My phone vibrates, once again interrupting me from my run.
‘Jeez. What’s ur problem, Mary? Now, I’m definitely coming over. We’ve got a lot 2 talk about. I’m in the area. C u in a few.’
I frown and pick up my pace, eager to get home before Jane. I’m hoping I can lock all the doors to prevent her access. It’s nothing personal. I just really need my space and my sister is refusing to give it to me.
There was no obvious animosity between Bryan and Liz that night. I don’t understand. Why did he confess to doing it? Did he do it? In my heart of hearts, I feel he’s innocent. But…I just don’t know anymore.
By the time I arrive home, Jane is already sitting on my front doorstep, waiting for me.
“Whatever it is, I don’t want to hear it,” I say to her, already predicting a lecture.
She sighs. “Look, I know I might be a little overprotective of you right now but that’s because you’re my sister. You’ve been through so much in such a short period of time. I just want you safe. I want you to be okay.”
She stands up and approaches me cautiously. Her timid movements prove reasonable seeing as I end up snapping at her:
“I’m fine, Jane!”
Jane flinches back in response, trepidation coursing through her eyes. “So, you keep saying. But the facts remain the same, your best friend is behind bars for murder and you’re in denial. But I’m happy to be your punching bag if it helps you vent and process things.”
In all honesty, I’m coming from a place of agitation and misery. This situation is tormenting me and robbing me of sleep and Jane isn’t helping.
I shake my head, unbelieving of the words coming out of her mouth. Infuriated, I argue with her. “Bryan is innocent! Get that through your head, Jane!”
Jane takes a step back from me, seemingly shell-shocked by my response. “Mary…he admitted to it just yesterday.”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” I reply curtly.
Jane’s mouth falls agape and for a moment, she’s speechless. “Mary…you’re delusional. I really think you should consider seeing a therapist, one to help you through this.”
“I’m thinking straight, Jane. I know Bryan and I know he didn’t kill Liz. I will never believe it,” I tell her adamantly.
I ignore her concerned stare and open the front door, gesturing to her to follow me. She steps inside but keeps her eyes trained on me.
“Please stop looking at me like that,” I plead and sit down.
She takes a seat beside me on my kitchen bar chairs and arches an eyebrow at me, befuddled. “How am I looking at you?”
“Like you think I’m crazy,” I answer her.
She sends me a pitied gaze before shaking her head. “I don’t think you’re crazy, Mary. I think you’re hurt and confused. And I think you keep getting answers that you don’t want. And I think you’re taking out your fear and bewilderment on people like me, people who are close to you.”
“Jane…I feel like there’s more to this story,” I tell her. “I’m so sure of it. I can feel it. I don’t believe Bryan is responsible but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that he knows more. I feel like there’s something being held over his head, something that he doesn’t have any control over.”
“But, Mary,” she protests, fighting me all the way, “it’s not like he has a perfect track record. He’s no golden kid. Don’t you remember in junior high when he exploded out of nowhere? He caused that massive fight with the linebacker of the football team. He beat the hell out of him.”
I remember Josh, the linebacker of my high school. And I remember Josh antagonizing Bryan on a daily basis for no real reason. But I definitely don’t remember Bryan losing his cool over it. I know Josh irritated Bry because he confided in me about it several times but he never acted out on that anger. At least, not that I can remember.
“What are you going on about? I have no recollection of that. He never laid a finger on Josh. He was the model of self-restraint the entire time,” I disagree with her.
Jane’s gaze lingers on me as if she’s trying to determine whether I’m kidding or not. “You’re serious? I could have sworn you were there that day but….”
I finish her sentence for her in a bitter tone when she fails to continue, “But you were too busy being popular to notice me in high school.”
Jane winces upon hearing the harshness and unforgiveness in my voice. “I’m sorry, Mary. I assumed you were there that day because you and Bryan were always inseparable. Wherever he was, there you were too. Anyway, my point is, it happened. Bryan lashed out and it was frightening.”
“Let me humor you and pretend that I trust your memory…” I start, “if what you said happened and Bryan did attack Josh, then why did I not hear about it? Why didn’t he tell me or why didn’t I hear it from someone else or something? I should have heard, especially since you’re implying that it was that big of a deal.”
Jane shrugs, clueless. “I don’t know, Mary. Maybe you didn’t hear it because you were always alone. Maybe Bryan never told you because he was ashamed of his actions. I don’t have all the answers. But I’m not making this up or remembering wrong and I want you to know this -- Bryan tackled Josh and then proceeded to use his fists over and over again until the other football players stepped in and put an end to the entire thing.”
“But then,” I frown in a futile attempt to defend my friend, “if this did happen, is it not fair to say that Josh had it coming?”
A fight and a hot temper do not automatically make you a killer.
Stupefied, Jane does a double-take. “Are you saying that if he had a tiff with Liz, one that we don’t know of, then maybe she was asking for it too?”
“Bryan didn’t kill Josh, and he certainly didn’t kill Liz either,” I clarify, making it crystal clear on where I stand in the matter.
Jane sends me an apologetic look. “You’ll defend him no matter what. I see that now. I see it but I don’t understand it. Mary, he’s violent. I saw it for myself that day. There’s aggression there that you don’t see because you’re blinded by your friendship with him. You can continue to isolate and alienate yourself from the world, Mary, but it won’t bring Liz back and it won’t suddenly make Bryan innocent.”
A sob filled with trauma threatens to rack through me and I’m positive that my face has drained of color. A part of me, an infinitesimal part, believes Jane wholeheartedly.
“But what motive would be behind it?” I ask her. “Liz was his friend. Bryan doesn’t hurt his friends because if he did, it would mean….”
I stammer, unable to finish my sentence. It’s too difficult.
“That he’d be capable of hurting you too?” Jane reads my mind.
I nod stiffly.
“You don’t know, do you?” she suddenly asks me. “It figures that he never told you.”
My heart begins to hammer in my chest. I feel like I know where she’s going with this and I’m not ready to hear it, any of it.
I drum my fingers, the suspense and my own anxiety getting to me. “It seems like there’s a lot that he failed to mention to me.”
“Liz was not just his friend,” Jane confesses.
And there it is…
“A few weeks before she died, she came over and she was really excited about something. She told me how she and Bryan had been getting closer in the month before. And then she told me that he finally asked her out,” Jane explains.
My sister’s words stand out, loud and clear, a contrast against the quietness of the room. Her voice bounces and echoes across the room, filling my ears with unwelcome words that cut deep.
“Why would he not tell me that?” I question quietly.
“Probably because they decided to keep their relationship discreet. Liz’s family did not approve of Bryan. Liz didn’t want word of it getting out to her parents,” Jane answers me.
Were we even really friends, to begin with? I used to tell him everything. But, clearly, he didn’t or doesn’t value our friendship as much as I do.
“Why did they not approve of him?” I prod.
“Because they thought he was too intemperate,” she answers bluntly.
It feels as if someone has taken a knife and plunged it deep into my chest. It feels as if they’re moving the knife from side to side, shredding my insides to pieces. My chest is on fire and the atmosphere has shifted from tense to completely suffocating. I feel as if I might collapse from stress, from fatigue.
“I don’t understand anything anymore. Why would he keep that a secret from me, out of all people? I would have been happy for him. I would have supported him. Did he not trust me? Does he even trust me now?” I voice my thoughts aloud.
Jane shrugs again. “I really don’t know, Mary. I wish I did but I don’t. All I can say is that Bryan doesn’t seem to really care about you or your opinions. If he did, he’d have told you. Any true friend would.”
I consider her words and ruminate on them for a brief moment before dismissing them. I will not be persuaded that easily. I need more in order to believe her and see it from her perspective. I need more to trump all the good memories I share with Bryan.
“No,” I shake my head at her, “you’re jumping to your own conclusions. Maybe he wasn’t sure about her just yet. I mean, their relationship was fresh, still in the early stages. Maybe he was still insecure about it. Maybe he was waiting for the right moment to tell me.”
Jane hesitates before reluctantly agreeing, “Maybe.”
I’m so tired of being patronized.
I feel a burning sensation on my right side before my right arm begins to ache, the muscles in my arms tightening. The revelation is a shock to my system because now, there’s a connection. Bryan’s connected to Liz and that…that changes everything.
“Anyway, there’s your motive,” Jane concludes. “If the two had a spat and Bryan got angry…he could’ve…he might have…lost control.”
“Another assumption,” I point out.
“There are witnesses who have come forward, more than one. They claim that Bryan was the last person with her before she was found dead. Explain that,” she challenges me.
“I can’t,” I admit. “Not yet anyway.”
Jane sighs again, a grim expression on her face, before shifting in her seat. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”
Subdued by the depressing exchange, I let out a sigh of resignation before giving her my answer, “I can’t.”