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I was five when my father first laid a hand on me.
Not with a loving, comforting pat like he used to dole out; not in a tight hug like before; this was painful and new and terrifying.
When it happened, I was caught completely unaware. My mother and little brother had left a month before, leaving my father with full custody of me. Until the slap, I hadn’t known how truly screwed I was.
At the beginning when Mother first walked out, I had felt kind of grateful, because although I would miss my little brother Laurence, I was glad that I would no longer have to listen to my parents screaming at each other.
I had never known what they were shouting about, but my name and Laurence’s name would always come up in their rants. Of course, I hadn’t wanted to know what they were shouting about, but in our tiny apartment, there was nowhere to escape the sounds.
Often I’d wished that I could cover my ears and block out the noise, but I had a more important job: to protect Laurence. We would always curl up together in the closet, my hands either over his ears or just wrapped around him as I whispered comforting words.
So, when my mother flung the front door open and ran out with Laurence in her arms, never looking back, I’d wanted to jump around in joy. I hadn’t known my father very well, as he always had been wrapped up in work or screaming and breaking dishes with my mother, but I had been certain that we would have a great time together.
When the first slap sent me reeling back into a cabinet a month later, my whole world darkened.
“What did I do? What did I do?” I asked hurriedly as I scrambled away from Father and pressed my thin body against the wall.
“You know what you did, you devil.” Father’s voice was angry, and he was glaring intensely at me with his right hand still raised.
I flinched, more at his words than from his hand. The slap had hurt but it was my first, and I had no idea if it would happen again. The words, though, went straight to my heart.
Despite my young age, my albinism and red eyes had been the reason my family was denied entrance of countless churches and even a few preschools. Of course, I only had a vague idea why the insults were directed at me since I was so young, but the meaning behind the words were clear: I was an evil monster.
Mother had always comforted me after those times, telling me that it was okay, that we’d find another church. Father, however, had always stayed silent. I guess it was because he hated me as much as the rest of them.
Standing against the wall, shaking, I could feel the loathing radiating off Father when he said the angry words. I still had no idea what I’d done to make him come tearing into my room and slap me, but there would clearly be no reasoning with him.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” I pleaded, tears beginning to pour from my eyes, as he advanced and slapped me again.
Surprisingly, Father’s eyes softened. He lowered his hand and reached toward me.
I tensed, but Father just pulled me into a big, comforting hug. I asked him why in a reedy voice.
Father set me down on my bed. I could see tears glistening in his eyes. “I really hated hurting you just now,” he said sadly.
I was surprised. “Really?”
“Then why did you slap me?”
Father closed his eyes, grief written all over his face. “When you’re a bad boy, I just have to. Otherwise, you’ll never learn.”
This was the beginning of a lesson that Father slowly ingrained in me over the years, that it was all my fault.
As a five-year-old, I was easy to manipulate. I didn’t like seeing Father sad, and I realized that if I hadn’t been bad (though to this day, I don’t know what I did wrong), Father wouldn’t have had to hurt me. “I’m sorry, Father,” I said, staring down into my hands. “I’ll try to be good so you don’t have to punish me.”
Father hugged me again. “Thank you, Gabriel, thank you. I’m lucky to have a son so understanding.”
I beamed at the praise, the hurt in my cheek fading to nothing.
Father wiped my lingering tears gently and then left the room. “I love you,” he said as he closed the door.
“I love you, too,” I whispered back, but he had already gone.
Though I tried to behave, I was never the best kid. I was always forgetting to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and never wiped my feet when coming back to the apartment.
As the months passed and Father added more slaps and punches to every punishment, eventually giving me full-on beatings at least once a week, worse problems began sprouting up in my life.
I had no idea why, but suddenly it was harder for me to concentrate in school, and my grades dropped. I always flinched when the teacher came over, sure that she would hurt me for being bad. I also found myself acting out more—talking loudly and doing silly things to get people to look at me and laugh.
Of course, I could not deal with any direct attention, and I pushed away anyone who tried to become my friend, sometimes even physically.
When Father got reports of my academic decline, he was always forced to punish me. It was worse around summertime, since I had to wear hot sweatshirts to cover all the bruises. Of course, it was my bad choices that got me the punishment in the first place, so I could not complain.
As the years passed, I began to hate myself more and more.
Nothing I did ever seemed to be right.
I would always have trouble sleeping at night, which made school even worse. In elementary school, my sleep-deprived brain would make me extra hyperactive and I would act out much more. By middle school and high school, I just couldn’t find the energy to care and I often passed my days in a haze of exhaustion.
I did eventually make two friends in 8th grade who seemed to understand me, but the second they asked about a bruise or wanted to know why I didn’t eat lunch, I would refuse to talk to them for a few days. They finally got the hint and stopped trying to pry, but I always stayed on guard around them.
While my school life was absolute trash, my home life was as well.
Roughly two years after Mother left, Father refused to even talk to me when I was not being punished. He stopped stocking the fridge and would never take me shopping for new clothes. Without beatings, I never would have seen him at all. Every day, I would walk home from school and see the door to his room shut, knowing that if I made the slightest noise and disturbed him, I’d get in trouble.
Father would still apologize after every beating, and I would apologize too, guilty for making us both go through this.
I wondered how the other kids at school, who didn’t seem to be punished like me, stayed so perfect and never messed up.
I concluded that I was inherently inferior, and began to wonder if all those churches had had the right idea of me.
By the time my senior year of high school came around and my 18th birthday passed, I couldn’t remember much of my life before Mother and Laurence left, but I didn’t care. Nothing really mattered, and I continued trudging through life for no reason whatsoever.
I did still sometimes act out for attention and pick fights for no reason, but most of the time, a dark hole in my heart would envelop me and I would tune out the world with earbuds in the back of the classroom.
It had been a while since my friends had asked me questions, but one day at lunch, they brought it all up again. I was caught completely off guard, having learned to relax somewhat in their presence.
“Hey, man!” Tobias slid onto the bench across from me at the cafeteria table. He set down his bagged lunch which I tried not to stare at.
I eventually mustered up a half smile, not able to produce anything more. I’d gotten another beating the night before and was hungry and wanted to just be left alone.
Tobias usually was oblivious, but I guess my unhappiness was obvious, because his grin faded. “Are you feeling okay?”
I was spared from answering as our other friend Floyd sat beside Tobias, already starting to speak rapidly.
“Hello, Gabe, Tobias. You won’t believe what just happened in history class! You know that pretty, smart girl named Alice? Well, I brought her a rose today and asked her out, but she stormed away and—” Surprisingly, Floyd stopped. He flipped back his blond hair and frowned at me. “Are you good?”
I felt like a bug being examined under a microscope. My friends became the scientists poking me and writing down everything I did. I didn’t want to reveal anything about my species.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I muttered, putting my head down on my arms. “Leave me alone.”
Now, this was the time when Floyd and Tobias backed off. They were usually pretty understanding. Today, though, they didn’t.
“Sorry, Gabe, but that can’t be true.” Tobias at least did sound apologetic.
“Yes, that is what you always tell us.” Floyd sniffed. “We know there’s something wrong.”
That was how the two always acted. With Tobias’s extreme kindness and Floyd’s bite and style, they were the perfect duo. They didn’t need me, and I knew that I would be kicked out of their little group soon enough.
I lifted my head to glare at them both. “It’s nothing that concerns you. Go away.”
When neither of them stood, small flowers of panic began blooming in my stomach. The concern in their eyes made me want to bolt.
“We’re your friends,” Tobias responded as Floyd nodded in agreement. “You can tell us anything.”
Floyd tilted his head. “Don’t you trust us?”
The problem was, I didn’t trust them. For some reason, I’d always found it difficult to connect with people and open up to them. I always felt like they might hurt me, so I stayed guarded. Just another one of my flaws, I supposed.
The priest at one church I’d attended had said God makes everyone perfect the way they are. I guessed that He messed up on me.
Still, I wasn’t about to tell that to Floyd and Tobias, so I tried to escape their inquiry. “Whatever. I’m just tired, okay?”
My friends exchanged glances.
Floyd leaned in. “We are concerned about you,” he said quietly, for once losing his usual bite. “We’ve been talking, and it seems to us like your living situation isn’t the best.”
“What the hell?” I cried, struggling to keep my voice down to a normal level. Luckily, the cafeteria was bustling, so my shout attracted no attention. “Well, you’re wrong!”
“We only want to help, I swear—” Tobias began, but Floyd cut him off.
“When you stop to look, it’s all so clear,” he said, sounding sympathetic and slightly patronizing.
I took a deep breath. It wasn’t like I was trying to hide what was going on, right? The Health teacher my freshman year had said hitting is wrong, but Father knew that, too. He didn’t even like punishing me!
Really, the whole situation was all my fault. I just wanted to keep it a secret because I was ashamed that I required so much discipline. Right?
My fear threatened to spill out of me, but I forced myself to stay in my seat. “You’ve been analyzing me?” I snapped, keeping it clear that I didn’t want to talk. “Tell me, what have you seen?”
Floyd narrowed his eyes as if trying to discern whether or not I was expecting an answer. “The bruises you try to hide. The clothes you outgrew months ago but still wear. The way you’re always on guard and never seem to care about your grades.” He spoke mechanically, closing his eyes and opening them beseechingly. “What have your parents done to you?”
I opened my mouth, utterly speechless. Finally, cheeks flaming, I covered my panic and embarrassment with more anger. “Why are you so @#%*ing nosy? You’ve been watching me? What, have you also looked through my diary and followed me around, taking pictures? Back off!”
Floyd shook his head quickly. “I didn’t mean it like that; I’m genuinely worried about you! —”
As my hand made contact with Floyd’s face, his expression changed from worry to fear to betrayal.
Floyd clutched his face for a moment, blinking back tears. He turned away from me.
My self-hatred grew as I saw what I had done.
Before I could apologize and run off, Tobias stood abruptly, knocking his lunch to the ground. He’d been so quiet that I had forgotten about his presence. “How dare you hurt Floyd like that?” he cried angrily. “He was trying to help!”
“Well, maybe I don’t want help!” I stood as well, making sure Tobias could see that I had two inches on him. I shoved him. “Ever think of that?”
Tobias stumbled back a little. “I don’t care what you don’t want!” He shoved me back.
“That’s it,” I growled, losing my composure.
I punched Tobias and before I knew it, we were full-on fighting.
A ring of students gathered around us, some with their phones out, but I ignored them. Instead, I focused on releasing the mixture of fear and anger that swirled within me, using it to dole out powerful punches.
Tobias played soccer and had a fair amount of muscle compared to my malnourished form, but my aggression was stronger, so I had the upper hand. Once I knocked him on the ground, I was the only one still punching.
By the time security guards pulled me off Tobias, blood was running down the side of his face and one of his eyes was swollen.
We were both forced to see the principal after being quickly inspected by the school nurse, and while Tobias was given a week of suspension, I was given two.
At that point, I didn’t care. My anger had faded, and I was left with a deep weariness in my soul that was even more painful.
As Tobias and I were walked off campus, we passed Floyd. His cheek was still red, and he glared at me.
I glared back.
“Don’t you ever speak to us again,” Tobias spat at me outside the premises. “You only cause trouble.”
The words were ones I heard every day, so I told myself that they didn’t affect me anymore. I then commended myself for not trusting Tobias and Floyd. Everyone in my life ended out hurting me at some point; I needed to accept that.
“Good,” I hissed back. “I don’t want to see you anymore anyway. I hope you and Floyd die.”
At that time, I didn’t realize that this fight would end up killing me.
Maybe if I had known, I would have stayed and apologized. I would have begged for forgiveness.
I didn’t know, however, so I stormed away, ignoring the hurt in Tobias’s eyes and sealing my fate.
That night, Father got the call from the principal about my fight. He stormed out of his room immediately after hanging up, and I unconsciously flinched when he slammed my door open.
I sat up quickly from where I had been laying on my bed. “I’m sorry!” I said immediately, hating how weak I sounded. “Tobias started it!”
Father crossed his arms. “Your principal told a different story. You’re such a worthless idiot! Why do you have to pick so many fights?”
I opened my mouth but said nothing.
“And now I’m getting the message that you’ve been suspended from school for two weeks! I have to babysit you for two weeks? It’s time you were taught your place in this family!”
“I’m sorry,” I muttered. My body tensed as Father walked over.
Why had I fought Tobias? I really couldn’t do anything right, could I? I was ready to accept the beating I deserved, but Father surprised me.
Instead of pulling me up and throwing me to the ground or punching me, Father sat down next to me.
I slowly, warily looked up, not wanting to make eye contact.
Father was smiling. “I have decided to try something new, Gabriel.” The syrupy sweetness oozing out of his voice made me shiver. “It’s clear that a simple beating will not teach you any lessons.”
My fear grew. “No, it will, I’m sorry, I’ll learn my lesson, please—”
“Shut up,” Father snarled. “You’re such a liar, you’ve said this all before. There’s only one thing that will get through to you.” He slowly smiled.
“What will you do to me?” I couldn’t speak above a whisper.
Father didn’t respond. His hands slowly reached out towards me.
I felt a foreboding that I hadn’t felt before, even with all the beatings and neglect. I knew that things were about to change, but there wasn’t anything I could do or anyone I could tell. Instead, I was alone with Father.
I flinched and tried to back away when Father’s hands reached my belt and began undoing it. “No, stop. Please, no!” I still couldn’t get my voice above a whisper.
Father didn’t listen, pulling down my pants first and then my boxers. “You know I hate this,” he said. His eyes gleamed. “But I have to teach you.”
Though I usually never cried (sadness warranted more beatings), tears began to slip down my cheeks as I panicked. This is not happening. This is not happening. This is not happening. “Stop. Please.”
“You’re so weak.” Father said as if I hadn’t spoken, running a warm hand down my leg.
This is not happening This is not happening This is not happening
“So weak,” Father repeated, “but so pure.” He unlatched his own belt buckle.
this is not happening this is not happening this is not happening
Father pulled down his own clothes and forcefully flipped me onto my back. “Well, you certainly won’t be pure for long.”
Father laughed. “Are you ready?”
As he leaned forward to…invade…me, I couldn’t take it anymore. “NO!” I shouted, somehow throwing Father off me and onto the ground in my wild panic.
Father growled and quickly pulled his pants on. “That’s how you’re going to be, huh? I’ll show you your place!”
He came at me and I jumped onto the floor, crouching down quickly. My brain shut down and I blindly followed my instincts, scampering out of my room still half naked.
Father ran after me, cursing.
My consciousness blacked out for a second as fear covered my eyes with dark spots, and when I blinked, I was holding a steak knife and Father was right in front of me.
“Put the knife down, boy!” he spat. “Worthless devil, I knew I should have killed you years ago!”
I took a step forward, breathing heavily. A roaring filled my ears. I was terrified. “Stay back. Please.”
Father laughed and changed tact. “You’re really going to kill your own father? After I took care of you and tried to make you good? Come on, Gabriel, that’s stupid and you know it. Now get your exposed butt back into your room and take your punishment like a man.”
A few random tears sprouted from my eyes. My whole body was shaking. “I can’t do this anymore,” I whispered scratchily.
Father grinned with confidence. “That’s right. This little rebellion may have been fun, but I knew you’d see what a mistake this whole thing is.” He stepped forward with his hand outstretched, clearly about to grab an exposed place he’d never previously tried to grab.
I didn’t have time to think.
By the time Father realized he had misjudged the extent of my iniquity, a knife protruded from his chest. He fell backwards, thrashing. “Evil demon,” he choked out, blood dripping down the side of his chin. Finally, he stopped and lay still.
A sob escaped my lips as I stared at Father’s carcass.
I knew then what a monster I was. I killed Father when he was only trying to help me, right?
A small voice in the back of head spoke up. He was hurting you. You couldn’t take any more pain. He’s the monster.
I covered my ears, but the voice still spoke.
I felt conflicted.
I felt terrified.
I felt weak.
I hated myself.
I don’t know how long I stood in the kitchen, staring at my dead father through my red eyes, not moving or speaking.
My trance was broken when I heard banging and the shout, “Police! Open up!” I didn’t move, and eventually three police officers ran into my kitchen, having kicked the door down.
“Your neighbors heard shouting! What’s going on—” one of them cried, stopping as he saw me, still standing above the body with my pants missing.
The three officers all raised their guns in unison, pointing at me.
I wished one of them would shoot.
“You’re under arrest for the murder of Rowan Schmidt.”
Living in South Carolina, I had always known that the laws on death penalty were looser than in some other states, but it hadn’t made a difference in my life until I sat in a courtroom and was sentenced to death.
Somehow, all of the factors playing into the murder of Father were against me.
I was eighteen—an adult able to be sentenced like an adult.
Nobody knew what Father had been planning to do to me or what he’d already done, and I couldn’t find the strength to tell them.
Worst of all, there was an “aggravating circumstance,” which was a fancy term for a component that makes a crime more severe.
To be sentenced to death in South Carolina, one needed to have committed murder with at least one aggravating circumstance.
One of these circumstances included lack of remorse.
“Do you regret killing your father?” an officer asked me at one point while my fate was still being decided.
Loathing for myself temporarily forced my mouth shut. Struggling to keep from vomiting, I thought about the answer. Did I regret killing Father? No. Would I do it again in the same situation? Yes. I was a horrible son and a horrible human. I didn’t really want to die, but I guessed that it was only right.
Just another punishment.
“I have no regret,” I eventually whispered.
The words sounded even worse outside of my head, and I knew at that point that only a miracle would save me. To have a lighter sentence, I would need to share what really went on that afternoon. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t do it.
Once I was sentenced, I heard snippets of gossip as I sat in my jail cell.
“—killed his own dad—”
“—not even human—”
“—the devil in disguise—”
My depression grew much worse, and I spent virtually every day lying on my cot and staring at the ceiling as self-loathing took over.
I could never decide if I wanted to get my death over with or see how many years I could still live. Life had become meaningless, but something deep within me somehow gave me a sense of longing to survive.
The decision was not up to me, though.
About a month after I was sentenced, an officer came up to tell me the news: my obvious guilt and heartless tendencies had led the court to “waive my right to appeal.”
I didn’t know what the term meant and I didn’t care at that point, but the officer explained that because of this new adjustment, I officially had only 8 months to live.
At that point, I shut down completely. I had always hated myself and the situations I was forced into, but this was too much to handle. Everything seemed to go by so fast.
Did I want to survive?
What did I even have to live for?
Though I didn’t want to answer the question, deep down in my heart, I knew the reason for staying alive. Laurence.
God, it had been so long. He was fifteen now, right?
I was so vile, I couldn’t even remember what he looked like.
Before Mother had left, I was the best older brother, strong and comforting. Now what was I? Some broken shell of a person, an evil murderer despised by himself and everyone else.
I wanted to see Laurence, but at the same time, I didn’t want to taint him.
Therefore, a month before my scheduled departure from the world, when a police officer asked if I had any family who should come visit, I shook my head.
Before the officer left, I changed my mind and started to speak, but stopped and shook my head. Stay silent or speak? I was in a battle with myself.
The officer noticed my hesitation. “Is there anyone else you would want to see one last time?”
The words rushed out. “My friends Floyd and Tobias.” I hadn’t seen them in nearly a year and they probably hated my guts, but I was a selfish monster and didn’t want to die without saying good-bye to at least someone.
I’d always been weirdly clingy.
For some reason, my request went through.
Two weeks after I asked for them, Floyd and Tobias were allowed ten minutes to speak with me through a clear barrier.
“Hey, guys, guys, I’m sorry, you have to know,” I said, stumbling over my words and attempting to swallow the lump in my throat.
Both Floyd and Tobias narrowed their eyes. I remembered hating their concern for me back in school and suddenly found that I missed it.
“I have nothing to say to you.” Tobias’s voice was hard.
The words stung.
“Please, you have to understand, I didn’t mean to murder him—”
“Save it for the judge,” Tobias snapped.
Floyd shot him a look.
It was almost funny to see how their roles had been reversed. Floyd’s bite had become Tobias’s hostility. Tobias’s empathy had become Floyd’s worry.
“There’s one thing I want to know,” Floyd said, refusing to catch my eye. “Why? Why did you kill him? I never could have pictured you doing something like this.”
A tear rolled down my cheek. “I can’t say,” I whispered.
Tobias made to leave, but Floyd pulled him back down. “Just forget about the fight for a second, okay Tobias?” he said. He turned back to me. “Please, you never answered any of my questions before. You owe me at least one answer.”
My fists clenched, but not in anger. “I—I didn’t really want to kill Father, I mean…”
Tobias opened his mouth but Floyd shushed him.
I closed my eyes. Up until this point, I had tried not to think of that dreadful afternoon. I wanted to forget it even happened. But I was going to die anyway, and I supposed that I wanted at least one person to know the truth. Maybe they could even save me.
I immediately squashed my hope. Nobody truly cared for me and nobody ever would.
“I only killed Father out of self-defense, I swear.” I finally said. Opening my eyes, I stared down at the table in shame.
“Self-defense?” Tobias snorted.
“Tobias. Remember the warning signs we noticed?” Floyd hissed. “I don’t know about you, but I believe Gabe. And if he truly was acting out of self-defense, his sentence could be revoked.” His voice softened. “Was your dad hitting you?”
“No,” I whispered. The quiet of the room made my heartbeat’s fast pace obvious. Or maybe it was my imagination. I could do this. I had to answer. My friends could help me. Even though nobody in my life cared, maybe they would. Answer. “He was…trying to…sexually…assault me.”
“What the $#@%?” Floyd snapped.
I flinched at the raw anger in his voice.
“You’re such a @&*$ing liar! You know that my sister was assaulted, don’t you? And of course, being the heartless monster you are, you decided to make fun of me! That’s it! I’m leaving!”
I didn’t even know Floyd had a sister.
“I knew you were full of bull#$@%,” Tobias growled, standing up as well.
“Wait, guys, please—” I tugged at my white hair, feeling a few strands come out. “I wouldn’t lie about that! I thought you trusted me!”
“You lost that trust the second you laid a hand on Floyd,” Tobias snapped.
Floyd nodded. “And you killed your own father. If you’re willing to do that, you’re willing to commit all kinds of sins.”
Their hatred reminded me of my countless punishments with Father, and I reverted into submissiveness despite myself. “You’re right. You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I hate myself so much. I’m such a monster,” I said in a dull tone with my head down.
Since I wasn’t looking up, I didn’t see the concern that passed between Floyd and Tobias. They didn’t do anything, though.
If they had taken action, they could have helped me spread the truth and brought my case back under inspection in court. I could have survived.
Instead, by the time I glanced back up, both Floyd and Tobias had gone.
I never saw either of them again.
The days after that seemed to fly by but every minute went by at a snail’s pace.
At one point during my wait for the end, an officer asked me if I wanted death by lethal injection or electrocution. I guess South Carolina wanted to be “humane” and give prisoners a choice.
What to choose? The pain I deserved or the out I was weak enough to consider?
I don’t remember answering but I must have, because one week later, I was moved to the Broad River Correctional Institution to die by poison.
I supposed that it was good that my brain wouldn’t be cooked, even as I hated myself for wanting to die easily.
It was kind of ironic, I mused, that my death would be more painless than my life.
By the time an officer bound me to the gurney where I would die, I was shaking so much that he had to ask me to hold still. It was clear that the officer just wanted to get the ordeal over with and get me out of his sight. He reminded me of Father.
I became aware of a wetness on my cheeks and realized that I was crying.
Too shaky to care and beginning to hyperventilate, I tried not to focus on the heart monitors and needles I was being hooked up to. I began scanning my surroundings as if there was a way to escape, red eyes darting around.
From my place on the gurney, I could see that I had been placed behind some sort of curtain. I turned to see the saline solution being pumped into my veins, but a movement caught my eye and I flinched.
The curtain was being raised to reveal me to the small audience gathered in an adjacent room to watch my death.
It hurt to see how apathetic and calm everyone looked. The thought that no one cared about me surfaced in my mind, but I countered it.
Of course no one cares about you. You’re a heartless murderer.
I deserved this, right? I killed my own father.
How could I want someone to care about me when I wasn’t even sure if I thought I should live?
I took a shaky breath as I realized I was lying to myself. I was sure about what my fate should be. I knew that I should die. It was a good thing that others believed that too, so I would be stopped before I hurt anyone else.
The faces of Floyd and Tobias swam in front of me. Their expressions were that of utter betrayal.
Dimly I realized that my tears had picked up pace.
I went back to scanning the crowd, and a blond teenager made me pause.
His face was serious.
He looked slightly younger than me.
Did I recognize him?
He didn’t go to my school…
“Sir, we’re going to give you an anesthetic now. You will lose consciousness before we administer pancuronium bromide and then finally potassium chloride.”
I didn’t listen to the officer speaking, too busy on staring at the boy.
I recognized him.
My breathing picked up pace. Black spots danced in front of my vision. I blinked rapidly and shuddered.
But could it be?
My heart stopped, and I had to choke back vomit. Tears blurred my vision as panic took over. I felt confused and terrified and devastated.
My little brother. My little brother, who I hadn’t seen in years. My little brother, about to watch me die.
“Laurence!” I cried hoarsely. My voice was scratchy and abused, but I was too focused on the boy I used to keep safe. I remembered hugging him tightly in the dark closet, the yells of our parents surrounding us. I wondered if he could even remember that. I wondered if he knew he was the only reason I hadn’t completely given up hope. “Laurence!”
My brother jerked, a frightened look entering his eyes. God, I had missed him so much.
“I’m so sorry, Laurence!” I cried, the anesthetic entering my bloodstream and making me begin to lose consciousness.
Right before my vision went dark, his expression morphed.
Laurence glared at me.
His eyes were filled with such malice that the last vestiges of light in my heart were swallowed by darkness. I wished I could explain the whole thing to him, to apologize again, but I knew nothing could make it better.
My eyes had become heavy.
The whole mess was my fault, I knew. It made sense that Laurence hated me. I was such a monster.
But what I didn’t know was Laurence’s pure sadness lurking right under his helpless anger. I didn’t know he was fighting back tears. I didn’t know he missed me as much as I missed him.
I didn’t know he loved me.
I didn’t know, and the hate in his eyes tore me apart.
All I could manage was a whispered, “I’m sorry.”
I died with the words still on my lips.
I supposed that Laurence was relieved I was dead.
I sure was.