It was almost a chaste kiss, although when I looked at his face, there was no doubt about his intentions. It turned out he felt the same way about me that I did about him.

He took things so slowly, for my sake. He was satisfied for a long time just holding hands and kissing. He bought me thoughtful presents, like a gold chain with a turtle charm on it. We were together almost a year before we made love. I won’t lie—I was terrified. He was really slow and careful about it though. He made it special.

Before Caleb, I had crushes on boys, but I was realistic that none of them could ever really like me. But it isn’t like that for him. When Caleb asked Natalie if she wanted to go to dinner, she gave him a quick yes. He didn’t even have to talk her into it. She liked him.

I remember once I saw them in the break room together, having lunch. They looked like such a normal couple. They were having an easy conversation that had nothing to do with turtles or revenge. He made a joke and she laughed—a genuine laugh. That never happens to me. When I’m with another person and they laugh, either it’s polite laughter or else they’re laughing at me.

It was at that moment that I realized Caleb is normal. He isn’t like me at all. We both got caught up in getting justice for Mia, but aside from that, we have nothing in common. Mia is our only bond. And eventually, he will realize it.

He was lying when he said he felt nothing for Natalie. The image she puts forth is extremely likable. She’s the sort of person everybody gravitates towards. She’s always been that way. A golden girl.

Not everyone realizes what a snake she is. That she will smile to your face and then stab you in the back. She invites everyone to parties but schedules them for times that she knows only her favorite people will be available. She lies to customers. She slept with another woman’s husband and destroyed his marriage.

Tomorrow morning, they will probably have a bail hearing for Natalie. She’s been in jail all weekend, which is a good start, but not enough. I’m hoping that all the evidence Caleb planted—her fingerprints on the glasses,

the hair and blood in her car, the ceramic turtle in her laundry hamper—will mean she’s stuck in jail until the trial, even now that the DNA evidence has shown the random mystery body wasn’t mine. Natalie doesn’t have much money—she lives beyond her means, and her parents are as broke as mine.

Ultimately though, there’s one big problem. They’re trying to convict Natalie of murder, but there’s no dead body. There’s no solid evidence that a murder has even been committed.

My left wrist throbs under the bandage, but there’s no fresh blood on it. Caleb was against me cutting myself that way. He thought it was too risky, especially since that’s the way Mia died. But I was careful about it. I didn’t cut too deep. There had to be blood on the floor. Otherwise, the police might just think I went away on vacation. There had to be convincing evidence of foul play.

I climb out of bed as quietly as I can. Caleb stirs briefly on the mattress, but then he goes back to sleep. He’s a very sound sleeper. I know everything about him, maybe even more than Mia knew when she was alive. I know that he loves to belt out rock songs in the shower, even though he can’t hold a tune. I know his least favorite food is pickles—he can’t eat anything that has even touched a pickle. I know his shoes are a size ten. And I know that he has spent the last thirteen years beating himself up for not protecting his little sister.

Caleb’s jacket is hanging on the coat rack by the door. I stick my hand into one of the pockets, searching for his phone. I pull out a couple of crumpled napkins, which I throw in the garbage. I hate it when he sticks napkins in his pocket—he always does that. I feel around in his pocket again and my hands close around a rectangular object.

I pull out the object. It’s a small blue velvet box. Oh no. He bought a ring.

I don’t open it. I can’t. He’s been talking about getting married when this was all done, although I don’t know how we’re going to do it if the police are supposed to think I’m dead. He’s very logical about most things, but he hasn’t thought this through at all. He just wants to marry me, but he doesn’t see how much of a mistake that would be.

Not just because of Natalie. In general, it would be a mistake. He doesn’t want to be stuck with me for the rest of his life. He’s gotten all mixed up in his head because he feels so awful about what happened to Mia. He feels responsible for me.

I stick the ring box back in his pocket. I’m going to pretend I didn’t find that.

His phone is in his other pocket. I type in the six-digit code to unlock the screen—he is comfortable enough with me to entrust me with this information. I wonder if Natalie knows it too. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised, even though it would have been a big risk. There were things on that phone we wouldn’t have wanted her to discover. Like the recording he took of me crying “help me” in a tearful voice. That was Caleb’s idea—he figured that phone call would get someone investigating my house faster. And it worked, although it would have been better if she hadn’t gone over there herself, because that gave her a way to explain all the fingerprints.

We planned this out so well. There’s only one missing piece.

It’s finally clear to me how this is all supposed to end. Really, I knew all along—I just didn’t want to admit it to myself. When Caleb and I first discussed this plan, I liked the idea of starting over again with a new identity—not having to be Dawn Schiff anymore. I should have known from the start it would never go that way. Caleb and I didn’t get together so we would fall in love. We got together so that we would get justice for Mia. To make Natalie pay for driving her to suicide.

There’s only one way that can happen. There’s only one way that Natalie will go down hard.

There needs to be a dead body. And it needs to be mine.

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