The first time she entered this room seven years ago came flooding back. She had just turned sixteen. She had just met her uncle for the first time. She had just buried her mother and father.
“Welcome to your new home, child,” Uncle Paul said, “Put your bags down and come have a seat. If you are going to be living in my house, you need to understand the rules.”
No one had called her ‘child’ in a long time, and she had no intention of following any rules.
“Just tell me where my room is. I’m going out.”
She was shocked by the speed with which he crossed the room, and even more so when the back of his hand struck her face.
“You will do as your told, young lady. Despite the fact that you are my namesake, I never intended being a parent at this stage of my life. However, your parents named me as legal guardian and I intend to honor their wishes. As you will honor mine. Now sit. You may go to your room when you are dismissed.”
She walked toward the old Queen Anne sofa and sat, her mind in a haze. Paula’s uncle towered over her, the hand an unspoken threat.
“The first rule of course, is that you will always obey me without question. You will serve yourself breakfast before school, and return home promptly afterwards and attend to your studies…”
His voice was reduced to a buzz in Paula’s brain has the rules droned on. The only thought in her mind was how did she get into this situation and how was she going to get out of it. Paula hadn’t got along great with her parents, but it was normal stuff about homework and boys. They had never hit her.
The days and weeks passed in a blur, the only constant was her misery and isolation. She wasn’t allowed out with her friends, and she was afraid to have them visit her. One day, her uncle picked her up after school.
“We’re going to pay a visit to my lawyer. Your parents made me your guardian, but we need to tidy up some loose ends. Your parents left you quite a sum in trust and you need a will. I will become your heir and you will be mine.”
As she entered the law offices of Coben, Koontz, & King, her mind wrestled with this new information. She didn’t want him to be her heir, but she had no one else, and besides, she was afraid of arguing with him.
During the discussion with her uncle’s creepy lawyer, Mr. King, she discovered something about her parent’s death that had been kept from her before. She knew they died in a traffic accident on the coastal highway, but until now, she didn’t know that an unknown driver had run them off the road.
After that, she noticed a change in her uncle’s treatment toward her. He acted kinder, but behind the act was a predatory malevolence. He would cook her meals, and take her on long drives along the coast. At sunset, he would frequently take her on walks along the cliffs overlooking the Pacific.
It was on one of these walks that she learned the truth about her uncle. As he turned to point out a cypress tree clinging to the cliff’s face, he bumped into her forcing her toward the abyss. Only her teenage agility saved her as she twisted and clung to the cliff’s edge. Her uncle reached and pulled her up, apologizing, but he had a look that was more regret than distress.
From that moment forward, she exercised extreme caution at all times. She had discovered his true nature and intent, and suspected the truth about her parent’s ‘accident’. She kept her distance on their walks and was very careful about what and when she ate. On her eighteenth birthday, she packed her belongings and walked out of that house for what she thought was the last time.
Now, returning from another burial, as she looked around the musty living room, she thought, “I outlived you, you bastard.”