Sarah, Returned--Chapter Four (A Steemit Original Novel) Now With Shorter Chapters :)
Because I always keep one eye on Karen when she's around, I see it coming. Unfortunately, there is no time to take preventive action. It’s not like I wasn’t expecting it; I just didn't think she would have the nerve to try something at the celebration of life.
It only takes a second, but to me, it all seems to unfold in slow motion. Karen turns to me, eyes open wide, and rearranges her resting bitch face into one of confusion and sorrow, tinged with just a hint of fear. The transformation is so realistic, I wonder if she took acting lessons at some point.
Shit. Whatever she’s been planning, she’s doing it now.
I tense my muscles, and press as far back into the wall as I can, keeping one foot against it in case I need to use it as a springboard. She notices this and uses it to her advantage by taking a hard step toward me. It's just one step, but she slams her black stiletto heel down on the centuries-old hard wood floor as she does it, making an audible bang. How that much force didn't snap her pencil-thin heel, I'll never know. Plus, the bitch probably scratched my pristine antique floor.
Strangely infuriated that the floors could survive unscathed for over 300 years until they had the misfortune to meet Karen Bateman, I turn to face her, ready for a battle. Yes, I’ve still got to be careful with how I respond, but it doesn’t mean I have to take her crap lying down. I square my shoulders and narrow my eyes, ready for battle.
“I am not here to take Matt away from you, Sarah!” she shouts, her shrill, nasally voice echoing off the plaster walls. “How many times do I have to tell you? Your jealousy is insane. I just want us all to be a big, happy family. You haven’t had a family in so long, you’ve forgotten what it’s like. I can show you, if you’ll only let me.”
Oh. My. God. Nausea wells up in me, traveling swiftly from my stomach to my throat, and for just a moment, I am sure I will vomit. The moment passes quickly, but leaves me shaking. Karen knew just what to say, what to do, what buttons to push to make the biggest impact with her accusations. It’s perfect, really. Wait until everyone but the immediate family is gone so I can’t hide in a crowd, and make sure to do it when the long-lost great-uncle I never knew existed is visiting, just to increase the embarrassment factor for me. She probably decided to do this as soon as it became clear Jacob is a real relative who likes me.
I freeze, not knowing how to respond. Of course, I know how I want to respond, but I can’t punch her in the face. That is exactly what she wants. Maybe a simple, calm rebuttal would be enough to diffuse the situation? It’s a thought. After all, Jacob heard some nasty things come out of Karen’s mouth earlier; maybe he will realize what she is doing now, and take my side.
Matt, sadly, is a variable. There was a time when I knew without doubt I could count on him, no matter what. That’s how it’s been between us most of my life. However, Karen’s gradual brainwashing of him over the past few months has been effective. Thanks to her, Matt already thinks I’m too sensitive where she is concerned. I’ve recently noticed him starting to waver on deflecting the mental illness suggestions, too. Will he take my side over hers if I tell him she’s putting on an act? I can’t be sure anymore.
At Karen’s outburst, both Matt and Jacob come running into the hallway were the Evil Queen and I stand, facing off against each other. Matt’s expression is inscrutable, while Jacob’s seems sympathetic at first glance; I don’t know him well enough to be certain. I think he knows Karen is a rat, but will it mean anything to Matt if he says so? Matt remembers Jacob, but the truth is, they barely know each other. Bottom line: Matt probably won’t take Jacob’s side over Karen’s.
“Is there a problem, Sarah?” Matt asks me directly, a hard edge in his normally gentle voice. Great. He’s mad because he thinks I’ve upset the woman he inexplicably loves. Fine. I know whose side he’s on in this war. Traitor.
I try to speak, but nothing comes out. Damn it, Matt. You’re supposed to be the one person I can always trust to have my back. Confusion and fury end up battling for room on my face, and I stand there, gaping like an idiot. In my imagination, I roll my eyes at my own stupidity.
Karen, however, is a shrewd witch, and probably planned for this response as one of several possibilities, because she moves quickly. Seizing the opportunity my silence brings, she piles the drama on even higher.
“You’re being irrational,” she continues, holding her hands out to me like she’s trying to reason with someone who is quite insane. “Can’t you see how paranoid you are? I’ve told you again and again that I’m not here to take Matt, or steal your part of your grandmother’s inheritance. I truly love this man, and I so want to love you, too, if you'll just let me. You must believe I have your best interests at heart, Sarah. I always have. Please, do what I asked. See a psychiatrist to help you overcome these delusions. Once you’re well, we can all be a family. Isn’t that what you want? A family? I’m offering it. Won’t you take it?”
A biting reply finally works its way to the tip of my tongue, but I nip it down, refusing to let it go past my lips. Oh, she’s good. She knows exactly what she’s doing. She knows as well as I do that there is nothing I can say right now to make this look any better on my part. With a few carefully designed words, Karen has managed to turn Matt’s opinion against me.
While there’s nothing he can do, I want to make sure Jacob thinks well of me, even if no one else here does. Biting hard on my lower lip to keep from crying with frustration, I lift my eyes above the Evil Queen's head and meet his. He’s gazing at me from behind Matt. While my traitorous cousin merely frowns, shaking his head in disappointment, Jacob looks at me, the real me, those piercing green eyes going straight into my soul. I sigh, relieved. Yes, Jacob knows exactly what is going on here.
Good. It may mean nothing, but it still means everything to me. He knows it, too. I can tell.
Happy to have at least one port in this ridiculous storm, I’m able to think more clearly, and my next step opens up before me in my mind as the clouds of bitter betrayal clear. I’ve got to get out of here. It doesn’t matter where. At this moment, I simply have to be anywhere but this house. Easy enough. I was on my way out, anyway.
Sure, Karen will convince Matt to follow me. Her oh-so-concerned-about-my-well-being act will be enough to get Matt behind the wheel of a car. As they drive around town looking for me, she will give him a gentle reminder that she’s been saying I need a psychiatric evaluation all along, and he will agree with her. Damn him, he will agree. They will decide to put me on an involuntary psychiatric hold as soon as they find me.
Oh Matt, wherever Grandma is, she is so disappointed in you.
They won’t find me, of course. I’m not stupid. When you’re heir to a large fortune in a small town, everyone knows it. You learn to take steps to protect your privacy pretty quickly. No one will find me unless I want them to. The tricky part is going to be getting away from the house in the first place. They’re not going to let me leave voluntarily at this point. Once I’m away, I’ll need to be careful of where I drive, and find a secure place to hole up as soon as possible. Matt and I have each other’s license plate numbers recorded on our phones; we did it years ago, in case one of us went missing. What was meant to be a safety measure will now be used against me when Matt calls in my plate to the police and tells them there is an irrational person driving the streets of Dover, one who could be a danger to herself and others. It’s what Karen will tell him to say, and he will do it.
My little green Prius is recognizable enough as it is. It will be noticed immediately if I go anywhere obvious. This means I can’t go to Carter’s apartment or his job at the university library. Since I’m a student there, anywhere on campus at the University of New Hampshire is out of the question. Also on the “do not go” list are any of my friends’ houses, their workplaces, and our regular hangouts. Matt, Karen, and the police will search all of those locations. I don’t need my lime green eco-car announcing my presence.
Because I’ll be considered an immediate danger to the public, the police won’t wait the normal three days to allow Matt to file a missing person report on an adult. They will start looking right away. And, considering my high-risk status for kidnapping as an heiress, they will probably pull out all the stops in their search. That means I can’t use my credit cards or my phone as I'd hoped, as those things are all traceable. Even drawing cash out at an ATM will give them an idea of the direction I’m heading.
I have to go off-road, which means abandoning my car as soon as I get far enough away from the house. I’ve got $1,000 in my wallet, but it’s upstairs, in my purse, which may as well be a million miles away at this moment. If I can get my hands on it, I can use the cash to buy a few burner phones and pre-paid credit cards to get me through until this all blows over. I’ll be able to call Carter and let him know I’m okay, and reassure my girlfriends; they’ll all understand why I can’t reveal my location. They could be forced to tell the police, if they knew.
I can also use the cash to get a few nights in a decent hotel, a cab to take me there, and buy food in the interim.
There’s the legal side of this to consider, too. I already have a lawyer on retainer. Thankfully, she’s not the same as Matt’s. We decided when Grandma went into assisted living that we each needed our own lawyer, and not just the family one, to represent our interests in the estate and handle our financial and legal affairs after we received our money. If I can make one quick stop in town, not far from the house, and get a little more cash from the nearest ATM, I can get a psychiatrist to see me, and testify in court that I’m perfectly sane.
Okay. Plan created. Get out of here. Hide out a few days, get a restraining order against Karen, and use my lawyer and psychiatrist to set up a competency hearing to prove my innocence and her deviousness. Only then, with my interests protected and Karen ordered 50 feet away from me at all times, can I come home. Matt’s opinion won’t matter at that point. Get the purse, get out. I shoot Great-Uncle Jacob a pleading look, and he gives me a knowing smile, backed up by those signature kind eyes. He’s no fool. I knew he saw through Karen the moment they first spoke.
With that smile, he lets me know he’s got my back. Good enough for me. Time to get moving.