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No one knew exactly when it was that April started acting funny.
No one, that is, except for me.
No one else knew what caused it. No one else knew what was wrong with her mind, why she suddenly couldn't ever be around small children, or why she had the terrible nightmares that plagued her night after night. When she woke up drenched in sweat and screaming, no one else knew the horrible visions that filled her mind and haunted her subconscious.
But I knew.
I knew because I had been there. I was with April that night, the night that changed everything.
We were young and naïve, just barely turned seventeen. For the first time we'd fooled our parents, told them we were staying at each other’s houses for the night.
For that night we had freedom. We had no curfews, no rules, no supervision. In our possession were a car and several illegally obtained bottles of vodka.
In that precise moment, there was complete exhilaration. We had the entire night ahead of us to do exactly as we pleased, to live on our own terms. We had stopped briefly by several parties earlier in the night, but, finding no one of interest at any of them, we returned to the car and drove around aimlessly, looking for a good time, just killing time and burning through a tank of gas.
If I had been driving the car I could have at least told myself it was the vodka that made me act so recklessly. I'd made my way through a good part of the first bottle, minus April's few and infrequent sips. But April wasn't drunk. She wasn't even very tipsy. April could get high just off of life, and the excitement had gone to her head.
But she wasn't drunk, and so she was our designated driver. But even without the pretense of intoxication, she began to get into the irresponsible, carefree mood I'd sucked down out of the close to empty bottle.
At this point we were still just driving around, trolling for company or a bar or something to occupy us.
But what we ended up doing was just driving all over town, taking the back routes and side roads with hills and dips and potholes, April stamping the accelerator when it should've been the brakes. We figured it was too late at night to run into any cops, and by that time we were too intoxicated to care anyway.
So we were just driving all over town, windows down and wind whipping hair in our faces, laughing. April kept turning to look at me instead of the road, and I thought to tell her to be more careful, but the words never made their way out.
So I guess it shouldn't have come as a surprise to us when, all of a sudden, we heard the sickening crack of flesh meeting metal.
April slammed the brakes, and my head hit the dashboard.
She looked at me, eyes wide, and asked, what was that?
I didn't know. But I suppose at this point we both figured it for roadkill. So although we dreaded opening our doors, not eager to see the mess of fur and guts of a raccoon or squirrel smeared across the road, neither of us took it for anything too serious.
My passenger door creaked open first, and I stepped out hesitantly. I wasn't too thrilled about seeing the bunny or whatever it was with its insides spilling out, but I figured we had to look and at least see what we'd hit.
So I stepped slowly but determinedly over to the mess on the road, vodka making my steps bolder than they would have been normally.
I stepped over to the dead thing smeared on the ground, standing at the edge of its pool of blood, not looking down.
I asked myself why I was being such a baby. Yeah, it wasn't pleasant, but I could handle a dead raccoon.
I looked down, and what I saw lying there in a heap on the road made my stomach turn and my head pound and my pulse race. That very image still terrorizes me today.
Lying on the road, blood leaking from a wound in his side and his eyes white and rolled back in his head, lay the body of a little boy.
I heard the slam of April's car door and the clicking of her footsteps as she came walking over towards me.
“April,” I said, keeping my gaze as steadily on her as I could, “Whatever you do, don't look down.”
People never do what you want them to.
As she saw the little boy with his guts smeared across the pavement, her eyes grew wide as saucers and her face turned pale, pale white.
“Oh, my God,” the ghost of April gasped. “Is he dead?”
I crouched down next to him, looking for any signs of movement. Finding none, I leaned close to his mangled mouth to listen for a breath. April slapped my reaching fingers as I went to look for a pulse.
“Don't get your fingerprints on him, you idiot,” she hissed.
I looked up at her, confused.
“April,” I said, wondering if she meant what I thought she did. “What do you mean? How far are we going to take this?”
She looked up, breathing smooth and even, like her decision was already made.
”Go get the blanket I have in the backseat of the car,” she told me, her words crisp and cadenced. “We'll use that to lift him. We can put him in the backseat and we'll drive to the pond over next to the 7-11. No one will find him there, and even if they do, they can't connect it to us.”
I stared at her, mouth open and wondering if she really meant to go through with this. But I knew inside myself that she did. She had her stone face on, seemingly void of sadness or guilt, her mind obviously made up.
“We can't just do that, someone will figure out it was us! We have to call the police, April. We can explain it was an accident. It was late at night and you didn't see him. They'll understand.”
Her eyes narrowed into slits. “They will not understand, you stupid little f***," she spat at me. “Do you even understand this? We killed a person tonight. A little kid, with a home and a family and people who love him. They will not let this go. This is going to follow us the rest of our lives if we're found out.”
I stared up at her dumbly, drunk and not comprehending. “But, April,” I said, “We can't just get rid of him and run. We'll get caught.”
Her eyes probed into mine, dark and searching, and to my amazement as I stared at her they filled with tears. "Don't you get it?" she cried, desperation filling her voice. “We don't have another choice! Don't you want to go to college, get a job and start a family? I know I do. And I am not going to let one night's mistake ruin all that for me.”
Silently I rose, moving to get the blanket from the backseat. I watched in a daze as April threw it over him, making sure the edges were tucked in before she touched it, and placed him in the backseat.
I watched as April took off her shirt and used it to wipe the blood from her tires, and smeared our shoeprints beyond recognition. She used a clean part of the shirt to open the door handle, because by that time her hands were smeared with blood.
She came around to open my door too. I sat with a thud.
“Careful not to get blood on the seats,” April said.
We rode to the dismal lake in silence.
I stepped out of the car and watched as April picked up the wrapped bundle, cradling it in her arms.
She walked over to the lake and tossed the blanket in. I saw her throw in a blanket wrapped around someone that once had a beating heart and played and laughed.
It's strange how life can turn to death in a split second.
After April had rid us of all the evidence, she came to stand next to me, both of us adopting twin vacant gazes. She took my hands and forced me to look into her eyes.
“I need you to promise you will never mention this night to anyone,” she said to me.
“You cannot say a word about this, because both of our futures and maybe even lives are on the line,” she said.
"As soon as we go home tomorrow, we pretend like this never happened," she said.
I bit my thumbnail and tasted blood.
“Don't think about it, don't write about it and especially don't talk about it. Do you promise?”
April wrapped her arms around me, and together we sobbed.
We were killers. Our lives would never be the same again even if no one ever did find out. We didn’t have a chance no matter what happened, but we had this moment. Sitting by a lake decorated with cigarette butts and empty beer cans, watching the body of a dead little boy sink, we had each other.
We went back to April's house the next morning after her mom had left for work and the house was empty. We took turns showering, scrubbing at the blood dried under our fingernails and matted in our hair. We put our stained, spattered clothes in a bag, sealed it, and threw it in the outside trashcan, making sure to position it under all the other bags. I wore some shirt that belonged to April and a pair of her pajama pants.
When I was all cleaned up, I made my excuse to leave as soon as I could. I couldn’t be around April any longer, not after what we had done. I couldn't look at April's face without seeing the terrified face of that little boy. I couldn't hear April's voice without imagining the tearful condolences that would be exchanged by his family.
And I couldn't help but think, what if April hadn't been there? What if I had been the only one in the car? If I had been the driver, how would things have turned out differently? Would I be in a jail cell right now? Would I still be crouched on the road next to that little boy?
I knew I wouldn't have been sitting in my living room in front of the television, mindlessly flipping through talk shows and soap operas.
When my mom got home that night, she knew something was different about me. She asked, did I have fun at April's. She asked, is anything wrong. I nodded like a zombie no matter what the question, and eventually she left me alone.
In the weeks following that life-altering night, I grew increasingly more numb and careless. I put on shirts backwards, wore my shoes on the wrong feet, and never remembered to wear socks. I stopped doing my homework or studying for tests. I walked into doors and tables, my wide empty eyes not seeing anything but a corpse.
I avoided April as much as I could. When we ran into each other, at first she tried to make casual conversation, to pretend everything was fine, but I couldn’t play along with her fantasy. I couldn’t get that night out of my mind. And although I had given April my promise to not think of it, I found myself breaking it almost constantly.
The guilt plagued me, more so, I thought, than it did April. But I soon realized that April was handling the emotions worse than I was. She could act, pretending nothing was wrong. She could joke and laugh with her friends, trying for the carefree grin that used to grace her features almost constantly. But I could see that through her thin shield, she was about to crack.
If the issue had never been brought up, perhaps we could have forgotten it better, buried it in the back of our minds. But of course the little boy’s family reported him missing, and so the story was splashed all over the papers and television news. There were constant hints of police tip-offs, reassurances that there was a very good lead and the killer would be caught in no time.
But neither April nor I received a single phone call from anyone suspicious. Instead, there was another suspect, an innocent man that everyone had, in their minds, already convicted.
The guilt of knowing this battled inside of me, fighting with the guilt for causing the death of the boy. For even if the suspect wasn’t sentenced to death, he would surely get a life in prison. And that was like taking away the life of one more person.
I couldn’t handle myself inside. Such a secret was eating at me, trying to force its way out. I would find myself with fingernails dug into palms and bitten cheeks, trying to resist blurting out the truth to anyone who came along.
And as the news stories persisted, and the suspect was on trial, and the family of the little boy wept, my guilt swelled to a place inside me nothing had ever reached before.
There was only one thing I could think of to do.
So I found myself on April’s doorstep for the first time in months.
She invited me in and offered me a drink, still putting up her polite front of innocence and ignorance.
“April,” I said, “We have to talk. About what happened that night.”
April’s eyes were daggers, hurling sharp points into mine. “I thought we agreed, you s***, that we were never going to discuss that again,” she snarled.
“April, I can’t take it anymore. Every day, the guilt overwhelms me. It’s all I think about. I’m going crazy. I have to turn myself in,” I said.
April’s snake eyes narrowed to slits and her hands balled into fists.
“You are not going to do anything of the sort,” she snapped. “I have already put that night behind me. It’s in the past, and we will never get blamed for it. And I will not let you ruin my life because you’re such a big f***ing baby that you can’t handle a little guilt.”
I stared at her, disbelieving my own ears. This April was not the one I knew. This April was all sharp corners and withering glares, condescension and belittlement contrasting the bright demeanor and cheerful optimism I was accustomed to.
“April, I can’t,” I said. And before she had a chance to say anything, I wheeled and ran out of her house.
I took off running down the street at a sprint, facing myself in the direction of the police station, knowing all the while this was what I needed to do.
I ran without boundaries or self-consciousness, my feet carrying me effortlessly, slipping easily over the hot pavement. I ran from April’s cruelty, and I ran towards the confession I knew I had to make.
I knew somewhere, deep inside myself, that I needed to make my confession for April, too. No matter her recent treatment of me, she was my best friend, and I wanted nothing more than to save her. I knew that the guilt was torturing her as much as it was me, but what I didn’t know was how she would deal with it. So I found it in myself to make her decision for her.
I ran through the front door of the police station, straight up to the reception desk, and slapped my palms on the counter.
The woman behind the desk glanced up at me.
“It’s me,” I said. “I’m the one who killed that little boy.”
She stared at me, obviously unsure whether to believe me or not.
“I mean it,” I said. “I did it all.”
She stood. “Come with me,” she said.
My trial was short and uneventful. I pled guilty to all charges, and left with my life, but a life sentenced behind bars.
April was the only one who showed up to the trial, besides my parents. She sat silently and watched as I gave my testimony.
“Yes,” I told them all, “I did it alone. I was the only one in the car that night.”
April’s eyes followed me as I was led out of the courtroom. In them was an unrecognizable expression. I don’t know if it was pity, remorse, disbelief, or a mixture of all three.
April may have felt pity for me, but I felt the same for her.
She may have gotten to live her life on the outside, and she may not have received consequence for her actions, but she will always carry around that burden with her. She will always have that secret sitting on her chest, and she will always live in fear of being found out. She got her freedom at the highest possible price.
Walking out of the courtroom that day was the last time I ever saw April. I think of her sometimes. I wonder if she ever got her college degree, if she got married and had children, if she succeeded in her life.
But maybe April didn’t do any of that. Maybe she still lives at home, alone and frightened, with a secret too big to bear crushing the air from her lungs and the beat from her heart. Maybe April was never convicted, but her own mind imprisons her, shackling her to the irresponsible actions she’d never dreamed would affect her so entirely.
April dreamed big, and she thought that by keeping her secret she would get it all. But there was always the one night she could never forget. And no matter what she saw in her future, it was blinded by the white face of a little boy curled up in the middle of the road, eyes frozen in terror and blood spilling onto the pavement.