June 16th, 2016.
Life is at a standstill. Whenever I try to pull myself out of this everlasting slump, I fall straight back in. I haven’t left my house in almost a week. I can feel myself going crazy, I can hear the walls whispering and I swear I can feel the air swaying around me as I disturb its stillness. I spent all of yesterday passed out on the couch. Dreaming.
I ought to go out and take some nice photos of central Presley, just to get back into the swing of things. Maybe I should start using my blog again and putting up decent quality work; even if it’s not that great, it’s worth taking baby steps again. There’s a nice wooded area that skirts the east of the city, and beyond the woods are mountains that are dented with winding roads leading to neighbouring municipalities of a more country and earthy setting. Sometimes Sofia and I would go on adventures, hiking in Diamond Creek, or even further out in the White Valley, where a crystal blue lake sits in a trough between enveloping mountains, thick with rocks and greenery. So much beauty could be captured with my HD camera – the world around me is always waiting to be noticed. I have the fortune of both city and nature right at my fingertips, but yet the ceiling fan in my living room sometimes appears more compelling to me.
I call my mother to make sure she’s OK, and to reassure her that I am, despite being quite close to having an overdue rent for the second time. I still have a bit too much pride to ask for money, even with my background being raised by stinking rich entrepreneurs. There was a time when I was younger where stealing money off of my mother and father was the norm rather than a rogue move. Now that I’m old enough to support myself, I know either parent would be wary to jump at the opportunity of lending me any money I might need. I would just rather it was for extra funds, or bonus cash and not money I need to survive. I put that on myself, not my retired parents.
My mother and father were both successful in the stock exchange market, becoming millionaires within a decade of entering it. They met on one of their business ventures in Dubai, around seven years before tying the knot and eight years before I was born. They were only young semi-rich tycoons in their mid-twenties, but they were still on the rise, and they became a power-couple combined. I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth; laid into a silver cot, with an ivory white nursery door and a silver name plate drilled into it. My parents divorced when I was only four, and I was at the centre of a three-year custody battle, being ping-ponged from state to state, or country to country, as my parents tried to tie me to either of their ever-changing lives. That is one of the reasons why I just swiftly handed Hudson over to Sofia, to nip it in the bud and prevent the hassle. Of course, I have to pay child support, but it’s better than nothing.
I remember spending a year of my childhood living in the Bahamas, and another year in Stockholm with my father before being taken back by my mother, who settled into a Bluebeach manor when I was seven. My dad also moved back to the States, but stayed a few hours away. Their divorce never hurt the family financially; I was their only child, so instead of having a bank of Mom and Dad, I now just had a Bank of Mom and a Bank of Dad.
“Are you sure you don’t need any money?” my mother chirrups over the phone. She’s in her mid-sixties now, living in retirement luxury in the Mid-West. She sold out the mansion I was raised in to move into something more suitable for her old age, with the right amount of space and accessibility. I haven’t visited her in around six months, and I sometimes wonder why I don’t bother. I can’t expect money from either of my parents if I don’t even give them my time.
“I’m fine, Mom, I promise. I’ll let you know if I’m struggling.” I lie.
“Your inheritance won’t last a lifetime, you know.” My mother says. “You have to build yourself, by yourself. You got five years left until your forties, kid. Get it together.” Her tone runs stern in a matter of seconds. She was always so good at that; jumping from one voice to another. It was enough to put you on edge. I know she’s just concerned, and I can’t fault her for being so blunt. My money problems were also one of the reasons why Sofia left me. “We raised you so that you could fend for yourself, and we hoped it would pay off. We also raised you so that the Government Man wouldn’t be chasin’ you down.”
“I know, I know. I get it.” I sigh. When you’re at rock bottom, a lecture just does nothing but remind you of that. I hoped thinking of how I once used to splash cash on Sofia or Hudson for the hell of it would be my motivation to hoist me out of these depths, but it doesn’t work. Nothing works.
I used to go to therapy twice a week. It was specifically to get to the root of my insomnia, and to remedy my lethargic depression that hit a peak after my divorce, for the second time in my life. The first time was the year following Rose’s death. I was sometimes forced to face the question, what bothers you, Bret Walker? What shakes you to your core? What stops you from sleeping at night? And in the darkest abyss of my soul, is Guilt. And this Guilt has the memory of Jennifer-Rose clutched onto It, painting It like a mural. I always wanted to tell my therapist, Rose. But I never mentioned her.
Right after my phone call with my mother, I set my phone down and reach for my glass of wine. Something lacklustre plays on TV probably for the millionth time. The ceiling fan whirs and hums above me, but sweat beads still freckle my forehead. I sigh as my phone rings again just thirty seconds later. My mother forgot to tell me something - something she does a lot. Oh, and by the way, Bret, I forgot to tell you about my weekend trip with Helena to St. Bart’s. It was so spontaneous!
But this time, I look down at my phone, and it flashes back with No Caller ID. Confused, I think twice about whether it would really be my mother. It can’t be, can it?
I decide to pick up the phone and answer it warily. “Hello?”
“Bret?” a girl’s soft voice answers back. I sit back, puzzled. Waiting for the mystery caller to elaborate on their identity.
“Who is this?” I ask.
“Bret, do you remember me?” the girl says, all too hopefully. I wonder if I’m being prank called, but something in the base of my gut tells me there’s something sinister about all of this.
“I’m sorry, I have no idea who this is. How do you know me?”
“Rosie. It’s me, Rosie.”
“…Sorry?” I swallow. Rose. Jesus Christ. Is this another one of my surreal hallucinations or dreams?
“Jennifer-Rose. It’s me. Don’t you believe it?”
That’s when I begin to panic. “I’m not in the mood for games. Who the hell is this?”
“I already told you. It’s me, Rose.”
I sigh, trying to make sense of the phone call. As much as I don’t want to believe it, her voice sounds exactly like Rose’s. the memories of our youth flood in, when we would have phone conversations for hours on end. Now it’s 2016 and technology is a lot more refined; her voice is crisp and clear on the line. If it was mistakable at any other point in time, it isn’t right now. “There’s so much we need to catch up on, don’t you think?” she asks me tenderly.
“I’m sorry…” is all I can muster up. I want to say I’m sorry, I don’t know who you are or what you’re talking about, but I know it would sound forced, or full of cowardice. I’m still trying to work it all out in my head as it plays out.
“It’s OK. It’s OK, Bret. Just clear your thoughts. Gather yourself. Know that I’m here for you. I’m here.”
“I’m sorry.” I choke again. I can’t handle it anymore.
I hang up.
July 4th, 1999:
[just over a week before the shooting]
The Independence Day pool party in Bret’s abode is swarming with guests laid out by the pool, taking dives, sunbathing, drinking by the bar or helping themselves to the barbeque. Everywhere he looks, people in swimming trunks or bikinis are walking around, dancing, socialising or getting drunk. He waited for his mother to leave town and celebrate elsewhere so he could throw the biggest Independence party in Bluebeach. It would be the second one he’s hosted this year – the St. Patricks gathering ended up being a shitshow of hammered teens glugging on beers and getting into fights in the front yard. Naomi Sanchez rented out of the city’s nightclubs, normally teeming with people on a weekend, and made it exclusive to anyone she invited to her eighteenth birthday bash a few months ago. Jonesy also threw a couple this year, but despite them being more low key, they were full of way more drugs and suspicious visits by cops who threw everyone out. The Rich Kids always make sure their parties are worth speaking about for weeks on end afterwards, so Bret had to keep the standard high. In the evening, they would all head to the golf course and set off fireworks, and hopefully return to keep the party flowing until dawn.
Bret lies back on one of the bathing chairs, chugging back a beer. Sofia appears behind him, draping her arms over his shoulders and chest, and kissing him on his cheek. He turns up to smile at her, and asks her if she’s enjoying the party.
“It’s not half bad,” she grins. “I wasn’t expecting anything less.”
“Nice to know.” He finishes off his drink, placing the bottle on the ground and gesturing Sofia to sit on his lap. She does, and he starts playing with her bronze hair. Sitting up, he decides to lightly massage her shoulders, and she laughs in response. “How much you wanna charge me for this spa treatment?” Bret jokes.
“That’s your job to tell me, you fool.” She shakes her head, grin still wide on her face.
Bret met Sofia at a party, a year and a half ago (who would’ve thought?). It was a summer get-together at an acquaintance’s place, and though most guests tend to be fairly affluent high school students from the institutions in the Upper Bluebeach area, an array of different kids turn up – some have friends who have friends who know a Rich Kid, or some just got lucky and seized the opportunity to make it into a party (yes, some people have been turned down at the front door - it’s like running a strict night club scene). Sofia was one of the latter. She wasn’t rich in the slightest; she was just a tagalong who decided one day to turn up to the notorious Kingston Shelley’s bash, just to make the point of saying she’s been to one. Plus, she wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
She had heard about Bret Walker and his crew. They consisted of Jonesy and Tanner, the prosperous stoners whose parents are both has-been Hollywood Actors, and the drop-dead gorgeous Naomi Sanchez, a tall and slender Afro-Dominican model whose family’s jewellery business is booming in the Caribbean and some parts of South America. The most she knew about Bret was that he was a tennis player, at least six foot two, and he had hooked up with a catalogue of girls from across town. He didn’t sound appealing to Sofia at all, but when she caught his eye at the party, he made it his mission to court her for more than just being his fiftieth fellatio. He wasn’t on his best behaviour, despite just been bailed out by his parents for disorderly conduct of an officer a couple of weeks ago. Sloppily but surely, drink in hand, he managed to hold her to the point of intrigue. With numbers exchanged, kisses traded, the rest was history. Before he knew it, Bret was off the market, and this was something that he actually found to be a walk in the park. At first.
When Bret looks up, he sees Rose watching him from the other side of the pool. It’s something that not everybody would have picked up, but somehow he notices her eyes boring into his, even from a distance. She’s sitting on the edge, her legs swaying in the water. She’s wearing a bright yellow two-piece with a geometric pattern across the chest area, and her brown hair is tied up loosely. She sips an alcoholic drink in one of the red cups that guests can grab from the kitchen. Her grey eyes are telling Bret something that he doesn’t want to hear. He quickly looks away, focusing on massaging Sofia’s shoulders again. Don’t let her get into your head, Bret tells himself. This is your problem to deal with. These are your demons. Don’t let her guide you.
Physically, he can’t avoid her. “What do you want, Rose?” Bret asks through gritted teeth. “You keep staring at me out there. It’s not funny.” Half an hour later, he finds himself in the kitchen where he happens to bump into Rose. Nobody else is in the room apart from them.
“So…when do you think you’ll tell Sofia?” she cocks her head to the side, arms crossed like a smug snake.
“That’s not something for you to decide.” Bret mutters sternly.
“Are you kidding me?” Rose huffs. “You slept with m-”
“Shut the hell up.” Bret hisses, pulling Rose’s arm so she falls into him. He speaks into her ear. “We’re at a party. Now is not the time or the place.”
“That’s a phrase you should use more often,” Rose chuckles with rancour.
“Holy shit, Rose. Stop it. Anything that has ever happened meant nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
“That makes it worse.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Tell Sofia what you mean. Maybe she’ll understand. I certainly don’t.”
For the first time, Bret looks at Rose with a feeling of contempt and irritation. He first met her at tennis practise about a year ago, six months after meeting Sofia, just before he decided to quit playing for good. She was the youngest player in their practise group by two years, only a freshman at the time. She joined his friendship circle pretty quickly, clicking with Tanner, Jonesy and Naomi. She became the baby of the group; the rookie Rich Kid who was yet to get involved in the misdemeanour of adventurous residential Bluebeach teens. Her zest and fearlessness fascinated Bret at first, but now he’s beginning to resent it.
“…I’ll tell her. Soon.” He sighs.
“Good. Because if you don’t, I’ll have to.” She says nonchalantly, as if it wasn’t a conditional threat based off a mandatory order. It sends chills down Bret’s spine, followed by a flush of blood orange anger. “You can’t keep secrets forever. Do you know that?” she continues.
He grabs her arm again, gripping tighter. “Stay out of our relationship. Keep yourself out of it. Tell your best friend to do the same, too.”
“You mean Naomi? You remember her, right?”
Bret swallows. “Shut up. Just leave it now. It’s in my hands. OK?”
Rose shrugs. “As long as you keep those hands to yourself, I won’t complain.”
“Hold on a minute,” Bret gets continuously frustrated. “Who are you to talk?”
“I told you, Bret, if you don’t tell Sofia, I will. It’s that simple.”
She thinks she’s in control, the little bitch. She thinks she has the power. She’s nothing but a slut with a decent backhand. He can hear the alcoholic thoughts seeping through. He’s had too much to drink, and he knows the malice weaving through his brain is only temporary. Or so he hopes.
“I’m going back out now. You can let go of me.” She orders him, and he lets go without realising he still had a grip. She waltzes out of the kitchen in her skimpy bikini, turning her head back one last time to look at Bret. She sees a fear like no other. But worst of all, she sees something she’s never seen from him before – an empty kind of rage.