Famous Last Words(4)

By: Katie Alender

I snapped back to reality and turned to blow out the candle, but the flame was already extinguished, black smoke floating lazily toward the ceiling. I shoved the ring under my pillow and opened the door.

Mom’s eyes were wide as she pulled me into a frantic hug. “Did you feel that? Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I said, wriggling free. I did feel okay — my mood was greatly improved by the knowledge that I wasn’t the only person who’d felt the jolt. “Is Jonathan okay?”

“Yeah, he’s fine.” She smiled sheepishly. “He says it hardly even qualified as a quake. Sorry to make a fuss. You know, if there’s ever an earthquake and you’re not here, you need to call me immediately to tell me you’re all right.”

“Even if I’m trapped in a pile of rubble?” I asked.

She turned a color I can only describe as “bright gray.”

“Mom, it was a joke.” Note to self: no more jokes. “You’re in California now. You have to loosen up a little or they’ll send you back to Connecticut.”

She gave me another hug. “Oh, look!” she said, peering over my shoulder. “You’re already settling in. How great.”

I glanced down at the candle.

Which was lit again.

“Really, Willa, I’m so pleased that you’re embracing all of this,” Mom said. “A lot of people wouldn’t.”

I smiled and tried to ignore the curious little chill that crawled up my spine.

Mom gave me a gentle pat on the cheek. “We’re ordering dinner in. Is Thai okay?”

“Sure,” I said.

“But not for a couple of hours. So unpack or read or … or maybe rest? Or whatever.”

I closed my door again and sat on the bed, then leaned over to blow out the candle. I took the ring out from under my pillow and tucked it back into the little suede bag. Then I opened the nightstand drawer and put the ring inside, careful to tap three times on the wood to drain any pent-up energy from the realm beyond.

Okay, yeah. I realize it all sounds a little over the top. Maybe even ridiculous. But ridiculous or not, I couldn’t stop myself. No matter how many times I vowed to quit, every night I found myself with the candle lit, the ring on my finger, trying to get through to my dad.

Because I needed to find him.

I needed to tell him I was sorry I killed him.

Are you kidding?” Mom’s fork hit the side of her plate with a clatter. “A serial killer?”

“It’s not an imminent threat,” Jonathan said. “I mean, it’s not a threat at all.”

He’d come to the dinner table tense, the Los Angeles Times website pulled up on his iPad, and told us about a recent spate of murders that had been occurring in LA. The killer’s latest victim — a young woman — had been discovered earlier in the day. Pinpricks of fear and curiosity shot through me.

Mom was taking the news a little harder than I was. “But it seems like you’re warning Willa,” she protested, glancing at me with an expression approaching crazy-paranoid googly-eyes.

Jonathan shook his head, reaching for his water glass. “I wanted to tell you both,” he explained, “because it’s important to be aware. Not because there’s a chance that anything might happen.”

“Maybe not to us,” I said, shrugging. “But for some people there’s a chance.”

“A specific category of people. Actresses.” Jonathan looked over at me, a hint of sardonic amusement in his eyes. “You’re not an actress, are you?”

I was about to say no, but Mom interrupted. “She has done some acting.”

“Mom,” I said. “Seriously.”

I could have sworn I saw a wary flash come over Jonathan’s features. Like he was momentarily questioning whether my mother had schemed and married him to advance my acting career.

“She played a juror in Twelve Angry Men.”

“Two years ago,” I said, taking a bite of pad Thai. “Freshman year, before I knew better. And the general consensus was that I made a very poor angry man. Mom, it’s not about people who happen to have been in a school play.”

“How could you know that? Who knows what goes on inside the mind of a killer?”

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