Christmas was right around the corner. Riana had been living in the house for nearly a month. To her dismay, things were slowly getting worse. Stacey and Emma argued more often, and Riana was feeling more and more smothered by Stacey. Stacey would often come home from work and demand to know her every move throughout the day. It was almost as if she didn’t trust her to be alone in the house. For the rest of the day and night, she would go back and forth between yelling at Emma and clinging to her, only insisting upon solitude when she went to use her computer. It was getting to the point where she wished Stacey would stay in front of her computer every minute she was at home.
And then a horrible and unexpected thing happened. Emma overdosed on Benadryl and was rushed to the hospital. She held a sobbing Stacey in the waiting room after the doctor informed them that there was nothing they could do, and then she managed to pull Stacey’s cell phone out of her purse so she could call Judith to bring them home.
Minutes later, Judith came rushing towards them. She and Stacey held each other a few minutes as they both cried, and Stacey muttered a slew of I-can’t-believe-its and if-only-I’d-done-something while Judith supported her friend and former coworker.
Riana felt terrible. She wanted to run away and never return to Stacey’s house of sadness and misfortune, but she also couldn’t leave Stacey alone at a time of such heartache and loss. No matter how bossy she could be, no matter how moody, she couldn’t simply walk away and wish her better luck in the future. She needed her too much now.
Once home, Stacey mostly cried and slept until the funeral. It was Riana who tended to any visitors and phone calls that were mostly to ask how Stacey was holding up and if she needed anything. Some added that they had no idea Emma was that depressed.
Neither had she. Frustrated, yes. Angry, perhaps a little. Missing her dad, sure. But depressed to the point of being suicidal? She hadn’t seen that one coming at all.
Stacey thanked her for her help in a mechanical voice one day after her parents left the house while she was on a two-week leave of absence and went upstairs to take a nap. Just across the stairs, Riana did some online work. Now she was glad she had moved into the house. It made it easier for her to remain close to Stacey if she needed anything while trying to go about her usual routine.
On the journal site, her regular – and not so regular – followers expressed sympathy for Stacey and praised her for sticking by her and supporting her through such horrible times.
A week after Emma’s death, Stacey sprang back to life with the same amazing strength and vigor as she had with James. And Riana didn’t think it was an act either.
Christmas came and went and in came the new year.
Riana thought Stacey would get sick of seeing so much of her and would give her more space and privacy, but it was just the opposite. She didn’t know if it was because Stacey was lonely and missed having people around like she had been used to, or if it was something about her, but Riana was growing increasingly uncomfortable as the weeks wore on.
She was also experiencing more boredom when Stacey wasn’t busy gabbing in her ear or dragging her off to some restaurant or on some shopping adventure. She was disappointed that she once again wasn’t winning much and beginning to feel like the hours and hours of sweeping was a waste.
Stacey rarely mentions James or Emma anymore. It’s the weirdest thing, she wrote one day in her journal.
Maybe it’s just hard for her. Maybe she feels she’ll lose it if she talks about them, said Hot1.
Maybe she doesn’t miss them, SoIn2U, who had ceased to surprise her anymore, suggested. Maybe she’s got the only person she wants and needs.
Well, she might lose that person if she keeps suffocating her, Riana said. I’ve only remained here this long because I would feel guilty if I left so soon after she lost her family.
You should feel guilty for even thinking of leaving, said SoIn2U. Look at all she’s done for you and all she’s given you. Why would you even consider leaving a place of free rent and food? So many people would kill for that kind of security. And also, she may be a bitch at times, but don’t you still get along? Aren’t you still attracted to each other?
Riana didn’t even bother to respond. SoIn2U obviously didn’t get that happiness mattered more than freebies, and it wasn’t all entirely free. She still had to work to earn her keep, mostly with sex and a clean house. Most importantly, Riana wasn’t happy. She felt no different than a servant. Sure, she could have her free room and board in exchange for keeping the house clean. She could eat for free. But only if she submitted to Stacey’s every beck and call, and to hell with how she may feel about it!
Riana began to think of the best time and way to let Stacey down. She couldn’t go on being dishonest to either one of them and pretending to go along with Stacey and to feel things she didn’t really feel. She simply didn’t love Stacey. She didn’t want to have sex with her, and she no longer wanted to live with her either. Riana decided to start job-hunting. She would start the job first, of course, and save up enough money to move out. As much as she wanted to leave now, she had no money and it wasn’t an option. She felt it would be best if she let Stacey know of her plans as soon as possible rather than let too much more time pass and surprise her with the news right before she left.
Riana headed downstairs, and Stacey, who sat before her computer, quickly closed the window she’d been viewing. Whatever it was, she obviously didn’t want her to see it. “I’m off to make dinner,” said Riana.
At the dinner table a half-hour later, she found that informing Stacey of her plans was a mistake. Riana froze at the expression on Stacey’s face when she finished talking. She’d never seen her look so scary before.
Was she going to hit her?
“Why in the world would you want to leave me all alone? And why would you want to be alone? I thought we had a nice arrangement here,” said Stacey.
“That’s just it, Stacey. It’s an arrangement. Not something I feel my heart is truly into.”
“I don’t understand how you could feel this way.”
“It’s not just you. It’s me.”
“Oh, gee,” Stacey said sarcastically, “that’s comforting to know.”
“Would you rather I lie to you? It’s not like we couldn’t be friends or that we’d be alone forever. Sooner or later we’ll both meet…”
“I don’t want to meet anyone else!” Stacey screamed. “My God, how can you be so damn ungrateful? What kind of stupid fool throws away a nice home and someone who loves her?”
“I don’t feel loved,” said Riana. “I feel used and possessed.”
“Oh, you’re possessed, alright. By some crazy devil!”
Riana stared at her, totally at a loss for words.
“I can’t make you stay, Riana,” said Stacey, “but I’m not going to make leaving easy for you either. As far as I was concerned, we had a deal. We were committed to each other and now you suddenly want to leave me after all I went through for you.”
“What do you mean, after all you went through for me?”
Stacey stared at Riana with cold, icy blue-gray eyes, then she shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe I’m not so sorry about James and Emma. Maybe I even had a helping hand in what happened. After all, they say love can be blind at times.”
Ice spread through Riana’s veins as the concept of what Stacey was saying sunk in. A helping hand in James and Emma’s deaths? No way! Stacey was mean, selfish and insensitive, but a killer? She knew stranger things had happened before, but could Stacey really have murdered her own husband and daughter? And all for her?
Riana continued to stare at Stacey, whose lips were now slowly forming an evil smile of triumph. “There. Take that to the police if you will. You think they’ll even believe you?”
“No, Stacey, because it’s all bullshit. You’re talking nonsense now just to scare me into staying, and this isn’t the way to do it. It’s going to take time, but I’m going to get a job, save some money, and get a place of my own because it’s what’s best for both of us. There’s no reason I can’t still visit and even spend some weekends with you.”
“Okay,” said Stacey. “We’ll see how easy it is for you, and how fast you’ll be begging to return if you do make it out of here.”
Just how long would it take? Riana wondered fearfully. She wasn’t sure if Stacey was just trying to scare her by suggesting she might’ve had a hand in James and Emma’s deaths, but she knew she needed to figure a way out fast.
And then a miracle arrived.