“Do you have any idea what you’ve gotten yourself into? You should’ve never trusted Violet Wren, none of us should have. You have no idea what you’re giving up for such a leech. It will be okay. I’ll drive you back to the station right now, we can tell them everything. We’ll be okay. Everything will be okay. But we have to come clean. Now. If they know the truth, they might drop any possible charges. You won’t even be a suspect. Violet will go to jail. You can graduate high school. You can get out of King!” Blake blabbers red-faced, cornering me against the wall.
I close my eyes, wishing that it was all it took to clear my head. I give him a little push away from me, glancing down the hallway to make sure no one is listening. My mother would probably be the most observant in any revelations I have to offer.
The entrance light is flicked off, the only light provided to us is from the kitchen down the hall.
“Blake, no.” His name is a twist on my tongue. I’ve hardly ever said it out loud, convinced that because of his beauty it was sacred or something. I sigh. “You don’t get it. It isn’t what you think.”
But it might be.
I did it. I killed Darius Blecker.
I’ve never said that aloud before, either.
I shiver when his cool hands suddenly touch my forearms. I would’ve loved it to be a romantic gesture a month ago, but we both know it’s not. It was never going to be. He’s just making sure I’m real, that I actually went through with this.
Because I don’t know that this is really happening either.
My voice is broken down into a whisper. “I killed Darius Blecker. It was me.”
Because, if it came down to it, it was all my fault. Violet had nothing to do with it.
“Violet had nothing to do with it,” I add, sharpening my voice and obeying my script.
His mouth hangs open slightly as he carefully moves his hands back to his sides, but he still leans forward tensely. “What are you talking about?” His voice is disembodied. And then it returns. “You’re lying,” he nearly growls through his teeth. “Don’t lie to me! We might not know each other that well but we both know who Violet is. She used you! She’s been using all of us! Don’t we trust each other a little bit?”
I ignore the mild sting as he grips my wrists, attempting to keep my expression as neutral as I did with Romano.
Yes, I trusted him too much because of a week long infatuation. Since Samara’s suicide, this was all I wanted. I wanted somebody to scream in my face, telling me that I needed to run as fast as I could away from Violet Wren, and nobody would get hurt. She didn’t care about Samara or why she died, she only cared about herself.
She wanted revenge. Samara’s suicide was the perfect opportunity to prove that Darius was a terrible, disgusting pervert and killer.
Violet had this all planned. When Tyler asked her out, she was never really interested in him. Sure, she used him for a bit to make Blake jealous after their twelve break-ups, but at the end of the day, she had both of them. No, the day after Samara committed suicide, there was more of a benefit for keeping Tyler. She became interested in me. The day after Samara committed suicide, that’s when she wanted my attention. She knew how distracted and upset I was. I was the old friend of Samara, I was guilt-stricken enough without being a criminal. I had left her and I was just here, in a rich neighborhood with rich parents and good grades and all the friends I needed. Whatever Samara was going through after her mother died, I was going through the opposite. I was never there for her. I’m not supposed to care, and until June second, I didn’t. I was the perfect target from the beginning.
And there’s no logical reason to trust anyone anymore.
So I tell Blake the corrected truth. “No.” I straighten off the wall and yank my wrist from his hands, dry-eyed. “I’m not lying, Blake. Whatever you’re thinking--it’s wrong. Violet did convince me that Darius was the reason Samara committed suicide that one night I snuck out with you guys. She thought he deserved to die. She never wanted me to kill him. She did come with me to Darius’ house the night he was killed after the funeral, but she only followed me to try to convince me not to do it. I did it anyway. It’s not her fault.”
Blake’s widening sky-blue eyes are visible even in the dim light of the mud room. “Maybe you don’t know who she is. Fine. I do. I’m--I’m just like every other guy who ever looked at her for a minute. She sort of...put me in a trance. Once I started dating her, she wouldn’t let me go. We helped each other by being some sort of power couple of King. And then, when I broke up with her for the sake of space, she instantly went with your brother as soon as he asked her out. She knows how to control people’s emotions, how to make them jealous.
“But then I wanted her back. And she came back to me about a week before Samara committed suicide, still having a thing with your brother. But being back with her felt like such a relief, like my head finally wouldn’t explode. I knew it was wrong. I didn’t care.
“The day Samara committed suicide, she was acting weird. She explained what she ‘knew’ Darius had been doing to Samara. Like she knew what was going to happen to her that night. The next day, when they announced the news in school, she was furious. Blamed it on herself, then Darius Blecker. She might’ve even been the one to start the rumors about Samara talking to him online. She kept saying ‘One day that man will get what’s coming to him.’ Ashley, Gavin and I tried to calm her down and understand why she thought she knew Samara, but we couldn’t.
“After she’d spoken to you, she was determined to have us take you out that night. I’m so sorry. I swear, I didn’t know where she and Gavin were taking us but I shouldn’t have let her drag you into this--”
My eyes tick down the hall once more. Tyler stands watching us in the corner. Horrified, I shove Blake back again, harder. “Please leave,” I demand, keeping Tyler’s tall shadow in the corner of my eye.
He pauses, wounded.
“Leave,” I repeat harshly. “The last thing we need is my parents hearing this conversation. I have to go to dinner. I got this. Don’t worry. Just go home.”
I hate Violet Wren. I hate Darius Blecker. I hate Tyler for dating the selfish popular girl. I hate Samara for losing concentration, thinking she could take on that horrible man. I hate my father for treating me like one of his clients. I hate my mother for being unable to glance at me without acting like she didn’t recognize me anymore. I hate everything that caused me to treat Blake this way.
“Fine.” Blake doesn’t break eye contact when he backs toward the door. The screen door swings open and he strides out without gazing back over his shoulder.
I slam the door shut behind me, glimpsing back at Tyler and looking away instantly.
I should’ve gotten Blake’s attention in a normal way. Flirting in the cafeteria. Hanging around his football games. Running into him in the coffee shop in the village after school one day.
Not by teaming up with his temporary girlfriend to plot the murder of the man that used to stalk teenage girls.
I trudge into the kitchen, the warm, sour scent of my mother’s classic lemon-flavored chicken tickling the tip of my nose. It’s just like her to make a nice, effort-filled family meal when the last thing any of us want to do is hold hands, chuckling around the table at fake small talk.
My father is perched at the kitchen table with Tyler slumped down in the seat next to him. My mother, a long, bony woman with dark curls and detailed makeup still painted on from her day at work, slides on oven mitts as she notices me. For a moment, her face twitches the truth of her emotion. Irritated. Or stressed. Something along those lines. I hate that I have to notice.
I invite myself to sit cozily next to my father, the one who protects me from a jail cell. Tyler’s on his other side, and my mother sits next to him once she sets our course on the table, noticeably scooting farther from my side.
I pick up the bare silver fork on the left side of my plate and bring it to my mouth absentmindedly. I suck on the silver, staring blankly at my plate. Waiting for somebody to start throwing punches or crying or something.
Nothing happens except my father swatting the fork from my hand and it clinking onto my plate. “Stop that, Hayden.”
“Sorry,” I mutter.
The chicken is untouched, burnt a little on the top, dripping of lemon juice on the edges of the plate. Bowls of corn and mashed potatoes linger next to it.
Mom blinks, clasping her hands together. “Dig in,” she suggests impatiently.
Dad is the first to break. He grasps his knife and fork beside his shiny plate and begins sawing into the chicken, his lips press together.
Tyler just looks at my mother. He has more of her features--thick, black hair, and a long, bony body. He’s anxious--his hands press into his lap, his teeth sink into his bottom lip. He has less of an appetite than I do.
With one swift movement, he stands. His seat screeches backward across the wooden floor. The table bobs in sync. “Sorry, I can’t do this right now.” He storms out of the dining room--upstairs.
I can’t believe it took me being accused of murder for him to realize what I’ve known ever since I stopped being friends with Samara: this whole “perfect rich suburban family of lawyers and doctors” thing is maddening. I did something bad. Not “sitting in the corner for fifteen minutes” bad. Bad, like “deciding factor of heaven or hell” bad. We can no longer go to neighborhood barbecues wearing polo shirts and sundresses because of me. We can no longer go to the Catholic Church twice a year, Easter and Christmas Eve. My parents can no longer say they raised “good kids” because of me. I kind of screwed it all up for Violet Wren.
For Violet Wren!
I kick out of my chair. “I’ll be back,” I breathe to my parents, my overused sham grin peeking out again.
I hurry up the stairs and barge into Tyler’s room--one of the five on the floor.
His room is immaculate, painted navy blue. Posters hang from the wall displaying music from the Beatles to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. A book shelf stands against the wall opposite his bed, containing textbooks he’d saved from as early as ninth grade, convinced that I would eventually come around to a school obsession and use them.
He lies on his bed, glaring at the ceiling. He springs up when he hears me, shaking his head tiredly. “Get out please. Just...get out.”
I don’t fight rolling my eyes this time. “No, Ty, no I am not getting out. Talk to me.”
“Bullshit,” he snaps.
Stupidly, I blurt the first thing that will come out of my mouth, frozen in the doorway. “What?”
Tyler laughs bitterly, glancing at me once. “Fine. Talk? Let’s talk. You’re the most selfish person I know. How’s that for talk?”
Can’t blame him for that.
“I’m sorry,” I moan. “I shouldn’t have made Samara’s suicide about me. I wasn’t thinking about you when Violet...” I decide not to finish that statement. Violet being brought into the discussion could only blow it up or end up with the truth. Which, in both cases, would end badly.
“Violet, Violet, Violet.” He cackles her name madly. “Tell me about Violet. Oh, and um, what the hell were you thinking? What were you trying to prove? You’d just go out with her and her friends and see where it led? Oh, Blake! Blake Lynch. Why was he here? Please, Hayden, spotlight’s on you. Just like you’ve always wanted.”
Maybe this is what Violet and I have always had in common, whether I did it consciously or not: we only work to benefit ourselves.
I throw my hands to my sides. “I’m sorry! I’m really, really sorry. You’re right, okay? I wasn’t thinking. I only cared about what Violet promised me, I didn’t consider that she was with Blake when she was supposed to be dating you. I didn’t think about how me choosing her over you would hurt you and I should’ve. And look,“--an angry tear slips down my cheek--“look where I am. I’m damn close to being a suspect for murder.”
Tyler is quiet at that reminder. He pauses to swallow, furrowing his thick, dark brows. “Blake was here. I know he was, he was here when we got home. I heard you with him. You told him you killed Darius Blecker, and he thought you were lying.” As if it takes half of his energy to continue, he sits up on his bed and gazes at me, concentrating. “I’m your older brother. Believe it or not, I care about you. You aren’t...capable of killing a living, breathing, human being--I don’t care if he was actually the cause of your childhood best friend’s death. I don’t care if you were brainwashed by my first and only girlfriend. You, the ‘you’ that I know, couldn’t have done that.” He gulps, glaring at the ground. “No matter what, I want the truth. You owe me that much.”
“Did you kill Darius Blecker?”
I rub my forehead, wishing to disappear. No. No, no, no. In my family, Tyler is the only one who isn’t afraid to ask me that question and get a real answer.
Because of what this did to him, he’s the only one I’m afraid to lie to.
“Tyler, I can’t--”
“Did. You. Kill him.”
The truth sounds like it comes from imagination once you’ve convinced yourself of it.
I say it aloud anyway.
“Yes. Violet Wren had me at gunpoint.”