“Don’t close your eyes, sweetheart. Watch me as I die.”
(I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t do it I can’t)
“Do it. He took away all that I had left. He took away your best friend. Pull the trigger. Now,” she hisses from the other side of Darius Blecker’s living room.
A sound that is supposed to be a breath escapes my mouth as a terrifying high-pitched shriek. I feel my skin turn ghost white. My hands are unsteady as they’ve ever been. One is at my side. The other is extended to reach Darius Blecker, who is about five feet away from me, with his gun in my violently trembling hand.
The one that Samara Galen had pointed to her head the night of June second.
This is it. This is what evil is. It’s all around me. To my right, within the barrel of her gun, ready to fly if I mess this up. In front of me, within the eyes of the weakened man plopped defeated against his coffee table. His golden-brown skin is bruised, scratched and bloody. I am no better a person than he is. I am doing to him a horrifying replica of what he did to Samara.
“I...I...” I choke, my entire body quavering the more I attempt to calm myself.
I CAN’T! I CAN’T! I want to scream at both of them.
“Do it, sweetheart. Do it for your father.” His voice is soft as velvet, gentle, like he’d never hurt a fly. I don’t even understand what that means.
“SHUT UP! SHUT UP! JUST PLEASE SHUT UP!” I screech, my throat stinging.
Violet Wren is ready for whatever decision I make. Her hair is pulled back into a long ponytail down her back, and she has not quaked in the least. Whether I kill him or not, it didn’t matter to her. She is prepared either way. Her hands are steady, and her finger waits patiently on the trigger of her grandfather’s gun that she’d stolen out of his garage. Ready to squeeze.
She is ready to kill me. And Tyler. And Darius.
Tears pour from my eyes, more than I knew I had in me. They run down my cheeks and soak my eyelashes, clouding my vision so it’s even more difficult to see Darius die even if I wanted to. With one tick of my eyes, I check back at Violet. Her lips are pressed together. And once more, I force myself to stare deep into the barrel of her gun.
It is either Darius Blecker’s blood on my hands, or Darius’, Tyler’s, and mine on hers.
I obey Darius, looking into his eyes.
The streak on the side of his face reminds me that because of Samara and Dana, he deserves to die more than Tyler and I do. He killed two teenage girls.
If I don’t do this, I’ll die selfish.
It won’t only be him and me going down if I don’t, though. It would be Tyler too. And Samara and Dana. All for nothing.
He deserves to die.
My hand straightens a bit more, watching Darius’ every twitch throughout his body. Blood continues to pour from the back of his head. Violet’s work. He’s too weak to fight this.
He stares fearlessly back at me, his leg crushed under his television set.
He’s right. The least I deserve is to open my eyes and see what I’d do to him.
I blink some tears away, feeling the knowledge of Violet’s gun aimed at me tickle my skin and an ache that was similar to being punched in the stomach.
Darius Blecker doesn’t even shed a tear.
“I’m sorry,” I manage to whisper to him.
* * *
I swallow and shiver at the nightmare. The familiar feeling of vomit crashes over me.
I haven’t felt the panic that I did that night. I never will.
Tyler sits on the edge of his bed, his face shattered. “Violet...w-w-what?”
The last thing I want is to repeat myself. I’m putting him in danger by even speaking of this. If she found out....
I gaze into his eyes, clearing my throat. “Violet Wren had me at gunpoint. She made me kill him.”
I might as well carve the words on his gravestone. Idiot.
“That’s...not true. It’s not.” Tyler scoffs and shakes his head. “Wow.” He looks into my eyes, and my brows knit together. “Wow, I never thought you would actually put this on someone else. Especially the only girl I’ve ever--the only girl I’ve ever trusted. Do you hate me that much?” He stands, inches closer to me and gives me a shove toward the door. “Go. Now.”
The feeling of anger and betrayal is immediate. I react quickly, catching my balance and shoving him back as hard as I can. I hurry to stand against the wall so he can’t shove me again. “You have got to me kidding me!” I spit. “You don’t believe me so you could defend your flattering ex-girlfriend? I’m your sister! She never liked you, Tyler! She was using to make Blake jealous, and then to get to me! All she wanted was a way for Darius Blecker to get killed! S-she wanted revenge because he--” I stop myself. “Tyler, I can’t talk about this. If she finds out I told you about this--told anyone about this, she’d--”
But Tyler is stone-faced. He doesn’t see me anymore, he sees a killer.
I’m not yet on trial. I shouldn’t have to plea.
He’s only two feet away from me, his eyes cold. I wince, convinced that he’s going to hit me. Instead of lashing out, he speaks at a perfectly calm level. “Are you finished with your little show?”
“Show?” I repeat. “What show? I’m telling the truth Tyler, I swear to God. Violet...she’s not--”
“Oh please,” he laughs bitterly. “I was there for the questioning tonight. You know that ‘argument’ about your grades didn’t actually happen, right? You’re trying to use me to assure the cops that you were home that night and that you never gave a crap about Samara. You’re a wonderful actress, Hayden, but I’m not your leverage. You called me that night, remember?”
All I know to do next is propel him further away from me. “Oh God, please just stop trying to understand this! Stop! You don’t understand this and you never will! Forget it! I’m going to bed!” I stomp across the hall to my bedroom.
Violet. Perfectly ready to kill him if I ever gave this up.
* * *
“I need a lawyer.”
The morning light peeks through the kitchen windows as I’m perched on the kitchen chair with slumped shoulders. Part of me prays that by some miracle Tyler’s as humiliated to be seen in this house as I am.
The steam of my father’s routine seven-o’clock coffee rises from our Keurig. Dad paces the kitchen, sorting his briefcase and gathering newspaper. He glances at me once, slightly uninterested. “I agree. But I cannot be your attorney, Hayden. Any judge with five minutes of law school would know I’d favor you.”
I stare at the kitchen table. “Would you?”
Patrick Otley does not crack a smile as he settles at the table. “Of course not.”
I give up a snort that he ignores. He straightens the newspaper, tucking his nose between pages.
I tap the table with my index finger, thinking about the thing that has fogged my mind for a month. “Do you think Darius Blecker had anything to do with Samara’s death, Dad?”
I have tried that question on my father in so many different forms at least four-hundred times since Darius’ death. “What do you think triggered Samara’s suicide?” “Do you believe all the rumors about Darius Blecker?” “Do you really think Samara would ever fall for an online catfish?” “Do you think Darius Blecker had a legitimate reason to be killed?”
“I hardly think that’s any of my business” is his answer every single time.
It’s not like I didn’t use that one on Romano, though.
“Come on, Dad.” I skip to the cabinet, grabbing a mug and splashing his coffee into it. The heat of the mug shocks my fingers slightly as I set the mug in front of him. “You are a human being, right? And you live in King? You never find interest in gossip?”
He allows a grin when he notices his coffee is completely black, just the way he likes it. Still studying the paper, he replies, “Sure, I sleep in King. My kids go to school in King. But, as you perfectly know, I spend most of my time in Baltimore. Big cities don’t gossip about a single person. They look at the big picture.”
“Darius Blecker used to live in Baltimore,” I compete.
“That’s true. And you know that how?”
Well, you can’t just murder someone and not be curious about them, I almost joke, then realize how sick Violet has made me. Of the few things that can cause a chuckle from my father, that wouldn’t be one of them. He’s told me he never asks a client if they actually committed the crime, he simply goes straight to innocent storytelling. It’s no use telling him what I did now.
“Never mind. Can I have a lawyer, please?” I beg, setting his coffee on the table, steering away from the “Violet” that could come up in the subject.
“Of course you can. Just none from Baltimore. It’s rare you’ll find one with the brilliance I can offer. Possibly one of my friends from my law school in New York.”
“Er, sure.” My voice tightens.
He sips his coffee and coughs once.
I study him once more, picking at a hangnail. “Do you know who Darius Blecker’s lawyer was? I mean, when he was living in Baltimore?” I suggest. Of course, it would be quite ironic for me to have the same lawyer as Darius Blecker to defend me against killing the man, but hey, kick-ass is kick-ass.
Thinking about it, I’m unsure if I’ll ever tell anyone the truth about Violet again. Tyler’ll lose it eventually. And Violet....
Who knows what I’ll tell a lawyer?
I shudder, thinking about the night of June third in Darius’ shed.
“What are you talking about?” My father narrows his eyes and sinks them a little, examining me.
He’s concentrating, studying body language to find the truth to emotion.
Suddenly conscious on every tic my body is exposing, I freeze, which is something he likely sees. I blink twice, attempting to loosen a bit. “Well...somebody told me a while ago there was this girl, Dana Farr, that he was...online with and stalking when he was in Baltimore in 2012 or 2013. He raped and killed her when they met. Then moved to King in 2014 right after he was off trial.”
He gives a quick nod. “Oh, yes, that. Never listen to rumors, Hayden.”
“Are you telling me you don’t think he did it?” I catch.
“Not at all.” He raises his brows brings his coffee mug to his lips, relieving his study of my emotions. “You just never know.”
“Uh, right. Do you know the lawyer that defended him? If they were good enough to hide first degree rape and murder, maybe--”
He ticks a finger. “Oh, and, if Romano asks, you never knew about this Dana. It gives you a possible motive.”
I sigh. “Uh-huh, I know, but--”
He sets down his newspaper and purses his lips. “Oh, and you did what I told you, right? Told him Samara was just a face in the hallway that meant next to nothing to you?”
My eyes shift, a small eye roll. “Yes, Dad. Yes I did. The lawyer. Do you know who they are?”
“You don’t want Darius Blecker’s lawyer. It would be an embarrassment,” he chuckles, showing off his white teeth under his pink upper lip. He gathers his newspaper once more. Another way of expressing he’s ready for this conversation to be over.
But I’m not.
“But--who are they? Could you maybe get them to recommend somebody?” I press, forcing myself to join him at the table.
"I’m recommending Chun Zhao, a very clever woman from New York. In fact, she’s one of the best attorneys I know. Her parents are natives to China, and she’s never had time for a husband. Completely dedicated to work. She’d be an outstanding choice--shows you’re open to diversity, not just to lawyers that are male and white. They’re more likely to be...intrigued in what she has to say.”
I blink. “Um, sure. Yeah.”
He claps once, rising out of his seat and swinging his briefcase over his shoulder. “Great. I’ll contact her today.” He circles the table, pecking me on the cheek. “I’d better hurry up if I’m going to catch the train.”
I nod. “Great. Have...fun at your pretrial.”
Kill me now.
Dad raises his eyebrows in replacement for a smile as he heads out the front door.
The confirmation that he’s gone is the growl of his engine as his car pulls out of the driveway. With that, I swipe back up to my room and turn on my laptop, the Google search engine flickering onto the screen.
I type “Darius Blecker court trial 2014” and press the enter key.