I could have told Eloise that she was wasting her time trying to make Clear feel bad for marrying Michael. Nothing would ever make her regret that. Clear had been upset to hear that damn asshole, Ricky Tate, had turned up at my school after sending me weird letters, but not so upset that it made her question her decisions. In fact, she’d cried that she wished she could speak to Michael. She leaned on him like he was a crutch. As for not taking his surname … Clear had actually wanted us both to use it. Michael wouldn’t allow it as it would make me and Clear too easy for reporters to find.
“Michael might have killed,” began Clear, voice shaky, “but he’s done more for Kensey than Maxwell—her biological father—ever has. So tell me, Eloise, what does that say about your son?”
“Come on, Gran, let’s just leave.” Joshua.
The little fucker was in my house? I pushed open the door and strode inside. Standing in the hallway, Eloise put a protective hand on his shoulder.
He sneered. “Well, if it isn’t Redwater City’s very own freak.” He swaggered toward me, punching his fist into his hand. He probably thought it made him seem intimidating. It didn’t.
“You’re walking funny, Joshua. Got your panties in a twist again?”
His squinty eyes flashed, but he forced a smirk. “You don’t look pleased to see me.”
“Do I ever?”
“Joshua, come here,” ordered Eloise.
He ignored her. His attention was solely on me. “You know what’s funny, Lyons?”
“I know it’s not you, so that’s a start.”
Joshua’s smirk died. “Always ready with a smart remark.”
Clear lifted her chin and spoke to Eloise. “I think it’s time that you and your grandson left.”
“I agree,” I said.
“Not until we hear that you and your homewrecking mother are leaving Redwater for good,” Joshua spat.
“You always did reach too high.” I raised a hand. “You don’t want us here, you hate us, you think we’re twisted. This is not new information. Go chat about it to your imaginary friends. They probably think you’re stupid too.”
He took a lurching step toward me, and Clear was instantly between us. At the same time, Eloise grabbed his arm and pulled him back.
“I want you both out of my house now,” snapped Clear.
“Leaving will be a pleasure.” Eloise marched Joshua outside.
Clear slammed the door closed behind them. Sighing, she put her fingers to her temple. “Kensey, I’ve made so many mistakes. Believed so many lies. I truly did think that Maxwell’s marriage was already over. He played me. But I don’t regret that, Kensey. It gave me you. Even though it meant my family tossed me out on the street when I wouldn’t abort you and they now consider me dead to them, I don’t regret it. And although I’ve made mistakes, I don’t consider having you or marrying your dad to be one of them.”
I knew that, since I’d spent years of my life fruitlessly trying to reach her through the self-protective bubble she lived in; trying to be enough for her and “heal” her so that she wouldn’t need Michael anymore. But I’d come to realize that he was almost like an addiction for Clear. He fulfilled something inside her that I never could. She needed him, and nothing I’d done or ever could do would change that.
I wanted to hate her for it. I’d tried. Hard. Really hard. But how could you hate someone who’d given up everything for you? How could you hate someone so lost, wounded, and vulnerable that they were unable to deal with reality?
It wasn’t that she was crazy, despite what many believed. People thought they knew what kind of person would marry a murderer on death row. A serial killer groupie. A whack job who wanted to experience killing through another person. Or someone who’d do just about anything for their fifteen minutes of fame.
Clear was none of those things.
Every male in her life, including her own father, had abused her in one way or another. She’d come out of that cycle of abuse without losing her soul, but that soul had taken a real beating. It was broken beyond repair—something I’d finally accepted. Desperate to find the love she’d been starved of since she was a child, she sought it wherever she could find it, which meant she’d basically doomed herself to go through life emotionally bruised.
In sum, she was a lost, fragile little girl who lived in a world of her own making, and who looked for love and protection in all the wrong places.
Marrying a serial killer was one hell of a fucked-up thing to do, but all I could do was feel pity for this person who only felt safe in a relationship where her husband would never get the chance to harm her. Serving several life sentences with no chance of parole, Michael Bale could never hurt, abuse, betray, or walk out on Clear.
I’d read everything I could find on Michael, wanting to understand him. Wanting to understand what it was about him that ‘spoke’ to her. I’d learned about his past, his life, his crimes. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the little boy he’d once been, who was horribly abused and completely unloved.
I even felt bad for the troubled teenager he’d once been, who’d never known a touch that was anything but rough or hurtful. He’d fought a lot on the streets where he lived; he’d done it for money to survive, but he’d also done it because he liked the pain. He liked to feel the endorphins swimming around his body—he’d even said he found it addictive. But that hadn’t been enough for Michael, because he also liked to dish out pain. And he’d soon got a taste for it.
“You’re his type,” I told her. “The type of victim he went for.” A mother who’d gotten pregnant young, like his mother. The difference between the victims and Clear was that she kept, loved, and took good care of her child. The others had either abused or badly neglected theirs.
“I know. But I also know he loves us. He may not feel the emotion the way you and I feel it, but it’s still love.”
If I didn’t know he was a sociopath, I might have believed that. But a person surely couldn’t torture and kill thirty-two women and be able to feel an emotion such as love in any form, could he?
“I can understand that you find it hard to reconcile the dad you know with the man who did those things. I do too. But he had no one, Kensey. No one who understood him. No one who anchored him or made him feel loved. Just as I hadn’t for a very long time. I think if he’d had us back then, he never would have done those things.”
I wasn’t so sure of that.
“He’s on death row, which means he could be scheduled to die at any time. I intend to be there for him until that day comes.”
I felt a sudden chill, because one thing I feared was that when that day finally did come, Clear would choose to die with him.
Eleven years later
Whipping my car into a parking space outside Chrome Canvas Bar, I switched off the ignition and let out a tired sigh. I was suspicious of anyone who said they liked Mondays. Anyone. I supposed I should be grateful for the small mercy that my shift didn’t start until noon.
Sarah, who also waitressed there, had suggested we enjoy our weekend by hitting a music festival. We hadn’t arrived back in Redwater until late last night, and I truly lacked the energy and coordination to face the world. I only had myself to blame. Actually, no, I had Sarah to blame. And I totally intended to do it.