“I guess I don’t understand what you’re doing here. Shouldn’t you be off making poor decisions in honor of your freedom?” Romano suggests. “I’m only a homicide detective, you know. I have no business getting you in trouble for teen drinking.” He winks and leans back in his office chair, kicking his legs up on his desk.
I adjust my weight onto my right foot in Detective Romano’s office door, unable to smile in the glow of the light bulb on the ceiling that gives the room an orange tint. My focus flickers between family photos that are displayed across the front his desk. “Um, no, I don’t drink.”
“Ha! Of course not. You’re definitely your father’s daughter.” He rests his legs back on the floor. “...Though I have been forgetting that lately. Did he bring you here? I’d love to catch up with the DD of the justice department.”
“I actually rode my bike here myself...for investigation reasons.”
You were right all along.
Darius Blecker did not force Samara Galen to kill herself.
He did not. He did not. He did not.
Romano frowns at the loss of hope that he’d never have to compete with me again. “Oh, right.” He coughs, straightening a stack of papers in front of him that I can imagine contain a hurricane of names.
I grasp the door frame, shutting the door behind me. “In investigating Darius’ murder, has the name Violet Wren ever come up?”
Romano recoils. “I can’t give you that information or account it for anything if it’s not first recorded. I could lose my job.” His eyes narrow. “Would you like to make a statement for the case?”
“It’s not necessary.” I step backward, the wooden doorframe clapping my back. “Did I say Violet Wren? I meant Violet Farr.”
My hands fold, building a barrier between us from opposite sides of the room “I’m sorry.”
“What are you sorry for?”
I killed a man for no reason.
No reason at all.
“Farr?” Romano leans forward.
In and out. To the detective, the floor, the detective, the floor, floor, detective, desk, detective, wall, detective, floor.
Concentrate concentrate concentrate concentrate.
“Thank you for your time.”.
Darius Blecker deserved to die.
I exit the station and ride my bike out onto the highway and pedal down the road in the direction of Patapsco Ridge.
When I wake up, I am not in my bedroom.
I know this for two reasons: before my eyes are even open I’m aware that this is not where my mother lives. My mother, who does so much laundry that Tyler and I tend to be perfumed of lavender and honey all the time, would have scented my sheets in the same sweet way. That sweet smell is shrivelled completely now, into some cold, smoky odor blanketed with green apple.
(Green apple ?)
Reason two: at home I have light purple sheets with polka dots scattered all over them that are melted into a beautiful, softer shade as the morning sunlight hits them during the summertime. Coming into waking life now, however, I glimpse at the rusty, copper color of the sheets in which I am tangled in.
I am also in my street clothes. My legs are bleeding, but it’s as though the blood’s just there. I comb through my last memory--”I have no business getting you in trouble for teen drinking.”
No. It’s “Farr?”
I leap up, yanked to consciousness. My legs swing off the bed and I collapse onto the shaggy carpet, crumpling into a ball. I’m alone, and the bedroom door is closed. I’ve never been here before.
Green apple ?
Tyler. Where is Tyler? Where’s Mom and Dad?
I scramble to my feet, slapping the flat front pocket of my shorts that contained the TracFone the last I checked.
I race to the bedroom door, the mysterious fumes growing on my nostrils so that I’m forced to sneeze. It’s not real smoke, I’m almost sure, because there is no unusual warmth enveloping me. I grip the doorknob and glance on the opposite wall, where there’s a dim hint of sunlight coming in through the window’s thick curtains.
This is a dream.
I don’t remember coming home after I went to the station.
I turn the doorknob and go out into the hallway. “Hello?” I call, peeking outside the doorway, knowing perfectly well who would enter my nightmares. “Violet?” There’s a long hallway that extends down as a long series of bedroom doors, opening at the end with what I can hardly tell is an oven.
On the other end is a backdoor leading to an open backyard of dead yellow grass. My toes balance on the threshold.
“Violet!” I march down the hall toward the kitchen.
A shadow streaks past the dusty cabinets that have burrowed in by moths.
“It’s funny, isn’t it? We’re taught not to lie from the time we’re, say, four years old. When we’re in grade school we’re awarded gold stars for telling the truth. Then, we get to a certain age and realize that our parents, our teachers, everyone who was trying to teach us honesty, they were all setting us up for failure. Because there comes a point when lying becomes useful, right Hayden? You’re a teenager and all the sudden there are parties, first dates, friends whose families are sketchy and your parents don’t want you hanging out with…. Tell me, why do you think we do those things, love?”
I stay with my back turned to the refrigerator and let the weight of my eyelids win for a moment. “Violet,” I sigh her name again, watching the tiny burns on the stove in front of me, expecting them to expand and curl, dissolving the oven into ashes.
“I’ll tell you, then.” There’s a smirk in her voice. Her side of the floor creaks. “Because people like you and me, Hayden, our brains won’t shut up. We’re never satisfied.”
“Where are we?” The only thing between us in this house is the smell, the stench that’s practically diffusing onto my body.
I remember when I went to summer camp four summers ago, the smell of the smoke that twirled out of the lakeside camp fire. I was roasting marshmallows, standing so close to the fire that all I could do was cough and wipe hot tears from burning my eyes. Now I’m only breathing in the room-temperature sour air of this kitchen. It’s nothing. It’s just the smell.
“You’ll know soon enough.” She assures me and pauses. “Didn’t your father ever tell you that it’s rude to talk to someone with your back turned?”
“My father,” I wonder out loud, obeying her and coming face to face. Violet Farr’s cheeks are pressed pink and tears stick to her curled eyelashes. That’s how I know this isn’t real. “I’m so sorry, Violet.” My hands tremble with the words.
I only sound sincere because this is a dream.
She raises her eyebrows mockingly. “Are you? It’s not really your place to apologize, is it?”
Even in dreams, she found a way to retaliate everything I say into another question. “I wouldn’t think it is.” My lip quivers. Like I would actually apologize for Dad who brainwashed me into the anxiety of knowing that I’m advertising anger--“...but I already have,” I finish aloud, pressuring the smell of the stale smoke into my head so that I won’t forget it exists.
“Nothing can make up for what your father did,” she snaps.
“I killed him. Me, the corrupt attorney’s daughter, I killed Darius for you. That was the price for what my father did.”
“I changed my mind, actually, thanks to you.” My heart leaps. “See, you didn’t kill Darius for me or for Dana, you did it for Tyler and Samara. It was selfish of you.”
My fists clench at my sides. The more we argue, the more Violet’s tone sinks in the sound of my subconscious. I have to be dreaming. “We both know I didn’t do anything for Samara. Tyler and I went to the coroner’s office where she was examined. There was no trace of gun use when Samara died. She had chronic depression. You took advantage of her death to reach out to me while you had Tyler. You based the murder weapon off of Dana’s death, not Samara’s.” I swallow. “She took pills--”
“--but even your brother wasn’t enough for you,” she interrupts. “You still just went to the station, and”--she gasps and presses her hands to her cheeks, raising her eyebrows quizzically--“behind your family’s back, after all they’ve sacrificed for you. Yet you still want to see the blood on my hands.”
“The blood is not on your hands, believe me.”
Blood. All that blood.
“What do you know about guilt?”
...and that’s when reality carves into my heart. The flames in my head weaken into embers. Fear. I can’t yet tell if I’m still breathing, my words just barely mouthed. “Violet, where are we? What is that smell? What did you do with my phone? Tyler--he’s probably worried.”
She crosses her arms satisfied.
“This is the house in which I grew up. It was rebuilt the year before Dana died. It’s...abandoned.” Takes a long inhale through her nose. “One, two, three, four, five, six...one, two…” I lean into her whisper as she begins to pace teasingly in front of me. “...five, six. One, two, three, four….”
“Violet,” I attempt again, hearing the panic seep shakily through the sound of her name. “Please tell me what’s going on.”
It hands the anxiety to me. My eyes sting mildly before tears can fall. “You’re not in trouble, Violet. I swear.”
Blocking the numbers out. Blocking the numbers out. Blocking the numbers out. No counting. No counting and no counting and no counting and no counting and I AM NOT COUNTING.
(FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE.)
“One, two, three, four, five, six. One, two, three….”
SHUT UP! JUST PLEASE SHUT UP!
“Violet! Violet please listen to me! Detective Romano can’t build anything off of what I said! It was completely off the record! He could lose his job--”
“...six. I DIDN’T ASK YOU, HAYDEN. I DIDN’T ASK FOR EXCUSES. I KNOW WHAT YOU DID. I KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS. I KNOW WHAT GUILT IS. I DON’T THINK YOU DO. I REALLY THINK IT IS HIGH TIME YOU LEARN, DON’T YOU?! GOD, YOU THINK SAMARA WOULD’VE TAUGHT YOU A THING OR TWO BY NOW. ONE! TWO!”
This past month has been nothing but a screaming match. “IF YOU WOULD JUST--”
“Please get us out of here. Please, God, what is that smell?” The space around us feels like it is slowly being embraced by the sun in the Maryland summer heat, but I know it would be too good to be true. All I can think is fire eating through the other half of the house, devouring one piece of dusty furniture and the next--making its way to us. But I know I won’t beat the flame to the punch if I panic. I back up on my heels toward where I’d previously spotted the backdoor, focusing on the heartbroken highlight in Violet’s eyes. “Darius Blecker deserved to die,” I breathe the haunting words under the clatter of something falling in another room. “Samara is not why you wanted him dead. Samara is why you wanted me. You got me. We know for a fact he killed your sister and you and Dana won. He’s dead. D-Darius Blecker deserved to die. Why do you feel guilty? Why should we feel guilty?” I erased the answer to that question that Tyler discovered for me yesterday, swallowing a sob.
“Why?” she whimpers, stepping in sync with me. “Why? You don’t understand. You were raised in a perfect family, of course you just don’t understand.”
I don’t want to tell her that she is what made me realize that I died with Samara.
“I want to understand,” I correct, catching my step so I don’t knock into the wall.
(The fire is coming. The fire is coming. The fire is coming.)
“You’ve never considered me a friend, Violet, and I get that, but I want to understand you.”
She grits her teeth, her angry, tear-streaked face inches closer to mine. “I swear, I really thought that after all the rumors about Samara talking to some guy online, and reading the messages between her and Darius, I really thought he was going to kill her. I thought--I’ve thought for years that ending his life would make it go away. The guilt, the anxiety, the dependence on a diagnosis--” she stops herself, closing her eyes and clearing her throat. “--but I realize now, I realized talking to you and Tyler at the dock--I did all this for nothing. My parents died in a house fire, just handing me all this...frustration at such a young age that I didn’t know what to do with--and I just screwed it all up.You don’t matter to me. Not Tyler. Not Darius.”
(FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE)
“You and I, we’re going to die in here. We deserve to feel the pain that my parents felt.”
My breath skips and I inhale the smoke once more.
Back door. Back door. Back door.
“B-but--my father.” I cut myself off, ashamed for almost wishing her pain upon him. Children are not supposed to leave their parents.
Parents are not supposed to leave their children.
I blink a tear away.
Violet speaks over closed teeth, her feet sneaking with mine. “The only way to make your father understand what he’s done is to make him go through what my grandparents and I did. Darius is dead, good. But why should he care? He didn’t defend him as a friend, he didn’t do it for anything except money. He didn’t think about me, or my family, or his family for that matter.” She reaches for my wrists, gripping them to throw me against the door of the bedroom. “The only way for him to understand is to take you away from him. From your mom, from Tyler. Maybe that’s what will teach him to be a father.”
My body knocks against the wood and suddenly that is when I realize that yes, my legs are bleeding, and I can’t kick her away from me.
Violet’s emerald eyes smile but her lips are in a straight line. “I knew you were going to the station earlier today. In fact, I’m not as stupid as you might’ve thought. But you surprised me, Hayden, you really did, because after Vince Galen committed suicide and you going to jail was up in the air, I knew you would take advantage of the opportunity to escape our deal. So I followed you to Baltimore when you went to get your ankle bracelet removed, using Granny’s car, of course. I was impressed. You didn’t spill the moment you saw those dumb cops. However, I must thank you for proving me right. I followed you to the station in the car.” She glances down at my injured body. “You fell off your bike, and I just took you into the car and let you fall asleep in my bed. But it’ll all be over soon. I messed around with some electricals. You won’t feel the pain of your cuts anymore, and I can finally...stop...thinking so much….”
Just breathe because you’ve never done anything for important in your life.
The truth is I don’t know anything about saving people. If I did I would’ve saved Samara’s life the minute I’d found out that her mom was sick for the last time. In fact, I wouldn’t have let us drift in the first place. If I had ever known anything about helping people who needed it, I wouldn’t have followed Violet down this rabbit hole. I wouldn’t have let Tyler fall for her. I wouldn’t have been so oblivious and I wouldn’t have let Dad defend Darius.
The fire devours the house before us and I stay pressed against the wall, breathing in the last hint of green apple that I can discover in Violet’s hair. Now I allow myself to let it in. The torn skin on my bleeding legs, the heat that begins to swallow or bodies, and the fire.
The fire. The fire. The fire.
“You owe it to me,” I hiss at her, ignoring the thought. “You’ve taken the worst year of my life and made it into a living hell. You owe it to me to walk out of here, go to the station, tell the truth and live with what we’ve done.” The flame grows off of what it comes across, swimming across the refrigerator, the microwave, the oven. The smoke slices through my lungs.
We only have seconds now.
Her eyes snap to the blaze as she snivels and one of her tears flings softly onto my cheek. “I don’t want my happiness to be fake.”
“I hate you,” I whisper past the tears, my foot barely taking another step toward the door. “If you die, with both do. But I won’t let myself go down this way. We both deserve to live with this.”
She stares at me, loosening grip on my arm.
But I can’t run.
“Come with me now.” I say through clenched teeth. We trade grasps and I tug her tiny wrist toward the back door. The house destructs; she doesn’t look real surrounded by the beautiful, raging red-orange flame.
She only shakes her head.
I feel my face crumple.
Feel it burn.
I wrap my arms around her, trying to drag her out, only achieving half the hallway. The fire trails after us.
She pushes off of me, screaming. “Just get out of here, Hayden! Now!”
I glare into the root of the blaze and propel my legs toward the back door as she remains behind, freeing me. I throw the screen door open as I land on the yellow grass fenced into the yard, taking one last glimpse at Violet behind me, watching the fire capture her.
I’m no hero.
I turn back, leaping through the doorway and after her. The fire tears my skin open as I pull her with every strength in my body out into the yard. It burns. It burns. It burns.
She shoves me out of the way, begging, shrieking for death to rescue her.
But she owes this to me. She owes it to me to live some kind of life.
I back into the flame and push her outside, sprinting after her as we both collapse onto the grass. I pat the fire off of my clothes, then smack her to the ground to do the same.
She only bawls next to the catastrophic house.