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TAINTED by Dani Matthews (1)

One

Ren

 

He’s watching me again.

As I pour a shot and slide it across the bar to the awaiting patron—accepting cash in return, I feel his eyes on me.

I turn away and slip the money into the register, furrowing my brow now that my face is hidden from view. He’s not watching me because he wants to get laid. If he were, I’d try him out and then send him on his way.

No, he’s here to keep tabs on me.

I’d noticed him yesterday evening, and at first, I’d thought perhaps he was admiring me, but he hadn’t made a move to snag my attention. Every time my gaze had managed to slide his way though, he’d proceeded to act as if I held no special appeal to him—like he hadn’t been watching me.

Now he’s back, and I know for certain he’s here because of me.

The old saying goes, ‘The sins of the father are laid upon the children.’ I’ve learned from personal experience how very true that can be. My father’s sins have become my own, and no matter how much distance I try to put between myself and those sins, they still follow me. They haunt me every moment of the day like an infection seeping into my veins. There is no escape for me. His deeds are with me wherever I go, but I’m still running, and will continue to do so. As long as he’s alive, I’m not safe.

I thought I was secure here, but evidently, I was wrong. If this man had found me, my father could do so as well. I’m reluctant to leave the smidgen of a life I’d developed here in San Diego during the past few months. So instead of panicking and hightailing it out of the city with my few belongings, I’d decided to see what today would bring.

So far, I haven’t been able to figure out his agenda. Is he here because he has a fascination with the serial killer that had caught national attention five years ago? Does he feel a kinship to the man that had murdered dozens of women? Maybe he is a reporter, hoping to get an exclusive from the one that got away—me.

Sadly, I’ve met all those types. The ones that wish they had the balls to do what my father had done, and the types that thrive on blood and gore and all the publicity that goes along with the crimes. Before I’d fled my childhood home in Chicago, I’d had female reporters approaching me in public bathrooms. No place was too private—everyone wanted a piece of me. The public, the police, my father.

I had no choice but to run or go insane from the pressure of having so many eyes focused on me—eager for me to pay for his deeds, or wanting to peel back the layers of my mind in hopes of understanding what made my father become a sociopath.

Yeah, having his genes is no picnic. I’m as tainted as one comes, but at least I’m still breathing…for now.

Which brings me back to the handsome stranger that seems to be stalking me. Today has been the same as yesterday. His eyes watch me, but he makes no move to approach.

As the evening wears on and last call is announced, he slips off into the night. Though he’s no longer present, he doesn’t stray far from my thoughts as the bar closes, and I exit out the back.

There are plenty of lights in the parking lot behind the building, but that doesn’t prevent me from gripping the pepper spray attached to my keychain. I’m always on edge, and it wouldn’t surprise me if my handsome stalker was awaiting me. Thankfully, my overactive imagination is proven to be just that. There appears to be no one near my little gray Honda, and as I scan the vicinity of the area, I deem it to be safe.

I quickly unlock the car and slide into the driver’s seat, closing the door and locking it. Now that I am safely enclosed, I draw in a deep breath and exhale as I try to calm my nerves. This is my way of life now. Five years ago, I was an innocent teenager with hopes and dreams, and all that’s left now is this jaded shell that I’ve become. My father stripped me of everything that I once was, and now I barely recognize myself. Witnessing the depravity of his crimes will do that to a person.

Tim, one of the other bartenders exits the building and waves to me as he saunters across the lot. I give him a quick wave and start the car to deter him from attempting to approach me. He’s cute, I’ll give him that, but I don’t sleep with coworkers.

My headlights sweep across the building before I exit the parking lot and merge onto the busy street. It’s late, but this is San Diego. The young twenty-something-year-olds never sleep, and life appears to be one big party.

Lucky bastards.

As I drive, I think of my own private party awaiting me back at my apartment. Jack, Jim, Johnnie, Jose, and a few other bad boys help me relax and keep the nightmares at bay.

I probably shouldn’t indulge tonight, and instead, I should concentrate on packing. However, I have tomorrow off and can begin packing in the morning when I wake from my intoxicated stupor.

A heavy sensation settles in my chest. I really liked San Diego, and now the strange man has ruined it for me. Maybe I should have approached him and called him out on his stalking, but that’s not my style. Confrontations can cost me my anonymity when I’m trying so desperately to stay low-key. No, I’ll just leave him behind and hope that I can slip out of the area unnoticed.

Logic warns me that I should just grab my things and leave now, but I hate traveling at night. The dark…it bothers me. I feel safer in daylight, and even though someone has found me, I can’t bring myself to leave while the city is cast in darkness and shadows. Besides, I’m just lucky my father hasn’t found me. If he had, I’d be dead. There’s no doubt in my mind that my stalker has no official ties to my father, because my father doesn’t play well with others. This man, he’s here for his own reasons—whatever those may be. I have no intention of finding them out.

When I reach the rundown apartment building that I’ve been calling home, I park my car in my designated spot and scan the area for anyone lurking about. Yes, this is a part of my nightly routine. There is nothing normal about my existence. Not anymore, that is.

A few minutes later, I’ve made it inside my apartment and quickly switch on the light as I close the door, turning the deadbolt into place. My eyes snag on where I’d used a screwdriver to remove the chain lock. Goosebumps break out across my skin, and I try to focus on adjusting my eyes to the new light instead of remembering why the removal of the chain had been necessary.

I quickly hurry to the small bathroom located across the open room and turn on the light, leaving the door wide open so I can see inside the tiny room.

Now that the lights are on, I feel safer, but not completely. I drag the old, chipped chair I’d bought at a yard sale for twenty-five cents and secure it beneath the doorknob of the apartment’s front door. One can never be too careful.

I back away from the door and scan the room, taking in my surroundings. The apartment is incredibly small with its one room and bathroom, but it’s enough for me, and the price is in my range. The water-stained ceiling and frayed carpet is the least of my worries. As long as I have a door with a lock, and plenty of light, I don’t care what my surroundings look like.

Now that I am secure for the night, the weight lifts from my shoulders as I walk to the counter where my boys are waiting for me. I grab a bottle of Jack and swallow a mouthful of the liquid, enjoying the familiar burn as it slides down my throat.

A pleasant sensation soon begins to make itself known, and when I’ve had enough, I set the bottle down and strip out of my clothes that reek of cigarette smoke. I should probably shower, but I don’t see the point. I’ll just be taking a shower in the morning to wipe away the cobwebs of a hangover and bring myself back to reality. No point in taking a shower twice in a matter of a few hours.

I quickly slip on an old pair of sweatpants, socks, and a tank before grabbing Jack and settling on the air mattress—the only furniture I own—if you can even call it that. Sweat has already beaded across my brow, but I welcome it as I pull a blanket over me. The apartment isn’t air-conditioned, and it’s already sweltering from the day’s earlier heat. I’ll be drenched in sweat soon, but it’s something I crave. It’s the opposite of cold, and I can’t be cold. Never again.

After I drain enough of the liquor to know that I’ll sleep without nightmares, I set it on the floor. Next, I turn on the alarm clock radio plugged into the nearest outlet. Low rock music fills the silence, and at last, I allow my head to touch the pillow. The ceiling light blinds me, but it gives me the illusion of safety.

This is me.

I’m all sorts of fucked up.

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