Once upon a time, there was a fair, just, honest King, who ruled the land with a beautiful woman by his side. They would slip arm in arm, forever linked, with the princess and her husband, the brave knight, behind them. All was well.
You don't believe in capital punishment. It seems too much of a risk – what if the conviction is wrong? It seems too hypocritical – responding to murder with murder. It just seems wrong.
When you're fourteen, you write an essay on the subject. Mrs. Murphy gives you an A plus, handing copies out to the class as the standard of work she expects. Anyone else would be mocked for this, but not you. You are beloved.
There is another essay stapled to yours. The opposing viewpoint, written as well as an essay can be, on why capital punishment is perfectly justified. Everyone is surprised when they see the name down the bottom – everyone, that is, except you.
You just smile.
You insist on being the one to take care of Lilly's bruises yourself. It's petty, self-loathing, and not especially safe, but they let you do it anyway.
Lilly flinches when you hold a steak to her black eye and you try and convince yourself it's just from pain. "This is totally gross," she mutters, but you barely hear it.
"I'm sorry," you whisper, and you can just see her – red across her face, fear in her eyes. You can't remember, and you're glad of that, because wild Lilly Kane's eyes should not know fear, but if he can't remember them, they haven't.
You drop the steak when the vision changes. The world is now full of crumpled metal and blood-stained power-suits, the sterilized smell of a hospital and doctors who know near nothing. Then Lilly, the Devil herself, whispers conspiratorially: If Celeste dies, who bets you get everything?
You stare down at the floor and you dig your short nails into your palm. Lilly raises your head with her hand, and it's not often you remember she's the oldest, but now is one of those moments. "Hey," she tells you with the power of a goddess, and the comfort of a mother. "This isn't your fault."
You try to believe her.
When Celeste is released from hospital, you act normal. You hug her like a twelve year old boy who almost lost his mother to a car accident.
You die happy.
You're as lucky as any fifteen year old boy can be. You're rich. You're smart. You're popular.
You have a mother who dotes upon you at any opportunity. You have a father who is beloved by all and prizes his children above the world. You have a sister who doesn't inspire plans for elaborate death traps – often, anyway. You have a best friend who will always have your back, and vice versa. You have an amazing girlfriend; beautiful, smart, funny, driven, trusting.
You are lucky.
You enter the house with a broad grin on your face, the day you die. You run into your mother, who looks tired and weary, but almost proud.
"Duncan... we need to talk."
Yes, you die happy.
You want to tell Logan.
It would be stupid to say he'd understand, that he wouldn't judge, because he would and you would be disgusted if he didn't. You judge. What did you with her, to her was beyond wrong and Logan would have to know that. Yes, there were the body shots and all at that party, and you're not quite sure you forgive Logan for that – wonder if maybe this is his fault – but he is human.
Veronica is broken. She wasn't broken after Lilly, after her Mom, after Sher- Mr. Mars's removal from office. But now she is broken, and you were the one to break her. The soft long blonde hair, the hair you used to run your fingers through if she fell asleep when you were watching a movie, is gone. As are the soft doe eyes she used to look at you with when she woke up, the eyes that made you forget...
Veronica is broken. You were the one to break her. You spare her the knowledge why.
You wonder if people can tell. You wonder if they're disgusted or angry, about what you did. The greater part of you thinks you're being paranoid and no-one could ever tell, but you're not sure. You can see Cassidy Casablancas staring at you with that intense, yet unreadable expression, and you wonder if he knows. How he could know. You vaguely contemplate taking a razor blade to his throat, just to stop that expression, but you decide against it.
You don't believe in capital punishment.
She doesn't look at you when Logan and cronies rip into her. You want to go over there, to stop him, to save her, to save him, but you can't. You've seen the spiral that sent you on, the spiral that broke you both, so you stay away from her.
But you sort of wish she'd look at you. You need to see the blame, the hate. You want to see her mad at you for giving her hope, for using her, for making her think you had forgiven her for whatever imaginary sin you're meant to be blaming her for.
You look at Logan, and you can feel the pleading in your eyes. He doesn't seem to, and you guess you're just bad at conveying emotion by facial expression. You wonder if you could just tell him everything.
It's that night, when he shows up at your house, blood seeping through his shirt, that you know you can't.
When it's announced Abel Koontz has been sentenced to death, you know should feel happy. Instead, you feel nauseous.
You're surprised at the sentence. Then you wonder why. Then you remember – Abel Koontz only killed one person. He confessed to the crime. That should earn some kind of leniency. But you know it doesn't work like that, and it's really nothing to do with Lilly – it's happening because she was Jake Kane's daughter. It's happening because she was a blond pretty white teenage girl. Sure, he probably wouldn't have gotten death if he murdered say, Cindy Mackenzie, but it still has nothing to do with Lilly.
You still don't believe in capital punishment. You should – your sister died, you should want the bastard dead. You try to. But you can't change your belief, so you shake it out of your head. This isn't about you. You try to remember if Lilly believed in the death penalty.
She never said.
You don't deserve her.
It's an undeniable fact that riddles your mind every moment you're with her. You do not deserve Meg Manning. You don't deserve the sweet grin she gives you, you don't deserve her gentle fingers entwined with yours. You don't deserve to sneak into her house when her parents are at church group, and you don't deserve the way she moans when you're both in bed.
You're horrible. You're disgusting. You're sick inside and you can't believe someone as good as Meg can't see it.
Veronica seems to have forgiven you. You have no idea why. You wish she wouldn't, because every moment she does it makes it harder to remember who you are, what you did to her, what is so wrong about you and Veronica. She grows her hair out, and it takes everything you have not to reach out and stroke it, to touch the sweet innocent Veronica you loved so much.
To touch the girl you killed.
So instead, you wrap your finger in Meg's own long, soft blond hair, and she smiles.
You do not deserve her.
You can't believe she thinks you did it. Even if you did.
It's your fault. You broke her. You can't think that when she was weighing up whether or not you could smash in your own sister's brains, she wasn't thinking of when she woke up alone, panties still on the floor.
It doesn't really make sense, given she thinks if you did it, you did it in an epileptic fit, but you guess someone broken wouldn't make sense.
You want to think you couldn't have done it. You loved Lilly. Lilly loved you. Abel Koontz killed Lilly. Abel Koontz confessed. Abel Koontz will be put down like the dog he is, and you can't wait for vengeance.
When you're sitting in a Cuban Cafe, you suddenly see Keith Mars – see him. He's suffered, he's lost so much, but he's not broken like Veronica. You almost wish Abel didn't do it, just so what he's been through hasn't been for nothing.
You ask him if he thinks you did it. He looks nothing like Veronica did, when she asked if you remembered that day. He doesn't look angry or driven. He looked calm, yet weary. He deflects the question, so you take it as a yes.
You tell him a lie.
You knew this day would come. You had no idea what day it was.
You can't understand what she's saying. You deflect what she says with denial of memory, with promises of thoughts you never had. You aren't smart enough to figure it out until the words come spewing out of her mouth, more pained than anything you've seen from her.
You're the one who raped me!
She couldn't remember. Your guess is drugs. You left her alone. You made her think this had happened, that some monster took this from her, you made her look at half the people she saw each day, as her possible destroyer.
At least it explains why she "forgave" you.
She presses for information, for why you left. You try to hold onto it, to save her years late. But you can't – she isn't the only broken one. It gushes forth like venom.
Because you're my sister! And I knew it! Even after my mother told me, I tried to just cut you out of my life, I loved you! And I tried not to, I tried not to, but it won't go away!
You don't know when your mother got there. Veronica runs, and you sink to the ground, half pleading to be in that coffin with Lilly. You see your mother approach you, wringing her hands.
For the first time since you were twelve, and Lilly was bruised, and the whole family thanking the gods that the crumpled metal didn't have it's way, you fall into your mother's arms.
You understand Logan and Veronica. You just... do not comprehend.
It makes sense, of course. Lynn's case. The constant loose ends. How she took him outside when he showed up drunk and pantsless, despite her own date. The constant rumors about Logan's secret girlfriend you've been hearing all day.
You don't fully know how your car got wrecked, but Meg is sobbing and the crowd is staring, so you make an educated guess. It figures, you knew this day was coming, the day your lies would be gone, the day the mess you are would be on display. You're thankful for that, even though you're not sure it matters.
You laugh. You laugh at them and their gaping jaws. Except one, where you do not see shock or sadness. You do not see anything you understand.
You see Cassidy Casablancas and that fucking expression again.
You need to go. Now.
You killed Lilly.
Suddenly, you can breathe. You didn't kill Lilly, Aaron Echolls did. You didn't have sex with your sister – blood tests prove it.
Blood tests. Why did they not all just think of that, save everyone the hassle? Save Veronica? Save you?
It doesn't matter, you guess.
When you see it on the news, your breath catches at what they say about Ke- about Sheriff Mars. You bite your lip. Your father breaks into tears. Your mother just buries her head in her hands.
They both look up at you, eyes searching for pleading, understanding, forgiveness. What you cannot give them, and cannot refuse. So you run away.
You punch the mirror. You reckon your luck can't get any worse, and when the blood pours, it feels good. Satisfying. Cathartic. You understand Logan a lot better now.
Logan. You want to call him. He's your best friend.
You can't call him.
You like the hotel suite.
It's big and grand, it's new and open. You can step inside it and not see ghosts. You thought living alone would be hard, confusing, but you find you like it. You like the quiet, you like how it can't remind you of what you cannot hear in all the noise.
The day you move into the Neptune Grand is the day you break up with Meg.
You don't hate Logan for it. You can't hate Logan for it.
Veronica tells you near the end of the summer, a while after she and Logan have broken up. You're sitting in Java the Hut one day, and in lieu of nothing, she drops the bombshell.
Logan gave you GHB at Shelley's party.
You don't understand for a second. Then it hits you. You were drugged. You lost your inhibitions. You did something you thought unspeakable. And Logan was responsible.
Logan made you hate yourself. Logan took your ethics away. Logan took your self-respect away. Logan took away everything you had left. Logan broke you. Logan thought he could put you into whatever situation he liked or needed. You remember Veronica's words of accusation.
You're the one who raped me!
Bile rises in your throat. No. You can't think like that. You remember that night. You had a choice. Logan couldn't have known. He just wanted you to have some fun. He couldn't have known.
"He couldn't have known what would happen."
You stare at her straight-faced, and she nods and walks off to serve customers. You make sure she can't see you before you run to the bathroom and throw up.
The next day happens to be Veronica's birthday, and you leave a fortune cookie on the table when you leave the Hut.
You don't hate Logan for it. You can't hate Logan for it.
You didn't love Meg. You have acknowledged that and accepted it. You convinced yourself you loved her, because you needed to. You needed Meg. You needed not-Veronica.
It's funny now Meg's all you can think about.
You should have tried harder. You should have forgotten Veronica. You should have stayed with Meg anyway. You should have never been with her in the first place. You should have refused the limo ride. You should have done something.
Veronica blames herself too, and your heart breaks for her. She isn't like you. This isn't her fault. This is your burden to carry, and some tiny bit of you resents her for making it hers. You never said you made sense. You feel like you did after leaving Veronica in Shelley's guest bedroom, after yelling at her in the computer lab.
You don't tell Veronica any of this.
Life seems vaguely "normal." You invite Logan to live with you after his house burns down. You invite your girlfriend over all the time. That's awkward, but you guess you'll all get used to it.
Logan and you go back to being friends, as if you weren't not there for him this summer, if his father didn't kill Lilly, as if he didn't...
You shake your head. Logan couldn't have known. It's become your mantra, a tenet of your new "normal" existence. Logan is your best friend, he just wanted you to have fun. It isn't his fault what happened.
Logan couldn't have known.
You and Veronica don't talk about it. You can't talk about it. You don't want to talk about it. It shouldn't have happened, she can't remember it, so it didn't happen. You can all just get on with your lives, and you can forget about you breaking her.
About Logan breaking you.
He opens your fridge and gets himself a beer. "Hey man, you want one?"
You try to ignore the way for throat constricts, just for a second. You shake your head. "No man, I'm cool."
You're not "cool."
But Logan couldn't have known.
You must have read the email a thousand times.
There's a boy. Out there. Falling apart. Being told he's wrong, being locked in that small closet, forced to write how bad he is again and again and again. You want to kill this boy's parents, but you don't know who they are, and you don't believe in capital punishment.
You wonder which phrase has become his mantra.
You gulp. Meg was trying to save this boy – Meg, who was so good and pure. She wouldn't ever be able to let something like this go on. But she couldn't prove it, and you don't even know who he is. You don't know how you're meant to save him.
But you want to. You want to swoop in and be the hero.
You're not sure you can.
Blind panic is your first reaction when you read the letter.
A baby. You should have known. Just how bitter Meg was when the school year started. The way Lizzie looked at you when she gave you that laptop. You should have known.
A baby. A baby about to fall into the clutches of those psychos. Why?
Then the question occurs – is there even still a baby? Meg went off a cliff. She barely survived. How could a fetus?
You ask Lizzie. She bites her lip and tells you yes.
Blind panic is also your second reaction.
A few days later, you can feel eyes on you. Familiar eyes.
You see Cassidy Casablancas staring at you with that goddamn expression of his.
You're kind of starting to hate him.
Lilly is beautiful. She almost makes you forget.
Emphasis on almost.
You follow news from Neptune religiously. The Aaron Echolls case – what happened to the tapes? And the bus crash, Meg, what happened with Terrence Cook? Are famous people in Neptune all psychos?
You like Australia. It's warm and people are friendly, and no-one knows who you are. You try and take care of Lilly. You're not sure you're doing the parenting thing so well, but you're trying.
You miss Veronica. You miss Logan. You miss the original Lilly. You miss your parents. You miss Meg. You miss Neptune.
You miss Duncan Kane.
But it doesn't matter.
You're really not nervous, when it happens. It's what has to be done – you can imagine some other girl, sweet and young, falling into bed with the notorious movie star. You can imagine her hitting the pavement.
You fool yourself into thinking this is about something other than revenge.
You're playing with Lilly of the beach when it happens. You get the call right after you mark the sandcastle with a little Australian flag.
"It's a done deal."
Done. Finished. Executed.
You still don't believe in capital punishment.
You look toward the water. You want to run into it and let it wash you, let it erode you, wiping away Lilly, Veronica, Aaron, Logan, Meg, let it wipe away the last three years until you emerge as Duncan Kane.
But you can't strand Lilly on the beach alone.
You take her hand.
Once upon a time, the was a fair, just, honest King, who ruled the land with a beautiful woman by his side.
Now, there isn't.