One of Them

May 20, 2013
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"Leigh, I'm going to ask you several questions about Friday night, okay? Answer them as best as you can."

I don't acknowledge her. I am emotionless, observing the details on the vinyl seat she sits in. Her mouth opens and the phrase that fills the room has the hint of a question mark at the end.

“Leigh, how did the house burn down?”

"I don't know."

"Leigh, I'm asking for your cooperation. We need to know what happened. Please think."

And think I do. My mind wanders off into the past, setting up a familiar scene. Diana's party. My face remains emotionless but I no longer see the officer. Instead, I observe Diana, drunk, the beer in her glass swishing out as she stumbles forward onto a guy. The music blares out, crooning some demeaning phrase about sex. Diana's glass crashes to the floor and shards of glass and alcohol fly everywhere as she starts to preoccupy herself with the boy's lips. One piece of flying cup slices across my arm and leaves an angry slash. It runs red with blood. Disgusted, I grab my cup and run upstairs.

I find no solace. Why was I even here? Diana only wanted me to come because she was afraid of my impending "death of my social life". I walk aimlessly around the upstairs hallway, looking at old pictures of my friend. In one she holds a large plaque commemorating her honor roll achievement. Her front two teeth are missing. What happened to her? The Diana downstairs never did her homework and her hobby to remain truant from school was well known by everyone.

The alcohol swirls through my brain. Who was I before I came here? A shy girl with a crystal clear slate ready to dirty up. Some beer didn’t make me as bad as Diana, right? I wasn’t one of those typical, wasted teenagers who I knew would trash up their sorry lives later. I could make my own decisions. I wasn’t a child. The drink disappears quickly as I gulp it down.

Diana stumbles up the stairs drunkenly with the boy, her shirt half off. I start and sit up.

“Get… Out… Of our way!” She mumbles and laughs. As the boy reaches for her shirt, I stand up and do the impossible- I smack Diana clear across the face. She laughs drunkenly and pulls out a blunt and a lighter and starts smoking, despite the obvious urgency of the situation.

“Get yourself together! You’re a mess!” I yelled. “What the hell happened to you? You were so good before, but one sip turned you spoiled! You’ll become a criminal if you keep this up. You’re not better than all those teenage partygoers we used to slam on in the past. You’re becoming one of them.” In my drunken haze I swing my arms and knock Diana and the boy back. Her smoldering blunt falls to the floor and a small flame blooms.

Panic ensues. The smoke smell wafts through the room and in a blaze of inferno, hordes of teenagers break windows and doors to escape Diana’s house. In a desperate attempt to save himself, Diana’s lover shoves her limp body back into the wall and breaks for the stairs. She hits the wall with a sickening thump. The orange wall of heat grows around the two of us as I hear sirens wailing and mayhem ensuing. I drag Diana’s body away from the advancing fire and notice the impact of the wall has knocked a front tooth out. With her small, frail body and the missing tooth, she looks seven again. The younger image of gap-toothed Diana falls from the cupboard into the flames and I watch it blaze. The alcohol takes over and all I can think is that I shouldn’t be near an open flame…

“Leigh. LEIGH!” The police officer’s voice shakes me from my reverie. “I am going to repeat the question one more time. How did the house burn down? You and Diana were both inside the house when the firefighters found you. Everyone else made it outside. I am forced to assume either you or her had something to do with it, but I’m leaning more towards your guilt. I’ll try you as a child if you confess right now. Unless you’d like to say something about your friend?”

The image of Diana, sweet and innocent, falling into the inferno swept through my mind. I couldn’t let her be locked up, just like that.

“It… I might have had something to do with it, Officer.”

“This is serious. I’ll be forced to hold you in custody, along with other offense-committing teenagers. You don’t seem the type, Leigh. It’d be a shame to see you as a delinquent.”

“I’m one of them, Officer.” She leaves.

“But at the same time, I’m not.”

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