Murderer. That’s what everyone called me. I’d see my face on news stories every now and then, and in my own little town, people would scowl.
Though the police had no evidence, it wasn’t enough to turn the disgust in their eyes. Abhorrence came across people’s faces every time I walked down the street. It shouldn’t have been like that. They shouldn’t have been so disgusted with me.
I grabbed an ice cream container off the shelf to drop into my basket, and closed the foggy freezer door. An old woman watched me with narrowed eyes. She was afraid of me, I could see it in the way her hand rattled against her yogurt box. I shrugged at her. It wasn’t so bad, sometimes. Sometimes, people would step out of your way like you were going to grab them, next. Sometimes they’d sneer at you, but they’d give you their spot in line.
A young woman with dark blonde hair was standing with her son up against the produce aisle. At the sight of me, she shoved her bag of apples into her cart and grabbed her son’s hand, wheeling away. I snorted, annoyed, and scooped up some pears to tuck away. Pears were good fruit, smooth, sweet. Our town didn’t get many of them, but when they came, I was always the first to buy them, whether it be because people ran at the sight of me or not.
In the checkout lane, the store clerk swiped my items hesitantly. I watched her swing the same pear over the scanning machine over and over before she dropped it in the bag. I was always one to have a quick eye, but even that was painfully obvious. “You scanned it twice.” I told her, my eyes dark and boring into hers. Perhap from her point of view, I was a little frightening, even if I hadn’t been suspected of murder.
She startled at the sound of my voice. I was intrigued. She didn’t seem like one to startle quickly. “Did I?” She eyed the screen and then looked back at the basket. “Oh, I’m--so sorry about that.” She stuttered. “Here--they’re on the house.” She wiped the pears from my bill and handed me the bag. “So sorry, Adelaide. This’ll never happen again, I swear.”
“It’s okay.” I raised a hand, brows furrowing. I plopped down the money on her desk, paying for the ice cream, the honey, the yarn, and the pears. I wasn’t who they said I was. They all thought I was this terrible person. They shouldn’t have been so disgusted with me, they shouldn’t have been angry. Besides, it wasn’t as if I would just murder her right here in the middle of the grocery store for scanning an item wrong. I paid for the pears and even left her a tip, smiling as wide as I could. I would prove to them I was a good person. They shouldn’t have been so mean.
As I walked down the street, basket in tow, I noticed a shadow lurking behind me. I had noticed it for quite some time now, but I wasn’t sure if I was being followed or if it was just the paranoia catching my wit. I turned. The shadow moved with me.
Before I knew it, my basket was hitting the street with a crummy thud, and my back was snuffed up against an alley. Big blue eyes were striking in my brown ones. A cold hand over my mouth kept me from shouting. “I know you did it.” He said. His eyes weren’t as blue as I’d initially thought, I noticed when the tears fell from his eyes, no longer glossing them up, leaving them dry and pale. “I know you killed Mavery.”
I grabbed at his wrists. He didn’t flinch. “Let go of me.” I said from behind his hand.
He shifted, hands moving to my throat. “One scream, and I’ll squeeze.” I looked around at the withering dark alley he had shoved us into. My basket was still laying by my feet. “Admit it was you.” He said, his voice stilted and curling. “Admit it.” He was begging, even if he didn’t know it. When I didn’t speak, his response was a tearing sob, like a sad cough, wet and drooling like a baby. “Just admit it and go to jail.” He hung his head between his arms, hands still around my throat.
I lifted my gloved fingers and wiped at his face. “I didn’t kill Mavery.” I told him calmly, tilting my head. I had to stay calm if he was going to believe me. When he opened his eyes again and lifted his head, there was no understanding. I had known Owen for only three months. He was Mavery’s best friend, before me. I was in pain to know of Mavery as much as he was. I would lie awake wondering what we could have done to make things different. I cradled his face in my hands and blinked through the repulsion I saw staring back at me. “And the sooner you admit that, the sooner you can heal.”
I knew he could kill me, that if he wanted to, if he truly thought I’d done it, he’d squeeze my throat once right now and be done with it. But he didn’t. His hold softened. “Admit it, Owen.” I whispered, closing the space between us. Truthfully, I was a little shaken after having him grip my throat like that. I wanted to get as far from that as possible, and being too close to choke was working in my favour as well. I wrapped my arms over his shoulders. “Admit it.” I whispered, half-shutting my eyes. I didn’t stop murmuring until his arms came around my back.
“Admit I didn’t kill Mavery. Admit to yourself that I’m a good person, and you will heal.” I whispered into his ear. He trembled, his tears coming faster now. I wanted to help Owen. It wouldn’t be so terrible if we were more than friends, after this. Perhaps it was a little selfish of me to coax him into believing it. I wasn’t the best person, but I didn’t kill Mavery, that was for sure.
“Okay.” He sobbed into my shoulder. “You’re a good person.”
A gasp broke us apart, Owen stumbling off of me, my arms slipping from his neck. The woman clutched her purse, glaring at us with wide eyes. She shifted her gaze from Owen to me, and she just couldn’t decide, her eyes rolling around in her head. “You--you’re with that monster!” She shrieked, pointing to me. “Oh, God will get you back for what you did to that girl, Adelaide Briggs. And you, Owen. God will punish you for being kind to her! You’re both gonna rot in hell!” She marched off, nose in the clouds.
Owen shook beside me. I pressed my fingers to my chin, shaking my head. “She’s just upset, Owen.” I mumbled as I turned to him, rubbing his arms. “God will help you.” I told him, with every ounce of truth I could pour into my tongue.
He knelt to pick up my basket. “I could walk you home.” He said, voice raspy from crying. His face was blotchy and red, eyes wide. He couldn’t handle anything more.
“You should go home.” I told him. “It’s getting late, anyway.”
He nodded immediately, wiping at his face. “Yeah. “ He said, sniffling. “I’m sorry for hurting you, Addy.” He murmured. “It’s just so hard.”
“I know.” I crooned. “She’s your best friend.”
“She was more than that.” He said, wrapping his arms around himself. Despite myself, a splurge of jealousy burned in my throat. I swallowed it down. She’s dead, for God’s sake. I snapped at myself, reminded myself. She is dead. I pressed myself against Owen one last time, albeit a little selfishly, like I wanted him to remember.
He pulled away, head still hanging like a dog’s. “Sleep well, Owen.” I told him, clutching my basket carefully. I looked down to see the pears still nested carefully at the side. He nodded at me, forcing another smile, and walked down the street.
On the way home, I was treated to beautiful insults, malice and disgust spat in every form. They came up with new ways to hurt me every day. They shouldn’t have been so disgusted with me. Like I did with Owen, one day I would prove to them I was a good person.
My house was all the way at the bottom of the street. It was at the edge of the little town, large and empty. My parents had passed away, and my siblings had all moved to the city. I stepped into the house, shutting the door and locking it tight. I never knew who could burst in in the middle of the night, perhaps another angry friend of Mavery’s, wanting revenge.
I placed the basket down on the steps and peeled off my coat, hanging it over the stairwell like I did every evening. I toed off my shoes, reaching up for my hat. It must have fallen off during the encounter with Owen, I noted with a frown. I rubbed my gloved hands together and picked up the basket, making my way down the steps of our unfinished basement.
The floors felt like sand under my socks, and the stairwell was made of splintered wood. I hated being down here. “Mavery.” I called out, eyes dull in the darkness.
She jerked when she heard me, chains rattling. “There you are.” I smiled, moving towards her. I picked up the iron rod leant against the pole of the basement as I walked towards her. She flinched, scrambling backward. “I brought you pears.” I said, leaning the rod against my chest to pick out the fruit. “They just shipped them in. I was the first to get them.” I looked up at her as I grabbed them. “For you, I’d do anything.” I smiled.
She was mumbling something behind the damp cloth between her teeth, like she always was. It was desperate and gritty. Her complaints were especially vocal tonight. “I met with Owen today.” I told her, brushing a strand of her grimy blonde hair behind her ear. “He misses you terribly.” She squeezed her eyes shut at that, dropping her head. Unceremoniously, I dropped the pears on the ground. They were bruised, anyway. She grabbed at them, chains jangling with the effort. I squatted down to see her perfect face once more before I left. It was all I had for the day. I didn’t see Mavery very often. I tugged the cloth off her mouth and she hurried to snuff the pears into her teeth. She was quiet when she ate.
“You know,” I whispered. “They all think I killed you.” Sorrow grows in my heart at the words. “But you know I would never, ever do such a thing like that.” I stepped back, a small smile tugging at my lips as I rose. “As long as you stay quiet.” I waited for her to eat and then shoved the cloth back into her mouth.
I walked back to the stairwell, leaving the rod leant against it, Mavery’s sniveling noises so tempting behind me. I pried off my gloves as I walked back up the steps.
They shouldn’t have been so disgusted with me. Though, they should have been more afraid.