Why I Stayed – Part 2

I was never very good at sports as a kid. At the end of my freshman year I barely weighed one hundred twenty-five pounds. In the summer before my sophomore year, I worked at my uncle’s landscaping business. I carried bricks, I pushed wheelbarrows, and I dug holes six days a week for nine hours a day. By the first day of school of tenth grade, I weighed one hundred sixty pounds and my biology teacher took me aside after class to ask me if I was doing steroids. When I told him I was just filling out, he asked me if I had ever played football. When I told him no, he suggested I try it.

I spent my first few practices stumbling through the plays and learning the calls. I eventually overcame the awkward clumsiness that had kept me from succeeding at any sport besides Tecmo Bowl. By the end of my first season I was starting every game and the varsity coach pegged me for his team. I spent a second summer working for my uncle earning money for college and building another twenty-five pounds of muscle. By the first game of my junior year, I was knocking red-shirted seniors off of their feet. My team mates had taken to calling me by my last name and kids would congratulate me in the halls between classes, “Good game last night, Kinsey!”

The friends I grew up with didn’t know how to react to the change. I didn’t have time for drama club or computer club anymore. I missed the last two debate events due to away games. My old friends spent their after-school time playing Diablo and I would practice. When I wasn’t practicing, I was working out. When I wasn’t working out, I was memorizing play books and watching our game tapes with the coach and the quarterback. Football had become my life and I had left my old life and most of my old friends behind. The only friend that still hung out with me was Nicole.

For as long as I can remember, Nicole Miller lived with her mom and dad in the house next to mine. We attended the same daycare, went to kindergarten at the same time, and always went to each other’s birthday parties. Nicole was my closest friend. She was the only person who looked through my becoming a jock and realized that I was still the same nerd she grew up with.

One night in October of 1997, as we sat on my mother’s porch swing, Nicole listened to me talk about the new play I suggested and how well it has worked in practice.

“I can’t wait to try it in a game,” I said.

“Trev, you’re such a dork. You talk about football the way you used to talk about Magic: The Gathering. You’ve replaced one game for another, but you’re still just geeking out,” said Nicole. She pulled the dark gray hoodie up over her head to keep the wind off of her ears.

“Yeah, I was surprised at how much strategy is involved in football. I thought it was just about muscle-head jocks trying to knock each other down.”

“And now you’re one of the muscle-heads out there knocking people down,” said Nicole with a laugh.

“And getting invited to parties,” I said.

“Parties? What parties,” asked Nicole with a look of disbelief.

“Jerrad invited me to his pre-homecoming party,” I replied.

“Are you going to go?”

“I wasn’t going to, but after practice Jerrad was pretty insistent. He said that I have to party with them if I am really going to be a member of the team. I really want to see some of my plays get used in a game,” I said as I leaned back in the swing, tilting it so much with my weight that Nicole was forced to lean back as well.

Jerrad Griffith was the varsity quarterback and the most popular kid in school. He didn’t know my name before I started playing football and I got the feeling he still didn’t think of me as a part of his group.

“Then you should go,” suggested Nicole.

“The thing is, I’m as good of an athlete as any of those guys. Probably better. But when we’re not on the field, I don’t know how to  talk to any of them. They all have cars and money, their houses are big and they wear Quicksilver. I’ll end up propped against a wall wishing I was sitting here with you.”

“Then take me with you.”

I hadn’t thought about asking Nicole if she wanted to come. I had assumed that any party involving the football team would be the last place she’d want to be seen.

“There’s going to be cheerleaders there,” I said with a wince.

“Ugh, I hate cheerleaders,” Nicole said, frowning. “If I go, you will have to run interference against the cheerleaders.”

“Nic, I’m not a fullback.”

“Again with the sports geek talk,” Nicole said as she threw her arms in the air and got up off the swing. After she descended the porch steps, she turned back to me and said, “I’ll go to the party with you, as long as you promise no cheerleaders will talk to me,” she pointed a stern finger at me. “Or touch me.”

“I can do that, I’ll pick you up tomorrow after dinner,” I said as Nicole began the short walk to her house.

I watched her as she pulled the sleeves of her hoodie down over her hands and crossed her arms for warmth. Nicole arrived at her front door and opened it. Just before she went inside, she looked at me through the glass and saw me watching her. The pattern cut into the glass broke her image into a hundred pieces. I smiled and waved at her shattered silhouette.

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Why I Stayed by Joshua Kautzman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Why I Stayed – Part 1

I opened the door and stepped out of the unmarked car. I stood behind the door and looked around. There was a cruiser in the driveway, parked next to a jacked-up, red Chevy Silverado. There were two more cruisers parked at the curb, with an ambulance and the coroner’s van behind them. Uniformed officers, EMTs, and the assistant coroner milled around the front yard smoking and drinking coffee. Every emergency vehicle had their strobes running; the red, white, and blue coming from the light bars was reflecting off of the surrounding houses and trees. It reminded me of watching a 4th of July fireworks show as a kid. In every window up and down the street you could see faces pressed against the glass, intermittently illuminated with  patriotic colors.

A uniformed officer approached me, flashes of light reflected off of his shield and the aviator sunglasses clipped to his shirt pocket.

“Detective, we can’t arrest the suspect without violating the crime scene,” said the officer. “Hoskins said maybe you could convince her to… um. To get off of the victim.”

I gave him a questioning look and looked over his shoulder to see Hoskins waving to me from the front step, “Kinsey, get your ass in here and see if you can get this crazy bitch to come down off of her husband.” Hoskins’ permanently grouchy face seemed unhappier than usual and he scowled at me before turning back into the house.

I nodded to the uniformed officer, shut my car door, and started to make my way along the sidewalk. I kept my eyes on the ground in front of me and watched the shadows cast by the emergency lights shift like nervous fingers. When I got to the front step, I looked up from my shoes and straight into the grumpy face of Sergeant Hoskins.

“This is some crazy shit, right here,” Hoskins said with a scowl that nearly drew his eyebrows to meet above his bulbous nose. “She’s just sitting there smoking and drinking whiskey. She won’t talk and won’t even acknowledge that someone else is in the room.” Hoskins sniffed and turned to lead me through the house to the bedroom.

“Who made the call,” I asked  as we walked.

We arrived at the end of a short hallway to a bedroom. Smoke and light spilled out of room into the dark hallway. I leaned against the door frame.

“She did! The psycho called 911 on her cell phone and said, ‘I just killed my husband.’ Then she tossed the phone on the chair over there,” Hoskins pointed to a puffy recliner half-covered with laundry where an iPhone had fallen into the cup of a discarded bra. “The first officer on the scene came in to hear the 911 operator yelling into the phone and to find our “suspect” here perched on top of the victim like some kind of demented schoolyard bully.” Hoskins used air quotes when he said the word suspect.

“Looks like an open and shut case,” I said.

“Yeah,” whipered Hoskins. “But I’ll be damned if I’m going to screw up evidence and let this nut bar walk.”

I nodded and pulled my phone out of my pocket to check the time. It was 3:04am.

“She’s all yours,” said Hoskins and motioned to the bed like a restaurant host showing me to a table and then made his way back down the hall.

I took a couple steps into the bedroom, which smelled strongly of cigarette smoke and something else. A bluish-white cloud swirled around a slow-turning ceiling fan. All the lights in the room were turned on, but the room still felt gloomy. The presence of a dead body and his killer seemed to suck the light from the room.

The body in question laid on his back in the middle of the bed, arms at his sides. half of his naked body was covered by a blanket. His right leg stuck out of the covers and a Harley-Davidson tattoo was starkly visible on the white, bloodless skin of his calf. Some kind of fabric strap ran across his shins and another one crossed his forearms and chest. His face was covered by a  large pillow.

His killer sat on top of the body’s chest. She had her feet on the bed by his right arm, one of them was sheathed in a pink Dearfoam slipper. Her forearms rested on her bent knees. She held a bottle of Wild Turkey in her left hand. Her right hand was open and a lit cigarette lazily rested between her first and middle finger. Her posture reminded me of a bum sitting on a curb, drinking the pain away and chasing it with a cigarette taken from the Post Office ash tray. Her head was tilted to her left in a way that made her gaze fall on the body’s right hand.

She didn’t look up when Hoskins led me to the room. Before I could think of what to say, she lifted the cigarette to her mouth and took a long pull, then blew smoke out of the corner of her mouth. The smoke drifted up to join the whirling cloud around the fan.

“I thought you quit smoking,” I asked her.

“I did. These are his. I found them on the nightstand,” answered the killer and tipped her head up to take a swig of whiskey. She swallowed, winced, and then put her head down to look at the knuckles of the dead, pale hand which still grasped the bed sheets near her left foot.

“The whiskey too?”

“The whiskey too. He won’t drink it anymore. Would be a shame to let it go to waste,” she sniffed and wiped her nose on her right forearm before taking another drag off of the cigarette. “You remember what the last thing you said to me was?”

“I don’t know,” I lied.

The last thing I said to her had been repeating in my head since the call from dispatch woke me up to tell me I was needed at a crime scene. The words started to ring through my thoughts as the dispatcher read off the familiar address. The words drifted slowly through my grey matter while I got dressed. The words began to reverberate faster when I drove my car to the house. The words were the only thoughts in my skull while I drove on autopilot to this house. The words ricocheted around my cranium like a bullet when I pulled up to see the house bathed in the flashing lights.

“You asked me, ‘Why do you stay?'”

“Oh yeah, that’s what I said. You never answered me,” I said while I pinched the bridge of my nose. I thought I might be able to scare away the headache I felt building, but deep down I knew it was no use.

The killer looked up from her victim’s fist to look at me with two bloodshot eyes full of tears and fury. One of those eyes was surrounded with an ugly purple bruise and little trickles of blood ran from her nostrils. “Yeah, that’s what you said,” she threw the words at me with disdain and flicked the now dead cigarette into a nearby garbage can.

“It seemed like the right thing to ask,” I said apologetically.

“I’ll tell you why I stayed. But it’s a long story,” She said and reached toward me with the hand holding the bottle of whiskey.

I took the bottle from her, turned toward the chair covered in laundry, and pushed the pile of clothes off of the cushion. Her iPhone tumbled across the floor and a uniform stuck his head in at the noise. I waved him away and sat down. I leaned back against more laundry and got comfortable. I took a sip of whiskey and coughed from the caustic burn in my throat.

“Okay, I’m all ears,” I said with a voice raspy from whiskey-burned vocal cords.

Creative Commons License
Why I Stayed by Joshua Kautzman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.