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He never told me I was pretty. Not once. He said he didn’t like the word because it felt empty. He said pretty felt like a high school cheerleader or a twirling ballerina trapped in a music box.

He called me beautiful.

I felt beautiful that night when he searched for my eyes behind the veil when we walked down the aisle. His hands were soft and warm, but his “I do” was softer and warmer. He'd been the first stable thing in my life. It had all been unfocused and swirling until he tapped my shoulder at Balducci’s two years ago.

“Kiera?”

He never said how he’d known my name, just that he’d seen my hair from across the floor and felt drawn to say hello. He was older, he dressed smartly, and stood with his shoulders back. We moved in together two months after that. There wasn’t a moment he didn’t dedicate to me. Not a second he wasted in pleasing me. A million memories flashed before my eyes as I repeated the phrase back to him.

“I do.”

It all melted away after that. We laughed and danced. He handed me drinks with the same glitter in his eye that he’d had every second of the last seven-hundred and thirty-four days and nights. My sisters hugged me and my parents shined their knowing gaze, proud. He didn’t bring anyone, but he’d grown so close to my family that he didn’t need to. They adored his good cheer and charming outlook. I was excited for that night. I was the happiest I’d been since senior year. He said he had somewhere special to take me, his whisper close in my ear. I shivered with anticipation. He rolled the top down on his convertible as we drove across the coastal mountain roads, the warm breeze, and smell of the sea fresh in our faces. Just the two of us. We didn’t drive long, he parked in front of a warmly lit oceanside cottage. I’d always told him I loved the water so I couldn’t help the goosebumps running up my arm as he took my hand, leading me out of the leather seat. Inside was a kitchenette, a small dining table, and a sofa overlooking a huge floor to ceiling window displaying the waves softly lapping the waterside rocks. Their white peaks just visible in the moonlight. I followed him into the bedroom, my skin tingling with the perfection of everything. The room was small, just a rustic wood frame bed and an empty bookcase against the wall. He kissed me, and quietly locked the door behind us. I sat on the bed, gazing at his intrepid figure as if for the first time. He leaned in close to my ear and whispered, low:

“Kiera, I want to show you something.”

“Close your eyes.”

He smiled.

I smiled.

I listened, grinning with closed eyelids as dragged something across the floor before taking my hand and insisting.

“Follow me.”

Still visionless, I walked where he guided me, goosebumps washing across my skin. I stepped across a threshold, as if through a doorway I hadn’t seen before. He let go of my hand and wrapped his arms around my waist.

“Keep your eyes closed Kiera, it’s almost ready. I love you.”

I recalled the night he took me stargazing, the back of my eyelids serving as the black sky in my mind. I heard him drag something across the floor again, the grating sound of wood on wood interrupting my daydream. I felt him come back in close to me, take my hands and whisper just as softly:

“Open your eyes.”

I shivered, my goosebumps stayed, but this time for different reasons. The floor here was cold, granite. There was one window, the moonlight from which illuminated an array of old looking farm tools strewn across the ground. There were scythes, hammers, shovels, cinder blocks, and a box of black garbage bags on its side in the corner. I tried to speak, to just stammer even, but all that came out was a little pathetic cough. He spoke to me, not whispering this time:

“Kiera, do you know what’s going to happen tonight?”

I didn’t...

No.

I couldn’t answer.

“Kiera, I’m going to hurt you.”

“Then I’m going to cut you and put you into one of those bags. See, those ones, there.”

“I’m going to put that bag into another one so that it doesn’t rip.”

“Then I’m going to push you out that window, into the ocean.”

“You love the ocean, right?”

A million memories flashed before my eyes as I turned my head slowly, crying, to look at his face. But my vision was drawn to something behind him instead. A steel bar hung from the ceiling ribbed with coat hangers, laden with rows and rows and rows of blood smeared white wedding dresses.