Guilty

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Chapter 10

Before.

Write what you’re feeling.

I clutched my pen in my right hand, ignoring the burning between my thumb and index finger that begs for release. Black ink smeared on the sides of my loose leaf sheet of paper that Mr. Katy had passed out to everyone reluctantly, as “write what you’re feeling” was some sort of mandatory exercise for each teacher to torture their first period class with. Later on in the day, the entire school was required to tumble on down to the gym to have an assembly on teen suicide, led by psychologists and parents who’d lost their kids to suicide.

I just wanted to the death trend to end.

The morning sun glistened through the window of my Biology classroom, skimming past my eyes as I sat in front of Mr. Katy, watching him at his desk as he observed every sniffling student scribble down their feelings on who our school had recently lost. As for me, I had never preferred to study for the final more.

Write what I’m feeling?

What I’m ! FEELING ! ?

I glared at the tiny smudges of ink, crushing the loose leaf in attempt to get out one word. My legs tingled with the aspiration to leap out of the rescue window.

Feeling.

I was feeling winded. Like I’d never get a blink of sleep again. On Friday night, I landed home at two in the morning, expecting to crash as soon as my head hit the pillow. Of course, my mind was racing wildly in the dark that night as I gazed up at my ceiling, jumbled but clear as it’s ever been. So many questions, so much shame, too naive a person to sort it out. I laid awake until Saturday morning, watching the phone like the police would deliberately call my house for trespassing. That was pretty much Sunday, too, and then I came here, Mental Health Central. All I wanted to do was sleep, but more I attempted to rest my eyes, the more alert I became.

I was feeling cold. Though it was supposed to be in the mid-eighties today and I had buried myself in Tyler’s long Baltimore Ravens sweatshirt, the missing bracelet gap on my wrist was enough to coat my arms with goosebumps, and every other image in my head was the way the neon knots of sting must look right now, lying in half on the ground of Darius Blecker’s shed. I wondered if he’d noticed it yet.

Whatever. He’d already caught us.

And I was feeling exposed. Yeah, you know that dream you have when you show up at some really public and important setting like school or work in your underwear? Kinda like that, but reality. Darius Blecker was probably filing a police report right now, while the criminals were being ordered to write down their “feelings.”

Feeling dumb. Really dumb. Really, really, really dumb. None of us knew Darius. We knew his reputation. None of us knew who he was, or what he was in this context. If he got off for a rape and murder, maybe it was because he was actually innocent.

I was feeling the dirt. Each microscopic speck that lingered on my body, the particles that I probably kicked up when I was running away from Darius. The dust that clung onto the toolbox my wrist caught, hugging onto my skin. The loose grass that wrapped around every slight bend in my sneakers, the pair that I wore right as I thought of it….

I scooted back in my chair, glancing underneath my desk to peek at my sneakers.

“Hayden, are you all right?” It was Katy.

He had set some papers down that he was grading--probably the test from last week that I couldn’t have gotten less than a ninety on--and his gentle eyes ticked up at me with concern. He purses his lips, exposing to me that even asking that question made him uncomfortable.

I peeked down at my loose leaf, noticing how hard I was pushing down on the pen, achieving no words, only black bleeds of ink. Almost as though his voice had sent some robotic signal to my brain, I threw my pen on my desk and returned his gaze immediately, cracking a small smile of assurance. “Oh um,” I swallowed, glimpsing at my paper again and covering it with my arm. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks.”

My goosebumps had disappeared, and I was afraid he had somehow read my mind.

He narrowed his eyes, his face remained kind. “Okay. Well, you know, if you need to talk to anyone, I’m here, along with the entirety of the staff. For everyone.”

If you need to talk to anyone, my mind repeatedly comically. It was like between Friday and today, that sentence-starter had become this school’s slogan.

I bobbed my head. “Thanks,” I said again, slowly bringing my pen into my grasp, waiting for him to get back to grading before I actually tried to confess anything to the sheet in front of me. His eyes shifted away and I held the paper to the desk and pressed the pen to the paper, avoiding the ink stains I had caused, transferring one word to the first line.

Guilty.

I blinked at the page, disappointed that all I was reminded of was my father.

I won’t let this one be declared guilty.” “My colleague’s client was determined guilty today.” “I’m working with a new defendant, and every expression on the man’s face screams ‘guilty.’ I’m going to have to fix that, aren’t I?

He’d smirk after that last one.

My eyes flickered in Mr. Katy’s direction once more, just to be sure I wasn’t under his magnifying glass. He seemed occupied in grading, so I focused on the paper.

Guilty.

I remembered Darius Blecker’s expression when he shined his flashlight on my face, wondering why he didn’t just kill all of us right then and there.

Like Samara, right? And Dana?

Did I even believe Violet’s story anymore?

I shuddered.

Giving up, I tightened my grip on the pen and scribbled the word out, leaving a chunky black stain where the truth was supposed to be. Checked the clock.

Thirty minutes left in the period.

What was the big deal?

Nothing, I answered my own question as my pen slid an appropriate response to what Mr. Katy requested. Nothing.

I feel sorry for Samara. I don’t understand what could’ve brought her to the breaking point.

There we go. There was the perfectly normal, chicken-scrawl reply, probably very similar to the other twenty copies that would be in Katy’s hands at the end of the period. Nothing that stood out, nothing that set off any alarms….

Just the response I would’ve had on Friday.

Guilty.

I shook my head at my desk, thinking about how absurd it would be to experience that emotion now.


The teen suicide awareness assembly stole a good chunk of third and fourth period, dropping me right at lunch. It was around two hours of slideshows, “it gets better” and cringing every time I caught a skinny blonde out of the corner of my eye.

For lunch I headed to my usual lunch table, wedged in between Lauren and Erin, across from Chris and Grant, my band buddies. As I made my way to our table through the maze of teenagers, my ears clogged with voices of so many different emotions. I narrowed my eyes as I passed Leslie Conrad, a girl who I went to elementary school with, striding through the crowd, covering her pink face as tears slid down her cheeks. Another girl who I didn’t recognize held her shoulders comfortingly, matching her pace.

I looked away, noticing my friends waiting for me at the table, already picking at their lunch boxes and trays.

I set my lunch bag on the table and greeted them with a small smile, stealing a careful glance around me, unsure if Violet or any of the others had this lunch period. Cautiously, I sank down in my seat, hidden in between the other two-hundred kids in this cafeteria, booming with the waviness of an uncertain vibe.

Erin’s long dark hair was neatly pulled back in a tight ponytail as she frowned at her sandwich beside me. “What’d you guys think of the assembly?” she asked when Chris sat down, holding a lunch tray containing garlic pizza.

I paused when I noticed Chris, shaggy blonde hair swept away from his dark eyes. I’d had a crush on him since seventh grade, and the day of the freshman dance last month was the best day of my life, because he’d taken me, even if it was just as a friend. Usually I didn’t let my little infatuation get to me in front of him, but today it felt weird, dull. Today was the first day in almost three years that I didn’t jump slightly at his presence, instead thought of Blake.

My eyes ticked back to my lunch bag, and I forced myself to unzip it and have something else to observe.

The way I looked at him today, well, it wasn’t the same as Friday.

I shrugged it off. I wasn’t acting normal, and I had an excuse.

Grant, a tan, black-haired boy took a bite of an apple slice before he replied, his voice drowning out against the white noise of the cafeteria. He furrowed his eyebrows, concentrated. “It was sad. It was really sad. I feel bad, like, I hardly even knew who she was.” He shoved the rest of the slice in his mouth.

“Yeah, me neither,” Lauren sighed gloomily, her blonde hair hanging over her marching band t-shirt from last year. She stared at her food, thinking. “You guys...none of you would consider...doing...what she did, right?”

My ears suddenly alert, I shook my head in sync with Chris, Grant and Erin. I gulped, opening my lunch bag to a cereal bar, crackers and an apple I had shoved in my bag this morning just in case I somehow worked up an appetite for the first time in days. I stared at the food, my nail picking at the skin of my apple, like it would help if I took my time.

Right, none of us would’ve considered doing what Samara did, and before Samara actually did what she did, I wouldn’t have imagined she would considering doing it either. I guess we’re sometimes wrong about things.

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

Lauren checked my way. “Hayden? Did you know Samara?”

I replied with an automatic shake of the head. “No,” I lied, avoiding eye contact with any of them and concentrating on the apple again.

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

Lauren shrugged, and Erin took over the job of gazing at me, tightening her ponytail. “Really? It’s just that you seem...upset.”

I glared up at her coolly. “Yeah, well, so does everyone else.” I nodded to where I had last seen Leslie crying. As far as I knew, she wasn’t friends with Samara either.

Chris placed his half-eaten pizza on his tray, shaking his head at Erin. “I knew her. We were in stage crew together for the winter musical. She seemed...fine. Fun, in fact. Good sense of humor. But...I just don’t know what happened.”

My eyes clicked up at him. “How well did you know her?”

He balanced his pizza in his hand. “Not that well. She was kind of quiet at first. After the musical, we were sort of acquaintances, I guess, but--”

“Hayden,” someone called from behind me. “Hayden!” There was a tap on my shoulder.

It was Ashley. I jumped, surprised that she even knew my name, but before I could swat her away or retreat, she insisted, “I need to talk to you. Right now. There’s something you don’t know.” My mouth was barely open when she knelt down and whispered in my ear, “Dana Farr was Violet’s little sister.”

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