4 | I'm So Sorry
I stood there staring at the man in front of me. To say I was surprised was an understatement. After a few moments I realized he still had his hand extended. I reached out and shook it. “I’m Hayden Starr.” I said, glancing at Mom and then back at him. “But I guess you already knew that.”
Matt grinned. “I’m sorry, I talked to your dad on the phone last week and told him I was coming, but as your mom just informed me, he didn’t tell you I was coming.”
Mom cleared her throat. “Matt actually stopped by the school first, but your coach told him that he’d let you out early?” She raised her eyebrows.
“Yeah.” I nodded. “I would’ve been back sooner, but Principal Freeman wanted to talk to me about Demi.”
Mom smiled. “Okay.”
“Well,” Matt sat back down. “Your mom told me that this is your first offer and I realize you didn’t know I was coming, so you haven’t had time to think and I understand if you don’t have a lot to say at the moment, but is there anything you want to know about the college? Or the team or scholarship?”
He was right, it was very unexpected. I glanced at Mom, who shrugged. I opened my mouth to tell him I had to think about it, but then I remembered Coach’s words.
“Actually,” I set my bag down and sat down in the chair next to Mom. “I do have a few questions.”
We spent the next hour talking. I asked him several questions about the scholarship and college, and he in return, asked me questions about myself. When we had finally concluded our conversation, he stood up.
“It was wonderful meeting you, Angela.” He said, shaking my mom’s hand. “And you, Hayden.” He turned to me. “You had some very good questions.”
I smiled. “Thank you. So did you.”
He nodded and made his way to the door. “Well, I will be in town a few more days. I intend to see you again before I leave, so think about my offer. Here is my contact info if you decide anything.” He held out a small card.
I took it and glanced down at it. “Do you want to watch me play or anything?” I asked.
He grinned. “We’ve been watching you all season, Hayden.” He told me. “I wanted to be here last Friday for the championship, but it didn’t work out in my schedule. So to answer your question, we have seen more than enough to know that we want you.”
I glanced at Mom, who smiled at me. “I guess you have a lot to think about.” She said.
“Well,” Matt opened the door. “I guess I’ll be in touch.” He nodded us. “Have a good day.”
“You too.” I gave him a small wave and he left the house.
Mom turned to me, an amazed look on her face. “A full academic scholarship!” She squealed like a teenager.
I laughed. “I know right! I was not expecting that.” I walked back into the living room and picked up my bag. “I have some extra homework to make up for tomorrow, so I’ll be in my room.” I called.
I went to my room and shut the door. Setting my backpack on my bed, I pulled out my laptop. I heard my phone buzz and dug around in my backpack to find it. I checked my notifications and a noise escaped my mouth.
Since I’d last checked my phone in the locker room three hours earlier, I’d gotten close to a million notifications! I scanned through them, trying to figure out what the increase was all about. It seemed I had been tagged in some video that seemed to have gone viral on several different social medias.
I also had eighteen missed calls from Demi. Frowning, I went to call her back, but before I could, she called me.
“Demi?” I answered.
“I’m so sorry, Hayden!” Demi was crying. “I can explain!”
“What?” I had no idea what she was talking about. “Is this about you missing class twenty times this month?”
“I’m so sorry!” Demi repeated. “I didn’t know we were being videoed. I didn’t mean for you find out this way.”
“Find what out?” I asked.
Demi ignored me and continued, but she was crying so much I couldn’t really tell what she was saying.
I remembered my notifications and opened my laptop. The video Demi was talking about had been posted on some guy’s Instagram story hours before, probably around lunch, and now it was viral, with over five hundred shares on Instagram alone.
It was a video of a Demi and some guy having sex in her car. The guy videoing had clearly come across them accidentally and Demi and her partner clearly had no idea they were being videoed.
“Demi,” I sighed. “I don’t get it. Why didn’t you just tell me you were…” The words faded from my lips and I froze. What the heck?
The guy had continued videoing and you could now see the guy Demi was with.
It was my Dad.
My heart stopped and I dropped my phone. What? I didn’t even know what I was thinking.
The guy in the video was laughing. “Oh my gosh! Is that Hayden Starr’s Dad?” He laughed again. “Hayden’s Dad is fucking her best friend!” He zoomed in close. “Guys, this is seriously messed up.”
The video wasn’t over, but I slammed my laptop. My whole body was shaking.
“Hayden!” I could hear Demi’s voice still crying over the phone. I picked it up and pressed “End Call”.
Dropping it again, I covered my mouth with my hand. What the heck had happened?
Everything was starting to make a little more sense – Demi’s absences, my Dad being too busy with “work”, those phone calls… I wanted to puke.
I grabbed a picture of Demi and I off my wall and ripped it to shreds. The tears started flowing as I preceded to do the same thing with the rest of the pictures that had Demi or Dad in them.
How could Demi do this to me? How could Dad do this to me?
My phone rang again, but I didn’t even look at it. I stuffed it back in my backpack and grabbed my favorite sweatshirt, the one that Aston had given to me the Christmas before he died. Snatching the keys from where I’d left them on my desk, I ran out of my room, slamming the door.
“Hayden?” My mom called from her room, but I ignored her and ran out of the house.
I had nowhere to go, so after driving around for thirty minutes, I pulled into the Target parking lot and parked.
When I checked my phone, I saw that I had eight missed calls from Dad and three from Mom. I sighed. I’d figured it wouldn’t be too long before she’d heard about it, but I didn’t want to talk to her right now.
My Instagram was blowing up with messages from random people, calling me a bitch and giving me nasty comments like it was my fault my best friend and Dad hooked up. Guys I didn’t even know were messaging me and telling me that they would never go out with me. Like did they seriously think I cared?
I didn’t try to stop the tears. My life had been going great. Too great, I guess, because how else could all this be justified? What had I done that was so wrong to deserve this?
I turned off my social media notifications and tossed my phone in the passenger seat. I curled into a ball and instinctively reached for the chain around my neck. Ashton’s dog tags. It was times like this I especially missed him. I fingered the dog tags, remembering when they’d been given to me at his funeral.
I had put them on then and never taken them off. It made me feel closer to him, always wearing them around my neck like he had. I wished he was here right now.
Actually, no, I didn’t. I changed my mind. I was glad he was gone and didn’t have to be caught up in this horrible mess.
Our Dad and my best friend had been sleeping together. Ex-best friend, I corrected myself.
How long had it been going on? Demi’s mysterious behavior had started over a month ago. A new wave of tears came at the realization that it had probably been going on for a while.
I didn’t understand it at all. What had Demi seen in my Dad that was worth destroying her best friend’s family? Had I even been her best friend?
And Dad, what was so wrong with his life that he would stoop to such a low level? Not only was he doing something he knew would hurt me and Mom and a dozen other people, it wasn’t even legal for him to have sex with someone under eighteen! I sobered a little at the thought.
It was statutory rape. Demi’s mom wouldn’t even have to press charges. With video evidence, Dad was sure to be arrested, maybe even sent to prison. I realized I wasn’t even upset by the idea. He deserved it.
I thought of Demi and frowned. I didn’t know what she deserved or what would happen to her. I didn’t care what happened to her. She’d ruined my family and I would never speak to her again.
I woke up the next morning to my phone ringing. I reached for it and then remembered that I’d fallen asleep in the car the night before.
I put my seat back up and picked up my phone, remembering all the events of the day before. It was just past eight and Mom was calling me. I turned my phone off and tossed it back into the seat.
I still didn’t want to talk to her. She hadn’t done anything wrong, in fact, she was just as affected by all this as I was. I glanced at my phone and sighed.
Picking it up, I turned it back on and texted her.
Hayden: I’m fine, I’ll come home in a little bit
A knock at the passenger window made me jump. A teenage guy was standing there. I thought I recognized him as a guy from school, but I wasn’t sure.
“You wanna try some car sex?” He asked, a nasty grin on his face.
I buckled in and started the engine. “Go away.”
The guy snickered. “What? Am I too young for your tastes?”
I clenched my jaw and put the car in drive, pulling out of the parking lot.
I started towards home. I’d told all my teachers I was going to be gone today, so there wasn’t much sense in going to school. Besides, I wasn’t ready to face everyone’s disapproving and sympathetic looks.
Wanting to delay my arrival at home as long as possible, I stopped at Little Caesar’s on my way and ordered a pizza.
The cashier, a large, middle-aged black lady, peered at me. “You’re Hayden Starr, right?” She asked, her southern accent thick.
I grimaced and nodded. Two days ago, I would’ve been proud of that, but now…
“I watched you play soccer!” The woman exclaimed proudly. I nodded and held out the money, but she shook her head. “No, you keep your money. The pizza’s on me.”
I blinked in surprised. That was not the reaction I had expected. “Thank you!” I gave her a half-smile.
“I heard what they’re saying ’bout you cause of your Daddy and friend.” The lady continued. “I’m sorry hun. I know you ain’t like that.” She gave me a big grin. “You’re the MVP!”
Her pride was so visible that I smiled. “Daphne,” I said, looking at her name tag. “You just made my day.”
She beamed at me. “Well ain’t that somethin’.” She put the pizza on the counter. “Makin’ Hayden Starr’s day.” She sobered and gave me a serious look. “Don’t take what they say too personally.” She shook her head sadly. “They don’t know what it’s like to feel betrayed.”
She’d said it like she did know what it was like and I almost asked her about it, but instead, I took the pizza and left.
My phone buzzed on my way back to the car. It was a text from Mom.
Mom: There’s too many reporters outside… Don’t come back yet
I groaned. Where was I supposed to go? I climbed in the car and my phone buzzed again.
Mom: Sorry we can’t visit Ashton. I love him too you know
Mom: I love you, be safe <3
I fingered Ashton’s dog tags. In all the drama, I’d forgotten what day it was. I gave a disgusted laugh. So much for our happy little family trip. I started the car.
Wait. I could still go visit him by myself. It was only an hour drive from Bellvue to Arlington and it wasn’t hard to get there. But I didn’t dare. Mom would kill me if she knew I’d gone by myself.
On the other hand, she couldn’t be mad if she didn’t know about it. She’d told me not to come home yet and I didn’t need to tell her where I’d really been. I grinned and put the car in drive.
I was going to visit Ashton.
An hour and a half later, I was at Arlington National Cemetery. Thankful I remembered where Ashton had been buried, I made my way through the cemetery to his grave.
“Hi Ash.” I knelt down by the grave and set down the flowers I’d bought.
Someone else must’ve visited recently as well because there was a fresh bouquet of flowers already laying there. I noticed a small plastic Captain America shield leaning against the flowers and swallowed.
Blake had been Ashton’s best friend in the Marines. They’d met in bootcamp and been stationed together in Syria. Ashton talked about Blake so much in his phone calls and letters that I felt like he was a second brother, even though I’d only met him twice, once right out of bootcamp and then at Ashton’s funeral.
I fingered Ashton’s dog tags. Blake was the one who’d given them to me at the funeral. I’d been holding on to a hope that Ashton was still alive, that he hadn’t been killed, but when Blake handed the dog tags to me, it shattered every last hope.
I knew it wasn’t really fair, but I blamed Blake for Ashton’s death. He was a great guy, but I needed to blame someone, and Blake was the only reason Ashton requested to be stationed in Syria.
I traced the letters on the gravestone with my finger.
“Ashton Jay Starr.” It read. “SSGT US Marine Corps. April 19, 1997 - May 14, 2017. Bronze Star. Purple Heart. Always In Our Hearts Forever”
“I miss you.” I whispered, wiping the tears from my eyes. “My soccer team won the State Championship last week. It was so cool, you should’ve been there.” I smiled, remembering Ashton playing soccer in the backyard with me.
“A recruiter from UCLA offered me a full academic scholarship to play there when I graduate.” I fingered the dog tags again. “I don’t know what to tell him. I mean, college is still two years away.” I bit my lip. “They probably don’t even want me now.”
“I’m so lost, Ash!” I buried my face in my arms. “I don’t know what to do or where to go!” I glared at the stone, my anger spilling out. “Why did you leave?” The tears streamed down my face. “I need you here!” I sobbed.
After a few moments, I turned my face upwards and stared into the sky. The gray clouds hung low, emphasizing the cold, depressing feeling of the day. “Please help me.” I whispered. I wasn’t really sure if I was talking to Ashton or God. Maybe both. I sat there silently for several minutes.
“I know life’s not fair.” I said, retracing the letters of Ashton’s name. “But how is all this justified? How can it ever be okay?” The tears welled up again. “Will it every be okay? Other people might forget about everything, but I never will. I’ll never be the same.”