Phillip Vincent had recently moved after the death of his wife and two-year-old son. They had been in the same accident. He was a biology teacher, but the school of his new home-town was not currently hiring. He was just substituting for the time-being. He had decided to take a few years off anyway, what with the recent tragedy. He’d stopped thinking about it. There was only so much time you could grieve, but he knew his life would never be the same. In a few years he would go back to teaching and everything would be normal; except for the emptiness he would feel in his house, the heaviness in his heart, and the constant pounding in his head. His life had already changed since that day long ago, but he was now prepared for it - though he would never accept it.
One day all of the sudden, Phillips ears started ringing. Several blocks down the street a conversation was being had between three students in the high-school cafeteria.
“I’m telling you, the dude is just weird.” said a young woman named Margaret Rose. Her younger sister Darcie Rose agreed.
“He can’t be that bad.” their friend Sarah Gillian argued. “He’s just getting used to the area.
“No,” said Margaret, “he’s weird. He’s lived here for three and a half weeks and we only see him in the morning when he gets his mail. The day he moved in, my dad went over to introduce himself. The guy just said his name then went back in his house. Didn’t shake hands or say ‘nice to meet you’ or anything.”
“Well, that’s a little impolite, for sure.” agreed Sarah.
“That’s not all, though.” said Darcie. “He always has all of is blinds closed and at night all of his lights are on. You can tell because every now and then he’ll quickly just peek through his blinds.”
“Okay, now that’s weird. Maybe he just doesn’t like living next to you guys.” Sarah suggested.
“Yeah, maybe. But I think there’s more to it than that.” Margaret speculated.
“How old’s this guy?”
“I don’t know. Like late twenties, early thirties.”
“And he doesn’t have any family or anything?”
“Nope, just him.”
“See? It’s weird!” Darcie concluded. Just then the bell rang and Darcie was off to 11th grade history and the other two girls were heading to senior English.
It wasn’t that Phillip didn’t like living next to the Rose’s, he just didn’t want any acquaintances. He didn’t want to get close to anybody. He didn’t want any attachments. He couldn’t stand to. He saw the family go their separate ways every morning. First Mr. Rose left for work, then the girls left for school, then Mrs. Rose went to work. Every morning he considered saying something casually to each one of them. He always decided against it. It would just be too much to deal with.
He’d almost said something to the older girl once. It was early on Saturday morning, he was getting his mail just as she was leaving the house to go running or jogging. She smiled and gave him a nod of acknowledgment as she was putting her ear-phones in. His tung strained in his mouth and his throat opened. He was prepared to say something; instead he simply turned away, retrieved his mail, and went back inside. He was almost disappointed in himself, but more relieved that he hadn’t allowed himself to be weak. He could not let his guard down under any circumstances. He was sure to wait every Saturday until she left to get his mail.
Little did Phillip know that his path was bound to cross with that of the Rose’s; or at least the oldest daughter’s. It was Thursday and, rather than going into her house, the older girl continued walking passed his house. He watched her nervously. Just as she was passing his mail box, a beat-up old Grand AM drove up next to her. Somebody grabbed her and pulled her into the back seat. Seconds later she was tossed back out and the car sped away. He hoped with all his being that she would get up and walk away. But of course, she didn’t.
Margaret awoke in an all-around hurt, and on a strange couch in a strange house. Her right eye was badly swollen, but she could make out a figure seated at the end of the couch. It was a man with shaggy hair and the sparse beginnings of a beard. She recognized him as her next-door-neighbor. She tried to speak, but all that came out was a groan. He looked at her to be sure she was awake, then gave her a glass of water.
“Thanks.” she said after her throat was clear.
“You’re welcome. I brought you in because nobody’s around at your house.”
“Yeah, my parents won’t be home until tomorrow. Darcie, my younger sister, she’s staying with a friend because they had some project to work on or something. I was on my way to the library to study when . . .”
“What happened exactly? Who was that?”
“Uh, some of the jock-girls - basket ball players - were a little upset with me because I turned in some photos of them drunk at a party and they were suspended for the season. My, uh, my best friend Sarah was one of the. I don’t care, she’s . . . I don’t care, they deserved it . . . bitches.” she added under her breath.
“I see. Well, you can stay here tonight. You’re in pretty rough shape and it’s already passed midnight.”
“Holy crap, really? Wow, I was out for a while. Well, thank you so much. I’m Margaret Rose, by the way. But everybody calls me Maggie.”
“I’m Phillip Vincent. But everybody calls me Phil.”
She soon fell into a deep sleep (after Phil convinced her she didn’t have a concussion) and woke up what seemed like two minutes later for school.
Phillip was a little angry with himself. He couldn’t get any closer to this girl. Then, a little after three, his door-bell rang. He opened it to find Maggie looking extremely exasperated with a dark purple ring around her right eye.
“Hi, Phil. Uh, my parents just called and they’re not coming home ‘til tomorrow night. Darcie’s at her friends house, but her friends older brother dates one of the jock-girls from yesterday, so I’m not about to go there. And there’s another party tonight, and the girls know where I live, and today in school they threw an egg at me so, yeah, I was wondering if . . . uh . . .”
“Sure, you can stay here. It’s no problem.” he chuckled. ACome on in.”
She thanked him and walked inside. It was at this point that Phillip noticed the oddly shaped garbage bag in her hand. She noticed him notice it.
“Protection.” she said. She put the bag upstairs then they ordered a pizza and began to talk. Shortly before two a.m. her fears were actualized as the beat-up Grand AM pulled in front of her house. She flew up-stairs as the jock-girls got out with their arms full of egg cartons. Almost exactly as the first egg was launched, something neon-green exploded at the girls feet. They stared at it and shrugged. Another girl wound-up to hurl another egg, but something hit her directly on top of the head. The same neon-green substance melted down her front. The girls soon found themselves being pelted with a barrage of paint-filled balloons. They quickly got back in their car and peeled out trying to get away as quickly as possible. Maggie sauntered down-stairs, laughing hysterically.
“Protection?” Phillip said, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, you know. You gotta do whatcha’ gotta do.” she said as she plopped down on the couch next to him. “Now, what were you saying? Something about school?”
“Right. I was casually asking how your grades were. You know, for the sake of small-talk.”
“Ah, yes. My grades. I do pretty well, ranging from mid eighties to upper nineties. Except for bio. I’m basically failing that. Seventy-three.”
“Yeah, I love it, but I guess I just don’t get it.”
“I’m a biology teacher!”
“Yeah, I can tutor you if you would like. I need something to do and I would love to have a student. You can be like my protégée.”
“Cool. Ha. Protégée.”
They continued to talk, to bond. Phillip did exactly what he didn’t want to do. He allowed himself to become acquainted, attached, and close to someone. He didn’t care. He knew he’d regret it, but he didn’t care.
The subject soon came to his family. He told Margaret that his wife and son had died in an accident. He said he didn’t want to talk about it. She said sorry. He said he didn’t want to talk about it. It was awkwardly silent for a few moments before Margaret’s phone rang. She went in another room to answer it. Phillip heaved a sigh. That was painful. And close. That was painfully close. Suddenly he heard “Shit!” from the other room. Margaret came stomping in. He asked her what the matter was.
“My fucking little sister is at the Gad damn party! Shit, shit, Jesus shit! I’ve got to go get her hammered ass and kick it! Can I bring her back here?”
“Yeah, sure. But how . . .”
“Okay, I’ll be back. God fucking dammit!”
She slammed the door behind her. Phillip battened-down the hatches; he felt a storm brewing.
About forty-five minutes later Margaret returned with what appeared to be a smaller, bleach-blond version of herself slumped over her shoulder. She threw her unconscious sister on the couch and went into the kitchen. Phillip followed.
“She was passed out when I got there. Mom and dad are going to be so pissed. Tomorrow she’s going to beg me not to tell them. They’ll find out anyway. They might as well hear it from me. They should really hear it from her, but . . . you know . . .”
She decided to go to bed. Phillip stayed up a little longer, but soon went to bed as well.
The next morning Phillip came down-stairs to find Darcie still passed out on his sofa with a piece of paper tapped to her forehead:
Just then she walked in the door, sweaty and heaving. Phillip figured that she must have left very early. She thanked him for letting her stay and for letting her bring her sister, but she had some stuff to do before her parents got back that evening.
“Okay, let me know about tutoring. I’d love to help you.” Phillip said as he helped Margaret lift Darcie off the couch.
“Thanks I will.” she smiled. “See you around.”
He closed the door behind her and slumped into his arm-chair. He clenched his fists and punched the padded arm-rest. He hated himself; he couldn’t believe he was so stupid. He didn’t care. He felt like such an idiot, but he didn’t care. He didn’t want this. He’d been trying his best to maintain the image of a recluse, but he just liked people too much – especially people who were easy to get along with. No, this was a good thing. He needed to be social, needed to blend. Besides, it would create more suspicion if he did remain isolated. This was a good thing, he was fine. It was okay and he would be alright.
It was several weeks before he heard from Margaret again. Earlier in that particular week they’d had a phone conversation about tutoring. Her parents wanted to meet him first; he was invited over that Friday for dinner. This made him somewhat nervous. Social situations like dinners had always made him anxious. Something about the awkward silences while everyone chewed made him uneasy. Yet he was looking forward to that Friday. He looked forward to meeting the rest of the Rose family. Or, did he just look forward to seeing Margaret again? She was the only thing close to a friend that he had.
He was invited hardily into the Rose household by Mr. Rose, who introduced himself as Doug and his wife as Marge. He was brought into the living room for drinks while the pot-roast was baking. He observed the family pictures on the mantle. He recognized the young girls playing on the various beaches of long past family vacations, but there were also two young men he didn’t recognize.
“My two older brothers, Iggy and Dorian.” explained Margaret, “They’re twenty-five now. Twins. They moved away a couple of years ago.”
They all made polite small talk over pre-dinner drinks, and soon the aroma of pot-roast filled the whole house.
“So,” said Mr. Rose as he plopped a large helping of mashed potatoes onto his plate, “how long have you been a teacher?”
“Oh, not that long.” said Phillip, taking the bowl of peas being offered to him by Darcie. “Only about a year or so. I haven’t found a steady teaching job. Only substituting and tutoring. I used to work in a lab. Researching and what-not. But, teaching somewhat called to me, I guess you could say.”
“That’s very interesting.” said Mr. Rose, somewhat faking his way through the conversation. He had one main concern. “Speaking of tutoring, you want to teach Maggie, don’t you?”
“Yes, I think I could help her a lot.”
“Oh, and how’s that?” Mr. Ros was getting slightly defensive. Maggie and Mrs. Rose both gave him the same pleading, agitate look.
“Well, a lot of students only desire to pass. Maggie desires to learn.”
“That’s true,” Mrs. Rose interjected, “our Maggie has always loved the quest for knowledge.”
Maggie chuckled slightly when her mother said ‘quest for knowledge’. She probably found it to be an odd, unnecessary phrase. Phillip smiled, too, because he knew what she was thinking.
“Yes, and how much would we owe you?” asked Mr. Rose as though he had just done something very sly.
“Oh, absolutely nothing. Maggie is a neighbor, and I’m always pleased to help neighbors. She’s also a friend, and I don’t have too many of those. This would just be me aiding her in her ‘quest for knowledge’. Free of charge.” he added to get his point across.
“We’d have to pay you something.” Mrs. Rose said.
“Another one of your lovely meals sometime would be payment enough.”
She chuckled at his cheesy, polite humor. Mr. Rose didn’t find it so funny. Transactions were no laughing matter, and he was suspicious of this Vincent character.
They had dessert and coffee, then Phillip said goodnight and went home. He felt exhilarated as he took off his jacket. His life was returning to normal. He was becoming a member of society again. He was becoming himself. No, not himself; someone new. He liked this new man. He was doing fine.
The next week, on a Wednesday, they had their first lesson. Margaret came over after school with her book and they sat down in the kitchen. They began chatting, catching up since dinner on Friday.
“You and your siblings have such unique names.”
“Yeah. My dad says you have to own your name. It’s the only thing you have that’s truly yours and yours alone.”
“I know exactly what he means.” Phillip did know exactly what Mr. Rose meant, more-so than he could ever say. “But, you came here for biology.”
“Indeed I did.”
“So, where are we starting?”
Margaret told him about how they had started discussing genetics. Phillip said that genetics were easy once you got the hang of it, and Margaret said that she hadn’t gotten the hang of it.
By the end of that afternoon, Dioxyribo Nucleic Acid was second nature to Margaret. She knew everything there was to know about genetics, and even remembered it all the next day. Phillip truly believed that she had great potential in the field of science, she just needed someone to teach her. Hugo Tentre, the biology teacher at the high-school, was a miserable old man who was preparing to retire and never really cared about science or teaching; it was just a job to him. Margaret suggested to Phillip that he should replace Mr. Tentre, and he considered it. But, presently, he was simply looking forward to their next lesson.
The next several weeks flew by. Phillip soon found himself being invited to the Rose’s for dinner at least once a week. He found them to be quite delightful people, they were almost like characters in their own play. He even had the pleasure of meeting the twins Dorian and Iggy when they came home for their birthday. Iggy had just returned from two years in Scotland, Dorian returned from a year long tour of Greece, Italy, and Rome on which he was studying architechture. They were both very handsome young men and (being twins) looked exactly like each other. Their only difference was that Iggy had a glass eye from a childhood accident involving a tree not suitable for climbing. Phillip was completely taken in by the whole Rose family, but none of them charmed him like Margaret. He found her attitude refreshing. He found her charismatic. He couldn’t imagine not knowing her or her histrionic family.
After one particularly long lesson discussing single-celled organisms, Phillip was unable to sleep. He was simply too happy. Being around Margaret just made him happy. She was so bright, and witty, and simply so-- Phillip sat up straight in bed. No! He shouted at himself in his head. No! No! No! He pretended that he hadn’t even began to think about that. He went to sleep, slightly panicked and slightly angry.
The next week he felt awkward around her. The previous weeks private incident was still fresh in his memory. He watched her laugh, he watched her eyes as she searched her brain for answers, he watched her pick her finger-nails because she needed something to do with her hands. He watched her. He couldn’t help these thoughts; they wouldn’t stop happening. He didn’t mean for them to happen and he certainly didn’t want them to happen. Margaret reminded him of her.
He plunged himself into an icey shower, mentally abusing himself for such thought. He hated himself. He went to bed wanting relief from the terror of his own subconscious. He had strange dreams that he did not wish to remember, but was unable to forget. That weekend the Rose twins returned home for Margarets eighteenth birthday which was on Monday. Phillip was invited over for dinner that evening, being the closest friend Margaret had. He sensed some tension in the household, but maybe it was just him. It wasn’t just him.
“So, this is beautiful weather.” said Mrs. Rose harmlessly over dinner. “That’ the wonderful thing about this country. There are so many climates, so much gorgeous weather. In Europe it’s just drizzly.”
“Dammit! Mom!” Iggy roared, slamming down his silverware on the table. “I’m sick of this! That didn’t even make sense! You’re just being pathetic and making a fool of yourself! I’m moving to Scotland, accept it, get over it, like it!”
“I just wish you would reconsider is all!”
“This isn’t just a whim! I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, ever since I first got there! It’s where I belong!”
“I know you want to be far away but why can’t you at least stay in the country? Like your brother? He needed his space, so he moved to New York.”
“Actually, mom,” Dorian pipped up, “I’ve decided to go to Scotland with Iggy.”
“What?” Mrs. Rose snarled.
“Yeah, I want to do restoration work in the old country villages.”
Mrs. Rose looked prepared to explode, but Iggy stopped her.
“Mom, c’mon. It’s Maggie’s birthday. Let’s not do this now. Sorry Magg-Pie.” he leaned over and kissed his younger sister on the forehead.
“Yeah, sorry Maggs.” reciprocated Dorian, putting his arm around her shoulder.
“It’s fine, guys.” she chuckled. “I pretty much expected that to happen.”
Dinner resumed as normal.
Phillip could see that she was actually very upset. Not by the fight, though. She was upset about losing her brothers. That Wednesday she informed him that it had been nothing but one big on-going fight in her house since that night. She said she hated it, she wished it were over. She was going to miss her brothers, but she was happy that they were taking such opportunity. Phillip asked what Iggy wanted to do in Scotland. She told him Iggy wanted to raise cattle, and that’s what her mother was most upset about. She talked about how they hated the fighting, how his house was the only place she could go, how she always felt better when she got there. Phillip embraced her. This comforted her but only caused problems for him. Her skin was smooth and she smelled like lavender. He enjoyed it.
This skeleton in his closet began controlling his life; he was doing everything in his power to keep those disturbing white bones hidden behind the arrangements of shirts and pants hanging in his armoire. He despised himself more and more every day. He was disgusted with himself. He felt so weak in her presence. He needed release; deliverance; assuagement. He knew it was wrong and sick, and he didn’t want it. But there was no way he could possibly survive any longer in the state that he was in.
That Wednesday came quicker than usual. He did not know what to say or do, but he knew that he had to.
“Hey Phil,” said Margaret in a quiet voice, “I . . . I have something I need to tell you. A confession.”
“What’s up?” he asked.
“I uh . . . ha . . . I guess you could say that I sort of have a type of crush on you.”
Something surged in his body, but he maintained a coy exterior.
“And it’s sort of like . . . uh . . . evolved I guess would be the right word. Oh my God, I don’t even know what I’m doing!”
They both laughed awkwardly. They looked into each others eyes and found warm, inviting stares. They brought their faces closer gradually. Their lips brushed. He kissed her gently, tenderly. She kissed him slowly, passionately. Their kisses quickly grew deeper and fiercer. Phillip was soon delivered by young, virgin hands.
He’d felt so disgusting and so beautiful all at the same time. He felt terrible and wonderful, contrite and elated. Margaret was in the shower, he was lounging in his bed. He could hear her humming to herself, though he could not recognize the tune. After she left the only thing on Phillips mind was whether or not the same thing might occur next week. He slept soundly that night.
The following Wednesday things began normal. They sat in the kitchen and began discussing biology. About forty-five minutes into the lesson their eyes met. Phillip squeezed Margarets hand. They sank into the warmth and security of Phillips blankets, putting all troubles and all remorse aside until later.
After Margaret showered, they were saying goodbye. Phillip was holding the door open for her, watching her walk down his walkway. He noticed a car that was parked across the street suddenly pull away. He didn’t have to see it to recognize it. The panic set it. He slammed his door shut, locked it, locked all of his windows, and found his hand gun. He stayed up all night protecting his house. In the morning the car drove by slowly, then once more in the afternoon, then once more in the evening. This occurred everyday. Phillip stopped sleeping and didn’t go outside anymore.
One day his doorbell rang. He carefully glanced out the peep-hole and saw Margaret standing on his front step. He’d forgotten it was Wednesday. He unlocked his door, opened it just enough to pull her inside, then slammed it shut and locked it again. He looked out the window to make sure nobody saw. Margaret starred at his pistol.
“You can’t come here anymore.” he said, not even looking at her. “Go home. Tell your parents I’m sick and I won’t be able to teach you for a while.”
“But . . . why?”
“It’s too dangerous.” he grabbed her and kissed her. “I’m sorry. Now go. Fast. Hurry. Don’t let anybody see you.”
He waited until the car drove by slowly then pushed her out the door. That night there was a gunshot followed by speeding tires. The police arrived at Phillips house and found him standing a the window. They asked him what the commotion was, he said that he was wondering the same thing. The next night another gunshot followed by speeding tires. The police arrived at Phillip’s house and found him soaking in a dark red pool of his own blood, shot in the head. Nobody could figure out why.
At the end of the year Margaret graduated and moved to Scotland with her brothers to study biology. She married a man named Colin McKenzie. She wore white at the wedding.
This was not the story of Phillip Vincent. This was the story of Peter Van Steer, a biologist. He saw a gang member murder a man, then testified against him in court. He came home to find his wife and two-year-old son slain with the gang’s symbols tagged all over his house. The Witness Protection Program relocated him, re-occupied him, and renamed him. Peter Van Steer then became involved with an eighteen-year-old girl who only thought she knew him. He was located by the gang soon after. Panicking and thinking only of his well being, he shot a gang member that was driving by his house from his living room window. The next evening, a gang member who was driving by his house shot him through his living room window. Peter Van Steer became the man Phillip Vincent, who died because of Peter Van Steer. This was his sad, true story.