But life is definitely different. I’m living back in Arizona with Mrs. Gregory. Over in Lake Havasu City. And I have enough money that I don’t have to work, but to keep my mind busy and try to conform to this life of normalcy I work nights at a convenience store. Mrs. Gregory doesn’t like it. It scares her. She says it’s dangerous working in places like that which are open at all hours of the night.

She happened to be right.

I was robbed my second week there, but as the guy stood on the other side of the counter pointing that gun at me, all I could do was watch his eyes. When he glanced down at the money I put into his view, I smacked the gun aside, managed to grapple it from his hand and then I hit him in the face with it. It was stupid, really. But it was instinct. I’m not much intimidated by low-life meth-heads that rob young women in convenience stores.

That’s child’s play.

But I’m definitely not some kind of reformed badass created by my extraordinary experiences, either. Just ask the spider that crawled on me the other night while I was reading a book in bed. Mrs. Gregory about had a heart attack I screamed so loud.

I went to school to obtain my GED and passed the test two months ago. It wasn’t very hard for me, although I struggled with the math. Now I’m enrolled in community college taking Computer Science, though I don’t know why. I really have no interest in it out in the ‘real world’, but…well, normalcy. That’s my excuse for everything these days, for hanging out with my new friends, to pretending to be interested in their life goals. It makes me feel like an awful person that I have to pretend these things at all, but I can’t force myself to like something just because I should.

But not everything is so unbearable. I love Mrs. Gregory and I spend most of my time with her. She has arthritis so bad that her fingers are gnarled and she can’t play the piano much anymore, but she still teaches me and I still play, sometimes for hours until my fingers are cramped and my back is stiff. I finally mastered Moonlight Sonata. And each time I play it I think of Victor and the night he sat with me at the piano.

Mrs. Gregory’s health is getting worse. I take care of her, but I know she won’t be around forever and that one day I’m going to be alone again. I like to think that maybe Victor is still out there watching over me and sometimes I trick my mind into believing that he is. But the reality is that I don’t even know if he’s still alive. I try not to think about that, but it ends up being all that I ever think about except when I’m lost in the piano.

I miss him. I miss him so much. Some people believe that when two people separate that over time they heal. They start to find interest in other people. They go on with their lives. But that hasn’t been the case with me at all. I feel a deeper void now than the one I felt when I lived at the compound. This is more painful, more unbearable. I miss everything about Victor. And I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t think about him sexually on a daily basis. Because I do. I think I’m addicted to him.

It has been so hard for me to adjust to just about everything, but in the grand scheme of things, six months isn’t a very long time. Not compared to the nine years I was at the compound. So, I’m hopeful that by the time another six months rolls around, I’ll be better. I’ll be ‘normal’. My friends, although I can’t tell them about my life—and I think that’s why I’ve had such a difficult time getting close to them—are really great. Dahlia is a year older than me. Average beauty. Average intelligence. Average car. Average job. We are alike in the ways of average, but we couldn’t be more different when it comes to everything else. Dahlia doesn’t jump at any sound that remotely resembles a gunshot. I do. Dahlia doesn’t look over her shoulder everywhere she goes. I do. Dahlia wants to get married and have a family. I don’t. Dahlia has never killed anyone. I would do it again.

But I’m grateful no matter how often I dream of being somewhere else. Of being someone else. I’m grateful because I got away. I’m grateful because I’m home. Though ‘grateful’ is very different from ‘satisfied’ and despite finally having a normal life that a lot of people would love to have, I’m as far away from being satisfied as I can be.

Victor Faust did much more than help me escape a life of abuse and servitude. He changed me. He changed the landscape of my dreams, the dreams I had every day about living ordinarily and free and on my own. He changed the colors on the palette from primary to rainbow—as dark as the colors of that rainbow may be—and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him or about the life I could’ve had with him. Although dangerous and ultimately short, it’s what I want. Because it would’ve been a life that better suited me and, well, it would’ve been a life with Victor.

I’m just not ready to let him go….

“There you are,” Mrs. Gregory says from the doorway of my room. “Are you going to come and eat?”

I blink back into reality.

“Oh yeah, I’ll be there in a second. I need to wash my hands real quick.”

“Alright,” she says; her smile bright.

I truly am the daughter she never had. And, I guess it’s safe to say that she’s the mother I never had.

Mrs. Gregory, or Dina, always cooks chili dogs on Friday nights. We sit together at the kitchen table watching the HD television mounted on the wall in the kitchen. The news is on. It’s always on around this time.

“So, have you and Dahlia decided on a place to vacation this summer yet?”

I wash my food down with a swig of soda. I start to answer when something on the news catches my eye. A reporter is standing outside a very familiar mansion talking to a very familiar man.

Absently, I set my fork down on my plate.

“I sure wish I could tag along with you two,” Dina goes on. “But I’m too old for that stuff anymore.”

I’m too engrossed in the television to give her my attention:

“Yes ma’am,” Arthur Hamburg says into the microphone. “Every year I do my best to contribute. This summer I’m planning an event to raise one million for my new charity, The Prevention Project, in honor of my wife.”

The reporter nods and looks faintly remorseful, repositioning the microphone in front of him.

“And is that drug or suicide prevention?”

“Drug prevention,” Arthur Hamburg says. “In my heart my Mary didn’t commit suicide. The drug addiction is what killed her. I want to do my part in helping others who are addicted to drugs and also to help prevent drug abuse before it starts. It is such a terrible disease in this country.”

So is lying and sexual violence and murder, you bastard.

“Yes, it is, Mr. Hamburg,” the reporter says. “And speaking of disease, I understand that you’ve also been giving money to cancer research because of—”

“I have,” Arthur Hamburg cuts her off. “I still feel awful about lying to everyone about my wife’s disease and I doubt I’ll ever feel as though I’ve apologized enough for it. But as I’ve said before, I was only protecting her. People can accept cancer, but they’re not so accepting of drug use and I did what I had to do to protect my wife. But yes, I feel it’s only right that I also give to cancer research.”

You are such a piece of shit.

I grit my teeth.

“Sarai?” Dina says from the other side of the table. “Did you decide on Florida or New York?”

The rest of Arthur Hamburg’s words fade into the back of my mind. I think about Dina’s question for a long time, staring right through her.

I look at her finally and pick up my fork and answer, “No, actually I think we’ll be taking a trip to Los Angeles this summer.” I cut a piece of hot dog from the bun on my plate and scoop it up with some chili and take a bite.

“Los Angeles?” Dina says inquisitively and then taking a bite of her own. “Going to do the Hollywood thing, huh?”

“Yeah,” I say distantly. “It’s going to be great.”

I have unfinished business there.

I smile to myself thinking about it and cover it up with another drink of soda.

Tags: J.A. Redmerski In the Company of Killers Book Series
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