The corner of Sumac Drive is deserted.
Nothing feels right. Nothing. My head is bursting with different excuses for this all to be a dream. I’ve had dreams of my teeth falling out, of Chris finding out I liked him and rejecting me, of being stranded in the pouring rain, who’s to say I haven’t dreamed up this nightmare? I remember reading somewhere that no matter how long you think dreams are, in waking life they can only last seven seconds….
But what will I tell Tyler? I was a good kid--no sex, no drinking, no drugs. But tonight I killed someone. Killed someone.
How could I act like I didn’t?
When I reach the street sign, my feet scrape against the rocky pavement and I cling onto the stand of the street sign, barely catching my breath. My hands hold my knees and let my sobs release, angry as hell that they even have the nerve to exist. I have no right to cry. Neither does Violet. Neither did Darius Blecker. My phone sticks out of my back pocket, wondering what wild story Tyler will accept.
With every breath, my head clears a little more.
I’ll tell him that I snuck out to go to a party, just like Dad told me to. A senior’s party, someone he doesn’t know but knows of, someone with a name that I won’t tell. And I had too much to drink. And some guy kissed me, I can’t remember who, but he tried to….
Okay, I confirm, my fingers slipping as I call his number. I press the phone to my ear, forcing myself to breathe long, breathe normal, breathe at all.
This will be the biggest lie I’ve ever told in my life, I realize as the rings cut off.
The first of many.
Tyler’s voice drags on the other end, his words airy and light. I flinch when I hear them. “Hayden, what the hell are you doing?”
My eyes tingle around every tear in my shoes. My breath is hysterical. “Tyler,” I begin, narrowing my eyes at the ground. “Tyler. I need help, don’t tell”--I exhale--“don’t tell Mom and Dad. Just please come and get me. Now.” I kick at the ground, willing myself drunk. “Please. It’s the only way I can get home.’
He sighs into the phone, waiting.
Other than my frantic sobs, it’s silent between us.
“Tyler! Please!” I eye a foggy street lamp a couple hundred feet away through tears.
“Shut up Hayden! Tell me what you’ve done. Where the hell are you?”
Staring up at the street sign, a screech rips from my throat, only offering more of this hell. My voice is gone, and tears pour from my eyes uncontrollably.
I’ll never get away with this, I realize. I’ll never get away with this because I’ll never be able to tell him where I am. I’ll never be able to speak again. Deciding this, my knees give out and I collapse to the hard gravel, curling into a ball, still clutching the phone to my ear.
I just killed somebody. Killed somebody!
Let me die here, I beg, Please let me die here.
“Hayden! Hayden? Answer me! What’s going on?”
The words don’t come out until I sink my teeth into my bottom lip, forcing my wails to stop. “I’M DRUNK, OKAY?!” I scream the lie, the echo running throughout what seems like the entirety of King. “I’M DRUNK!” I say it again just to experiment whether or not I could convince myself of my father’s creative story. I glance down the street as though I had woken up the whole neighborhood.
But there’s no one there.
My brother pauses, reviewing my words in his head. “You are?”
“SHUT UP TYLER! PLEASE JUST COME AND GET ME! I FEEL SICK! I CAN’T BE HERE RIGHT NOW!” My head rests on the cold metal of the street sign, giving in. I feel the cool grass tickling my ankles, the word “murderer” shooting through my head.
Murderer and guilty and trial and kill and death and violence and traitor and jail and bullets and guns and blood. All of that blood and that single man’s body.
“Okay, okay, alright. I’m headed out right now. Where are you?”
I inhale carefully. “I-I’m on the corner of Sumac Drive.”
“How the hell did you get all the way out to Sumac?”
I close my eyes, seeing the stone of Darius Blecker in the darkness. “TYLER. COME. ON. Hurry. Speed please. Come as fast as you can. Do not wake up Mom and Dad.”
In the background, I hear the revv of his engine.
“Ty? Are you coming? Please stay on the line.” I ask, checking down the street as though Violet is planning to drive all the way over here and rescue me. Or as though the zombie of Darius Blecker is wandering down the street to do me a favor and rip my brains out. Or if the police are hiding in the bushes with some open shackles waiting for me.
Tyler exhales. “Yes. I am coming.”
The tears threaten to spill over once again. “Thank you.”
“Do not thank me. Because when I do get to you, you are explaining yourself.”
It’s my bracelet.
I glare at each complex knot of string, then narrow my eyes at Romano. “What makes you so sure that’s mine?”
He shrugs, mockingly playful. “Well, you’re not denying it.”
I force a snicker. “It’s not. And frankly, I think you’re unprofessional. You’re job…” my eyes accidentally wander to the table. I ignore it. “Your job is to build a murder case against an accused rapist and killer. You have plenty of options, don’t you? Vince Galen. Dana Farr’s family. You choose to arrest someone over a friendship bracelet?”
Romano sets the bracelet down in front of me and tilts his head, scooting to me. “I never said anything about Dana Farr, did I?”
“No, you didn’t, you’re right. But the case was only a few years ago. I don’t live under a rock.”
“No, I guess you don’t. But you were learning fractions when Dana Farr was raped. I just supposed you wouldn’t be interested in Dana Farr’s case any more than you’d be interested in the nightly shootings in Baltimore. It’s not a very nice area, where Darius used to live, you know. A rape? Sadly, it’s almost the norm over there.”
I eye him. “I guess so. Sadly.”
“So what inspired you to look into Darius Blecker’s history? Your father tell you about that?”
I straighten. Out of my territory. “I’d like to wait for my lawyer, please.”
Romano smirks, satisfied. “No problem. You want a cup of coffee?”
I smile up at him. “No, thank you.”
That’s not how you’re getting my DNA, sweetheart.
“Polite all the sudden,” he notes, kicking out of his chair and grabbing a paper cup for himself, striding over to the coffee maker. “Interesting.”
My eyes follow his every movement, mentally kicking myself for being off my game.
“You want one?” he asks Garcia politely. When his partner murmurs a “please” under his breath, Romano collects another cup, accepting his completely black, just like my father. I cringe.
“So Hayden, uh, if I wasn’t in uniform right now, I’d apologize for all of this. It must be frustrating. If someone were to ask me what I’d rather be doing--catching up on summer reading, like you said last night, or having all this trouble with the local police, I’d definitely choose summer reading, wouldn’t you?” He brings the cup to his lips, raising his brows over the rim. “You know what else I can’t help remembering you saying last night? You walked into this room, I asked you why you thought you were here, and you told me that Darius Blecker has been shot dead. You know, it’s really funny, I can’t recall how he died ever being released to the press.”
My heart plunges but I only react with a quick glance, studying the bracelet instead of him.
He shrugged. “Maybe it was just a coincidence, then.”
Studying the gap on my wrist.
“It’s a cool bracelet, isn’t it? Pretty pattern. When did you get it? How was it made?”
I give him a cold glare.
He hops up on the table next to me, forcing me to face him. “Oh come on, Hayden. I’m just asking you about this cool bracelet. My daughter’s in middle school, all into these types of crafts. It caught my interest. I’m not asking you what the murder weapon is. We already know that one.”
I can’t think fast enough to remind myself not to furrow my eyebrows at him.
Violet should’ve taken care of that.
“Ooh, I got your attention there, didn’t I? Yeah, you’re right, there’s a lot more to my job than friendship bracelets. But you were wrong that I wasn’t doing it.”
I break eye contact.
“Look Hayden.” Romano’s head follows mine when I attempt to hide it in a shadow, not allowing me to catch a break. “I totally get it. Darius Blecker was...definitely not a good man. No one mourned him back in June, and honestly, I could care less if he’s dead. I have two daughters. If I ever suspected him talking to one of them online, raping them and killing them, I would put a bullet in his head myself. But just because he was a pig doesn’t mean he can set off a chain reaction. That’s exactly what people like me and Officer Garcia are supposed to prevent.” Romano slides off the table, straightening his uniform. “Anyway, it’d be a shame if he was innocent all along, wouldn’t it? I mean, there was proof that he was contacting Samara Galen, and that he was contacting Dana Farr a few years back, but not enough evidence that he was responsible for both of their deaths to permanently put him behind bars. Wouldn’t it be a waste if Dana Farr was killed by someone else? If Samara really did grow tired of her life and commit suicide after all? I mean, she did lose her mom, didn’t she? It would mean that you killed someone for nothing. It would mean that you”--he choked up a dry laugh--“it would mean that you basically flushed your life down the toilet for absolutely nothing.”
I shudder, wishing I could punch him and still stand a chance of going back to high school next month. My teeth clenched, the words helplessly escape my mouth. “Darius Blecker--did--kill Samara and Dana--he did.” I sit on my hands.
Romano narrows his eyes, shoving his face inches from mine. “And what makes you so sure?”
I close my eyes and shake my head, instantly regretting every decision I’ve made since June second of this year.
I don’t belong here.
Yes, I do. I deserve it. I’m such an idiot, playing with fire like I did.
I eye the bracelet.
Romano backs away from my face, breathing out. He stands straight, relieving me. “Come with me,” he orders, nearly shoving me out of my seat and leaving my bracelet where it sits. Garcia hands him the handcuffs quietly, and Romano pinches them onto my wrists like he knows I’ll book it as soon as they turn away from me.
I come to a stance, obeying him and letting hold my arms behind my back like a good little convict-to-be.
Garcia lingers behind us, placing the baggie that holds my bracelet back into my folder.
Romano pushes me to cut through the waiting room of the station and I trip forward, the scent of his musky cologne sneaking into my nose. We walk down a long hallway, the bright light bulbs of the area irritating my eyes after sitting in the shaded interrogation room.
“Guess what now?” Romano says excitedly from behind me.
I don’t guess what now.
“We’re collecting that DNA of yours. What we’ve all been waiting for.” I can hear a nasty smirk in his voice. He gives me a playful shove into a large vacant room that has tables lined horizontally, beaming mockingly. “We don’t need your lawyer for this, and thankfully the King Police Department has been generous enough to provide us with a fingerprinting lab. We don’t need to take a road trip to Baltimore! They must’ve known you were coming.”
He doesn’t wait for me, fitting himself through the doorway happily and leaving me to test my balance with the cuffs. When he notices me gazing at the buckets of ink and tracing machines I couldn’t identify, he chuckles under his breath. “What’s with the deer-in-headlights look, Hayden? You didn’t do anything wrong, right?”
I glance back at the ground.
Violet took care of it. Violet took care of it. Violet took care of it.
I’m innocent.I return his lovely sarcastic grin and follow him into the lab.
Don’t worry. Violet took care of it. Violet took care of it. They’ll find nothing against you.
They already have.
Wait for the lawyer. Wait for the lawyer. Just shut up and wait for the lawyer.
! I’M TRYING !
Romano moves forward into the lab, flicking on the sink at one table, and I follow him cautiously behind. He leers gladly, rubbing his tan stubble and gesturing me behind him as he runs his hands under water. He pulls a needle out from a drawer below the table, preparing it with achuckle. “First we’re going for a blood sample. Don’t worry, it will only hurt for a second.” Sliding latex gloves onto his hands, he glances at me out of the corner of his eye, away from the long needle and smirks. “You trust me, don’t you?”
I flinch at the needle, observing all of the other supplies we’re surrounded by. Ink for fingerprints, bags for hair samples, a container of gel….
“Of course,” I lie under my breath, watching him move closer to my arm with his needle.
Should be bailed by morning. Bailed by morning. Bailed by morning. Bail. Bail. Bail.
I concentrate on not wincing away, the small, sharp pain cutting through my arm as the needle sinks through my skin. In the next moment, the needle is exposed, and Romano drips my blood into a test tube beside him.
Can’t turn back now.
“That was easy, wasn’t it?” Romano suggests contently. He removes his gloves and places them in the trash in the corner, beaming at me.
I stare at my rust-colored blood in the clear test tube, ignoring the thin line of red still running down my arm.
“See? There’s more to a murder investigation than friendship bracelets--fibers and threads, hair and blood samples, seminal stains...pretty cool, isn’t it? I have a feeling your father didn’t think to inform you on all the evidence pieces, did he? I’m surprised. I’ve always thought he was one of the smartest men I’ve ever met. He never misses a beat, it seems. He must’ve never thought you actually did it.” He smiles politely. “But I guess none of this matters, right? I mean, once the tests come back, there would be no point to any of this, right? Because you never did anything wrong?” His grin spreads.
Romano is the definition of “crooked cop.”
I reflect his annoyingly confident face. “Oh, my father taught me everything I need to know, Detective.”
“What does that mean?”
Romano eyes me for a fraction of a second, then focuses back on his task. Turning away to retrieve a saliva stick, he mumbles, “Don’t worry. Mommy and Daddy have a bank of millions to get you out of this, just like they get themselves out of everything else.”