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The perfection of the evening was ruined by the gathering of dark clouds warping the horizon into a splotch of sinister colors. Egged on by the howling wind, the clouds pushed closer towards her across the expanse of vanishing blue. Vivienne let her eyes follow the chaotic band of napkins that swirled through the air. In their bright Sunday dresses and large flowered hats, Joyce and the rest of her Book Club 'friends' unsuccessfully grappled at what they could lay their perfectly manicured hands on. The entertainment was endless.
Despite the unscripted comedy show being played out before her, Vivienne felt trapped. The sullen weather wasn't even to blame for her awful mood. She had been tricked and cornered with absolutely no hope of sneaking away unnoticed. Joyce, no longer referred to as Mother for some years now, had thrown a babysitting job into the mix when Vivienne hadn't been looking. Kids in general didn't bother her. How many hours of dutiful service to her neighbors had Vivienne accomplished her preteen years? It was just this kid, Joshua. He made her want to grab a knife and gut the nearest thing to her. Those diabolical thoughts were brought up short. Her lips pinched into a contemplative line and her eyebrows furrowed together. Speaking of the devil's spawn...
A booming crack resonated through the cloudy mid-summer afternoon. She jumped out of the patio chair she'd made her charming abode for the past three hours just in time for the bleeding limb of a nearby oak tree to bring itself down on the wooden table with such force that she almost swallowed her teeth.
Spinning like a trapeze Joshua's little red car happily rode the wind. 'Joshua!' the force of the gale shredded her cry into a dozen bloody ribbons. Green grass and flying debris were all that kept her company in the darkening world. She'd lost the kid. Irresponsibility didn't even begin to cover the extent of what she had done.
Joshua, in the cracking voice of puberty, had informed her of his whereabouts if perchance she needed him. The audacity the little runt possessed was impressive. Her need him!
She glanced back at the white Victorian house and its not-so-friendly eyes fully expecting Joyce and Joshua's mother and all the other women to be standing there with arms crossed over their shapeless chests. Drunk with glory they would be at the fact that they had been right. She truly was a failure; the epitome of unreliability. They could never let her forget what she had done. Her panic was wasted though, not a fly breathed on a single windowpane. A crackle of light shocked the sky. By the third the storm was in full swing and happily showering the sinful earth with sharp torrents of water.
A bright red swing laughed at her from behind the curtain of rain. He wasn't in the park, then where could he be? He was a smart little boy, she hoped. Joshua's silly bravado had probably failed him allowing the tempest to chase him indoors. A cold shiver rattled her foundation, chipping away a black layer of asphalt. Disquieting incertitude made Vivienne's arms wrap around her middle. The violet summer dress adorned with sprinkles of snowy flowers she wore was infused with water. The only option open to her was to return to the house, revisit the surroundings, and rip out every floorboard pending the kids reappearance; if he wasn't there, though, glued to the TV like a normal thirteen year old boy or maliciously hiding in some random corner...
How could she possible explain herself?
The earth was so weak wherever she stepped her feet were instantly submerged in muddy pools. Little strides became great sprints 'till at the corners of her eyes everything blurred to dark dancing lines. Bloodthirsty fangs descended down on Vivienne whilst trying to take diminutive bites out of her flesh. With the grace and speed of a dancer a black rock leaped in her way. The world was no longer hazy but pushing up her nostrils and veiling her face with a brown mask.
'Ha-ha, you look like Chewbacca!' How lovely, she had her very own, personal spectator. Tickled pink by her makeover from hell, courtesy of nature herself, the spectator thrust a pale hand underneath her nose and gleefully twiddled his fingers. This time her lips pressed together in anger. Sharply, her head turned to face the opposite way. Not to be rejected so easily, the hand firmly seized her forearm. The rush of standing up so rapidly threw off her equilibrium.
'You okay?' the voice was exceptionally full of concern. It was too deep and sure to belong to Joshua. Damn it, Vivienne thought.
'It's not like I fell off a building or got hit by a Mack truck. I'm fine,' the hand dropped as quickly as it had loaned its help.
'By any chance, did you see a small boy with black hair and a blue vest at the park?' Vivienne's head jerked up to see his black eyes watching her carefully. There was something behind them; it was dangerous. He continued, 'I just came from my aunt's house down the road. He must've run off again like he always does.'
She might as well have swallowed the rock by her foot. 'I, uhm, you mean Joshua?' His dark brooding eyes lit up instantaneously.
'So you know my brother? Is he with you?' he leaned his head to the side and searched the horrible darkness at her back. Oh my God, Joshua's brother?
'Yes, and no. I was, well,' flailing thoughts pulled her nerves to the breaking point. He would be disgusted by her, and he was so handsome, and she didn't even know his name. From the depths of her lungs rose an exasperated breath, 'I was in charge of, you know, watching him; babysitting him pretty much. He said he'd go to the park and I let him go. I saw no harm in it. I've never had any maternal instincts or anything. So now I can't find him. I guess he's not at the house and,' he placed two oddly warm fingers on her lips.
'Calm down Viv, it's a daily routine for me,' in slow motion, he turned his head to the forest at their left. The wind peeled back her limp hair and howled in her ear. God was shaking his wise head at her from up above and with three sets of mouths the devil was laughing at her from down below; she was certain of it.
'I lost him. I'm sorry,' those five words made it past his fingers.
'You say that a lot?' there was the dangerous edge she'd seen lurking behind his eyes.
A fantastically charming smile broke the confusing silence, 'never mind. Let's go look for him by the creek unless you want to go back?' Was he being serious? Of course she would help him look for his brother; this was her fault. She made sure he understood this. He smiled and in return told her his name: Adam. He was going to make sure it'd be engrained in her memory forever.
The sopping forest seemed lifeless to her. Adam had reassured her he knew where he was leading them, yet she swore they'd passed the fallen oak to her right twice. How uncomfortable, she thought, the atmosphere has become.
'The other day I went to see that new movie, Charlie Bartlett. Have you seen it?' Adam asked.
'Uhm, no. Is it any good?'
'Yeah, me and my buddy thought the whole suicide-attempt-with-pills twist in the plot was pretty awesome, even if it was a tad clich'. Kept us awake though.' Vivienne's jaw froze.
'Oh,' her tongue licked her already wet lips, 'sounds interesting.'
'You should watch it sometime.' They lapsed into a silence filled by the sticky squelching of their shoes.
'Have you seen this other movie called Permanent Record? It's got Keanu Reeves in it.' The forest's pulse was abruptly revived; the rain had lightened.
'Nope, never heard of it,' faster and faster the pulse throbbed.
'It's like a coming of age story where this guy, Keanu Reeves' character, tries to deal with the aftermath of his friends' suicide.' The maddening pulse had lost control.
A downward slope met them after five minutes of walking; their pervious conversation six feet under. The creek was at the end of a narrow path. Hardly a path, actually, more of a thin crack amidst the abundant shrubbery. Vivienne took the lead. Their destination was but a few yards ahead, so there was no need for her to trail after Adam. Plus, she hoped, if I find the kid first I can score a couple of brownie points with him. A numbness began to spread down her spine, like a warning. She whirled around and saw Adam crouched over something. His breathing was suspended.
'Adam?' it's as if a lightning bolt nailed him square in the chest. His brown hair clung smoothly to his face, 'I slipped.' With a curt nod Vivienne continued down the trail. Caution nudged her side. She batted water from her eyes and snuck a look behind her. Dusk had plummeted on them. Branches lunged out from every direction, yet Adam made no attempt to shield his face; both hands were tucked in the pockets of his khaki pants. She returned his gleaming gaze with a quick, quivering smile and let her back face him once more. Two seconds later and object both blunt and sharp struck the back of her head, propelled forward by vicious vigor. She only managed to advance three steps before the strings holding her body together were suddenly severed.
Awaiting their arrival form his perch atop a mossy tree was Joshua, solemn and unnerving. Vivienne could barely focus on his profile from between a screen of spastic multicolor streaks. Two languid legs stitched unsystematically to her torso couldn't keep pace with whomever was hauling her. Sweet blood spewed from her mouth as Adam's cumbrous weight slammed her to the ground. He filled his closing palm with a handful of her short locks. What. Is. Going. On?
'Please,' the feeble imploration was worthless to the monster all too thrilled to be playing God. She thrashed under his weight.
'This is only fair Viv,' a heavy fist kissed her left cheekbone, 'justice must be served for what you did.'
'I didn't do anything!' Her heart frantically looked for an escape, trying to break free, refusing to die with the rest of her. The next punch was aimed at her temple. Little suns exploded in her line of vision. Faster and more precise came the blows, like he couldn't stand seeing her face anymore.
A horrible, raw aching all over; it consumed her.
Uncontrollable rage contorted his features, 'I am but a humble disciple obligated to eradicate this world of sin for His Heavenly Father.' While Adam ranted, Vivienne let her hand wander slowly searching for anything, a weapon, a rock.
'You. Are. Demented!'
'I am Righteous!' How could she have known that they would haunt her forever, those tantalizing, psychotic eyes. At this point self-control decided to make its exit.
'GET OFF ME YOU CREEP!' A fistful of grainy sand flew into Adam's fevered eyes. His body jerked backwards and off her. She could breath again. Vivienne's legs acquired a mind of their own. The point of her flats angrily made contact with his crotch.
Reason escaped her, logic evaded her, sense deprived her of sensibility as she questioned the sanity behind Calleigh's insane actions. Why would anyone allow some juvenile rumors drive them over death's edge? Those stupid webs of lies Vivienne's tongue and lips had conspired to articulate were never spoken with the intention of awakening death, only incite a chain of mouth-watering gossip. And Joyce's loose lips had given Adam a reason to try out his newfound sense of justice.
The muscles churning beneath her skin began to protest. She skidded as she rounded a bend in the creek.
She'd apologized. Over and over and over, but Calleigh's parents had continued to insult her in that appallingly compressed court room half a year ago. No one had bothered to tell her Calleigh had had self-esteem problems. Still, Vivienne's contribution to them had led to Calleigh's suicide.
The water was thick cement encircling her waist. There was a blind fissure at the base of the miniscule cliff where the creek became a stream. Vivienne let its safety engulf her.
She was nearing death, yet no sense of enlightenment cleared her drowning thoughts the way the world glittered and delighted in its new found clarity after the tempest. Vivienne could hear him coming now; wildly trudging through the murky rivulet. The water was dancing before her eyes, she feared, for the very last time.