I could feel Jason's curiosity as I led him down the sidewalk. His long legs made it difficult for me to keep distance between us. I didn't want him to see the tears playing in my eyes as I thought about the Wright family...and about Dylan. My heart twisted with each memory of him and his family. I was so absorbed in my pain that I didn't register my body's immediate stop in front of the large green Victorian house. I quickly collected myself as Jason came to stand beside me. We both looked up at it. My head spun frantically, searching for the right beginning to a long, horrible tale.
"It's beautiful. Doesn't look like anyone has lived here in a while," Jason remarked.
I could feel his sharp blue eyes dart towards me. Cue story. I swallowed hard while fighting back my pent-up emotions.
"It started about ten years ago. That's when they moved in here. The Wright family. Four people, two dogs, and a cat. Nothing special. They were outsiders though, like you. Because of that, people didn't really associate with them much. My mom wasn't like the people of Freeridge. She had left my dad two years before and, like I said earlier, most of my life was a blur. But, I remember Mom's stubbornness somehow. So, I did what a normal neighbor should have done: I came over, introduced myself, and handed them what should've been a cake. It--"
"Hold on. 'What should've been a cake...'? I take it baking isn't your strong suit?" Jason interrupted.
I blushed fiercely and shoved him roughly. He laughed as he stumbled back. He regained his composure as I crossed my arms and waited. Motioning for me to continue, I sighed.
"Anyway, I might Tessa and Dylan. They were both my age. Tessa was the popular kind of girl who loved to gossip, party, and date. She was all of the above at school once people settled down and stopped being suspicious. Before her fame, we were friends. Supposedly we were friends after because she always invited me over to their house but..."
"You settled for her friendship because she was nicer to you than probably anyone at school, and because of Dylan, right?"
Wow, either he's got serious deductive skills or he's already heard the story and is just humoring me. Besides, it wasn't like my hots for Dylan was a secret. Everyone knew. They even made fun of me for it. Standing in front of Jason, my possible new crush, I could only nod before I continued.
"I was always over here. After Mom left Dad, he started drinking all the time. When my dad drinks, his...temper emerges. When he's like that, steer clear. I don't think the Wrights ever really knew what went on at my house. I refused to talk about it here and they never pushed. I think that's why this place felt like my real home. They never judged me. But Dylan, of all the girls he could have and did date, he was always different around me. Like, I don't know..."
"...More open. Emotional, I mean."
"Yeah, that sounds about right. Anyway, we eventually confessed our true feelings for each other and officially started dating. That was about two years ago. Around that time, Dylan started acting weird. I thought it was me. He was known through town as Mr. Too-Good-To-Be-True. He was popular, smart, full of himself...kinda like you. People talked behind our backs. 'How could such a sweet, respectable young man love an unruly, hard-headed daughter whose father drove our most prosperous and hopeful businesses into the ground?' They were saying all kinds of things about Rachel and Dylan. Then, it happened. Within these four walls, someone murdered the Wrights. All of them."
Silence hung in a heavy fog around us for a while before a cool autumn breeze dispersed the tension somewhat.
"How do you know it was him? What reason would your dad have for doing that?"
"Doesn't really matter. When Dad's drunk, anything is possible."
"What do you think?"
"Do you really think he would've killed them?"
"I-I've seen him get angry enough to break things--"
"That's not the same as murder. Not in the same league. Do you think he would've killed?"
"I...I've never thought about whether he would have or not. But the evidence against him was enough to convict him. He went to jail for it. If the evidence points to him, he's guilty. The evidence doesn't lie."
"I think you've seen too much CSI. Anyone can plant evidence, but the motive is what really matters. Since this such a small town and your dad has a history of drunken stupor, wouldn't it be easier to just say he did it? He won't remember anything while intoxicated and the townspeople feel better convicting someone but, have you ever actually thought it wasn't him?"
Gears spun madly through my mind, threatening to tear in apart as I tried to make sense of what Jason was suggesting. The evidence said Dad was guilty. Uncle admits seeing him in arguments with Mr.Wright. It's all there--every indication that Dad was guilty. And yet, why do Jason's words give me hope?
"My Uncle said he saw Dad and Mr.Wright arguing about something on multiple occasions but he never said what it was about. With the evidence and being a witness, Uncle just always told me it was better to admit to myself that Dad was guilty. I didn't believe it at first but, after everything, I thought Uncle was right so I believed him. You think someone else killed Dylan and his family?"
"I'm not saying that but...you loved Dylan, right?"
"And you said yourself that you didn't believe your dad was guilty, at first, so why not find out for yourself now whether he was innocent or not?"
"Are you kidding? That would be opening old scars! That would remind everyone in Freeridge of what happened! You have no idea what happened that night! They weren't just murdered, they were butchered! It's n-not s-something you can jus-just forget about again when...just nevermind!"
By now, I was sobbing uncontrollably. I lost track of my thoughts and frustration while I failed to calm down. Through my shimmering wet eyes, I caught the glimpse of Jason's handsome face contorted in sympathy and sadness.
"Just s-stop! I should've stopped h-him! If I had b-been a better d-daughter, I could've--"
I found myself, streaming tears and all, smooshed within Jason's strong arms. My knees gave out and we slid to the ground. I buried my face into his soaked shirt. The warmth and strength of his embrace was intoxicating. The earthy smell from earlier floated through my nose and I felt his raven hair brush against my exposed skin. I was drowning in him, drowning in a feeling I couldn't describe. Jason radiated something I had never felt before and, honestly, it scared me. There was a part of him that was angry--of that I was sure. I didn't care why he was angry or at whom. Right now, right here, I wanted Dylan back. I imagined that it was Dylan's arms I was embraced in and not Jason's. I knew it was selfish and I didn't care. All the emotions-pain, guilt, anger-it all poured out of my through my tears. I don't know how much time passed until I felt numb, completely devoid of everything around me. I stared at the Victorian house, a source of pain for me, until I blacked out.