I was severely depressed for the next few days because I believed I had failed Joshua. My only lead wasn’t cooperating and the case was getting colder and colder by the minute. Justin essentially lived with me now. All we did was hang around the house most of the day, watching movies and eating junk food. He was too bummed about Joshua being in prison to go back to school and I was too bummed about the case going cold to make him go back so we kind of just shared each other’s misery.
“Katie.” He said to me one night while we were curled up on the couch watching old Batman films. “You can’t give up on this case you know. You are the only glimmer of hope, if you give up then we’ll all give up.”
I couldn’t take him too seriously because he was stuffing his face with chips all while saying this.
“Maybe I just can’t handle that sort of responsibility.”
“But you can. I know you can. You have always been the strongest out of the three of us. You’ve always been our rock. If anything, keep going for you. Do it for yourself, not anyone else. This will make a great story, you’ll become the famous author you’ve always wanted to be.”
“Stop. I can still hear the sound of defeat in your voice Katie, you can do this! We’re in this together.”
“So where do you suggest we start huh Justin? We’ve followed every lead and came to dead end after dead end. The book won’t write itself, the case won’t solve itself, there is literally no step further I can take this. It’s over kiddo, go back to school.” I snapped at him, but it wasn’t him I was upset with. I was upset with myself.
“Okay.” He said calmly. “I’ll leave tomorrow morning.”
“Justin.” I spoke to try to smooth things over.
“It’s okay Katie, I’ll leave. I know this is hard on you too and I get that and I should respect that. You need space, I can tell. And me just coming over here and staying for who knows how long isn’t okay, I understand that. You’re right, the case is cold and there’s nothing we can do here so I need to get back to school and you’ll go about your life. There’s nothing more we can do. We both need to just move on with our lives and accept defeat.”
I didn’t know how to respond.
“I’m going to go to bed now.” He said and hugged me goodnight. “I’ll probably be gone by the time you wake up so this is goodbye as well. I’m not sure when I’ll see you next.” And with that, he retreated to his bedroom.
I tried to get some rest too, but ended up doing more thinking than sleeping so I crept to my office and began reworking the case. I re-read all of my notes, retraced every single lead, and read over for probably the millionth time, each witness statement. I even built a mini model of the scene just to go over the incident once again, but none of this helped. I was still stuck. I was getting so lost in the case once again that I didn’t even notice Justin walked into my office. He lightly knocked on the door frame.
“Hey I saw the light still on in here, everything okay?” He asked.
“Yeah, I just decided to dive back into the case.”
“Well, I’m headed back to my school. Have you even gone to bed yet?”
“No, I couldn’t sleep.”
“Katie, it’s six in the morning you need to get some rest.”
“I will in a minute.”
I could tell he rolled his eyes in that instance. “Fine. But I’m headed back to school now so I can make it in time for my eight o’clock class. I’ll see ya!”
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay a little longer?” I stopped working for a second to turn towards him. “I could use the company.”
“I have to go back to school.”
“Okay.” I sighed.
“But I’ll try to come back and visit every chance I get.”
“Come here!” He grinned and held out his arms towards me.
I gave him a big hug and kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll miss you little one.”
“I’ll miss you too partner. Thank you so much for your hospitality. You took really great care of me, I’ll repay you someday.”
“Don’t even worry about it lil bro. You’re family.”
He smiled at me, grabbed his bags and left my office, a few seconds later I heard the front door close and he was gone and I was alone once again.
It was weeks before Justin came by again and our lives were uneventful from then on out. He dropped by every now and again until his graduation day in 2010 which I attended. I sat with his parents and his now girlfriend Paige, whom I had met a few times prior, his parents were actually quite fond of her. Paige was quite pretty, but the common type of pretty. Blonde, blue-eyed with legs that didn’t quit. She was always very bubbly and sweet, I liked her but sometimes she was a little too much for me. We all watched anxiously as the class of 2010 were called up alphabetically. Adams to Francisco to Garcia to Johnson to Martinez until finally, they reached the N’s and we could see Justin nearing the stage in his black cap and gown. He looked so proud of himself, but I could see him touch the bracelet that Joshua had given him every few minutes. It broke my heart that Josh couldn’t be there to see him in his greatest moment.
“Justin Bradley Norte.” They announced.
We all erupted in cheers of excitement when we saw our Justin receive his diploma and walk across that stage. He had done it. All of his hard work, all of his efforts, had finally paid off and I could not have been any prouder of him. I was on the verge of tears; I was so proud of Justin, the little brother I had always wanted. He accepted his degree and waved our way which caused us to cheer even more. He smiled and if I wasn’t mistaken, wiped a tear from his face. I knew he wished his brother was there.
Once the ceremony ended and we were able to link up with Justin, his girlfriend Paige was the first to run over and congratulate him. She embraced him and kissed him and wouldn’t let him go until he finally acknowledged me.
“Katie, you made it!” He grinned and untangled himself from Paige to hug me.
“Of course, little one! I wouldn’t miss your big day for anything in this world.”
He clung on to me for a while which made me start to cry a little because I knew he was trying to keep from crying as well. When we let go of each other I could tell he was tearing up and it didn’t help that my face was streaked with tears. He wiped the tears from my face before saying, “Stop crying you baby.” And laughed.
I couldn’t help but laugh too. “Sorry, I’m just so proud of you!” I said and pinched his cheeks, but we both knew that wasn’t the reason we were so emotional.
“I wish Joshua was here.” He said, though I was hoping he wouldn’t go there.
“It’s hard to fully enjoy this day without him. I just always pictured this day with him you know? I really wanted to accomplish this with him. It’s really just kind of bittersweet.”
I didn’t know what to say, but Paige stopped talking to his parents and walked over to us to hold his hand anyway.
“I’m so proud of you baby!” She exclaimed. She was always all over him, it was nauseating. She was supposed to be graduating with him, but postponed one of her semesters so she could travel. Now she’d be graduating the following year.
“Thank you, babe.” He kissed her on the top of her head.
“Are we getting out of here or what? I have a special graduation present waiting for you back at my place. I assumed you were coming over that’s why I didn’t bother bringing it with me.”
“Yeah, I think it’s time for me to head back to my apartment. I have a few things to do today. It was nice seeing you again Paige and congrats again Justin!” I quickly excused myself before things got too awkward for me. I started walking towards my car, but as it turned out Justin came running after me.
“Katie wait!” He called.
I turned around to face him. “Yeah?”
“Listen, thanks so much for coming. I know I haven’t been by that much in the past four years, but I really appreciate the fact that you showed up. I’ll try to come by more often now since I’m out of school and then maybe you and Paige can get to know each other a little better. Maybe you guys will become friends.”
“Sounds great! Just text me before you swing by alright?”
“Alright.” He said and hugged me goodbye.
When I got home that evening, I baked some cupcakes and ate them all myself. I include this only because they were good cupcakes and I have no regrets whatsoever. Afterwards I laid out on my sofa to catch up on some TV shows I had fallen too far behind in, but was interrupted by a knock at the door. I got up a little ticked off that someone would have the audacity to interrupt my show binging, and opened the door only to discover the man in the brown hat.
“As I live and breathe.” I gasped. I could hardly believe my eyes.
“Katie.” He tipped his hat. “I’ve come to finally be of service to you.”
“Just come in.” I replied slightly more annoyed.
We sat on the couch and just stared at each other for a moment. He removed his hat and his trench coat and made himself at home. I scowled at him trying to intimidate him, but to no avail. He just starred right on back at me, it was absolutely irritating.
“Do you know why I came here?” He asked after some time.
“No idea. I mean, how you even found out where I live? The questions pertaining to this situation are endless.” I shot back.
He grinned. “You’re feisty, I like that. I’m so glad I opted to help you out.”
Without his hat and coat he looked younger, probably around my age. Nothing about him really made much sense though. And yet, he was oddly attractive. The mysterious kind of handsome that you couldn’t resist. I quickly dismissed these thoughts since as of that moment he was my nemesis and not my ally. I had to keep my guard up. It was time for me to get some answers not make any more friends.
“I’ll tell you why I’m here or more so, how I got here. I followed you one night, I remembered where you lived, and I knew I’d need it for future reference. I’m not trying to say this in a threatening way, I just knew our paths would need to cross again. You see, I’ve had a change of heart, I’ve decided to help you. I’d hate to see a pretty, young girl such as yourself drive herself mad over a case so cold.” He flashed that same sinister grin at me again. He had to be some kind of psychopath. I didn’t trust him.
“You waited four years to come to this conclusion?” I spat out angrily.
“Better late than never.” He shrugged.
“Okay, what’s your angle? This is way too weird. What do you want? Money? Fame? My first-born child? What? What’s in it for you?”
“No angle. Just trying to do the right thing for a friend.”
“I would hardly consider us friends mister. I don’t even know who you are. Or better yet, I don’t even know your name. You’re lying to my face right now and I’ll have you know I don’t like it one bit. So you better start talking before I call the police.”
“Okay, okay. Just relax Katie I come in peace.” He replied. “My name is Dexter Allen Hollow. Most commonly referred to as ‘Dex.’ I’m 33, I never finished college, born and raised here, I help run my family’s business so I am employed. Is there anything else you care to know?”
“Nope, that’s good. So, you’ll make a statement on Joshua’s behalf, Dex?” I asked a little too excitedly.
“Certainly. You have my word.” He raised his right hand.
“Thank you thank you thank you!” I cheered.
“Now, there’s just one thing I want from you.”
“Ah-ha! I knew it! I knew there was some kind of catch. What is it Dexter? What in the world could you possibly want from me?”
He leaned in and whispered to me. “Okay maybe there is an angle. I need you to speak at my memorial ceremony.”
“Look, I’m dying. I’ll be cremated and all I want is a nice young lady to scatter my ashes and send me off with beautiful words. And I know you’re a writer so I presume you could come up with a pretty nice eulogy. I don’t have anybody to mourn me once I’m gone okay, I’ve already lost both of my parents, I’m an only child, I have no children, and I’m divorced. With that said, I’d greatly appreciate your assistance on this matter. Please. I’m asking you nicely my dear.”
I was speechless. “Um.” was all I was able to get out.
“Think about it Katie.” He handed me a card with his name, number, and address. “I’ll have the statement prepared for you by the last week of June. Come by anytime during that week to pick it up. And I really do hope you’ll decide to speak on my behalf. It would mean so much to me.”
“Well, thank you!” I said nervously. “I’ll definitely mull it over and let you know as soon as I decide.”
“Goodbye Katie.” He said as he left my apartment and disappeared into the night.
When the last week of June rolled around, I found myself very nervous to show up at the man’s house. I tried to shake the nerves as I pulled up to his home, but something about the whole situation made me uncomfortable. Once I was parked, I hopped out of my car to knock on his door. Thinking back on it now I probably should’ve called Justin and told him to come with me. For all I knew, that man could’ve been prepared to murder me. I knocked twice and after a few minutes passed and there was no answer, I knocked again. And again. And again. There was still no answer. I pulled out his card and took a look at the address to make sure I had the right place and as I did so, the door finally opened.
“Katie!” Dexter grinned. “My apologies, I was in the back. Come in, come in. It’s so good to see you again.”
I stepped inside and he locked the door behind me. “Just here to pick up your statement.” I said apprehensively.
“Of course. There’s plenty of time for that, but for now sit down. Let’s chat, get to know each other. Would you like anything to drink?”
“No, I’m fine. I’m kind of in a hurry, I was hoping to just pop in and pop out.”
“Oh.” He responded a little disappointed. “Oh okay. Let me just get that statement for you then.”
He exited the room and as I glanced around I felt like I was taking a peek into his life. On his wall was a picture of an elderly couple which I guessed to be his parents. On the table, next to the couch was another picture, this frame had the word love engraved into it. In the photo was a smiling Dexter with a beautiful, young woman that was probably his ex-wife. They were standing in front of a breathtakingly beautiful lake complete with flowers lining the bank and strong redwoods as well. Why hadn’t he taken down that picture yet? Were there more, but that was the one he couldn’t stand to toss? I pondered to myself as I set the picture back down carefully. And the rest of the living room was just as interesting. One could tell there was a story to be told about it all. When he returned, he had a video tape and a hand-written letter in his hands.
“Here this should do. I wrote and also taped it since I know I probably won’t be around to actually testify on Joshua’s behalf.”
“Thank you, Dex.” I replied. “Hey I’m so sorry about all of this. Maybe I can stay for just a few minutes, we can talk if you need to.” I felt bad for the guy. He was obviously lonely and seemingly only had a few days to live, I couldn’t just take his statement and leave especially since he had such a change of heart. It was my turn to help him out. There was a reason our paths had crossed. A reason beyond just this case.
“That would be wonderful, Katie!” His face lit up and it made me smile too. He was actually a very nice looking man once he stopped trying to be so menacing. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy after all.
So, we sat and talked for hours. We got to know each other pretty well I’d say. We talked about our childhoods, our goals, our passions, life, death, you name it, and we covered it all. Before I knew it, it was the next day and the sun was coming up and I decided I should really get back home. I didn’t want to leave. It was nice having company again. I hadn’t noticed how lonely I had been since Joshua got locked away, since Justin got his own life. I was empty.
“This has been fun.” I said. “Honestly, I don’t know when the last time it was that I’ve had this great of a conversation with someone. Probably with Joshua, before…you know.”
“You really miss him, don’t you?”
“Yeah. He was all I had. I’m an only child too and he’s been the only constant person in my life.”
“Are you two an item?” He asked.
I laughed. “You caught me.” I put my hands up as if he’d really caught me doing something wrong.
He laughed too. “What? You guys haven’t told anyone?”
“Not really. It kind of just happened, right before he was arrested. There’s not much reason to talk about it now. We were really excited when it first happened you know? Childhood best friends turned lovers. You always hear about it in books and movies, but when it happens to you it feels even more special.” I was smiling from ear to ear.
“I’m sorry. I can tell he made you very happy. The love you have for him is written all over your face. It’s sweet. Hey, I hope my statement sets him free, you deserve all the happiness in the world Katie, you’re a good girl.”
I smiled. “Thank you, Dexter. You’re a good person as well.”
“Anytime, and thank you. Now I know you must get back to your own life and I have got to get back to the rest of mine, so I won’t keep you any longer.”
We both stood and he escorted me to my car.
“This was really great, I’m so glad I stayed.” I said to him. “Maybe we can do this again sometime?”
“The pleasure was all mine to be frank. I’m honored to have known you, and like I mentioned before, I hope you’ll be the one to send me off when I’m gone. Thank you for giving me a chance Katie. Whenever you’re in my neighborhood or need a friend you know where to find me.”
“You got it, Dex.” I hugged him. “I’m really going to miss you.”
He tipped his cap, turned, and walked back inside. I stood there for a moment just looking at his home. I was deeply saddened to know that soon he would be gone. But there was nothing I could do but get in my car and drive back to my own apartment.