For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
Chapters 10 and 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30
The room was almost pitch black when I opened my eyes, with just the slightest light from the moon creeping through the open window. I hadn’t even made it to the fireswamp scene before falling asleep with Shawna in my arms. At that time everything had felt right, but she was no longer in my arms. I don’t know what time she left, but she had apparently turned the movie off when she did.
My alarm clock showed 2:38 AM but even after just a few hours sleep, I was wide awake, with thoughts of Shawna rushing back in to fill my mind. I could have tried to fight for another couple hours, or even minutes, of blissfully ignorant sleep but I knew it would do no good. Instead, I went down stairs and made my way to the front door. Unfortunately, this time, when I opened it, Shawna wasn’t waiting to talk to me.
I lit up a cigarette and flopped down onto the bench swing before taking a massive drag deep into my lungs. I knew cigarettes weren’t good for me. Hell, everyone knew that they would eventually kill you. But man, sometimes there really was nothing better. So after I finished that first one, I lit another, trying to decide if I could do what I had to, knowing I only had a few hours left to do it.
“Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.” …Or so the movie says. But what if it didn’t even have to be delayed? I asked myself.
If I refused to kill Shawna, then Lucifer would just assign another reaper. But that didn’t mean she would have to go alone, because it would also mean that I didn’t live up to my end of the deal with Lucifer, so I would forfeit my second chance at life. We could end up like Romeo and Juliet, the Leonardo DiCaprio / Claire Danes version and not the original one. I mean, the original version was fine, but the modern take was amazing and not just because I had a huge crush on Claire. The cars, the weapons and the acting were all incredible. But even though I had no chance at ever being with Claire, if I played my cards right, I could spend eternity with Shawna.
So not doing anything could be the answer I’d been looking for all along. It seemed so simple, yet perfect, that it made me start to question everything, because I had the feeling nothing involving Lucifer was ever simple.
At that point I knew I wouldn’t get back to sleep so after my third cigarette I decided to take Pamela out for a little ride, partially because Lucifer had never spoken to me while riding the KZ, and partially because trying to hold a conversation with him would be so much easier in the car.
I really wasn’t sure how anything with Lucifer worked, and I didn’t want to just drive around yelling his name out the window, so I did the only thing that made any sense to me; I drove to the place I first met him.
I felt my stomach start to tighten, and my hands grip the steering wheel a little harder as I neared the field where I had wrecked my car. I didn’t even realize it while I was doing it, but I had instinctively let my foot off the gas. By the time I reached the bridge that I’d bounced my rear bumper off of, I had already slowed to a crawl so I pulled over to the shoulder and put the car in park.
I hadn’t been back to that spot since the night of the accident, and probably for good reason. I felt my skin start to crawl as I looked around. I’d been down that road a hundred times before that night, and never felt anything strange, so I knew it wasn’t haunted by anything other than my memory, but that was enough. I could almost guarantee I wouldn’t be back any time soon.
“She doesn’t deserve to die, you know,” I said.
“And why do you say that?” Lucifer replied. “Because of what she told you?”
For some reason I didn’t even jump at the sound of his voice, or the sudden red glow from my radio; I was expecting it.
“She was just a kid.”
“And Ms. Reader was an old woman, but that didn’t stop you from doing what you were supposed to do.”
“Ms. Reader planned her husband’s death.”
“So premeditation is a requirement for murder?”
“No, not really. But at least I knew she meant to do it. That made it a little easier to convince myself to do what I had to do.”
“But Shawna didn’t plan whatever she did. She was just a kid protecting herself.”
“At least that’s what she told you.”
My face instantly got hot, and both hands clenched into fists, even though there was no one to punch. Lucifer was just a voice, toying with me.
“Are you saying she’s lying to me?”
“No, not at all,” he said, with a fake innocence in his voice that made me want to punch him even more. “I have no doubt she believes everything she’s told you, regardless of the truth.”
“So she’s lying to herself?”
“People remember things in such a way, as to make it easier on themselves to deal with it after the fact.”
“I don’t really care about how she remembers it.”
“And rightfully so. The only thing you really should care about is making sure you’ve determined her death by 8:00 am.”
“I made a deal,” I replied, “and I intend to keep it.”
I could hear a chuckle in his voice as it, and the red light faded
I’d heard exactly what I’d expected to hear from him and I got exactly what I expected to get out of our conversation. I knew he wouldn’t listen when I pleaded about her age or her innocence, but I left that stretch of road feeling a little better about what I was going to do. I probably could have wasted a little more time just driving around, enjoying a few moments before I forced myself to go see her but then I would have run the chance of Shana’s mother being awake. And there really was no reason to postpone what I had to do, so I headed straight to her house while I still had the courage to do what I had to do.
Her house looked like it always had, maybe even better without Matt’s red corvette sitting out front, but somehow it felt different as I pulled up. Or maybe it was just that I felt different; almost like an intruder. I’d been there a thousand times, and several times had even been that early in the morning, but I’d never felt out of place before. It was almost enough to make me turn around and head home, but time was running out and I knew I had to stick to my plan.
“Shawna?” I whispered as I softly tapped on her window. It was open a couple inches but I didn’t want to startle her by opening it more and just climbing in.
To my surprise, she moved back the curtain right away.
“What are you doing here?” She asked with a smile.
“I just needed to see you again.”
“And you couldn’t wait until the sun was up?”
“Can I come in so we can discuss it?”
“How do you know I don’t already have someone in here?”
She managed to keep a straight face for just a second, before grinning and sliding the window up for me to climb through.
“I didn’t wake you up when I left, did I?” She asked.
“No, I guess I was just done sleeping.”
“Really? You fell asleep just a couple hours ago and, no offense, but you looked like you needed it.”
“I just mean that you’ve looked a bit tired and stressed lately. And you were sleeping so good, so I thought it would be best if I left so I didn’t wake you.”
“Why weren’t you sleeping?”
“Really?” She asked. “Why do you think?”
“I told you, it doesn’t matter what happened all those years ago…”
“Maybe not to you,” she replied, “but not everyone will feel the same way.”
“It shouldn’t matter to anyone who really matters.”
“Regardless of how anyone else might feel,” she continued, “it still brought up a lot of things that I haven’t had to think about and feelings I haven’t had to deal with, for quite a while. I just had a lot on my mind, and I decided to come back here so I could think and you could get a little sleep.”
“I appreciate that, but I don’t want you to ever think you have to leave. No matter what you’re thinking about or feeling, you know you’re always welcome at my place. And you can talk to me or even just sit there without saying a word. Okay?”
There was a smile on her face, even as a tear rolled down her cheek. Then she wrapped her arms around me and pulled me close as she buried her head into my chest. That’s when I reached up and caressed the nape of her neck, ready for the vision to come.