His voice is softer now as if he were expecting to hear the truth under my breath. “What ‘wasn’t supposed to end this way’?”
Romano never missed a beat, but neither will I. My eyes are still wet; I am scraping tears off my face like they’ll leave a permanent stain.“I’m sorry. It’s just really difficult to talk about all this stuff going on in King. Samara Galen’s suicide was terrible for my school. It was a self-harm trigger to a lot of kids. It was exhausting. I...” I wipe another tear and decide that weeping may be a dependable arrow to follow. “I would like to leave now.”
Makes me look guilty as hell, but I have the right.
Romano glares at me, still trying to find the streaks in my expression that reveal I’m not that sensitive--I’m a murderer, for God’s sake.
I find myself reaching for my right wrist, where my bracelet used to be. The bare skin still feels strange, even now.
His voice turns stern again, competitive. “Fine.” He kicks out from under his chair and it rolls backward, slapping the grey wall and I hope I didn’t flinch as obviously as Tyler. He hisses in my ear, “I gave you your chance. The moment I can get a warrant, I will get your fingerprints and you’ll be done with this game of yours. Welcome to my chess board.”
When his face jerks away from mine, I catch my breath.
“Go home and sleep, Hayden. It’s going to be a long week,” he vows over his shoulder as he strides out of the interrogation room and the sheriff follows.
Outside in the dull waiting room of the vacant police station, my father sits alone cross-legged, his long nose buried elegantly in a Super Lawyers magazine as he waits for Tyler and me.
Before I can complete three steps into the windowless room, he stands and swipes his reading glasses off his face then gives Tyler a nod without a word, cueing him out into the parking lot. I can tell he came here straight from work--he is still wearing his routine court attire: a broad, official-looking tan coat over an ironed button down shirt and a matching tie. He’s like Tyler in that he’s intimidatingly tall, but he and I share most of the same features: hair warmer than blond, light eyes, and a narrow face.
Dad. I taste bile. It feels weird to call him or my mother by their parental titles now. It’s like neither of them want me to anymore. They can’t even bring themselves to supervise the questioning, they have to ask my brother to do it for them. My mother’s a family lawyer, but my father is one of the best defense attorneys in Central Maryland. A legend in the criminal end of Baltimore. And I, of all two-hundred fifteen-year-olds in my class who are probably never going to have phone numbers of a different area code, the one with the lawyer parents and brother going to medical school, am the one being investigated for a murder. The irony would humiliate me too.
My father gives me a quick inspection from head to toe. “Good,” he declares. “Let’s go home. I’m sure your mother is wondering what took you so long.” He begins a rapid pace out of the police station and I attempt to match that speed, figuring that I’m thankful I don’t have to ride with Tyler and explain myself.
I’ve hit the goddamned wall. Donezo. A freaking criminal. Goin’ downtown.
“Dad, I want you to know that I--”
“You refused any beverages they offered you, correct? Coffee? Water?” He marches out into the inky parking lot in the breezy July night. He doesn’t bother holding the door for me as he reviews his daily reminder since June. “They can easily swab your DNA off the cup. It’s so simple for them to get a sample without a warrant for your arrest. Before you know it, there’s a piece of you at the crime scene. It’s tough to wiggle out of that one. The police are legal liars.”
I blink hard, jogging to keep up with him. “Yes, I know that, Dad. But he--”
“Hayden, I already told you. The investigators don’t care about Darius Blecker or you. They just want to get paid and they’re using you to do it.” With one click of the button on his car keys, his silver Audi unlocks, the red tail lights flashing from the other side of the lot.
“Wait. Romano told me there was a witness--”
“A witness? What did you say to that?” he snaps before I can understand the words that came out of my mouth.
“Nothing! I said nothing! I just kind of...steered away from the subject.”
“You panicked. Never panic. Chances are, he lied to you. Cops will go to any length to scare you. They probably lie to their suspect more than their suspect lies to them. Panicking is the worst thing you could’ve done.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that...if there wasn’t a witness, how would they point to me as Blecker’s killer?”
“Guilt.” He pauses and rolls his eyes, like I’m too stupid to be his offspring. “Anything, Hayden. Anything. A witness to just a better excuse, the most pathetic piece of first hand evidence. Anybody could’ve killed Darius Blecker and that’s what makesthis case difficult for them. Too many people think he messed with a sixteen-year-old’s head and drove her to the point of suicide. Too many people think he deserved to die. The man didn’t even get a funeral. They’re trying to find classmates, friends, and family members of Samara’s. Vince Galen was brought in for questioning a couple weeks ago. You know how close you and Samara used to be. Who knows where your name might’ve come up?”
Or they already have a sample my DNA. Or they’re not lying about the witness. Or they fished my old iPhone out of the bottom of the Patapsco River. Plenty of evidence.
OKAY BUT LET’S NOT THINK ABOUT THAT POSSIBILITY.
This is Patrick Otley’s problem: he’s not my dad, he’s my unofficial attorney whose genes I happen to share. I’ve never had anything in common with him until now. He’s ashamed of me but this gives him the opportunity to do the one thing he loves to do: take control.
I sigh as I thrust the passenger door of the Audi open and climb in the seat, slamming it shut beside me.
I buckle my seatbelt and begin to dig for the TracFone in the glove compartment--it sits buried inside beneath piles of dollar bills and tissues. Fifteen years ago, if you owned this thing, you were cool. Today, they’re an antique and no one remembers they exist unless you chucked your iPhone into the river that runs through your town because it contains evidence that you killed a man.
So you have to destroy your phone contract, and, at least until the storm blows through, stick with an antique that your mother never cancelled after you entered grade school.
I flip the phone open to the vague background that flickers in my face with a single New Message! announcement excitedly flashing onto the screen. I recognize the number immediately.
Of course she’s checking in. Just to double check our deal: no confessions, all lies. I can protect myself, but she comes first. If it comes down to it, it was all my fault. Violet Wren had nothing to do with it. I killed Darius Blecker because he was the town perv and I sincerely believed that the way he trapped Samara was what drove her to suicide. After I tried to confront him about her, I felt threatened myself. I believed that if he was still roaming King, all teen girls were in danger, including myself. I was obsessed with getting revenge for my friend.
And if I don’t follow the script, well, I know what will happen. She doesn’t need to remind me.
My right thumb crushes the tiny “OK” button to view Violet’s message.
How was the sweatbox ?
Anxiety lifts and I punch my response into the phone with no interest in spending the time it would take to fix typos.
They didnt ask abt u. I dnt think theyve made the connection. But they told me there was a witness.
The reply is instantaneous, the speed that can only exist with a fast-texting teenage girl with long nails and a smart phone.
What?? Who could’ve seen you? God, if they saw you, they saw me. Shit. Did they say anything else about the witness??
No. They dont hav 2. But my dad thinks they were lying to get me to confess.
How the hell could they lie about that and but still have a reason to call you in for questioning?
I hold the power button down to shut the phone off, yanking away the opportunity for Violet to buzz in with another bright idea to throw me under the bus. My back rests on the seat and I toss the phone beside me and let out every dirty lying breath I’ve been holding in.
Dad slides onto his seat and puts the key ignition. Great. Coming home to Mommy Dearest.
The ride home is dead silent, aside from the smooth hum of the tires over the muted radio. I fit my head under the window so I could study the clear night sky. The stars are almost as brilliant as they were the night of June third a month ago, dancing on the blackness. That was the night I’d signed my life away to protect Violet just so I could point Darius Blecker’s gun to his own head and pull the trigger. It should’ve been the worst night of my life, but the feeling of importance was the best of my life.
We pull into Patapsco Ridge--the largest neighborhood in King--after about ten minutes. Our house is cozy next to replicas of itself on each side, the only features that separate it include a stone middle, a small garden in the front yard and a long window in the upstairs. In the driveway I kick the car door open and wobble onto the stone path into the house behind my father.
Dad clicks the Audi locked and it beeps once.
In the doorway, a tall figure stands in the dim light. About six-three, muscles of brick, with long, brown hair hanging just above his eyes.
A month ago, if he was in my house for any reason at all, I would’ve melted in my tracks and still thought I was in the middle of my wildest dream. Blake Lynch! Not only the most gorgeous, but the kindest boy in King, Maryland. Violet’s apparent ex-boyfriend who she enjoyed hanging all over the night of June third, even though she knew perfectly well that she had my brother waiting in the wings, convinced she was over Blake and simply playing the shy card. I should soar to cloud nine, but I stumble backward, preparing to retreat back to the Audi.
He gasps when he sees me, and his helplessly charming peacock blue eyes study me. His hand catches my wrist. “Hayden! Wait!” he insists. His grip releases and his hands intertwine hesitantly.
He’s the one I have to see after all this. Not Gavin. Not Ashley. Him.
“What?” I breathe, hiding my wrist behind my back.
“I know what you and Violet did.”