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She hadn’t been home in four days. He checked the cabinets once again, his eyes scanning the nearly empty shelves. Among them were a rusted can of beets, spam, and a spilled bag of flour. Addie wouldn’t eat any of these things. The contents hadn’t changed from an hour ago, much to his dismay.
“Beau? I’m hungry,” she pointed to her stomach, willing Beau to see the lack of food inside. “Can I have mac’n cheese, please?” Addie’s small voice sent a pang of guilt straight to his heart. He turned to her, crouching down to smooth her soft, brown hair down in a single motion. Looking into her big, hazel eyes, he knew that he had to make her happy.
“Okay Addie, you got it. Grab Bluey and go get in the car.” Addie let out a surprised cheer, running over to pick up her cobalt blue stuffed puppy from the stained loveseat his mother had gotten for free when he was ten. Addie always wanted Mac’n cheese; it was her favorite food, like most children her age. He briefly watched Addie run happily to the car, stepping over a mixed pile of dirty clothes and fast food remnants on her way out. In the corner of the small apartment was an end table where his mother kept her needles and bags of white powder--out in the open. He grabbed the keys that sat on the kitchen counter next to the stray candles left from Addie’s fourth birthday last week. Walking out to the car, Beau slipped on his tennis shoes, immediately feeling the cold as the water seeped into them from the numerous holes on the side. He ignored the shiver the almost-frozen water sent down his spine. Opening up the side door in the 1998 Nissan Maxima, he escorted Addie into the car and leaned in to buckle her into the broken carseat.
“Let’s get you all buckled up,” He fumbled with the car seat restraints; she barely ever rode in a car, so he hadn’t gotten much practice. He clicked the buckles in and pulled on the straps. Secure. His nerves flared up while getting into the front seat. He adjusted the seat all the way forward and put his hand unsteadily on the wheel. He didn’t have a driver’s license to carry; he was only fourteen and had only driven a car one other time-- when his mom had nearly died from an overdose. He poked the key around the ignition, finally turning the key in and starting the car. He shifted the gear into drive, paused, and cautiously pulled out onto the neighborhood road.
Beau still felt as out of control as he had felt that day. The handcuffs dug into his wrists. He readjusted in the hard metal chair. The small, square room meant for questioning was devoid of any color. His eyes ached from staring into the unforgiving fluorescent light that hung from a single chain above his head. The familiar voices of his lawyer and the detective talked in frantic tones outside. The door opened, and his lawyer stepped into the room.
“You’re so lucky you’re not 18,” he spoke matter-of-factly, almost condescendingly.
His mother never came to see him in juvie, he wasn’t sure if she was even alive for most of his sentence. He determined that Addie jumped between foster homes because she was able to visit him once a month. She always ran into the cafeteria where visitors were allowed and jumped into his arms in her younger years. He held her for as long as he could. He’d think back to that day and his stomach would tighten at the fact that he put her in any danger. He passed the time thinking of Addie. He wrote her letters and received drawings in the mail and watched as she learned how to write. She would label his stick figure in the pictures: B?AU. She switched to letters when she was eight, as she was “too old” to be drawing pictures.
His days were filled with thoughts of Addie, his nights were filled with nightmares. He remembered the day of the crash too vividly. He re-lived that day every night.
“Beau! Bluey fell on the floor! Will you get him?” He glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Addie’s puppy dog eyes and pouting lips. Then, he glanced at the road ahead of him. In the small town where he was driving, the road was almost vacant. There was a light up ahead of him, but it was green. He turned to grab the small, stuffed dog from the other side of the backseat. His arm stretched to barely grab it, and he handed it to Addie. He turned back around just in time to hear and feel the car being stopped in its tracks. He woke up with Addie’s scream echoing in his mind.
He was twenty now, an adult who had missed out on most of his teenage years. His awkward stage had passed, and he was far from unattractive now. He had returned to his hometown and had just adopted Addie when he met Valerie Jones.
She was beautiful, a tall brunette that was the only woman he’d ever met who made him stumble on his words. She was also Addie’s fourth grade teacher.
“Hello Mr. Frair,” she said his name in that soft silky voice he’d come to adore. He walked into the classroom-- he was here ten minutes early for Addie’s parent-teacher conference.
“Hello, Ms. Jones,” Beau paused for a second, trying to find his words. He sat in the chair next to her desk and they talked about Addie. Although they were talking about Addie’s improvement in school, his favorite subject, he eyes kept drifting to her lips, which she kept slightly biting while she laughed-- when he said something she found funny. The chemistry was obvious throughout the meeting, and he asked her out just as he’d rehearsed.
“Would you object to me taking you out to dinner to thank you for all you’ve done for Addie, Ms. Jones?” he kept a smouldering smile plastered on his face, but inside his heart felt as if he’d just run a marathon.
“You can call me Valerie, and you can pick me up at six tomorrow.” Her slight smile and taunting eyes made him sure that he was already in love with this woman.
“That sounds perfect.” Beau said, a jubilant expression filling up his face. They exchanged numbers, he got her address, and he walked out of the classroom.
His car was cold since, a mere 13 degrees fahrenheit. He grabbed his scraper to brush off the snow that had accumulated while he was inside. Starting up the car, he turned out of the parking lot and drove the short couple miles home. Instead of turning onto his street, he went a little further up to the grocery store and parked in the closest spot to the door. He walked in and picked up yellow daisies from the flower department. He also grabbed a bouquet of red roses for his date tomorrow. What girl didn’t love roses?
“Welcome back Beau,” the cashier who he knew as Sheryl said sweetly as he got to the front of the line. “Two bouquets this month? What a lucky girl.”
“I wouldn’t say she’s that lucky,” Beau said quietly, reaching in his pocket for his wallet.
“Oh, don’t be modest Beau, just send me the wedding invitation,” Sheryl winked and handed him his receipt. “You have a great night now.”
“You too, Sheryl.” He started up his car and drove the familiar route to the cemetery down the road. He drove through the gates, turned left, then right twice, slowing to a stop next to the grave. He got out and brushed off the woman’s headstone that read: (Erin Valentine. 1965- 2006; Mother, daughter, wife, and sister. Forever in our hearts.) Although he had never known her, he still brought her flowers every month. He took the plastic off and placed the bright yellow flowers on the stark white snow. He stood there for a moment, shivering, and began a silent prayer for this woman.
When he arrived home, he paid the teenage girl, Laura, for babysitting Addie. He walked to Addie’s room, where she had fallen asleep with her favorite book in her arms; she was waiting for him to come home so that she could read to him. He gently slid the book out of her arms and brushed her silky brown hair down, planting a small kiss on her forehead as he turned off her lamp.
5:30. Beau had half an hour to pick up Valerie, and the babysitter still wasn’t here yet.
“Addie, please get the rest of your math done while I’m gone. Laura can help you,” he said. Addie sighed, getting up from the couch.
“Only if you promise to be back on time tonight. I never got to read to you last night.” Beau felt a pang of guilt for making her worry about him. She had already had enough to worry about to fill a lifetime.
“I promise Addie. I wouldn’t miss tonight’s story even if a tornado picked me up and carried me away.” She laughed when he picked her up and hugged her, spinning around once before setting her back down to the ground. The doorbell rang and the babysitter ran in, apologizing for being late.
“It’s ok, Laura. I’ll be home by nine. You guys have fun!” Beau grabbed his coat and the roses, hurrying to his car. 5:48. He was just going to make it. He sped over to her apartment, ringing the doorbell at exactly one minute before six. She opened the door after a couple seconds.
“Right on time,” she almost purred. She was wearing a dark blue, tight dress that advertised every one of her curves. He handed her the roses, standing to admire her elegant beauty for a moment. “Thank you. Why don’t you come in for a quick glass of wine before we go?”
“I’d love to,” Beau replied, quickly stepping into her pristine apartment. There were already two glasses of wine sitting on the kitchen counter. She must have known he’d say yes to anything. She stood behind the kitchen counter and pushed his glass over to him.
“So what did you have planned for tonight?” she asked, raising her eyebrow as she did so. He took a long sip of wine for some courage.
“It’s a surprise, my darling.” he said daringly, showing a slight smile and grabbing her hand. Her expression suddenly changed and her hand was stiff.
“If there’s something to know about me, it’s that I hate surprises.” He looked into her eyes and he noticed something familiar about her expression. He suddenly felt dizzy. He looked into his wine glass, noticing a small tablet at the bottom. Everything went dark.
Beau blinked open his eyes, disoriented. He couldn’t see anything. He felt that his wrists were bound by his sides, he was sitting upright in what felt like a large wooden chair. When he finally regained his vision, the first thing he saw was Valerie, sitting with her legs crossed across from him. He looked around him to escape her unsettling glare. He was in what looked like the inside of an abandoned church. He was up at the front, looking out at the rows of benches and Valerie.
“Hi there, Beau.” Valerie gave him a condescending smile. He noticed that the floor seemed wet around him. There was a pungent smell of gasoline in the air.
“What’s going on Val? Why am I tied up?” Beau tugged at the zip ties that held his legs to the chair. She laughed and stood up, walking over to him.
“You still think that’s my real name? I guess I thought you would recognize the daughter of the woman you murdered.” Beau’s eyes widened. He flashed back to the trials and saw a younger version of her sitting across the room, testifying against him. She had changed a lot since he had seen her, and apparently changed her name.
“Marie Valentine.” Beau said her name; now his heart was beating fast, but instead of in lust, in fear of this woman. “I can’t explain how sorry I am about what happened to your mother. It’s my biggest regret, Marie.” Beau tried to convey how truly sorry he was. He had rehearsed what he would say to her while in prison if they were to ever meet.
“Is that supposed to mean anything to me?” She screamed this, her face lighting up in rage. Beau saw the hurt beneath the anger in her face. He now knew that she was planning to avenge her mother’s death.
“Please let me go, Marie. I never meant to hurt anyone. Hurting me cannot bring your mother back.” Beau pleaded.
“You’ll pay for what you’ve done. You will burn for what you did to my mother.” She picked a gasoline can sitting behind the bench and starting pouring gasoline on the ground near him.
“Marie, Addie needs me. She can’t grow up alone.” He started to cry as the words left his lips.
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of her.” She laughed, and poured the remainder of the gasoline on him. He choked on the liquid, it burned his mouth, eradicating the nerve cells in his taste buds.
“Stop! Leave her alone! Help! I’m sorry Marie!” he choked the words out between dry heaving and coughing. She walked to the other end of the building.
“I wish sorry could fix what you’ve done.” She struck the match in her hand and dropped it to the ground, letting the flame find its way.