Ash’s feet make quick work of the stairs. His socks dancing against the hardwood so quickly, they don’t have time to slip beneath him. Not bothering to put on his shoes, he opens the front door. The rain is heavy now. His hair and clothes are soaked before he makes it to the end of the walkway. He doesn’t notice. His focus is complete. The light glows dimly from the house down the street. The same window he smashed the beer bottle against only a few weeks earlier. The cotton of his socks absorbs the water from the puddles he doesn’t notice. His stride doesn’t break once. Not even to check for traffic. Not until he reaches the pool of light on the front porch of the little yellow house. So unassuming. Almost cute. His fist comes down hard on the thick wood of the door. Repeatedly. Until the voice sounds from the other side.
“Jesus. Relax. I’m coming.” The deep, familiar voice calls from the other side. The door pulls open. “What are you doing here?”
Ash looks at the deep purple welts surrounding his teacher’s eye. A flash of hatred and anger crosses between them. “You son of a bitch!” Ash launches himself across the threshold. Gil falls beneath the weight of his attack. Ash pulls his fist back and slams it into Gil’s face. Again and again. The stitches on Ash’s hand tear away as his knuckles slam into the bones of his teacher’s face. “You did this to her! I know you did!” Ash feels himself fly across the room as Gil jerks his body. The younger boy’s shoulder slams into the corner. He scurries back up the wall, his wet socks not gaining any purchase on the floor. A foot meets his stomach, forcing him back down. He gasps for breath. He sees the foot coming again and wraps his arms around Gil’s ankle. Pulling quickly, Ash forces his teacher’s feet out from under him. He scrambles back up to gain the advantage.
“Get off me, you crazy little shit.” Gil pushes him back against the wall before standing. He kicks Ash again, this time in the face. Ash hears a loud cracking sound followed by the worst pain he’s ever felt in his life. He forces himself to push through the pain. Gil backs into the kitchen. “Get out of my house before I call the cops.”
“Go ahead.” Ash scrambles behind him, touching the side of his mouth, pulling his fingers away to see the blood. “Call them, please! Let me tell them about what you did to my sister. And all those other girls.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Gil stops in his tracks, “What other girls? I didn’t do anything to any other girls.”
“But you did something to my sister, right?”
“Like what? Taking her to my bed. Up against this counter here? Doing things to her body you can’t even imagine yet.” Gil slams his palm against the granite top of the island. “Sure. I did all those things. Why should it matter to you? She’s a big girl.” His eyes flash with anger and malevolence.
“Because she’s my sister, you jackass! Of course it matters.” Ash is screaming so loudly his voice catches. He tries throwing a fist at Gil again, but the teacher slips quickly behind the island, making the distant between them too far for an attack. “You had no right to touch her. No right! But this is who you are right? I know about the girls from your other schools. About Gina.”
Gil’s eyes rage. “Who’s been doing your research? You’re little girlfriend?” His voice is low, menacing. “She’s a little too smart for her own good that one. You should tell her to stay out of other people’s business.”
“Is that a threat?” Ash throws himself over the smooth countertop. Sliding into Gil, he knocks him onto the floor. Grabbing the teacher’s hair, Ash slams his head into the floor. “You keep your hands off her.” Gil struggles against Ash’s grip. Flipping Ash onto his back, he forces the younger boy to submit. Grabbing him by the wrists, he flattens Ash’s hands against the floor and kneels on them. His knuckles crack as they slam into Ash’s jaw.
“It’s not a threat. I don’t care about Sullivan. What happened to you sister was her own damn fault.” He slams his fist again. “She threatened to ruin my career.”
“You did that to yourself by dating a high school student.” Ash struggles against the larger man, trying to free his hands.
Gil pulls back and slams him in the face again. “She was just like Gina. Always wanting her own way. Never knowing her place.” His fist connects again. Ash feels his tooth crack. He doesn’t know how much longer he can withstand the pain. Black dots begin to flash across his vision. “She kept acting like we were married or something. I needed some space. She just wouldn’t back off.”
“So, you killed her?”
“No! I dumped her. And she ran away and I went after her. To try to talk to her. And she slapped me. A little girl. A snivelling, self absorbed little girl. She had the gall to slap me! Me!” Knuckles meet flesh again. “And before I knew it, she was lying there. And she wasn’t breathing.” His fingers found their way down to Ash’s neck, thicker than his sister’s. Besides, she isn’t dead. No harm, no foul, right?”
The black spots in Ash’s vision began to multiply. “Yes, she is.” He gasps around the tightening in his windpipe. He feels nothing else as he succumbs to lack of oxygen.
***** ***** *****
Sullivan pushes herself up off the floor, drying her eyes with the sleeve of her hoodie. “Okay. There’s time for crying later. The last thing Ash needs is alone time. Let’s go find him and make sure he’s okay.”
“None of us should be alone right now.” Emmette helps Rowena up from her spot on the ground. The four of them head downstairs.
“Ash?” Sullie calls, but gets no response. “Maybe he went out back.”
“I don’t think so.” Frasier voice calls from the front entryway. The door stands open. The floor mat wet from the rain. “I don’t see him though.” Sullivan leans over to slip on her shoes.
“His shoes are still here. He must be here somewhere.” She opens her umbrella and ventures out into the rain. Looking up and down the street, she doesn’t see anyone.
“Where the hell could he be?” Emmette’s voice is loud beside her.
“I don’t see him anywhere.” Sullie starts to chew her nail, worrying.
“Fuck!” Frasier starts running across the lawn.
“Frasier! What’s going on?”
“Staal lives just down the street. I forgot.” Emmette falls into a run behind him. Sullie turns to Rowena.
“Call the cops.” Dropping her umbrella on the lawn, Sullivan turns and bolts after the two boys. Rowena hurries behind them, digging in her pocket for the card Officer Daniels had given her earlier that afternoon. She punches in the number and waits for an answer. Rowena feels words spewing from her mouth as soon as she hears the gruff voice answer. Tumbling out so fast she doesn’t have a chance to make them into a coherent sentence. She hurries to find the house number.
Sullie bursts through the front door of the house just in time to see Emmette pile drive Mr. Staal into the cupboards. Frasier sits on his legs, while Emmette holds down his arms, immobilizing him. She steps towards them, around the corner of the island, and sees Ash lying on the floor, eyes closed, blood pouring from the open wounds on his face.
“Ash!” She screams, throwing herself onto him. She pulls him to her chest, his head rolling back on his neck. “Wake up. Please, wake up. Wake up. Wake up.” She buries her face in his neck, ignoring the blood spreading through her hair.