Bethany stood there staring down at his body lying on the floor. She took a second to look around room. She was going off the cuff now. She wasn’t exactly sure where she was going to restrain him. And then she spotted the grate. Of course, how could she not have remembered? There were grates in all of the rooms. They weren’t used for anything anymore. She didn’t even know what their original use had been.
She bent down and grabbed Christopher under his arms. It was adrenaline again that helped her as she dragged him across the room. There were three grates in the salon, one by the door, one by the window, and the third on a wall with no exits. That’s the one she chose. She went back to the closet, where she had been lying in wait for him, and retrieved her purse. Not only did she have the vial and the syringe inside, she also had a pair of handcuffs. She tightened one cuff around his left wrist and attached the other to the grate.
There was nothing to do but wait. She walked over to the table by the door and picked up her glass. She went back to the cabinet and refreshed her bourbon. As she made her way to the sofa, she saw an issue of Town & Country magazine. It seemed like the perfect way to pass the time while waiting for Christopher to wake up. She had bourbon and a magazine. And without even realizing it, she had Journey. She heard herself singing along. As the song ended, she realized her heart rate was only slightly elevated. She turned off the power to the entertainment system. She would be back to normal in no time. All she needed was a good article in the magazine and the drink in her hand.
Waiting was the hardest part. She’d been waiting for 10 years. It hadn’t taken her 10 years to recover, but she hadn’t had the strength or courage to face him until now. She had been afraid to see him again. She wasn’t afraid that he would hurt her; she just thought it would break her heart. It took the years of creating her new life, keeping her gnawing past at bay, to finally make her snap. It was like waking up one morning and deciding that enough was enough. She had suffered enough at his hands and she was tired of it. It was time for him to suffer. She needed to move on with her life.
Christopher moaned as he started to wake up. He wasn’t out for very long. She hadn’t given him a full dose, only enough to knock him out for about an hour. She didn’t want this to take all night.
“Ivy?” he said as he began to sit up.
“It’s not Ivy,” said Bethany. She watched him for any recollection of the voice.
“Who then?” he said struggling to get out the words. “What do you want, money? I have money.”
“I know you have money, Christopher, but I don’t want any of it.”
“Help me,” he said trying to lift his head and see his attacker.
Bethany was sitting on the sofa directly across from Christopher. She wasn’t moving. She was just waiting for the realization to sink in. She knew his memory would come back or his vision would clear and he would see her.
She could see it happen, the fog in his brain clearing, because he started to struggle with the handcuffs. Then he looked directly at her.
“Bethany?” said Christopher, disorientation and confusion turning to realization.
“I’m sure you must be surprised to see me,” replied Bethany as she sat there staring at him. “You see, the man you used to help you ‘fix’ all of your problems, your mistakes, he was also a friend of mine.” Bethany took a drink from the glass she was holding. “He couldn’t carry out your wish to hide me somewhere and leave me to die. But see, because you didn’t want to know any of the details, he wasn’t obliged to tell you that he had actually taken me to the home of a doctor friend of his.”
“Bethany,” he started to cry. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” replied Christopher through his tears.
“You’re sorry? For what, Christopher?” she paused for thought. “That you strangled me? That you hit me in the head? That you told someone to dispose of me? That you married another woman? That you continued to live your life?” Again she paused. “Which is it Christopher?” She nearly spat the words at him. “Maybe you’re sorry because you have to face me.”
“No. I’m sorry that any of it happened,” cried Christopher.
“I want you to tell me why Christopher,” said Bethany. She was angry, but calm. She just wanted the answer. “Why did you try to kill me?”
“I freaked out. There’s really no other explanation,” said Christopher. He was fidgeting with the handcuff. “The first thing that went through my mind was that you’d divorce me. I-I snapped. I-,” he took a breath, “I didn’t know how I would survive without my money,” He blurted out the words. “I know that sounds shallow, but I’m being honest.”
“Good, I want you to be honest because that’s exactly what I’m going to be,” replied Bethany. “I suffered Christopher. Not only did my marriage end, my life ended. At least my life as I knew it. My life as Bethany”
She watched him sitting on the floor, crying like a defeated child.
“Do you know how long it took to regain my memory, to fully start living again? Sometimes I’m thankful for the year of amnesia. It allowed me a small amount of protection from you. I struggled, physically and mentally, to get well enough to live my life again.”
“I’m sorry, Bethany.”
“I still suffer, Christopher,” said Bethany as a single tear rolled down her face. She shook her head and she wiped it away. “I can’t believe I’m crying. You don’t deserve my tears. I’ve cried enough over this.”
“What can I say, Bethany? What can I do?”
“Nothing! I wouldn’t believe you anyway,” replied Bethany. She put her hand to her mouth as if to stop her chin from quivering and looked away.
Without looking at him, “How did you explain my absence?” she asked. As she completed the question, she turned back to him. She wanted to look him straight in the eye when he gave his answer.
“I told the police, and our friends, that you went out for a drive and never returned home,” said Christopher.
“That must have been difficult for you Christopher,” said Bethany with honey soaked sarcasm. “You had to play the sad, worried husband in public while counting your money and having sex with Ivy in private.” She paused. “Must have been tough,” she added in a whisper with a heartless edge.
“You don’t have to be so mean, Bethany,” replied Christopher.
“How long did people search for me? You must have been so relieved that my parents were dead so that you didn’t have to contend with them searching for their little girl, and all the questions they would have asked.”
“The case is a cold case that is closed as far as I know,” said Christopher. He couldn’t look at her. His head was hanging in shame.
“That’s good. That means aside from you and Ivy and our mutual friend, no one from here knows where I am, or if I’m even alive.”
“I could tell the truth,” said Christopher. His voice had an air of pleading to it and hopefulness as if his idea of telling the truth would actually set him free.
“Don’t you want to know where I’ve been all this time?”
He didn’t reply.
“It doesn’t matter, I’m going to tell you anyway. There’s no reason for me to keep it secret,” said Bethany. She took a deep breath and released it. “The doctor, whose house I was taken to, had connections at a hospital in Delaware. I was airlifted to Sussex County General and admitted under an assumed name.” She took a sip of the bourbon. It was harder than she thought to reveal the privacy of her new life to him.
“Our mutual friend helped me slowly empty my bank accounts. Not that you would have cared or even noticed it was happening. I didn’t know who I was at that point. He repeated my history to me daily. He convinced me that I could trust him and he would take care of me.”
She took another sip of the bourbon and leaned forward toward Christopher. “I’m not really sure how he did it, and I’m not sure I really want to know, but slowly, without raising suspicions, he emptied the accounts and opened new ones in Delaware for me.”
“Why are you telling me this?” questioned Christopher.
“After I fully recovered, I went back to school. I became a counselor. I gave advice to people about how to deal with jerks like you.” She laughed a little to herself. “Isn’t that funny?” No comment from Christopher. “It wasn't fulfilling though. I finally realized it was because I had never dealt with you.”
The silence in the room was interrupted by Christopher’s sobbing.
Bethany continued. “I use the name Kate Bennett now, Katie to my friends. I’m still in Delaware. Milhaven, Delaware. After leaving my position as a counselor at Sussex County General, I decided to use my money to do something I thought I could really enjoy. I opened a wine bar. What do you think about that?”
Christopher said nothing, but managed to look up at her. In his eyes she could see his sadness.
She ignored the sadness. “It’s called Pinot Noir.” She laughed a little at her own cleverness. “I thought that was a perfect name, classy yet relaxed.”
Christopher seemed to have stopped sobbing. He sat in the floor, looking defeated.
“I’ve made new friends and created a wonderful life for myself. I just thought you should know that.” She searched her thoughts, making sure that she had said all she needed to say. “It may not be the life I thought I would live, but it’s surprisingly fulfilling and normal.”
Shaking his head and looking at her through squinted eyes of questioning he asked, “Then why are you here?”
“I’m not afraid of you knowing any more,” replied Bethany. “That I’m alive or where I’m living. You don’t get to have that power over me, Christopher. You’re the only baggage I have left and it’s time I got rid of it.”
Bethany stood up from the sofa. She finished the remainder of her bourbon. She walked over to the cabinet and placed the used glass back inside then closed the door. She walked over to where she had hung her portrait. She took it off the wall. She walked back to the sofa and anchored the portrait between the seat cushion and back. She picked up her purse and looked inside. She took out a small box.
“Bethany, what are you doing?” asked Christopher in a quivering voice as though fear had just swept through his body.
“The same thing you did to me,” replied Bethany with a sense of calm that she didn’t even know she could possess. “I’m leaving you to die.”
Bethany struck the match and threw it at her portrait. It immediately started to burn. Christopher was crying and struggling to break free of the grate. In some ways, the painting was the perfect image to sum up the moment. She had turned her back to the painter just as she was turning her back on Christopher. Her reflection in the mirror was like one last look through the window before turning to walk away.
The sofa was beginning to burn when she made her way out of the room. She didn’t look back. She didn’t want the image of Christopher seared into her brain. His screaming, crying and begging, coupled with the sound of the flames was enough to haunt her dreams for a lifetime if she would let it. As she made her way across the grand foyer, that single tear reappeared on her cheek. This time she didn’t wipe it away. She walked through the parlor and slipped out the side door into the garden, into the night.
She cautiously walked up the driveway of the mansion next door. She waited for the right moment to inconspicuously join the crowd and present the valet attendant with her ticket. As she waited for him to retrieve her car, she wondered how long it would be before the smoke was visible, curling in the sky.
Once behind the wheel, she drove down the driveway and back toward her life, already in progress. A life now free of the past and open to new possibilities. As she passed Ocean Point, she looked in the rearview mirror. She could tell the flames had engulfed the salon. As old as it was, Ocean Point would burn quickly. What had once been beautiful to her would soon be nothing more than orange glowing embers. Grandeur and memories reduced to ash. She couldn’t stop herself from hoping that Christopher had passed out before the flames reached him.
She turned on the radio. A female singer was singing a song she had never heard. Something in the lyrics caught her attention:
All of the things that I've done
Terrible things...you would never believe
She smiled and sped up.
©2010 Michael Rohrer