The mattress itself is stained, but I suppose I’ll deal with that later. Taking care only to touch the dry parts of the sheet, I wrestle it and the pillowcases into a laundry basket and carefully pick my way out of the room—the police said it was okay to move stuff around now, they’ve got what they needed, but I still feel like I shouldn’t disturb anything. Except the sheets, I guess.
The hallways are quiet. The usual parties that rock our dorm ended abruptly when the cops arrived, but by now they would’ve ended anyway. Everyone retreated back into their rooms, taking their booze and various drug accoutrements with them, as if the police were there for them. I guess everyone always assumes the police are there for them. In any case, I guess I’m glad nobody is about now; I don’t particularly want to explain why I’m doing laundry at two in the morning.
The laundry room is dark, aside from the flickering green light of a dryer, politely reminding an empty room that the clothes inside are dry. I flick on the lights and pick the furthest washer from the door—it feels the most secretive, although I don’t know why that matters to me. I pop a laundry pod in and swipe my card; the motions are so scripted, so routine that I don’t have to really think about what I’m doing. Good. I don’t really want to think right now.
I’ve ran myself into a corner, it seems. I can’t try to go to sleep because of the laundry (not that I could sleep anyway) but I can’t do anything else either. Watching a movie or listening to music or anything just feels so… disloyal to Kady. It doesn’t feel right for me to enjoy myself while she’s in the hospital under these circumstances. Instead, I sink to the floor and stare at my hands. It also doesn’t feel right to be miserable. Nothing bad happened to me. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be. Supportive? Kady isn’t even here, how can I be supportive? Maybe I could talk to her teachers, get her extensions on things? I don’t know if she’d want me spreading the details of the situation around, though. Maybe I’ll just tell them she’s in the hospital and not give them any more details. Would that be a good friend thing to do or a nosy, gossipy bitch thing to do? I don’t know what to do.
When someone opens the laundry door, I can’t help but jump.
“Alex? Are you in here?” Layla, Kady’s roommate, tiptoes in. “I saw the lights on and I saw the sheets gone and I couldn’t find you and—”
“Yeah, I’m here.” I stand up and smile at her as best I can. She’s pretty clearly been crying, and she almost drops the water bottle she holds in her shaking hands. “What’s… uh… What’s up?”
“Well, I…” Layla hiccups. “I know your roommate left for Japan a week ago so I figured you might have a bed empty and I…”
“Of course you can sleep in my room.” I nearly kick myself. I should’ve found Layla first.
“Thanks,” she murmurs. She teeters over and slides down the washer onto the floor. I join her. “I just… I don’t want to be in that room, alone…”
“I get it. Don’t worry about it.”
“Are you washing the sheets?”
“Yeah. I just figured… you know, I didn’t want anyone else to have to do it later.”
“Was there… on the mattress?”
“Yeah. It’s still stained, but I was going to do it later. I didn’t want to leave it til the end of the year, you know? What if they charged you guys for it? I just thought that’d be the worst thing so… I’m, I’m doing my best. I don’t know how to get blood stains out of a mattress so I figured I’d cross that bridge when I got to it.”
She sniffs. “We can look that up later.”
“Layla, you don’t have to be involved in this. You should go get some rest.”
“No, I want to do this. I should’ve thought of doing the laundry first instead of making you do it. I mean, she’s my…” Layla chokes. “My best… my best…”
“It’s okay,” I say in vain as Layla breaks into tears.
“It’s all my fault! I was at the bars and I should’ve been here for her! It’s my fault this happened, I wasn’t in the room, I wasn’t around, I couldn’t help her—”
“It’s not your fault. It’s nobody’s fault except… his.” I can’t even say his name, the venom burns my throat before I could even hiss it out. “You did everything you could.”
“I didn’t even learn about it until she was already on the way to the hospital, I couldn’t even be there for her—”
“That’s not your fault. You couldn’t have known. You couldn’t have known.” I’m consoling myself just as much as I am her. “She’s with the people who can help her most right now.”
Layla buries her face in my shoulder, soaking my shirt with tears and snot. “I know,” she whispers. “I just want to… I want to do more. No. I wish this had never happened at all. Kady doesn’t deserve this.”
“No, she doesn’t. Nobody deserves this.”
Layla’s sobs subside and we sit quietly and say nothing when the motion sensor lights flick back off. The whir of the washer behind my head keeps me grounded, and I’m half sure Layla’s fallen asleep when she sighs.
“Do you think Kady will come back?”
“Like, to this school?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Maybe. I don’t know if I would. I guess it depends on what…”
“On what the school decides to do with… Dennis.” Layla spits the name as if it scorches her and I can’t blame her.
“They have to expel him, right? I mean, he’s a… he’s a rapist.” It’s harder than it should be to say that about someone I’ve known for two years and I hate myself for it. “He’ll be in jail.”
“We hope,” I repeat. I must admit I don’t have a ton of faith in the legal system anymore. “But we can testify, right?”
“No. I mean, we can only say that we believe Kady and Eric. We didn’t actually see anything.”
“Poor Eric,” Layla says, resting her chin on my shoulder. It’s painful.
“Poor Eric,” I echo. I can’t imagine walking in on that, even though I’m so glad he did. “He’s with Kady now, right?”
“Yeah, he went with her in the ambulance. The RA went too. I don’t know why, they just asked her to go with. Kady’s friends with her though, through theater.”
“That’ll be… that’ll be good. Yeah.”
We sit in silence a moment longer before Layla stands up. “Sorry. I’m sorry, Alex, but I gotta do something. I can’t not do something. It makes me feel…”
“Yeah. I know it’s stupid.”
“No, I get it. I can’t help but feel like I should’ve done something. Like I could’ve stopped it.”
Layla nods. “Even though I know…”
“Yeah, I know.”
Layla extends her hand and pulls me to my feet. “I just… she should’ve been safe in her own room, you know? Safe in her own room with her own friends. She should’ve been safe.”
“Yeah. I know.” Now we’re both standing. “What did you want to do now?”
She purses her lips. “I don’t know. What can we do?”
“I guess we could… walk somewhere?”
“I don’t know where we could go. Besides, I’m not really sure I feel… safe.”
“Yeah.” I stuff my hands in my pockets. “We could… I guess we could… clean the mattress?”
“I don’t know if I know how to do that.”
“We’ll figure something out. Better now than to leave it till later, right?” Layla leads me out of the laundry room. “The washer’s got what, thirty minutes left?”
“So we’ve got some time.”
Her and Kady’s room is on the third floor and when we enter it, we pick over the debris in the same way I did when I left. She and I stare at the stain on the mattress and a wave of nausea runs over me. I don’t want to look at it or think about it and apparently Kady has the same idea because she says “I’m gonna go… I’m gonna put some cold water on this. You look up how to get blood stains out of stuff.”
Turns out Layla was right. Cold water was the right way to go. Everything else it said we’d need—liquid detergent, cornstarch, hydrogen peroxide, meat tenderizer—I have no clue how we’d get any of that stuff. Baking soda, however, doesn’t seem too hard to get. Someone’s gotta have some baking soda, right?
Layla comes back and starts dabbing the stain. “Lucky it’s pretty small.”
“So what’d you find out?”
“We gotta find some baking soda.”
“Baking soda? Where are you gonna find baking soda at 2 AM?”
“I guess she does bake a lot. You wanna call her?”
“I think she’s gone home this weekend actually.”
“Her roommate then?”
“She has a single.”
I bite my lip. “Chance she left her room unlocked?”
“Slim to none.”
“…chance the RA left her room unlocked when she left in the ambulance?”
We luck out. The RA, who we soon found was actually named Lauren Clovis, left her door unlocked.
“This feels wrong.”
“Well, it is wrong.” I look around the room that we’ve effectively broken into. “Now we just have to hope—ah ha!”
“What is it?”
“The keys to the RA office downstairs.”
The stairs are just as creepy at two thirty in the morning as they had been at two in the morning and the hallway is just as dark. The keys jingle as we try to unlock the RA office, and Layla and I stop, looking at each other. Nobody is coming.
Finally, the door swings open, and Layla turns on her phone flashlight. “Where’s Jolie at, again?”
“219. She’s right next to Jason, remember?”
“Right, right.” Layla grabs the key and I’m careful to shut the door softly on the way out. We dutifully trudge back up the stairs.
“This all could be for nothing, you know,” Layla whispers. “We don’t even know if Jolie has baking soda.”
“But she might.” And even if she doesn’t, doing this is better than doing nothing. I feel like I’m helping, at least a little bit.
It feels just as wrong to sneak into Jolie’s room as it did the RA, but at least I’ve been in Jolie’s before. “Well?” I hiss to Layla. I keep watch by the door, as if it’ll make a difference, as if anyone is watching us, as if anybody else is awake.
“She’s got it.”
I breathe a heavy sigh of relief. “Thank you, Jolie.”
We backtrack through our trail, returning all the keys right where we left them and reentering Kady and Layla’s room, trotting over the stuff on the floor once again. “What does your phone say about using the baking soda?”
“Uh… It says to mix one part baking soda with two parts cold water and then leave it for half an hour.”
“You could use the water from the Keurig, I guess.”
“Would it be cold enough?”
“I mean, it’s been sitting by the window for days now, you and Kady never make coffee.”
“True.” In a discarded solo cup that seems clean, we mix the baking soda with water and set it on the stain.
“And now we wait?”
“And now we wait.”
Layla sighs. “And now we’re back to right where we started, doing nothing. I can’t do nothing. I have to do something to… well, I know I can’t help, but—”
“I know.” I wrap my arms around my midsection. I was on my second beer when I found out and the guilt is almost tangible. I should’ve been there to help her. “We have to keep doing things. If we keep doing things… we’ll feel better, right? We’re being useful.”
Layla nods. “Do you think the laundry is done?”
The sheets are drenched and cold, but the blood seems to be out of them. I pop them in the dryer. “We’ve got thirty minutes until the baking soda is ready and an hour until the dryer is done.”
“What do you want to do in the meantime?”
I set a timer on my phone. “Sit, I guess?”
We sit in silence for a few moments before Layla says “What do we do when she comes back?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean… I don’t know what to say to her. I don’t know how to help her. When I first heard, I… well, once I was done being in shock, I looked up what to do and all the advice seems to contradict itself.”
At least she thought to look something up. “I guess we just… I guess we just tell her we’ll always be there for her, and we… we do our best as we go along.”
“I mean, what else can we do?”
Layla has no answer for me. “This isn’t fair.”
An hour passes and we make Kady’s bed, even though nobody will sleep in it. Layla trails me up to my room with her pillow, and although we tell each other goodnight and turn off the lights, daybreak comes and we are both still awake.