Eye of the Storm
He slept with his back to her, or at least pretended to sleep. Both in their day clothes, on top of the covers. Lying down because there was nothing left to talk about, or no words for what they wanted to say.
The sun breathed pink into the sky.
She remembered neither falling asleep nor waking up, but something had brought her to this day. The day of the party. And of all things, she felt relieved.
She walked to the kitchen and slid couple slices of bread into the toaster.
Her eyes flitted over the newspaper as the clicking of the toaster oven ticked through the room. A few minutes later, a dark shape materialized in her peripheral vision.
"You're awake," she said.
"I didn't get a lot of sleep." The chair creaked gently as he pulled it across the floor and sunk down into a sitting position.
She looked up from the paper - the words weren't staying in place in her head anyway. Owen's eyes were more shadowed than usual.
"Why do you care what happens to me?" she said.
"Does there have to be a reason?"
The toaster dinged, and she stood, scraped the toast onto a plate with a fork. She thrust one piece at him and kept the other to herself.
When she bit down, the taste was like ashes. But it was good to have something to chew on.
He remained sitting as she leaned against the counter. He said, "It's hard when someone you know dies."
She looked at him. "Even someone you hate."
"I don't hate you."
"Then you're an idiot."
He watched as she took a bite of the toast. If he wasn't so crazy, she would have felt self-conscious. As it was, she couldn't see him judging her - at least, not according to any rules she could make sense of.
Dodger turned her head. The clock read 7:37 in red letters. Almost eleven and a half hours until the party.
She knew she'd be counting down all day.
"I'm going to buy a gun," she said.
He nodded. "You don't already own one?"
"Surprisingly, I live a pretty safe life here."
"Do you like it?"
"I think so. I'm getting used to it, at least."
"This isn't what I expected you would be like now."
"You either." Since she figured the moment couldn't get any more surreal, she said, "Would you like some cereal?"
"I'm okay." With barely a pause, he added, "I think I'll come along to the party."
She couldn't think of any reason. "Just don't."
"What I do isn't particularly any business of yours."
"It is in this case." She set her glass of water down, with a great effort not to slam it. "Besides, it's dangerous."
"I find it difficult to believe you have my best interests at heart."
She walked closer to him, straightened her posture. Said very quietly, "Then why do you even care what happens to me?"
He looked back into her blue eyes and didn't say anything.
She kissed him, hard and fast. Because she wasn't sure what else to do. Because she wanted to feel something.
She wasn't sure if she did. Not what she wanted to feel, at least. His lips were soft. His mouth tasted the same as hers, tasted of the toast they'd both eaten.
She waited for him to push her away, or slide his hands under her clothes, but he did neither. He kissed her back. For some reason, she felt as though she was about to cry - not the sadness, but the sense of something inside her trembling. A fragile part she thought she'd long ago killed.
She pulled away, finished her water, and went to get dressed. His eyes followed her as she left the room, but he didn't stand up.
Erik's head darted from side to side, long hair whipping at the sides of his face. "Not here."
"But no one's here yet."
"I know, just... not here, okay?"
Carol followed him through the trees, away from the forest house. Moss squished under her shoes and branches snapped, setting off bursts of birdsong.
They walked until the house was invisible behind the trees, along an erratically curving route Erik orchestrated. His steps were quick and jerky, like an overwound toy. In the years they had known each other, Carol didn't think she had even seen him run - all his energy seemed to go into his elaborate hand gestures. Now, as he struggled to climb over moss-furred logs without reducing his pace, Carol would have laughed if not for the certainty that something was wrong.
Finally, he sat down on a large, grey root.
"So what's going on?" said Carol, trying to keep her voice casual.
"I think - Kyle might be up to something."
"Oh. Really?" She wasn't going for sarcasm, but it was hard to fake surprise. Interest, however, was still there.
"Yeah. I got a weird phone call yesterday. You know Darren from school?"
"I don't think so."
"He was the kid who got expelled for making those plans - that game design, where he shot people."
"Yeah. So like, he phoned me out of nowhere, and he told me to watch out for Kyle. That he set him up, and if we're his friends... he might do something bad."
"Any thoughts on what kind of something bad?"
He shook his head miserably.
"Look," said Carol, touching his arm. "Are you really going to believe what some stranger says about him?"
"No, but you told me you didn't trust him either."
"That meant something to you?"
"Yeah, of course. You're the smartest person I know."
"Oh. Thanks." Her face felt warm. "He does like you, though. And from what he told you - he wants to do something good, doesn't he? If he gets the confession, and Owen goes free -"
"Owen's out." Erik moved his hands through his hair, making it stand up oddly. Underneath, his face was green-white. "I checked, and his sentence was supposed to be seven years, like Kyle said - but they let him out early. Good behavior."
"But... then what else could he want?"
"I don't know. But I have to go along with it, don't I?"
Carol wished she could say no.
Dodger was not particularly fond of guns.
They were obvious. Traceable. Though she'd found them useful when she was younger, she'd aquired a taste for subtler methods.
She hadn't attempted to physically harm anyone since high school. She knew she could do it, so what was the point of rehashing that? Nothing was interesting if it wasn't a challenge.
But she knew the importance of being prepared. She carried poisons in her purse, and she'd attained a firearms liscense years before. Just in case.
The handgun now rested in her bag beside the switchblade, not intended for harm, but for a threat. A teenager might not fear the vial of poison, but she'd seen enough of Kyle's game to know he had a fixation with firearms.
Killing him would bring needless complications; the cover-up would be difficult to pull with so many partygoers around. Possible, obviously - Kyle intended to do the same to her, and intoxicated teenagers wouldn't be the most observant witnesses. But her being there, older and not to mention a teacher, already implicated her as a figure of suspicion.
She intended to get through the night with as little bloodshed as possible. And truth be told, she was rather looking forward to the excitement. Genuine excitement was hard to come by.
"There's the turn-off." Owen pointed from the passenger seat. The location was far out of town, an hour past city limits. Dodger had marvelled that anyone would show up, then recognized the area as being much closer to Kyle's old school. The one where he'd apparently been unpopular - though Dodger very much doubted the truth to that. If Kyle was as proud as she was as a teenager - and his figure in the video game, triumphantly waving his murder weapon, led her to believe he was - he'd never be able to stand for that. He had to be in control at all times. He had to be loved.
Love gave him power over people.
The sky darkened as the blue Mazda moved down the highway, layers of trees skimming past the window. The air was heavy with forest-sounds of cracking branches and the screech of hawks. Even in the car she could smell the pine. Past the canopy, a grey plume wavered towards the low red sun. A bonfire. This must be the place.
She and Owen had passed most of the ride in silence, despite his occasional remarks on directions. He'd stepped through the door of the passenger seat as she set off to buy the gun, and that was that - she knew arguing would only make her frustrated, and as appealing as a hot rush of anger sounded, she had to be clearheaded tonight.
When she'd returned with the gun, Owen had calmly asked her whether she intended to kill Kyle.
"Of course not," she said. For reasons she couldn't understand, something inside her had twinged painfully at his question.
He didn't answer. They drove in silence.
As they drew nearer the smoke, more sounds filled the air. The bass drum of too-loud, too-far music. Wordless young yells.
She pulled up in a grey parking lot, alongside nine other cars - some battered but expensive, others cheap and out-of-date but meticulously cared-for. Teenager cars.
And there were the teenagers, gathered around the orange flicker of flames, silver cans scatterred around their feet. Most of them stood, holding on to their girlfriends and boyfriends and sticks with charred, forgotten marshmallows. A few sat on mossy logs. One boy, on the porch of the huge, unpainted mansion behind the other kids, was instantly recognizable.
He walked towards them, smiling.
"I didn't think you'd come," he said as Dodger opened the door above the asphalt.
"I keep my word," she replied, taking the hand he offered as she stepped out into the blue dusk.
Kyle glanced toward Owen. "And who is this?"
"A friend," said Dodger.
"Owen," said Owen, stepping out to join them.
Kyle's expression changed to something unreadable for a moment, then back to a smile. "Pleased to meet you." The two shook hands. Then Kyle said, "Unfortunately, the party is by invitation only..." Grimacing as though this information pained him, despite him being the one to make these rules.
"That's fine. I was just leaving."
"Alright," said Kyle. He smiled at Dodger, slipped his fingers between hers. "After all, you're here with me.