Guilty

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Chapter 26

Before.

DARIUS BLECKER DESERVES TO DIE.

And that’s all you need to kill somebody else--a few minutes of blur.

Violet’s Ford was parked in my driveway as I swung an old backpack over my shoulder that contained only three things: a change of clothes, my phone set on airplane mode and Darius’ stolen gun.

The house was asleep aside from Tyler’s low, smooth Beatles playlist droned the upstairs of the house. The sun’s yellow fire was low in the sky outside my bedroom window. It was around this time that our parents would be stuck in traffic out of Baltimore. Samara was to be buried around sunset. I pushed forward and jogged downstairs, scurrying out the front door.

Through her windshield I could see the shadow of Violet chewing gum with one arm draped lazily over the steering wheel. Since yesterday she’d worn a black blouse that flowed relaxed over her elbows, similar to mine so that we looked like we belonged in a funeral. When her eyes met mine from inside her car, she laid on her horn.

“What are you doing?” I fumed, opening the passenger side door, the gun wriggling with the movements of my backpack. “People talk in this neighborhood, you know.” The steady bass of country music radio flowed through my ears when I climbed into the seat next to her.

She chuckled. “So what? Honking horns suggests murder in this town?” She winked and reached over me, pulling my door shut. “Buckle up, sweetie.”

Rolling down my street, she tapped her fingers on the steering wheel, six sets of six.

“Can I ask you a question?” I set my backpack at my feet carefully while she nodded, feeling the weight of the gun clunk in contact with the ground and cringing. “Is six your lucky number or something?” I shuddered, eyeing the road past the fading sunlight as we cruised down Route 47, nearing the church where the funeral will start in about a half hour. I imagined Darius prying through Samara’s open casket to find the flash drive and save himself.

He was never going to touch her again.

“He killed little Dana and paid for it with trial for a year that ended in his false innocence. Is that the going rate for a thirteen-year-old girl’s life? And what about Samara? Is she free to murder?”

I compressed my lips and twirl my hair as we braked at a red light.

Is Tyler’s life worth the same as Darius Blecker’s?

“Um, yeah. You’re right. But you didn’t answer the question. Did you know you count to six as often as you do?”

Violet’s eyes glowed against the red light like an untamed snake. “Yes, you can say I’m aware.”

On the tip of my toe, the barrel of the gun teased me from inside my backpack. I waited as we sped back up, the wind whistling loudly through the windows. The sky lightened from a red fire to pink.

HE DESERVES IT.

“I know you and all my friends think I’m crazy now. I’m tired of hiding, pretending I don’t know pain, ignoring the fact that my sister ever existed. Samara’s death made me realize that. When I received the news that my sister had died I was doing my homework, using the clock to practice for some presentation I was going to be doing at school the next day. The presentation had to be within five to seven minutes, and I was timing myself for a perfect six. My grandmother came downstairs from her bedroom and told me we had to talk. I didn’t think she needed anything serious, kept refusing to listen because I was determined to get my timing right for this presentation. Kept counting minutes by six, ignoring her.

“When she finally got the words out about what happened to my sister after she’d been missing all day, I couldn’t think about anything other than what I was doing before I knew what happened. Like I wanted to go back in time. For the rest of the night I cried myself to sleep counting to six. It was the only thing that could distract me from what just happened. Ever since I was your age, Hayden, counting slowly to six is what calms me down. Eventually I was diagnosed as some mentally ill freak.” She sighed at the wheel. “Stupid as that. A school presentation that I’ve wanted to redo for three years.”

I stared down the street as Samara’s church came into view. “How do we know he’s coming?” I whispered at the windshield when we pulled up, spotting the Samara’s empty hearse in the bare parking lot.

“Darius won’t let us put this on his name again. Lord knows what that name’s worth anymore, but I sent a picture of the flash drive last night to the fake Facebook page. He read it, but didn’t respond. In reality, he has to choose between everyone finding out about the connection between Samara and Dana and getting killed without knowing it. He’ll do anything to avoid prison. When he shows up, we’ll follow him home. Get the flash drive from him and end this.” Violet peered at me, petting her eyelash to fix clumped mascara. “You have the gun, correct?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

I gazed past the sun as we wheeled through the lot, my seatbelt still hugging my waist. My stomach churned and my ears clouded, feeling the world crunch in on me.

We waited for him.

The gun.

The gun, the gun, the gun.

I’d only shot a gun a few times in my life--about four years ago when my parents bought Tyler and I beebee guns for Christmas. It was back in the days where Mom pushed Dad to bond with us, so she bullied him into transforming our basement into a shooting range. That wasn’t even this gun. Or a real one, for that matter. And no gun would ever match this one.

Violet had already clarified that with this gun to her head Samara committed suicide the first night I’d spoken to her. And with this gun Dana was killed.

I couldn’t let this happen.

I couldn’t be Darius Blecker.

I eyed the dashboard, sliding the first lie I could think of from my lips. “My family knows I’m here.”

Violet put the Ford in park and unbuckled her seatbelt to turn and look at me. “What did you just say?”

HE DESERVES IT.

“My family knows…” I lost the words, unable to return her gaze. “Both my parents are lawyers. My dad is a defense attorney. They know what we’re planning to do. I told them that you threatened Tyler so that I would kill Darius. The police are coming soon.”

Violet’s eyes mocked me as I practically breathed in the scent of her green apple shampoo as her hair brushed under my nose, stiffening at the sound of her voice. “Why are you lying to me? Your parents are lawyers but not very good ones, sweetie. Crooked ones. Especially your dad. You think he really defends enough innocent people to buy that magnificent house I just picked you up from? Your dad’s the reason everyone hates the American justice system. He’s a man in a suit who knows how to lie. I guess that didn’t exactly rub off on you, did it?”

My lungs fought for fuller breaths but I jammed them, convincing myself that they weren’t necessary.

She jerked her shoulders up and smirked. I could almost taste her wintergreen gum. “That’s what I thought. Daddy would probably be proud of you for doing what he never had the strength to do. He would probably be the one to turn you in. You took some weight off his hands. Handed him this client’s pay.”

I leaned against the leather seat to back away from her but she only wiggled closer, closing the gap between us.

But the gun.

The gun, the gun, the gun. It was waiting for me.

“So let me fill you in on the goingson--for now, that is. My old pal Gavin is on his way to the church. He’s going to be attending the funeral and signing our two names in the guestbook. That way, as far as the hundreds of people that’ll be filling that church within the next half hour will know, we were there. The entire time. He’ll be our witness.”

I shook my head at the filling lot and muttered, “Why does he know so much?” She ignored me. I cleared my throat, attempting to sound dominant to her like my father would. “What do you have on him that you don’t have on the others?”

HE DESERVES IT.

A wrinkled brow flashed on Violet’s face, disappeared. She checked the still doors of the church. “I just trust him, is all. Blake is too worried about every move I make and Ashley can barely count to ten. Gav goes with the flow, could care less. He does what I tell him to and I do the same for him. It’s the very definition of friendship.”

“He’s helping us get away with murder because he’s your friend?”

She rolled her eyes.

“You told him that you wanted to get the gun that night in the shed. He drove us there and you had Ashley, Blake and I looking like idiots, thinking we were going to go partying or something. He knew what you were doing. He knows what you’re doing. To me, to Tyler. Why is he letting you do it?”

Violet turned away from me and exhaled longingly, sparkles from her eyeshadow highlighting the beautiful color of her eyes. Smiled shyly. Chewed a fingernail. “I guess you can say he made a deal with the devil.”

I waited.

“You know by now that I’ve given up on trying to pretend I’m a nice person. I guess you can say that’s the most important thing Gav and I have in common. His dad went to jail last year. We never went into the specifics, but I know he assaulted some asshole at work. Just lost whatever control he had for a split second.” Her shoulders barely relaxed. “His dad got out on bail quickly, but it really messed Gav up. We found common ground when I told him how screwed up my family was, he told me the truth but he told the others that he kept lashing out because his grandma died. Less embarrassing, I guess.”

I slid to the edge of the seat, unbuckling my seatbelt. “That still doesn’t explain what he wants with you.”

She crossed her arms. “We had a connection. It made him trust me.”

Of course. Everyone trusts Violet Perfect Wren.

“And?”

“He doesn’t want to be with Ashley. He wants to be with me. That’s why they’ve been so hot and cold lately and she can’t even put that through her head. I told him that if he did a few favors for you and me, I would be with him and we could both just forget about Blake and Ashley once this is all over.”

“While I rot in jail.” I gaze at the large, zipped pocket of my backpack.

“You’ll be fine. We both will.”

“Blake really loves you, you know.”

“It’s been almost three years. I’ve grown out of that kind of love.”

“Bored?”

She grinned, holding back a snicker. “Something like that.” She perked up in the driver’s seat, pulling her seat belt over her middle, bug-eyed at the windshield. From one of our bags a phone pinged; her foot was already on the gas pedal. She switched gears from park to reverse, practically pushing me out of her view. The jerk of the car threw me backward.

“What is it?” I hissed.

“Get down on the floor and check my phone. It’s in my purse, right here.” She elbowed her sophisticated designer purse onto my chest as I crept out of sight and crumpled to the ground. I combed through the bag, past flawlessly aligned eye makeup and a collection of essentials until I came across a phone that was twice the size of my hand and turning it on.

I didn’t have to take a second look at the lockscreen.

Ryan Johnson: You got what you wanted, Violet.

I blinked, forgetting how to do anything else. “It’s…”

“What?” she snapped, steering us to the backlot of the church.

“Did you tell him who you were when you sent the picture of the flash drive with Samara’s body?”

“I sent it through Samara’s account.” Her voice was dead.

Heat rushed to my face as the car jerked me forward and she stomped on the brake.

“Why aren’t you saying anything?” she asked me. “Who messaged me just now?”

HE DESERVES IT.

The gun the gun the gun the gun the gun the gun the gun.

She was right. Darius Blecker did deserve to die. I wanted to kill him.

Ping.

Ryan Johnson: I have the flash drive.

“Shit.”

“What?” Violet persisted, scooting closer to the wheel and tightening her grip.

“I think he’s here.”

“That’s his truck,” she whispered, nodding in front of the towering wooden doors of the church to a mud-skidded pick-up that splattered the night of the shed into my memory. “He’s inside. Probably hiding near the casket before the service starts. He knows we’re waiting. We didn’t fool him.”

“He knows it was you who sent him that picture,” I muttered, eyes fluttering at the two delivered messages that popped up on the screen. “The first message says your name. ’You got what you wanted, Violet.’ He knows we’re going to follow him home?”

Violet lifted her shoulders and thought, calmness suddenly reading across her face. A smug hairflip. And then she began backing up her Ford just as the parking lot began to crowd around us. “He knows it’s me, how cute. I knew my little Dana was unforgettable.” She giggled, stealing a glimpse of exactly what I’d been looking at for the past twenty minutes: the pocket of my backpack that contained the gun. “Well, he has it coming. That’s our cue. Showtime.”


HE DESERVES IT.

My foot wobbled on the floor of her Ford, the only view I had was the dashboard. I still was not allowed to sit upright in the passenger seat. Country music vibrated through my ears, telling me the story about something I couldn’t remember how to process but the beat sounded lonely, hopeless. Lost love.

I peeked over the passenger side window, studying a strange, the soft, sunset version of the path Violet and the others drove me through the night I found out about Samara’s death. The sunlight barely touched the foliage that enveloped the winding road in the twilight.

We had to have been driving for at least an hour. I couldn’t remember why I cared.

“...and just imagine his horrific shock when he sees that you are the one to kill him! Irony is glorious,” Violet cackled victoriously, but I had forgotten where that comment came from.

I knew I realized something but I was wrapped up in the music, only conscious of the gun lightly brushing against my foot.


Tonight when Darius looked me in the eyes, I thought he’d misunderstand. He wouldn’t get why Violet had taken me with her to end his life. He’d just regard me the way he did two weeks ago.

The gun was finally out of my backpack.

In my two trembling hands.

I knew. I knew he deserved it.

Violet Wren and I snuck through Darius Blecker’s back door, darting over piles of dead leaves although we hadn’t even reached the end of the summer season. She pulled up and he was behind us, with the flash drive that would hand him a life in prison. He had the power. I had the gun.

Violet grabbed my hand and pulled me behind his refrigerator.

His kitchen was spotless.

I cringed. In a few moments it wouldn’t be. No matter who won this battle.

Then it occurred to me. Darius was practically planting himself in front of his own gun. It was almost too perfect. And if it came down to it, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stop him from killing me.

“Violet Farr.”

I backed away, falling onto her. My spine slapped the side of the refrigerator, knowing the voice in an instant although I’d only heard it once before.

Darius Blecker.

I could barely differentiate his silhouette from the darkening night sky, his shadow in front of Violet and me encouraged clutching the gun closer, as though it were a teddy bear instead of a weapon. The lights in the house were off, like he was trying to help Violet and me hide ourselves in plain sight. Still she stepped forward, fearless, obvious to consequences, just as always.

That deep, velvet sound was audible again. “I knew I’d be seeing you again. You’ve matured, dear. You’re not a little girl anymore.” Then he was gripping a tiny rectangle in Violet’s face in satisfactory, daring her to come closer though I was sure he’d seen the dazzle of his gun in the moonlight. It was the flash drive.

“I know why you’re here,” he said, standing a good two yards away from her, his arms awkwardly branched out on each side. He looked at me with giant eyes, his voice strange. Hopeless. Sad. “And I know why you’re here.”

Violet stumbled backward, inching into the spacious house’s living room and leaving me in the room over with the gun. She gripped the flatscreen and let it spill over the stand, Darius fell forward and crashed down with the television, yelping. An animal scream left my throat, and I tripped next to him, openly displaying the gun, letting it weigh down in my hands.

Did he want us to kill him?

“Remember me?” Violet asked him, innocently wide-eyed as she watched him suffer.

He screamed.

“Hayden!” she barked me into the spotlight.

“Why are you doing this to her?” he grunted in pain, his eyes blurred to look at Violet.

She sneered. “Doing what, giving you what you deserve, letting you burn in hell?” she laughed bitterly. “Look familiar to you? Patrick Otley’s daughter.”

“Don’t close your eyes, sweetheart. Watch me as I die.”

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