Category Archives: Writing

Decibels

​The measure of amplitude or power of sound waves is expressed in decibels (dB). For most of the things we measure in life, we use linear scales. Assume you place something that measures 15kg (roughly 33lbs) onto a scale and then added an  identical item. The combined weight would be 30kg (66lbs). However, the dB scale is logarithmic, which means it is not directly additive when combining quantities. 

Assume you have a device that generates 60dB of sound pressure, which is the normal volume of a television in the home of someone under the age of sixty or the peak volume of a polite conversation amongst sober people over the age of twenty-five. If you turned on an identical machine, the sound pressure level would double. Linear logic would lead you to believe the combined noise would measure 120dB but that is wrong. The measurement would only rise to total 63dB. The doubling of power in a sound wave results in an increase of 3dB. This is the case for all physical devices that create sound with one exception: children. More specifically, boys.

Assume you have one boy, who is making noise at 85dB, which is the same sound pressure level of your average freeway from 10m (32.75ft) away. If you add a second boy making noise at the same sound pressure levels, the normal rules of acoustics would dictate an increase of 3dB. However, in the case of boys, the increase of sound pressure level is closer to, but not exactly, 15dB. Meaning two boys are capable of a sound pressure level similar to that of a jackhammer without even trying. What gets harder to explain is when you add a third boy. Adding a third boy capable of the same noise as the first two will increase the sound pressure level by another 30dB. I don’t mean 30dB total, I mean 30dB in addition to the 15dB added by the second boy. This means three boys, with very little effort, can generate a sound pressure level that reaches the pain threshold of the average human ear and, at the prompting of a good fart joke, can be as loud as a jet airplane leaving the runway. Add a fourth boy and mention the word “poop” or “butthole” and you’ll be lucky if you don’t suffer instantaneous, irreparable hearing loss. 

This message is meant as a public service announcement. Please take care of your ears and wear proper hearing protection devices if you’ll be around more than one boy at a time. The headsets worn by airport workers on the tarmac should suffice, unless one of the boys burps.

Page Turner

I sat on the edge of my son’s little bed. I thought how I would be hard-pressed to sleep on it without most of me spilling off the edges. He was only five so he had room to toss and turn. Many mornings I would find him sleeping upside down or diagonally and I had to wonder what he did in his sleep.

We were in the process of putting on his pajamas. I had just pulled the top of his favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle jammies over his head. His blonde hair stood up from static electricity.

He wrinkled his face with the effort of pushing his arms down the sleeves. He had just finished producing his left hand when he asked me, “Daddy?”

“Yeah, buddy,” I said.

“Are we in a story?”

I tilted my head like a cartoon dog and looked at him in confusion.

“What do you mean?”

He finished getting his right hand out of the end of the green, fuzzy sleeve and his eyes searched his room for something to look at. Children often don’t look an adult in the eye when they talk but my kids usually did.

“Well,” he started. “I think that we are in a story. Like we are maybe in a book or a movie or on the TV?”

My first instinct was to laugh. Both of my kids had a fantastic imagination but my son was full of stories.

However, with the last couple of words, his eyes finally found mine. His eyebrows moved together in a little volcano shape above his nose. His eyes were brilliant and blue. He was not messing with me or telling one of his jokes. This was serious.

“I don’t know, little man,” I said and scribbled my fingers through his ionized hair. “I’m pretty sure this is real life. The stuff we see on TV and read in books is not real like we are.”

He looked down at his toes, which were digging into the fibers of the carpet. Around his feet were scattered remnants of the day’s play. Army men, ninja turtles, and cars of numerous makes and models were strewn about as if a bomb had gone off in the toy aisle of a department store.

“I know that they’re not real like us,” he nudged a small, orange pickup with his big toe. “But, I thought maybe if we were in a story there is someone watching us and we’re not real like them either.”

I could tell he was uncomfortable. What he told me was either hard for him to put together or the idea made him uneasy. I scooped him up and put him on my lap. He was small for his age and I could wrap my arms completely around him until he was cocooned.

He pushed against my chest and pretended like he wanted to get away so I squeezed him harder. It was a game we played whenever I cuddled him after a scraped knee or when his feelings were hurt. A moment of tender closeness ending with a squeal and giggle while he fought against my grip. It almost never failed to break the gloom and when I set him down he would usually run away, laughing.

This time when I set him down, he started to run and stopped suddenly. He turned and looked at me over his shoulder.

“Daddy, are you sure?”

I squinted at him and said, “Sure I’m sure. Besides, who would read our story? Its not exactly a page-turner.”

I pointed down the hall, towards the kids’ bathroom, “Now go brush your teeth.”

He bolted down the hallway with the stride of a video game action hero. Moments later I heard the sink running full blast like he wasn’t supposed to do and his sister was yelling at him to turn it down.

Later that evening, after tucking in the kids, some TV I didn’t really watch, and some conversation I don’t really remember, it was time for bed. My wife had been fighting a cold and went to ahead while I put the dog in his crate and locked the doors. I was not surprised when I came to the bedroom to find her snoozing. Her iPhone laid on her chest and displayed an unfinished game of Sudoku. I set the phone on her nightstand and plugged it into the charger.

I turned off the bedside light and kissed the softness of her cheek. I whispered into her ear, “I love you,” and walked to my side of the bed.

I lay on my back and stared at the textured ceiling while my son’s words echoed in my head and the concerned look on his face floated in my thoughts. The logical side of my brain knew that the life I was living was real. My two kids, my beautiful wife, could not be characters in a book. Our life was nothing like a movie. Not one anybody would pay to watch anyways. But for some reason I could not get that question out of my head.

Are we in a story?

I was less sure than earlier.

The light from a passing car seeped through a gap in the blinds of our bedroom widow. The dim blade of yellow light swept across the ceiling, briefly illuminating the tiny stalactites that hung there. The light faded as the car took the corner out of our cul-de-sac. I realized I had been laying there a long time, silently contemplating my existence. I realized how absolutely exhausted I was and how heavy my eyelids had become.

I rolled onto my side to minimize my inevitable snoring and I allowed my eyes to close. While I drifted into unconsciousness, while the world outside my eyelids floated away, I imagined I heard… No, I actually heard, if only faintly, the distinctive sound of someone turning the page of a book.

Why I Stayed – Part 24

The mountains that border Kiln Valley rise high above the south side of town. The peaks are so tall that in the dead of winter there is a week where my town does not actually see the sun. The only evidence we have that daylight has come is a gentle lightening of the gloom. At noon, if you were lucky, you saw the briefest suggestion of the sun in the form of an orange glow crowning the peaks of Silver Ridge.

Growing up in the shadow of those peaks and the more modest range to the north, I always felt a sense of confinement. Going west to Coeur d’Alene for shopping trips felt like emerging the jaws of a giant beast. Escape was all I could think about as my senior year of high school was taking shape.

Most of my classmates felt this same constriction. Some kids attenuated the pressure with beer or stronger methods of self-medication. Some kids acted out and got in trouble. Others would embrace the role in which they found themselves and seemed to strive to become the embodiment of the cheerleader, the drama geek, or the grunge punk. They would don their costumes every day and surround themselves with other people dressed like them in a sort of tribal defense. They used lipstick, outgoing personalities, and pierced noses to make them stand out as individuals. The irony was, these affectations only made them blend into amorphous groups like a herd of zebras or a flock of birds.

Nicole and I always watched the kids around us and their attempts at dealing with life in a small town with a sort of detached amusement. We never felt compelled to participate in the posturing and pretending that seemed to so important to our classmates. Our aloof attitude was just another defense mechanism but it seemed to serve us a purpose. We didn’t need to find ways to deal with the small town life in Kiln Valley because we were getting out.

Between the two of us, Nicole was always the one with the ideas. She came up with the plan in middle school.

“We’re both smart,” Nicole said one afternoon. “Probably smarter than most of the people in this hellhole.”

“I guess,” I said. “I don’t really know that I’m that much smarter than the next guy.”

“Whatever,” she said. “ I wouldn’t hang out with you if you were another mouth-breathing Neanderthal like Kevin Richardson.”

I laughed but the look on her face was dead serious.

“Here’s what we need to do. We need to get the best grades we can so we can get into college.”

“There’s no way my family can pay for college.”

“Duh,” said Nicole, rolling her eyes. “That’s why we need to get good grades. Kids with good grades get scholarships. Plus, you can get student loans to cover the rest.”

An eight-grader who thought farther into the future than dinner was pretty rare. Nicole, at twelve-years-old was thinking about college. She made it sound so easy that it didn’t take much for her to convince me to play along. From that day, we both put forth our best effort in classes. We studied together, read together, and collaborated on projects whenever we could. By our sophomore year, both of us had straight A’s and had earned the respect of our favorite teachers.

Then, I started playing football. Most of the guys on the team weren’t what you would call good students. Many of them wouldn’t pass their classes if the teachers didn’t allow a certain amount of wiggle room for them. My father even made a joke one night at dinner when I told him I’d made the varsity team.

“Now you don’t have to study so hard and you can have a little fun,” he said through a mouth full of mashed potatoes.

I looked at him in confusion while my mom shot him a disappointed look. I wondered how he could think that. I imagined he thought I was only studying so hard because I didn’t have anything better to do.

I loved my father but I felt like he didn’t know me very well. He spent so much time on the road that when he was home it was like a holiday or a special occasion. There was a nice meal and he would tell us about what happened on his trip but there was never time for any serious conversation. I never went hunting or fishing with him like some kids. We didn’t have anything to connect us besides our genes. Everything I achieved at school went without his acknowledgment until I started playing football.

When I made the varsity team, my dad was suddenly very interested in my life. I was at first a little put off by his sudden involvement. I was upset that he could ignore my success in school but be so excited that I was playing some stupid game. Eventually I found myself enjoying the attention and the praise. Dad started cutting business trips short so he could see me play. He started putting money into the KVHS booster club and my parents proudly wore their red sweaters to the games. The sat on red bleacher cushions that only the booster club members could get. By my senior year, the admiration my father gave me for playing football became one of the reasons I tried so hard on the field and at practice. I got good grades for Nicole, while I played good football for my dad.

One evening after practice, coach said something that made me realize that both endeavors could play into our escape plan.

“Good practice, men,” Coach called to the assembled team. “Our homecoming game on Friday is going to be especially important. For three reasons.”

Coach held up his hand, three fingers pointing to the darkened sky.

“First, it’s homecoming,” he said putting one finger down.

A few boys whooped and most of us laughed. The coach quieted us with a stern gaze.

“Second, we’re playing Tall Timber. They are a tough team and we’re going to have to play our best to beat them.”

The coach put another finger down, his index finger stabbed straight up in the air like a flag pole.

“Third, I know for a fact that there will be college scouts at Friday’s game. Some of you might use their presence as motivation to show off or do something cocky but believe you me, nothing impresses a scout like someone that plays a solid game as a member of a solid team. Do you hear me?”

The players would always respond to that question in unison, “Yes coach!”

However the response was broken and half-hearted. Every junior and senior on the team that dreamed of playing college football was already thinking about Friday night and how they could stand out to the scouts.

“Hit the showers,” coach said to dismiss the players. “Griffith, Kinsey, to me!”

Jerrad and I looked at each other. I shrugged and Jarred winked. We both walked over to the bench where coach was picking up his clipboard and his jacket.

Without turning around he said, “You guys have your work cut out for you on Friday.”

“What do you mean, coach,” asked Jerrad.

“I mean you have a tough team to beat and you’re surrounded by a bunch of cocksure teenagers bent on proving they’re good enough for college ball.”

Coach turned around and looked first at me and then Jerrad.

“You two are the only ones that are ready for that level of play. The other guys will never play another official game of football after this season but I see the two of you going on to play for a good school.”

Coach took off his hat, wiped the sweat off of his forehead and looked back at me.

“I understand that this might be your best shot at getting into a decent school and making a good life for yourself. Don’t fuck it up.”

As often as our coach would yell at us, throw his clipboard into the grass, and send us gasping into another round of gut drills when we disappointed him, I had never heard him swear and the word hit me in the face like a slap.

“You can go,” he said and went back to gathering his things.

All week I had been wanting to tell Nicole about the scouts. I wanted to tell her what coach said about getting into a good school. This whole time I had been busting my butt to get good grades for a scholarship, I never once though that I could actually play for a college team and possibly get a scholarship for football.

But Friday came and I had not seen Nicole once. When I got to my first period class, my head was in a fog. I had so much to tell Nicole and I never had to wait so long to talk to her. My mind drifted back to the last time I saw her. I played the evening of Jerrad’s party over and over in my head. I was certain I did something wrong but I couldn’t tell what it was.

The bell rang for the end of first period. I had been in my head the whole time and I couldn’t remember what the classroom topic was. I picked up my book, grabbed my backpack and made my way to the door. I glumly walked toward my second period classroom. A kid gave me a playful punch on the shoulder.

“You ready for Friday night,” he asked in overly-aggressive tone.

“Yeah,” I said halfheartedly. “I’m ready.”

The kid looked let down. He watched in confusion as I turned and walked away without the normal high-five. Halfway to my next class, I felt someone watching me. I looked up from the floor in time to see a girl turn her head and look away. Something about her seemed familiar but I didn’t see enough of her face to recognize her. I put my head back down and moped the rest of the way to second period.

Second period went by in a blur and I found myself trudging to third period. Normally I would cross paths with Nicole between second and third period. I looked left and right as I walked but nowhere did I see Nicole’s black jacket and tattered blue jeans. I looked for her gray hoodie. I looked for her chestnut hair banded with the yellow Walkman headphones. I stood in the middle of the intersection of the two main halls of our school. Students flowed past me on either side. Hundreds of faces went by but none of them were the one I wanted to see. I gave up and made my way to third period.

I sat in my desk and didn’t hear a word the teacher said. I resolved to find Nicole at lunch. If I didn’t see her at lunch, I would skip my afternoon classes to drive back to our cul-de-sac and knock on her door.

The bell for the end of third period rang. I went to put my book in my backpack only to find I had not even taken it out. I lugged my heavy backpack to my shoulder and walked out the door and to my locker. I usually exchanged my morning books for my afternoon books so I didn’t need to come to my locker again for the rest of the day. Instead, I put my whole backpack in my locker and shut it. I scanned the hallway for Nicole. Not seeing her, I made my way to the cafeteria. I hoped to find Nicole waiting for me outside like she often did. When I arrived to the noisy lunch room, I was focused on the doors on the other side of the sea of teenagers. I almost didn’t hear someone call my name.

“Kinsey!”

The shrill voice cut through the tumult of lunch trays, silverware, and excited conversation. I turned my head to look towards the sound. At a table about twenty feet away sat four girls. I immediately recognized one of them as Jerrad’s girlfriend. She waved at me and smiled. The two girls on her left were cheerleaders who I had known since grade school but who I had never really talked to and didn’t particularly care for.

When I looked to the fourth girl, the clamor of the lunch room suddenly died down. My peripheral vision blurred and the only thing that was still in focus was this girl sitting at the table. She wore a navy blue cardigan over a powder-blue t-shirt that came down to a blue-and-white plaid mini skirt. Her legs were covered with gray tights and she wore dark blue Mary Janes with thick, chunky soles. Her hair was pulled back in a bun except two strands that framed her face. Shiny, silver hoop earrings dangled from her ears. Her neck was encircled with a choker necklace in the shape of white flowers.

The girl had been looking at the sad food on her lunch tray and raised her eyes to meet mine. My mouth fell open and I stared. The only thing about Nicole that was not changed was her piercing green-blue eyes. She looked at me, into me and I was completely stunned. Her face seemed stern and then one corner of her mouth went up in a half smile.

“Have a seat, Kinsey,” she said. “Its lunchtime.”

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.”

Why I Stayed – Part 20

When Trevor asked me to the jock party, I played it cool. I wanted to be the supportive best friend that will do anything for you. I wanted to be the buddy that comes with so you don’t spend all night with nobody to talk to.

But really I was terrified. The thought of going to a party populated by all the people I didn’t like and set in the house of the most popular kid in school scared me. I secretly hoped that Trevor would change his mind. I wanted to spend the evening drinking milkshakes at The Brown Owl and then come back to the cul-de-sac to sit on his porch swing.

As if he was afraid I would bail on him, Trevor asked me every time he saw me whether I was still on board with accompanying him to the party. I could do nothing but blithely tell him that I wouldn’t have it any other way. I told him, no problem. I told him, you bet. My face portrayed an expression that said, “Are you kidding? Of course I’m still going.”

Inside my head, however, I winced. I sighed. I was anything but nonchalant. Inside my own head I rolled my eyes and pleaded with my friend to take me anywhere but that party. I felt nervous and couldn’t help but think that something horrible was going to happen. I was right to be nervous.

I sat in my sixth period History class, dreading the party and barely paying attention to a video about the reconstruction of the South after the civil war. This was the kind of topic I normally found fascinating but I was having a really difficult time paying attention. I looked at the desk to my right and found it empty. Normally this seat would be occupied by Jerrad Griffith. Normally he would take advantage of the dimmed lights to snooze through the movie. Today his seat was empty.

The door to the hallway opened and swath of light pierced the gloom. My classmates and I were forced to shield our eyes from the brightness. A sophomore boy I recognized from the school newspaper stood in the doorway and squinted into the darkness. His eyes finally adapted to the darkness and he headed towards the teacher’s desk. He approached and leaned down to whisper something in Mr. Cassell’s ear. I saw the boy hand him a small piece of paper. The sophomore turned and made for the door. A senior in the front row stuck out his foot and tripped the poor boy who had grace enough to not fall on his face. Everyone in the room laughed except for me and Mr. Cassell.

Mr. Cassell looked right at me. When I felt him looking at me, I returned his gaze. He held up the index finger on his right hand and mad the “come here” gesture. I got up from my desk and walked to him. He silently handed me the note delivered by the office aide. I squinted at the curly handwriting of our school receptionist and was able to make out two words: mother and hospital.

I looked worriedly at Mr. Cassell who tipped his head toward the door. I returned to my desk and gathered my things. I put my backpack on my back and deftly stepped over the feet that tried to trip me as I made my way to the door.

The light in the hallway burned my retinas and I squished my eyes shut to abate the pain. I slowly opened them again and read the entirety of the note.

“Nicole, your mother fell down the stairs. She is okay but she is at the hospital to get a cast. Your father is there.”

I stood dumbfounded in the hallway. I read the note again. It didn’t make any more sense the second time. The bell rang and sixth period was over. I quickly made my way to Trevor’s locker, which wasn’t far from the hallway where I currently stood. I waited by his locker but he never appeared. I should have known better. Trevor carried all the books for the classes he had after lunch and didn’t need to visit his locker in the afternoon. I didn’t relish the idea of going to my seventh period class so I went to the library instead. I spent most of seventh period curled up in a chair in the back of the library listening to the latest Alice In Chains album.

Most of the songs carried too much of Jerry Cantrell’s style but the song “Again” fit my mood perfectly. The quick, marching beat of the drums and the persistent guitars made an excellent counterpoint to Staley’s drowsy lyrics. The dichotomy of the song matched perfectly with the disparity in my head.

I wondered what my mom was doing upstairs and whether it was her arm or leg that was broken. I played scenarios in my head, trying to find the most likely one. I was suddenly worried that I waited too long and looked at the big clock on the library’s wall. Seventh period was over in five minutes. I got up and made my way back to Trevor’s locker. I had to catch him as he dropped off his books and got ready to drive home.

I leaned against the wall of lockers and listened to my headphones. I was staring off into space and impatiently waiting for the bell to ring so my friend would come and give me a ride to the hospital. It was true that Trevor was my friend. But I couldn’t help but feel there was something else. We had always been friends. My home life was not exactly stable and supportive. Our friendship was so consistent that it had become the foundation on which everything reliable in my life was built.

That was the problem. I felt like we were building on that foundation. I felt like something else was coming of our friendship that neither one of us was really ready to acknowledge. The nights where we would sit on the porch swing and joke were gone. Most nights, Trevor would wrap his arm around me and I would fall silent. I would fill my head with the sound of his heartbeat and calm myself with the feeling of his body next to mine.

Cuddling on the swing isn’t what buddies do. Trevor would not put his arm around Dave that way. I was excited at the idea that Trevor had begun to think of me as more than just a friend. At the same time I was distraught because I had no other reason to think that Trevor felt this way besides the way he held me close on the swing. It disgusted me, but I found myself in the middle of a “he loves me, he loves me not” moment. Those kinds of girls made me sick. Those kinds of girls were cheerleaders.

The bell rang and the hallway quickly filled up with teenagers. Everyone was excited to be free of school for the weekend. Their cheerful chatter leaked through my headphones and competed with Alice In Chains for my attention. I scowled and scanned crowd for Trevor. I noticed a spot of stillness in the fervor and saw the top of Trevor’s head which rose a few inches above most of the kids around him. As he came close, I walked up to him and grabbed his arm.

He looked at me and smiled. His face was so happy that I couldn’t bring myself to bring him down with the news of my mother.

Instead I asked him if he still meant to go to the party.

“Yeah,” he said with a smith. “Are you still going to come with and keep me company?”

I rolled my eyes and tried my best to be nonchalant.

He said something about picking up his mom from work. I was still unable to tell him about my mother. He told me he’d pick me up after dinner and I said, “Okay.” He could tell that something was wrong but he seemed as reluctant to ask as I was to tell.

I watched him walk down the hall and made up my mind to walk to the hospital and check on my mother.

The hospital was only a few blocks from the high school. I walked up the sidewalk and noticed my father’s work car in the parking lot outside of the emergency entrance. I walked up to the automatic doors and when they swished open I nearly walked into my mother who was riding in a wheelchair pushed by my father. The suddenness stunned me and I stood with my mouth open.

“Nicole, honey,” my mom said. “You didn’t have to come all the way here.”

“I got a note in class,” I said.

“Oh, sweetheart I only asked them to tell you in case you came home and wondered where I was.”

My mother was cradling her right arm on her lap. Her pink cardigan was draped over her shoulders. Her white button-down top had short sleeves. Her right forearm was encased in a purple cast from the back of her hand almost to the elbow.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, the doctor said it’s not a full break and the cast can come off in six weeks.”

She smiled but I didn’t feel better. I knew that smile. It was the face she gave me when she was trying to convince me that everything was okay. She only used that face when things were not okay.

“We were just on our way home,” my father said. “The car is right outside.”

I looked at my father. He would not meet my eye. He looked at everything but my face. He kept smacking his lips and I saw him swallow hard like something was stuck in his throat. He pushed my mother’s chair forward and I stepped aside to let them pass.

We were silent on the ride home. As soon as we got into the house, my father grabbed a beer from the fridge and plopped down in his chair to watch TV. My mother announced she was going to lay down. I stood at the bottom of the stairs and hesitated before going up to my room. I wondered if this was where my mother broke her arm. Some movement caught my attention and I glanced over at my father. He was tipping his head back to finish his beer. This was the beer he opened only a few minutes ago. I shook my head and went to my room.

I shut my door and laid on my bed. I had an escape mechanism that I used when life was too much to handle. I would withdraw into my head and dream up a story. I would visualize the story as a sandcastle or something else that I built with my hands. After virtually constructing the story in my head, sometimes I would sit and write it out on paper so I could take it to school and type it out later.

For some reason I could not find peace in my head. Usually, ideas would come from a cloud over my head and when they fell, I would form them into a narrative or a poem. Everything that fell from my idea cloud was dark and depressing. My stomach rumbled and I gave up on my imaginary world. I looked at the clock, it was almost seven.

I got out of bed and started for the door. I gave myself one last look in the mirror.

“Quit being such a girl,” I told myself.

I grabbed my favorite hoodie from my closet and draped it over my shoulder.

I was unnerved on my way down the stairs. It was quiet. When I got to the landing, I noticed my father was not in his chair. I walked through the the living room and found my mother sitting at the table by herself. She was eating leftover meatloaf, drinking milk, and reading a romance novel.

“Hi mom,” I said.

“Oh, hi honey,” my mom said as she put her book down. “I didn’t hear you come down.”

“Where’s dad,” I asked.

“He didn’t feel like leftovers. I told him that was all I felt up to making tonight, with my arm and all,” she said with a shrug. “He said he would go pick up Tony for dinner and a few beers.”

Tony was dad’s drinking buddy. If they were on the town, my father would not come home until very late.

“I was going to go to a party with Trevor,” I said, trying to hide how angry I was with my father. “But I think I’ll go tell him that I’m going to stay home with you.”

“Oh, that’s sweet,” my mother said with a hand motion like she was shooing a fly. “But I can take care of myself. Besides, if I take another of the pain pills the hospital gave me, I’ll be sleeping in no time anyways.”

I quickly ate some meatloaf with my mom and went next door to wait for Trevor on the porch swing. As I sat and listened to the creaking swing, I thought about my father. He didn’t care enough to stay home and take care of mom. I thought about how uncomfortable he looked when I met them at the hospital. I then realized why my dad couldn’t look me in the eye as he stood there behind mom’s wheel chair. I understood that his shifty eyes and his swallowing weren’t because he was uncomfortable with hospitals. He felt guilty.

I thought about all the times my dad had gotten angry. I remembered times when mom sent me to my room and I had to turn my music up to full volume to drown out the sound of my parents fighting. I remembered hearing crashing sounds and finding broken dishes in the garbage the next day. I remembered my mother wearing more foundation makeup on days after she argued with my father. I couldn’t believe I had not seen it before but my father wasn’t just a lazy drunk. He was abusing my mother.

Trevor’s front door opened and my friend stepped out and onto the porch. He said something, but I was too angry to notice.

I said, “Let’s go,” and I jumped out of the swing and made my way to the passenger side of Trevor’s car. I figured if I could just get to this stupid party, maybe I could forget about my asshole father for a while.

Why I Stayed – Part 19

The detective poked a finger at a piece of paper in front of him. I couldn’t make out the text from where I sat but I recognized the emblem at the top of the page as the seal for the city of Kiln Valley. There was a large signature at the bottom of the page.

“So far,” Demarco cleared his throat. “So far, you have been detained under suspicion of the murder of Jerrad Griffith. The next thing that will happen is that I will put you under arrest. Then, I will read you your rights. Before I do either of those things, is there anything you would like to tell me?”

Demarco looked at me with one black eyebrow raised. His eyes were a deep brown and his skin was the color coffee-stained paper. Black hair was combed back from his forehead and held in place by some sort of a shiny hair product. I could smell cologne but it was not a brand I could recognize. I looked him in his chocolate-colored eyes and slowly shook my head.

“You would be making it much easier on yourself if you talked to me, you know that?”

I shook my head again.

“Suit yourself,” he said. “Nicole Miller, you are hereby under arrest for the murder of Jerrad Griffith.” He reached into his suit coat and pulled out a card.

He placed the card on the table and turned the words so I could read them. I looked at the card and but could not understand the content. I gave him a quizzical look. He glanced at the card and winced. Demarco flipped the card over so the English language side was up and pushed it back towards me. He recited the words from the card perfectly.

“You have the right to remain silent and to refuse to answer questions. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to consult an attorney and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present, you will still have the right to consult an attorney at a later time.”

Something didn’t seem right. The words he spoke sounded official but they were not what I expected. Decades of watching television and movies had prepared me for the script most often read to perpetrators as they are cuffed and stuffed into the back of a squad car. The setting was wrong and the words were so different that I was momentarily confused.

A similar thing happened to me as a little girl. My family was not very religious but my mom made sure to take me to the Lutheran church she attended as a child once in a while. I had experienced enough masses and Sunday schools that I had memorized the lord’s prayer and the Apostle’s Creed well enough to recite it with the rest of the congregation when the time came. One spring, a girl from my fourth grade class invited me for a sleepover on a Saturday night. Her mother had called my mother to iron out all the details. While I listened from a phone in another room, my friend’s mother asked if it would be okay to bring me to their church on Sunday morning. My mother told her that she didn’t see any harm in it.

Saturday night my friend and I stayed up really late playing Nintendo and watching movies. She had a TV in her bedroom with a built-in VCR and her parents didn’t limit how much time she spent in front of it, let alone what she watched. After staying up until sunrise watching movies my mother would never let me see we were rudely awakened by my friend’s mother and told it was time to get ready for church. I barely remembered getting dressed and eating breakfast. The drive to the church was short and we arrived in front of the Kiln Valley Grace Baptist Church before I was completely awake.

We sat in a pew not far from the front and I was dumbfounded by the spectacle of their Sunday mass. Everything was different. There was more music and people would speak up at random times to say “Hallelujuah” and “Praise Jesus.” I had no idea that two churches could be so different and when the pastor called for the congregation to recite the Lord’s Prayer, I was excited because this would finally be a part with which I was familiar.

I started the first line in proud unison with the rest of the worshipers but I was shocked when the pastor broke in and recited his own riff on the first line before we were able to move on to the second. I recited the second line with the people around me, only to be interrupted a second time. I shyly started the third line and was thrown off yet again when the words of the prayer were different. I was shocked into silence for the rest of the prayer. I could not understand why this prayer, which was as familiar to me as the Pledge of Allegiance, would be recited in such a different way.

The same unsettling sense of unfamiliarity hung over my head as the words for Demarco’s version of the Miranda warning echoed off the concrete walls of the interview room.

“Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you,” Demarco went on. “Are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?”

It was the last line that made me realize what was happening. Demarco was reading a script that was carefully prepared. The words were written to conform to the letter of the law and yet give the suspect some sort of motivation to talk to the cops and give up the right to silence. The confusion I felt at hearing the wrong Miranda warning faded and I leaned over the wooden top of the table to view the card better. I read the words written on the card and then read them a second time.

I sat back in my plastic chair as far as the chain would allow. I remembered reading about the Miranda case in political science class in high school. A man named Ernesto Miranda was arrested in Phoenix, Arizona for the kidnapping and rape of a girl in 1963. After his arrest and hours of interrogation, Miranda confessed and also signed documents that laid out his oral confession in plain text. The documents contained headings that stated the confessor was giving the statement of their own free will and in full knowledge of their rights. However Mr. Miranda was never told he had the right to silence, the right to an attorney, and that what he said would be used against him in court.

The prosecutors presented Ernesto Miranda’s confession as evidence and Miranda’s defense attorney argued that his client was not fully aware of his rights. The defense argued that had Mr. Miranda been aware of and fully understood his rights, he would not have confessed to the police. Miranda was convicted anyway and sentenced to a prison term. His attorney appealed the case to the Arizona State Supreme Court but the decision was upheld. Miranda’s case was eventually heard by the United States Supreme Court as Miranda vs. Arizona. The Supreme Court found that the confession of a suspect should only be admissible if the confessor is completely aware and in understanding of their rights. Miranda’s original conviction was overturned.

Ernesto Miranda did not stay a free man for long. He was arrested again on the same charges and a new trial, using evidence as well as statements from his girlfriend. Miranda was found guilty again and once again sentenced to time in prison. Miranda served his time and was released on parole. After his release, he was known to make money by signing what had come to be known as “Miranda Cards” for policemen and would carry stacks of signed cards in his coat to sell for $1.25. Mr. Miranda’s freedom from prison was again cut short when he was fatally stabbed in a bar fight. Rumor had it that Ernesto’s assailant held off the investigation by using his right to silence. Presumably, he heeded the Miranda warning that was read to him until he was eventually released on lack of evidence.

Demarco cleared his throat and repeated the question from the bottom of the card.

“Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?”

“No,” I said. “I would like to speak to my attorney.”

Demarco closed the first envelope and opened a second one. He began shuffling through the papers inside the folder. His black eyebrows nearly met above his nose and he pursed his lips.

“I don’t see that you have an attorney on record.”

“Robert Otis,” I said. “My attorney is Robert Otis.”

“I see,” said Demarco. He glanced over his shoulder to officer Hoskins who shrugged his shoulders and made a face like he smelled something awful.

“Nicole,” Demarco said in a patronizing tone. “I have to tell you that it never looks good when the suspect won’t talk to us. You look pretty guilty asking for a lawyer right away.”

“Knock it off, Demarco.”

Hoskins, Demarco, and I all looked at Tonya Lewis. I had nearly forgotten she was there and I had the feeling that the two men wished she wasn’t.

The men made annoyed faces and returned their attention to me.

“If you have further questions for me,” I said. “Please refer them to my attorney. I understand my rights and I will not be answering any of your questions unless my attorney is present.”

Hoskins grunted as he pried his heavy body away from the wall. Demarco put his papers back into their manila folders before he walked out into the hallway in a huff. Hoskins followed him out and shut the door with more force than was necessary.

Officer Lewis walked up to my chair, keys in hand.

“Well done,” she said. And unlocked the cuff from my left hand.

Officer Lewis disentangled my cuffs from the table and gently clasped the open cuff back onto my wrist. I stood up and my plastic chair made a horrible noise as it was pushed back across the tile floor. Tonya tipped her head towards the door and I followed her to it. She opened the door, put her left hand back on my right arm, and guided me out into the hallway.

As we walked towards my cell I could see that the light coming in the little window at the end of the hall was brighter now. I guessed it must be around noon. We arrived at my door and officer Lewis opened it for me. I walked in and she followed, pulling the door almost closed behind her. I held my hands in front of me and Tonya grabbed her keys from her belt and unlocked my restraints. My hands felt ten pounds lighter with all of that steel removed and I was suddenly very tired.

I turned ,shuffled back to my hard bed, and sat down. I looked up at Officer Lewis who watched me with a straight face although something in her eyes led me to believe something was running through her head.

“You’re going to be okay,” she said.

“I think so too,” I said.

Officer Lewis gave me a half smile, turned, and walked out into the hallway. The door slowly glided shut and I heard her keys jingle again as she locked it.

I laid down on the bed, listened to the footsteps recede down the hallway, and tried to sink into my make-believe world. However, when I closed my eyes, the only thing that came to me was sleep.

Why I Stayed – Part 18

As I sat on Trevor’s swing and waited for him to come home, I got really cold and I felt like I was going through Walkman withdrawals. Music was such an important component in my life that I hardly went a moment without a song to accompany it. Music was a passion I shared with my cousin Nessa, who lived in Seattle and had an amazingly cool job at a radio station. The station specialized in rock and alternative music and when a new song or a new group came up on Nessa’s radar, she would pass it along to me. It started as cassette tapes that she bootlegged off of promotional copies that arrived at the radio station on a daily basis. Eventually she started sending me CDs and I had to save up to buy a boom box with a CD player. But I could not give up on my Walkman.

The Walkman was a present from my Grandpa Bill when I was seven years old. He was my mom’s father and I loved when he would come to visit. He would sleep on my bed and I would put a sleeping bag on my floor. We would go to my room after dinner and talk about books and music. He would tell me stories about growing up on a farm in the Midwest and serving in the army in World War II. He would tell me stories about my mom when she was little and how much I looked like her when she was my age. I had a really old tape deck stereo in my room and sometimes I would play tapes that Nessa sent. Sometimes he would bob his head with the music and sometimes he would make a face and I would change the tape. I told him one night how great it would be to listen to this music while I rode my bike or while I walked to school. The next evening after dinner he said he had a present for me. My birthday wasn’t for another month so I was surprised and curious.

I ate my dinner as fast as I could and Grandpa Bill left half of his meal on his plate so he could meet me in the living room to open my gift. It was wrapped in the comics page from the Sunday paper. I tore through the newsprint and at first I didn’t know what I saw. I recognized the brand Sony but I didn’t recognize the device right away.

“It’s a thingamajig so you can listen to your tapes anywhere you want,” grandpa said.

My eyes widened as I realized what I had in the box in front of me. I hastily cleared away the rest of the funny pages and pried open the box. Grandpa handed me a four-pack of AA batteries. I unpacked the portable cassette player and carefully put the batteries in the compartment. I unpacked the headphones and carefully placed them on my head. The orange foam of the ear pieces were soft. I unraveled the cord and plugged the headphones into the jack. I looked at my grandpa and saw my happiness reflected in his eyes.

“Go get a tape, let’s try it out,” my mom said.

I jumped out of my chair and ran up the steps to my room. I rummaged through my tapes, looking for the perfect album to break in my new toy. I wanted to find one that my grandpa had enjoyed in case he wanted to try the headphones on. As I was digging through my tapes, I could hear my parents talking with my grandpa. I didn’t think much of it until I heard my father’s voice take the tone and volume he used when trying to win an argument. I grabbed my copy of Dire Straits “Brothers In Arms” and popped the cassette into the player. I donned the headphones, left my room, and started walking down the stairs. I did not hit play but instead waited until I was downstairs.

The adults didn’t notice me come down the steps. I stood on the landing and listened to them talk as if I wasn’t there.

“I just think it’s too expensive,” my dad said. “She’s just a kid. She’ll break or lose the thing in a week.”

“Honey, you know how much she loves music,” said my mother. “And you know how much she loves her grandpa, you can’t really ask her to give it back.”

“It doesn’t matter,” my grandpa spoke up. “I’m not taking it back. Did you see her face when she realized what it was?”

“She was pretty excited,” my mother said hopefully.

My father took a drink of beer and shook his head. “If you won’t take it back, let me keep it in the closet until she’s old enough to be responsible for something so expensive.”

My grandfather stood up and pointed his finger at my dad. “You pretend like you’re acting in her best interests. I think you’re jealous. You’ve never made that little girl as happy as she was about that tape deck and you know you never will.”

My father but his beer down on the end table and stood up. His shoulders, which normally slouched forward, were pulled back and his fists were clenched tight.

“I will not be spoken to like child in my own house, Bill.”

“Then quit acting like a child!”

“Please, both of you settle down. She’s gong to hear you,” my mother pleaded.

I pressed the play button on my Walkman. The brand new, never used mechanism made a sharp click. The sound fractured the silence and all three adults looked over to where I stood on the landing. All three were shocked to see me standing there.

“Thank you grandpa, I love it,” I said. I turned around and walked back upstairs and into my room.

From the day my grandfather gave me that Walkman, I rarely let it out of my sight. I didn’t want to give my dad an opportunity to take it away. Even worse, I didn’t want to prove my dad right by losing it or breaking it. Over the years, I have bought hundreds of batteries and more than a few replacement foam pieces for the headphones. When I started getting CDs from my cousin and bought the CD boom box for my room, I made sure to get one that would allow me to copy CDs to tape so I could still take the music she sent with me.

I wore my headphones to pass time. I wore headphones to block out annoying sounds or even more annoying silence. But sometimes I would put my headphones on and neglect to push play like that night in my parent’s living room. People would talk around someone wearing headphones as if they weren’t in the room. It was almost as good as when I was smaller and invisible to most of the adults around me.

I heard the familiar sound of Trevor’s car and soon saw headlights reflecting off of the trees near our street. A giant station wagon turned in to our cul-de-sac and slowed to pull in to the driveway of the house next door. The driver killed the engine and switched off the headlights. I could see Trevor’s shadowy figure moving around as he collected his stuff to carry into the house. The driver’s side door opened and the dome light illuminated my best friend in a yellow light. Trevor stood up out of the car and carefully shut he door so it was sure to be locked. Our neighborhood was generally safe but some of the bored kids in our area weren’t above climbing into unlocked cars to look for smokes and loose change.

When he turned and walked towards his house he saw me on the swing and smiled.

“Hey Nic,” Trevor said.

“Hey,” I replied.

Trevor walked up the step to his port and up to the swing. He turned around and plopped down onto the bench seat next to me. He smelled like He had just taken a shower and I could feel the heat and humidity coming off of his skin on my cheek.

“You look cold, have you been waiting for a while?”

“I guess,” I answered.

“I see, he said and nodded his head.

We sat for a while, neither of us sure what to say next. The car, which I named “Woody,” ticked and pinged as the hot parts cooled to the temperature of the chilly evening.

“So,” Trevor started. “Did you get a ride home from Dave?”

I rolled my eyes.

“I waited at the flag pole for like fifteen minutes. I was just about to give up and walk when I heard his brother’s tank barreling down the street.”

David Morneau’s big brother owned a Ford Bronco that looked like it had rolled over a couple times and put back together with duct tape, which it probably had.

“Oh man, I’m sorry.”

“You should be,” I said and punched him on the shoulder. “I had to ride the whole way home with my head out the window to avoid the pot smoke and the shitty music.”

“What was it this time, Dr. Dre?”

“No, he’s had that Sublime tape I gave him on constant repeat for months now. I can’t tell you how much I regret giving him that fucking tape.”

Trevor laughed. He always laughed when I cussed. He told me he thought it was cute. I thought he laughed out of irony, like he had some sexist idea that girls weren’t supposed to talk like that. Whatever it was, I used whatever words I deemed appropriate and I almost never said bad words just to make him laugh.

“Seriously,” I continued. “That album was pretty good, I’ll give him that. But move on, for crying out loud.”

“You could give him a copy of the new album.”

“The new album sucks. I’d rather listen to 40oz to Freedom over and over again than hear ‘What I got.’”

“I kind of like the new one.”

“That’s because you’re not very smart,” I said with a sympathetic look on my face. “It’s a good thing you’re pretty.”

Trevor tipped his head back and laughed. The swing lurched in response to his movement. He put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me close. His body radiated warmth. I let him pull me against his body and tipped my head so it laid against his chest.

“You’re freezing,” he said.

“I’m warmer now, thank you.”

The swing creaked as we rocked slowly back and forth. I felt secure and warm for the first time all evening. Trevor never failed to make me feel that way. We had been friends for so many years that I took for granted his company and his conversation but lately I felt something more developing between us. When I would sit on the swing, he would often do what he just did. His arm would encircle my shoulders, he would pull me up against him, and I would lay my head on his chest and listen to his heart beat.

There were no words in those moments. A cocoon of heat and comfort would envelop me and I couldn’t think of a reason to speak. To be completely honest, I was afraid to speak. I was scared that whatever I said would ruin the softness and warmth. I was afraid to say anything that might cause Trevor to move his arm. I would sit there with my head on his chest and I would hope that nothing would interrupt us. I would close my eyes and wish that I could stay there forever. I knew this was impossible.

As a last resort I would take a deep breath and make a wish. I would wish that if the world was going to end, that it would end right now. I was complacent with the idea of being vaporized in the white flash of nuclear Armageddon as long as my life ended like this. If my existence and that of the entire planet disappeared in the blink of an eye, there would be no better way to go than with Trevor’s arm around me.

Why I Stayed – Part 17

I sat in the plastic seat of a flimsy chair. My elbows rested on the scarred, wooden surface of a heavy table which seemed to be permanently fastened to the floor. Shiny handcuffs were clasped around my wrists with a chain between them that passed through a metal ring set in the heavy table. Although I didn’t check, I guessed that the ring was strong enough to keep the biggest, most unruly detainee on their side of the table.

I held my face in my hands, one cheek in each palm, my fingertips rested on my temples. I sat here for what seemed like hours. The ring which secured my handcuffs prevented me from folding my arms on the table and setting my head down like I used to do during a boring lecture. The chain between my cuffs was not long enough for me to move to a more convenient place. The most comfortable thing I could do was hold my face, slouch my neck, and breathe the sharp scent of the steel that held me captive.

Earlier, I laid on the bed in my cell and surrounded myself with my fantasy world. The make-believe place to which I retreated when I wrote and when I was unable to bear reality. I worked on a resolution to some plot issues in my Katherina story.

I was having a hard time deciding where Kat would go after killing Petruchio. If she untied the tow that held his dead body to the pallet and called for help, she could claim he died in his sleep. The medicine of the day would be unlikely to find any cause of death and she might not be blamed for his passing. However, Katherina worried that someone who knew that her marriage to Petruchio was not exactly happy would offer a different explanation. Perhaps the servants would gossip about the screams coming from the room where Petruchio had locked her. She could be accused of poisoning him or putting an evil spell on her husband. Worse yet, Katherina could get away with murdering Petruchio, only to have her father marry her off to another man just as bad if not worse than the her former husband. Unlike my own situation, it seemed that Kat’s only opportunity to escape prison and patriarchy was to flee.

I had just come to that conclusion when the sound of footsteps echoed down the hallway outside my cell door. The footfalls came to a stop in front of my cell and I heard the sound of keys jingling while the person standing outside found the correct key for my door. A key was inserted into the lock, the tumblers turned with a quiet grinding sound, and the latch opened. The door opened out into the hallway and officer Tonya Lewis stood in the gap left by the open door. One of her hands rested on the door and the other hand held a cafeteria tray.

“Hungry?”

I was so focused on writing my story and not going crazy that I had not thought of food. When the scent of whatever was on the tray hit my nose, it did not smell like any particular meal. It had the generic smell that you find in hospital cafeterias or the food court in a mall. I inhaled the aroma deep into my lungs and my stomach gurgled loudly.

“I’m guessing you could use some food,” Tonya said and stepped into my cell. “We don’t have a kitchen here so we get the food for our detainees from the same place that prepares meals for the school district.”

As she carried the tray towards me, I sat up on the bed. My stomach was convulsing inside me, grinding it’s slimy walls together in preparation for the food I smelled. I was not normally a big eater but as hungry as I suddenly found myself I felt sure I could devour every bit of what was on the tray. Tonya set the tray down on my bed and I swallowed the saliva that had been gathering in my mouth and tried not to drool on my papery pajamas like an animal.

My vision blurred and I could not see what was on the tray. My right hand reached out on its own volition and grasped the curved plastic edge. I calmed myself and succeeded in dragging the tray closer to me without knocking it over and lifted it onto my lap. When my eyes finally came into focus, I stared down hungrily on two pieces of pepperoni pizza, a small pile of tater tots, a cup of apple slices, and a half-pint of chocolate milk. The pepperonis were curled up at the edges and formed little red bowls that held tiny puddles of orange grease. The white cheese hardy covered all of the ketchup-red sauce that was liberally spread over the chalky crust of the pizza. The tater tots were baked hard and brown on one side but barely toasted on the other side. The half-pint of milk was already open and I could smell high-fructose corn syrup and synthetic cocoa.

On any other day of my life, I would go hungry before I ate a meal like this. However, I found myself unable eat it fast enough. I devoured the first piece of pizza in three bites, chewing just enough to be able to swallow but no more. I moved on to the apple slices and ate them two at a time. I picked up half of the tater tots and tossed them into my mouth. The over-cooked side of the tater tots crunched loudly between my jaws and the mostly-raw side squished into the inside of my cheeks like a potato-flavored pudding. I downed the rest of the tater tots and drank more than half of the chocolate milk. The milk left a film on my tongue and my teeth felt like they had been painted with latex paint.

I took a little more time to eat the second slice of pizza. By the time I was nearly finished, my brain recognized how full my stomach was and I couldn’t eat the gritty crust at the end. I picked up the milk but I was unable to bring myself to drink it, having just scraped the film off the inside of my mouth while chewing the scratchy pizza dough.

Suddenly very full and a little bit sick, I placed the tray back on the bed.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Don’t mention it,” answered Tonya.

She picked up the tray and stood by the partially-open door.

“They want me to move you to the interview room,” officer Lewis said. “I have a feeling you’ll be in there a while so I’m going to give you time to use the toilet while I drop the tray off at the office. Okay?”

I nodded. Tonya shut the door to my cell and locked it. I heard her footsteps fade away as she walked to the office. I started to imagine what the interview room would be like. I, like most Americans, was raised on TV shows where cops brought bad guys into a room with a bright light that shone in the suspect’s eyes. There was a mirror in the room, behind which other cops or some kind of consultant would stand.

My reverie was interrupted by the sudden urge to use the toilet. I had looked at the shiny steel commode a few times since officer Lewis first locked me in the cell but I had yet to use it. Its rim was slightly wider than a normal toilet and had no seat or lid. The rim had a cutout that I assumed prevented male users from dribbling on the makeshift seat provided by the widened rim.

I walked up to the stainless steel contraption and looked at the blue water at the bottom of the bowl with disdain. I sighed, turned around, and pulled my paper pajamas down along with my underwear. I sat and let out a gasp when my skin met the chilly metal. I shivered and rubbed my arms which were now covered in goose bumps. I pulled some gossamer toilet paper from the locked cabinet built into the wall. I finished my business, wiped, and stood up. An infrared sensor on the wall detected my absence and flushed the toilet. I pulled up my underwear and the blue pajama bottoms and glared angrily at the blue water that began to fill the bottom of the toilet again.

Someone gave a polite knock at my cell door and I turned in time to see the door swing open and officer Lewis peek in through the opening gap.

“Are you all finished,” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m good,” I replied.

Tonya opened the door the rest of the way. Instead of a tray, this time she held a pair of handcuffs in her free hand.

“I have to put these on you,” she said.

I held my hands out in front of me, palms down. She carefully secured a cuff on each of my wrists and I noticed the chain connecting the cuffs was slightly longer than normal. She gently took the upper section of my right arm in her left hand and led me out of the cell. I glanced over my shoulder to the door at the end of the hall. The small window set in the door glowed with dull sunshine. I guessed it was late morning early afternoon.

As we walked down the hall and passed the booking area, I thought I could smell the smoke from my escapade with the lighter. The door to the office passed us on the right and soon we came to a door marked “Interview 1” in black lettering. There was a window in the door but it had a tiny cover that could slide back to allow someone in the hallway to look in or speak to the people in the room.

Officer Lewis opened the door and led me to a large table. She motioned to a little plastic chair on one side of the table. I reached down with my bound hands and slid the chair out far enough so I could sit down.

“Please give me your hands,” said officer Lewis.

I held my hands out and she unlocked the cuff on one of my hands. She removed the cuff, expertly fed it through the large ring on the table, and then locked it around my wrist once again. I slid my plastic chair closer to the table with my foot and sat looking at the shiny metal around my wrists.

“The detective will be here soon,” said Tonya. She walked to the door, opened it, and looked at me for a second before shutting it.

My arms were numb from my elbows to my fingertips by the time the door to the interview room opened again. I sat up straight and felt a horrible crick in my neck from slouching for so long. My cheeks felt clammy and I could see in the obligatory mirror across from me that my face was red and splotchy after the prolonged contact with my hands. I shook my head to clear my thoughts and watched as three people came into the room.

The first person to enter was officer Lewis, who crossed the mirror and stood in the corner opposite from my right side. She gave me a crooked grin and then looked toward the open door. A man in a gray suit entered. Under the rumpled jacket he wore a blue shirt with the top button undone and a red tie loosely knotted around his collar. He held a stack of manila envelopes in one hand and a coffee cup in the other. The coffee cup was blue and printed with a hand of playing cards.

I remembered the police station’s main office had a vending machine that served coffee with various amounts of cream or sugar for the price of a dollar and the press of a button. A cup would drop down and the coffee you requested would slide out of a chute into a cup printed with cards. If more than one person bought a cup of coffee, they could compare the hand of cards on their cups, with the idea that the person holding the cup with the winning hand would buy the next round.

Mister rumpled suit walked over to the chair on the opposite side of the table from me. He dropped the manila envelopes on the table, took a drink of coffee, and pulled out his chair. Before he sat down, he also looked to the open door just as a bulky shadow filled up the open space.

Officer Hoskins walked into the interview room and shut the door behind him with his foot. He held a cup of coffee in each hand. He crossed the mirror and attempted to hand a cup to officer Lewis. She shook her head and Hoskins gave her a funny look. Hoskins walked over to the table and set the cup on the table by the manila folders. The fat cop then made his way to the corner of the room on the other side of the mirror from officer Lewis.

The man in the gray suit watched the whole exchange with a look of mild interest. He glanced at the extra cup of coffee, shrugged, and sat down in his chair with a sigh. The chair in which he sat was padded and probably a lot more comfortable than the wobbly plastic one in which I sat. He opened the first manila folder and cleared his throat.

“Nicole,” he said. His voice was higher than what seemed appropriate for a cop or any man of his age and size. “I am detective Demarco. This paper I have in front of me is a warrant for your arrest.”