Chapter Ten: The End Begins
This is it.
I breathe in and out slowly, trying to calm my nerves. I'm sitting at a small table in a secluded corner of the bar where I'm supposed to be meeting Brandon. Every piece is in place. Mum's at home with the boys. I told her I had a work meeting tonight. My mobile is fully charged and ready to record. All I have to do is fake getting a text so I can start recording, which'll be easy since the noise in here will mean Brandon won't question the missing ringtone and vibration. I've put a lot more thought into tonight than I did for my first try. It's going to happen. By the end of the night, I'll have what I need to put Brandon in jail. Tomorrow after work I'll go to the station and give Sergeant Myers the evidence he needs. And at long last, I won't be the prime suspect anymore. I won't even be a second tier suspect, because everyone will know that Brandon killed my wife.
I sigh, rubbing my eyes and staring moodily at a small scratch in the wood of the table. I've never liked places like this. They remind me too much of my father. He'd always disappear off to the pub after beating my mother. I'd hear the front door slam and wait a few minutes in scared silence. Once I was sure he wouldn't come back, I'd toddle into the next room. Mum would be sitting against the wall, broken and bruised, sometimes even unconscious. If she was awake she'd draw me into her arms and sob loudly, telling me how she was a failure as a wife and a mother and he had every right to be angry at her. I never knew what to do, so I'd just bury my face in her shirt and cry. We'd stay that way for long time. Sometimes we'd still be there when he staggered back home in the early hours of the morning. Mum would hold me tightly as he stumbled past into their bedroom, too out of it to notice our presence.
I take a sip of my drink, exhaling loudly and running my teeth over my bottom lip. The bar Brandon chose is full of people laughing, talking, flirting and drinking the night away, even though most of them probably have to go to work tomorrow morning. But I suppose they don't care about that. They're too happy to care. Meanwhile, here I am, fitting the cliché perfectly of the moody, lonely widower who sits in the corner of the lively pub, drowning his sorrows in alcohol and memories. Of course, I'm about fifteen years younger than the usual suspect and the drink in my hand is water, but it still fits. Sort of, anyway.
I look up to see Brandon standing before me. His dark hair is windswept, his cheeks pink from the cold outside but his eyes are bright and dazzling.
"Sorry I'm late," he mutters, averting his gaze from mine. I shrug, shifting my legs under the table. Brandon coughs, sliding into the chair opposite from mine. A lot of women turn to look at him, nudging each other and whispering to their friends. And why wouldn't they? He's handsome and he's got that exotic dark-haired blue-eyed combination people love. It doesn't help that he's almost two metres tall, with muscles that practically bulge out of his short-sleeved t-shirt. Any woman – or man – who swings that way would want him.
No heads turn for me. Compared to Brandon, I'm… Insignificant. Plain. Boring. I never deserved someone like her.
You're wrong. She never deserved you, not the other –
"Would you like a drink?" Brandon asks, distracting me. His eyes catch mine and he attempts an awkward smile, drumming his fingers nervously against the table.
I shake my head. "No."
Brandon raises his eyebrows slightly, but he nods. Let's face it, I'm probably the first Australian over the age of eighteen he's met who doesn't drink. I watch him as he goes up to the counter to order. When I'm sure he's not looking I take out my phone and press record. I feel like I should say something so I give a little introduction.
"My name is Nate Jackson," I say in a low voice, holding the mobile up to my mouth so I don't have to speak loudly and look like I'm going senile. "I'm recording this on the 30th of August, 2015 to give Sergeant Myers proof that Brandon Spencer murdered Lauren Miller –"
I jump, dropping my phone to the ground with a loud clatter.
"You weren't gone very long," I mutter, bending over to pick the mobile up. I quickly check it's still recording before slipping it in my pocket.
Brandon shrugs, sitting down again and taking a sip of his drink. "I got lucky, I suppose. There wasn't much of a line."
He clears his throat. "Anyway, I… Thanks. For agreeing to meet me like this. I know we're not – Well, I'm – I know you probably wish we'd never met."
I don't answer him. What is there to say? It's the truth. My life would be a whole lot better if it weren't for Brandon. Lauren would still be alive, for starters.
"Listen, Nate," Brandon continues, his eyebrows slightly creased as he looks at me. "I… I am sorry."
"Yes, you keep saying that," I say dryly, leaning back and folding my arms across my chest.
Brandon coughs, shifting his legs. "I know, but – I really mean it. And I'm sorry I have to ask this, but... Nate, I have to know. Please, let me do a paternity test."
I suck in my breath. I knew it was coming, ever since I saw him at the funeral, but even so the words tumbling from Brandon's mouth stab at my heart. The last thing I want to do is talk about this, but I have no choice. Otherwise, I'll never get Brandon to stay long enough to confess.
Oblivious, Brandon continues. "I didn't even know she'd had another baby until a month ago, but… Well, she would've gotten pregnant around the time we were together, right? Even if it's only a small chance, I… Please Nate, let me do this and you'll never hear from me again."
I exhale loudly, clenching my fists under the table. "And what if it says you're the father?"
"Well – yes, I suppose you'll hear from me if it does. But it's unlikely anyway, I… Lauren was always careful about that."
I shift my feet, trying to breathe normally even though there's a huge lump in my throat. I swallow, but it stubbornly persists. It's been just over a year, but it still hurts just as much when I first saw them together. I stare up at the ceiling, willing myself to keep my composure. I can't cry now, not in front of him and all these other people. I've tried so hard, ever since Connor was born, to care for him. And I do, but… I can't love him as much as I love Max. That's the truly horrible thing. He's only a baby. He didn't ask to be born under these circumstances. He deserves a father who can love him properly. And even though he's just as likely to be my son, I can't help but see Brandon whenever I look at him. But I can't blame Lauren. She loved me, I know she did, it's… it's Brandon's fault, it has to be. And mine.
That's not it at all. Why do you blame yourself? It was nothing to do with you, Nate.
Of course it was!If I'd… If I'd been a good enough husband, she wouldn't have had an affair. It's obvious.
You're wrong. She's the bitch who –
"So what do you say?" Brandon prompts. "Will you – will you do it?"
I give a shaky sigh, closing my eyes. I have to do it. I have to get it over with. If I don't say it now, I never will.
"You killed her," I say, my voice cracking.
Brandon frowns, his eyebrows knotting. "What?"
I clench my fists and look up so I'm staring directly at him. "You killed Lauren."
Brandon's eyes widen. He shakes his head slowly. "No I didn't. Why would I –"
"You were jealous, that's why," I say, my voice rising. I know half the people around us are listening in but I don't care. Let them listen, let them hear how this man murdered my wife. "Jealous because she chose to go back to me. So you broke into our house and stabbed her in the back. Did it – did you think it was funny? Cutting off her head and leaving her the way you did?"
Brandon just keeps shaking his head. "I – Come on, Nate. You're not making any sense. I know you're upset, but you can't blame –"
"Yes you did!" I snarl, standing up and slamming my hands on the table. He flinches back in shock. "Don't lie to me! I know it was you, Brandon. And what do you mean, you know I'm upset? Of course I'm fucking upset. You murdered Lauren!"
The tables around us have started to whisper under their breath. Brandon glances at them, chewing his lip.
"You need to calm down," he says in a low voice. "People are staring –"
"I don't fucking care if they're staring or not!" I say, my voice reaching pitches higher than I thought it was capable of. "Stop acting like you haven't done anything wrong. You slept with my wife, you – you killed her, and you have the nerve to saunter in here and ask me for a paternity test, it's… it's disgusting. You're disgusting."
"I didn't –"
"Just admit it!"
"I can't admit to something I didn't do!" Brandon says, his voice rising. "Why would I kill Lauren? I loved her! You're acting crazy."
He stands up, almost knocking his drink over in the process. "I didn't come here to be accused. And… I have every right to know if I'm Connor's father. I'll contact you when you've gained some sense."
He grabs his wallet and storms out of the pub. I watch him leave, clenching my fists even tighter so my fingernails dig into my palms. How dare he say that to me! He's acting like he did nothing wrong. He knew perfectly well she was married. How dare he act so fucking innocent, like everything's some great big misunderstanding. And he killed her. He murdered her because she went back to me. I stand up, my face hot with anger, my heart rate accelerating rapidly. I'll make him confess if it's the last thing I –
As I storm towards the door, something happens. My body collapses for a moment and I lose connection with reality. The colour of the world fades and the voices of the pub's occupants become a faint buzzing noise. For a moment I think I'm about to faint, but my legs move by themselves and soon I'm exiting the pub, making my way down the street towards the alleyway I've just seen Brandon slip in to. Panic grips my body as it moves on its own accord. What's going on? Why can't I control myself? This is just like my dream, where I – please, I don't want to –
"Brandon." My voice rings clearly through the air. I'm standing at the top of the alleyway, and Brandon's at the other end in front of a mostly deserted road. A car horn toots as it passes, but the sound is blurry and detached. Brandon stops in his tracks and turns to face me, glancing at his watch. Another car comes into view, whizzing along behind him.
"I'm sorry for what I said." I feel my lips stretch into a sheepish smile. "I guess I've been pretty crazy lately, what with… Well, you know."
"It's okay," Brandon mutters. "I – I understand. Honestly, I think I'd feel the same if I were you."
My eyes flicker to the road before him. A large Subaru turns onto the road a few streets away from us, accelerating slowly. No. Not that, I don't want –
"I'll get in contact about the paternity test," my voice says. "It's the right thing to do."
"I… Thanks, Nate," Brandon says tremulously. "I – I know it's hard, but… I won't forget –"
My hands reach out and shove him squarely on the chest. Brandon coughs and stumbles backwards into the path of the now speeding Subaru. His body contorts as the car hits him and he's thrown over the bonnet. The squeal of brakes cuts through the air and the car swerves, but it's too late. Brandon rolls off the bonnet and lands on the road, his right arm sticking out at an odd angle. The driver gets out of the car and runs to him, swearing at the top of his voice. Brandon coughs, his breathing ragged as blood seeps from a deep gash on his stomach.
I want to run over to him. I want to help. But instead my body turns around and runs back through the alleyway before the driver notices I'm there.