PENITENCE

:1:

"I swear, if that hits my cat, you're dead meat."

Chase gave me a non-affected look, then turned his attention to the target again, grip tightening on the bow string. "Technically, the cat would be dead meat."

I crossed my arms and took a couple steps back. "Still."

Pooks skirted the edge of the yard, well out of the range of the arrow. Hopefully. Chase released the string and the snap of it -- like a guitar string being roughly plucked -- sent Pooks running for the fuel tank beside the house.

"Bull's eye."

I looked to Chase and he was smiling; I fought the urge to return it and instead looked at the target. Sure enough, the arrow stuck right in the middle.

"I hate you," I informed him as I dropped onto the creaking bench seat of the picnic table. A few stray bangs, red in color, fell into my eyes and I blew it away.

"Love you too," came his immediate reply.

I watched as he knocked another arrow and pulled back the string. The sky was a pale yellowish blue hue that was cloudless; one would pass through every now and then, slowly and gradually, as if afraid to move too quickly. As if it was scared of being spotted. Sunlight bore down on us, only a little less intense than it had been throughout the morning, but it was the humidity that got to me. I was sweating without even moving.

Reclining back on the not-so-sturdy seat, I let out a long sigh and Chase turned his attention to me, lowering the bow.

"You weren't answering your phone earlier," I said, meeting his gaze. "All morning, I was calling you."

"Must've had it off." He shrugged.

"You only have it off when you're you-know-what-ing," I said dully, rolling my eyes. With a sigh, I sat upright again. "Which is kind of stupid, because if you left it on, it could give you an alibi."

He looked at me for a moment, eyes curious, and then he let the bow drop from his hands and onto the grass. "It'd make too much damn noise and then I'd be in prison." My gaze followed him as he approached and I crossed my legs as he sat down next to me. "Unless that's what you want."

I frowned at him, though it was hard. "Of course not." I thought my point over, weighing its effect over in my mind. "You just -- Before, you promised that you'd tell me when you were going to. . ."

He curled a lock of my hair around his finger, focusing on it. "Who said I did?"

"I can tell," I said, hesitantly. "Plus, you're in way too good of a mood."

"Maybe I'm happy because I'm with my girlfriend. Ever think of that?" Now he turned his eyes to me, and because he was smiling, I had to return it.

"As nice of a thought that is, I know it's not the truth." I reached across the table and slid my half-empty can of Mountain Dew closer to me. It was warm now; the metal can had sweated and left a ring of condensation on the table's wood surface. Cracks ran along the wood, finish long before chipped away and eroded at from the high winds we usually got here. It left spaces of air that I traced along with my finger.

"Truth is relative," he said simply. Head cocked to the side, he focused on my hair again. "I like this color. Don't dye it again."

"I wouldn't anyway. My mom would kill me. She was mad enough when I dyed it this color," I muttered, recalling the entire melodramatic ordeal two weeks ago. Swishing the can around for a moment, I took a drink of it. "She kept saying it looked like blood."

"That's the point."

"I know."

"What were you calling about?" he asked. Letting go of the lock, it fell back into place, and I tapped my fingers against the side of the soda can. "This morning," he clarified after a moment, smile fading.

I frowned at him, pulling away when he tried to slip an arm around my waist. "Quit changing the subject."

A puzzled look crossed his face. "From what?"

"Who was it?"

"Who was who?"

"You know."

We stared at each other for a few seconds; his expression turned smug and I let off a frustrated sigh. Reaching for the soda can, I sent a glare his way and got to my feet.

"I'm going inside," I said over my shoulder as I headed back into the house. Mom and Dad wouldn't be home for a while yet. Not that Chase could stay over long, anyway. I had to babysit one of the neighbor kids at four o'clock, and it was nearing that time.

As I came to the back porch, I caught sight of Pooks underneath it, white fur catching the sunlight as she rolled around on the cool dirt beneath. I pushed the sliding glass door open and was met with a rush of cold air from inside. Stepping through, fingers still on the handle, Chase came in behind me and eased my grip off of it.

"Just some lady," he said suddenly, his tone holding an amused edge. "I don't even know, really."

I let him close the door and I pivoted, crossing my arms again. "I thought you said you wouldn't do that."

He frowned, blue eyes focused on me as he stretched his arms out overhead. "I never said anything like that."

"You said you wouldn't do it without a reason. How can you have a reason if you didn't know her?"

"Why are you asking so many damn questions?" He slipped his hands into the pockets of his cargo shorts. "You won't like the answers, anyways."

"That's comforting."

"It should be."

"I have to leave in five minutes; I've got another scheduled session of 'tame the Cookie Monster'," I said with a bit more disdain than intended, eyes falling to the digital readout of the clock on the stove. I set down the can of Mountain Dew onto the counter and a familiar thought was coming over me. As much as I didn't like it, I knew it was the option that had the highest chance of working. Not that I had any other options. This subject was pretty much the only sour one between us.

It was a nice option, though. In a shallow way. It had a sophomoric feel to it, which was okay, I guess, because we were juniors in high school, so that was close enough. But it was still disconcerting. I didn't like manipulating people.

"See you tomorrow, then?"

He nodded vaguely and jerked his gaze away from something, as if he hadn't been listening.

"Yeah, tomorrow," he said, response delayed. He crossed the kitchen, tennis shoes rubbing against dull tiles, and I propped my hands on my hips.

"You were thinking about it, weren't you?" I found myself asking. From the grin on his face, I knew the answer was yes. "It's creepy that you get kicks out of it."

"Not kicks," he said as he slipped his hands around my waist. "Just an adrenaline rush."

"Same thing."

He shrugged, fingers tracing shapes at my back. "Think what you want."

"I will."

He leaned in and kissed me, hold tightening. I felt my back press up against the edge of the counter and I pulled away some, hand resting at the collar of his T-shirt. Biting my lip, I asked, "Just some lady?"

After a moment, he nodded and a smile played at the corners of his mouth. "Yeah."

"Anyone we know?" I watched him, hand absently tracing downwards.

"Don't think so." He grinned, one hand closing over mine. "I know what you're doing, Hannah."

My brow raised. "And?"

"It's cute."

Before I had a chance to respond, he kissed me again, moved along my jaw and to my neck.

"You're just letting me?" I asked quietly, suddenly feeling a little apprehensive.

"Yup."

"That makes no sense."

"It's fun." He nuzzled my ear, where he knew I was ticklish and I retreated some, bringing a hand to the sensitive area there. He kept his hands secured at my waist, grip tightening.

"How?"

He pulled me closer. "The usual."

I slipped my arms around his torso, leaning my chin on his chest so that I was looking up at him. "Do you think they've found her body yet?"

Okay. So my boyfriend was a murderer.

Serial killer, to be exact.