Guilty

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Chapter 22

Before.

Square one.

Front row, Biology, and it was only Wednesday. Samara’s wake was tomorrow and I would never be ready to see my best friend’s lifeless body, but I knew that my mother would drag me to the funeral home kicking and screaming for the sake of the Otley reputation that I’d been busy tarnishing lately.

Deserves to die.

I couldn’t be here. Violet saw us yesterday. She drove past Gavin’s macho truck in her pretty little Ford and bada bing, bada boom: I, her target, knew her deepest darkest diagnosis therefore was digging my brother’s grave.

And Darius was bound six feet under as well.

The thing about sitting alone in the front row of the one class I couldn’t give a flying shit about was that it gave me plenty of nothing to occupy my mind with. Like the way the ding over the loudspeaker that signaled the beginning of the morning announcements sent a shudder through all bodies in the room in sync; as though we were all expecting news of a chain of suicides. Or the way Mr. Katy now always seemed to have a deep, thoughtful expression shaped onto his face, like he wasn’t sure if he wanted to start class or have a forty-minute tear fest.

Katy told us to take out our review books and I dug it out of my backpack, slapping it onto my desk.

Deserves to die.

Get it over with. Purge my anger.

(I DON’T NEED TO THOUGH just shut UP).

“Hayden?”

“Huh? What?”

Mr. Katy’s hand rested on my desk, and his frighteningly dazzling eyes gazed down at me in front of the class, concerned. “What did you get for number eight?”

My attention snapped down to my incomplete review book, tracing down to number eight on the practice sheet.

First time in like a decade I arrived to school with homework.

Which of the following are necessary to copy segments of DNA exactly?

(1) reproductive hormones(2) carbohydrates(3) antibodies(4) biological catalysts

Oh, come on. Before hell broke loose I studied for this class like crazy. “Uh,” I squinted at my paper, focus shifting all over my desk. “Carbo--? No, sorry, I mean, um…”

Deserves to die.

“...biological catalysts?”

Katy peered at me, backing from my desk, puzzled. “That’s...correct. Thank you.”

The Hayden Otley never hesitates.

My stomach twisted as I rested my chin against the desk.


At two-thirty I managed to slither my way out of ninth period English and slide past every student that slowly pooled the hallway at dismissal. Blurry faces slipped by, shoulder-on-shoulder, laughing, crying, and I hadn’t seen any of them today between classes. I knew they had to be here though--just that freshmen and juniors rarely crossed paths on accident. And Violet, well, she may or may not have been waiting for me in my bedroom to arrive home again and check on the gun just for the fun of it.

I cringed, turning the combination on my locker in the language wing.

God forbid Mom decided to do laundry today and open my closet door behind which still contained a plausible murder weapon. Who knows how she’d react to a gun in my closet? My brain swerved images onto display, picturing a thousand worst case scenarios. She’d faint. She’d call a counselor. She’d call the cops. She’d think I was ready to kill myself tonight. She’d--

Some girl from my Spanish class tapped me on the shoulder and said she’d see me later.

I attempted a nod and turned back to my locker, dumped all books out of my backpack and ino the bottom, not planning on doing anything academic tonight.

“Hayden!”

My English binder, which I hadn’t realized I was clutching until now, spilled onto the ground, scattering a year’s worth of Shakespeare worksheets and chicken-scratch Edgar Allan Poe notes onto the floor. I dropped to my knees, brushing the papers into a lopsided pile.

Violet crouched down beside me, long fingers sorting through the papers I hadn’t reached into a thick, perfectly-aligned pile. She tapped the edges of the pile on each side, six times. Counting to six, hissing the numbers low enough so she’d probably thought I couldn’t hear her.

I tacked my eyes to the floor until they were burning.

“I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have sneaked up on you like that.”

“It’s fine,” I grunted, yanking my backpack’s zipper and tossing it over my shoulder. I slapped my locker shut only half as hard as I wanted to slap her. I pushed off of the ground and skidded two steps in front of her, shoving past three other kids, accidentally knocking one of them against a locker, but the apology dried out from my throat.

Bring it down a notch. Breathe a sec.

Her endless crowd of disciples seemed to be gravitating elsewhere nowadays. Funny.

I wonder if she’d come close to killing more people than just me and her circle of three.

“You need a ride home? My car’s right next to the teachers’ lot.”

“No, thanks.”

Deserves to die.

I stepped a bit more rapidly, failing to put a real gap between me and her as her shoes clacked against the floor after my heels like gunshots.

“Are you sure? Your neighborhood’s on the way to mine. It’ll cut a good fifteen minutes off your trip.”

I untwisted my backpack strap staring ahead at the excruciatingly long, over-populated hallway.

“Really, I’m good. I don’t mind the bus.”

Walk faster and go faster and walk faster and go and walk.

This time I did toss a small, reassuring-but-fake-as-hell smile her way, hoping she’d eventually terrorize the school in the opposite direction. “But thanks again. See you tomorrow.”

Walk just walk and don’t turn around just walk okay everything’s fine just keep going speed up a little keep going don’t turn back--

But there was a scrawny hand that gripped my arm for which I braked, allowing floods of kids to veer around us.

I shut my eyes, offering myself a moment before spinning around.

Deserves to die. Deserves to die. Deserves to die. Deserves to--

Her face was so dreary when it wasn’t caked with expensive brands of makeup, her skin a disturbing mute-white. The green eyes that used to hold everyone who looked at them, that were vibrant under long dark eyelashes and sparkling eyeshadow were now bright in a vulnerable way--glassy. Her natural hair was made of long, smooth, wilder curls hugging the curve of her shoulder blades.

I tore my arm away from her, refusing to get caught off guard. “How did you know to look on Samara’s Facebook? How did you know that Darius would do what he did to Dana again?” My throat was sore when I coughed up her name.

Violet’s eyes clicked downward as she shrugged. “I’ve been watching the name Ryan Johnson for a while. I found that same account had been contacting my sister on her computer when she...died.” She spit the word disgustedly. “He must’ve thought he was off the hook after a few years from trial. Try again. See if he could do better this time.”

Out of the corner of my eye, Chris, Lauren, Erin and Grant shuffled past us to get to the bus circle, earning me a few puzzled glares that I avoided. “If you were on your sister’s computer after she was killed, why didn’t you tell the cops so that they’d trace the account back to Darius?”

“I did. They collected it, but claimed they ‘couldn’t find anything on the server.’ They thought I was lying. It was like the messages had disappeared, gone completely. But I swear to God, I didn’t imagine it. There were messages there from a Ryan Johnson, and there are messages on Samara’s account from Ryan Johnson. He did the exact same thing all over again. You know, Hayden. Don’t just cover your ears and start singing and pretend I’m crazy.”

My eyes flickered her out of focus, avoiding her mind-reading gaze and sliding my arm behind my back. “I’m not--” I sighed, hating the half of this that was right.

Deserves to--

“Okay. Okay, I believe you. Darius Blecker killed your sister and I’m sorry.”

In the back of my mind was Friday night, Friday night and that gun….

“Come with me then,” she insisted, taking a step closer, as if daring to drag me again.

Deserves to die. Deserves to die and deserves to die and deserves to die and deserves to--

“I--um--okay. I’ll come with you.” I inched back to her side, every single cell in my body pointing me in the other direction. Still I trotted at her side as we headed to the other end of the school--away from the bus circle and towards the parking lot.

It was like I was accepting getting myself killed.

When we’d reached her Ford, Violet slid onto driver’s seat and patted shotgun, inviting me next to her. I obeyed, feeling the hot A/C worm its way through my sweaty anxiety-ridden body.

She drummed on the steering wheel six times. Then she brushed her hair behind her ears, looping a hair tie around it. Six times.

I shifted uncomfortably, tightening my seatbelt so that it squeezed my chest if I breathed too deeply. Cleared my throat as Violet twirled the radio dial, an edgy early-2000s top-forty-something softly audible through the speakers. My skin tingled, remembering how captivating the mainstream FM was to me when I was little. It was something Samara was enchanted with as well. But every lyric slipped through my ears meaninglessly, a giant brick stuffed into my head named Violet Farr.

“So I’ll see you at her wake tomorrow afternoon, right?” The voice sawed into the song.

Her. She could simply address to Samara as “her” now and I would know exactly who she was talking about. Because she was all I could think about anymore.

I stroked my seatbelt, making the mistake of peeking up at her and catching her twisted smirk. Shivering at the clear windshield, I pictured Samara dead in a coffin from the memory of the one wake I had been to. Pink drained from her cheeks into a sickening, stale stone shade, hair sorted too skillfully, make-up that she would never normally wear coated crookedly onto her plastic-looking face. She’d look like a stranger. Fake, fake, fake. False.

“Yeah, yeah you will. I’ll be there.”

Regular afternoon campus traffic began to pack around us, eating away at every strength I had left. It was boiling in here. It was boiling even though the A/C was set to sixty-five degrees. My skin was going to melt off if I didn’t breathe.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Violet tilted back in her seat, loosening as she pressed ever-so lightly on the gas. “Oh, I’m glad. Do you have something nice to wear? You can borrow something of mine if you need to.”

“I have something,” I assured her automatically, watching kids bolt across the pavement in front of us, praying none of them would magically decide to look our way and squint, notice me, the nobody, in Violet Wren’s car. I clutched the door handle to keep from wanting to squirm out from under my seat belt and throw myself out the passenger side door. “So have you talked to Tyler lately? He’s been...worried about you. Maybe you should ask him to hang out or something.”

I considered asking her if she’d suddenly had a revelation of sanity and decided not to kill my brother if I’d realized I didn’t want to kill Darius Blecker after all.

I mean, how? I couldn’t, with or without her help. He was Darius Blecker, Darius Blecker, but he was also human.

Deserves to die.

“You know there’s a reason I’m not talking to Tyler.” I flinched; to that she rolled her eyes. “I know Gavin took you guys to my house yesterday. I saw the truck, I know you saw me--and I know you guys didn’t go just to make small talk with my grandma. You can stop being so jumpy.”

“I...can--stop--being--so--” I rubbed my knee until I was convinced I was tearing skin off. “Violet. You need to--you’ve got to--you can’t just--”

“Are you alright Hayden?”

“Neither of us know how to kill somebody!” I burst, painfully scraping words from my throat. “And if you would only...take--! Your--! Pills--!--we wouldn’t have to--...and I wouldn’t be going so--”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!INSANE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“Blake only told you about my...issues because he thought it would help. That’s the only reason he only does anything. He thinks it will help. Blake’s so selfless--practically raised in a church, taught nothing but to be humble--honestly, nobody deserves him. Especially me. But the issue isn’t what happened to my parents when I was little. It’s him. It’s Darius Blecker. I would’ve thought you’d have known that by now.” Violet pedalled us forward calmly, concentrating on the traffic, tapping, tapping, more tapping. “I plan on us getting this whole thing done Friday night. After Samara’s services. And don’t worry--no one will trace anything to you. I’ll take care of everything.”

I blinked. “How?”

She tittered as we turned off campus--toward the highway, toward Patapsco Ridge--and I sighed once gratefully before she continued. “You should know there’s no such thing as the ‘perfect murder,’ right? I don’t have this vision of you and me on Darius’s back porch sitting at a little table in the moonlight, clinking two of three wine glasses, toasting to that third wine glass that had the perfect amount of poison in it that he happened to drink, then collapse cold.”

I shuddered when she giggled.

“I’ll put the messages between Samara and ‘Ryan’ on a flash drive tonight. Meet me at the wake tomorrow and we’ll put it in the casket. I’ll make sure Darius knows it’s there. He’ll come to the funeral the next day, like a fish to a hook, to get the flash drive. After all, it proves he killed her. But we’ll be there when he comes. We’ll follow him home. You complete your task, go home safe and sound and I’ll stay behind and clean up. You’ll be using that gun. So practice your aim or something. I can’t do this by myself. But we both know he needs to die, right? Or we both know what’ll happen to beloved Tyler? Your brother? My boyfriend?” She put a sickening twist on the word as we stopped at a red light, wrapping it in sarcasm, wrenching my gut.

I pressed my arm to the rest on the leather seat, unable to swallow. I could call the cops. I could call the cops right now.

...and explain the gun in my closet?

The car swerved onto my street and into my driveway, ignoring the scratches in my voice. “How did you know that he used that gun to kill your sister?”

Violet smirked at me, reaching across my lap and unbuckling my seat belt. “My grandparents received the autopsy report years ago. Matches. Forty-four Magnum revolver and bullet--air-gap flash,” she recited robotically, then her expression changed. “Thanks for letting me drive you home. It was a nice chat. We’ll talk some more tomorrow at the wake, okay?”

I opened the passenger door without a reply, sprinting into my house.

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