03 July 2011

Finale: Part 1

I know, I know, I sound like a broken record. Really, I have no excuse for this delay other than having to uninstall/reinstall again. The problem, as ever, lies in my obsession with CC. Fair warning: the next half of the finale and the last post of this chapter will not be posted until the 20th, at the earliest. My cousin's coming to visit and I won't be on my computer a lot because we've got Lots of Stuff planned for her. Plus, my computer takes up like the whole living room and will have to be put away for the majority of the day. I will be working on the post in bits and pieces at night, however, and I'm really trying to make an effort to be more on top of my writing. To be honest, if it weren't for Kaleeko and PiB, I might never have finished this post! So basically... I love all you guys. You keep me motivated and restore my faith in the Sims community. Never stop reminding me to work on my updates. <3

It was cold, dark, and damp in the rotting shack, but none of her surroundings compared to the humiliation Jane felt at being tricked and caged by someone she’d trusted. He’d been two steps ahead of her the entire time, but she’d been too blinded by her ego and her own petty problems to see it. She’d spent the first few hours of her captivity cursing her stupidity, while her captor prowled around the room muttering to himself in a tone of desperation. In fact, he’d seemed rather wound up ever since they’d driven up to the decrepit house in the middle of the swamp. Jane could barely hear, but every so often she would make out a string of words, mostly involving Amy.

As the hours had gone by, she’d begun to entertain the faint hope that his mental instability would prove to be her escape. If she could only get him to talk, perhaps she could make use of his nerves and guilt to find a way out of this mess. But to do that, she’d need to introduce the subject in a way that wouldn’t provoke another sort of reaction- one that might have quite a different ending.  It was clear that her kidnapper was hardly a sane man, despite all the indications to the contrary- and while she wanted to believe that he wouldn’t harm her, she couldn’t help but think about the fact that he had committed murder once before.

And there was nothing to stop him from doing it again.

"What did you do, what did you do?" Matt muttered as he paced back and forth in front of the dingy bathroom mirror. "You kidnapped someone, you freaking idiot..." It didn't seem to matter, or perhaps it had simply never occurred to him, that he'd already done things so much worse than a simple kidnapping. There was the murder, the blackmail, the arson... His crimes had piled up somehow, quite without his noticing, and now it was too late.

But perhaps the ends justified the means, he reflected. After all, what choice had he had? All of his careful work to hide the events of that terrible afternoon... Everything he'd done would have been for nothing. If only that blonde reporter could have kept her stupid mouth shut. She should have been content with the police's official findings, but instead she'd kept digging. He had half a mind to kill her right here and now for all the hell she'd put him through.

But if it hadn't been Jane, it would have been someone else, and as much as Matt Schtick was a killer, he wasn't a monster. What had happened with Amy... It had been a mistake, no doubt about it. He'd regretted it every day since, and the guilt had been almost as bad as Jane's meddling. In a way, he was almost grateful to Jane for finding out. No matter what happened now, it would be the end of everything, and perhaps that was the most he deserved.

"No, it's more than you deserve," he admitted to himself with a sigh. The worn couch creaked as he sat down, but he hardly noticed the noise. He'd only lived here for a few months, and he'd never made the effort to invest in furniture that wasn't falling apart. He hadn't thought it necessary, at the time; perhaps a part of him had always known that he wouldn't be staying here very long. He buried his face in his hands, trying to figure out what the hell he was going to do. There was simply no way out of this that he could see.

Jane watched as her captor broke down, torn between a vicious anger and an unwilling sympathy. She didn't owe this man anything, not after the window, and the notes, and the fire. He'd cost her family so much, but she couldn't help feeling an odd surge of compassion for him. He looked so devastated and beaten down- a sharp contrast to the brutal coldness with which he'd greeted her at the cemetery. She realized with a chilling clarity that she was watching someone lose their mind.

"Is... everything okay?" she asked haltingly, the words sounding false even as she spoke them. It was simply routine, the good manners that her mother had drilled into her from her youth. She didn't really care about his answer, but she was curious to see if this sudden weakness could be exploited. From the looks of the empty bottles cluttering the cabin, Matt had developed a heavy drinking problem, and it was only a matter of time before he would need another drink. If she could get him to talk about whatever was plaguing him, it was sure to speed up the process, and a drunk kidnapper was bound to be much easier to subdue than a sober one.

"Yes... No. I don't know anymore. Everything's... This wasn't the plan," he declared, a sense of urgency haunting his words. "None of this was supposed to happen."

"You didn't mean to kidnap me?" Jane's voice held only a hint of bitter sarcasm.

"No, not that. Just... all of it. Amy... I never meant to hurt her," Matt confessed. "I mean... I know what I did. But it was never meant to go that far, none of it. Not Amy, not the blackmailing, not you. But you had to stick your nose where you had no business being, didn't you?" He scowled, kicking at the beat-up coffee table. "But it had gone wrong long before that. All of my plans for that afternoon, and nothing went right. Of course, you could always count on Amy to do the exact opposite of what you wanted her to do." He smiled mournfully, his eyes staring across the room at Jane without seeing her as his thoughts carried him far away from the tiny shack.

"I can still remember the day I met her, all those years ago. I'd just moved to Twinbrook, and I didn't know anyone. She was playing in the sandbox, though I don't know if playing is the right word. She had always had an imagination so much bigger than the world around her. Other people looked around and saw what was there, but she could look through it, seeing things in a way that everyone else had forgotten how to do. I was in such awe of her; I think I stood there for ten, fifteen, maybe twenty minutes, just staring at her and trying to figure out just how to talk to her.

"She was building a sandcastle, though she would destroy it every five minutes and start over again. She never seemed to be happy with what she created, but I think it was more than that. I think for her, the real beauty was in the destruction. She loved smashing the castles to pieces, flinging the sand in every direction and watching her hard work being reduced to a mound of rubble. She would sit there, staring at the mess, and after a few seconds she would smile in satisfaction and start over again.

"I finally worked up the nerve to talk to her, and she barely looked up from her work to smile at me and toss me a shovel. 'Well?' she asked expectantly. 'What are you waiting for? Start digging!' Even then, I did exactly what she asked without question. I always did.

"I tried to emulate the way she threw the sand everywhere, but from the frown on her face I knew I was doing it wrong. There was a passion in her destruction that I could never quite copy, a method to the madness that only she knew. I contented myself with building the structure and watching patiently whenever she decided to knock it down.

"After a half an hour, she had lost interest in her sandcastles altogether. She stood up abruptly, eyeing the rest of the playground to decide what she wanted to do next. I'd barely stood up myself when she took off like a shot, racing across the playground with a brief smile back at me. I knew without her telling me that I was supposed to follow, and I did.

"That was always the way between the two of us. She would run headfirst into things, and I would try to keep up. There was no rhyme or reason to it, but it became our dynamic. She started running the day we met, and I think I spent the rest of my life trying to catch her.

"By the time we were teens, she had me wrapped around her pinky. I was helpless to do anything other than follow her around like a lost puppy, and she was oblivious to how much I needed her. She started dating when we were in middle school, and from that point on she almost always had a boyfriend. And they were all the same," Matt noted ruefully, a wry smile playing across his lips. "The worst, of course, being Chase.

"She never saw him for what he was. None of them ever did. To her, he was her prince charming, her ticket out of Twinbrook. She thought he was perfect. But if he was so perfect, would he have cheated on her? Would he have broken her heart and left her alone with a baby?" His voice rose as his anger did, and Jane drew in on herself, sheltering herself from his rage.

"I saw who he was, of course," Matt added. "I tried to tell her, but she would never listen. He was so handsome to her, so sophisticated and experienced, and he picked her out of all of the other girls in school. That's what did her in. She'd never been picked first in anything, but Chase was drawn to her like a moth to a flame, and she loved that. Amy was the kind of person who wanted other people to need her more than she needed them. She led him on for months, rejecting him for date after date, until she finally decided it was the right time. It seemed a bit cruel to me, at the time, but I didn't have the heart to tell her."

He paused, a brief expression of pain crossing his features. "I warned her about him, each time. She didn't even know about most of the times he cheated on her, and the ones she did find out about were easily forgiven. It was my word against his; he was so charming and smooth, and I was just a kid with a bad haircut and even worse social skills.

"Every time I watched them make out, talking to each other in those stupidly sweet voices, I felt like jumping out a window. But I owed it to Amy to be there for her, even if I didn't agree with her relationships. What was my alternative? I had to have her in my life, and I didn't really care how. Still, I can't deny it hurt every time she went out on another date, every time she talked about how great her current boyfriend was, every time she bemoaned the lack of decent guys in her life. Every time she would get crushed, she would turn to me for comfort, and I'd listen and be there for her. But when she started dating Chase, she turned to me less and less.

"We'd had a standing agreement that we'd go to prom with each other our senior year, since neither of us had been asked our junior year and we didn't want to skip out on the experience again. But shortly after she started dating Chase, she asked me if I wouldn't mind if she went with Chase.

"She was never the type to out-and-out boss people around, but she had a way with words that made you want to do things for her. You wanted to help her, you wanted to make her happy, because when she smiled, it was the best thing in the world, and you'd do just about anything to see it again and again. So of course, I said yes, every time. This was no different.

"'Of course I don't mind," I said, knowing that each word was a lie. 'I was going to ask this sophomore anyways.' There was no sophomore, but Amy didn't know that, and I don't think she even realized that I wasn't at the prom that year. She believed me without question, just as she always did. In her own naive way, she believed in the best of everyone; she wouldn't have comprehended why I would lie to her, or that I would even be capable of it.

"'You're the best, Matt,' she'd replied with a happy sigh, drawing me close for a hug. And every ounce of anger that I may have felt towards her evaporated, the way it always did, because I'd do just about anything to have her hug me with that smile on her face. I'd have put up with just about anything to have her in my life, even as a friend.

"That was why I was never able to tell her how I felt, even if hadn't been dating Chase Cruz. I couldn't bear the idea of her rejection, knowing that it would likely remove her from my life forever. So there I was, in the worst and best situation possible: friendship.

"But in the end, I lost even that." Matt sighed heavily, staring down at his black gloves. "It was that jackass Cruz's fault, of course. After graduation, they'd moved in together, and when I heard that he'd proposed to her and she'd said yes, I begged her to reconsider. But she was stubborn, and we got in the worst fight we'd ever been in. After that, I decided it was time to give up the ghost." He paused, his words harder to find now that he'd come to the real center of his story.

"When I saw her again, it was years later. Chase had left her by then, and Amy had started to run into trouble. I think you know what trouble I'm talking about," Matt said, eyeing her with a mix of disdain and caution. "You must, or you wouldn't have been able to trace me to that afternoon."

Jane said nothing and stared at her feet neutrally.

"I'd been working with Jenni for months," Matt admitted carelessly. "It doesn't matter if I tell you now, anyways. Amy had had no idea. I don't think she even knew I was still in town." Matt smiled proudly, an odd satisfaction lighting up his features. "I even moved houses, just in case she wanted to look me up. At first, I was determined to put her out of my life altogether. But when I met Jenni, who harbored a grudge against Amy for stealing Chase's affections from her... I decided to form a plan.

"Of course, Jenni's still convinced that the plan was her idea, but it had been my words that formed the strategies we employed. My goal was simple: by encouraging Jenni to ruin Amy's life, I would be able to turn her into the police and look like the hero for once. I knew I wasn't the hero Amy had always pictured, but I was convinced that when I offered to help her turn Jenni in, she would change her mind.

"I arranged to meet her that afternoon at Hollowlog Springs. It was secluded, quiet, romantic- everything I could want for my plan's setting. I think she was surprised to hear from me after all those years, but if she suspected anything, her voice betrayed no sign.

"I told her everything, from the way I felt about her- had always felt about her- to the revelation that I knew who had been blackmailing her. I told her I could get Jenni to stop, that I could help her with her debt, that we could be happy together. 'These are for you,' I said, pulling out a bouquet of white roses. 'White roses, for purity and new beginnings...'' My voice faltered then, as I waited for her response.

"I had pictured this moment a thousand times in my head, but the one reaction I never considered was that she'd start crying. A pained expression crossed her face, and I knew immediately that my plan was not going to work. All of the words I'd practiced, the gestures, the romance- it all went up in smoke the minute she looked at me with tears in her eyes and answered me with a sharp and resounding 'No.'

"I think I'd always known that she would never look at me that way, that she simply couldn't. But I'd had to hear her say the words out loud until I would believe it for myself. 'No, Matt,' she'd said, shaking her head and taking a step backwards. 'You're ruining everything!' I half-expected her to stamp her foot and whine. Had she always been so childish? Had I simply never noticed?

"I was frozen, unable to drop the flowers, unable to look anywhere else. Everything flew through my head in that moment, everything I had ever felt for her since the first time I saw her sitting there in the sandbox, taking such pleasure in destroying the things she had built. Only now, I saw her for the first time, really saw her.

"When I could finally move, I found myself asking the one question that was on my mind. 'Why?' I blurted out, fling the flowers aside on the grass. 'Why not me? Is it how I look? How I act? You've never even thought about me as anything other than a peon to do your bidding, no matter how hard I tried. I've seen you date everybody else in this town, even if they weren't any good for you. I was always good for you, Amy. Why?'

"She couldn't look at me, but I wanted to hear her say the words.

"She looked at the ground, her hands falling limply to her side. 'I just don't think of you in that way, and I don't think I ever can, Matt. You're just... not enough for me.' Her words cut me to the core, but she hardly even noticed.

"She had never noticed me.

"I was full of anger in that moment, anger at who she really was, anger at myself for making such a fool of myself over someone like her, anger that my plan had failed so completely. 'This isn't how it's supposed to go!' I yelled suddenly, my fists curled into balls. 'You're supposed to love me! That was the plan!'

"'What plan?' she asked, her eyes narrowing in curiosity and suspicion. I ignored her, my mind racing ahead to try to salvage the situation.

"'You're supposed to love me,' I repeated slowly. 'I earned that much." I leaned forward, trying to kiss her, trying to get her to see. But she cringed away from me, and her expression of disgust and fury brought me to my senses.

"No, she did not love me. And she never would."

"I let go of her slowly, pushing her back as if to physically repel her. How could I have not seen what kind of a person she was? She was no angel; she was cold, calculating, manipulative, and selfish, and everything she did was to further her own means. I doubted if she'd ever cared about anybody else in her life. She certainly hadn't cared about me. What had our friendship meant to her, if anything at all? I'd sensed the truth long ago, but love had blinded me to her flaws.

"I reached into my pocket and pulled out the leatherman knife I always carried with me, flicking it open and running my thumb along its blade. I was past all sense of logic or reason; I only knew that I wanted to hurt her like she'd hurt me. And it was clear, so painfully clear, that my words would never be enough to get through to her. I had to make her pay.

"The rest is a blur. I remember it like a series of pictures, each one more gruesome than the last. Each one stands out sharply in my mind, even after all these months. I remember the feeling of my knife sinking into her stomach, the grimace of pain on her face as she stared at the pooling blood, the smell of the grass in the late afternoon.

"But most of all, I remember the combination of panic, adrenaline, and freedom that flooded my veins as I realized what I'd done.

"She sank to her knees, and there was nothing of the grace I remembered in her movements. She was awkward and rigid, and as I watched the life leave her body, I was surprised at how easy death was. Life- life was the hard part. And yet, it was all too simple to end the struggle. I saw that now.

"She begged, in the end." Matt laughed then, a cold and startling laugh that sent chills down Jane's spine. "I was amazed at how weak she was once she had been knocked off her pedestal. She was merely human now; there was nothing left of her magical hold over me. She cried, and begged for me to get help. 'You didn't mean it, I know you didn't,' she said, panic creeping into her voice. 'I'll tell them that, too, just... please. Please call 911.'

"I didn't, of course. She didn't deserve mercy, not from me.

"As I watched the life leave the woman I'd once loved, I began to realize what I'd done. I'd killed a person- and not just anyone. I'd killed my best friend. No matter what Amy had said or done, we'd once been closer than I'd ever been to anybody else, and I'd taken her life. I wavered back and forth between a certainty and crushing doubt, not knowing whether or not I'd done the right thing. Hatred and fear fought a fierce war within me, and in the end self-preservation won out.

"It would be hours before the police found her body, and by that time I would be back home. No one would be able to find the knife, and no one had known that she was going to Hollowlog Springs to meet me. There would be no way to trace me to the crime, and I resolved to put it behind me. I would never speak about what had happened to another living soul. And until you stuck your nose in my business, I didn't." Matt's voice trailed off, his memories fading behind a heavy curtain. Jane sat there, speechless and unable to process the words she'd just heard.

"And now, of course, I can't let you survive to tell this tale," Matt announced, his voice almost cheerful at the prospect. "So it looks like I'm going to have to kill you after all."

"Everything looks good, Angie!" Moe's voice was warm and reassuring, but Angie was still fidgeting nervously in her hospital bed. There was something nagging at the corners of her mind, something important, but she couldn't remember what it was.

"If your vitals continue to improve, we might be able to send you home as early as next week!" Dr. Pesce informed her. Angie knew she should be happy, but the incomplete memories were bothering her more than they should.

"Dr. Pesce... When will my memories come back?" she asked, afraid that the answer wouldn't be what she wanted to hear.

He hesitated. "Well, there's no definite answer. I'm sorry to say this, but they may never come back. You're fortunate, however; many people in your situation lose more than just a day's worth of memories. Count your blessings, Miss Morris."

Dr. Pesce's bubbly voice and condescending answer rubbed her the wrong way. "Great," she replied flatly. "Just peachy.

Moe frowned as he regarded his patient. Many patients in this situation suffered from post traumatic disorder or depression, and he wondered if he would have to keep her in the hospital longer than he'd anticipated.

"Angie..." he began. His reply was cut short by the sound of the door being flung open.

"Pesce! We need to talk."

Moe's eyes narrowed in suspicion and hatred as he took in the unwelcome sight of Chase Cruz. "What is it?" he snapped, forgetting to watch his manners in the presence of a patient.

"I just came from dropping Ethan off at your house, and there's something you should know. Moe..." Chase hesitated, fear flooding his face as he contemplated how to break the news to Moe. "Something's... happened."

"What? What happened? What did you do?" Moe advanced on him angrily, his mind jumping to the direst of conclusions. Had Jane left him? Had she finally succumbed to Chase's flirtations?

Chase backed away, his hands held up in protestation. "Calm down, Moe... I didn't do anything. It's Jane... she'd been kidnapped." The words fell out of his mouth in a rush of emotion and fear, and at first Moe thought he'd misheard him.

"She... what? What happened?"

"We don't know." Chase shook his head. "Isabel was talking to her on the phone, and then Jane's voice cut out and she heard a huge commotion. The police found her phone in the cemetery, but there's no sign of her. We don't know... where she is."

Moe shook his head as if he could make the words untrue by not hearing them.

"I don't... I don't understand. Who would have wanted to take her?" Moe mumbled, his voice almost imperceptible.

Angie's mind was in turmoil, struggling to remember what she'd seen and read the day of her accident. "Guys... I think I remember something."

Moe and Chase paid no attention to her, their minds on Jane and her predicament. "Isabel said that she'd been talking about figuring out who'd killed Amy, and that she was going to check something out before coming home," Chase said, his voice thoughtful.

"Guys!" Angie was more insistent now. "I remember something I read that night... I think it might be important."

Moe whipped around, looking at her with an intensity that she'd never seen on his face before. "What is it?" he demanded, his words almost rude.

"I remember reading an entry in Amy's diary... she said..." Angie frowned, struggling to remember all of the details. Every word was of the most crucial importance now. "She said she was going to meet someone at Hollowlog Springs."

"Who?" Moe and Chase's voices rang out in unison.

"It was... Matt. Matt Schtick. He was the person she was going to meet that night."

Moe's face narrowed in determination, anger, and fury. "If Jane's with Matt, and Matt killed Amy... she could be in grave danger."

Chase nodded in agreement. "There's not a moment to lose."

"We'd better not waste any time, then," Moe remarked, throwing the clipboard onto the hospital bed and running out the door. "Are you coming or not, Cruz?"

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