Ada hesitated a moment before she turned the key to her front door. She leaned into the solid wood and it creaked open and popped as if it had been sealed for the past three months. An odor, old and dusty like an attic, hit her immediately, and she crinkled her nose as if she were going to sneeze, but nothing came of it. She dragged her two suit cases onto the foyer as she glanced behind her into the wet street in front of her house. Rain drops glared in the dull afternoon light. She looked at Ms. Keller’s door across the street, and memories rushed back. She shook them from her head and shut the door.
Her fusty, old townhome smelled like it did when she had first purchased it a few years ago. She had bought it from an elderly man’s estate. He had lived in it for two decades, but it had largely been abandoned for the last few months of his life as he slipped into and out of hospitals and nursing homes. When she first moved in, her father had helped her rip up carpets, paint, and clean the place to make it her own, but now, those old familiar smells had come back like ghosts emerging from the floorboards. She realized she could never really remove someone from the space they had once occupied. However, it was her space now, and she was glad to be back no matter how decrepit it smelled.
She glided along the back wall of her living room and opened the blinds again for the first time since she had left all of it behind. The gloomy day peered at her through the large rain drops that dotted her windows. She surveyed her backyard and the soupy mess that it was. The feeble grass was overtaken by mud. She shook her head in disdain. She’d deal with that once spring returned, but for now she would ignore it.
A car revved its engine suddenly out on the street disturbing the eerie quiet that had consumed her since she had shut her front door. Ada gasped and spun around toward the invisible street with hairs prickling her neck until she realized the source of the harsh noise. It took a moment for her brain to process it. Despite the clarity of her decision to return home against her parents’ wishes, conflicting thoughts and emotions clouded her mind like she was swimming in a vat of cooking oil. It took an extra step or two to make sense of things.
Although she tried to suppress all thoughts of him, Shane percolated in her mind again. Being back at the scene where he had attacked her made it inevitable. She had thought that the space of three months, a pending trial, and a restraining order would help her erase all of those bad memories, but being in her kitchen only made them more vivid, oppressive, and frightening like she was reliving that awful moment. She sighed in defeat before she busied herself with emptying her suitcases and starting a load of laundry.
Getting her life back to normal would be the first step in regaining control. She would thrive in the mundane. She couldn’t live with her parents forever no matter how much they begged her to stay. Commuting into the city everyday from her parents’ house had become a major chore and stressor. She had longed to be back to where she was before Shane ever waltzed into her life. She couldn’t wait until he was convicted and behind bars, but he legal system wasn’t expedient.
The sound of her washer rumbling in her hallway laundry room made her feel good in a strange way. Maybe it was the normalcy of it all. For much of the past three months, her mother had cooked wonderful dinners and fed her like a queen, but on her first night back, she didn’t miss those big meals. She just wanted something simple like a bowl of cereal and maybe some yogurt. Nothing could be more normal for her than a hastily prepared meal before the glow of the TV in her very own living room.
As she poured milk onto the crunchy cereal, she heard the rain beating against her windows. It had rained for days off and on, battering the colorful leaves that clung to the trees for the last gasp of fall. The weather had made her transition back to her usual life gloomy and foreboding. She should have been happy. Instead, she felt more alone than ever. She missed having her parents around for conversation even if their doting had driven her mad, but mostly, she missed talking to Jenny.
In the chaos of the attack and the police involvement, Jenny had been a steadfast supporter, but as the weeks went by, and Ada had moved outside the city to stay with her parents, their conversations became less frequent. Ada knew that Jenny had a new boyfriend and that he had consumed more and more of her time, but she didn’t expect Jenny to just drop out of her life so suddenly. They’d been the best of friends since their freshman year in college together, and the past few weeks had been the longest time since then that they’d gone without much conversation beyond a few text messages.
Ada decided to call Jenny once she finished dinner. Maybe catching up with her best friend was what she needed to make her feel better. She sat back on her couch and watched TV as she ate her cereal. The encroaching darkness outside made the glow of the TV seem surreal. She looked back over her shoulder into her backyard. The light from a street lamp sagged in the damp air adding to the dreariness of the night. The washer shut off with a loud click, and silence fell over the room again except for the soft hum of the TV. She had put the volume on a low setting while she read through emails on her phone from the comfort of her couch.
She was engrossed in an email from her mother when the doorbell rang. She jumped when the flighty tone broke the silence that had engulfed her. At first, she hesitated. No one knew she was back at home except her parents. She began to shake a little for fear of what she might find, but nevertheless, she crept to the door and placed her eye onto the peep hole. Jenny stood on the other side oddly proportioned in the fish-eye view of the peep hole.
Ada smiled and opened the door. “Jen! What are you doing here?” she asked, happy and surprised at the same time. Ada reached out and the best friends hugged tightly. When Ada let her go and she stepped back, Jenny smiled nervously, oddly out of character for her given that she had not seen her friend in several weeks.
“I thought I’d come by and catch up with you. It’s been a while,” she said shifting in place and glancing around her as if she were afraid someone was spying on them.
Ada, in her excitement, noticed none of this. She was simply happy to see her friend after such a long, stressful time away. Ada stood back and pushed the door open wider as she waved her friend inside. Jenny took a hesitant first step and then walked through the foyer toward her sparsely lit kitchen. The living room glowed in the silence of the TV and a single recessed light shined in the kitchen above the sink.
“Why do you have it so dark in here?” Jenny asked. The stark darkness made her nervous.
“I haven’t replaced the lamp yet,” Ada said pointing to the blank space on the end table near her couch. She reached over and flipped on the kitchen light, and both the kitchen and the living room brightened instantly. “Is that better?”
“Yes, much better,” Jenny said smiling wanly at her friend.
“How’d you know I was back here?” Ada asked. She was happy to see Jenny, but she was genuinely perplexed.
Jenny pulled her iPhone from her pocket and waved it in the air between them. “Remember, the ‘find friends’ feature?”
“Oh, I forgot we did that.” Ada laughed.
“How have you been?” Jenny asked as she took a seat at the tiny table on the edge of the kitchen.
Ada sat down opposite her. “As good as can be expected. Exhausted really. Commuting between work and my parents’ house was a nightmare. I’m so glad to get back home so that I can take the train again.”
“I wondered how you were managing that. I couldn’t do that commute.” Jenny seemed distracted as if she wanted to say something but couldn’t determine how to say it.
“So tell me about your new boyfriend,” Ada demanded. She wanted to hear some good news for a change. She wanted to get back to where she and Jenny were before Shane.
“How’d you know about that?” Jenny had a look of surprise on her face.
“Your text message from a few weeks ago.”
“Oh, it’s been so long since we last spoke, I had forgotten I told you.”
“I guess he’s a real keeper since you haven’t been in touch much lately.”
“Yes, he’s wonderful.” Jenny didn’t seemed convinced of what she said.
Ada sensed something was bothering her. “Are you okay?”
“Yes…” Words hung in the air between them. Jenny stared at her and then looked away before she said, “Are you going through with the charges against Shane?”
Ada was confused and taken aback by her sudden question. Her brow furrowed and her lips dropped into a small frown. “Of course. Why would you ask that?”
“I was just wondering. It’s been a few months, and you’ve had time to think about what happened. I didn’t know if you’ve changed your mind.”
“Why would I change my mind about someone who attacked me?” Ada almost sneered as she asked the question. She didn’t mean to be so defensive, but the question conjured up many bad memories that she wished to forget. The sudden surge of emotion almost overwhelmed her.
Jenny stiffened and looked away. Silence did nothing to divert Ada’s stare. Ada trembled a little. The subject brought back a flood of bad memories. “What’s going on, Jen?”
Jenny returned her gaze to Ada. “I just think we all overreacted. That’s all.”
“Overreacted? About Shane? How can you say that now? You were the one who practically dragged me down to the police station to file charges. You were the one who said he deserved to be in jail. The man’s a psychopath.” Ada’s voice rose with each successive word. She was clearly agitated. She looked away, and Jenny could see her eyes glistening in the light.
“We all have our issues, Ada. I don’t know why you can’t see that.” Jenny shook her head slowly. She feared losing control of the conversation. It was not proceeding as she had practiced in her mind. She had hoped that time and reason would persuade her friend to reconsider the charges, but now, her friend was overcome with emotion. Her plans disintegrated once the first sob escaped Ada.
“Ada, I’m sorry,” Jenny said.
“I think you should leave,” Ada said between sobs. The questions, the conversation, all of it were too much, too soon.
“Ada, I’m just trying to help you.”
“Help me? How is this helping me?”
“If you go through with this, you’ll be making a huge mistake.”
“What? How?” Ada’s voice reached a high-pitched strain as she became exasperated by Jenny’s inscrutable turnabout. Jenny looked away as if the spotlight of Ada’s attention blinded her.
“How, Jenny? Tell me!” Ada seemed angry now.
“Calm down, Ada.”
Ada stood up violently. Her thighs struck the table and shook it between them. Jenny sat back to avoid the table punching her in the ribs. She looked up at her friend, seemingly frightened by the tension between them.
“I think you should go,” Ada said sternly.
“I’m not dropping the charges. I hope he rots in jail!”
“Go…please!” Ada raised her voice and pointed to the door.
Jenny froze for a moment, and then her face blanked of all emotion before she stomped past Ada and down the hall toward the front door. Without another word, she left slamming the door behind her.
Ada waited a moment before she followed the same path and bolted the door. She shuffled back into the kitchen and flipped off the light so that her room returned to the dim glow she had enjoyed before Jenny had knocked on her door. Her hands shook and she felt tears welling in her eyes, but she pressed them back with the tips of her fingers. Her flashing anger refused to let her cry anymore.
She took one step toward her couch before she noticed someone standing at her back door looking in at her. She jumped and caught her breath before she realized who it was.
“What are you doing back there?” Ada screamed through the door.
“Let me in…please.”
“No! Go home! I don’t want to talk to you!”
The door knob rattled against the lock.
Ada was still shaking from her encounter with Jenny and she remained frozen in place. Her mind raced trying to find something that would calm her down. She looked down at Jenny’s shoes on the other side of the glass door.
“You’re getting mud all over your shoes out there. My yard is a mess.” She shook her head in disapproval as she opened the door for her best friend.
“Let me get you a towel,” Ada said as if she were scolding her friend.
Jenny stepped into the kitchen and stood near the door as she watched Ada disappear into a closet on the other side of the room in search of a towel to clean her muddy shoes. She stood on the edge of the bright circle of light provided by the single bulb that burned in the kitchen. The muted TV glowed behind her. The dim light encouraged her. She took two steps to the kitchen counter and stood stiffly waiting for Ada to emerge from the closet.
Ada mumbled to herself behind the half-opened closet door until she found an old towel worthy of cleaning muddy shoes. She pivoted and stepped back into the kitchen shutting the door behind her.
“What are you doing?” she asked Jenny, perplexed by what she saw. A look of concern stiffened her face.
Jenny shook her head. “I can’t let you do it.”
“Go through with the trial.”
Ada was confused. “Shane’s trial?”
“Why do you care?” A million little thoughts careened through Ada’s mind like an endless box of mismatched puzzle pieces.
“Because I love him.”
Ada stumbled back and almost hit the door behind her. She couldn’t believe what she heard, but the look on Jenny’s face said it all. Her friend was possessed. She took a few hitched breaths and all she could say was “Shane?”
“Yes. I knew you wouldn’t understand.” Jenny took a step toward Ada. The kitchen knife gleamed in the lone light.
“Jenny, think about what you’re doing.” Ada backed into the door behind her as Jenny took one and then two steps to close the gap between them. Jenny tried to jab the knife in Ada’s chest, but Ada deflected her advance and the knife pointed straight up jostling between the two women like a hard-won trophy. Ada screamed and Jenny thrust her shoulder into her to shut her up.
The struggle seemed evenly matched as they fought each other in a tight space until Ada kicked at Jenny and pushed her across the room. The knife flew out of her hand and skittered across the floor in a hideous metallic scrape. Jenny fell on her butt. The knife came to a stop across the kitchen well out of her reach.
She sneered at Ada, out of breath. “I can’t let you destroy Shane! You’re nothing but a spoiled, ungrateful bitch! He’s too good for you!”
Ada, also breathing heavily from the struggle and bent over at the waist, started, “Jenny…what…are you talking about?”
Before Ada could say another word, Jenny thrust herself up and grabbed another knife from the butcher’s block on the kitchen counter and charged Ada. It all happened slowly for Ada as she tried to straighten up and evade Jenny, but her body didn’t move as fast as her mind had. Jenny thrust the knife downward and landed it into the thick flesh of her neck gashing her jugular vein. Ada stood upright in shock as Jenny pulled the knife out and stood in front of her.
Ada collapsed to the floor gasping in pain, but she kept her bewildered eyes on her friend. Her last thoughts were that she would wake up from this awful nightmare very soon. Jenny stepped around Ada and grabbed the towel she had retrieved from the closet. She wiped the knife clean and put it back in the butcher’s block carefully wiping the handle as she did. She stuffed the towel in the front pocket of her hoodie and then put her hood up. She stood for a moment on the edge of the light that encircled the kitchen and watched Ada take her last jagged breath before she opened the back door and disappeared into the yawn of the dark, rainy night.