“The article was released this morning. Apparently, you’re now second to prime suspect, Bryan Parr,” he updates me. “People think you had a hand in all of this. And it’s because of your friendship with my brother. If you didn’t have the media hassling you before, they’re going to be all over you now.”
At this point, I don’t even care.
“I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions. I just thought it was weird that Bry would confess out of nowhere. I figured it had something to do with you,” he elaborates.
“It’s okay, Leo. I understand,” I reply. “But I want you to know something…I believe, as strongly as you do, that Bryan is innocent. And I’m not going stop looking for answers until everyone else believes it too.”
A ghost of a smile traces his features. “That’s great. I appreciate that. I just…I don’t know who’s trustworthy anymore. Even my parents have been acting strange since Bry’s arrest.”
His words catch my attention. “How so?”
“My dad thinks Bryan, his own son, is guilty. It didn’t take him long to disown Bryan. In fact, he hasn’t even considered whether Bry’s been wrongly accused,” he answers me.
I scratch my forehead, puzzled. “Why would he think that?”
Leo shrugs and looks away, withholding something from me.
“Leo…” I drawl.
“My dad found out about Liz and he wasn’t happy,” he changes the topic.
I humor him, for now. “He didn’t like her?”
He shakes his head. “No. Nothing like that. He wasn’t happy because Bryan was spending so much time with her that his university results were starting to slip. My dad blamed Liz for it. He wanted them to break up.”
“And your mom?” I question, trying to wrap my head around all this new information.
“She’s acting even worse,” Leo confesses. “It’s like nothing has changed but at the same time, everything has changed. She keeps saying Bryan’s innocent but then, she’s not doing anything to help him.”
I sigh, at a loss. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, like yesterday, the police were here. They asked to check the house and she refused. Now the police have to get a warrant. If she wanted to help Bryan, surely, she’d let them check the house. It would speed up the investigation process. The police would find nothing and we’d be one step closer to declaring him innocent,” Leo tells me his thoughts on the matter.
Unless…” I start hesitantly, “hear me out, Leo…unless there is something here for the police to find, something that your parents know about.”
Leo, with an open mind, considers it and nods. “Maybe. My dad did start to pack after my mom sent the police away. They’ve been separated for a few weeks now…but after the police were here, he suddenly made up his mind and finally started packing all of his stuff.”
“That does sound a bit suspicious, in all honesty. I love your parents as much as you do but we need answers, and I feel like we’re not going to get any from them.” There’s too much uncertainty coming from Leo.
Leo begins rummaging through all of Bryan’s drawers and cupboards, every nook, and cranny that he knows about. “I don’t think my brother is guilty but I do think that he knows more than he’s letting on.” He pauses in thought and sits down again. “They found nothing in his apartment, which means if he hid something, it has to be here.”
A memory suddenly surfaces. “In high school, Bryan used to hide all his fails on his assignments in one particular place. He was petrified that your dad would see them.”
Bry’s never been the neat type. As long as you can’t see it, who cares?
I approach Bryan’s bed and gesture to Leo to get off. Leo, catching on, immediately helps me lift the mattress. As expected, all of Bryan’s old report cards, failed assignments, letters from the principal, love letters from girls, etcetera, are still here.
“You know him so well.” Leo shakes his head in disbelief and begins skimming over the mass of messy papers lining my friend’s bed.
A picture of Liz immediately catches my eye. I pick it up and show Leo.
Take aback, Leo frowns. “What the hell?”
It’s no ordinary picture. It’s a photo of Liz that has been taken from far away, one that she clearly didn’t know was being taken. She’s sitting in her room with her pajamas on, watching TV.
“This was taken from outside her house at night,” I comment, inspecting the photo closely.
“And from behind a bush,” Leo adds, pointing to the leaves seen at the bottom corner of the photo.
“This…” I falter, “I don’t have an explanation for this.”
“I do,” Leo tells me, convicted of something. We exchange a worried look before he takes the liberty to say what I’m too afraid to. “Liz Montgomery was being stalked.”
“By Bryan?” I ask quietly.
Leo runs a hand through his hair, as frustrated and fearful as me. “I don’t know, Mary. How will he talk himself out of this one?”
“I don’t know,” I confess, “…but what I do know, is that we need to speak to him about it first.”
Liz was in peril long before she died, and she didn’t even know it.
That night, I lie in bed for hours, staring up at the ceiling, unable to sleep. I keep trying to make sense of it all but I simply can’t. I have no explanation for any of it. I’m left with more questions than answers.
Shadows and figurines seem to teeter and flounder in the darkness of my room. My heart pounds in my chest and the hair at the back of my neck stands up. Crushed and defeated, I roll over onto my side and bite my lip in fear. When they don't go, I tremble and hide my face in my pillow, willing them to leave me alone...but they never do.
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