Guilty

By Jessica McKenzie All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Mystery

Chapter 24

Before.

I propelled through the door of the King Funeral Home women’s restroom, the room dimly lit by bulbs that mocked the brightness of candles. My dress lagged behind as the door swung shut, leaving my family on the other side of the door. I leaned against the granite sink, peering into the cloudy mirror. Reflected behind me was the shiny blond hair against the pale pink wall. My veiny wet eyes checked the reflection of the clock above me.

The doors of the viewing room opened at four. It was seven after.

“He will die guilty. Everybody will know what he did.”

I flipped the handle of the sink and ran my hands under the faucet until my palms shriveled, then splashed freezing water onto my face.

“Hayden, you’ve got to do it. Come on, the entire town will be here in a few minutes. Hayden, you understand the deal.” She waved the flash drive as she danced around erasing the blurry image of Samara’s body from afar. Suddenly all I could see in my mind’s eye was Dana. Dana and revenge and Violet’s threats.

My knees buckled.

“God. Are you okay? What the hell is going on with you?”

Sunk heavier and heavier onto the sink until it croaked against the wall, complaining that it couldn’t stand against the weight of the sorrow and guilt of a teenage girl in her black dress that she’d worn to pay respects to her dead best friend.

“Sweetie, come on. Just, I don’t know, pinch yourself or something. You haven’t even knelt at the casket yet. Haven’t you seen a dead body before?”

I grunted, forgetting how to form words.

“You need to get this done before this place turns into a zoo. I don’t expect the pervert to join the party any time soon; if he shows up thinking he’ll blend with the rest of the town census, he’s an idiot and could never pull off murder in the first place. If we do everything right, though, he’ll be here tomorrow for the funeral. Right on cue.” In the mirror, Violet smirked and sighed as her reflection cut into the rectangle from over my shoulder, adjusting the way her shiny curls fell. “I must say though, you look nice. Did you curl your eyelashes? I’ve never noticed how long they are. Is that the dress you wore to the semi-formal back in December?”

My knuckles whitened.

Kneel down at her casket--I couldn’t do that. Close the space between the flowing blood inside of me and the embalmed, dead version of a girl I used to know. I couldn’t do that.

And the ring of the flash drive swung on Violet’s little finger.

I couldn’t touch the flash drive. I couldn’t place it in the casket. I couldn’t expose the man who got away with killing Violet’s little sister. I just couldn’t do this.

I watched her in the mirror, speaking through closed teeth. “How did you know what I wore to semi?”

She giggled, knocking a shoulder in my direction like she was in the middle of a photoshoot. “Well, my dear, I’ve been told that I have quite a fashion sense. And memory, of course.”

I shivered and tested my balance.

“Are you well now?” she asked, inviting herself next to me to grab a breath mint from the basket aside the sink. “Simple task, that’s it. Then you can leave and we’ll only have tomorrow to deal with. If you want, I can have Gav take us all to ice cream. The gang is getting antsy out there all alone.” She popped the mint in her mouth.

“I don’t want ice cream. It’s the wake of a sixteen-year-old girl who committed suicide, not mini golf,” I shoved her away. The puffy skirt of her dress flew behind her, but she kept her footing, stiffened and frowned.

“It was not a suicide. You know that.” She stepped forward and waved the flash drive in my face.

The Facebook messages that no one was even supposed to see but Samara, the Facebook messages that I would’ve been lying if I said didn’t mean anything. As much as I wished and wanted to believe didn’t mean anything. Did mean something.

Violet stored them all into that tiny, precious box for me to insert into Samara’s casket. Her “plan” was almost too perfect. It would attract Darius Blecker like a moth to a flame.

“I can’t.”

“People fear what they don’t understand, darling,” she smiled sweetly. “I’m telling you all you need to know. You can, because, just think, this time tomorrow, someone will have already realized that Darius deserves all that’s coming to him. This time Sunday morning, there will be nothing more to fear because he’ll be dead.” She moved toward me, eyes sparkling like twisted Christmas lights. A thin hand rubbed a tear from my cheek. I flinched.

Guilt. Prison. Abuse. Hell.

“What happens if Darius doesn’t fall for it? If no one notices it and it’s left there?” I mouthed. “It’ll get buried with her.”

Samara, buried with her father’s alcoholism, with the one focal mistake she’d made in her short life.

“It won’t, sweetie. You think a flash drive will blend with teddy bears and chocolate candy?” She offered it again without waiting for my input and I reached for it; she snatched it away. “Ah, one moment please. This old thing is dusty. Think the last time I used it was for a seventh grade History project.” She pulled paper towels from the wall and flipped the hot water on the faucet, pumping a dot of soap and counted to six strokes, careful not to touch the USB port.

“One, (swipe) two, (swipe) three, (swipe) four, (swipe) five, (swipe) six.”

Held it with the towel and presented it again.

“Did you just--”

(Think fast, talk slow.)

“Did I what?”

I narrowed my eyes at the tiny black rectangle wrapped in the paper towel in her hand. “You, um, washed your fingerprints, didn’t you?”

One, two, three, four, five, six.

She chortled. “That’s ridiculous. I want it to connect to a computer. Why would I worry about fingerprints? Darius is the one in the wrong.”

I pretended not to know my voice was trembling. “No, I would be.”

“Excuse me?”

“Do you think I’m stupid?”

She blinked, astonished.

Yes, yes that’s exactly what she thinks. That’s exactly what you are.

“How many times do I have to remind you--”

“--of our deal, I know. Tyler. I know." I held my head in my hands, the back of my eyes stinging with the quivering will not to cry again. My vision was spotted adjusting to the strange dim light of the bathroom. “I don’t want this! I don’t want--I never wanted to be involved with this; I never wanted any of this; I didn’t even know Samara when she died, Violet!”

“How could you say that, Hayden? She was your best friend. You’re at her wake right now, aren’t you? Have some respect.”

I scoffed. ”Me? I’m not doing this, you are. If you want the flash drive put in the casket and you want Darius dead, why don’t you do it? I’m done! My family’s probably wondering where I am. If you give me the flash drive, someone’s going to notice me putting it with Samara. There’s not enough people to blend in.”

She shook her head. “The only way to get Darius to the funeral is to put the flash drive with the body. I told you, you put it there, I take the picture, send it to the Ryan Johnson Facebook account through Samara’s, he comes here for the funeral and tries to retrieve it from the casket, and there. He’s right under our thumb. Then the job is done.”

I paused, unsure what Samara would want from me. That’s what really mattered, right? If he did kill her would she have wanted him dead?

I was an idiot if I thought we were going to get away with this, but Violet and I agreed on one thing: Darius Blecker deserved to die.

“Hand me a paper towel.” I snatched the flash drive.

“Excuse me?”

“If your fingerprints aren’t on this thing, neither are mine. I’ll put it in Samara’s casket, but only if I can hold it with a paper towel.”

Violet’s eyelashes fluttered. “Hayden--”

I inhaled and pushed her out of the way, ripping a block of paper towel from the wall and wrapping it tightly onto my hands. Exhaled. “When I go up to Samara’s body, you’ll be right behind me. Her dad’s standing beside the casket, so while I plant it, you distract him and make sure he’s looking in the other direction. Have Ashley, Gavin and Blake crowd in front of me in case anybody else looks up there. Understand?”

“Of course. Thank you.”

“Yeah, don’t.” I snapped, gripping the flash drive against the beads of sweat in my hand.

The bathroom door threw wide. Violet’s shoulders jolted back with mine, eyes clicking to a familiar-looking teacher from King who was wearing a black outfit similar to everyone’s in the building. The woman’s eyeliner was softened, sprawling sloppily around her mildly creased eyes. “Hello girls.” The mumble was heavy, exposed with emotion as her heels clacked to the mirror beside me.

“Hi Ms. P.” The same hint of comforting Violet Wren enchantment leaking through her simple words.

Sometimes I wondered if she could even help turning on that charm.

Violet glimpsed at me and winked while the teacher fixed her makeup and groomed her face, tone still angelic. “You ready to go, hon?”

Hon. Sweetie. Darling.

I sucked my cheeks in and cued her out the door, tucking the flash drive in the shoulder of my dress. I followed on Violet’s heels out the door, counting my breaths like I’d always do before exams. In for four seconds, out for eight. In for four, out for eight.

Outside the door, Mom was waiting for me outside the viewing room along with the rest of the population of King, filing through the glass doors of the funeral home. I pressed on my dress, adjusting the flash drive further under the fabric, my eyes sorting through familiar faces in the crowd. No one spoke over the disjointed alternative rock coming through the speakers of the room--what I recognized as “Uma Thurman” by Fall Out Boy. Vince probably chose to play songs off of Samara’s iPod selection for her wake instead of songs to narrate the suicide of his sixteen-year-old daughter. It used to be one of my favorites. Every time this song came on my shuffle, it made me want to dance around an empty house like an idiot. Now it just made me sick.

I shook off the thought.

“I love you, Hayden,” is all Mom said to me when I approached her like Violet wasn’t beside me, placing a hand on the small of my back as she hugged me. She didn’t look like my mom. She looked like Tyler’s. She held herself more confidently than I did, more elegant makeup and simpler clothing: a sophisticated solid black skirt.

I wanted to cry into the crook of her neck. I wanted to relax the tension that existed in the entire upper half of my body.

But it didn’t matter, I was going to do this and in a few years Mom along with Tyler and my father will have forgotten I existed in the first place and I will be either paying the price or dead.

I let my weight fall into hers. “I love you too.”

She pulled back so she could look at me, tears hazing her dark eyes. “And I am immensely proud of you.”

And for once, my family didn’t ignore the tragic chapters in life. For once, my mother told me she loved me.

I swallowed, eyes checking over at Violet behind me, who clacked her tongue as the line to the viewing room thickened. Outside the glass door, I noticed Mr. Katy, eyebrows furrowed under a darkening sky. On the glass of the door, raindrops trickled the surface. Further back, I noticed some juniors from the musical banding toward the door. Then looked back at Mom.

“Where’s Ty and Dad?”

She cast her gaze downward. “They’ve decided to give you some space. They went in for a few moments to pay their respects and express their condolences to Vince, then went to wait in the car. Take your time, okay? I know this is difficult for you.”

I peeked over at Violet, feeling the flock condense around us. “Um, actually, I was wondering if it’d be okay if I could go somewhere with a few of Samara’s friends from school. After we all, er, visit her, we were going to go out for ice cream and, I don’t know, talk about the memories I guess. Violet”--I gestured to the slender blonde with back casually turned as she stood at a distance--“offered to give me a ride there and home. I just think it’s the best solution to, uh, talk about it.”

Mom stiffened peeking over at the girl who shattered her son. I felt the flash drive press against my shoulder. “Yes, you may go. No later than nine though.”

“Right,” I agreed, a spell of dizziness crashing over me. “Uh, thank you. I’ll see you then. Careful driving in that parking lot.” Before Mom could say another word, I slipped beside Violet and vanished into the pool of people outside the viewing room.

“Ash, Gav, and Blake are inside already. We can go.”

She led me into the viewing room by my wrist, my eyes stinging the closer I stepped to Samara’s body. As if Samara herself was a freezer, the temperature of the funeral home seemed to decrease as we neared the casket. I glanced over Violet’s shoulder as she pushed past the crowd and there it was. There she was.

My ankles locked and the blood drained from my face.

The shape of Samara was blurry over the heads of Blake, Gavin and Ashley, who waited for us in chairs in front of the casket. They barely knew what Violet had asked me to do.

A small wooden cross lingered on the lid of the casket above Samara’s waist, which was tinier than I remembered. From where I was, I noticed from the edge of the body that she wore a midnight-blue dress, her dark hair straight down to where her elbows bent at her sides, folding her hands across her middle.

Took a breath and stared at Blake who stood next to the others, in a tall suit with his shoulders back. I wished I could tell him what Violet was making me do, unsure if he’d care.

The flash drive poked at my skin, feeling a tear fall away from my cheek. Samara didn’t look dead. She didn’t appear that different--only gaunt, even paler than she used to be.

Sleeping.

Nothing was too scary, I assured myself like a child frightened of my closet. My eyes flickered over to Vince, who noticed me eyeing his beautiful sleeping daughter. I hadn’t seen him in months. His eyes were dry and unfocused, lids drooped. I didn’t want to have to hug him, so I just remained at Violet’s side, the step below the casket open for me to kneel.

“I miss her,” was all I could mouth to him before I moved at all.

Violet slid her hand on my back like my mother did, sending a shudder through my spine. Vince nodded at me.

I knelt at Samara’s side, allowing a fatal exhale that exposed too many tears to kill someone tomorrow. Glancing over, Vince had been sidetracked by family in line.

I was supposed to be praying, but Samara’s eyebrows were never that thick. And her cheekbones were never that sharp. And I could see the white foundation streak flawed across her chin, which she would’ve never worn alive. The fingers were too long and scrawny to be hers. I’d never seen her paint her nails, especially not bright red like they were now. And her eyelashes had always been enviously long, but never had I seen her wear clumpy mascara, not even in recent years. She never wore earrings. Or lip gloss.

And she trusted him. And he killed her.

I was going to fix this for her.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered in her ear.

I pushed the flash drive out of the fabric and laid it on the tip of her hair, wincing at the stone-coldness of her skin.

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