Thoughts. So many thoughts.
I can’t just stand here as an open target. I can’t go any other way. I can’t run or walk and disappear from Tyler to get home, that would mean walking on the highway, that means I could be seen by someone I know. I just have to wait here. Wait for Tyler’s Volvo to wheel around the corner with questions bursting out of his mouth. Wait to lie. Wait to break. I don’t know.
My phone remains at my lips, the hum of Tyler’s car still on the other line. I scratch an old mosquito bite on my leg until blood gushes out just to distract myself, then speak again into the phone for the hundredth time. “Tyler? Are you past the village yet?”
“On the bridge.”
I rub the back of my head, dizzily trying to figure out exactly how far away he is even though I’ve lived in King my entire life.
I try to blink away the image of Darius’s limp body. How would Violet get home? Would she be driving down this road? Would she kill me and Tyler if she caught us, even though I followed through with my promise?
“Hurry. Please hurry.”
I hug my knees, checking down the street again for headlights. Sit on my hands. Nothing. “I’m serious!”
“I know Hayden! I’m speeding, what more do you want me to do?!”
I don’t know. I don’t know. Something.
Tyler clears his throat over the whiz of his tires. “I’m coming. Relax. I’m right down the road from Sumac. I will be there in a second. Can you see me?”
It feels as though my body weighs thousands of pounds when I push off the ground. I sprint in the direction of the bridge, noticing a blur of headlights in front of me, the only car on the road. “I think so,” I huff into the speaker, terrified. Above me, clouds cover the sky, shielding any starlight. When I come close, the car slowly brakes and I throw myself towards it.
Tyler. Tyler. Tyler.
Finally a face I can trust.
He is in the driver’s seat. I yank open the passenger side door and the ceiling lights of the car flicker on, surprising my eyes. I fall onto the passenger seat, allowing my whimpers to transform into ugly bawls. I scoot into a sitting position and buckle my seatbelt as if it means anything to me.
My brother starts at the sounds of my shaky screams, cussing under his breath. “Hayden! Hayden, stop! Stop it! HAYDEN!”
My breaths are constantly interrupted by gasps. I attempt to calm down. I can’t.
Next step is a heart attack.
“Hayden, come on! Talk to me! Mom and Dad don’t need to know about this if you would just stop!”
“What is that all over you? Dirt? Wine? What did you do?”
I swallow through chokes. “Drinking--I drank--” I press my hand to my heart, staring at Tyler’s automatic stick put in park. Most kids are proud of themselves if they drink at a party. They’re excited. They’re adults. They don’t throw a tantrum. How they act after committing a murder? I guess this is it.
He breathes heavily, his dark eyes softening carefully. “Alright. Okay. It’s going to be okay. I just need you to calm down so I can drive. Tell me what happened.”
“I--don’t--want--to talk about it.”
His brows furrow. “Hayden, you’re going to talk about it. It isn’t fair that you just call me after midnight, hysterical on the street all by yourself, you start screaming in my car, and now you won’t talk about it. You’re only a freshman--what did you do, Hayden?! What did you do?!”
Some guy took advantage of me, right? That’s what I planned. But who could I blame? There are only so many jerks in King. Tyler has always been the type to turn the other cheek and save as much face as he can, but how would he handle this? He could never win a fight, at least not that I can imagine, but….
No brainless jock deserves to be handed half the weight of my guilt. I don’t know why I can’t blame Violet now, either. It’s all my fault. I’m an idiot.
“Drive,” I say instead.
I try to conceal my sobs on the ride home. Tyler won’t understand. No one could.
When the Volvo rolls cautiously up the driveway, I open the car door and rush into the house, ignoring Tyler’s protest behind me. The lights are off in the house so I jog lightly up the stairs in the dark, silencing my gasps so they are cramming my throat. Dirty cannot begin to describe the feeling crawling onto my skin.
Shower. I need a shower.
Rushing into the bathroom from the cool hallway, I shut the door and flick the lights on.
I start the shower fully clothed and close my eyes, avoiding the mirror that stands next to me. I don’t want to know whether my clothes are ripped or stained or perfect, how they were at the start of the day. I don’t want to know if I have dark circles under my eyes or a twitch or a tear slipping down my cheek. I’m tired. I’m tired of my reflection.
I turn my back to the mirror and pull my towel from its hanger, rubbing my face on its damp cotton. I open my eyes to look at it, noticing splotches of red.
I don’t care anymore. I spin around to face the mirror and glare at the monster inside of it. On my face is splattered blood that isn’t my own, giving my towel its rusty scent. It’s Darius Blecker’s blood.
Horrified, I gasp in sync with the bloody monster in the mirror.
This is what I am.
I rub my cheek as though the ugly reddish-brown still lingered after a month. I step against the wall, right below the five-five mark, staring at the camera in front me. Mug shot.
Officer Garcia doesn’t shy away from giving me a small shove so that my shoulders are back. He uses a plastic board to pry my fingers open and hold it so it states “OTLEY, HAYDEN L. ARREST #: 12-106. BLOTTER #: 12-07813. DATE: 7-20-16” in the direction of the camera.
I hope my mugshot doesn’t expose how horrified I am that this stupid thing is actually in my hands.
Violet. Violet. Violet.
Where is she now? Partying? Flirting with some mystery guy whose name she’ll forget by tomorrow? Blowing up my abandoned TracFone with worried messages since my questioning? Planting more evidence to erase herself even more from the murder? Or plotting how she’ll kill Tyler just in case I rat her out? Or did she already have that set?
I shiver as the camera flashes.
“You blinked,” Garcia deadpans.
I grit my teeth under closed lips and focus. The camera flashes again.
By morning, that picture will be everywhere. On the news, in the papers blowing all over the village. My name would be used as a name for evil, a screaming headline. Then, it would shrink down to a whisper. A shocked, hurtful one that escapes between the loose lips and ears of neighbors and teachers and students and friends. Blake. The irony of my dad’s occupation and my arrest will swim invisible, all around me. In a way, this police station’s only a shield from all of this. By morning, I won’t want to be out of that holding cell.
Garcia takes the mugshot board from my hands and pinches my wrists back into cuffs. I don’t even care.
I spent the night alone in a holding cell.
I don’t even know why King bothers to have a police station, after all, I am the first murder arrest they’ve made since Darius Blecker. The force is probably entertained by any illegal action completed by anyone other druggies in this town. If they had really wanted to torture me, instead of leaving me by myself in a painfully tiny cell, they’d just ship me over to Baltimore so I would actually spend time with nutcases like I deserve.
The night’s sleep was strange. At lights out I could hardly see the shape of my hand in front of my face. I blinked once and ended up falling asleep for no more than ten minutes, awake again, then asleep again, then awake again; no clock to confirm how much longer I’d have to stay in there.
Murderer. I am a murderer. In the dark, there was no denying it.
Do I even bother trying to convince everyone else that I’m innocent? I can’t blame Violet. I can’t.
In the morning, the lights are on again, irritating my eyes. A pang of hunger twists through my stomach and I press my hand to it, snapping my back straight. I’d spent the night sitting up with my head resting against the brick wall.
My neck hurts, I realize, glancing out of the holding cell. It’s okay. I’ve only been booked. Thirty-six hours, and if they don’t have the charges by then, they have to let me go. Twelve down, twenty-four to go. I narrow my eyes. Or twenty-three.
Bailing. Court. Yay.
I stretch my hands and glare next to me, at the toilet that stands there with every bit of bacteria and STDs crawling on it. Plenty entertained, I peer out of the cell again and sigh, noticing Officer Garcia appearing outside my cell, cuffs clinging to his hand. I adjust my position off the wall, correcting my gameface.
He nods and digs a set of keys out of his pocket, selects the sharpest, and sticks it in the lock of the cell.
“Morning. Your lawyer just arrived. She’s with your father. They’re waiting for you in the visiting room.”
I cooperate, letting him lock me in the cuffs, listening closely to the clatters of the metal.
Arriving in the dull visiting room with Garcia close behind, he pushes me through the door and the first face I see is my father’s. I let out a small whimper, wanting to fall into his arms and cry into his tall suit. I dry the tears immediately, acknowledging a small Chinese woman perched next to him. My lawyer. Chun Zhao.
Garcia unlocks my cuffs and mutters, “Thirty minutes,” before wandering to the corner of the room.
I breathe in, studying her long skirt and pursed lips. By the way her eyes are sharp on mine, I’m told that I’ll have to deal with the female version of my father. She rises from her seat, heels clicking rapidly to my side of the room. She clears her throat and offers a quick handshake. “Hello, you must be Hayden. I’m your lawyer, Chun Zhao. I went to college with your father in New York.” Her voice is steady and sure, like my dad’s.
I nod at her, checking over at Dad before I take her hand. He bobs his head from behind her then exits without a word. My stomach twists. “Hi.” I give her a polite smile. She doesn’t return it.
Chun releases my hand and gathers her briefcase, sitting down at the visiting table, back perfectly straight. I walk to the other side of the table, copying her every move with the opposite chair. I know what this is going to be. Just another opportunity for me to feel like the stupidest person in the room.
“Okay then, let’s begin,” Chun orders, sorting through a pile of papers that I can hardly see the contents of. She clears her throat. “Firstly, I’d like to explain to you exactly what’s happening. With having me as a lawyer you have the privilege of secrecy. Both of us are not legally allowed to discuss anything that is said between the two of us with anyone else. This includes reporters, family, close friends; even your father. From this point forward, refuse to answer any questions about the case that are not asked by me.”
I swallow and nod. “I understand.”
“The importance of honesty, too, I should emphasize. I cannot represent you to my full ability if you do not tell me everything, including personal information. If the prosecutor finds out you lied before I do, they could expose in front of the whole court if it comes to it. The jury. The judge. I am not legally allowed to lie for you, either. If you lie to me, I am allowed to withdraw as your lawyer. And I will. The evidence that will decide you innocent will be made completely out of the truth.”
I bite my lip. Evidence that I didn’t do it. There is none of that. Only Tyler, who, until yesterday, thought I was actually drunk when I called him from Sumac. That would be a lie.
Something tells me this one handles things a little differently than Dad. Maybe that’s the exact reason he chose her to represent me.
I sit back, trapped.
“Yes. I will not lie.”
“Had you been arrested previous to yesterday?”
“Have you ever had contact with law enforcement for any reason?”
“Have you ever been brought to court for any reason?”
Chun looks at me, raising her brows and placing her chin-length hair behind her ears. “I’m only here to help.”
She straightens and opens a folder, reading the first paper’s contents. “Your statement of arrest claims that you, the defendant, in the state of Maryland, on the evening of June ninth, 2016, in the County of Baltimore, intentionally committed the homicide of Darius W. Blecker.”
I shudder at the statement, noticing the distinctiveness between the words “murder” and “homicide.”
There’s an entire hour of Chun Zhao’s review of laws about court that I already know I’ll forget. I never actually thought I would get away with this, I think, but I’m a coward. Somehow, before the arrest, I was sure I could hide away for the rest of my life and not deal with the consequences just by following some convincing lies. Now, I just want to disappear.
“Hayden? Did you hear what I said?”
I blink, gluing my eyes on Chun. “No,” I choke. “Please repeat.”
“I said,” she rolls her eyes, glares at my file, then achieves looking at me, “that after I reviewed the evidence last night, I think it’d be best for you to plead guilty if and when this boils down to a trial.”
I feel my brows furrow as her words punch a holes in my stomach with each syllable. “What?”
When my lawyer opens her mouth to reply, my father peeks his head through the door without knocking. “Hayden. Your bail has been set. For now, you can come home with me.”