The light flickered on the back porch. Sam was uneasy. Not scared, per se, but on guard. She kept thinking about the white Buick (“are Buicks even made anymore? Or is that Oldsmobile?”) that passed her twice on the way home. The driver never turned his head, but what a fucking coincidence. No one takes that way home from anywhere. Sam only takes it because she passes by two of the most awe-inspiring places she knows: the graffiti wall on Bellows Avenue, and the place where she first met Eliot. She hated the name Eliot. At first. Some E.T. connection or the whole ‘your-looks-don’t match-your-name’ quandary. He was short and rugged, not lanky and nerdy. He was a graphic artist, not a scientist. He liked MMA, not D&D. And she fell in love with him. In lust, more accurately, but love could’ve resided there.
The white Buick. Old, long, but not gangster or thuggish. More like homeless with a hand-me-down. But the odds of seeing this guy twice was damn near impossible. Sam wouldn’t describe herself as gorgeous, but stalk-able? Maybe. She did work as a waitress at a testosterone-fueled sports bar. Any of those creeps could get an idea, a car, and a half-baked plan.
The light went out. She checked the locks again and made sure the floodlight was on in the driveway, but beyond that she was unprotected. So she made a phone call.
“Alex?” she said through the phone.
“Yeah, Sam. What’s up?” Alex answered on the other end.
“Look I know you’re pissed at me right now…”
“I’m not pissed, I’m just indifferent. I am done trying, Sam.”
“I didn’t call about that. I think some guy is following me.”
“Don’t joke about that stuff.”
“I may be being paranoid, but I saw this creepy car…”
“Are you in danger?”
“No, not yet.”
“Is there someone you can call?”
“There’s gotta be someone else.”
“Well, there’s not.”
Sam paced around her couch, fumbling through a long, awkward pause. He wasn’t going to say anything. He was ‘indifferent.’
“Look, forget it. I’m just being paranoid. I haven’t even heard a strange sound or anything. Sorry I bothered you.”
“No, Sam, now I’m going to feel like an asshole if we get off the phone and you get killed or something.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Never mind, my neighbor’s back. I’m good.”
“Yeah. See ya.”
Alex was no Eliot. But she was lonely, he was there, blah blah blah. He liked her, she liked Eliot. And there was the rub.
There was no neighbor. She didn’t know why she called Alex; maybe she hoped he would run over and protect her, tell her she’s not crazy, and then she’d shut him out again. “What a bitch I am,” she thought. But her heart wasn’t in it. She was selfish and missed Eliot.
Sam woke up on the couch with the television on. She needed to pee badly and stumbled through the dark to the bathroom. She sat down on the rim of the toilet and jumped up from the cold of the porcelain. The seat was never up, not since Eliot. He hadn’t been in the house for months.
Sam turned on all the lights and checked all the doors and windows while holding a utility knife in her right hand. She peered out each curtain onto to the stale, dimly lit street and coarsely trimmed backyard and saw nothing. No white Buick, no faceless man in the shadows. Every single window and door was still locked up tight.
That night at work she was asked to tend bar. The tips were better, but the company was worse. Guys would ogle and use come-on lines like “What time can I get you off?” Sam wondered if one of these sociopaths drove a white Buick.
Same way home. It was risky stopping at the graffiti wall and getting out of the car, but she liked to touch his work. Eliot’s tagger name was Vilify, and it was in big bubble letters on the bottom right corner alongside his trademark of a negatively charged ion. So badass. She ran back to her car and made her way past the wig store where they first met. She was looking for a wig for her Lindsey Lohan costume, but she couldn’t decide if she should go classic red or rebellious blonde. Why the hell he was there was never established. She tried to ask him, but instead he replied, “I like the red one on you.” He could’ve said anything. She was his, hair and all.
Blue Camry, seen once. Red pick-up, seen once. No white Buick. Sam got back to her house and felt stupid. No one was following her. No one was going to break in and kidnap her or murder her. She was just a girl that lived alone, thinking she could be independent with no anxiety. She slept that night with the lights on, defeated.
Days passed and she couldn’t stop looking at cars. Every single one of them. It was exhausting. She even started searching the internet for white Buicks just to see if she could match the image in her head to a model, a year. This was getting obsessive and she hated it. It was as if someone whispered something to her that she couldn’t remember, but she couldn’t forget the breath on her ear. Finally she found a car online that looked close to a match. It was for sale. She picked up the phone.
“Uh, hi, I’m calling about the 1991 Buick Regal you have for sale?”
“It’s a piece of shit.”
“I know that. I’m interested.”
“The sale is final, sweetheart. You may get a year out of it.”
“How much are you asking for it?”
“I’ll come by with cash.”
She needed to do this. Eight hundred dollars was a lot of money, but it was the only way she could move on. In fifth grade, her parents sent her to a therapist because she was having this recurring nightmare about the vampire from Salem’s Lot. She had watched it secretly at a friend’s house during a sleepover and it rattled her. The therapist told her to draw a picture of the vampire and pin it up next to her bed. She embraced the demon that plagued her dreams and she eventually won. That’s why she need to buy the Buick. To win. And so she wouldn’t have to go back to a therapist.
The man with the Buick motioned her around back. There it was, the $800 piece of shit.
“The ATM only let me take out $700, but I’m good for the rest of it,” she said to him.
“Forget it. It’s probably only worth seven anyway. It needs an oil change and a tune-up but nothing major. Yet.”
The man handed her the keys and she hopped in.
“Ma’am, what about your car? You can’t just leave it here.”
“I’ll come back for it, promise.”
Sam didn’t believe in promises. Like when Eliot gave her that juvenile, cheap-ass promise ring or when he promised not to go back to that girl again. She never intended to return for the car, which was worth not much more than she paid for the Buick, and he’d most likely sell it after a few weeks of banking on an idle promise.
Weeks passed and the only white Buick she saw was the one parked in her driveway. It wasn’t a perfect match – the tires were a little different and there was a ding in the fender – but close enough that she might be able to get rid of the vampire in her head.
That morning at the Starbucks she swore she saw him. She didn’t even like Starbucks, but he did. Grande Ristretto Americano, two honey packets and powdered cinnamon. He sounded like a pretentious prick when he ordered it, but he wasn’t. His strong hands were gentle on her. His beard complemented his frame. He was likeable, and feared at the same time. She waited for the guy to turn around, but it wasn’t Eliot, not even close. She just wanted it to be.
It had been three months. His side of the bed had grown cold and lifeless. The calls stopped, the visits dwindled, mostly in part because she told everyone to leave her alone. The city was big enough that she could avoid acquaintances that would ask her about him. And how she was holding up. She found that if she stopped conversing with people at work, they eventually gave her distance. Alex was the only one that didn’t treat her differently, and she had screwed that up. Maybe he didn’t even know about the thing with Eliot. But everyone knew.
Sam woke up, startled. Headlights. She ran to the bathroom. Seat was down. She ran to the window. Someone was coming.
There was a rap at the door, like the one a cop makes. Trust was pretty low on Sam’s priority list, so if it was a cop, he better fucking prove it. Badge, gun, Taser, partner, moustache, the whole nine. She looked through the peephole and saw two officers. No moustaches.
“Miss Archibald? Minnesota PD, we need to speak with you for a moment.”
“It’s 4 o’clock in the fucking morning,” she replied.
“Miss Archibald, open the door please.”
“Badges. Put them in front of the hole so I can see them.”
The two officers pulled their badges and presented them in haste.
“We good now, Miss Archibald? You may recognize me, I’m Sergeant Patterson. We spoke a couple months ago.”
She turned the deadbolt, unlatched the chain, and unlocked the knob. The officers moved in swiftly and backed her into the kitchen before she had a chance to say anything.
“Sit down,” Sgt. Patterson said sternly, pointing to a kitchen chair.
“This is my goddamn house,” she threatened.
“Miss, sit down in that chair or I will put these cuffs on you.”
Sam sat at the kitchen table as the two officers hovered over her.
“We found your missing boyfriend, Miss Archibald.”
“I’m afraid he’s dead, but you knew that already.”
“He’s not dead. He’s missing. He’s been missing for three months and you are doing all that you can to find him, you said. You said that.”
Sam stared off into a mental abyss and started shaking, touching one hand on top of the other and making small steps with her feet. The officer grabbed her shoulder firmly, but cautiously.
“He’s missing. He’s not dead.”
“We found his car off Route 8 in the woods, about 300 feet from where we later found his body, at the bottom of a steep drop.”
“I’m not the guy. I’m not your guy.”
“He was clutching a red wig that I’ll bet when we get the tests back from the blonde hair we found inside it, it’s going to be a match to you.”
The other one finally chimed in. His nametag said Flowers. Sam thought of the summer she fell asleep in a meadow full of Midwest wildflowers. She felt so far away from there. “Nice car you got out front,” Detective Flowers added. “Almost a ringer for Eliot’s, don’t you think? Odd choice, Samantha.”
“No one calls me Samantha anymore.”
“The news will. You’re going to be famous. Jealous girlfriend goes crazy,” Flowers poked.
Sam loathed crazy. Every boyfriend she ever had said some variation of that word before he broke it off. Every therapist she was forced to see nodded in a balanced undertone of defeat when she began to unravel.
“Why did you march arm-in-arm across field after field looking for him, when you knew exactly where he was?” Flowers continued. “Why did you put his family through the pain of not knowing? You’re a pretty good actress, I must admit.”
“I’ve been acting all my life,” Sam whispered.
“Now it’s time to be honest,” Flowers said, getting serious and sullen versus flippant and relentless.
“I think I loved him.”
“And he didn’t love you back.”
“That’s just it. He did. He told me he loved me. But he loved me with the wig on.”
Sam winced and grabbed her stomach like her appendix had burst.
“Do you know Audrey Mecklenburg?” asked the Sergeant.
“Audrey, Eliot’s ex. The one with the fiery red hair.”
“She knows you, Sam. She said you followed her.”
“That was his idea. I needed to get the mannerisms down, the routine, the act.”
“Why, Sam? Why did he ask you to do that?”
“Because I needed to act like her. Be her. I couldn’t take it anymore.”
“So you pushed him,” Flowers interceded. “He wouldn’t love you, not Sam, would he? Only if you were Audrey.”
“He was going to kill me.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“He wanted to act out how he would kill her. In the woods. Tied to a tree. With his bare hands.”
“He couldn’t do it, could he?”
“He told me he loved me.”
“Then you took the wig off.”
Sam dropped her head in her hands and wept.
“I told him to say it again, to me, not to her.”
“And he couldn’t.”
Sam shook her head.
“So you pushed him.”
“I released him,” she replied with a long sigh and an empty stare.
Sergeant Patterson pulled the handcuffs from his belt. “That’s enough for me. Samantha Archibald, you are under arrest for the murder of Eliot Sawyer. Please stand up.”
Sam stared at the white Buick as they put her in the back of the police car. She closed her eyes, fell asleep, and dreamt of nothing. No vampires, no red wig, no white car. Nothing.