The story so far:
Ray opened her eyes to a new crimson reality. She lay silent and still, knowing instinctively that something was terribly wrong. But what? Her vision blurred. Her head throbbed. She couldn’t figure out where she was. Then a flash of the recent past intruded her senses and she tensed her muscles. Her mind fought against the memories, willing them to be fake. Fabricated. Snippets of nightmares. There was no way that it could all be true. Anthony. Dennis. The ticket.
Ray inched up unto her elbow and took a dizzy look around. It was daylight and she was in Anthony’s apartment. Anthony’s bedroom. It looked like it had been ransacked. Half folded clothes dumped in disorganized piles on the floor. Dresser drawers hanging open. Anything with a cover or a lid turned on its side and the contents spilled out.
Yes, the plan. The search for the ticket. It was all coming back to her. Ray placed a hand to her cheek and felt the inflamed flesh there. It had all been against her better judgment. Of course, it seemed that everything Dennis did was against her better judgment.
Why had she told him? She couldn’t recall.
Ray closed her eyes and tried to piece together the events as they had played out. Anthony. The proposal. The ticket. Where was Anthony? Dennis? The ticket? She had to find that ticket…
She opened her eyes back up and scanned them slowly across the room, from the door leading to the interior of the apartment, to the blanket hung sideways over the window to block out the sun. Slowly scanning, looking for mental clues.
When nothing came to her except a worse headache than she started with, she decided to do some hands on investigating. She pushed her weight against the wall and propped herself up to her feet.
Instantly a shoe caught her eye.
Around the bottom corner of the bed. A brown shoe with a muddy and torn sole. Dennis’s shoe. A few more inches to her left confirmed that it was still attached to his foot.
Dennis was sprawled out on the floor between the bed and the window. Just a few feet away from where she stood. His eyes glazed over and his mouth hanging dull. Quiet for once. His cheeks tinted blue. Puffy. He looked sad and almost innocent. Wedged into his chest, sticking out of a coppery smelling stain that spread across his entire shirt, was her butterfly knife.
“Here, I got you something.”
Ray reached out her hands excitedly. She loved presents.
Anthony pulled a shiny butterfly knife out of his pocket and held it up for her.
“Ok, a knife? Seriously? What the heck is this for?”
“For protection darling.”
“Protection from what?” The confusion wrinkles altered the canvas of her beauty.
“Protection from everything.” Anthony smiled back as he flipped the knife open and showed her how to use it.
“I’m tired of laying in bed worried about you. You like to go for walks at night. Especially after you’ve been drinking. And this neighborhood is dangerous.”
“Oh get real. This neighborhood isn’t that dangerous. Not like were ducking from bullets or anything.”
“Okay, true. But it is dark. And beautiful women like you are targets. So, hold on to this and if someone ever **** with you, you stick ‘em. Got it?”
Her tiny fingers curled around the handle as she inspected the sharp tipped blade.
“You’re giving me this because of Dennis.” She stated.
“Danger comes from many directions baby. Sometimes the most unexpected.”
Ray spun it a few times trying to get a feel for it. She had never cared for knives. But this one was pretty. And it felt really useful in her hands.
Ray dropped down into a sitting position and propped her back against the closet door. Tears came hot and heavy down her swollen face. It was real. Dennis was dead. She scooted across the floor quickly so that the king-size bed blocked the view of her bloated and stinking husband. Her mind raced. Even though she had dreamed of this moment, the day when she could finally be out from under his thumb, she never imagined it would be like this. With violence. With blood.
She buried her head in her hands and begged forgiveness. From who she couldn’t be sure. But she begged. And when she didn’t feel any better about the situation she decided it was time to get going.
Using the wall for support again she raised herself back up to her feet and looked around the room.
Where was it? There was no way she was leaving without it.
She could see the top of Dennis’s head over the mattress and it made her feel queasy. His balding, dyed blond, suntanned and arrogant head. She stepped toward the desk where the computer was. That was the first place she had seen the ticket.
What had he done with it since then? She willed her mind to remember the events of the previous evening but it was all just a blur.
The computer tower was tipped over and the monitor was on the floor. Ray scanned the surrounding area. Diet Pepsi cans. Wrinkled napkins. Candles. Books and a bong and a few cigarette butts lay scattered around the computer table. No ticket.
She wondered if Dennis may have found it before he died. How had he died?
‘…if someone ever **** with you, you stick ‘em. Got it?’
She ignored the voice and tried to focus on a plan.
‘The plan…you didn’t stick to the plan!’
She hated the thought of getting anywhere near Dennis but she needed to find that ticket.
She stepped around the debris on the floor and knelt down next to his bloated body.
Up-close he looked like a fish out of water. She could see the tip of his purple tongue swollen up through his blue lips. His face had dozens of tiny blood spots on it, like some abstract painting. A moment of regret tugged at her heart. But it passed easily as the years of being at the mercy of his anger fueled her internal fire.
She pushed her tiny fingers into his pants pocket and fished them around. Empty. She tried the other and got the same result.
She racked her brain trying to remember if he had found it. Nothing came.
Ray got back to her feet and a wave of vertigo threatened her equilibrium. She righted herself on the computer table and let her eyes survey the other side of the room. Still no sign of Anthony.
She moved to the dresser and absently fingered a framed picture of her and Anthony standing next to a marquee advertising ‘Paranormal Activity.’ He had taken it a few months back when she had snuck out of the house and they went to see a movie.
That was what they did. Saw movies. Played pool at the bar. Played cards late at night. Dennis would pass out and she would silently creep from their apartment and come next door to Anthony’s.
She couldn’t quite understand why Anthony loved her so much because she had never really given him any motivation too. Maybe a kiss here and there. And she had shown him her boobs on a few occasions, but they had never had sex. Not that she was totally against it; Anthony was a good-looking man. But she knew that once that line was crossed there was no turning back. And she liked the friendship they had. It was like brother and sister.
And besides, Anthony was a total gentleman. Oh, he had put the moves on her before, but when she had resisted he stopped immediately. He never pressured her.
That is, not until last night.
She wondered if she would forever feel guilty or if the money would be enough to help her forget.
The thought made her instinctively turn and spit toward her husband’s lifeless body.
“I **** hate you!” She mouthed through slobbering lips.
She turned and ran from the room, no longer capable of inhaling the stench of spilt soda mixed with death. She stumbled down the short hallway and into the dining room. And there was Anthony.
Contorted into an impossible position, one arm bent behind his back and both legs split off in different directions. His back was twisted awkwardly and his slight beer gut hung over the elastic waistband of a pair of black boxers. That was what he had been wearing when he answered the door last night.
Ray clutched her hand to her mouth to try and suppress the scream. Now was not a good time to alert the downstairs neighbors.
Gaining control again she stood silent and stared. She never wanted to hurt him. He was a good man. Always looking out for her best interest. He had remembered her birthday and bought her perfume. He always had some little gift for her. He had loved her. Really, truly loved her. Possibly the only man who had ever really, truly loved her. And now, he was gone. And it was completely her fault.
There was a dent in the side of his head that made him appear almost fake. No ones head was shaped like that. Splintered bone and thick globs of burgundy lined the crater. Through the puss and blood she thought she could see his brain. Thick tears once again started to flow as the realization of the entire situation sunk in.
She lowered to her knees next to Anthony’s corpse and let her fingers trace the outline of his face. His sturdy jaw, always with a two-day growth.
A line of dank red spittle hung from his lips to the tile floor. She wiped it with her finger and then absently smeared it on her pant leg. She reached out her hand and gently set it on top of his. She had held his hand so many times in the past six months. It seemed so innocent to her. Like he was just her big brother. But she knew how bad he wanted her. And yet, he was always so patient with her. All he ever tried to do was help her. And how had she repaid him?
By playing with him. Stringing him along. Teasing him. Manipulating his feelings in order to get whatever she wanted. And she always got what she wanted from him.
The regret was like a stomach full of hot sauce. What if she had given him just once chance? What if she had never said anything to Dennis and instead came to Anthony and gave him the one thing that she knew he wanted so bad. Her.
She lowered her head and her tears fell to the floor, mixing with his blood. She gripped his hand tight and dovetailed her fingers into his. And she felt something.
Something that immediately halted her tears. Something like paper, only a million times more valuable.
She pried open his fingers and there was the ticket.