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At first, she wasn't sure if she heard it right. His words, however, suddenly resonated in her head loud and clear.

"It wasn't suicide."


"I shot him."


"I killed him."


She lifted her hands, which seemed to weigh like a pair of cement blocks, and clasped them over her ears, as if she was trying to prevent his confession from haunting her. The more she stood in her own silence, the more her emotions churned-a brewing storm of bewilderment and fear.


Her hands fell limply at her side. She stared incredulously at him, trying to picture him with a shotgun. She fabricated the fearful image that she and the rest of the school once had of him: thug, rapist, killer… His face was like stone, unreadable, and his eyes were fixed in a permanent glare that ripped knives through anybody brave enough to meet his line of sight. Nonetheless when he opened his mouth to speak, the words that spilled out betrayed the reflection he represented now and in her mind.

"I should've known better. I was supposed to be the older brother. Shit, I didn't mean to do it…! I made it look like he killed himself because I panicked. I… I let him down, Shelley. It should have been me."


Blinking, she saw him again-but now she really saw him. He was a broken, remorseful, and defeated youth. He was the lonely and aloof misfit who had just returned after missing so many months of school. His stony mask showed its spider web of cracks and his sharp glare was immensely softened with tears ready to spill forth. It wasn't long before her own vision started to blur. He turned his back to her, no longer allowing her to bear witness to his shame.




She took a step over and clasped his elbow with both hands. "I-I don't… I don't know what it's like to go through what you did. I can't say I understand because I don't, unless it were to happen to me."

Her fingers curled around the jacket's rough, rigid material as she rested her forehead against his upper arm.


"I don't know what to say to make you feel any better, but if you ever wanna talk about it some more, or if you just wanna just let it all out, I'm here for you."


He was silent as the dead. She wondered if she said the right thing. Surely, she was sorry for what she heard. She was sorry for the way she thought of him, not knowing he carried a terrible and heavy secret upon his shoulders.

"But… you must have felt a little better when you told Clifford, right?"

She cracked a smile at his broad backside, despite the trail of tears visible on her glowing face.

"Oh, that Cliff. It's no wonder you guys are such good friends! I can only imagine he bugged the heck out of you for whatever reason and that's when you told him. He must have said the right things to you if you guys are still buddies."


"Ricky, it's fine if you don't wanna talk about this anymore. Just know that I'm here for you."

At that instant, he turned to face her, causing her to lift her head away from his arm. He roughly pulled her against his chest and held her close. She slid her arms around his waist and hugged him as tightly as she could, like he was going to disappear at a moment's notice.

"You don't have to cry," he murmured as he buried his face into her hair, his voice slightly unsteady.

She playfully slapped his backside as she continued to hold him. "You big dummy! Don't keep this stuff inside, 'kay? It'll just get worse and worse 'til we won't know what to do with you!"

He carefully pulled his face back, just enough to be able to look down at her with such a encouraging gaze that it made her feel absolutely optimistic.

"Yes ma'am."