She held onto his arm firmly as she led him across the pebbles. Her fingers digging into his skin. He smiled. Slightly uneasily. He knew not why. This was Cara. His love. His all. The one person that made him feel as close to complete as he ever believed he could be. The one human being that he could feel comfortable with. Free from the cloying, gnawing feeling that itched at him. Free. At least sometimes anyway.
Cara continued to march on. His eyes scanned the back of her figure, her frame, as he followed. The beautiful silken flow of her black hair, the almost-baggy striped top that nevertheless clung to the perfect, still-youthful curvature of the flesh hidden beneath. He felt love. He felt desire. Unending warmth. Yet his smile continued to wane. Again, without reason. Without catalyst. The pebbles beneath his feet dug into the thinning soles of his battered trainers. The waves either side of them lapped gently, almost indiscreetly, against the slightly raised banks that allowed for the pebbled path to exist. A path leading to the approaching lighthouse.
As he glanced over Cara’s shoulder he could see their home town twinkling half-heartedly in the dimming light of the Autumn evening. Across the water. Near but somehow stubbornly declaring its distance all at once. The night was calm. But, along with the dimming light, the heat that had unexpectedly drifted across the surrounding area earlier in the day was swiftly beginning to dissipate. As if in a contradictory unison with the oncoming darkness. His demeanour wilted further.
He ventured a question; ‘Are you still not going to tell me what this is all about, Cara?’ He filtered the words with a slight, nervous laugh in a failed attempt to mask the uneasiness prickling through his mind.
‘Nope’ came Cara’s reply. The word spat into the horizon as she continued trudging on, refusing to turn and acknowledge the source.
Was there humour in the voice, he wondered? Was there warmth? Or was there, as he initially suspected, a touch of resilience? Even something approaching contempt. No, he thought. Don’t be daft. And yet. And yet. For some reason he couldn’t shake off the quivering uncertainty slowly sliding its hands around his veins. She seemed different somehow. Cara, that is. Cold, almost. She had done since they had got out of the car. She was fine on the journey over, yes. Absolutely. She had been Cara. The same Cara he had known since they were both schoolkids. The same Cara he had taken to prom all those years back. The same Cara he had fallen in love with. The same Cara he had only recently asked to marry him. That Cara. The Cara who laughed, smiled, embraced, listened, empathised, loved. His Cara. And yet as soon as they had left the car…as soon as they had started walking along this path…
He clenched his wrist in an attempt to loosen her grip, even slightly. But her grip remained true, clutching and digging into his skin. The kiss, he suddenly thought. Yes, the kiss. Was it their first kiss? No, of course it wasn’t. That had been…oh Christ…that was…yes…yes, that’s right, their first kiss had been at the cinema. They’d been watching some overblown, saccharine American action film. Deep Impact was it? No, no, Armageddon. That was it. Christ, what a lot of nonsense that was. That one with the Aerosmith song, that’s right. But no, the lighthouse kiss couldn’t have been long after, could it? Yeah, that’s it, it must have been shortly after. So that’s what this is about. Ah, sentimental Cara as always. It must be an anniversary of that night, he thought. Only I’m sure that was summer. Yeah, it was the height of summer. And this is well into Autumn. Well, if it’s not that then what…or why would she…
The wedding! The wedding, of course! That’s what she’s always said. If she had to do the whole fancy wedding thing then she would but she would always have preferred to be more spontaneous and do it on the spur-of-the-moment. It’s more romantic that way, she said. It sucks the administration and banalities of the planning out of it. That’ll be it. Will it? Jesus…surely not, I’m not…well, how could I be ready to…no. No, she won’t have. Not right now. Would she?
He felt his body, his feet, trying to slow, trying to resist. But still she held fast. He thought he could detect a malice this time. A reserve of strength and fortitude in her grasp that belied any rapidly diminishing thoughts of a potentially joyous outcome.
‘Cara, look, what’s this about, it’s getting…’
Her answer was, once again, curt. Slicing through his question with dismissal. What the hell is this all about, he asked himself. Again and again. Desperately flicking through the archives of his mind to find a solution. Is she pregnant, perhaps? Is she not well? Is someone else not well? But why would she take me here to tell me!? Could she have…no, no! No, she couldn’t have…that was too long ago. And anyway there’s no way she could have…no, it won’t be that. But what the hell is it!?
They arrived at the door of the lighthouse. The uneven crunching of the pebbles ceasing, allowing the gentle sound of the water to nudge its way back within earshot. She turned her head towards him slightly. A half turn, if anything. Her eyes never making or maintaining eye contact with his own.
‘That’s us here. Follow me up these stairs and…’
‘Cara, stop…’ now it was his turn to show his strength. He clutched onto her arm, tightly grasping her wrist, restricting her movement.
‘Cara, don’t be silly, what is this all about?’
‘Don’t!’ she yanked her arm from him, her teeth gritting for barely more than a millisecond. A flush of anger quickly rising and, just as quickly, falling from her eyes. She regained her composure. Swiftly. Almost too swiftly, it seemed. She even forced the hint of a smile. ‘Look, just follow me. Ok?’
She pushed the door. It opened. Creakily yes, but without opposition. Surely it would be locked, he thought. Why would it…how could she…is there…no. There must be someone up there. It must be a wedding. Or a surprise party. Or something. Something theatrical. She’s always been one for the big gesture. For the big reveal. But why the coldness? Why the stoicism? An act. That’ll be it. An act, surely. His thoughts reconciled enough for him to flash her a weak smile. She returned the gesture. But still her eyes remained devoid of contact with his own. She took his hand once again. As he stepped into the dark of the lighthouse behind her, the distant lights emanating from the shoreline of the town crept into the periphery of his vision.
Their footsteps echoed as they ascended the narrow spiral staircase leading to the top of the lighthouse. Each step reaching out into the darkness, almost as if posed as a question or cry, and each receiving no response. His heartbeat steadily increased with each laboured step. His chest started to tighten, constricting his breathing ever so slightly, expanding and retracting slowly like a long disused and dust-covered accordion. Panic? Excitement? Nerves? All three were in there certainly. But why? It was Cara. His love. His one and only…well., his true love. He’d never felt fear with Cara. Never felt uncertainty. So why now? Why in this instance? Why…
‘Here we go…’ she whispered, as they reached the last step, her voice faltering beneath a fragile croak. The rigidity, the anger gone. For the first time since leaving the car she seemed unsure. Strangled by nerves. Another door stood before them. She let go of his hand. As she did he noticed a quiver in her wrist, one with a touch of clamminess to it. She’s nervous, he thought. Happily. She’s just as nervous as me. It must be…it must be the wedding. Behind this door. It must be a secret wedding. She’s nervous. The big reveal, that’s what it’ll be. A smile spread across his face. His own nerves fading, engulfed by excitement. He tried to catch her eye as she slowly reached for the door handle but, still, she would not look at him. Look at her, he thought, she’s a bag of nerves. Of course she is. Any bride would be on their wedding day, I mean it’s only natural. There must be friends and family and all sorts behind this door. I’m ready. I’m happy. This is why she’s brought me here, this is why she’s dragged me here. Just a couple more steps and I’ll be…
He froze as he stepped through the door.
There were people, yes. Friends, of a fashion, yes. His heart lurched. His chest tore into his guts. He felt a surge of bile wallpaper the inside of his throat. His mouth dry, wordless. He looked up, searching for Cara. She had stepped away from him. Several paces from him. This time she was looking at him. Her eyes fixed on his; gleaming with tears, twitching with rage. His legs felt weak. Weaker than he’d ever known them to be. He felt frail, exposed, broken.
‘Cara..’ he managed to utter, ‘Cara…I’m…’
‘SHUT UP!’ she screamed. ‘SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!’
He obliged, paralysed by the unexpected ferocity of her scream. His head dropped. Desperation weighing it down. Desperation and fear. Thoughts blending in his mind, unable or unwilling to separate and form coherent wholes. Blanketed only by that desperation and fear.
‘Look up! LOOK AT THEM YOU PIECE OF SHIT! LOOK AT THEM!!’ Tears of rage burrowed their way out from Cara’s eyes, cascading down her cheeks.
His gaze slowly rose from his feet, staring up into the near darkness of the room. A section of his mind subconsciously registering the distant twinkle of lights, still decorating the coastline of the town, flickering through the window. Something which only minutes before had represented home, safety, comfort. And which now came cloaked in that growing fear and desperation. As his gaze continued to rise the figures in the room become clearer to him. The girls. Forming through the darkness. Standing against the computer unit skirting the perimeter of the room. Almost casually but clearly taut with anxiety. Their own faces twisted in anger, staring at his own. Alice. Briana. Sophie. Amy. Shit, he thought. Shit, no. Shit. This can’t be happening. No, it isn’t. They’re…they wouldn’t have told her…they’re only…she couldn’t have found out…she…
‘Cara, I love you, I have a…’ the ill-advised words tumbled from his mouth without warning.
‘SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU PIECE OF FUCKING SCUM!’ spittle flew from Cara’s mouth as she stepped towards him. ‘THEY’RE CHILDREN! THEY’RE BARELY EVEN FUJCKING TEENAGERS!’
‘No I…I didn’t…it was only just…’
‘NO! NO! OK!? You don’t get to talk, you don’t get to fucking TALK! NOT ANYMORE! NOT EVER AGAIN!’
He felt a jolt of urgency race through his body. He started to turn. Desperate for a way out. For an exit. To fly down the stairs and run. Flee. Escape. They couldn’t prove anything. It’d be their words against his. He’d wiped the hard drive. Sold the computer. Switched phones. He’d stopped all that. It was Cara. He’d stopped because of her. He’d tried again and again. And then he’d finally stopped. They were kids, no-one would believe them. Surely. He was liked. He was a nice guy. He was…wait…they are, they’re only girls. And Cara’s only Cara. Fuck sake. Get a grip here…! Think about this. Look at the size of them. There’s no way they could overpower him, is there. There’s no way they could…and, in fact, they’re trespassing. They shouldn’t even be in here should they. Aha, they’ve fucked up here. Why even come here? Why not just go to the police!? Why not just…silly fucking stupid girls! I’d expect that from them but Cara, ooh I’m disappointed in Cara. I thought she was better than this.
He stopped and slowly turned back, facing into the room again. A sly smile crept slid across his face.
‘SHUT THE FUCK UP!’ Cara’s instant reply bulleted back at him.
‘No,’ he laughed slightly, ‘you know what, I don’t think I will. Look at you Cara…you’re embarrassing yourself. Do you really think the five of you can overpower me? Really? Come on now Cara. You know I’m stronger than you. And as for these little sluts, don’t make me laugh. You and your little squad here. Teaming up. How very fucking cute. You really think they didn’t want to, that they were innocent in this whole thing? They’ve done the dirty on you too here.’
He looked at Cara. She seemed caught. Caught somewhere between anger and devastation. Exhaustion spilled from her face. He continued, the smile dropping from his face, a sneer stepping into its place.
‘You’re out of your depth Cara. You always were. It’s pathetic. I’m too smart for you and these little bitches. I can easily turn this into a series of little infatuations. Made up stories. Girls make up fantasies all the time. Do you really think I’d be stupid enough not to delete things from my hard drive. Eh? Stupid enough not to ditch the phone? I expected better of you Cara. Come on. And this whole lighthouse charade? You always did like a spectacle didn’t you, darling? But that was another mistake on your part, see. You’re the one that’s broken the law here, sneaking into a private building. What did you do, smash a window downstairs? Another genius move that I’m sure will look good when the police…’
‘They didn’t smash a window.’
He turned, terror filling his lungs. A man’s voice. A deep, steady man’s voice. He looked into the shadows and saw a man, well over six foot emerge slowly from them. A set of keys tinkled slightly as he moved.
‘They used these. Or rather…I did’ said the bearded man, stepping into the half-light, his features slowly appearing through the gloom. His face a portrait of composed menace. The keys twirling round the fingers of his left hand. An object glistening slightly in the darkness hung from his right hand.
Oh no. Oh shit! Briana’s dad. Or no, Amy’s maybe. Oh shit I don’t know, but he’s the one that monitors this place. Monitors the computer. He’s. He’s. It’s not…! Oh fuck…
He turned to run.
A short sharp cacophony of screams burst into his earlobes before he felt the dull thud connect with his skull. One last flash of the distant twinkling town lights scraped against his vision as he crumpled to the floor.