Before He Harms – Blake Pierce

She was nearly slipping with each step, her feet sliding in her open-toed sandals as she ran through the damp field. It was night now, and there were little wisps of mist covering the ground from where the afternoon’s drizzle of rain had passed through. It didn’t seem like much, but she couldn’t help but wonder if that little bit of moisture in the bottom of her sandals was going to be responsible for her death. They had found her. She had no idea how, but they had. The only chance she had of getting through this night alive was getting to Amy. The way she figured it, she had about another two miles of running. If she could make it through this stupid wet field, Amy’s neighborhood was two miles away. Irritated with the slipping and sliding, she stopped long enough to take the sandals off. If she’d had more time to prepare, she would have put on her sneakers but it had all happened so fast… She held the sandals in her right hand and continued to run. It was a bit easier, though her tender feet started to complain instantly about the hard earth beneath the grass. She looked past the pain and ran as hard as she could. She had to get to Amy. She glanced back behind her and saw only the staggered shape of the forest—trees rising and falling in the darkness like some strange graph. If there was someone following her, she could not see them.

She wasn’t naïve enough to think they weren’t on to her, though. Certainly someone was looking for her, making sure she told no one. The field came to an abrupt stop and suddenly, she found herself leaping across a ditch and onto a two-lane road. When she landed on the road, she skidded a bit, the tar biting into her heels. She looked to her right and saw the glow of streetlights in the distance. Amy would be there, somewhere in the midst of all of that glowing. This knowledge had her legs pumping even though they were screaming in pain from the several miles she had already run through the forest and the fields to get here. She ran down the road, figuring there was at least half a mile between her and those glowing lights. She thought of her cell phone, lost somewhere back in the forest, and thought of how easy it would be to just call. She could have cried at the frustration.

As she ran, she did allow herself to cry. She ran and wept and dug deep into her lungs for her next breath. Somehow, she came to the neighborhood. Her legs felt like jelly and she was so out of breath that she saw little black fireworks in her field of vision. But that was okay, because she was here now. She’d get to Amy. Amy would know what to do. She wasn’t sure if it was even worth trying to contact the police, but that might not matter. All she needed to do was to get in touch with Amy. The thought of it was a relief.

She nearly started calling Amy’s name as she neared her house. Just four or five more houses down and she’d be safe. The streetlights were rather dim thanks to the mist from the recent rain and the entire neighborhood looked like something out of a horror movie, but Amy’s house was up there somewhere like a lighthouse. She was putting so much focus on the shape of the houses that she did not hear the purring engine behind her. When she finally heard the car, she looked over her shoulder. When she saw it screaming toward her with its headlights off, she tried dashing hard to the right, but it did little good. The car struck her hard on the right side. Everything went numb for a moment as she did half a cartwheel three feet in the air. But the pain all came racing on in a fury when she struck the pavement. Her head rocked off of the road and the world went mostly black.

This was why she was unable to see the face of the figure that parked the car in the middle of the street, got out, and pulled a knife on her. She knew the person was slitting her throat, but the pain in her head and back blissfully masked that one particular pain. The life went rushing out of her as the killer walked back to their car. He and the car were both gone as she took her last breath on the rain-slicked road. CHAPTER TWO The apartment smelled like rosemary and lemon as dinner cooked on the stove, the first bottle of wine had been opened, and The Cure was playing on Spotify. To any random visitor, it might appear as if Mackenzie White was having a splendid afternoon. But what they would not see was the internal struggle and the anxiousness that had her nerves and stomach on edge. The chicken was done and the asparagus was in the oven. Mackenzie sipped from a glass of red wine, trying to find something to do. Ellington was on the living room floor with Kevin, reading him a book.

He looked up at her and rolled his eyes. When he came to an appropriate stopping point— where the Poky Little Puppy once again crawled under the fence—he hefted Kevin up in his arms and entered the kitchen. “It’s just your mother,” he said. “You’re acting like we’re about to visited by the IRS or something.” “You’ve haven’t met her,” Mackenzie said. “She anything like you?” “Aside from the whole abandonment thing, yeah.” “Then I’m sure she’s fine. You just tell me how much charm I need to lay on.” “Not too much. She won’t get your jokes.

” “I take it back then,” Ellington said. “I hate the woman already.” He kissed Kevin’s forehead and shrugged. “She does have the right to meet her grandson, though. Aren’t you at all glad she wants to be involved?” “I want to be. But it’s hard for me to trust her.” “I get that,” Ellington said. “I don’t exactly get the warm fuzzies when it come to my mom either.” “Yes, but at least she came knocking when you had a child, right?” “That she did. But let’s not assume that’s a good thing.

It might be years before we realize the traumatic impact that has on Kevin.” “I’m not joking here, E. The woman is toxic. She’s just—” She trailed off, not sure of how to end the comment. She’s just what? Selfish would be a fitting word. Immature would be another. The woman had essentially closed herself off after her husband had been killed and, as such, Mackenzie and her sister had been left without much of a mother-figure at all. “She’s your mother,” Ellington said. “And I’m excited to meet her.” “I’ll remind you of those words about an hour into her visit.

” They shared a kiss and Ellington returned to the living room to continue reading about the misadventures of the Poky Little Puppy. Mackenzie listened in as she sipped from her wine again and started to set the table. She glanced to the clock, noting that there were only six minutes left before her mother was set to show up. She had to admit, dinner smelled delicious and Kevin was looking more adorable than ever. He was getting too damned old for her liking. He was pulling himself up and scooting; they were fully expecting him to take his first steps any day now. It was a good reminder of how long it had been since she’d seen her mother. Her son was about to walk now and her mother hadn’t— A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. She gave Ellington a startled look, to which he grinned, picked Kevin back up, and extended his free hand toward her. He’d been free of the cast from his previous injuries for about a week now, and it was good to see him using both arms comfortably.

She took it and he pulled her to him. “You take down some of the roughest people our society has to offer,” he reminded her. “Certainly you can make it through this.” She nodded, and they walked together to the door. When they answered it, Mackenzie had to take a moment to collect her thoughts. Her mother looked beautiful. She had taken care of herself in the months that had passed since she’d last seen her; Mackenzie thought that might have been almost a year at this point but wasn’t quite sure. She looked healthy and actually happy. Her hair was done nicely and she looked maybe ten years younger than her actual age of fifty-three. “Hey, Mom,” Mackenzie said.

“You look nice.” “You do, too.” She looked past Mackenzie and then to Ellington, holding Kevin. “Sorry,” she said. “We haven’t officially met.” Watching her mother and Ellington shake hands was beyond surreal. And when Mackenzie saw Kevin studying the strange woman at their doorstep, her heart broke a bit. She had given something of an open invitation to her mother a little less than a year ago when she had gone out to Nebraska to tell her she was a grandmother. And it had taken her this long to take her up on it. To her credit, though, she had declined Mackenzie’s offer to pay for the plane fare.

“Come on in, Mom,” Mackenzie said. Patricia White stepped into her daughter’s apartment as if she were entering some sort of cathedral —with reverence and respect. As soon as the door was closed behind her, she looked at Kevin and then, with tears in her eyes, back to Mackenzie. “Can I hold him?” “You’re his grandmother,” Mackenzie said. “Of course you can.” When Ellington handed Kevin over, he did so without any hesitation. He was watching his motherin-law’s expression of awe and gratitude with the same focus as Mackenzie. While Mackenzie was glad to see her mother holding Kevin, there was certainly something surreal about it all. “He looks just like you,” Patricia said to her daughter. “A good thing,” Ellington said with a chuckle.

Mackenzie led her mother deeper into her apartment, bringing her into the living room. They sat down together, Mackenzie and Ellington sharing a look over Patricia’s head as they settled down. Ellington gave her an I-told-you-so look which she returned with a scowl. “You didn’t already check into a hotel, did you?” Mackenzie asked. “I did. Already dropped my stuff off.” She never took her eyes away from Kevin as she spoke. Mackenzie wasn’t sure she had ever seen her mother smile so big in her life. “You didn’t have to do that, Mom. I told you that you’re welcome to stay here.

” “I know,” she said, finally taking her eyes away from her grandson as she bounced him on her knee. “But you both have busy jobs and I didn’t want to get in the way. Besides, I have a hot tub in my room for tonight and some sightseeing to do tomorrow. I’ve never been to DC before, so…” She stopped here, as if that ended the entire conversation. And as far as Mackenzie was concerned, it did. “Well, dinner is just about ready,” Mackenzie said. “Another few minutes. The table is already set if we want to move in there.” They did just that, Patricia taking Kevin with her as Ellington moved Kevin’s highchair to the edge of the dining table. As they all settled in, Ellington pouring wine for himself and Patricia, Mackenzie brought the dinner in bit by bit.

She’d always had something of a knack for cooking, but she had to stick to simple things. Tonight’s offering was a simple four-ingredient rosemary-lemon chicken with potatoes and asparagus. Patricia looked as it as if this, too, surprised her. “You know how to cook?” she asked. “Somewhat. I’m not great.” “She’s being modest,” Ellington said. “She always was.” And just like that, dinner began. The conversation was a bit awkward, but not painful.

Ellington spent most of the time talking, letting Patricia know more about him: where he was raised, how long he’d been an agent, and his version of how his relationship with her daughter had started. Mackenzie was also surprised at how much it meant to her when her mother complimented her cooking. The entire time, Kevin sat in his highchair, eating little bits of chicken that Mackenzie cut off for him. He was getting quite good at feeding himself with his hands, but a good amount of food still ended up on the floor. By the time everyone’s plate had been cleaned and the bottle of wine was empty, Mackenzie realized that there was a very good chance this was not going to be the train wreck she had feared. With dinner over, Ellington tidied up Kevin and gave him a few yogurt melts before clearing off the table. Mackenzie sat across from her mother while the sounds of Ellington filling the dishwasher came from the kitchen. “I don’t suppose you’ve spoken with your sister lately?” Patricia said. “No. The last time we spoke, you said she was in LA, right?” “Yes.

And if that’s changed, she hasn’t reached out to speak with me. I swear, it seems like she just became even more distant once you wrapped the case concerning your father. I never understood how she—” She was interrupted by a knock at the apartment door…which was curious, because it was rare that she and Ellington ever got visitors. “Babe, can you get that?” Ellington called from the kitchen. “I’m elbow-deep in dirty dishes.” “One second, Mom,” Mackenzie said, getting up from the table. She gave Kevin a playful little tweak on the nose as she passed by. She was surprised at how well this was going. She might even dare say she was enjoying the visit. The afternoon was going remarkably well.

She answered the door with a slight spring her step. Yet, when she answered it, the spring snapped and the real world came roaring back toward her. “Hello, Mackenzie,” said the woman at the door. Mackenzie tried on a fake smile that didn’t quite fit. “Hey, E,” she called out over her shoulder. “Your mom is here.”

.

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