Shae strummed her guitar angrily in a fit of frustration. She’d been working on the once promising song for days now, and it seemed she was getting nowhere with it. She paused. Then she strummed the chord again, more gently this time, listening closely. To her surprise, the chord was exactly what the song called for.
Delighted, she decided to push her luck even further. As thoughtlessly as she’d strummed the first chord, she played a second, and a third. Both were perfect, almost uncannily so.
She looked up from the guitar over to where her dad’s body lay on the bedroom floor. Blood pooled around his head and shoulders where the carpeting had become saturated. Tonight must be my night for overcoming stubborn obstacles, she thought, taking her penchant for understatement to a new level.
She took a deep breath and then slowly exhaled, letting any lingering tension drain from her body. Most people would find her serenity wildly inappropriate, given the circumstances, but Shae was beginning to realize she wasn’t like most people.
Perhaps I’m in the eye of the storm, she thought. Perhaps, after dispensing with her father, she was simply enjoying a moment of calm before the storm’s final fury arrived. She considered it, but the notion didn’t feel right. Despite still having plenty of hard work left to do, she sensed the storm had passed altogether, and all that was left now was to tie up some loose ends.
Is it really possible that’s what my mom has become after all these years? Shae wondered. A loose end?
“That’s pretty, honey, but it’s late. You should have been in bed hours ago.” When her mother stuck her head though the doorway, she grimaced in the harsh light. Shae had turned on every lamp in her room, as well as the ceiling light, to better showcase what she’d done. “By the way, have you seen your father? When I woke up he wasn’t—”
When her mom looked over towards her bed, Shae could saw the first hint of recognition begin to dawn in her squinting eyes. The look was more satisfying than Shae could have dreamed.
As her mom raced over and dropped to her knees alongside her husband, Shae calmly placed the guitar on its stand. Her mom let loose with an anguished wail. The sound would have been heartbreaking if anyone else had made it, but Shae knew her mother better than that. She stood up and started to clap sarcastically.
“Bravo, mom,” she said with a dry chuckle. “You sound so convincing. Truly. Bravo.”
Her mom looked up at her, her face twisted into an expression of horror. “How can you be so …? He’s my husband, for the love of— He’s your father. He loved you.”
Shae snorted disdainfully at the last part. “Oh, he loved me, all right.”
She watched her mom pretend not to understand, but she knew. Shae had no doubt she’d known all along.
“He might have been guilty of loving you … too much,” her mom said, shaking her head gravely. “But he did love you.”
Shae could see her mom more clearly than ever, and it wasn’t just because of all the lights she’d turned on. Her mannerisms were too grave, her voice too theatrical, each gesture too contrived. How was she able to fool me all these years? Shae wondered. Everything about her mother seemed so utterly transparent to her now.
“He deserved better than this,” her mom said mournfully, continuing the charade. Her hands hovered just over her husband’s face without actually touching it.
“I gave him better than he deserved,” Shae fired back defiantly. “He went quickly. What he deserved was to be tortured for hours and hours before he died. The way he tortured me.”
Her mom’s reaction surprised her. The look of horror on her face vanished in an instant, replaced by the shrewdest of shrewd smiles—her first genuine expression since she’d come into the bedroom, Shae had little doubt.
“If they try you as an adult, you could get the death penalty for this,” her mom said. “At best, you’ll spend the rest of your life locked up in some mental institute.” Her smile broadened. “Can you honestly say it was worth it?”
Shae returned the smile in spades. Unlike her mother, Shae smiled to protect her soul, not to disguise the fact she didn’t have one. “I’m afraid you’re misreading the situation, mom. I’m just the innocent victim here. Don’t you see? You came in here and caught dad doing … well … you know what dad liked to do. You were so distraught that you ran to the kitchen and grabbed the biggest knife you could find. And then you came back and did this …”
As Shae motioned to her father, she took a moment to admire her handiwork: a single, clean, crescent-shaped incision across the man’s throat, stretching nearly ear to ear. “And then you were so ashamed … so ashamed that you’d failed to protect your only daughter from such a monster, that, well … it made you want to take your own life, as well.”
Shae studied her mom’s reaction intently. Something ruthless and decidedly unmotherly seemed to step behind her eyes. But Shae wasn’t afraid.
She thought of her new song, of the promise it held. It was going to be good, very good. Perhaps her best yet. And as that thought began to warm her, a sensation like nothing she’d ever experienced in her sixteen years began to fill her from head to toe.
Her parents had never loved her. But suddenly she felt safe and protected, as if she were being cradled in the most gentle, loving arms imaginable.
As she picked the knife up off her desk, grasping it firmly in both hands, the sensation only grew stronger.
Her new song began to whisper softly in her ears …
As if someone—a mother, perhaps—were singing her a lullaby.