My teeth scrape against my bottom lip as I pull it into my mouth and look out of my window, still strapped in to the driver’s seat. From the outside of my house, no one would ever know what happened.
Closed doors hide a variety of crimes.
Wiping under my tired, burning eyes, I then press the button to exit my contacts to prevent myself from giving in and being weak. I won’t call her.
But that only leaves Jase.
CROSS. I can’t think of him without being reminded of the book, the underlined hidden message inside it, followed by the break-in, and then Jenny. Every thought, question, and mournful memory assault me one after the other just from thinking his name. I’m so confused and lost… and alone.
I stare down at the white plastic bag on the passenger seat. The logo of Martin Hardware stares back at me in a bold red font and beneath it I know there are three packs of light bulbs, each containing four apiece. It took me a while to feel safe enough to go in. Shit, it took me a while to stop looking in my rearview mirror and keeping track of cars who could be following me. There was no one there for all the hours I’ve been away from my home.
There’s no one here now either. It’s just me and the aftermath.
All I have to do is get out of my car and replace the bulbs so I can at least turn on a light.
I have to know what happened. I have to search my place and see what they took. The puzzle keeps me from breaking down. It keeps me from remembering Jenny and the fact that she’s gone. As well as Jase, and the fact that he may be to blame if the message in the book is about him.
Why did they take the book and my bills? I think back to the living room. Everything turned over, but systematically. Everything was done with the purpose of making it look like a robbery… but they didn’t steal what a random burglar would take.
A long exhale and I’m able to pretend like it isn’t devastating. Like I don’t feel violated. Like there’s no reason for me to be terrified.
My bills and mail, plus whatever other papers were in the coffee table, although I can’t even imagine what else I had stored there. And my laptop.
But not my phone or my wallet.
They stole information.
Resting my elbow against the window frame of my car, I press my thumbnail between my teeth and bite down gently, mindlessly. All I can do is stare at my front door and see a man. He had to have been tall, wearing faded, broken-in blue jeans and white sneakers with a red stripe along the sides of each. My mind plays the scene for me. Him quietly picking the lock, pressing his shoulder against the door and opening it as silently as he could. Did he know I was in the living room before he stepped in? Did he peek into the curtains in the bay window beforehand?
Again the series of thoughts plays out. The break-in will always lead to Jenny.
Did he hurt Jenny? Did he know her? I can barely stand to look at the stark white door as the realization hits me.
The men I’ve been after, the ones I’ve demanded be served justice were only feet from me today. And I cowered.
My breathing comes in staggered pants as I look at my front door again and instead of seeing him, I see my sister sitting on the front step. Just as she was the last time I saw her. Bloodshot eyes full of fear staring back at me. It was the day she gave me the gun.
The image washes away as my eyes turn glossy, but the emotions are short lived.
Bright lights from a passing car distract me and the fear I can’t deny takes over. It lasts only for a second as the car continues on its way, never even turning down this street.
The sliver of strength I had pulling into the driveway is long gone.
The adrenaline doesn’t wane though. And I know there’s no way I can go back inside.
I can’t sleep here.
I’ll never feel safe in this house again.
My thoughts aren’t cohesive when I call him. I don’t even realize what I’ve done until Jase’s phone is ringing with my cell pressed to my ear. He doesn’t make me wait long to answer. Which is a damn good thing, because I nearly hang up on the second ring.
“Bethany.” He says my name with a quiet emotion I can’t quite place. Longing is evident though and somehow that makes me feel like it’s all going to be okay. But how could it ever be okay at this point?