She used to think that older women who wore dark lipstick looked stupid. Now, she decided, examining her face critically, she wasn't so sure. Apparently the older you got, the more color your lips lost.
But it was far too late to worry about that. Years too late. She settled for giving herself a brief once-over in the mirror. Habitually, she smoothed down her red dress - the same one she'd had nearly six years ago. This was as good as she was going to look. She grabbed her keys from the vanity and strode out of the room.
The drive to Riverbend barely took her twenty-five minutes. It was a typical cheap bar, overgrown to the point where it almost looked abandoned. The lights seeping out of the window were weak, and not just because of the curtains. There were several run-down vehicles in the parking lot, most of which were familiar to her, but one of which was entirely new.
She made sure to lock the doors firmly behind her - Marcus had a klepto streak in him, and she could plainly see his battered minivan parked unevenly just a few spaces away. She fidgeted with her purse, adjusting it so that it fit perfectly under her arm. When she finally had no more excuses, she set off towards the entrance.
She was coming to dread this. It was a habit, and it had been for the past seventeen years. Seventeen years - she cringed just to think about it. Seventeen years, and she'd wasted every Wednesday night she could remember in this place. What did that say about her? Her gaze fell into a large puddle in the cracked cement to her left. At the sight of her face, she cringed visibly and looked away.
'You're getting old,' a little voice in the back of her head whispered. She shoved it down and pulled the entrance door open in one smooth motion.
The smell of cigarettes and cheap booze felt as ordinary to her as the scent of her own home. She stepped in easily, tossing a smile to the bartender.
"Hello, Lenny." Hopefully her face didn't give away how tired she really felt. If there was anyone here who would notice, it would be Lenny. He peered out from his silent, serious demeanor with eyes that saw every flaw, every weakness, every poorly-planned excuse. "The usual, please."
The other regulars barely spared her a glance. There was nothing to say to her; She was there for the same reason the rest of them were. She was there to drown her sorrows.
She slid easily into her usual booth, unhooking her purse from her arm and setting it on the seat besides her. Lenny materialized at her arm with her drink. He set the glass in front of her and vanished as silently as he'd appeared.
She picked it up absently, tilting it this way and that, watching the amber liquid swish and swirl. Hadn't she done this same thing last week? Probably. She seemed to be repeating more and more things these days without even realizing it.
As she brought the glass to her lips, careful not to smear her lipstick, her eyes fell onto the worn cork board by the entrance that served as community advertising for goods being sold. Most of the paper there was worn thin and yellow and crinkled with old age, but it was the two crisp new posters that caught her attention.
'Missing. Have you seen me?'
Two, one for each person.
It was wrong, she thought as a knot formed in her stomach. It was wrong to have their picture hanging in here. They didn't deserve to be here.
The sound of the entrance creaking open shook her out of her thoughts. She forced herself to look at the new arrival.
Make that arrivals. The first one to step in was a tall brunette girl with sparkly make-up covering her upper eyelids and way too much lip gloss. The girl would have been pretty if not for the makeup. She had to restrain herself from reaching towards her bag, where she always kept some makeup removing cloths. The girl could find her own, if she wanted to.
The girl was followed in by a man who looked to be in his mid-thirties. He was tall, maybe half a foot taller than the girl, and his hair looked like he'd slept on it all day and hadn't thought to brush it before going out. He followed a step behind his companion, his worn leather coat swishing gently.
As they passed, she got a good look at the girl's face. A fist seemed to clench in her chest. She was too young - much too young to be here. She didn't look more than fourteen, and maybe she was younger than that. The eyeshadow and lip gloss added a few years to her age, but probably not many. There was only so much you could do with a face that young.
She would know.
The girl stopped at a table about two yards away and turned to the man. She grinned brightly, the perfect image of childish innocence, and pointed to it.
"Let's sit here," she said. The man shrugged and pulled out a seat, flopping down across from her and smiling indulgently.
The child's voice was like something metal piercing her eardrums. It was so light and sweet... A stab of anger ripped through her chest. Where were this girl's parents? Her guardians? Anyone? She shouldn't be within six miles of this place, let alone standing in the middle of a dive bar with a man who could be her Father. But here she was, and no one seemed to notice or care.
The man said something, his voice a low rumble. She didn't even try and make out the girl's answer. She felt sick enough just seeing them.
She tilted her head back and swallowed a huge gulp of lukewarm beer. She needed something to settle her stomach. It smelled bad and tasted worse, but she barely noticed. She was too focused on not turning and seeing the two people.
He must have said something funny, because a soft, melodic laughter reached her ears. She clenched her fist tightly around her glass and ground her teeth to keep from saying anything. It wasn't her place to intervene. This girl would fuck up her life, and nobody could help that.
A chair scraped, followed by a second one. The man appeared in her peripheral vision, heading the bar. She couldn't restrain herself from looking back. The table he occupied was empty. The brunette girl was walking towards the restroom, clutching her purse so tightly that her knuckles were white.
She didn't stop to think about what she was doing before she stood up and strode over in the same direction. If she did, she would have told herself to stop, to let it go. It wasn't a big deal. People did this all the time. But as she passed the girl, the scent of strawberry wafted over to her, and all of a sudden her control was gone. There was no turning back now.
She entered the restroom first and moved over towards the single mirror, forcing a casual expression onto her face. A second later the door swung open again, and this time it was the girl. She looked over and sent her a nervous smile in the mirror before setting her bag down and pulling out a compact and a case of sparkling eyeshadow that matched the color she wore.
"Hey," she was careful to keep her tone friendly, but not overly so. She didn't want to scare the child. "Haven't seen you here before. You new to this place?"
The girl looked up and made a noise of affirmation.
"Yeah," her tiny, unwrinkled hands were shaking slightly but visibly as she held raised the brush to her eyes.
"And that your boyfriend out there?" She gave what she prayed looked like a knowing grin.
"Yeah," The girl's smile grew much more sincere at the mention of the man waiting outside.
It tugged on her heart - this girl really was beautiful. God. How could no one notice she was gone?
"And how did he find this place?" she asked, fighting to keep her tone neutral. "It's kinda far out here, and it's not the most popular place these days."
"Some of his friends at work were talking about it," the girl answered. Her eyes were far away, presumably as she was thinking about her boyfriend. Her painted lips were turned up softly at the corners, like they belonged to a china doll.
It made her feel sick to her stomach.
"I see," she said. Her fingers were curled so tightly around the edge of the sink that she'd probably need help to get them off. The smile felt plastic on her face. "It was sweet of him to take you along."
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she knew she'd slipped up. They were cruel, almost insulting, and too knowing. The feigned lack of guile had been blown away - it was now apparent that she knew that this girl was too young and just what her 'boyfriend' was. Nobody could miss that.
"I know," said the girl. Her face took on a dreamlike look of angelic bliss. She stared both into and past the mirror with an expression of innocent adoration. "He's always thinking of me."
Apparently, someone could miss that.
She could taste the bile in the back of her throat. Jesus Christ, how young was this girl? How could anybody bear to drag her down, to make her dirty? How could that MONSTER -
She was losing control rapidly.
She forced herself to take a deep breath. Slowly, she uncurled her fingers from the sink. They felt like rubber. She flexed them experimentally, but the feeling wouldn't go away.
'It won't until you do something.' The thought took her by surprise. It was irrational. Her fingers had nothing to do with her desires. Just how far gone was she?
The answer was clear. Very, very far gone.
"What's your name?" she asked easily, keeping her tone friendly. She tried to soften the muscles of her face so that her smile would seem more genuine. Had it slipped off her face at some point? She hoped not.
"I'm Jill," said the girl, looking moderately surprised but pleased at the same time. "What's yours?"
"Carla." Now there was pain, a knot of pain in her stomach. Jill. Jill...
'Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water...'
When she was young, she'd had an English teacher with a bunch of pictures from fairytales and children's rhymes on the walls of her room. Next to the bulletin board and above the bookshelves full of colorful picture books and slim chapter books had been a picture of Jack and Jill. They were both round, squat little figures, just a bunch of circles. Jill had brunette braids and a blue dress and a bright red smile.
Looking back, the smile was the only realistic thing about her.
'All she needs is the dress,' she thought numbly, studying the real Jill. 'Just the dress, and she's all set to play Jill and take a tumble down a hill.'
Jill was still smiling, but it was an awkward smile, like she didn't know what to do now. Vaguely, she realized that Jill needed a cue.
"Well, Jill," her voice sounded funny. It come out of her throat uneven, rising and falling erratically. She fought to tame it before she spoke again. "Guess I'll be seeing you around."
She flashed another smile, this one a good-bye smile, and walked towards the door on legs she couldn't feel at all. She might as well have been floating. Her fingers still felt funny.
"I guess you will," Jill said softly.
Her face hurt from being forced into an unnatural position.
As soon as the door swung shut behind her, it seemed to seal an unspoken fate. She was going to act. She was going to act tonight.
It was a terrible idea. She'd had plenty of stupid ideas in her life, but this just might blow them all out of the water. If she got caught... if she was found out... Well, there went whatever life she had left. She didn't have time to think of a plan - she was going to have to wing it the entire time. And if something went wrong, well, there was no helping it. It was all instinct, all natural, all rage.
'And all stupidity,' her mind offered her helpfully.
Well, no shit.
She walked straight past her table without sparing it a sideways glance. She didn't stop until she pushed through the door and a wave of fresh air washed over her.
The bitter chill of it calmed her down slightly. What was she doing? This was suicide, plain and simple. She should go back inside. She should have another drink. She should...
When had she ever done what she should?
She stepped forwards, not letting herself think anymore. From the dim floodlight that had guided many a drunk on many a dark night, she could see the entire parking lot. She knew every car there - every Wednesday night it was the same old crowd. Only one stood out. It was an ancient Jeep that looked like it had been through a tornado. One of the wheels was missing a hubcap, and the driver's side door had such a huge dent in it she doubted it would open.
There was only one thing left to do. She squeezed her way past two cars that someone had put too closely together (weren't they going to be thrilled once they realized) and into the open space beyond. Her prize was sitting in the middle of a huge puddle, gleaming in the light like a sign from god.
'Or the devil.'
She picked up the empty beer bottle and strode over to the Jeep. To hell with discretion - she laid it right where she could see it, two inches from the front left wheel.
It was perfect.
She turned and made to go back inside, but before she did, she took a moment to compose her face. Caring, concerned, innocent. Caring, concerned, innocent. The tension in her muscles disappeared as her expression became the mask she needed.
She stepped inside.
Jill was sitting with her boyfriend now. She was speaking indiscernibly, most likely keeping up a stream of banal chatter. Friends, homework, family. She couldn't see Jill's boyfriend's expression, but his hunched posture indicated that he was either drunk, tipsy, or he just didn't care. Her jaw clenched involuntarily. He brought her here, he should put up with her.
'Should. Ha. There's that word again. Nothing about this night 'should' happen.'
As though sensing her presence, Jill looked up and smiled. The sheer youth of it was almost blinding. She had to force herself to give a brief smile in return as she came up besides the table.
"Hey," she said a second later, forcing some fake concern. "Jill, did you guys drive here in a green Jeep?"
"Yeah," said Jill, tilting her head to one side and blinking, obviously not following. On her sweet face it was endearing rather than stupid.
"Um, why don't you come with me for a second?" now she made her face a mixture of worry and awkwardness. She could feel it so well that she could see it in her mind's eye. There was no more worrying about mistakes. She was too good at this, way too good at what she did. She'd never slipped up before.
"Why?" Jill ask, blinking again. Her boyfriend took another swig of his beer and remained silent.
"I - well, you'll see. It's probably best that you come with me," she said, making a quick gesture that Jill should stand up and follow her. Jill, in turn, cast a quick look at her boyfriend and then complied. She put her hand on her boyfriend's shoulder.
"I won't be long," she said, giving it a light squeeze. He said nothing.
She couldn't have hated him more if she tried.
They left the bar together, the door swinging shut behind them with an eerie finality. Her legs felt like rubber, and she had the same sensation that she always had when she drove down a hill too fast - that her stomach had disappeared completely. She was breathing quickly and she couldn't stop. The whole world seemed tilted - or maybe it was only her. Who knew? Who cared?
"It's over here," she said. She sounded like someone who was about to be sick. If Jill noticed, she didn't say anything.
She led Jill towards the Jeep. Every step was a struggle. She felt like she wasn't walking right, like she should be leaning to one side, but she knew that was wrong.
'Stay up, stay up,' she begged herself. But a part of her welcomed the distraction from the dead silence of the night that spelled impending doom.
"Someone slashed your tires," the words were almost like physical slush in her mouth. She raised a shaking finger and pointed towards the car, all the while acknowledging that it was finally over. There was no more debate. It was done.
Jill ran past her wordlessly, stopping just short of the vehicle. She crouched down and studied the front tire carefully, not seeming to notice the beer bottle. When she saw that it was fine, she stood and slid along the side of the car to the back one.
She stood merely a foot away. She was still breathing hard. Nothing seemed real. This was all a dream, a nightmare, and she'd wake up soon.
She crouched down and was vaguely amazed that she didn't fall over. Her shaking was so bad that it felt like an earthquake was happening. She didn't have long, a fraction of a second, a fractured second, a fracture in a second...
Everything started in slow motion. She stood up, and her body was totally numb. She raised the bottle over her head, leaning back ever so slightly. Jill started to move, but it was too late.
Soon there would be white dresses and laughing girls and good grades on math tests and birthday cakes and pink balloons and cotton candy lip gloss and laughing and best friends and candles and the air would be sweet with flowers-
Out of the darkness, something grabbed her wrist.
"Please don't injure my partner."
Jill turned. All the innocence was gone from her face. She looked like a doll, beautiful but plastic. When she saw what was going on, she smiled, and it was somehow a horrifying sight. There was no open hatred, but there was something there that wasn't RIGHT.
She wondered how she ever could have mistaken Jill for a child.
She tried to turn, but the hand still had her wrist, so all she could do was move her head. She half expected to see a demon, some kind of leering, hellish figure. But it wasn't. It was Jill's boyfriend, and he suddenly didn't look old or slumped or drunk or whatever else she'd thought about him. He looked young and strong.
Through a fog, she registered the bottle falling to the ground and shattering. Had she needed that? She couldn't think straight. It was like being in a tornado. Everything was spinning so furiously she felt like she'd simply fall to pieces. She was suffocating.
"Don't panic," the man holding her arm said. He smiled, but his smile was the same as Jill's. There was no light behind his eyes. "We're not the police."
"We're here investigating the disappearances of two girls who were last seen here," Jill stepped closer. The smile never left her face. "We're private investigators."
"We don't care what you've been doing," The man said. "We've only been hired to find the bodies of one of the girls."
"Her family needs to see her," Jill said. Now there was a softness in her face, an uncanny, doubtless wisdom that seemed to stretch into infinity.
She felt like she was falling into that depth.
No! She forced herself back into the present. She couldn't allow herself to be deceived. The gentleness on Jill's face was even more terrifying than her smile had been. It was a lie. Everything about this girl was a lie.
"We just want to know where the bodies are," the man explained.
"We won't call the police," said Jill. Her eyes sparkled with something akin to amusement. "We weren't hired to catch the killer. All they want is the body."
Her stomach was back, but it was frozen. There was a great weight on her shoulders. It felt like she was being crushed to death. Without much conscious thought she let her head fall forwards and vomited. When it felt like she'd retched so hard she was bruised from ribs to hips, she let herself go completely limp. How had this happened? When had things gotten out of control?
"Carla," Jill spoke up. Even hearing her name spoke, she didn't raise her head. She wouldn't fall into that trap again. "We don't want to involve the police. That means we lose our job. But if we have to we will. Nobody has to know about your involvement in this. It's not our business to do anything about it."
'Liar,' she thought, but even what would have once been real vehemence was now just a strained imitation. It didn't matter anymore. Everything was over.
"We can search your home," the man said. She didn't dare look at him either. God only knew what kind of tricks he had up his sleeve. "Whatever you're hiding, we will find it. Besides the obvious, of course."
His entirely businesslike tone heightened the sense of unreality.
'When till I wake up?' she wondered. 'How long is this going to last?'
"Where are they, Carla?" Jill's tone was muted, but there seemed to be a hidden knife in her words. "Where did you put them?"
'Jack and Jill went up the hill...,' she couldn't remember the rest. Insane laughter bubbled up in her chest, but she forced it down.
The man heaved a sigh.
"Let's just get looking," he said, sounding resigned. His grip on her wrist loosened minutely, but she didn't move. Somehow she knew it didn't matter. It was all over no matter what.
Jill didn't say anything. She just moved closer, closer, ever closer.
"It doesn't matter," She spoke softly. There were catches in her voice, whether from the cold or from emotion it was impossible to tell. "Just tell us where they are."
Could she really tell them?
They were innocent, white dresses and hair in ribbons and shining round faces and beauty and freedom and they were angels.
"Where did you put them?"
Her body answered on it's own.
Now it was finally done. Finished. Kaput. The end. No more. They would find the girls, pretty as pictures at the bottom of the river, and they would pull them out of the frigid water's embrace and take them back home, to the place where they had been soiled. The girls would be made beautiful again, like they had been when they were alive, by people who didn't understand that the beauty was that they weren't ruined. They'd be nothing but a show. A carnival attraction.
"Alright, then," the man said, with something similar to cheer. He let go of her wrist, and her arms dropped limply to her sides. For a moment she stared disbelievingly at her feet. Then she toppled bonelessly to the hard ground. There was no pain.
"We'll tip the police off," said Jill. Her voice had the same note of success. "Let's call the parents."
"No," the man replied. "It's too late."
"When has that ever bothered you?"
A door opened and shut. It seemed to come several miles through a tunnel before it reached her ears. She shut her eyes as tightly as she could.
'No more!' she screamed mentally. 'No more!'
The innocent-faced girl with the dark heart was leaving into the night with her boyfriend that wasn't older than her. She heard the engine of a car start.
'That's them,' she thought hazily.
She pictured Jill's face again. She really didn't look anything like the picture her English teacher had hanging on her wall. Her name probably wasn't even Jill.
'Jill,' she thought mirthlessly. 'What a funny name.'
But she also thought she knew why the girl had picked it.
The ground shaking as Jeep drove off hardly registered. Trivial things didn't matter anymore. She was lying in a dark puddle on the ground, and there was no light for her eyes to shine in. She shut them and slipped beneath the glassy surface.
Author's note: Oh vey, such confusion I must have just wrought.
Yes, it is I, returned from my long period of inactivity. Why was I gone so long? I've written why on my profile, if anyone actually cares.
Where to begin? This is a plot that was born in my head on the day of our move. Since then it's been bouncing around in said cavernous void, and sometime back in late December/early January I decided to let it out. Things got confusing fast, mental energy was maxed, and then all of a sudden I was back in my writing groove and then the entire stressful, unfamiliar earth ceased to exist. My mind cherished these words. My will gave me new strength. I wrote and wrote and wrote and now I'm up to chapter five, which is absolutely fantastic for someone as slow and long-laboring as I am. More continues to flow gleefully and pretty much of it's own accord. (Although I should consider pausing so that I can catch up with my homework sometime.)
The title is old English or Gaelic, something along that line, and it is the masculine form of the word two. No sexism was intended, I promise; this title just sort of popped into my head, and now I can't imagine the story without it.
I'll warn you here that the rest of the chapters will be very different from this. This is really just my intro. I like to think that it only gets better, but I think that's relative.
Well, Au revoir for now and if you actually read that, you should consider getting a life. I don't know if I said anything of value in this little note.
Reviews are always welcome. Constructive criticism, too. Any feedback makes me a happy girl.