Originally published April 18, 2017 for the A to Z Challenge, this cynical scene won’t appear in the novella, but it raises an interesting question…
Jessica stuffed her phone in the locker so that it wouldn’t distract her. She hoped that someone stretching her legs in front of the lockers would hear it rattling against the metal door and take it. That would be the excuse she would give Whitmore for not returning his calls. I wasn’t ignoring you. My phone was stolen.
Jessica increased the resistance and incline on the elliptical and pushed harder. She wiped the sweat from her forehead and breathed through her mouth. She wouldn’t think about Whitmore for the next hour. She propelled her arms and legs back and forth. Closing her eyes, she pretended shed wasn’t confined to a small space under the thick, heavy air of a gym crowed with sweating bodies but outside in an open field, running through the light breeze, the ripe smell of freshly cut grass lifting her off her feet.
When she opened her eyes, reality struck her in the face, and her legs buckled underneath her. She looked at her statistics on the machine. “Eight miles an hour at level 15 resistance? I won’t be able to walk tomorrow.” She wiped down the handlebars with the moist towel. Out of habit she looked up at the TV above her. She hated that every one of the forty or more television sets hanging from the ceiling throughout the gym was on a news station—CNN, FOX News, MSNBC. Anyone exercising in an attempt to relieve stress would quickly regain it by looking up, and reading the closed captions—local middle school teacher arrested on twelve counts of indecent liberties with a minor; police officer fatally shoots unarmed black man in a routine traffic stop; protestors stage a “die-in” at Madison Square Garden; motorcyclist killed in wreck during rush hour on 1-40; Roger Peacock dead.
Jessica froze in front of the television set broadcasting the CNN report. For the last three days the entire city of Houston had been on a manhunt for Peacock after he walked onto the UH campus and shot five women in the head, execution style, all apparently his ex-girlfriends. All this time, he was crumpled in a corner of his apartment’s basement laundry room with half his face blown off after turning the gun on himself that same day.
Jessica hiked the steps of the stair climber. She was never a fan of this machine. The steps were too steep and she often tripped if they were moving too fast. She didn’t care today. She wanted to trip. She want to fall hard on her face, break her nose on the edge of the steps. Anything to get her mind off of what she’d just read, and how familiar it sounded to her current predicament.
Roger Peacock was another one of Bruce’s bitter friendzoned characters. However, after years of rejection from women who this self-proclaimed good guy believed wouldn’t find anyone better than him, he finally snapped and slaughtered them all. It was as if dating him meant life or death. He held their futures in his hands. He was their god. Do not deny me, or face punishment: Death.
What frightened her most about Roger Peacock was how much he reminded her of Whitmore. That self-entitlement they both contained within their hearts. They believed themselves to be good, respectable men and assumed women would throw themselves at their feet, willingly open their legs to them, devote their every being to them, and when those women didn’t, they couldn’t comprehend why not.
It ate at Peacock, tormented him, a molesting parasite, chipping at his brain, until he finally concluded that women dumb enough to refuse a “good man” deserved to die.
But did Whitmore believe Jessica deserved to die too?