New Beginnings | Buried Series | Part 10 (Conclusion)

I didn’t want to go back to his apartment. I didn’t want to go home. But it was dangerous to stay in Virginia. How soon would his ex’s body wash up on the banks of the Dan River? How soon would the local news air video feed from traffic cameras showing us dumping the suitcase over the bridge? I hadn’t considered that possibility. How soon would Danville police track down his car?

He fell asleep at the wheel. Twice. The first time, he claimed he was only looking down at the dashboard, checking his gas levels, checking his speed, checking the time. It was almost dawn, but the sun had yet to rise. I wondered if it would ever again. We belonged in the darkness, the shadows. The light of the sun would reveal the blood on our hands, permanently stained. No soap, no water would wash it away. We’d go through our daily lives carrying our shame like a scarlet letter. Anything we’d come in contact with would spread the mark—a handshake here, a passing of papers there. It would spread like a plague until the whole of the earth was consumed. Maybe that was where original sin came from—Adam and Eve’s disobedience passed down through the generations.

When he fell asleep the second time, his foot went heavy like lead on the gas. The engine moaned as the dial on the speedometer passed ninety. I beat my fist on the steering wheel and honked the horn to jolt him back to consciousness. I wouldn’t risk a third time. As soon as we crossed the state line back into North Carolina, we would find a cheap motel and pay cash so we couldn’t be traced.

Super 8 has a first-floor room available on the back side of the motel facing a construction lot containing a dormant tractor and mounds of clay piled ten to twenty feet high. It was the perfect place to lay low. Instead of pulling up in front of the room door, he parallel parked into three spaces in an empty corner of the parking lot on the edge of the construction zone, right next to one of the taller clay mounds. With the age of his car, passersby would think it’d been parked there unnoticed for weeks, maybe months, possibly abandoned. It wouldn’t appear to belong to any guest staying at the motel, a guest police might be looking for.

Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

The ceiling in the bathroom was peeling, and crumbs of plaster had been swept behind the door. A faint brown ring lined the inside of both the toilet and the bathtub. There was a layer of smudge on the mirror, similar to his murky windshield, but I didn’t need to see my reflection to know I looked terrible. Deprived of sleep, the bags under my eyes weighed my face down. I struggle to lift my neck. My body was heavy as if I were sinking, drowning under the surface.

I pulled his oversized sweatpants over my hips, turned off the light, and stepped over the large stain on the carpet a shade darker than the dingy brown. This was no hotel of luxury.  This was a place where people disappeared from the grid—the cheating husbands, the drug addicts, the “honorably” discharged civil servants, the criminal scum dodging the cops. We were the latter. If we were lucky, the place had bedbugs too. We’d need them to corroborate our story about his mattress and box spring anyway. If one of his neighbors ever asked, we could roll up our sleeves, lift our shirts, and reveal the raised red welts on our arms and backs, where the tiny critters feasted on our flesh.

I worried for Stephan, however. Already tucked into the twin bed closest to the closet, Stephan lay still, curled under the covers, sleeping with his thumb in his mouth. He didn’t deserve this punishment. He didn’t deserve to lose his mother. He didn’t deserve to lose his father either, but he’d lost him long before this, which made it all the more heartbreaking. No child should have to suffer the blunt consequences of his parents’ selfish decisions.

If she hadn’t taken him…

But immediately I felt guilty for even thinking to blame her. I swallowed back the thought, but my throat was too dry, and my saliva felt like glue.

“Why’d you kill her?” I could barely hear my own voice. He stepped out of his shoes and kicked them toward the dresser, where the TV sat. “I mean, it couldn’t have been just because she took Stephan,” I added.

“Why not?” He pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it onto the armchair by the window.

“I don’t know. I guess…I thought there was something more.” I couldn’t wrap my brain around why he had killed her after she’d come back, after she’d brought their son back, without any persuasion or prying from him. She was the one who’d picked up the phone and promised to come home. Why go through killing her after she’d already fixed her wrong? Did she threaten to take Stephan again? Or was it too much for him, seeing every day how big Stephan had gotten, knowing he would never have those early memories of watching him grow? He couldn’t forgive her for taking what she could never return?

Maybe the man I dated before him never forgave me for aborting our baby either. Maybe he dreamed of killing me too. And just as Stephan’s mom couldn’t save herself, my obsession with becoming a mother now wouldn’t bring back the child I’d killed. What would he do to me if he learned of my past? After tonight, I knew at least one of us was capable of murder, but would I make the mistake of provoking him to kill me? Would I stoop down to the level of his ex—of my past self—and snatch a child from a father again?

It sounded too much like I was trying to justify his actions, but his answer and lack of remorse proved there was no justification for the actions of a man who just might be pure evil.

And what did that say about me that I was still with him? That I was sleeping with him?

I leaned over the bed Stephan lay in and kissed behind his ear. “Sweet dreams,” I whispered. I prayed he would never have to remember this night or anything that happened before. I turned around just as his father pulled the curtains shut, but I caught a glimpse of the pink sky in the distance, behind the mounds of clay outside the window. The sun rising would signify a clean slate for us, a new beginning—all of our guilt buried in the night, in the dark depths of the river, and floating downstream, hopefully to larger bodies of water and eventually feeding into the Atlantic Ocean, past local, state, or federal jurisdictions, past territorial waters, and out of our lives forever.

But even as he slid into bed behind me, my eyes wandered to the remote control lying on the nightstand, and I couldn’t help but think about pressing that power button, changing to one of the local stations, and waiting for the top of the hour breaking news report between the weather and traffic.

© 2016-2023 Nortina Simmons

Catch up on previous installments:
To Live


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