Chapter 4

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Get it together, Mark, I thought. A cracked mirror hung over the sink upon which I leaned. I turned on the faucet and splashed my face with a handful of warm water. I opened my eyes, and blood appeared on my hands. I winced, stepping back and slammed my eyes shut. I rechecked my hands. No blood. I doubled over, cackling to tears. Before leaving my old life, I'd shaved my beard. I'd looked something like a mother would want her nearing middle-aged son to be: Handsome with a clean shave and neatly trimmed hair. Who am I kidding? I'm far from attractive. In fact, I had no idea what women saw in me. It didn't much matter so long as I got the girl in the end—the right girl. I needed a woman who could control the damn kids and take care of her body. I didn't think that was too much to ask for, but apparently, it didn't much fit the women I met.

 I didn't think that was too much to ask for, but apparently, it didn't much fit the women I met

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I'd killed my ex-wife Betty and her four children last Christmas. I just couldn't mold them into the family I wanted. It's not like it's my fault Betty couldn't get her shit together, right? I mean, how can I be blamed for Betty not living up to my expectations? And Sandra, before Betty was a nutcase. I had to kill her and her two children. I didn't have a choice.

"You OK in there?" Pam asked. "Been in there a while. Listen, if it's about earlier..."

"I'll be right out," I said. Keep it together, Mark, I told myself. I had the ring in my back pocket and a mindful of doubt. I knew if I married Pam, at some point, I'd have to kill her. But a guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do. Besides, there's no way in hell I'm letting Gina dig around my past. I'd kill Gina, too, if I had to. I took one last glance in the mirror and drew a deep breath and blew out a sharp sigh.

I made my way through the kitchen to the porch. Pam leaned against the patio rail with a thick coat and a scarf around her neck, staring ahead. A park near Franklin Middle School tucked under a hill had a tennis court, pool, and ample space for small concerts. Pam had seen MXPX, New Found Glory, and even Reliant K perform right from her porch.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Pam said as if she had a six sense for knowing I was standing behind her.

"What exactly are we looking at?" Pam had a way of believing I could read her mind. I couldn't even decipher my own feelings, let alone hers. I was beginning to believe she wanted someone to love her for her, not what they wanted her to be—not to mold her into anyone else. But unless she changed, I'd have to change the way she combs her hair. Sometimes, she wears her hair in this bun. It looks as if she were a Mormon cult member—people must have thought I measured her dresses—that sort of thing.

Pam glanced over her shoulder, raising a sly brow. "The lights." She returned her eyes to the homes with evenly lit Christmas lights hugging some houses—some not. "The Christmas lights," she said as if it were the most obvious thing ever. "When I was a kid, every Christmas night, we'd fill the car and go look at houses with lights, especially houses with Nativity scenes in the front yard," Pam said as if something were missing in her life.

"Yeah...beautiful," I said, less than convincing. "Listen—"

"Yes?" she said with an excitement I couldn't match. I didn't know what the hell was going on in her head, but I could tell by the anticipation in her voice that she knew what I would ask. Perhaps she'd gone over how she'd react when I popped the question. Or, maybe she didn't want to grow old alone.

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