Guilty

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Chapter 4

Before.

Photos from elementary and middle school hung on my bedroom wall as I laid on the ground surrounded by last week’s wrinkled laundry. My ninth birthday party. My fourth grade best friends and I were clustered together on the chair in my living room, smiling at my mother behind the camera. Samara, the only fifth grader in the house, was next to me, clinging to my arm and a smaller, paler and blonder version of me was giggling....

I wobbled off the floor and stretched out on my bed on top of the covers, my feet resting where my head should’ve been.

The only reason Samara and I ever became friends in the first place was because before middle school she lived across the street in Patapsco Ridge but moved to a smaller house in the more woodsy area of King when she was about eleven. After that, it was time to face the fact that we’d never had anything in common. Vince, Samara’s father, didn’t enjoy rubbing elbows in this neighborhood. He was a cop and a hunter in his free time. Her mom, Taylor was sick at the time, but not “dying” sick. As long as I knew her she had lung cancer, ever since Samara was four. Cancer or not, she was impossible not to like, even for my mother. She was the type that found it imperative to start dancing whenever she heard Billy Joel’s voice, even if she was in a crowded supermarket. The last time I’d spoken to her had to have been about two years ago, but Mom wouldn’t let me or Tyler visit her while she was sick. It would corrupt our innocence or something. Besides, what would that mean to Samara?

My mother is dying, now you care?

--But I knew that was a thought Samara would never have. She and I were similar in that we thought about things too much, different in that she was more likely to show it. She was too kind to be normal. She was the type of person, I think, that would answer the phone if I called at one in the morning and would have no problem becoming my best friend again. Just to be sure I was safe.

She was a better person than me.

Sure, I might’ve heard some rumors about Samara falling off the deep end a few months ago and becoming a little too attached to a “teenage boy” on the internet, but they were only rumors. It’s King, for crying out loud. I knew Samara was smarter than that. I knew she had a brain and wouldn’t become one of those kids after losing a parent.

And now Violet Wren, of all people, had be the one to remind me that Samara, at some point, probably drove herself crazy and was lured over to some loser’s trap just because she wanted to feel something.

Outside of my window, the sky was orange and pink behind the trees in my backyard. Sunset. I might’ve been up here for hours, I realized, kicking up from my bed and standing at the window.

My iPhone sat on my cluttered nightstand beside me. I could feel the Facebook posts about how depressed everyone was over Samara spiraling down my feed. I could already see Instagram crawling with yellow ribbons for suicide awareness like it made a difference and could actually save the next kid.

How’d she do it? Did she shoot herself? Hang herself?

Out of respect for the Galen family, I will not go into detail....

I could’ve vomited.

Fed up, I grasped my phone from my nightstand and flung it against the wall. It banged and fell to the carpet, probably with a new crack webbed down the middle.

Again: I didn’t really care.

My phone buzzed less than five seconds after it hit the ground. A text. I straightened awkwardly.

I was not in the mood for a meme from one of my band friends. Lauren, probably. Considering the way my day was going, I wasn’t even going to be that lucky and it was probably Mom with her weekly text asking if I wanted chicken or pasta for dinner before she went to the market on her way home from work in Baltimore.

I closed my eyes.

Maybe, by some miracle, it would be someone connected to Samara. Someone with information about how or why she did this. God knows why they would contact me.

The very idea made me laugh at my stupidity.

I knelt down to my phone and turned it on, giving in to stupid curiosity. The number that flickered onto the screen was unfamiliar. It had the outside-of-Baltimore area code, I noticed. I opened the text.

Be in your driveway by 11 pm.

My eyebrows furrowed, my fingers tapping the screen frantically.

Who is this?

Violet. I left a couple hours ago. Just be there--don’t tell your brother or parents. My friends are coming too, but I have to show you something.

I narrowed my eyes. I typed my next response rapidly.

What the hell are you talking about? How did you even get my number?--Tyler would’ve killed me for this impoliteness.

Now I know what every freshman with half a brain would be thinking if they were in my shoes: Violet Wren! The very number that Violet Wren uses to contact other human beings is on my very cellular device! I AM ONE OF THOSE HUMAN BEINGS!!!!! THE GODS HAVE ANSWERED MY PRAYER!!!!!!!!!! But eleven at night without telling Tyler? She didn’t seem like the type to poke any beehive unless there was something in it for her.

My thumbs tapped my screen repeatedly, refreshing my messages and waiting for another ding. Did she even know my first name without my brother whispering it in her ear before I walked in the room? Had we even had a conversation longer than ten words before today?

After about fifteen minutes of having my eyes glued to the glowing screen of my phone I decided I knew I wasn’t going to get an explanation from Violet. Which--fine. I didn’t care. I wouldn’t sneak out at eleven at night just because she needed my attention for God knows what reason anyway.

But.

Samara Galen just committed suicide. I hadn’t talked to her in years and I wasn’t supposed to care about this. But I did. So hey, it was settled. I cared about Samara’s death, but that was it. If Violet wanted to show me something, it had to have something to do with her death. Something that proved Samara didn’t do this for nothing.

And if it didn’t have anything to do with Samara, what the hell. I was fifteen, an upcoming sophomore with practically no social life outside of music. If I had the opportunity to hang out with the worshipped upperclassmen, it could only benefit me.

When Violet told me her “friends” were going to be there, there was no need for me to ask for names. Ashley Reed, a tan, fit member of the track team who had scary white teeth; Blake Lynch, her gorgeous “ex” boyfriend, the quarterback of the football team. His best friend would also be there, who had a slot on the football team as well, along with a rocky relationship with Ashley, Gavin Patterson. I had never said a word to any of them, but everybody knew who they were. Their names tended to swim within the whispers of the school hallways.

I can’t believe Violet went to prom with Tyler Otley after she dumped Blake.

Who’s Tyler Otley?

I shuddered and texted Violet a second thought.

Never mind. I’ll be there.

And turned off my phone.


It was ten fifty-three.

My parents had come home shortly after I had texted Violet. Our conversation concerning Samara was short and sweet, my mother had shed a few tears and then they told me that Samara was a great friend while I had her and that if I ever felt depressed, even for a moment, I was to talk to them. Well, Mom did most of the talking. Dad sort of grunted along. According to my mother, he was having a bad day. He had a lot of “homework” to do; the prosecutor of the case he was working on had done a very impressive job with the preliminary hearing today, which put him in a “tough spot.”

I don’t know. Over some time I had learned to tune out the court talk.

I clicked on my phone again, just to check.

Ten fifty-five.

I twirled my bracelet.

My mother’s tears today surprised me. And Dad, he was quiet tonight. After all, the only word that could make sense to me when my father’s narrow, serious face came to mind was “selfish.”

Boo hoo, I’ll lose a case once this decade.

Around this time, twenty-four hours ago…

Ten fifty-nine.

Miraculously, everyone was sleeping. I shuffled down my staircase and opened the door quietly.

I slithered out of the house and shut the door softly, careful not to disturb the peace that lived outside of my head.

And yes, yes it was true.

Violet Wren was at my front door step. Behind her, in my driveway, grumbled the actual pickup truck that Gavin Patterson was gifted for his seventeenth birthday this year, according to jealous rumors in the school study halls.

And she greeted me with a perfected side smile, extending her perfectly fit arms out for an elegant embrace. I think I hesitated while watching her falsely-curled hair that reached just above her hips follow along with her movement. It was so perfectly done—so professional-seeming that even I couldn’t pick on it, even if I wanted to make fun of Tyler for liking her the way he did. I glanced up at her face without a word, curving my lips into an undeniably confused grin, leaning into the clasp.

“I’m glad you came, lovely!” she sang as she came out of the hug like she hadn’t caused me to throw a fit in my room for four hours. Her green eyes danced with the moths under the house’s porch light. The perfect amount of eyeliner highlighted them. Her perfume remaining in my nostrils was a perfect honeysuckle. Her height had increased with the help of the hot pink heels she had squeezed her Cinderella-feet into: a good four inches. Her shirt had to be a designer something—a mint green that was loose on her slim middle. She had the ability to touch the untouchable. She had the ability to drag me away from my brother.

He would hate me for this.

But I, too, wanted to touch the untouchable. I, too, wanted to be perfect.

I squinted into the headlights of the pickup truck until my vision was white, and on the edges were the shadowy figures through the windshield. Gavin. Ashley. Blake.

“What’s up? What do you have to show me?” I whispered as though they all could hear us speak, watching us in entertainment.

“Oh, darling,” she giggled. Her words poured into my ears like poison, and she pushed a strand of hair behind her ear, “We decided we needed to add you to our fun.”

I smiled politely, my poker face ripped off and thrown somewhere in the ditch. “Uh, okay. Great.” We exchanged beams of agreement and I walked slower just to let her wander to the truck ahead of me, using her as a barrier.

Did her friends know who I was? Why I was with them?

What did they think about the way Violet was so freaking spontaneous?

Violet invited me to open the backseat door with a wave of her hand and she opened the passenger door and climbed in. I followed her lead.

“Okay, this isn’t funny anymore Violet. I draw the line here. This is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done, aside from dating the kid’s brother.” It was Ashley Reed, in the middle backseat of the truck, rolling her eyes in disapproval as I scrambled into the pick-up. She cuddled a Coach purse to her chest like she was convinced I would snatch it and run back into the house. Her straight, caramel brown hair hung just above her shoulders, and her make-up was done almost as perfectly as Violet’s.

Blake Lynch was next to her, near the opposite window. It was only eye contact.

I looked away, slamming the door shut.

I accidentally took a mental snapshot of the way his eyes were curious when they looked at me. Unlike Ashley’s, his face wasn’t irritated.

Gavin Patterson and Blake Lynch were complete opposites in complexion, I noticed when I peeked up to the driver’s seat to Gavin himself. Gavin’s hair was golden, the front of his hair stuck up with gel. Blake had long brown bangs, as well as a sunburn, whereas Gavin had a brown tan. Blake’s eyes were stunningly blue, Gavin’s were a rock-solid dark brown.

“Nice house you got here,” he chuckled as his fingers drummed the steering wheel, simpering at me in the rear-view mirror.

Violet smirked and shut the car’s backseat lights off and we were left to the gleam of the dashboard. “Real cute, Gav. Now drive. If Tyler wakes up to the headlights of your truck in his driveway, we’re screwed.”

He snickered bitterly, backing out of my driveway. “What’s he gonna do? Beat me with a textbook?”

Ashley leaned forward to release a breath of a chortle. I wondered what the current drama was between her and Gavin since the rumors tended to switch around every other day. I wasn’t sure why she even bothered to create rumors, he seemed like an infamous asshole.

Violet chuckled and kicked her feet onto the dashboard. “Dude, today he tried to tutor me for the Physics final. We were alone in his house before Hayden got home for like an hour, he didn’t even try to get me to make out with him or anything. I swear, he’s some sort of robot in the body of an eighteen-year-old boy.”

Right. And I didn’t hear any of that, but I had to twitch a smirk. She was right. Tyler’s friends (if they counted as friends) were all Ivy-League-hopeful nerds who only texted each other to compare test grades and give each other depression whenever one of them got a fraction of a point less than a hundred.

I swallowed, keeping my eyes glued to the window as we drove into town.

Blake glanced at Violet and raised an eyebrow, his expression hurt.

She checked the rearview and sighed, her hand stretching for Blake’s. “I’m sorry, babe. You know it never meant anything. I only wanted you. Don’t worry, I’ll break it off soon. Besides, it won’t go on for much longer. We have Hayden now.”

Babe. Okay. Yeah.

The time danced on the radio: 11:07.

I had no idea what I was getting into.

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