He picked me up at eight. When I opened the door he gave me thirteen roses; one for every month we’d been together. He complimented me politely on the dress I’d umm-ed and ahh-ed over for a good hour, a stylish silk number filched from the back of mum’s wardrobe. We held hands as he drove, his fingers brushing the promise ring I so proudly displayed. Our second Valentine’s. We’d made it past the “honeymoon” year, defied all the naysayers, the no-longer-friends, my parents. So what if Jay was a little bit older? He loved me.
The restaurant was perfect, as always. A classy affair with suited waiters who “yes ma’am-ed” and a server just for wine, who asked Jay to taste before he’d pour the scarlet liquid into my glass. God knows what we talked about, while I played with a caesar salad and he sawed at a steak, I was so distracted by those eyes of his, eyes that were somehow, unbelievably, only for me. Maybe we had a glass or two more than we should, but we found ourselves unable to control our laughter as we climbed the gates to the park. Jay mimicked pirouettes beneath the trees to the tune of my delighted squeals. I chased him across the bridges in the Japanese gardens, and we rolled together down the grassy banks, damp with evening dew, children again beneath the stars. We waltzed in the light of the moon to music only we could hear, and for a moment I imagined myself in white satin, and he in a tux, twirling in perfect grace across a polished floor. Out of breath, we lay in the grass, cuddled close against the night’s chill. As we gazed into the empty night he told me stories, his childhood, his life so far, what ours together could be. I revelled in his bitter-sweet scent, the dash of expensive cologne discolouring his shirt collar, the birthmark cradled by the curve of his neck. Muscles in his arms shifted and flexed as he pointed out a constellation, told me it was mine. Virgo. He pulled me closer to press a kiss to my cheek as he gestured to his, the archer.
When my curfew grew close and he reluctantly returned me home, he kissed me sweetly, wary of the disapproving stare of my parents behind the curtains. Afterwards, as I turned to go, he caught my hand, pulled me close to whisper in my ear, to promise me the world.
I killed her at eight. Her blood dripped from my knife, blossomed into petals of gore on the concrete, stained white silk crimson. I took my pretty ring off her finger, for the next one, and laid her out across the back seats. Brushed the golden curls out of her peaceful little doll-face. As I drove to mine, I caught her eye in the rearview. My pretty little one. I’m taking you home.
When Ben came home from work that day, slowly unfolding from his battered company car like a man much older than himself, the apartment block was quieter than usual. The noisy children who frequented the driveway-turned-playground were conspicuously absent, their abandoned football left to roll unattended in the breeze. The hedgerows had been neglected by both council and tenants, equally more concerned with their own lives, families, incomes. They grew out of control, shooting out green spears at varying angles, swallowing up rose bushes and petunias alike in their path. A discarded BMX bike half-blocked the entranceway, propping open the door and rendering the keypad security useless. The frame of its back wheel was distorted, as if viewed through water or clouded glass, unrideable. The tea ladies on the second floor, on their lunch breaks after a busy day serving others, whispered gossip between half-open doorways. Fell awkwardly silent and dispersed as Ben rounded the stairs. As he rose through floors three and four, a pungent smell of marijuana clung to fibres in a well-loved coat, followed him to the top floor, where the young couple in 53 was communicating with each other the only way they knew how. In screams. He sighed, pausing for a second, resting head and shoulder on the wall to listen, the shouting a welcome hum in the dark silence that consumed him. Ben’s flat was empty and cold, the jingle of keys in the lock met by the silent stack of unopened post on the mat. Ben pushed them carelessly to one side with a foot, careful not to look. It took a while for post to get out sometimes. He couldn’t read a dead boy’s words. Not yet, not now.