I was putting together the desk I had bought for my new office, just a few more touches and then the TV nook would have gone through a complete transformation. I did feel like I would get more work done up here, instead of always sitting at the kitchen table, I would start to truly write. The office had been a tiny sitting room, it was more of a nook with a sofa and a TV, Ben would sit here and watch his sports that Lisa didn’t want to watch. There was a window with a lovely view out over the fields, and it would be a real office.
I had been enjoying looking through some of our old photo albums, reminiscing and making a list of childhood memories to put into the book. There was the time I was sick on Ben’s birthday and he refused to celebrate it until I was well again and could join in. Or the time I broke our mother’s watch, an heirloom from her grandmother, and Ben took the blame. Or the multiple times he had covered for me as a teenager when I snuck in way past curfew. When people read about this, they would see that he was not a killer. Not matter what the police reports says.
I still wanted to go to the police station again and speak with chief inspector Carlson, convince him to open the case up again and look through things more carefully. I had already tried, many times, but he would not listen. Ben had Lisa and Susie’s blood on him, and the hanging looked like a suicide, but there must be more to it than that. A serial killer could no doubt make a murder look like a suicide, even when it wasn’t. And this would be the perfect crime, making it look like Ben had done it, and then committed suicide. The police couldn’t question Ben, they had just jumped to the conclusion. Now it was up to me to change people’s minds, and then maybe the police would start looking for the real killer.
I didn’t like to think about him out there, the killer, still on the loose, maybe someone who was very close by, someone from this area. My second night here, I was sure I had heard a noise from outside, in the direction of the garage. Not an animal sound or the wind, but a distinct human sound. A thump and a squeak, and then footstep. But the garage was 10 meters from the house, and I had been half asleep, I had to keep telling myself that. If I thought too much about a killer coming back to his scene of crime, maybe looking for his next victim, I would never get any sleep in this house.
I had to get ready to go to Shelley and Rick’s house for dinner. Shelley had called me yesterday, and again this morning, to remind me, so I had no excuse not to show up. And I wanted to go. Other than the store clerk at the furniture shop where I bought the desk today, I hadn’t spoken with anyone for days. An evening of socialising would be good.
I went into the little bathroom in the hallway, it had been Susie’s bathroom and the guest bathroom. There was a larger bathroom connected to the master bedroom, but I never went in there. I slept in the little upstairs guest bedroom, where I had always stayed when I came to visit. I didn’t want to sleep in the bedrooms, not yet.
It didn’t take me long to get ready, and then I walked the 5 minutes to the neighbouring house.
“I am so happy you came, we have been looking forward to you coming over and us getting to know you better.” Shelley did look like she was thrilled that I was coming for dinner. Maybe she was lonely too, or maybe she was just one of those kinds of women who loves to be a hostess.
“I’m happy to be here. I didn’t know what you like to drink, but I brought a bottle of red.” I was trying to get past Sultan, the little Pomeranian that was bouncing up and down in front of me. When the police had told me that the neighbours’ dog had found Ben and his family, I had imagined a German Shepard, or maybe even a Retriever, not this little ball of overexcited fur.
“That is perfect, you really didn’t have too, but I’ll open it and we can all have a glass before dinner. Rick is in the living room, just go straight in, make yourself at home.”
I had only met Rick for a few minutes, when he and Shelley came over to investigate the moving truck the day I arrived, and he hadn’t said much. Shelley seemed to do enough talking for them both. He stood up and reached out a hand for me to shake as I walked into the living room. It seemed very stiff and formal, and afterwards I sat down on the edge of my chair, hands folded in my lap, legs crossed at the ankles. I was trying hard to think of something to say, but I had never been any good at small talk. Neither was Rick apparently, as he sat silently too, looking at a magazine on the coffee table, probably wishing he could pick it up and pretend I wasn’t there.
The awkward mood lifted the moment Shelley came in with the wine and three glasses, already talking before she even made it through the door.
“I just had a small sip and the wine is delicious, you are spoiling us. We usually just pick up whatever is on sale in the shop, I guess we don’t know much about wine. Other than: we like to drink it.” We had a little laugh about that, and I felt much more at ease. Around someone like Shelley you didn’t have to small talk, she could carry on a conversation all by herself.
“We are so happy to have a neighbour again, aren’t we Rick? Having the house stand empty was just a constant reminder of what… Sorry I keep bringing it up and I am sure you don’t want to think about it. But let me just say that it is nice to see the house lit up again in the evenings, and for things to be back to normal…in a way…for us anyway…I am sure they are not for you. Oh, look at me go again, I kept saying to myself that I shouldn’t bring it up, and then that is all I do.”
“It is fine, don’t feel like you can’t mention what happened. Or like you can’t mention them, I still like thinking about them, remembering all the good stuff.”
Shelley gave me a pitying look. “I guess it is hard to forget about when you are living in their house. I was very surprised when we realised you were moving in there to be honest. But I am sure you are just doing what is right for you.”
“I think this is the only way for me to ever truly heal. I need to face what has happened, and process it in my own way. I had a moving company come down here and pack up their bedrooms and move everything to a storage unit before I moved in, that I don’t think I could have done. But now it is mostly happy memories, and I feel closer them, so even if it seems strange to some people, I do believe it is the best approach for me.” Some people was mostly Alan to me, his opinion was the only one I honestly cared about. Although, I still didn’t mention my idea about writing a book, so maybe I did care a little bit about Shelley and Rick’s opinions as well.
Shelley had made a beautiful meal, and the conversation steered away from my brother and on to more general things, work, travels, life’s little every day topics of conversation. After we had finished dessert, Shelley and I sat in the living room and had one more glass of wine. Rick didn’t join us.
“Sorry about Rick, he is usually much livelier than what you saw tonight. But I think he is just stressed about his job, he might have a big promotion coming up. It would mean a lot to him, so he works in the evening at lot too right now.” Shelley nodded toward to rear of the house, where there was a little home office.
“Oh, he has been just fine, I am not always talkative around new people either. And I have had a very nice evening, you are such a good cook. I thought the brownies you made me was great, but all the food tonight was amazing.”
We chatted on about cooking, and my lacking skill when it comes to that. I told her some stories about almost burning down my flat just trying to boil an egg, and when I gave myself and Alan food poisoning from undercooked chicken.
The evening went by quickly, and around midnight I finally said goodbye. Shelley went to the little office, wanting Rick to come out and say his goodbyes, but when she opened the door, no one was in there.
“How strange, he must have slipped out and gone up to bed without us noticing. That is kind of rude of him.”
“Don’t worry, he was probably just tired and wanted to avoid our girl talk, no offence taken. Tell him goodbye from me, and that it was nice to get to know him better.”
I walked home over the field between our houses, feeling tired but also relaxed. That was probably from the wine, but also from having had someone to talk to, and to get out of my own head space for an evening.
I walked much closer to the garage than I usually did, not even thinking about what I was doing, until I stopped mid step. There were foot prints all around the back side of the garage. Not mine, I never went out here. And fresh, it had been raining all morning, these prints would have had to be from this afternoon or evening. Why would anyone be here? What had they been doing? I ran the last little way to the house, and locked the door behind me. My heart was racing in my chests, but I tried to calm myself down. There was nothing I could do right now, I would call the police in the morning, and they would find out who had been here.
I went to bed, lying awake for a while, wondering who could have been here. Wondering where Rick had really gone off to after dinner.