He drummed his fingers on the Formica counter, trying to find just the right phrase to put in the letter. This, after all, was going to be the turning point. This was going to be the day that he solidified his relationship with Lucy. This was going to change everything.
Unrequited love may have been something that Shakespeare wrote about, but this was different. This was his life, not some sixteenth century drama. When he thought of the perfect way to express this, he put the pen on the paper and scribbled it out, his hand moving across the paper as fast as he could to not lose his concentration. This was his latest attempt at getting everything down on paper, on getting it written out correctly.
Just as he was about to move over and dump the stale coffee into the sink the news flashed to a story about the special anniversary of the singer who had disappeared. Mark snatched up the remote and turned up the volume, checking to see if they had any new findings on the woman whose voice he had adored.
“…vanished without a trace on her way home from getting gas. Tonight it has been three years since anyone has heard or seen Shelly Green. If you have any information on this case, please be sure to contact the authorities using the special hotline number on the bottom of the screen.”
While she was speaking of the disappearance the broadcaster’s face was drawn and serious, but in the instant when the story shifted over to the children’s art festival her face transformed into a large wide smile, the trauma of the missing singer gone.
Life moves on. He thought, folding the paper up and tucking it into the envelope. He made sure that his shirt was tucked in and that his hair was combed. He knew that presentation was half of the battle to gaining her attention.
On the way to her he made sure to run the truck through the wash, the warm soapy water closing him off from the outside world. He leaned back against the headrest of the truck and thought about the letter in his pocket. He had memorized every line and now replayed it in his head imagining how it was going to go and what he was going to do. He liked to be prepared for every eventuality.
Twenty minutes later he was pulling up in front of her house, his sweaty palms gripping the steering wheel. This was his last chance. He knew that if she didn’t respond to him tonight that it was never going to happen, that he would have to move on.
He didn’t want to, but it was truly in her hands now.
When he got to the door he could see her sitting on the couch through the window, waiting. She was always dressed so perfectly, her long blonde hair fanned out to frame her face. When he stepped on the porch it creaked and she looked over at him and waved.
Waving back, he thought about the first time he had found her, stranded on the side of the road, trying to get help. The cell signal on these back roads was spotty, and he knew right away that he had to help her. Since then he’d been visiting her regularly.
Tonight they sat on the couch as usual, her palms pressed together and her knee slightly bouncing in anticipation. In the time Mark had known her he was always left a little breathless when they were together and he loved to sit next to her and soak up the scent of roses that seemed to seep out of her pores.
He was not sure what to say to her, but he knew that she understood because she never seemed put off or upset when he came around.
Mark sighed, this was his last shot though, he’d promised himself that if he didn’t work up the nerve to ask her to marry him this time then it was never going to happen. He wasn’t sure what he was so worried about; he knew that she would probably say yes. They spent all of their free time together and neither of them were seeing anyone else.
In fact, Lucy was almost a hermit. He wasn’t sure that she ever saw the outside of her cabin, let alone anyone else. While he wanted to do some grand gesture to let her know how he felt, instead he took the letter out and slipped it under the edge of her hand.
Smiling, she took the letter and opened it, her eyes slowly reading over the lines as he waited. Mark could feel his chest tightening and the blood pumping through his body was doing so with such force that small stars lit up the corner of his vision.
He didn’t know that he had ever been so anxious for a response.
Looking down, he fished the ring from his pocket and put it firmly in the palm of his hand, clasping his fingers around the band and pressing it deep into his flesh. When he looked back up he saw that she was staring at him, her dark blue eyes churning.
“Of course I’ll marry you, Mark.” I’ve always wanted us to be together forever.
He heaved a giant sigh of relief and handed her over the engagement ring. He thought about getting down on one knee, but he didn’t want to fall over or do something foolish to ruin the moment.
He held his breath, waiting for her to laugh at his clumsy proposal, but instead she just smiled sweetly and took the ring from him.
After a moment, she stood up and tried to grip his hand, “Come here, I want to show you something.”
“What?” he asked as he rose, pulling his shirt down and wiping his palms against the fabric before slipping his hand back into hers.
“You’ll see.” She whispered, and Mark walked through the room into the back of the house. In all his visits he had never gone to the back of the house. It was were the bedrooms were, and he knew how important waiting was for Lucy. She’d mentioned it more than once.
In his mind he wondered if because he had proposed now would be the night when they would finally be able to be together. He smiled to himself.
“I want you to see what forever looks like.” Lucy put her hand on the doorknob and looked at him one last time. “You ready?”
Mark nodded and took in a deep breath, and he was still inhaling and envisioning their night together when she pushed the door open and stepped to the side.
When he looked up he almost choked on that breath as he struggled to push the air back out in a solid scream. In front of him was a woman shackled to the wall. Her head hung limply against her chest and her blonde hair was matted with clumps of dried blood. He backed up a step, and tried to turn only to find himself falling.
A heavy object landed its first blow against his head, and then that pattern was repeated three more times in rapid succession. The last thing he could see through red tinged lenses was the woman’s face as she looked up and tried to call out to him, her gaunt features pulling tight against her cheekbones as she screamed. But he could hear none of it.
As the darkness sank down over him, he realized three things. One was that the woman had chunks of flesh missing from different points in her body, some of them healing at different rates so that it looked like this was an ongoing thing.
The second was that he had found the missing singer.
The last thought he had as he struggled to pull himself away from Lucy’s beating was how often he had eaten steak at her house.
She leaned over him, the soft scent of her floral shampoo now clogged his nostrils and he pushed himself away from her.
“I promise you forever,” she whispered as she leaned back and raised the pan above her head one more time.
“Oh no…” he managed to mutter to himself as world faded to black.