I know I murdered someone who deserved to die. That must be it. I wouldn’t be stupid enough to kill someone didn’t deserve to die, right? Why do I feel like….
Blood. Tiny squeaks still escape my throat, knowing that this is the first decision in my life I’ve ever made on my own. The biggest one. And I destroyed my life because I chose wrong.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
This is all wrong. I was wrong. I did wrong. I am wrong.
I shouldn’t have ran. I should’ve done something stupid that would make her want to kill me instead of Tyler.
Tyler. What did he ever do to deserve this? He thought he loved her. He thought, he thought, he thinks….
Part of me believes she doesn’t deserve to be loved at all. Part of me wants to go back there and kill her myself. Live with it. Might as well, right? I’m going to be living with Darius Blecker’s ghost for the rest of my life.
But the other part of me is still...me. I will forever live in her shadow. I will watch her graduate. I will watch her move out of King. I will watch her get a job and meet someone and get married. I’ll watch her have kids and grow old. By then she won’t remember me, of course, but I will always watch her. And I will be right here. Right here, in King, slowly greying, waiting for death to come to me. Never happy. Never lonely or sad or scared. Just...here. Always. I hope she’s happy.
I flip the handle of the sink and grab the first thing I see on the sink top: a soap bar. Water flows into the drain and next to me the steaming shower is nearly flooding the bathroom.
I don’t care. Get it off me.
I stick my head under the shower hose, picking apart my crusty hair and scratching at my face with my fingernails as though to strip the outside layer of skin so that it’ll grow back in the morning, decontaminated of the rapist’s DNA.
Then back to the freezing water in the sink.
Steaming water from the shower.
Freezing water in the sink.
Steaming water from the shower.
I tilt my head against the seat of the Audi, relaxation settling over me. I’m no longer by myself in a cage. I’m going home. A good thing.
Dad stares ahead at the road, tightening his grip on the steering wheel. “You should probably tell Chun about your pre-paid phone, just in case the investigators find it. We’ll need her ready.”
His voice tickles my ear. “That still in here?” I haven’t touched it since the night of my questioning. It’s probably in ashes knowing that Violet had the number. I peer at the road in front of me. The texts that both she and I sent could get us persecuted. “Chun doesn’t need it. The cops won’t find it. The service is anonymous, I’d rather just trash the thing.”
“Hayden, listen to me.” Pulling into Patapsco Ridge, my father purses his lips. “I’m not the one with an ankle monitor strapped around them, am I? Now, did you hear what Chun said or not? You’re out on bail--how suspicious would it look if the police got a warrant to take some things and you didn’t have a cell phone to give them?”
“Not that suspicious,” I retaliate. “Not all parents let their kid have a cell phone.”
He titters sarcastically, the most emotion I’ve seen him have all summer. “In 2016? In a suburb of Baltimore?”
I roll my eyes.
“We cannot afford you hiding anything from Chun. If the police know something she doesn’t, it could be the end. She’s not going to lie for you.”
“I’m not hiding anything,” I murmur, only half trying to compete at his lie-detection game.
He puts the car in park as we roll up the driveway and gives me a cold glare before I can stick one foot out the door. “I’m not asking you for the moon. I’m not asking for a revelation. I’m simply asking you for the ten-dollar flip phone.”
“Chucking my real phone in the river was your idea,” I remind him.
“And we lawyers are all about honesty, as Ms. Zhao has already explained.”
I massage my temples, half hating him. I push the door open and head toward the house, disregarding the extra weight on my left ankle. “Sure, Dad.”
Heading up the drive, I glimpse over my shoulder at my father’s satisfied grin. Keep clenched fists at my sides.
Glad to be back at the house. Bummed for it to have become my prison.
Before I can touch the front door handle, the door swings wide and smacks against the inside wall. My mother stands in the entrance and grabs my arms, trapping me in for a hug. “Oh Hayden, you’re back!” she cries, squeezing my head to the crook of her neck so that a bone pokes my cheek. Releasing me, she pets every crease and curve in my face. “Oh, are you alright? Are you hurt? Did anyone hurt you?”
“No,” I grunt.
Now she’s acting like a mother. Last week she could care less if I played in traffic.
“Were you alone in your cell? Was there anyone else? Men? Women? Were the police gentle with you? What happened?”
“I’m fine, Mom.” I relax my shoulders even though she’s nearly crushing them.
“If they hurt you, we’ll sue them.”
I glance behind me, watching my father stride toward us to the porch. “It’s okay, Mom.” I remove her hands from my arms and invite myself to walk into the kitchen, hearing Dad mumble something to her that I can’t make out. “Ty!” I call, letting my voice climb through every corner of the house. “Tyler!”
I jog up the shaded hall of stairs, the ankle monitor already pinching at my skin like a cluster of mosquito bites. Across the hall from mine, his bedroom door is closed. I knock once and turn the knob.
The door creaks open from the other end and I prevent a plunge into Tyler, stunned.
“Hayden! You’re back! I’m so glad!”
It isn’t him.
I knit my brows, the voice ringing in my ear, clicking. Behind my brother, the wavy blond hair is unmistakable.
Tyler and I only make eye contact for a moment before Violet shoves her way in front of him, sneaking a small smirk when he gapes at me. Her hair is done neatly, perfect, just like it was the day I came home from school after finding out about Samara’s suicide. Her clothes are tight, showing off her dreamy summer figure. She’s back to being Violet Perfect Wren. The last time I saw her in person was--
...And if I look at her closely, I can still shape her on that night. Lips tightened, hair pulled back sloppily, feet spread slightly apart, sure of the ground she stood on, sure of what she wanted, sure of her promise to me. I was the gun’s target. And her hands never quaked.
“What are you doing here?”
I can’t even be sure if those words truly made it out of my mouth. I can’t hear anything.
“He took away your best friend. Pull the trigger. Now.”
Tyler steps forward, coming into the faded light of the hallway. “I got this,” he mumbles in her ear as he crosses in front of her. There are sharp, dark half-circles under his eyes, almost as though he allowed Violet to take a black colored pencil and shade in his pale skin just before I arrived home. I back away as he moves closer, but he speaks anyway. “Violet and I ran into each other yesterday while I was picking up some things for my dorm. She’d heard about your...arrest. She was concerned, Hay. I...updated her over coffee, and we actually just finished watching a movie.”
My back hits the wall so that I can’t retreat any further, and I let my brother’s story slide off my shoulders. I do not dare to break my glare on her, waiting for her to pull the same gun that I used to kill Darius Blecker from behind Tyler. “No, what are you doing here?”
Panic panic panic panic panic panic
Watch watch watch watch watch watch watch watch
A guiltless grin touches Violet’s face before Tyler protests again. “Hayden--”
I ram into him, attempting to shove him out of my way. Violet wants attention, Violet gets attention. This is about her. It’s always about her. She should be glad. “What’s your angle?” I snarl at her through gritted teeth.
She trips backward as though I’ve frightened her, clinging onto my brother’s arm. “Tyler,” she gasps, glaring at me. “What’s she doing?”
I choke up a sick giggle, stepping closer to her.
At least I don’t have to play dumb to participate in her game.
“Do not victimize yourself! You know what I’m doing, you know what you made me do.” My hands tingle, curling into fists, telling me to hit her. Damage her. Give her all the pain she caused me in a physical form. Instead, I turn to Tyler, which transforms my rage into a crushing feeling of betrayal. “I-I tried to tell you the kind of person she is…”--not too many details. “I thought, even if you didn’t believe me, you wouldn’t choose her over me.”
I can feel my voice break, but tears don’t surface. I don’t need him if he trusts her.
I don’t need anybody and neither does she.
Tyler’s face highlights anger, but he puts his guard up for Violet’s sake. He holds her arm, blocking her out of my reach. “Stop it,” he spits. “Just stop. Get out of here.”
“Have you forgotten?” I jab a finger down on my ankle. “I can’t leave unless you want those stupid cops ransacking the house. Violet should leave. Go outside and get some air before she ends up in the same situation as me.”
Why did I say that. Why did I say that.
She’ll kill both of us.
Before I can take it back, tell myself to focus, apologize to both of them, assure them that it’s just the jail cell talking, Tyler lunges into me, knocking me to the ground. My back snaps in contact with the floor, stealing the air from my lungs. He pins me to the carpet, tackling me like we used to do when we were kids. When I open my eyes I barely recognize him under the fury that washes over his face.
Violet’s shierk is a detail under the sound of my gasps as I try frantically to wiggle my way out of Tyler’s grasp. I shove a foot in his gut as hard as a I can, which gives me only a moment to distract him. I slip out of his hold, automatically hopping to my feet and charging into Violet with a force I know she’ll never have. Both of us crash into the wall in a heap, but I scream in her face before I consider my balance. “Tell him! Tell him the truth!”
I’m losing it, but what difference does it make?
I lost it a long time ago.
Violet thrusts tiny fists into my sides and I ignore the small stings, keeping her in a hold. “You can toss a gun around and watch a man die like it’s nothing,” I hiss in her ear, “but you don’t even have the nerve to take credit for it. Give it all to me. But wasn’t this for Dana? Wasn’t it?”
Her secret--the one that she threatened Tyler’s life with--is out. It gives me a tiny moment of nauseousness, but my insides boil to keep throwing it in her face. “You used me. Used Samara. Used him.” My eyes flicker to Tyler, who’s leaning over the banister of the stairs unmoving. I knee her in the leg, the best I can do while she squirms in my grasp.
Arms seize mine, curbing another punch. I jolt my shoulders forward, shrug them off, but they don’t give out.
Surely Tyler would’ve given me a black eye by now.
It’s my father. He grips my arms firmly, dragging me to my feet from behind. “That’s enough,” is all he scolds in my ear through his teeth. “My office. Now.”
I make one last effort shake off his grasp, examining the way Violet staggers to Tyler’s side. I give in, letting my father steady me and follow him downstairs to his office.
His office. Cue the frightening cello.
Dad slams me through the doorway of the office and flicks the light switch, shutting the door behind him. He plops me into a hard chair across from his polished desk and strolls behind it, perching onto a tall, cushioned chair across from me. He eyes me and presses his hands together, studying the way I struggle to meet his gaze. “No more secrets.”
“No more secrets,” I agree, rubbing my forehead, glancing past the open door, waiting to see Violet shooting past, out the front door.
“No.” Dad lightly pushes my cheek from across the desk so that I face him again. “Listen. No more secrets. Do you understand me?”
She’s still in the house. I don’t think I scared her enough. I contemplate booking it back upstairs and dragging her outside by her shiny hair.
I only regard Dad for a fraction of a second, breathing in. “You know, you’re the one who told me what to say and how to act during the interrogation. You’re the one who taught me how to move and how to look at the cops and what story to make up for the questioning. A few nights ago, I wanted to tell you the truth. You’d told me to go with a lie. So I did. What do you want to know? If I killed Darius? The answer’s pretty obvious now, isn’t it?” I’m talking to him like an unsatisfied client. Now that Violet thinks it’s okay to stomp around my life after she promised to leave me alone, anything goes. She’s back with Tyler, I’m going to jail. The end.
Dad straightens and closes his eyes, repeating the reminder he’s had since June. “Allow me to ask you something.”
“Did Violet kill him? Force you to witness it?”
I press my hands to the arms of the chair, the words making me flinch. I stare at the beads of sweat forming on my hands.
You should be worried about Tyler.
...will die if you don’t do it with me.
“What the hell gave you that idea?” I snap.
“Let me ask again.” My father leans forward, rolling his chair against the desk. “Did Violet kill Darius Blecker?”
He wants to help me. He’s hinting at her. He’s hinting at a plan. A tactic. A new hand of cards. A winning hand.
“She didn’t do anything. That’s crazy.”
He narrows his eyes at me. “Are you sure about that?”
“Of course I am.”
“No, you’re not. You can’t say that after you just tried to beat her to death. What did she do to you? Why, Hayden, why did you feel the need to hurt that poor girl, especially while being watched so closely by investigators?”
I shake my head, eyes casting down. “I just...I just know she hurt Tyler once. She’s going to do it again.” I force my voice clear and look at him. “You can’t just assume somebody brutally murdered another person because I’m angry.”
“But that’s what the cops did with you, right?” He sinks his eyes into mine, soothing his button-down.
He lowers a silver key off a hook on the beige wall above him, then sets it on the table. Rests his elbow on the desk for a moment, then rises, nodding at the tiny key. “I keep forgetting where I put this thing. Start working on a case, then panic when I can’t find it.” He glides out from behind the desk, and heads toward the door. “Wait here. I’ll grab the copy of your paperwork with Chun out of the car. We should review some details of the possibility of a trial while neither of us are busy.”
I let him walk out of the office, pressing my hand to my head.
What am I doing, preparing for a court trial?
What am I doing, with an ankle monitor strapped to me?
What am I doing?
My eye is captured by the tiny key through my fingers. And then by the file cabinet labelled “CONFIDENTIAL” that towers beside me.
I let my index finger brush the key.
No. Illegal. Very, very illegal.
Besides, who cares about the druggies my father deals with? I never have before.
I touch the key.
! Bad ! ! Illegal ! ! Stop !
Slide it into my grip.
Lean down, and try the keyhole. Just to see, you know, if I actually have the opportunity I think I do.
The key fits. I turn it and pull.
The file drawer slides ajar next to me.
My hand combs through hundreds of files labelled unfamiliar names, all sorted in alphabetical order from 2010 to now. I wonder if my dad has ever lost a case. A flaw he has in court.
Sorting through random names of his past clients, I find one name I recognize.
“Do it, sweetheart. Do it for your father.”
The pit in my stomach widens when I blink, rereading the name.
It’s still there.
BLECKER, DARIUS W.