They all think I did it. They all think I killed my best friend.
I didn’t, though. However many times I plead innocent, they don’t believe me. They think I am lying.
I’m not, though.
Even though I was the last person to see Natalie Park alive, I did not kill her.
They say I’m crazy. They say I’m deranged. They say I deserve my own padded cell.
Why would I kill my own best friend?
I look up at the sound of my name. My sister, Magnolia, stands in front of me.
“Lets go. You’ve got a trial.”
I want to curl up in bed and cocoon myself in a blanket. I don’t want to feel the cold, hard eyes of the jurors on me. The judge’s judgement as to what I’ve become.
“I don’t feel well.” I try to lie. “I think I’m coming down with something.”
Lia looks at me, clearly not deceived. “You’re always coming down with something on court days.”
I sigh and pull myself out of bed. I throw on a blue dress and some blue flats. I pin my blonde hair up in a bun, and straighten my glasses.
“Are you ready to go?” Lia asks.
I draw in a long breath. “Yes.”
She leads me out to her car, a blue Corolla. I open the passenger door and climb inside.
Lia squeezes my leg. “Hey, it’s gonna be okay. You’ve got a great lawyer.”
She looks at me, her blue eyes piercing into me. “You didn’t do it. If they can’t see from every angle, every suspect, then they are not great at their jobs.”
“But what if they do find me guilty? I didn’t do it, so what? I’d get, oh, I don’t know, fifty years in prison for nothing?”
“Life.” Lia says silently.
I put my face in my hands. “I’m doomed.”
Lia and I walked up the marble steps to the courthouse. We pushed open the large fancy doors and walked inside, her heels clicking against the cold stone floor.
We enter the elevator, and the rumbling as it ascends along with the easy listening music make me feel like I need to throw up. Nervousness could be a factor, too.
We enter the courtroom and I take my special defendant seat. My palms are sweating,and my shoes all of a sudden feel too tight.
The prosecutor starts the opening statement. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my name is Zachary Richard Smith. I am here today to prosecute on behalf of the family of Natalie Park for the murder of their daughter. I will call three witnesses to the stand. One, Mary Anne Park, will testify. Two, William Grant will testify. And third, Vera Wells.
“At the conclusion of the case, we will ask you to convict the defendant, Avena Richards, of the crime as charged. Thank you.
“First, I would like to call to the stand, Mary Anne Park.”
Mary Anne, Natalie’s big sister, approaches the stand. She never liked me much, and she was there on the last night.
She starts, “Thank you. I was at a party with the defendant and my sister the night she went missing. The defendant and her had been fighting. They had both been drinking. My sister left the party with-” She pointed at me with a sneer on her face. “Her.”
I instantly recoiled, my shoulders scrunching.
My lawyer, Dean Stewart, approached the stand. “Your honor, I have a few questions.”
“Objection, your honor!” Mr. Smith said.
“Overruled.” The judge said. “Mr. Stewart, continue with your questioning.”
Mr. Stewart faced Mary Anne. “Miss Park, did you try to stop those two from leaving the party?”
Mary Anne turned red. “N-no, sir.”
“Even though they had both been drinking, you did not try to stop them from getting into a car and driving away?”
“Objection, your honor!” Mr. Smith said.
“Overruled.” The judge said.
Mary Anne became very interested in her dress. Her answer was only a squeak.
The jury mumbled among themselves silently.
“Thank you.” Mr. Stewart said, his point clearly made. “No further questioning.”
“Thank you, Miss Park.” Mr. Smith said. “I would now like to call to the stand William Grant.”
Will walked up to the stand. His blonde hair seemed paler, so it wasn’t exactly blonde, but more like a grey white. His blue eyes also seemed leeched of their color. He clearly hadn’t slept well last night.
He sighs. He clearly does not want to be on the stand. His parents probably pressured him into it.
“Hi. I was at the party, and to agree with Mary Anne, they did fight. But it was over something really stupid and girly, like, um,” He scratched his chin. “Oh! It was that they wore the same perfume, and they were accusing each other of doing it on purpose. By the time they left the party, they were giggling and it was like none of it had ever happened.”
“Any questions?” The judge asked.
There were none, because this testimony had aided both sides. It proved that we had fought that night, but it also proved that by the time we left, we weren’t mad at each other.
“I’d like to call Vera Wells to the stand, please.”
Uhg. The popular girl. In our high school group, she was the most popular. She had the nicest hair, clothes and accessories- but she was also the brattiest. That tended to happen to people who were born with silver spoons in their mouths.
Vera made her way to the stand, sashaying, trying to show off her Miss Me jeans and Gucci belt.
“Hi. I was at the party the night, like, that Nat went missing. Avena and, like, Nat were totally fine! I never saw them arguing, and when they, like, left, I left at, like, the same time. Avena, like, brought Nat home. I saw Nat, like, getting out of the car and walking up her front steps.”
A tremor passes through the courtroom.
“Any questions?” The judge asked.
“A few, your honor.” Mr. Smith said.
He approached the stand.
“Miss Wells,” He started, “What time of night did you see the defendant drop Natalie Park off at her residence?”
“Maybe, um, ten or ten thirty?”
The courtroom was silent for about ten seconds, the only sound was pens scraping on legal pads.
“Thank you. No further questions.” Mr Smith said.
Vera returned to her seat.
“I will now start the closing statement. We know that Natalie Park and Avena Richards did argue that night. However, they were friendly again with each other by the end of the night. Avena Richards dropped Natalie Park off at her house, where she was never heard from again. However, as Avena had Natalie in the car with her, she was still the person who last saw Miss Park. Therefore, I ask for a guilty verdict. Thank you.”
Mr Stewart stands. “I will now start the closing statement by defense. While Miss Richards was the last person to see Miss Park, she was witnessed going into her home. Miss Richards drove away, leaving Miss Park at her residence. Which she shares with her family.” He sneaks a glance at Mary Anne, then continues. “Therefore, I ask for a non-guilty verdict.”
“Thank you.” The judge, Judge Miller says. She continues, “I will now conversate with the jury to get a verdict for Miss Avena Richards.”
And they go into a closed session.
Lia walks over to join me. “It’s gonna be okay, Ave. It’s gonna be okay.”
Although it sounded more like she was reassuring herself, and not me.
I started to sweat, and my feet tapped against the cold stone floor. Minutes ticked by, feeling like several hours. The clock on the wall felt menacing, its white face glaring down at me.
Finally, after what felt like hours, Judge Miller and the jury presided.
“We have reached a verdict. We find the defendant, Avena Richards, innocent as charged. Thank you.”
At first, I didn't understand. I was so ready to be hauled off in handcuffs. I looked at Lia, and she was grinning so wide I thought her smile was going to break the confines of her face.
Court was dismissed, and I ran and hugged Lia.
I’m innocent I’m innocent I’m innocent.
Me and Lia were so excited, we went to ice cream afterwards.
I could almost forget the dirty look Mary Anne Park was giving me.
I walked up the steps to my house. It was a week after the trial, and life was somewhat back to normal. No one whispered about me in the halls anymore at school. People were sitting with me at lunch again.
I was about to open the door when I noticed an envelope wedged between the screen door and the door. I pried it open and pulled out the paper inside. I knew it could have been for Lia, but I opened it anyway.
Avena Richards, you are next.
Definitely for me, then.
I somehow got the meaning that You are next didn’t mean You are next to recieve a great prize! or You are next to get a free pass to Disneyland!
I didn’t know what it meant. I looked behind me and along the street. It was barren and empty.
I quickly went inside and slammed the door. My breaths were ragged and quick.
What did it mean?
I went to my room and did homework. I sighed, and no matter how many times I reread the same paragraph in my textbook, it would not stick in my brain.
You are next.
I shuddered and closed the textbook. No reading tonight, apparently.
Instead I opened my laptop and searched Natalie Park.
Of course, all the local news headlines came up.
Natalie Park, 17, Goes Missing
Remains of Natalie Park, Missing Local Girl, Found
Trial Held for Suspect of Natalie Park’s Murder
Avena Richards Found Innocent For Murder Of Natalie Park
And so many others. I could keep scrolling this webpage forever, but I hear a knock on the door, so I close the tab and go out to the main room.
I opened the door. “Hello?”
A small envelope fell at my feet. I stuck my head out the door and looked up and down our street again.
I picked up the envelope and opened it.
I’m watching you.
It was all I could do not to scream. Who? Who was watching me? Why?
I turned around and went inside the house, slamming and locking the door.
I closed all the shutters and locked the back door.
About an hour later, I heard someone trying the door. The knob jiggled, then the person knocked. I crept over and looked through the peephole, and I released a huge breath. It was only Lia.
“Why did you have the door locked?” She asked once she was inside. “And why are all the shutters drawn?”
“I have a headache,” I lied. “I must have accidentally turned the lock on my way in.”
Lia didn’t look convinced, but she said, “Okay. You go get some rest, then.”
I slinked back to my room, pretending to have a headache. There, I found an email in my inbox from someone titled “You Know Who”.
Closing the shutters and locking the doors does absolutely nothing.
I looked frantically around my room. What? I didn’t know who!
I lied down, trying to just relax to calm my shaking nerves. I must have fallen asleep, because I woke to shattering glass as a rock was thrown through my window.
I sat bolt upright. What was that?
Someone landed on my rug with a thud. Broken glass crunched underneath them. Their shoes made outlines on the carpet.
The person walks toward me. They wore a black hoodie, and black leggings. Black high tops adorned their feet.
They pulled their hood back. The face I was looking at shocked me.
Mary Anne Park.
“Wh-what do you w-want?” I asked, stuttering through my fear.
“You. Gone.” Mary Anne replied.
If I could only reach my phone, I thought. I could call 911 or get this on video.
My fingers crept to my phone on my bedside table. Mary Anne noticed, unfortunately. She grabbed my phone and threw it out the window, into the night.
“Nuh-uh-uh.” She said. “None of that.”
I took a deep breath, then screamed, “LIA! LIA! MAGNOLIA! HELP!”
Mary Anne looked shocked for a second, then she regained her posture and said, “Quiet!”
I listened intently for the slightest sound of footsteps walking down the hall. Nothing.
“LIA! LIA, HELP! IT’S AN EMERGENCEEEEEEYYYY!” I shouted.
“That’s enough!” Mary Anne said, pulling a small black bar with a wider end out of her pocket. A taser.
She was leaning toward me to touch the electricity to my neck when my door burst open.
“What’s the problem, Ave?” And then she saw Mary Anne. “Get away from her!”
Mary Anne turned, obviously surprised by my sister’s words.
“I said, GET AWAY FROM MY LITTLE SISTER!” Lia shouted and tackled Mary Anne.
They rolled around, Mary Anne’s taser flickering on and off in an attempt to electrocute Lia. Lia finally got Mary Anne pinned, and she straddled her on the ground. Then, Lia pulled her phone out of her pocket and dialed 911.
“Hello? Yes, I have a home intruder…”
One month later…
I walked down the stairs, on my way to my biology class. The sun streamed bright, and I had to put up my hand to protect my eyes.
That night, Mary Anne Park had been hauled away from me and Lia’s house in handcuffs. Two weeks later, she was found guilty of breaking and entering, and even worse, the murder of Natalie Park.
She had been sentenced to life in prison. We had been assured that she would not be bothering us anymore.
I reached the bottom of the steps and almost ran into someone. He had thick, black glasses, and short blonde hair in a crew cut.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” I said, recomposing myself.
I was about to continue on my way when he looked at me and said, “You’re Avena Richards?”
“Who wants to know?”
“Ben Sullivan. I’m new here.” He held out his hand to shake.
I readjusted my textbooks in my arms so I had a free hand.
“Did you want to maybe...hang out sometime?” He asked nervously.
I smiled almost as bright as the sun. “Sure.”
Maybe things were starting to look up.