Today is the day I’ve longed for; today is the day I get my revenge.
The thought almost makes me giddy, but I force myself to be calm as I glance over the page of the magazine I’m pretending to read to make sure he’s still there. And he is, standing before the register, ordering a salted-caramel latte from a frazzled woman in sweatpants and a green apron. I take a sip of my coffee as I watch the interaction. He gives the woman a plastered-on smile and slides his card through the reader.
You might think I’m crazy, but let me assure you, I’m not. I am as sane as you are. And this isn’t some spur of the moment plan—it won’t be a crime of opportunity when I get my revenge. But none of that matters, because this man, with his tousled blonde curls and crisp gray suit, is the man who took everything from me.
I let my eyes slide back to the magazine page when he turns to wait at the end of the bar for his coffee, and just as he’s done every morning for the past three months—except that weekend he spent in Aspen—he pulls his phone out of his pocket and taps furiously away. I turn in my seat so my back is to him and reapply my blood red lipstick, looking in the mirror of my compact to see him. It infuriates me to see him so calm, so oblivious to the worlds he’s shredded, to the people he’s torn apart. My face flushes with anger.
“Andrew,” a barista calls out, sliding his cup on the pickup counter.
He shoves his phone back into his pocket and snatches the coffee up, taking a quick sip before slipping out the door. I don’t rush to follow him, don’t jump up out of my chair and run after him to stay hot on his trail—no, everything is planned, and I take my time to stand up and shoulder my bulging canvas tote.
By the time I make it outside, Andrew McClellan has already zipped down the street in his red Ferrari like the cliché of a human he is. I hail a taxi and follow him.
Davis, McClellan & Associates is situated in a nice part of downtown, just across from a public park. The street here is dotted with cafes and boutiques and is what some people might call charming. I think it has potential to be really lovely, if only it weren’t soiled by the attorneys’ office space. By the time I arrive, Andrew has already long disappeared into the office; I know all his daily movements, so my following him is somewhat superfluous at this point, yet here I am. I sling my bag over my shoulder and step into the park across from Andrew’s office building.
Emptying my bag, I set up my workstation: fold-out easel, oversize sketch pad, markers of various shades and sizes, and a little basket with my street vendor license and a sign that reads, $10 Caricatures! in bouncy letters. I glance at my watch—right on time. Everything is going according to plan.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past three months, it’s this: people like to think they’re spontaneous and exciting and outside the box, but they’re not. Whether they realize it or not, humans are creatures of habit, which makes them predictable. That little fact has made my job easier for the past few months.
The morning passes in the usual fashion, with several people stopping by my station to pose for caricatures. I whip out drawings of couples and children, and even a guy and his dog stop for a picture. When business lulls, I flip to an empty page in my sketchbook and choose my favorite marker and let my mind wander as my hands work.
The first thing I think is, four years of art school and all I’ve got to show for it is a handful of crumpled ten-dollar bills and a half-empty sketchbook. I want to be ashamed, but the truth is, I like drawing caricatures. I like sitting outside in the fresh air and looking at all the people and predicting who’s going to come over and pose. It reminds me of a game Joanne and I used to play when we’d go out on nights we called “sister dates.” We’d get all dressed up and go out, and when we were at whatever restaurant, we’d look at the people around us and make up life stories for them all. Sometimes they’d be pretty normal, like, “He’s worked at a pet store for the past fifteen years and hasn’t moved out of his mom’s basement.” But then the stories got more and more elaborate, adding backstories like, “That lady grew up in a Victorian house that was haunted, and everyone thought she just had imaginary friends, but that gave her trust issues, so now she lives alone and talks to herself because no one else will take her seriously.” We’d always end up in stitches, Joanne and I, and one time we’d laughed so hard, the waiter asked us to leave.
The memory brings a smile to my lips until I remember another night, and another sister date, and the reason I’m here now.
“That’s quite the drawing,” someone behind me says. My heart leaps into my throat, and I turn around to see a youngish guy in a cheap suit holding a takeout bag. He’s looking over my shoulder at the picture I was drawing. I glance at my watch. Drat. I’ve lost track of time.
“Where’d you learn to draw like that?” the guy asks. Something about his face looks familiar, but I can’t quite place it right away.
“I’m Oscar,” he says, moving along past his last question before I can answer him. “I work right over there.” He points, but before I look, it snaps in my head like a puzzle piece. Oscar Richardson, Associate. He’s one of Andrew’s associates. I’ve only ever seen him from a distance or from his headshot on the law firm’s website, and I’ve got to say, he’s much better looking up close, with kind brown eyes and dirty-blond hair.
I wonder if he knows the monster he’s working for.
“I’m Delia,” I say.
He nods. “I’ve seen you around here before.” A shy smile pushes up the corners of his mouth. “I may or may not have come the long way from lunch just to see what you were drawing.”
My cheeks warm, and I can’t help the smile creeping up my own face. “Oh yeah?”
He nods again. “Okay, I definitely did.” He laughs—a warm, honest laugh—and shakes his head. “Well, now that I sound like a stalker, I should stop talking about me.” He gestures to my sketchpad. “Is that someone you know, or did you just pull the face out of your imagination?”
I glance at my drawing, and all the warmth that had started to bloom in my chest withers. He’s right—it is a good drawing. I’ve managed to capture the very essence of Joanne’s face, mid-laugh, just like the night we were thrown out of the restaurant. I stare at her eyes, and my own eyes grow blurry.
“She was my sister,” I say in a breath. My face grows hot from welling tears.
The sight of me crying must have alarmed him, because Oscar puts down his takeout bag and leads me to a bench a few feet away. He sits beside me and pats my shoulder and doesn’t say anything.
Now that I’ve started, it’s like a chasm has opened in my heart and I don’t know how I’ll ever stop. “Her name was Joanne,” I tell him, even though I’m sure he doesn’t care. “She was hit by a drunk driver three months ago. She died on impact, but I didn’t even break a bone.” What kind of cruel trick was that? I barely needed a Band-aid, and my sister had died before the ambulance arrived. My eyes are leaking profusely now, and all I have are my hands to wipe away the tears. “The police never even arrested the guy that killed her. He’s done it before, and he’ll probably do it again.” My words come out barely above a whisper. Three months of stoicism and meticulous planning; three months, and not a single tear shed since the funeral. And now, here I am, weeping on a public bench in front of a stranger on the day I plan on getting justice for Joanne.
“I lost my brother when we were kids,” Oscar says. He leans over and grabs his takeout back, fishing inside it for something. “Here,” he says, and holds out a napkin for me. “I don’t have any tissues,” he adds apologetically. For some reason, this statement makes me laugh through the tears, and I take the napkin.
Once I’ve stopped crying and wiped my tears and realized how embarrassing this is, I stand up and step back to my easel. I flip the sketchbook closed. Oscar stands up and hovers behind me for a second before speaking again.
“Would you like me to give you a ride home? Or if that’s a no-go because I’m basically a stranger, I could walk you home?”
I smile at him even though that must make my red and puffy face look even worse, but before I can say anything, his phone rings. I get a glimpse of the caller ID when he pulls it out of his pocket, and all the sudden I remember why I’m here.
“Ah,” Oscar says, “it’s my boss. I’ve got this deposition in a couple minutes for this big case we’re working on, and I really shouldn’t miss it…” His eyes find mine, and he hesitates. “But I could skip it if you want me to take you home?”
I shake my head. It was foolish of me to get distracted by a handsome face and a few friendly words. Today is the day, I think. I have to stay focused.
“I’ll be okay,” I say. “Thanks, though.”
He nods and smiles, snatching up his bag and already power walking back to the office across the street. “I’ll see you around, Delia,” he says, and then he’s gone.
At 5:30, I pack up my things and grab another cab. I only have one stop before my final destination.
I make it to his apartment right at 6:00, so I know I have exactly eight minutes to prepare myself before I’ll hear his car pulling in. I wait outside his building for two minutes until Mrs. Mafferty comes out in her lime green velour tracksuit with her pampered chihuahua and I grab the door. I check my watch again—right on schedule.
I trot down to Andrew’s apartment door, hyperaware of the extra four and a half pounds weighing down my purse. I slide my key in the lock and slip inside and close the door softly behind me.
My heart is beating an erratic rhythm in my chest, and I take a moment to breathe before taking my place. I stand behind a cream-colored chair in his opulent living room, facing the door. I dig my phone from my pocket and check the time first, relieved to see that everything has been timed out perfectly. And then I pull up a picture of my sister, one of my favorite pictures—from her twenty-second birthday, when I took her out and she ordered this enormous chocolate cake with sparklers sticking out of it. In the picture, we’re sitting behind that cake, faces squished together, with matching grins. A knot tightens in my throat, and I remember what Oscar said in the park earlier, that he’d lost his brother. Somehow, he’d made it out okay. For a second, I wonder if maybe there’s another way, but I swallow the thought. For you, Joanne.
My fingers shake slightly as I dial 911, and I take a breath to steady myself. It’s all going according to plan. By the time the dispatcher answers, I speak calmly and succinctly.
“I’m about to kill a man in apartment 15A, Hyde Plac,” I say, and pull the phone away from my ear, waiting just a moment longer to be sure my location can be traced before disconnecting the call. It takes only two minutes for Andrew to make it from the parking garage under his building up to his own door.
I close my eyes as I hear keys jangling in the locks. This is it, I think. And he won’t see it coming, just like Joanne never saw it coming. Finally, I’ll have justice for my sister, and I’ll have peace. I raise the gun and level it at the door. Deep breath. The door swings open, and I see only a flash of blond before I squeeze the trigger—bam, bam, bam—and he crumples to the floor. For a second, I’m frozen, unable to breathe. And then my hands slowly lower, and I close my eyes. I already hear the sirens wailing outside the window, and I know it won’t be long until I’m taken into custody, but for now, I have freedom and peace. I did it.
And then my blood turns to ice.
Andrew McClellan stands before me, mouth hanging open, staring at the pool of blood spreading across his polished floors. My eyes snap to the body, and my breath catches. Oscar. My hands are shaking again, and the gun clatters to the floor. Andrew is saying something, trying to do CPR, but all I can do is stare at the face of the man who gave me tissues and offered to walk me home. My knees buckle and I collapse, vaguely aware of the thudding footsteps pounding down the hall.
When the police enter, point their weapons at me, and cuff me, I don’t resist at all. All I can see is Oscar’s face and the face of my sister. When I’m shoved in the back of a police car, one thought plays through my head like a mantra:
If this is what revenge feels like, I want to take it back.
I want to take it back.
I want to take it back.