Why I Stayed – Part 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They’re just dancing,” said Trevor.

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

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

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

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

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

“I have to pee,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Here,” Jerrad said.

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

“Thanks,” I said.

“Anytime,” said Jerrad.

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

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

“So soon,” Jerrad protested.

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

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

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

“Well, that was fun,” I said.

Trevor looked at me and smiled.

“Seriously?”

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

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

“Of course she is,” I said.

“What does that mean?”

“Nothing,” I said.

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

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

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

“I see,” I said.

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

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

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

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

Why I Stayed – Part 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks,” I said.

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

“You’re very welcome,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You brought me clothes?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They seem to fit,” he said.

“You did a great job,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

He sighed and shook his head.

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

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

“Go on,” I said. “I’m listening.”

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

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

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

“And what is that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Otis laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

“Why,” I asked.

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

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

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

I looked at him and nodded again.

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

“A huge risk?”

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

“Okay, that is a huge risk.”

“Are you prepared to take that risk?”

“Absolutely.”

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

Why I Stayed – Part 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I got a note in class,” I said.

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

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

“Are you okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi mom,” I said.

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

“Where’s dad,” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Stayed – Part 19

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

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

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

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

I shook my head again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Knock it off, Demarco.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re going to be okay,” she said.

“I think so too,” I said.

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

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

Why I Stayed – Part 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then quit acting like a child!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey Nic,” Trevor said.

“Hey,” I replied.

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

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

“I guess,” I answered.

“I see, he said and nodded his head.

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

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

I rolled my eyes.

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

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

“Oh man, I’m sorry.”

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

“What was it this time, Dr. Dre?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I kind of like the new one.”

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

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

“You’re freezing,” he said.

“I’m warmer now, thank you.”

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

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

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

Why I Stayed – Part 17

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

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

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

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

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

“Hungry?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you,” I said.

“Don’t mention it,” answered Tonya.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you all finished,” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m good,” I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Stayed – Part 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It smells done,” I said.

My mother gasped and turned to look at me.

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

“Sorry mom,” I said.

“How long have you been sitting there?”

“Just a couple minutes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Six thirty,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I sat up and exaggeratedly chewed my bite of food.

“That’s better, smartass.”

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

“How’s the meatloaf,” she asked.

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

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

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

“May I have seconds,” I asked my mom.

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

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

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

“Am I sure what is a good idea?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mom,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acoustic Catharsis

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

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

Why I Stayed – Part 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t mean to do that,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

I nodded.

“I need to hear you say those words.”

“Speak to my attorney,” I said meekly.

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

I nodded again.

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

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

“That’s better.”

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

Robert waved a dismissive hand at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I closed my eyes and tried not to cry.

Why I Stayed – Part 14

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

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

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

“What’s up, Dave?”

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

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

David giggled and shook his head.

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

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

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

David took a steadying breath to kill his giggle fit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, man. You need a ride?”

I looked at Trevor.

“Sorry Nic, I have practice today.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Right,” I said. “Thanks.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Someone, please.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And energy,” I said.

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

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

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