David leaving me.
Jeff cheating on me.
Jessica and Lydia stabbing me in the back.
Adam lying about me.
Becky believing him.
Kate and her friends. She wanted Mason back. All of them hurting me.
And now Helen. I knew she didn’t want me to be with Mason. Everyone knew it. It was another obstacle in our relationship. I felt it coming, so did Mason, but neither of us knew how to stop it before it began.
By the time I remembered everything, all that old anger had mixed with the adrenalin from my run. I was heated. I was sick and tired of being hurt, being shoved down, being pushed around, being punched, stabbed, and being replaced.
“Ben.” My voice was firm.
He settled down and nodded.
“Turn your cameras off in the front. There can’t be any evidence of me.”
“There won’t, but,” he hesitated, “what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to distract him.”
“Okay.” Another beat of hesitation. “What do you want me to do?”
“Wait until I light it before you call the fire station.”
“Okay.” He rushed back inside.
I waited a second.
He rushed back out. “Light what?”
I took a deep breath. “I need some gasoline.”
His eyes popped out, but he went inside and brought back two full red containers and handed them over without a word. This was the time when I was making the decision to help someone else. This could cost me my life. I had no idea, but he was hurting another girl, and I couldn’t let that happen. There was no way I could walk away from it without losing a piece of my soul, so I took the two containers of gasoline Ben gave me, and I carried them to Budd’s truck. It was hidden, and I had no doubt that he was going to use the running trail to slip past the cameras and drive away.
That pissed me off even more. I had no idea why, but he wanted to get away with it, using my trails. Everyone got away with screwing people over.
Not this time.
I didn’t touch the truck, but I doused the entire thing with gasoline. When I was done, I heard Kate cry out again. He was still doing whatever it was he was doing. I closed my eyes and pulled my sleeves over my hands. I wiped down the containers. Ben told me to do that. He said they could maybe get my finger prints off of them. I had no idea what he was going to say when the police would come. He said he would turn the cameras off. He was an accomplice, but he told me not to worry about it. He had my back. Apparently, he had my back the entire time. Budd kept coming back to the gas station and questioned Ben about Mason’s girlfriend. He never told him, not once. I could only imagine what Budd must’ve put him through.
I’d never come to Quickie’s again without being thankful.
“Oh … God …” Kate moaned, but not the good kind. It was the kind that reached inside a person’s darkest parts and took root.
I moved far enough away before I flipped the lighter and bent down. Grabbing some old branches, I put the flame to them and waited. My heart was pounding in my chest and everything went to slow motion then.
I was going to do this.
I kept hearing her cries.
“You should’ve quit school today. I gave you your last out.”
My thumb slipped off the lighter, but I couldn’t move. I remained crouched down, the lighter to the tree branch and my hand never trembled.
This isn’t payback. This is your punishment.
She wanted to destroy me, but she had only hurt me. I fought back. When I was down, I got back up. She hadn’t destroyed me.
Shut up and get her.
I dropped the lighter. My hand jerked as I felt their first hit, their first punch, their first kick, and when I dropped to the ground. I felt them again. They were closing in on me. I’d been so close to escaping.
You can’t kill her. Let’s go.
When would she have stopped? She had wanted to do more damage that night. Her friends stopped her and he was hurting her now, but it didn’t matter. He was killing her on the inside. I heard her cries and I knew that agony. It had been me, but at her hands.
I reached for the lighter again. This time there was no wavering and I waited until the branch was burning before I tossed it towards the truck. Then I ran.
When he saw the fire, Ben was supposed to call the fire station and the cops. I wasn’t going to wait and see the fireworks. I needed to leave. As I sprinted across the road and over to the next running trail that would take me back to Malinda’s, I froze for a second.
Kate saw me. Even from this distance, I could see the pain in her eyes.
They were right there, pressed against the side of the wall. He had taken her near the dumpster, but I could see them. A passing car wouldn’t be able to, and I knew that was why he chose that spot. Only someone walking or running by would see them.
He had a hand to her throat and another hand between their bodies. I didn’t know what he was doing, and I didn’t want to know.
The explosion had enough force to it to push me back, but I didn’t look away.
Budd let her go, and he ran around the side of the gas station. “What the hell?!”
Kate pushed herself up, but she didn’t look away from me. Her hair was matted, and she had scrapes over her face. It was red from where he had slapped her. Her throat was already bruising, but she mouthed, “Thank you.”
I jerked my head in a nod. She had hurt me and I had saved her. The irony was not lost on me, but I didn’t wait to see what else happened next. I took off. As I pushed up another hill, just nearing the trail to Malinda’s, I heard sirens in the distance. I couldn’t help myself so I stopped and looked down. There was a tiny opening between some trees so I could see Quickie’s. The flames had lifted high in the air, but that wasn’t what I cared about. Budd was pacing back and forth.