The Ringer Episode 1-10

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1

Scarlett ran. She was bleeding from her arm but she ran until the pain left her thinking she couldn’t anymore and then she just kept going, trying desperately to convince herself the heavy thudding of him chasing her was one she could, or she should… escape.

She remembered the terror she felt as he drugged her, the overwhelming emotion when she awoke, duct-tape bound to a chair only by her hands, wedding rings missing. She remembered feeling betrayed and so foolish for not seeing who he really was. But she also remembered the deep dark truth within it all, the one she wanted so badly to ignore as she is known to do in a desperate attempt to act the way others expect of her. And while she’s running, her pace slows, still battling which direction to go in her head; accept the truth she knew, or run from it the way others would tell her to.

She jogged. It didn’t make sense. Part of her knew the decision she would make. But she started running again and alternated until one side of her finally won. By this time, she burst through the tree line out of the woods and came to concrete under her feet, the sudden difference in footing causing her to fall. Before she was fully aware of her surroundings she noticed herself on the edge of a curve in a narrow road, listening to his pounding footsteps coming closer and closer, finding herself oddly cemented where she was standing. She turned around as though to face him when he arrived, the adrenaline telling her she had no idea what she would do when he got there but not letting her move, caught in some blissful place between terror and excitement she’d never been before. He was so close.

The next thing she heard was a car approaching. She started backing away, moving further into the road intending, she thought, to cross it. She no sooner saw his dirty, sweat covered face emerge from the same spot she just had than the car whipped around the curve in the road, it’s headlights casting briefly but eerily over his entire body. She stood there, towards the other side of the road while everything went into slow motion. He ran towards her, the car coming at her from her right but she didn’t even look, she just closed her eyes, not knowing what would happen until next thing she knew, everything went black…

 * * * * * *

[Several Months Earlier]

Clay and Scarlett sat beside each other on the patio in their backyard, early June. The weather was perfect. Scarlett liked to believe the weather was an indication of how someone’s world is, however it’s that belief that leaves her feeling lied to. A more appropriate representation would be clouds. No rain, no sun, just graying clouds through which the sun peeks its face every now and then. They used to be so happy. The kind of couple everyone envied because their love was so apparent. Now, as Scarlett reminisces about the days Clay couldn’t get enough of her, she watches as he talks avidly with her best friend.

They touch a lot, Evie and Clay. An arm during conversation, a hug for small congratulations, any little reason it seemed. She always thought for people who had only known each other for a few years they were oddly close, but Scarlett has long since told herself to stop being paranoid. After all, Clay has always been heavily involved in her life, surely he just wanted to be close with those Scarlett was close to. At least that’s what she had to tell herself.

Clay was very handsome; tall and dirty blonde with green eyes. She looked around their little backyard barbecue bustling with about 30 people, noticing aptly each woman present at least once stare over at him. She often wondered why a talented, attractive architect would choose her to spend his life with. After all, he was 4 years older with a solid grasp on who he was and what he wanted in life while she spent her time painting, writing, or helping the elderly update the décor in their homes as an independent interior designer. One day she hoped to put her sad Liberal Arts degree to good use. Clay could easily judge her, but he never did. He supported her always and although the stress from a big project at work put a lot of strain on their relationship, he never gave up supporting her and, as he puts it, her “enviable childlike view of the world”.

Scarlett was jolted from her thoughts as she heard yelling from the front yard. She walked with Clay through the gate then around the house, the rest of the guests in their wake, to discover what was causing such a disturbance in their get-together…

2

There he was. Standing in the driveway of our home like he belonged there and yelling something about seeing the “so-called happy couple”. Will Beyet, a small man and a waste of life. She’d barely heard his voice before all the memories of what he did to her came flooding back. The hospitals, the crying, the questions, the blood… so much blood. She barely survived him and somehow he’s managed not only to get out of jail, but to find her and dare walk up that drive. She felt sick to her stomach as she came around the corner and realized quickly he was drunk.

‘”Ah-ha! There—theyyy arrreee!” Will announced.

Clay walked out in front of her, starting to say “Hey, who the hell are –“ before she moved by his side and cut him off.

“Will, what do you think you’re doing here?” she said, looking warily over at Clay, seeing his awe-struck and angered reaction as he realized who the man was and what he was responsible for. Will started to stumble his way towards her when Clark, a co-worker of Clay’s, stepped up to his left to grab Will’s arm, telling him to stay away from her. Will immediately flipped Clark’s hand off his arm then used his right hand to clumsily pull a gun from behind him, pointing it at him. Clark put his hands up and backed away.

“Now, I – I want all’s ya to sit your asses on the ground! I juss came to get my lady back.” He slurred. “I got outta jail thinkin’ you’d be there for me. Turnt out it’s your lyin’ ass turned me in! Don’t worry girl, I’m gonna forgive ya. Now get on over here.” He beckoned her with his free hand.

“Will…” she started.

“Hey! Nah I don’t remember tellin’ you to talk! Juss get over here!” Noticing her staring over at Clay, he continued, “Ahhhh, I see you lookin’ at him, don’t you even worry. I’ll take care o’ him real quick soon as you join me.” He said, moving his aim away from Clark, now sitting with the others, to Clay.

She stared intensely at Will for a second then saw Clark split from the group sitting on the driveway, taking advantage of Will’s attention being focused on her. Buying time for him, Scarlett began to move slowly towards Will, hesitating often and listening to him yell for her to “hurry her cheatin’ ass up”. She briefly wondered if he even knew how much he put her through but she shook the thought, remembering that this man has a gun pointed at her husband.

She got about 2 feet from Will’s outstretched arm when Clark wrapped himself around Will’s body at his elbows, causing him to drop the gun as Clark threw him to the ground. Next thing she knew, Clark was on top of Will who lay face down on the cement. He was useless without his and, to their relief, the police arrived moments later. Scarlett realized in his intense stupor that Will never did ask people to get rid of their phones.

Scarlett approached Clark, hugging him and thanking him for his bravery, stating profusely that if there was any way they could make it up to him to please let them know.

After the police cleared, statements were taken, parties started dispersing, Scarlett, Evie by her side, sat on the porch with her head in her hands.

“How are you doing with all this?” Evie asked.

Scarlett snorted before saying, “Ya know, I’ve had nightmares about this day. Well… days like this, him showing up again. But I’m not as scared as I ever was in those nightmares. It’s like, now that it’s over with and he’s going back to jail for his hostage-esque stunt today, I can finally stop looking over my shoulder or wondering when he’s gonna be there the next corner I turn.”

“Well, you’re stronger than I am. I would’ve broken down as soon as I saw his ugly face staring me in the eye.”

“I’m glad you’re here. With you and Clay here it wasn’t as terrifying as it could’ve been.” Scarlett responded.

“Uhh.. hey… that guy looks really familiar. Do you know him? I didn’t see him around earlier.” Evie said, pointing to a tall, graying man walking towards them.

Scarlett stood up slowly, somehow more in shock now than when Will showed up, stared at the man, practically a stranger, who she hasn’t spoken to in years because of what he did to her mother, their family, with his lies and indiscretions, looked at him, and said,

“What are you doing here… Dad?”

3

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it was important… May we?” He said with the tentative motion of his hand towards the door behind Scarlett and Evie.

“What’s this about?” Scarlett responded, trying to avoid any and all reasons for allowing him into her home.

“Please, just give me 5 minutes to explain inside why I’m here. It’s about your sister.”

“Alana? What about her?” By now Scarlett was thoroughly livid, not only that he would show up unannounced, but that he would then bring her sister into it. It was hard enough losing Alana to suicide but to hear him talk about her when it took so long to heal was flat out insulting.

Her father got a look in his eye reminiscent of a man broken down over years of anguish, and Scarlett’s conscience took over just briefly enough for her to turn around, leading him through the front door and into the kitchen.

Remembering what he did to their family, she plopped her hand on the counter as she turned around and said, “You have 5 minutes. Now what do you want?”

It took him a few attempts to start speaking before he finally found the words.

“I don’t know how to start this conversation so I’ll just get straight to the point. I don’t think Alana’s death was a suicide, and…” seeing that Scarlett’s look of disgust meant she was going to interrupt him he continued a little louder, “I know it sounds crazy! But you knew your sister as well as any of us. She had a great job, a great marriage, a great house in California and even when her and Mark split up, none of us had any doubt she would find a way through it. God knows where you girls got it from, but she’s one of the strongest people any of us had ever known, and if we were going to bet anyone would find the good in a bad situation, it was her! Hell she even started to almost seem happy again and then all of a sudden the police are on our doorstep claiming she ended her own life?”

Scarlett’s eyes welled up with tears as she recalled the police explaining to the three of them that Alana had used an overdose of pills to take her own life the night before. It took them all by surprise, that much was true. But as resilient as she was, divorce could break down even those who seem the happiest. She began to tell him he was just still in denial and needed to let it go, but he continued.

“Trust me, I know it sounds crazy. But I found out last week from her friend’s father that she was seeing some shady guy less than a week after she and Mark announced her divorce… Do I think she was having an affair? No. Of course not. But any guy going after a woman before she’s even divorced is someone you just can’t trust, and if she was seeing someone that conveniently none of us knew about and she never mentioned, then it’s entirely possible he was involved in her death!”

Scarlett paused for a moment, swimming in the irony of her philandering father telling who could and couldn’t be trusted around married women. Oh how the anger boiled inside her, yet she found herself reflecting also on how it was so much more difficult to move on from grieving for her because she, too, had always wondered in the back of her mind if it really was as simple as being upset about the divorce. No, she couldn’t bother with those thoughts anymore.

“Look. You need to let this go. It took years to accept her death and yes, it was hard to believe we didn’t see her in that much pain. But no good can come from these ridiculous thoughts. If there was someone in her life that wanted her dead, she would have known and stayed away from them, not chosen to spend that much more time together.”

“I know but just listen…”

“You need to leave. Now. And I would appreciate it if you didn’t show up unannounced at my home ever again.”

He looked defeated, but before leaving he said, “Fine… Just think about it. I have tried letting this go, but I have nightmares every single night about some unknown murderer killing one of my daughters.  I am constantly worried that either the same person or some other lunatic is gonna get to the other one. You can hate me and I understand why, but please, if you think of anything else or want to talk more about it, just call me.” He placed a business card on the counter and walked back out the front door.

Scarlett sat there for what seemed like a long time before Clark, Clay’s co-worker, came in the back door.

“Hey, are you okay?” Clark asked.

“Yeah I’m fine… just the second of two very unpleasant visitors today so far. And hey, thank you so much again for what you did today. I really don’t know what we would have done if you hadn’t acted as quickly as you did. If there’s ever anything we can do for you please, please let me know.”

“Not a problem. I was a cop for a few years so I’ve taken down one or two drunkards in my day.”

“Haha.. well he definitely is that, a drunk. I can’t believe how this day has turned out.”

“It does seem pretty unlucky… Lovely lady like yourself deserves nothing but good luck, not like the kind you’ve had today.”

Scarlett took a second to appreciate his kindness. With Clay’s job putting their relationship on the rocks and the day she just had, she certainly needed that bit of kindness.

“Anyway,” Clark said, smiling at her, “I actually came in here to let you know Clay is looking for you out back.”

“Oh, right I’m sure he is… Well, thank you again.” She said as she stood up from her chair heading towards the door. Clay came in as she got there and they almost collided. Clay hugged her immediately and Clark slinked out the open door, closing it behind him.

She and Clay just stood there for a moment, and it dawned on her he had no idea who was just here. She decided not to tell him. What did she expect him to say to it anyway? And she didn’t want to dwell on it any longer.

They talked the rest of the night after Clark left about what had happened that day, and for about a week their lives went back to normal; Clay working all day and night and Scarlett finding ways to fill her time. One evening Clay came home with a big idea, and after dinner he excitedly shared it with her.

4

Scarlett and Clay finished eating as it got dark outside. Afterwards, Clay led her to the couch where they talked about his favorite episodes of shows and drank wine. Of course, Clay had been gushing that he had a wonderful idea he wanted to share with her all day so knowing he was talking about those other things just to torture her was driving her damn near crazy.

“Clay! Tell me your big idea! You know you’re just being cruel stalling this way, ha ha” Scarlett said playfully tugging at his collar as if demanding information.

“OK! Ok… Now I know we said before we got married that we were going to wait a few years to try and have children but, after that gun threat escapade with your crazy ex, it just made me realize that there will always be a reason not to do it, but I don’t want to die one day too soon knowing we never had kids.”

Scarlett had to set her glass of wine down to focus on stopping her head spinning. Children! He wanted children now?! If anything, the death threat made her want to wait even longer to have kids! Will’s appearance was a swift, powerful reminder of all the danger and evil that exists in the world. She explained this to Clay, continuing by telling him, “You are not thinking about this clearly Clay. We cannot have a child right now! I think work has got your mind all scrambled. You’re just still feeling it from Will’s stunt at the barbecue and –“

Before she could continue any further, Clay interrupted her. Raising his voice he shouted, “Will you STOP always telling me how I think and feel? I am my own man Scarlett and I’m sick of you always correcting me like I don’t know what I’m talking about!”

“Clay, I –“

“No! Don’t try and say you don’t do it. You do it all the time! I KNOW why I want to have a child and thought you would be excited about this with me, Scarlett. A baby! That’s what married people do. They have children!”

“I just don’t think it’s the right time Clay! I never said I don’t want children ever but you really thought a death threat from my ex-boyfriend towards my husband was going to make me want kids now?!”

“You’ve always been like this Scarlett. It’s never the right time for YOU. Who cares what I want or what we should be accomplishing as a couple if it doesn’t feel right for you!”

“That’s not fai –“

“Yes, it is! It’s not the right time to go back to school. It’s not the right time to choose a damn career path! It’s not the right time to actually DO something with my life!” He continued, putting his hands mockingly in the air. “You know what? We probably shouldn’t bring kids into the world anyways because your indecisiveness would make you a TERRIBLE mother and what’s worse? IT’LL NEVER BE THE RIGHT TIME ANYWAYS! You’re just going to spend the rest of your life deciding what to do with yourself although I’m sure by the time you make a damn decision you’re whole life will have passed by and I’ll just be sitting there wondering why I married a perpetual adolescent. Great. Good to know.”

Scarlett just stood there as tears filled her eyes. Even though they were having a rough time lately, she never knew he thought these things of her or that he could be so hurtful. He put his head in his hands and with a cracked voice she finally got up the nerve to respond.

“Things haven’t been the greatest lately, and I know that, I do.” She felt herself unraveling. “But we used to swear nothing could tear us apart and… I’m not sure when exactly who I already am stopped being enough for you…”

Clay sighed, resting his forearms on the counter still clearly upset and said only two words that sealed their fate, “Me either.”

Scarlett used every reservoir of strength she had maintaining herself long enough to grab her purse and keys to walk out the door. As she sat in the car, she sobbed harder than she had ever thought she could, a piece of her hoping all the while that Clay would realize she hadn’t left yet and attempt to stop her from doing so.  But Clay never came; only more tears did. She could have been in there minutes or hours, she didn’t know. But when she finally stopped long enough to gather a thought, she turned the key in the ignition and started to drive, not having yet chosen a direction, she just knew she had to leave.

5

Scarlett drove for a while before finding herself headed to Clark’s house. She knew where he lived as she and Clay attended several work functions there and she hoped, given his involvement in apprehending Will, that he could see her side of this. She still loved Clay very much, but right now, she badly needs someone to agree with her and be kind the way Clark always was. She was temporarily relieved from her emotional upheaval as Scarlett remembered Clark had always been quite endearing.

Scarlett pulled up to Clark’s house, which was very homey feeling despite its size. She knocked on the door and heard him shuffling around before opening it to greet her.

“Scarlett?” He said, confused. She had clearly interrupted him in the middle of something and she sunk into herself, beginning to regret her decision to come.

“I’m sorry to show up unannounced, I’m so sorry. I’m gonna go. . .”

“No! I mean, no, it’s alright. You just caught me off guard. What’s going on? Is everything OK?” She could tell he was trying to make up for his initial reaction and though she still felt awkward standing at this man’s doorstep, she didn’t want to leave. She tried to explain why she was there, but as soon as she said clay’s name, the sadness overwhelmed her.

Clark was evidently shocked by her sudden crying but took her in his arms anyways, and as soon as Scarlett regained an ounce of control, he invited her in.

They sat on his couch and she explained to Clark what happened. To her much needed surprise, he agreed with her about the idea of having children after what happened with Will, and said he would have responded the same way she had. Scarlett was extremely relieved. Part of her sadness came from being unsure whether she was justified feeling the way she did about it all. Clark continued to reassure her.

“I can’t imagine having a child knowing that lunatic is around. Scarlett I’m so sorry about everything that happened with Clay and that he talked to you like that. You don’t deserve that. To be honest, I’m surprised you stuck around as long as you did.”

“What do you mean?” Scarlett replied slowly, a little confused.

“Well, he speaks pretty poorly of you at work as it is, so I can’t imagine the things you had to deal with at home. I never understood it, especially not after I met you in person. To be honest if it weren’t for this project, I’d be avoiding him as much as possible.”

Scarlett took a moment to catch her breath and was shocked that instead of tears welling up again, she began to feel angry.

“Ho- how does he talk about me at work?” She asks slowly, trying to maintain her composure.

Clark sensed again that he was sharing information she wasn’t aware of before and stopped to decide if he really wanted to continue this conversation or if he should try to change topics. He decided it was probably too late to go back and anyway, she deserved to hear it. He told her about how he would complain about her being at home and “doing nothing all day” and his frustration that she wasn’t continuing her education while he slaved away all day at work to take care of her. That wasn’t even the half of what he could’ve told her, but Scarlett started to cry again so Clark moved over and wrapped his arms around her once more.

As he embraced her, he found that even though his heart was racing, his muscles relaxed and despite the circumstances, he felt . . . right. For all the times he admired her from afar knowing Clay never deserved her, he didn’t realize his feeling were this strong.

Scarlett pulls herself together and asks for a glass of water that Clark quickly gets. They talked for hours about what seemed like everything, including the latest fiasco with her father, which she never even told Clay. She admitted to Clark that as much as she didn’t want to believe someone could murder her sister, she couldn’t help feeling like there was more to it than saying it was a clear-cut suicide. Once again, Clark did not make her feel judged, but rather encouraged her to trust her gut and reassured her that she knew her sister better than anyone else. So, if anyone would know if something was off about it all, it was Scarlett.

She appreciated his company and, by the end of the night, even managed to laugh a little. Clark did the old “holy crap, look at the time” bit and offered for her to stay the night, just for one night, since it was already so late. Scarlett decided the house was big enough that it shouldn’t be awkward and agreed to stay, just for the night, or what was left of it.

Clark escorted her to the room she was welcome to stay in and showed her where his was, just in case she woke up before him or needed anything. They went their separate ways to get ready for bed. Scarlett had considerably less to do, given her lack of preparation before leaving home, but Clark provided her a pair of comfortable, despite being too large, pants to sleep in, face wash and a toothbrush to use at least. Scarlett lay in bed, the events of the day swirling through her head, especially her conversation with Clark. She tried to convince herself to fall asleep, that she needed to sleep, but it eluded her.

Scarlett finally accepted that she wouldn’t be asleep anytime soon. She just decided she better prepare herself for a long, restless night of staring at the wall.

6

Clark knocks on Scarlett’s door after a few hours of tossing and turning. He’s never been so…distracted. Especially not by any one person. He just squirmed around in bed for hours trying anything and everything to stop thinking about her long enough to fall asleep, but he couldn’t. He decided on taking a chance and talking to her about his feelings. Usually when he does that it’s just to get women on his “good” side, and this will be the first time it’s genuine albeit genuinely confusing.

He tapped 3 times lightly on the door, immediately after scolding himself for the decision. But, to his pleasant surprise, Scarlett responded quickly with a. awake sounding, “yes?”

He asked if he could come in and once she granted that permission he walked in the room to see her playing solitaire on the bed using her phone as a source of light. He laughed at her, hard, as he flipped on the light switch then asked why on earth she was playing cards by phone-light.

“I wasn’t sure where your room was and if you got up or anything I didn’t want to disturb you by having the light on. Especially since you’ve been so kind already.” She responded, giggling a little bit at herself because as she said it out loud, it made much less sense. But, thinking about things at night does tend to warp how you actually feel about them so she chalked the decision up to that phenomenon.

She continued once he finally stopped laughing at her by saying, “So, why are you awake so… well, early?”

“I could ask you the same thing.”

“Yes, but you didn’t. I beat ya to it.” She responded matter-of-factly. “So? What’s got you sleepless?”

“Well… Ok I don’t know how to say this because I haven’t even figured it out myself, so I don’t know if it’ll make sense but… and I mean, it’s completely inappropriate timing and I probably shouldn’t tell you and, for God’s sake I work with your husband… I just think I’m hoping maybe the risk I’m taking it worth it because otherwise I’m screwing up something –“

“Clark!” She interrupted, recognizing he would probably ramble on this way for as long as she said nothing. And at this point she really wanted to know what he was trying to say.

“Sorry… Look. Like I said, it’s totally inappropriate but, I have never, and I am not exaggerating when I say never, had as good a time with someone just talking as I did with you last night. Every time I saw you with Clay knowing the way he didn’t appreciate you, it made me ache. But I always just ignored it because you’re with Clay and I thought it would pass. Last night told me it won’t. “

Scarlett was caught off guard, confused and oddly elated at the same time.

Clark finished by saying, “I don’t know what I expect you to say, if anything, I just wanted to you know. Before going back to Clay. Even if you and I never end up knowing if this means anything, I wanted you to know there are people besides Clay who will appreciate you the way you deserve to be.”

Scarlett was speechless, at first. She sat silent for longer than was probably comfortable. But she didn’t know what to say. She finally settled on telling Clark that she needed to go talk to Clay. While she couldn’t see anything bringing them back together, she at least needed to determine what was next for them before she could look past that and feel good about it. Despite Clark’s insistence that she stay the rest of the night because it was 3 in the morning, Scarlett felt strangely rushed get things over with as far as Clay goes and she was gone minutes later.

She pulled up to the curb of the house, thinking for some reason that parking in the driveway would in some way be a step towards forgiving him where the curb is more where a guest or stranger would park. Right now, that’s all she felt like she was to Clay. Just as she had before she left, Scarlett sat in the car both crying and taking advantage of her brief pauses to figure out what she was going to say.

Their bedroom light was on as she could tell from the almost eerie glow the light made through their curtains. Scarlett wondered each time she looked at it if the lights being on meant Clay, too, had been up all night worried about her and their relationship. Maybe they did stand a chance and there was an explanation to all of this.

Scarlett no sooner thought that than saw a shadow walk across the window and, at first, she was filled with hope that her thoughts had been confirmed. Just as quick as the feeling came, it went when she saw a second shadow cross the window in the same direction.

Scarlett scolded herself for even considering that Clay would do the first thing that popped into her head but as she stayed watching the window intently, she saw two shadows once again.

Moving quickly but quietly, she got out of the car and up to the door which, despite being locked, was open as though whoever pushed it hadn’t pushed quite hard enough.

Remaining stealthy, Scarlett crept up the carpeted stairs until she reached the landing before the second set where she started to hear voices. Moving slowly up a couple more steps and being careful to not only make sure their steps didn’t get closer but to avoid the creaking one she always hated, she ever so slightly lifted her head just enough to see through the banisters and into their bedroom.

Clay fell onto the bed, lying on his back with his hands over his face and for a split second Scarlett wondered if she’d overreacted but in that same moment a petite, dark-haired woman tossed herself on top of him, giggling as he grunted when she did so.

Realizing who it was left Scarlett so weak in the knees and light-headed that she almost fell down the stairs.

7

Scarlett lost her footing but was lucky in that the carpet’s softness prevented her from calling attention to herself.

Evie?! She thought to herself. No! That can’t be Evie. It just can’t be. Despite knowing it was, in fact, Evie, Scarlett let her denial lead her to peeking up once more, this time seeing Evie’s tattoo on her side, the one matching Scarlett’s… They had gotten it together on a trip to Cancun just before she and Clay got married.

This can’t be happening…this just can’t be happening… How could they betray me like this! I haven’t been gone a full 24 hours and not only does HE invite her into OUR bed, but she accepts! Scarlett has never been so furious and so hurt at the same time. Peeking once again, she waited until they were both out of sight of the door before she moved stealthily up the rest of the stairs and towards the room, stopping just outside the doorway. She paused only a moment before stepping into the room. They  didn’t even notice.

Now even more furious, Scarlett slammed the door shut behind her and they both jumped up.

“Oh! I’m sorry! Were you not expecting me?” Scarlett began, oozing sarcasm.

“Scar-,“ Clay tried to say, but she interrupted him.

“No no, you’re right. After all I did leave in tears and this is only MY house and MY bed. Why would you expect me home so soon? I mean, at a certain point it’s my own fault because I did go ahead and ignore the LOCKED but not quite CLOSED door that should have been a clear sign you didn’t want to be disturbed. How rude of me!”

“Scarlett…” Evie tried this time, but she wasn’t about it let her finish either.

“How could you! We have been best friends for a goddamn decade, Evie! I’ve always thought you two were just a little too goddamned closed a little too goddamned often but to hell if I didn’t tell my inner voice to pipe the hell down! How long has this been going on! And I swear, if you try to lie to me I will make sure you suffer just as much as he does the second I divorce his sorry ass!”

Evie just sat there, tears running down her face and silent. Clay looked at her and then back at me before he said, head in hands, “6 months”.

“SIX MONTHS?! This has happened for six months!!” Evie jumped at how loud Scarlett screamed.

Scarlett stood motionless for a few moments before Clay tried to talk again and she, shaking with anger, stopped him. After standing there a few more moments, Scarlett breathed deeply and directed her next words at the both of them.

“You both are as low on the scum scale as you can get. Clay, if you were so damn unhappy with me, you should have left. Evelyn,” Scarlett used her real name, knowing Evie would recognize Scarlett hasn’t called her that since before they became friends instead of strangers, “I cannot begin to fathom what led you here, but I can guarantee I do not care. I was one person you both could have counted on to have my heart and soul in whatever you asked of me, but now I will make sure I do everything, and I mean everything, in my power to make you both suffer the pain you’ve caused me.”

Scarlett knew there was nothing left to say. She turned to leave the house. Neither of them followed, but then, she didn’t expect them to. This time when she got into the car, she was not sad. She wasn’t even really angry anymore except for the piece of her yelling at her for not seeing it coming or trusting her gut when she had her earlier suspicions.

As she started driving, Scarlett realized she wasn’t sad or angry or hurt anymore because, in a way, she was glad it was over, definitively over. There was no question, no doubt, no self-loathing or stress of over-thinking, not anymore. Now it was absolutely clear that nothing could save or could have saved them and that she didn’t want it to be saved. Scarlett almost wondered, looking back, if she had always known she and Clay weren’t right for one another; if she stayed with him because she couldn’t think of a good reason not to and since not being head over heels, at least without someone she was head over heels for, didn’t seem like a good reason to leave. And she did love him, but now she questioned if she was ever in love with him. The ending of this relationship, especially by his hand, means she can move on and hope to find someone she really does feel head over heels for.

Scarlett came out of her thoughts realizing she was driving back to Clark’s. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea, especially knowing his feelings for her, but Scarlett had no one else now and, who knows, maybe it would be a good start to seeing if they could go anywhere. She already got butterflies knowing she would see him soon. That has to mean something, right?

To her surprise, Clark was still awake and surprised to see her, but happily invited her back in. Scarlett got emotional in the midst of recounting to him their betrayal and realizing how stupid she had been to trust them. He let her cry in his arms until she fell asleep with her head on his chest, but when she awoke, that is certainly not where she was any longer.

8

Scarlett woke up slowly, feeling groggy. The last thing she remembered was falling asleep on the couch, but she quickly realized that she was bound to a chair and the duct tape over her mouth made trying to speak a futile effort. In a panic, she whipped her head back and forth, trying to determine where she was and how she got here. Oddly enough, she was less panicked about being tied up than she was trying to find Clark, wondering if he was safe.

Just as she reached total concern for his well-being, Clark appeared in front of her. He was pacing back and forth with some sort of polished wooden box in his hand. He knew she was conscious, evident from his frantic glance or two up at her. Scarlett shrank into herself and her stomach rolled over with the realization that Clark is who put her here. She didn’t know what to think, and with the tape over her mouth, she couldn’t ask. She just looked at him; pleading with her tear filled eyes for him to let her go, explain why he was doing this, anything.

Clark suddenly fell to his knees in front her, putting his hand on her leg and looking up at her even though she had quickly leaned back at his abrupt contact. He looked back and forth from Scarlett to the box and back again.

Clark stared intently at the box, now moving his free hand to his back pocket to produce a small syringe filled with something she didn’t recognize. Scarlett tried now to scream through the tape.

He held it up as though he was about to plunge it deep into her leg and she continued to wail. He paused a moment, hiked himself up and put his arm over his eyes before angrily throwing the syringe across the room.

For the first time, Clark spoke.

“Do you have any idea at all how bad you’ve screwed me up??”

Recognizing that she obviously couldn’t answer, he continued, more to himself than to her, “I need to do this.”

In another unanticipated move towards Scarlett, he leaned towards her, pulled the tape off her mouth and resumed pacing all in one fluid motion. He turned his back to her, facing what appeared to be a work table where he slammed the box down, making Scarlett jump. She didn’t understand why, but despite her fear and the pain in her face from his tearing the tape off, she felt no need to scream. Maybe her subconscious knew it was pointless.

When Clark slowly turned towards her, an almost exhausted look now on his face, she asked quietly, “Why are you doing this . . . ?”

“I could never expect that you’ll understand. I’ve messed everything up now, all my options. I should kill you; I’m supposed to kill you! That’s the point! I win them over, then I kill them, and I move on.” He said, making a ‘this and that’ motion with his hands. “That’s how this works. THIS, this is not how it’s supposed to work!”

Scarlett started to cry again as she felt her chances at living slip away. Clark, who had decided to sit on the floor, elbows on his knees, quickly moved to her and despite Scarlett moving her head away, he wiped her tears. Scarlett noticed his own eyes began to well as he did so.   

“I just don’t know what to do with you.” He said, cupping her face in his hand and releasing her before continuing. “Everything about this time is different. The plan has always been to win as I never did and was told I never would, period. I watch, I infiltrate, I win, I kill, I move, and repeat. It was even perfectly set up! Clay goes off as expected and the whore best friend was just a happy coincidence!” He continued, again talking more to himself and using animated gestures as though trying to convince his inner child he’s doing him justice.

“But you, Scarlett,” He said, turning to her now, causing her to flinch, “you’ve turned me into a person I don’t recognize and don’t like. I feel weak. I feel pathetic, at your mercy. I feel like I can’t do, what I’m supposed to do. I go through the motions my head is telling me to go through but I ended up loathing you so much less than the others. I don’t think I hate you at all! But I always despise them, that’s what made killing them so easy!”

Scarlett just sat there completely unaware of what to think now. Who are the “others” he’s referring to?? Why does he have to kill “them”?? Why does he keep staring at that box??

She sat there, speechless and silently crying as he continued, it seemed, to argue with himself. Scarlett began to feel that she would be in this chair for a long time with no real explanation of why when Clark once again faced the work table. In what appeared to be another burst of anger, he used both hands to swipe everything off the tabletop, accidentally knocking the polished box off as well with his elbow. When it hit the ground, it landed on its corner, causing the box to break into pieces and its contents to spill out, making little metal ‘pings’ as they fell.

Rings?! Scarlett thought, feeling her breath become labored as she stared and Clark frantically retrieved them from all across the floor.

One ring, though, had skipped and fallen just in front of Scarlett’s feet. She realized whose it was just as Clark picked it up and he froze when he saw the look on her face. Disgust, fear, sickness.

Despite being afraid of the answer, Scarlett looked at him and asked, “Why do you have that ring . . . ?”

9

Clark either didn’t hear her or he was choosing to ignore her, so Scarlett repeated herself, a little louder this time.

Why, do you have her ring?”

Clark’s head whipped up this time, his face contorted into a mix of his prior frustration over dropping the box and his new-found confusion over her question.

“What? Who . . . whose ring?” He responded.

“Kayla’s! Why do you have Kayla’s ring!” Scarlett screamed, hysterical now that he still hasn’t answered her question.

“Wha- , Kayla? How do you know -“

“She’s my sister! Why do you have my sister’s ring!? What did you do to her!?” Scarlett screamed, writhing in an attempt to get free and crying over the realization that her father must have been right.

The blood drained from Clark’s face and he stopped picking up rings, proceeding to drop them onto the floor again as he hitched back on his hind-side, covering his mouth with his hands.

Scarlett continued demanding to know what he did to her but Clark just stayed still, staring at the ring he’d kept after winning over Kayla. He moved his hands to cover his entire face and began softly saying “no . . . no . . . no . . .“ over and over again. Scarlett finally stopped trying to free herself from the ties and now hung her head limp, exhausted, now begging softly for him to tell her what he did to Kayla.

“Kayla . . . she’s . . . she was your sister . . .?” Clark finally said, praying to get an answer different from the one he’d already gotten.

Scarlett didn’t say anything, just nodded her hanging head up and down slowly.

Clark continued to sit on the floor, looking up at the ceiling and trying desperately to determine his next move. He felt defeated. He’d started feeling worn down with the process of winning over married women a long time ago, but the thrill of the win, and the kill, always kept him motivated to move on to the next one. Now, watching a woman he couldn’t even describe his feelings for cry and the realization he was the cause of her pain, it didn’t make him feel better this time. He decided he had no choice but to let her go, let her run to the police, and wait for them to knock down his door. It’s over. He officially lost, and no number of previous “wins” could ease the pain of his losing any chance at her so much as forgiving him. He may as well go to jail where at least he won’t have to maintain a fake life anymore, and hope his apprehension brings some peace to Scarlett.

He stood up, walked slowly over to her, and cut her bonds loose.

She took advantage of this momentary chance to run by shoving him backwards and bolting up the stairs. She wasn’t going to chance him changing his mind and trying to keep her again. Clark went after her, hoping simply to explain his intent. He saw her at the top of the stairs frantically looking both directions and trying to figure out which way the front of the house was, and then she darted towards what ended up being the back of the house. Clark continued to follow. Realizing she was headed towards the back door, he yelled after her, “Scarlett, no! The woods are –“. She threw a chair backwards, successfully hitting him in the stomach and causing him to stumble.

Next thing she knew, Scarlett was through the back door, cursing herself for choosing the wrong direction but not letting it stop her running. She ran straight for the tree line. She remembered spending a lot of time in the woods growing up and decided it was worth the risk if she could just get enough ahead of Clark to lose him in the darkness and hide.

10

Scarlett ran for what seemed like forever and thought surely she must be nearing an end to the woods. Barely aware anymore of whether or not Clark was still behind her, she continued to sprint. Before she even began another thought she felt her boot catch on what must have been a fallen branch and next thing she knew, she was flying through the air. Scarlett rolled down a small hill until she got to the end where she stopped and realized an immense pain radiated from her left arm. She put her hand up to the injury, seeing as she pulled it away again that she was bleeding fairly heavily from the wound. Scarlett removed the blouse from over her tank top and wrapped it around her arm, snapped out of her daze by Clark’s voice and footsteps drawing significantly closer after such a delay.

She silently cursed herself as he drew nearer, recognizing that if she hadn’t fallen, she would have likely outrun him. Coddling her arm, she forced herself to get back up and keep moving, though she’s much slower this time for ever thud and vibration seem to travel straight through her injured arm.

Scarlett noticed her adrenaline was not pumping nearly as fast as it had been before she’d fallen. Even worse, she noticed that if she wanted to, she could run faster, but she did not feel that motivation.

But she kept running. Continuing to bleed from her arm but she ran until the pain left her thinking she couldn’t anymore and then she just kept going, trying desperately to convince herself the heavy thudding of him chasing her was one she could, or she should… escape, and that surely the woods were going to end soon, leading her to people who could help her.

She remembered the terror when she awoke, duct-tape bound to a chair. She remembered feeling betrayed and so foolish for not seeing who he really was. But now, as she continued to run, she began to weigh her options . . . Should she try to change him? Maybe she could get him to tell her the truth about her sister. Why is he even still following her? Why is she so important? Should she keep going, hoping to find someone who could help get this lunatic arrested? What if the police don’t believe her? She really had nothing on him and by the time they got to him he would surely have removed all incriminating things.  Wait . . . He said he loved her . . . Should she believe him? Did she love him, too? Despite everything? No, surely she can’t. He killed her sister! He practically came out and told her!

She jogged now. It didn’t make sense. Part of her knew the decision she would make. But she started running again and alternated until one side of her finally won. By this time, she burst through the tree line out of the woods and came to concrete under her feet, the sudden difference in footing causing her to fall. She paused for a moment, cherishing that she was, more literally than metaphorically, out of the woods. Before she was fully aware of her surroundings she noticed herself on the edge of a curve in a narrow road, listening to his footsteps coming closer and closer, and finding herself oddly cemented where she was standing. She turned around as though to face him when he arrived, the adrenaline having returned to her body, telling her she had no idea what she would do when he got there but not letting her move, caught in some blissful place between terror and excitement she’d never been before. He was so close.

The next thing she heard was a car approaching. She started backing away, moving further into the road intending, she thought, to cross it. She no sooner saw his dirty, sweat covered face emerge from the same spot she just had than the car whipped around the curve in the road, it’s headlights casting briefly but eerily over his entire body. She stood there, towards the other side of the road while everything went into slow motion. He ran towards her, the car coming at her from her right but she didn’t even look, she just closed her eyes, not knowing what would happen until next thing she knew, everything went black…

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