It Ends Now
It Ends Now
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I returned home to lay my mother to rest and settle her estate. To do this quickly, I devised a simple plan: Get in. Get out.But before leaving home twelve years ago,I was the prime suspect in the murder investigationof a girl at my high school. While I may have been cleared, that didn’t mean I wasn’t guilty. That town terrorized me for ten years.Standing on the front porch of the house where I grew up, I took a moment to prepare myself for what lay ahead. I drew a deep breath and eyed the neighborhood, wondering if anyone would dare to repeat the past.By the time I caught sight of the shadowy figure standing by the hedge, saw the person run past my basement, or noticed the man watching my bedroom window, I had my answer.While my mother believed the terror ended the day I left home, I wasn’t foolish enough to buy into that. Nightmares don’t disappear. They wait for you to crawl back into bed.
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Coming home felt like a death sentence.
Not that I knew what a death sentence felt like, but I imagined it to be kind of close to how I felt. I knew I was being overdramatic and childish. But I had spent the last twelve years living a life that made me happy. I had a reason to wake up every day. I smiled and said, “Hello” to people in stores and on the street. I went to bed each night content, knowing I would wake up to the start of another fantastic day. But now…well, I was back home. And the reasons why I left were quickly surfacing like bubbles in a pot of boiling water.
My mother had passed away two weeks ago from a sudden heart attack. I was halfway around the world when I got the call, and I did my best to get home as soon as possible. I arrived back in town on the morning of the funeral.
Since landing at San Francisco International Airport, there had been a constant drizzle. I couldn’t recall the weather in Danville ever being this wet while growing up, especially not in the summer. I was used to the occasional fog, and downpours were common, but gray skies and drizzle were a rarity. I added that to my list of things I noticed had changed in my hometown.
I adjusted my grip on the umbrella handle as I stood there staring at my mother’s casket, a beautiful hardwood cherry. My mother was one of those people who paid for her own funeral in advance, even picking out the casket and plot where she wanted to be buried. It was an older cemetery, and the only people who could be buried there were families who had purchased plots long ago, like my mother had. There was simply no room left. My father was already buried there. The other plot was for me, though I wasn’t sure I wanted to lie in Danville when the time came.
Gary Holmes, my mother’s lawyer and longtime friend of the family, had picked me up at the airport and driven me straight to the cemetery. Aside from stating how good it was to see me again and that I had grown into a beautiful young lady, he didn’t talk much during the drive. I didn’t feel like conversing anyway. He stood to the left of me at the graveside.
Netty was to my right. I called her Aunty Netty while I was growing up. She was my mother’s best friend and had handled the funeral arrangements.
“You look so grown up,” she’d told me when she first laid eyes on me again. “I almost didn’t recognize you.”
She gave me a long hug, and for the first time since making the trip home, I experienced a positive feeling. But after the hug, reality set in. I was back in the place I had escaped from.
The only other person in attendance was the priest, whom I’d never met. I didn’t expect there to be a large crowd. My mother was an introvert and content to have only Netty and me in her life. It was normal, and all I had known since I came home with Mr. and Mrs. Baxley, my new parents.
They adopted me at age four. Six months later, the man I was told to call “father” passed away. From then on, people around town referred to us as Wendy Baxley and her daughter, Addie.
Of the three of us standing there, Netty was the only one wearing all black. I knew I would be heading straight to the cemetery from the airport, but I didn’t want to wear an all-black outfit during my travel. Instead, I wore my favorite pair of jeans, a cashmere sweater, and leather boots. Not exactly rainy weather fashion, but I had expected clear skies with a warming sun. Gary always wore various shades of brown suits. That day it was copper.
I was only half listening to the priest. I knew my mother would not have wanted any fuss to be made over her death. Even a funeral with three people in attendance would have been too much for her. It could have been two, as I almost hadn’t come home. But a phone call from Gary changed my mind. He insisted that I return to settle my mother’s estate.
It may sound like my mother and I weren’t close, but we were. We simply had our own way of showing our love to each other. People might think otherwise, because I hadn’t returned for a visit in the last twelve years. But my mother knew it would be this way when I left. She knew why I ran. I had to get far away if I was going to have my life back.
After Gary convinced me that my physical presence was necessary, I devised a simple plan. And I promised myself I would stick to it and let nothing derail me.
Get in. Get out.
I had said those words over and over during the multiple plane rides. I told myself to remain focused and treat this like a business trip—which, in a way, it was. I wanted to keep my time at home to a minimum. I had planned a week’s stay. There was no rhyme or reason to it, except that it seemed like enough time to finalize my mother’s estate.
I allowed my gaze to drift away from the casket and across the cemetery. Most of the tombstones in that particular area of the grounds were flat granite blocks; very few were upright. All the better for a view of any looky-loos who might dare show up. I wasn’t sure what to expect with my return. Would things pick up where they’d left off?
Get in and get out, Addie. There shouldn’t be any problems if you do that.
Danville, California lay east of San Francisco, across the bay and on the other side of a low mountain range. It was one of those towns where everyone knew everyone. I was sure my mother’s death had already made its way through the gossip mill. And I imagined there were discussions about whether I would return, among those who thought I was alive. Many thought I’d met my maker, and there were a lot of theories floating around on how. A good contingent of people believed I had gone mad and was institutionalized. Even a select few had somehow come to believe I’d settled in with the Romani and roamed around Europe with them. This is what happens to wandering minds when you deny them information.
I had given my mother specific instructions before I left home: Never discuss me with anyone in that town. During our phone calls, she’d kept me abreast of any new rumors about me that had surfaced. I did get a kick out of them.
After the service concluded, Netty hugged me once more. I knew she missed my mother as much as I did. Since I’d arrived, she’d been sniffling and dabbing at her eyes with a crumpled-up tissue. But my childhood had taught me how to hide my emotions. I’d learned to cry on the inside.
I wouldn’t say I regretted not seeing my mother during those twelve years, but I was saddened that it had to be that way. My mother wholly understood. When I told her I was leaving, she’d smiled and cried simultaneously. She knew what leaving meant, and at the same time, she knew what it could do for me. She believed it was the only way to get out of the situation I had been placed in.
“Addie, there’s some paperwork I have to handle with the mortuary,” Netty said. “You don’t need to stick around for it. I know you’re probably tired and want some time alone to process. We can meet again in a few days.”
She had read my mind.
“Thank you, Netty. Are you sure there are no expenses I can help cover?”
“Your mother had everything paid for in advance. She didn’t want you to have to deal with it when the time came.”
I gave her another hug. “Thank you so much for handling all of this. I don’t know what I would have done without you here.”
Gary was waiting to drive me to my mother’s home. He had put a lock on the front door so no one could enter until I returned. As far as I knew, no one had. We parted with Netty and made the walk back to his car. I still kept a lookout for other people. Were they lurking behind trees? Perhaps they were crouching behind a tombstone. I had told Gary not to print an obituary for my mother. My mother’s surviving relatives were no one’s business but hers. And anyway, the people who truly cared about her were at the burial that day. That was all that mattered.
“I know I asked already, but how are you doing, Addie?” Gary glanced over at me as he drove.
“I’m fine, really. Thank you so much for everything you’re doing.”
“Your mother had given me explicit instructions on what to do in the event of her untimely death. I’m just fulfilling her wishes.”
“My mother didn’t trust many people, but you were always someone she could count on. She was very fond of you.”
“I’ll miss her. She had a kind heart.”
“What happens now?” I asked.
“There’s a lot to go over, and it’s probably best we do it at my office. When you’re ready to come in, call me, and we’ll set up a time. Sound okay?”
Gary made a left onto my old street. The road leading to my childhood home was a gradual slope. You’d notice it if you walked, but not so much while driving. Seeing my home again after all this time gave me chills. It sat at the very end of a cul de sac. Because of the size of the property and the shape of the hill, my mother’s home was the only house that actually sat in the cul de sac. The other homes were located where the road started to form a circle at the end. She had loved it because of the privacy it afforded. If someone wanted to eavesdrop or peek through our windows, they’d have to walk right up to our house.
The house was a blue and white Victorian. It was two stories with a basement and an attic, four bedrooms, and three bathrooms. For a single woman and a small child, it was a large house to live in.
The house sat on the side of the hill and overlooked the neighborhood. It gave the impression that we were royalty overlooking our subjects—only living there was nothing like that. Gary brought his car to a stop and set the parking brake.
We climbed out of the car, and Gary helped me carry my luggage to the house. I looked over the front yard; the grass was overgrown, and the hedges along the property’s edge were scraggly. The yard hadn’t been maintained properly in a while. The paint on the house had dulled since I left and could use a fresh coat. The steps leading up to the porch were worn, and one bowed under my weight. On the left side of the porch, I spied the same bench swing where my mother sat in the evenings and as she looked out across the neighborhood.
Gary fished a set of keys out of his pocket and unlocked the metal case covering the doorknob.
“I didn’t change the locks on the door, in case you’re wondering,” he said as he pushed. It stuck, and he had to give it an extra shove. “There we go. Looks like all this rain has made the door swell a little. Will you be fine here?”
I took the keys from his outstretched hand. “I will. Thank you again, and I’ll be in touch.”
I hugged Gary quickly and waited outside as he walked back to his car. I waved at him as he reversed down the driveway and kept watch until his car disappeared from view. It had been years since the last time I stood on this porch, but at that moment, it felt like only a day had passed. I drew a deep breath as I eyed the neighborhood, wondering when it would start again. Because I knew it would. While my mother believed it ended the day I left home, I wasn’t foolish enough to buy into that. Nightmares don’t disappear. They simply wait for you to crawl back into bed again.
Addie Baxley ran away from her hometown when she was eighteen. Twelve years later, she came back. So has the terror.
It Ends Now is an intense psychological thriller that will have you looking over your shoulder!
"Addie doesn’t know who to trust, and you won’t either." ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ — Reader Review
Series: Psychological Thrillers #2
Ebook: 292 pages