I haven’t done a Solo in a while, so I thought I’d trot out an old one. This is the beginning of a young adult mystery-suspense piece I started years ago and never finished. So, just for kicks, here it is: Inside Out, about a young man from the ‘in-crowd’ who, after an unexpected and tragic occurrence finds himself very much on the … outs.
I never hit Kirsten before that night; never so much as shoved her. Not like some of the other guys who pretty much routinely smack their girlfriends. Like Chad Bennett; he hits Melissa like, once a week, easy. I never was into that. But that night, Kirsten was in that weird mood and when she started saying those things, bringing my mother into it, I just lost it and hauled back and slapped her. If I hadn’t been drinking, I never would’ve done it, but once it was done, there was no taking it back. Then she was crying and all her friends were pulling her away and all the guys were looking at me like I’d lost my mind, even Chad Bennett. I was planning on calling her the next morning to apologize, and was even getting ready to go over there and face the music with her Dad and everything when Dale called and told me she was missing. Missing. Not a word you’re used to hearing in association with your girlfriend.
By the next day in school, everyone was talking about it. Kirsten being gone and all, but also about the fight and the fact that I’d hit her. They were saying that I’d gone temporarily insane. That people who were there said that my eyes got all unfocused and scary and that I would’ve really hurt her if someone hadn’t held me back. For the first day, the talk was more about the fight than Kirsten. Most everybody, me included, thought that she’d gone off somewhere, afraid to have her parents see her face where she’d gotten hit. That she’d semi run away but would soon be back. I think I kind of believed that she was at Lisa’s hiding out, but that Lisa wasn’t going to let on. And then a couple days turned into a week and Kirsten’s parents started calling around again, and the cops got involved. And that was when I knew it was real – my girlfriend was missing and the last time anyone had seen her was at a party where there was illegal underage drinking and I had smacked her in the face.
It didn’t take long for the detective working on the case to come by. I was eating dinner with my Dad – chili again – when he rang our bell. Dad answered the door and as soon as I heard the voice I recognized it. He’d been on television – Detective Sam Aldridge, the lead investigator. I’d been wondering when he would show up to interview me. But he was here now, and I braced myself for the difficult conversation to come. I took one last spoonful of chili and pushed back from the dining table to go out into the foyer.
Detective Aldridge sized me up as I entered. Only seventeen and already six foot one; people commented on it all the time, usually in connection with football. I was the best high school wide receiver in the state, they said. I’d already heard from recruiters from all over the country and would have my pick of colleges. Sam Aldridge had probably heard of me, even if he’d never seen me play.
“Blake,” my Dad said. “This is a detective working on Kirsten’s case. He wants to talk to you for a few minutes.”
Dad was worried about Kirsten. He’d been over to see her folks a few times and was helping by getting fliers printed up. A buddy of his was a producer at the local television station and had gotten the story on the news a little earlier and a little more often than it would normally play. He’d never asked me what I might know about where she was, he assumed I knew nothing or that if I did, I would have shared it by now.
“Good to meet you, Blake.” Detective Aldridge extended a hand and I shook it.
He was a short, squat man, balding on top and with a ruddy complexion like someone who knocked back a few too many on a regular basis. His eyes were a steely gray, and he looked at me as though he knew something about me that even I didn’t know. I considered whether he might have spoken to anyone at the party by now, whether anyone would have told him about the fight.
As my Dad led us to the sitting room, I calculated the odds that Detective Aldridge already knew, and came up with two to one in favor of him knowing. He had to have talked to other kids by now and even though I might be able to count on some of my friends not to tell, the news had traveled well beyond my inner circle and even someone who was not at the party could have mentioned it.
“You and Kirsten were dating?” Detective Aldridge cut to the chase as he sat.
“Yes sir,” I said. “For about a year now.”
“A year!” he smiled at me. “That’s a long time for a good-looking young man like yourself. Sounds serious.”
“Not too serious,” I shrugged. “We know college means it’s pretty much over with.”
“What schools are you looking at? I understand you’re quite the athlete.”
“SoCal. UCLA. Duke. Couple others.”
“Recruiters keep our phones ringing off the hook,” my Dad weighed in. “I had to change our number a few times.”
“But it must be a weight off,” Detective Aldridge said. “Not worrying about how to take care of tuition on your own.”
“Yeah, yeah. It is,” Dad rubbed his chin as though this hadn’t occurred to him before.
“Anyway, about Kirsten, when was the last time you saw her, son?”
“Sunday night. Week and a half ago.”
“Where was that?” Detective Aldridge began taking notes, but kept his eyes one mine as he wrote.
“Owen Carter’s house.”
“Who else was there?”
“Lots of kids. Owen of course, Noah Lawson, Chad Bennett, Jayden Taylor, Melissa Spell, Rich Oliver, Tessa Payne, Sally . . . few others.”
“So there was a party?”
“Yes sir, I guess you could say that.”
“What happened that night, Blake?”
From his tone, the odds that he knew had increased considerably. Someone had already spilled the beans and so I had no choice, I would have to do the same.
“Kirsten and I had a fight,” I said.
Next to me, my Dad leaned forward, focused now.
“What was it about, do you remember?”
“It was about our relationship.”
Detective Aldridge looked at me expectantly. “Specifically . . ?”
“I felt like it was over. She disagreed.”
“Is there anything else you want to tell me about that fight?”
“Time out,” Dad said. “I’m not sure I like where this is going, Detective.”
Detective Aldridge shifted his gaze from me to my Dad. “Where do you think this is going, Mr. Bell?”
“To a place that implies some connection, maybe even some culpability on my son’s part stemming from his fight with Kirsten.”
“Well, why don’t we let Blake talk about his culpability – if he has any. Blake is there anything else about the fight you’d like to add?”
I ran my fingers through my hair and leaned back, taking a deep breath.
“Yeah,” I said. “I hit her.”
“What?” Dad sounded shocked. “Blake . . .”
“I hit her,” I said, my voice lower this time.
I hadn’t thought about it much since it happened to be honest. It seemed almost like a blur and then since I never saw her after that, I could almost tell myself it hadn’t happened at all. But it had happened. I’d lost my temper in a way I never had before and hit a girl in the face. I’m pretty sure I busted her lip, and that she would look like hell. But I never got a chance to see her, and never got a chance to say I was sorry, or . . . Suddenly I was crying, like a little kid, snot running down my face and me wiping it away with the back of my hand, and my Dad looking shell-shocked.
“Detective,” he said finally, standing up. “I think this interview is over.”
Detective Aldridge stood as well and shook my Dad’s hand.
“Blake,” he said. “When you’ve had a chance to talk things over with your Dad, I think you’ll find that the best thing to do is come clean on everything. Tell exactly what happened.”
My head jerked up and just like that, I was done crying. “What do you mean?” I asked. “That is everything. We fought and I hit her. Right there in front of all our friends. That’s exactly what happened.”
“And after the party, Blake? You sure you didn’t see her afterwards?”
“No! The party was the only time . . .”
“Blake, shut up,” my Dad ordered. “Detective Aldridge.” He extended an arm and led the detective to the front door.
When he came back his face was grim.
“Blake,” he said. “What the hell . . ?”
“Dad,” I said. “I’m sorry. I knew you’d be disappointed in me. I didn’t want you to know.”
“Disappointed?” he said sitting across from me. “That’s the least of your problems right now, Blake. Do you know how this looks?”
“I have to ask you something, Blake. Is it the way it looks?”
“You mean did I . . . do something to Kirsten? No!”
“Okay,” Dad said. But he was staring into my eyes, looking for signs of deception. For a moment our eyes held and then he nodded, seemingly satisfied. “We’re going to need a lawyer.”
Who knows how these things get around? But it did get around. Somehow, people found out that during my interview with Detective Aldridge, I’d broken down and that my Dad had stopped the questions and ushered him out. It was a small enough town that one chatty file clerk in the police station was probably all it took. But wherever the leak had been, it changed everything. Practically overnight, I became a pariah. At first no one had the guts to tell me to my face; they just started acting a little funny. But when I got to lunch one day and found all my friends already there, eating without me, I got the hint. When I got my food and approached the table, they looked at me all funny, or not at all. It was Sally, who plucked up the nerve.
“Blake,” she said, her face looking all sympathetic. “None of our parents want us hanging out with you. Not with everything . . .”
I looked at Chad and Owen for confirmation but neither of them would make eye contact. Noah just kept right on eating as though nothing was going on.
“We know you would never hurt her,” Lisa spoke up as well. “But it just . . .”
“You don’t have to explain,” I cut her off.
I waited for a moment more to give the guys a chance to speak up. My boys were supposed to have my back. Fuckin’ Owen who would have no friends if it weren’t for me. Chad, who I covered for a million times when he screwed up. Noah, who . . .what the hell did it matter anyway? I turned and walked away. When this was over with, I would remember this moment.
As I left the cafeteria, more than a few dozen pairs of eyes were on me. People were taking note that the tide had changed. The big man on campus was the big man no more. Where the fuck was Kirsten?
I ate alone in one of the empty classrooms, considering my new reality. Kirsten was gone, and my reputation with her. I was worried about her, for sure. But honestly, I didn’t miss her. We were over for months before the fight; I knew it and she knew it. But we hung on for all the reasons people hang on – because breaking up was messy and implicated so many other people, and caused alliances to be broken and friendships to be fractured. I knew I didn’t love her, but she was very generous sexually and as long as I focused on that, I knew I could make it until graduation. After that, there would be college and a whole new crop of eager beautiful girls to choose from. Now I had to wonder whether all of that was under threat.
It was Shayla Edwards. We had almost all our classes together and I knew she had a crush on me. She looked at me and her eyes got all soft and simpering, like she thought I walked on water or something. I’d known her all my life without really knowing her at all. We’d gone to the same preschool, middle school, some of the same extracurriculars. But she was always just outside my orbit. Not pretty enough to be one of the most popular girls, not ugly either, so not an outcast. Kirsten would call her a Tier 2. Kirsten said things like that; classifying people according to whether they merited her attention. By any measure, Kirsten was definitely Tier 1.
“Fine,” I said.
“Want some company?”
I shrugged and Shayla sat at the desk next to mine, unwrapping her sandwich. We ate in silence. I kept expecting her to start a conversation but she didn’t and I was grateful. When she was done eating, she balled up the wax paper her sandwich had been wrapped in and stood.
“See you around,” she said. She touched my shoulder briefly before leaving me alone again.
Over the next few days, Shayla found me at lunchtime and sat with me to eat. She never tried to pry anything loose, just ate her food and then left afterwards. I watched her when she wasn’t looking. She was okay looking; great skin, pretty enough face and nice legs. She wore no make-up whereas the girls in my group always did. I wondered how she would look if she tried to be pretty; straightened that unruly, curly hair or shaped her eyebrows.
“Do you think I did something to Kirsten?” I asked.
She didn’t seem surprised that I’d spoken.
“No,” she said looking directly at me. “I don’t.”
“How come?” I asked. “My so-called friends seem to think so, and you barely know me. Why’re you so sure?”
“I just am,” she said.
I snorted and shook my head. She thought I was cute so I couldn’t be a “bad guy.” Girls were so stupid.
“We used to play together every day when we were six,” Shayla said. “I remember one time you kicked this kid because he threw a handful of dirt and it got in my eyes. You were so mad at him, and you helped me wash the dirt out at the water fountain.”
“I don’t remember any of that,” I said.
“It was a long time ago,” Shayla shrugged.
“So I was nice to you when I was six, so I couldn’t have hurt Kirsten,” I said. “That’s just great, Shayla.”
“Well did you?” she asked. “Hurt Kirsten?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I did. At the party. Didn’t you hear?”
“Yeah, I heard.”
“So I guess that means I must’ve dumped her down a well someplace.”
“Blake, you can’t say things like that,” Shayla looked at me, her face serious. “This isn’t when you turn glib. If ever there was a time to become an active participant in your life now would be it.”
I looked at her. She had a point.