The lights were on in every room of Cara’s new Hollywood Heights apartment. It was a little bigger than the one in Laurel Canyon. Moving out on her own, by herself for the first time, was frightening, but that was why she had to do it. Furniture and boxes were strewn about the place, haphazard. Her bedroom pieces were set up, at least, and the sofa and the television. The guest room was empty, but she’d fill it with a second bed, a second chair, a second dresser – in time for Peyton’s Spring Break trip. Having that spare room was her caveat – a place for someone else meant in theory she wouldn’t always be alone. Maybe Chris could stay over some nights. That idea did not give her pleasure. Luke. Maybe Luke could stay over some nights. With Hayley and Holly in New York and Kambree gone, her list of friends was running thin. Maybe Cindy, but she was outside the circle.
Cara dug around in one of her boxes, looking for a power strip she was convinced she’d put in there, when she heard muffled yelling. She crept up to the bedroom window, shutting off the light so she couldn’t be seen. The voices came from somewhere below, echoing across the expanse of the buildings. A sweat bead tickled her forehead as she crouched down low, and then her legs slipped out from under her and she lay flat on the floor at the sound of a gunshot. The light was off in the bedroom, but she needed to turn them all off. Nobody could know she was home. Her head sang strange songs as she moved along the hardwood, lungs seizing up. The Giant had found her.
Lights went off, one by one. Shaking in the dark, she clutched at her phone and dialed.
“Hello?” came Chris’s voice.
“Somebody’s shooting at me!” she whispered, cupping her hand over the receiver and backing away from the door, the windows, anywhere that might carry her voice.
“I heard yelling! And a gunshot!”
She cowered into the corner between the television and the wall, bracing her shoulder against the entertainment center. She had a good view of the door. “There was a gunshot! I’m serious! You have to come over!”
“I have class in the morning.”
She pushed into the floor so hard that the bones in her ankle screamed with pain. “No, no! You have to come!”
“Remember that car that backfired when we were moving you in?”
A car backfiring driving screaming yelling danger stalking lights off couldn’t breathe footsteps outside the door back into the corner floor against her face alone nobody by herself going to pee going to vomit going to faint couldn’t see anything someone fiddling with the doorknob needed more locks. “You have to come!”
“Fine,” Chris said, and she knew he was frustrated with her but he couldn’t see what was going on. It had been a mistake to move. She was in so much trouble. “On my way.”
“Thanks.” Cara waited until he’d hung up before she did. She couldn’t be alone. She’d never be able to be alone.
No horror film could terrify her like twenty minutes in the dark. She wanted to at least turn on the light in the bathroom. No windows in there, but maybe someone could still see it from outside. How foolish that would be. Begging for death. She crept back up to the window and peeked into the parking lot. Four police officers stood down there, but she could hear nothing of what they were saying.
She cracked the window, breathing in the sweet freedom of the outside air. “Excuse me!” she called. The four officers turned until they saw her, which took them a moment since she was sitting in the dark. “Did someone call about a gun firing?”
“No,” one of them shouted back. “But there’s been an incident. Stay in your apartment, please.”
An incident. The word was a flare, shooting off in her mind. There was no safe place in the world. Every place she’d lived, the Giant followed her. He was relentless. “OK, but I heard a gunshot.”
“What’s your apartment number?” one of them asked.
“We’ll be up in a moment,” one of them said.
“OK.” She shut the window, drew the blinds, and moved from room to room flipping switches. Flooding the place with light. The police were there. Chris was on his way. Banish the boogeyman. She threw on a robe for good measure, even checking herself in the mirror. That was a good sign, that she thought to check her appearance. That was a sane thing to do.
Only two of the officers came up, but that was all right. Two was still better than one. She gave them her statement. Peaceful. Calm. Sane. 11:36. Yelling. Gunshots – she remembered several, but she wasn’t positive. It might have only been one. She didn’t mention that it might also have been a car backfiring. Possibly someone rattling at her doorknob. Then nothing.
“Thank you for your statement, Miss Camden,” one of the officers said, a pretty woman about Kambree’s age with short, cropped black hair and a knick of a scar on her cheek. Cara wanted to ask her about the scar, but she didn’t.
“So can you tell me what happened?” Cara asked.
“Well, you were right. There was a gunshot. A husband and wife got in a pretty loud fight. The man fired a gun in the air.”
“In this area?” A man. She needed to know more than that. “I didn’t think that kind of thing happened.”
“Don’t worry. Just stay here. We’re looking for him now.”
She wondered if the officers noticed her skin go a shade whiter – she definitely felt a pigment shift. He was out there he was angry he had a gun he was going to know she was talking to the police he was going to find her.
They left her there, and she locked the regular lock, the deadbolt, and the chain. She might need more. Lights off again. Not even a candle. Lights off back against the wall facing the door. She could see every possible entrance. Being on the third floor was supposed to be safer. Counting backward from a thousand. Chris should be there by the time she hit zero.
A knock on the door. She was at the peephole so fast. Chris’s face in the light from the hallway.
Cara stopped short of ripping his arm from the socket as she jerked him in and relocked the door behind him, flipping the nearest light switch and kissing him with wet, salty lips. Her mouth vibrated with fear, and he leaned in, returning her kiss. The tremors of such closeness were nothing compared to what had happened that night, and if anything, this calmed her down, reset her panic level from Murder to Chris, which was getting to be a low level again. Not like it was when they met, but they’d get there again. She hoped they’d get there.
“The police were here.”
Chris let out a weary sigh. “Did you call 911 again?”
“No, no! They were here because of the gunshot!”
“So there really was a gunshot?”
She wrung her hands together and her jaw tightened. “I told you there was.”
“What did they say?”
“There’s a man with a gun running around out there, and they can’t find him!”
“Damn,” Chris said.
She braced herself on his arm, leaning in, catching her breath from the kiss. “He’s coming to kill me.”
“Cara…” He was so calm and she was so shaken. She couldn’t figure how he could be so calm when her life was in danger. “Nobody’s coming to kill you.”
“Why don’t you believe me?” She let go of him, looking for a sign of understanding. “Stop trying to confuse me. Why can’t you just be close, make me safe? I saw him.”
“You already told me the story. You didn’t see anybody.”
“You don’t…” She squeaked. “You don’t know what I saw.”
“I know you called me over here in the middle of the night, and not for a booty call.”
“Booty…” She wrapped an arm across her chest. “Why’d you come if you don’t believe me?”
Chris put his hands on her shoulders and guided her down onto the sofa. “Because you asked me to.”
“I don’t…want you to come because I asked you to. I want you to believe me.”
“Ah,” he chuckled, breaking into a smile. “Come on. You know I’ll come when you want.”
She swallowed, her gaze darting here and there through the partial setup of her new home. “I think you need to…” He looked back at her without understanding, without anything. “I need you to leave now.”
“Cara, calm down! You called me over here, remember? You asked me to come!”
“I know,” she said. “But you don’t believe me.” Deep breath. Her senses flared. The man with the gun was still out there. He was out there and she was in danger, and Chris slowly withdrew, leaning against the armrest. “I need you to leave.”
He threw his hands up in defeat and pleaded with her to calm down, to be reasonable, but then he left. “Call me when you’ve calmed down,” he said as he shut the door behind him. She slowly locked the deadbolt and slid the chain into place.
She picked up the phone again, staring at the keys, lit up in blue when she pressed 9. But as the blue faded, she knew there was no point in dialing the 11. Chris was right. She was a fool. She squeezed the receiver tight before returning it to the cradle.
All the images and sounds from the night blurred together like a movie fast-forwarding in a VCR. As they laid down on top of each other, painting an objective picture of the events, her heart sank and she pressed her eyes shut, crying softly.
Once she had a chance to collect herself, she took slow steps toward the door. She peeked through the peephole – nothing. Careful hands unlocked everything and she stepped out into the hallway. Empty.
She shut it again and rubbed her arms, leaning her forehead against the door.
Sign up for exclusive content and updates and get your free copy of The Glen Headwood Show.