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.

“What?”

“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.

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

Why I Stayed – Part 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.

Why I Stayed – Part 7

I walked out the front door of the house and felt a hundred weary eyes on me. I took the three steps down to the concrete sidewalk and stopped. I turned and looked back into the entry way and watched Nicole tentatively walk out onto the concrete landing. She had put on a gray sweatshirt silk-screened with the compass emblem of the Kiln Valley Pathfinders. She wore a pair of jeans that seemed a little too big. She had traded her one pink slipper for a pair of khaki Timberland boots.

I heard someone say, “It’s about fucking time.”

I turned to see Hoskins fighting his way out of the passenger seat of a cruiser and begin to make his way across the yard to where I stood. He had to stop after a few steps to pull up his gun belt, which always wanted to settle below his thickened waist and bulging belly. The bossy fat man grabbed a young officer by the elbow.

“Restrain her and put her in the car,” he said as he pointed at Nicole who stood warily on the top step.

“Hoskins, do we really need the cuffs,” I asked but I already knew the answer.

“This woman admitted to brutally killing her husband, if that doesn’t warrant hand restraints I don’t know what does.”

Hoskins motioned angrily at the shy woman and gave the policeman a bug-eyed look that said, “Cuff her already!”

I turned to Nicole. Her face wore an expression of confusion and fear.

“It’s going to be okay. I won’t let them hurt you and I will be at the station as soon as I can.”

“I kind of wish I had brought the whiskey with me,” Nicole said as the officer approached with the restraints in his hand.

Law enforcement organizations had almost completely stopped using metal handcuffs and started using plastic restraints. Metal cuffs were heavy and expensive. Metal cuffs also had the tendency to cut or chafe the skin of the detainee and were rarely sanitized after use. This meant the cuffs often carried traces of whatever blood-borne diseases had infected the previous wearer. A number of lawsuits were filed by detainees that contracted hepatitis or worse from the dirty metal that dug into their skin.

The lawyers responsible for defending against such lawsuits loved PlastiCuffs since they were single-use. Some cops loved them because they could carry 10 pairs of plastic restraints in the space of one pair of metal ones and at a fraction of the weight. Other cops enjoyed using them because they were actually less comfortable than traditional steel restraints.

The young officer approached Nicole and she extended her hands, the palms inclined and facing each other like she was trying to catch a ball. The policeman guided the plastic loops over her hands and up to her wrists. He pulled the tabs that tightened the loops until there was only a little room under the plastic. I could tell he could’ve pulled them tighter.

“Thank you, officer,” I said to the young man. To Nicole I said, “I’ll see you soon. Remember you don’t have to talk until your lawyer gets there.”

“Yeah, yeah,” interrupted Hoskins. “Jones here will make sure she understands her rights, just like any other perp.”

“Sir,” said the young officer. “My name is Thompson.”

“Whatever,” said Hoskins with a scowl.

Nicole was staring at her hands as she followed Thompson to the nearest cruiser. His hand was clasped gently around her upper arm and he was taking care to lead her around some branches that had fallen in last night’s wind. Hoskins and I watched as the young man opened the rear door of the police car and placed his hand on the back of her head to make sure she didn’t bump it as she sat down.

The assistant coroner and a few crime scene investigators walked over from where they had been waiting. The assistant coroner still had a cigarette in the corner of his mouth. He winked at us as he passed by and tossed his butt into the grass before mounting the stairs and putting blue booties on his feet. The crime scene investigators stopped to do the same and followed him in.

“Now for the fun part,” said Hoskins as he walked determinedly down the sidewalk for the car in which Nicole sat in the back seat.

I could only barely make out the shape of her head in the gloomy light until Hoskins opened the passenger door and the dome light came on. Nicole was still staring at her hands. I heard Hoskins say something to the driver before the door shut and cut off the sound of his voice. The dome light faded and Nicole was plunged back into shadow.

I walked briskly to my car and was about to open the door when I hear someone yell, “Kinsey!”

I turned around and saw one of the crime scene techs jogging up to me.

“Hey man, I need you to give me a statement,” he said as he came near.

“I need to get to the station. I told her I’d be there,” I said.

“Just come in and show me where you walked, where you sat, what you touched.”

I sighed and followed him back into the house. When we arrived in the bedroom, I noticed that additional lights had been brought in to supplement the yellow glow from the ceiling fan. The windows had been opened to dispel the cloud of cigarette smoke. The assistant coroner was digging around in a tool bag by the side of the bed. He had removed the pillow from the corpse’s face and put it in a plastic evidence bag next to the tools. The victim’s face had the look of maniacal laughter.

In the time that Nicole and I had talked, she and dressed, and I had escorted her outside, the corpse continued to slip in to rigor mortis. The small muscles were effected first, which accounted for the sickening grin on the face and the hands clenched into fists. As rigor continued, the large muscles started to contract. The corpse’s biceps were pulling the the forearms up, the glutes were pressing his heels into the mattress, and his back muscles pressed his shoulders into the bed. The effect lifted his pelvis up a couple inches off the bed. The body’s posture combined with the cold, blue lighting and the cold, blue hue to his skin disturbed me more than any dead body I had ever seen.

“Okay, man. Tell me your story,” said the crime scene tech.

I pointed to the chair and said, “I brushed some clothes off of that chair and sat while we talked.

“Did you touch anything while you were in the room?”

“Yeah, the suspect handed me that bottle of whiskey. I pretended to take a drink to earn her trust,” I lied.

“You didn’t touch anything else?”

“No, I didn’t move from the chair the whole time I was in here. I stood in the doorway while the suspect got dressed.”

“Okay, that should do it. Get out of here.”

I was about to turn away but I felt compelled to take one more look at the face of the dead man laying in the bed. His eyes were open and cloudy, they were no longer the piercing blue I remembered. His white teeth shined unnaturally in the surgical light. His wavy brown hair moved slightly in the breeze from the still-turning ceiling fan. He had aged well, despite years of drinking and smoking. The only lines in his face were from the expression of mania forced by the chemical reaction in his muscles. His proud nose seemed to be flattened and pointed down at his curling upper lip.

“Rigor and temp suggest a time of death that coincides with the 911 call,” the coroner was speaking into a headset microphone. “No defensive wounds. Dermal abrasions apparently from contact with the tie-down straps. Additional abrasions on the knuckles of the right hand, partially healed, perhaps from an earlier fight.”

I started to turn back to the hallway when I noticed a technician fingerprinting the victim’s night stand and the items which sat on it. The man used soft a brush to spread powder on the alarm clock, the whiskey bottle, and the cigarette box. When his brush fell upon the empty space between the pack of cigarettes and the whiskey, my heart nearly stopped. The empty space was where the Zippo lighter should be.

“Visual inspection of the eyes reveal conjunctival petechiea consistent with suffocation as cause of death. Deformation of the nasal bones suggest continuation of force, most likely more than was needed to suffocate the victim. I imagine x-rays will reveal similar deformation of the maxilla and zygomatic.”

I left the room, shouldered past a crime scene tech and a uniformed officer in the hallway. I jumped down the steps outside the front door, jogged across the sidewalk, and hurried back to my car. I was relieved to see that the car containing Hoskins and Nicole had only just pulled away form the curb. I started my car, backed out of the driveway, and started down the street. The cruiser in front of me was driving slowly and carefully. I could see that the passenger window was down. Hoskins’ flabby arm drooped out of the window and his hand was tapping a steady rhythm onto the vinyl decal which adorned the door panel. I followed the car while my mind wandered.

The drive down the hill and into downtown wasn’t a long one and we arrived at the police station in a few minutes. The cruiser pulled through the gate into the police-only parking lot. I followed the car until it turned to park under the corrugated-steel portico next to the back door to the precinct. I parked my car with the other unmarked cars in the pool. I sat for a moment, waiting for Hoskins or the driver to open their doors. My body had barely any energy left and I did not relish the idea of getting out of my seat. When both the front doors of the other car opened, I opened mine and hauled myself out of the seat.

I shut my door and made my way to the portico in time to see Thompson opening the back door and giving Nicole a hand up as she rose from her seat. I stood by the back door to the police station and waited for the officer to guide her to the door. Hoskins hit the buzzer. Nicole looked up from her hands to smile at me as the back door was unlocked from the inside. The three of them went in and I tried to follow.

“We can take it from here, detective,” Hoskins chided. He placed a meaty hand on my sternum to stop me from walking in the door.

I looked over his shoulder to see Thompson guiding Nicole down the hallway. The ancient fluorescent lighting and the yellowing paint on the walls made her hair look dull and I hated how small she looked as she shuffled farther away.

“I need to talk to her,” I said through gritted teeth.

“No, what you need is to go home. We appreciate your help with maintaining the integrity of the crime scene and bringing the suspect into custody without further incident. I will contact your chief of detectives to commend you on a job well done.”

He removed his hand from my chest, backed into the hallway, and pulled the heavy door behind him. There was a small window in the door with glass reinforced by steel wire. I watched Hoskins saunter down the yellow hallway and enjoyed the sight of his bulky body being sliced into cubes.

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

Why I Stayed – Part 6

I drove down the street and tried to figure out what to say. Her eyes were squinted part way closed and her lips were pursed together hard enough to displace their pink color. She was breathing hard and puffs of air came out of her nose like a cartoon bull about to charge.

“Nic-,” I started to say.

“No,” she interrupted. “Just. Drive.”

I reached the stop sign at the open end of our cul-de-sac. The street where Nicole and I had spent our entire lives was displayed in the rear view mirror like a photograph. Every house was the same basic shape, different only in color and condition. The entire neighborhood was provided by the Falling Star mine as housing for men that came home from World War II and found work in the mines and smelters. Most of the mining in our area stopped when I was a baby and none of the people in our neighborhood were miners anymore. My dad was a salesman for a local company that sold trailers made for hauling 4-wheelers and snowmobiles behind your pickup. Nicole’s dad was one of the last people on the street still working for the mine. After the last silver and zinc was mined and smelted, the mine workers were laid off. Tim Miller was hired back as a security guard. He patrolled the old mine properties around town, protecting the dilapidated buildings from teenagers and vagrants. Neither Nicole or I had much money growing up but we were never hungry and got most of our clothes from the department store.

I flicked on my left blinker and drove out of the Silver Hills housing development and headed toward the highway that cut through town. Until fifth grade, the highway was part of Interstate and people passing through town had to make their way through Kiln Valley, stopping at every stop light. A new freeway was built that carried traffic on an elevated path around the edge of town. With interstate traffic gone, the highway was never busy and made it a good way to get from one side of town to the other.

As I made my way into downtown, the boarded up machine shops and empty lots gave way to an area the mayor liked to call “The Village.” When mining ceased to be a valid enterprise, local businessmen decided to leverage the natural beauty of the area and built a ski resort. The Village was a section of downtown where tourists would come to buy boutique clothing, ski equipment, and jewelry patterned after Native American tribal designs. The name the locals used was “The Fur Trap” referring to the tourists in fur-trimmed coats that spent money like it was nothing. Most of the shops were closed for the evening and the only signs of life came from the bars and restaurants.

One bar called The Old Mill was a favorite for fur-clad tourists to mingle with the locals around tables of rough-hewn wood and decorations made from old, rusty milling and mining equipment. As we passed The Old Mill, Nicole moved for the first time. She craned her neck to peer into the enormous window. When the bar was behind us, she turned her head toward the windshield again and I could see that her face was no longer pinched in anger.

“Hey, I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a ride home from school,” I said.

“It’s cool, you said you had to pick up your mom,” Nicole replied.

“You seemed kind of upset, are you okay?”

Nicole took a deep breath and blew air up into her bangs to get the hair out of her eyes.

“In sixth period, I got a note from the office saying my mom was in the hospital. I tried to find you before seventh period to see if you wanted to play hooky and go visit her. By the time I got to your locker, you had already left. I hurried back after class to see if you wanted to give me a ride.”

“Oh Nic, I’m sorry. Is she alright?”

“She’s going to be fine. After school, I walked to the hospital and she was just getting released.”

“What happened,” I asked.

“Dad said he came home early from work to find mom had fallen down the stairs. He took her to the hospital and X-rays confirmed she broke her arm again,” she said with a resigned tone. “She has a cast and she’s supposed to take it easy for a while.”

“I’m glad she’s alright. Good thing your dad came home early.”

Nicole’s mouth took a grim set again and I could see the muscles on the side of her jaw stand out as she clenched her teeth.

“I don’t think Dad went to work today. I don’t think mom fell down the stairs,” she said in a flat voice.

“What are you saying, your dad pushed her?”

“Pushed her or broke her arm himself.”

My family had always been aware of Tim Miller’s temper. Every other night we could hear him raise his voice about something. I always thought it was weird, especially since my parents only raised their voices at contestants on The Wheel of Fortune. Every once in a while, Tim’s shouting would be accompanied by crashing noises or the sound of breaking dishes. Sometimes days would go by and Louanne Miller, Nicole’s mom, would not leave the house. My parents had quiet discussions about it when they thought I couldn’t hear. Mom would try to convince my dad to call the police. Dad would always tell her it was none of our business. Nicole never said anything to me about it and I never had the guts to ask her.

“Have you,” I started. “Has your dad hurt your mom before? Has he hurt you?”

“Mom always sends me to my room when dad is ‘in one of his moods,’” she used air quotes around her mother’s words. “That’s when I put my headphones on, turn up the volume and listen to music until I fall asleep. Sometimes I sneak out my window and sit on the roof, watching for you to come home from practice. When I’m really lonely, I sit on your porch swing.”

“So tonight, when I found you on the swing, you had sneaked out of your window again?”

“I didn’t have to tonight,” Nicole said with a shake of her head. “My dad left during dinner. Mom had reheated some leftovers, since she can’t cook very well with the cast on her arm. Dad said he didn’t like last night’s dinner when it fresh. He put on his coat and said he was going out for dinner.”

“Is that why you looked in the window at The Old Mill?”

Nicole and looked down at her hands, which were balled into fists on her lap.

“We’re almost to David’s house, I only need to go in for a couple minutes. Did you want to come in?”

David was a friend of ours who had two claims to fame. One was that he had the complete set of the first run of Magic cards, even the rare ones. The other was his wispy mustache and early-onset male pattern baldness that made him look old enough to buy cigarettes and booze from the liquor store on the reservation. I gave him twenty dollars earlier that week to get a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of root beer schnapps to bring to the party.

“Why are we going to David’s house,” Nicole started to ask. “Oh, he made a run to the res for you didn’t he?”

I pulled into the gravel driveway in front of David’s house and turned to smile at Nicole.

“You coming in,” I asked.

“Nah, say hi for me.”

I hopped out of the car, leaving it running so Nicole could stay warm and listen to the radio. I was about to knock on David’s front door when it opened. David hurried out the door and closed it quickly behind him. While the door was open I could hear his mother yelling at him.

“Go to the car,” David said through clenched teeth.

I stood on David’s porch in confusion while he hurried awkwardly down the steps. I noticed his arms were stiff and unmoving and the sleeves of his coat seemed to be stuffed full instead of hanging on his lanky frame like they normally did. He got to the back door behind Nicole and carefully tried to open the door. I began to make my way to the car just in time to see a carton of Marlboro reds fall out of his sleeve.

“Fuck,” David said as he stooped to pick them up.

He grabbed the red and white box off of the gravel, sat down, and slammed his door shut. He looked sheepishly at the window to his mother’s living room. The curtains were parted slightly to one side. A small boy looked out and scowled at us.

I climbed into the driver’s seat and looked back at David. He was trying to pull a bottle of liquor out of the other arm of his coat.

“Dude, drive,” he said.

I backed out of his driveway and tried not to laugh. David pulled a second carton of smokes, this one menthols, out of his coat and then the bottle of root beer schnapps that I asked for.

“What is all that,” I asked.

“Merchandise,” answered David.

“What the fuck are you talking about,” Nicole inquired. For some reason I liked it when she used cuss words.

“Last weekend I went to a party with my brother. It was out at some hunting lodge and everyone ran out of smokes but nobody wanted to drive in to town so I could buy more. I figured if that happens tonight, I could sell packs of cigarettes and make a killing. Here,” he said and tossed one of the red and white packs of cigarettes onto the bench seat beside me. “That one is yours.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“This too,” David said, setting the bottle of schnapps on the seat.

Nicole rolled her eyes and put the bottle in the glove box.

“So, where are we going? Where’s the party?”

“Um,” I said.

David looked incredulously at my reflection in the rear view mirror.

“Aw, for fuck’s sake. I wasn’t supposed to come, was I? I was just your hookup for booze and smokes!”

“Dave, I’m sorry,” I started to apologize.

“Whatever, just drop me off at my brother’s apartment.”

“The party is at Jerrad’s house. I’m not really supposed to bring anyone.”

“What’s Nicole doing then? Is she going to wait in the car and drive you home after you hang out with the snobs?”

“Jerrad said I could bring her.”

“Figures,” David said.

I was about to ask what that meant but we were pulling into the parking lot of the run down apartment complex where David’s brother lived.

David looked at me and then at Nicole. Then he grabbed the bottle of whiskey and opened his door.

“I’m leaving the smokes, you can bring the money and whatever you don’t sell to school on Monday,” he said and stood up. Before he shut the door, he leaned in said, “Have fun with the snobs.”

David shut the door and stormed up the walkway to the apartment complex. He arrived at the secure entry and swiped his hand across the buttons on the call box, ringing every buzzer in the building. A red light came on and the door buzzed loudly. David walked in without a look back and made for the staircase.

“That was awkward,” chided Nicole.

“Well, I told him I was going to a party and I needed a bottle and a pack of smokes. I didn’t say he could come, but I guess I didn’t say he couldn’t either.”

I used an empty parking spot to turn around and made my way back to the highway. I backtracked towards downtown and turned left onto the road that led to Jerrad’s neighborhood. Officially, the housing development perched on the hill above town was called “Pleasant View.” Most of the kids I knew called it “Snob Hill.” When I was younger, my parents would drive up at Christmas to look at the lights and displays our affluent neighbors would put up. On Halloween, my dad would drop me and my friends off for trick-or-treating since it was the only place in town where you might actually get a full-size candy bar.

One night in my first year on the varsity team, Jerrad’s dad threw a barbecue for the players and their parents. I remember my dad whistling in awe when we pulled up to the address printed on the invitation. My mom put on a fresh coat of lipstick and checked her hair before we got out of the car and rang the ornate doorbell.

I had not been back since but I found the house easily enough. It was on the highest part of the hill and as long as you were driving uphill, you would eventually come to the right street. Cars and trucks were parked haphazardly on either side of the road. Nicole and I drove past the driveway to see it also packed with vehicles. I kept going and found a spot down the road big enough to park the giant station wagon. I grabbed a couple packs of each type of cigarette and Nicole moved the schnapps bottle from the glove box to the pocket in the front of her hoodie. We got out of the car and I walked around to where she stood, looking warily at the house. Nicole had put her hands into her pocket to keep them warm and to hold on to the bottle of liquor.

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

You could hear kids talking loudly and music thumped from the open front door. Every window leaked light into the dark pine trees around the house. A group of kids stood on the front lawn in a circle. Every few moments one of their faces would be illuminated by a lighter, then go dark, and then the next face would be lit up. Someone was coughing and someone else was laughing in a hoarse voice.

“No,” I answered. “But I’ve come this far, might as well say hi.”

I started walking across the street and Nicole stalled a minute before following me.

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

Why I Stayed – Part 5

 

Why I Stayed - BookOne-Final

A burst of static and angry words erupted from the radio clipped to the shoulder of the uniformed officer posted outside the bedroom door. The young policeman poked his head into the room and cleared his throat.

“Um,” he tried to look at me while he spoke, but his nervous eyes kept shifting over to Nicole. “Hoskins wants to know when you can get the, uh, suspect out of the room.”

“Can you give me a few more minutes?”

The officer retreated back into the hallway to relay my request. I couldn’t hear what Hoskins said in response, but the tone of the intemperate reply said enough.

“Um, sir? Hoskins said we need to clear out of the room in the next five minutes,” the policeman gritted his teeth. “Or he will have her removed forcefully, evidence be damned. His words, sir.”

I didn’t doubt for a second those were Hoskins words. I was only surprised that the message didn’t contain any more expletives. I imagined the young cop was probably uncomfortable repeating the message verbatim.

For the first time since I sat down, I took a good look around the room. The bedroom resembled a bachelor’s pad. The bed clothes were gray with a simple chevron pattern on the comforter. There was only a few pillows. Clothes were strewn around the room. A dresser in the corner had two drawers open, from which some shirts dangled out as if they had tried to escape. The windows were covered with louvered blinds the mauve color you see in apartments. There was a television mounted on the wall in a position that afforded the best view to a person laying where the dead body currently reposed. There was a cardboard cut out of a race car driver I didn’t recognize in the corner. Someone had placed a red baseball cap on the cutout’s head. White embroidery printed on the front of the cap read “Kiln Valley High Football.” In addition to the whiskey and cigarettes, the night stand on the corpse’s side of the bed held a NASCAR-themed alarm clock, loose change, and the remote for the satellite receiver connected to the TV on the wall.

There was scant evidence that a woman lived here at all. Amid the scattered laundry were panties and a couple bras. Some of the jeans were smaller, obviously the size for Nicole and not her husband. On the nightstand next to what must have been Nicole’s side of the bed there was a small bottle of perfume, a box of tissues, and a small picture frame containing a picture of her mother. Next to the picture frame was a plain alarm clock, the red numbers flashing “12:00” in counterpoint to the lights from the cop cars outside.

After my gaze swept across the room, it returned to Nicole’s face. I looked at her and suddenly I knew why I was there. I knew why she nearly called me instead of the police. I looked at her through the pall of cigarette smoke and I didn’t see the deranged killer Hoskins saw when he arrived on the scene. From where I sat, the bedroom window was behind her and the flashing lights from the emergency vehicles outside back-lit her hair. As the colors shifted from red to blue to white, Nicole’s face would shift as well. The face of the angry killer shifted to that of a wounded teenager to that of a terrified woman.

“I can help you,” I said.

“You’ve said that before, too,” Nicole said as she put the whiskey bottle down next to the pack of cigarettes.

“I know, I’m sorry. But if you don’t want the town glorifying him,” I gestured to the face under the pillow. “Then you’re going to have to let me help you. You’re going to have to listen to me. You’re going to have to talk to lots of people. Other cops, doctors, lawyers. There’s going to be a parade of people that want to talk to you. But the first person you need to talk to is me. Tell me what happened tonight.”

Nicole closed her eyes and for a moment, I thought she might pass out. She took a deep breath in through her nose, tipped her head back, and began her story.

“Every other week there would be something to set him off. A couple months ago a junior offensive tackle busted his knee while skateboarding. The next game, they lost to Pine View and when we got home he spent forty-five minutes berating me about how I had been letting myself go. Three weeks ago we were at the bar and he put money on the first three finishers at Daytona. One of the drivers crashed in the 409th lap. He paid his tab, no tip, and as we were leaving the bar, I could tell he was really drunk. Walking to the car I told him I should drive. He turned and sucker-punched me in the stomach. I fell to my knees and puked onto the asphalt. He said, ‘Looks like you’re not in any shape to drive.’”

Nicole opened her eyes and looked at me with a blank expression.

“Tonight he was pissed because the waitress at the wing shop forgot his extra ranch. We got home and he grabbed my ass as we walked into the bedroom. I have been fighting a cold and told him I was not feeling well but he didn’t give up. He turned me around to try to kiss me but I was in mid-sneeze. I blew snot and spit onto his shoulder and he backhanded me across the face. Then he went to bed and turned on Sports Center.”

Nicole’s face turned hard and the left corner of her upper lip lifted slightly giving her an evil sneer.

“He drank two pitchers of Kokanee and three shots of Fireball at the restaurant so I knew it was only a matter of time until he passed out. I went to the kitchen to make a cup of herbal tea. I sat at the table, let the steam drift across my face, and waited. When I heard the first snore, I nearly jumped out of my chair. It wasn’t the first time I waited for him to go to sleep before I went to bed.”

Nicole stopped to lick her lips and sit up straight.

“But I knew that tonight would have to be different. I knew that tonight I was going to do something drastic and that snore was like a starter pistol. I stood up and walked quietly to the bedroom door. He was dozing, slack-jawed in the light of the TV. He had opened a new bottle of whiskey and must’ve taken a hit before he laid back onto the pillow and fell asleep. I waited for a commercial break. Sometimes they had the power to wake him up but he continued to snore over the OxyClean guy’s pitch. I walked back to the kitchen and grabbed his keys from where he tossed them on the table. I walked out to the driveway and up to his ridiculous truck. I climbed up the rear passenger tire and into the bed. I used the key on his keyring to unlock the toolbox that sits up against the cab.

“A few weeks ago, we helped his buddy bring a new couch home from the store and they had used some kevlar straps to tie the giant leather sofa down. The couch was so fucking big that it stuck three feet out of the back of the truck. His friend had been worried the couch would fall out but my husband told him these straps were stronger than steel. I found the straps in the tool box and carried them back into the house.

“I stopped in the kitchen to put his keys back on the table and finish my tea. Then I walked to the bedroom door and watched him sleep a little longer. When the next commercial break came and went without rousing him, I took the straps to my side of the bed and unrolled them across the floor, under the frame of the bed. I walked over to his side, grabbed the slack, and carefully lifted the remaining length over his body and over to my side of the bed where the metal buckles waited on the floor.

“I ran the straps through the buckles and started to pull the lever on the upper one. I had forgotten how loud the ratchet mechanism was that kept the straps from unrolling and I was worried he’d wake up,” Nicole smiled a little.

“He didn’t wake up so I tightened the one that ran over his knees. When I had him cinched tight, I walked to his night stand, picked up the remote, and turned off the TV. He tossed his head from side to side but he didn’t wake up.

“I climbed on top of his chest and his eyes popped open. They were unfocused and wandered around the ceiling until they landed on my face. I felt the muscles in his chest shift as he tried to lift his arms. His eyes came into focus and looked at me, confused and angry. I could feel that the straps and my weight held him in place. I thought about sitting there for a while. I thought about taking is stupid Zippo and burning him. I thought about cutting him, emasculating him,” she shook her head and continued.

“But the idea of torturing him didn’t stay with me long. It seemed to be something he would do and that disgusted me. So I grabbed my pillow and I put it over his face. I planted both of my hands over it and I pushed with all my strength. I could hear him screaming through the pillow. The heat from his breath went through the stuffing and made my hands damp. His body bucked beneath me like we were having some kind of crazy sex. Soon, the pillow felt cool where his breath wasn’t warming it anymore. His muscles relaxed until he almost felt like he was asleep again. His legs jerked a couple times and I realized I could feel his heartbeat against my thighs. I thought it was my own, but when it started to slow I could tell it was his pulse. I felt the last few beats of is heart and then I felt the last of his muscles relax. I was afraid to let go of the pillow and I’m sure I held it there longer and harder than was necessary. I finally lifted my hands off of the pillow, tried to calm my own heartbeat, and that’s when I saw the smokes. You already know the rest.”

Nicole sniffed and looked around her room as if she suddenly realized where she was. She turned her head and looked at the pillow, which still covered her husband’s face. She tried to look away from it but ended up staring directly at the corpse’s white hand. The knuckles were scuffed, but bloodless. The fingers were tangled in the sheet. The hand seemed to be gripping the fabric tighter, clenching the linen as it had in the last moments before life completely left it. Nicole clenched her eyes shut and dropped her head to her chest.

I stood up and said, “I think it’s about time to get out of here.”

Nicole looked up at me, her red-rimmed eyes no longer looking angry but tired.

“Can you help me up? My ass hurts and my legs have fallen asleep.”

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

Why I Stayed – Part 4

My school had a tradition for homecoming week. Each day had a different theme. “Dress like a Redneck Day” and “Dress Like A Superhero Day” were popular ones in which many of my classmates would participate with costumes or makeup. After practice on the Thursday before homecoming week, I heard a couple of linemen say they were going all-out for “Tootsie Day” on Monday. That was a day when girls dressed like boys and boys dressed like girls. It was named for the 1982 Dustin Hoffman movie but I doubt any of my classmates could tell you that. The two defensive lineman were planning to wear miniskirts and halter tops and the locker room echoed with their excited talk. The group of boys around them laughed as the hopeful cross-dressers mimed how big their “jugs” were going to be.

Before football, the only time I had participated in spirit week was when I wore my red Stone Temple Pilots shirt on “Pathfinder Pride” day; a  day we were all supposed to wear our school’s colors. My accidental participation earned me plenty of grief from my friends, especially Nicole.

I packed the last of my things into my gym bag and headed for the door. The coach’s office had a large window that looked out into the locker room and I had to pass it on the way out. Jerrad Griffith and Coach Myers looked up from a dry erase board in the design of a football field just as I was walking past the window. Coach nodded and went back to the diagram but Jerrad jogged out of the office to catch me before I could walk outside.

“Kinsey, wait up,” he snapped.

“What’s up, Jerrad?”

“My old man is letting me skip school so I can get the house set up for the party tomorrow night. You’re still going right?”

I nodded and answered, “Yeah, I’ll be there. I was going to bring a friend, if that’s okay.”

A shadow passed behind Jerrad’s shining blue eyes and he looked at the ceiling. I figured he was imagining all the nerdy losers I used to hang out with. He was worried I was going to bring some dork to the party and bring everyone down.

“It’s my neighbor, Nicole Miller.”

“Oh yeah,” said Jerrad, the shine returning to his eyes. “I think she’s in my English class.”

From stories Nicole told me I knew they shared History class and that Jerrad had the tendency to snore through movies when the lights were turned off.

“Yeah, she really wants to go,” I lied.

“Dude, I will never prevent any of my guests from bringing more hot girls,” he said with a wink and a slap to my shoulder. “See you tomorrow night!”

Jerrad jogged back into the coach’s office and I stood there for a second. He called Nicole hot and that made me angry for some reason. I shook my head, opened the door, and stepped out into the night air.

The late autumn days were pretty warm but once the sun went down, the temperature dropped. I stood under yellow light of the lamps that lit the school parking lot. Steam rose from my scalp, which was still damp from the dank heat of the locker room. I enjoyed the way the cold air felt and how it washed the stinky-shoe smell of sweaty sports equipment out of my nostrils. After a few more purifying breaths and a thousand goosebumps on my forearms, I made my way to my mom’s old station wagon.

My mom used to drive the blue and white Chevy Caprice Classic to work. When they added an express bus route to downtown, she offered to take the bus so I could drive to school. It was usually dark when I got done with practice and the walk home was almost two miles. Nicole liked to call the car “Woody” since it had a fake wood panel painted down the side. I pretended to be annoyed at the name, but only because she thought of it before me.

I unlocked the driver’s door, reached in to unlock the back door, and opened it. I tossed my bag onto the wide bench seat and shut the back door. I plopped into the driver’s seat and put the keys into the ignition. I turned the key and waited while the engine turned over a few times before it finally coughed to life. I left the door open while the engine warmed up to enjoy a little more fresh air. It was technically possible to roll down the car’s windows but they required two people to roll them back up. One person had to turn the crank with two hands while the other pushed up on the blue-hued glass to keep it from going crooked and leaving a gap below the black weather-stripping. When the car was warm, the engine idle settled to a low purr and the defroster vents began to blow lukewarm air across the windshield.

I shut the driver’s side door, shifted into drive, and began to point the gigantic hood toward the parking lot exit. Just as my tires began to move, I saw lights in my side-view mirror and a shiny, red Chevy truck roared past. I saw a vanity plate on the black bumper, stamped with the letters “JERRAD.” Three boys wearing letterman’s jackets sat in the bed. One boy stood, held on to the chrome roll bars with one hand and flipped me off with his other. I took a deep breath and took my foot off of the brake again.

The next day at school, I noticed that Jerrad was absent from Health class. I was so nervous about going to the party that I was hardly able to pay attention in any of my classes. Twice, a teacher called on me and the rest of the class laughed when I was completely unable to answer the question. I didn’t have Nicole in any of my classes and I didn’t see her at lunch so I was pleasantly surprised when she grabbed my arm in the hall after seventh period.

“Are you still intent on going to the meat-head’s party tonight?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “Are you still going to come with and keep me company?”

“Against my better judgment,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“Cool, I gotta pick my mom up from work today. But I’ll come get you after dinner, okay?”

“Okay,” she said but I could see something change in her expression.

“You alright?”

“I’m fine, Trev,” she said. I could tell that she was not.

“Okay, well… I’ll see you after dinner,” I said and headed for the exit.

During drive to downtown, I couldn’t keep the look on Nicole’s face out of my head. The more I thought about it, the more I was certain that something was wrong. I should have known she wouldn’t tell me anything personal in the hallway. Nicole did not trust our classmates. She didn’t even like most of them. I was the only person she really talked to and even then she held most of her feelings back. I got to my mom’s office a few minutes early and sat on the hood to soak up the last bit of sunlight. I was just starting to doze when my I heard my mother’s voice.

“Are you really sitting on the hood of my car,” she begged the rhetorical question in a way that only a mother can successfully employ.

“Sorry mom,” I said as I slid down and planted my feet on the pavement.

I handed her the keys and climbed into the passenger seat. We were leaving downtown early and missed the worst of what could be called rush hour in my town. We were nearly home when my mom cleared her throat.

“Your father is working late tonight and I don’t feel like cooking. Mind if we pick up some junk food on the way home?”

“Sounds good, mom,” I said but I was a little disappointed.

The exchange with Nicole in the hallway had put me in a sour mood and my mother’s cooking always made me feel better. We pulled up to a drive-through burger stand, got our food to go, and mom started to drive towards our house.

“I have that party at Jerrad’s house tonight.”

“I remember, honey.”

“I’ll probably be home kind of late.”

“That’s okay, sweetheart.”

My parents were proud of my success at football but they were also very happy that I had stopped hanging out with “losers and weirdos” as my dad put it. When I told them I was invited to the party at Jerrad’s house, they were more excited about it than I was.

Mom pulled the car into the driveway and parked in front of the garage door that never opened because the stall was full of Christmas decorations, lawn care equipment, and boxes of stuff that wouldn’t fit in the basement. I grabbed the food and opened my door. On my way to our front door, I heard voices coming from Nicole’s house. It sounded like someone was watching a rowdy talk show on TV, with the volume all the way up.

I walked into the house and went to the kitchen. Mom went to the front room to turn on the TV and tune it to the local news. She returned to the kitchen and poured us each a glass of milk. We devoured our cheeseburgers and shared a tub of crinkle-cut fries which I dipped in fry sauce and she dipped in tartar sauce. We both passively watched the news and didn’t speak a word. When I was finished, I gathered up the grease-stained wrappers and the empty condiment cups to deposit them in the brown paper bag. I stood up, walked to the trash can, and tossed the bag into the garbage.

“I’m gonna go now, mom,” I said.

“You’re not going to change first?”

“Mom, it’s not a formal affair. It’s just some kids getting together at Jerrad’s house.”

“It’s just,” she winced. “You’ve never been to a party before.”

“I’ve been to parties, mom.”

“You’ve gone to David’s house to play your card games all night. That is not a party. Don’t you have a nicer shirt?”

“This will be fine, mom,” I said and rolled my eyes.

“Okay, honey,” she said as she gave up. “Have a good time and please call me if you need a ride home okay?”

I walked out the front door of our house to find Nicole sitting on the porch swing. Her gray hoodie was pulled up again and I could only see the tip of her nose and a few tendrils of her brown hair.

“Hey,” I said.

“Let’s go,” said Nicole, hopping off of the swing and making her way to the passenger door.

I stood on the front step for a few seconds, watching her walk toward the car. She opened the door, plopped into the passenger seat, and dragged the heavy door shut with a little more force than necessary. I made my way to the driver’s side, opened the door, and lowered myself onto the seat. I had to move it back a few inches since my mom was the last one to drive.

I was busy getting the rear-view mirror right and buckling my seat belt when Nicole shouted, “I said, let’s go!”

Her urgency startled me and I barely managed to get the car started, put it in reverse, and back it out of the driveway. I was so nervous that when I shifted into drive and hit the gas, the tires squealed until they caught traction and overcame our backwards inertia.

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

Why I Stayed – Part 3

Nicole reached to the night stand and picked up the half-empty pack of Marlboro Reds. She gingerly plucked a single cigarette out of the box and put it between her lips. She put the box down and then reached over to grab a Zippo lighter. She knocked the lid open with the side of her hand, and deftly guided the same hand down onto the wheel. Sparks shot from the flint to the wick and an orange flame leapt temporarily high above the wind guard before settling down. A tiny head of yellow wavered in plain sight, which Nicole put to the tip of the cigarette she held in her mouth. She looked down the end of the white stick to watch the flame set the tobacco to smolder while she puffed. She looked up from her cigarette and into my eyes. Nicole shook the lighter with a flourish to snap the lid shut. The bow-tie of the Chevrolet brand was acid-etched into the brushed steel of the lighter and light from the ceiling fan reflected off of it onto Nicole’s cheek.

“That fat pig of a cop called me a psycho,” Nicole said, exhaling smoke around her words.

“Nobody likes Hoskins but he gets the job done,” I lied.

“Do you think I’m crazy?”

“I have to admit, you look a little crazy right now. Sitting on your husband’s dead body and wearing one pink slipper, you aren’t exactly the paragon of sanity.”

“You always use big words when you’re nervous,” she said.

“I’m not nervous, just a little at a loss for normal words.”

“It’s not like you to be out of words.”

“Maybe not,” I said. “But right now I think you should be the one to talk. The risk of ruining evidence in an important case is the only thing that kept Hoskins from ordering you dragged off your bed and stuffed into a cruiser with your hands zip-tied behind your back.”

“Fuck that guy. I’ll give him all the evidence he needs as soon as I’m ready.”

“Okay, what are you waiting for?”

“Honestly, my original plan was to take his fucking truck and drive to Canada,” Nicole paused to take another drag off of her cigarette. “But when he stopped kicking, I sat here for a minute listening to my heart race. I saw his stupid Zippo on the table and realized how badly I wanted a smoke. So, I got comfortable and lit up the first cigarette I’ve had in 4 years. I can’t even begin to tell you how good that felt. I sat here and smoked it to the butt. That’s when I noticed the whiskey. A couple pulls off that bottle and I was ready to call someone. I almost called you, you know?”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, but for some reason I thought that might be inappropriate so I called 911. Can I have the whiskey back?”

“Sure,” I said, leaning forward so she could reach the bottle from where she was perched on the dead body.

“Thanks,” said Nicole and took a swig from the bottle.

She held it back out to me and arched an eyebrow. I shook my head.

“Suit yourself,” she said. “Anyways, when the 911 operator answered she said, ‘9-1-1, what’s your emergency,’ and I laughed. I mean, really, there was no emergency. Any cause for urgency had ended for me. My emergency was over the minute his heart stopped beating.”

Nicole jerked her thumb to the right, to the pillow next to her right elbow.

“The operator repeated her question and I was able to keep from laughing this time. I told her, ‘I just killed my husband,’ and tossed the phone into the chair. I really had nothing else to say. I must have forgotten to hang up because I could hear her trying to get me to say more. Instead, I just sat here and drank. The bottle was mostly full, the pack of smokes was just opened. I had plenty of both to keep me company until the cops arrived.”

“Well,” I said, spreading my hands. “To risk sounding redundant, why did you stay?”

Nicole glowered at me for a minute. She sat up straight for the first time in a few hours and I could hear her back pop as she arched her spine and stretched her arms above her head. A little of the whiskey spilled from the neck of the bottle when she tilted it to one side. Drops of the amber liquor pattered on the bed sheet next to her one pink slipper. The fabric of her t-shirt became taut across her chest while she continued to reach for the ceiling and I couldn’t stop myself from noticing the outline of her nipples through the soft cotton. As she relaxed again I could see a look of amusement on her face.

“Did you like that,” she asked with a smirk.

“I didn’t mean to look,” I said and looked ashamedly at my feet.

“Whatever,” she said dismissively and tossed her cigarette into the ashtray on the night stand. “The reason I stayed is because I wanted people to see him for what he really was. If I hopped into his truck and left for the Great White North, the news would report that my poor husband was found dead, bound cruelly to his bed. The main suspect would be his wife, who was known to have mental health issues and police record of domestic violence.”

Nicole’s voice grew wistful, “He would be gathered up by the ME and brought to the funeral home. His mom would bring his nicest suit and at the funeral there would be pictures of him in his football jersey. The whole town would gather to send their favorite son off to the hereafter with hymns and eulogies.”

Nicole stopped to wipe bloody mucus that started to drip from her nose. Tears started to fall from the corners of her eyes. Her left hand was choking the neck of the whiskey bottle and her right hand was clenched tight around the Zippo lighter. Her knuckles were as white as that of the corpse.

“Meanwhile, cops from here to the Canadian border would be looking for the red Chevy truck that was missing from the driveway. Court orders would be placed to monitor my debit card to track my purchases,” she said as her voice turned hard and frosty.

“Depending on how much of a lead I had, they might see a trail of purchases at convenience stores heading north on the highway. They would call the stores and ask for security camera footage that would show me leaving the store with a Freightliner trucker hat shielding my face and my arms full of beef jerky, Red Bull, and cigarettes. There would be a manhunt for this psycho bitch who killed a perfectly good man. They’d have my mugshot on the news and on the wall at the post office. Checkpoints would be set up on the US side of the border. If I had enough time, I’d already be on the Canadian side. I’d be drinking Molson in a shitty bar in Buttfuck, BC and people here would be hating me,” the word “me” came out with choked sob and the last of the air in her lungs.

Nicole took a deep breath and clenched her eyes shut in an attempt to stem the flow of tears that were streaming down her cheeks. She continued to breathe heavy, huffing and puffing until the urge to cry was abated and she regained her composure. She took another swig of whiskey.

“That is why I stayed,” she said in a cold, flat tone.

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

Why I Stayed – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And getting invited to parties,” I said.

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

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

“Are you going to go?”

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

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

“Then you should go,” suggested Nicole.

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

“Then take me with you.”

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

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

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

“Nic, I’m not a fullback.”

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

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

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

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