Velvet Roses Ch. 07byvirgofemme©
*Sorry for the long wait on this chapter, but I do hope you'll enjoy. Thanks for continuing to read, vote and comment!*
Dane's eyes popped open, his heart thumping in his chest. A sticky film of sweat covered his body, causing the bed sheets to cling against his skin.
He blinked once, then twice, to allow his eyes a moment to adjust to the dark room, then hastily grabbed his cell phone from the space on the mattress beside him. His finger trembled as he pressed a button on the keypad, and as the display screen lit up, adrenaline coursed through his body.
Upon discovering that he'd received no text messages, he blew out a heavy breath of air, then rested his head against the pillow and allowed his muscles to relax.
He'd had plenty of terrible nightmares in the past seven months, but this one in particular had been especially disturbing. It had been so real, and although he knew the bad dream was a result of his guilty conscience, he couldn't help but be spooked by the fact that this nightmare could actually come to pass.
From beyond the windows, he could hear the wind rattling through the trees, and although it normally would have been a comforting sound, he currently found himself unsettled by it.
Focusing his eyes on the arched windows in front of him, he couldn't help noticing that they resembled eyes, and he began to feel as if they were somehow able to see inside his soul. The longer he focused on them, the more dreadful he felt, and he knew without a doubt that he was on the verge of some unspeakably adverse experience.
Still on edge from his nightmare, he was struggling to erase the words that were burned in his brain. He didn't want to think about them, but it seemed as if they were intent on haunting him.
The thought of it alone caused him stomach to cramp with anxiety, and as he recalled the details of the nightmare, he was again struck by how real It'd seemed.
*But it wasn't. It was nothing more than a nightmare, a reflection of your troubled inner state. Jeneda's okay. She's still alive.*
Yet even after reassuring himself, he still felt incredibly unnerved. So much, in fact, that he grabbed his phone, and after dialing Jeneda's number, he anxiously waited for her to pick up. Three rings passed before she did, and as her voice came through the receiver, he felt an incredible sense of relief wash over him.
"Hi. What's going on?"
"Not much, just thought I'd call to see how you were doing."
"I'm fine. How are you?"
"Are you really, or are you just saying that?"
He let a moment of silence pass before responding. "To be truthful, I'm actually feeling pretty lousy. And I'm calling to let you know that I'm sorry about earlier today." He gave pause for her to answer, but when she didn't, he continued to speak. "I know you're wondering why I acted the way I did. And you definitely deserve an explanation."
"But you're not going to give me one, right?"
"I will. Just not right now."
A heavy sigh of exasperation passed her lips. "No, of course not. You're going to keep putting it off, and hope that I'll forget."
"That's not true. I *am* going to tell you. It's just not the sort of thing that can be said over the phone."
"Then why didn't you tell me earlier today when you were at my apartment?"
"Because I knew if I did, that it would hurt you. And the last thing I want, is to cause you any pain."
"Is this about you not wanting to see me anymore? Because if it is, I can assure you I'll get over it."
"No, of course not. I don't know how you could even think that."
"Well, considering you won't tell me anything about this situation, I'm kinda left to just blindly guess."
"That's not what this is about. I love hanging out with you, and I definitely want us to continue seeing each other."
"Do you really?" She skeptically asked.
"Yes, of course."
"Then act like it."
Having received the message loud and clear, Dane felt a pang in his heart from her words, and fell into a grave silence before giving his response.
"If you're free tomorrow evening, I can come over and we can talk then."
"What's wrong with tonight?" She asked.
"I'm busy. I've got stuff to do."
"What kind of stuff?"
"Just things I need to take care of."
The stillness that followed his words was loaded with tension, and as the noiselessness stretched between them, Dane anxiously waited for her to say something.
"Fine, tomorrow evening," she finally said. "You can come by around six, but please don't be late, because I'm meeting my friends for dinner at seven."
"No problem. I'll be there on time."
Several moments after the call ended, Dane lay there in a kind of daze, staring blankly at the screen of his cell phone. Then finally he released his mobile from his hand and focused his eyes on the darkness beyond the windows.
For nearly eight months, he'd been waiting for the hammer to fall, and now, after overwhelming uncertainty and apprehension, he would have to atone for his sins.
No longer would he be able to keep his dark secret concealed, and once he came clean to Jeneda about who he really was, and the part he'd played in Vincent's death, she would surely want nothing to do with him.
He was like a second father to me.
As Dane recalled the words that Jeneda had spoken earlier that day, he felt a pressure build in his chest, and his already tense body became taut as a bowstring.
He could still remember the look of anguish that had crossed her face as she'd said it, and would never forget the single tear that had slipped from the corner of her eye. That in itself had been enough to consume him with guilt, and knowing he'd played a part in causing her grief filled him with self-abhorrence.
He was nothing more than a coward, a pathetic individual who had chosen to forgo confessing his immoral actions, and instead had completely wimped out, leaving the woman he adored completely in the dark as to what was going on. What kind of a man did that? Surely not the type who deserved to be with Jeneda, so it was fitting punishment that he would lose her.
Unable to stop himself, he unwillingly imagined the reaction she would have as he confessed his grisly past. Clearly Vincent had meant a lot to her, so she'd obviously be deeply anguished, but what really made him sick about this whole thing was the certainty that she wouldn't ever again be able to stand the sight of him.
No longer would he be a man in her eyes, but a monster; an abomination who would incite outrage and disgust. Yet did he not deserve all that was coming to him?
He'd not only assisted in robbing Vincent, but had also willfully contributed in covering up his death by dumping his body in the bay. He could try all he wanted to excuse his actions, to say he'd been a victim of circumstance, but he knew in his heart that there was no defense for what he'd done. He'd sinned terribly, and now the time had come for him to pay the penalty.
The sheer immensity of the situation caused his stomach to roil, and as he came to the realization that he'd already lost Jeneda, his throat filled with nastiness.
Soon, she would hate him, and once she ejected him from her life, he would never again have the pleasure of feeling her soft, sweet smelling body against his, nor would he be able to kiss her, or run his fingers through her soft hair.
She wouldn't ever again smile or laugh in his presence, and instead of fondly remembering the intimate times they'd shared, she'd only regard him with loathing.
There was no him and her anymore. Only a memory of what had been. And although they weren't yet officially broken up, he already craved her touch and felt a desperate need to hold her in his arms, just one last time, before everything changed. Ready or not, the tides were turning, and soon the dynamics of their relationship would be drastically altered.
Trapped in a real life nightmare, he was completely powerless to stop what was already happening, and as he realized just how damned he truly was, an all-consuming anxiety swept through his body.
His heart beat wildly in his chest and his throat constricted, and as his body broke out in a cold sweat, he threw back the covers and scrambled out of bed.
No sooner did his feet touch the floor, did he hastily make his way to the kitchen, and after retrieving a variety of medicine bottles from the cabinet, he began to uncap them.
His hands shook in the process, and in his rush to shake the pills out of their containers, he ended up spilling the majority of the tablets on the counter.
Blue, green, yellow, pink...the capsules resembled little more than a blur of colors and shapes, but when one was suffering from a panic attack, it made little difference which was which. After hastily popping three of the tablets in his mouth, he filled a glass with tap water, then took a generous sip.
Due to the dry pain in the back of his throat, swallowing the pills proved to be a bit of a challenge, but after taking several long, hard gulps, he was finally able to wash down the medication.
Feeling as if he might blackout, he gripped the counter for support, trying his best to steady himself so that his knees wouldn't buckle under his weight.
His heart thrummed painfully, and he still felt as if he was suffocating, but the numbness in his face and hands was beginning to subside, so he knew he was gradually regaining control.
Each minute that passed felt like an eternity, yet eventually his pulse began to slow, and as his breathing became more regulated, he grabbed a paper towel from the holder next to the stove, then wiped the sweat from his face.
He then walked over to his drafting table, and after taking a seat on the stool, he flipped on the small lamp. For a few moments he just sat there staring at the sheets of paper strewn across the surface of the desk, then after some time passed, he began to ink in the outline of one of the illustrations.
Still feeling a little jittery, his hands slightly shook as he ran the fine point Sharpie over the sheet of paper. But as he gradually got into the creative zone, he found that the tense, nervous energy he'd been suffering from was gradually transformed to one of energized focus.
Fully immersed in the moment, he sat bent over the drafting table, locks of hair partially obscuring his keen eyes as his long, slender fingers deftly maneuvered the pen over paper. Everything flowed smoothly, effortlessly, as if he were a vessel through which a greater force was working.
He no longer felt any apprehension, nor was he obsessively worrying about the events to come. For this moment in time, he was alleviated from his emotional troubles, temporarily immersed in a world of his own creation.
An hour passed before the movement of his hand halted, and as his eyes scanned the various panels he'd inked in, he found himself thoroughly satisfied with the work he'd done. He was also aware that the rush of exhilaration he'd been experiencing for the past sixty minutes was beginning to fade away, and that soon he'd be back in that dark place.
He let out a heavy sigh then briefly closed his eyes, and as his thoughts turned to the events of the past few days, he began to think of Marla. There wasn't a doubt within him that she was truly dead, but what he couldn't figure out was who it was that had sent the text message, and just what exactly they were planning to do next.
He supposed they could already be stalking him, and were delaying their moment of attack in order to amplify his fear, but he had a feeling that whoever his pursuer was, they hadn't yet been able to determine where he lived.
If that was so, then how much time remained before they did? This led him to the realization that he was leaving himself completely open and vulnerable, and as he recalled the nightmare he'd had, grim words suddenly echoed through his mind.
This caused his skin to prickle, and the hairs along the back of his neck stood on end. He then walked over to his bed, and upon reaching it, grabbed his cell phone from off the mattress and dialed Cassie's number. The line rang three times before she picked up.
"Hey, how are you?"
"I'm okay. And you?"
"Doing alright. I was just about to call you, actually." There was a brief pause, followed by a sipping noise. "It took me four days to do it, but I was finally able to trace that text message."
"What'd you find out?"
"Whoever sent you that text, was probably located somewhere around Bodie."
"Bodie...that's a ghost town, Isn't it?"
"Yep. Nothing there but a decaying historic park."
"How long of a drive would you say it is from San Francisco?"
"Around eleven hours. Why?"
A moment of silence followed as he ruminated over the possible reasons why a person would travel so far just to send a text message. Clearly they wanted to ensure that they retained their anonymity, but surely there were plenty of other remote areas in Northern California that were a lot closer than Bodie. So why pick such a far out place?
"You say they were *probably* located around Bodie. You aren't completely sure?"
"Nope. I'm thinking they probably sent you that text from an area where there were few radio masts, such as a wasteland or desert," she said. "Possibly even an unpopulated countryside. Bodie was probably just the closet spot to them that had a transmission tower."
"So they purposely picked an uninhabited spot, that way their location couldn't be pinpointed."
"They couldn't have driven all the way out there just to send the text, though. They must have been there for a specific reason." Then suddenly it hit him- an unpopulated area...a chilling text message proclaiming Marla's death... "He dumped her body there."
A chill ran down his spine as he said it, and his mouth became dry.
"That hadn't even crossed my mind," said Cassie. "You're probably right."
Feeling a sudden wave of dizziness, Dane took a seat on the bed. Then slowly raking his fingers through his hair, he emitted a soft, nasal sigh. A moment passed during which neither of them spoke a word, then Cassie's voice came through the receiver.
"Did you know anything about Marla's personal life? Was she close to her family at all, or did she have any close friends?"
"I don't know, she never really talked about that kind of stuff. Whenever we pulled jobs together, we didn't go into detail about our personal lives, we just did what we had to do, then got the hell out of there. You remember how it was." He then quickly added, "Why do you ask?"
"I thought I remembered her mentioning that she lived with someone. But I can't remember if it was just a roommate, or someone she had a close relationship with, like a boyfriend."
Dane's silence encouraged her to continue.
"If it was someone she was close to, then they're probably wondering what happened to her."
"What are you trying to say? That we should seek out this person, and let them know what happened?"
"No, of course not."
"Then why bring it up?"
"I don't know. I just feel bad about this whole situation, and I know that if someone I cared about went missing, I'd wanna know what happened."
"Listen Cassie, I feel just as bad about Marla's death as you do, but neither of us can speak a word about this to anyone. It's far too risky."
"I know that."
"And besides, even if we did know who to contact, and were in the position to tell them what happened, would you really wanna give them that kind of news?"
"Of course I wouldn't *want* to, but It'd be the decent thing to do. And at least It'd give them some closure."
"What about that trucker whose body I dumped in the bay? You think his friends or family got any closure?"
"Then why would this situation with Marla be any different?"
"Because we actually knew who she was. She wasn't just a stranger."
"So that makes her death more important?"
"That's not what I said, and you know it."
There was a tenseness in the silence that followed, and as both remained quiet, the sound of their breaths became the only noise to fill the stillness. Then finally, Dane offered some words.
"That guy Marla shot probably had plenty of people who cared about him, too. Maybe even a wife and kids, but they'll never know what happened to him, or have any sort of peace of mind. You think that's fair to them?"
"What the hell, Dane. It's not like Marla killed that man on purpose. You said yourself that it was an accident, so why are you acting as if she was some evil person? She may not have been an angel, but she certainly didn't deserve to be murdered, either."
"I never said she did."
"Then what exactly *are* you trying to say, because you're acting really weird about this. It's like you don't even care that she's dead."
"Of course I care, I just don't see the point in getting emotionally wrapped up in her death. And for you to try and make me feel guilty, is a pretty shitty thing to do. It's not my fault, so stop trying to make me feel bad about it." Dane's voice had risen a few octaves, and as he finished his statement, he realized that his body had grown tense.
"Whoa, chill out," said Cassie. "I'm not trying to make you feel guilty, okay?"
He said nothing in return, only took a few deep breaths and tried to ease his agitation.
"Look, I know you're under a lot of stress right now, but that doesn't make it right for you to take out your frustrations on me. And I sure as hell don't appreciate getting yelled at."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to raise my voice at you."
"I know you didn't. You're just going through a lot right now."
"That's still no excuse. This is my problem, not anyone else's." Still sitting on the edge of the bed, he rose to his feet, then slowly walked over to the window. Upon reaching it, he glanced out at the view beyond, focusing on the nearly full moon.
"I'm here for you in any way you need," Cassie said. "You know that, right?"
"Yes, of course. But I have to deal with this on my own, so after tonight, you may not hear from me for awhile."
"What does that mean?"
"It means I have things to take care of, and that staying in communication with you is no longer an option."
"So you're cutting me off."
"I have to. It's for your own safety."
His brows furrowed slightly. "No, what?"
"I won't allow you to push me away. If you don't want me getting involved, that's fine. But we need to stay in contact with each other."
Dane gave a heavy sigh, then in a voice that conveyed his limited patience, he said, "Damnit, why must you always be so stubborn? Can't you just please do as I say and stay out of this?"
"I could, but I'm not going to."
"Don't be stupid. This isn't worth losing your life over."
"This is my decision, so you're just going to have to accept that."
His lips drew into a hard, thin line, and he tightly clutched the phone. Thoroughly frustrated, he did his best to rein in his emotions, and reminded himself that if he'd never told Cassie about this whole situation in the first place, she would never have gotten involved.
There was a sick feeling in his stomach as he considered the prospect of something grim happening to her, yet before anymore unpleasant emotions could arise, he quickly pushed the negative thoughts away.
"Fine, do what you want. I just hope you're prepared for the consequences."
"I am. You know that," she said.
Knowing it was useless to try and dissuade her any further, he decided that now would be a good time to end the call.
"I have to get off the phone now."
"Okay. I guess we'll talk later, then."
He gave no response.