We were driving for hours, but it felt like we were not going anywhere. A series of trees passed us as Ben drove down a cracked street with weeds growing through the pavement. I shifted my weight in my seat to try and get more comfortable. Ben kept humming along to the music coming from the radio.
My mind was racing with thoughts as my stomach was twisting itself into a knot. I wondered if cops ever came to the house. I wondered if they found Oliver and Colin’s dead bodies. Was there any evidence that Ben left behind? He was wearing gloves the entire time.
A wave of nausea hit me when I thought about Bethany. He must have killed her too. She probably would have never let him go to Oliver’s after their fight.
I looked over at Ben. His one hand was still on my thigh and the other was on top of the steering wheel. He tapped his finger along to the beat of the music. I could not see his gun, but I knew that he must have it on him. The way he flipped from being happy to holding a gun against our temples made me realize how unstable he was. I knew that I had to keep him happy so that he didn’t end both of our lives.
I lifted his hand off of my thigh. He looked over at me and raised his brows. I laced my fingers through his and cupped my other hand over ours. I rested our hands in my lap and he smiled.
“Do you know if anyone is looking for us?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Not yet at least.”
“What happened to Bethany?”
His grip tightened on my hand.
“She had to go,” he said. “Don’t worry though. I made it painless.”
He chewed on his bottom lip. His grip eased a bit on my hand, but it was still so tight that it was causing my knuckles to ache.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
If he stopped for us to get food that means we would be around people. I could sneak off to the bathroom and talk to someone they could call the cops. I wanted to start screaming in the middle of a restaurant, but I could only imagine that Ben would open fire and kill multiple people, including us.
“As soon as I find a motel we’ll stop,” he said.
“A motel?” I asked.
“It’s getting late, and I need to come up with a plan,” he said. “I have an idea, but I need to map it out.”
“What is it?”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m going to take care of us.”
I wanted to pry and ask him about it, but I didn’t want to get him mad. I stayed quiet as he pulled off of the country road and got onto a highway. He only drove for around thirty minutes before he spotted a motel sign and went off the off-ramp. He drove down a street that only had a gas station and a few fast-food restaurants.
“This must be one of those rest stop cities,” Ben said. “It’s perfect.”
He pulled into the parking lot of a small two-story motel. The red paint was flaking off of the building. Only four other cars sat in the parking lot. An inground pool full of leaves was at the edge of the parking lot. A wire fence surrounded it. A few cracked plastic chairs were surrounding the pool. A sign saying Oasis Motel was on the other side of the parking lot. Under the name of the motel, the sign listed that there was free parking, a pool, and colour television. This place must have not been upgraded since the sixties.
“Let’s go,” Ben said after parking the car.
“You want me to go in with you?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said. “It’s better if I do the talking though.”
He got out of the car and hurried over to my side. I was already climbing out of the car when he grabbed my hand. He squeezed my hand as walked over to the lobby. I could see through the large windows that there was a young woman sitting behind a desk. She had a book open in her hands, and was chewing loudly on a piece of gum. Two little bells clanged together when Ben opened the door. The woman looked up, and closed her book.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hey.” Ben spread his lips into a charming smile. “We wanted a room for the night.”
“Okay.” She turned around and looked at the series of keys hanging from the corkboard behind her.
“Is room sixteen available?” Ben asked.
“Sorry, it’s not,” she said. “I’ll give you room twenty. It will be eighty dollars for the night.”
Ben let go of my hand. I curled my fingers into a ball to fight the temptation to rip off my glasses. If I pulled off my glasses Ben would kill this girl. He pulled his wallet out of his pocket. When he opened it, I saw a pile of green bills. Ben took out a few and handed them to the girl.
“Perfect,” the girl said, putting the money into the register. “Can you just sign the register? The owner is pretty old school and stuck in his ways.”
She turned a large book around to face us. Ben picked up a pen and signed the book. I squinted and tried to read what Ben wrote. I could not make it out through these thick black lenses, but I knew Ben was not dumb enough to write his real name.
“Come on, Courtney,” Ben said as he picked the key up off of the desk. “Let’s get our bags.”
He pulled me out of the lobby before I could say anything. His calling me Courtney confirmed my suspicion that he was using fake names. We got our bags out of the trunk and walked up the metal staircase to our room. Ben unlocked the door and flipped on the lights.
The room was a collection of mismatched furniture. The bed had a large wooden frame and was covered with a red floral pattern. A green lamp sat on the nightstand. A small table sat in the corner with a chair on either side. The brown carpet had spots where it faded to grey. Ben dropped his duffel bag on the table.
“Do you want to get something to eat?” Ben asked.
I nodded. Ben slipped the backpack off of my shoulders. He slid his arms around my waist and pulled me close to him. I kept my hands up against his chest to keep some distance between us. He leaned in to kiss me, but I turned my head so that his lips brushed against my cheek. His fingers curled into my waist.
“Are you mad at me?” he asked.
“I want to go home,” I said.
“I told you that we can’t go visit your family,” he said. “But we are going to start our own home together.”
Ben leaned down again and pressed his lips against my cheek. He let his lips linger for a few extra seconds. My stomach flipped and I bit down on my lip.
“Are you good for a burger?” he asked.
I nodded, and Ben’s grip eased up on me.
He held my hand and I stayed quiet as we walked away from the motel and down the street. We stopped at the first fast food place we came across. Ben ordered our food and paid with cash. As we were eating, I watched the sunset through the window. By the time we left it was dark outside. I was expecting Ben to start walking back to the motel, but he kept on walking down the street. I followed him as he walked into a gas station. Ben bought a handful of snacks and a map.
When we got back to the hotel room, Ben spread the map open across the small table. He searched through the backpack and grabbed a pen. He sat down on the chair and his eyes were glued to the map.
“Go get ready for bed,” he told me. “There’s shampoo and toothbrushes in the duffel bag.”
I looked through the bags and gathered the toiletries. Ben had stuffed all of my clothes into the backpack. I rifled through it, but I could only find dresses and underwear. I looked over my shoulder to see Ben circling something on the map.
“I don’t have any pajamas,” I said.
“Crap, I must have forgotten to grab them,” he said. “Just wear one of my shirts for now.”
I pulled a black T-shirt out of his bag. I placed all of the items on the shirt and used it to carry them into the bathroom. I turned on the shower and waited for it to warm up. I stuck my hand into the stream of water every minute to feel that it was ice cold. I gritted my teeth as I stepped under the water. I washed my hair as quickly as I could. I closed my eyes so that I did not have to look at the build-up of grime on the tile under my feet.
I wrapped myself up in a rough towel after that scratched my skin. I brushed and braided my hair back. I changed my underwear and slipped on Ben’s shirt. The wet strands of my hair were soaking through the back of Ben’s T-shirt.
I stepped out of the bathroom to see that Ben had changed. He had on a pair of sweatpants. He was not wearing a shirt, so I could see the dark patches spread across his skin. He handed me my glasses. I slipped them on and the world came back into focus. Ben’s lips spread into a smile and he kissed my temple. I noticed that the map was no longer on the table. I sat on the edge of the bed.
“Do you know where we are going?” I asked.
“Yeah, Bethany has a cabin up in Muskoka,” he said. “We’ll drive up there, and then maybe we can make our way further North. Maybe into the territories?”
“Muskoka?” I asked. “That means we can stop in Ottawa.”
Ben let out a deep breath and ran his fingers through his hair. He kneeled down in front of me and held my hands.
“I told you we can’t,” he said. “They’ll take you from me if we go see them.”
“No, I’ll talk to them and explain that we have to go after,” I said. “I just want to say goodbye and let them know that I am alright.”
“I know that it is hard-”
“No!” I cut him off. “You don’t know how hard this is. You killed your family.”
I ripped my hands away from Ben. He closed his eyes and let go of a shaky breath. He rested his hands on my knees. I watched him swallow past a lump that was forming in his throat.
“I didn’t want to kill them,” he said. He spoke low and I could tell he was fighting with his voice to stop it from wavering.
“Then why’d you do it?” I asked.
“My sister Gabi was four years older than me,” he said. “We were pretty close when we were little, but then when we got older it changed. When I was about eight years old she started touching me. It began as her telling me it was a game and that I couldn’t tell anyone, so I didn’t. That game went on for a couple of years.”
Ben’s voice cracked. My hands were clenched at my chest, but I was so tempted to reach out and comfort him. His fingers curled tighter into my knees. He took in a deep breath before he continued.
“I told her to stop, but she never did,” he said. “It kept happening all through high school. She would come into my room at night or barge into the shower with me.”
‘Why didn’t you tell anyone?” I asked.
“I was too embarrassed,” he said. “Men don’t get raped.”
“Yes, they do.”
“Well, no one believes that.”
Ben was no longer able to fight back the tears. He hastily wiped the tears off of his cheeks with the back of his hand.
“I kept it a secret for years,” he said. “I just prayed that it would stop. I applied to colleges outside of my city hoping to get out of it. I didn’t get accepted though. I always struggled in school. I could never focus.”
Ben took in a sharp breath before he started sobbing. He laid his head down on my thighs and wrapped his arms around my waist. His tears rolled over my skin. My hands left my chest. I placed one on his back and ran my other hand through his hair. This caused Ben to start crying harder, and I could feel his body shake with each sob. The tears were pricking at the back of my own eyes. I have never had someone breakdown like this before. Ben was confessing something horrible that he has left bottled up for years and now he was a mess.
“I was in the kitchen one morning and I was emptying the dishwasher,” he said. “Gabi started grabbing me and I told her to get off of me. She just laughed and kept doing it. Something snapped in me, and I had a knife from the dishwasher in my hands. I just started stabbing her. Gabi’s screams woke my mom up. She came down into the kitchen and saw all of the blood. She started screaming and was trying to punch me and rip the knife out of my hands. I wanted to tell her, but I knew she would not believe me. She went to get the phone, and I knew I had to kill her or spend the rest of my life in jail.”
I blinked and a tear rolled down my cheek. I took my hand out of Ben’s hair to rub away the tear. Ben looked up at me. His eyes were red and his face was pale. I cupped his face with my hands and wiped away his tears with my thumbs. Ben got off of his knees and pushed me further back on the bed. He lied down and pulled me against his chest. He sniffled and rested his cheek against the top of my head.
“I never wanted my mom to die,” he said. “I loved her so much. Sometimes I want the two of us to die so that we can be with her. She would love you.”