Why I Stayed – Part 23

I woke to the smell of coffee. My eyes drifted open and my surroundings came into focus. The color on the walls and the slant of the ceiling was familiar but but I felt out of place. My waking thought was, this used to be my home but I no longer live here. As the rest of my brain woke up, I remembered where I was and why.

The last time I was woken up, I laid in my own bed in my own apartment. My cell phone rang and my groggy hand knocked it off of my night stand in a failed attempt to make it stop. I rolled out of bed and hunted for the phone under my bed by feel. I could not lay hands on the phone, which was ringing for a second time. I laid flat on the floor so I could see under the box spring. The glow from my phone’s LCD screen was visible in the gloomy darkness under my bed. I grabbed the phone and brought it close enough to read the caller ID. The number had the prefix for a Beckham County phone number. I flipped open my phone and answered sleepily.

“Hello?”

“Detective Kinsey,” the voice on the other side asked.

“Yes, this is him.”

“I am Officer Thompson with the Kiln Valley Police Department.”

My heart began to pound. My mother still lived in Kiln Valley. My breathing began to quicken to match my pulse. I felt dizzy so I propped myself against my bed for stability.

“I am calling you on behalf of Sergeant Hoskins,” said Thompson.

“What does Hoskins need with me at this time of night?”

“He asked me to call you because we have a suspect at a crime scene and the uh,” Thompson searched for the right words. “The uh, circumstances of the victim and the suspect are such that we could use your assistance. I am told you are familiar with the suspect.”

I felt a little relief since I was reasonably sure they were not talking about my mother.

“Um, yeah,” I said as I ran my fingers through my hair.

“I’d be happy to help,” I lied.

“Would you be able to meet us at the following address as soon as possible?”

I glanced at the rocking chair near my bed. My jacket hung over the back.

“One sec, let me get a pen,” I said and got off of the floor.

I walked over to the chair and pulled a small notebook from the inside pocket. There was a short pen clipped to the spine. I flipped to the first blank page, clicked the tip of the pen out, and put the pen to the paper.

“Okay, I’m ready,” I said.

“The address is,” Thompson continued but I had no reason to write down the address.

Here in my familiar room, I sat up and looked at window. The blinds were closed but sunlight leaked around them to gently illuminate the room with the quality of moonlight. I could make out the posters on the wall, still where I hung them back in high school. My desk was still in the same place, adorned with a few trophies and framed photographs. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and put my feet on the wood floor of my old bedroom.

I took a deep breath and rubbed my neck. The pillow I used when I was eighteen years old was not as supportive as the memory foam one I had in my apartment in Coeur d’Alene. The ache along the upper part of my spine reminded me that my neck wasn’t in as good of shape as the last time I used that old pillow. There was no mistaking the smell of coffee that drifted up the stairs. I pulled on my pants and threw on the white t-shirt I wore last night and prepared to go downstairs.

After the call from Thompson, I drove to Kiln Valley. I arrived at the familiar address and I helped the police there bring my oldest friend in to custody. Although I had wanted to stay and help her, I was forced to leave her in the care of the KVPD and the Beckham County Sheriff’s Office. I got into my car, started the engine, and almost put the car into gear when I realized I didn’t know where to go.

It was obvious that I would be no further help to Nicole here at the station. I wracked my brain, trying to think of what I could do for her. I was reminded of the criminal justice and forensics conference I attended in Spokane a few months ago.

There was a defense attorney who headed a panel that discussed the responsibility of the police departments in handling domestic violence incidents. The same attorney went on to speak to the entire conference about the ideas that he and a group of attorneys across the country had regarding changes to the legislation around murder. They proposed changes to the law that allow for more equal treatment of women, specifically those women charged with assaulting or murdering the men who had abused them.

When the speech was over, I approached Robert Otis and we talked for a while. I invited him to the cafe in front of the convention center for a cup of coffee. I had been lobbying my department for better resources for victim services and recently the chief had put me in charge of training our officers and detectives on the methods of properly handling and documenting cases of domestic violence as well as rudimentary counseling and advice that could be provided to the victims to help them cope as well as to help them make changes to avoid being a victim again.

I was proud to tell Mr. Otis about my program and the progress we had made. Recurring calls to the same addresses for reports of domestic violence had been reduced by half and more women were showing up for the free counseling provided by the department at the community center.

Mr. Otis was interested in seeing how our efforts worked out over time and said if I ever had any questions or needed his help to call his cell phone. He handed me a business card, which I put in my jacket pocket. Later, as I got into my car and prepared to drive home from Spokane, I put the card in my glove box.

As I sat in the Kiln Valley Police Department parking lot, I remembered that Mr. Otis’ card was still in the glove box. I popped the door open and pawed through the contents until I came upon the white, glossy card.

The back of the card had a color photograph of Robert Otis with a thoughtful look on his face. The front had his address, desk phone, and his cellular phone number. I dialed the number and listened to it ring while I stared at the face on the back of the card. The line stopped ringing and I was sent to a voice mail greeting.

I hung up and dialed again. Otis’ phone rang again until the same unemotional voice mail greeting snapped into my ear. I hung up and dialed once more. A groggy but confident voice answered.

“This is Robert Otis and this better be important.”

“Mr. Otis, this is Detective Kinsey. I work for the Coeur d’Alene Police Department and I had talked to you for some time at the,” I started.

“The CJS conference,” said Mr. Otis interrupted.

“Yes,” I said excitedly. “You gave me your business card and said I should call you if I found a case you would be interested in.”

“I guess when I said that I had not thought you would call me at,” Otis paused. “Four thirty in the morning.”

“Right, I’m sorry to bother you so late. Or early. Anyways, I have a case you might be interested in and I would like to hire you.”

Otis needed more information but after I told him Nicole’s history and what she had done earlier that morning he agreed to take a look at her case. I tried to impress upon him some urgency because I had history with the KVPD and I did not trust them to handle Nicole or her case properly.

“I will get there to visit her as soon as I can. There will not be a judge available for a few hours so I have a feeling she will be in holding for a while,” Mr. Otis told me.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Detective, you know I don’t take every case because these cases can be very difficult and expensive.”

“Yes, I know that.”

“I will call you tomorrow when I know more.”

“Thank you, Mr. Otis,” I said but he had already hung up.

I sat in my car for a minute after talking to Robert Otis. I was exhausted and I did not feel like driving over the mountain pass and to my apartment in Coeur d’Alene. Instead, I put the car in drive, exited the parking lot, and drove towards my old house in the cul-de-sac where I grew up.

I tried calling my mom on the way but she was a pretty heavy sleeper. I turned into my old neighborhood and parked my unmarked cruiser in the spot where I had parked my parent’s old station wagon countless times.

I got out of my car, grabbed the small shaving kit I kept in the glove box, and shut the door. When I turned towards my house, I could not help but look at the house next door. The house where Nicole had lived when we were younger was in need of a coat of paint. The yard was in decent shape, but only because my mom took care of it to stop the weeds from overtaking her own. There were no lights on but I caught a glimmer of light reflected off of the cut glass in the old front door and I was reminded of all the times I watched Nicole look at me from the other side of that window.

I walked up the steps to the front porch of my parents house. I rang the doorbell and then immediately knocked. I could not remember if my mom had fixed the doorbell since the last time I visited. The old porch swing hung to the left of the door. The chains that suspended it creaked as a soft breeze pushed the seat back an inch or two.

I started to knock a second time when my mom opened the front door and looked at me through the screen door.

“Trevor, what on Earth are you doing here?”

“Sorry to wake you mom, it’s been a long night and I wondered if I could sleep here instead of driving all the way home.”

My mother opened the screen door immediately and reached for my face with both hands.

“You look so tired, of course you can stay here. You’re always welcome here, this is your home.”

I let my mom pull my face down where she could kiss my cheek. She turned and walked into the house and I followed her in. I shut and locked the door behind me. My mother stood in the kitchen with one hand on the counter next to the fridge.

“You don’t have to tell me anything now,” she said with a look of concern on her face.

“Thanks mom, I’ll fill you in after I get a little sleep.”

“Sounds good, honey.”

She walked up to me and held her arms out to hug me. I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a squeeze. She patted my back like she used to when I was little and then backed up. I gave her a half smile and made my way up the stairs to my old room.

It seemed that now that my body had gotten a little sleep that it was time to go down and give my mom the explanation she had been waiting for all morning.

I opened the door of my bedroom, walked across the hall to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I was visibly tired. Blue green crescents hung below my eyes, the whites of which were run with red. My face was covered in stubble and my hair was a mess. I turned from the mirror and used the toilet. I turned back to the sink, washed my hands, and splashed some water on my ragged face.

I left the bathroom and made my way down the stairs. The bottom of the stairs fell between the living room and the dining room. My mother sat in a recliner in the living room in a robe and slippers. The television was tuned to CNN with the audio muted. She had a cup of coffee on the end table next to her and was holding a newspaper up with both hands.

“Hey mom,” I said. “I’m going to grab a cup of coffee, do you need a warm up?”

“No, honey I’m fine.”

I walked to the kitchen, poured some coffee into my cup and opened the fridge. I grabbed a half gallon of whole milk, opened the paper spout, and poured some into my coffee. The milk disappeared into the dark coffee and then rebounded in curling cloud. When the color of my coffee looked right, I stopped pouring and replaced the carton to it’s shelf in the fridge.

I carried my cup to the living room. I walked past my father’s chair and took a seat on the couch nearest my mother. I took a drink of coffee and set the cup down on the same end table as my mother’s cup. I leaned forward, put my elbows on my knees, and rested my face in my hands.

“I haven’t read a newspaper in weeks,” my mother said. “But I was hoping to find something in here that might explain your late night visit.”

My mom folded the paper and smiled at me. I doubted the paper would have anything in it about what happened the previous night. The police would not release any information to the press until they had to and the neighbors’ reports of the emergency vehicle activity would probably not make it into today’s edition.

“Did you find anything?”

“No, nothing but the same worthless stuff they always print. Which is why I haven’t opened a paper since the day after Thanksgiving.”

“Nicole killed Jerrad,” I blurted out.

“Oh my god,” my mom said. She reached for her coffee cup and I could see that her hand was shaking.

“Hoskins called me to help bring her in to custody. She was still sitting on the body when the cops showed up. They needed me to talk her down so evidence didn’t get ruined.”

“Well, I can’t say he didn’t deserve it.”

I looked at my mother.

“You and I both know that,” I said and sat back in the couch. “But she will have a hard time explaining it to a jury. I have a feeling she will be going to jail for a long time.”

“Is there anything you can do?”

“Well, I know of an attorney that helps with those kinds of cases. I called him and he said he’d look into it.”

“Have you heard from him since?”

“No, but I’m not sure he can even get in to see her. She has to declare her lawyer to the police or they will arrange a public defender. That will take hours if not a couple days.”

My phone rang and I was startled to find it was still in my pocket. It was an Eastern Washington number, I recognized it as Robert Otis’ cell phone. I stood up, walked to the window that looked out into our back yard and answered the call.

“I was able to pull some strings and spoke to Nicole a few minutes ago,” said Mr. Otis.

“How is she?”

“She is alright. I introduced myself and instructed her not to talk to the cops or sheriffs without me.”

“Good, thank you. Can I do anything?”

“This is never an easy conversation to have since it usually happens during times of an already difficult circumstances.”

“You need to know how you’re going to get paid,” I said.

“Well, yes. I have reviewed the police report and from what you told me last night this is exactly the kind of case I want to take. I think for now we should just talk about covering my expenses and we can talk about fees later.”

“No problem. I have a credit card that I can use to pay for your expenses.”

“Excellent. I need to get to work, as I’m sure you do too.”

I was about to say thank you again when I noticed that Robert had already hung up.

“Lawyers always have to talk about getting paid,” my mother said. “Don’t take it personally.”

“Thanks mom,” I said.

“Do you enough money to pay him?”

“He said he only needs expenses now, I can use my credit card for that.”

“When it comes to fees though, that’s where it will be bad.”

“Yeah, I’ll figure something out.”

“Well, your father didn’t leave me much but he did leave this house. Bought and paid for. If it means getting Nicole the best defense lawyer you can find, we’ll just get a loan on it. I’m old enough for reverse mortgage or we can maybe do some kind of equity loan.”

“Mom, that’s really nice but I don’t think it will come to that.”

“Well, if it does you just ask me and we’ll go to the bank right away.”

I looked at my mom and tried to smile. But the stress and the fear that had been pushing me onward collapsed. The relief I felt at knowing that Nicole had a decent lawyer and that we had funding if it would come to that left me deflated. I looked at my mom and tried to blink back the tears that had been building after my phone call with Mr. Otis. The tears fell anyway. They left cool tracks down my cheeks and dripped onto the legs of my pants.

My mom sat forward in her chair and put her hand on my knee.

“It’s going to be okay, honey. We’ll take care of Nicole.”

Why I Stayed – Part 22

I stood in front of the closet in my bedroom. It was covered by two sliding door panels. When you opened one, it would either hide behind or pass in front of the other panel. One panel to my closet was always open. The hanger rod on this side of my closet held my many t-shirts and hoodies, a few pull-over sweaters, and a warm Army-surplus coat. The floor was covered with a few pairs of boots, all in black, and a couple pairs of Chuck Taylor rip-offs from the cheap shoe store in the mall in Coeur d’Alene. On the shelf above the hanger rod was a stack of old toys and the blanket I used to sleep with when I was a baby.

The other side of my closet was almost never opened. The only time this side of my closet saw the light was after Christmas or my birthday. On those occasions I would unavoidably get clothes from my mom and from her mother before she died. They always bought me “nice” clothes. To them, they were clothes that would look pretty on me. To me, it was clothes that would make me look like every other girl in my school. Every item was much too colorful, too tacky, or too trendy for me. Whenever I would unwrap one of mom or grandma’s presents, I would smile and say thank you. Later, I would take the clothes to my room, hang them carefully on a hanger, and put them into the side of my closet that I never opened.

I took a deep breath and started to slide the door panels to the left. The colors of the shirts hanging neatly on the right side of my closet all reminded me of the clothes I saw at the party earlier tonight.

As Trevor and I left our neighborhood, I sat and steamed in the passenger seat of his car. I was so angry at my father for leaving my mother alone that I couldn’t even talk to Trevor, who had tried to start up a conversation with me a couple times. As we made our way through the Fur Trap, it occurred to me that I had left my mother too. I had left to go drinking with my friend. The realization came to me as we passed The Old Mill, which was one of the places my dad would often go to drink beer and hustle tourists on the pool tables. I turned my head to look into the big windows that faced the street but I did not see my father. My anger turned to sadness and guilt.

Trevor saw my attitude change and he apologized for not being able to give me a ride after school. I told him not to worry about it and then I told him about my mom. I told him about her arm. I told him that I thought my father did it. Trevor didn’t really know what to say, but he asked if my dad had ever hurt me and it made me feel good to think he was concerned about my well being.

He turned on to the road that led up the side of “snob hill” and the engine revved with the effort of the climb. The higher we climbed, the houses got bigger and farther apart. When we reached the top of the hill, Trevor turned into a cul-de-sac that was packed with cars. There was only one house on the right side of the street and every window was glowing with bright light. I could see people walking up the street toward the party. The house on the left looked dark. Many of the people that lived here only occupied their houses in the summer so it was very possible the neighbors weren’t even home.

We drove all the way to the end of the street before we found a spot large enough for Trevor to park the station wagon. I grabbed the bottle of schnapps from the glove box, stuck it in the pocket in the front of my hoodie, and got out of the car.

I stood next to the station wagon and listened to the engine adjust to the cool night air. The pings and ticks of the cooling metal blended with the music and laughter that drifted from across the street. I had never been in a house that big and I marveled at the size of it. I knew from school gossip that Jerrad was an only child. That meant Jerrad, his mom, and his father were the only occupants of the house that was easily five times the size of my home. My parents’ house was a veritable hovel in comparison. I was struck with a sudden urge to get back into the car and go back to our neighborhood.

“This place is huge,” I said. “Are you sure you want to go in?”

Trevor was already halfway across the street. He turned, smiled at me, and said something back. I couldn’t actually make out his reply. My heartbeat had increased in volume and I could barely hear his voice over the thrum of the blood moving through my circulatory system. I didn’t need to hear Trevor’s words. I read the smile on his face and the look of excitement in his eyes.

For me, this party was an obligation. For Trevor, it was vindication. He was finally in the “cool guy” club and he could not wait to join the party. I jogged across the street to meet him on the curb and we both walked across the lawn towards the front step.

We passed a group of kids smoking weed and I couldn’t help but wonder if the dope they were smoking was bought from Tim Morneau, David’s brother. One boy took a huge hit and I watched his eyes bug out as he tried to hold it in for effect. The pipe was passed and the next kid held it to his lips and struck a Bic lighter. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for those kids. They were desperately trying to be cool but they were more likely to share a respiratory infection.

We made it to the front step and Trevor exchanged hand shakes and palm slaps with a couple other jocks. I made a remark about how latently homosexual that stuff was. Per usual, it completely went over Trevor’s head.

As we walked up to the front door, I could feel the music in my chest. The music was accompanied by a constant chatter of teenage voices. I was reminded of the cafeteria at school. There was a collection of adolescent male voices boasting and fronting the manhood they desired to project. There was a chorus of piping female voices trying to be heard above the din, tempered with the attempt at sounding like they couldn’t care less. When Trevor and I entered the front door, we were slammed in the face with the sight, sound, and smell of a hundred teenagers trying desperately to fit in and stand out at the same time.

I looked at Trevor and I saw his face change from excited to nervous. I’m not sure what he expected to see when he walked into this place but I think his senses were bombarded with a sudden deluge of dancing, music, and perfume. I saw his eyes scan the room and I noticed they landed on the sliding glass door that led from the dining room out onto an expansive patio.

Trevor took my hand and began to lead me through the crowd of children and over to the freedom of the open door. As we passed the crush of bodies, I started to recognize classmates. It was difficult to reconcile the faces I saw to the people with whom I went to school. The women I saw dancing to the beat of the music were older. They wore makeup and revealing clothing that would never pass the dress code of Kiln Valley High School. The men wore the hard expressions of someone that had worked all day and had come to drink and compete with other men for the attention of a woman. It was like I had accidentally stepped through a time portal and arrived at my twenty-year high school reunion.

The tragedy was that these kids were not twenty years past their prime. They were in their prime. They were living the times of their lives and all they wanted was to look older. To be older. I smiled to myself at the idea that in twenty years, all of these people would be trying to look younger and would be wishing they had more thoroughly enjoyed the years of high school before being tossed onto the slag heap of adulthood.

We arrived at the back porch and the cool air was welcome relief to the press of humanity behind us. I had just started to relax when I realized the host of the party was right before us.

Jerrad Griffith leaned against the railing of his porch. His arm was around a girl I should know from school. Her face was unrecognizable beneath the makeup and the bored expression she wore. Jerrad was talking to an older man. I eventually recognized the older man as his father, Jonathan Griffith.

Jonathan Griffith was the richest man in town. He came to Kiln Valley at a time when the mine’s profitability was starting to falter and real estate values were low. He started an investment firm that bought up property around the town, including the mountain above the mine. When the mining business started to falter, Mr. Griffith was there to buy up the mine’s property for a song. The mountain above town was now the Silver Ridge ski resort and the property that Jonathan bought for cheap was developed into condos, restaurants, and shops that catered to the people that came to Kiln Valley to ski and snowboard.

The older man greeted Trevor and the men talked about football. I didn’t really hear a word of it. I gave Jonathan Griffith my best uncertain look and pulled the bottle of schnapps out of my hoodie pocket. I took the plastic wrapper off the neck and handed it to Trevor.

Mr. Griffith seemed to become uncomfortable all of a sudden and excused himself.

I opened the cap, took a swig, and turned my uneasy eye on the younger Mr. Griffith. Jerrad Griffith was wearing a tight t-shirt that showed off the musculature of his shoulders. His hair was dyed blond and spiked in a Californian surfer style. He on had a stylishly-loose pair of jeans that probably cost more then my family spent on groceries last week.

“Damn, homegirl,” said Jerrad. “I didn’t know you liked to party.”

I inwardly rolled my eyes. The bored girl encircled by Jerrad’s right arm outwardly rolled her eyes.

Jerrad introduced his girlfriend to Trevor. I was relieved when Trevor neglected to introduce me.

The bored girl said something about dancing and dragged Jerrad away to the crowded house. Trevor and I watched them make their way to the dance floor. We were having another conversation about the latent homosexuality inherit in football when I noticed that Trevor was still watching the other couple dance.

“Ugh, they might as well be fucking in front of everyone,” I said.

“They’re just dancing,” said Trevor.

“You call that dancing? You want to dance with me like that?”

Trevor opened his mouth to reply but stopped himself. He looked at me and I saw a confused expression momentarily flicker across his face.

“I don’t really like to dance,” he said.

“Huh,” I said and took the schnapps bottle from him.

I took another drink and then handled the bottle back to him.

“I have to pee,” I said.

I turned and walked across the porch. I entered the kitchen, gave a disdainful look at the dance floor, and turned right in search of a bathroom. The truth was, I didn’t really have to use the toilet. I had taken a few drinks of the schnapps in a short time and my head was swimming with the effect of the alcohol and the anxiety of being around so many people. I was also a little bothered by the look in Trevor’s eyes when he watched Jerrad dancing with that girl.

I have not worn anything as revealing as that girl’s shorts since that day in my parent’s front yard when Trevor and I were running through the sprinklers. I felt betrayed by Trevor’s interest in that girl’s butt, which was barely covered in her cutoff jean shorts.

I found a bathroom but there was a line of people outside. Since I didn’t really have to go, I just walked past and found myself in a hallway with doors on either side. These were probably bedrooms, although one was likely to be a linen closet. I found myself at the end of the hallway. I was shielded from the onslaught of the sound system and there weren’t any people here so I leaned against the door at the end of the hallway for a few minutes. After I collected myself, I decided to return to Trevor and hoped that he was still on the porch where it was cool and less densely-populated.

I wandered back through the kitchen and out onto the porch. Trevor was still there. He was holding out a match to light a cigarette for Jerrad’s girlfriend. She reached up and took his hand in hers to bring the match to the tip of her cigarette. They looked into each other’s eyes while she puffed the cigarette to life. When she leaned back, I swore I saw a look of yearning in Trevor’s eyes. He enjoyed her touch. He enjoyed her closeness. I was disgusted.

I walked up quietly in my imitation Converse and reached into Trevor’s coat pocket to find the pack of Marlboro Reds. I tore open the pack and handed the plastic wrap to Trevor. I snatched the matches out of his hand. I tried to light one of the matches but it died immediately after the white fuel on the tip burned off and I didn’t have time to get the flame to my cigarette.

Jerrad Griffith walked up to us and put a cold beer on the back of his girlfriend’s arm.

“Looks like we’re out of Diet Coke,” he said and smiled.

I tried to light another match, but this one wouldn’t even sputter to life. I angrily tossed the useless match over the balcony railing and got a third match ready. It sputtered to life and I managed to singe the end of my cigarette with it but I was unable to actually get it lighted.

“Here,” Jerrad said.

He reached into his pocket and produced a shiny Zippo lighter. He opened it and lit it with a flourish. I leaned in to put the tip of my cigarette to the flame and puffed until I felt the hot smoke erupt from the filter and into my mouth.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Anytime,” said Jerrad.

I can’t say for certain, but I think he winked at me. If he didn’t wink at me, he looked like he wanted to. His smile was wide and his blue eyes looked into me in a way that made me feel simultaneously nervous and excited. Jerrad put the lighter back into his pocket and I saw that his girlfriend’s face had changed from bored to spiteful. I glanced at Trevor’s face. He looked sad or concerned. I grabbed the bottle from him and tipped it up as if I was taking a large swig. In reality I took only a little sip. This evening was proving to be more dangerous than I had assumed it would be and I needed a clear head.

Trevor and Jerrad talked about football. The bored, sneering girl and I looked everywhere but at each other. After the football conversation had exhausted itself, Jerrad excused himself for the the bathroom. I felt a wave of relief when I hear Trevor say we were about to leave.

“So soon,” Jerrad protested.

“Sorry man,” said Trevor. “I have to help my mom around the house tomorrow.”

“I hear you,” said Jerrad but I doubted he ever had to help his parents around the house.

Trevor and I left the party. We drove down from snob hill in silence and listened to the air rushing past Trevor’s open driver side window. When we pulled up into his drive way, he cranked up the window and sighed.

“Well, that was fun,” I said.

Trevor looked at me and smiled.

“Seriously?”

“Well, I didn’t have to deal with any cheerleaders.”

“Um,” Trevor said. “Jerrad’s girlfriend is a cheerleader.”

“Of course she is,” I said.

“What does that mean?”

“Nothing,” I said.

I opened the passenger door and stood up into the cool night. Trevor got out of the car and carefully shut his door so it wouldn’t wake his mother. I followed suit and shut my door quietly. I walked around the hood of the car and approached Trevor.

“Did you want to sit on the swing for a while,” I asked.

“I wasn’t lying when I told Jerrad I had to work tomorrow. Mom wants all the leaves raked up before dad gets home.”

“I see,” I said.

We stood there in an awkward silence for a few minutes. Trevor looked at me like he wanted to ask me something but he never did.

“Alright,” I said. “Have a good night.”

I hurried away from Trevor and jogged to my front door. I opened it and walked into my house to find it dark and quiet. I shut the door and walked quietly up the stairs to my room. When I opened the door to my room, I walked up to my closet and kicked off my sneakers. I took off my hoodie and hung it on an empty hanger. I pulled off my jeans and stood in front of my closet in just my t-shirt.

I looked at the door panels that hid the other half of my closet. I lifted my right hand, pushed both panels open, and looked at the colorful clothes hanging inside.

Why I Stayed – Part 21

I read somewhere that everybody dreams. People who say they don’t dream simply do not remember the dreams when they wake. Light sleepers and people who wake naturally are more likely to remember their dreams. If you use an alarm clock, you are snapped immediately from dream state to waking state and your mind doesn’t have time to commit the dream to memory. For most of my life, I slept like I was dead. Sometimes my alarm clock wasn’t even enough to wake me and my mother would have to come up the stairs to get me up for school. I rarely remembered my dreams.

When I moved in with my first boyfriend, I was completely unprepared for how it would effect my sleep. He lived in a condo and everything was different. The smells, sounds, and lighting were so unlike my old room in my mother’s house that I hardly slept. Things did not improve after we were married and we moved into his father’s house. In fact, I had nearly gotten used to the environment of the condo when I suddenly found myself in a strange house with all new scents and distractions. I would wake in the early hours of the night and sit up in bed. My eyes would be focusing on the walls of our bedroom while my mind was still living out some strange scenario from my dream.

Sleeping in this jail cell should have required yet another adjustment. It seemed almost ironic that I slept better on the hard bed, surrounded by concrete and steel then I ever did next to my husband. Perhaps it wasn’t so much where I slept that made it easier to come to rest. Perhaps the restlessness from which I suffered for so long was gone because I was mentally free from the pressure and fear of which my married life consisted. Physically I was locked away in jail, but mentally I was completely free of the prison that contained me for the last six years.

In my cell, I laid down and slept easily. I woke up when my body was done sleeping and I remembered my dreams almost every time. I kept having one dream over and over.

In my dream, I was lying on my bed in my parent’s old house. A strange noise would drift up the staircase from the living room and I would get up to go investigate. I would open my door and the noise would get louder. Every step I took down the stairs would carry me closer to the source of the noise but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the sound was. I would make it to the landing at the bottom of the stairs and notice that the sound I heard was static coming from the television. From where I stood, I could see a beer can on the end table next to my father’s chair and the remote control on the arm rest. I would cross the living room slowly, the white noise from the TV getting more intense with every step. The air would seem to thicken and as I got closer to the easy chair, my steps began to take more effort. I would summon all of my effort to take one more step and bring me alongside the recliner. I would slowly turn my head. And I would see that my father’s chair was empty.

This is when I would normally wake up in my cell. I would sit up, momentarily surprised at the papery clothes on my body. After I realized where I was, I would try to hold on to the memory of the dream. I would sit with my back against the wall of my cell and try desperately to hold on to the vision so I could figure out what happened.

Eventually the memory would fade. The sound of the television and the faint smell of cheap beer would dissipate. I would have to give up on my dream and either turn my attention to the bleak surroundings of my cell or to the story I was writing in my head.

I sat in just this way when I heard keys jingling outside my door. The door swung open and the young cop from the other day peeked into my cell. He pulled the door the rest of the way open and I saw Robert Otis standing behind him.

“Nicole, it’s time for your initial court appearance.”

I stood up from my bed and stretched. My slippers made a soft shushing sound as I walked out to meet my lawyer in the hallway.

“I have a change of clothes and some food for you in the interview room. We can go over what will happen and what you need to do after we get some food in you.”

“Thanks,” I said.

Mr. Otis gave me a funny look like he was not used to hearing that word.

“You’re very welcome,” he said.

We walked behind the young policeman, who led us to the interview room. I felt a flush of pride when I remembered how I handled myself in the face of Detective Demarco and I was hoping to have a chance to tell my attorney how well I did. Robert opened the door to the interview room for me and I was suddenly very hungry. On the table was a white paper bag. In the center of the bag was the brown image of an owl, slyly winking one eye.

“Oh my god,” I said. “That smells amazing.”

“I was told that is your favorite,” said Mr. Otis. “Dig in and we can talk when you’re done.”

I tore open the bag. Inside I found a cup of crispy tater tots and something big wrapped in white paper. I took the cup out of the bag, set it in front of me, and in a matter of seconds had eaten half of the crunchy potatoes. I reached into the bag to grab what was wrapped in paper. Grease had saturated the paper in places, making it translucent. I unwrapped the parcel and found a cheeseburger dripping with grease and The Brown Owl’s special sauce. My first bite was so big that I almost couldn’t close my mouth to chew it. I somehow managed to take smaller bites going forward and finished the burger. I sat back in my chair and smiled.

“You have quite the appetite,” said my lawyer.

“I haven’t been eating much lately, I have some catching up to do.”

“Well,” he said looking at his watch. “We have about twenty minutes until you’re due in front of the judge. I am going to step out into the hall and let you put on the clothes I bought.”

Mr. Otis pointed to to a black plastic bag that sat on the table.

“You brought me clothes?”

“And shoes,” he said offhandedly. “Your house is still locked up so I couldn’t get you anything of your own to wear. I guessed at your size, so hopefully it all fits okay. After your hearing, you’ll be transported to County Jail. They’ll take these clothes and put you in a uniform. They’ll let you have these clothes back whenever you leave for trial.”

The food suddenly felt heavy in my stomach. The idea of going to jail put damper on the happiness I felt from the food and I was momentarily not sure if it would stay down.

“I’ll step out into the hall while you dress, knock on the door when you are done.”

Mr. Otis opened the door and pushed it closed behind him. I swallowed a bit of my lunch that had started to come up and washed it down with a can of Diet Coke I found next to the empty white bag. I leaned across the table and lifted the black plastic bag over the greasy remains of my cheeseburger and set it on my lap. Inside was a soft purple sweater and a pair of gray slacks. A red shoe box was in the bottom of the bag. I opened it to find a pair of shiny black flats. I looked at the door to make sure the little window was closed and cast a worried look over my shoulder at the one way glass on the other wall.

I wouldn’t put it past Hoskins to sit in the room on the other side of that glass to watch me change. The thought gave me goose bumps but I calmed myself by thinking my lawyer would not allow anyone to be in that room to violate our privilege to privacy.

I took all the clothes out and set the shoe box on the floor. Underneath the shoe box was a pair of nude-colored knee-high stockings, a comb, a nude-colored bra, and a makeup kit. I made a mental note to thank my lawyer for being so thorough even though I knew I’d see every penny of this on an expense list later. The expense of my legal representation made me think of Kinsey. I had no idea how he did it but he had arranged for a capable lawyer to take my case. That couldn’t have come cheap and I could only imagine the debt he would owe after this was done.

I tore the tags off of the bra and checked the size. It wasn’t perfect, but it would fit. I slipped the paper shirt off and put the bra on as fast as I could, just in case. I lifted the purple sweater and noticed it was a tunic-style sweater that I had seen hundreds of women wear downtown. It wasn’t something I would buy for myself but when I slipped it over my head and looked into the mirror, I saw that it fit nicely. I pulled off my pants and put the slacks on. They were a little big but I preferred that to too small. I pulled on the stockings, put on the sensible flats and crossed the floor to knock on the door.

Robert opened the door and gave me a quick look up and down.

“They seem to fit,” he said.

“You did a great job,” I said.

“Actually, it was my secretary. But I’ll tell her you were happy with her choices.”

I nodded, returned to the table and picked up the comb. I turned to face the mirror so I could watch as I combed my hair.

Robert went to the table and sat down. He used a pen to slide the greasy wrappers out of the way and opened a small valise. He took out some sheets of paper and set them side by side. I watched him in the mirror and saw him straighten each one so it was square to the other sheets as well as to the edge of the table.

“The state of Idaho does not have an insanity defense,” he began.

“That’s fine because I am not insane,”

He sighed and shook his head.

“I know that. What I mean is we can’t plead temporary insanity. We have two choices at this stage in the process and I need you to understand the implications of both of them before you decide.”

I did as much as I could with my hair, which was limp and a little greasy. I walked to the table and set the comb down. I picked up the makeup kit and got close enough to the mirror to use it for my face. When I got close enough, I could see the rough outline of chairs in the room on the other side. I was relieved to see that both of them were empty. I looked at Mr. Otis to see he was watching me with an expectant look on his face.

“Go on,” I said. “I’m listening.”

“Our first option is to work out a plea agreement with the prosecution. If we plead guilty, we could likely talk them down from a murder charge to manslaughter. Manslaughter takes the death penalty off of the table and carries a much shorter prison sentence than murder.”

I took my focus off of my eye shadow to tell him, “Okay.”

“Our second option is very difficult and most likely impossible.”

“And what is that?”

“To plead not guilty and convince the jury that you had no choice but to kill your husband. It would be a justifiable homicide defense built around self defense.”

I had just finished putting on some pale lip stick. I turned and looked at him.

“Why would that be so impossible? I can sit in the court room and tell them all under oath that my husband was going to kill me. It would not be a lie. It was only a matter of time until he pushed me too hard or choked me for too long.”

“That might be the case, but that is hard to prove in court without history of abuse. Without medical records or police reports to corroborate your story, the prosecution is going to make you out to be a cruel bitch who got sick of her lazy husband and killed him.”

I was suddenly very angry. I slammed the makeup kit shut and walked over to where my lawyer sat at the table.

“That man was going to kill me. He very nearly killed me earlier that night!”

“I see,” he said and nodded his head. “You don’t know this but there is a reason Mr. Kinsey sought me as your attorney.”

“I assume he looked in the phone book under ‘slime ball defense attorney’ in the yellow pages and you had the biggest ad.”

Mr. Otis laughed.

“Not exactly. Mr. Kinsey attended a conference at which I was one of two keynote speakers. He came to me after my presentation and told me how impressed he was with my ideas.”

I looked at my attorney with a skeptical expression on my face.

“My presentation was about methods of representing women who were abused by their husbands. I spoke about the need for change in the law because it does not provide equal protection to women. I spoke about how when women find themselves in a position where murder is their only way out of an abusive relationship, they are overwhelmingly sentenced to longer jail terms than their victim would have gotten for killing the woman in a drunken rage. After my presentation was done, Mr. Kinsey sought me out and we talked for a while. I gave him my card, which has my cell phone number on it.”

My anger abated and I sat down in the other chair. A few years ago, Trevor was given the chance to leave the Kiln Vally Police Department for the Coeur d’Alene Police Department. Coeur d’Alene was a much larger city and had the resources for the kind of police program that Trevor had tried and failed to implement at KPD. He was currently a detective for CPD but he headed an unofficial department of “Victim Services” officers that specialized in helping the victims of crimes, especially domestic abuse.

“When he left you at the station the other night, Mr. Kinsey called my phone four times in a row. I very nearly didn’t pick up but my wife urged me to answer. I’m glad she did.”

“Why,” I asked.

“Because your case is exactly the kind that needs help from someone like me.”

I put my elbows on my knees and almost put my face in my hands when I remembered my makeup.

“So,” he started again. “I need you to understand that I am not your friend. I am not here to tell you what you want to hear and I will often say things that will make you angry and make it sound like I am not on your side. But keep in mind that I am the only person that can help you.”

I looked at him and nodded again.

“You were telling me that you knew your husband was going to kill you and that you had to do what you did to prevent that from happening. That is self-defense, if you ask me. However the law is not so forgiving and we run a huge risk by pleading not guilty.”

“A huge risk?”

“Yes, a huge risk. If we plead guilty to manslaughter, they will sentence you to fifteen to forty-five years in prison. If we plead not-guilty, go to trial, and you are found guilty you will either be sentenced to death or life in prison.”

“Okay, that is a huge risk.”

“Are you prepared to take that risk?”

“Absolutely.”

“Good,” said Robert and picked up his next set of papers. “Let’s get ready for your first appearance in court.”