It happened ten years ago. I was only eight years old. I woke up that morning to the smell of frying eggs and bacon.
Stumbling down the hallway, I was greeted by the sight of a dark haired woman at the stove, humming some friendly tune as she filled a cup to the near brim with orange juice. She turned to me and I nearly jumped out of my skin. In a sense she was pretty, but she had a vicious scar running down the left side of her face.
“Andy! You’re up!” She beamed as she picked up the plate stacked with a delicious smelling breakfast. “I had to run to the store, but I hope you like breakfast!”
Too shocked to say anything else, I replied, “I don’t have breakfast. Where’s my mom?”
The woman laughed and set the plate on the table, now cleared off of shredded bill envelopes and clutter. “She’s gone, so I’m here to make sure you’re all right. You can call me Aunt Nicole, or Nicky, whatever you prefer, I don’t mind! And while I’m here, you have breakfast!” She said in a chipper tone.
Feeling like this all might be a dream, I sat down at the table and took a bite of bacon. It was perfectly crisp, not burnt as it would’ve been if my mom had cooked it. She was always so tired, I normally had to fetch my dinner off the stove myself.
“Is she going to be back soon? My mom?” I asked after I swallowed, it was impolite to talk with your mouth full.
Nicky shrugged. “She didn’t say. Clean your plate, then you can show me your favorite cartoons, okay? Only until ten though- that’s when we’re going to the zoo!” She laughed and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.
The zoo? I remembered my mom telling me that our zoo trip wouldn’t happen this year, she was just too busy with work, but if Nicky was going to take me… I suppose it wouldn’t be too bad to let her stay, I figured, as I chowed down on breakfast.
Maybe you think I was a dumb kid, and I’ll understand that. Maybe I was. But you have to understand, my mom was a single parent working as many shifts as she could pick up. It wasn’t uncommon for her to send a babysitter my way when she couldn’t get home in time, although typically they were younger teens that spent all their time on the phone and maybe threw a frozen pizza in the oven for dinner.
Nicky was different in every way for the week she took care of me.
The house was cleaned top to bottom, I helped in the bathroom while Nicky handled mom’s bedroom. Every night meals were freshly cooked and done to perfection. I remember on Tuesday we had a pizza that she made from scratch. I watched her toss the dough in the air like a real chef and asked how she did that.
“I learned from a real chef,” Nicky winked and tossed the dough again, “in Italy.”
“Have you traveled a lot?” Nicky did have a slight accent, I believe it was British.
She nodded as she set the dough down onto the pan and started adding the toppings. “All over the world. Would you believe that I’ve met the queen?” She winked and I realized she was joking.
“Good. You’re a smart kid, Andy. Don’t just believe things people tell you.” Nicky bit her bottom lip as she cracked open the oven to test the heat. “I never believe what the oven tells me. But this time it’s about right for the perfect pizza.”
It was the perfect pizza too.
Nicky was almost too good of a babysitter. It was like she wanted to be my mom. To be honest, I think she did want to be. She was… bizarre, in small ways. Ways I didn’t think about until much later. She was never home at night, and she always did her laundry in the morning, I could hear the machine banging around when I woke up. Whenever we went out, she slathered her arms and face in sunscreen, almost a ridiculous amount. I asked her about it once.
“I just have delicate skin.”
That was all she’d say about it before she’d change the subject. It was late summer so I accepted the excuse. She made sure I had sunscreen on at all times as well, but even if she was popping out to check the mailbox she’d grab the tube and start slathering it on. I found over a dozen bottles in the towel cabinet, stashed with the ibuprofen and cough medicine.
Nicky loved to read, we went to the library twice when she was there and would stock up on all sorts of books. Typically horror, but she made sure I picked out at least two books for myself the second time we went. I chose two books of the Boxcar Kids series, my mom had given me a few of her old ones and I couldn’t put them down. I still have those books, after everything went down I just never returned them.
It was one of the best weeks of my life, but every night I asked the same thing when Nicky tucked me into bed.
“Did you hear from mom yet?”
Every night, she’d just kiss my forehead and tell me to chase the dream butterflies. I never knew what she meant by that, but I always slept soundly.
The last night I woke up to quiet sobbing. I glanced at my alarm clock, the numbers 1:32 blared back in bright red. I slipped out of bed and into the hall, following the sound to my mother’s bedroom.
Nicky was curled up on my mother’s perfectly made bed, a photo album open next to her. I slowly walked up to Nicky and set a hand on her shoulder. “You should chase the dream butterflies too, Nicky,” I said. Nicky flinched and sat up. The room was dark but I could tell her mouth was covered in… something. I turned on the lamp.
Her mouth was soaked in bright red, along with her hands and shirt. Blood.
“Oh… Andy.” Her voice cracked as she picked me up and set me on the bed next to her, wrapping her arms around me. “I’m something horrible. I’ve done horrible things.”
I remained still in her arms, my eyes flicking open to the page in the album. It was a picture of the day I was born and my birth certificate, my mother proudly showed it to me every birthday and told me how she went through twelve hours of labor before I came into the world. And she’d go through those twelve hours again if she had to, she loved me so much. I might’ve not quite understood what ‘labor’ was about, but I knew she loved me very much.
“… Are you hurt?” I asked, reaching up to brush some of the blood of her mouth.
Nicky shook her head. “No, sweetheart. This isn’t my…” She trailed off and shook, shaking her head. “I thought… maybe, just maybe, I could make things better by taking care of you. I think I’m just making them worse. So much worse. Andy, I’m sorry. Do you forgive me?”
“Forgive you for what?” I asked.
“… Do you forgive me for the horrible things I’ve done to you?”
I frowned. “What horrible things?” I asked.
“The worst thing possible…. No, it’s not fair,” Nicky sighed and released me from her hold, “It’s not fair to ask you to forgive me.” She got up. “I have to leave, Andy… can I do anything else for you?”
I had one more question.
“Why do you have a scar, Nicky?”
Nicky reached up and brushed the side of her face. “… Horrible things happened to me too, Andy. The worst things. I suppose that’s why I can only do horrible things too.” She took the quilt and tucked it over me, smiling softly. “Go to sleep now, Andy, and chase those butterflies to the end of the world and back.”
I woke up the next morning to a police officer shaking my shoulder.
“Hey… Holy shit- guys, the kid’s here!”
Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I sat up and slipped out of bed. The police officer stumbled for words for a moment, whatever he’d been expecting, it certainly wasn’t this. “Andy? Are you okay?” He asked.
I looked around. “… Where’s Nicky?” I asked.
“We’ll find Nicky. We need to get you to the hospital.”
I think I baffled all the doctors and police with my case. When they broke into the apartment to find me, they expected to find this half starved kid, scared out of his wits and desperate to find his mother. But instead they found me dressed and clean, with the house taken care of and with a full stomach.
I think you can guess by now that my mother was dead. I was taken in by my dad, who had no idea I even existed, but he did okay with that. He’d remarried after he and my mom split and I had three half-siblings that I didn’t know existed. It was fun being the big brother and my stepmom Mika was super sweet.
She wasn’t my mom though. And she wasn’t Nicky.
I had to pry the rest of the story out of my dad when I was older. The reason there wasn’t police hammering down my door sooner was that my mom was a Jane Doe in the morgue. She’d been found practically shredded to pieces. The cause of death was bleeding out from an artery in her neck. Her body had been discovered a few blocks from her work, all forms of ID was missing, including her wallet.
My mom always had a picture of me and her in there. And they found that wallet, with bloody fingerprints, in my mom’s nightstand. Right next to where I was sleeping.
My dad still wonders why my mother’s murderer returned to her house only to care for her son, but I don’t need to wonder. I know.
I know this is a long shot, Nicky, but I remember you liked horror so maybe you’ll find this story. I know you killed my mom.
But I forgive you.