Gestalt Media continued the Short Story Contest in January 2020. Contributors submitted short stories
of 3,000 words or less on the theme Guest. Then, it
was up to readers to vote on the winning submission.
The winner of $50 is Alain Davis for her submission entitled I Did this for You. Her story will also appear in the year-end anthology published by Gestalt Media of all short story contest winners.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy this endearing short story by Alain Davis
I Did This For You —by Alain Davis
MONDAY - November 27
“I think you guys found my mom,” Jessica Bryant stuttered.
Various beeps and alarms filtered in through the cracked door. She and her best friend, Chloe Peterson, were crammed in a tiny office marked Charge Nurse at the Skilled Nursing Facility where they worked. “There was a news report about a body that was found? She’s been missing.” It all came out in a gush.
She held her breath to keep from babbling even more. She sent two prayers circling each other: Please let it not be her; Please, if she’s dead, let someone have found her.
“Does she have any identifying markings?” Detective Jones answered gruffly.
“Sh-she has a unicorn tattoo. On her right shoulder blade,” she said, gulping to keep the tears at bay. She went back to her silent prayers to wait for the results.
“Hold please, ma’am,” he said. There was a click and then lame elevator music.
The wait was interminable. The same thoughts chased each other in her mind. What if it’s her? How did she get in that ditch? What if it’s not her? Where could she be?
Finally, Detective Jones came back on the line, “Ma’am?”
“Yes, I’m still here,” Jessica said breathlessly.
“We’re going to send some detectives out to talk to you.”
“Shit. Oh, shit.” She felt the blood drain from her face.
“Ma’am, just take a breath. Relax.”
Jessica barely registered Chloe rushing out of the office to get the charge nurse. She managed to hold herself together long enough to finalize the call.
Now there were three people in the office. She didn’t remember anyone entering. Jessica felt like she was in a fog. Her legs refused to listen when she tried to stand and she collapsed back into her chair.
“It’s her,” she told them. “They’re sending detectives to my house.”
“Jesse, I’m so sorry.” Chloe looked at the charge nurse. “I’m driving her home.” When she got the nod, Chloe gathered their belongings, tucked a stunned Jesse into the passenger seat and drove like a bat out of hell. Jesse sat like a stone, grateful that at least her thoughts had been reduced to something more manageable: What the hell happened?
The knock on the door jarred Jesse out of her shocked silence.
“Miss Bryant? I’m Detective Aykers. This is my partner Detective Perez.”
Detective Aykers was ruggedly handsome, but his blue eyes and shaggy, dark blonde hair belonged on a movie screen, not behind a badge. When Jesse shook his hand, she felt an electric sizzle, a slow delicious flipping sensation in her belly. What the—. She glanced up quickly and saw his eyes widen slightly as his nostrils flared. He continued to hold her hand until Detective Perez cleared her throat.
Detective Perez’s cool, grey eyes assessed the situation, her dark hair swaying in the breeze. Feeling exposed, Jesse blushed as she shook hands with Detective Perez. With the connection, a warm calmness flooded her, and she was momentarily at peace.
“Please, come in. This is my best friend, Chloe Peterson.”
They settled themselves at the dining table. Detective Aykers opened a folio pad on the table. He began gently, “I’m sure you’ve put two and two together and realize we’re here because a previously unidentified body has now been identified as your mother, Jennifer Bryant.”
“Yes,” Jesse whispered. She finally allowed the tears to come and clutched Chloe’s hand tightly. Detective Perez handed her a tissue as Detective Aykers continued.
“A group of ladies, out for a walk, happened to see something unusual on the side of the road. When they got a little closer, they realized it was a person. They called and reported it to authorities. The…person was found wearing only a bathrobe, no possessions. We weren’t able to identify her and didn’t have much to go on. That’s why we turned to the media.” Detective Aykers’ kind eyes washed over Jesse’s worried face.
“Do you need me to identify the... to ID her?” Her breath hitched, and she glanced at Chloe in panic.
“No,” he said softly, covering her free hand with his own, noting the death grip she had on Chloe with the other. Again, that electric sizzle passed between them. Their eyes met and held.
Detective Perez interrupted their moment. “Your mother’s friend, Rose, was the one who ID’d her,” she said gently, although her eyes were shooting daggers at her partner.
Detective Aykers removed his hand and continued, “Rose had seen an earlier run of the news report. We’ve just left the morgue where she positively ID’d your mother. She wanted to spare you from having to see your mom that way. So you could remember her the way she was in life.”
Jesse’s brows knit in confusion. “So, why are you here?” She had been convinced they would haul her in to make an ID, and the thought horrified her.
“Well,” Detective Aykers replied, picking up his pen, “We need you to help us figure out what happened. There were no signs of violence, as far as we can tell, so it’s all a bit of a mystery right now. We’re waiting on her autopsy results to determine her cause of death. When was the last time you saw her?”
Jesse sniffled and took a deep breath. Chloe squeezed her hand, and that fortified her. “I haven’t seen her since right after Thanksgiving, we—” a big shaky breath settled her nerves. “We hadn’t been speaking much.”
“Why is that?”
“I was mad.” Her breath hitched. “I was mad that she was choosing to stay with Robert, even though he’d been abusive towards her. But I talked to her on Saturday. I was going to pick her up yesterday to do some errands.”
“Who is Robert?” Detective Aykers interrupted.
“Robert Mathers. Her on-again, off-again boyfriend.” Jesse shredded the tissue in her hand.
“How did you know she was missing?” Detective Perez asked.
“I called her yesterday morning to see if she was ready, but she never answered. I kept calling all morning. Finally, around lunchtime, Robert answered and said he didn’t know where she was. That’s when I started calling her friends.”
“This boyfriend, do you know where he lives?” Detective Aykers asked.
Jesse frowned in confusion. “With my mom.”
Shouldn’t the detectives know this?
“Bryce, it’s not a good idea, you know that, right?” Melanie Perez smiled at her partner as she let herself into the passenger side of the SUV.
“What?” Bryce cocked an eyebrow.
“Getting involved with someone who is a part of an active investigation.”
“Yeah, like I don’t know that,” Bryce scoffed. He turned in his seat to evaluate his partner. “But, you saw it, too, right? Am I nuts or what?”
“No, you’re not nuts. You two had an electric connection. The whole room could feel it. Whoo!” Melanie fanned herself. “Heaven knows a new start is just what you need. But, just, you know, let’s focus on getting this one closed before you do something...”
“I was going to say, something to jeopardize the integrity of her mother’s case, but sure, yeah. Dumb fits, too.” She chuckled.
Jesse dreamt fitfully that night. Her first dream came fast and hard. Her mother’s boyfriend, Robert Mathers, chased her through an open-air Asian market. The chase seemed to last for hours. When he finally caught her, he grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her violently. “I did this for you!” he shouted repeatedly. Spittle flew from his mouth, landing on her cheeks. A gunshot came from somewhere close by, jarring her from sleep. She woke up sobbing, panting and drenched in sweat.
After a few disoriented minutes wondering where she was, her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Then the realization that her mother was gone came crashing down again, which brought more tears.
Finally, Jesse’s crying slowed to sniffles, and she shuffled to the kitchen to make a cup of hot tea. She wrapped herself in a throw blanket and flopped on the couch. After that nightmare, she figured it would be hours before sleep came again, but exhaustion snuck up on her.
This time, she and her mom were in the car, driving down the street like any normal day. Her mother turned to her and said, “I know we haven’t always gotten along, honey, especially lately. But I wanted you to know I did this for you. So you could have a chance at the life you were meant to have, with that handsome detective. Don’t hate Robert, too much. I made him do it. Now, go get that detective and be happy. Love you.”
Before Jesse could respond, the dream dissolved, and she bolted upright. Even in death, she’s manipulating people! Tears cut hot grooves down her cheeks.
Across town, Bryce Aykers stared at the ceiling for what seemed like hours before drifting into an unsettled sleep. Dreams were disjointed, choppy. Finally, a single dream came to the forefront.
The homicide victim from earlier was sitting next to him on his couch. She was rather pretty, in a plain way, and looked strikingly like her daughter without all the sticks, dirt, and dead leaves in her long blonde hair - more like a sister than a mother.
She turned and looked up at him. Without preamble, she said, “I did this for you, Bryce. You and my Jesse deserve all the happiness this world can offer. Life gives us certain opportunities to...duck out.” She smiled sweetly, her green eyes sparkling. “I chose this one, in order to bring you two together. I regret how much pain I caused her, in life and in death. Try to help Jesse let go of the pain and not hate him too much. I made him do it.”
As he opened his mouth to ask her who, how, where, when—all the usual detective questions—she had faded away, and the dream morphed once again.
He was in an open-air Asian market. Despite his disorientation, he could sense something bad was happening. He caught a flash and realized someone was chasing Jesse. He was in hot pursuit. The faster he ran after the pair, the more distance he had to gain.
Finally, he stopped and assumed a shooter’s stance, pulling a service weapon from his holster. Once he did, the distance shortened and he could see spittle flying from the man’s mouth as he shook Jesse, screaming, “I did this for you!” in her face.
The sonic boom from his weapon jolted him awake, his harsh breath loud in the darkness, the sheets tangled around his sweat-soaked body.
FRIDAY - December 1
“Detective Aykers. What are you doing here?” Jesse stepped back to let him in. As he brushed past her, that now familiar sizzle sent butterflies to flight, except now came with it the memory of the dreams and the weird messages.
“Thank you.” He stood in her living room and fixed her in place with his mesmerizing eyes. Part of Jesse’s brain told her she was imagining things. Another part told her this was hardly the time. But a little voice in the back of her head whispered this was the point the whole time.
Jesse cleared her throat. “So, what can I help you with?”
“Oh.” He ran his hand through his hair then shoved both hands in his pockets. “I wanted to update you. Maybe we should sit down?”
“I’m fine.” She crossed her arms, hoping it came off as nonchalant. Mostly it was to keep from reaching out to him.
“The coroner has ruled your mother’s death inconclusive. There were no signs of asphyxiation, no petechial hemorrhages and her hyoid bone was intact. I assume with your nursing training all that makes sense, but I’m happy to answer any questions—“
“No, I understand.”
“So, then how did she die?” she wondered out loud.
“We’re still trying to figure that out. But the good news is they can now release the body. You know, for funeral arrangements.” He handed her a card. “Just contact them and tell them which funeral home you’re using. They’ll take care of the rest.”
“You’re welcome. Still no word from Robert?”
“No. And his cell phone goes straight to voicemail now. I don’t know where he could be.”
“Well, if you hear from him, give me a call. With no evidence of a violent crime, he’s not under any direct suspicion, but we’d still like to check in with him. It’s just a loose end we’d like to tie up.” He handed her a second business card, making intense eye contact that she found difficult to break. Glancing at the card, she noticed he had written a cell phone number on the back.
She saw him to the door. As he was about to leave, he turned and shook her hand, which caused tingling sensations to run up and down her spine. Just when she thought he would pull her closer, he suddenly released her, jammed his hands in his pockets and quickly walked away.
TUESDAY - December 5
Jesse arrived at her mom’s apartment to gather some things for the funeral. As soon as she entered, she knew something was wrong.
There was blood everywhere. It was mostly in the kitchen: smeared on the refrigerator, in big pools on the counters, dripping down cabinets.
She followed drips into the apartment’s single bedroom, where Jesse found Robert lying face down on her mother’s bed. Blood was crusted on jagged wounds on both of his wrists. He was breathing but wouldn’t respond. Jesse immediately called 911.
As soon as she got off the phone with emergency responders, she called Detective Aykers to notify him she had finally found Robert.
FRIDAY - December 8
Jesse sat in the first pew, alone. The funeral was done, the mourners had left. She had shooed Chloe off, saying she needed a few minutes alone.
It had been so jarring, seeing her in the casket. Everything had been wrong. The wig was too big, the wrong color and style. The pancake makeup on her face was too orange. It made Jesse wonder if they had the right person in the casket. Was this really Jennifer Bryant? Maybe they mixed up the bodies at the morgue. But then, Jesse noticed her mother’s fingers. Cracked at the tips, from years of paperwork. She smiled, relieved that her mother had been found; much as she had been angry with her, she still loved her.
That’s where Detective Aykers found her. Sitting all alone in the front pew, a soft half-smile on her face.
“Oh, Detective Aykers. Hello.”
“Please, call me Bryce,” he said as he sat next to her.
“Okay. Only if you call me Jesse.”
“We went to interview Robert. I thought I should come to update you, give you some closure. Seemed like now would be a perfect time, but we can do this later.”
“No, now’s fine.”
“He was on a 72-hour suicide hold. Since he was severely intoxicated, we waited until he’d finished rapid detox.” He took a fortifying breath. “He told us he and your mom had been arguing on and off for weeks, even more so the day before she went missing.”
“I knew they’d been arguing a lot. That was nothing new for them. It’s why we weren’t speaking before she died.”
“Robert said that they had a big fight, so he left to blow off steam. When he came back, he calmly sat down next to Jennifer on the couch, then used the belt from her bathrobe to strangle her. Afterward, he didn’t know what to do. He eventually left her on the side of the road, hoping no one would find her. All of which explained the lack of violence or self-defense.”
“Why couldn’t the coroner tell she’d been strangled?”
“I asked that, too. Turns out, strangulation isn’t always as violent as it’s portrayed on T.V. So, they suppose that if the belt was wide and soft enough, and if she didn’t struggle...” Bryce trailed off.
Jesse’s eyes went wide as what he said coupled with the message from her dreams. So, Mom actually DID let him kill her…
“That’s just like her,” Jesse said under her breath.
“She’s always known how to manipulate people. It’s another thing we were fighting about.”
Bryce shook that part off for the time being.
“But the weird part,” Bryce said, “is when Robert looked straight at me and said, ‘I did it for you’, which makes zero sense because I don’t even know the guy. When I asked him what that meant, he told me to ask you.” Bryce turned to Jesse, resting his arm on the back of the pew, his hand next to hers. “So, what does that mean, Jesse?”
“You’ll think I’m crazy,” she whispered, searching his face.
“When we first met,” she started haltingly, “I immediately felt a connection with you. I think you felt it too. That night I had two dreams. In the first one, Robert was chasing me. When he caught me he kept yelling at me, ‘I did this for you’. Until I heard a gunshot.” She waved her hand dismissively.
Jesse glanced at his face, afraid of finding dismissal.
She was amazed to find… belief. She pressed on. “In the second dream, it was my mom. She was telling me she did it for me, too. To not hate Robert, because she made him do it.”
Bryce was smiling, a chuckle rumbling low in his chest.
“What do you think?” Jesse asked hesitantly.
“You’ll think I’m crazy,” Bryce answered playfully.
“Try me,” Jesse said boldly.
“I think…” Bryce covered her hand with his. She linked her fingers with his. Warmth and strength seeped into her, slowly crowding out pain, anger, resentment. Bryce lowered his head to hers and whispered in her ear, “This was the point the whole time.”
Alain is an avid reader turned writer. She is a bright light in this world, trying to make a difference one soul—and one swear word—at a time.
Thank you so much for entering the short story competition.
We look forward to more stories from you in the future.
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