With every strenuous pump of her shattered heart, Jessica Liberman could feel the not so familiar energies of life beginning to return to her body. The events of the day were almost too much for her to handle, and with a little coaxing from Becky and Katie, she was traveling down a welcomed road which resembled the feeling of coming home. The life she’d known over the past months came crashing down all at once in Jessie McGee’s office, and a moment of clarity arrived. One can never explain anything to an addict no matter how bright the light of truth shines. It’s a conclusion reached on its own. Slowly, she was arriving, but the journey ahead was going to be long and difficult. At the moment, the withdrawals from the drugs were enough.
With nightfall, a piercing October chill entered the room and her soul shivered with every degree of the falling temperature. Her only source of warmth, her beacon and savior in a troubled sea of numerous wrongdoings, lay next to her in silent slumber curled up in an almost disturbing fetal position. The news had caused poor Katie to go into shock. It was too much for her young mind to handle. As soon as her head hit the pillow, her consciousness switched to the “off” position and she hadn’t so much as uttered a single word. Her father, her hero, was facing the troubles of multiple lifetimes simultaneously as he sat locked away in the Sheriff’s dungeon with no hope of freedom. Jessica knew her daughter’s feelings had little to do with Toby. Katie gave credit where credit was due. Regardless of the truth in his actions, all pathways of blame pointed toward Jessica. It’d been undeniable since Katie was the one handcuffing her to the bed’s headboard while Becky held her down. She was going nowhere. They’d made damn sure of it.
Becky Lowery acted with the best of intentions, but Johnny gave the order and there wasn’t a hope in Hell of negotiating with her. Regardless of how long they’d been friends, his directive superseded any manipulative argument Jessica could conjure up. The handcuffs didn’t hurt in the slightest. They were the fuzzy kind, which prompted an entirely alternate line of thought regarding their origin and uses. The fact she was being held prisoner in her brother’s home was something which didn’t settle well with the toxins in her system. In her mind, she had every intention of staying exactly where she was for her own good and the only way to help Toby with his current predicament. The nervous impulses charging up her spine in sharpened bolts of pain had other plans. They were trying to tell her to do everything within her power to escape bondage and be with Jessie. He had the drugs.
There was no real attraction there, nor had there ever been. It was a cautious friendship turned into an addiction brought on by his introductions. The sexual part of the relationship came to be a form of payment and insurance to assure the addiction that its only source of satisfaction would always be there. Jessie McGee, on the other hand, believed their involvement was the answer to his every wish and adolescent masturbation fantasy stemming from over twenty years of infatuation. As long as he continued to satisfy her alter ego with offerings of dope, what was a little roll in the sack every now and then? Of course, when “evil and disgusting” Jessica surfaced, all sense of marital dedication would sink deeply into the abyss of her addiction, regardless of consequence. The number of times she hid her gag reflexes from enduring visions of him sweating profusely on top of her were countless. No matter how much the addiction was trying to take control, she knew those times were over. Months upon months of a hidden lifestyle were being replaced with floods of sorrow and uncertainty. At least, for the moment, Toby was safe. McGee wouldn’t dare do anything harmful to him while he was in custody and in view of everyone else. Would he?
Johnny had placed himself in a position of incredible danger. Not only did Sheriff McGee have little sense of right or wrong when it came to the value of human life, but he also controlled every methamphetamine lab in town. For fear of what he might do to her or her family if this little morsel of information were to slip into the ears of the general populous, she’d chosen to keep it to herself and pray her brother would deny his egotistical need to add fuel to an already raging fire. McGee’s untarnished reputation as an officer was nothing more than a carefully concocted cover-up to the truth beneath his easy smile, hidden meticulously behind a tin star he wore upon his chest. True, some of the sources of criminal activity within Twin Oaks left town and never returned, but the rest of them were hired thugs and dope runners on the payroll of the county who kept Jessie’s evil empire hidden behind the curtains of the wooded and forgotten areas beyond the town’s outskirts. It was an area to which most citizens had no reason to venture. The only people who ever tried to cross him remained uninformed of who he truly was. These folks had a tendency to disappear, their good intentions notwithstanding.
In her heart, she knew Toby Liberman was no killer, despite the rage taking the driver’s seat of his emotions the night before. The loving wife held captive behind a curtain of chemicals was attempting to desperately scream out her devotion to him when he entered the room, but that part of her was quieted and beaten down to the point where her cries were inaudible. What he got instead was the dark side of Jessica Liberman interrupted from the tasks at hand. When the metallic shine of the gun against the glimmers of the lightning-filled night came into view, no fear existed. When the frantic sound of beating feet left her bedroom and exited the front door into the forest beyond, she felt little concern. As a matter of fact, none of the events of the previous evening even remotely registered as emotions until it all slapped her at once upon waking the next morning. Within minutes, a call from her frantic brother drove home the gravity of the previous evening’s events. McGee had arrested Toby. No matter what frame of mind she’d been in, nothing could’ve prepared her for McGee’s explanations of Toby’s incarceration. Even with her clarity returning, she still had to wonder if these awful things were really happening.
Katie began to thrash around uncomfortably and whimper in her sleep as though her peacefulness was invaded by the reality existing all around her. With her free hand, Jessica ran fingers through her daughter’s hair in a motherly, comforting, manner, hoping to chase away the nightmares. Sure enough, the uneasiness ceased and the young girl returned to whatever euphoria existed within. Flashes of a life thought forgotten were flooding Jessica’s mind as tears welled up her eyes. She continued to comfort her sleeping angel. No child deserved what she’d endured or what was destined to come her way. Forcing back more pains of reality, the troubled mother vowed to protect her daughter as long as she possibly could from the coming Hell. Granted, Katie’s world wouldn’t be filled with lollipops and gumdrops, but that was partly her own choosing. She had a bit of a dark side below her innocent surface, which stemmed from her father’s subtle love for the macabre and twisted. In addition, her uncle’s shocking manner of speaking to people was passed on to her from years of exposure. The only evidence that she even belonged to Jessica was in her physical appearance. Glancing over into the darkened mirror a few feet beyond her reach, she saw her own beauty beginning to fade into the shadow of something no longer wanted. Instead, Jessica was stared at by the image of a hateful, soulless witch who cared little for beauty or love.
There wasn’t any use in pretending. It was going to be a long, painful, and drawn out battle to fully regain control of who she used to be. The skeletal glare of her face staring back at her would make sure of that. Closing her eyes against the image, she prayed silently the reflection would vanish from sight but, with every peek of half-opened eyes, there it remained, and there it would stay until all was said and done. Her mind drifted to more pleasant times; the birth of her daughter, her wedding day, teenage romps in her closet with the man she was destined to marry, praying to the powers that be they weren’t discovered by a protective parent or nauseated older brother.
In the end, she thought it best to just turn the other direction and ignore the mirror image completely, bringing back into view one of the people in her life who truly mattered. Somewhere out there were three more. One guarded the door, another was in a steel cage experiencing who knows what, and the last was marching through darkened woods with the deputized Antichrist searching for clues to answers which would hopefully bring this entire bad dream to an abrupt close. Now, more than ever, she wished Toby was lying beside her. His uncontrollable snoring would’ve been a welcomed comfort within the painfully quiet prison of Johnny and Becky’s guest room.
Slowly, the door to the hallway beyond creaked open to reveal the shadowed figure of Becky Lowery. Her gentle features and long, dark hair seemed invisible as she entered the barely moonlit room. Even though the darkness prevented Jessica from seeing her concerned facial expression, she knew it was there.
“Jess, baby, do you need anything?” the figure in the doorway asked.
“Yeah,” Jessica answered. “The keys to these handcuffs and a remote control that has the ability to rewind my life.”
Becky gracefully stepped toward her and sat on the edge of the crowded guest bed.
“Johnny keeps the keys to his fuzzy friends on his key ring,” Becky smiled in the darkness. “That way, he thinks if I ever use them on anyone else, they’ll be here when he gets home. Unfortunately, this situation isn’t anything that’s going away with any amount of magic.”
The confined girl sat up to the best of her abilities to meet Becky face to face.
“I know,” she said with assurance. “But I’m so nervous and lost right now.”
“We all are,” Becky interrupted her. “And it’s going to take all of us working together to get through this. I know he’s not my husband, but I love him, too…and I love you.”
A tear began to glisten on the side of Jessica’s face illuminated by the lights in the hallway beyond the open doorway.
“Becky, this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better, if it gets better, and I want you to promise me you and Johnny will take care of Katie if things go any further south.”
“I promise,” Becky replied with a painful sigh. “But things aren’t going to come to that. As soon as we get you better, Katie is going to have her mother back.”
Jessica pondered the word ‘better.’ Would there be any returning from the fiery pathways of her self-inflicted damnation? Looking at the tear tracks in Becky’s makeup from hours of falling tears, she wondered if her best friend really believed she could return to her former self. With a lifetime of friendship underneath their belts, Jessica had never seen her so concerned. A mixture of uncertainties regarding each person involved in the jumbled mess and the roads fatefully laid before each of them, Becky had every right in the world to be crying.
“How is Katie holding up?” she asked, wiping away another tear.
“She’s been a little uneasy at times, but she hasn’t opened her eyes as long as she’s been in bed,” Jessica told her.
Becky glanced over at her as best she could in the shadows of the night.
“She’s going to need her sleep, because I don’t know how much of it we’ll all be getting in the near future.”
Jessica sat up even more, placing her unbound hand on Becky’s leg. “Becky, do you believe what they’re saying? Do you think Toby did what they say he did?”
Becky sighed again with uncertainty. She’d known Toby long enough, but one can never tell what a man is capable of until he is pushed over the edge.
“I don’t know,” she finally spoke. “You know him better than any of us, with the exception of Johnny. He thinks it’s all a setup or he wouldn’t be out there doing what he’s doing. I trust his feelings.”
“I know what McGee is capable of,” Jessica informed her. “And I’m scared for both of them.”
“Oh, don’t worry baby, your brother has everything well under control and it’s going to take a lot to get one over on him, even if it’s the Sheriff he’s got to get a one up on.”
The concern in Jessica’s demeanor intensified. Becky was yet another person in Twin Oaks who doubted McGee’s grip on the county and its residents.
“No, you don’t understand. I know Jessie McGee in a way that none of you do…”
“Thank God,” Becky interrupted. “I swear, girl, you had to be high or something because that’s just flat out disgusting…”
“Dammit!” Jessica yelled. “That’s not what I’m talking about! He’s crooked…”
“Once again, things I’m glad that only you know about,” Becky interrupted, smiling.
“I swear, if Johnny had tits, he’d be you!” Jessica said, un-amused by Becky’s attempts at humor. “Jessie McGee runs just about every criminal activity in this county!”
Becky looked at her with a cross expression.
“Seriously, Jess,” she began. “Are you that naïve? I’ve known that for a long time now and I didn’t even have to sleep with him to get that kind of information. That little wimp doesn’t scare me in the slightest, and he couldn’t make your brother flinch, either.”
Becky’s attitude was beginning to turn from concern and compassion into anger and hatred for what Jessica had become. She’d witnessed Jessica’s fall from grace from a distance, but witnessed it nonetheless. She never said anything to anyone because she was the type of person who believed strongly in consequence and that learning is acquired by experiencing things on a firsthand basis. She’d turned her head and looked the other way for too long.
“I swear, you freaking dope heads are all alike,” she started. “All of you are deluded by your own stupidity into thinking no one sees what you’re really up to and you’ve got this secret little underworld going on we couldn’t understand. It’s nothing but lies and stupidity on your part!”
“Becky,” Jessica attempted to interrupt.
“No, shut up! It’s my turn,” she informed her hatefully. It was time to bring her flying friend back down for a hard landing.
There was nothing Jessica could do but listen.
Becky continued. “You and all of your damn skeleton friends, who only bathe monthly and couldn’t hold a job if all they had to do was stand in one place and jerk their dick all day, you make me sick.”
“Becky, you’re going to wake up Katie…” the mother pleaded.
“I give less than a shit, Jessica Liberman!” Becky exclaimed. “She knows this. You don’t give her any damn credit. You insist on treating her like she’s some untarnished eight-year-old when, in reality, she’s been watching you fall, too. You should be goddamned ashamed of yourself and you’re lucky I don’t beat the living crap out of you right now with your hand tied to the bed. It’s been a long time coming…”
“Becky, please…” Jessica pleaded with her, crying.
“No ma’am!” she came on stronger. “I know I don’t live a perfect life either, but I don’t have any kids that look up to me other than yours. The only reason she’s been doing that is because she couldn’t stomach looking down at you. This is your opportunity to wake the hell up in reality because it’s here to stay now. You made damn sure of that!”
Jessica was sobbing uncontrollably. From the depths of her soul, the pain of her reality was surfacing all at once, and it hurt in a way which made her wish for death. The one-sided argument awakened Katie, who was now staring at her blankly from the darkness. She reached over to her mother for comforting and held on tightly. Gracefully, Katie pulled away and looked directly into Jessica’s tear-filled eyes.
“Mom,” Katie began with a broken voice.
“Yes, baby, Momma is here,” Jessica sobbed.
Katie finished her sentence. “Shut the fuck up!”
As suddenly as the harsh words left the girl’s mouth, Jessica Liberman and Becky Lowery gasped in amazement; they were no longer dealing with an innocent thirteen-year-old girl. This was the voice of a teenager filled with rage.
“All of this sobbing and feeling sorry for me bull crap isn’t going to get Dad out of jail,” she raged. “Everything that’s happened to you was your own fault and yours alone. None of us asked for this.”
“Katie,” Jessica intervened with concern. “Where did you learn to act this way?”
Katie’s eyes began to glow with fury.
“When I had to become my own mother over the past six months while you were out spreading yourself all over town,” she answered commandingly. “People talk, but few listen. I’m a listener, Jessica, and I’ve heard it all until I’m sick!”
“Jessica?” the girl’s mother inquired.
“Yeah, Jessica!” Katie forced upon her. “When you learn to act like a mother, I’ll return the title!”
Jessica Liberman was more outnumbered than ever. On one side, she had a best friend attacking her for her actions and, on the other side, her now grown-up daughter was stabbing her in the heart for her lack of motherly attention. Squeezed between two identical walls of hatred, she jerked forward for a way out of the room, forgetting she was cuffed to the bed with nowhere to go. Inertia kicked in forcefully and sent her rebounding hard into the bed’s headboard.
“You see?” Katie laughed. “That’s what you get! MY mother would’ve been smarter than to do something as stupid as that!”
Jessica screamed at Becky in dire desperation. “Are you going to let her treat me like this?” she asked, hoping for sympathy.
“No, Jessica, the question is, are you going to let her treat you like this? You’re her mother, not me. I don’t think you have much control over the matter at this point.”
“Thank you, Aunt Becky,” Katie said politely. “And, no, you don’t have any control in the matter. We’re the ones with half a brain here and you’re going to listen to us and do exactly what we say. When I can tell you’ve returned to your old self again, I’ll let you take over.”
She couldn’t believe what she was hearing, but in all fairness, she knew it was deserved treatment. Jessica just hoped her daughter would have been a little more forgiving. Katie had never so much as uttered a single curse word in her presence before, but this was much easier to take than the other scenarios playing out around Myrtle County. Drying her eyes and gathering some composure, she looked at her daughter with sincerity.
“Katie, tell me what I need to do.”
“Well,” she started, slightly taken aback by her mother’s cooperation coming so easily. “That’s a start. Here’s the plan: You’re going to stay here chained up to this bed until you’ve puked out every inch of stupidity that remains inside of you while Aunt Becky and I go to Dad’s arraignment in the morning.”
“I’m going to the bank first thing in the morning with Johnny and taking out a second mortgage on the house,” Becky told her. “Hopefully, the judge will set a bond, and we can work all of this out with Toby’s help. If not, then we’ll have a lot of money for a good attorney.”
“And I’m just going to sit here?” Jessica inquired.
Katie jumped in again. “Don’t start going back on me now, Jessica. You said you were going to cooperate. The best thing you can do is lie here and detox. We don’t need you screwing crap up and relapsing when you see the Sheriff again.”
Becky still couldn’t believe the words flowing out of young Katie’s mouth. All those boring nights of watching the intervention shows on television obviously paid off, perhaps even a little too much. She agreed, though, that Jessica was exactly where she needed to be, hidden out of sight and swept to the side until she had control of her life again. Some might call it kidnapping. To them, it was a rescue. Tomorrow was a new day for everyone, and the consequences of recent events were looming on the horizon.
“Jess, you and Katie both need to get some more sleep and I need to start getting all the paperwork involving the finances for the house together. Tomorrow, whether we like it or not, brings the first day of what could very well be the hardest times of all our lives. We should attempt to face it with fresh eyes.”
“I don’t think I can sleep anymore tonight,” Jessica said.
Katie chimed in again. “You really don’t have many options while you’re handcuffed to the bedpost. It might be a good idea if you try it.”
“Seriously? You’re not going to let me out of here?” Jessica asked in shock.
There it was – the eventuality Jessica knew would happen one day. She just didn’t think it would all come to be so quickly. It was the kind of thing that happened to a hopeless drug addict after they’d been to the penitentiary a couple of times, not the first time she got caught having sex with her dealer. Deep down, she knew she needed all of this, and as more time passed, the voices inside her head were telling her to break free and call Jessie McGee for a quick fix. It was all far from over, though. The new day was not only just another in the ever-unfolding lives of the Liberman family, but it was day number two of her journey into complete sobriety. Tomorrow would be harder. Katie sat back down on the bed and scooted in closer, placing her arm around her neck and kissing her forehead.
“Mom, get some sleep. You’re going to need it.”
“So, I’m ‘Mom’ again now?” Jessica asked, not fully sure if she wanted to know the complete answer from her sharp-tongued daughter.
“You’re always going to be ‘Mom,’” Katie hugged her tighter. “We’re all going to need each other soon in ways we never knew were possible. Dad needs us.”
Jumping from the bed like a bouncy child again, Katie disappeared into the hallway and out of sight. Just like that, the attitude and emotion left her, and Jessica could once again see a familiar glimpse of her young daughter. Glancing up at Becky with tears still in her eyes, she wondered if things in her life would ever be the same again. The questions, however, were far greater and more complex than any answer given at that moment. Katie was right. Sleep was the only way to quiet her mind long enough to make it into the next day.
“Becky,” Jessica whispered. “We might have to get that multiple personality thing looked at soon if we ever make it out of this situation. For a second there, I thought she was going to hit me or something!”
Becky smiled slightly for the first time in nearly half an hour.
“As funny as that would’ve been, I don’t think she would go there, Jess. She loves you and she respects you, but you’ve hurt her in ways that are going to take years to heal. The situation with Toby was just her breaking point. Between him and me, we’ve been the only ones paying her any kind of attention. She’s grown up a lot lately, and all she ever wanted was for you to be there to see it. Granted, this doesn’t mean she won’t change her mind and knock the living daylights out of you tomorrow.”
Jessica nodded in agreement.
As Becky got up from the bed and headed toward the door, she turned and looked at both of their reflections in the bedroom mirror, the same one that had so recently frightened Jessica to the point of wanting to break it.
“Get some rest, honey,” Becky said with a hint of affection returning to her voice. “Tomorrow is a big day and neither of us know who you’re going to wake up as. Jekyll or Hyde.”
The door was shut tightly and Jessica was in total darkness.
The rain started up again and the rhythm of precipitation against the guest room window offered a soothing natural white noise, quieting the voices.
Somewhere out there, her brother and the Sheriff searched for something she knew they’d never find. On the other side of town, the love of her life was sitting in a frigid jail cell and hopefully wondering about her whereabouts. If only she could speak to him to apologize for all she’d put him through and all things yet to come. If only she’d taken one pull too many off the glass pipe she’d shared so often as of late with Jessie McGee. If only she’d done the right thing six months ago and told that badge flaunting son of a bitch to get away from her. The torturous thoughts of what could’ve been and all the ‘what if’ possibilities proved an effective distraction from physical pain of the dope leaving her system. Before she even realized it was happening, deep sleep finally washed over her.
In her dreams, she was back at home with Toby and Katie. None of this ever took place, and the tribulations of the street life she’d lived remained an unknown guess. If only she still hadn’t the slightest idea of what she unfortunately knew.
As her dreams carried on, visions of Toby placed gently atop her, leaning down to kiss her in the soft moonlight of their bedroom welcomed her. Wrapping her arms around him, she pulled him closer to begin what was once one of the more sincere, passionate aspects of their marriage. Smiling from ear to ear, she could see the reflections of enduring pleasure in the eyes of her lover. If she had any say, this lifestyle would return to both of them soon, and she’d never again do anything to jeopardize it.
Just then, the screeching howl of something terrible echoed throughout the neighborhood.
Springing back to full awareness of her surroundings, realizing that she was still handcuffed to her brother’s guest bed in the darkness, she curled her legs protectively closer, a useless gesture. If only this was some sort of bad dream and the world she’d dreamt was the reality. At one time, it had been. Katie had been absolutely right when she had spat out her judgement. Jessica was truly alone for the first time in her life. She hated it.
Winner – 2011 Reader’s Favorite Award
Toby Liberman is nearing the end of his rope. After a fateful confrontation with his wife’s lover, he is chased into the woods only to be discovered by an unidentifiable creature. He is attacked and rendered unconscious. Upon waking at the scene of a gruesome triple homicide, Toby is arrested as the sole suspect and thrown into a jail cell with a strange man that knows way too much about his predicament. The stranger reveals to Toby that he now possesses the curse of the werewolf. Using his new-found strength to flee his captors, Toby begins to discover that things are not what they seem in the sleepy town of Twin Oaks, TX. Now hunted by law enforcement, as well as the town’s gun toting civilians, Toby seeks vengeance against his false accusers and embarks upon a quest to clear his name once and for all.
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