She strode across the grass, rounding a couple of picnic blankets, and proceeded to the patio. There were people all around. Despite the fact Abbie had just attacked and dropped into a hedge one of their friends or at least acquaintances, no one looked her way. No one seemed interested. Too busy drinking or laughing or enjoying those few minutes of fun that preceded missed periods and floods of tears.
From the patio, Abbie passed through the open double doors into the dining room. At the table sat two girls and a guy playing some card game or other. Ignoring them as they ignored her, Abbie moved into the kitchen, which was devoid of life, past the booze, and back into the living room.
There were as many people present as when first Abbie had passed through. This time, a couple were slow dancing to a song that could not have been less appropriate for such a dance. In contrast, the drug takers had ceased snorting and were now lying on the floor, staring at the plain ceiling as though it was a starry sky.
A dimmer switch on one wall controlled the lights. Someone had turned it low to give the impression of a nightclub’s lighting. Despite this and the head-splitting music volume, Abbie quickly scanned and made out each face in the room and ascertained that none were Toby Delaney or the teenage girl.
This was to be expected but was frustrating nonetheless.
When scanning faces, a couple of drunk teenagers met Abbie’s eye. One blew her a kiss while a suspicious girl with bleach blonde hair stood. She looked as though she might begin a similar line of enquiry with Abbie as had Brian. Keen to keep the number of assaults she committed to a minimum and wary that Brian might at any second chase her into the house, Abbie averted her eyes from the blonde and moved back into the hall.
The front entrance remained ajar. The door to the small toilet off this hall was open. A teenage boy sat on the loo, trousers down, with a swaying girl on his lap. Abbie met the guy’s eye.
“Remember to wipe,” she said and moved on.
Leaving the front door behind, Abbie reached the bottom of the staircase before another wave of memories smashed into her like a herd of wildebeest.
Abbie’s eyes closed, though she was sure she hadn’t demanded they do so. She saw this same hall all those years ago. Having already taken a significant risk in sneaking from her bedroom and defying her frightening mother, Abbie had promised herself she would not make matters worse by drinking. But she was enamoured with the handsome Harry. When he placed his hand on her shoulder and pleaded gently with her to have just one, to keep him company, she had been unable to say no. After all, one drink couldn’t hurt, could it?
Back then, Abbie hadn’t the willpower she now did. Maybe her present ability to resist pressure, both peer and internal, came from what had transpired that night. Harry placed a drink in her hands, and Abbie sipped it while trying to involve herself in conversation with Harry and his friends. To prove to her dream guy that she was not a loser. That she was worth his time.
The drink went unfinished. Before long, Abbie felt strange. She told Harry and allowed him to convince her she needed to lie down upstairs. Abbie had been more than happy to let him take her hand. Had not considered what she was doing until she reached the hall and looked up the stairs towards the landing.
She had stopped on the bottom step. The same one on which the adult Abbie’s foot now rested. Her mother had come to mind, and Abbie had considered what wicked trouble she’d be in if mum learned she had not only snuck out but that she had allowed a boy to take her upstairs to his room.
Taking a breath, twenty-nine-year-old Abbie clenched a fist then pushed out the mid-knuckle of her left-hand index finger. This hand she brought to her mouth and this knuckle she clasped between her teeth.
While watching a ghostly memory-Harry coax the nervous sixteen-year-old Abbie up the stairs; adult Abbie bit upon that knuckle and clamped her teeth together until the pain overwhelmed the past.
When she pulled the finger away, there were clear indents where her teeth had tried to bite through the finger. There was no blood, but the aching pain had washed away the memory of sixteen-year-old Abbie, the girl who had allowed the handsome boy to lead her up the stairs towards his room.
Almost fourteen years later, Abbie began to retrace those steps, moving from the ground to the first floor of Ian Delaney’s home.
The corridor above was wide, and there were turns at both ends leading to more rooms out of sight.
How many doors were up here? Abbie guessed at least ten. Nine bedrooms and a bathroom. There might be more bathrooms, but many rooms would have en-suites, so two bathrooms would probably be the max beyond those.
In which room did Toby sleep? Where was he now?
Abbie saw those ghostly memories—her and Harry—move up the hall and turn the corner. As a result of the substance that Harry had slipped into Abbie’s drink, her memory of that night was blurred, faded. All was pretty clear until she reached the upstairs landing. Abbie could recall Harry leading her into his room and lying her down, but it was fuzzy. Fuzzier still when he returned with an indeterminate number of friends. She remembered him undressing her. After that, it was mere snatches from the rest of the night. Different faces. Different positions. Tears.
What Abbie could remember was enough to tear at her heart and soul. She was thankful most of the memories of that night were corrupted or missing altogether.
Abbie’s dreams had taken her to the doors of many strangers whose lives were in peril. She had saved the vast majority of these people. But not all. She suffered nightmares of the ones she had failed. She watched their demise night after night after night. All in glorious HD. The sight, the sounds, the smells, it was as though she was there, and it took everything she had not to allow those nightmares to destroy her.
If she could remember the night of her sixteenth birthday in such clarity, it would kill her.
At the top of the stairs, Abbie stopped. Though she was consciously trying to block the past, it continued to waylay her. She had now to find Toby and the girl he was with before anything terrible could happen. The only way to achieve this would be to listen at every door. Hopefully, Abbie would be able to distinguish the empty rooms from the occupied, ignoring the former. Hopefully, she could separate the love-makers from the argument-havers, again disregarding the former. Surely that could only leave her with a couple of options. If she chose incorrectly in the first instance, that was no problem. The arguers would no doubt turn and tell her to leave. Abbie would do so, and they would forget about her as they returned to their screaming match.
From the top of the stairs, Abbie took two steps along the landing.
Paused as she heard feet in the downstairs hall. She started up again when those feet hit the stairs and made their way towards Abbie.
Choosing a direction at random, Abbie moved to one end of the landing and turned left onto another. As she moved out of sight of the stairs, a drunken voice called out. Oi, you. Abbie had no doubt they were talking to her but continued along her way.
Abbie had been forced to miss the first couple of doors moving out of sight of the stairs. Before she could stop and listen to the next available, several sets of feet turned into the corridor.
Abbie would have liked to ignore the owners of those feet and get on with what she was doing. Alas, this was not possible. The feet’s owners would not disregard her and could prove themselves problematic if she did not face them head-on.
Abbie turned, and into the corridor appeared three people: Brian, the bleach blonde with the suspicious eyes, and a short guy with a military hairstyle, thick neck, and muscles that looked uncomfortably bulbous. Abbie could already tell this last wouldn’t be one for conversation. He looked like a growler.
“Stop there,” said Brian, raising his hand like a traffic cop or a superhuman with the power to telekinetically toss Abbie down the hall. “You’re not invited; you need to leave.”
“Didn’t we already have this conversation?”
“You attacked Bri,” said the blonde. Abbie could tell from the girl’s eyes that she was not only drunk. At least one illegal substance was currently working its way through her system. Whatever it was, this substance would undoubtedly dull her capacity to think clearly but might also make her more dangerous.
“I attacked no one,” said Abbie. “I merely patted his belly. Like you would a dog. It was affectionate.”
At this comment, Brian looked both embarrassed and angered. Which was fair enough. He took a step forward. Of the three, he seemed to have consumed the least alcohol.
“Leave. Now,” he said.
“We’ll kill you, bitch,” said Bleach Blonde.
“Right,” said Abbie. Brian looked horrified.
“We won’t kill you. We’ll throw you out. You think you can take down Craig like you did me?”
Brian nodded to the stocky guy behind him. Craig stepped forward and squeezed his face into something mildly menacing. He did not growl, which was disappointing.
“Perhaps not quite as easily,” said Abbie. “But that’s not saying much and certainly does not suggest it would in any way be difficult. Which it wouldn’t. Anyway,” she started to turn away, “I haven’t the time for this. Where’s Toby?”
She put her back to the three, though she was not sure what they might do next. It turned out not to matter. Before they could react or Abbie could take another step, a door burst open. The teenage girl from Abbie’s dream burst out, her eyes red, her frame trembling even as she stormed into the corridor.
“Amber,” called a voice from the room. “Come back here.”
Chasing his own words, Toby appeared in the corridor and seized Amber by the arm. Much as she had earlier grabbed him and as Brian had caught Abbie.
“Get off me,” said Amber, her words indicating her heightened emotion and, possibly, fear.
That name—Amber—had knocked Abbie. The hits from her past kept coming, and once again, she found memory acting as a roadblock. By the time she regained the impetus and strode along the corridor, Amber had slipped free of Toby’s grasp and was barrelling down the carpet towards the stairs.
Woman and teen passed in the middle. Toby was rushing after the latter and tried to jink around Abbie. Not knowing who she was, not paying attention to the home invader, he went to move past her and expected her to let him go.
She did not.
As Toby moved to one side to rush past, Abbie reached out, grabbed his shirt in two fists, and used his momentum to swing him around and slam him against the wall.
Shock, then fury entered Toby’s eyes. Raising his hands, he made to swipe her arms aside. Having foreseen this move, Abbie released his shirt before he could touch her. As his hands swatted at nothing, she put an elbow into the bottom of his jaw, crashing his teeth together and knocking his head against the plaster. Before he could recover from this blow, Abbie had retaken his shirt, pulled him forward, and slammed him back against the wall.
This time, Toby neither attempted to knock Abbie aside or move out of her way.
Brian, the bleach blonde, and Craig had all stepped forward. Having seen the speed and strength Abbie had deployed in disabling the homeowner’s son, they hesitated a metre from her. Brian and Bleach Blonde then stepped aside, clearly nominating Craig as their champion.
Craig did not at first move. His eyes were darting to and fro. Abbie got the sense those eyes were a rabbit running in a wheel that powered his brain. If they stopped moving, he would be unable to think. He would not know what to do.
Amber had disappeared around the corner. Seconds later, Abbie heard footsteps down the stairs and had no doubt the frightened teenager would disappear out the front door and into the night. Abbie was still holding Toby steady but had to get ahold of herself. How much like his big brother this strapping young man looked.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Abbie knew she had to leave, and soon. After what Harry had done to her, Abbie had wanted to kill him. Back when she was sixteen, she had been powerless. Following her brother’s imprisonment, even Harry being a wheelchair user for the rest of his life seemed not to be punishment enough. Over the years, Abbie had held to her rage.
Toby looked so much like his brother; Abbie feared she would lose control any second. This boy would become the receiver of ten years of fury. There was even a chance Abbie could kill him.
Based on what she knew of his father and brother, Abbie guessed Toby was scum. Still, she tried never to kill in cold blood, nor when she lacked evidence to suggest her potential victims were trying to kill her or an innocent. Toby and Amber had argued. That did not mean he was a mortal threat to the young woman.
Toby was also a teenager. Abbie had to let him go.
After his initial shock, Toby was starting to regain control of himself.
“Who are you?” he said.
As though powered by Toby’s words, Craig took a step forward. Another reminder that Abbie had to leave. She did not fear the stocky skinhead, but she was twenty-nine and could not stand being responsible for assaulting three drunk teenagers in one night.
“I have a message for your brother,” she said, holding Toby against the wall.
“Yeah,” said he, trying not to sound afraid. “And what’s that?”
Abbie pulled Toby forward and shoved him back.
“Tell him to remember the guy who put him in a wheelchair almost fourteen years ago. Tell him that guy’s sister is in town, and if I see him, he won’t need his wheelchair any longer. He’ll need a coffin.”
Unable to stop herself, to contain the anger, Abbie slammed Toby again against the wall, chucked him to the ground and, pursued by the memories of that traumatising night all those years ago, rushed from Ian Delaney’s home and into the dark of the night.