If I didn’t feel so dead inside, I would have snorted at him. “I’m not running away.”
“Yes you are. You’re being a little bitch! You always think people are better off without you. You did this with Megan and now you’re doing it with Rachel. But with Rachel, she’s best with you. I didn’t have to know her before the two of you met to know that. So some shit went down, and she’s terrified. Understandable. But you’re being a bitch thinking that you caused all of this and that running from her is going to keep her safe. God, you’re so f**king dumb.”
“She almost died, Mason!” I yelled, and turned to face him. “She almost f**king died!”
“And so did we! With us it was because of our job and a psycho. With Rach it was only because of the psycho. She is alive because of our job. Get that through your thick skull.”
“We’re done talking about this. I’m not running from her, Mase. I’m leaving for her. Think what you want about that, I really don’t f**king care anymore. But she asked me to leave and our job here is done. Staying—” Would be too painful. “There’s no reason to stay.”
“You’re such an idiot,” he sneered, and cranked the engine.
It’s too little way too late. The pain that had nothing to do with getting shot intensified and I sucked in a quick breath. “Yeah . . . I am.”
JUST AS I was raising my shirt over my head, there was a knock on the door and I barely had time to push the material back down before it opened to reveal Candice.
“Hey,” she said softly.
I hated that tone. Everyone in my life, including Candice and her parents, had used that tone on me the entire year after my parents died. It’d been months since the incident with Blake, and they were still using this tone with me. Like I was going to break if they spoke to me like a normal human being. He was her cousin. I almost wanted to give her the tone right back and ask how she liked it.
“What are you up to?” she asked quietly as she walked into my room and lay down on my bed.
“I was just about to take a shower.”
“What are you doing after?”
And this was now the norm as well. What are you doing, what are you eating, why are you going to sleep, why don’t you want to come out with us . . . next she was going to ask why I was still wearing clothes.
“I’m probably going to go to sleep.”
“Okay, that’s fine.”
Fine? It was almost midnight. “What are you doing, Candi?” Yeah . . . I flipped that shit around onto you. How does it feel?
“Just checking on you.”
“Ah.” This was awkward. “You know, it’s been three months. I’m okay.”
She sat up from her sprawled-out position on my bed. “I know you are, I just—I wish you . . .”
“Wish I would what?” What more could I do? I’d kept my job. I’d gone to a therapist like Janet had begged me to. I wasn’t sitting in the corner rocking back and forth talking about the boogeyman that was coming to get me. I really didn’t understand what else they could expect of me.
“Rachel, I’ve been talking to Mason—”
“Oh, no. No, no, no. Candice, we talked about this!”
“He’s miserable, Rach! Mason’s worried about him. His parents are worried about him. The chief made him take some time off because he’s just not the same.”
My chest tightened and I sucked in air quickly through my teeth. Turning so my back was facing her, I blinked rapidly until my vision was no longer blurry. “He lied to me about everything. I can’t—why am I even talking about him right now?” I huffed a pathetic attempt at a laugh. “No more.” Besides, he hasn’t even tried to contact me.
“Rachel, you told him not to talk to you!”
Shit, did I say that out loud?
“I know.” I sighed heavily. “I know I did. And I don’t want him to, but he—he didn’t even try to fight for us after. He left and that was it. My word, I’m being such a girl.” Leaning against the wall so I was facing Candice again, I crossed my arms under my chest and worried my bottom lip. “I wasn’t playing games with him, and I’m still not. I wasn’t testing him to see what he would do. When I told him I wanted him to go and not come back, I meant it. But the fact that he did it is killing me now.”
“You still love him, right?”
A pained laugh escaped me. “Of course I do. I always will.”
“Then call him, I have his real number! You’re both miserable, this is stupid.” She grabbed my phone off my nightstand and started walking toward me.
“I can’t, it’s not that simple.”
“Yeah, actually, it is!”
I pushed the hand that was holding my phone away. “Candice, no. What he did is unforgivable. I’m still in love with him, but that doesn’t change what he did and what he could do to me again. I almost married him without knowing his real last name. How would he have even done that? Just continued to act like his last name was Hendricks forever?” I snorted. Snorting was good. It helped me not break down into a crying mess in front of her right now. “I’m done talking about this, and I’m done talking about him.”
Candice looked like she wanted to argue, but she just nodded her head, dropped my phone on the bed, and gave me a hug before leaving the room. I waited until I heard the TV turn on before going to remove my clothes. I’d never had an issue with changing around Candice; we grew up with each other, it was normal for us. But if Candice was already acting weird anyway, seeing the scars her cousin had put on me was sure to make her start sobbing and apologizing to me over and over again. I didn’t want that. I had been upset when she didn’t believe me about Blake raping me, but I knew she had blinders on and thought Blake was perfect. None of what happened had been her fault; I didn’t blame her and hated when she blamed herself.
Taking a deep breath, I looked up at the mirror, and my chin trembled when I saw myself. It never got easier. In fact, I’m pretty sure it got harder. At least when the cuts had been fresh, I could make myself believe they would go away. But now that they’d all turned into scars, there was no way to keep telling myself that. But at least the haunting memories behind them were growing smaller each time.
For the first two months of therapy, I’d gone twice a week, and for the last month it’d only been once a week. I’d had my last session with Dr. Markowitz a few days ago, and I owed a lot to that woman. I’d never wanted to go to therapy after my parents’ death, and I wouldn’t have gone after what happened with Blake. But I was so glad Candice’s mom had all but forced me into a car and driven me there before they went back to California. Dr. Markowitz had helped me accept what had happened and learn to move on from it. I knew I couldn’t be afraid of something like this happening again, and most importantly, I knew I couldn’t blame myself for what had happened to Kash and Mason, Jenn, or the other three girls who were victims in the Carnation Murders.
Jason Ruiz was the man hired to follow Kash, and from what he said after he was arrested, the sentence Blake had said when he was supposed to be calling Ruiz off had been the signal to take Blake, Kash, and Mase out. Blake was disturbed, but he was smart. He made sure he would never go down for what he did. I just needed to be thankful for bulletproof vests, and for the fact that Kash had turned toward Mason at the last second so nothing major was hit.
After our apartment had been swept for cameras and bugs and the Jenkins family had gone back to California, Candice and I moved back in and I’d immediately looked up the Carnation Murders. I don’t know how I’d never heard of them, and I felt sick knowing every one of them was done by Blake and was because of me. I studied the pictures of the three women for hours, blown away by the similarities between them and me, and spent days grieving for their families and for the girls whose lives were cut too short all because they were unlucky enough to look like me. Getting past that guilt took five sessions with Dr. Markowitz and Candice hiding my phone and laptop from me for a few weeks so I couldn’t search anymore.
But I knew now that Blake was just a sick man. Always had been. I couldn’t blame myself for what he’d done to other women just like I couldn’t blame myself for what he’d done to me.
I looked down at the three-inch scars on each of my wrists and then glanced back up at the mirror as I traced the diagonal scars going across my torso before letting my fingers trail over the small scarred MINE on the left side of my chest. My breaths were shaky, but there were no tears. I wasn’t in danger of hyperventilating or passing out as I had many times after I first saw what Blake had done to me. This was part of my own therapy, facing the nightmare that was on my body until I was no longer hit with flashes of that early morning.
No flashes. No memories of Blake’s chilling words as I waited for someone to save me.
I smiled softly to myself and turned the shower on. Getting better all the time.
“COME ON IN, Ryan.”
I shut the door behind me and took a seat across from Chief. “Good afternoon, sir.”
“How are you holding up?”
I wanted to laugh out loud. I wasn’t. “Uh, I’m getting there.”
He nodded and tapped his pen against a stack of papers as he studied me. “Did your vacation help at all?”
“It gave me time to think, and that’s why I’m here.” Straightening in the chair, I took a deep breath and tried to hold his stare. “I think I should resign.”
The tapping pen stopped immediately. “Excuse me?”
“I didn’t do my job the way I should have. I let my relationship get in the way of what I was supposed to be doing, and because of that, someone got hurt.”
Ex. “Yes. If I had remained focused on what I was there for, none of that would have happened. We would have most likely caught West long before he could do anything.”
“You know, I spoke with Gates before I told you to take your vacation. He said you were blaming yourself for this, and I’ve got to tell you, I disagree with your assessment of the situation.” I started to argue but he continued. “I spoke with Detective Ryder in Austin, and from what he said, both you and Gates went above and beyond what was asked of you. You were supposed to be there looking for the killer at the bars, and I was told you would go in early and look through all the cameras, checking even the people who paid cash. That’s hours of extra work every week you weren’t asked to do and that weren’t expected of you. Ryder said he didn’t have a clue you were even dating someone, let alone engaged, until the meeting setting up the takedown of Blake West. That doesn’t sound like someone who lost focus on his job.”
“And when I spoke with Gates, he told me about how your fiancée was being stalked by this same guy, and while you were doing your job, you were trying to take care of that without her knowing she was being stalked and without giving away your position. Both Ryder and Gates agree that if it had not been for you, Rachel Masters wouldn’t have been found in time. And Blake West would more than likely be a ghost to us. So I’m sure you can understand why I do not agree with you.”