“I killed my best friend.”
Alea Newman glanced at the young man standing in front of her. She had expected to hear a secret about him having stolen money or cheated on his girlfriend, but not a confession of murder. Alea tried to hide her shock, but he noticed nonetheless.
“You promised not to tell. You must remember that.”
She nodded, angry that he would think she was going back on her word. “This is not my first secret. I know not to tell.”
The man nodded. “You may have kept many a secret, but I am sure that no one has ever told you a secret as bad as mine.”
Alea nodded. That was certainly true. She had heard secrets about people cheating, stealing, etc. but never murder. “What’s your name?”
The man took a step back. “I don’t think I should disclose that information.”
Alea rolled her eyes. “I don’t plan on using it against you, but I like knowing who I am talking to. Perhaps it will help unburden you if you share it all with me.”
The young man nodded hesitantly. “I suppose you might be right.” He sighed. “My name is Jack Corner. Five years ago, me and my best fried Kevin went to a swimming hole outside of town. I was young and stupid and thought it would be funny to pretend to drown him. I held him under the water for less than a minute while he thrashed about. Finally, I allowed him to come up for air, but he didn’t. I thought he was playing with me, so I played along.” His eyes grew red around the edges. “I grew worried after a moment and pulled him out, but by then it was too late. He wasn’t breathing. I didn’t know what to do, so I pulled him out of the water and ran. I ran until I found help. When they asked what happened, I lied. I told them that Kevin and I had gone swimming, but while I had left to go to the bathroom, Kevin had drowned. I learned later from his parents that Kevin had weak lungs which is why he had not survived when I held him under the water for less than a minute.” A tear leaked from the edge of his eye.
“I did not know. If I had, I wouldn’t have done something so stupid.”
Alea watched Jack slump in his seat and placed a hand on his shoulder. “You did not know. Everyone makes mistakes and while yours may have resulted in your friend’s death, you can’t allow the guilt to overtake you. You simply must do what you can to make it right and learn to forgive yourself. Otherwise, the guilt will eat you alive.”
He nodded and stood. “You promise not to tell anyone, right?”
She nodded. “I promise.” He nodded and left, looking less burdened than he had when he walked in. Alea envied him and all her other “clients.” They got to walk out of their meetings with her unburdened and nearly careful, but her burden only grew.
The secrets were weighing on her and as Jack’s secret was added to the mound, she felt overwhelmed by the weight of it all. Her shoulders slumped as Jack’s had earlier. Her head was so full of secrets that she felt like her brain might burst.
She barely talked anymore because she worried that if she opened her mouth, all the long-kept secrets would come out. She was a shell of the person she had once been.
Secrets were supposed to be fun. Things you told at a sleepover or party. At least, they used to be. But now, secrets were just burdening.
She stood up and walked home. She unlocked the front door and passed her family. With each member she passed, she remembered a secret they had told her. No one greeted her as she passed, but she didn’t expect them too. Most of them, most of the people in town really, talked to her unless they had a secret.
She ignored them and continued up to her room. She shut the door and sat down in front of the mirror. She studied her face. Though she was only twenty, her under eye circles and wan face made her look years older.
A tear dripped from her eye and then the floodgates opened. Each tear was for one of the secrets she had learned. The last tear, the biggest one, was for Jack’s secret.
She stood up and crawled into bed, clothes still on. Dinner was going to be ready soon, but no one really cared if she was there or not. In fact, she was rarely wanted at the dinner table because she reminded them of their guilty secrets.
She laid down and tried to sleep, but the memory of Jack’s secret kept playing through her head.
“I killed my best friend.”
“I held him under the water.”
“It was too late. He wasn’t breathing.”
“I killed my best friend.”
She jumped out of the bed and pressed a hand to her head. Why would the secrets never quit? Every night, she remembered them. And she could not escape them in the morning. There was no one to tell them too; she had promised everyone that she would keep their secrets. “I can’t.”
For most of the other secrets, she could pretend that they did not exist, but to kill someone. She went back to bed. If she kept this secret, she would be eaten alive by the guilt and horror of the knowledge that she alone knew, but if she told…
“No, you can’t, Alea, you are the secretkeeper. And the secretkeeper must keep their secrets,” she told herself, but she knew this was one secret she could not keep.
The next morning, she filed an anonymous report to the police station about Jack’s “accident”. Two days later, she found out that Jack was in jail. She should have been relieved to be unburdened slightly, but she only felt guiltier.
So, she did the one thing she could think of. She visited Jack. The guard showed her to a seat across the glass from Jack.
She couldn’t look at him, too weighed down by guilt, so she looked over his prison uniform clad shoulder. “Why are you here?” he asked. His eyes filled with accusation she deserved.
She wondered the same thing. “I wanted to see what happened to you. I heard that you were sent to prison. How long are you supposed to be in here?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I explained everything to them and they ruled it as an juvenile incident, which means they will let me out in either two weeks or a month. I suppose I deserve this after what I did to Kevin. I can only be glad that his parents are in Canada and don’t know about my being in jail.”
So, the secret still stood. She shook her head. She had thought she could be free if she told the secret, but secrets never went away. She stood.
“Wait,” he said. “Did you tell them? Is that why I’m in jail? Did you tell them my secret?”
She looked at him. If she were honest, he would hate her. She would lose her validity as a secretkeeper, which would mean freedom. But not really, she already knew too many secrets. She looked at his face. He had trusted her with his secret and she had told the police.
If she didn’t tell him the truth, then she would have another secret. She almost laughed at that. What was one more secret in the bunch of secrets she held? What was one more bit of guilt? One more lie?
It was nothing when she was trapped in a web of secrets and lies. The door opened and the guard came back to usher her out. She stopped for a moment and turned back to Jack. The question still remained in his eyes.
She shook her head and a tear slipped down her cheek. This time the tear was for a secret of her own. “No, Jack, I did not tell your secret. I told you I never reveal secrets.”