The blood on my clothes is still damp, but the blood on my hands is not.
At some point between the hospital and this waiting cell at the police station, it managed to become nothing more than red flakes on my palms and fingers. I can feel it on my face, too, mixing with the tears now soaked into my skin. I wonder how the others in the cell see me—barely a man, huddled in the corner of the room, bloodstained tux, and a missing shoe—and I imagine, for a moment, the thoughts and stories that run through their minds.
Maybe I was in a wreck, drunk.
Maybe I was in a fight, drunk.
Maybe I tried to kill someone.
I try not to think about it for too long, the repercussions of my actions beyond my mental capacity. So I stare down at the floor in front of me, the sole of my single bloody shoe print leading to where I sit, like a road map to my demise, and I think about the only thing that makes sense.
I think about her.
And I wonder if I’ll ever get the image, the feel, of her limp body in my arms out of my system.
That’s how long it took me to realize I’d been in love with her for four years.
Eight, life-changing seconds.
It’s also the exact length of time it took to lose her.
PAST | LOIS
“It’s nice that your boss wanted to have us over,” I murmured to my dad who was sitting next to me, hands on the steering wheel as we drove through a new town we were supposed to call home.
After the divorce, he’d wanted a fresh start, and that meant getting as far away from my mom as possible. If he was disappointed he only managed to get a job a mere four hours away, he never mentioned it. But he assured me it was a good job, one that paid well for a site foreman. And though the town was a lot smaller than where I’d spent my early years, he said it was a good place to live out the rest of my childhood until I eventually left him for greener pastures—college and such. Those were his words, not mine. Besides, I was only eleven at the time. Old enough to have an opinion, but still too young to care either way. “So what’s your boss like? It’s Tom, right?”
Dad nodded as he checked his side mirror before changing lanes. “He seems nice enough. He’s tall. And his wife’s tiny. Her name’s Kathy.”
My dad’s one of those men who seemed like they never aged. Only he wasn’t ever young looking. He’d always had a beard that was scattered with grays, always had dark circles around his eyes as if he was tired all the time. But what stood out the most is the way he always looked worried—as if the world was going to end and he was the only one in on the secret. When things got worse with Mom, the worry turned to stress, turned to fear, and slowly turned to acceptance. I think for him the acceptance was the worst part of all—knowing and believing that it was just him and me against the world. Then he got offered this job. I don’t think I’d seen him smile since before The Breaking Point: when my mom threw a chair at his head.
He nudged my side with his elbow and smiled down at me. “Guess how many kids they have?” he asked.
I shrugged, pushing aside my thoughts. “How many?”
“Guess, Lo,” he said, his voice filled with anticipation.
“I don’t know. Four?”
He shook his head.
I sat higher in my seat, my eyes wide, and asked, “Six?”
He nodded, thank God. Any more and my eyes would’ve fallen out of my head. “Yep. Five boys and one girl. The girl’s the oldest. And all their names start with L. See, Lois? You’ll fit right in.”
I looked down at my flip-flops, denim shorts and t-shirt that had a picture of a cat and the words Look at meow. I’m getting pay purr. “Maybe I should’ve worn a pretty dress or something. Tried to impress them, you know?”
It took a while for him to answer, and when he did, the words resonated so loudly that even now, six years later, I still hear them loud and clear. “You impress people with your mind. With your kind heart and humble attitude. And while you’re a beautiful girl, your looks or the way you dress shouldn’t be the reason people are impressed by you. And when you’re older and boys start to notice you, I want you to remember that. Because if it’s only your looks they’re attracted to, then they’re not the one for you, Lo. You can do better. You will do better.”
That speech alone is reason enough as to why I’d chosen to move away with him instead of staying with my mother.
“Unless it’s Justin Timberlake,” I joked, trying to hide my true reaction to his words. “Then he can like me for my looks, right?”
Dad chuckled under his breath. “You can totally do better than Justin Timberlake.”
“I think not!” I said seriously. JT was no joke.
He laughed, a sound so pure that at that moment I almost hated my mother for trying so hard to take that away from him. Yeah, I was young, but I wasn’t blind. Or deaf. And though I’m sure I didn’t know everything that went on with them, I knew enough.
I went back to thinking about Tom and Kathy and their army of children. “Dad…”—I looked at him sideways—“are you sure you want this job? These people might be in some weird sister-wife cult. You never know… one day you’re working construction for him and the next you’re asking people to drink the Kool-Aid.”
He playfully rolled his eyes. “I should monitor your TV watching more. Enough true crime shows for you.” He slowed the car to a stop. “I think we’re here.” Then he leaned over the steering wheel to look at the number on the mailbox. It was basically all you could see from the street. That, and a long gravel driveway surrounded by endless trees. “Yeah. This is it,” he said to himself, turning the car to creep slowly between the open gates on either side of the driveway. “Wow…” he whispered, and wow it was.
It was as if time slowed when the Preston house came into view. Beautiful, white two-story house, dark shutters on the windows and a wraparound porch. There was also a detached garage with an apartment above, and the yard was kept, neat and trimmed to perfection. It was the kind of house you’d see in magazines. I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised considering Tom Preston owned the largest construction company on this side of North Carolina, but still… I’d never seen anything so grand before. At least not in real life.