I'm the Reason
“So… are we okay with doing the toast thing tonight?”
“I don’t know, Mac. I mean, I want to, but I just feel weird about doing it.”
"What do you mean, Jasmine?"
"Doesn't it feel weird celebrating the day of her death?"
Mac bit his inner cheek. "What do you think, Isabelle?" he asked. "Izzie?"
Mac and Jasmine turned around to see their friend trudging slowly behind them. The three were walking home from school.Technically, they were walking back to the orphanage where they live.
"Izzie?" Mac said again.
"Earth to Isabelle?" Jasmine said.
"Huh? What?" Isabelle said, pulling herself out of her trance.
"Are you okay?" Jasmine asked.
"Yeah, I guess. It's just... you know..." Isabelle responded.
"Are you still up for tonight?" Mac asked.
"Ms. Stone won't be there, right?" Isabelle asked.
"Yeah, she just left all of us enough money for dinner. Like usual," Mac said.
Isabelle sighed. "I miss Kim."
"We all do," Jasmine said.
Kim is- was the mother of the orphans. Despite being offered foster care, she stayed at the orphanage to take care of the little kids. Last year, seventeen-year-old Kim was pushed off a cliff and drowned in the water below. An investigation was held, but because she was an orphan, it only lasted a few days before they suggested she committed suicide, since they never found a body.
Mac, Jasmine, and Isabelle knew better, though. Kim would never do that, not in a million years. She loved all of the children at the orphanage, especially the three of them. She’d always walk the three of them back to the orphanage from school, since the other orphans didn’t bother to go to school. She took care of them like Ms. Stone never would. She even wanted to convince Ms. Stone to take the orphanage into her hands when she turned eighteen. Looks like that will never happen.
Out of the three of them, Isabelle took it the hardest. She was the youngest out of her friends, only by a year, though. Last year when she was in fifth grade, she got bullied. Her friends, Jasmine and Mac, were in middle school then, so they couldn’t help her. Because of that she decided to keep it to herself... until Kim pulled her aside a few weeks later. Isabelle told her everything then, right before she started crying her eyes out. Kim just held her, trying to calm her down. She could still hear her voice at the time, “You’re crying over spilled milk, Isabella. It’ll be okay. I’ll make sure of it.” Kim would call her Isabella rather than Isabelle. She didn’t know why, Isabelle is her actual name… It's not like she can ask her parents about it.
At first, she thought Kim was just saying that to make her feel better, but the next day at recess when a group of girls cornered her to the chain-link fence marking the school property, Kim ditched school that day to stop them. When the clique asked what would happen if they didn’t stop, the blonde jumped the fence and cracked her knuckles as she came closer to the group. Isabelle watched as they got scared and ran off, before Kim came to comfort her. Isabelle knew Kim wouldn’t have hurt them, cracking her knuckles was something the teenage boys taught her at the orphanage. A bluff, basically.
At least this year she’s in the same school as Jasmine and Mac, so they've been keeping a close eye on her for Kim.
“So, should we do the thing tonight?” Mac asked. “I mean we should do something for her, shouldn’t we?”
“Yeah, let’s do it,” Isabelle responded.
This was a good thing. It would give them closure to what happened. Kim would have wanted them to move on.
But none of that mattered now, Isabelle was currently a rag doll, being thrown around, kicked, abused by someone she once trusted. Trust was the wrong word to use, she hasn’t trusted him for years after what he did to her that day. In fact, she almost despised him.
Who would have thought that only weeks after the anniversary of Kim's death, Isabelle was going to be the lucky victim to get yanked into an alley, and have a sweet-smelling cloth shoved in her face.
She didn’t know where she was. She didn’t know if her friends were even looking for her. The only thing she knew, was who was doing this to her, and Isabelle was shocked. Sure, he did creep her out, but he wouldn’t do this, would he?
He grabbed a chunk of Isabelle’s brunette hair and used that to swing her against the wall.
“Stop it!” she cried. “Please, Liam, just stop!”
Liam grabbed her arm and threw her to the floor before Isabelle could wince in pain. After impact, Isabelle tried to back away from him.
“I- I won’t tell anyone! I swear!”
Liam grabbed her ankle and pulled the eleven-year-old back to him. He sat on top of her to prevent her from trying to run before he tried to grab her wrists. Isabelle tried to fight him, anything to help her escape. But he should be sixteen by now, so he managed to pin her arms to the ground. She tried struggling to try and find an escape from what else he could do to her.
“We both know that’s a lie,” he said.
“Oh yeah? Who would I tell? The cops don’t care about orphans,” Isabelle argued.
“What about your little friends? You’d tell them, wouldn’t you?” Liam responded. “Would you stop moving? You’re just going to make this worse for yourself.”
Isabelle did as told. She just didn’t want him to hit her again.
About a month before Kim was killed, Liam was taken into foster care. So he moved out of town to his new home for teenage boys. Isabelle was happy that day, Liam always creeped her out. Especially that one day a few years back when she went into a closet at the orphanage to get something before Liam walked in, closing the door behind him. He didn’t do anything horrible to her, just got uncomfortably close to her. He touched her face, sniffed her hair, told her she was pretty, nothing serious beyond that. After about fifteen minutes of what felt like forever, Kim opened the closet door. Isabelle ran behind her out of fear. Ever since then, Liam’s been bugging her and her friends.
And now he has her pinned to the floor after kidnapping and beating the crap out of her.
“What do you want from me?” Isabelle asked.
“Take a guess, Izzie,” Liam said.
“I didn't do anything to you!” Isabelle yelled.
“You know what you did, you little brat,” Liam responded. “Do you remembered what happened a little more than a year ago? Something about foster care sign-ups.”
The orphanage hold sign-ups every year, for the kids who want to leave the horrible place. Kim was the only reason she could think of why anyone would want to stay. She loved kids.
“You signed me up for them,” Liam accused.
“I didn't!” Isabelle yelled.
“Don’t lie. I saw the list myself right after I was dragged to the car to go to the foster home. My name was in your handwriting,” Liam said applying more pressure on her wrists.
Isabelle turned her head trying to fight the pain and the tears from rolling down her slightly bruised cheeks from Liam’s slaps.
“Then I soon found out why little miss Kimberly never went into foster care.”
Isabelle’s ears perked up at the name before she turned her head back to look at him. “She never went because she wanted to take care of the other kids.”
“I was at the orphanage longer than Kim, therefore longer than you and your little friends. I heard her talk to an older girl who was going into foster care, telling her why she came to the orphanage in the first place,” Liam explained. “Kim told her that she ran away from foster care.”
“That’s not-” Isabelle started, but started taking in the possibility that could have been true.
“Where do you think she learned how to crack her knuckles?” Liam asked her. “Did I mention that when she came to the orphanage, Kim was covered in cuts and bruises?”
“You’re lying!” Isabelle accused. Kim couldn't have been through that, could she?
“You remember that little incident in the closet? You see, Isabelle, Kim ditched school the next day to beat the crap out of me, for scaring the crap out of you. Foster care must have really made her tough.”
“No, she wouldn't hurt anyone!” Isabelle took what he said to thought, the group that bullied her weren't at school the next day. Kim wouldn't have actually…
“You really don’t know her, do you?” Liam said.
“What does this have to do with me?” Isabelle asked, anything to get the topic off of Kim.
“I’m just returning you the favor of sending me to foster care.”
With that said, Liam grabbed her left arm. Isabelle felt a snap in her arm before she screamed in pain. She could have sworn that someone heard that. Someone had to. Anyone. She didn't care who did, as long as they saved her.
Tears started pouring from her eyes, the pain was unbearable. As instinct, Isabelle reached for her broken arm, but felt something restrain her from doing so. Liam went back to pinning her arms down on the cold floor, including her broken one, making it even more painful. Isabelle cried and whimpered in the uncomfortable position she was in.
“Did you feel that, Isabelle? That was the pain I felt in less than twenty-four hours of arriving,” Liam said.
“Please,” she cried through her tears. “Stop. It hurts, please let me go.”
“A lot happens in a year,” Liam said, ignoring the crying girl. “Broken arm, traveling from town to town… death of a friend.”
“What would you know!” Isabelle cried.
Liam just stared down at her with a smug on his face. Isabelle stared at him for a while until it hit her.
“No… you-you didn't!”
“Oh, I did, Isabelle,” Liam leered at her. “I killed her.”
“How could you?” Isabelle asked. She was still processing that he was Kim’s killer.
“I have multiple reasons for doing so, but do you want to know the main reason why I wanted to kill her?” Liam asked. Isabelle didn't answer because he started leaning closer and closer to her ear. By doing this, it added more pressure on her wrists, putting her in more pain.
Isabelle felt his breath on her ear. That alone was enough to make her heart pound in her throat, almost a gagging feeling. Then she heard him whisper in her ear. “You.”
Liam pulled back to see Isabelle’s bug-eyed face.
“I couldn't touch you without Kim confronting me afterward. And just think what would she have done to me after walking in on this,” Liam said. “You would have told her what I did to you if she didn't walk in, anyway. You know, if she was alive. But sadly, she’s dead… all because you wrote my name down on a foster care list.”
“Stop it!” Isabelle yelled. She didn't want to believe it.
“She probably hates you now. Kim never got an eighteenth birthday. She never got to drive a car. She never got married. She never got a life outside of the orphanage. And it’s all. Your. Fault.”
“No, you- you can’t pin this on me! You can’t!”
“I’m not trying to pin this on you, Isabelle. I’m saying you have an equal part in this,” Liam said.
He grabbed the front of her shirt, pulling her torso up before slamming it back down to the floor.
“Where did you find her?”
“A homeless man found her unconscious in an abandoned warehouse.”
Jasmine pressed her hand over her mouth, she didn't want to believe that their friend was in a place like that. Mac touched her shoulder to remind her that she wasn't alone here.
“Do you know what happened to her?” Mac asked.
The nurse took a deep breath before she spoke, “I’m not exactly sure on what happened to… Isabelle, was it? All I know is that when she was found, she was covered in cuts and bruises and her left arm was broken,” the nurse explained. “When she came to, she just started screaming. So they put her in here, she hasn't said a word since.”
Jasmine started to wipe the tears from her eyes. Isabelle stayed after school one day to retake a test. Next thing she knew, her and Mac find her backpack in an alley way. They went to the cops, but they said to wait forty-eight hours and if she doesn't return, then they can report her as missing. In that time, Jasmine and Mac ditched school to look around town for Isabelle. They used the money they saved, to take the city bus to get from one end of town to the other. When they went back to the cops, they didn't make it a top priority to find her.
Then a week after Isabelle’s disappearance, a picture of her popped up in the newspaper saying a Jane Doe was found and put in a mental asylum, leading them to a place they least expected her to be.
“Can we see her?” Jasmine asked. All she wanted was to hold her friend again.
“I’m not allowed to let her friends see her, until her parents come and clear that others can. If you can alert her family, that would be great,” the nurse said.
“With all due respect, ma’am, our friend is an orphan. We are the closest thing she has to a family,” Mac said.
The nurse turned pale. “All right then. Follow me.”
Mac and Jasmine followed the woman through the halls of the crazy place. The nurse stopped in front of a door before she pulled out a key card. She slid it through the card slot to unlock the door. Upon opening it, Mac and Jasmine saw their friend sitting on the edge of a bed, her bare feet just dangling inches from the floor.
“Isabelle, you have visitors,” The nurse said before letting the young girl’s friends in the room. “I’ll give you five minutes,” she told the two pre-teens.
Isabelle didn't move, she had no reaction. Mac and Jasmine walked to her side to get a better look at her. Their friend’s left arm was in a sling. She was just staring at the floor with blank eyes. Her face had no expression.
It hurt Mac and Jasmine seeing her like that.
The two friends sat on opposite sides of Isabelle on her bed. Silence filling the room faster than Jasmine's tears as they waited for a reaction from their friend. Jasmine grabbed Isabelle’s right hand and gave it a slight squeeze to let her know she’s there. Mac, who was sitting on Isabelle’s left, was just staring at her black sling. How did she break her arm? Did Isabelle try to run and fall weirdly? Or did someone do it? He could see the bruises on Isabelle’s right arm. Who could be so cruel and do this? Why isn't Isabelle talking? All of these unanswered questions scared Mac. He hated seeing his friend like this.
“Isabelle?” he spoke. “Come on, talk to us.”
“We've been worried sick about you,” Jasmine said.
Not a word.
“We skipped school to look for you, Izzie,” Mac added.
Not a movement.
“I just want to talk to you again, it feels like I don’t remember what your voice sounds like,” Jasmine said. “Please, Isabelle."
All they got from Isabelle was a blink. It meant nothing, no progress. It’s all Isabelle’s been doing and it's all she's going to do.
They heard the nurse clear her throat behind them, saying it’s time for them to leave. Their five minutes couldn't be up. It felt like they just got there, they couldn't go now, they couldn't leave their friend. But they had no choice.
“We’ll be back, don’t worry,” Jasmine said before letting go of her friend’s hand and hugging her side.
Once the two friends left Isabelle alone again in the room, the nurse locked her door before turning to Mac and Jasmine.
“Just so you know, a doctor is coming in later today to cast her arm up, and a child therapist is coming in tomorrow to try and get her to talk or move a little more.”
“Thank you,” Mac said. Jasmine was too speechless from coming out of the room.
“One more thing,” the nurse said. “We give our patients notebooks for them to write in. I took a look in Isabelle’s and the words “I’m the reason” was written repeatedly for a few pages. Do any of you know what that could mean?”
The two friends shook their heads, it didn't make any sense to them.
“Okay then. You two have a good day.”
“You too,” Mac said before dragging Jasmine out of the place. He felt like he was going to lose his mind if he stayed there any longer. He knew that Jasmine didn't want to leave Isabelle there, neither did he, but he couldn't stand around there doing nothing but ponder over what Isabelle could have gone through. She was a sweet girl, and now he’s afraid that she might never get better.
“So what’s this little girl’s name?”
“Her friends say her name is Isabelle,” the nurse told the child therapist as the two walked down the hall to the little girl’s room.
“What’s wrong with her?”
“She hasn't spoken in days, nor has she even moved. By the looks of it, she was beaten very badly,” the nurse informed her.
“Oh, poor girl.”
“Another thing, her journal that she has,” the nurse handed the therapist Isabelle’s journal. “The first few pages are written with the words “I’m the reason” inside.”
The therapist looked through the pages, it almost looked like she regretted something. “Is there anything else?”
“No, this is her room,” The nurse unlocked the door and let the therapist in the room. There she saw a child sitting on the bed with no facial expression. Her left arm in a purple cast which was the only vibrant thing in the room. The sight made the therapist want to cry.
“Just holler if you need anything,” the nurse said before closing the door.
The therapist watched Isabelle for a while, studying her behavior. Leading to her questioning how a girl who looks that sweet ends up here. She sighed, because she knew. Her instinct was telling her who it was, and she had no doubt that it was right.
The therapist walked in front of the conscious girl and bent down to the floor. She grabbed Isabelle’s right hand before looking up at her. Isabelle’s vacant eyes staring back at her. She waited for a reaction, but she got nothing. She wanted her to process what was happening, what she was seeing and soon, what she would hear.“Isabella?”