“Nice ah, mansion, dad,” I said, popping my bubblegum. If this is dad trying to make up for being a shitty parent, he’s done a horrible job
“Hey,” Alan said, raising then lowering his arms, “I said it needed some, well, a little work.”
“Yeah, you said a little work, dad. Little is the keyword.”
“So, I was a little off.” Dad was a little off alright. “What can I say? We’ll get used to it. A little work and this place will look brand-new,” Dad said less than believable.
The yard needed a trim, and the chipped white paint on the house was an eyesore. Some idiot thought it’d be a good idea to paint a log cabin white. This is what Dad thought would cheer me up? Dad thought taking me away from my friends for this place would make things better between us? I want to push him off a cliff, so he failed at this, too.
“Eeeew, I’m not fuckin’ stayin’ here.” I crinkled my eyes.
“Would you rather sleep there?” Alan pointed to the trailer fixed as a guest house.
“What am I a fucking country girl now?” I said. “Am I supposed to say yee-haw? I’m a city girl–from a big city, not some red-neck town that doesn’t believe in education and teaches their children liberals are devils.”
Alan choked back a cackle. “Listen, let’s just give it a try, okay.”
“Just because you moved on doesn’t mean I have to,” I said, folding my arms.
“Don’t you fuckin’ bring up her name around this bitch,” I said, glaring at Beth.
“Don’t talk to Beth like…”
“Alan,” Beth said, slicing the air with her hand. “If I need your help, I’ll ask for it.”
I give Dad an I she told you so face.
“We’re finally here,” Beth said, placing her suitcase beside her feet, clinging to Alan’s arm as they gaze at the fixer-upper mansion.
“Barf,” I said, holding a finger to my mouth, gagging. “Before y’all start makin’ out or whatever old people—”
“Old?” Alan said, raising a sly brow.
“Which room is mine, dad?” I said, slamming my hands on my hips.
“You miss your friends, don’t you?” Beth said.
“You’re just my stepmom,” I said, glaring at her.
“Look…we didn’t start on the right foot, but…”
“What the fuck ever!” I said as I stomp the stairs to my room, slamming the door shut behind me as I plunge my body onto my bed. I didn’t want to leave my old high school, my friends. After my mother died five years ago, my dad moved his secretary into the house. I despised the bitch and hoped she choked on something, or slipped and broke her fucking neck.
“Alan, she hates me,” Beth said.
“Tomorrow will be five years since—well—since her mother died,” Alan said.
“You should have reminded me,” Beth said, throwing her hands to her closed eyes.
“We wanted a fresh start. Now we have one,” Alan said. “I start work tomorrow.”
“My baby’s the new police chief,” Beth said, cupping his cheeks and biting her lower lip. “You can arrest me anytime.”
“It’ll work out,” Alan said, drinking an espresso.
“Yes,” Alan said as he drew a sharp sigh and blew his lips out.
I heard and saw it all through my bedroom window. Dad and Beth talked through the vents about how they’d wanted to stay here for good. There’s no way I’m staying in this house. I text my friends, but they avoided returning them. After Mom died, I’d been clingy and overstayed my welcome in their text inboxes. I wish I knew why and how she died. I rubbed my teary eyes, which isn’t a good idea during this whole coronavirus thing. I pulled my clothes from my suitcase to fill the closet and set up my flat-screen TV. I wasn’t waiting on Dad or Beth to help me. Mom used to tell me, ‘if something happens to me, it’s not an accident.’ I’d told my counselor, but he thought I was nuts. Dad threatened to send me back to the mental hospital if I brought it up again. Dad locked me in a crazy asylum for trying to die by suicide. I know someone killed my mother, and I won’t rest until the son-of-a-bitch is dead or in jail.
I descended the stairs with my tennis shoes and yoga pants.
“Dad?” I said.
“No more conspiracy theories,” he said, flipping pages in a newspaper with a Playboy magazine tucked behind.
“I’m going for a jog,” I said. “I need to clear my head.”
Dad tossed me his police flashlight. “Don’t go too far, kid.”
“I’m not a baby.”
Alan smiled as his eyes returned to “reading” articles with pictures of scantily clothed women.
My legs carry me as I swing my arms, breathing deep as I traveled down the gravel driveway, listening to headphones, roaming the endless path with a slight breeze. It was a mile to the next house—a light shining through the window reflected a couple fighting. As I approached, I heard the loud talk become shouting. I can relate to that, I thought.
“What the fuck was that?” I said, seeing gunsmoke and a man returning his pistol to the small of his back. I stopped running and removed my headphones. He fucking killed her! I thought as my body seized with terror. The man swooped and pulled the body through the kitchen to the garage. I crouched behind a tree, watching but trying to turn and run. It was like a car crash; I shouldn’t be watching, but my legs wouldn’t move. I observed him wrapping the woman in a blanket. My mind traveled back five years, and I wondered if my father killed my mother. I came home from school to see my dad hovering over my mother’s body, crying. I was the one that called the police. Dad said she tripped and fell down the stairs. I didn’t buy it. I still don’t buy it. But I don’t have proof.
The man scratched the back of his neck, looking around like a crackhead worried the cops were sitting in wait for a drug bust. I stepped behind another tree to get a more unobstructed view and hopped on a branch. I slammed my eyes shut, hoping he hadn’t heard.
“Who’s there?” the man shouted as his hand slid down the small of his back.
I shook, standing still in my skin.
“I gotta gun, you know?” the man said louder than before.
I lowered my body and inched backed to the road and sprinted the gravel road home.
“I see you, kid!” the man said. “If I ever see you again, you’re as good as dead.”
“Dad!” I said, bursting through the door, slamming and locking it shut behind me. “I…I…”
“Woah… slow down,” he said, standing to his feet. “What is it?”
“I saw a murder!”
“Have you taken your medication today?”
“I’m serious,” I said, grabbing his arm. “You gotta believe me.”
Alan returned to his seat and rolled his eyes. “The doctor said there might be side-effects with —”
“These aren’t side-effects, Dad!” I said, slicing the air with my hands.
“Listen…I start work tomorrow.”
“And you’re the sheriff,” I said, nodding as if to reassure myself. “Right…the sheriff.”
“If anything’s going on, I’ll figure it out,” he said. “It’s been a long day; why don’t you go relax.”
I hold the rail, climbing the stairs. I’d begun to wonder if I saw what I saw. My father’s gaslighting made my head feel like crushed rocks. I took a shower and slid to the bottom as the water trickled from my hair to my chin to my body to the drain. It’s not as if this is the first time dad hadn’t believed me. I was sick of him making me feel crazy, and if Dad couldn’t figure out the neighbor killed that woman, I would.
After getting ready for bed, I peeked through the blinds to the cabin. The light was off, making it appear as if nothing existed beyond the forest—as if the house I’d seen a murder at didn’t exist. Before dozing off, I thought about my mother and solving her murder. Dad could only make me out to be a crackpot for so long. I hold my eyes open until I can’t.