This is a story in three parts.
The news of Emily’s gruesome death was inescapable. It was all anyone talked about. My grandmother even called me from Mississippi because she saw the story on the news. She wanted to know if I knew the ‘girl who got killed in the bathroom’ as if she had stumbled upon her own death.
I told her I didn’t. She said it was a shame, and that I should be ‘careful up in the city’. I promised her I would, but for some strange reason, my gut told me that Emily wouldn’t be the last girl to be strung up like a cow ready for slaughter in the bathroom stall of my high school.
In all the years since Sojourner Truth Prep opened (since the late eighties) only one other incident ever occurred here. About fifteen years ago, a girl drowned. Some say it was her own fault—she wasn’t that good of a swimmer. And she was in the pool area after hours, which was absolutely forbidden unless one was on the swim team. But others say she was pushed. There was no one around to determine which was which. She had her own memorial ceremony, and just like Emily’s, her picture was hung in the gymnasium. It was a small memorial and easily overlooked, unlike Emily’s. She wasn’t the star. She wasn’t Emily. But there was one thing the two shared; they both died in the walls of the supposed safest prep school on this side of North America. And if they died here, then there was no place safe anymore.
In the thick of night, I heard Rose stir across the room. We both hadn’t been able to sleep for a while. Ever since Emily died, Headmistress Baylor instituted a curfew, something that hadn’t been done in years. We had to be in bed by nine. Not just behind closed doors, either. I mean lamps extinguished, and covers-to-our-necks, kind of bed.
It was inconvenient, sure. But I understood why it was necessary. The school board didn’t want another blemish on the record. They had to assure the parents that precautions were being taken to prevent another disaster from occurring here. Plus, the school board didn’t want to lose any more money. People were pulling their children out of school. It was all about politics—never safety.
“Reed.” Rose’s voice cracked the silence in our small room. “Are you up?”
“Of course.” I flipped over in bed and faced the window, watching the moon dip behind the clouds. I wondered where Emily was now. I knew where her body was. But where was her soul?
“I haven’t been able to sleep in weeks.”
“I know,” I answered, shaking the thought out of my head. “We’ve never gone to bed this early.”
“Professor Dunham thinks I’m doing hard drugs because I’m always falling asleep in his class.”
Professor Dunham was a notoriously boring lecturer and coupled with the subject matter—Religious Studies—his class made for the ultimate snooze fest.
“People sleep all the time in his class.”
“Not like how I sleep.”
She was right. Rose was a wild sleeper. She would wake up on the floor, sheets and covers askew, multiple nights, with no recollection of how she got there. I could only imagine how she slept in a lecture hall.
“Well, when you put it that way, he definitely thinks you’re a meth addict,” I joked.
“I’m a little classier than meth. I was going to go with ‘shrooms or something a little lighter, sheesh. Doesn’t that stuff make your teeth black?”
“Who knows, Rose.” I shrugged.
When the conversation died, the silence amplified. A gust of wind rustled past the window. Branches from the old oak tree scratched against the glass. Somewhere, a group of crickets were making a beautiful song. And just a few miles down the road, Emily’s body was decomposing under the unforgiving Earth. She’d never see the moon again. She’d never hear a beautiful night again. Death is cruel.
“What do you think’s going to happen?”
I knew what Rose was getting at. It was a conversation we had been avoiding for some time now. It had been only a few weeks since I found Emily, and the rumors around school were flying like bats. Some say that James killed Emily because she broke up with him just a few days before. Others say that it was someone from the swim team. There were tons of girls that wanted the top spot.
And other people—most people—thought it was me.
“Do you think the police will come?” I could tell Rose was biting her fingernails. She always did when she was hesitant. I knew she wanted to ask what happened when I discovered Emily’s body. I hadn’t shared the details with anyone. They were too gruesome to repeat. I wanted to shake the sight of her dead, bruised body out of my mind, not relive it for the entertainment of others, even if it was for my best friend.
“Probably,” I answered dryly. I didn’t want to discuss it. For weeks I didn’t want to discuss anything really. I knew that the Santis family would want answers. They would want someone to blame. I knew they were out for blood, and it didn’t matter whose it was.
“Do you think—”
“Rose.” I knew what she was going to ask. I couldn’t believe that Rose, of all people, would let the gossip get to her. I didn’t kill Emily. I didn’t owe anyone an explanation. Well, maybe the police.
“I mean, they’ll question everyone, right? Not just you.”
“Are you insinuating that I killed Emily?”
“God, no! Reed!” Her sheets crumpled when she bolted up. “I’d never think that.”
“Then what’s with all the questions? I want to know who did it just as much as anyone else. I’m scared, too.”
Why was I defending myself? Rose should know that I would never do anything like that, especially considering my past.
“It’s just…” I heard her spit a fingernail into the darkness. “You were there, ya know. You saw her.”
“It wasn’t like I wanted to. I walked in and she was just…dead.” I choked back a sob that bubbled in my throat. I shut out the sight of her beaten body. I clamped my nostrils down so I couldn’t smell the vile, fishy odor that was radiating off her. The smell seemed to follow me everywhere…like a shadow. “She was just lying there dead.”
“The pool was closed, Reed. What were you even doing in there?” A sliver of moonlight washed over Rose’s face. Her eyes were dark, but wide, like she was afraid. Of what? Of me?
The branches whipped around in the wind and as quickly as the light came, it left. But I saw her expression. I saw the fear in her eyes. It implanted itself in my brain, just like Emily’s dead body. My own best friend thought I was a murderer. I pulled the covers over my head, wishing that I could melt into nothing.
“It’s just that no one knows what happened to her…”
I was about to scream that I didn’t know either, and that I didn’t want to talk about Emily or anything else anymore. I could feel my blood rising when she added, “…no one but you.”