Sunday, 17 June 2018

A Chance For Love Episode 18

Episode eighteen
Danger

"When I faked that sickness, I had already resolved in my heart to kill you."
***
"Written by Stella Adewale?" Cynthia asked, picking up Stella's Robber's Heart from my bed. "Isn't that our school nurse?"
"Yes,” I said. “She writes."
"Seriously? She doesn't even look like a writer. I could never have guessed. What's the book about anyway? Let me guess. Someone falls in love with a thief?"
I nodded. "That's the plot in one sentence. It's a great read. There are many twists to it. A thief jumps into a compound to steal, but breaks his leg and is nursed by a little girl who develops a daughter-father love for him, and so she hides him in her room, away from her mum."
"Does the woman ever get to see him?" Cynthia asked.
I smiled as I thought back to the slow and steady relationship building between the woman and the thief. "Yes. And it's a very humorous scene. To please her daughter, she allows him stay with them till he recovers. But whenever he’s about to recover, he breaks his leg all over again, just so he spends more time with the girl. And then, for the few weeks it takes for him to recover, the woman envies the bond he has with her daughter. And so, it's as though they are competing for the girl's love. The robber seems to be winning in everything. A fight between the girl and her mother makes him feel bad and he sneaks out one night, never returns. His absence makes him realize he's fallen in love with the woman. And the woman realizes this too."
Cynthia grinned. I had no idea she fancied fiction. "What happens next? How does it end?"
"The man is back to being a thief,” I said.
"What?” she asked. “Why?"
"He'd rather return to his old self than be this love-sick puppy,” I said. “I can't tell you more. I am yet to complete the book."
"I want to read it so bad,” she said. “It's my kind of story. Give me when you're done? Deal?"
"Deal." We sealed our deal with a smile. The door lazied open and my stepmother walked in with three wine-filled glasses on a tray.
"What are we celebrating?" Cynthia asked, reading my mind.
My stepmother smiled. As though learning a pattern, she fixated her eyes on the wine glasses. "We are a family again. And my health has returned. This calls for celebration, doesn't it?"
"Of course it does," I said.
Cynthia reached for a wine glass, but my stepmother sidestepped with such speed that alerted us. "Mum?"
My stepmother feigned anger. "Do you want to kill the joy? I'm the only one allowed to serve."
"Oh, sorry," Cynthia said.
My stepmother's focus adjusted to Cynthia's black dress and her made-up face. "Why are you all dressed up?"
"Party," Cynthia said. "A friend's about to relocate to France, so we're hosting a send-forth party at some club. Didn't I tell you about this?"
My stepmother set down the tray on the bed. "Oh, you did. I forgot. When will you be back?"
"I'll be back around eleven,” she said. “If I can't make it though, I'll call to tell you not to expect me. I'd like to take Vicky along."
"Don't even think of it!" my stepmother yelled, a dark shadow creeping to her face.
"Mum, please, calm down,” Cynthia said. “What's wrong?"
"Victoria has never been to such parties,” my stepmother said. “How do you think she'd handle the boys, the bear and all? I would never place her in any situation that could harm her. And besides, I want her here with me tonight. Or do I not deserve to have her with me?"
"Mum please don't talk like that,” I said. “I'm not going to any party. I'm staying here."
"Thank you. Now let's drink to our happiness." She fixated her gaze on the wine. Taking the first glass, she presented it to Cynthia. "This is yours."
"Thanks, mum,” Cynthia said.
"And you, my dearest—" She moved her hand to pick mine, but then she froze, her palm hovering over the two glasses as though she were trying to remember something. Her face contorted with confusion.
"Mum?" Cynthia called.
My stepmother clutched her head. "My head hurts. But neither headache nor any other intruder can separate me from my share of happiness. This is yours, dear Victoria."
Smiling, I gripped my glass. "Thanks, mum."
My stepmother raised her glass in salutation. "Let's toast to our happiness."
Cynthia and I raised our glasses. “To our happiness," we chorused.
Cynthia lowered her glass with a speed that emptied it of its contents.
My stepmother gasped. "Tonye!"
Cynthia waved off her mother’s worry. "Mum. I'm fine. Let's not spoil the fun." Turning towards me, she said, "Here, let's share yours."
"No," my stepmother said. "It's been years since we let Vicky drink wine. Let's allow her have a full glass. Let's share mine, please."
"Mum, I'm sure my sister wouldn't mind,” Cynthia insisted. I could see tension rear its head between them.
"Do not bother the poor girl,” my stepmother said. “If you won't share mine, just wait, I'll go get another bottle. Is that okay?"
"I'm not considering that option. I'm sure my sister wouldn't mind. And no, I insist."
Cynthia presented her glass, and just as I made to pour, my stepmother swatted at my glass. Both glasses hit the floor, spewing glass fragments and blood-red wine.
"You stupid girl!” my stepmother growled. “Do you have any idea what you've just done?" Shaking her head, she snapped her finger at me and stormed out of the room.
Cynthia sank down in the bed and dissolved into tears. "I can't believe mum tried to kill you. I suspected this. I knew it was all too good to be true."
Sniffing back her tears, she went on, "I'm so sorry this happened. She's hated you all her life. It was all too suspicious that she loved you overnight. I always had a bad feeling about it. But I couldn't bring myself to tell you. A part of me said I was jealous and couldn't handle having mum's attention diverted."
Moments passed, and I said nothing. "Vicky, please say something?"
"What can I say?” I asked. “Can you answer the questions swirling around my head?"
"I know you're upset," she said.
"Upset doesn't cut it. I feel nothing. I should feel angry, scared, anything at all. But I feel nothing. Nothing but curiosity. Why would she do this? I know she hates me to the moon and back. But kill me? Why? What would she gain?"
"I don't know what's in it for her. And I don't want to know. This is just too much. I'm ashamed of being her daughter. Where has my mother gone? I do not know the woman who tried to kill her daughter!"
"You're forgetting I'm not—"
"Blood be damned,” she said. “Blood or not, you are my sister. We are family. Or do these past few days mean nothing to you? Mum has denied us each other for so long. Now that I've tasted what life is with a sister like you, I do not want to go back to the darkness life was without you. I'm going to talk to mum. If she ever tries to hurt you again, then she'll lose us both. If she doesn't like you, then fine. I won't force her to, but she shouldn't keep trying to hurt you."
I watched her storm out of the room, her blonde wig bouncing behind her. As sincere as she seemed, I didn't trust her. What if she had a hand in her mother's plan and had only changed her mind at the last minute?
Grabbing my phone, I dialed Sharon's number. She picked up almost immediately. "Heya. My sister from another mother. How are you?"
I swiped at my teary eyes. "Do you know if your parents are still interested in taking custody over me?
"What's wrong?" she asked. "Did that woman hurt you? poo! I knew it was all an act. Are you alright?"
"I’m fine,” I said.
"Can you hear yourself? People who are fine don't cry like this."
"I...I miss my mum,” I said.
"I'm sorry." Her voice had softened noticeably.
"If your parents will allow me return, I'd like to come tomorrow,” I said. “I'm so stupid. I just thought she was really sick and that she'd changed and—"
"You're right,” she said. “You're an idiot. I don't want to say I told you so, but did I not tell you I didn't believe she was really sick? And then, when she insisted that she wouldn't go to a hospital, it made me even more convinced. And you just couldn't see it. That woman and her daughter are not related to you in anyway. I wonder how you are so attached to them. You are strangers living under the same roof. I should stop talking now and save the rest for when I see you in person. When are you coming anyway?"
Although I hated to admit it, even to myself, she had a point. "I'll come once it's morning. There's nothing for me here. I cannot stay here."
"You are leaving?" Cynthia stared at me from the doorway.
"Sharon, we'll talk later." I ended the call and put away my phone.
Unable to hold Cynthia’s gaze, I looked away. Going away was the best decision I could ever make. Why then did the wounded look in her eyes rip out my heart?
"Don't go," she said. "Please. I know what mum did was not right, but please don't leave me again. We'll stand together."
"Cynthia,I cannot stay,” I said. “I can't live like this. This is not the life I want for myself. I cannot continue in this fight. I give up. I lose. Your mum wins. Sir Aaron's family is ready to accept me as their own. I'll be happy there."
Cynthia's eyes blurred with tears. It would be a shame if she smudged her mascara because of my supposed selfishness. "And me? You won't even think about me?"
Nothing would happen to her, and we both knew that. Or could her mother give her stone instead of bread and snake instead of fish?
"You will be fine,” I said. “Your mother loves you so much and you know nothing beats that. But when it comes to me, she despises the very sight of me. If you care about me, then you'll let me go."
"I need you,” she said.
"You don't," I retorted. "You've never needed me, so—" The hurt look on her face alerted me to my thoughtless words. She looked as though a dagger had just severed her heart.
"Don't listen to me," I backpedaled, although I doubted words would be any good at this point. "I'm sorry I said that."
She sniffled. "No, go on. Say it. I guess that's how you feel. After what's happened, I know you don't trust me. For all you care, I'm with mum in this. That's what you think? That's how you feel, right?"
She had just described how I felt. But admitting to this would only break her. And I didn't want that.
"How would you feel if you were me?” I asked. “Would you continue living amongst people who have tortured you so much in the past and have now resorted to killing you? Would you?"
I awaited an answer that never came. Unless her tears counted.
"Your silence," I said. "It says it all."
"I am not with mum in this,” she said. “You have to trust me, please."
"I know. I believe you. You knew nothing about it. But what does it matter?"
Careful not to step on shards of glass, Cynthia crossed the room to meet me. Placing her hands on mine, she pleaded, "Please don't go. Please stay. Don't leave me with her. After what she's done, it scares me to think I'll live alone with her."
"She would never hurt you," I said, stroking her disarrayed strands of hair into place. "You are safe with her."
"And as long as you are with me you are safe too," she said. "I will stick with you. Mum will not be able to hurt you. I give you my word. You stole my heart, Vicky. Who knows, maybe with your good conduct, your perseverance, your mildness, longsuffering and endurance, you'll be able to win over mum's heart too. You've always fought for this, haven't you? Now, just when you are at the brink of success, you want to give up?"
"It's a lost cause,” I said, perching on the bed.
"You've made up your mind? This is it? You are walking away?"
I let her questions go unanswered. Her voice had taken a formal tone I didn't like.
"Okay,” she said. “I will not try to stop you. I just...I hope you find happiness where you're going."
With the rigidity of a robot, she swiped at her cheeks and made for the door.
"Cyn?" I called.
She halted, but didn't turn to look at me.
"Can you ever forgive me?"
"I don't hold grudges, Victoria." She turned around with a transmissible smile. "And to prove that, I'm asking you to get ready and come with me to the party. After what happened here, I didn’t want to go again, but now that I think of it, I really need to be out for an hour or two. I need to clear my head. And you need this just as much as I do."
"Party?” I asked. “Me? Not happening!"
She pouted. "C'mon, it'll be fun. Please? I know you're not the party type but—"
"Cynthia, I will not be going for any party at eight in the night. Not happening."
She plopped down beside me on the bed and draped an arm around my shoulders. "Hey I know you're probably thinking terrible things right now, but trust me. It's fun, and it's safe. You'll get to meet new people."
I would never attend a night party. Not bloody likely. Dad would writhe in his grave. Or at least his remains would. Why would I go partying at night? Possibly, I appeared old fashioned, but I had principles. Clubbing would speak no good of my personality, so what's the point?
"I know you're not the party type,” she said. “But I’ve already explained why it’s important that we go out for a while. After what mum tried to do, I don't feel good about leaving you all by yourself."
Arms folded, I stuck out my chin in defiance. "I don't feel good about you going for a night party either."
"Oh, come on," she said. "I've partied several nights."
Touché. "And I've spend several nights alone with mum. I'll be fine."
***
Moments after I watched her walk away, I conflicted within myself. Had I done right by rejecting her invitation? What if something went wrong? Something I'd have been able to prevent had I been there?
Shoving off my pessimism, I pulled out Stella's Robber's Heart from underneath my pillow and buried myself in it.
In barely an hour time, I found the last page of the book. It ended with Katherine's death bridging the gap between her mother and the robber. At this point I wished I hadn't even read the book from the start. I'd fallen in love with Kat, only for Stella to kill her in the name of her mum’s careless mistake. Why read a depressing book when my life already had all the depression the world could offer? Stella had constructed a perfect story only to mess it all up in the end. Not cool.
My thoughts drifted to my sister, my exact opposite. Deep down, a part of me feared our personal differences would threaten our new bond. I scrolled through the pictures on my phone. With the smiles know our faces, one could mistake this for a magazine front-cover. We were the perfect family. Or at least could have been. If only stepmother's love was true. What about me did she despise so much? Did the overdose of hate not wear her down?
Something crashed into my door. With a gasp that sounded more like a shriek, I sprang to my feet. I tiptoed to the door and peeked through the lens. My heart thumped at the sight of my stepmother knocking like her life depended on it. What did she want?
“Victoria, open up,” she said, her speech slurred. Even from a distance, I could tell the stench of alcohol camped around her. “I know you’re in there.”
She waited a few more seconds, after which she said, "You stupid, stupid girl. You should have let me in yourself. But stupid is stupid—"
Her voice trailed off as she staggered away. I let out the breath I’d been holding. That was a close one. What if I hadn’t remembered to lock the door? What would have become of me?
I'd escaped her this time, but soon she would surely return. I would not wait to find out how soon. I moved to my closet and pulled out my travelling bag. Placing it on my bed, I stuffed my clothes and my other belongings into it.
The sound of footsteps and the jingle of keys rooted me to the spot. I barely had a moment to react when the door flung open. Hands held behind her back, my stepmother strolled in as though she were stepping into her own room. My heart thumped in harmony with her footsteps.
"I called you," she said. "And I knocked. And knocked. And knocked. You were right here. You didn't let me in. You silly, silly girl."
Her right hand flew out of hiding. I gasped, not at her swiftness, but at that which she brandished; a gun, aimed at my head. I raised my hands in defense. "Mum. Mum...mum, please."
"I have told you again and again, you stupid girl." She waved the gun, but never lost her aim. "Don’t you ever call me mum!"
"Okay, okay," I said, words heavy on my chest. "I will never call you mum, if that's what you want. I'll do...I'll do anything you want me to, I promise. Please don't kill me. Please mum, please."
I eyed the gun, trying to find a way to play 'hero'. But she gripped the weapon with a fierce determination that spelt the death of me. Slow desolate tears streamed down my unblinking eyes.
"Mum, mum please calm down," I said. "You're upset right now and—" Hell, what was I even saying? She was buying none of this.
Smirking at the contents of my unzipped traveling bag, she said, "You even made plans to leave?"
"It's not what you think," I said.
She waved off my little white lie. "Had Cynthia not gotten in the way, we wouldn't have gotten to this moment. I wanted you dead. And I still do. One way or another, you have to die."
I sobbed. “Mum please what are you saying?"
As though the gun weighed heavy on one hand, she gripped it with both hands. "What part of 'you have to die' do you not understand?"
"Mum I know that you don't like me, and you don't ever want to cross paths with me, and I can understand that. But I don't understand why—" I hiccupped. I couldn't even say those words.
"Mum please tell me," I pleaded. "If I am going to die, can I at least know why?"
"You are alive," she blurted out. "I cannot stand the sight of you. You are everything my daughter is not.”
"Mum—" The bitter tears I'd had started to shed could not make her mind grow soft toward me. But I didn't sob because I needed compassion. I sobbed because it was the only thing I could do at the moment.
Raising the gun she had lowered barely a second ago, she said, "You will not interrupt while I speak, or I swear I will make this a very slow and tortuous process. Do you understand me?"
"Y-yes." I followed the gun with my frantic gaze. I stood like a statue, barely breathing as she walked slow circles around me. I could feel her piercing glare thrashing its way through the back of my head.
"That guardian of yours," she said. "Aaron. He poked his ugly nose in matters that don't concern him. How dare he threaten to have me serve a Child Abuse sentence? No, my life is way too precious to be wasted like that. But we can't blame him now, can we? Had he known who he was messing with, he would have thought twice. As the fast thinker I am, I devised a plan to bring you back here."
It all made sense. She had faked the sickness. This explained why she had so strongly opposed the idea of a hospital.
As though reading my mind, she said, “Yes. I faked it. Are you surprised? Really, I am surprised that you believed the whole drama. But then again, I shouldn't be surprised. The offspring of two full-grown fools cannot be anything other than a fool. When I faked that sickness, I had already resolved in my heart to kill you. You don't know how I feel each time you come close to either me or my daughter. It took so much effort not to strangle you to death. Every time you came close to me, I killed you a million times over in my mind. And now's the time for your death scene to play out in reality. It wasn’t easy deciding the method to go with. Strangling would involve a strenuous struggle and I really am not ready to have your filthy sweat all over me. Stabbing would be a really messy situation, with your blood defiling the whole place. This brought us down to two options. The first, as you already know, failed, thanks to my nosy daughter. But I will not miss this chance. It will be so much fun shooting you with the very same gun your father had bought for self defense. Poor, poor him. If only he knew."
"It's hard to get away with murder," I said, hoping to ignite fear in her. "The police will get you. What will you do then?"
She barked out a laugh. "The police? The police are stupid. They believe whatever I bring before them. Don’t worry, it's all under control. I have already portrayed myself as a better mother. Everyone believes I'm a changed person. So, even when I kill you and bury you in the backyard, no one will suspect me. I'll discard some of your belongings to make it seem like you ran away. And then I'll play the part of a worried mother. It will work out."
My mind revolved around a way out of this mess. I could launch at her and knock out the gun. But what guaranteed my survival?
"Okay, enough talking," she said, her finger on the trigger. Her voice, strident and cold, worked its way into me, shattering what was left of my broken heart.
I looked toward the doorway and found a sliver of hope. "Cynthia?"

To be continued

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