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Scattered

 

SCATTERED

 

by

Sandra Madera

 

Edited by Susan Blevins

 

EBOOK EDITION

 

  • * * * *

 

PUBLISHED BY

SandraMadera.com

 

Scattered

Copyright © 2013 by Sandra Madera

 

Ebook Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be altered, re-sold, or given away to other people. This story is FREE and does not require payment. If you’re reading this book and did not download it from SandraMadera.com or other legitimate online bookstore, please download a legitimate copy. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

 

  • * * * *

 

Twisting a tissue in her hands, Rebecca Ardsley looked up nervously. “I think I am ready to go home,” she announced as she sat upright on the brown leather couch, fidgeting.

Dr. Nathaniel Miller sat across from her in a tufted chair which was positioned at the perfect forty-five degree angle thought to be conducive to therapeutic communication. However, Rebecca thought such tactics were translucent. His open-ended questions were designed to elicit her inner feelings, but she found them tedious.

Wearing a brown suit that matched his chestnut hair, Dr. Miller was young compared to the other psychiatrists in the facility, appearing no more than thirty years old. His age made him less intimidating and perhaps easier to talk to than most. Rebecca often wondered if that was why they assigned Dr. Miller to her case. His ability to be relatable and, yet, professional was a designed advantage, inspired to get her to talk without fear. But her memories were trapped somewhere deep in her mind, and she refused to let him experiment on her with the pseudoscience known as hypnosis.

His eyes bore into hers. “That is the first time I have heard you say those words,” he responded calmly, looking her over before settling on her hands.

Looking down, she realized that twisting the tissue in her hands could be seen as a sign of tension by the doctor. Placing it on her lap, she tried to sit as still as possible, positioning her palms flat on the sofa to avoid looking stressed or defensive.

Dr. Miller was silent. The long pause was supposed to give her the indication that it was her time to speak. It would allow her to rattle on and on freely so that he could analyze her words rather than depend on her mannerisms.

However, she focused on his kind face. He had the bluest eyes she had ever seen which were similar to the color of the Caribbean ocean. However, he covered them with spectacles that made him appear smart. His skin had a natural sun-kissed complexion, but it was deeper now. It was the color of caramel as if he had been relaxing on a white sand beach somewhere. He was tall and lean, standing at about six foot three inches. He didn’t look like the type that would burn the midnight oil studying over textbooks in medical school. No―she pictured him on a surfboard in his spare time.

Rebecca looked at the psychiatrist awkwardly. “It is the first time I have felt this way,” she said, beginning to rock her foot, back and forth, which did not go unnoticed.

“What makes you feel that way?” he asked, shifting back in his seat and leaning his chin on his upright fist.

Deciding to make a conscious effort to stop fidgeting, she tried to do her best to relax her muscles, but they felt like a coil which was about to be released. She had all of this energy brimming under the surface, and it needed to be expelled. Lost in her thoughts momentarily, she found herself rocking her foot once more and watched as the doctor scribbled something in his notepad.

The silence was deafening, and she knew that she had to volunteer some information or risk being labeled as uncooperative. “I don’t know,” she answered calmly, stopping herself from rolling her eyes at the obvious ploy to make her talk.

“Really?” he questioned with quiet disposition that was nerve-racking.

“Maybe I just want to be normal,” she responded, giving him something to analyze. “My old friends have returned to school. I would like to enroll this year while there is still time.”

Dr. Miller’s eyes stared blankly into hers, remaining as still as a statue in an attempt to expunge more information. When it was clear that she was finished, he put down his legal pad on a side table, leaning forward in his seat with apparent newfound interest. “Tell me, what makes you think you are not normal?”

Uncomfortable, Rebecca shifted in her seat. “Being here,” she replied, regretting that she had said so much in the first place. “Not being able to do what others my age are doing. Going to college is a very important milestone that I am missing out on, is it not?”

He smiled and nodded. “Yes, it is,” he confirmed before collecting his legal pad and flipping through notes from our previous sessions. Leaning back in his seat once more, he seemed to find what he was looking for and asked, “Has, your boyfriend, Dane come to visit you since you have been here?”

“Brandon,” she corrected, knotting the tissue in her hands once more. “I called him by his last name, Dane, because I thought it was cooler.”

He nodded, appearing as if he wanted her to talk more about it.

Refusing to go on about the subject, she paused and answered his original question. “No, he has not.”

“Has, your brother, Taylor?”

“No, he has not,” she answered, suddenly feeling as if this were more of an interrogation. “My father didn’t think it was a good idea before.”

Dr. Adam Ardsley was the director of Brookshire which was the mental health facility that Rebecca had been calling home for a year. Since it was a conflict of interest, he could not treat her himself, but he was abreast of her progress although he never seemed to interfere with Dr. Miller’s treatment plan.

Removing his glasses, Dr. Miller rubbed his temples momentarily, showing his exhaustion. “I am well aware of your father’s stance on the topic, but I want to know your feelings on that. Does it bother you to be so estranged from those you care about?”

“No,” she answered abruptly, trying to think of a way to dodge this conversation.

“You don’t?” he asked, surprised.

“I mean… I miss them, but… my brother and I are a year apart and don’t have any similarities. We have never been close. As for Dane, I don’t think we are even dating anymore.”

“How does that make you feel?”

“I don’t feel any particular way about it,” she answered, suddenly feeling emotional.

Dr. Miller backed off, making some notes.

It was so silent that Rebecca could hear the strokes of his pen on the paper as he wrote. The sound was unbearable. Her mind raced with all sorts of questions. What was he writing? Did he think she was crazy? Her heart began to beat erratically in her chest, and her breathing quickened. She could feel a white hot ball of anger rise from her gut, but his soft voice brought her out of her thoughts, bringing her back to reality and extinguishing the fire.

“I think our session is over,” he announced with a warm smile as someone knocked on his door.

Dr. Ardsley, Rebecca’s father, peeked his head inside the office, nodding in his daughter’s direction. He was handsome for his age, sharing Rebecca’s same black hair and pale skin. Dr. Ardsley was tall, standing at just over six foot, but his frame was lanky. His long hours at the facility were stressful on his body, causing him to develop deep frown lines around his eyes and mouth.

Appearing uncomfortable, Rebecca’s father announced there was a staff meeting in five minutes. Without waiting for Dr. Miller’s response, he disappeared down the hall.

With her attention returning to her psychiatrist, Rebecca felt unsure about his position about her idea to return home. “Dr. Miller, you didn’t tell me if I could go home.”

Getting up and walking over to his desk, he put his notepad on the wooden surface and leaned on the back of his chair with two strong hands. “You realize this is the first time you have opened up in a year… and even that progress was slight,” he responded, looking at her concerned. “You have to trust me, Rebecca. Your father and I have only your best interests at heart by keeping you here.”

Shaking his words out of her head, she held her hands up in a mock surrender. Feeling as if the walls were closing in on her, she began to hyperventilate. With her heart racing, she wondered what she could say to him to make him understand. “I want to get better. I really do, but I don’t remember anything,” she told him, her voice cracking under the weight of her overpowering emotions which she held inside.

Appearing to take in her words, he walked back across the room, reclaiming his seat and placing his hand on hers. “Maybe a trip home might trigger those memories,” he told her.

“That is a good thing, right?” she asked with a deep sigh, feeling relieved that he was actually considering her wants.

“It can be… but I believe the best treatment for you is slow and steady steps toward recovery. Enrolling in school might be too much for your already fragile mind,” he told her, giving her hand a comforting squeeze. “I will run all of this by your father and see what he thinks. Then I will make my decision.”

Exhaling slowly, she felt the tension in her muscles drain away, and she was able to feel her body relax. “Thank you,” she said, having more hope of returning to her life than she had all year.

Sitting by a large picture window, Rebecca spent the rest of the morning in the dayroom, knowing the importance of spending time with other patients. As the daughter of a respected medical professional, she was well aware of what she needed to do to get by and bide her time until she was released. She couldn’t count how many times her father had come home for dinner, appearing frustrated as he discussed former patients that isolated themselves in their rooms and refused to interact with the “crazy people” in the common areas. It was his belief that those patients, which refused to integrate themselves, were denying their own psychosis and, in turn, rejecting the treatment plan that could have brought them back into society. Those patients, who were labeled noncompliant, were lost to the system, entering state facilities without hope of release.

That was not going to happen to her. She was not going to wear a sterile hospital gown and walk around the halls without a purpose for the rest of her life. Wanting out of the monotony, she was going to play the part of a compliant patient who fell in line with the treatment plan and that meant that she had to spend her mornings in the dayroom with the other troubled girls who called the facility home. Although she didn’t know any of the other girls by name, she knew what was ailing them.

Some cases were easier to identify than others, but it didn’t take long for her to know the girl who sat in the right corner of the room was a cutter. As she sat hunched over in her seat with her messy dark tresses hiding her face, Rebecca’s eyes traced the marks on her arm which must have been deep gashes before they were stitched. They told a tale of sexual abuse and insecurity that went back to the girl’s childhood.

The sixteen year old girl who sat at the round table across the room drew pictures all day. Her crayon art seemed like happy family portraits to an untrained eye, but once anyone found out that her parents died in a car accident when she was a young girl, they would realize her emotional growth was stunted. Without the coping skills needed to adapt with grief, she was still that eight year old girl who watched her parents die slow and agonizing deaths while she survived.

The eighteen year old girl who paced in the opposite side of the room was schizophrenic, and although that was a condition which could be treated as an outpatient, she had developed negative signs of the illness like flat affect, paranoia, delusions, and… stabbing her parents to the point of near death. It was possible she thought they were demons that came to drag her to hell, but she couldn’t articulate that. She hadn’t said a word since before Rebecca entered the institution a year before, but that hadn’t stopped her parents from visiting her once they were recovered, hoping to bring her back into reality.

Rebecca’s family, however, never made a visit to Brookshire. Her father thought it was not a wise idea considering her emotional state in the first few months, but now, they chose to keep their distance, sending only cards when an occasion called for it. Her father seemed distant as well, barely spending more than five minutes a week talking to her. Yet, she did have one frequent guest by the name of Detective William Bennette. His visits were often frustrating since he couldn’t tell her anything about the incident that caused her to be institutionalized, but he stopped by with frequency to pry any information he could out of her. However, he often walked away dissatisfied since her memory hadn’t cleared.

Lost in thought, she didn’t realize her father was standing at her side until he called her by name. Jarred out of her thoughts, she looked up at him in time to see a flash of concern in his hazel eyes.

“I have been calling you, sweetheart,” he said in a rare moment of tenderness as he adjusted his gray blazer, appearing suddenly uncomfortable.

Running her hands through her dark hair, she wondered how she could have been deaf to his calls. Could she have been so lost in thought that she didn’t notice the outside world around her? “I am sorry, Daddy.”

“Dr. Miller and I wanted to have a word with you in his office,” he told her, helping her up to her feet and guiding her towards the doorway.

As Rebecca and her father walked through the hall, her father cradled her shoulders and whispered words of encouragement meant to put her mind at ease; however, they seemed to have the opposite affect. Her father hardly made an effort to speak before so his words of kindness increased her tension about what was to come.

Walking along the corridor, they passed another patient of the illustrious institution. Her name was Eliza. She was fourteen years old who was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Rebecca knew her name, because it was constantly being called in her fits of mania when she would strip down and run through the corridors naked. Once the nurses were worked into a frenzy by chasing a teenage girl down the hall, their name sticks with you. Her sexual fixation seemed to be focused on Dr. Miller as most of her manic episodes would take place while he was in the common areas. As a result, Dr. Miller chose to hand off her care to Dr. Ardsley.

Entering Dr. Miller’s office, Rebecca realized he was not alone. Det. Bennette was seated on the same brown leather couch that she had occupied earlier. Upon seeing her, the detective rose from his seat and smiled awkwardly. “Nice to see you again, Rebecca.”

Standing at just over six foot, Det. William Bennette appeared to be in his thirties and had the build of someone who was used to physical activity. His wavy chestnut hair and chocolate eyes gave him the appearance of being kind and trustworthy, but he was a cop and such notions of trust were unfounded. He did not have her confidence, and he never would.

Taking her seat between Dr. Miller and Det. Bennette, she nodded in his direction nervously, flattening the creases in her hospital gown.

With her father moving a chair from the other side of the room, he joined them, motioning for Dr. Miller to begin.

Dr. Miller nodded and then turned to her. “Rebecca, we have been considering your wish to return home, and Det. Bennette thinks it might help to recover your memories which, in turn, will help him with his case.”

“His case?” she questioned, raising an eyebrow.

They all glanced at one another, making it obvious they had to watch their choice of words.

“Yes, my case,” the detective said finally, leaning forward in his seat. “If you can remember anything about that night, it would be helpful.”

“Bennette,” Dr. Ardsley warned, flashing his hazel eyes at the detective. Her father sat as still as a statue, overseeing the meeting with apparent disapproval. However, for the most part, he remained silent.

Watching her father’s reaction, her heartbeat began to quicken its pace as her eyes danced from one man to the other, searching for answers. “Did something… criminal happen?” she questioned in a shrill tone, glancing from Dr. Miller to her father. “What exactly happened? Did someone die? Do you think… I had something to do with it?”

Dr. Miller shook his head. “Do not agitate yourself, Rebecca,” he said, reaching over and giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “Concentrate on going home. You are getting what you wanted. We are releasing you. Of course, we will continue to work with you as an outpatient so that you can get the care you need, but the point is that you are going home.”

Watching her hands twist the ends of her gown, Rebecca nodded hesitantly, wanting to believe that going home would be a positive experience. “What can you tell me about the night I can’t remember?” she asked, looking at the doctor through her dark lashes. “The months afterwards were such a blur. If I knew what happened, maybe that information might jog my memory.”

“No,” Rebecca’s father said sternly, shaking his head firmly.

Dr. Miller concurred. His blue eyes met mine, giving me a sense of stability in a crazy world. “Such a thing could send you into a downward spiral,” he told me, his tone soft. “It is best for you to remember naturally.”

She agreed, wondering what information could possibly be unlocked and if it was worth another breakdown to remember.

 

  • * *

 

A few days later, Rebecca hopped out of her father’s SUV and looked up at the house she had grown up in, studying the reflection of the sun on the half dozen windows which were dispersed over the front of the house. The white colonial stood in stark contrast to the lush green surroundings of the ten acre property. The six bedroom mansion was hidden amongst the trees, making it impossible for an outsider to see it from the main road. It appeared the same as when she last laid eyes upon it, standing still in time like a monument to her past.

The house that had once ignited so much happiness in her heart now sparked a sense of dread, and yet, she couldn’t understand why. Perhaps it was a stranger to her now like an old friend that had suddenly become distant. The attachment that she had developed over her life had faded away, leaving her with nothing more than a sense of estrangement.

“Are you ready to go in, darling?” her father asked, getting out of the car and coming to her side.

She nodded awkwardly, taking her first steps towards the house.

Hearing two cars pull up the drive, Rebecca hesitated, turning to see Det. Bennette and Dr. Miller arrive. They got out of their vehicles and approached, each wearing a different expression on their face. Slamming his car door and jogging to meet them, Det. Bennette appeared content, obviously believing he could wrap up his case. Glancing at Rebecca with upturned brows, Dr. Miller appeared worried, wearing a frown on his handsome face. It was obvious he didn’t know what to expect from this little venture.

Crossing the threshold, Rebecca glanced inside, taking small steps until she was standing in the center of the foyer. Everything appeared as it did when she lived there which gave her both a sense of comfort and awkwardness. It was like a time capsule… like a photograph taken of a time long ago.

“Are you alright, Becca?”

Looking up at her father’s concerned eyes, she tried to register his words, and when they did finally hit her brain, she realized that the delay in her response must have sent sirens through his head. “Yes,” she nodded, trying to sound confident although she was unsure.

As Dr. Miller stepped closer to her, he said, “Maybe you should explore, and we will follow you.”

“Can I go to my room?” she asked, turning to her father.

“Of course,” he said, giving her a warm smile.

Excited, Rebecca ran up the curved staircase and opened the door to the first room on the right. With a large smile, she entered the pink bedroom, walking towards her canopy bed and running her hand along the white comforter. As the others joined her upstairs, she walked over to her vanity, picking up bottles of perfume and bringing them to her nose. She allowed each scent to stir up a cherished memory of her past. She remembered which perfume she wore to her senior dance. Picking up a blue bottle with etched stars, she recalled how she wore that one on her first date with Dane. She closed her eyes and replaced the bottle, unwilling to allow those memories to surface out of fear of getting emotional.

“Becca, who are those people in the pictures with you?” Det. Bennette asked, pointing towards the pictures that were stuck onto the mirror of my vanity.

“My friends,” she answered, taking the picture off of the mirror and reviewing it. “This was taken the night of my senior prom.”

Motioning at the picture, she tilted the photograph so the detective could get a better view. “This athletic guy is Dane,” she said with a slow smile as bittersweet memories of that night filled her head. “Brandon Dane.”

“Where was this taken?”

“After prom, we went for a walk in the public park outside of the high school. It was taken in the gazebo at the center of the park.”

“And these two?” he asked, pointing to the two blonds in another shot with wide grins.

Moving her eyes away from Dane’s face, she answered, “Those two are my best friends. The one on the right is Danica, and the one on the left is Elizabeth. Elizabeth moved to Chicago sophomore year, but we kept in contact. Danica wrote for the school paper.”

Sharing the same blond hair and brown eyes, Danica and Elizabeth were cousins that were as close as sisters. When they met Rebecca in Elementary School, they had invited her with open arms into their clique and had been inseparable throughout their school years, but like all the others, they had lost touch once she was institutionalized.

Looking up at the mirror, Rebecca realized the surface was sparse. It had once been framed with pictures of her friends, but the photographs seemed to have been removed. Looking at her confused face in the mirror, she quickly changed her expression, trying to appear as serene as possible. It was important that Dr. Miller see that a change in environment wasn’t as traumatic as anticipated.

“Do you remember something?” the detective questioned, stepping closer.

“No,” Rebecca told him. “Well… this mirror used to be covered in pictures of me and my friends, but now it is relatively empty.”

Det. Bennette arched a brow, obviously taking that to mean something more than Rebecca realized. “Is there a reason for that?”

“I can account for that,” her father said, motioning towards the boxes in the corner of the room that Rebecca overlooked. “You were packing for college, Becca. You must have wanted to take them with you. With the idea of moving to a dorm, you might have packed some mementos to remind you of home.”

The detective nodded, stepping towards the boxes and peeking inside before appearing to lose his interest. “Do you remember the last time you talked to any of your friends?”

Shrugging her shoulders, Rebecca answered, “I can’t really tell you an exact date. Probably at prom or a little after that.”

“She has no real context of time from that time period,” Dr. Miller commented, standing with his arms crossed in front of him. “Once she has recovered her memories, perhaps a time frame of events would be easier to piece together.”

Taking out a pad of paper from his blazer, Det. Bennette scribbled some notes. “Do you remember having any disagreements with your friends?”

“No,” she answered honestly.

“Think really hard, Rebecca,” Det. Bennette said, focusing all his attention on her at that point. “Any arguments? Any disagreements among friends?”

Shaking her head, she answered, “None I can recall.”

Scratching his head, her father said, “Becca always got along with her friends. There were no arguments that I witnessed. Danica visited the day before the accident. Nothing seemed to be amiss.”

“I understand, Dr. Ardsley, but I need to hear that from Rebecca.”

“What is this about?” her father questioned.

“Teenage angst,” Det. Bennette responded, his face void of a readable expression. “Betrayals of trust…. Dating each other’s ex boyfriends…. Such things can lead to conflicts. Maybe even murder.”

“Murder?” Rebecca questioned, feeling her heart begin to pound within her chest. “I could never hurt anyone!”

“No one is saying that you did, but if you have something to confess, I would be willing to hear it,” he told her, his annoyance surfacing for the first time.

“That is enough,” her father roared angrily.

Dr. Miller stepped between the two gentlemen, making his presence known for the first time since the questioning started. “Perhaps it is time for you to leave, Detective.”

“Fine,” Det. Bennette agreed, looking past Dr. Miller and narrowing his eyes at Dr. Ardsley. Then he turned on his heel, and looking over his shoulder, he said, “But this is not the end. I have a whole lot more questions to ask.”

Dr. Miller pulled her father aside and began whispering to him in hushed tones. Although she could not make out their words, she could tell Dr. Miller was attempting to calm the situation.

Before Det. Bennette walked out of the bedroom, Rebecca stood up abruptly from her seat and called out to him. When he paused and turned to look at her, she asked, “What did you mean by ‘betrayals of trust’?”

“Danica’s mother said that your brother mistreated her daughter. He apparently dumped her just before prom to date another local girl named Layla,” he answered, his eyes scanning her. “Your relationship apparently became strained after you became friends with the girl.”

“Do you hear him?” her father asked Dr. Miller, appearing increasingly frustrated. “Now my son is a suspect.”

Suddenly perplexed, Rebecca asked, “Where is Danica, Det. Bennette? How come she was not able to answer your questions?”

“No, Rebecca,” Dr. Miller warned, appearing worried by the direction of the whole conversation. “This is not natural recollection.”

Ignoring him, she stared at the detective questioningly.

“Danica Duncan is dead,” he answered, his brown eyes boring into hers. “She died the night you lost your memory. Convenient, isn’t it?”

“Get out!” her father screamed, blocking her from the detective’s penetrating gaze. “Get out of my house!”

Placing a hand on her chest, she suddenly felt like she couldn’t breathe. Using her accessory muscles, her breath came out in jagged gasps as tears streamed down her face. With her limbs shaking uncontrollably, she found it hard to keep her balance and collapsed back into her seat. Knowing that this was not the appropriate reaction if she wanted to remain free, she couldn’t force herself to hide the raw emotion that seeped from her pores. Her best friend was dead, and somehow she was the key to what really happened.

Although she was in mourning and her thoughts were somewhat confused, Rebecca knew better than to isolate herself at such a time. To confine herself to her room would be seen as a relapse, and she feared the decision would be made to reinstate her.

After a short while in her own company, she decided to rejoin Dr. Miller and her father downstairs. Entering the kitchen, she was met with delicious scents that made her stomach cry out in hunger. Being almost dinner time, her father began cooking his famous tortellini and broccoli alfredo with homemade bread and a salad.

Feeling a growing sense of warmth in her, she was reminded of how it was before her life was destroyed by tragedy. The familiarity of it all was comforting. She tried to pretend nothing had happened over the past year, but there was a key piece of the puzzle missing. “Dad, where is Mom and Taylor?”

“They will be home soon,” her father answered. “Your mom went to pick up Taylor from his dorm. He wanted to be here for your return. It is good timing because he has a short vacation from school. She also said something about wanting to pick you up a few things she thought you might need.”

As her father gathered up plates from the cabinets, he asked her to set the table. Taking the dishes from him, she set the table for three as Dr. Miller gathered two wine glasses.

Taking his seat, Dr. Miller removed his blazer and unbuttoned the top of his shirt in an attempt to unwind. He poured Dr. Ardsley and himself a glass of red wine while her father brought the food to the table.

“You are not supposed to drink while on the job, Dr. Miller,” Rebecca teased.

He laughed. “I am not on call, Ms. Ardsley,” he replied. “Soon my services won’t be needed here, and my visits will just be for pleasure.”

Smiling brightly, she nodded in agreement, knowing he was referring to her complete recovery.

Sitting across the table, Rebecca glanced at Dr. Miller, noticing he looked younger when he was in a more relaxed atmosphere. Running his fingers through his brown hair, it became slightly tousled, resembling the wayward curls of a child. He traded jokes back and forth with her father like an old friend, but Dr. Miller was actually closer to her age.

As Rebecca dove into her tortellini, she asked, “How long have you known my father, Dr. Miller?”

Taking a sip of his wine, he contemplated. “Since I was nineteen which was about six years ago. I interned for years at Brookshire before graduating.”

Her father nodded. “He is a bona fide genius, graduating high school and entering into college while in his early teens.”

Dr. Miller averted his eyes as if embarrassed by the compliment. “My father took my education seriously.”

“Nathaniel’s father was a great friend and a brilliant psychiatrist. His writings on interpersonal relationships are practically scripture in our field.”

“Thank you, Adam,” he said, his face taking on a melancholy expression.

“What happened to your father?” Rebecca asked, suddenly curious. “Does he still practice?”

Taken aback by the question, Dr. Miller hesitated. “No,” he replied somberly. “He died in a house fire last year.”

Averting her eyes, Rebecca felt a horrible sinking feeling rise in the pit of her stomach. “I am sorry,” she told him sincerely.

Appearing lost in his thoughts, Dr. Miller nodded solemnly but didn’t utter a word.

Although her father quickly changed the subject, she hesitated to enter into conversation, eating the rest of her meal in relative silence.

A short while later, Rebecca heard a commotion in the front hall.

Her father motioned for her to go to the foyer as he collected the dishes. “That should be your mother.”

Suddenly feeling unsure, Rebecca glanced at Dr. Miller. Her heart began to beat in her chest erratically with thoughts about how she would be received. Would her mother act uncomfortable in her presence? Would she greet her with open arms? Would Taylor act as he always did? Or would he be cold and withdrawn?

Dr. Miller remained seated, pouring himself another glass of wine. “It’s okay,” he whispered to her reassuringly, obviously reading the anxiety on her face. “They’re your family. They only want what is best for you.”

She nodded, getting up from her seat and slowly walking into the foyer. Watching her mother drop a dozen shopping bags on the floor, she paused in place until she was noticed. With an awkward smile, she greeted, “Hi, Mom.”

Mrs. Ardsley’s appearance hadn’t changed a bit since Rebecca saw her last. She was a small woman, standing at just about five feet four inches and weighing no more than a hundred pounds. She shared Rebecca’s fair skin and thick, wavy tresses. She appeared to be the epitome of elegance with her long brown hair which was swept up in her usual French twist. Taking pride in her appearance, she wore a gray pencil skirt and white silk blouse with matching gray pumps. Her mother gasped and ran to Rebecca, embracing her tightly. “I missed you so much.”

Rebecca held onto her mother, finding it comforting to breathe in her sweet perfume. “I missed you, too.”

After a long moment, her mother stepped aside. “Look at all the things I bought for you,” her mom told her, motioning towards the shopping bags. “I thought you could use some new clothes.”

Peeking into the shopping bags, Rebecca noticed cashmere sweaters and silk blouses. These clothes weren’t exactly catered to her casual style, but she knew it was her mother’s way of starting fresh. “They are lovely,” she told her.

“Taylor, come say ‘hi’ to your sister,” her mother ordered, calling into the living room.

Her brother walked out of the living room. With a smile, he hugged her warmly. “How are you doing, Becca?” he asked as he pulled away.

“Fine,” she replied, finally feeling at home in her own house. “It is a little weird to be back, but it is still home.”

“Of course it is,” her mother interjected, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and giving her a squeeze.

Her brother nodded.

“Hi, Becca,” a voice greeted, bringing her attention back towards the living room.

Rebecca looked to see Dane had been sitting on the couch, appearing at home as he sat with one leg draped over the other. His deep brown eyes were focused on her. Behind his stare, she could read a number of mixed emotions. The one which stood out the most was sadness. Perhaps he wondered if she still felt the same for him. He pushed his brown hair away from his kind face nervously.

Wearing a black sweater and dark blue jeans, Dane looked more mature than his letterman-jacket high school days. He stood up, walking into the foyer and embracing her.

Rebecca pulled away clumsily. “Dane, how are you?”

“Brandon goes to school with Taylor. When he heard you were coming back home, he insisted on seeing you,” her mother said pleasantly.

Shifting from one foot to another, Rebecca felt a little odd seeing Dane again. She was confused about their current situation. Were they broken up? Were they still dating? So much had happened since she had seen him last that she wasn’t sure she still had feelings for him. “Wow, I did not expect to see you,” she told him, still surprised by his appearance.

Suddenly, her mother tapped Taylor on the shoulder. “Come on, darling. Let us go find your father.”

Rebecca knew her mother wanted to give her time to talk to Dane alone. Watching her mother and brother walk away, she wanted to call out to them not to leave her, feeling slightly uneasy with the idea of being alone with Dane.

“Well, let’s sit,” she said, ushering Dane into the living room and taking a seat on the plush floral couch.

Sitting next to her, Dane shifted his position so that he was facing her and his left arm rested on the back of the sofa. “I wanted to visit you, but your father said it was best for your recovery if we all allowed you to digest what happened at your own pace.”

Rebecca nodded. “My father just wanted me to avoid people’s questions. To be honest, I don’t remember much of anything about the night they found me in the woods. I was pretty much in shock.”

Dane nodded slowly in apparent understanding. “I hope you were receiving adequate care.”

“Oh, my dad and Dr. Miller were an integral part of my care,” she said, folding her hands on her lap. “I am not completely recovered until I can come to terms with what I witnessed, but the outpatient therapy should help.”

“Your father and Dr. Miller?” he questioned, raising an eyebrow and holding his hands up as if expecting her to pause her words.

“Yes,” she replied, curious.

“Isn’t that a huge conflict of interest? I mean your dad treating you… and then there is Dr. Miller.”

“My dad oversaw everything. It was Dr. Miller who administered care,” she explained, feeling the need to defend her father. “It wasn’t as if I was institutionalized by the authorities. My father instated me. I was not… myself. To be honest, I hardly remember that period of my life.”

Dane’s brown eyes narrowed. “Still, Dr. Miller has no business treating you.”

“Why do you think that?” she inquired, leaning forward in her seat.

“Because it is a huge conflict of interest. Dr. Miller was… Layla’s brother.”

Digging deep in her memory, Rebecca shook her head. She didn’t remember anything about Layla. After having her breakdown, remembering her past became increasingly difficult like looking at the road through a dense fog. Parts of her past were lost. Parts, which included Layla, had fallen through the cracks and would possibly never be recovered.

“Layla Miller, remember?” he asked without waiting for her to respond. “His sister was your brother’s girlfriend. The one that died in that house fire about a year and a half ago. Your brother was once suspected of starting that fire. I don’t know about that now, but it seems weird that he would be appointed to administer your treatment when he is so invested in finding out what happened to his family. Maybe he thinks you can shed light on what happened.”

Rebecca shook her head. “I don’t see how I could,” she replied, placing a hand on her temple. “To be honest, I don’t understand the connection between any of this. I still really don’t know what happened, and I am just so confused.”

Dane gazed deeply into her eyes as if trying to find something within them. “It is a lot to digest,” he said, shaking his head. “I am sorry I brought it up.”

Standing on his feet, he apologized once more before saying his goodbyes.

She stood up to hug him, but he shriveled under her touch as if uncomfortable by their closeness. Feeling out of sorts by the visit, she watched as he stepped away from her, feeling somewhat relieved for the reunion to be over. He brought up things that had her head reeling, and she welcomed the idea of being alone for a while.

Dane waved at her awkwardly and walked out the front door without another word.

 

  • * *

 

A few days later, Rebecca arose to the sound of birds chirping and a soft wind rattling the panes of her window. Glancing at the clock, she saw it was nearly ten in the morning. Being an early bird, she never woke up so late, but she attributed her tiredness to her familiar surroundings. She hadn’t realized how much she missed sleeping in her old bed. As she reclined, the mattress sunk in adjusting to her body weight. With no pressure on her joints, her sleep was peaceful.

Getting dressed and heading downstairs, she encountered her mother in the kitchen. “Hi, Mom,” she said, sneaking up behind her and giving her a hug. “What are you doing?”

“Good morning, darling,” her mother replied as Rebecca stepped away. “Just getting my shopping list ready. I have to run to the market to pick up some things for dinner. We are having lasagna tonight.”

“Sounds good,” Rebecca commented as she opened the refrigerator and poured herself a glass of orange juice.

Her mom shifted her attention from the counter, where she was writing, to her. “I hope you don’t mind being alone for a bit. Your brother went to the gym to get his workout in, and your dad is at work.”

Rebecca shook her head and smiled confidently. “No, I don’t.”

“It is just that your dad doesn’t want you to be alone, and I feel bad leaving you,” her mother said, reaching out and giving her shoulder a comforting squeeze. “But I won’t be long. Less than an hour.”

She nodded, taking a gulp of her juice. “It is fine. I am just going to check out my art studio. I’ll probably be busy with that all morning and won’t even notice that you’re gone.”

Her mother smiled brightly. “It is nice to see you getting back into your old routines,” she told her. “My friends down at the art gallery have been asking for more of your paintings. The other ones sold so quickly that they can’t wait for any new stuff.”

Rebecca smiled, suddenly feeling excited. “I would love to paint again. There is nothing like putting your work on display for everyone to see.”

“Well, the money isn’t bad either,” her mother said with a coy smile.

Rebecca laughed.

“You made a huge chunk of change with the sale of your last paintings. Your dad was quick to put it in trust,” she said. “You are setting yourself up for a huge nest egg later on.”

“Well, I just enjoy painting and will leave the money up to you,” Rebecca responded, putting her cup in the sink.

With a hug and a kiss, Mrs. Ardsley dashed out the door, and Rebecca found herself alone. Suddenly nervous, she felt her limbs quiver. She realized she hadn’t been truly alone for over a year. Although she had her own room in Brookshire, it was never completely private. Bed checks were the norm at night. Breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth, she felt her nerves begin to calm.

Looking for a distraction, she went upstairs, finding her way to the room at the end of the hall. When she entered, she felt her heart jump in her chest happily. Everything was exactly as she left it.

The room was located over the garage so it had large windows on each side, allowing for plenty of natural light. Neglecting to put curtains up, she had unobstructed views of both the front and back gardens. The walls were painted bright white which was perfect for hanging drawings or other paintings. In the center of the room, there was a long metal cart which was surrounded by four metal stools. She used this table as an island, housing cans of brushes and drawing pencils. Below the counter of the island, she kept butcher block paper and canvases of every size. On the far wall, her oak easel stood like a ghost under a tarp. Beside it, there was another metal cart she used to hold mason jars filled with replacement brushes, oil paints, paint thinners, blending oils, soaps, her glass palate, and other knick-knacks.

Taking her time, she walked towards that side of the room and paused at her easel. Uncovering it, she found a nearly completed painting that caught her eye. The image was that of the gazebo located in the center of a local park. The structure had always fascinated her with its stark white posts against the lush green background of the park and its delicate gingerbread molding framing the roof.

She recalled it with a smile. It was her favorite place to lounge since the lake was nearby. It was a place that held many warm memories for her.

Glancing at the table beside her, she saw detailed photographs she took of the structure. These photos were used to aid her in visualizing her painting. Throwing the pictures back on the metal counter, her hand brushed an object, causing it to fall to the floor with a loud bang.

Looking down, she saw a small cardboard box had landed on the floor, scattering its contents. Flipping over the box, she found that it held photographs. Upon closer examination, she recognized the pictures as the ones which hung on her vanity.

One image caught her attention. It was of her and Danica. Sitting on a blanket with their arms entwined in a hug, each of them smiled for the camera. They were a few feet from the gazebo, having a picnic in the park.

The afternoon sun caught Danica’s blond hair, making it appear as if it were glowing orange. Her blue eyes sparkled as she smiled brightly, exposing nearly all of her front teeth.

Rebecca remembered that warm summer day when they couldn’t think of anything to do but go for a swim in the lake. They prepared a picnic for afterwards and just sunbathed the day away.

The memory left Rebecca feeling warm inside.

She smiled sadly, returning the snapshots to the box and placing it back on the table. As she did, she noticed an old newspaper. It was folded so its front page story couldn’t be seen. Its pages had yellowed over time. When she picked it up, she realized it was a copy of, the high school newspaper, The Gainesville High Journal. Danica wrote articles weekly for the newspaper so it didn’t surprise her to see an article written by her friend on the front page.

The article was about the gazebo in the park which was set ablaze.

As her heart dropped, Rebecca searched for the date of the incident. It happened just before her memory loss. Glancing up at the painting briefly, she suspected she painted the structure as a tribute of some kind.

The article went onto say that police suspected arson because they found residue from a highly flammable substance. Danica wrote that there could possibly be a link between this arson case and a number of unexplained fires in our area.

An article pertaining to crime within their small town was not an uncommon subject for Danica. She wanted to be a serious journalist and writing exposés was her way of building up her credibility. While other writers wrote about cheerleader recruits and jock injuries, she reported on the cruel world outside of school walls.

Still, the story troubled her. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but a sense of dread overtook her, and she began to shake. Something was not as it seemed. Could it have to do with Danica’s death? What other unexplained fires took place in the area? It felt like a memory was on the verge of being revealed when she heard her name being called.

Coming back into reality, Rebecca realized her mother had returned and was calling her. Placing the newspaper back on the table, she ran downstairs.

 

  • * *

 

The following morning, Rebecca had an early start, getting up at dawn. She was dressed and headed downstairs at eight o’clock. She was eager to spend some time around people. She was going stir-crazy, staring at the walls and following her mother from room to room. She needed to ease back into her old life and hang out with her old friends, but her father thought it was best to relax in a stress-free environment. The outside world was apparently not good for her fragile psyche. However, the idea of wasting another beautiful day indoors was incredibly stressful. She wanted to find her equilibrium again. She couldn’t do that if she couldn’t do normal things.

Seeing the answering machine blinking, she checked the messages, finding one from Dr. Miller’s office.

“Hello, Rebecca! It is Suzy from Dr. Miller’s office. Just calling to remind you that you have an appointment with Dr. Miller today at ten o’clock sharp. Don’t be late.”

After a beep, another message played. “Hey, Becca. It’s Dane. I was thinking we could go out for lunch tomorrow. I will speak with your dad. I don’t think it will be a problem. Call me later.”

Rebecca’s heart fluttered slightly. The idea of being alone with Dane sent happy chills up her spine, but at the same time, the prospect was… nerve-wracking. She hadn’t really spent time with Dane alone in over a year, and she wasn’t sure if her feelings for him had withstood the test of time. Spending time with him might stir up old feelings or make her squirm with the confirmation that those sentiments were long gone.

Racing to the kitchen, she found that her mother and brother had already beaten her downstairs. They were already eating breakfast. The table was filled with fresh fruit and juice. Her mother had made pancakes, loading extras on a serving plate.

Rebecca took a seat at the table and served herself a pancake while biting into a slice of mango. “I have an appointment with Dr. Miller today,” she announced, seeing her mother’s eyes narrow and her face crinkle when she heard.

“Oh, I totally forgot! Your father told me, but… I just have so much on my mind with this fundraiser I am planning,” her mother responded, placing a hand on her forehead. “I have a meeting at nine.”

“That’s okay,” she assured her. “Taylor can drive me.”

With his eyes opening wide in surprise, Taylor nearly choked on his pancake. “Oh, no. I have plans,” he responded, taking a strawberry from a bowl and biting into it. “Dane and I are hitting the golf course. We have to get there early. I hate waiting for other groups ahead of us to take their shots.”

“And when were you planning on spending quality time with your sister?” Mrs. Ardsley questioned with a disapproving brow.

Stretching his long limbs, Taylor seemed oblivious to his mother’s disapproval as he shrugged his shoulders.

Mrs. Ardsley shook her head disapprovingly at her son before turning her attention back to Rebecca. “I will drive you. Dr. Miller’s office is not that far from where I am meeting the hospital board members,” her mother said. “You will just have to wait in the waiting room for an hour.”

Slicing into her pancake, Rebecca glanced up at her mother. “Can you drop me off at the library?”

“I don’t know, darling. Perhaps it is best to go straight to Dr. Miller’s and back home.”

“Please,” she begged. “It is only two blocks away from his office, and I could surf the shelves for a book to read before my appointment.”

“Rebecca, you know how your father feels.”

“Oh, mom,” Taylor said dismissively, picking up his plate and heading for the sink. “It is a library. What trouble could she possible get into in a library?”

“Well… okay,” her mother said with some hesitation. “But don’t tell your father.”

Rebecca crossed her heart with her index finger and held her hand up as if taking an oath. “I promise.”

 

[ * ]

 

The film room was located down a cold, dark portion of the basement. Except for the occasional researcher, this part of the library was relatively unused. It was easy to pick a station and gather up a few film rolls of newspapers from the year before.

Loading her film into the machine and switching it on, Rebecca didn’t know quite what she was searching for, but she had a distinct feeling she should start looking with the gazebo fire. It wasn’t long before her search yielded results.

On the front page of the newspaper, she laid eyes on the image of the burned remains of the gazebo. Under the image was an article entitled “Arson at the Park.”

Scanning the article with her eyes, she read the main piece of the article aloud. “…According to investigators at the scene, the distinct scent of an accelerant lingered in the air well after the blaze was extinguished, leading those at the scene to suspect arson was behind the blaze. When asked if the fire could have been caused by accident, the fire chief said, ‘We see cigarette butts causing fires in these parts all the time, and we will review the evidence. However, the presence of an accelerant makes that highly doubtful, and it is possible we have a serial arsonist on the loose.’ The chief made no further comments when questioned about the exact substance used to ignite the fire or if this shared a link with the recent fires on Forrest Hill Road which killed members of the Miller family. Overall, there have been several unexplained fires in the area, including those of the local history museum, the covered bridge over Redding Creek, and a diner named Sally’s on Main Street…”

With dread seeping into her stomach, Rebecca realized she recognized all of those places. In fact, she frequented Sally’s diner throughout her high school years as it was the local teen hangout. She went there after school frequently with Dane, Danica, and all her other friends. She couldn’t imagine someone setting the place on fire purposefully.

She printed the article and loaded another film roll. When she looked at the screen, she gasped, instantly recognizing the face on the front page. Danica’s photo was posted beneath the headline “Local Girl Burned Alive.”

Rebecca began to shake.

Her head began pounding mercilessly in her chest, and she struggled to catch her breath.

Without thinking, she printed the article and ran out of the library.

After walking around aimlessly, she awoke from her daze to find herself standing outside of Dr. Miller’s office. She was late for her appointment, but she hardly cared. There were things that had to be addressed between her and Dr. Miller that could not be put off any longer.

Being late for her appointment, she was allowed straight into the doctor’s office without delay. When she entered, she found him seated at his desk, talking on the phone.

When he laid eyes on her, he let out a sigh of relief. “False alarm. She finally arrived,” he said into the receiver as he adjusted his neck tie. “I will call you later, Adam.”

“You called my dad,” she exclaimed, both surprised and frustrated by the act.

Taking a seat, Rebecca watched as he hung up the phone and glared at her with a look of disapproval. “What did you expect me to do?” he asked, his brows draw together in apparent anger. “You are an hour and a half late. What if something would have happened to you? What if you had gotten hurt?”

Placing her head in her hands, she didn’t think she spent that much time in the library. Delving into her mind, she realized she didn’t remember anything between bursting out the entrance of the library and standing outside Dr. Miller’s office. She had to have lost at least an hour of her memory.

Feeling tears well up in her eyes, she wracked her brain for answers. Realizing the loss of time was not normal, she feared having to return to Brookshire for evaluation and possible reinstatement. Looking down, she remembered she held the newspaper printouts tightly in her hand. She concluded that there had to be a piece of information within these papers that stirred something within her mind. Something that caused her rational mind to try to hide from reality as it did a year before.

Dr. Miller stood up and came around the desk to stand before her. His mouth was twisted downward in a frown. His eyes were pleading. “I can’t help you if you don’t let me in,” he said, cupping her chin and forcing her to look him in the eyes. “What can I do to help you?”

Feeling slightly uncomfortable by his nearness, she fidgeted in her seat and turned her face away from his grasp. “I am experiencing some memory loss,” she whispered honestly, shaking her head slowly, back and forth, as if unable to come to grips with it all. “I don’t know where I have been for the past hour or so.”

His eyes widened with surprise. “Has this happened since you left the hospital? How many times has it happened?” he questioned, turning and taking his place behind the desk as he scribbled notes in her file.

“Only this once,” she responded, anxiously watching him write and wondering if he was labeling her as certifiable. “It happened after I read this….”

Lifting up the printouts so he could see them, she passed them to him, seeing his immediate displeasure. “You shouldn’t have done this,” he said, glancing between her and the articles.

“When were you going to tell me about Layla? How can you treat me when I could possibly have information concerning the murder of your family locked in my head?” she inquired, narrowing her eyes in confusion. “This is a huge conflict of interest.”

“Your treatment has nothing to do with my family,” he said defensively, his voice deep with emotion as he focused on the article concerning the house fire.

“How can you know for sure?” she asked, running her hands through her hair and tugging the strands. “How can you know when I don’t? I don’t know anything for sure anymore. The articles say that all of these events could be connected. If so, I had to have known something. It could have triggered my missing hour.”

Shifting forward in his seat, he met her eyes. “You lost your best friend the night they found you in the woods. It is possible you didn’t see a crime being committed but came upon Danica’s remains. Such a thing would cause an incredible amount of trauma,” he told her, appearing to choose his words carefully. “There is no proof that there is any link between what happened to Danica and my family.”

Rebecca nodded, trying to see the logic in his words.

Suddenly, the intercom sparked to life, announcing Dr. Miller’s next appointment had arrived.

“I think we should schedule another appointment for tomorrow to catch up on the things we missed today,” he said, rising from his seat and handing her the newspaper printouts. “I’ll call with the details tonight. I expect you to be here on time.”

Rebecca nodded, taking the papers from him. “You are going to give these back? I thought you wanted me to discover information on my own,” she told him.

He scoffed at her. “You have already read them,” he pointed out. “What is the point of taking them away now?”

Rebecca nodded. “You’re right. I guess… the damage is done.”

Walking her out, he draped his arm around her shoulders and squeezed comfortingly. “You are not damaged, Becca,” he whispered in her ear, a slight smile playing on his lips. “You just need help to figure things out, and I want to help you with that.”

Rebecca smiled, letting down her guard and relaxing in his presence. He could have made her feel unstable, but instead, he tried his best to bring her comfort and make her feel comfortable in her own skin. That was something she had struggled to achieve since she was institutionalized. “Thank you, Dr. Miller,” she said before walking out of the front door.

Exiting the building, Rebecca saw that her brother’s 1969 cherry-red thunderbird had pulled up to the curb. Surprised to see him, she hesitated and waved awkwardly at him.

He rolled down the window and smiled, exposing his pearly-white teeth. “Mom’s meeting is running late. She wanted me to pick you up.”

She nodded, walking towards the passenger’s seat and getting in. “Thanks for picking me up,” she told him. “I know how much you wanted to golf with Dane.”

“It’s alright. We had almost wrapped up the game anyway. I was killing him out there,” he said with a chuckle as he peeled away from the curb. Seeming to notice the printouts in her grasp, her brother asked, “What is that you have there?”

Feeling as if she had been caught doing something she shouldn’t have, Rebecca looked away. “Just some newspaper printouts about the fires.”

“Why would you have that?” he asked, his green eyes wide with surprise. “Does Dr. Miller know you have them?”

She nodded. “I showed them to him,” she answered. “He could have taken them, but there was no point. I read them already.”

Taylor shook his head. “You shouldn’t even be worrying about that,” he said, gripping the steering wheel so tightly his tanned skin turned pale.

“I want to know the truth,” she told him truthfully, bowing her head in shame. “Something happened to me, and I will never come to grips with it until I know what that is.”

After a few silent and awkward moments, they pulled up to their house. As Rebecca attempted to reach for the door handle, Taylor pulled her back with a gentle tug on her shoulder. When she turned to look at him, she could tell by the expression on his face that something was wrong.

With sadness emanating from him, he opened his mouth in an attempt to say something but quickly closed it, unable to speak.

“What is it?” Rebecca questioned, her eyes wide with concern.

Running his hand through his thick brown hair, he averted his gaze. “Maybe forgetting was the best thing that could have happened to you,” he told her, his words barely audible. “Don’t go digging in the past, Becca. You may not like what you find.”

Although he was calm, Rebecca couldn’t help but feel threatened. If he knew something, that would mean her own brother was conspiring against her, wanting her memory to never return or worse… to remain locked up in Brookshire. “Why, brother?” she asked, her voice shaking slightly. “What might I find?”

Appearing pensive, Taylor remained silent, choosing to avoid her gaze and stare out of the windshield. Realizing he was unwilling to say more, she opened the car door and hurried inside.

 

[ * ]

 

Pulling up to her father’s cabin on Lake Abanakee, Rebecca stepped out of her brother’s car and looked around warily, wrapping her jean jacket around her slender torso.

The night was cool as the long summer days were fading away and being replaced with a preview of the season to come. A gentle breeze came from the direction of the opposite shore of the lake, distorting the reflection of the moon as waves disbursed along its surface. The trees swayed slightly, creating shadows along the ground and adding to the eeriness of the night. The sound of animals scurrying about sent chills through her body.

Vacation season on the lake had ended, and most of the cabins were vacant until next summer. She had driven for a half hour to reach the cabin at Danica’s request, but the idea of being isolated in the Adirondacks was frightening. If something should happen, it would be a dark drive down an abandoned and winding road. Still, Danica had told her she needed to speak with her alone. She couldn’t even tell her parents she was leaving. She just slipped out of the house while her family slept, unofficially borrowing her brother’s car to meet her best friend.

Without further hesitation, Rebecca entered the cabin, seeing Danica standing before the fireplace in the dark. Confused by her friend’s behavior, she flipped the light switch on, but Danica became frantic and screamed for her to turn the lights off.

With her eyes wide with surprise, Rebecca quickly switched off the light, closing the front door behind her. “What is going on?” she asked, worried as she looked at her friend.

Once Rebecca’s eyes were adjusted to the dark, she saw that Danica was a mess. Her hair was not slicked back in its usual style. Strands had freed themselves from her ponytail, giving her the appearance of a mad woman. Her blue eyes were framed by dark circles as if she hadn’t slept in days.

“I didn’t see your car parked out front. Where is it?” she asked, approaching her friend who took a step back.

“I parked it down the road. I couldn’t take the chance of anyone seeing it,” Danica replied, her voice cracking.

“What is it?” she asked, never having seen her friend in such a state. “What is wrong?”

“Are you apart of it, Becca?” Danica asked, her voice shrill. “I need to know. Were you in on it?”

Rebecca shook her head. “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“The fires!” Danica said, taking something from the mantle and throwing it on the floor by her feet. “I found these.”

Bending down to retrieve the white squares at her feet, Rebecca realized they were pictures. Upon inspection, she saw they were her pictures. The same snapshots from her vanity. “You took these from my room,” she said, confused. “Why would you do that?”

Danica stepped forward and latched onto her arm. “Please… tell me.”

“I didn’t have anything to do with any fires. I swear,” she told her sincerely. “But… what do these pictures have to do with anything?”

Suddenly, exterior lights lit up the interior of the cabin, and Rebecca realized a car had just pulled up. Her heart began to race as she feared something was severely wrong with this situation. “We should go,” she whispered, but Danica hadn’t heard her.

“He is here,” Danica said on the verge of hysterics. “You have to hide.”

Danica led her to the hall closet, pushing her in before the front door opened.

 

 

Screams flooded the darkness, and in an instant, Rebecca realized they were her own. Wiping the sweat off of her brow, she sat up in bed, seeing that it was past dusk. Hyperventilating, she glanced at the clock to see it was just past eight o’clock.

“It was just a dream,” she told herself, but she knew it was too vivid to be just a dream.

Moving towards her side table, she picked up the receiver on her telephone and dialed Dr. Miller’s office. On the third ring, his secretary picked up, stating that the doctor was in a session with a patient and couldn’t be disturbed.

“Please, tell him that I called,” Rebecca pleaded. “He asked me to trust him, and I am willing for the first time to do that. Tell him that I had a dream. I remembered something.”

Hanging up the phone, she stood up and ran to her art studio. Opening the box, she removed the pictures and paid attention to each one. On the surface, they were just pictures with her friends, but something in one of the photos caught her eye. The gazebo. She quickly realized it wasn’t the people she had to pay attention to, but the background. Each one of the photos was taken in a different place… a place that had been burned down.

Lifting up the newspaper, she saw Danica’s article seemed to confirm this fact. The fires had taken place in all the hangouts she had visited that summer. Danica found the link, and she was dead.

Rebecca only had one choice. She had to return to her father’s cabin and see what she could remember, once and for all.

Seeing no one in the house to prohibit her escape, Rebecca grabbed her brother’s keys off the hook in the foyer and popped out of the front door. Nearly having a heart attack, she ran into a figure that was standing just outside, becoming tangled in their arms.

Pushing away from the person awkwardly, Rebecca stood up tall. “What are you doing?” she asked, shocked as she realized it was Dane. “Who stands outside of someone’s door like that?”

He shook his head, blending into the shadows perfectly with his dark clothes. “I was just about to knock when you came bursting through the door,” he told her, appearing happy to see her. “You didn’t respond to my message, and I was hoping we could hang out.”

Rebecca shook her head. “Oh, Dane, I forgot, and I wanted to go somewhere tonight.”

“Where?” he questioned, raising a suspicious brow.

Averting her eyes like a child who had been caught with a hand in the cookie jar, she responded, “My father’s cabin.”

“Why would you want to go there?” he asked, appearing surprised. “There is nothing there anymore.”

“There was a fire,” Rebecca stated, remembering her dream.

“Yes, a year ago.”

“No matter,” she said adamantly. “I have to go.”

“No, you don’t,” Dane said, stepping towards her. “Come on. Let’s just go out and have fun.”

Closing her eyes, Rebecca shook her head, feeling tears well up beneath her lids. “You don’t know what it is like to have these question marks in your head. It is like a bubble in your mind that is taking up space, waiting to be popped. I need answers, Dane. I want to remember everything.”

“Don’t go,” he spat out, blocking her exit. “I mean…. What I meant was don’t go alone. I will take you.”

Rebecca smiled, nodding in acceptance. Replacing her brother’s car keys on the hook, she walked with Dane towards his black mustang and jumped in.

In the darkness of a moonless night, they drove silently for a half hour towards her father’s cabin. Looking out of the window, she remembered the side streets that led up to the secluded cabin. When Dane stopped the car, signaling their arrival, she was surprised by what she saw.

Dane shut off the engine. “Go ahead,” he urged. “I will give you a minute.”

She nodded, leaning forward and kissing him on the cheek. “Thank you.”

Climbing out of the car, she saw the cabin had been almost completely burned to the ground. All that remained was a charred shell of the structure that used to be. Walking up to what would have been the main entrance, she stepped through the threshold, feeling as if a memory was about to surface.

Suddenly, as if coming from the air, she heard phantom voices, shouting in fear and anger.

Covering her ears, she looked about in a panic but saw nothing unusual in the darkness that surrounded her. Feeling her heart rate quicken and a nervous flutter in her gut, she tried to close her eyes and focus on what was being said. Without warning, there was a high-pitched scream that caused her to gasp and spin around, nearly falling on her tangled legs.

“Rebecca!” Dane cried out, running towards her. “What is it?”

“There was an argument,” she said on the verge of hysterics. “I remember hearing their muffled voices.”

“Whose?” Dane questioned, arching a brow.

“Danica and… someone else. I didn’t see them,” she responded, shaking as tears fell from her eyes. “I was hiding in the closet. Danica stopped screaming, and then I smelled smoke. I realized the cabin was on fire, and I ran out of the house. I only caught a glimpse of Danica’s body on the floor. It was on fire! I ran through the woods, scared that her killer would still be around, and didn’t look back.”

“And that is all you remember?”

Rebecca nodded. “She thought I was involved in something. She thought I was involved in the arsons.”

“You weren’t,” Dane muttered.

“No, I wasn’t,” she said, wiping her tears. “Why would she think that?”

Shaking his head, Dane stepped away, turning his back on her and gazing off into the distance. “Because your father was having an affair with Kayla Miller,” he told her in a nonchalant manner.

“What?” she questioned, running her hands roughly through her dark tresses.

“Your dad was having an affair,” he said coldly, turning to face her once more. “Do you really not remember this? You were devastated when you found out. Taylor told you he caught them when he went to meet your dad in his office. Taylor was really upset. Can you imagine? He wanted to kill her. You see, he had become close to Kayla, but she was just using him as a cover to go over to your house and be close to your dad. Sick, isn’t it?”

Feeling the world spin around her, Rebecca wanted to vomit. She didn’t remember an ounce about the affair, but deep inside she knew it was true. “Taylor didn’t kill her,” she stated, trying to convince herself that her words were true.

“No, I never said he did,” Dane said, his voice low and grim as he pulled out something which was under the waist of his jeans and hidden under his sweater.

As he held it up, it took Rebecca a minute for her eyes to adjust in the darkness and register that he held a pistol. “What are you doing, Dane?” she said, looking at him with pleading eyes as she backed away from him with her hands up.

He stared at her without blinking. “I killed Kayla and her family. I did it for you. You were devastated. Your family was about to break apart. You wanted her dead. You just didn’t know how to say it out loud, but I took care of it,” he said calmly, aiming the gun at her chest. “I did what I had to do.”

Rebecca shook her head in disgust.

“You must have known I did it, because you began to pull away from me. I thought that your memory loss was a blessing,” he said with a humorless laugh. “But now… you are remembering. It would only be a matter of time before you figured it out… like Danica did. And, once again, I am forced to do what I have to do.”

As he adjusted his aim, Rebecca tried to think of ways to stall him until she could come up with a plan to flee. Keep him talking, she thought. “You killed Danica?”

“I was sure you saw me,” he said, taking a step closer to her. “She discovered my secret. You see, I have always liked to play with fire. So much so that I killed my own parents in a house fire when I was a kid and was sent to live with my uncle. My records were supposed to be sealed, but Danica found out the truth and linked me to the fires. I had to do what I had to do.”

The way he repeated those words made Rebecca cringe. It was obvious he wasn’t in his right mind, and he wouldn’t hesitate to cover up his secret. “So, the fires were all set by you?”

“I have a need,” he shouted, grinding his teeth together as he momentarily lost control. “It is a burning inside of me. Those fires were like art… my art.”

“Who else knew about you? Danica couldn’t have kept it a secret.”

He laughed. “I suspected Taylor knew, but he never said anything. Although, he did watch me closely, trying to hang out with me. I am sure he thought he was preventing more fires.”

Suddenly, the sound of an engine broke the silence, and a car could be seen coming up the drive. Adjusting to the glare of headlights as it illuminated the facade of the structure, Rebecca squinted. The shadowy form stepped out of the car, standing just out of the reach of the lights; however, their outline could be seen.

Gasping as she recognized the form, Rebecca screamed, “Watch out, Daddy! He has a gun!”

In an instant, Dane grabbed her by her hair, pulling her close to him, while pointing the gun in the direction of her father. “Dr. Ardsley, so nice of you to join the party!”

Standing behind his car, her father put his hands up in surrender. “What are you doing, Dane?” he questioned, his voice calm although his stance was tense. “You know you can’t hurt her. You love her, remember?”

“I do,” he answered sincerely before shaking his head as if wiping away those thoughts. “Rebecca and I were just having a conversation about your extramarital activities. It seems I am not the only one who hurts those I love, Adam.”

Her father shook his head, obviously furious beneath his calm exterior.

Waving the gun, Dane ordered, “Come and join us.”

Without hesitation, Dr. Ardsley approached until he stood in the doorway.

Dane smiled, appearing pleased with his power. “How did you find us anyway?”

“I saw you pulling out of the driveway as I returned from work. Taylor told me that Rebecca was starting to remember. She is desperate to know the truth. If she was really ready to remember, I knew she would come here,” her father replied. “Taylor also told me about his suspicions… and your threats. Threatening to harm a girl that doesn’t remember anything won’t cover your crimes.”

Dane sighed. “Did you ever apologize to your daughter, Adam, for your crimes?”

Her father shook his head, biting his lower lip. “No, I haven’t,” he answered after a long moment of silence. “I am sorry, Becca. I came close to ruining our family. I was selfish and destructive. I didn’t know what I had. I love your mother.”

Rebecca nodded, hearing the sincerity in his tone. “I forgive you, Daddy.”

Focusing his attention back on Dane, he said, “The police are on their way here. I called before I left the house. If you go now, you can escape. Just don’t harm my daughter.”

Holding the gun firmly, Dane scoffed at him. “You know, Adam, you didn’t thank me for everything I did for you.”

“What?” her father questioned with a quizzical brow.

“I killed Kayla, ending your affair permanently,” Dane said, staring at Dr. Ardsley in the eye. “I saved your family.”

Losing his calm exterior, her father lunged at Dane with his hands extended as if wanting to strangle him.

Closing her eyes tightly, Rebecca gasped as if knowing what would happen next.

Without warning, a shot ran out, echoing through the night like lightning.

Screaming, Rebecca watched as her father collapsed to his knees, and his hazel eyes rolled back as blood oozed from a wound on his shoulder. Falling on his back in pain, he held his wound, applying pressure.

Feeling her heart stop in her chest, a cold shiver ran down her spine as she watched blood trail down her father’s arm, collecting beneath him in a puddle on the ground. “Let me go!” she screamed, freeing herself from Dane’s grasp and throwing herself on the ground next to her father.

Dr. Ardsley winced in pain. “He shot me,” he said in apparent shock, his eyes wide as he looked upon his wound.

Removing her cardigan, Rebecca wrapped the sleeves around her father’s shoulder, using it as a tourniquet to prevent him from bleeding out. She watched as her father’s head bobbed in the air before he rested it on the ground and closed his eyes, giving into unconsciousness.

Although her father was alive, he desperately needed medical attention. She had to get him to safety. Shaking with fear, her eyes shifted towards Dane, trying to anticipate his next move.

She saw the wild look in his eyes that was almost feral as if hypnotized by the sight of her father’s blood. Crazed by the power he possessed over them, he seemed prepared to fire another shot at her father.

Making up her mind to catch him off guard and fight back, she charged him, tackling him to the ground.

Hitting him with her fists as hard as she could, she thought she had the upper hand, but Dane was larger than her and threw her off of him as if he were swatting a fly.

Bouncing back, she attempted to gain access to the gun, but he held onto it tightly. Before she could react, he hit her over the head with the butt of the gun.

She groaned, feeling a blinding pain work its way through her head clouding her vision.

“You should have just left it alone,” he told her, aiming the gun at her head. “Not remembering is better than dying.”

Gaining back her vision, she gazed into the barrel of the gun and held her breath.

Suddenly, she heard several cars screeching to a halt in the front yard, surprising her. Scattered amongst the shadows of the forest and the high beams of the patrol cars, police officers swarmed the facade of the cabin with their guns aimed at Dane.

“Freeze!”

“Put the gun down!”

Rebecca looked up, breathing a sigh of relief. She had never been so happy to see Det. Bennette as he aimed his firearm at Dane.

Dane’s eyes widened.

He spun around, holding the gun out as if ready to shoot, but Det. Bennette fired first. Dane collapsed instantly, hitting the ground lifeless as the bullet seemed to have struck his heart.

Holding her head in her hands, Rebecca could feel the adrenaline seeping out of her system, leaving her in a state of delayed shock. Her whole body was shaking like a leaf in the wind, and she could do little to control it. She wanted to escape. She wanted to hide inside of her mind again as she did a year before.

Suddenly, she heard familiar voices screaming her name, bringing her back into reality. She looked up as she saw her mother, brother, and Dr. Miller running towards her. Dr. Miller stopped short, surveying the scene from outside of the burned facade. Her mother and brother ran to her father’s side, kneeling before him and questioning him with concerned voices.

Glancing at her father, she watched as his head floated upwards. “Go to him,” he whispered to her, grimacing as he held his shoulder. “I’ll be fine.”

Without further hesitation, Rebecca nodded, running towards Dr. Miller. She wrapped her arms around him, and he responded, holding her tightly. Finding the safe haven her mind needed at the time, she let her walls come down and cried.

Wearing jeans and a t-shirt, Nathaniel Miller appeared to be a far cry from the doctor she knew. With his hair tousled, he appeared a little more than nineteen. “I swear I didn’t know,” he said, his voice sincere as his blue eyes flashed with emotion. “I didn’t know about Kayla and your father.”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter now.”

“When I heard your message, I knew something was wrong, and I called your father. He thought you remembered the affair, and he confessed it all to me. He rushed home to explain to you, but you must have left,” he said, staring off into the distance as if trying to work it out in his head.

“He saw me leave with Dane as he pulled up to the house.”

He nodded. “Adam and Layla’s relationship didn’t seem inappropriate. She looked up to him just like I did.”

Glancing up at him, she asked, “And now?”

Appearing perplexed, he shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said.

“He has to live with what he did, but he didn’t kill her,” she told him. “He cared for her. As much as it hurts me to say this, he may have even loved her. Have you ever loved someone so much that you were willing to break the rules to be with them?”

Tearing his gaze away from the forest, his eyes met hers, and he nodded.

“We should talk about it… over coffee,” Rebecca offered, letting her feelings be known for the first time. “As you know, you are not that much older than I am, Nathaniel.”

“Six years older,” he said, raising an eyebrow at her as a crooked smile played on his lips.

“It wouldn’t be that inappropriate since I don’t need a doctor anymore, and I think my parents would approve,” she said, looking past his shoulder momentarily to see her father being wheeled out on a stretcher. Her mother glanced in her direction, nodding in approval, before she hopped inside the ambulance. “I think we have my parent’s blessing. What about that coffee?”

He smiled, averting his gaze shyly. “I would like that.”

“Then shall we?” she asked, eager to leave as she wrapped her arm around his.

With his blue eyes reflecting the moonlight, he nodded, leading her away to the safety of his car.

 

THE END

 

[ * * * ]

 

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List of Literary Works by Sandra Madera

Short Stories:

The Collector

Overboard

Sangre Falls

Scattered

Shattered

Weeping Willow – Part One

Weeping Willow – Part Two

 

Novels and Trilogies:

Restraint

Lament: A Restraint Novel

Malcontent: A Restraint Novel

Wicked Magic: A Weeping Willow Novel

Wicked Love: A Weeping Willow Novel (coming soon!)


Scattered

Rebecca Ardsley was a witness to a traumatic event that she cannot remember. All she knows is she was found wandering in the woods in the early morning hours, suffering from shock. She hasn’t seen her friends and family in months. When she is released from a recovery facility, she finds it hard to adapt and return to the friends she has known her whole life. Feeling like a stranger in a foreign land, Rebecca realizes the only way to settle what happened is to release the memories that are trapped in her own mind. Even at risk of her own life.

  • ISBN: 9781310608810
  • Author: Sandra Madera
  • Published: 2015-11-07 05:05:07
  • Words: 14402
Scattered Scattered