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See How Much You Love Me
By Amber Hunt
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Amber Hunt
All rights reserved.
He stood behind her, a hammer clenched in his hand. He was silent, and she was oblivious. The hammer's handle was smooth in his palm. He stared at her as she typed absentmindedly on the family computer. He was still for a long time and he held the hammer at his side as he eyed his mother's head.
Mary Jo Hadley sat in a bluish gray, cloth-covered desk chair, staring at the computer monitor. It was an awkward place for a computer, right in the middle of the kitchen. It was housed in a cheaply made computer desk — a birch-colored fake-wood number that didn't match the room's other wooden furniture. But then nothing really matched in this house. A china hutch to the left of the computer desk was a mahogany-stained wood — real wood — that was pretty close in color to a trunk the family used as a coffee table on the other side of the combined kitchen and living room setup. Like a lot of Florida homes, the Hadleys' featured a great room in addition to a more formal sitting room, and the floor was an off-white tile, a material that helped keep the great room cool and, in theory, was easy to clean. In reality, it often wasn't clean. The tile grout had darkened over the years, and no amount of scrubbing ever got that floor completely sparkling anymore.
Near the coffee table trunk was a dresser far lighter in color, almost yellow in fact, and pastel-colored clothes peeked out of a top drawer. Across the room, the kitchen boasted dark cabinets, cheap ones, like the kind you'd expect to see in a mid-range apartment. The appliances were out of date and a little dirty. It's not how Mary Jo had necessarily envisioned the house when she and her husband moved in twenty-five years ago, but it'd been through a lot, serving as home first to the young couple, and then to two boys as they grew and grew and grew. Ryan, the older, had just moved out a month or so ago. Tyler was six months shy of eighteen, almost a man now. Not that he was acting like a man yet. In fact, in the past year Tyler had become quite a handful. He'd always had a bit of a dark side, a melancholy undercurrent that would come and go. But lately, it was coming more often than going. He'd even begun saying lately that he wanted to kill himself. That tore at Mary Jo's heart, and she'd searched on the family computer for therapy in which she could enroll her once towheaded boy. At seventeen, though, he wasn't towheaded anymore. He was six foot one and awkward and he had his mother's eyes.
And now he was standing behind her with a hammer in his hand.
* * *
A few blocks away, Daniel Roberts was catching his breath. He'd been running away from the Hadley home, though he wasn't entirely sure why. He'd stopped by to visit with his friend Michael Mandell. Michael was Danny's best friend, and Tyler was Michael's best friend, so even though Danny wasn't as crazy about Tyler as Michael was, the three hung out together about once a week. They'd drive around, hang out with Michael's girlfriend, smoke a little weed. Michael didn't drink, but Tyler and Danny did, so sometimes they drank together. Typical bored, rebel-without-a-cause teenage stuff.
This visit started out weird and just got weirder. Danny had ended up getting stuck at Tyler's after Michael's battery died and he couldn't give him a lift back. It was a little awkward — it was Danny's first time even being at Tyler's house, after all — and Tyler's folks weren't home. He'd heard such awful things about Tyler's parents, too. That his mom never let him leave the house. That his dad beat on him regularly. He couldn't count how many times Tyler joked about killing them. As Michael left the house with his father, who'd swung by to pick him up, leaving Danny behind to potentially meet the infamous parents, he snuck in a word with Michael. He didn't want to be there, man. Tyler's folks were such assholes.
They're not so bad, Michael assured him. Tyler makes them sound like they're horrible, but they're nice. Just chill out and when they come home, say you walked all the way here and just wanted to hang out with Tyler.
Danny felt better. He'd try to get Tyler to drive him home, but if the folks came home first, he'd just explain that he was there to hang out. No big deal. Maybe they were regular parents after all. Tyler always did sound like he was joking when he said he hated them. Sure, the jokes got a little pointed, like the other day when Tyler said he'd bought the pickaxe and had come so close — so close — to killing them. That kid had a twisted sense of humor.
So Danny made chitchat and sized up the home.
"Hey, it's really nice here," he told Tyler.
Tyler scoffed. "This isn't nice. Your house is nice."
Danny wasn't sure why the reaction. He looked around. The place wasn't a dump. There was obviously plenty of food. Paintings and photos hung on the walls. The fireplace in the great room was a nice touch, too. Maybe it was because he'd envisioned Tyler living in more of a prison than a home, but the place was surprisingly normal. Hell, there was even a screened-in pool in the backyard. Sure, it was nice.
"You're lucky. You have your own laptop," Danny tried again.
"No, no." Tyler shrugged him off.
A few minutes passed. It was still kind of uncomfortable. He wanted Tyler to just drive him home. That was another thing — Tyler had a car. He had a car, and he always had money — like, lots of money, sometimes six or seven hundred-dollar bills in his wallet. Tyler maybe didn't have it as bad as he'd made it sound all these years. Danny decided to ask for that lift, but just as he started the sentence, he noticed an SUV pulling into the driveway. For a split second, he and Tyler froze. Then Tyler's reaction was swift and surprising.
"Run, run, run, go, go, go!" Tyler shouted, and the two teens bolted toward the back door. Danny slammed into a watercooler, knocking it over. He slammed into other stuff, too, but couldn't tell what he was hitting in his rush. Tyler was right with him, running him toward a fence in the backyard. Tyler offered him a boost and Danny scurried over, landing on the other side with a thud. And then he kept running.
He didn't know why he was running, though. He'd expected to meet the parents; he'd mentally prepared for it. Why the jolt of panic from Tyler? Were they really so awful that even seeing Danny in the house would've caused them to blow a fuse? Maybe it had to do with the party Tyler was planning later that night. He'd told Michael and him about it earlier, and he'd posted about it on his Facebook page: "party at my crib tonight," he'd written, "maybe." He'd first posted it at 1:15 p.m. His parents probably didn't know about the party, so maybe that's why Tyler had rushed him out the door. Danny didn't know the answer. Eventually, he did what most people do when they're running for no reason in the July Florida heat: He stopped. He called a buddy and asked for a lift. Dammit. He realized he'd left his cell phone charger at Tyler's house. It'd been in his pocket. For some reason, he'd set it on the counter next to Tyler's laptop. In the unexpected rush, he'd forgotten to grab it.
No worries, though. Tyler was going to have that party. They'd all meet up again at the party.
* * *
Word about Tyler's party had started spreading immediately. Tyler hadn't had many parties before, maybe one or two a year when his folks were out of town. His friends knew his parents didn't let him out much. Some had heard horror stories. Tyler's dad was a big man, tall and very heavy, about three hundred pounds. Word among the kids was that his dad — Blake was his name — would sometimes clock Tyler for no good reason.
"He always looks like he'd been punched in the face," Danny would later tell a detective.
Danny and the other kids didn't know what many people knew about Blake — that he was a gentle giant who actually ticked his wife off now and then for being too lenient with the boys. He had a hard time with discipline. Just wasn't in his nature to punish his sons. But because the kids who knew Tyler didn't know this, and because Tyler told them he was punched, they believed he was punched. What a rough life Tyler must lead, they thought. Parents can be so cruel sometimes. So they figured that when Tyler's party messages went out, his parents must be out of town. Those ogres would never let him have a party. And good for Tyler to take advantage of it. The responses to the Facebook message started accumulating. Friends of friends got text messages with the address. Tyler posted a cell phone number that his closest friends recognized was his dad's. His parents had confiscated his own phone after catching him drunk recently, so Tyler couldn't post his own digits. This was going to be an amazing party.
But first, Tyler had to get ready.
He'd been standing behind his mother for five minutes, hammer in hand, before he finally struck a blow.CHAPTER 2
Tyler Hadley's friends had pieced together that he'd been having a tough time lately — he seemed to be grounded all the time, and he was clearly depressed — but they never really worried about it. He was a jokester, mostly, albeit with a pretty dark sense of humor. If you believed everything he said, well, you'd have to buy that he was capable of killing his parents, after all. How could he say that and mean it, especially if he followed it up with a laugh? But overall he was a good guy despite his macabre tendencies, and he was fun to hang out with, so when he announced on Facebook on Saturday afternoon that he was having a party, his friends — and their friends — started making plans.
His first note read simply: "party at my crib tonight ... maybe." A friend replied, "lmk" — Internet slang for "let me know." Wrote another: "partypartyparty." Another called them all fags and accused them of breaking a bed in half. In a direct message to another friend, Tyler babbled in nearly incoherent teen web speak, saying he had an "open crib for a lil bit" and asked if the buddy wanted to chill. Translated into English, the back-and-forth went something like this: Tyler's parents were leaving, he wanted to smoke some marijuana, and he asked the friend to come over — but not quite yet because his parents "aint left yet" (sic). The friend, in on the "I'm going to kill my parents" jokes, teased, "if i kill ur mom will u put the lincoln in my name," and then he followed with a mistyped message that he was only joking. Tyler replied, "no im gonna do it." Then Tyler complained about his mom. She's been "bitchin," he said. She didn't want him to go out and was trying to take his car keys away so he'd be forced to stay home — "cuz shes a cunt." At this point, it was about 1:45 p.m., and Tyler's parents were still gone, having headed to Fort Pierce for some errands and lunch. Michael, his girlfriend Morgan, and Danny were still there about this time, too, and they were expecting to party later that night. They just had to wait until Mary Jo and Blake came home, packed their stuff, and left for their trip to Orlando.
The anticipation over the party grew all afternoon, with Tyler posting more messages and confirming that, yes, he'd indeed have people come over to chill around ten o'clock that night. But when friends first arrived, Tyler wasn't there. They called the number he'd posted on Facebook, and he told one who reached him to sit tight, he'd be over soon. About half an hour later, a group of ten or fifteen kids loitered on the lawn, where Tyler told them to wait while he picked some things up inside. It didn't seem all that odd to the wannabe partygoers; after all, a lot of people were going to be in the house, and maybe Tyler was worried that things might get smashed. When Tyler finally opened the door, their suspicions seemed validated: The walls were devoid of artwork or photos, but naked nails and picture hangers jutted from the plaster.
Tyler was a polite, if quiet, host, and he was stocked up on beer and food. What's mine is yours, he conveyed. His friends accepted the invitation, downing dozens of cans and bottles of beer and smoking cigarettes and marijuana. Some sat down at the family computer and played music, apparently oblivious to the dried blood that had crusted around the desk legs.
Tyler didn't do much socializing at first. He called a crew of his closer friends into his bedroom and sat on the floor smoking weed and drinking beer. When one buddy left the room to check on the party, only to come back and report that the house was getting trashed, Tyler just shrugged. So what? He didn't care. He had his blunt and his beer and a plastic bag with Percocet, a potent painkiller. The house filled with music as tunes from the home computer in the living room competed for attention with the jams Tyler played on the laptop in his bedroom — until the family computer screwed up and quit playing, anyway. And Danny had said the Hadleys had nice things. As if.
The party was fairly tame until about midnight, when a crush of newcomers arrived. That's when things started to get messy. It wasn't a huge house, and people filled every nook. Some sat in the family room, others surrounded the desktop computer in the kitchen, more still stood in front of the door. People coming in and out could barely open the door.
Michael Mandell was Tyler's best friend, had been for about a decade. Michael figured he knew Tyler better than he knew his own parents. They told each other everything. And on this night, that would become Michael's burden. Tyler approached Michael about an hour into the party with a secret. At first, Michael assumed his friend was just pulling him aside for a heart-to-heart. Tyler did that often. He was usually depressed — "depressed Tyler" was "normal Tyler," Michael would later tell a detective. But that's not what this chat would be about. The two left the house and walked to the stop sign at the end of the street. They'd made this walk before. Nothing was amiss. Tyler said he'd done something stupid. That didn't seem too worrisome, either, Michael thought.
"I killed my parents," Tyler said.
Michael scoffed. How ridiculous. "No, you didn't," he said.
"Michael, I'm being real. I'm not lying to you."
Tyler told him to look in the driveway: Both of his parents' cars were still there. Michael admitted that was odd, but shook it off. Tyler insisted. He said that he and his father had gotten into a fight and his dad had punched him in the nose. Michael didn't know what to say and insisted that he and Tyler go back to the party. This nonsense he was spewing couldn't be real anyway. Tyler was already drinking; maybe he was on some other drugs as well, and spouting off.
After they went back inside the house, Mike started to walk around. Before long, Tyler circled back to him, determined to make him believe. He told Michael to look for bloody shoe prints. Mike spotted one in the garage. Tyler told him to look closely at his parents' bedroom door and he would see the signs. Michael did and saw blood on the door frame, on the walls, on the ceiling. It wasn't obvious if you weren't looking for it, but it was plain as day if you were.
The two stood together inside the garage, the door shut to the other partiers. Tyler began to pace, chewing on his fingernails, and as he walked back and forth, the details began pouring out of him. He'd hid both his parents' cell phones in advance so they couldn't call for help. Then he stood over his mother for about five minutes as he readied himself for the first blow. He swung once, and Mary Jo whipped around. She managed to get out a single question before he bashed her again: "Why, Tyler, why?" When Blake walked into the room, father and son locked eyes — and then Tyler attacked. His dad screamed at him: Why are you doing this? Tyler replied, "Why the fuck not?"
For just a moment, Mary Jo and Blake screamed at the tops of their lungs. Then they were quiet. The younger dog, the Lab named Sophie, started growling protectively, so Tyler locked her in his parents' bedroom. Molly, the beagle, was too deaf and blind to sense that anything was off. Tyler let her be.
As Tyler described the killings, he swung his arms to mime the attacks. The hand gestures stuck with Michael, as did so many other descriptions. Tyler hadn't been able to do it sober, he said, so he'd taken three pills of ecstasy first and pumped himself up by listening to the rapper Lil Boosie in the garage. There was far more blood than he'd ever imagined there would be, and the cleanup took a good three hours. Afterward, Tyler climbed into the shower, washed off, then looked into the bathroom mirror and laughed. He was barely finished with the cleanup in time for the party.
Excerpted from See How Much You Love Me by Amber Hunt. Copyright © 2014 Amber Hunt. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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