Cynthia and Irene waited near the door to the dining room ahead of us. “Can we talk about this later?”
The others remained silent as we walked to the dining room.
Everyone in the dining room we walked into turned to look at us.
As I stood in the dining room doorway, I noticed Eli’s parents’ concerned glances at the bruises on my neck, which peeked out of the top of my tight suit collar. Cynthia kept looking at my face, and I knew she was looking at my nose. I hoped I didn’t have a bruise; I should have snuck off to the bathroom before I sat down. Why hadn’t I asked Cory what he could have done for me at Irene’s house? I felt a deeper level of concern to the attention they were both paying me. I felt a wave of sadness wash over me as I felt a craving for parental affection. It was something I’d never really had with my own distant parents. Sometimes I felt like they’d only had kids because that was what they were supposed to do. After a few more seconds of standing there, I ran up the stairs to my bedroom.
I pulled my tie off and undid the first few buttons of my shirt, my aching neck glad for the freedom from the tight hold of the clothing. Siegfried had left bold hand-shaped bruises against my neck. They weren’t as obvious as they’d have been on a person with lighter skin, but they were still visible. Surely Eli, Kat, and Cory would have seen them. I’d been wearing a v-neck tee shirt. Why the hell had they let me run off into the bush alone after what had happened to me? I let the tears that had built in my eyes fall.
The rush from the vodka had worn off, and the pain had moved in with the cold press of reality. Sometimes I wondered if the blitz of getting drunk was worth this post clarity where reality came pressing in with a force my body and mind weren’t prepared for. The aggressive alertness of my slightly aching mind, the sour taste in the back of my mouth, the nausea rolling within my stomach. Did I have a problem? I sunk to the floor, curled into a ball against the wall and rested my head against my knees. Were the couple of hours I could sink into the muddled blitz of forgetting my worries and turning the negative thoughts off in my head worth feeling like this? The pain of my injuries, the sick feeling I got thinking about Siegfried and the sad fury I felt towards Eli, Cory and Kat for letting me run off alone still hadn’t left. I’d hid them as my impaired brain had focused on immediate functions. I took a few deep breaths to push back my nausea.
Part of me wanted someone to come and check on me, but as time crept on, I realised I was alone. The illusion I’d had that I wasn’t alone had been fractured the moment those yellow eyes met mine. The demon had shown me just how distant I was from everyone in my life. They’d needed someone to keep the secret from, to feel special. I sat on the cold tiles and let the sadness and anger wash over me and sunk into the feeling.
I woke to someone shaking me awake and saying my name. I looked up at Eli, who was kneeling beside me on the bathroom floor, a look of utter panic and fear on his face. I was sprawled on the bathroom floor, a new pain in the side of my head, where it touched the cold tile. “What do you want?”
His eyes were fixed on the marks around my neck. “How about you lay down on the bed?”
“No.” I turned my gaze to the tile again. I didn’t want to stay here, but I wasn’t about to lay on the bed because he’d told me to, the guy clearly angry at me for getting assaulted.
“I get that you’re angry at me, but I’m worried about you. Cory is going to check that you’re okay.”
“Why did you let me run off then?”
Eli flinched, moving back from me and removing his fingers from me as though he’d been burnt. “I was angry.”
“Some freak assaulted me, then tried to rape me and you let me run off into the bush alone because you were angry?”
“I was angry that you and Kat would do something that stupid. I wasn’t thinking clearly.” He said. “I didn’t want to restrain you and force you to stay somewhere you didn’t want to be.”
“You weren’t thinking clearly? I had no way to get home!”
“I tried to find you.”
“Through tracking software, which you likely installed on my phone?” I sat up and looked him straight in the eyes.
“What am I supposed to do? That demon could have killed you and vanished the other night. If I didn’t do it, Cory and I would have never found you and Kat. You’d probably be dead. What were you thinking?”
“I couldn’t let her go in there alone.”
“Why d’you throw your phone in the creek? I thought you’d fallen in and drowned. I was looking for you all afternoon. Do you have any idea the relief I felt when Cory sent me a text about you being at Irene’s house?” He ran his fingers through his hair and looked away from me. “Fuck. You need to tell me what’s happening with you Dexter so I can fix it.”
“I’ve told you what’s happening.” I carefully reached out and wrapped my pinkie finger around his. I squeezed it before I slipped my hand into his. “You’re the centre of my plan. I need you at the centre of my plan. I promise you, the most exciting thing happening in my life right now is this investigation and those false accusations. I’m not running around at night committing crimes. I’d tell you if I was.”
“Please let Cory check you over.”
I nodded and followed him into the bedroom where Cory, Kat and Julie were sitting on the end of our bed. Neither Julie nor Kat left when Cory examined me, both not wanting to be left out of anything. It was awkward to be stripped down to my boxer briefs, while Cory basically felt me up in front of my cousin and Julie; who I’d once had a crush on for years. The fact that I’d almost asked Julie to be my date for the year six formal was a secret I’d take to the grave. If Julie and Eli discovered that I’d had a crush on her, it would become another in joke between them, and I’d never live it down. The fact that I’d had sex dreams about everyone in the room, apart from Kat, made the whole situation even more awkward.
Cory was careful as he checked my injuries and healed the bruises on my face and neck.
“Eli and Kat told me what happened,” Julie said.
“Are you going to ask me what I was thinking, too? As though I could have let Kat run off into some stranger’s house by herself?” I asked.
“This is all my fault. I was cocky and thought we could get in and out safely.” Kat assured.
“It was my fault we were caught. I got angry and threw some paperwork. It slid over the threshold you told me not to touch.” I looked at the ground, my face aflame.
“He really could have hurt you, Dex,” Kat said. “I shouldn’t have left you alone. You don’t have the experience to defend yourself.”
“I’m sick of people treating me like a kid or an idiot. Do you know how many people have told me I won’t last a year in this world? They aren’t trying to warn me, they’re just being smug to warm their own ego. They’d be happy to be proven right, to see an Arkwright or Lacy fall. Too bad they picked the most stubborn fucker imaginable to mess with.”
“You’ll be okay,” Eli answered. “I’ll make sure of it.”
“What are we going to do now?” Kat queried.
“Solve Alissa’s murder. Maybe I’m weird, still hung up on Tara’s death, maybe I need something to control in my life, or maybe part of her imprinted its self in my mind. I don’t care. I need to do this.” I declared.
“You don’t need to justify it. I’m with you.” Kat assured.
“Even if someone related to us did it?”
I brought Eli, Julie, Cory and Kat up to date on the information I’d discovered in the folder I’d read in Thornton House. Our action plan would be to collect a list of suspects, men from wealthy families born between 1960 and 1963. The killer had to be at least twelve or thirteen at the time of the crime but under eighteen during the court process.