The night of Christmas Eve changes everything for Rhema Clark, a 36-year-old housewife living on quiet Sugar Lane. One day she is hosting a birthday party for her 9-year-old son, Julian, the next she is watching her neighborhood become the backdrop for the perfect murder.
To gain power, Rhema inserts herself into the lives of the residents of Sugar Lane. She knows they have secrets, but none of them run deeper than her own. On the outside she is a kind and caring neighbor, but on the inside, something sinister lurks beneath. The media storm surrounding this murder could destroy her secret life and expose her for what she is.
But will her lust for power override her desire to keep her secrets?
“Please wait! I have another coupon,” said the woman standing in the checkout line, rummaging through her purse. “I’m so sorry,” she said, looking back at Rhema and the ten other people that stood in line behind her.
Rhema stood calm, but internally, she raged. The sound of the registers opening and closing was beginning to overwhelm her senses, and a pounding headache was eating at her brain. She reached into her purse and grabbed an Excedrin. Christmas was a week away, and a store trip that should have taken fifteen minutes had now become forty. She had fought her way through the aisles with her shopping cart, her list crumpled in hand. She felt the sweat dripping from her back as she hurried past the lackadaisical shoppers blocking the aisleways. Now the checkout line was backed up.
“It’s all right. I’m in no hurry at all,” she said, sarcasm dripping from her lips. She wanted to strangle the woman. The woman should have had what she needed, out and ready to go before she got to the front of the line. They had all been standing there so long she thought she could see wrinkles forming on her hands. Rhema stared hard at the woman, taking particular notice of her pregnant belly. Four little hooligans ran around her, pulling items from the checkout shelves. One ran back and forth through the exit doors, blocking exiting shoppers.
Rhema had seen them earlier, running and screaming up and down every aisle, terrorizing the last-minute shoppers, making demands. Rhema smiled inside, knowing that she would never be that woman, who she figured to be a halfwit. That was the only excuse for allowing her children to walk all over her. She was one of the stupid ones, letting everyone else run their lives. Rhema had made up her mind: She hated her.
Rhema looked into her cart and saw the condensation around her tub of ice cream. It was melting, and she couldn’t stand melted ice cream.
Take the tub and throw it at the woman’s head. The thought made her feel better while she waited. Her mind ran through the list of things she had to do. She had been roped into doing so much that now she was the stupid woman. It was the holidays, and she wondered why people thought that she didn’t have better things to do with her time. She had been pressured into helping her neighbor with her oldest daughter’s wedding and the younger one’s graduation party after getting ambushed one morning in her driveway on the way to the mailbox. Mrs. Kelly, struggling to get a rug into her car, had asked Rhema for help. Rhema had seen her struggling, but she’d hoped that her presence had gone unnoticed.
“Rhema, I’m so glad to see you. Could you come help me with this?” Mrs. Kelly asked.
Rhema walked over to help, but she resented her asking. Her husband, David, was the only reason she was being so nice. David had just scolded her the day before for not being friendly to the neighbors.
“Why do you have to act so cold?” he’d asked. “I like this house and this neighborhood for Julian, and I don’t want to have to pick up and leave because you’re acting weird and can’t make any friends.”
Rhema didn’t like him either, or that’s what she told herself anyway. I am only staying for Julian. That was what she believed. The truth was something else. Deep down, she loved David, and even on their worst days, he was the best in bed, and that was hard for Rhema to give up, so she stayed.
“I can help the next customer here!” a cashier yelled out. Rhema was next, but a handful of people with fewer items at the end of the line beat her to it. Her face turned red as she squeezed the handle of her shopping cart, knuckles white. She was ready to ram the woman in front of her, and her children.
“Here it is!” the woman shouted. The people in line sighed in relief.
Rhema placed her items on the conveyor belt and took her money out of her purse. She was elated. It was finally her turn. She had stood in line so long, feet hurting in her six-inch boots and needing to pee, but it would have to wait; public restrooms weren’t appealing to her. But at least relief was coming soon. It was the only thing keeping her going. She looked up from her wallet, and her smile went back to a frown. Standing at the register was the store manager and the cashier.
“Sorry, ma’am, we have to change out the drawers.”
Rhema burned with anger, furious at the delay. She imagined jumping the counter and stabbing the man in the eye with her car keys.
When she finished at checkout, she rushed to her car. Feet throbbing, she loaded the groceries, fighting the frigid cold. Her mind ran nonstop as more things were added to her to-do list. The wedding, the graduation party, and then there was Christmas, but today was Julian’s birthday, and after nine o’clock that was one thing that she could scratch off of her list. There was a moment of peace as the cold wind flickered past her face. Rhema reached into the shopping cart to grab the last bag. When she picked it up to place it in the back, she heard the ruffling rip of the plastic bag, and the container of ice cream fell out and splattered on the ground, covering her three-hundred-dollar boots in chocolate vanilla swirl.
“Fuck!” she screamed, stomping her feet like a child as the sludge of dirty half-melted snow and ice cream splattered further up her boots. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”
“Hey! Watch your mouth. My children don’t need to hear that filthy language,” a woman on the other side of the parking aisle scolded.
Rhema turned to see a woman ushering her brood of children down the parking aisle, noses snotty and red, their bodies so layered with winter clothing they looked like miniature Michelin men.
“I swear, the nerve of some people. Using filthy language like that in public. What a disgrace.”
“What’s wrong with her, Mommy?” one of the smaller children asked.
“Don’t pay her any mind, honey. Just trash.”
She stared at Rhema with scorn, as if she were untouchable, but Rhema knew different. Everyone was touchable. People with money had a false sense of security. They believed that they could say anything to anyone and get away with numerous slights and outright disrespect toward people they believed were less than them. She was an entitled woman, just like the woman in line. They could do and say whatever they wanted because their money allowed it. Rhema remembered looking down at their rings as she shopped, their hands glistening on the cart handles. Three- and four-carat diamond rings, sparkling, screaming their status in the world. Rhema looked down at her own ring, just as large in size, but she knew that she was nothing like them.
She had ice cream on her boots, and she had to pee. Rhema knew she couldn’t threaten the woman’s safety, but she could make her uncomfortable. She pulled her hands up from her sides and felt an amazing sense of power as she used her two long, slim middle fingers give the woman something that she wasn’t expecting. The woman gasped and pushed her children on toward the store, and Rhema stomped what she could of the ice cream off of her boots and got into her car.
She sat there for a moment, collecting her bearings. Looking in the rearview mirror, she saw that she had left the shopping cart sitting behind her SUV. Another delay. She wanted to ram it into the car of the woman that reprimanded her. Reaching for the car door, she got an idea and stopped. Popping the hatch open, she grabbed her wallet, stepped out, and walked to the trunk.
Behind the mound of groceries was David’s hunting bag. Rhema reached over the shopping bags and grabbed it. As she unzipped it, her body tingled with excitement. She reached in, grabbing the large Buck hunting knife that rested at the bottom. She slipped the knife in her boot and closed the hatch, gripping the shopping cart and her wallet. She walked over to the cart return, right next to the car of the reprimander. Rhema pushed the cart into the crammed space and walked closer to the woman’s 2016 Range Rover. She fumbled with her Gucci wallet in her hand and let it fall into the greasy slushlike snow.
Rhema looked around to make sure there were no eyes on her. She bent down to pick it up, and once she was down and out of view, she slid the Buck knife out of her boot, removed it from its sleeve, and stabbed it into the back driver’s side tire. As the air slowly deflated, a smile stretched across Rhema’s face. She placed the knife back in its sleeve and stuffed it back into her boot before standing. She wiped the water from her wallet, walked back to her car, and drove home.
About the Author
Harlow Hayes was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana and is the author of fiction and non-fiction books. She has always had a passion for writing and storytelling in its many forms. When she’s not immersed in her writing, she enjoys reading both fiction and non-fiction, watching classic movies, and listening to jazz with her dad. She is the author of 27 Revelations and You Got to Believe: A Guide to Managing Negative Influences and Expectations As You Prepare to Self-publish Your Book.
She currently lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.