Twisted - Hannah Jayne

One

TEN YEARS AGO

The two men leering down at seven-year-old Beth Anne Reimer were huge. If anyone had asked her, she would have said they were at least seven feet tall, but no one was asking her anything. The men were simply shifting by her, giving her a wide berth while looking down with sad eyes and clicking their tongues or saying stupid, meaningless things like, “It’s a damn shame.”

The man on the left had a huge mustache that seemed to ooze from his nose. It was so black it was almost blue and dotted with crumbs of something fine. Bread or doughnuts, Beth Anne thought as he leaned closer, his hot breath sweet. He moved his big, meat-hook hands closer to her throat, and an electric shot of terror pulsed through her. She stepped backward, stumbling over her own feet, and didn’t let out a breath until she felt her narrow shoulder blades grind into the garage door behind her.

“This belonged to Melanie Harris,” the mustached guy said, tugging on the thick, gold ring that Beth Anne wore on a chain around her neck. She looked down at his fingers touching the ring, her ring, rubbing callously over the bright-blue stone that Beth Anne meticulously polished with her own small fingertips whenever she got scared or anxious.

“My dad gave it to me.” Her voice was a small, pitiful squeak, and she wasn’t sure if the mustached man didn’t hear her or didn’t care. He tugged on Beth Anne’s chain until it burned against her skin and the lobster clasp was between his fingers. He unclasped her necklace and slid it off before she could find her voice again to stop him.

The mustached man held the chain and the ring up to his partner—a clean-cut guy with not even the slightest hint of facial hair and ears that stuck out of his head like satellites. The clean-cut guy held up a plastic Ziploc, and Beth Anne watched her necklace drop inside, coiling like a snake at the bottom of the bag.

“Evidence,” the mustached man said.

Neither man said anything to Beth Anne as they zipped the bag, the ring’s stone catching the light with a glorious zing of blue before they both turned away and left her standing on the driveway, the cement scratchy on her bare feet as they slammed her father in the back of the squad car.

• • •

PRESENT DAY

“Miss?”

Bex Andrews surged forward, eyes pulled open wider than she ever thought they could be, heart hammering like a fire bell.

“I’m so sorry,” the soothing voice continued. “I didn’t mean to startle you. We’re going to be landing in a few minutes, and I need you to put your tray table up.”

“Oh.” Bex looked at her hands, her knuckles white as she gripped the tray table in front of her, then back to the flight attendant. She felt the familiar heat of embarrassment singe across her cheeks. “Sure. I’m sorry.”

The flight attendant straightened. “Thank you.” Her smile was as bright as a Crest commercial and her hair swirled behind her as she continued up the aisle, reminding the other passengers that they were landing soon.

Bex’s heart didn’t stop its relentless thump.

“Excuse me,” she said, leaning forward in her seat.

The flight attendant turned. “Mmm-hmm?”

“Do I have time to use the restroom?”

“Quickly.”

Bex made her way down the narrow aisle, wobbling with the rocking of the plane. She glanced away as people looked up at her, letting out her breath only when she escaped into the tiny lavatory and slid the little lever to Occupied. Under the glaring, yellow light, Beth Anne Reimer hardly