The phone wailed behind me, but it was as if I was under water. I wanted to scream, to cry, but I could not. I could only stupidly stare at the frail woman in front of me.
“Mom?” Without her signature frown, my mom was no longer recognizable. With a strange smile on her pale face, she was beautiful in death. Her graying hair fanned out behind her face in a lovely dark blanket, and her hands were folded across her stomach. I must have sat there for over half an hour. Thinking about the years she’s been entrapped here like some kind of animal made me lose the power in my knees. Guilt blurred my world. Guilt, not because of her death, but rather how much happier she looked in it. Then, I felt a calm sort of anger that scared me. Once again, it was my fault. If only I had been with her.
I leaned down to cover my mom’s face, when I noticed her mouth was emitting a scent. It was almost cloyingly sweet, and bitter. Unnatural, but familiar. I had definitely smelled it before. What is this? Upon taking a closer look at her mouth, there was something that had put an oily sheen to her wrinkled lips. But what? Wait. What is that? There was a small blue bottle at her side as well as a faded picture of Jem. He was young–maybe three or four–and was holding an older man’s hand, but the picture was ripped right where the man had been. The result was a young, smiling Jem looking into the camera with one arm reaching up to the skies. My guilt came back, but this time with painful gasps. Mom figured out that it was me that had killed Jem.
The bottle was emptied and smelled of the same sweet, bitter scent coming from my mom’s mouth. Now suspicious, I took a closer look at her. The light faltered for barely a second and hit something shiny in her folded hands. It was a key. I remembered the locked box in my mom’s room that she had never allowed me to open. She had always told me that she would let me open it if I was old enough. “When is that, mommy,” I would ask. She would reply with a sad smile and say “later.”
Now, with the knowledge of my mom’s death, her room was foreign to me. It smelled of powder and her hair, but it was all too far. The box, on the forgotten shelf above my mom’s closet, was expectedly there. I checked the dark room for someone watching me and slid the key into the pink lock with trembling hands and turned. It clicked open with a cheery tune and dying lights. A blue bottle–identical to the one on my mom’s side–and a black car key fell to the ground. Confused, I pocketed the items when a small whirr made me jump back; the sound of a wind-up toy. Inside the box, was a spinning carousel with one big horse. The horse had a rusted locket wrapped around its peeling neck. My locket. I grabbed my own locket to see if it was still there. It was. Then what’s inside this one?
Fear, anger, and confusion warped my vision as I stared at the small picture in the rusted locket. I wanted to drop it, throw it out the window–forget about it–but I couldn’t. Because my mom’s smiling face was on it. Along with a small, also smiling man with a tweed jacket. The two were captured in the moment before a big laugh, walking with their arms around each other. The small man was none other than Mr. Bane.
An old note on the back of the picture read: “Your biological father and your father’s kidnapper, Tessa.” In fresh, scribbled ink read: “and now your brother’s murderer.”
I reached into my jean pocket and felt around. The car key. The black car that took dad. It was Bane all along. The garage.
Crying, laughing, and dizzy from disbelief, I clicked the car keys around the vast garage. Then I spotted the big, black van. It was the same van that I had stared at when it took my dad away forever. Wishing that it was all a lie, I clicked the key, and the car blinked red with a sharp beep. It seemed to be laughing at me. So it was Bane. He took my family.
The insides of the car were too normal–too much like any other car except for one thing: a small, pink box. My pink sailor moon box that I had left on the streets after Jem’s accident. Was it really him that killed Jem too? Mom must have figured out that it was Bane that killed Jem and snapped. She killed herself because of Jem’s death. If only I hadn’t asked him for that box. If only. Bane had known all along, but had kept me in his tower. He took everything from me and pretended that he was giving everything to me. Hesitantly, I checked the bumpers of the car, and as I expected, there was a dent on one–the left one–that had hit and killed Jem. The blood was wiped away, but the dent was still there as if it had hit and killed Jem just yesterday. Silent with shock, I stood there when the small clicks of footsteps echoed through the garage. It was Bane again.
“Tessa, sweetie. What’re you doing here?” His deceiving face took one look at my dirty face and down to the locket in my hand when his warm smile turned into something too smart to be warm. I ran to the car and locked myself inside. “Tessa, I can explain.”
“NO! GET AWAY FROM ME! WHY WOULD YOU DO SUCH THING? WHY DID YOU LIE–”
“I did it for our family, Tess.” His cold smile once again reached his eyes. However, it was now controlled. His eyes shook as he walked up to the van and straightened his tie as if sharing a friendly conversation. “For our family.” “Just me, you, and your mother. Just the three of us. See, I got rid of all the… ah, burden, yes. And now it’s just us three, like how it was always meant to be.”
“You’re not my dad. And you never will be.” Looking straight into his wrinkled eyes, I took out the blue bottle, opened it, and drank. All in one swift move; without any hesitation.
“NO! TESSA! NO! MY FAMILY,” Bane yelled. His tiny body shook as he screamed, and his voice was not his own. Spittle flew out of his trembling mouth as he screamed and clawed at the locked door. I felt sleepy.
“Sorry mom, dad, and Jem. It’s all my fault,” I whispered as I held onto my locket around my neck. The last thing I heard as the world went black was the breaking glass of the car window.
My dad had once whispered to me in such a hushed tone, I strained to hear what he said, “My little Tessa, I’ll always be with you, wherever you are.”
“Really, daddy? Wherever?”
“Yes, Tessa. Wherever.”