The Reunion

This happened two years ago, yet, I can still remember it as if it were yesterday. I’ve told the cops what happened, I’ve told reporters and friends, my therapist… But I feel like I’ve never been able to tell the whole story to them. These people weren’t just victims, they were my friends. They were a huge part of my life. Their deaths weren’t simply the visceral manifestation of insanity, but an accumulation of the lives they had lead, ending prematurely at the hands of someone who misguidedly felt betrayed. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start, not at the beginning, but in the middle.

When you’re in your late thirties, you find that you’ve become distant from friends you were once really close with. In college, my wife Victoria (my friend and soon-to-be girlfriend at the time), and I were part of a tight-knit group of undergrads: Nick, Addison, Heather, Leann, Jacob, Ricky, Bianca, and Tom. The last time all ten of us were together, before the incident two years ago, was at Victoria and my’s wedding, back in 2012.

Nick and Jacob lived together in New York City. Nick moved there to be a big shot on Wall Street. He worked at some company named after three old white men, making much more than any of the rest of us. Jacob was focusing on his music, performing as lead guitarist in a Heavy Metal band that, based on social media, was actually gaining some notoriety in the city. Jacob and Nick had been best friends in college, and were still best friends. They had one of those bromances you see on television. They met in college when Nick passed Jacob’s open dorm and heard the sound of guitar. Nick ran to his room to grab his bass, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The other pair of best friends, Heather and Leann, had moved to the Bay Area after college, but unlike the guys, they eventually moved apart. Both were still on the west coast, Heather had moved to a smaller town outside of the city where she worked in publishing, and Leann had moved to Portland to work as a social justice lawyer.

Addison was living with her elderly parents in Boston while she worked on her nursing degree. She had recently divorced her husband of six years, and had become a bit elusive, so that was all I knew, really.

Ricky had moved the furthest, leaving the U.S. all together and living in London with his wife, where he became a fairly successful television writer for the BBC. I had watched all of his shows, though Victoria avoided them. They were filled with suspense, illicit affairs, and kidnapping. She preferred romantic stories or the Great British Bake Off.

Bianca and Tom got married a year before we did. They stayed in Hanover, not too far from Dartmouth, where we all went to school. Bianca owned her own pilates and yoga studio, and Tom, unable to leave college life, worked in the Administrative Department of the school.

Victoria and I moved to Connecticut after graduation so I could work at my father’s architecture firm. Victoria had been working in web development, but was taking a few years off to focus on our daughter, Molly. We had been dating for almost twenty years, cohabitating for fifteen, and married for ten. In that time, the two of us had grown from just two adults, to two adults, a three year old, a loveable, bossy Corgi named Rufus, two fluffy and infuriating cats named Ham and Cheese, and our most recent addition: a curious rabbit named Princess Twinkle (Molly had chosen that name).

Two years ago on a frosty February morning, I opened my email to find an invitation to a weekend get-together from Tom:

Hey Chuckster!

Long time no talk, man. Hope you guys are faring this hellish winter alright. We moved into our new house a few weeks ago (sidenote: I would not recommend moving in January), and we’re already having issues with the roof. Bianca has been busy renovating this baby since last May! She promised me it’ll be habitable any day now. This place is much too large for the two of us, but we’re hoping to fill it soon, if you know what I mean 😉

Speaking of kids, I saw the pictures you posted online last week of Molly opening her Christmas gifts. Man, she is huge! I hope Bianca and I get down to your neck of the woods soon to finally meet the little bugger.

Anyway, I’m emailing you because Ricky called last night and he’s going to be in town this March, from the 23rd to the 30th. I guess he’s doing a few guest lectures at Dartmouth. He asked if he could stay with us, and of course we were thrilled at the idea. Ricky and I got to talking, and we decided it was the perfect opportunity to try and organize a little college reunion! We’re thinking an old fashioned shindig, Saturday the 28th.

I sent an email out to the usual suspects. We’d love it if you and Victoria could make it up! We have guest rooms to spare, so you can spend the night. Hell, stay the whole weekend!

Feel free to bring the kiddo, though keep in mind she’d be the only one under thirty since the rest of us have yet to reproduce.

Love you man,

Hope to see you soon!

Tom

Victoria and I didn’t have any other plans for that weekend, and my mom and dad happily agreed to babysit. The next night, I sent Tom a response saying we’d be there.

For the next couple of weeks, Tom would send me regular updates on the party. Heather and Leann were the next two to agree to the plan. They decided to make the trip together. Heather was going to fly to Portland, stay with Leann for the night, and then the two of them would fly to Boston, where they would pick up Addison and the three would drive up to New Hampshire. A week later, Jacob finally convinced Nick to take the bus up from New York with him.

By early March, we were all booked and ready. Victoria and I were ecstatic. We hadn’t seen anyone since the wedding, which at that time, had been three years ago. Not to mention, as the bride and groom, we really didn’t get much time to catch up with old friends. This would be the first time we all hung out, just us, in almost a decade.

Victoria and I left home early Saturday, dropping Molly off with her grandparents before heading out. The weather report told us to expect some nasty rain that night, so we wanted to get to New England before visibility on the road was bad. We were pulling into Tom and Bianca’s driveway at a little after one in the afternoon, the New England sun high above us, trying to warm the chilly New Hampshire air. It looked so nice, so calm and peaceful. But I could see dark clouds crawling menacingly towards us when I lowered my head to the steering wheel to look up at the distant sky past the edge of my car’s roof.

Tom and Bianca’s home was quite large. It was a classic New England Colonial home, painted a light sky blue with white trim and shutters. A wrap around porch, an addition that was tastefully designed to not contrast the classic structure, stretched from the front door to the side. We grabbed our weekend bags from the trunk, and walked up the front steps. The large white door greeting us warmly.

Victoria’s hand hovered in front of the doorbell, and she looked at me, a huge excited smile stretching from ear to ear. “Ready?”

I laughed at her giddiness, “just ring it, weirdo.”

She pushed, a large chime filling the inside of the house. We waited a few seconds before the door burst open, and Tom stood in front of us wearing khakis and a pink polo. His dirty blonde hair shaggy, yet neat, just like it had been ten years ago. His smiled was crooked on his face, but I noticed a few lines tracing the sides of his mouth. Otherwise, he looked the same: young and cocky. Ego and self-esteem in abundance. His skin was tanned with time spent playing and lounging outside, and the beer bottle between his right thumb and forefinger was as much a part of him as his kind, intelligent brown eyes. I thought of the slight gut forming under my sweater as I noticed that Tom had retained, not only the confidence, but the lean athletic body of his youth.

“Fuck yeah! The adult supervision has arrived!” He hollered before embracing both of us in a warm hug. I could hear a female whooping come from deep in the house, which I instantly recognized as Bianca. Tom and Bianca had always been the partiers, while everyone else joked that Victoria and I were the group’s official old folks. Victoria’s obsession with knitting and my bizarre love of creamed corn helped solidify that reputation fairly early on in our freshman year.

“Come on, come on, the party’s already started!” Tom ushered us inside. We followed him into the living room where Bianca and Ricky were sitting, drinking beers. Several hands of cards lay forgotten on the coffee table in front of them.

Bianca jumped up squealing before proceeding to attack my wife with a huge hug. She wore her long light blonde hair in a messy bun on top of her head, and was dressed in dark blue yoga pants and a white t-shirt. Her lips were a light shade of pink, that suited her pale complexion well. Like Tom, she managed to maintain the fit body from her successful cheerleading career in High School and College.

Tom left towards the kitchen while Ricky stood, extending his hand to me. I laughed at the gesture, and pulled him into a warm embrace. As we parted, I eyed him from top to bottom. A wannabe-novelist in his youth, selling out his craft for television had not affected his style much at all. He wore the clothes of a writer: dark jeans and a mustard yellow cardigan that played well with his rich mocha skin, but Ricky was not your usual poet. While one might expect the writer of our group to be lean and frail looking, the clean-cut clothing looked strained again the large muscular body underneath.

“Oh my god! I’m so excited you guys could make it!” Bianca said, finally able to speak intelligible words as she released Victoria from her grasp and hugged me.

“We wouldn’t have missed it for the world! And thanks, Ricky, for visiting and getting this going!” I said over her shoulder.

“I am the proverbial snowball that lead to the avalanche.” Ricky said, bowing jokingly to me. Tom reentered, arms full of cold beers.

Victoria snorted, taking a beer from Tom’s outstretched hand, “poetic, but I don’t think that’s a common idiom.”

Ricky gave her a silent half smile in return, the closest thing he had to a friendly chuckle.

“Fucking English majors.” Tom rolled his eyes, smirking.

“I know, right? We suck.” Victoria retorted and pushed Tom’s shoulder playfully. I tensed slightly. Tom and Victoria had dated for a hot minute freshman year, before quickly realizing their incompatibility. And by that, I mean Tom dumped her after a month because he didn’t want something serious. It didn’t take long for Tom and Bianca to drunkenly hook up at a frat party, and ironically, the two became pretty inseparable for the remainder of our college years, and beyond.

It took Victoria almost a year to recover from the break up. I was waiting in the wings, though. I spent nights comforting her, bringing her ice cream, listening to her lament the loss of another guy. It was worth it in the end, but it still made me uneasy when they flirted like this, even if it was just friendly, and even after all these years. I tried to shrug it off. Tom did flirt with everyone.

I grabbed the beer Tom offered and took a swig. My body loosened instinctively at the familiar ice cold taste.

Looking down at my watch, I saw that it was now two. “When does everybody else get in?” I asked.

“Any minute now!” Tom said excitedly, turning away from my wife to face me. “I just got a text from Heather that they decided to meet Nick and Jacob at the bus stop. Their bus was scheduled to come in…” he checked the time on his phone, “now, I guess. The girls got there twenty minutes ago. According to Heather, she talked to Nick and figured they might as well give the guys a ride instead of forcing them to take a cab.” I smiled, Heather was always the planner of the bunch. If it wasn’t for her organization and leadership, our group probably wouldn’t have survived long. “With that many bodies, they’re lucky Addison owns an SUV instead of tiny sedan like you guys.” Tom laughed, as if our twelve year old Accord was a joke everyone was in on. “If everything’s going according to schedule, they should be here in half an hour,” he finished.

The doorbell rang fifty minutes later. “Bolla bolla bolla!” Tom yelled, throwing both arms into the air excitedly, spilling at least half of a beer in the process. I chuckled. I hadn’t heard anyone say that since college, when we were dumb drunk kids. I wasn’t sure Tom had ever stopped being a dumb drunk kid.

Bianca went to the door, Tom following her, continuing his juvenile call, which echoed off of the high ceilings.

Ricky, Victoria, and I listened to the door open, followed by both male and female voices joining in. “Bolla bolla bolla!” the cries reverberated to the living room. Ricky rolled his eyes, beaming, and Victoria snorted with laughter. I looked at my wife’s face, glowing with a carefree happiness I hadn’t seen since Molly was born. I smiled at her.

Suddenly, a gaggle of late thirty year olds flooded the room with high-pitched squeals and hugs. “Sorry we’re late!” Heather called out, “Nick had to fail at getting the digits of a cute girl from the bus, and we had to watch!” Heather, Leann, and Addison fell into a fit of giggling at this. Nick scowled.

I greeted my old friends, shocked at how much they had changed. Minus Jacob, who, like Tom and Bianca, looked exactly as he had in college. He still wore those round glasses that only artists with oval faces can pull off, or Harry Potter. He didn’t even look like he had aged. He was wearing a band shirt for some band I had never heard of and his long blonde hair was cut exactly like it had years ago. He always had a very Cobain air about him.

I had seen photos of Leann, Nick, and Addison on facebook, and had noticed the subtle changes over the years, but in person, they took my breath away.

The stress of divorce and taking care of her parents while getting her Masters seemed to be taking a lot out of Addison. She had been the nerd of the group: smart, focused, shy, but now she also looked tired, as if she was fraying at the edges. In college, she’d often abandon parties long before the rest of us were ready to go home. She prefered movie nights to frat houses, art exhibits to ragers, museums to bars. She had always been a bit sloppy, but now she just looked… frumpy. Her face old and lined, her brown hair already slowly turning silver.

Contrarily, it was startling to see Leann, Nick, and Heather as polished, successful adults.

Leann, who had always been a bit of a hippie with her long flowing brown hair, unshaved legs, and long skirts, now wore a shorter bob, her hair cut close to the bottom of her jaw, and with much less frizz. She wore some makeup, though very subtle, and her jeans and t-shirt were neat, clean, and fitted.

Nick still looked like he was trying too hard to be cool, but now he had an air of wealth that had never surrounded him in college. His baggy t-shirt with holes at the armpits was now a form fitting striped sweater. He still wore his hair chin length, but instead of looking greasy with unwash, it was neatly cut, combed, and, most importantly, clean. His beard was trimmed close to his face, and he smelled like soap and a very subdued cologne.

Heather was the most drastic. She had never embraced the trend of social media which began late in our college years, and so I did not have any hint about her physical transformation until now. She was never grossly overweight in college, but she was definitely not what you would call skinny. Bianca always had, and still had, the body of a cheerleader. Victoria, even after having Holly, was a naturally very slim person, with a small frame. Heather was much broader and taller. Her hobby of weightlifting always contributing to her feminine but strong physique, her love of fast food giving her some extra weight. Heather was still tall and broad, but now her body was lean with muscle and little fat.

I hugged the slim Heather.

“Wow, Heather, you look fantastic!” I said, releasing her.

She blushed, “heh, thanks.”

She turned to Tom, who winked while handing her a beer. The red of her cheeks deepened, and I noticed Bianca roll her eyes.

“The whole gang, back together! This is insane!” Jacob exclaimed.  

Leann broke away from her hug with Bianca, “Damn, Bianca! Everytime I see you, I’m amazed at how young you still look!”

“Oh stop!” Bianca cried, waving her away.

“So, are you going to give us a tour of this ridiculously amazing home of yours?” asked Leann, gesturing to her surroundings.

Bianca smiled, pleased with the invitation, “of course! Follow me!” She and Tom led us from the living room into the large, modern kitchen, which shined with new chrome appliances.

Nick whistled. “Holy shit, this must have cost a fortune!”

Tom shrugged, “oh this? This was nothing.” He laughed. “This was all the beautiful Bianca’s doing!” He bowed to his wife, who beamed back. “Wait till you see the master bedroom!” And with that he bounded off.

“No, but really, Tom. How did you guys afford this?” Nick’s voice trailed behind him as he followed, leaving the kitchen behind, the rest of us slowly making our own way to the stairs.

“It might have taken a credit card or two to get this place up to snuff.” Tom admitted at the head of the migration.

Heather groaned, never one to hide how she really felt, “you know that’s just asking for trouble, right?”

Bianca giggled, “oh, don’t worry about it, Heather. I’ve got it taken care of. Soon, Tom and I won’t have to worry about any of that.”

Jacob looked at Tom inquisitively, but he just shrugged.

Victoria leaned into my side, and I tilted my ear to her mouth as we walked behind the rest of the group. “This place is incredible.” She whispered, her eyes locking on mine. I felt a small twin pang of jealousy in the pit of my stomach. The place was fancy, clean, and immaculate. It was beyond impressive. Our own home was small, decorated in furniture that, if it didn’t start out as used, was now after ten years and a kid. Victoria and my’s love of animals and children made us give up on interior design, organization, and cleanliness years ago. Seeing homes like this always reminded us of our failings.

I put my arm around Victoria, squeezed her closer, and kissed her forehead. “Their place might be a palace, but we’re the ones lucky enough to be woken up at 7am every Saturday and Sunday morning by a small, bossy child and her equally small, bossy Corgi pal.” My wife snorted and pushed me away as we walked into the bedroom.

The room was almost as large as the kitchen. Hell, it might have been larger. The focal point was a large four post bed, draped with white silks. The furniture surrounding it was large, and made of a polished dark wood. In the middle of the ceiling was a small, but still quite grand chandelier. There was even a dark blue velvet chaise lounge in the corner.

“Check out the jacuzzi tub!” Tom cried, throwing open the french doors into the bathroom. Inside was a large round bathtub, with a glass shower next to it, containing many more shower nozzles than I ever thought would be necessary. Both the tub and the shower were surrounded with rich light brown marble.

Tom beamed at me expectantly. I nodded slowly, and said the only thing that came to mind, “wow.” Tom clapped me on the back, and then proceeded to jump onto the steps leading up to the tub. He raised his arms like a dictator about to give a speech.

“And this, ladies and gents, will be where the party ends tonight.” He winked again at Heather, who looked away, pretending not to notice.

“Sure thing, T-bone.” Victoria said sarcastically. “Can we like, not hang out in your bathroom anymore? It’s kind of weird.” Jacob laughed and we walked into the bedroom. Ricky, Nick, and Leann continued to lead us towards the bedroom door, but Tom interrupted the procession.

“Before we leave the luxury of the master bedroom, who wants to play the phone game?” Tom asked in a excessively sensual tone, an eyebrow raised.

“You mean that game kids play in preschool? You want us to get in a circle and whisper a sentence into each other’s ears until it’s gibberish?” Victoria asked, incredulously.  

Tom laughed at this, the alcohol making his gestures and sounds grander than usual. “Not that one, though I guess we can try that later. Seems like Vicky and Chuck’s party games have changed slightly since having a kid.” Everyone laughed and Tom continued, “No, this is a different game.” He walked over and opened the door at the side of the room to reveal a large walk-in closet, complete with a middle island. Possibly for shoe storage? Or something similarly unnecessary and ridiculous.

He walked to a large safe set into the wall, and began spinning the front dial, stopping and reversing it occasionally as he entered the combination. “This is the no-distractions-at-the-party cell phone game,” Tom said. There was a large click, and he stepped to the side, opening the safe door in the process. The door swung heavily, revealing a large dark space. “Everyone who wants to participate in the best reunion ever, put your cell phones inside!” Tom beamed mischievously at us.

“Fuck no.” Victoria said, crossing her arms sternly.

“Yeah, I’m not doing that.” Leann agreed.

“Can you maybe explain the point of this game, Tom?” Nick asked.

“Isn’t it obvious? It’s to ensure our fun night isn’t interrupted. No work, no other friends, no family. Tonight, this house is our world and nothing exists beyond it.” He grabbed his phone from his pocket, and placed it inside the safe.

“I think it’s a good idea.” Bianca said, and handed him her phone.

Tom laughed, “yeah, cause it was yours, babe. Remember? You suggested it at breakfast yesterday.”

Bianca thought back, “was it?”

Tom chuckled and kissed her affectionately on the cheek. He turned to Ricky, “the memory on this one,” he said gesturing to her with his thumb.

“Who needs brains when you’ve got a body like that, am I right?!” Nick whispered loudly to Tom, as he elbowed him in the chest knowingly. Bianca smiled sarcastically at him and I heard Victoria groan quietly beside me. Nick could be an ass sometimes. Heather gave him a small smack to the back of the head, glowering at him. Nick shrugged at her sheepishly.

“Eh, yeah.” Tom said as he put Bianca’s phone with his. “Anyway,” he turned to the rest of us, quickly forgetting Nick’s comment and continuing, “haven’t you ever played that game, when going out to dinner where everyone puts their cell phone in the middle of the table, face down, and the first one to check theirs has to pay?”

“Ugh, fine.” Leann put her phone onto the pile.

Heather reluctantly pulled hers out of her pocket, and turned to Tom, “but you better write that combination down somewhere so when someone injures themselves while you’re passed out, we can get a phone.”

“Don’t worry,” Bianca reassured, “we’ve still got a landline in case of emergencies.”

Heather put her phone into the safe, followed shortly by Nick, Jacob, and Ricky. Addison twisted her mouth in frustration, looking from face to face, and begrudgingly handed Tom her phone. Everyone turned expectantly to Victoria and I, neither of us reaching towards our cell phones.

“What if something happens to Molly? What if my parents need to get in touch with us?” I asked.

“You gave them our number, right?”

I looked at Victoria, who nodded at me. Tom saw and continued, “see, they’ll be able to reach you. I promise!” I looked at my watch. It was three thirty.

“Alright.” I sighed and handed Tom my phone. I had texted my parents when we got in, and everything seemed to be going well. I didn’t see any harm in the situation. Victoria followed my lead, begrudgingly.

With all the phones accounted for in the safe, Tom swung the door closed with a loud click. “Trust me, we’ll have so much fun tonight, you guys won’t even notice you don’t have your phones.”

Everyone started out into the hall to continue the tour. I turned to Victoria, and winked, pointing to my smartwatch. She smiled, relief washing over her face. Even with my phone locked away, I’d know if someone was trying to get in touch with me.

Hours later, the beers swished and sloshed inside my stomach while heavy rain beat down on the glass doors beside us. I stood in the kitchen, arguing over the finer details of the most recent fan theory of Game of Thrones with Nick and Heather. Addison stood off to the side, listening to the argument while pulling on the sleeves of her oversized sweatshirt. Leann, Ricky, and Victoria were making a giant dish of nachos while Bianca whipped up a batch of margaritas. Tom danced behind her, trying his best to distract her from her task. She giggled as she leaned back into his body. They swayed to the music – a playlist of their own devising, made up entirely of music that was popular during our years in college. They had speakers set up in each room of the house, all connected to a master stereo in the living room, so no matter where you went, you couldn’t get away. But at least we could no longer hear the wind howling against the house. I watched Bianca move her hips side to side, her pilates-assisted ass pressing into Tom, whose smile was cheser-cat wide. They looked like teenagers. Even with this giant fancy home surrounding them, they acted like they were horny, nineteen, and in love. Just like I remembered.

“He is obviously only half Lannister and half Targaryen! Does he look like any of the Lannisters to you!?!” Nick gestured into the air enthusiastically while staring wide eyed at Heather.

“But does he really look like a Targaryen??” Heather asked, dubious of Nick’s argument.

“That’s because you only watch the show! You got to read the books!” Nick yelled, his face turning red with frustration.

“I have to go to the bathroom.” Addison whispered to the group, obviously uncomfortable with the heated debate, and left towards the stairs.

Nick rolled his eyes, and turned to Heather. “Oh look, we made overly sensitive Addison uncomfortable.”

“Shut up, Nick!” Bianca scolded, and turned to follow her.

He blew a raspberry and continued his lecture on true bloodlines.

Bianca returned several moments later, while Nick was describing the real heir to the Iron Throne in great detail. I turned to her, and she shook her head with a small smile, a sign I interpreted as meaning that Addison needed some space from the group for a moment. I nodded and returned the smile.

Once the nachos were done, we all went into the living room. Bianca placed a wide-brimmed margarita glass in front of me, full to the top with green slushy alcohol, the brim rimmed with salt. There was even a little yellow paper umbrella resting in it.

“Thank you, but I think I’ll pass on this round, Bianca.” I said politely, passing her back the large unbalanced glass, careful not to spill the contents. Bianca looked hurt, so I added “It looks amazing, but I’ve had a lot of beer. I don’t want to overdo it.” She reached for the drink.

Tom appeared behind her, “dude, come on! It’s a party!” He leaned towards me and lowered his voice, “Just one margarita won’t hurt, and Bianca put a lot of effort into them.”

I smiled, and brought my arm, and the margarita, back towards me. “Alright, alright!” I lifted my left hand up in surrender, “I’ll have a margarita.” Bianca’s face lit up. “But just one!” I said, raising my finger warningly at Tom, who smiled in return.

I brought the drink to my lips, and was pleasantly surprised. The margarita was sweet, but not too sweet like most fruity drinks. It was good, but after my first sip, I left the glass mostly untouched beside me as I joined the conversation of the rest of the group.

The years apart were long forgotten as old jokes were dredged up from the past, and shit talk passed from old friends without hurt feelings or damaged egos. We were just a group of carefree kids once again.

“Alright, piss break.” Nick slurred as he slowly got to his feet, stood for a moment, swaying slightly, and shuffled to the bathroom.

Ricky snickered, “wowzers, someone can’t hold his liquor anymore.”

The small black speakers above us began playing a pop song I recognized, but couldn’t name. “Oh shit!” Tom exclaimed, standing up and reaching for Heather, “this was my jam!”

Heather took his hand, and he pulled her up towards him. Ricky jumped off the couch, and shoved it towards the wall, creating more space for the impromptu dance floor. He offered his hand to Leann, bowing to her playfully, and she joined him. I turned to Victoria, who was sitting beside me on the other, larger couch. She smiled, and we joined in the party.

While Leann and Ricky danced awkwardly facing each other, but with an appropriate distance between them, Tom was hugging Heather to him, moving his body with hers to the beat of the music, much as he had earlier with his wife, but his face held a serious concentration that it hadn’t before. Heather’s face was locked on Tom’s, her cheeks red.

I cringed internally at the way she was staring at him. It wasn’t unknown within our group that Heather had had a huge crush on Tom in college, but he never returned her affection.

I saw Bianca walk in from the kitchen. She stood, watching them dance for a moment, her face completely blank. Then, without warning, she turned and locked eyes with me. I felt the color rise in my face, and turned away. I figured that, along with all the jokes from the past, the drama was beginning to creep back into the group dynamic as well. We were all drunk, hanging out with people that defined our youth. It was to be expected that the juvenile feelings that marked these relationships in our memories would manifest tonight.

Tom and Heather’s faces were, at this point, only an inch or so apart, their eyes locked. I was about to suggest we kill the dance party when Ricky’s voice rose over the music, “man, Nick’s been in the bathroom for a really long time.”

I looked around, and noticed he was right, Nick was still gone. And so was Addison. Heather and Tom broke away. Tom’s eyes fell on his wife’s expressionless face, and he looked down in what looked like guilt. Uncomfortable, I thought Nick was a good excuse to separate myself from the situation. “I’ll go check on him. Make sure he’s not passed out in there.”

I let go of my wife and walked into the hallway next to the living room. If I remembered the tour accurately, there was a small powder room opposite the kitchen. Tom and Bianca had the decency to not but speakers in the hallway, so while I could still hear the music clearly, it was dulled by the wall. The hallway was dark, so I ran my hand along the wall searching for a light switch, but without luck. There was a thin stream of light coming from a thin, slightly ajar, door. The door I remembered as the small bathroom. Giving up on the light switch, I walked towards the light. I listened for a moment at the door, trying to pick up the sounds of urination, or the dull sounds of drunken snoring, but heard neither. In fact, other than my own breathing and the dull music, I heard nothing at all.

I knocked lightly on the door frame, “Nick? You ok, buddy?” There was no response. I reached my hand up, and pushed the door into the room. The door stuck on something. I pushed a little harder, but still it resisted. I leaned my shoulder into the space between the door and the wall, and craned my neck to look inside.

The door was stuck on Nick, who was sitting, passed out cold, on the toilet, his pants to the ground.

“Jesus, dude. Seriously?” I said, trying to force his feet back towards him so I could open the door wider, but I quickly stopped when I noticed that Nick’s eyes weren’t closed. He was staring at me. Staring at me with blank, glassy eyes. My heartbeat quickened, and I examined the rest of him: his face was bloated and purple, his tongue swollen, pushing his mouth ajar.

“Oh fuck, oh fuck!” I whispered under my breath, as I reached my hand out towards his neck. I tried to find a pulse, but it was useless. Nick was dead.

I pulled myself sharply out from where I had squeezed myself, bruising my arm as I did. I ignored the pain, and walked into the living room, past Tom, Heather, and Victoria, to the sound system, and turned it off. The sound of the storm surrounded us instantly, finally free of restriction. The wind and rain filled the air, thunder echoing into every corner.

“What the fuck, dude?” Tom asked. I could feel their eyes on my back as I tried to blink the burning tears away. I turned to face them, and breathed deeply, preparing myself.

“Nick is… Nick… Something happened to Nick.” I finally said.

They stared at me.

I felt frustration heating my body from the inside, “Nick’s fucking dead guys. He’s on the fucking toilet, and he’s fucking dead.” My voice cracked as tears began to flow freely down my cheeks.

Without a word, Jacob stood and ran out into the hall. Tom, Bianca, Heather, Leann and Victoria followed. I waited there, standing in the living room, alone. Where the fuck was Addison?

Last I had seen Addison was in the kitchen. But then she left to go use the bathroom. And she hadn’t been in the small bathroom, so she must be in the Master bathroom. I ran into the entrance way, turned up the stairs, and climb briskly, taking two steps at a time.

I ran into the bedroom. The room was just as it had been moments before, the french doors still open. I walked to them, and the view inside the bathroom made my stomach lurch with shock and horror.

Addison was in the tub, fully clothed. Her forearms rested on each side of the porcelain basin, her legs bent in front of her. She looked like she could be taking a bath, but the tub was dry except for the small line of blood leading from her body to the drain. Her face was twisted with horror. I felt myself begin to shake as I noticed the huge gash in her head, spreading from her forehead to behind her ear. I could see white skull through her injury. I looked down and saw blood, hair, and flesh on the corner of the lower step to the tub.

I stepped closer, my hand outstretched hesitantly to check a pulse, despite the obvious futility of the act. I had to check. I had to be certain. I placed my hand on her wrist. I tried to keep my face as far from her as possible, yet I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the crack in her head. From there, I could see the split in the skull itself, her pink brain visible under the blood that clumped into the roots of her hair. Her wrist was silent. There was no pulse, no life.

I looked at my friend. Shy, sweet, intelligent Addison. Her body limb. I stepped back and hastened to the sink, where I vomited. Nachos and beer splashed in the shallow bowl, falling on the counter and mirror. But I didn’t care. This was no time to worry about being a polite guest. I vomited again, then straightened and wiped my mouth.

Without turning back, thoughts raced through my mind. Maybe she slipped and hit her head? But the chances that both Addison and Nick died in horrible accidents was hard to believe. Plus, how could she have fallen to her death, then crawled into the bathtub to position herself like that? If this was an accident, she’d still be on the floor.

I turned away from the gruesome scene, and ran down the stairs. Everyone was in the living room. At least, everyone still left alive. Jacob sat on the floor, rocking back and forward, shaking his head in disbelief. Victoria crouched over him, her arms around his shoulders as she cooed words of comfort to him, but he didn’t seem to hear her. His platonic life partner was gone.

Leann had the cordless phone in her hand, tears streaming down her cheeks. She was frantically pressing buttons on the phone, getting more and more frustrated with every attempt.

“Goddammit!” She screamed, “what the fuck is wrong with this thing!?!”

I looked down, and saw that the base had been unplugged from the wall. “It’s dead.” I said, my voice sounded emotionless to my ears. I grabbed the cord, hanging uselessly from the phone’s base, and plugged it in. Leann placed the phone back down and the display lit up. I lifted the wireless phone, but it immediately went dead again. I put it back, and looked at Leann.

“We can’t dial while it’s in it’s base.”

Leann started sobbing harder. “We need to call an ambulance!” She cried at me, her body shaking uncontrollably.

“We need to call the police.” Leann’s son caught in her throat. She stared at me, her eyes wet and red. I swallowed. “I don’t think Nick died of natural causes.”

The sound of wind, rain, and thunder filled the room as everyone waited for me to continue.

“Addison was murdered. Her body’s in the bathroom upstairs.” I said, as calmly as I could despite my stomach performing somersaults inside of me and my brain shooting electricity through the sides of my head.

I turned to Tom and Bianca. Bianca looked ill and Tom was as white as a ghost. “We need the fucking cell phones.”

Tom nodded solemnly, and turned towards the front of the house.  

“There’s another landline in the office.” Bianca said quietly. She walked to Leann, placing a calming hand on her shoulder. “Come on, I know that one’s plugged in. Let’s go call the cops.”

Leann sniffled loudly and Bianca lead her towards the kitchen. The office was a sunroom extension at the corner of the house.

Heather leaned towards me and Ricky, her face between ours. “Do you know what this means?” Heather said, her voice lowered and horse.

I shook my head, looking at my wife and Jacob, who were still on the floor. Victoria’s face was drawn into a pained mask, her lower lip trembling as it did when she was distraught. Jacob’s eyes were wide, but unseeing.

I felt Ricky shift his weight beside me.

“Someone has broken in, and is killing us, one by one.” Heather answered her own question.

Realization dawned on me. I completed the thought out loud, “there’s a killer in the house.”

Heather nodded and we stood in shock at what was happening. The large house loomed above and around us like a great weight. It had morphed from a luxurious suburban home into a death trap.

Our stupor was broken by loud music blasting through the speakers throughout the house. I looked at the stereo, but no one was even close to it.

“What the fuck??” Victoria asked, looking around.

I walked over and pressed the power button, the sound dimming quickly as the lights faded off. Instantly it sprung to life again, music pouring out around us.

“Fuck!” I yelled. The killer must be controlling it somehow.

“Leann and Bianca!” Heather screamed over the music.

Ricky ran out into the kitchen, the girls following. I looked down at Jacob, who hadn’t moved.

“Come on, we can’t leave you here alone.” I said, reaching my hand down to him. Jacob looked up at me, his eyes wide and empty. He shook his head slowly. I bent down and grabbed his hand with mine, forcing him up. He didn’t resist.

I dragged Jacob behind me as we ran to the office door. I saw Ricky throw himself at the white wood door. A loud crack of muscle hitting wood exploded into the kitchen and the door burst open into the room. A metallic scent hit my nose immediately. Ricky’s form took up most of the door, blocking the light from reaching me. Victoria and Heather stopped short behind him and simultaneously started screaming, the sounds harmonizing and mixing with the song playing over our heads. I put my hands on my wife’s shoulders, and looked over her to see the scene, the smell hitting my nose stronger. I recognized it then. It was the smell of blood. Lots and lots of blood.

Leann’s body was sprawled on the floor. I could only recognize her from the shirt she was wearing tonight. Her face was sunken, blood and bone protruding from broken flesh. Lines of red were splattered along the floor and walls, stretching out from her body like a twisted spiderweb. On the floor next to her was an old golfing trophy, I assumed from Tom’s more competitive athletic days. The tiny gold man, frozen in a perpetual swing, was smeared with blood from the violent hand the broke Leann’s body, over and over again.

Victoria turned away from the gruesome scene and rested her head on my shoulder as she sobbed. I hugged her, turning my face from the bloody office. I held my wife tight to me, comforted, if only slightly, by her physical touch. A terrible pop song from our youth ended, and the room was filled with the sound of the raging storm. Thunder cackled and I shook with the sound. Lightning illuminated the window beside me as a one hit wonder came on over the speakers.

Ricky stepped back from the doorway, and faced us. His face stoic, but with a hint of pained disgust. Ricky had always been a quiet lumbering giant. In college, our hockey coach, Coach Hutchinson, was practically stalking the guy to get him to try out for the team. Not for skill, but for his appearance/size alone. But Ricky always refused. He never excelled in his studies either – don’t get me wrong, the man’s not dumb at all, he’s just not interested in anything that isn’t writing. And it’s easy to see why, his short stories and poetry were amazing. I was always fascinated with him, this giant man who could write anyone to tears, love, or terror. If he hadn’t been an English major, I’m not sure how he would’ve graduated.

Victoria was always jealous of his skills. They were the first ones of the group to become friends. Victoria introduced herself to him on the first day of Introduction to Literature. Ricky didn’t talk much, but he seemed to enjoy her company, and Victoria enjoyed silence. They’d spend a lot of nights for those four years, studying and writing together. But while Victoria would spend days on a paper or story, only to receive a B, Ricky would whip something up the night before and get an A as well as public praise. She loved Ricky, but was frustrated by his effortless success. When we all graduated, Victoria tried to make a go of it as a writer, but it never worked out. Luckily, she had minored in computer information technology. When she realized her life as an author would be a long and tireless one without much success, she decided to take some additional classes in programming and web development. She was quite good with computers and that had always been her fallback option, but it wasn’t her dream. Ricky, on the other hand, was offered a professional writing gig immediately out of school.

I remember watching his hulking frame in the doorway and a part of my mind wondering what he’d write about after that night. Would the traumatic evening become a memoir? Or would that night influence a best selling novel? Maybe a new television show?

If he survived, that was.

I scanned the room behind him, trying to avoid looking directly at Leann. “Where the fuck is the other phone?” I asked.

Victoria looked around, “Bianca must have it!” She exclaimed, looking up at me, her eyes filling with hope.

I nodded, “I pray she was able to call for help.”

Victoria nodded, the hope petering slightly from her face.

“We need to search the house.” Heather said, her voice flat. I looked up. Heather’s face was stoic as she stared at Leann. They had been best friends. I untangled an arm from my wife, and reached my hand out, placing it on her shoulder. Pulling away and locking eyes with me, she repeated herself, “we need to search the house.”

Victoria stepped back and wiped her eyes. “You’re right,” she sniffled, “we need to find whoever’s doing this to us and find Bianca. God, I hope she’s ok. I don’t want to imagine what he might… what he might be doing to her.” Her voice cracked with a fresh sob, and she wrapped her arms protectively around herself. I rubbed her back, trying to push the same thoughts and violent images from my mind.

“Chuck and Victoria, you should check the upstairs. See if Tom has the phones. Ricky and I will check the basement, and then we’ll meet here and check the main floor.” Heather instructed.

I nodded, and turned to face the empty kitchen. “Where’s Jacob? He was here a second ago.”

“Goddammit!” Heather exclaimed, “we don’t have time for this. We have to get this situation under control!” Heather stormed off towards the basement door, Ricky following.

I gulped, and, using my hand still on her back, lead Victoria through the kitchen into the living room. The living room felt colder than it had when we first arrive. Even with the lights above us illuminating the room in a yellow glow, it seemed dark, like the corners were hiding secrets that threatened our very lives. I walked to the stereo and hit the large rectangular on/off button. The button popped up from the face of the stereo and the music faded. I breathed a sigh of relief, and we continued upstairs.

The two guest rooms were empty. We had checked the closets and under the bed, and even a large wardrobe in the larger of the rooms, but there was no sign of life. The rooms seemed oddly empty and void of the extravagance the other rooms possessed.

We walked into the exercise room, but the room was just a bunch of exercise equipment and an empty space for yoga and pilates. The closet was full of only yoga mats, bricks, and other assorted items I didn’t recognize.

Finally, we got to the bedroom. I wanted to make sure Tom was ok, but still my legs slowed as we approached the door, the image of Addison, dead in the tub, her skull and brains exposed making my feet heavier with each approaching step. If Victoria hadn’t been at my side, I don’t think I’d be able to go on. I pushed through the emotional quicksand, forcing my feet forward until I was at the open door. I looked in the room and noticed the closet door open and the light on. Straining my ears, I could hear Tom frantically muttering to himself, his voice wet with tears.

Trying to forget the bathroom, I ran to the closet. Tom was desperately spinning the dial of the safe. He looked at me, his face red with tears.

“It won’t fucking open!” He screamed, kicking the wall in front of him hard enough to leave a dent.

“Are you putting the combination in correctly?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m putting the fucking combination in correctly! Of course I am! It’s our fucking wedding anniversary! I wouldn’t fucking forget that!” The corner of Tom’s mouth were white with frothy spit.

I step up to the safe, “What’s was the date, again? I’ll try.”

Tom breathed deeply, and exhaled loudly, trying to calm himself. “It’s June 19th, 2006.” He said. “It’s a five number combination, left right left right. It was 61906.”

I turned the dial to the left till it reached 6, and heard a slight click within the safe mechanism. Then turned the dial to the right to 1, with a slight click. I repeated this until the small black arrow on the dial reached 6, once again. There was no click.

“Well the rest of the combination seems to be working, it’s just that last number. Maybe it’s no longer 6? Either way, it won’t take too long to try the nine other numbers.” I said. Tom nodded, slowly calming himself. I stepped back so he could reach the dial and begin the process all over again.

I lifted my wrist and looked at my watch. The menu had an option to send a text to one of my recent contacts. I could send a text to my mom and ask her to send help. I began to travel through the menu, looking for the option when suddenly loud rock music flowed from the speakers in the bedroom, making me jump.

“What the fuck!” I screamed. I ran out into the bedroom. Victoria was staring at the bathtub, her hand over her mouth, tears flooding down her face. She looked at me, her eyes wide with terror.

“We need to check on the others. We’ll come figure this out afterwards. Someone could be dying as we speak.”

I ran past my horrified wife, Tom following behind me. We flew down the stairs, and into the living room. It was empty. I slammed the on/off button on the stereo. Screams echoed throughout the house. It was coming from the other side of the stairs.

“The dining room!” Tom yelled, and ran, Victoria catching up to us and following. I listened closer. It wasn’t coming from this floor though. It was coming from upstairs. The floor Victoria and I just checked from top to bottom.

I ran to the top of the steps. The sound was coming from the exercise room. I ran in, my eyes registering Bianca and Jacob immediately. But the scene wasn’t right.

My brain tried to interpret the image before me, but it wouldn’t compute. Jacob was on the floor, Bianca above him. Both of them, along with the room, were covered in blood.

“Bianca! Are you ok?” I asked, “is Jacob!?!”

Bianca shook her head, “I’m ok, but… I think… I think Jacob’s dead.”

I rested my hand on my knees, my breath was coming in short gasps. I recognized the uncomfortable sensation as hyperventilating. How could this be happening to us? How could something so fucked up happen to us?

Bianca took a step towards me and I looked up. I noticed a bloodied weight in her hand. The murder weapon. But why was Bianca holding the murder weapon? Had she fought the killer for it?

She took a step towards me. Her face was twisted, not in horror or disgust, but in pleasure.

“Wh… What… what’s going… on?” I said between breaths.

She didn’t answer, but took another step towards me, her smile spreading across her face.

“I’m going to enjoy killing you, Chuck.” She said.

I shook my head in disbelief, stepping backwards.

“Don’t go, Charles.” She cooed. “Poor little pathetic Charles. How does it feel to have married Tom’s leftovers? Do you wake up every morning and remember comforting the love of your life over a basic douche like Tom?”

She took another step closer. My breathing was slowly returning to normal and my brain was clearing. I checked my peripheral for a potential weapon, but saw nothing. The house was immaculate, to the point of resembling a show house. There were no objects, I realized. I was surrounded by giant equipment I couldn’t lift, but no weights, not even a plastic water bottle I could use to defend myself against the petite blood-covered blonde slowly approaching me.

“You were such a miserable dope that first year. Pathetically waiting hand and foot on that stupid whore.”

Bianca took a step towards me, and I turned and ran. I ran down the stairs as fast as I could. I felt like I would fall forward with each step I whizzed by. I could hear Bianca running behind me, her breath ragged and sharp. Her footsteps pounding on the old wood, causing it to creak and groan under her weight. I jumped the last few steps, not looking behind me, not wanting to know how close she was, or to slow myself down. I slid towards the front door, hitting my shoulder into it with a thud. Pain shot through me, but I didn’t care. I twisted the knob, and pulled, but it wouldn’t budge. I threw the deadbolt, and pulled again, but to no avail. I felt a light hand on my shoulder, and the sweat on my forehead turned cold. I looked down and saw four long pink manicured fingernails.

“You’re not getting out that way, Chuck.” Bianca’s voice was calm and dark. I turned slowly to face her. She was only an inch away. I could feel her warm breath and I could see the glint of metal in her hand. A splatter of Jacob’s blood ran through the middle of Bianca’s face. She drew her face towards mine, passing me, till her lips rested against my ear.

“At least I’m beautiful, right?” She whispered.

“What’s going on!?!” My heart lept at the sound of my wife’s voice. Bianca turned, and I could see Tom, Victoria, Heather, and Ricky standing behind her, their faces twisted in confusion and shock. Victoria stepped back with the recognition of blood on Bianca’s face and shirt. “What the fuck is going on!?!” Victoria’s voice filled with disgust and fear.

Realizing what I had to do, I grabbed Bianca’s arms and held them behind her. She squirmed against my grip, “get off me!” She screamed.

“She killed Addison! And Leann! And Nick!” I yelled to Victoria, who looked at me uneasily. “I just caught her! She was standing over Jacob’s body!”

“Let. Go.” Bianca cried between attempts to pull away from me.

“Body?” Heather asked hesitantly.

Victoria put her hand over her mouth, as if she might be sick.

Bianca dropped her right hand, the one holding the weight, hard. I jumped back without letting go, just in time to avoid having my hip smashed.

Tom was shaking his head in disbelief, his face lacking all of its usual charm and chipperness. He looked like he was in shock.

“She’s still holding the bloody weight! Go look, if you don’t believe me.” I said, my voice strained with the effort of restraining Bianca. “He’s in the gym.”

Tom turned and walked slowly up the stairs, hesitantly dragging his body towards the fourth of his dead friends. Victoria followed and Heather, not losing her go-getter attitude during the unreal friend-turned-homicidal-lunatic situation, ran past them and into the exercise room.

Her scream filled the hallway and entrance where I stood, trying to keep the Bianca from killing the rest of us.

Ricky, seeing my struggle, came and grabbed Bianca from me. I allowed him to take her.

“What should we do with her?” He asked.

I shrugged. What does one do when your friend becomes a psycho without reason?

I could hear the group return from upstairs, and I turned away from Bianca and Ricky. Heather looked ill, all of the blood completely drained from her face. Victoria ran to me, and began to sob into my shoulder. I hugged her tightly.

Tom was shaking his head, staring at his wife, who was still being restrained, in disbelief. “Sweetheart.” The word trailed out of his mouth slowly, “did you really?” A tear fell from his eye. Bianca glared at him silently in response. “But why?” He asked, his voice strained and weak.

Bianca stood, her arms held behind her, the bloodied weight still in her grasp. “Why?” She asked, “why!?!” She screamed. She pulled her arms easily out from Ricky’s hold. She stepped towards Tom, and threw the weight at his head. He ducked, and it landed against the wall and fell heavily on the steps, then rolled onto the floor behind us. There was a sizeable hole in the plaster where it had landed. We all stood in shock as Bianca ran into the living room.

I turned to Ricky, “what the fuck?” I exclaimed. Ricky shrugged, and turned to follow her. We could do nothing but watch him leave.

With both out of view, I shook my head clear and ran to the front door. I tried it again, pulling at the knob with all my strength, but it wouldn’t budge. I ran into the living room, luckily devoid of either Bianca or Ricky, and fell on the large window facing the front yard. It was barren of any lock mechanisms and wouldn’t even budge when I tried to open it. I growled in frustration, completely losing what little rational thought I had been able to maintain. I grabbed a lamp from the side table and threw it against the window, but it bounced off harmlessly.

“What the fuck!?” I screamed, my voice rough with fear and desperation. My throat was tight and I had to force myself to swallow. I turned to Tom, Heather, and Victoria.

“I told you,” Tom said quietly, looking at the window behind me, “Bianca was in charge of the renovations. She redid the windows and door too. I guess…” He trailed off. But we knew what he was thinking. She didn’t just renovate the house, she created a cage. She planned to murder all of us.

“But why?” I asked. “So she could run away with Ricky?”

“I always thought he had feelings for her.” Tom said, his voice cold and distant. He was lost. Too overwhelmed and in too much shock to feel emotions anymore. 

“Jesus.” Victoria said. “What the fuck do we do now?”

“The most logical thing is to stay here, together.” Heather said, her voice calm and filled with the authority of one often in charge. “The phone will be charged enough for me to call 9-1-1 soon. Until then, we should stand in a circle, with our backs together. That way, we can see if they try to attack us. We outnumber them, they can’t kill all of us at once. That’s the safest thing we can do right now.”

We stood in silence for a second, thinking about the situation and mulling over what needed to be done to survive. A loud burst of thunder filled the room, and lighting illuminated the yard from outside. It was followed by a deafening crack, and the house was plunged into darkness.

“Oh fuck me!” I screamed, my eyes falling on where I remembered the now black phone was behind Tom.

I looked to the window, but the streetlights had gone out outside as well. We were shrouded in utter blackness.

“The cell phones!” Tom’s voice pierced the darkness beside me, “that bitch was the one that suggested we lock them up!” I felt him move beside me, and heard his footsteps as he ran towards the stairs.

“Fuck! Tom, stop!” Victoria called after him, but it was too late. We could hear the thud of heavy footsteps running up the stairs.

Realization hit me. “That fucking bitch must have changed the combination!”

“Probably after she killed Addison.” Heather’s voice came from beside me, terror threatening to break the calm she had, till then, successfully forced into her tone.

“We know the combination is mostly the same. Tom just has to try the nine remaining numbers to figure it out. If we’re lucky, it’ll be one of the first numbers he tries.” Victoria reasoned.

I nodded, uselessly. “Worst case scenario, it won’t take him forever to try nIne combinations.” I thought for a moment, surrounded in darkness, and added “I hope he has a flashlight up there.”

“Alright, whatever,” Heather said, “as long as the rest of us stay here, together, we still outnumber them.”

The house wheezed, and shook with the weight of the storm. We stood there in silence, desperately straining our ears to hear any sound around us in the black room. I reached my hand out tentatively to the spot I had last heard Victoria’s voice come from. I found her soft, small hand, and grabbed it. She squeezed my hand in return. I held my breath, the sounds of the storm were overpowering the loud pounding of my blood through my ears.

A crash echoed around us, followed by a streak of lightning which illuminated the room. Behind Heather stood Bianca, her arm raised, the stained trophy from the office hovering above her.

Victoria screamed as darkness descended around us once more. Despite thunder stretching across the sky with a low grumble that echoed in my chest, I could hear the impact clearly. There was a wet thud, and a crack that sent shivers down my spine. A thick warm substance landed on my face and arm. Something heavy began to fall beside me, and I heard the sickening snap of Heather’s bones as she landed, hard, in front of us on the wooden floor.

“That’s the original wood you know.” Bianca’s voice danced around in the dark, and I brought Victoria closer to me, wrapping my wet arm around her shoulders. Her body was shaking, and I could her her breath burdened with heavy tears.

With a sharp snap, electricity flooded the house once more. As the lights came on around us, I felt my stomach lurch and bile rise to the top of my throat: Bianca’s face was mere inches from my own, and she was smiling. Her arm raised above her head once more.

Without time to think or process much of what was around me, I pushed my wife away from me, balled my fist, and punched Bianca as hard as I could in the stomach. Her breath left her instantly, and her hand dropped as she curled into herself, hitting the side of my arm with the trophy as it descended. It stung, but the force behind it was weak and the direction off enough to cause little damage.

Bianca turned in pain, and I saw Heather. She lay on the ground, her limbs twisted around her. As with Addison, her head was split with a crack, but this one was much larger and more ragged than Addison’s. Blood and brains had exploded out of her skull, as if Bianca had destroyed a mere pinata. The room, as well as Victoria and I were covered in the remains of our friend.

I looked to Victoria, who stood motionless, staring at Bianca, her mouth wide open and a splash of blood staining her shirt and pants. Her face was pale, and I saw that she was now shaking more violently, her body trembling at the sight. I reached out towards her. “Victoria.” I said. I looked from her to Bianca, who was trying to stand up straight, her hands over her stomach protectively. She was looking from me to Victoria and back. My hand was almost to my wife’s arm. Victoria shook her head, and stepped back out of my reach. I knew what she was going to do, and I had to stop her with my voice. “Victoria.” I said again. Tears streamed down her face as she shook her head harder.

“No, no, no, no.” She said, the words barely leaving her lips, turning into sobs by the last “no.” She turned and ran to the kitchen. Bianca straightened, shot me a quick glare, and followed.

I stepped forward and grab her arm, “like hell I’m going to let you murder my wife!”

She snorted, “Oh yes, your wife.” She elongated the last word mockingly.

I tightened my grip around her arm and tried to swing her into the wall behind me, but she resisted, digging her feet into the floor and pulling on her trapped arm. I saw her look down at where the trophy had dropped next to Heather’s body, and I kicked her hard in the shin.

She screamed out as the leg fell underneath her, but she continued to reach towards the murder weapon.

Lifting my leg to stomp on her now bent leg in front of me, hoping to break her ankle as my foot landed on her thigh, I felt a hard thud against my head. I fell to my knees, barely missing Heather’s face, and looked up to see Ricky, standing behind me, lowering the weight that killed Jacob to his side. He returned my gaze, his face barely revealing a look of concern before straightening back into apathetic coldness.

Tears welled in my eyes uncontrollably. My head stinging where I was hit. Warm blood began to trickle behind my ear. “Why?” I asked, my voice strained with pain and confusion.

He didn’t answer. Recovering herself, Bianca stood. She looked down at me with disgust, then up at Ricky. In an annoyed tone, she said, “you didn’t fucking kill him, asshole!”

Ricky shrugged at her, “you’re the murderer in all this, not me.”

Bianca scoffed, and lowered herself so that she was level with my ear. “Do you ever think about Tom fucking your perfect wife? Do you ever look at him, goofing off and flirting with even tubbo here,” she gestured to Heather, “and remember with horror and shame that he was the idiot who took your precious Victoria’s virginity?” I could feel an old anger growing inside me, rising from beneath me until my body was alight with its heat. “Does it haunt you, to know that she told him she loved him, and he broke up with her in reply? The woman you were infatuated with, the woman you loved beyond all reason, was used and abused by an idiot. Her heart was torn and all Tom did was go and immediately fuck me. You know why?” She pressed her lips closer to my ear and continued, whispering, “because he thought of her as just a pussy to fuck. He never cared about her. He just liked having that pretty mouth around his cock.” I was shaking with rage. Bianca smiled. “You know, I’ve always suspected that, if Tom propositioned her, she fuck him in a heartbeat. I bet, if Tom asked her to leave you for him, she wouldn’t even pack her bags. She’d grab his arm and run out the door before you even finished taking a shit.”

My rage exploded and I swung the trophy my fingers had found as Bianca made her speech. Despite not aiming, I hit her squarely in the side of the head. Bianca fell to the side. Ricky lunged for me and I raised my arm and swung down, missing his head but hitting his left shoulder hard enough to slow him down.

I jumped up, the sudden movement making me dizzy. I swallowed and ran to the kitchen. Victoria was at the door leading into the backyard, desperately clawing at the sides, trying to peel them free of whatever Bianca had used to seal them. The white door frame was stained with red marks, my wife’s fingertips covered in blood. I noticed with a sickening feeling that one of her nails was missing.

I heard Bianca and Ricky getting up with groans. I grabbed Victoria’s shoulder, “quick, we have to get out of here! That door isn’t going to open, we have to try another way!”

Victoria looked at me, not stopping her attempts to open the door. Her eyes were wide with panic, her face barely recognizable. She was in a manic frenzy, and I realized reason wasn’t going to work. I wrapped my arms around her waist and began pulling her towards the garage door.

Victoria shoot out from my grasp, both of us slippery with our friends’ blood, and ran towards the office.

I went to follow her, but at that moment, Bianca came into the room. I froze and stared at her as she smiled wickedly at me. The trophy was in her hand again. She turned her head, smiled at me, and began to run to where I had just watched my wife disappear.

I lunged towards her, my heart pounding, and reached out, fast. My hand found blonde hair. I clenched my fist. Bianca kept running, but was stopped short by my grip. She screamed as her feet continued to move under her while her head and shoulders stayed where they were. Her legs shot out in front of her and she fell with a crash. I could feel the pull of her hair in my fist as the rest of her body fell too far away. A ripping sound echoed in the room as some of the hair grew slack in my hand. I let go, chunks of bloody flesh falling from my hand where they had pulled free from her scalp.

I bent down to grab her. She rolled out of my reach. I dove at her, but she was standing before I could keep her on the ground. Damn that pilates.

She raised the trophy once again. Instead of wasting time trying to stand, I cowered beneath her, raising my arms to protect my face. A choked sob escaped my mouth as I prepared for the pain. For death.

There was a dull whack, and Bianca’s body fell on top me like a thick heavy sack. I instinctively reached for her as she rolled off, stopping her from falling to the floor, and slowly lowered her. She landed with a soft thud and moaned in pain, putting a hand to the back of her head. I realized I was crying, and wiped my face with the sleeve of my shirt. I looked up to see Victoria, eyes wide, a pan in her hands.

“Are you ok?” Victoria asked. I nodded, relieved to see my wife shaken out of her panic. Hearing my cries and realizing I was in danger had snapped her back to reality and I had my strong Victoria back, but only for a second. Recovering quickly, Bianca reached out and grabbed Victoria’s leg. The back of Bianca’s head, only inches from my face, was bleeding quite badly, from both the pan and losing so much of her hair. Her arm was shaky, but still she was able to find the force she needed to pull her down to the floor.

I kicked at Bianca, and wrapped my arms around her shoulders to stop her, but I was suddenly aware of my body being lifted from the ground, Bianca sliding from my hold. I screamed and kicked as my arms were held behind my back. I felt the large bulk of Ricky behind me, and  I looked over my shoulder at him. His face was oddly calm.

I twisted in his clutch, but he just stared at Bianca in front of him, wrestling with Victoria as she tried to stand while keeping Victoria down. I kicked at his shin, but I felt like a child fighting against a parent, my feeble attempts to harm completely unnoticed.

“What the fuck are you doing, man?” I screamed at him, looking from his face to my wife’s losing battle with the murderer. “You’re married, you’re successful, you’re happy! Why are you helping this psychobitch!?!”

Ricky smiled slightly at Bianca, “because she’s all I ever wanted.” He answered.

I turned away in disgust, and watched Bianca. Despite Victoria being much less injured, she was struggling to overcome Bianca. I tried to pull my arms from Ricky, but his grip was too tight, too firm. Steeling myself, I pulled forward while raising my leg, determined to put every inch of power I had into saving my wife. I kicked back hard, trying to land the blow on his knee and force him down, but he moved back just in time, and twisted my arm tight. I fell to the floor with a scream. He lowered his knee onto my back, pinning me to the linoleum floor. I continued to fight fruitlessly, my eyes glued to my wife.

Bianca was now standing above her, smiling in glorious victory. Despite her efforts, Victoria couldn’t seem to keep her eyes open. I hadn’t witnessed Bianca hurt her yet, or heard any heavy blow. I couldn’t comprehend why Victoria was struggling so much. I watched her body fall limp as all her strength disappeared.

“What’s wrong with her!?” I yelled at Bianca. She looked at me, a small expression of disappointment on her face.

“You’re still looking quite perky…” She said, “you really should have had more of your margarita.” My stomach sank. No wonder she seemed to be recovering so much faster than anyone else.

Bianca raised the trophy, and I screamed, thrashing against Ricky.

“Please, no!” Tears stung my eyes. “Don’t hurt her! We have a child! Please! Stop!”

Bianca looked at me, and winked. Her arms began to descend down and I screamed, the pain and fear exploding out of my violently as I felt the weight of true ineffectiveness.

The trophy come down on Victoria with a wet heavy thump. Blood squirted above her, and fell in a line that connected me to her one last time. Bianca raised her arms and dropped them, over and over again. The sound of the metal hitting Victoria’s face and head made me vomit onto the floor between desperate sobs. She was so drugged up, she didn’t even scream, and soon the room was silent except for the dull thud of the trophy hitting her dead flesh, and the spray of blood against the wall and us. Some part of my mind reach out through the fog of shock and pain to realize that the storm outside had stopped. I fell, the struggle to win, to survive, dying inside me. I watched, sobbing, as my wife’s face was pounded into a mess of flesh, bone, and blood. She was soon unrecognizable.

“Why?” I asked, the word spitting from my mouth as a choked sob.

Bianca turned to me, dropping the trophy at her feet with a clash that rang in the quiet room. “Why? Why!? Why!?!” She repeated, each why growing louder until she was screaming. Her arms were covered in blood, all the way to her elbows, and her face and hair were now wet it. Bits of my wife’s tissue were falling from her clothes, and she took a step towards me, her feet sticking slightly to the blood on the floor. She curled her lip into a snarl as she brought her face to mine.

“Because, I am not just a body.” Her voice was low, almost like a growl. “I have spent my whole life being called dumb, but pretty. Useless, but gorgeous.” She spun away from me, gesturing to the empty room, yelling, “Simple, but at least I’m fuckable!” She turned back to me, “but look! Look at me now!” She yelled, raising her arms to the air. “Am I useless now? Am I nothing but a body now, Chuck? Look at me, look at what I’m capable of!” She lowered her arms, and locked eyes with me, “Now I’ll be remembered for more than being beautiful, more than just a nice pair of tits, more than an ass.” She lowered her face to mine again, and whispered, “I have affected you. Your life is ruined, because of me. You will die at my hands. Could just a body do that?” She smiled, and stood.

Walking towards the kitchen counter, she continued, “None of you ever thought much of me. Don’t try to tell me otherwise. I’m sick of listening to lies. I’m just the pretty face of the group. And for that, each and every one of you will pay.” She pulled a knife out of a drawer, and turned back to me, stepping over my wife’s mutilated body. “And now it’s your turn.” She looked up at Ricky, “pick him up.”

I began to fight, screaming, as Ricky lifted me back to standing. Bianca raised the knife.

A loud bang echoed off the glass surrounding us, making the room resonate with the sound. My ears felt as if they had begun to bleed, and a loud ringing noise filled my hearing. Bianca fell with a heavy solid thud. I felt Ricky’s grasp fall away and I dove to the side. Another bang and I turned to watch Ricky fall backwards, hitting his already bleeding head on the window behind him.

I looked towards the door to the living room. Tom stood holding a shotgun up to his eye. His arm fell, and the gun hung uselessly beside him. He looked from my dead wife to his, and then to the dead Ricky. His eyes locked on mine and I saw an intense determination within them. His jaw was locked in a stern expression I had never seen before. Slowly, a deranged smile grew on his face.

“That cunt didn’t know about Janet here!” He threw his head back and laughed maniacally to the ceiling. Tom had always enjoyed traditionally manly sports and activities. I wasn’t surprised hunting would be one of them. I guess Bianca hadn’t approved. Thank god that didn’t stop him.

“But… she drugged the margaritas… How are you still standing?” I stammered.

“I spilled mine before even getting a sip. And here I was, worried she’d be pissed I stained the couch!” Deep barks of laughter spewed from his body uncontrollably.

I jumped up, and ran to the living room where I had plugged in the phone, but it was gone. Tom was still laughing like a psychopath in the kitchen.

“Jesus, Tom. Shut the fuck up, will yea?”

Tom stopped laughing, his face falling to a frown. He walked to the couch beside me and sat down. All the energy that was there seconds ago drained from him. I didn’t care, I just wanted to get out of that damn house.

“Did you get into the safe?” I asked.

Tom shook his head solemnly.

“Was there any window or door she didn’t replace in the renovations?” Tom shook his head hopelessly. I clutched my head, trying to force the images of what remained of my wife in the kitchen from my mind. “Fucking hell, Tom, just shot the damn door open!” I growled.

“No more bullets.” He said, blankly.

I screamed in frustration, and sat heavily beside him. Putting my elbows on my thighs, I dropped my head into my hands, and began to sob. The salty liquid flowed out as waves of emotion washed over me. All of the stress, fear, and shock of the night was drowning me, and I had decided to let it.

And then my watch buzzed. I sniffled, blinking away the tears, and looked down at my wrist.

My smartwatch. It was 9:08pm.

The screen was illuminated, and in small font it read:

MOM:

Hope you guys are having fun!

Finally got Holly to bed.

She misses you!!

Xoxox

I sat there, dumbfounded for a moment. I hit the right button on the watch, and selected the Reply option.

From there, I had the option of Voice, Canned messages, or Emoji. I looked at the options for a moment mulling them over..

A scene floated in front of me, an image of me sending a kissy emoji, then going into the kitchen, turning on the gas, and kneeling in the oven until this pain was permanently erased. But then I thought of Molly. I thought of her smile, and her laugh. I thought of her red tear stained face as I put a band-aid on yet another skinned knee. I thought of her sleeping beside me, the look of innocence and peace. She had so much to learn, so much life ahead of her. A life of pain, loss, love, discovery. A full life, a life of value.

I breathed in, and selected Voice. A little icon of a microphone displayed.

“Send help.” My watch thought for a moment, and then the two words displayed on the screen. I selected the ok button.

Sent.

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