It wasn’t his blood that haunted her.
It was her own—simmering, boiling, ready to explode at a moment’s notice.
She could say he deserved it. It was self-defense. That’s why her father had given her the switchblade. Parents couldn’t always be there to polish the world safe.
Her father suggested the Krav Maga classes. They were a mistake. She hadn’t needed an excuse to attack. She needed control not to.
She started doing yoga. It helped clear her mind.
An unassuming word sounding so easy, as if all things were three-letter simple. She realized long ago they weren’t. Fluctuating weight. High-school drama. Everything different from one day to the next but chugging along in the same rhythm, outside inside and in-between. She sat in class, at the lunch table, in the woods tonight with Jess, with Hayden and Rich and Taylor. They talked of school, parents, how they couldn’t wait for everything to be over. Another sixteen months until they could escape to figure out what they could do with their lives.
“End up back at home in five years,” Rich joked.
She laughed. There was solace in the way the mirthful, involuntary noise erupted from her mouth. She could still be happy. She was happy with Jess.
“Thalia’s set,” Hayden smirked. “She’s a legacy.”
She smiled and Jess squeezed her hand.
Jess pulled the switchblade out of her bag.
“Thalia—what the fuck? Is this even legal?”
She didn’t have an appropriate reply. She snatched the knife from Jess’ hand and shoved it in her pocket. She tried to lure Jess to the bed, but Jess wasn’t having it. They argued about how she never gave Jess a straight answer and her fight or flight kicked in and that was the second time they broke up.
They’d gotten back together. Her dating pool was small. And she loved Jess.
She would inevitably go to Harvard for some undecided career and Jess wouldn’t. Every time Jess mentioned San Francisco it was like a knife to her back.
She clenched her fists until her knuckles hurt.
They were knowingly delaying the inevitable for another sixteen months.
Taylor passed a pipe. After the second hit she felt better. Laughter was the best herbal medicine. The balmy night’s wind carried her off on an ephemeral flight from the ghosts.
They stumbled into the store and she thought it was the same one then realized it was only similar, part of a chain, but still close enough for her high to ebb and the haunting to return.
After she fought with Jess, she drove two hours, past midnight, tired and thirsty and stepping into the empty store and out into the dark parking lot when she heard his voice.
She knew him. From Krav Maga. The type of guy her father incessantly warned her about. She wouldn’t even be on his radar if it weren’t for the class—he wouldn’t be running into her at odd places, following her, all the way out here, far from home, standing too close.
His shadow snaked alongside hers. His fingers grazed her palm.
Darkness and adrenaline and everything else bubbled back up and over. She had no alternative. It was why her father enrolled her in those stupid classes, given her the switchblade she fastidiously wiped clean when she got home.
She threw the bloodstained clothes away. She told her parents she was sick. Told her friends the same. She lied in bed but didn’t sleep for days. Her friends sent her cards.
They exited the store into the dark parking lot and the déjà-vu fear struck her hard.
Jess grabbed her hand. Their shadows hung side-by-side as their hips brushed together.
Maybe she had never been.
The reassuring sensation of Jess’ lips on her cheek. Another tick on the countdown clock.
She squeezed Jess’ hand too hard.
“Ow.” Jess pulled away.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
She went to follow the others, but Jess held her back in a too familiar way in a too similar parking lot. Her fingers moved to her pocket like instinct.
The knife was in her backpack. Her backpack was in Hayden’s car.
“What’s gotten into you?” Concern filled Jess’s face.
The incident had closed her off in some way. Not because of him but because she realized who she was.
It wasn’t who she wanted to be.
“Sometimes…” She wanted to confess. She wrapped her arms around Jess, tenderly, and wanted to tell her the truth. “I love you,” she said.
“I love you too.” Jess kissed her once again. On the lips.
The feeling inside her was too good.
Sixteen months. Maybe less. They’d probably break up and get back together only to inevitably split that final time. She didn’t want to go to college. She needed to be with Jess, to preserve this moment forever.
She’d get rid of the knife. She could live without it.
It would be okay.
“Come on.” Jess led the way to Hayden’s car where the rest of their friends laughed happily in the warm spring night.
She hadn’t walked this far last time. He’d stood further away from her than Jess was now. He hadn’t gotten much closer.
No, he had.
It was self-defense.
She thought she heard his voice, friendly, no longer foreboding.
She was almost certain she killed him.
“Come on, Thalia.” Jess climbed into the car.
She followed, emotions boiling, blood stewing.
If she didn’t get rid of the knife, it might happen again. Happen with Jess.
She got into the car and Jess handed her the backpack and she rested it on her lap. The weight of the knife inside was heavy and comforting.
Eva Olivier is an independent multimedia artist that resides in Massachusetts when she’s not darting around the country putting her MFA from Boston University to good use. Eva enjoys night skies, foggy mornings, dive bars, and things that never turn out like they seem.