A Knock at the Door

The moment Veronica moves her hand from my thigh and pulls her cell phone out of her purse, I know our plans have changed. These were secure plans too, or so I thought. Movie, dinner, and some backseat action in my Corolla. Earlier, I made a point to emphasize the importance of these plans, repeating them over and over to drive home the fact that it was how I wanted to spend my evening. Now, I sit dejectedly and study the different faces moving through the food court at Dadeland Mall, listening to the steady buzz of rapid-fire Spanish, Miami’s backdrop. Veronica talks to Karen on the phone and I act like I’m not paying attention, sitting next to her with the handle of a Victoria’s Secret bag clutched in my fist. The thongs in the bag are hers. The receipt is mine.

Veronica’s white spring dress rises up her thigh as she crosses her legs, her coiled, coffee-colored hair bouncing across her shoulders as she nods. Her best friend’s voice is barely audible to me on her phone from this distance, nothing more than a faint chirping sound. Still, I know what Veronica’s about to ask me even before she pulls the phone down and places the earpiece against her right breast. She looks at me and her smile and words are pleading but her eyes are authoritative. She asks if I’m upset that she just told Karen and Justin we’d come over for dinner and help them paint Justin’s room. She tells me Karen is cooking spaghetti, my favorite. She tells me we can have sex later, don’t stress it, it’s only been a week. She doesn’t wait for me to respond. We’re going.

In my car, on US1, we pass a Pepsi billboard and Veronica gets thirsty. I ask her why she didn’t get something to drink in the food court. Her habit of pouting and arm-crossing, though, are as reflexive to her now as barking is to a dog. I turn into the parking lot of a Burger King and wait fifteen minutes in the drive thru for a small Coke before continuing on. Soon, we pull up in front of Justin’s house and park behind his sporty red Nissan, the same one he did donuts in at Karen’s house a few days ago while I sat in the passenger seat. I laughed then, though I was scared shitless as his tires squealed beneath us. The thought makes me want to smile now, despite my annoyance with Veronica. I stare at the basketball hoop hanging over Justin’s mom’s driveway, the first hoop I was ever able to dunk on, though we had to lower it to get up there.

I want to enjoy these sudden flashes of memory, but I’m in a temper. I’m not happy with things, and I think Veronica knows that. But, she smiles as she steps out of the car. I think I’m getting sick of her, but I can’t be too sure because I keep going along with it all. She looks at me when I hesitate to get out and I can feel her eyes burning a hole in the side of my head, can see them speaking to me with a glaring tone. Get out of the car and come over to the door with me and go inside and have fun with me and our friends now… or else. There’s always an or else to the looks she gives me, always an underlying threat even though I have yet to figure out exactly what it is she is holding over my head that’s been keeping me submissive. Besides, of course, her vagina. Which I guess is all she really needs as leverage against her eighteen year old boyfriend. But I don’t think it’s just that. If it was, I would just get another girl, new vagina. But, I’m still here. Right here.

She asks me what’s wrong when I reach her side on the front porch. I tell her it’s nothing. She takes the statement for what it is on the surface and drops the issue, turning and knocking on the door. Nobody comes and she mutters under her breath, stepping back and pulling out her phone. She leans against my chest as she does, and there’s a sudden heat down low as I feel the curve of her ass arching up beneath her dress and pressing against my crotch. Her hair smells of vanilla and her smooth milky skin draws my eyes straight down her neck to her cleavage and I remember why it’s so easy for her to hold her sexuality above my head: I want it.

Justin tried to give me some advice on this once, a few weeks ago while we were waiting for Karen and Veronica to get out of school. We were discussing theories on how our girlfriends, sixteen years old a piece, had managed to gain absolute control of us. Justin told me then, sitting in his car and running a hand over his buzz-cut head, not to act like I wanted it too much and I’d get laid more often. I find the desire hard to hide though. This is my first serious relationship; I can’t help it if I want to have sex all the time. He thinks I can.

I feel bold and open my mouth to tell her that we’re leaving, because I said so, because I don’t want to be here, because I want to go somewhere and, quite bluntly, fuck. I want to say it, want to sound commanding and seductive. With her, though, it never seems to come out the way I want it to. Statements like that always float near the end when they leave my mouth, turning into a question. The feigned allure I try so hard to project usually falls flat at her feet where she looks at it almost with disgust, and I feel more like a pervert than Rico Suavé.

I stay quiet instead. Things usually go smoother that way.

She mutters again, hanging up the phone and moving away from me to knock on the door once more. She is upset because they invited us and they’re not answering. I’m upset because I didn’t want to come in the first place, but here I am waiting on the front porch. I glance at the window and see light peeking through the blinds. I tell her that they probably left for a moment and maybe we should leave too. She says no. I sulk, wishing she were that adamant about hanging out with me.

I glance at Justin’s car again, see the bucket seats, driver’s side and passenger, and an image flits through my mind rapidly: Karen jumping on my back and laughing, me tickling her on the ground, Justin chuckling in the corner of her room. I feel guilty all of a sudden, my thoughts catching up with me. Karen, the pleasantly hyperactive and loyal girl whose parents were quick to give me a room to sleep in when I left my parents’ house three months ago. Justin, the one who keeps me from flipping out every time the girls get together and start giggling at absolutely everything. I like Karen, and she makes Veronica happy. And Justin’s my boy. I’m being immature, insensitive, a horny dog.

I look down at the potted bush next to my leg and sheepishly brush it with my foot. Veronica asks me to call Justin’s cell and I take out my phone, searching through the contacts for Justin’s number and pressing DIAL when I find it. She goes to the window and tries to peek in as the phone rings in my ear. Once, twice, three times, then the voice mail. I frown and try to remember a time when Justin or Karen didn’t answer the phone when one of us called. I can’t think of one.

I hang up and tell her nobody answered. She knocks on the window. I think I see a shadow and decide it’s a piece of furniture. She tells me to call on the house phone this time and I do, feeling a little exasperated. The phone rings and I can hear it through the door, from inside the house. The familiar voice of Justin’s mom tells me to leave a message.

Veronica exhales noisily when I tell her nobody’s there, again, and all my guilt is drowned in irritation. I roll my eyes and throw my hands up, approaching the door and banging on it. I’ve resigned myself; all I want now is for Justin to come to the door so I can get off of his goddamn front porch, the porch I’ve been on for almost ten minutes now. Still, the door remains closed, though I swear I hear somebody shuffle their feet. I walk to the window, rapping on it violently with my fist.

Veronica tells me to stop, that I’ll break the window, and I roll my eyes, sighing. I look at her and ask her if she wants to go inside or not, because I don’t care either way.

She says maybe they’re having sex.

I look at her, surprised, then look back at the window as if it has suddenly transformed into a picture of Justin and Karen passionately grappling each other. I don’t think they’re having sex, personally, don’t even think they’re here right now. But she’s brought the subject up. Finally. She sounds playful enough, just like that, and I wonder if it’s as promising as I hope it is.

Her eyes glint with a suggestive luminosity, and I feel the heat in my pants again. Pleasant heat, but mocking as well, as if anticipating another change of mind in a few minutes.

I play off of her and say that I don’t think they’re having sex. She says it would be funny if they were. I don’t laugh.

Walking around to the side of the house, Veronica follows me and asks what I’m doing. I stay quiet and approach Justin’s fence. I’m tired of chasing her for sex all the time and this might be a good chance to turn the tables, while I’m aggravated enough to hold my ground. I grab the top of the wooden posts and pull myself up, halfway over before I feel a hand on my back. She tells me we should go. Her voice barely has a tone, sounding more like the last breath of a dying lover than my girlfriend standing behind me while I hop a fence. She wants to leave all of a sudden, wants to go somewhere to chill for a little while. I look at her skeptically and glance at the other side of the fence, at Justin’s backyard, the grass glistening in the fading sunlight.

I lower myself back on to the ground and Veronica grabs my hand, pulling me towards the driveway. Her smile is different now, different from the one she had coming out of my car. This is the smile that I wait for, the smile of chance, the smile of opportunity. The smile that means I’m getting some. I wait daily for moments like these, and I’m beginning to hate myself for it. Justin and I talked about this too. We both came to the agreement that relationships are all about control. And right now, at eighteen, at a time when our hormones are like bullets bashing into our groins at even the slightest glimpse of bare skin, our girlfriends wield the power. Justin thinks there should be balance and that you have to be unyielding to achieve that level of stability. I think that’s a noble theory.

She says we’ll come back later. I say okay. As I drive away, Justin’s car dwindles to a blood red stain in my rearview mirror, sitting listlessly in the driveway.

We end up ten miles away at the same place we always go to when we’re getting ready to “chill,” same place we’ve been going to since we discovered it a few months ago: third floor of the parking garage next to the office buildings across from her apartment. It’s Sunday evening and there are three cars parked in the entire lot, one of which is missing a tire and looks as if the owner doesn’t care much about getting a new one.

Veronica turns to me when we park, leaning across the center console. I fidget in my seat and look at her restlessly. She smiles back and presses her head to my chest, rubbing my leg. I stop twitching and relax, the promise in her finger’s touch settling my nerves and my pulse. She looks out of the windshield at the sky and I follow her gaze. We sit like this for a moment, my mind jumping back and forth from the stars to her bare thigh. I brush it with a finger. She shaved.

She apologizes for being so insistent on going to Karen and Justin’s. I tell her it’s no problem, my voice dripping with insincerity, my hand on her stomach. She says she was only acting like that because she never gets to hang out with Karen and I don’t hang out with Justin as much as I used to. I smile and nod even though I don’t think that’s true.

She tells me she loves me, automatically. I say it back and it sounds the same, a ritual invocation.

Her kiss is light then heavy with passion and, all at once, we’re in the backseat. I marvel at this aspect, the familiarity of it, the mystery, the paradox. After a year, I still feel the dreamlike state, a hangover from our first time so many months ago. The move from the front seat to the back is awkward, clumsy, laced with grunts and giggles and apologies. The arrangement of legs and hands and pelvises is even more uncomfortable. Her lightly tanned skin is clammy against my moist palms and her hair gets in my mouth a few times. Yet, the feigned privacy, the thrill of it, the chance of getting caught, the imminent aftermath, the bragging rights, the heat, the sweat, the skin and lips and hips and heavy breathing still amazes me in its ability to be both horribly satisfying and every bit as self-indulgent as adolescent lust is meant to be. When I enter her, her back arches as it always does. Her hands grasp my back as they always do, yet I cannot help but think this time is unique, because it’s now and not tomorrow, or yesterday.

After, we lie chest to chest and steady our breathing. My pants are bunched up at my ankles and her dress has been reduced to a thick belt of fabric around her waist. Her underwear is still clenched in my fist, and I hand it to her slowly. She smiles and takes it, nudging me to the side a bit so she can put them on. When they’re at her waist, I move against her again and we lie in silence. She pulls my head up with both her hands a moment later so I’m looking in her eyes. She says, quietly, that Karen and Justin never called us back to tell us where they were.

I sit up, instantly miffed.

Here I am enjoying a moment, a rare tender moment between us, and this is all she can think about. Not the sex or the fact that we’re still naked and laying against each other. No, she’s wondering why our friends haven’t checked in.

She apologizes quickly for bringing it up as I open the door and step out of the car. She tries to pull me back in, her voice laced with remorse, but I pull from her grip and stand outside, my pants dragging on the concrete. I look around and jerk them up, buckling the belt with sweaty hands. She calls for me and I ignore her, turning my face north, towards Kendall Drive below. I stare and within seconds my frown relaxes. The drone of passing cars, the scent of exhaust fumes saturating the air, the oncoming headlights, fading away taillights and skyscraping condominiums all hijack my senses. Veronica’s voice floats behind me, and she sounds cute. She is sorry. She didn’t mean to kill the mood. I try to stay upset but can’t find it in me to be mad while watching the heartbeat of Miami, the soul of my hometown. I’ve regained control, tenuous and ephemeral control but control nonetheless, over myself and this relationship. It is a familiar feeling as well, a side effect of post-coital relaxation. I suddenly feel bad about everything that I was thinking earlier and when I turn back to Veronica, I am repentant.

Veronica is fully dressed and moping in the backseat. I touch her hand and she pulls away, looking up at me angrily. I smile and tell her to call them, Justin and Karen. She doesn’t want to. She wants to go home now and do her math homework and she needs my help because she hates algebra. I keep smiling and tell her okay. Whatever she wants. I help her out of the backseat and walk her around to the passenger door, listening to the slap of her sandals against the concrete, echoing into the night. I open the door and let her in and it’s like a date again, the way it was meant to be when I picked her up earlier today to go to the mall and, eventually, end up right here, on the third floor of the parking garage. I walk back around to the driver’s side and get in, look at her as she looks at me with a reserved but pleasant expression.  She is still upset but warming up. And coming from her, that’s a good sign.

At Veronica’s apartment, in her room, she tells me that her parents know exactly what we were doing earlier. Yvonne, her mother, looked at me skeptically when I walked in and pulled my zipper up right in front of her, a lapse of judgment on my part. Her dad, Sergio (whom everyone, including me, knows as “Pops”), didn’t notice, just patted me on the back with his other fist clenching a beer. I grunted a hello back at him, avoiding Yvonne’s eyes, and said nothing more. I don’t think they really know what we were doing, and I tell Veronica so in her room. She says I’m in as much denial as they are and I laugh. We do homework and talk pleasantly and it is nearly a full hour before my cell phone rings.

I pull it out and Veronica pauses midsentence as I look at the caller ID, my stomach dropping when I see the name staring back at me. I glance at Veronica and swallow thickly, looking at the phone again.

Janelle.

Veronica asks who it is and I reluctantly tell her.

Janelle.

Her expression clouds and I grimace inside, trying to hide my frustration. Of all the names I know, all the names in my phonebook that could have appeared on my caller ID right now, Janelle’s is very possibly the least desirable. A mutual friend who happened to be the one that introduced Veronica and I to each other, Janelle later shunned us when Veronica’s jealousy reached new heights. I haven’t heard from her in months and this may just be the worst time she could have picked to get reacquainted.

Veronica tells me to pick up. I stare at the phone until it stops ringing. She gets upset and asks why I didn’t answer. I tell her I don’t want to talk to Janelle. I’ve had enough of those issues. There are enough new ones. We can give those older ones a rest.

The phone rings again. Janelle, again. My frustration turns to annoyance and I curse softly under my breath. I force the anger a little, hoping it will tame Veronica’s and that I can maybe get out of this situation without initiating an argument that will last all night.

I press TALK and say hello in the most intimidating way I can without sounding too unapproachable. Janelle and I were friends once. I can’t completely forget that.

A sniffle comes from the other end and my resolve crumbles into curiosity. This is not the response I expected. Janelle’s voice is usually bubbly, high pitched, short and light like her appearance.

“Janelle?” I say.

“They’re dead, Patrick” she says. An answer, it sounds like, to a question I never asked.

“What?”

“Justin and Ka-”

In this response I assume nothing but malicious intent, malice coupled with a vengeful spirit. She has resorted to levels of immaturity my eighth grade sister would scoff at, and the anger returns to me, unforced now, with added intensity. To think that she would call me to tell me something so inane, so impossibly dramatic, to get a rise out of me and my girlfriend makes me nauseous. Nobody bothered her, and the Janelle I remember was better than this.

I tighten my lips and hang up on her as she is stuttering out the names of our friends. I want to strangle Janelle right now, just drive up and strangle her in the middle of the street and leave her body there limp and lifeless for the cars to beat over like a dead possum. I turn to Veronica and she is mad at me. I’m trying to explain the absurdity of the call to her when the phone rings again.

“What the fuck?” I answer. There is no restraint this time around.

On the other end, I hear the deep and throaty voice of Janelle’s boyfriend.

“Turn to FOX,” he says gruffly. My phone beeps as he hangs up and I pull it away, looking at the small screen with CALL ENDED displayed and feeling as if a finger has just brushed the side of my face through the earpiece. Justin and Karen’s faces suddenly flash through my mind, pictures of them that look much like their school photos, and for some reason I push them out. It’s a reflex, simple and quick, almost like stepping over an ant pile built between the cracks of a sidewalk.

Veronica stares at me angrily. My own anger’s subsided though, replaced again with a confused sort of curiosity. I quietly pick up the remote next to my foot and turn on the television, thinking about earlier when we were at Justin’s house, thinking about the fence that surrounds his house, the backyard with the pool and the trees, a beautiful area that would be even more beautiful if Justin cut the grass more often. I see the sun shining down on it and the grass gleaming with dew as I sit on top of the fence, ready to go over and let myself in through the back; ready to hop down, until Veronica touches me on the back. The memory rushes into my head and disappears just as quickly.

When the TV screen flickers on, the first thing I see is what looks like a movie commercial posing as a news report. The word’s Double Homicide are splashed across the bottom of the screen in a bland caption font and there is a house above them, surrounded by yellow tape and a damp, glistening lawn that needs mowing. The house looks familiar, like any other crime scene you see in any murder mystery: droves of people in front, the red and blue sheen of police lights flashing against their faces.

Veronica’s screams crash into my thoughts and I flinch, looking at her. Her face has transformed, buried beneath a grimace that looks as painful as it must feel. She stands up shakily and stumbles out of the room. I look back at the TV and try to believe that the familiarity of the house is a mere coincidence. Then I see the red paint job of the sports car in the driveway, the lowered basketball hoop. The only one I’d ever been able to dunk on. The camera moves to the side, the car and basketball hoop disappear, and there is just the house again. It looks different through the eyes of a news camera; not like the place I’ve been to so many times before but more like a monument, a museum. I stare at Justin’s house and wonder why it is on the screen. I look at the porch I stood on not even two hours earlier and wonder why Justin’s mother and father, divorced for a while now, are crying and hugging each other by the front door.

I finally notice the reporter in the corner of the screen, a Hispanic woman with too much makeup on. She is talking and the volume is on but I can’t hear her voice over Veronica’s moaning. A few seconds later, Veronica is echoed by the howls of somebody else in the apartment. I read the caption on the TV as it changes to something much different than a movie byline.

Breaking News: Teenage Couple Murdered in Pinecrest

I wonder who the couple is and I feel stupid because it is Justin’s house on the screen and the only teenage couple I know of that could possibly have been in that house are Justin and Karen. Justin’s sister is too young to have a boyfriend over, or a boyfriend at all if it were up to Justin, and in any case I think she went out of town with their mother and wouldn’t have gotten back until around eight, which was about half an hour ago, which explains how Justin’s mother could be crying on the porch. That means the teenage couple, the subject of the caption, has to be Justin and Karen. But that is clearly impossible. We were just there.

My stomach beyond upset now, churning erratically like a busted garbage disposal, I stand up and fall down on the bed. I stand up again and steady myself, then make my way to the door. I stumble again in the hallway, holding on to the wall as I move towards the living room and see the TV around the corner, displaying Justin’s house once again, and realize that I half-believed there would be something different on this TV, on this side of the apartment. Maybe Family Guy or another episode of The Simpson’s or something. Maybe there was just something wrong with Veronica’s television. But it’s on this TV too, and now I begin to wonder if what the caption says is true. But it can’t be, because I don’t want it to be. People get murdered every day, but not couples, not teenage couples, not teenage couples that hang out at Justin’s house. That shit doesn’t happen, not in real life at least.

I look at Veronica and see that her mother is the one screaming with her, hugging her, restraining her, and I want to go over and ask them why they’re acting like that but I can’t stop thinking about the movies. This shit only happens in the movies. I could be dreaming actually. My dreams have always been extremely vivid, laced with emotion. But that is Justin’s house. And I don’t think I’m dreaming. Veronica’s dad sits close to the TV and reaches for the volume button. His hand shakes and his face is a deathly gray. As the volume goes up, rising from the depths and through the unnerving sound of Veronica’s sobs, the reporter’s voice hits my ears like a baseball thrown at a window.

“…beaten to death with a blunt object. Authorities are searching for a suspect…”

And like that my stomach goes numb, the garbage disposal shut off. I can’t figure out whether it’s anger or resentment or a mixture of both, and its staggering depth freezes me at first. It is a remarkably potent emotion, whatever it is. I can feel it everywhere, in every joint, every appendage, every organ, every brain cell, and I suddenly want nothing more than to do something, anything, to make this go away. I don’t know how though, and it feels like time isn’t running on the same wavelength anymore, as if the earth has just sped up on its axis. I feel like if I just sit down and go to sleep this will all be over and I’ll wake up gasping in the backseat of my car next to a half naked Veronica that still wonders why Justin and Karen haven’t called, but I can’t go to sleep because this heat in my forehead is demanding action and I’m going to give it what it wants before it incinerates my brain.

I look over at the door to my left and see Pops’ golf clubs. I walk over slowly and grab one, feeling the weight of the metal beneath the rubber grip of the handle. I tap it against the floor, give it a wiggle to see how heavy the backswing will be, and open the front door. I am almost out when I feel an arm around my waist, pulling me back inside. I look behind me, curiously, and see that it’s Pops, his face stony and tear-streaked. I look at his arms and wonder why he’s touching me, if he’s drunk or what; he usually gets really affectionate with everybody in the house when he’s drunk. But I don’t see how this is the time for that.

I try to keep moving forward, against his grip, and he flexes his bicep. Pops is a big man, six feet or more with a burly chest and beefy arms. I pull forward again and he pulls back harder and I trip, dropping the club to the floor and, as it falls from my grip and I feel the blazing red indentation its left in my palm from my death grasp, every bit of my own restraint falls with it. I turn on Pops and try to take his hands off me forcefully, my head buzzing. He picks me up off the floor in a bear hug and I want nothing more than for him to let me go and give me back the golf club. I want the club more than my own life right now though I’ve forgotten why. Pops pulls me back into the apartment and I don’t want to go back in but he pulls me further in regardless, and I’m yelling. I don’t know when I started yelling, but my throat is already raw so I assume it’s been for awhile. I struggle, scratch, claw, slap, punch, kick and scream against this man’s grip, these arms that are keeping me from the golf club and the night air outside. He drags me into the hallway and back to his and Yvonne’s bedroom. I grab onto the door handles as we pass the other rooms and my teeth grind together painfully, and I wish his arm was between them so he would let me go. He throws me on the bed and traps me there with his body weight, and I hate him. I hate him, I hate Yvonne, I hate Veronica, I hate FOX and Justin’s house and Justin and Karen and the paint on Justin’s wall in his room and the blunt object that somebody used to beat them with. I hate them all, everybody, everything, more than I’ve ever hated before. I want to hurt something because it seems like it’s the only thing I can do to quench this thirst that’s developed in my throat all of a sudden and I wonder if the dryness is because I’m still screaming, only now my screams aren’t as loud as they were before because Pops has got my head buried in the bed and he’s whispering in my ear, has been whispering in my ear since he grabbed me only I couldn’t hear him because I was yelling and I wanted the golf club so bad. He keeps saying the same thing over and over again and I wondered what the hell was buzzing in my head like a wasp’s nest, like a monk’s mantra, his voice just repeating

“—it’s okay brother, it’s gonna be okay brother, it’s gonna be—”

and I want him to stop, struggle against him because I want to get away from him so he will stop. I see the doorway and Veronica is there and she looks scared and terribly grief-stricken and I wonder if she looks like that because I tried to hit her because if I didn’t try to hit her I wish I had because right now I want to hit her, and her dad and mom and little brother and everybody. But more than anything, I want him to stop fucking telling me it’s going to be okay because it’s not going to fucking be okay because Karen and Justin are dead and we were supposed to eat spaghetti with them and help them paint his room and we didn’t do any of it and had sex instead because I’m a horny bastard who’s too preoccupied with fucking his girlfriend to notice my friends are dead and now I’m here on this bed, pinned under a heavy Cuban man with beer on his breath, and I just want him to stop saying it’s going to be okay.

And then my body goes limp, my strength seeping like water through an open drain. My eyes blur at once and my cheeks start to twitch. The first heave is the worst, and I feel bile in the back of my throat as I let out a sob, the sob that has sat in my chest since the moment I turned the television on and saw Justin’s house with the words Double Homicide sitting underneath like an epitaph on a gravestone. I cry until I can’t breathe then pass out, not noticing when Veronica lies next to me. She stays a few inches away and rubs my arm. When I come to, I stand and she hugs me. We rub each other’s backs as we do, our chests barely touching, my eyes closed the entire time.

I open my eyes and I’m surprised to find myself in the Miami-Dade police station, sitting next to Veronica, though I vaguely remember driving here. There are people around, but I stare at the tile on the floor, occasionally glancing up at my girlfriend. She doesn’t look at me and I can’t remember the last time I looked her in the eyes. I have nightmares now, all the time. In them I’m alone on Justin’s porch, knocking endlessly. Jonathan, Justin’s murdering cousin, is standing on the other side with a demonic grin on his face, pushing Justin’s body out of the way so he can open the door and let me in. In the dream, I wonder where Veronica is but I’m not particularly upset that she isn’t around. The dream always ends with Jonathan getting the door open and welcoming me with a blow to the face.

The detective calls Veronica into his office and I look away as she passes.

We’ve both agreed to omit the sex from our statements. It isn’t lying, exactly, more like the omission of insignificant information. Our sex lives have no bearing on this tragedy whatsoever. They don’t need to know anything about that. It won’t help put Jonathan away, won’t help the case at all. It’s a sure thing anyways, he already confessed. I tell myself these things and hope they will make me feel better. They don’t. I keep thinking about Justin lying on the tile behind his front door with Jonathan standing over him, a bloody bat in his hand, head cocked to the side, eyes watching me and Veronica driving away, shuffling his feet, smiling even; Justin’s face beaten and puffy, one arm reaching out for the knob in a last attempt to run for safety. I imagine myself grunting and thrusting on top of Veronica while Justin lies in this position, Karen a few feet behind him on the ground in the kitchen with the phone lying next to her. Tears fill my eyes again and I sniffle. An officer glances at me from behind a desk.

Veronica comes out of the office and sits back down quietly. I get up and walk in when the detective calls me, answer his questions without detail. When did we get to the house? Around six-thirty. What time did we leave? A few minutes later. Where did we go? (Pause) Home. When we leave, Veronica cries to herself. I don’t try to console her. I don’t know how anymore. All I know how to do is sleep, so I drop her off and do what I do best, go home, close my eyes, and dream.

I open my eyes again and I’m at Justin’s grave. Veronica and I broke up less than an hour ago and I got the urge to come here so I did, but now I can’t really remember why I wanted to so bad. Things haven’t been the same since the funerals, over a year now. Things haven’t been the same since Veronica dropped out of school. Things haven’t been the same. The grass over Justin’s grave has grown in and it doesn’t look so fresh anymore. I sit in front of the headstone and write him a letter, apologizing, asking him to forgive me, us, save us a spot up there if he can, though I’m starting to doubt whether or not I believe an up there exists. I say goodbye to Justin and leave the letter under a rock next to the pot of flowers his mom and Jessica keep fresh. I wish Veronica could read it, though I don’t have any hope it would change anything. It says all the things I couldn’t say out loud, all the things I should have said long ago which mean nothing now.

I sit in my car and close my eyes and when I open them again I’m sitting in the District Attorney’s office with a row of gory, explicit pictures in front of me, dated almost three years ago. I wonder why it all won’t just go away, as if the powers that be are forcing me to deal with this shit. Veronica is in the hallway waiting for the photos to be taken away so she can come back in without breaking down. I look at them and my throat clenches and I want to ask if I can leave, if they can get somebody else to do this. I stay quiet instead. Things usually go more smoothly that way.

I answer the D.A.’s questions with a blank stare and a mouth that’s gone dry. Yes, I know, their parents’ have gone through enough. Yes, I know, they don’t want to see these pictures. Sure, I guess, I’ll identify the deceased at the trial. That’s Karen, but her arms and legs never used to be that purple. That’s Justin, but he never used to look like that. His face never used to be that swollen, bruised and battered. He used to be clean, light brown eyes and a baby face, much younger in appearance than his almost nineteen years. Really cool dude. Really cool. The D.A. takes the pictures away and calls Veronica back in. He informs us that, as witnesses, we are not to speak to anybody about the case, not even each other. I glance at Veronica as he says this. She doesn’t look in my direction.

I walk out of the courthouse and Veronica stops me outside. She has gained weight since I last saw her. She looks older. The bags under her eyes are covered with makeup. There is a cigarette in her hand and it looks odd when she puts it to her lips. I puff on mine. She asks me how I’ve been. I tell her I’m getting better. She says the same. I don’t believe her. When I leave, I don’t think she believes me either.

Close my eyes and when I open them I’m in the court room.

Close them again and open them to stare at the newspaper, reporting that Jonathan’s been sentenced to life.

Close them again and I’m back in front of the house where it all happened, sold now to a family who probably either have no idea what happened in their home years ago or have coaxed themselves into believing that it has nothing to do with them. And, in a sense, I guess it doesn’t. I watch the house from my car, packed with the few remaining possessions that I didn’t want to put in the UHaul I’m taking up to Tallahassee for college. I want to go knock on the door, ask if I can come in and just look around. But there’s a new car in the driveway, and the basketball hoop’s gone. This isn’t the same place. It never will be again. I watch it for a few more minutes then wipe my face, turn the car around and drive off.

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