The door vibrated in its lock as Dale Jennings thumped it. The red residue he left on the door reminded him fresh blood still covered his hand. He hurriedly wiped his knuckles clean on the back of his leg, ruining the jean’s blue denim. His mind raced with the morning’s events as he stood and waited for the door to be answered. He was still panting from his sprint over to 112 Grove Drive, a run made all the more difficult by the closeness of the air; a thunderstorm was indeed on the way. He knocked again and then bent down, dropping his head between his knees, breathing in deeply. It may have indeed been more humid than hell, but he knew part of the reason he could barely stand was due to the state he’d let himself get in recently. From college ball player to the town’s designated drunk, all in the space of three years. He knew this was how most of Netherdale’s residents viewed him – hell, it was how he viewed himself. A drunk and a layabout and a lousy boyfriend, he thought. The first two he would worry about another time, but right now he was going to rectify the last part of his depressive self-description. He thumped on the door again and prepared himself for it to open.
* * * *
Claire Summers swiftly applied a final layer of lip gloss as the door sounded below. James was early, and he was never early, so his arrival had taken her slightly by surprise. Thoughts of reasons for an early arrival were quickly washed away by those of his hands, his lips, his other regions. She bounced up from her bedroom floor and slipped out onto the landing. She paused for a moment, checking her hair one final time in the mirror at the top of the stairs. If her parents were home she knew they’d both be moaning at how long she’d spent getting ready. “I hope you’re going to pay for that electricity,” her dad would shout. “They’re not worth all that effort, sweetie,” would be her mother’s two-cents worth. Not today though. She had the house to herself and a sensationally hot boy coming over. She skipped down the stairs and approached the front door, by which time she had already convinced herself nothing that continually felt this right could ever be wrong. She’d hidden it from Dale this long, another night wouldn’t hurt.
* * * *
The sight of Claire Summers’ sultry smile, so often the cause of a rise in his pants, did nothing today but cause a rise in Dale Jennings’ fury. As he felt his eyebrows constrict and his eyes narrow, her face quickly became devoid of feature. He had never seen this look on his girlfriend’s face before, but right now, with the mood he was in, he liked it.
“Not who you expected?” he drolly offered, not giving her the chance to attack first in any verbal joust.
She had a notoriously silver tongue, something he’d yesterday learned many of the boys in Netherdale had been on the welcoming receivership of. It was one of the things which had attracted him to her in the first place, all those years ago. He was the captain of the football team, she was the impossibly-cute, overly-popular president of the student body; they’d been a match made in small-town high-school heaven. How times had changed. Her silver tongue was now, at this precise moment, something he actively despised. He watched as she struggled to find a word, her lips opening but finding nothing but the empty space of the stupidly-humid air between them.
* * * *
It did not happen often, but Claire Summers did not know what to say. She prided herself on her quick-wit and ability to turn a phrase when it was most needed. But right now, as her boyfriend – or, as it was quickly dawning on her, soon to be ex-boyfriend – stared at her with those increasingly familiar angry eyes, she did not know how to respond. She knew she’d been rumbled, she knew that much, but the next best appropriate course of action eluded her. Should she play the victim, play to Dale’s admittedly hard to access sensitive side, or go on the offensive, blaming him for forcing her away with his too-frequent drunken nights and increasingly bad temper? The look on his face and the fury lurking just behind those big, brown eyes suggested an attack on his behaviour was probably not the best course of action.
“I, I…,” she mumbled.
If she’d known those would be the last words she would ever utter, she would have tried an awful lot harder to make them more memorable.
* * * *
“Oh, for crying out loud!” Brenda Bittles squawked, shocked at the sudden burst of feathers and beak around her.
The nest of birds she had so patiently spent two-hours drawing were now making manic tracks across her garden’s skyline, cutting through the air like physics-ignorant shooting stars. Up, down, left, right, they spread out all around her, away from the nest and the focus of her drawing. After a brief moment of situational recalibration, Brenda had composed herself enough to question the sound she, and the now scattered birds, had just heard. It sounded very much like it came from the Summers’ house next door, although Brenda was sure – or as sure as her fading memory would nowadays allow her – that they were away at the moment. She placed down her 9B graphite pencil and attempted to force herself out of her comfy garden chair. The voracious complaints from her joints stopped an investigation before it had even begun. She slumped back down and started to draw a new picture, having already forgotten she had just heard a gunshot.