Sugar Free Page 5

Beck was currently off wiping up the rest of them.

It was self-defense, I remind myself.

Murder, my guilty conscience says back.

My fingers involuntarily rub against the splotches of purple that rest at the base of my throat, compliments of JT’s cast pressing down on me. I swallow and make myself take note of the slight pain that occurs as I do so.

I do this to remind myself that JT was choking me to death. I had no choice but to swing that letter opener. I hadn’t planned it, but perhaps by the grace of God I found the strength to protect myself.

A repulsive half snicker, half sob explodes from my mouth and I immediately slap my hand over it. My eyes well up with tears even as a laugh bubbles up and tries to push its way out. So ironic that I killed him with a letter opener, since I had imagined using that exact implement when I visited his office to meet Karla for lunch all those months ago.

Caroline walks into the room, rounds the bed, and comes to my side, which sits closest to the window-wall. She looks at me without judgment for JT’s murder and doesn’t seem affronted that I’m trying hard not to laugh. She smells faintly of Clorox so she has no room to judge.

“What’s so funny?” she asks carefully as she sets down the cup of tea on the night table beside me before sitting down on the edge of the bed near my hip.

I reach over for the tea, using the simple action to distract my rampant thoughts and get my bearings. I pick up the cup, bring it to my mouth, and blow on it before I take a tentative sip. It’s hot and I don’t even mind the slight scalding to my tongue and roof of my mouth, which also helps to distract me.

Peeking over the edge of the cup at Caroline, I say, “I once visited JT’s office. He wasn’t there but I looked inside and envisioned killing him in there with his own letter opener. It was a pipe dream then. It’s just funny to me that little fantasy of mine came true.”

Caroline smiles at me with understanding. “Nothing wrong with a little inappropriate laughter. Or those types of fantasies.”

I smile back at her as best I can, but it’s thin and without any genuine force behind it. She sees that. She knows it.

“It was more than fantasy,” I tell her with brutal honesty. Caroline just helped clean up evidence of my crime so she needs to know the full truth of what I did. That my original intention was not a silly dream but an actual plan to kill the man who destroyed my innocence.

Tears well up in my eyes again and I blink hard against them, taking another sip of my tea to ward them off.

It was self-defense, I tell myself.

Murder, my subconscious sneers at me.

Caroline turns slightly from me while I get myself under control and stares out the window, which overlooks the Financial District. She looks just like Beck. Same eyes, nose, and perfectly shaped smile.

Same moral character.

Although she wanted me to go to the police, she never hesitated to jump on board with Beck to help protect me by trying to erase my crime. The image of Caroline bent over with yellow rubber gloves on, scrubbing down the shower and then pouring bleach down the drain, ensured she became complicit in my crime.

That will be forever burned in my brain.

She’s just helped me try to get away with murder, and she did so because she loves Beck and Beck loves me. It’s overwhelming to me that I feel extraordinarily close to this woman that I hardly know at all.

“I’m sorry about what JT did to you,” Caroline says softly as she turns to face me.

I’m almost relieved by her statement and avoidance of the subject of blood and bleach, but it’s still a sobering moment as I realize that I can’t say those words back to her.

I don’t think she should know what JT told me in those last moments before I killed him. I can’t think of any good reason why I should visit that pain upon her, and I’m sorry…closure just isn’t a good enough reason. She’s better off not knowing who her rapist was than to know it was her half brother.

So while I can’t divulge the horror of that knowledge to her, I can reach out and accept her offer of sisterhood that we now share.

“I’m sorry you went through the same thing,” I murmur.

“Beck was my rock,” she says as she leans a little closer to me, her blue eyes focused intently on mine. “I wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for him. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him.”

Her message is clear.

“Including helping him cover up the fact I murdered someone,” I whisper the obvious.

She shakes her head. “Including helping him protect what’s his. And JT got what he deserved. It was either kill or be killed, Sela, and you did what you had to do to survive. It’s not the first time in your life you’ve endured something horrible, and it probably won’t be the last.”

I stare at her, my eyes threatening to fill with tears again, but I command them to stay at bay. It’s time to move past what I did.

“We should have gone to the police,” I say with a sigh, still struggling with my biggest doubt. It would have been risky, and yes, there was a good chance they wouldn’t have believed me. But by staying silent, I ensured that Beck and Caroline just became my partners in crime, and I never wanted them at risk.

Caroline shrugs and stands up from the bed. She turns to me, slipping her hands into the back pockets of her jeans. Looking down at me, she says, “What’s done is done. Beck’s handling it now and we need to trust in what he’s doing.”

I nod in agreement but hating every minute we wait for him to return from what could be either a fool’s or a hero’s mission.

“Why don’t you come into the kitchen,” Caroline says. “I made some tuna fish salad. I’ll fix you a sandwich.”

My stomach rumbles, and it hits me I haven’t eaten since breakfast. While you would think the fact I murdered someone in a grisly fashion not five hours ago would suppress my appetite, I find myself strangely famished.

I nod and roll off the bed. Grabbing a pair of jeans from the dresser, I slip them on and follow Caroline down the hall.

“Is Ally okay?” I ask hesitantly. When I came into the condo, she was too consumed with TV to do much more than give me a sideways glance and mumble, “Hey, Sela,” before turning her eyes back to the flat screen. Luckily, the hoodie I stole from JT covered the blood, so even if she had paid more attention to me, it’s unlikely she would have seen anything to traumatize her.

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