One Murder For Another

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Chapter 9

Pictures of Chris’s face lined the halls of Redwood high school. They were pasted on the lockers, the bulletin boards, the flat screen T.V’s that flashed the announcements, Chris’s face was everywhere you looked, and yet Chris was no where to be found. Mina had never been the best of friends with Chris and, if she was being honest, they had never gotten along, and yet all she could muster to feel was sorrow, the guilt of her blatant hatred for him weighing over her like a dark storm cloud. The entire school seemed to mimic Mina’s feelings because no laughter reverberated down the halls, no chatter seemed to float about the air, and not a single smile could be found on any of the three stories. The entire lacrosse team had become a walking funeral for their teammate and, though Mina tried to be supportive, Asher could barely hold himself together over his best friend.

No one could believe the severity of the situation, no one could believe it was real. Chris had never been a light drinker, but even while drunk he had always managed to retain an air of responsibility, an awareness of his surroundings, and yet he had still gotten so drunk that he had decided to throw himself of the second story balcony. These things didn’t happen to Chris. These things didn’t happen at Redwood.

“Hey” a small and timid voice greeted Mina as she silently slid into her usual wooden desk near the back of her homeroom. The room was eerily silent just like the rest of the school, and the few were whispers that were circulating around the room held echoes of Chris’s name.

“Hey” she let out a loud sigh in reply, burying her head into her hands, the heels of her hands boring into her eyes with vigor. The entire situation felt like an awful nightmare, only she couldn’t wake herself up.

“How are you holding up?”

Sigh. “As well as can be expected I guess.” Mina shrugged her shoulders, her head still buried in her hands as she spoke.

“Asher?” There was uncomfortable silence before Mina began to shake her head back and forth in her hands abruptly, the mention of her boyfriend making her whimper. They shouldn’t have had to deal with this. Asher shouldn’t have had to deal with it. Everything was so unfair.

“He won’t talk to me.” Mina managed to choke out without stuttering, but the burning sensation behind her eyes was steadily becoming stronger and harder to ignore as her voice wavered in the back of her throat.

“Chris is his best friend” Noah shrugged her shoulders, her eyes downcast towards the tiled floor below her. “He just needs time.” she shook her head explaining and Mina finally took the opportunity to lift her head from her hands, met with a soft and sorrowful look from Noah.

“I know” Mina sniffled, shifting uncomfortably in her seat as she writhed her hands back and forth in her lap until they were practically burning red from the sensation. “I just-” she felt herself choking on her own saliva. “I just feel so useless when he’s like this. I-Iwant to take his mind off it, make him feel better, but there’s literally nothing I can do. Nothing. to make the pain go away. Nothing.”

“He’ll talk to you when he’s ready.” Mina knew that Noah was right, that Asher would let out his emotion when he was ready, but she wanted him to be ready now. She wanted to hold his hand and tell him that everything was going to be ok, she wanted to hold him in her arms while he told her everything, she wanted to make him smile again.

“Hi.” Khalil’s indifferent voice had taken up the vacant wooden desk beside Mina, his eyes shining with the unbothered elation that the rest of the school was struggling to muster. Mina wondered how he could be in such a good mood when everyone around him was a dreary mess. Noah quickly turned in her chair so she was facing the mile long window beside her, pulling out her phone and pretending to be interested in anything but Khalil’s presence only feet away from her and Mina quickly decided that today wasn’t the day to pick a fight with her.

She plastered a half-smile on her face, attempting to match Khalil’s unusual energy, as she nodded her head in his direction in greeting.

“Are you ok?” he asked, immediately seeing through Mina’s fake smile, though she doubted it had been any good in the first place. “Is something wrong?” She wondered how he could ask that question. She wondered how he was maintaining to remain so calm. Everyone knew that Chris hated Khalil and vice versus, but even Mina hadn’t expected him to seem so blatantly happy regarding his accident. She had at least expected him to feign sorrow, to feign some type of remorse, but the only emotion he could muster seemed to be euphoria.

“Jus-just thinking about Chris.” she shook her head, now playing with the tips of her fingers in her lap. Khalil nodded his head in understanding and she noticed how he became noticeably more rigid, fearful, at the mention of his name. She didn’t understand.

“Yeah” He was at a lost for words. “Yeah. Uhm..what happened to him, it was just uh, it was just tragic.” Mina noticed him fidgeting in his seat more than usual as he spoke, his torn trainers beating against the tiled linoleum rapidly, and she wondered if the image of Chris’s bloodied body sprawled out in un-human like angles plagued his thoughts like the they plagued her own. She couldn’t shake the image of Chris lying, face up, on the wooden deck patio, a crowd of his peers surrounding him in perplexity as they looked upon his gnarled figure in confusion, none of them knowing what to do.

Mina only nodded her head silently, letting Khalil take the reins of the conversation flow, while she continued to stare aimlessly at the curves and lines in the palm of her hands.

“I know he was jerk-” Khalil continued “but he definitely didn’t deserve to die the way he did. Drunk, at a party, surrounded by people who barely knew him.”

“Die?” Mina’s head shot up, he eyes searching Khalils face quizzically, as she tried to determine if he were being serious. He was. Mina began to wring her hands back and forth in her lap once more, shaking her head at Khalil’s now furrowed figure. Maybe that’s why he was acting out of his element, Mina thought.

“Khalil.” she breathed out. “Chris isn’t dead.” Though it was fast and fleeting, Mina couldn’t miss the utter shock and disbelief that flashed momentarily across Khalil’s face. She could of sworn she saw his jaw tighten as his fists clenched in his lap, but she quickly disregarded the thought at the realization that Khalil had found the body when she had. They had stood together, side by side, gazing openly upon Chris’s figure with the rest of the astonished crowd. Khalil had every reason to hate Chris, he had every reason to pummel him until he was an indistinguishable heap on the concrete, but Khalil had nothing to do with Chris’s accident. Chris had been drunk, drunker then usual it seemed, and had finally gotten himself hurt over his lack of self-restraint. It had only been a matter of time and the rest of the party had been innocent bystanders.

“He survived the fall?” Mina thought he looked fearful, his eyes beginning to wander aimlessly without seeing a thing it seemed, but she couldn’t understand what he could have possibly been afraid of. Mina nodded her head in confirmation, still gazing upon Khalil’s fidgeting figure in bewilderment, she didn’t understand his sudden change of mood.

“Me, Noah, Chris, and some of the guys from the lacrosse team are going to visit him in the hospital after school today.” Mina explained carefully and she watched with an attentive gaze as Khalil’s chest rose and fell in labored breaths. Now she was becoming nervous. His eyes were trained to the stained wood of the desk in front of him, and Mina wondered if he had even heard a word that had fallen from her lips.

“You’re welcome to come with us.” There was silence between the two of them, and Mina couldn’t understand why he had suddenly become so unresponsive in such a short time period. She was still left, waiting for a response, when their homeroom teacher came waltzing into the classroom, her demeanor just as dismal as the rest, closing the door with a loud thud that seemed to reverberate through the ground.

Mina could hardly focus on the nonsense the teacher was spewing from the from of the classroom, unable to contain herself from stealing quick glances over at Khalil’s anxiety ridden figure, his fingers drumming against the desk in anticipation, replacing the abrupt tapping of his busted shoes and when the bell rang for first period he was the first person to shoulder his backpack and dash out of the classroom and into the halls.

“What’s his rush?” Noah quipped, the sarcasm in her voice obviously evident, but Mina chose to ignore her attitude, shrugging her shoulders as she gazed after the indistinguishable mess of emotions that was Khalil Maffa.

Khalil was missing for the rest of the day and, though she found her thoughts wandering to his whereabouts and hormonal emotions throughout the course of the day, by the time the final bell rang, dismissing the hoard of students through the glass double doors, the only thing she found herself adamant about was the figure of her boyfriend in the middle of the parking lot casting glares at the concrete ground. Khalil and his weird behavior the last thing on her mind. Her heart hurt at the sight of his sadness and she wanted nothing more than to kiss him, running her finger through his hair and make him forget that he had a reason to be downtrodden. She settled for a swift and soft kiss to cheek instead. He tried to giver her a small smile in return, but it came out forced and painful looking. Mina couldn’t stand to see him this way.

“Hey” she rubbed small circles into the back of his ripped denim jacket, and she almost found herself in tears at the way his body seemed to relax at the slight gesture. “How are you feeling?” she asked tentatively, hoping that he wouldn’t shut her out.

“Fine” he sighed and, to her surprise, he reached down between their two figures gripping her hand tightly in his own and Mina unconsciously felt a small satisfied smile spread the length of her face.

The local hospital was a thirty minute drive away from Palm Valley Prep, located in the epicenter of the city and surrounded by hordes of tall corporate buildings and bustling parking garages where everyone seemed unable to sit still, possibly afraid that if they blinked they might miss something important. No one talked for the entirety of the drive, the only sound filling the empty space that of the radio, playing so low you had to strain to hear the artist’s lyrics. Everyone seemed to grow more and more tense as they grew closer to the center of the city, the prospect of seeing their, possibly paralyzed, friend weighing heavy on their mind and even heavier on Mina’s subconscious and she suddenly found herself reminiscing every foul word she had said against him. Suddenly the image of his limp and bloodied body sprawled across the concrete was all she could focus on. Her eyes were burning at the thought now, and she clamped them closed, afraid if she kept them open any longer she wouldn’t be able to stop the onslaught of tears that threatened to consume her. Despite it all, she wanted him to be ok. She needed him to be ok.

Everyone let out an unconscious sigh as they pulled into an empty parking space near the back of the hospital, and still no one dared to interrupt the deafening vacuum of silence they had created. All four doors slammed in complete synchronicity, their feet pounding against the concrete of the parking garage as they made their way to the shiny metal elevator up that would take them to the main lobby. Asher’s hand had intertwined itself in hers once more and the tension in the air grew thicker and thicker as they all anxiously awaited the fate of their friend.

“Hi!” The platinum blonde nurse at the front desk seemed to be to elated for her job, her cheerful demeanor unfortunately not contagious enough to lift the spirits of the group. “How can I help you guys?”

“Um- we’re here to- uhm” Asher tried to speak, but his voice wavered, unable to support his anxious demeanor. Mina gripped his hand tighter in her own, bringing her free hand down to envelope both their hands. She tried to give him a weak smile but he was to busy staring at the white tiled floors to notice.

“We’re here to visit Chris McClean” Noah spoke for the group. The nurse nodded, her plastered smile never faltering as she turned to quickly type away at her computer monitor. “One moment please.” Each click of the keyboard made Asher more and more tense, and Mina could feel him fidgeting restlessly beside her. They were almost there, but each second she spent staring at the computer screen in front of her was another second of panic that washed over all of their faces.

“Here we are” she sung. “Chris McClean.” she repeated his name back to them, sliding a blue clipboard and matching pen over the counter towards the group of them. “Just sign in here please, and he’ll be on the third floor in room 315”

They each took a turn scratching their signature on the white grid paper, Asher managing not to break contact all the while before silence consumed them once more as they pushed, one after the other, into the nearest elevator. The air around them once again becoming still with unbridled apprehension, and the anxious tapping of fingers against metal echoed around them. Mina watched Asher beside her, his eyes glued to the red block numbers that slowly began to rise, never blinking once. She lifted their intertwined hands, placing a small wet kiss on the skin, and she gave him a small shy small as his eyes faltered from the digital screen of the elevator to her eyes. He had softened for a moment, but his grey eyes once again turned dark and emotionless at the elevator doors in front of them slid open with a slight hiss, indicating they had arrived on the second floor. 301. 302. 303. They were whizzing by the doors without seeing a thing, but the closer they drew to door number 315 the slower their legs moved, and when they finally spotted the golden numbers three, one, and five, they all just stared at each another, each looking at one another for guidance. They were all rooted to the spot, to nervous to say anything to one another, and to nervous to touch the door, but they couldn’t stand here anxiously all day, and Mina opened her mouth to say so, but before she could get a single sound out, the door in front of them cracked open with a small squeak, revealing a tall lanky figure.

“Khalil?” Mina spoke. Khalil’s eyes had grown wide at the sight of the group staring at him. He seemed just as nervous as he had at school, though it seemed he had manage to relax slightly now.

“What the hell are you doing here!” Noah practically spit. It wasn’t a question. Khalil’s eyes locked on Mina’s as he answered.

“Uhm” he stuttered. “Same as-uhm-same as you.” His hand was clamped around the metal around his neck once more, Mina had picked it up as a stressed habit, though she couldn’t figure out why he felt the need to feel stressed. She didn’t understand half the things he did or felt to be honest.

“J-just visiting a classmate.”

“What?” Noah crossed her arms over her chest in disbelief. “No balloons?”

“Noah” Mina reprimanded her, though she knew it would come of no use since Noah never listened to a word anyone said.

Noah shrugged her shoulders matter-of-factly. “Why would you come visit someone who hates you?”

Khalil shrugged his shoulders and Mina could have sworn she saw his jaw clench. “I like to be the bigger person. Walk the higher ground.”

Noah’s eyes rolled to the back of her head as a wide smirk played on the edges of her lips. “Bullshit.” she called, and Mina finally dropped Asher’s hand, instead moving to stand in the empty space in the hall between her group of friends and Khalil.

“You hated Chis. People said they saw the two of you arguing at the party.”

Khalil only nodded his head in response, neither confirming nor denying Noah’s claim, though Mina knew the truth.

“So what?” she threw her hands in the air exasperatedly. The rest of the group sat watching the encounter with curious eyes, no one daring to try and calm Noah down. “Did you come here for revenge or something, to taunt him while he couldn’t touch you.” she was practically screaming in his face now and Mina was sure that in a moment a nurse was going to come running down the hall to kick them out. They couldn’t get kicked out, not before she saw Chris and apologized to him. Besides, she knew Khalil, and she knew that the boy was to anxious and quiet to ever lay a violent hand on anyone. Noah was making assumptions, just like everyone else at Palm Valley.

“You are-” Noah continued on her rampage, only faltering when Mina reprimanded her once more.

“Stop! Noah, stop. Stop. Please.” Noah’s chest was heaving now. “Why don’t- why don’t you guys go ahead and go in the room without me.” She was met with curious glares. “Go” she was practically begging this time. “Go, I’ll be there in a minute.” Asher and his friends eyes her cautiously, but didn’t put up much of a fight, sulking to the door of Chris’s hospital room quietly. It was Noah who Mina knew would be the problem.

“Go”

“Mj-” She had calmed down a bit, though the fire behind her eyes still burned, threatening to start another blaze. Mina couldn’t understand why she hated him so much, she didn’t even know him.

“No” She shook her head, silencing her friends excuses. “Go Noah. Go.” Angry and defeated, she finally began to walk away but not before giving Khalil the dirtiest glare she could muster. He seemed unfazed and, despite the yelling onslaught he had just received, he appeared lighter than he had at school. This boy was a mess of emotions that Mina couldn’t decipher.

“I’m sorry.” she immediately began to apologize once her friends were out of earshot, the plank wooden door behind them closed shut. “I’m so sorry Khalil.”

“You don’t have to keep apologizing for your friends you know.” he shoved his hands into his pockets with ease, kicking the bottom of his shoe against the hard tiles with a loud squeak. “They hate me” he shrugged his shoulders unapologetically. “They hate me, and that’s ok.”

“They don’t hate you.” I shook my head, closing the space in the hallway the argument had caused between us. Khalil laughed, a knowing smile spreading the length of his face. The words had sounded wrong as soon as they had touched the air. A shy smile crept onto her lips in response.

“They do” he nodded. “But it’s ok. I can live with them hating me.” his caramel eyes trailed back up to meet her own now. “As long as you don’t hate me.”

“Of course not!” Mina shook her head frantically.“I don’t hate you Khalil. I don’t think I could ever hate you.” Something about her words made him beam, his lips twitching trying to disguise an emotion she couldn’t decipher. “But I do have one question.”

“Anything.”

“Why are you really here?” Silence. She wondered if she had pushed to far. “It’s-it’s just that Noah was kind of right. You don’t like Chris, and he doesn’t like you. So why would you come visit him?”

He let out a sigh, though his eyes never left her own. She didn’t expect him to answer.

“The truth is-” he paused for a moment, his foot still tapping against the ground. “The truth is I feel guilty.” Mina wondered what he had to be guilty about, he had never done anything to Chris. He had never said a foul word against him, though Mina was sure if she was in his position she would have. He always kept his composure, always took the hits as they came. She couldn’t imagine why he would feel this way.

“The night of the party, when I went inside to use the bathroom, I ran into him again. He was even more drunk than he had been before” he began to recount. “He wanted to talk to me, to apologize...and I let him, but he kept drinking the whole time. He kept drinking, and drinking, and drinking. I’m not even sure how he managed to keep himself upright, but after we finished talking I left. I just-I walked back down the stairs and left him up there. I just feel terrible about it now. I knew he was drunk, and I knew he shouldn’t have been left alone, but I left him anyway. I left him and he ended up sprawled out on the concrete minutes later. I just-” his voice cracked and he was once again staring at the tiles below him, unable to meet Mina’s eyes.

Without hesitation, Mina closed the inches of distance between them, immediately wrapping her arms around him in an embrace. He shook at her touch.

“I just keep thinking-” he continued. “I just keep thinking that if I hadn’t left him, if I had stayed with him, then maybe he would be lying in that hospital bed. Lying in a coma.” A coma. Khalil’s words hit Mina like a train. Chris wasn’t dead, he wasn’t paralyzed, but he was in a coma.

The pressure of Khalil’s arms wrapping around her set her senses on fire, and before she could stop herself, a single stray tear escaped the corner of her eye. She squeezed her arms tighter around Khalil’s torso. Chris was in a coma.

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