When you're twenty-one and someone who is younger than forty-five offers you a drink and you've never really drank before, you're going to assume the polite thing to do is to accept said offer with the most charming smile drunk-you can muster up. And while I was somewhat confident back then when it came to my grades and my tightly-knit circle of friends, I was pretty damn naive about certain things. That boy was one of them.
He was probably the most attractive guy I'd ever seen, at least that's what my drunk self kept repeating in her mind as he lightly took hold of my upper arm and led me to a more secluded part of the local bar I decided to attend that night. I was too concerned with the feeling of his fingers brushing against the skin at the nook of my elbow to glance at my friends who were undoubtedly staring at us in shock. Heat started to rise up from the pit of my stomach and slowly crept to my neck.
He stared at me. I sat down.
When you're drunk the world seems to tip over on its side while you stay upright. It's not so different from being sober.
He smiled at me. At the time I thought it was one of those slow smiles guys did when they wanted to get to know you. It's only now that I recognize what that smile entailed.
I smiled back, of course, but I was so nervous I knocked over my drink somehow. He kept smiling as I apologized profusely and attempted to mop up the liquid with a small napkin.
In that moment, the details weren't important to me. I tucked every minute I had with this strange boy away in order to analyze them later. It's weird. You walk around missing seemingly unimportant moments in your life every day only to realize later that those moments could be the most meaningful to you. I'm lucky, I guess. I'm able to recall the most minute details of that night, from the oddly shaped orange stain on the table to the lone string of fabric which dangled from the collar of his Packers shirt. But my luck also comes with the suffocating, inexhaustible weight of that knowledge. I can never escape it. I relive these details as if they were my punishment.
His name was Kevin. He grew up with his two older brothers in Wisconsin until his parents died when he was nine. He still misses them, he mused as he closed his eyes for a split second. I thought he was about to cry. After that, his grandmother raised him until someone broke into her house and murdered her. By this point his brothers were away at college and the night she was murdered Kevin had no idea until he found her misshapen body lying on the floor of her bedroom.
I was confused and astonished that he was telling me all of this. I didn't understand. While I wasn't the most social person, I knew what he told me was not appropriate for a bar, let alone someone you had met only thirty minutes before. But something compelled me not to care, and so I listened to what he said without judgment.
He wrapped his hand around the neck of a beer bottle and looked down. "You probably think I'm crazy for telling you this."
I shook my head vigorously. "No, not at all. I… I'm just sorry that you went through such horrible things."
He leveled his eyes with mine. They were morose and hauntingly empty.
"You don't know how much your distress means to me," he said and a shadow of a smile fell on his lips.
I smiled back and looked away, too concerned with the awkward movements of my body and the familiarity I believed this stranger and I somehow shared to be bothered with the intensity those terrifyingly lifeless eyes watched me with.
He reached for my clammy clasped hands and pulled me up next to him. As he brushed through the crowded bar I clung to him like he was a prayer.
Josephine shot me a perplexed glance as I realized Kevin was leading me towards the exit, and I shook my head in order to stop her from following us. She shrugged and turned away. She was my roommate and I knew I would be questioned later about this mysterious man I appeared to be going home with.
The unforgiving icy weather engulfed us and I shuddered closer to Kevin's warm frame. He put his arm around me.
"Where are we going?" I asked but not apprehensive.
"I figured we could go for a walk." He squeezed my upper arm and looked forward.
Our surroundings settled down as the loud music and voices emanating behind us melted away. The sound of our breath reverberated through the secluded, narrow streets.
"This weather is so beautiful," I said. "My mother used to take my sister and me fishing during this time of year. I never caught anything but I really enjoyed it."
As soon as I said it I wanted to gobble the words back up. I quickly looked at Kevin to see if I had offended him by mentioning my mother, so unsure of this new friendship or relationship that was attempting to surface and afraid that one wrong word would ruin it.
He seemed unfazed because he nodded and continued the natural pace we had taken up. "My brothers and I used to ice fish all the time when I was younger. I would love to do it but we don't talk much."
I told him about the time I fell into my family's pool and almost drowned when I was seven, and that I was afraid of small spaces. He listened intently but didn't offer up much else than what he had confessed earlier about his parents and grandmother.
It was then that I noticed how far we had walked. I reached for my phone to check the time only to realize I left it in Josephine's purse. Biting the inside of my mouth, I finally noticed the houses around us seemed to be decomposing. The yards were neglected and the grass rebelled against the square confines which sectioned off one neighbor from another. Beat up cars and abandoned children's toys and lawn gnomes were the ghosts of the once populated structures.
I struggled to stop walking but Kevin urged me to follow him.
"We're almost to my house," he said.
His voice lured me on, forcing me to forget about the police tape that marked one house as a crime scene.
"My grandmother would have loved his town," he remarked as we continued walking between the graveyard houses. "Even though she could hardly afford to buy us groceries every week she was very proper."
There was an edge to his tone that I mistook for sadness. He removed his arm from around my shoulder and grasped my hand instead.
"There are parts of this town that she would have loved. Not this part, though. It's much too dilapidated. She really disliked people who could only look up to her." He finally stopped at one of the houses. "She had a weird thing about needing to impress people who looked down on her."
"This isn't – I mean, is your house down the road more?"
He grinned at the house before us. The wind sliced around our bodies and forced the open metal gate to groan ever so slightly, as if welcoming us home.
"Nope, this is it." He pitched us forward, over the splintered sidewalk, and up the jagged, broken steps. The door was unlocked.
"I think I should get back," I muttered, uncertainty stopping me from following him inside.
He swept his dark hair away from his face and finally looked at me with something other than emptiness. Vitality and strength glowed from somewhere within him and I was mesmerized without knowing why.
All he had to say was, "but we just got here," to make me forget my doubt and walk inside.
I was eleven the first time my best friend hit me. Her name was Rebecca and I had known her since kindergarten. There was a time when I would never let anyone bully me, but Rebecca changed that. It was only later, after I finally confessed to my parents what had actually happened when I broke my arm, that I learned the truth about Rebecca's father and the scars under her clothes.
When I turned around to watch Kevin lock the door, I realized why that vitality he had just shown me seemed so familiar.
"My grandmother was a great woman. But she did nasty, horrible things to me," Kevin said and grinned, the light from the street lamp outside illuminating him and the vast emptiness of the house.
I couldn't move. My limbs were broken, fastened to the floor. Words evaporated in front of me, casting a diluted silence between his confession and the breath which was momentarily lodged in my throat.
"I killed her when I was twelve. Dragged that bitch's body all over the goddamn house in celebration. I played innocent so very well for the police. Now, now. Don't look at me like that. She really did have it coming."
He lunged at me, driving me backwards and against the wall vacant of photos or knickknacks or anything that would resemble a house actually lived in. I remember screaming as he wrapped his hands around my neck. I remember clawing and kicking and biting at his fingers and arms and face. He pulled me towards him only to slam me repeatedly against the plastered wall until I was able to force my fingers to pierce some part of his face that made him grunt and cry out and throw me to the side like I weighed no more than a pile of dirt.
I threw myself forward and stumbled upright, darkness inhabiting my escape and throwing me off balance as I blindly zigzagged towards the exit. My heart beat like it was about to collapse inside my chest and I felt something wet trickle down my neck and feared that it was blood.
"Where are you going?" He yelled from behind me, already closing the space between us. "We're just having a little fun."
I started sobbing uncontrollably.
Fingernails pierced my skin as he grabbed my upper arm and pulled me flush against his chest.
"You don't know how much your distress means to me," he said. Before I could respond, he hit me over the head with such force that I blacked out.