I’m up the next day, later than intended. Reluctantly, I drag myself out of bed. When I see the time, I jump into my car and race to campus. I park and bang my door shut upon finally arriving.
I hurriedly shove past people before reaching my class. All eyes are on me as I enter the criminology classroom with a sheepish look.
“You’re late, Sanders,” my lecturer spots me.
“Sorry,” is all I manage to say.
In truth, I can barely keep my eyes open right now. I’m so tired but I need to stay laser-focused. I can fall apart and crash later.
My lecturer rolls his eyes at me but gestures to a computer anyway. “You can take the test but you have less time than the others to complete it.”
Relieved, I take my seat and get typing. I’m not even ten minutes in when my thoughts run rampant again. The words on the computer screen all seem to blur and merge into an image of Bryan. His empty eyes stare back at me and I’m left feeling guilty.
I should have gone to see him yesterday.
I shake the thought off and delve into my work in an attempt to think of anything but Bryan. Unfortunately, time becomes lost on me. The clock keeps ticking away but I don’t finish. I get my results back immediately – a fail.
My lecturer peers over my shoulder and frowns in dismay. “Mary, what happened?” he asks, well-aware that I’ve never failed any of his classes before.
I shrug hopelessly. “I don’t know.”
“You haven’t been yourself lately,” he points out.
Because my best friend was arrested for a homicide that he didn’t commit.
After the test, I make my way to my car. I’m aiming to leave campus early. It feels lonely without Bryan around. It doesn’t help that everyone is talking about what happened. It’s impossible to escape any of it. Forgetting is not an option and the constant reminder about Bryan hurts.
Good news travels fast but bad news travels so much faster.
I pass by a group of friends. They immediately take notice of me and begin to whisper among one another, failing to be discreet. I hear their comments:
“Hey, isn’t that the girl who’s always around him?”
“Yeah, I think they are a thing.”
“I wonder what she thinks of all of this. I wasn’t expecting her to be back on campus so soon.”
“Maybe she’s already written him off.”
“I’ve heard some people say that she orchestrated everything and the guy just carried it all out.”
A knot begins to form in my stomach. I feel deeply offended by their ignorant assumptions but I try to keep my head down anyway.
“I don’t know all the details but I heard that one of the victim’s hands were severed off with a blunt carving knife.”
“For what? A trophy? That’s sick.”
“I also heard that the body was found naked with botched incisions. Seems like a slow, torturous death to me. Something straight out of a horror show.”
“It was gory. They say her face was so badly mangled that it took detectives a while to identify the body. They had to go by dental records.”
“Bryan’s friend may have nothing to do with it but she still creeps me out.”
I stop walking and turn around to face them, head-on. “I’m not deaf. I could sue you for defamation of character. You have no right to talk about either of us in that way. Bryan’s trial hasn’t even taken place yet.”
I’m trying to remain calm but my hands are shaking. They are not even showing any respect for the victim and her loved ones. They’ve jumped to their own conclusions and the body is barely cold.
The group falls silent under my sharp glare and none of them say anything. Fed up, I slowly pace toward my car.
“Hey! Mary, right? Wait up!”
I stop and spin around to face the guy calling me. I meet his brown eyes with a cold look, my patience wearing thin.
When he doesn’t say anything, I snap at him. “What?!”
I stare at him expectantly, blocking out the voices of his friends beckoning him back.
“I’m sorry about them,” he says apologetically.
“Are you? Because I’m pretty sure you were just standing there while all of them were accusing my friend and me of murder,” I reply solemnly.
“But I didn’t say anything,” he rises to his own defense.
“That’s the problem. You didn’t say anything,” I tell him. “Bystanders are as bad as the crowd they run with.”
I scowl at him and shake my head. I deliberately bump my shoulder into his as I pass him by. Infuriated, I pull open my car door, get in, and slam it shut.