I’m screwed. I am so screwed.
I topple into the mistakenly tranquil house behind my father, ignoring his mumbles of what I should and shouldn’t hide and what I should and shouldn’t say and what I should and shouldn’t trash that is potential evidence....
Spotting the shadows of blood splattered on the dark entrance wall, blinking, and
If I thought about it anymore, I’d--
But I could not just kill somebody and not think about it. That’s Violet. She’s sick. I am not.
Yes, yes I am.
Something is squirming on the surface of my hands and suddenly I can’t get Violet’s habits out of my head.
Tighten your lips.
Tap your feet to whatever rhythm you can distract yourself with.
Pull your hair out of your face.
Plant. Your eyes. Elsewhere.
One, two, three, four, five, six.
One, two, three, four, five, six.
One, two, three, four, five, six.
(I am not Violet Wren. I am not Violet Wren, stop it.)
One, two, three, four, five, six.
My breaths slow.
I have to move. I need space. I could land on Pluto right now and still burn inside to get further away from humanity.
But I can’t, I know that, and all I want is to close my eyes and land on my back, swim with the earth. I’d be the only one for miles, and there’d be no such thing as the internet or rape or guns or laws or murder itself, the only thing known to man is the fact that we exist. After that, we could do whatever the hell we were creative enough to pull off.
My shadow swings out of Dad’s view and I block out any protests he may have. Though I doubt he does.
I spring up the stairs and zoom by the dark bathroom, missing the steam of the shower that would slowly evaporate the blood.
(...that’s not even there anymore.)
One, two, three, four, five, six.
clean clean clean.
blood blood blood.
(It’s not there. I AM NOT VIOLET.)
Who am I?
I buckle against my bedroom door and it plows into my wall. The knowledge that Mom or Tyler might’ve woken up from what probably sounded like a tiny gunshot flashes into my brain, disappears when I collapse onto the carpeted floor of my bedroom. I skid out of sitting position almost as soon as I hit the ground, dropping onto my side. My face thuds against the floor.
(Dying. Right here.)
The sharp tick of the antique clock that hangs on the wall outside my bedroom is now all that’s audible. I freeze where I lay, wishing I have the power to crush that clock to shreds with my mind. It’s as though my father disappeared into thin air, it’s as though everything around me has disappeared.
There’s nothing. I’m in prison. Prison of my head. Prison of loneliness.
(Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.)
Me and the clock. Me and the clock. Me and the clock. Me and the clock. Me and the clock. Me and the clock.
It’s no use trying to breathe anymore, either. But I just do. My throat stings; all I can perform are ugly gasps.
One, two, three, four, five, six. One, two, three, four, five, six.
The next time the phone rings a moment later, we let it go to the answering machine.
“Hey, um, it’s Lauren Briggs. This message is for Hayden…? I know it must be super creepy that I’m calling you on your home phone, like, who uses these anymore, but I found this number written down from, what, sixth grade? I was just...wondering why you’ve joined the Witness Protection Program. You haven’t been online and I’ve texted you like...a million times. If this is about, um, what’s on the news, I know it’s all lies. Besides, that guy was a creep. Can you just call me? We haven’t spoken all summer and I really...well, I miss you. We should go to the mall. If I don’t hear from you soon, I’m barging into your house because I have a feeling Tyler brutally murdered you or something. Damn--too soon? Ugh, whatever. I guess that’s it. Please give me some sign you’re alive. Er, thanks. Bye.”
Dad and I are still. I lean against the kitchen counter, cracking a smile at the sound of the throaty, slightly shaking voice and the jokes that still slide off her tongue like an old song that I’ve grown up knowing and hear after all these years. I could see her now if I really wanted, because my investigation has been held off, but I forgot how I’m supposed to act in front of my friends.
“What?” My voice is dry, my brain stuck on the previous phone call.
I’m shocked when tears spring from my father’s eyes. “Vince Galen, he committed suicide. The police think he did it after killing Darius. Darius’s death was...his last wish. He had nothing after his daughter and wife died within the year. He wanted him dead--didn’t want to pay the price. The police are investigating his hand in this now.”
I swallow bile, eyes clouding. “He had nothing to do with it, though.”
The world tightens, squeezing me out of the picture.
“Never say that again. Not to me, not to anyone. Understand?” His hand lands on my shoulder; I pinch it and throw it off as forcefully as I can.
“Don’t touch me!” I scream. “It’s the truth! He can’t have this on his name!”
“He’s dead, it doesn’t matter.” His volume of his words is hardened to medium, steady. “Do you or do you not want to go to jail?”
“Shut up! He killed himself, Dad. Just stop it!” I spin around away from him and the phone, sprinting out of the kitchen and past Violet’s size five flats, out of the front door and past my case file that remains blowing around the bright green yard. Running, ignoring the taxing heat, unsure where I intend to go next. Wishing I had air in the tires of my bike or a goddamned car. Lauren’s house, I consider, is no more than three miles away. If she really wants to help, we can talk shopping or boys or anything annoyingly repetitive that we used to discuss. Or I can shoot down the highway and get ice cream or something. Or call an Uber and tell them to take me into Baltimore so I can get lost in the city streets. Or go to the airport and fly to some city I’ve never been to--like Seattle or Nashville. Romano and Garcia will have heart attacks over the fact that I skipped town as soon as they took their eyes off of me, I’ll pay the price later.
“Hayden! Hayden, wait! You’re still on house arrest! The police will still be notified if you leave the property!” My dad trails after me squinting in the sunlight, the screen door clapping shut behind him.
“I don’t give a shit. I’m off the hook, right? Take it off of me!” My teeth grind.
“We’ll go to the station tomorrow to get it removed. You need to cooperate with enforcement. Get back here. Now.” He points to the ground where he stands on the porch.
But I stand back, competitively playing with the pattern of my footsteps on the hot driveway. “So what if they’re notified? ’Oooh, look. She went to the ice cream shop! Alert the media! Send the FBI!’”
He’s not my father anymore. He’s a liar.
“Lower your voice,” he hisses, eyes ticking to neighbors’ yards. His brows furrow as he crosses his arms. Anger. He’s angry. Good.
I should be dead. Not Vince Galen. Not Samara or Dana or even Darius.
Taylor Galen had hazel eyes. Samara had gotten her eyes from her father: the beautiful burst of light blue that everybody seemed to envy. The glorious recessive gene that was officially dead. There was no more “Galen” in King because they were all dead.
Villain dead, Violet free, my suffocation, every shred of Samara vanished. Mission accomplished.
My father continues to plea. “It’s been more than a month since Darius’s death. If the investigators lose their leads by next week, the case will go cold. Let them be distracted by Vince and disregard whatever they had against you. They won’t find anything on him if he didn’t do it. Given Darius’s past and what he died for, they won’t be as determined to string this along for justice. Then...we can all forget this ever happened.”
“I can’t forget this happened,” I snarl, picking up my heel as I hurry past him back through the front door. Dad doesn’t bother to follow me.
The first method to get Violet’s attention that pops into my head is simple--but I need to strike Tyler’s interest as well. He isn’t safe and she needs to know what we’ve caused. I enter the kitchen, swiping a spare napkin from the drawer and a dark pen.
Lawyer called. Meet me @ the river ASAP. Don’t tell Tyler. - H
I fold the napkin into four sides and press, excited for the panic to shoot through her veins like it should’ve been all this time. I then dig around the drawer inside for the TracFone, slapping the keyboard to send a message to Tyler’s contact.
Give me one more chance. When Violet leaves, follow her to the river. Hide. Please, Ty. Trust me. It will explain everything.
I take my time to add perfect grammar and spelling. It’s the only thing that will attract him.
Stepping back into the entrance way, I slide the square note into Violet’s shoe.
She and I need to be held accountable for Darius’s death. That’s what Vince Galen taught me.
And then I head out the back door.
The river is angry when she arrives on the dock beside me.
The light summer breeze controls the water, ringing in as the wind carries the rocks into its flow. The sky above us has washed in dark clouds, suggesting a thunderstorm nearby. I can only hope that Tyler believes in me enough to be off hiding in the trees somewhere to listen. On the fishing dock, she looks like Reese Witherspoon stuck in a glitching video game. She wears a pink-glossed frown, eyebrows knitted like the water gifted her enchantment. She not only appreciates it but understands it. Her gaze suggests life. Care.
“I’m going to get my ankle monitor off tomorrow. Samara’s dad killed himself.” Neither of our gazes meet, which for a fraction of a moment makes me question whether or not she recieved my note and is just here by coincidence--if she even notices I’m next to her.
“I’ve tried to kill Darius before.”
My eyes skip over to a crooked power line that towers over the river then to her. She doesn’t look at me.
“It was last year on the first anniversary of Dana’s murder. I was by myself. I broke a window to get into his house and pulled a steak knife on him. He twisted the knife out of my hand and saved himself. He didn’t tell the police and I think it was to protect himself. He didn’t want to give me any reason to come forward with the evidence that I found on Dana’s computer. That’s how he knew who I was that night at the shed. I’d practically been threatening his life since day one.” She inhales for six seconds, exhales for another six. “I used to dream about Dana a lot. And even sometimes about my parents. Just hanging around with them, or flashes of childhood memories, or some nightmares about their deaths. But I haven’t dreamt about them at all since Darius died. Now I see him in my head almost every night. I hate sleep. It just reminds me that I’m the last one standing, and I’m so lonely. My grandpa is on another planet, sometimes he’ll think he sees Dana in another girl, and he doesn’t understand that his daughter and her husband died years ago. He mixes me up with Mom often. Nan says it’s because I’m the spitting image of her when she was seventeen. Sometimes I wish I could be with my family. See what they would all think about everything that’s happened to me since they died. High school, college choice, my personality. See what my parents would think about Blake. But somehow I know--Mom would love him and Dad would hate him.” Violet smiles and breathes a laugh. “Mom would love him for the way he talks. Always willing to listen and get to know a person or make them feel special and get them to smile. They’re similar in that way. Dad would think he’s too good to be true and pick at anything he could about him. Dana would probably constantly be finding ways to prank him.” Her face falls to actuality. “It’s weird not having Blake around. He hates me now.”
I glare at her in amazement at her change in tone within the hour. Every bit of my body still stings with the need to watch Violet get hurt like she hurt everybody else--including me--but she’s already hurt. I can’t comfort her because all this time I’ve been telling myself she deserves every last bit of it. I can’t be wrong.
So I just repeat myself: “Vince Galen is dead.”
“I’m sorry.” She only turns in my direction slightly. “But you told Tyler exactly what I told you not to tell anyone. We had a deal.”
A tear spills from my left eye and I wipe it from my cheek immediately before I can question where it came from. Her expression switches back to something vaguely familiar, the cold, inhuman monster. Anxiety bubbles in my stomach as I close my eyes, mouthing my brother’s name. “Please don’t hurt him. It’s over.”
She lets her emerald glare sink into me like sharp teeth, wounding me.
“King has lost so much this summer already,” I blabber, watching the blades of grass poking up from under my sneakers. “Tyler won’t tell anyone. The investigation has been put on hold. We’re clear for now. Just let it be.” I sound too much like my father.
My eyes shoot off to focus into the trees. I can’t spot him, but behind a parked yacht in the rocky lot far from the river is Tyler’s Volvo.
Violet hisses her next comment over a faraway roll of thunder. “Sweetie. You ought to be thanking me,“--closes her teeth until I’m convinced her top set will smash her bottoms--“Don’t forget who cleaned up your mess that night.”
My toes curl, striking me with the knowledge that I could never trust her. I harden, sorting my thoughts. She feels lonely--I guess that’s a good thing. I need to get further away from her. “Yes, thank you for admitting to your association in a murder.” In spite of my right mind, I smirk, unable to help but glance over at the Volvo again. Finally I pick out Tyler where he stands, blended beneath the bright green leaves that dangle over his car.
He nods at me.
I tiptoe around around Violet so that I’m in front of the water. She won’t see Tyler from behind her.
Eye contact. Steadiness. Cool. One, two, three, four, five, six.
She doesn’t falter. In fact, she leers, displaying bright, perfect teeth. My shoulders jolt when she inches close enough so that I feel her shortened, fiery breath on my face. I shudder, willing myself to find some sort of balance on a rock sitting beside the water that just barely touches my heel. “You sure you wanna go there?” she encourages, moving closer. “Wanna thank your dad while you’re at it? It’s because of him that Samara is dead, huh?”
I narrow my eyes and squirm away to peer at her.
I knew you were as smart as I’d hoped you’d be.
She knows. She has known. She’s always known.
One second too long. She shoves into me and thrusts me into a sharp rock beside us, gritting her teeth. I push my hands forward blindly, feeling the stab in my back, fisting them into nothing. My head crashes into the wooden dock almost as soon as I lose my footing, but I attempt to crawl to her anyway, my vision blurred enough just to see two frantic shadows struggling against each other.
Tyler has made himself known.
The storm growls closer, the balmy summer air hugging me.
Wait! I croak inaudibly against the rock. Wait!
Wait for what? All summer she’s wanted to kill somebody. Not Darius, no, that wouldn’t hurt me enough. Tyler.
Correction: if she killed Darius, it wouldn’t hurt Patrick Otley enough. She never picked me as a target because she knew I would be easily swayed emotionally--no, that was just a bonus--she targeted me because she wanted to hurt Dad. He was the reason Darius Blecker never really paid for what he did to Dana.
Violet Farr topples onto my jerking body, crushing whatever strength I have left and knocking me off the dock, out of the way. She pushes her razor-edged bony arm onto my throat, cutting off clear air.
My lungs are clogged with murky river water and it’s only then that I realize this probably means that I’m going to drown with her watching above me.
And then there’s panic.
Relax, I tried to convince myself. Swim up. Toward the sun.
I glanced up from under, squinting past the green water in a search for the life of the sky. But there is none. The sky is overcast, I remember.
I wish I could stay here. No need to ever see Violet again. Worry about being a murderer. No need to breathe or walk or stand….
A hand wraps itself over my arm and yanked me out of the river and dragged me to land, onto a pile of grass. Tyler.
I whip upright, instantly finding Violet still standing above us on the docks. “Welcome back, darling,” she cackles over my gasps for air. She strides over to me and Tyler, close enough so that her blonde hair tickles my cheek. “Don’t you worry about thanking me. Something told me from the beginning told me that you were too weak for me to trust, so you’re not in the clear. Forgot to mention this, but I never cleared any of your DNA from the crime scene. Better luck next time.”