* * *
Lindsay met Steven’s angry gaze. “There’s this voice…” she began.
Steven closed his eyes. “A voice?” he responded, his heart pounding in his chest.
“Yes,” she said in a low murmur. “I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t there. It tells me,” she waved her hand at the ceiling, “things,” she concluded.
Steven stood mute, and Lindsay continued. “I try to ignore it, but it just gets louder.” She pressed her index finger to her pale skin between her nose and lips. “And louder,” she declared, her shoulders sagged as if an invisible weight forced her to the back of the sofa.
Steven’s eyes snapped open.
And louder. Her voice echoed in his ears. He pictured the heavy weight of her words on her knotted shoulders. Her hesitation as she confessed the dark secret she kept to herself. The look in her eyes when his initial response wasn’t what she expected. He had failed her. Maybe she did kill herself because of me, he thought, staring into a dark room illuminated only by glowing numerals indicating that it was the middle of the night. Because of my reaction…
No. He consoled himself with the simple word. She hadn’t killed herself because of him. It wasn’t the constant fighting and arguing that led her down her dark path. It was the voice. It couldn’t’ve been my fault. I told her to ignore the voice.
He didn’t think he was capable of crying anymore, but fresh tears flooded his eyes. The effort was exhausting. He twisted his sheets between tight fists. Everyone seemed to have turned against him. Everyone was convinced that he’d played a crucial role in her death. He didn’t need their livid accusations. He needed their support. The same support he’d received when his parents died. For all his declarations that he was an adult, he just wanted to be consoled like a child again. He threw off the sheet, curled into the fetal position and willed himself to return to sleep. His dreams were his only solace now. There, Lindsay was still alive. He was still happy in his dreams.
But his happiness didn’t come. The glowing digits on his nightstand steadily marched toward oblivion. A minute became five, then twenty, then sixty. An hour became two; three; four. He rubbed his heavy eyes and fumbled for the television remote in the early dawn light. He imagined his impolite classmates fidgeting while waiting for the national morning news to conclude. He imagined Robert scrutinizing the tortuous story, doubt creeping into his mind.
A story about a local political scandal, and the graphic on the news was replaced with Lindsay’s smiling face. Steven leaned toward the television, and the specter of sleep seemed to have faded. The story was the same droning he had heard yesterday and the day before. Lindsay’s death appeared to be a suicide. The cause of death was from the self-inflicted wound on her arm. Experts testified that the direction and depth of the cut were consistent with the suicide theory, but there was something else.
Steven’s mouth hung open, as this new part of the story unfolded. The police suspected an outside influence on Lindsay. They were looking into any instances of bullying, but they were convinced, partly due to her suicide letter, that someone had convinced her to take her life.
Steven’s face replaced Lindsay’s to the right of the news anchor. He was a person of interest. Whereas Lindsay’s photo showed her to be a vibrant young woman, Steven’s photo had been lifted from his Facebook timeline. He wasn’t sure what photo had been used, but the contrast between the two photos was glaring. The news had already made up their mind who was to blame for Lindsay’s death.
He was named in Lindsay’s suicide note. The news anchor made the appropriate noises about Steven not being a suspect, just a person of interest. No charges had been filed, but the police were looking into the young man. Steven’s world collapsed like felt castles.
Steven stabbed the power button on the remote and let it clatter to the floor. A cold shiver ran along his spine. My classmates think I did it, he thought. The news people think I did it. Even the police seem to think I did it. It’s a good thing Robert has stuck with me…
* * *
Steven’s notebook was open to a blank page. Well, it wasn’t completely blank. Miniscule marks from tapping his pencil littered the page. Robert had ignored him all morning. The instructor and his classmates ignored his presence. It was as if he wasn’t there. Steven’s last vestige of support had abandoned him to a campaign of silence.
Heavy footsteps could be heard from the hallway. They couldn’t have been other students – the chatter of low voices was absent. A stern knock on the door sounded out. The door swung open, and the school principal, a guidance counselor, and two police officers stood in the doorway. The police had blank looks on their faces, and the others were stoic.
The instructor hurried to the door, and an exchange of low voices occurred. Steven saw one of the policemen nod toward him. Steven was no longer invisible. Everyone around him focused on his pale face. A few heartbeats later, the instructor stepped aside, and the quartet strolled toward Steven’s desk.
“Steven Bass?” one of the officers asked.
Steven trembled. He tried to swallow, but nothing could displace the lump in his throat. Instead, he nodded.
The other officer said, “We need you to come with us.”
The first officer picked up Steven’s backpack. After a cursory glance inside, he took the notebook from Steven’s desk and placed it inside before zippering it up. His leather gloves creaked as he tugged the desk away from Steven.
They walked to the door, Steven between the pair of officers. At the door, one walked through first, followed by Steven, and finally, the other officer. As Steven cleared the threshold, he glanced back into the classroom.
All the students were talking quickly in hushed voices. No longer did their faces show stoicism. Now, they were bright in triumph. David and Leonard smirked at each other. Robert had turned to watch Steven leave, shock apparent on his face. Before the door clicked shut, Steven could’ve sworn he heard a cheer erupt from the classroom.
As he walked through the double doors of the high school to the squad car, Steven was aware of faces pressed against the windows watching him sit in the back of the squad car. His journey through the halls of education had been met with snippets of conversation.
Are the cops arresting him for Lindsay’s murder?
It’s about time that freak got what’s coming to him.
There were more, but Steven’s ears burned, and tears streamed down his face. What else could they think? He asked himself. Everyone thinks I killed the love of my life.