The Ringer Episode 11-20

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11

Scarlett opened her eyes to what felt like someone trying to saw her head in two and Clark hovering over her on the ground. He looked panicked and when she tried to sit up he immediately told her to stay still.

She laid back down on the ground but when she went to put her head on the concrete, pain shot through her entire body causing her to yo-yo in and out of consciousness from then on. She didn’t remember much from her bouts of being half-awake, just Clark’s hands covered in something dark as he fumbled his shirt off and tried to tell her to “stay with him”. In that moment, she didn’t realize he meant for her to try to stay awake, and instead she thought he meant stay with him from then on. She vaguely recalled wondering to herself if she would or not before the darkness returned.

The next time she woke up, and really woke up, it was in a hospital bed. She looked around groggily wondering how she even got there before Clark came to mind and everything that happened the night before . . . night? Day? Hour? She didn’t know how long she’d been out. Scarlett also found herself worried, once again, about Clark, for which she scorned herself. She had no good reason to be concerned for the well-being of someone who wanted to hurt her.

As irony would have it, Clark came through her hospital door looking tired as all hell and relieved when he found her awake. She noted that he had on the same dirty jeans and tank top as last time she saw him and figured she must not have been out long.

“Scarlett! Oh thank God . . . Jesus I didn’t know what . . .” He said, moving to her bed then reaching out to grab her hand, pulling back when he realized that wasn’t a good idea, he sat down in the closest chair instead and pulled it forward. “I didn’t know how badly you were hurt and the doctor said he stitched you up and you should be fine but you never know how head injuries are going to turn out until the person wakes up and –“ He continued, getting interrupted by both the doctor and Scarlett’s horrified look as he told his story. Head injury?! What the hell happened?!

The doctor glided in, commenting that her being awake so soon is a good sign and then asking her the typical “Who’s president and what day is it” type questions used to determine the level trauma after a head injury. He explained she needed 5 stitches on the back of her head from where she fell onto the concrete and, with a suspicious look in Clark’s direction and a semi-sarcastic tone, told her she was “lucky the car just scared you into falling backwards instead of hitting you”. Clark hunched over, avoiding the doctor’s judgmental gaze. He knew the doctor sooner suspected a domestic abuse incident over an accidental tripping. 

The doc finally left and Scarlett just sat there still trying to gather her thoughts. She struggled to remember the full timeline of what happened the past few days despite passing the long-term memory test she was just given.

“Scarlett.” Clark said, making her jump because she, admittedly, had forgotten he was there. “How do you feel?”

“I . . . I don’t know. Physically I’m apparently on too many pain killers to realize I even had stitches and a busted up arm, but mentally I . . . I don’t know what to say to you.” Scarlett felt like she should be more scared of him. He tried to kill her for God’s sake. Why did he save me then? She wondered.

“Do you have any questions? Or if you want I can just tell you what happened and you can stop me when I hit a point you remember?”

“ . . . What happened to the car?” What? She asked herself. THAT’S your first question?

“You mean the one you put yourself in the way of?” He said, failing to contain his obvious frustration at her putting herself in harm’s way. “It drove off.”  Scarlett now vaguely recalled her unexplainable stopping in the car’s path. What the hell was she thinking?

“Scarlett I was running after you because those woods are dangerous and if you got hurt I didn’t want you stuck out there. If that’s what happened to your arm then it could’ve been a lot worse and I just can’t –“

Clark wasn’t able to finish before Scarlett’s door opened again and who came walking through brought with them a flush of bad memories. 

12

“Scarlett!”

She was still pretty blurry on everything that happened over the last few days, but one thing was seared into her mind clear as day, and that was Clay and Evie rolling around on her bed. The fact that he had the nerve to come here blew her away.

“Why are you here?”

“The hospital called me and said you suffered a head injury. I’m so glad you’re okay…”

“But WHY are YOU here?” Scarlett repeated, hoping he would catch on that she was not happy to see him.

“Look . . .” he started with a sideways glance towards Clark, moving in closer to her before continuing, “just because we . . . I mean I . . . just because things ended the way they did doesn’t mean I don’t care about you anymore. I still want to know you’re okay.” He was almost whispering and choosing his words carefully. It occurred to Scarlett that Clay had no idea it was Clark’s house she went to both times he drove her to leave home. It was him that Clay spoke to next.

“Clark, what are you doing here?” He looked like he was trying to find some explanation in his head because the last he knew, Clark only ever saw Scarlett at work functions and a couple odd occasions, and he certainly didn’t know about what happened between them and Evie.

“I . . . I’m the one who found her. Apparently she had gone on a walk or something and a car almost hit her. To avoid it she must have moved and tripped over something. The road isn’t far from my house and I was on my way home when I saw her.”

Scarlett took it as a testament to just how far apart she and Clay had grown when he seemed to buy that load of crap.

After thanking Clark for bringing her to the hospital, he said that since Clay is there now he’d better go. Scarlett didn’t want him to because she didn’t want to be alone with Clay, but she wasn’t sure how this would play out so she let him leave, also thanking him briefly as he slinked out the door.

“Clay you need to leave. You see that I’m okay, so just leave.” She said, refraining from saying more because she knew it would only make him stay longer.

“I know I messed things up. But we’ve been through so much together. I don’t want to not have a relationship with you just because –“

“Just because what? You slept with my best friend for 6 months, attacked everything about who I am as a person, let me leave crying and then invited my best friend over for another quickie before I got home?!” She didn’t give him another chance to speak and interrupted him when he tried. Much calmer this time, she held up a hand in protest and said, “I don’t care what you want any more Clay. I don’t want to see you or Evie again; you both need to leave me alone.”

Either because he believed her or because he could tell he would get nowhere for at least a while, Clay left, placing on the table behind him a large enclosed envelope she didn’t notice he even had. But at this point her blood was pumping so fast she didn’t give it a second thought. What she did point her attention to, however, is the fact that she was in the hospital because of an injury Clark caused and this was her chance to get out of there without risking him trying to keep her there. She needed to get away and figure out what to do about all this.

Her doctor came in as she was gathering her things and, only after explaining profusely his objection to her going before they had a chance to perform the suggested tests to make sure she’s alright, he had her sign some paperwork and watched her leave.

Scarlett exited quickly no more than 20 minutes after Clay, seething because under the enclosed packet he left on her table, he had also left money. All she could think about was the nerve he had assuming she didn’t have any before it hit her that in reality, she didn’t.  What little she had was left at Clark’s; her license, money, car and car keys. Her only real choice was to find a taxi and a cheap motel to stay in while she decided what her next move was. At least she still had her phone and even that was only because it was in her inside jacket pocket during this whole ordeal.

In the taxi, Scarlett decided to find out what was in the packet from Clay. Just when she thought he couldn’t surprise her anymore, what she pulled from the packet proved her wrong.

13

Scarlett nearly hurled at what she pulled from the packet. Divorce papers?? He cheated on me and now HE wants a divorce?! She just about threw the packet of papers out the window until she saw there was a note in the packet as well. It read:

Scarlett-

I have already signed these papers, all you have to do is sign them yourself and you’ll have nothing more to do with me. You can have whatever you want. I had intended on asking for a divorce about a month ago when our arguments first escalated from bad to worse, but I wanted to give it one more shot. I even left Evie… But I traded one thing for another with my work, and things seemed to get gradually even worse. After our last fight, I was weak and called Evie. There’s no good excuse for what happened, I just figured after that you would want these now so I went ahead and signed them.

I hope you find happiness again as I have with Evie and that one day you can find it in your heart to forgive us both.

Clay

What the hell did I just read?! A MONTH AGO? And then he says he “even broke things off with Evie” like he was doing ME a favor?! He hopes I can find it in my heart to forgive him?!

Scarlett could only remember being this mad one other time and it was when her father revealed his infidelities to the family and her parents inevitably decided they were splitting. Similar to her reaction back then, she just wanted to hit something for the injustice of it all. She was so sick of people putting her in last place! She lost the most when her parents split. She lost the most with Clay. And then she was almost killed by Clark! Why does all this keep happening to her?! I’m a good person!

Her adrenaline rush after the nerve he had leaving her money and then this ridiculous note left her wanting more than anything to confront Clay. She dialed his number but it was a female voice that answered. Evie’s voice.

“Scarlett?” But Scarlett didn’t answer. She was stunned that apparently she and Clay were so happy together she was already around often enough to answer his phone for him.

“Scarlett? Are you there? Please talk to –“ But Scarlett hung up.

She was so irate she didn’t know what to do. When she got to the strip motel moments after hanging up the phone, she entered her room from the sidewalk that surrounded the buildings parking lot. With nothing but the packet and her phone to her name right now, she didn’t even bother to close the door before throwing the stack of papers and her cell phone at the wall, angering herself even more as the pile of paper flew over her and fell to the floor, literally surrounding her with the failure she’d built her life around. They hadn’t even all hit the floor before a sharp pain shot through to her forehead and her vision went blurry, causing her to stumble backwards.

As she fell, a pair of arms caught her just as she thought she’d hit the ground. Though she remained dizzy, Scarlett still managed to see who it was that caught her as they laid her carefully on the ground, saying her name to ask if she was okay.

14

“Scarlett! Scarlett, are you okay?!” He said, frantically trying to ensure she’s alright.

She quickly recovered from her dizziness as the room began returning to its rightful position and she cursed silently at it for moving around like that. She sat up quicker than she probably should have and before she even got the chance to ask herself what the hell just happened, her attention was turned to the tall, goofy looking man whose scruffy face was far too close to hers.

“Scarlett, are you alright?”

James Hanover… She had met him at a few of her art galleries and although she had to give him credit for being the only person to buy something at every showing, he always stood a little too close and stared a little too long for her liking, often avoiding him unless absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, she had to admit she was slightly relieved to see a face that wasn’t trying to either kill or betray her.

After a moment, she responded to his question, “Yeah I’m fine. Sorry, I don’t know what happened . . .”

“You scared me! I was on my way out in the parking lot and saw you walking up so I figured I’d catch up with you but as soon as I got to the door, you were just about on your ass. Maybe it’s fate. I always knew one day you’d fall for me,” he said with a smile and wink that sent chills up her spine.

She let out a pity chuckle at his attempted joke then remembered the papers all over the floor. She began to apologize for the mess and pick them up then jumped back up towards him when she realized he was trying to help as well. She didn’t want him knowing her business but by the time she leaped in his direction, it was too late.

“Divorce papers? Something happen with you and Clay?” He asked. He sure is awfully nosy for someone who barely knows me.

“He . . . Uh, yeah well . . . we were having some problems that got the best of us it seems like.”

That answer appeared to satiate his curiosity; however, figuring she needed at least one person she could rely on now, she explained that their troubles were why she was stuck in this awful motel.

“You can’t stay here! This place is horrible. Look, I have a house on the lake that no one is using right now. You can stay there until you’re back on your feet! And there are clothes and food and internet, everything you could need. It’s all yours.” He said.

She was taken aback by not only his offer, but also the fact that he had all those things. She never realized he was so well off. But then, she never really took the time to talk to him. As much as she hated having to stay at yet another person’s house, she hated the idea of staying at this hotel even worse and really needed everything he was offering to figure out what her next move was going to be. Reluctantly, she accepted his offer and before she knew it, they were off.

It was about a 20-minute drive from the hotel before they got to the house and considering she had endured many invasive questions from James on the way up, she was elated when they finally arrived. Even more so when he didn’t stick around longer than the time it took to show her where everything was. After he left, Scarlett took a much-needed shower before lying on the bed to clear her thoughts. Next thing she knew she woke up to the sun setting and realized she must have fallen asleep for a couple of hours.

Scarlett took advantage of the next couple hours to get clothing picked out, eat something, and used the internet to email Clay about getting the rest of her things and her car at which time she would gladly drop off the divorce papers, signed and eager to move on. Anything that she’d left at Clark’s she was counting as an unfortunate loss.

Returning to the kitchen she noticed there was a bottle of her favorite wine with a note attached saying “Take a night to relax and give me a call if you need anything. –James” Of course she thought it was odd he just happened to have that but assumed he saw her drinking it at her showings and, recalling the last few days she’s had, decided a drink sounded amazing. She poured herself a large glass and moved to the bedroom where she clicked on the TV, sunk into the pillows and drank the first few gulps as though it were water and she’d been stuck in the desert for days.

She only had a few minutes and a couple more takes from the wine glass before she started to get dizzy again, but not the same kind of dizzy. This time, she just felt dazed and weak, so much so that she actually dropped the glass, spilling its remaining dark red contents onto the ivory bed spread.

She could barely make out what she heard next over the TV but realized it was a knock on the door, to which she could not make a loud enough sound to respond. Then she heard the lock click open and footsteps coming towards the room as James appeared in the doorway.

“I see you found the wine,” he started, a hungry, wicked grin spreading across his face as he unbuttoned his shirt, “I’ve waited a long time for this.”

Seconds later he was on the bed moving his lips down her jawbone and she started to cry with the realization that he must have put something in the wine and she was now too weak to fight back. All she could do was look forward to the darkness she felt coming over her.

Scarlett opened her tear filled eyes one last time to see Clark standing in the doorway, panting, fists clenched as he startled James off the bed and, through gritted teeth, said, “Get. Off. Of. Her.”

15

Scarlett yo-yoed in and out of a slightly conscious state. Barely aware of what was going on around her she could only hear bits and pieces of the dialogue between Clark and James.

“Get out of my house before I call the cops!” ……

…. “So they can find the drugged up stranger in your bed? Call them!” …..

…… “Hey! Get away from me you lunatic! Get your hands off me!” ….

… “You’re going to get out, NOW, and I swear to God if I see you near her ever again, I will slowly remove your fingers and toes one by one until you beg for death.” …

…. “You’re insane! This is my-“ ….

“One . . . Two . . .” ….

The door slammed shut and the last thing Scarlett remembered was Clark standing over her, telling her she was going to be okay.

***

Scarlett woke up in bed and had no chance to think before being overwhelmed with nausea. Just as she thought she was about to lose it on the bed she realized a trash can was sitting in front of the night stand and promptly redirected her . . . feelings into it instead. She then felt slightly relieved as a million other emotions flooded over her; surprise at the fact that it was sun-up outside already, fear at the inability to recall exactly what happened the night before, exhaustion and hunger, to name a few.

She pulled her knees up, covered her face with her hands and wondered desperately how she’s gotten herself into so much trouble in such a short time. Her life now is a story no one would believe regardless of how convincingly she told it.

Scarlett’s wallowing in self-pity was interrupted by Clark opening the door and sauntering in with a wash cloth in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. His entrance surprised her and she screamed, causing him to jump back as well and hold his occupied hands up in surrender to show he meant no harm.

“What the hell are you doing here?!” She yelled at him.

“You don’t know? That’s right, shit . . . I guess you wouldn’t . . . Okay Scarlett relax, I’m not here to hurt you.”

“Don’t tell me to relax!”

“Okay . . .” He started, slowly sitting in the chair at the foot of the bed, hands still in front of him, “I’m assuming since that piece of shit drugged your wine you don’t remember much from last night. What’s the last thing you can recall?”

Scarlett thought for a minute and told him she remembers falling asleep while she watched TV. As she thought more about it, though, Clark sitting quietly and letting her put the pieces together, she remembered James’ sick smile, how terrified she was when he climbed on top of her, and Clark.  Clark, who came to save her by scaring him off.

“You . . . But he . . . How did you know I was even here? Why would you help me? You were trying to kill me before!” She finally got out, although borderline hysterical now.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on you since you left the hospital. Scared the hell out of me by the way. The doctor said you shouldn’t have left!”

“So you’ve been stalking me?!”

“If you want to use a literal definition. I just wanted to make sure you were okay because the doctor said you might pass out if you got really stressed or angry and without the tests results he couldn’t say what else might happen.”

“How noble of you . . .” She responded, a little more bitter than she had meant given his intentions.

Ignoring her tone, he continued by saying, “And I wasn’t trying to kill you before. Well . . . Okay when I first met you that was the plan I guess . . .” he paused to acknowledge the look of disbelief and anger on Scarlett’s face at that, “But look! Me letting you go, following you through the woods, ‘stalking’ you here, and certainly running that creep out of here, all had nothing to do with trying to hurt you. I was serious about how I said I feel about you that night.”

She thought carefully a moment about her next line. “Why did you hurt my sister then. . .”

“I didn’t. I didn’t even know you were sisters. And in the interest of being honest so you’ll believe me from now on, my past has been winning over married women then killing them. It has always felt right to me. But I met her and it was different. I actually wanted to see if we could have a future but before I had the chance, the accident took her. I just went back to what I knew until you came along and having even stronger feelings for you, mixed with finding out she was your sister really screwed with my head Scarlett. I thought the first thing you’d do is go to the cops and I was willing to accept that until you ran into the death trap that is those woods behind my house.”

Scarlett’s head was swimming and she had no idea what to think. She stayed with her head in her hands for a long moment trying to decide what to make of all this. After a while, she muttered to herself, “What the hell am I supposed to do now . . .”

Even though the question wasn’t directed at him, Clark responded by saying, “I know what you can do now. . . Stay with me. We don’t have to be together, ever, if you don’t want to. But I can’t stand not knowing if you’re safe or not and we both know you can’t stay here so you have nowhere else to go. I can take care of you; even if you want us to stay in separate rooms forever, just let me take care of you . . .”

16

Scarlett waited a long moment before responding, trying to process his request. After everything she’d been through in such a short time, her body finally went numb. She had spent too much time being the victim, feeling vulnerable day after day. This is where her vulnerability led her, it was her own fault. Not anymore, she decided. It was time to take matters into her own hands.

In a very serious tone and with a stern, cold look now residing where her previously self-pitying, pathetic face used to be, Scarlett said, “Fine. I’ll stay with you. On one condition . . . ”

“Anything,” Clark responded, “what?”

“I want you to help me kill someone. I need you to help me kill someone.”

With a stunned look on his face making it clear that was just about the last thing he expected to hear from her, he only managed a succession of sputtering sounds as he let what she said sink in before Scarlett cut back in.

“Clark . . . If you want to take care of me the way you’ve said you do, I need you to help me. My life has been wrong for so long and I blame myself for my part in it but I’ve always been controlled by what others want and look where it’s gotten me.”

“You want me to . . . You want to kill somebody? Who? Why?” He’d finally gathered himself enough to voice the thoughts racing through his mind.

“Evie.”

“Evie?! Why?!”

“How isn’t it obvious? She snuck around with my husband and had the nerve to face me almost every day, smiling like she wasn’t a slimy piece of shit. God, picturing them rolling around in my own bed, the bed I slept in every night, that Clay held me in when we were doing okay; It makes me sick to my stomach. All I want do is make them pay. Evie and I had been friends since elementary school. We supported each other in everything, cried together, and shared everything with each other. Truthfully, Clay’s betrayal made me cold, and numb, but Evie’s betrayal is the one that will stay with me for as long as she walks this Earth, and if Clay ‘loves’ her so much, I want to take her from him the way they both took everything from me.” Scarlett said all this in a voice that didn’t even sound like her. Now that she decided to stop feeling sorry for herself, she suddenly felt in control, at least partly.

“Scarlett . . . I can’t kill her for you . . . it doesn’t work like that . . .”

She glared at him momentarily, lips pursed and brows furrowed, before getting off the bed, starting to walk out of the room and saying, “Fine. Then just leave. I’ll do it myself.”

Clark knew, even if Scarlett didn’t, that she could never do it. She would probably get to the point where she needed to pull the trigger and she’d freeze. Evie would get away, call the cops, and Scarlett would end up in jail for God knows how long. He recognized that his only options were to either help her, or talk her out of it.

“Scarlett! Please try to understand. I want to take care of you, yes, but killing someone is not . . . it’s not something you can handle! You would hate yourself for the rest of your life knowing you had a part in something like that and it would eat away at your soul. I can’t help you do that to yourself.”

“Don’t talk to me like I’m a child! I know what I want. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I know exactly what I want. This is the first thing I’ve ever felt so sure of. You don’t have to help me. Just know that if you don’t, it’s still going to happen. You can help me or you can leave but it won’t change the end result. What’s it matter to you anyways? Just think of her as another one of your ‘trophies’,” she finished with a sarcastic set of air quotes.

“It isn’t that easy Scarlett. Killing those women . . . it’s not something I do because I need to deep down, or because I just enjoy it! It’s not a feeling I can’t control the way most people think and I don’t need the ‘fix’ most serial killers do. What I do, or have done . . . it’s not about the killing; it’s about proving my point. The killing is a means to an end and a necessary evil. I don’t let them live because it would eventually ruin my ability to move elsewhere and do it again. It’s the process that I need.”

“I just don’t understand. Killing is killing, Clark. It doesn’t matter what you say the reason is for doing it.”

“You’re not going to understand it then. But what you’re asking of me isn’t something I can do.”

“Then I’m repeating myself when I say this but if you aren’t going to help me, then leave. I don’t need you here if you aren’t going to help me and you don’t have to, but this is something I need to do.”

“Scarlett . . .”

With a roll of her eyes and a hand on her hip, she looks at him one last time and says, “Are you going to help me or not?”

17

Scarlett, apparently assuming his decision would be not to help her, walked over to the door and held it open, sarcastically bowing and motioning with her hand for him to leave.

Clark stared at her just another moment before he clenched his teeth and said, “fine, I’ll help you.”

She looked almost startled at his answer although she quickly threw back on her big-girl façade. She closed the door and walked over to the table, sitting down and crossing her arms again before saying, “Great, what’s the plan then?”

“You don’t even have a plan? You’re asking me to help you with this and you don’t even know what you wanna do yet?!” He was almost yelling.

“Relax!”  She responded, putting both hands in the air, palms facing him, to get him to back down. He sat down in the chair across from her and put his head in his hands.

“What I meant was, what are you comfortable doing. I don’t particularly care how it’s done as long as it gets done.” Scarlett continued.

Clark rubbed his face and looked up at her before saying, “again, you asked me to HELP you do this. Why does it sound like it’s entirely up to me?”

“First of all,” Scarlett started matter-of-factually, “it would be easy to pin me with a motive given the whole cheating bitch scenario so any true involvement from me would most likely lead to my being caught. Secondly, more people involved means higher risk of getting caught in general. I help with the plan; you do the actual killing part. Or is that too much for you?” She finished with a condescending tone as though she was trying to get him amped by belittling him.

Clark tried hard to maintain his temper. He didn’t like being talked down to and he was struggling to remind himself why he was doing all this. He wanted Scarlett to stay with him and if this is what it took for her to get over everything, he was going to do it. Putting his emotions aside for the moment, he tried to think practically. How could he pull this off quickly and without arousing suspicion?

“Why don’t we just stage a mugging? It’s quick, it’s easy. I shoot her, take her purse, run off and she’ll bleed out.” He said finally.

“Fine, if you’re sure that’ll work. When are you going to do it?”

Thrown by her agreeableness but not letting it hinder him, he responded, “How should I know? It’s not like I follow her around all day and know where she goes-“ and before Scarlett got the chance to point out the irony given that he had spent all that time following her around, he held up his hand and rolled his eyes to create a “don’t you dare” gesture.

“Ok. We used to take that yoga class together. I haven’t gone in a while with her but she still goes. It’s on the shady side of town so it’s not impossible that a mugging could happen there.” Scarlett had her own plans she wasn’t about to let Clark in on but even with those helping her keep a firm grasp on who she really was, she surprised herself with how thoroughly she actually seemed to think this through.

“Fine, then that’s tomorrow night, we’ll do it then –“ Seeing her face when he said we he continued, “Ok, I’ll do it then. So you’ll stay with me?”

Right, Scarlett had forgotten about that part of the agreement. “Actually, I’ll stay with you after this is done. The point is for you to prove I can trust that you won’t try and hurt me again by helping me with this.”

“Well where are you going until tomorrow then? You can’t stay here!”

“I don’t plan to. You brought my purse and everything back to me, remember? I’ll use my card to stay in a hotel for the night.”

He called her stubborn but agreed and went with her to a hotel nearby.

****

Scarlett was on edge the rest of the day.  She worried constantly about if she was making the right decision and while she always convinced herself that she was, she also couldn’t shake the feeling that she was going to be hauled off the prison for the rest of her life. She wasn’t entirely well-versed in the law and was just hoping everything would work in her favor.

Her evening consisted of consuming very little food and responding to many texts from Clark who apparently couldn’t help himself constantly asking where she was or what she was doing. She tried to imagine spending the rest of her foreseeable future with him and shuddered to think of the control freak he might be if they ever were together.

After yet another night of futile attempts to sleep, her morning began with a knock on the door and Clark asking to be let in.

“Why are you here?” She asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you sent me a text every ten minutes yesterday asking where I was or what I was doing and now you’re here, I assume to keep tabs on me in person? And I’m not sure what you’re expecting to happen today until later tonight. I’d really be more comfortable if we didn’t see each other for now.”

“I just wanted to bring you breakfast,” he said, holding up a white paper bag, “and make sure you still want to do this. It’s something that’s going to weigh on your conscience forever knowing you were a part of it and to be honest I’m shocked at how easily you’re accepting that. I expected you to be, I don’t know, scared or concerned or something.”

He didn’t realize that in reality, she was, but she had no intentions of letting him know it. She needed to maintain her confidence in front of him because so far showing weakness when he’s around hasn’t worked out in her favor.

“I don’t know a way to explain why I’m okay with it any better than I tried to yesterday. But yes, I still want this to happen. In the meantime, though, I would still be more comfortable if we didn’t see each other again until after it’s over. My phone is on if you really need me but I’d like you to leave now.”

Clark looked almost beat down. He seemed to be struggling with doing this because apparently it broke his “pattern” but to Scarlett, killing is still killing.

“Ok,” he said as we walked towards the door, “but think about it some more please and let me know if you change your mind.”

He proceeded to open the door and turn around to face her once more as she said, “I won’t. Goodbye Clark,” and closed the door.

***

Scarlett spent the day doing what she had to do to make things right and prepare for what was to come that evening. Shockingly, she hadn’t heard from Clark for some time despite the fact that they were within a few hours of the “big event”, as far as he knew.

Scarlett’s phone went off as she was sliding her key card to get back into her room and she fumbled for it as she made it through the door. A number she didn’t recognize showed on the screen and she briefly debated hitting ignore before deciding to answer it.

“Hello?”

There was a loud static noise as what sounded like a voice-mail message attempted to play in the background and as it cut out, the only piece of the message Scarlett caught was asking if she wanted to accept the charges from a collect phone call within the local police station.

She chose to accept and Clark’s voice came over the phone, “Scarlett? Scarlett, I got arrested!”

She just about dropped her phone when he said it, part of her believed it would never happen.

“Why did you get arrested?!”

18

Scarlett fought to keep her knees from buckling. Her heart beat so hard it hurt. This wasn’t the plan. He was arrested already? How? Why?

Clark was silent on the other end for a moment as a garbled voice in the background yelled for him to get off the phone and Clark yelled back that it was still his time.

“Clark! Why were you arrested?” Scarlett asked again, louder this time.

“They said . . . will you shut up! I know my rights asshole!” he yelled.

“Scarlett, just come here please, I clearly can’t get a . . . Get your hands off me! My call isn’t over! Give me back-” Click.

Damn, she had to get over there and figure out what was going on. She wasn’t upset he was arrested, but she needed to know why. It seemed surreal.

She rushed down to the police station.

“Ma’am I can’t tell you about a case you aren’t involved in,” the cop said, clearly irritated with her.

Before she got a chance to say anything, another officer came around the corner. At first Scarlett didn’t recognize him when he stopped in his tracks.

“Scarlett? Is that you?” he asked.

It took a second of looking at this striking man before she recognized him from college. “Scott?”

“Yeah! Well, Officer Mallard now,” he said with a head jerk to the side and crooked grin as though he felt like a big shot saying it.

She laughed a little, but still couldn’t get over how much he had changed. They had dated for a little while when she first got to the university when he was a long haired, geeky political science major who ended up leaving town for an internship at another school. He was far from geeky now, and Scarlett felt foolish for blushing and for gawking so long at his freshly faux-hawked chestnut hair. It wasn’t long, though, before her awe was replaced with a reality check.

After a small hug and dismissing the other officer, he placed his hands on her shoulders. Concerned eyes locked on hers before asking, “So what are you doing here? Is everything okay?”

Scarlett was actually relieved to be dealing with someone she knew It would make telling him about everything much easier.

She explained she needed to talk with him privately and after following him to an interrogation room, she started to tell him what was going on.

“The man you arrested, Clark Basseri, I’m assuming it’s related to his murders?”

Scott couldn’t keep the surprise from his face when he asked how she knows about him.

“I was one of his victims. Well, attempted, I guess. I escaped because he claimed he had feelings for me so he didn’t follow through. I started to believe him because he eventually saved me from another person trying to hurt me,” Scarlett paused a moment and realized she’d never given any thought to turning James in. “But even though he was a good friend when I needed one, I couldn’t stay with him when he asked me to. I didn’t feel like I could tell him that either, though, because among other things I didn’t trust him to leave me alone or not to hurt anyone else again if I didn’t stay with him, so I started recording all of our conversations and I tried to set him up by pretending the only way I would stay is if he would help me kill someone. All I need to show is intent, right? I was 30 minutes away from coming to the police myself to provide my recordings before Clark called me-“

“Wait, you’re who he called?”

“Yes. He didn’t know that I was trying to set him up.”

They both sat there for a minute before Scott’s dazed expression looked back up at her.

“Scarlett, we arrested Clark because there was another victim who escaped and has been helping the force track him for months. Using statements from other victim’s family members and her account of what happened, they finally got him. She lived in California when he tried to get her but-“

“Wait, California? Did you say California?”

“Yes? Why?”

Scarlett thought her heart was going to stop. Her sister lived in California. Whether this survivor was her sister or not, she wasn’t sure she could take it either way.

“My sister lived in California. Scott, who is she? Who survived?”

The words barely made it out before her eyes welled up at the idea that her sister might still be alive.

His eyes grew desperate. He had to look away before responding, “Oh Scarlett . . . It’s . . .”

19

“It’s not her . . . It’s a friend of hers. Marley Tanner I think it was.”

Scarlett reeled a moment, sitting down, and then forced herself to regain composure. Marley was Alana’s best friend for about a year; she’d even babysat Scarlett a couple of times. Scarlett remembered how excited Alana was to find someone to hang out with after being in California for several months and not getting to know anyone. How did Clark end up with her too?

She realized she needed to talk with Marley and figure out what was going on. Scott agreed and took her to the room Marley was in.

After hugging tightly, they sat down across from each other at the heavy wooden table.

Marley was surprisingly cordial as she asked, “Scarlett, how have you been?”

She didn’t really know how to answer that but responded, “Um, I’ve been better I guess. Marley, what’s going on? I am completely lost in all this.”

“Well,” she started, “I personally am here from Cali because I wanted to watch this guy get thrown in jail.”

“What did he do to you? They said you were another victim . . .” Scarlett asked with a comforting smile on her face, waiting for the traumatizing details to come.

“Well, I was almost a victim. Robert and I, or I guess Victor is his real name, dated in Ohio for a little while as my divorce finalized but he got very clingy. I found pictures of me at his house, he showed up wherever I was for no reason, that kind of stuff. I came home early one day to him in my house messing with my open bottle of wine. He said he was waiting to surprise me but even if I believed him, I never gave him a key.” Scarlett had to stifle a gasp when she mentioned the wine; it reminded her of James. Now, though, she was wondering if Clark hadn’t been the cause of that.

Marley continued, “Even worse, I ended up getting into an accident the next day only to find out it was because someone cut my brake line! I was so freaked out I just decided to ‘break up’ with him and move to Cali. That’s when I met Alana. We really hit it off since she was having trouble in her marriage too.” Scarlett never knew Alana and her husband were having problems. They had always seemed so infallibly in love.

“Is Clark- er, Victor, responsible for Alana’s death . . .?” Scarlett asked, unsure now that she even wanted to know.

“I thought, and still think, he was. I saw him leaving her house late the night before they found her body . . . That’s why I went to the police in the first place, but Alana left a note. Even after finding her rings in this guy’s basement, they don’t think they can prove he killed her so they had to leave it labeled as a suicide.”

“Wait, they went through his house already?”

“Yeah, this afternoon, why?” Marley asked, but Scarlett didn’t want to tell her yet that she was hoping to get Alana’s rings back.

“So . . . if you knew who he was, why didn’t you warn Alana?”

“I tried! Once I realized she was with him anyways. She wouldn’t tell me anything about the ’guy she was seeing’ because she was planning to leave her husband, but I went to her house one day and saw him through the front window. When I realized who it was I knocked on the door and he must have left by the back before she invited me in but I told her everything. I didn’t hear from her for three days after that, Scarlett. The next time I saw her was when I found her dead in her house, without her wedding rings.”

“How did they find him here? It’s been a year and a half since Alana’s death.”

“I went to the police after finding her to tell them about seeing him leave her house. They looked into it but found his apartment empty, his car abandoned and little to nothing on him. Not so much as a hair in that place, he bleached it clean. He stole the identity of a dead man and used it only when he absolutely needed to. All they had was a bunch of descriptions and fake names. The only thing that helped is he told me he graduated from a school in Florida, and they managed to find pictures of him there. That led to finding him.”

This whole situation had Scarlett in slow motion trying to process it. She needed to talk to Clark. She needed him to know she had planned to turn him in, and this is exactly where he deserved to be.

Marley and Scarlett said their goodbyes and Scott led her to where Victor was being held.

“Scarlett!” He almost yelled it then motioned for her to get closer so they could talk quieter, “I need you to bail me out. I have the money, just go to my house and get it. I-“

“Do you really think you’re going to get bail?”

“Well yeah, they said I was under arrest for the assault and attempted murder of some girl I dated a couple of years ago. But there’s always bail.”

She didn’t know what to say to him. Her anger and sadness suddenly dissipated. All it took was him calling Marley “some girl” and his thinking this whole thing wasn’t a big deal.

“Clark,” she started slowly and with purpose, unlike many of the other times they had spoken, “did you see my sister the night before they found her?”

He seemed stunned at the question but got noticeably more frantic that they weren’t talking about his bail. He responded by saying, “Well yeah, but what did you want me to do? I couldn’t call the cops myself! I was dating her at the time; they would’ve made it look like I killed her!”

“So instead you leave her dead in her home, only God knows how long she would have been there if Marley hadn’t found her . . .”

“Wait, you know that girl? Marley?”

“She was my sister’s best friend.”

“Okay. Are you mad at me for something?”

The fact that he couldn’t see why she would be upset only made her more sure of herself.

“I want you to know, Victor, that if you hadn’t been arrested already, I was going to have you arrested.. I have all our conversations recorded and turned in to the police.”

Both stunned that she used his real name and angry at her betrayal, he responded, “What-, why would you do that?! I loved you, I was going to risk everything for you!”

“Someone who can do what you’ve done in your life could never be trusted not to do it again. I would never stay with you knowing your past. I could certainly never live with myself if you hurt someone in the future and I had the chance to stop it. Especially after learning about my sister, this is exactly where you deserve to be.”

Scarlett had said her piece and turned to walk away before bothering to listen to anything else he had to say. Knowing he would go to jail for a long time, she felt as though a weight had been lifted. After all this, even a divorce didn’t seem so bad. She could move on with the confidence she had gained having to fight for her life. Even though she wasn’t sure what she would do or where she would go next, Scarlett felt more at ease than she had in years.

Scott led her back out to the front of the station where Marley was sitting.. They talked for another minute, made plans to get together before she left for California, then Marley was led back to fill out paperwork. Scott asked if he could speak with her outside and as he walked out the front door, she followed.

“I know it’s not really my place, but I want you to know you can get ahold of me whenever you need anything. It’s going to be a long night yet and not that I don’t think you can handle it but nights are the worst after something bad happens. I just don’t want you to think you don’t have someone to talk to.”

“Actually Scott, I don’t feel like this is a bad thing anymore. As long as he ends up in jail for a long time, I’m surprisingly happy.” Scarlett paused a second to notice the look on his face. He seemed slightly defeated. Even with sadness in his eyes, they still accentuated the rest of his striking features. ”But,” she continued, “I would like to be able to keep in touch with you about anything that happens with this case, so maybe I can get your number?”

His eyes lit up as he told her it was the same as it was in college.

“You have the same number!”

“Yeah, are you really surprised? Change was never really my thing. I cried like a baby the whole ride to my new school after we broke up because I thought for sure my life was going to fall apart.”

“Really? You never cried in front of me so I’m surprised to hear that . . .” She couldn’t remember him being anything but happy, no less crying. “Anyways, my number has changed a few times since college and so has my phone so let me get your number again and we can keep in touch.”

He gave her the number and they went back into the station to finish all the paperwork they needed regarding her recordings and what happened with Victor.

By the end of the night, Scarlett was in another hotel, about to take a bath when she remembered the phone number inked on her hand. With her new-found confidence, she noticed that she was debating calling Scott to catch up, something she never would’ve done six months ago. Even though she was not interested in dating anyone for a long time, she would still like to catch up with the newly handsome friend and officer who made the process of dealing with police easier. On the other hand, she was a little worried. She wondered if it would mean more to him than it would to her and she had trouble making up her mind.

20

Scarlett ran her thumb over the buttons on her phone while staring at the smudged blue numbers on her hand and decided to give it a shot.

She dialed the number and hardly two rings went by before Scott’s voice came over the phone, “Scott Montgomery.”

“Hey Scott, this is Scarlett. I just—“

Sorry I missed you. Leave a message at the beep and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you.

Damn voicemail. She cursed at herself for not realizing it wasn’t him.

“Hi Scott. This is Scarlett,” she started again, “I just wanted to touch base and see if you’d be available for coffee sometime. It’s been a long time since we’ve talked and I’d like to catch up. So, give me a call when you get a chance. Bye.”

Her phone rang seconds after she hung up which made her jump. It was Scott.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Scarlett?”

“Yeah, hey there. I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time.”

“No you’re fine. I was just talking with my brother so I silenced the ring. What’s up? Is everything ok? I listened to your voicemail and you sounded kind of nervous.”

“Oh, yeah everything is fine!” She said with confidence for the first time in a long time. “I’m just pretty open for the foreseeable future and was hoping to catch up about something other than serial killers and all the other negativity. Would you be available sometime this week?”

“Oh good. Well I’m available now if you’re not busy. There’s this café on Main that has the best coffee, especially the hazelnut.” Scarlett found herself grinning that he remembered how much she loved hazelnut coffee. “So,” he continued, “You up for it?”

She eyed the quickly filling bathtub for a moment before responding, “Ya know what, yes. That sounds great. What’s it called?”

“Know what, let me come to you. We can walk there from your hotel and it’ll be a neat surprise.”

She agreed and about a half hour later, they were strolling down the street laughing about how goofy they were in college and how neither of them utilized their degrees the way they thought they would.

They reached the small building donning a “Carol’s Café” sign and entered to a beautifully decorated area.

The pair walked straight back to a table along the wall. Scott waved at an older gentleman and a beautiful woman, both greeting him with hugs.

Scott turned to Scarlett and said, “Vince, Carol, this is Scarlett. We went to college together.”

“Vince? Like your brother Vince?” Scarlett stuttered a little. She knew he had a brother but never met him and certainly hadn’t expected to today. She regretted not putting makeup on with the goddess standing next to him.

“Yes ma’am that’s me! It’s very nice to meet you. This is my wife, Carol, and this is her café so, welcome!” Scarlett shook Carol’s hand before they got called away by a frantic cashier and Scott led her back to the table. She playfully scolded him for not telling her she’d be meeting his brother. He responded that it was about time anyway.

They talked for a couple of hours before Vince and Carol joined them. After spending more time laughing and getting to know them, Scott had to get to work.

They walked back out the door to a setting sun and realized just how long they’d been talking, though it certainly didn’t feel that way. The time had flown by.

“Scarlett, this was really refreshing. Other than my brother and family I don’t get to socialize much, no less with a beautiful lady,” he said, raising his eyebrows and pulling back his chin.

She laughed before saying, “I agree. It’s been a long and crazy road so far. This is the first time I’ve gotten to relax in a long time.”

“Hey, my family and I are going out to dinner for Vince’s birthday in a couple of days. It would be really great if you could join us. I know they’ll enjoy your company as much as I have today.”

She exaggerated her “thinking face” and said, “Welllll, I guess I could do that. I’m just glad you didn’t surprise me with your family this time!”

He walked her back to the hotel and once she got to her room, Scarlett plopped backwards onto the bed. She felt like she was in high school again and she was crushing on the cute guy in class. Only this time, the cute guy might like her back.

She was surprised with how comfortable she felt at that moment. Now that she had closure with Clark, Clay and Evie were out of her life, the divorce was in progress, and she knew the whole truth about her sister’s death, Scarlett had practically severed all the negative ties to her past.

Six months later, Scarlett and Scott were still dating. Neither was in a hurry to get married, but they enjoyed each other’s company and made it official.

Scarlett’s divorce was final and she moved into her own apartment where she fine-tuned her painting and crafting skills enough to make a living selling her work.

Nothing was set in stone, but Scarlett was okay with that, and so was Scott.

The End

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