Guilty

By Jessica McKenzie All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Mystery

Blurb

Born into a picture-perfect family of lawyers and a soon-to-be doctor, Hayden Otley is absolutely devastated the day she comes to school to find that her best friend growing up, Samara Galen has committed suicide. When her Harvard-accepted brother, Tyler gets a new, seemingly flawless girlfriend, Violet Wren, she offers Hayden some answers about Samara's death--and admits that she doesn't believe Samara committed suicide on her own. Following Violet's commands, Hayden eventually becomes a suspect for murder.

Chapter 1

July 19th, 2016

After.

Lying can only do you harm if you’re caught.

After all, that’s what every criminal defense attorney wants to teach their fifteen-year-old daughter before she’s questioned by the police for the sake of their reputation and sanity.

Don’t even think of it as lying; think of it as the brain corrector. However you perceived the situation that caught the police’s attention, well, that’s wrong. It was an accident. You weren’t even there. You were studying or texting or reading or watching TV or hanging out with friends. If you aren’t convinced that what you should’ve been doing is what really happened, you will fail.

And another thing: body language is everything. Don’t make any unnecessary movements like covering your face or cramming your hands in your pockets. Keep facial expressions to a minimum. Take the questions the way you took that pain in the ass “getting to know you” survey in the beginning of this school year. Don’t even let your emotions twitch the truth onto your face. In fact, don’t think about emotion if it isn’t corrected first.

Maintain eye contact. Just remember what you should’ve been doing; the corrected truth. Know it. Know the sound of the story the way little kids unintentionally memorize the sound of a parent coming home from work in the evening. Know it backwards. Know it forwards. Know it sideways. Live it. It happened, didn’t it? Yes, you lived it and remember it.

No one is scary unless you let them be.

That’s right. The police department? Investigators? Your family? Friends? As long as they understand the corrected truth you will get out of hell alive.

You do not deserve to be behind bars.

And I know that. I know why I’m here in the vacant waiting room of the King police station next to my eighteen-year-old brother, Tyler, who is currently the only member of my four person family willing to drive me to the station to “answer a few questions.” It sounds innocent, informal--but the lining of reality is there. They’re building a case against me. This is the beginning of the end.

I slump down on a hard chair while my brother flips through a magazine titled Super Lawyers.

I don’t belong here.

No one does.

I roll my eyes. Those thought bubbles have been dueling through my head for hours along with the occasional rehearsal of my corrected truth.

Who is Darius Blecker to me?

I’ve never had any real interaction with him before. Something every kid is taught growing up here is that if you’re walking on the sidewalk and see him, cross to the other side immediately. He has always been a known creep around town. Targets lonely, vulnerable teenage girls. Talks to girls half his age online, impersonating a teenage boy and stalks whomever he can get close to.

And who is Samara Galen to me?


We were friends in elementary school, but drifted right after. Come eighth grade, I barely had any interaction with her until her mom died. I attended her mom’s wake. That was the last time I had ever spoken to her before she committed suicide. Everyone knew Samara was a lot different in high school than she was in junior high before her mom died.

There’s a rumor that Darius Blecker and Samara Galen were involved, that she was one of those girls he preyed on. Was their relationship connected to her death?

I can’t really say. I’m as devastated as the rest of the student body over Samara. I hate to think about what could’ve pushed her to do such a terrible thing. It was a relief when the school year ended, because it had just been depressing. I’ve been trying to be supportive of those who need support and not listen to strange rumors. It was never my business. But now that it’s August, I hope the school year to come next month has a fresh start.

June ninth, ten at night.

Where was I?

I was in my bedroom, cooling down after having an argument with my brother.

What were we arguing about?

My grades. Tyler has always been about grades. He’s going to attend Harvard in a week. He’d been particularly hard on me this year about school, because it was my first year of high school and my family wants me to get into an Ivy League school like he did. I scored an 85 on my Biology final, but I promised him and my parents a 95 or above. I tried this year, I really did, but he wouldn’t let it go so I went to my room so he and my parents would think I was sleeping. We made up in the morning.

What did I do after Tyler and my parents thought I was sleeping?

I listened to some music for about an hour and then eventually fell asleep.

Did I do anything else that night?

No. I slept straight until the morning.

Now backwards.

After I went to bed the night of June ninth, I stayed asleep until morning.

Listened to music.

Tyler and I argued about my Biology final grade. He wouldn’t let it go.

To cool down, I went to my room and listened to music. We made up the next morning.

On the night of June ninth, I was in my bedroom, cooling down after an argument with my brother.

Good.

A fly whirls around the strawberry-blonde frizzes that have escaped my sloppy bun and my droopy eyes follow it. I remind myself not to follow the script exactly. The investigators will know it was rehearsed.

And there should be a little emotion included there--nervousness, probably. Anyone would be high-strung if they were called in for questioning, even if they were innocent. Even if they had spent the duration of their summer break training to be a professional liar. After all, some random men in uniform would soon decide my fate--locked away for life, or free to graduate high school.

Decisions, decisions.

Darius Blecker.

I swallow bile.

High-strung?

Sure, whatever you say.

Disgusted?

Mmm, with that evil man more than myself. I shouldn’t have been the one forced to do it. It’s not fair. Violet Wren, she’s idolized by everyone in King, Maryland. She’s going to be a senior, and she gets to go to college out of state. She gets a life. I get a puppet show.

And Darius Blecker got it easy.

He’s dead. He doesn’t have to live with what he did.

I suppose I should say “You’re welcome.”

As for me?

This should be interesting.

No matter what your brain says, it’s mistaken. You don’t remember it correctly. Correct your memory. What really happened? My father’s stern, wise voice echoes in my head.

I spent my summer finishing the books on my summer reading list, I fix. The week Darius was killed, I was spending every second of my time devouring The Professor and the Madman to prepare for Honors English in sophomore year.

And I had no interaction with Darius Blecker. At all.

In fact, I’ve never had any contact with him in my life. I just know how everyone thinks he’s the reason Samara killed herself.

Good.

Look at me, in a police station.

Stuck here because my millionaire lawyer parents are too afraid of me and what I’ve been called in for to say more than a hundred words to me all week long.

Possible suspect of murder.

How ridiculous.

Everything will be fine.

Just fine.

Because why would they put away an innocent fifteen-year-old girl?

They wouldn’t.

My hands itch to be sat on, but it practically advertises anxiety.

“Hayden Otley.”

My attention clicks to the door of the waiting room, noticing a dark skinned late-forties man in a police officer’s uniform crossing his arms and maintaining a grave expression. His voice is robotic. “Hello, I’m Sheriff Garcia. I’ll be in with you and Detective Romano today. Follow me please.” His pressed lips simply tell me, Thank God my daughter didn’t turn out like you.

I offer a sweet grin in return, shadowing him into the dingy interrogation room. Tyler trails behind and slides into a seat without looking at me. A pale man in a tan jacket and tie waits for me from across a long table, rubbing the brown-grey stubble that sticks to his face.

Classic sign of stress.

I recall my dad going out for a beer with him a few times while I was in elementary school, pretend I don’t.

He and Sheriff Garcia have identical expressions and I invite myself to glide down to a seat across from him and acknowledge the officer smoothly, like I was casually greeting my father’s old friend on the sidewalk. “Hi Detective Romano.”

“Hello Hayden,” he swallows awkwardly, his eyes tired.

I wait for a you’ve-gotten-so-tall comment, but then I remember that an “innocent” man is dead.

“Do you know why you’re here tonight?”

I ignore the sweat beading onto my palms and lean them against my shorts. My eyes jerk to the wall, where Garcia stands impatiently next to Tyler, like he knows I’m guilty and this is a waste of his valuable time and I should be in cuffs by now. He’d rather be watching tonight’s special of 48 Hours.

He’s in for a surprise, I decide, and keep my smirk invisible and back straight. I shrug, convinced it’s okay to relax. “Yes.”

Detective Romano raises an eyebrow. “Just so I’m clear, why do you think you’re here tonight?”

“Darius Blecker has been shot dead.”

He looks at me for an extra moment, clears his throat. “Do you recall where you were on the night of June ninth of this year?”

With every question the police ask, my father taught me to keep everything at a happy medium. If questions are answered too quickly, it indicates rehearsal. Too slowly indicates use of the imagination. I learned that when I was eight or nine--he used to be Superman to the guiltless and spit out his fun facts of brilliant lawyers.

Well, where was I?

“My brother, Tyler, and I were arguing that evening, so I was in my bedroom, trying to avoid him.” My eyes accidentally wander to Tyler. His face is just as critical as the detective and sheriff.

Steve--I mean, Detective Romano--cups a hand under his chin. “Arguing? What were you arguing about?”

“Well, you remember Tyler. He got accepted into Harvard, starts school next month, in fact. He’s very...passionate about grades. I scored an 85 on my Biology final, and he only thinks a grade is good if it’s 100 or above. To him, I wasn’t trying hard enough. Lazy. So...I went to my room.”

“So was this...late at night or at sunset?”

I pause evenly. “Late at night.” I blink, remembering. “Yes, because our mom was annoyed that we were screaming at each other while she was trying to go to bed.”

“Did you have any contact with anybody else after you went to your bedroom?”

“I don’t think so. I might’ve scrolled through Instagram, but I don’t remember talking to anyone specifically. I was listening to music.”

Detective Romano glares at me. Waiting.

I wait for him, raising my eyebrows.

“So you didn’t leave your house that night?”

I control a small shrug and glance at the brilliant light bulb above us. “No. After about an hour, I fell asleep. Tyler and I made up in the morning.”

Crap. Eye contact broke.

“Are you sure?” His dark eyes plant on mine, waiting for another screw-up.

And that’s how quickly you can fall off the tightrope.

My eyes whisk back on his, and I nod quickly--too quickly. “Yes.”

I’m sorry Dad.

“Have you ever had any connection to Darius Blecker?”

Concentrate concentrate concentrate concentrate.

My eyes shoo off to the side and Tyler looks at me, curious.

CONCENTRATE CONCENTRATE CONCENTRATE CONCENTRATE.

Calm down. Focus. Focus because you’ve never done anything more important in your life. Focus. Breathe. Focus.

I give my narrowed eyes to Detective Romano’s and tell him the corrected truth. “No, I haven’t. Not real interaction, anyway. His reputation--his reputation is...the way it is, and I was always too afraid to go near him. Especially after what happened to Samara Galen.”

What have you done?

I ignore my own thought, because I remember that it’s not necessary. I am innocent, after all.

“Samara Galen. What do you mean ‘after what happened to Samara Galen’?”

My hands press on my stiff chair and my shoulders rise. “I-I--well, everyone knows that she killed herself,“--your voice just slid up an octave. Your shoulders. And your hands. YOUR HANDS!--“but there are a bunch of crazy rumors as to why. A lot of people think--”

Oh my God just shut up. Just shut up now.

“A lot of people think what?” Romano retaliates.

“Well, that she and Darius were involved.”

“Blecker had quite the reputation, we are aware of that. What do you think about Samara and him?”

My eyes shift again. Dammit.

Think about the script. The script. What is on the script? Oh God, just remember the script. WHAT IS ON THE SCRIPT?!

“I don’t...know?”

You are so done you are so done you are so done you are so done.

“You don’t...have an opinion?”

“Um. There was some talk, but I never really knew Samara well enough to judge her.”

Romano glances back at Sheriff Garcia--they share a knowing smirk. Romano’s voice loses a hint of interest, as though he tore the beginning out of my book and skipped to the end. No surprise if he publicly labels me a person of interest by morning. “But you went to Samara’s funeral, right? And it just so happens that Darius was killed the same night? Oh, and, he was at the funeral too? That’s very coincidental, don’t you think?”

My lip quivers over my gritted teeth. It doesn’t matter. Romano knows that I’m angry and I’m just fine with that. “Samara’s relationship to Darius was never my business. I don’t know why he was there. I don’t care that he was there. I was just paying my respects to a poor girl from school who thought the only solution to her problems was suicide. Is that unusual?”

Romano closes his eyes and breathes out, opens them. “So...you didn’t leave your house on the night of June ninth, 2016? Do you want to change your answer?” He is making this into a game show and enjoying himself.

“I did not leave my house on the night of June ninth, 2016. I am positive.” I maintain eye contact, but somehow know my facial expression had not lied with my words.

There is a large, but often dismissed difference between guilt and shame. When an expression shows guilt, when a person feels guilty, their mind is acknowledging the fact that they did something bad, that they can no longer hide under a false, boring face of perfection. When a face is hidden, it reveals shame. That is when the person is acknowledging the fact that they did not just “do something bad,” but their intentions were evil, as well. They are a bad person, unwilling to cooperate with society and they are admitting it.

I picture Violet Wren’s perfect, unblemished face and cringe.

Not fair.

“You killed Darius Blecker, didn’t you? You thought you’d be doing the world a favor so he didn’t victimize another girl. You didn’t want anyone else to end up like Samara.”

My face twists disgustedly like he had slapped me. “Of course not!” I insist. “Talk to a lawyer. This was supposed to be a routine questioning, not an accusation!”

He leans forward in response. “Hayden, I’m giving you one last chance to tell the truth. If you confess now, it will be a lot easier for us and you.”

Maybe I should just get it over with.

But no, you shouldn’t. Have you lost your mind? You can’t just--

YOU’RE GUILTY YOU’RE GUILTY YOU’RE GUILTY HAHAHA YOU’RE GUILTY YOU’RE TRAPPED YOU’RE GUILTY.

“I did not leave my house on the night of June ninth, 2016.”

Romano’s eyes focus onto mine, like he’s trying to see the six-year-old he knew when he and my dad were work buddies. He can’t find her, so he sighs at a file in front of him that probably contains the pictures of the crime scene that he was supposed to shove in my face so I would choke up a confession. His hands intertwine, and he speaks. “What if I told you that a witness reported seeing you leave Blecker’s house that night?”

My hands press to my forehead, and my breath sounds like a firework has been shoved down my throat. I look Romano in the eyes. My vision is clouded with tears, but my hand blocks him from noticing it.

Shame. I’m displaying shame.

“It wasn’t supposed to end this way.”

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