I’m not exactly sure why I call my father first.
I burst out of the house and onto Darius’s back porch, diving off onto the pine needle-covered lawn and booking it to the street, to the dock the river a bit further down. I need to breathe. I need water. And I need to get as far away from the house as possible. I know what Violet is doing: wiping every inch of the place down, erasing the fact that she and I were even there.
My feet hit the path to the river repeatedly, wanting to throw up again but with nothing left in my stomach. My throat burns, irritated.
I can only see shadows of the trees surrounding me, their long, twisted branches unfurling underneath the scattered stars in the inky sky.
I notice only then that I’m sprinting through the jagged path without tripping on a tree root.
I didn’t deserve this.
But did Violet deserve this nightmare? I consider. She only wanted this because—
I lose my messy train of thought when I reach the river. The moonlight glistens on the smooth surface of the water, stretching across it like a long, wavy scroll of listed secrets kept in a lifetime. Long weeds tangle onto my ankles from the abrupt stop, but somehow I steady myself. I gaze across the water, expecting a cop to hop out of the bushes and arrest me.
The only witnesses my obvious guilt were the crickets, calling back and forth to each other in the seemingly-peaceful night.
After securing my space, I grab my phone from my back pocket, nearly dropping it down the river slope with my trembling hands. My thumbs slowly progress to my dad’s contact, and I press the phone to my ear when it rings.
It is as though the only thing that will keep me from ripping every strand of my tangled hair out right now is his steady, warm voice. He’ll know what to do.
But to him I’m his daughter, not a client. And at the moment, I don’t want to consider myself human, let alone a fifteen-year-old girl who has two parents, a roof over her head and a fantastic, unblemished reputation.
I can’t tell him what I’ve done. I just can’t.
But the anticipation ends. And his soft, groggy voice is in my ear, letting me know that I’m alive, that there’s a real world outside of this prison of trees and dirt paths. “Hayden?”
“Dad,” I breathe. I imagine him sitting up in bed beside my sleeping mother, whispering, careful not to wake her. I push hair away from my tear-soaked cheeks, yanking at the roots, my mind racing with options of what to say to him. I know he’ll never understand. No one will. Not even Violet. But he will come the closest out of anyone I know. He deals with people like me everyday. “Dad, I’m in trouble.”
He only groans under his breath, sleepy puzzlement reaching me from the other end of the phone. “Hayden, where are you? Are you home? What are you talking about?”
Where am I? I don’t even know the answer to that question, I realize as my eyes follow the river, wishing I could just fall back on the surface and float back to Patapsco Ridge. I’d give anything to wake up to the morning light of my perfect life once again. But I’m here, in the humidity of a Central Maryland night, just after killing somebody.
“I-I’m in trouble,” I repeat hopelessly.
“Hayden? What’s the matter?” His voice slowly transitions to its usual focused, steady, and concentrated self.
I close my eyes. “Dad—I can’t say. I just—I-I need help. Please. I need to”—I rub a tear from my cheek—“I’m...I just...I’m somewhere I’m not supposed to be. I made a—I made a huge...mistake.” The word scrapes off my tongue painfully, shifting to a scream-like pitch. “I need to...not be here. I need to make it like I was never here.”
I picture Violet in her dark clothes, coating through the entirety of Darius’s house with a cloth of soap and water, or vinegar, or whatever would erase a fingerprint.
She’s doing it for me. I just need my father to assure me she’s doing it correctly.
Dad attempts again to understand. “Hayden, I’m not playing games. It’s past midnight. What have you done?”
A whimper rips from my throat when I manage, “Please don’t ask me that.”
He pauses. After that, he never falters. “For me to help you, I need to know where you are. Tell me where you are, right now.”
I peer at the ground. “I’m...I’m….” I narrow my eyes, forgetting the name of this street. I glance ahead of me, where the street corner is, where the street name lingers above me, even further from Darius’s house. “I think I’m on Whispering Trees Road,” I admit, panic coursing through my veins, chilling my blood.
“Okay,” he agrees. “Now, I need you to hang up the phone. As soon as you do, run to Sumac Drive, about three and a half miles away, and call your brother. Tell him you snuck out to go to a party. That you’re drunk, and you’re scared, and that he can’t tell me or your mother, but you need him to pick you up.”
I frown at the long grass aside the river. “Tyler—”
“Hayden. Listen to me. Hang up the phone. Run to Sumac Drive. Call your brother. Act drunk. He will be the only one you tell. In the morning, this never happened, and you were sleeping all night. Am I clear?”
I swallow, a shudder coursing through me, but I nod. “Okay. Bye, Dad.”
Obeying him, I hang up the phone and sprint off of Whispering Trees Road, three and a half miles to the corner of Sumac Drive, leaving Darius and Violet behind. I do not stop to catch my breath.
It’s frustrating to be handcuffed.
You can’t itch your nose. You can’t wave to your father or your brother while being manhandled by Officer Not So Friendly into the back of the police cruiser, you can just stare at them from behind the tiny cage, watching your father nod you on in encouragement, assuring you everything will be okay. You can just observe the way your brother’s mouth sort of hangs open in awe as he watches the blinding red and blue lights dance away from the driveway like his left arm has just been ripped out of its socket from behind him and it used the fingers to walk away.
You have the right to an attorney. If Garcia didn’t mentally chuckle when he recited that one, he has absolutely no sense of humor.
Trapped between my cuffs and my seat belt that Garcia especially tightened so it irritates my hips, I sink my teeth into my already bitten lip, attempting to slide my wrists out of the trap of the handcuffs. They refuse to loosen, but I refuse to accept it. I’m not sure what the plan is--dive out of the car onto a congested road and make my heroic escape?
Once we exit Patapsco Ridge, Romano leans back in the passenger seat to smirk at my struggle in the darkness of nighttime. “What’d I tell you, Otley? I always win this game. It’s my job.”
Garcia glances at him in the dashboard light and chuckles delightedly.
I ignore the tears that continue to stream out of my eyes. “Jackass.”
Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of law.
I straighten my back and shut up and Romano cackles louder, turning onto Route 91.
I’m screwed. I’m screwed. I’m totally screwed.
I close my eyes and take a careful breath, resting my wrists inside the handcuffs behind my back. I need to remember that I’m innocent. Outside of the knowledge of a select few, there is no proof that I ever left my house on June ninth, 2016. These cops, they think they’re always two steps ahead of everyone they meet.
But not me.
What the hell did they have on me? I went through it in my head.
Violet would never give me away. She might not give a crap about me, but in the moment, we were joined at the hip. If I went down, so did she and vice versa. We were both in his house, both had the blood on our hands for as long as we were anywhere near it. I ran out as soon as she had her back turned to wipe the place down, but she was erasing everything. I really thought she would cover it all.
They don’t have access to my real phone history.
They have a witness, Tyler, to confirm I was never near Darius’s house, if they ever found out I was out that night at all.
They most likely don’t have any connection between me and Samara, much less me and Darius Blecker.
They don’t have my fingerprints.
I wince at the thought, gazing out the window when we halt at a red light that seems to glow in midair, directing the white headlights in front of it. The night sky is cloudy, so it’ll be overcast tomorrow, I remember.
If things hadn’t happened like they happened, I thought calmly, gazing at the neon diner sign across the street, I would probably be in there right now, slipping on milkshakes with Lauren and Erin. Maybe even have Chris as my first boyfriend.
I sink back in my seat, pressing on my handcuffs when I have a mild recognition of the woman in the car next to us—the blond, frizzy hair of Lauren’s mom was unmistakable. I haven’t actually seen her in months, so the probability that she’ll recognize me in the back of a cop car is low, but someone like her seeing me, good, quiet Hayden Otley in this setting is highly toxic.
I steal a quick glimpse in her direction once more, hoping to catch the passenger seat, just in case Lauren’s there.
The passenger seat is vacant.
I face the bars again, controlling my breath when the light flashes green and we turn down the unlit road of the police station.
My stomach bounces.
Where was I the night of June ninth, 2016?
Where was I the night of June ninth, 2016?
I was...I was….
The gloomy image of Darius’s house towering above a crumpling driveway visits my mind, stars crowding above it. Trees web out against the sky.
Where. Was I.
I reposition myself, avoiding rubbing the cuffs against my skin.
I was in my bedroom, I confirm, relief flooding through me.
This is going to be a lot harder than lying. When you’re under arrest, they can manipulate you however they want.
We’ll just wing it then.
I roll my eyes as we pull into the parking lot of the station, waiting for Garcia to come around and let me out. My hands pointlessly attempt to yank free of the cuffs once again, failing.
When Garcia pulls the door ajar, it clicks locked and he unbuckles my seatbelt. He grasps my left arm until I swear it’ll be bruised in the morning, yanking me outside. I hold my breath to keep from wincing, my feet falling roughly on the blacktop. With his tug on my reddening skin, I follow Garcia through the automatic doors of the station. This time, though, the waiting room isn’t necessary.
Romano marches past the chairs. The Super Lawyers magazine is still where Dad left it.
I hope my “super lawyer” is ready to switch off New York for the very glamorous King, Maryland--and fast. I don’t want to think about how much Dad’s paying her to do so.
I blink the last bit of tears out of my eyes when we enter the interrogation room and Garcia plops me down on the rigid chair at the head of the dusty table, digging around his breast pocket. Romano disregards him and me, instead heading to the other side of the room, to a file drawer that has to be at least three feet long, filled with seemingly unorganized papers stood at different angles. He selects one folder then saunters up to the chair in front of me, setting the folder down neatly, careful not to spoil any of its contents for me.
I check back over at Garcia, making extra effort to show struggle against the damn handcuffs. I try to pull my hands out of them for dramatic effect, try sliding out of them again, my attempts again rejected. I glare into his eyes when he avoids eye contact, and he clears his throat, discovering a tiny, sharp silver key. He stands beside me again.
I do not hide my grin. I push my hands closer to his, encouraging him to free me.
With a dramatic eye roll, Garcia sticks the key in the lock of the cuff and they give out, my hands dropping out of them.
Smoothing my pink wrists and stretching out my arms, every tense muscle in my body releases itself. I breathe happily, my concentration back again.
I can once again correct the truth: I’m innocent.
Romano and Garcia plant themselves across from me, straightening their backs almost in perfect sync. Romano glares at me as I extend my arms thankfully, so I attempt to return his gaze with a peaceful truce.
But he just stares before he picks through my file, looking for something while he speaks. “So, Hayden, now that you’re under arrest, we will be gathering your fingerprints and questioning you a bit more, and depending on how that goes, there may be a lie detecting test. You will not be free to leave unless you’ve been bailed. A search warrant to your house is in progress as we speak, but first we have a few things to show you.”
He continues to dig through the folder.
My hands intertwine as I watch him search. “Aren’t you going to tell me what proof you have that I did it?” I’m very proud that my voice doesn’t waver.
He cracks a smile, taking one last cocky look at the folder. “Well I don’t have to tell you, but I’m sure you’ll be able to explain it to yourself when I show you.” He reaches in the folder once more, pulling out a small clear ZipLoc bag with only one thing it: a ripped companion of patterned bright string, a friendship bracelet.
Before I can control myself, assure myself it’s not mine, a tiny gasp releases from my throat.
Romano peeks up, catching my microscopic reaction. “I believe this belongs to you.”