Hunched at my desk in the same clothes I’d been wearing on Halloween days ago, I poured over the security footage for the hundredth time. My blurred memories mixed with the CCTV recordings, leaving me with a hazy version of the truth. I watched as Maisie and Rian danced. I saw Autumn there, at a distance, her rage evident even in the dark, pixelated screen.
And then Autumn hunted and seduced me. I recall not putting up much of a fight. With a lump in my throat, I admitted to myself I hadn’t been the most difficult quarry. My heart broke when I saw Maisie standing in the hallway just outside, shoulders slumped from the weight of my betrayal. My last real memory was her slamming into my chest downstairs, looking up at me with a lifetime of hurt swimming in her eyes… pain I contributed to. I couldn’t bring myself to watch that moment on the recordings.
No more memories, only footage. I watched as that woman, the succubus, lured me in like a helpless child. I’d felt nauseous the first time I watched the recording, terrified at how close I’d come to… I don’t know. To what? What was her goal there? Were my father’s paranoid rantings about a succubus attack legitimate?
Then, with clumsy punches and awkward attacks, I watched with the prickly heat of embarrassment as I tried to pummel Rian into submission. As he untied me from the chair, Crow told me that I’d actually threatened to kill my brother, screaming something about Rachel. So as pissed off as I was to wake up on my side, duct taped to my computer chair with a pounding headache and dry mouth, I suppose I couldn’t blame him entirely. I would’ve done the same to him. But my capacity for sympathy waned the longer he stayed away.
I wrestled with every second of every minute. I struggled to keep control of my anger, my suspicion, my worry, my lust… but the more time that ticked by, the more my grip slipped. This impotence felt like rot deep inside. If I didn’t make a decision or catch a break soon, it’d eat me whole from the inside out. I needed something to cling to, an answer, a hint, anything. Yet there was nothing I could do.
Maisie’s voicemail was completely filled. Rian was nowhere to be found. A vicious voice in the back of my mind whispered, They’re together. They’ve been lying to you.I’d already been duped by Rian’s deceptions before. My blindness had pushed Rachel to the breaking point and I’d be damned if I was going to let that happen again with Maisie.
I switched off the monitor with an angry grunt, unable to stare at the same footage over and over again. My emotions vacillated back and forth like a maniac. One minute I was flooded with sorrow and regret at the way I’d treated those closest to me. My God… I’d slept with her best friend, right in plain sight, without a shred of concern for her feelings. Piecing it all together, I’d followed her path as she ran from that floor. Down the stairs, through the lobby, and into this part of the building where the cameras couldn’t follow. I’d counted the seconds from when she left to when she reappeared. Nearly thirty minutes she could’ve been with him… I was nearly positive they’d at least been in the same room. But what happened?
Rage bubbled to the surface like hot lava. Their relationship had worried me for weeks. All the signs were there. Rian would’ve been more subtle this time, sinking his hooks in with greater finesse. Thirty minutes. All that time, alone. Her, distraught, hurt, wounded because of me. Him, all too willing to provide comfort.
I pounded my fist on the desk, rattling the contents. I paced towards the window and away. The sun was rising on another day I couldn’t face unless it came with some answers. Even a confirmation of my worst fears would free me from this purgatory of inaction. A gentle knock on the office door roused me from this back and forth torture.
“Yeah?” I grunted, my voice hoarse from disuse.
“You… uh…” a tentative voice started. I turned to see Autumn lurking in the doorway, clearly not wanting to come any closer. I couldn’t blame her. Dark circles under her eyes, pale, stringy hair… she looked terrible. I’d used her mercilessly.
“Yes? What?” I snapped.
She jumped at my voice and squeaked out a reply. “Maisie texted me this morning. She said she’s stopping by the house later today to get her stuff.”
“She’s talking to you?” I accused.
Autumn sniffed and continued. “No. She wanted to make sure I wasn’t there.” She toed the carpet and pouted, probably looking for someone to confide in. “I don’t think she’ll ever want to talk to me again.”
If I was perfectly honest, I couldn’t care less. She dug her own grave and she could find her own way back out. We shared the guilt but I wasn’t going to help her carry hers. My burden was heavy enough.
“Anything else?” I asked, leveling a look. Autumn shook her head without meeting my eye. “What time did she say she’d be there?”
I nodded and turned back to the window. “I’ll talk to her then.”