I remember nearly collapsing upon hearing the mention of his name and that one word. I have always found it amusing that one word can change the connotation of a sentence. One word can change everything. I remember falling apart and then having to reassemble myself in a few seconds.
I walked into the kitchen upon hearing the telephone ring from the living room. Lex sat on the couch, absentmindedly watching an episode of some sitcom too old for her to understand, but Edgar was watching it. Therefore, his daughter wanted to mimic him and act as if she matured past her time. I recalled a moment very similar I had with my mother, trying to give her some leg to stand on that united us but ultimately failed and continued to expand the void between us.
I grasped the phone and pressed it to my ear, wrapping the ancient cord around my finger as I stared vacantly out the window. Before I could even answer the phone, I immediately heard the sobs of a girl I loved with nearly all of my heart. I murmured, “Esther?”
“They couldn’t resuscitate him.”
I froze. “What?”
She didn’t answer as she choked into the phone. She tried to breathe, but she couldn’t manage to stop herself from hyperventilating. I could imagine her locks pulled back into a loose ponytail, bobbing up and down as she rocked back and forth. Her eyes were pressed close as she tried to distract herself from this awful reality.
She released a resigned sigh, and then she murmured something to a masculine voice on the other end. The masculine voice seemed soothing and tried to comfort her in a soft tone. He called her, “Esther May,” and I immediately knew Leslie was by her side.
Someone was there for her in her darkest hour, and I was alone.
Something inside of my chest fell down into my abdomen, and then it continued to fall to my feet. My head became weightless, and a part of me felt the pull of gravity but also the freedom of flight. I couldn’t even respond.
“Devin?” she whimpered.
“Yeah, I’m still on the phone,” I finally mustered. I braced myself against the wall faintly, and my eyes scoured the floor for any reason this could have happened. This shouldn’t be happening. I narrowed my gaze, and the image computed in my brain began to blur.
“I’m so sorry,” she cried. “I’m so sorry.”
My hand combed through my hair incredulously.
“I love you.”
My knees knocked into each other violently.
“You’re my favorite person in this whole wide world, Devin.”
My breaths became uneven and wavering.
“I couldn’t live without you; I hope you’d do the same.”
I slammed my fist into the counter and repeatedly smashed my knuckles into the faux marble. I couldn’t figure out why I was thinking all of these things at once. Why all of these awful memories were flooding from the depths of my imagination at once. Why I felt my heart being torn apart.
“What?” I whimpered.
“They tried. Mom and I—”
My eyes widened frantically. “Mom was there?”
“Yeah, we watched the doctors—”
I snapped out of the mourning and hissed, “Where is she?”
“—but they couldn’t do anything for him. They tried so hard, they really did.” She began to choke on her sobs yet again and failed to make any remarkable sense.
“Esther, listen to me. Where’s Mom?”
“Back at the house. She said she needed to be alone right now.”
“Esther, I love you, okay?”
“No, please don’t hang up. I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m so scared. Please don’t hang up.”
“I love you so much, okay?” I slammed the phone onto the receiver and whipped through the kitchen and through the living room.
Edgar and Lex switched their gaze to me lazily in time for Edgar to bark, “Where are you going?”
I ripped open the front door and raced through the entrance, nearly knocking Jennifer off of the porch as she came in from the garage. I pumped my arms back and forth rhythmically, and the balls of my feet padded against the asphalt methodically. My lungs became sore from the sudden exertion, and I whipped around the corner of the Mortis neighborhood, recalling the new address of my family. I stormed forward, pushing myself as hard as I could so I could stop her.
It was the first time I ran since before the accident.
It was the first time I felt free since before the accident.
Like I had purpose.
I prepared my dorm and packed it up for the end of the winter semester. One more final and I would be free of the university for nearly a month! Part of me jumped at the chance to be back home and be back where everything was normal, but another part of me knew that all of that was false. The false security of home was still alluring, however. I had video-chatted my family nearly every weekend upon my mother’s request, but I felt like I never got anywhere. I had all of these confessions building up inside of me, but I would choke back the awful realizations as I noticed the innocence in Lex’s eyes.
I couldn’t let her know that the past was still threatening my sanity.
I was terrified to finally confront my past’s personification. I visualized seeing her icy blues and fighting back the urge to fix her because I finally knew that I couldn’t. Because she wasn’t broken. The past made us both who we are, but I was not content believing the past would emotionally scar her perpetually.
We would stare at each other silently, and then she would slip away to her room without a word. I would ignore her lack of amiability and blame the accident. Or we would fall into our normal habit of screaming matches that had become so ritualistic over the summer. Or she would fall apart. Or maybe I would. Five months could make a difference, couldn’t it?
My roommate hustled into the room for one last round of checking his side of the room for perishables. He managed to let a whole pizza rot under his bed that attracted mice that somehow died inside the box—which I believe is due to the mold. Luckily, he removed it before the pizza was totally black and the mice decomposed. He was not the neatest person. He leaned over the edge of his bed and pulled a pair of lace underwear out of the cracks of his home. He glanced at it, shrugged, and sniffed it. “Megan Troyer.”
I rolled my eyes and shoved a stack of dirty clothes into my laundry bag. I ignored his unruly behavior and continued to focus my attention on my task, until a Polaroid fell loosely from above my bed. I glanced at the photo and cringed.
Heath and I were celebrating a state win during his days in club soccer, excited to announce he had a scholarship to a Division I school and would not have to pay for college. He was so on top of the moon. Shirtless and exuberant, I remember his sweat rubbing against my painted up chest as we posed for the picture his mom took. She was so proud of him. I crumpled the picture and threw it into the garbage can.
I knocked on the door frantically, screaming, “Mom! Mom!” Without an answer, I continued to pound on the mahogany door, bruises forming against the side of my hand. I needed her to answer me, I couldn’t stand the silence because I knew what she was planning. I knew what she was premeditating, and I couldn’t let her accomplish it.
She deserved better than that.
I heard the scuffing and rummaging of wood against tile floor, and I pressed my face against the glass on the front door, peering through the stained glass. I struggled to make out any silhouettes or shadows stalking across the house. I peeled away from the door and glanced around the front porch, searching for anything to help me unlock the door.
One of the neighbors stuck their head out of the window on the bottom floor, and eye-contact was immediate. I howled, “Do you have a spare key?”
The elderly woman with wispy, white hair tied into a bun rushed back into the slums of her home, slamming down the window.
I jumped off the porch and grabbed the decorative stone with “Home” carved into it. I tossed it in the air twice, balancing the weight in my palm before turning toward the porch again. I leapt over the three wooden steps and lurched forward from my momentum. I pulled my arm back and rushed forward, releasing the rock into the stained glass. The glass spread and splayed out like fireworks, glistening reds and blues threatening my skin. I ignored the mess and drug my arm through the hole in the door, grasping the handle and unlocking it. I slammed open the door again, howling, “MOM!”
And then I found her.
The drive back home was fine. I mean, nothing monumental occurred. I passed the normal construction and the normal traffic jams. Normalcy was actually present for once. It was kind of eerie in the sense I was uncomfortable with being able to relax in an environment that once held so many threats and dangers. I glanced through the CDs in my dashboard, and my heart ached as I came across The Killers. My fingertips brushed against the disc, and then I shoved the dashboard to a close, terrified of the memories that could come from just a single touch.
I screamed, “Mom! Mom! Stop! No!” As I came closer to her, she shoved me away by slamming her foot into my face as she dangled above me. I grasped her ankles, holding them at my shoulders to forego the fall she was creating for herself. Her fingers clasped the noose around her neck, tautening it. I howled, “No! Please!”
I screamed, “I’m home!” as I ventured across the threshold of the house. I expected Lex to immediately tumble down the stairs to greet me with open arms, but I was not greeted exuberantly or with excitement. I heard chatter from inside the kitchen. I dropped my duffel bag by the door and slowly meandered into the kitchen
Lex rushed to me, wrapping her arms around my waist. She didn’t say a word, and she burrowed into my abdomen with her face as she began to whimper. Startled, I placed my hand atop her head and turned my chin up to the group of adults standing around the bar. My heart stopped before I even knew what came out of one of the men’s mouths
My mom stood near the exit with her hands covering her mouth in shock and disbelief. Her eyes widened as she turned to me, apologizing for something. Dad just stood there, staring at the dining room table incredulously. Two officers nestled in the chairs by the bar, resting their chins on the heel of their hands. The mustachioed man’s eyes gathered my presence, and I found myself gently tearing Lex away from me.
I finally uttered the words, “What’s going on?”
The police officers glanced at one another, assessing whether it was appropriate to let me in on the secret. However, my mom interrupted their silent forum and confessed, “It’s Devin.”
I nonchalantly shrugged, trying to play it off coolly and aloofly. Who’s that? Why should my little family care? Why does it matter?
Dad muttered, “Jennifer, maybe we shouldn’t tell him.”
Mom continued, “Jude died today, and Devin’s been missing ever since. The police received a phone call from her mother that Devin came to her house and tried to strangle her, too. The police are looking for her.”
Lex mumbled something under her breath. I glanced at her, and then she repeated it, “Devin couldn’t do that. She wouldn’t.”
I turned my gaze back to the police officers. If I had never seen the bestial, fiery gaze that one night, I would have believed Lex, but my sister never was forced to see the bottled-up emotions that overflowed from Devin in one instant. All of that anger and hatred built up to the point where she had to succumb to the urges. The way her hand extended and flung repetitively into Jude, I was sure she would have killed him if she didn’t seize.
She could have done it.
She would have.
The police officer without the facial hair tilted his chin down and inquired, “Do you have any idea where she could be?”
My lips parted as I scoured my brain for an answer, but nothing leapt out to me.
“Are there any places you and her used to hang out? I mean, did you guys hang out outside of school or this house? We’ve checked Arianna Sebold’s home as well as Jefferson-Polk, but we haven’t located the Sebold girl.”
I cracked my thumb against the palm of my hand, popping the joint painfully in and out of place as thoughts flurried throughout my mind aimlessly.
The other officer cut in, “Anywhere you two perhaps had intimate relations?”
I refocused my gaze and crumpled my brow. “What?”
“Murderers often go to places where milestones were hit, I think. I saw it on some crime show.”
I threw my fist into the table and yelped, “Are you kidding me?”
A tension built between the six people in the room, and five pairs of eyes bored into me incredulously. The volcanic eruption of emotions threatened to spill from my mouth. I shook my head and shoved a chair out of the way as I marched through the living room toward my car. The police officers followed behind me, and I whipped around. “What do you want now?!”
The mustachioed man mumbled, “We wanted you to know what he said earlier was out-of-line, but we need to know these things. We need to find her before she hurts someone.”
I rolled my eyes and spread out my arms like some magnificent bird. I roared, “You shouldn’t be worried about other people. You need to get your head out of your asses and realize she could be hurting herself.”
I flipped them off, and I threw myself into my car.
The police officers responded by returning to their patrol car and venturing away.
I blared the radio and smashed my forehead against my wheel, the horn blaring as I pressed into it. I slapped the wheel frantically, wishing I could have given myself the beating the leather was receiving, and then finally collapsed into the chair, pondering. I murmured under my breath obscene curses as I cursed every part of my heart that tore away from my chest as I realized I couldn’t stifle the emotions surrounding Devin—the contempt, the loathing, the envy, the jealousy, and the love. I couldn’t kick them, and she was abusing me by just existing in the same dimension.
“I promise you probably aren’t crazy.”
“That’s an oxymoronic sentence.”
I sat up in the car and stared at the fence surrounding our backyard, the cracks and the poor stain melting away under the winter sun. I turned to the passenger seat, and I swear to God I imagined her sitting there with her goofy smile on her face, being the person I fell in love with.
“A bystander is the worst kind of perpetrator because they could have done something.”
But then again, maybe she was the person I was so afraid of from the very beginning. Her makeup and mask just fooled me. I gripped the wheel and spun my car out of the driveway frantically as I remembered all the memories we held at certain landmarks of our lives. And then I began looking for Devin Paulina Sebold.