Despite her innocence in the matter, Tricia was the type of person who blamed herself for her problems beyond her control. When her parents divorced sophomore year, she took to wearing black, and I could hear her muttering and pinching herself behind me in class. She had an edginess to her, an exuded unbalance that entered her conversations and hinted at instability. Sometimes she muttered, mainly unintelligible and barely audible sentences that I learned to tune out. Her friends never lasted longer than a week, and everyone, even the bullies, took care to avoid her in the crowded hallways.
Everyone, that is, except for Brendan.
Brendan had the body to become the school fullback if he had not discovered moonshine when he was twelve. And by fifteen, though he was failing chemistry, he had learned how to brew it in his backyard. Though nothing was proved, two terriers belonging to his old lady neighbor, Miss Reed, went missing around when he was seventeen, and he often used squirrels and birds for target practice with his pellet gun. When I walked home from school I took the long route rather than crossing his house, even though I was the same size as him. Like Tricia, he was a social outcast, but from fear rather than discomfort.
Junior year Brandon started dating Tricia, and before long Tricia started wearing turtlenecks more frequently. The pair were seen, or rather heard, most in the school parking lot, where their arguments would last well into the start of school and much longer after hours.
Towards the end of Senior year, their relationship came to an abrupt end when Brandon’s homemade moonshine distillery erupted in flames. Word traveled around school that there was a malfunction, some of the glass shattered, and he was spewed with burning ninety five percent alcohol mist. Third degree burns covered his body and in his panic he fell, snapping one of the vertebra in his lower neck. Rumor was he was confined to a wheelchair, and the fire had damaged his ability to speak.
That was the last time I heard Brandon, and Tricia dropped out of school soon after.
Along with remainder of my class, I went to college, then I found a job at an accounting firm nearby. It was a Friday, nearing closing hour, and I monitored the clock on the right corner of my computer screen. An hour until five.
“Come on, Bill.” Said my boss, a man in his early thirties with a grey suit that made him look much older, “You’ve just been promoted yesterday. Take the day off early. I hear third floor is going out tonight, and you should join them. Loosen up, celebrate a little.”
“Sure thing,” I said, relieved, and left the office. The plan was to meet at Murphy’s, an irish pub down the street, and I arrived shortly afterward. By nine I was drunk, and by ten the rest of the group accidentally left me behind while I was in the restroom.
But as I left to follow them, I felt a hand on my elbow.
“Why Bill,” Said a female voice, “It’s been so long. How have you been?”
I turned and squinted, trying to make out the face in the dimly lit pub. Her features looked familiar, but hard to place.
“It’s Tricia. From high school. You remember me, right?”
And at that moment, I did. But she was no longer the edgy girl with the ability to stagnate an entire room’s conversation in seconds. Now she seemed confident, even beautiful.
“Wow, Tricia. You’ve changed.”
She smiled, something I had never seen before.
“I learned to be more assertive. Guess I stopped blaming myself for all of my problems. I learned how to cope with them.”
And for the next hour, I did something I never would have thought possible with high school Tricia. I talked to her. And drank with her. Then, in another hour, as the liquor loosened me up, I found myself getting into a cab with her.
We pulled into a single story home, separated by from the neighboring houses by a lot on either side.
“You know,” She said, as she unlocked the door and it creaked open, “Life really turned around for me.”
“It really did,” I said, following her to her to her bedroom. It smelled a little odd, like a mixed trace of cleaning materials or something that made me think of high school biology, but my mind was preoccupied with the situation. She left the lights off and shut the door behind her.
I sat on the end of her bed and she kissed me, straddling me with both legs, and I could barely see her nose in front of me it was so dark. Then she stopped, leaned back so that her black hair framed her cheek bones, and asked me a question in a tone that made me stop and reconsider the events of the night.
“You’ll never leave me?”
“You’ll never leave me. That’s how I changed, learning to deal with things that tried to leave me.”
“I, I don’t know Ticia. Really I just met you again.”
“You don’t know? Promise me you’ll never leave.” She repeated, and her nails dug into my ribcage, “Promise me, Brandon.”
Her eyes locked on mine, and I saw beneath the edginess from high school. I tried to stand, but she pushed me back down, her weight on my legs. My spine began to tingle.
“I think I need to go.”
“I’ll keep you here,” She whispered, and tightened herself around me and reaching over my shoulder while holding my hand, “No, you won’t, Brandon. You won’t leave me again.”
With that I pushed her away from me and successfully rose. But as she fell off I heard a click, felt a tightening on my wrist, and realized what she had been reaching for. Handcuffs to the bedpost.
“Tricia,” I said, backing away, but the handcuffs kept me at a close distance, “You need to unlock these. I really need to go.”
But she laughed, and I heard her speech resume to the muttering of her high school self.
“I’ll keep you here like the two terrier dogs that tried to leave me in highschool. Still in a box under the bed.”
I yanked on the chain but the bedpost held, though the metal cuff cut into the wood. She stepped closer.
“I’ll keep you here like when you tried to leave my that first time, then I lit your distiller and broke your neck.”
“Get away from me,” I yelled, batting her hands away. Then I noticed she had stopped advancing and was looking over my shoulder. I turned, and my vision had adjusted to see a chair in the corner.
Except it wasn’t just a chair. It was a wheelchair.
And in that wheelchair there was the remains of a human, covered in a transparent sheet and its wrists and ankles strapped down with leather belts. A fresh tv dinner was in its lap, and the skull’s eyes met mine, as a voice whispered in my ear.
“I’ll keep you here like four years ago when you got your speech back, and tried to call outside, and I had to keep you quiet with the frying pan.” And I heard her voice break. “I had to. I had no choice.”
The she sniffed as I stood still, as paralyzed as the corpse of Brandon before me had once been.
“Brandon can’t satisfy me anymore. But you can. You can be my Brandon.” She muttered, then kissed my neck in a motion that broke my inaction.
I yanked again at the cuffs and the wood cracked, the cuffs cutting into my skin. With another yank it splintered, and I was free, sprinting towards the door and into the night. Behind me, I left a trail of blood from my wrist, and Tricia’s sobbing words.
“Don’t leave me, Brandon. You know what I do to things that leave.”