Why I Stayed – Part 16

I slowly opened my eyes at the sound of a ghostly electric bass. Soon, a scratchy guitar joined in an echoing accompaniment, bolstered by thunderous drums. When the guitar shifted to a banshee scream, I sat up in my bed and rubbed my eyes. I had been laying in my bed and listening to Nirvana’s Nevermind for the millionth time. I fell asleep during “Something In the Way” and was woken up by the hidden track that follows it. I yawned and stretched while Kurt Cobain screeched unintelligibly.

I swung my legs over the edge of the bed, stood, and walked to my bookshelf. I reached down to the shelf that held my CD player boom box and pressed my finger to the “stop” button. Cobain’s nonsensical yelling halted suddenly. I stood up straight and stretched my arms above my head. I inhaled a deep breath which made me a little dizzy. I put a hand on the bookshelf to steady myself. My stomach grumbled loudly. I realized I had not eaten anything since Trevor gave me the tater tots at lunch. I glanced at my hand to where it had landed on the bookshelf and saw that my fingers had fallen on the black leather spine of large book.

I pulled the book off of the shelf and held it in my hands. The black leather cover was embossed with the title in shiny, gold text:William Shakespeare The Complete Works. Trevor found the book in a used bookstore in Spokane and gave it to me for Christmas. I opened the cover and looked at the words scrawled in black ink on the title page.

“I remember we saw this in a Fur Trap shop window. You told me that the idea of one book containing everything written by Shakespeare was like holding an entire world in your hands. You mean the world to me, so here you go. Merry Christmas! Your friend, Trevor Kinsey.”

I felt another gurgling complaint from my stomach and closed the book. I ran my fingers over the smooth, black leather and returned the book to its shelf. I turned and made my way to the door.

As I passed my full-length mirror, I glanced at my reflection and saw myself out of the corner of my eye. I gave my image a disdainful look and grabbed a gray hoodie off the back of my desk chair. I pulled the sweatshirt  over my head and opened my bedroom door.

I was hit in the face by the smells from my mother’s kitchen and the sound of my father’s television. I stood at the sop of the stairs and finished pulling my sweatshirt down. Still groggy from my short nap, I walked carefully down the stairs.

The staircase came down into the living room, which was awash in the sound of loud engines. My father sat in an easy chair, facing the television. The light from a floor lamp reflected off the top of his head, which had almost no hair anymore. From where I stood at the bottom of the stairs I could only see pieces of him: the shiny cap of his bald head, his feet on the recliner’s foot rest, and his hands on the arm rests. His right hand held a remote control and his left hand held a can of Coors Light. I carefully sneaked past the back of my father’s easy chair and crossed the living room. Just past the front door was the kitchen and dining room.

I walked up to the family table and quietly pulled out a chair that faced the kitchen. I sat down and watched my mother. She was peering into the glass window of the oven door. She tapped her foot impatiently and stood up to take one more look at the timer next to the knobs that controlled the temperature of the oven and range.

“The timer says it should stay in there for another five minutes,” my mother said to herself with her hands on her hips. “But it looks done to me.”

“It smells done,” I said.

My mother gasped and turned to look at me.

“Jesus, Nicole. You scared the crap out of me.”

“Sorry mom,” I said.

“How long have you been sitting there?”

“Just a couple minutes.”

“Good, I was just about to call for you to set the table.”

My mother put oven mitts on both hands, opened the oven, and pulled a glass baking dish off of the middle rack. She set the dish on a couple of pot holders that had been strategically placed on the counter next to the range. A small pot sat over a gas jet set to low and steam gently leaked from under the lid. My mother shut the oven and turned it off. She then looked at me and raised her eyebrows.

“Well,” my mother said. “Are you going to set the table or not?”

I slid my chair back and stood up. I walked to the kitchen and opened the silverware drawer. I grabbed three knives, forks, and spoons and put them in my left hand. I walked back to the table and put one of each item in front of the chairs we used when there wasn’t any company. Dad’s chair faced the living room so he could still see the television. My mother’s chair was next and my chair was at the other end so I didn’t block my father’s view. I walked back into the kitchen, grabbed three clean dinner plates and two glasses from the cupboard. I placed the plates on the counter by the glass dish and set the drinking glasses next to the silverware belonging to my mother and me.

“Perfect,” my mother said. “Will you go tell your father that dinner is ready?”

I pursed my lips and let my head fall to my chest.


“Fine,” I said and trudged to the living room.

I walked up to my father’s recliner and noticed that he was sound asleep. His head was tipped back, his mouth forced open by the tilt of his neck. His breath came in and out of his open mouth with a gasping sound and carried with it the smell of cheap beer and smoker’s breath. I tapped his right forearm gently with my index finger. His fingers twitched a little on the rubber buttons of the TV remote. I put my hand on his forearm and shook it a little.

“Dad, dinner is ready,” I said softly.

My dad sat up quickly and lifted the remote like he was going to use it as a bludgeon. Amazingly, he avoided spilling his beer.

“Dinner? What time is it,” My father asked.

“Six thirty,” I said.

“Hmm, the race is almost over. Last one before Talladega.”

“Mom asked me to come get you for dinner.”

My father lifted his left arm and gently shook his beer can. The little bit of beer left in the bottom of the can sloshed quietly. He lifted the can to his mouth, tipped his head back, and drained the can. He handed the empty can to me.

“Could you put a cold one of these on the table for me? I’ll be right there.”

“Sure,” I said and returned to the kitchen.

I walked up to the trash can and dropped the silver beer can into the garbage.

“Oh honey,” My mom said behind me. “We’ve started recycling those, remember?”

I rolled my eyes and retrieved the can from the pile of garbage it landed in.

“Just put it in the sink next to the others.”

I looked to the sink and saw two “Silver Bullet” cans and two cans that used to contain corn. I placed the can next to the other four and went to the fridge. I grabbed a jug of milk, a can of beer, and a bottle of ketchup. I shut the door and returned to the kitchen table. I set the beer can down at my father’s place setting and started pulling out my chair when my mom approached carrying two plates of food. She set one down for my father and the other down for me.

I looked at my plate and was at first disappointed with the slices of meat loaf and the pile of corn. I sniffed the air above my plate and the scent literally made my mouth water. My empty stomach gurgled loud enough for my mom to hear and I was suddenly very hungry. I shoveled corn into my mouth and barely noticed my dad as he pulled his chair out and sat down.

“Slow down, for crying out loud,” my father said as he cracked open his beer. “You’re going to choke or something.”

I sat up and exaggeratedly chewed my bite of food.

“That’s better, smartass.”

My mom came to the table, set her plate down, and took her seat.

“How’s the meatloaf,” she asked.

I realized I had not tried any meatloaf. I cut a slice in half, put one of the halves in my mouth, and closed my eyes while I chewed. The meat was juicy and I could taste the onion soup mix my mom always used.

“Delicious,” I said around my mouthful of meatloaf.

In the time it took my parents to begin eating, I had finished can my plate. I picked up the milk and poured myself a glass. I put the glass to my mouth and drank it down. I put the glass down on the table and caught my breath.

“May I have seconds,” I asked my mom.

“Sure honey, you must be really hungry. I didn’t think you even liked meatloaf.”

I got up from the table, grabbed my plate, and started for the counter when my dad cleared his throat. I turned and looked at him quizzically.

“Are you sure that’s such a good idea,” he asked.

“Am I sure what is a good idea?”

“Are you sure you should have seconds? I mean, you should maybe start watching what you eat.”

I opened my mouth to reply but my mother spoke first.

“Tim, I hardly think she needs to worry about having a little more meatloaf.”

My father sat back and took another drink of his beer before speaking.

“She’s right about the age when you started getting fat, Louanne.”

My mother looked hurt for a second, then sighed and stood up from the table. Her expression morphed from pain to the blank look of a lobotomy patient. She picked up her plate of half-eaten food and carried it to the garbage can. I stared at my father in disbelief while my mother scraped her uneaten food into the trash.

“That was a shitty thing to say,” I said to my father. ”If she was putting on weight her senior year of high school, it was probably because you knocked her up!”

“Don’t use that language with me, missy.”

“What, you can call me and mom fat but I can’t use the word shit?”

“You said it again, do you need me to ground you?”

“Go ahead and ground me, I don’t give a shit,” I said through clenched teeth.

I walked to the counter, grabbed a slice of meatloaf in my hand, and took a big bite.

“You don’t get to talk that way to me and deliberately disobey me in my house. This is my house and that is my food!”

I glared at my father and was about to hurl more angry words at him when I heard a soft noise. I looked to my right to see my mother standing in the corner of the kitchen. She was softly crying and tears ran down her cheek to fall on the laminate counter top.

“Mom,” I said.

She shook her head. She wouldn’t look at me. I looked back at my father. He glowered at me, the muscles on the side of his jaw squirmed while he ground his teeth.

I put the rest of the meatloaf from my hand into my mouth, opened the back door, and stepped out into the cool October air.

“You can’t leave, you’re grounded,” yelled my father from his seat.

I slammed the back door before he could say anything else. The back door led to our back yard. A rusty old swing set took up one corner and an unattached garage took up the other. There was a space between the side of the house and the fence that divided our property from the Kinseys’. I stomped through the weeds that grew in that space and walked out into our front yard. The air was chilly but I was too angry to feel it. From behind me came the sounds of the television at full volume. I didn’t need to turn around and look to know that my father was back in his easy chair and my mother was probably doing the dishes.

I took a deep breath and blew a cloud of water vapor into the air. I looked over to Trevor’s house and saw that his car was still gone. I knew he should be coming home from practice any minute. I walked out to the sidewalk that ran the length of our street, turned left, and walked over to the driveway. I walked across the drive, up the two steps to the porch, and across to the two-person swing that hung in front of the kitchen window.

I sat down on the swing and reflexively reached for the headphones that were usually around my neck. I was disappointed to find I had left my Walkman in my room. My anger was fading and the cool air started to get to me. I pulled my hood up over my head and pulled the sleeves down over my hands. I brought my knees to my chest and locked my arms around them. The swing began to smoothly rock back in forth in the breeze. I sat and listened to the sounds of our neighborhood and waited for Trevor to get home.

Acoustic Catharsis

Today is the kind of day where I have to turn the car stereo up too loud. The volume knob does not turn far enough. My ears crackle and I strum the steering wheel with the guitar lines. When the drummer kicks the bass drum I feel his foot hitting me in the chest. The loudness is not safe for my ears but it keeps my head from exploding. From where my elbow touches the window I can feel the glass vibrate with the bass guitar licks. I sing along, poorly. The sound pressure level beats on my eardrums and pounds on my skull. It’s deep tissue massage for my brain, acoustic catharsis.

My commute is over. I turn off the car and the music stops. My ears ring. My voice is hoarse. But I feel so much better.

Why I Stayed – Part 15

For a large part of my life I went through great pains to make people leave me alone. As I sat in the holding cell, completely alone, the irony did not amuse me. I came to the conclusion that being alone, really alone, was not as much fun as I had hoped. I figured someone would have to come back to my cell at some point. I had to go to trial and would probably meet with my public defender at some point. So I tried to pass the time in some way that did not make me go crazy.

I never did require much sleep and laying down to rest on the hard bed was a fruitless endeavor. I tried to remember stories. I had hoped to be able to replay movies and books that I loved in my head. To my dissatisfaction, my memories were unreliable. The stories that I was able to remember came back to me all at once. I seemed unable to serialize them again, which meant that pulling up the memory of an excellent novel did not pass the same amount of time it took me to read it.

I ran out of books and movies and began to think of Shakespeare. I ran through a list of my favorite plays and entertained myself by reciting lines by heart. I laughed while I spouted insults in iambic pentameter at the brick walls. I had entertained myself for a while when a line came out of my mouth that turned my mood sour.

“If you please to call it a rush-candle, henceforth I vow it shall be so for me,” I said to the little window in my cell door.

That line was not from one of my favorite plays. It was from my least favorite. It was from the play that I was loathe to attribute to Shakespeare because it contained some of the most misogynistic events to grace the stage of the Globe Theater. It was a line from “The Taming of the Shrew.” That play had aggravated me so much when I first read it from an anthology of Shakespeare’s works that I would later refuse to participate in the read-through for English class. But as I sat and listened to the sound of Katherina’s words coming out of my mouth, I found a renewed hatred for it. I sat on my bed, disgusted with myself for being able to remember that line. It was the scene where the shrew, having been tamed, agreed with her husband that the sun was actually the moon and that, if he so desired, she would say it was but a candle.

I pursed my lips together before I could degrade myself with any more of Katherina’s lines. I had hated that play when I was younger because I identified with Katherina the maiden. As I sat in my cell, I hated the play even more because I identified with Katherina from fifth act. I slouched against the brick wall and burned with self-loathing and anger at Petruchio.

Then, an idea popped into my head.  What if Katherina waited for Petruchio to pass out after an evening of too much wine? What if she tied him to the pallet with jute and then sat on top of his chest? She could pick up whatever they used for pillows in those times and press it to his smug face. Should could hold it there while he struggled to breathe. She could retaliate for all the cruel tricks he pulled on her. She could be absolved of the crimes she committed against herself. While his heartbeat slowed, Katherina could get back at him for locking his naked, hungry wife up in a room. When his body went limp, she could finally forgive herself for bending to his will and for changing herself to conform to what Petruchio considered the ideal wife.

I had not written a story of my own for a long time. Since I was unable to experience my favorite stories from memory, I decided instead to construct the story of a vengeful Katherina in my mind. It had been so long since I had written anything that I had almost forgotten the thrill I received from the creative process. When I was younger, I had a tendency to retreat completely into my own head while I wrote. There was nothing better for forgetting your bleak surroundings than creating a world of your own.

The walls of my cell drifted away and I was no longer incarcerated. My mind expanded to provide enough space for me to walk around. The ideas flowed from a cloud of thoughts above my head. They fell to the ground like a dark rain and coalesced into a stream. The plot was fluid at first and shifted back and forth while I organized the details. When the story line started to make sense, the stream thickened and froze. The dark water became hard and formed an asphalt path. I let my imaginary feet walk up and down the road. I stopped occasionally when the road was not smooth and imagined the pavement to melt and become liquid. I would stoop and blow gently on the shimmering, black liquid to flatten it and allow it to harden once again. I walked up and down the road, smoothing and expanding until I had the makings of a terrific story of revenge and redemption.

I was caught up in my hallucinatory creative world but I was not delusional. I was not just re-writing the story of the shrew. I wrote my own story at the same time. It was while I produced an alternative fate for Katherina that I finally realized what I wanted for myself.

I was so absorbed in my writing that I barely heard the faint sound of a key being inserted in the lock of my cell door. A small part of my mind recognized the sound but it took so much time for the rest of my brain to realize what it meant that I was actually startled when the door swung open. I was drawn out of my fantasy and I blinked my eyes open to the harsh light of the cell.

A policeman I didn’t recognize pulled the door open and looked inside. The cop then turned to look at someone I couldn’t see and nodded. A man in his fifties stepped into the doorway. He was so tall I thought he might have to stoop to enter my cell but he simply ducked his head a couple inches. The gray, disheveled hair on his head brushed the frame as he passed.

“Nicole,” he said in a sleepy voice. “My name is Robert Otis and I have been hired to defend you.”

I laid on the bed, as awestruck by his lanky height as by what he just told me.

“Hired,” I said. “I didn’t hire a lawyer. I was expecting the public defender.”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” said Mr. Otis as he ran his long fingers through his silver hair. “If you would rather rely on wit and knowledge of an employee of the state to provide your defense in court I could always go back to bed.”

Something about his words and his tone reminded me of Mr. Warner, my high school English teacher. I liked Robert Otis immediately.

“Well, you’re already here so I might as well see what you have to say.”

Mr. Otis turned to the cop and said, “Excuse us.”

The cop gave me a quick look and said, “I’ll be right outside, sir.”

My lawyer and I watched the cell door swing shut and when the latch clicked he turned to look at me again. He sighed and I noticed he was looking at my wrist.

“I didn’t mean to do that,” I said.

“Good. Suicide makes you look unstable. If we’re going to make this work, you will need to appear as solid and sane as a brick wall. Do you understand?”

I nodded and sat up on the bed. I scooted down and leaned against the wall. I pointed to the other end of the hard bed with an open hand.

“No, thank you. We don’t have much time. I am not really supposed to be here yet and I wouldn’t be if your friend wasn’t so persuasive.”

I looked at him with a confused expression but he continued without clarification.

“The prosecution has not filed charges yet, but as soon as they do you will be arrested. If the cops or the lawyers for the other side try to talk to you, the only thing you say to them is this: speak to my attorney.”

I nodded.

“I need to hear you say those words.”

“Speak to my attorney,” I said meekly.

“That will work. You might need to say that many times today. You might need to say it loudly and with more conviction to get it through the thick skulls around here. Do you understand?”

I nodded again.

“Okay, once charges are filed and you are officially arrested, you will be moved to the county jail. I can come visit you there as much as I want but I probably won’t see you again until that point. Between now and the next time I see you, what are you saying to the cops?”

I smiled and said, “Please speak to my attorney.”

“That’s better.”

The cell door squeaked as it was pulled open again and the same cop looked in and cleared his throat.

Robert waved a dismissive hand at him.

“Listen to me and we can make the best of this situation,” said Mr. Otis before he turned to walk towards the hallway.

“Wait,” I said just before he ducked under the door frame. “Who hired you?”

“Your friend, Trevor Kinsey,” he said and walked out into the yellow hallway.

The policeman pushed the door closed again and I heard him lock it. I strained my ears to listen to the footfalls of the two men as they walked down the hallway. Their steps died away and I heard another door shut loudly. I was alone again. The brief interruption of my solitude happened so fast, I had to convince myself that it actually happened. I played the conversation with Robert Otis over and over again in my head. His final words echoed in my brain. They repeated over and over like a tape loop. Those four words rang like a bell in my mind. The darkness and fear that had built up in my thoughts since I was put in my cell was pushed back a little.

I had been afraid since Officer Lewis shut my cell door that I had seen Trevor Kinsey for the last time. I had tried not to think about it, but the idea that Kinsey was lost to me was horrifying. Last night was the first time I spoke to him in eight months but the time we spent together while I confessed my crime had brought back feelings of familiarity and comfort that I always got from being close to Trevor. It was telling of our relationship that we could feel this way and even have a joke or two while I was sitting on the dead body of a man I had just murdered. I sat with my back against the brick wall of my cell and thought about how he looked at my breasts when I stretched. I bent my legs and hugged my knees to my chest and thought of the look on his face when he took the bottle of whiskey from my hand. His crooked smile was exactly the same. It was like we never grew up. It was like we were still in high school. I smiled and thought about sitting on the porch swing of his parent’s house.

I let my head fall back against the bricks behind me.

“Your friend, Trevor Kinsey,” I said out loud.

I closed my eyes and tried not to cry.

Why I Stayed – Part 14

When you grow up in a small town you get to know the people around you really well. You make friends with kids your age and since hardly anyone moves away, you have the same people around you from the day you’re born until someone dies. As I sat outside the cafeteria and ate warm, greasy tater tots, I hardly said a word to Trevor. I didn’t need to. We lived next door to each other for as long as I could remember. Most days he gave me a ride to school and on the days he didn’t have football practice, we rode home together. On days when I couldn’t handle being in the same house as my parents, I would go sit on the porch swing in front of Trevor’s house. He would come home from practice or come out after dinner and we would sit together. Sometimes we would talk about how awful it was to live in such a tiny shit hole of a town. Sometimes we would just listen to the music that drifted from the headphones that sat around my neck.

From where I sat on the sidewalk, I could look past Trevor and into the cafeteria window. Hundreds of kids sat at blue tables, many of which had initials or rude messages scratched into the Formica. They all talked. I  never understood how a group of kids could sit around a table where everyone talked at the same time. They boasted, complained, and lied to each other. Nobody really listened, which didn’t matter since none of them really had anything important to say. Every day at school I was removed of some of my hope for the future of America. I was a naturally a cynic but attending high school in a small town made me a misanthrope. There were only a few kids that were not a complete waste of natural resources.

Trevor had removed the lid from his shake cup and was strategically aiming his straw at small deposits of chocolate shake while sucking air into the straw. He looked up from his cup and looked over my head. He nodded in greeting.

“What’s up, Dave?”

I turned and looked over my shoulder to see David Morneau give a complicated handshake to two other boys. The other boys placed their hands in their pockets to keep their pants up as they walked to the cafeteria. David sauntered over to where I sat and leisurely lowered himself to the concrete. He crossed his legs and sighed heavily.

“Jesus Christ,” I said. “You smell like a Bob Marley concert.”

David giggled and shook his head.

“Don’t,” he started. “Don’t make me laugh, I won’t be able to stop.”

Trevor rolled his eyes and asked, “Did you guys just take a hike in the forest?”

The forest was a plot of land across the street from the high school. Trails wound between the trees of the undeveloped property that kids would use to cut across on their way to and from school. It was also a popular place for students to sneak away for a cigarette or something stronger.

David took a steadying breath to kill his giggle fit.

“My brother’s friend came down from Alaska. He brought a bag full of purple kush that will knock a lesser person to the ground.”

“Those other two,” I asked. “They’re not lesser folk?”

“Skid and Jason? Ha, yeah. They can handle their shit.”

Martin “Skid” Covey and Jason Peterson were juniors. Martin was a junior last year too. Nobody expected them to graduate unless the teachers cut them slack just to get rid of the two. They were both continual troublemakers and Jason already had a police record. My dad had chased them from abandoned mine properties more times then I can remember.

“Ooh,” said David. “Got any tater tots left?”

I gave David the orange cup that still had a few tots in the bottom. He ate them all at once and when he finished chewing, he upended the cup over his mouth to catch the last greasy crumbs.

The bell rang to mark the end of lunch. I put my hand up to Trevor, who pulled me off the ground with little effort. Trevor extended his hand to David, who shook his head.

“Nah man, that bell means my lunch just started.”

I forgot that David had second lunch. He had been hiking in the forest while he was supposed to be in fourth period.

“Okay man, I’ll talk to you later,” said Trevor and waved.

“Is your brother picking you up from school,” I asked David.

“Yeah, man. You need a ride?”

I looked at Trevor.

“Sorry Nic, I have practice today.”

I looked back at David, “Looks like I do.”

“Sweet, I’ll see you by the flag pole.”

I turned and walked with Trevor into the cafeteria and wondered if David would make it to any of his afternoon classes. The cafeteria tables were mostly empty but the second lunch crowd was on their way in and many kids were already in line to pick up their daily slop.

“You know,” said Trevor. “You could come watch me at practice and I could give you a ride home after.”

“I don’t know if I could handle all the testosterone,” I said.

“Don’t worry, the cheerleaders practice at the same time so there’s some estrogen to balance it out.”

“Then I’m definitely not going. Cheerleaders give me the creeps.”

We had reached the hallway where Trevor would turn to get to his next class.

“Okay, I’ll see you later then,” he said and smiled before making his way down the hallway.

A sophomore with a red baseball cap held his hand up for a high five and yelled, “Kinsey!” Trevor answered the high five and kept walking. I stood still in the flow of teenagers. Their words swirled around me like water. The only steady thing in sight was the back of Trevor’s head as he made his way down the hall. I lost sight of him as he opened the door to his history class and entered. I sighed, turned to walk toward my chemistry class, and bumped directly into someone much bigger than me.

The hallway lights reflected off of a badge. I looked up and found I was face to face with our school resource officer.

“Excuse me, Office Hoskins. I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“It’s okay, but you better hurry or you’ll be late for class,” he said.

“Right,” I said. “Thanks.”

I walked briskly down the now empty hallway. I felt someone watching me and I looked over my shoulder to see the policeman watching me with a little smile on his face.

Hoskins was a football star four years ago. After going to college on a scholarship for two years, his career was cut short by a damaged knee. Hoskins returned to Kiln Valley after passing the state law enforcement officer training and enrolled in the KVPD. He was assigned to Kiln Valley High School as a resource officer. The idea behind a resource officer is to allow students to become accustomed to the presence of a policeman and to see them not as a threat but as a member of the community. Like many programs built by adults for teenagers, this one was largely a failure. Kids at my school that were caught with cigarettes or other contraband found themselves taking a ride to the police station in the back of Hoskins’ cop car. Getting in a fight at school used to mean nothing more than detention but more and more students ended up with assault charges if Hoskins was involved in breaking them up.

I didn’t have a problem with school administrators deterring drug use and violence on campus, but it was common knowledge that Hoskins was easy on the popular kids, the rich kids, and the kids whose parents served on the police force. If you were none of those, you had to especially watch out for SRO Hoskins. I felt like I had to watch out for him for another reason.

Every time I saw Hoskins, he was looking at a female student. He would have this smirk on his face that was probably supposed to look confident but he always looked like he was enjoying himself a little too much. A rumor went around that Hoskins had put his hands on a female student in an inappropriate way. There was an investigation but the girl in question retracted her accusation. New rules were drawn up that stated the SRO couldn’t interview or search a female student without a female teacher present but that hardly made me feel better. I shivered and walked faster to my classroom.

I arrived to my science class just in time for the bell to ring. I made my way to my desk and sat down roughly. My chemistry teacher was busy writing on the chalkboard. He began to talk without turning around.

“Students are expected to be in their seats by the time the bell rings or else they are marked as tardy.”

Mr. Lantz finished writing a formula on the chalkboard. His was the last classroom with real chalkboards, every other classroom had the white boards on which the teachers would write with dry-erase markers. Mr. Lantz had been teaching at the school for 34 years. This was the last year before he was supposed to retire, but so had the last three years. When he found out that the school was replacing the old chalkboards with dry-erase boards, he lobbied the principal and the school board for the right to keep his old chalkboards until he retired. He assured them he would be retiring soon. That was four years ago and Mr. Lantz had yet to officially file for retirement. He was still too young for the district to force him into retirement and so the chalkboards remained.

Mr. Lantz was outwardly a stickler for the rules and I had no doubt that he had already marked me tardy. However, his curmudgeonly resistance to adopting the white boards made me like him. He was never unfair or inaccurate when grading our work which is more than I could say for the biology teacher I had sophomore year.

Mr. Lantz surveyed his chalk marks once more and then turned to glower at the class from under ridiculously long eyebrows.

“Can anyone tell me what is happening in the formula I have written on the board?”

A few students flipped though their notes, a few more looked in their enormous chemistry book, and the rest stared at the white letters, numbers, and symbols as if they had seen nothing like it in all their lives.

“Someone, please.”

I raised my hand and said, “It looks like photosynthesis. But something is missing.”

“Correct on both counts, Ms. Miller,” he said and returned to the board to draw a small sun above the arrow in the middle of the formula. “What is missing is the input of energy, which in this case comes in the form of light from our sun.”

He turned around and put his hands on his lectern, another item found only his his classroom.

“Photosynthesis is the chemical reaction used by plants to convert water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen. Can anyone tell me why this is important?”

“Um,” said a meek voice from a couple aisles over. “Because animals need oxygen and sugar?”

“Precisely, Ms. Wallace. Almost the exact same chemical formula happens in reverse in the process of cellular respiration, where the cell of an animal uses sugar and oxygen to create water and carbon dioxide.”

“And energy,” I said.

“Yes, Ms. Miller, and energy. This cyclical relationship of photosynthesis and cellular respiration works as both an allegory to the relationship between animal and plant life and as an introduction to our section on organic chemistry. Please open your textbooks to page one hundred fifty-seven and read to yourselves until page one hundred sixty-three while I prepare the next example.”

I flipped to the correct page but I did not read. I sat and watched my classmates while they did as they were told. Some of them were actually learning this stuff for the first time. So many of them actually had no idea what was photosynthesis. I couldn’t believe that someone could make it to senior year knowing so little. But I should not have been surprised. I am surrounded by hundreds of kids who couldn’t diagram a sentence. I was surrounded by classmates who couldn’t tell you source document for the phrase “We the people.”

I was surrounded by the average and below-average. I could not wait to go to college, where I hoped to find more people like me and Trevor. Trevor and I were going to leave town after high school and never come back. That day could not come soon enough.

Why I Stayed – Part 13

I sat in my paper pajamas and stared at the little window which was set high in the door to my cell. The pain in my wrist had finally faded but my head began to throb. The wires embedded in the glass of the little window seemed to warp and pulse in time to my heartbeat. I was not aware of how much time had passed since my arrest and could only guess that I had been asleep for about an hour when I woke myself up by scratching at my burn. The pounding in my head intensified. The little window in my door disappeared as my vision blurred. The walls of my cell reverberated with the thump of my heart. The air seemed to thicken and each breath required more effort than the last. A contrary thought popped into my head. I needed a cigarette.

Until last night I had not smoked for four years. In the hours between strapping my husband down to his bed and getting arrested for his murder, I smoked more than half a pack of cigarettes. The nicotine had since left my system and the withdrawal was taking revenge on me. I was also getting a hangover from the whiskey. I sat on the hard bed, dehydrated, tired, and jonsing for a smoke in the worst way. I tried to ignore the pounding in my skull and imagined I had a pack of cigarettes in my hand. With my eyes closed, I pretended to pull a cigarette from the pack. I mimed act of putting the imaginary cigarette to my mouth and held it there between my lips. I reached for my lighter.

A stab of pain coursed up my arm from the burn on my wrist and I forgot all about my hangover and my nic-fit as I remembered what happened to the lighter.

Hoskins had just let the door close behind him. With my hands bound together, it was difficult to reach the little pocket that sat on my right hip. I used the fingertips of my right hand to work the lighter up to the top of the pocket. I was then able to pinch the bit of the case that was sticking out of the denim. My hands were wet with sweat and my fingers slipped off of the polished metal a couple times before I finally pulled the lighter completely out of my pocket.

I carefully lifted the lighter and held it in front of my face. The fluorescent lights gleamed off of the shiny case and illuminated tiny scratches in the surface in the metal. The blue Chevrolet symbol had faded with years of use and the center of the “bow-tie” was completely devoid of blue lacquer. Had my hands not been bound together, I would have expertly flicked the cap open and struck the wheel to set the wick alight. Instead, I carefully held the lighter in the fingertips of my left hand and rotated my right hand so I could try to knock open the case with my thumb. My first attempt at opening the lighter nearly knocked it out of the grip of my left hand. I tried again and managed to get the case to open with a satisfying clink. I positioned my right thumb on the wheel and stroked down. Sparks flashed but not enough to actually light the fluid on the wick. I licked my lips, took a deep breath, and pushed the wheel a second time. A gush of sparks flew from the flint and the lighter fluid blazed to life in front of my eyes.

I smiled and stared at the flame for a few heartbeats. My hands were shaking so badly that the orange flame danced back and forth. A cheaper lighter would have been extinguished but the Zippo stayed lit. My success in getting the lighter to work was short lived. I now had to figure out how to put flame to the plastic without burning myself. I soon realized that it would he impossible to hold the lighter in my hand. I carefully placed the lighter between my knees and tested to see if I could hold it there. I found that I was able to hold the lighter in place between my knees if I spaced my ankles apart. With the lighter securely in place, I lowered my hands so the plasticuff was directly over the flame.

The flame from the lighter immediately blackened the plastic but the heat rose up and burned some hair off of my forearm. My hand instinctively recoiled from the heat and I nearly lost my grip on the lighter. I was suddenly aware that I would not be able to hold the cuffs in place long enough to weaken them without burning my skin in the process. I tried a couple positions and found that I could minimize my skin’s exposure to the flame by putting my hands together and tilting them forward like I was getting ready to dive into water.

I carefully held the plastic over the flame again and breathed deeply in an attempt to ward off the pain. The heat was worse on my left arm, but I continued to ignore it. I watched as the plastic started to distort. The precision-cut edges began to soften and black smoke started to rise from where melted plastic dripped into the lighter’s flame. Some of the melted plastic dribbled down the cuff. Where it hit my skin, it burned worse than the heat from the flame. I thought maybe if the plastic was softening that I could break it, so I pulled as hard as I could while still keeping the same blackened part of the cuffs over the Zippo.

I struggled so hard against the restraints that the plastic bit into my skin. More melted plastic dribbled against the wrist on my left hand. The smell of burning plastic filled my nostrils. When I opened my mouth, I could taste the burnt hair and skin in the air. I took a deep breath, ignored the acrid smoke, and gathered my strength for one final pull. I grunted through my gritted teeth and pulled my hands apart, using every muscle in my arms, shoulders, and back to try to break free. Just before I used the last of my strength in my arms, just before my legs were no longer able to squeeze the lighter between my knees, and just before Hoskins opened the door to the booking area, the plastic snapped and my hands flew away from each other as if propelled by same-charged magnets.

My knees came away from each other as well and the lighter dropped to the floor. It bounced once and then skittered toward the desk, coming to rest next to a small waste basket. True to the sturdy design of the lighter, the flame had still not gone out. The orange flame licked out from the low wall built around the wick. The plastic liner in the waste basket crinkled and curled, then caught fire. I jumped off of my bench and kicked the lighter away from the trash can. I bent over, dumped the trash onto the floor and stomped out the flames.

My heart raced. I heard a key in the lock of the door to the precinct’s office. I had nowhere to hide and nowhere to run but at least I had my hands free to defend myself. I crouched and faced the door. My hands formed into claws and I had every intent to scour Hoskins’ flabby flesh from his face before I let him lay his meaty hands on me. I was normally a squeamish person and could hardly watch someone put in contact lenses but I was prepared to gouge my fingers into that fat bastards eyeballs before I let him enjoy any part of having me bound and all to himself. My mind was swimming in a puddle of whiskey and adrenaline. My brain buzzed with the fumes from the burning plastic. I was quite out of my mind.

The door crept open and I heard Hoskins say, “What the fuck?”

When I saw his bulk in the doorway, the part of my brain that was geared for fight lost out to the part that was preparing for flight. I turned and made my way towards the back exit. In my thoughts, I was running. In my mind’s eye, the tiles flew beneath my feet and the wall was a blur as I dashed for the back door. In reality, I hadn’t even reached the hallway. Hoskins entered the booking area and another cop followed him in. I turned to face them and held my hands up in what I thought was a menacing way. Then I saw Kinsey come through the door.

Relief washed over me. Hoskins might be able to convince one of his buddies to look the other way, but he wouldn’t dare touch me with Kinsey as a witness. I no longer held my hands up in a menacing way. I now held them up as if to push the cops back. I looked at Kinsey for a second when a buzzing sound echoed down the concrete blocks of the hallway. Someone was at the back door. I focused my attention on the advancing cops. I saw Hoskins say something to the other cop. I head the sound of his voice, but his words sounded foreign as if he was speaking another language.

The other cop looked familiar but I couldn’t remember his name. He began to walk sideways across the room. His eyes focused on mine. My gaze flicked from his eyes to the Hoskins’. When the other cop reached the mouth of the hallway, he turned his body so he could reach for the red button that opened the back door. I had backed myself all the way into a corner of the room. I watched as the policeman lifted a plastic shield that covered the button. He glanced at a little video screen above the button and then pushed the red plunger down and held it. A magnetic buzzing sounded from the end of the hallway and I heard the door open. The three men looked down the hallway at the person that came down the hall.

I head Kinsey’s voice. He was looking at me and saying something. Something must have been wrong with my ears because he sounded like he was speaking backwards. I heard a new voice, a woman’s voice. Then somebody whistled. I looked towards the hallway and saw a tall, lanky woman removing her hat as she strutted into the booking area. Hoskins spoke again and this time I understood a few words. Kinsey spoke as well and I while I didn’t completely comprehend every word, I understood what he was telling me. They had a woman here now, to complete my processing. I was safe.

The lady cop came closer and when I looked into her face I recognized her. She was the officer who took my statement the last time I was here. I remember her being firm but friendly. She said something to me and I immediately felt better.

“I don’t want that f-fat f-fuck anywhere near me,” I said.

“Hey, I don’t blame you there,” said the policewoman. “Hoskins, how you about you get the hell out of here and let us ladies talk?”

Hoskins and the other cops exchanged some words. I could hear them and understand them, but I was distracted. I glanced a the floor by my feet and noticed red spots on the tile. The spots didn’t appear anywhere else on the floor. I stared at them for a while as the angry voices exchanged words. Hoskins and Roda left the booking area. At some point, after staring at the spots for some time, I realized the spots where drops of my blood. I was bleeding on the floor. The sudden knowledge that my blood had been dripping on the tiles made me tired. I quickly became so exhausted that I could hardly stand.

The woman spoke to me again. She was telling me that we were alone now and that she had to search me and change my clothes. I listened and I obeyed. She gave me a quick pat-down to make sure I wasn’t hiding any weapons or another incendiary device. When it came time to take off my clothes, I looked at Kinsey. He turned away and put his head against the door. I let the female cop help me out of my clothes and get me into the blue, scratchy pajamas. The tiles were cold on my feet and I was thankful when the lady showed me there were slippers for my feet. The woman picked up the lighter from where it had landed after my clumsy kick. The flame had gone out at some point. She set the lighter on the table. I sat on a hard chair in front of the desk. The female cop asked me to sign something. I didn’t look at the paper before I signed it.

Out of the blue, I remembered the cop’s name, Tonya. Tonya got up and walked to the wall where there was a large red box attached to the wall. The box was marked with a bold, white cross and it made me think of Switzerland. She opened a cover on the box, grabbed an armful of things, and returned to the desk. As she set the stuff down, I noticed it was first-aid supplies. I watched, curious and fascinated, as she gently cleaned my wounds and bandaged them. I was even more tired and I felt as if I could fall asleep in my chair.

“There we go,” Tonya said. “I’m going to take you to your room now. The bed in there is not too bad and maybe you can get some sleep.”

She stood and held out her hand. I took her hand and let her lead me into the cell. She sat me down on the hard bed, walked out, and shut the door. Somewhere in the back of my foggy brain I realized I didn’t say goodbye to Kinsey. I didn’t say thank you to him or Tonya. I made a mental note to do that later, when I saw them again. Then I laid down and fell asleep.

Why I Stayed – Part 12

I was finally a senior and I couldn’t have been more disappointed. I was a month into twelfth grade and I had realized that it was really no different from the previous three years of high school. It really wasn’t that much different from the eight years before that.

Something poked me in the back of the neck and I heard someone say my name.

“Nicole,” said Kevin Richardson as he poked me again with a stack of hand outs. I turned around and scowled at Kevin. His mouth was open like it always was. His heavy breathing moved in and out of his open mouth and carried the aroma of morning breath and Big Red chewing gum. I took a piece of paper off the top of the stack and handed the rest over the shoulder of the girl in front of me.

I remembered enjoying school when I was in Kindergarten and even most of elementary school but by the time I got to middle school, all I could think of was getting to high school. When I was a freshman I wished I could skip to senior year. The seniors seemed to have it good, they looked so much older and mature. To a freshman, the seniors seemed to have the run of the school. Now that I had become a senior, I realized I had blown it all out of proportion. I didn’t have the charisma or popularity to “rule the school” and the teachers didn’t seem to care any more about how much I learned than they did three years ago. I was convinced that I was smarter than most of my classmates and many of my teachers but my complete lack of interest in the subject matter of my classes meant I had a string of Cs and Bs in my report card. My grades were a constant source of contention between my mom and I. She knew I was smart enough to get straight As. My problem was everything came so easy to me that I couldn’t be bothered to try. I could sleepwalk through the majority of my classes and still pass.

The only class in which I really showed effort was English, but not in the daily classwork and definitely not the mind-numbing torture of group reading. Each semester the teacher picked a novel for the class to read and each day we would take turns reading the book out loud. I could read really fast and it was painful to listen to my classmates lumber through the beautiful language of a classic story like a first grader stumbling through a Dick and Jane book.

I sat in English class one morning listening to Kevin read from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I daydreamed while Kevin marched his finger across the page, stumbling on the southern colloquialisms and often accidentally re-reading the same line. Kevin got to the part Where Tom and his friends eavesdropped on their own funeral. The kids heard the townspeople say all kinds of nice things because they thought the kids were dead. It made me think of what people will say when they think nobody is listening.

When I was little, I was so quiet that adults wouldn’t realize I was there. I would sit and watch and listen and I would remember. I would follow my mom around the house or sit in the living room while my dad and his friends watched football. I listened to my mother talk about my dad or about the neighbors. I listened to my dad talk about his boss. I watched my mom sneak a cigarette next to the open kitchen window. I watched my dad pour whiskey into his morning coffee. Sometimes I would seem to appear out of thin air when an adult suddenly noticed my presence. I could see the guilt or regret on their face when they realized I had heard what they were saying.

As I got older, I had a harder time going unnoticed. I remember a day in the summer between seventh and eighth grade. I was playing in the sprinkler in the front yard with Trevor Kinsey. It was the first hot day of the summer and we celebrated by running through the cool spray in our bathing suits. Late afternoon meant the end of the main shift at the mine and at about 3:45pm, the men of our neighborhood would come driving down the cul-de-sac in a daily parade. Normally, a couple of kids playing in the sprinkler wouldn’t warrant the attention of weary men on their way home. But this day was different. In every car that passed, the driver would look at us. The driver of third car slowed down to watch us and I felt like something was wrong. The fourth car also slowed and I could feel the gaze of the man behind the wheel. They weren’t looking at us, they were looking at me. The driver of the fifth car was my father. When he pulled into the driveway, I could see that he was upset. He walked up to my mother where she sat on the front step. He didn’t think I could hear him.

“Jesus, Louanne,” my father said. “Can you have her put on a shirt or something?”

Before my mom could say anything, I told Trevor I had to go and ran into the house. The towel I had brought outside with me was wrapped tightly around my body as I ran to my bedroom. I sat on my bed and began to shiver now that I was not in the warm sunlight. The movement of my shivering body was reflected in my mirror and for the first time in a while I looked at myself.

I used the mirror often when I was little to check my outfits, which were very important to me at the time. The way the colors matched would dictate the kind of day I was going to have and I never left my room without one last peek in the mirror. I outgrew my childhood obsession with matching clothes when I got to middle school and started dressing almost exclusively in jeans and t-shirts. My cousin Nessa lived in Seattle and worked at a radio station. She would send me cassette tapes of new bands with t-shirts and stickers to match. At school, I would pride myself with knowing about a band months before they made it to the local radio stations. Many of the stickers I received were stuck to my mirror and created a jagged border around the reflective glass. I opened my towel and looked at myself. My face was framed on either side by a Nirvana sticker on the left and a Smashing Pumpkins one on the right.

At first I couldn’t find anything wrong with what I saw. The bathing suit was from last year and it still fit, for the most part. I took a few steps closer to the mirror and looked harder. Between the collage of band names and emblems, I refocused my eyes and began to see something different. My vision ceased to be clouded by what I expected to be reflected in the glass and I looked at my body as if it was the first time I had seen myself in a mirror. I couldn’t believe how much I had changed.

I had lost the scrawny body I was used to. My limbs had thickened slightly so my knees and feet no longer looked too big for my legs. My hips and my butt had filled in, curving in to my waist, which was the only part of me to stay the same size. I couldn’t explain why I had not taken notice sooner, but my breasts had grown too. In a matter of minutes, the swimsuit the girl in the mirror was wearing changed from the cute two-piece I wore last summer to a revealing bikini.

I was broken from my reverie by my teacher who was calling me to read the next chapter. I pulled the book out of my backpack and fumbled through the pages, trying to find the spot where Kevin left off. Some of the class giggled and Kevin was whispering a page number to me but I was too startled to understand what he was saying. The teacher, Mr. Warner, opened his mouth to remind me that we were on chapter eighteen when the bell rang. Fourth period was over and it was time for lunch.

I stopped rifling through the book and put it in my green Army Surplus backpack. I shut the flap that closed over the top of it and buckled it shut. I stood up, put the pack on my back, and began to walk to the door with my eyes on the tiles beneath my feet.

I had nearly made it to the door when Mr. Warner spoke up.

“Nicole, can I have a word?”

I sighed and turned around. I had a habit, when talking to a teacher, of looking everywhere but their face. I couldn’t stand the the way most of them looked at me. Some of them looked at me with pity because they knew my of my father and our often tenuous financial situation. Some of them looked at me with disappointment because I was not living up to my potential, whatever that meant. Others would look at me with concern because they saw me as a troubled girl who was certainly on the road to a life of drug addiction and sleeping under bridges.

However, Mr. Warner was different. He knew literature and he gave me the most constructive criticism I ever received on my written work. I even gave him some short stories and poems I wrote outside of class for his opinion. He put one of my poems up for submission to a poetry journal and it had been published. Nothing had ever made me so excited as to see my work published in a real literary journal. I showed it to my parents and while my mom smiled and told me she was proud, my father simply asked me if the publication had made me any money. I looked Mr. Warner in the eyes and managed a half smile.

“I know you’ve already read the book, probably more than once. I know listening to the lesser beings around you read at the pace of a preschooler is horrible. But you really need to pay attention in class. If you listen to the way other people read, you can get insight into how they might interpret the words differently. As a writer, it’s extremely important to keep your audience in mind when you write.”

“Kevin is hardly the audience I have in mind when I write,” I said.

“That might be true of most of your stories and poems. But if you want to be a journalist, you’re going to have to keep in mind that more than half of your readers will be mouth-breathers like Kevin,” Mr. Warner said the last words quietly, with his flattened hand held next to his mouth like he was telling a secret. I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Yeah, I guess,” I said.

“Speaking of which, I need your piece for next month’s Pathfinder Press.”

“I have it written up here,” I said and tapped my head. “I just need to type it out.”

“Please try to get it to me by tomorrow. Have you given any more thought to publishing another poem?”

I looked away from the teacher’s face and out the small window behind his desk. The glass was textured and allowed light to pass through but without any detail. Sunlight cast shadows of the moving bodies of my fellow students as they passed the window and gave the impression of water.

“I see. Well, if you have something you would like to share again, the editor contacted me last week and asked if you had another piece. He might even take a short story if you don’t feel like submitting another poem.”

My eyes returned to Mr. Warner’s face and I said, “I’ll think about it.”

“Please do,” he said with a crooked smile. “Now go and enjoy your lunch.”

I gave Mr. Warner another half smile and walked out of the classroom. The hallway was beginning to empty as most of the students made their way to the cafeteria to stuff their faces with what they considered food. It was Monday, which meant a slice of pizza with a crust of chalky dough topped with bland tomato sauce, one salty pepperoni, and not enough cheese. The school lunches, while technically nutritious, never interested me and I rarely ate at school.

Even though I didn’t plan on eating, I had to pass through the cafeteria before I could go outside and enjoy some fresh air. To ward off the juvenile cacophony, I put my headphones on, found my Walkman in my pocket, and pushed play. The latest tape my cousin sent me from Seattle was The Presidents of the United States of America. Chris Ballew began to sing about peaches just as the I reached the cafeteria and I turned up the volume to drown out the noise. I put my hands in the pocket that crossed the lower front of my hoodie and began to shoulder my way through the crowd to the exit doors.

Since that summer day when the neighborhood men slowed to gawk at me in my bikini, I became embarrassed about my body and the way it was developing. I still wore jeans and t-shirts nearly every day but when I went to school I would always wear a hoodie or a baggy sweatshirt. Muted colors, unassuming details, and any other way to blend in to the background became my regular wardrobe. I could walk through the crowded hallways and most people wouldn’t even notice that I passed by.

I walked face-down in the general direction of double doors and the freedom of  outside. I was bumped, shoved, elbowed, and I had given up all hope for the future of America by the time I pulled my right hand out of my hoodie pocket and pushed one of the doors open. I stepped out into the cool air and took a deep breath. The heavy door shut behind me. The clatter and chatter of the cafeteria was cut off and suddenly the music in my headphones was too loud. I reached into my pocket and found the volume dial on my trusty Walkman by feel. I turned the Presidents down slowly until the sound pressure was a comfortable level . I could hear the birds twittering and the breeze blowing  around the leaves that had started to fall.

I was startled by the sound of someone rumpling a paper bag. I spun around to glare at the person that dared sneak up on me.

“Want some tater tots?”

Trevor Kinsey was leaning up against the exterior wall of the school, a few feet outside of the doors to the cafeteria. When I realized who it was, I turned down the intensity of my death glare to a mere scowl.

“Are you kidding me? The boxes they come in should be covered with Mr. Yuck stickers. The lunch ladies should be fined for serving them to children,” I said with my usual haughty attitude.

“Oh, these aren’t from the cafeteria. They’re from the Brown Owl,” Trevor said as he popped a couple into his mouth.

The Brown Owl was a burger joint and shake shack on the highway. It served greasy cheeseburgers and chocolate shakes that were better than any restaurant in town. Their tater tots were to die for. My scowl died and my face couldn’t help but show my excitement. I reached for the orange paper cup in Trevor’s hand and took it from him. The weight of it felt wrong and when I brought it close enough to see inside I noticed the only thing left was a few crumbs and the grease that had dripped off of the tots that Trevor already ate.

“You asshole,” I said and punched him in the shoulder.

“Ow, watch it or I won’t give you the ones I bought for you!”

I rolled my eyes and tossed the empty cup towards the trash can next to the cafeteria door. The cup bounced off the rim, landed on the sidewalk, and rolled over to Trevor’s foot. The emblem of the Brown Owl rotated as the cup rolled and placed a greasy kiss on the side of his sneaker. He leaned over to pick it up and put it in the orange bag next to his other foot. He leaned over to pick it up and put it in the orange bag next to his other foot.

“Nice shot,” he said and pulled out another orange cup. This one was over-flowing with golden, crispy tater tots that steamed in the cool fall afternoon.

“Well, not everyone can be a sports superstar like you, Trevor. Or am I supposed to just call you Kinsey now?”

He smiled at me and said, “You can call me whatever you want. Except asshole.”

I smiled at him, popped a tater tot into my mouth, and said, “But what if you’re being an asshole?”

“When am I ever not being an asshole?”

Why I Stayed – Part 11

I suddenly remembered a line from some movie or police procedural television show, “It’s the guilty ones that sleep.” The words drifted into my head like smoke just as the lack of sleep and the excess of whiskey finally caught up to me. My eyes were drooping shut and the fluorescent glare of my surroundings was starting to blur and prism through my eyelashes and the narrowing gap between my eyelids. I wondered if sleeping in my cell was more indicative of my guilt than being found still sitting on my victim and confessing my crime in detail to a cop. I smiled and let my eyelids close completely, the bright light was cut down to the muted tones that passed through my eyelids.

I laid on my side on a steel and fiberglass bed, my hands tucked under my head like a caricature of a person sleeping. If I was in a cartoon, I’d be wearing a pointed hat and striped nightgown instead of a blue jumpsuit. The papery fabric of the suit I wore was itchy and reminded me of the gown you put on when being examined by a doctor. The harsh artificial light and the faint smell of disinfectant added to the exam-room feel and I forced down memories of the last time I had been looked at by a medical professional before remembering could ruin the quiet calm of my cell.

In spite of the hard bed and scratchy paper suit for pajamas, I was relaxed and comfortable. Whatever indignities I faced, whatever punishment was meted out for my crime could not compare to the miserable life I had been living. I felt stress and fear melt off of my body like I had been encased in wax. The buzzing tube of glass that lit my cell sounded beautiful and reassuring. A humming murmur came from the air vent and I felt a dry, warm breeze land on my cheek.

I drifted into sleep and I did not dream. I was vaguely aware of my body as my consciousness receded. The flesh-colored spots of light in front of my eyes seemed to drift away. The sounds of my cell dimmed gradually like someone was turning down the volume on a radio. I have heard the term “fall asleep” a million times but I was not moving down. My mind was withdrawing, moving backwards through a void. I could feel that my cell and the rest of the world beyond it was getting farther away. I remembered feeling this way before but my mind could not focus on anything and the memories would not come to me. I had left my memories with my eyes and my body. They were beyond my reach there, in the dark. Soon, I was so far away that I felt nothing.

The sound and light rushed back to me in an instant, accompanied by a flash of pain. I had no idea how long I had been asleep. I sat up, groggily scanning my body for the source of the hurt. It was my wrist. I had scratched at it in my sleep. A trickle of blood started to seep and a strange type of heat pulsed up my arm from the burn under the bandage. I breathed slowly through my teeth. I wasn’t going to make any sounds of pain. I imagined Hoskins was outside my cell, his ear pressed against the door, too scared to actually look in through the window but too interested to actually leave me alone. I wasn’t going to give that bastard anything to masturbate about later. I shut my eyes, inhaled through my nose and exhaled through my teeth. I did the same thing a few more times until the throbbing pain in my wrist subsided.

It was because of Hoskins that I burned myself in the first place. After Kinsey sat with me and let me tell my story, I assumed I would go with him to the station. I let myself believe that Kinsey would be there the whole time. I was fooling myself when I thought that it was all over and I could let the cops take me into custody and not have to worry about getting hurt anymore.

I had not planned for an escape. I didn’t want to escape and I knew that it wasn’t even a possibility. After Kinsey helped me off of Jerrad’s body, I grabbed the Zippo lighter from the nightstand, and I put on some jeans. I slipped the lighter into that little pocket nobody uses anymore and it was invisible to a casual glance. I let Kinsey walk me out of the house and it wasn’t until we stepped out into the night air and I felt his piggy eyes on me that I even remembered Hoskins was there. A young cop put plastic cuffs on me and tried not to hurt me by putting the bands on too tight. When I was put in the back seat of Hoskins’ car, I hoped the young policeman would be coming too. I hoped Hoskins was too lazy to do anything completely by himself.

I saw Kinsey get caught up in a conversation with a crime scene guy. I sat there for a long time, watching the lights from all the emergency vehicles spin around the interior of the cop car. It smelled like sweat and fast food French fries. I heard a commotion, looked through the window of the cop car, and saw Kinsey talking to Hoskins. I saw Kinsey throw a sad glance my way before walking towards his own car. Hoskins and the young cop walked toward me. I watched the jowls around Hoskins’ chin jiggle with every step he took and saw his mouth twist into a disgusting smile as he approached the car. The young cop got into the driver seat. The car tilted to the right as Hoskins lowered his dense body into the passenger seat.

“Ugh, it smells like ass in here, Davis,” Hoskins chided as he rolled the window down.

“Thompson,” said the young man.


“Never mind,” said Thompson with a sigh.

Hoskins grabbed the radio mic off of his shoulder and contacted the station. I could see his eyes watching me in the rear-view mirror.

“En route with the suspect,” he said and winked at me.

Sergeant Roda said something back that I couldn’t understand.

“No, Davis here will resume patrol after he drops us off at the back portico.”

More unintelligible speech from the radio.

“You think I can’t handle this suspect by myself?”

This time I could make out one word in Roda’s response, “Kinsey.”

“Fuck you, Roda. You go back to watching your nerd movie and I’ll get her booked and into lockup. Just make sure you don’t turn it up so loud that you can’t hear me buzzing at the back door. Hoskins out.”

Hoskins returned the mic to his shoulder clip and continued to watch me in the rear view mirror. His right arm dangled out the window, his fingers wiggled in the night air like a bunch of crooked hot dogs and then started to tap a rhythm onto steel panel beneath the KVPD decal on his door.

“Yeah, me and Nicole go way back,” Hoskins said. “Don’t we Nic?”

I looked away from the mirror and looked out the window instead. Now that we had left the circus of spinning lights behind, the only illumination was from widely-spaced street lamps that lit the road. We drive continuously down hill and Thompson was took care on the curves to make the ride as smooth as possible. When the road came to the bottom of the hill and Thompson stopped for a stop sign, I noticed there was light from the headlights of a car behind us. I turned to look out of the back window and briefly caught a glimpse of Kinsey before our car turned right, toward the older part of downtown. Seeing Kinsey there made me feel a little safer. Until Hoskins started to talk again.

“Me and Nic will be just fine in the booking area,” He paused and I looked into the rear view mirror just in time to see him lick his lips. “We’ll be just fine all by ourselves.”

His words were innocuous, with a touch of innuendo. However the tone of Hoskins’ voice sent a chill through my body. The only warmth I felt came from the comforting weight of the Zippo in my pants pocket.

I watched absent-mindedly as the town crawled past the window of the cruiser. The late hour meant all the businesses were closed, even the bars. Only one car passed us going the other way and I didn’t see a single person walking outside. We arrived at the building shared by the Kiln Valley police department and the Beckham County sheriff’s office. Thompson drove past the front of the building, turned right at the corner and drove up to a gated parking lot. The gate was shut but as the cruiser pulled up, it began to roll back. The steel uprights went by like a row of skinny soldiers marching in pointed helmets.

Kinsey pulled up behind us and followed us through the gate. As Thompson pulled up to the portico that covered the entrance to the back of the building, Kinsey drove past and found a parking spot amid the KVPD motor pool. Thompson and Hoskins opened their doors. The cool air and the dome light hit me in the face. I sat, blinking while I waited for someone to let me out.

The police cruiser tilted to the left after Hoskins pulled himself to his feet. The fat man sighed and heaved his gun belt back up onto his hips. He slammed the passenger door and took a couple steps towards my door. Thompson walked around the back of the car and opened my door. He used a strong but gentle grip on my upper arm to help me out of the back seat.

I saw Kinsey waiting by the back door. Hoskins and Thompson each held one of my arms. Hoskins was digging his sausage fingers into the skin next to my bicep. I looked at Kinsey and gave him the best smile I could manage. Hoskins used his free hand to push the a button on some kind of intercom next to the back door. The door buzzed and Hoskins released his grip on my arm to allow Thompson to take me through the doorway. I heard Hoskins behind me, he stopped and turned.

I glanced over my shoulder to see Hoskins plant his hand on Kinsey’s chest and say something gruff. The two men continued to talk as Thompson guided me down the hallway. Then I heard the door shut and a single set of footsteps began to shuffle down the hall towards us.

Thompson sat me on a bench and I leaned my back against the wall. Thompson walked over to a desk and took a clipboard out of a drawer. He was busy putting carbon paper into the clip when Hoskins walked up and said something quietly into his ear.

“Sir, I,” Thompson began to reply.

“You what?”

“Nothing sir. Would you like me to call Lewis to assist with booking?”

“I’ll call Lewis. You get back on your fucking patrol like I ordered you to.”

“Yes, sir,” said Thompson.

The young cop gave me a worried look. Then his face seemed to relax. He gave me a curt nod and a half smile, then turned to walk back outside. Hoskins followed him to the button that released the back door. When the the pudgy cop turned and looked at me on my bench, he grinned again. The grin reminded me of someone who was about to open a long-awaited package, something they’ve been hoping would arrive and finally came to their doorstep.

The radio crackled and Hoskins reached up to turn it down but he stopped to listen to the following conversation.

“Thompson to Lewis. Lewis, you copy?”

“Go for Lewis.”

“Tonya, Hoskins requests assistance with booking of a female suspect at the precinct.”

“Copy that, on my way.”

“Thompson out.”

Hoskins’ grin faded.

“That little fucker. Well, we might not have as much time alone as I had wanted. But we can still have some fun. Let me go tell Roda to leave us be for a little while, okay?”

Hoskins opened the door and poked his head out, with the intent of saying something to the duty officer on the other side.

“Shit,” he said and went the rest of the way through the door, into the offices on the other side.

I started to wiggle the lighter out of the tiny pocket in my jeans and hoped I had enough time.

Why I Stayed – Part 10

On Friday morning, the day of the homecoming game, I woke up to the smell of coffee and bacon. My father was almost never home by the time I got out of bed and my mother was usually on her way out the door by the time I made it to the kitchen. The delicious scents made me confused while my stomach grumbled. I pulled on some sweat pants and a t-shirt and made my way down the stairs that separated the bedrooms from the rest of the house. I walked into the kitchen still rubbing my eyes.

“Good morning, sweetheart.”

I stopped rubbing my eyes, opened them, and saw my mom standing at the stove. She was stirring a pan full of scrambled eggs. A plate sat to one side of the stove containing a pile of bacon on top of a blanket of paper towels. Another plate was already on the kitchen table, holding a precarious stack of pancakes. The table was set for two, with forks, knives, plates, and cups of coffee and orange juice.

“I was just about to wake you,” said my mom. “I told my boss I’d be late for work today. I wanted to make you a special breakfast for your big day today.”

I walked towards her and my mom set the spatula down. She opened her arms, wrapped them around me, and gave me a hug. My mom and I had always been pretty close, but I honestly couldn’t remember the last time she had hugged me like that. I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed. She smelled like shampoo and breakfast. I let go and she gave me a quick kiss on the cheek before returning to the eggs.

“Please put the bacon on the table and sit down, the eggs are nearly done.”

I grabbed the plate of bacon and brought it to the table. I sat down and grabbed a slice to much on while I waited.

“Your father said to tell you he’s sorry he couldn’t be here for breakfast. He said he needed to get a jump on the day’s business so he could be home in time to watch the game.”

My father traveled for his job and was away more days than he was at home. For as long as I could remember, home life was pretty much just me and mom. It didn’t bother me that much, especially since when dad happened to be home for dinner it was a special occasion and mom would generally make something really good for dinner. I was happy to hear that he would be home in time to watch the homecoming game tonight. The team had been trying out my play in practice all week and Jerrad said there was a good chance we’d use it in the game against Tall Timber.

Mom walked over to the table with the pan of eggs. She deposited a healthy scoop onto my plate and put a small portion on hers. She set the pan onto a crocheted potholder shaped like flower. I took a couple pancakes off of the stack and a few slices of bacon and put them on my plate.

“Thanks mom,” I said.

“No problem, honey. I won’t be able to give you a good dinner before the game tonight, so I figured a nice breakfast would have to do.”

“It’s perfect, mom.”

“Are you excited for tonight?”

“A little,” I lied.

Tonight’s game was my chance to show that I was more than just a strong player. It was my opportunity to display my skill at strategy and planning. As happy as I was to become good at football, I could never really feel proud for my accomplishments on the field. Growing muscle and being bigger than most of my classmates was not an achievement. It was simple biology. Learning to run, juke, and handle the ball was challenging at first but it became so natural to me that I didn’t really see it as anything special.

“Well, I know you are going to play very well tonight,” mom said with a smile. “I can’t wait to watch.”

I smiled at my mom and poured some syrup on my pancakes.

“Did I tell you that Jerrad is going to run one of my plays tonight?”

“You mentioned something about it earlier this week.”

“It’s going to be great,” I said with a mouth half full of pancakes and bacon. “Tall Timber wins games with the sheer size of their linemen and the speed of their running back. I found a way to use that size against them in the offense and I gave some advice to the defensive coach to mitigate their fast kid.”

“Sweetie, I’m happy to see you get so excited. I’m sure your plays will be wonderful.”

It was pretty obvious that my mother didn’t understand what I was talking about but it was nice to have her support nonetheless.

“Oh crap,” I said after catching a glimpse of the clock on the microwave. “I gotta get ready!”

I shoved the last bite of eggs into my mouth and grabbed two slices of bacon to go. I stood up, smiled at my mom, and ran up the stairs to my bedroom.

All week, many of my classmates had been dressing up for the “spirit” days. I had declined to participate but today would have to be an exception. “Pathfinder Spirit Day” meant wearing school colors and I wouldn’t need my Stone Temple Pilots shirt to qualify this time. I put on jeans and a white t-shirt and then slipped my red “away” jersey over the top. After I tied on my sneakers, I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Looking in the mirror, I saw our team name spelled backwards over my chest but my uniform number was the same backwards and forwards. For as long as I could remember, my favorite number was eight and the number “88” fell into the range of uniform numbers set aside for backs and ends.

Most days I would barely notice what my reflection looked like but today was special. I made sure I didn’t have food or toothpaste on my face and ran my fingers through my hair one more time before I considered it good enough and went downstairs again.

When I entered the kitchen, I noticed that mom had cleared the table and was pouring coffee into one of the mugs with a lid that she always took to work. She was wearing a red sweater with a compass embroidered on the front surrounded by the words “Kiln Valley Booster Club.”

“Is it spirit day for you too,” I asked her.

She turned and smiled at me, “You better believe it.”

“Do you need the car?”

“No, honey,” my mom said. “You go ahead, I can take the next bus and still make it to work before nine.”

“Thanks mom,” I said. “I’ll see you tonight!”

In my excitement, I pushed the front door open a little too hard and it banged against the stopper. My dad installed the stopper to keep the door from hitting the porch swing that hung next to the front door. Most mornings, Nicole would be waiting for me in that swing and she would either ride with me in my car or walk with me to the bus stop. She had not been waiting for me all week and I was disappointed but not surprised to see the swing was empty again today.

Being slightly deflated by her absence, I walked to the station wagon and unlocked the driver’s side door. I turned and took one more look at Nicole’s house before sitting down and shutting the door. I put the key into the ignition and turned. After a couple whining turns, the engine caught and rumbled to life. I waited for warm air to start coursing out of the vents before I pulled out of the driveway. The mornings and evenings were starting to get really cold and my breath had the tendency to fog up the windshield if I didn’t let the car get warm first.

I glanced at the passenger seat, where Nicole should have been. The only thing sitting there was my backpack. I had no need to bring it into the house last night since the teachers never assigned homework to football players on the night before a game. Without Nicole to talk to, it was too quiet in the car. I looked at the radio and found a cassette tape was sticking halfway out of the deck. I pushed it back into the radio and Mike Doughty’s awkward rap began to fill the car with words just as the vents started to push warm air across the glass of the windshield.

I put the car in reverse, released the emergency brake, and backed out of the driveway. I put the car in drive and began to head down my street. The sky was clear and the sun peeked over the tops of the low trees that grew along the edge of our development. I reached blindly for where I usually set my sunglasses but my hand came up empty. I forgot that I had them on my head when I got home yesterday and they still sat on my desk in my bedroom. I squinted into the sun and steered the car towards the high school.

As I drove, the sun was now peeking through the trees that lined the old highway. The light flickered a random pattern of light and dark into the corner of my eyes. Annoyed by the Morse code piercing my eyes, I flipped the passenger visor down to try and block the staccato light rays. However the visors in our old station wagon were pathetically small compared to the size of the windshield and barely cast any shade on my squinting eyes. I drove the rest of the way trying to ignore the aggravating flashing light and trying to ignore how bothered I was by fact that Nicole wasn’t there.

This week had been such a blur of school, practice, and worrying about my suggested play that I hadn’t given much thought to Nicole. Taking another glance at the passenger seat I was reminded that I hadn’t seen Nicole all week. I had not found her sitting on my porch swing in the evening or given her a ride to school in the morning. I didn’t even see her in the hallway between classes. An entire week went by without thinking about my best friend and I felt ashamed. My excitement about tonight’s game had been dulled by the pain in my eyes from the sun and the sadness I felt from being away from Nicole. By the time I got to school, the Soul Coughing tape had ended and I was feeling guilty and deflated.

As I pulled into the student lot, I realized I must be pretty late since the lot was nearly full. I had to park at the far end of the lot the students called “Butt Fuck Egypt” or “BFE” for short. I parked in the last spot in the row closest to the football field, turned off the car, and grabbed my backpack from the passenger seat. I opened the door and stood up out of the seat. I locked my door and held the button on the door handle while shutting it to make sure it stayed locked. Cars parked in “BFE” were often subject to search by nosy kids looking for cigarettes and loose change. I didn’t have anything of value in the car but I didn’t like the idea of some stoner weirdo going through my glove box.

I began the trek across the lot and looked through the chain link fence at the back side of the empty bleachers. Later tonight, those bleachers would be full of students, parents, and community members cheering for our team. My parents would be there with their red sweaters and red-and-white bleacher cushions. My classmates would fill the student section, their faces red with paint or cold or alcohol. None of that really mattered to me. The only person I really cared to watch me tonight was Nicole. She was the only person in the world I could think of that would appreciate the clever play I wrote. I decided I would look for her at school and make sure she would be there tonight. I quickened my pace so I might be able to find her before first period.

Why I Stayed – Part 9

Kiln Valley was not a large town and the police headquarters was not a large, bustling depot like the ones on TV. At night it was virtually deserted. Any officers that were on duty at this hour were guarding the house I just left or parked at an intersection looking for drunk drivers. I turned away from the back door and walked around the brick building to the main entrance.The front doors were locked. If you didn’t have a key card to get in, you had to hit the red button on an intercom posted next to the doorway. I gave the button a short push and a second longer push and then waited.

The staff sergeant was likely to be the only person in the office. He usually lounged in his chair, tipped back until the front two feet were lifted nine inches off the ground. His own two feet would be crossed at the ankles and propped on the desk in front of him. A laptop on the desk would be playing a superhero movie. It would take him a few minutes at least before he could bring himself to lift his feet from his desk, lean forward to put the movie on pause, and then pick up the phone to speak to me on the intercom.

It seemed like an hour but roughly four minutes had passed when I heard the speaker crackle and a sleepy voice say, “Kiln Valley Police Department, what is your business?”

“Detective Kinsey here to see the suspect Hoskins just brought in,” I answered in a tone that was meant to sound official but came out sounding petulant.

“We don’t have a detective Kinsey here.”

“Jesus, Mike,” I said. “Just let me in, will you?”

The speaker crackled again, followed by a loud clop as Sergeant Roda dropped the handset into the cradle. A second or two later, the door buzzed loudly. I pulled on the handle and the heavy door slowly opened with a soft squeal. A second set of doors stood a few feet inside of the main doors but these were not locked. I pulled the second door open and walked into the foyer.

The floor tiles, which at some point had been white, surrounded two large emblems in the middle of the foyer. On the left was the silver badge of the Kiln Valley Police Department, an eagle with spread wings perched on top of the seal of the city of Kiln Valley which was comprised of a green mountain over a blue river, crossed by a shovel and a pickax. The emblem on the right was the gold star of the Beckham County Sheriff’s Office, which looked like something you would see pinned on a deputy in an old west movie. I walked directly between the two images and made for the staff sergeant’s desk.

It had been almost two years since I had last seen the inside of this building. I breathed in the familiar smell of burnt coffee and copier paper. The left wall of the foyer bore framed portraits of the current staff working for KVPD. A blue plaque in the shape of a scroll honored the former staff that had retired and had their names inscribed on little silver plates. A black marble plaque in the shape of an urn was adorned with gold plates, on which was inscribed the names of the officers killed in the line of duty. There was fifteen or so names on the retirement memorial. There was only four gold plates on the black urn and I couldn’t tell you what three of those plates said. One of the names was burned into my memory. I winced and looked away before I could read the name on the last gold plate.

The foyer ended at two desks, one for the office receptionist and one for the staff sergeant.

Staff Sergeant Mike Roda had his feet up again, his chair tipped back farther than I would call safe. He was not obese, but had a dough-like softness about him that reminded me of a giant baby. He was absentmindedly running his fingers across his flat top haircut and I could almost hear his bristly hair snap into place as his hand passed over.

“Long time, no see,” said Roda, who didn’t even look up from the movie playing on his laptop. “What can I do for you?”

“I would like to talk to Hoskins’ detainee.”

Roda looked up from his movie and arched an eyebrow.

“I’m sorry, Kinsey. The suspect is in booking,” said Roda. He lifted his feet off of his desk, put them on the ground and stood up. “Besides, you don’t work here anymore and you sure as shit ain’t her lawyer.”

When Sergeant Roda stood at his full height, I had to look up to meet his stare. His constantly rosy cheeks stood in sharp contrast to the cold look in his eye. We locked eyes for a few long seconds. Our staring contest was broken when I heard the door to the booking area open and I looked to see Hoskins coming through the doorway.

Hoskins gave a heavy sigh and said, “Kinsey, I appreciate your help earlier. But what the fuck are you doing here?”

I side-stepped Roda’s desk and met Hoskins in the middle of the administrative floor.

“Can I talk to her, please?”

“We’re waiting for a female officer to come back to the station, to assist in booking. Monday, after she’s been charged and her defender has been arranged, we can see about some visitation.”

“Dammit, Hoskins,” I started.

Hoskins brought up his hand sharply and for a second I thought he was about to hit me. He settled for pointing a puffy index finger at my chest.

“No,” he interrupted. “You’re not going to argue with me about this!”

Hoskins turned and started to head for the door to booking. I followed him and Roda followed close after me.

“I just need to make sure she’s okay. You know as well as I do that she’s been through a lot.”

Hoskins put his hand on the door latch and half turned to say, “What I know is she confessed to killing her husband. She needs to be booked, charged, and brought to trial. That is my job, Kinsey. Wiping her nose and patting her head is not my job and it damn well isn’t yours either. You want to do her a favor, call her lawyer and save her the phone call.”

Hoskins pulled on the latch and heaved the door open. A small amount of smoke accompanied by a strange burning smell wafted through the open doorway.

I heard Hoskins say, “What the fuck?”

I blinked my eyes a few times and recognized two scents, though I had never smelled them together. One was the unmistakable smell of burning hair. The other was the smell of burning plastic.

Roda and I looked over Hoskins’ shoulder to see Nicole walking toward the hallway that led to the back door. Roda shouldered me aside as he and Hoskins bolted into the booking area. Nicole looked up at the commotion and her terrified eyes met mine.

Nicole reached for me and screamed my name. I noticed a blackened piece of plastic around her wrist. The skin of her forearm was red and an open, blackish sore shined next to her wrist bone.

I got my hand into the doorway before it shut, pulled the door open, and followed the policemen into booking area. The walls were the same yellow as the hallway. A desk sat to one side with fingerprinting equipment and a computer. In the other corner was a blue backdrop, similar to where you stand for your DMV picture, except this one had a scale for measuring the height of the person being photographed.

Nicole had been seated in a chair with her hands bound in front of her with plasticuffs. She had somehow hidden the Zippo lighter and used it to melt the cuffs. She burned her arm pretty badly in the process. Nicole backed away from the advancing policemen with her palms raised to ward them off. Blood dripped from the wound on her right wrist and splattered on the floor without a sound. Nicole ended up in the corner by the height scale. She had retreated as far as she could and pressed her back against the brick wall. Her head just barely cleared the five feet, six inches mark on the scale.

I couldn’t help but think of the summer between our freshman and sophomore year when Nicole had gotten her driver’s license. I hadn’t earned mine yet and I asked her if I could see it. When she handed the laminated card to me, I noticed the height read five feet, eight inches. I gave her crap for lying about her height. She stood straight as she could, lifted her chin, stretched her neck as far as she could, and defiantly told me that she really was that tall.

Hoskins and Roda advanced slowly, standing a couple feet apart to block any path she might take away from her corner. Hoskins had his left hand up in the universal sign for “stop.” His right hand rested on the stock of the revolver that sat next to his fleshy hip. Roda had both of his arms extended, palms out. Suddenly, a buzzer sounded. The sound cut through the silent tension and made everyone startle.

Hoskins spoke to Roda without taking his eyes off of Nicole, “That’s probably Lewis. I got this, you go and open the door.”

Roda backed up and scooted sideways past Hoskins. He didn’t look away from Nicole until he reached the door that opened to the hallway.

The only way to enter or exit the station through the back door was to be buzzed in or out. The button to open the door was a safe distance from the back door to prevent a detainee from opening the door by himself. Directly above the button was a video screen to see who was standing outside the rear entrance. The same hallway also had two blue doors which led to the holding cells used for arrests.

I glanced away from Nicole to watch Roda walk down the hallway, lift a plastic cover, and press his meaty hand down on the red button that unlocked the back door. Officer Tonya Lewis opened the back door, removing her hat as she walked in. She gave an annoyed look to Roda, who followed her down the hall back to booking.

I looked back to Nicole and said, “Nic, it’s okay. You have to do this their way. They have a female officer here now so they can finish booking you.”

Lewis and Roda walked into booking and Lewis whistled.

“Damn, Hoskins you look like you need a hand,” said Lewis.

Hoskins gritted his teeth and said, “I could handle her by myself, but I don’t want her boyfriend over there to file a police brutality lawsuit.”

I ignored Hoskins and spoke to Nicole again, “Tonya is here, you remember her?”

Nicole had been glaring at Hoskins and shifted her gaze to Officer Lewis.

Lewis dropped her hat on the chair next to the fingerprinting desk.

“Nicole, honey, I need you to help me here,” Lewis said in a tone of a mother speaking to a child. “If you don’t work with us, things will get rough.”

“I don’t want that f-fat f-fuck anywhere near me,” Nicole stammered.

“Hey, I don’t blame you there. Hoskins, how you about you get the hell out of here and let us ladies talk?”

Hoskins sighed again and let his hands fall to his sides.

“Fuck it, I’ve had enough of this crazy bitch anyways,” Hoskins said and pushed past me to head back into the administrative office.

Lewis tilted her head and said, “You too, Roda.”

Sergeant Roda looked at me and said, “He can’t stay either, he could help her escape.”

“I think if he had wanted her to get away then Kinsey would’nt have let us take her downtown in the first place.”

I nodded and said, “Let’s do this the right way, it’s better for everyone.”

Roda shook his head and joined Hoskins in the other room. The door clicked shut behind me. The slim window cut into the heavy door was pressed to my back and blocked any view from the admin area into booking.

Lewis cleared her throat and spoke in her soft voice again, “Nicole are you listening to me? The other men are gone. It’s just you, me, and Kinsey. We have some things we need to take care of, then I’ll put you in a holding cell. Nobody will touch you then, you’ll be safe okay?”

Nicole nodded slowly and looked at the floor. Her blood had dotted the floor in four places and she stared at it as if stunned.

Lewis spoke again, “Hoskins already took your picture and got your prints. All we need to do is make sure you don’t have anything on you that can be used to hurt someone. Will you let me pat you down?”

Nicole sighed and her body drooped. The excitement of her near escape had left her and she wilted like a cut flower. I was afraid for a moment that she would pass out and fall to the floor. Instead, she spread her feet apart and raised her arms.

Office Lewis approached slowly and put on rubber gloves. She walked to the fingerprinting station and opened a drawer. She pulled a plastic bag which contained some blue fabric. She retrieved another plastic bag that was empty. From another drawer, Officer Lewis pulled a pair of gray slippers.

“Okay, here’s what we gotta do,” said Lewis. “We need to get your clothes off and into this empty bag. Then you can put on these ugly pajamas. Tomorrow, after the crime scene guys say it’s okay, you can have a friend bring you some clothes from home. Are you ready?”

Nicole glanced at me. I turned around and put my head against the cool metal door. I listened to the rustle of cloth and plastic for a few minutes. I heard a metallic sound which must have been Lewis setting the Zippo on the desk. I heard Lewis’ pen scratch some words onto a piece of paper.

After a few more minutes Lewis said, “Okay, now that we’re done with that I need to you sign this sheet. It lists all the things you had on you when we brought you in. I turned to see Nicole wearing a blue outfit similar to a nurse’s scrubs. She had the gray slippers on her feet. She was bent in on herself. Her shoulders were hunched and her head hung down to her chest.

On the table, next to the paper, was the Zippo Lighter and a pack of gum. Nicole looked up just long enough to scribble her name on the paper.

Lewis opened a first aid kit on the wall and brought some things to the desk. The officer snipped the remaining piece of plastic from Nicole’s right arm. She bandaged the burn as well as a cut she must have gotten from pulling against the cuffs. The other wrist was scraped but wasn’t in bad enough shape to require bandages.

“There we go,” Lewis said. “I’m going to take you to your room now. The bed in there is not too bad and maybe you can get some sleep.”

Lewis grabbed Nicole’s arm and gently urged her to stand. Nicole looked small in her defeated posture. I was used to the headstrong and defiant way she usually held her head and to see her like that broke my heart. Nicole didn’t look at me as she shuffled past. Lewis took a key off of a rack on the wall and pulled open the door to the yellow hallway. She guided Nicole through the doorway and up to the first blue door. She unlocked the door with the key and pulled it wide open. She patted Nicole on the back as the shrunken woman shuffled into the cell. I watched Lewis slowly shut the door and lock it. The officer turned toward me and shrugged her shoulders.

It was time for me to go.

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

Why I Stayed – Part 8

I heard the sloshing of the schnapps bottle in Nicole’s pocket as she jogged across the front lawn to catch up to me. I stopped at the concrete steps that lead to the front door, which was completely open. While we peered into the entry way, two seniors wearing letterman’s jackets walked out. One was lighting a cigarette and the other was talking excitedly.

“Kinsey! I didn’t think you would make it,” said the excited talker, holding his hand up for a high five.

“I couldn’t miss the biggest party of the year,” I said and slapped a palm firmly against his upheld hand.

The two lettermen walked past us. The talker resumed his excited talk and the smoker put a lighter to the end of his cigarette and puffed.

“I swear,” Nicole said. “Jocks are so latently homosexual, it’s not even funny.”

“That was Kip, he’s had like 14 girlfriends since freshman year.”

“Like that matters,” Nicole said with a laugh.

She gestured to the doorway and I led the way into the house. Passing through the entryway, we traded the cool evening air for hot, humid pressure. At least fifty kids were scattered throughout the living room. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was playing loudly over a set of speakers mounted on the wall. A sub-woofer in the corner carried the kicks from Dave Grohl’s right foot directly to my chest. The only way to have a conversation over the loud music was to shout. The party-goers loud voices added to the cacophony and their breath added to the sticky atmosphere. I remembered from my last visit that there was an elevated deck off of the dining room and I was relived to see that the sliding door was open. There was only a few kids standing out there.

“Come on,” I yelled to Nicole and dragged her past the crowd of people drunkenly moshing in the middle of the living room.

When we arrived at the sliding glass door, I realized that one of the people standing on the deck was Jerrad. He leaned back against the railing with a grin on his face. The elbow of his left arm was resting on the top beam of the railing and a bottle of Rolling Rock was dangling from the fingers of his left hand. His right arm was wrapped around the waist of a girl who leaned up against him. The fingers of his right hand were slipped into her right front pocket of her jean shorts. The girl propped up against Jerrad had a bored look on her face while she listened to him talk to the only adult I had seen at the party so far.

“Yeah,” said Jerrad. “Tall Timber is going to be the team to beat this year. Their entire offensive line is made up of seniors weighing 225 or more. That sophomore running back they have is goddamn fast, nobody can catch him.”

“Your boys are just going to have to keep him back, can’t let him run,” said the man.

Jerrad looked over the man’s shoulder at me.

“Kinsey, my man. I’m glad you could come!”

The man who was talking to Jerrad turned and I realized he was Jonathan Griffith, Jerrad’s father.

“Trevor Kinsey,” said Mr. Griffith as he extended a hand for me to shake. “Welcome back to our home. Are you having a good time?”

I took the man’s hand in mine and felt him squeeze a little harder than the average handshake.

“We only just got here but it seems like quite a party,” I said while squeezing his hand in return.

“Hey, mi casa es su casa tonight. Grab a beer out of the fridge and enjoy yourself.”

Nicole, who was standing to my left, pulled the bottle of schnapps from her hoodie. Nicole eyed him warily while she unscrewed the cap from the bottle and handed me the plastic that came off the top.

“Well, I’m going to get out of here and let you kids have your fun. Nobody wants an old fogey like me hanging around, right?”

Jonathan smiled and winked at Nicole. He then slapped his son on the shoulder, which jostled the girl leaning up against Jerrad’s chest. The bored look on her face turned to annoyance as she rolled her eyes. As Mr. Griffith walked away, Nicole put the bottle to her lips and took a big swallow.

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

The girl propped against Jerrad rolled her eyes again.

“Kinsey, you know my girlfriend right?”

“Yeah, we have the same math class,” I answered. “Hi Molly.”

“Hi,” Molly said, unenthusiastically.

The last strains of Nirvana faded and No Doubt’s “Spiderwebs” started to play. Molly stood up and turned to face Jerrad, whose fingers slid from her pocket as she rotated.

“Finally, a good song to dance to. Come on,” pleaded Molly, pulling on the hand that just left her pocket.

“Okay, okay,” said Jerrad as he set the green beer bottle in the flower box mounted to the deck’s railing. “Kinsey, I’ll be right back. I gotta talk to you about next week’s game.”

Jerrad allowed himself to be pulled towards the back door. A bulky member of the defensive line walked out of the house with a beer in his right hand. He made devil’s horns with his left hand, pointed them at Jerrad, and yelled, “Woohoo!” The two of them bumped chests, causing some beer to spill on the deck. Molly dragged Jerrad into the house and the large kid approached another boy. They repeated the yell, the horns, the bump, and the spilled beer.

“Seriously,” asked Nicole as she handed me the bottle. “You don’t see what I’m talking about?”

I brought the bottle to halfway to my lips and said, “What?”

The spicy sweet smell of the root beer-flavored schnapps hit my nose as I brought the bottle the rest of the way to my mouth. I took a modest drink and enjoyed the burning in my throat that eased to a mellow warmth when it hit my stomach. Most schnapps is not very strong, at least compared to whiskey or other liquor. This one, however, was 100 proof and was my favorite thing to drink at a party. I never really cared for beer and could only drink liquor if it was mixed with something. This strong schnapps was sweet enough to drink straight and strong enough that I didn’t look like a wuss for drinking it.

“All the high-fives, the chest bumps, the showering together for crying out loud?”

“I don’t get it,” I said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to walk into the locker room after a game and see dudes making out and jerking each other off.”

I shook my head and handed the bottle back to Nicole. She had a way of saying dirty or offensive things that I found endearing.

“I have never seen that happen in our locker room.”

“Well, not that it would be such a bad thing. I have no problems with people being gay. I just think it’s kind of lame to hide it behind all this macho bullshit.”

I took the schnapps from Nicole, leaned back against the deck railing, and tried to look as nonchalant as possible. From where I stood, I could see Jerrad dancing with Molly. Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” was playing and I couldn’t help but feel a little jealous. Molly was bent at the waist while Jerrad was grinding on her from behind. Her butt looked perfect and her jeans were cut so short I could see the pockets sticking out of the bottom. Nicole propped herself against the railing beside me, stuck her hands into her hoodie pocket, and followed my gaze.

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

“They’re just dancing,” I said.

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

“I don’t really like to dance.”

“Huh,” said Nicole.

Nicole took the bottle from me, took a swig, and then handed it back.

“I have to pee,” she announced and stalked across the deck.

After the Moby song was over, The Bloodhoud Gang’s “Fire, Water, Burn” began. I looked back to where Jerrad and Molly had been dancing and saw that they were on their way back to the deck. Jerrad had his hand on her backside and they both glistened with sweat.

“It’s fucking hot in there, Kinsey,” Jerrad said as he approached. “You have the right idea staying out here.”

Jerrad reached for the beer he left in the flower box, but accidentally knocked it over. It tumbled into the grass below and I heard someone below shout.

“Dammit,” said Jerrad. “Looks like I need to go back in for a fresh one. “You guys want anything?”

Jerrad pointed at me and Molly and arched an eyebrow.

“Do you have any Diet Coke,” asked Molly.

“Haha,” Jerrad laughed and turned walk into the house.

Molly shook her head and then turned to me.

“You got a smoke,” she asked.

I pulled a pack of cigarettes from each of my coat pockets.

“Menthol or regular,” I asked.

Molly gave a small laugh and said, “You sure come prepared. Are you a Boy Scout?”

The truth was that I had been a Boy Scout until 6th grade. The way she said the words made me think that perhaps it wasn’t cool to be one so I smiled and shook my head.

Molly plucked the green-colored pack out of my left hand and began to firmly tap it against the palm of her left hand. Every time she struck her hand, I couldn’t help but notice her breasts would bounce a little. They threatened to spill out of her push-up bra and I was a little sad when she stopped packing the tobacco and began to open the pack. Once the pack was open, she put a cigarette to her lips, held it there while she handed me the rest of the pack, and began to search her pockets for a lighter.

I reached into my pocket and found a book of matches. I pulled one of the paper matches from its binding, struck it on the back of the book, and held it behind my cupped hand to keep the wind from extinguishing the little orange flame. Molly leaned forward to light the cigarette. I was anxious about catching her hair on fire so I didn’t reach far enough forward. Molly gently grasped the hand of mine that held the match and pulled it to her face. She looked at me as she puffed and I could see the match flame reflected in her brown eyes. Once her cigarette was lit, she released my hand and leaned back to take a deep drag. She tipped her head back and exhaled a minty cloud of smoke into the night sky.

It was only when she reached into my coat pocket for the other pack of cigarettes that I noticed Nicole had returned from the bathroom. She ripped open the pack, handed me the plastic wrap, and took the book of matches out of my hand. She scowled at me while she attempted to light a match.

Jerrad returned with another Rolling Rock in one hand and can of Coors Light in the other. He touched the cold, wet can of beer to Molly’s bare arm and she let out a startled gasp. She glared at Jared and took the beer from him. He took a place between the two girls.

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

Jerrad watched as Nicole failed to light a third match in a row.

“Here,” he said as he reached into his pocket.

Jerrad’s hand came out of his pocket holding something shiny. He expertly flicked his wrist and the Zippo lighter in his hand opened with muffled click. I could see the muscles in his forearm flex as he worked his thumb over the gray wheel, sending sparks to the lighter’s wick, which lit on the first stroke. Jerrad extended his arm toward Nicole. She narrowed her eyes at him a little and hesitated a moment before leaning toward him and lighting her cigarette. She puffed until the cigarette was lit and leaned back. With another deft flick of his wrist, Jerrad’s lighter snapped shut and I could make out the blue “bow-tie” symbol for the Chevrolet brand on the side of the lighter before he slipped it back into his pocket.

“Thanks,” said Nicole.

“Anytime,” said Jerrad.

Something about the way he was looking at Nicole made me uncomfortable. Jerrad’s uneven grin caused his right eye to close a little more than his left eye and it seemed like he was winking at her. I brought Nicole to the party but it wasn’t like she was my date. I had no reason to feel this way but I was suddenly jealous. I felt like I had to protect Nicole from him, even though Jerrad was standing right next to his girlfriend.

I looked at Molly to see that she was also looking at Nicole and her face had turned to a sneer. Nicole was looking at the trees that bordered the back yard and seemed oblivious to the sudden tension.

“Um, Jerrad,” I said. “You wanted to talk to me about next week’s game?”

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