Janet watched her sister arrange a smile and begin shamelessly flattering the portly truck driver. The cautious look melted off of his face. Andrea leaned over and whispered conspiratorial into his ear. Their laughter bounced around in the cabin of the truck.
Janet rolled her eyes and turned toward the window. Maybe she should have pulled the trigger. Janet shuddered and chased the thought away, chastising herself for conjuring up such evil. She was just tired. Yeah, sure that was it. All the excitement left her drained. Janet lay her head back and fell asleep moments later.
When she awoke it was like rising out of a pitch black well. Reality gradually reasserted itself. She heard voices. Someone was nudging her. Janet barely had time to focus her eyes before Andrea pushed her out of the truck. The stranger was saying something but she was still groggy. Janet felt more tired than she had been before falling asleep.
Once again, irritation made her consider striking out alone. All she wanted right now was a few hours of uninterrupted sleep in a warm bed. Janet stretched and rubbed her eyes while Andrea said her goodbyes. It was so dark she couldn’t see much.
They appeared to be on the outskirts of the city. There probably wasn’t another living soul around for miles. Janet was taken aback when Andrea scampered away as though hounds were nipping at her heels. She shrugged and followed suit with a weary sigh. The ground was so muddy it sucked at their shoes but Janet was too tired to care.
Andrea finally stopped at an abandoned building. Janet leaned against its crumbling front and closed her eyes while her sister investigated inside. She reappeared quickly, motioning for her sister to enter. The moment Janet stepped inside, an indescribable feeling of dread swept over her. Something about the place spooked her. She didn’t dare mention it to Andrea.
If her sister wasn’t afraid then Janet refused to show her fear. They curled up in a dusty corner opposite the scarred front door. Andrea fell asleep right away while Janet shifted uncomfortably on the hard floor. Every time she began drifting off, her ears picked up some extraneous sound and she would snap wide awake. Janet lost track of how long she sat bolt upright, straining her eyes against the inky darkness.
Exhaustion eventually overtook her and she dropped off into an uneasy sleep. Her dreams were troubled by nightmares. The shadowy figure from the woods was chasing them again. This time there was no truck to whisk them away. She could hear his breath huffing. Their footsteps were light and frantic like two frightened rabbits.
Their pursuer’s footsteps seemed to shake the ground. Janet did not want to look back but she couldn’t seem to stop herself. When she turned forward again, Andrea was gone. Janet tripped over a partially buried vine and fell to her knees. She felt a hand clamp down on her shoulder.
Her startled eyes looked into the soulless eyes of the dead man from her sister’s apartment. Janet awoke drenched in sweat. Her heart was racing and she couldn’t seem to catch her breath. Andrea lay beside her sound asleep. Her sister could sleep through an earthquake. Janet decided to get up and watch the sunrise.
She found a scrap of cloth and scrubbed at a grimy windowpane so that she could watch the darkness fade away. Her neck and back were painfully stiff from sleeping in the same uncomfortable condition for hours on end. She tried to work out the kinks with neck rolls until she felt her sister’s hands begin massaging her shoulders. The warmth was comforting in the chilly morning air.
“I’m sorry,” Andrea said.
It came out so softly that for a moment, Janet was sure she was hearing things. Andrea never apologized for anything. That woman would rather gnaw off a limb than admit that she had made a mistake. The apology hung in the air between them. It frightened Janet more than anything that happened the night before. The small, tight sound of her voice conveyed the gravity of their predicament.
At any other time, Janet would gloat and savor the apology and used it as ammunition in the next confrontation. That morning she didn’t say a word. Janet didn’t even turn around. Fear would be swimming in her sister’s eyes again. Instead, Janet waited what seemed like an eternity for her to speak again. She didn’t want to hear it but needed to know as badly as Andrea needed to say it.
“I don’t even know how to begin explaining”
Janet didn’t make it any easier on her. She pursed her lips, refusing to bridge the gap of silence between them. Andrea sighed, drawing out the first words.
“I…guess…I just…fell in with the wrong crowd. It all started innocently enough. You’ve met Steve before right? He was at my apartment two weeks ago watching the game. Steve is the redhead.”
Janet nodded impatiently and motioned for her to continue. She wasn’t at all certain who Steve was but that wasn’t her concern. Andrea smiled sheepishly and continued her story.
“He introduced me to a few of his drinking buddies and their girlfriends. It was fun partying every weekend. I know you think I’m a party girl but I promise you that before meeting Steve, I didn’t go out to clubs that much. He and his friends took good care of me. I never even had to pay for anything. There was never a shortage for cash. My rent was about to come due and I was broke. Steve was really generous with his money. He gave me enough to cover my bills and get some groceries. I didn’t even have to pay him back. All he wanted in return was a favor.”
“You know what Andrea? I don’t think I want to hear anymore. It doesn’t really matter. I just want to go home. I’m tired, cold and hungry. I have to get to a phone and make up a good excuse for my boss.”
“That’s kind of what I’m trying to explain. You can’t go back.”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything wrong. Whatever you did to this Steve guy,” Janet raised a restraining hand to her sister before she could protest. “Alright, whatever Steve and his friends think you did is none of my concern. You shot that guy. I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m going to walk to the nearest gas station or truck stop and call a cab.”
Janet started to walk toward the front door. Andrea was old enough to solve her own problems. What was she supposed to do, devote a lifetime to bailing a grown woman out of jams? Andrea would be alright…wouldn’t she? Janet was almost relieved when her sister reached out to stop her.
“They will kill you if you go back.”
Alarm cut Janet’s breath short. She had to sit down before her legs gave out. It wasn’t true. This just couldn’t be happening! One stupid mistake and all those years of hard work were flushed away. It wasn’t fair! Janet spun around in a fit of rage and smacked Andrea.
“You idiot! How could you do this to me? It wasn’t enough for you to ruin your own pathetic life. You had to drag me into the cesspool!”
“I guess I deserve that,” Andrea murmured.
“You’re damn right you do. If by some miracle we find a way out of this mess alive, I never want to lay eyes on you again!”
Janet was not moved by the tears that sprang to her sister’s eyes. Thirty-two years of pent-up anger and resentment came seething out. She had always drawn comfort from the predictable routine of the nine to five grind. While her sister squandered her youth, Janet was frugal and worked hard. Her diligence was rewarded; she was able to buy a beautiful house, drive an expensive car and had ambitious friends.
In one fell swoop, Andrea had swept all of that away. Janet turned on her heels and strode to the window by the front door, weighing her chances of survival alone. The wounded puppy eyes Andrea was giving her would not work this time. Janet blinked back her own tears and glared out of the window. Life as they knew it was over.