*Trigger warning: There are references to sexual assault in this story*
“Someone did you wrong, is that right?” the Sheriff asked with his slow southern accent. His elbows were propped on the scratched and dented metal table. Didn’t anyone ever tell him it’s not polite to have your elbows on the table?
“Yes, sir,” I answered, my eyes fixed on his large elbows. Those elbows are probably what put the dents in this table.
“Did they hurt you?” He shifted his elbows and it creaked under the pressure. Damn, now that song is going to be stuck in my head. You know, the good one, by David Bowie.
“Yes, sir.” I wanted so badly to tell him to move his elbows off the table, but it isn’t proper to say such a thing in such a situation as this. I just couldn’t stop fixating on it. Mama always said when you’re fixating on something, you need to give it over to Jesus. A lot of good that would do me. I don’t think even Jesus can save me now.
“Is the person who hurt you the same person you killed?” the Sheriff’s voice was loaded with a mix of sympathy and determination to get answers. Bless his heart, he was just trying to do his job.
“No, sir.” I responded, relishing in the twitch of the Sheriff’s eye, the small frown forming at his lips. He was never going to understand why I did what I did. But maybe you can.
I suppose I should back up a bit in this story and explain myself, though I don’t know if you’re worthy of an explanation. To me you’re nothing but a stranger. However, Mama was always saying that strangers were just friends you hadn’t met yet. Don’t that sound like it should be cross-stitched on a pillow? You’ll have to prove yourself to me, though, and show me that I can trust you before I will just spill the beans on how I wound up in the sheriff’s office accused of murder. Isn’t murder such a fun word? Rolls off the tongue and raises the blood pressure of everyone within hearing distance. Only a few other words can do that, like football and democrat. But let’s not focus on that. Let’s focus on my story. Because my story is the truth, plain and hard facts.
If you’ve been listening to that lying bitch Nellie Richards, well then, I’m going to ask you to leave now. I don’t take kindly to anyone who runs around listening to gossip because all Nellie is selling is lies and maybe some meth. If you listen to her, then take this letter and burn it. If you don’t, I’ll know, and I’ll find you. Do you want that? Do you want to end up like— Never mind that, burn the letter if you know what’s good for you. Don’t make me tell you twice.
If you have no idea who I am or who Nellie Richards is, well then welcome to my story., You and I will become great friends. I hope you can keep up. If you can’t then you’re just a waste of my time, unworthy of my story. Cause I need someone to understand me, to understand why I did what I did, why I killed somebody. I hope you understand, stranger. Without further ado, here is the real, completely factual story of Alice Williams.
It was the fall of 2010 in Waterwood, North Carolina. The leaves were finally beginning to change into beautiful shades of orange, red, and yellow. It was like flashes of vibrant paint falling from the sky. Fall has always been my favorite season. It’s time for Halloween and pumpkin patches, for bonfires and drinking hard cider until you fall down. It was a time of endless possibilities. I was walking down the sidewalk of Burch Street on the way to the library to see if they had the latest book in the White-Collar Mystery series. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on that book and see if detective Abby Brooks could solve the mystery of the missing diamonds from the museum in Paris. I loved Detective Brooks. You could even say I loved her so much that her stories inspired my actions later on. Except I don’t want to put the blame on Detective Brooks. It’s not polite to blame your own actions on others. Somebody should tell those fellas in politics about that. Anyways, I was on the way to the library when I saw it. I saw Baxter James in all his good guy glory up to no good. God, do I hate Baxter James, that dumb asshole. Baxter was arguing with someone I couldn’t see. I hid behind a large oak tree so that neither of them could see me.
“What do you mean you’ve had a change of heart?” Baxter sneered at his friend, as I stole a peak from around the tree. I saw his fists clenching and unclenching as if he were ready to deck the person in front of him. Boy would that be a sight to see. Baxter James beating the hell out of someone. But even if that was what happened and I saw it all, no one would believe me. No one ever believed me, not ever.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve thought about it and gone over it in my head again and again. I just can’t stand it anymore. I’m going to tell someone, get this off my chest,” his friend confessed.
I couldn’t place their voice, and Baxter’s big dumb body was blocking them from my view. But whoever they were, they didn’t seem to be afraid. Maybe he should have been. Maybe that would have saved them from all that grief later on.
“You have no idea what that will do to me. It’ll ruin me,” Baxter said, exasperated.
For one, teeny weeny second, I had sympathy for Baxter. He didn’t ask for his life of privilege and popularity. And it must be so hard for someone like that when they don’t get their way. Then I remembered Baxter James is the #1 asshole in the county and any part of me that could feel sympathy for him up and left my body like the Holy Spirit.
“I’m sorry, dude. I thought I should at least give you a heads up so you know what’s coming.” His friend actually sounded sorry for whatever was coming next for Baxter, but not sorry enough to keep their mouth shut about whatever Baxter didn’t want them to tell. Goddamn, could Baxter move his Hulk body for five seconds so that I could see this person who was willing to risk life and limb to squeal on Baxter? This person could be my new best friend.
“You’ll regret this,” Baxter threatened before stomping away like an actual toddler in the middle of a tantrum.
His friend sighed and ran across the street. I peeked to see if I would recognize them, but all I saw was a person in a black jacket, hood pulled up and they had on red sneakers. I didn’t know them, but I wish I did so I could warn them. If I knew who they were, I could warn them about what Baxter is capable of. If only they knew how dangerous Baxter is. Only I knew what Baxter could do to a person and how he could get away with it too. Boys like him always got away with everything. And I’d had just about enough of that. Little did I know that Baxter would only fuel that fire more.
I know what you’re thinking, “Alice, you totally killed Baxter!” Well, you’re wrong. I didn’t kill Baxter James, though I have many days where I wish I did. I wish I had wrapped my hands around his pretty little throat and squeezed until I saw the light leave his privileged eyes. But I didn’t kill Baxter James. What I just told you is just the first of many instances that I found Baxter in a bad situation.
After I got my book from the library, I went to my best friend, Henry Walters’, house,. I’ve known Henry as long as I’ve known life. We are two peas in a pod. And before you ask, no Henry and I weren’t in love. It wasn’t like that. He loved me like a sister and I loved him like a brother. Even now, when Henry comes to visit, he’s got nothing but love for me. Even knowing what I did. He’s one of the few people to stand by me after all this. Even Mama can’t really look me in the eyes anymore. But that’s okay, because I’ve got Henry. I’ll always have Henry. Anyways, we were in Henry’s room and he was going on and on about some TV show about time travel, Doctor Where or something like that.
“I don’t know about this new guy. He’s not like the tenth doctor. He’s all flimsy.” Henry said, waving his hands around to express just how unsure he was. His brow was all crinkled too, crinkled up like a French fry.
“Henry, enough about that. I need to tell you something.” I said, taking a seat in his mostly broken computer chair. It only had 1 arm left. Henry’s whole room was partly broken. From his computer chair to his closet door that was hanging off the hinges to his TV that only worked when it was raining outside. The only not broken thing in Henry’s room was his shiny Mac computer. When I first saw it, I thought it looked like something that belonged to NASA in one of their rocket ships. Waterwood was mostly stuck back in 1950 when it came to technology, so his computer was like stepping into the actual future. Henry stopped waving his hand around and stared at me, waiting for me to continue.
“I saw Baxter James and he was being sketchy.”
“What else is new?” Henry scoffed, brushing my news off as if it were a mosquito buzzing around his ear. I wanted to smack him for not listening to me. Now my brow was crinkling.
“I’m serious. He was talking to some guy that I couldn’t see. Baxter was mad because the other guy said he was going to turn Baxter in for something. Baxter sounded pissed as hell, like he was going to beat the guy up, but Baxter walked away before he did anything.” I realized that I was also waving my hands around as I talked. Sometimes I guess you just have to get the words out and if you don’t do it fast enough, the rest of your body has to compensate for your emotions. Yeah, that makes sense.
“Hmm. That does sound sketchy. I wonder what Baxter did.” Henry wondered out loud and his eyes glazed over like his mind was running through all the things Baxter could have done. I could practically see the gears churning in his head.
“Lord only knows. Could be drinking, doing drugs, selling drugs, stealing. The list goes on and on. But I really want to know what it was. I’d like to see Baxter’s façade of Mr. Perfect good guy come crashing down. It’d be nice for the rest of the world to see the real him, to see what he’s capable of, to see him like we do, as God’s perfect little douche bag.” I chuckled at my own joke, but Henry didn’t laugh. His eyes were bright like he thought of something.
“I have an idea!” Henry leapt up and started pacing the room, muttering to himself.
“What have you come up with now?” I asked, exasperated. Henry was always coming up with things to get us into some kind of mess. One time, when we were little he convinced me that we could fly. So we tied blankets around our necks like capes and climbed out onto the roof from his second story bedroom window. On the count of three we jumped. Well, Henry jumped. I was too scared. We learned we couldn’t fly, but that gravity was a son of bitch. He broke his arm in two places. Don’t even get me started on the time we ran away from home and ended up sleeping in Old Mr. Baker’s barn surrounded by a bunch of horses and shit that reeked to high heavens.
“You said that it’d be nice if we could make everyone else realize that Baxter is nothing but an asshole, that he’s not this pretty boy, jock superstar that everyone is always worshiping. What if we could do that?” Henry had stopped pacing and was glaring at me, waiting for me to catch on to his brilliant idea.
“Okay, but how do we do that? Do you know someone at Make-a-Wish?” I teased. Henry just shook his head because I just wasn’t getting it. Our relationship was often like this, Henry being brilliant and me not being the sharpest crayon in the box.
“Do you know what today is?” Henry changed directions, helping me put the pieces together.
“It’s Friday, it’s game day. So, what?” I swung my hands out, as if I was waiting to catch whatever point he was trying to make.
“And what happens every Friday, after the game?” Henry was talking to me like I was a child.
“The jocks throw a big party at Baxter’s house.” I responded and locked eyes with Henry because now I got it. Ding, ding, the light bulb was finally going off above my head of messy brown hair. I saw how we could expose Baxter.
“Are you saying that we should sneak into Baxter’s party and spy on him? Possibly get evidence of him being a shady, dickish son of gun?” I jumped up, excited about this development.
“Yes! It’ll be just like a Detective Brooks novel!” Henry said, his excitement matching mine. Henry’s a big fan of Detective Brooks. He introduced me to the series because that’s what best friends do. Henry and I set to work to plan out how we could prove that Baxter is a walking, talking piece of trash. This was going to be one hell of a night, one I’d never forget.
I should probably back up and explain why I hate Baxter James so damn much when everyone else seems to think he’s God’s gift to the town of Waterwood. Baxter James has always been popular, rich, a jock, and a dick. The first time I met him in kindergarten, Baxter came up to me at recess while I was playing in the sandbox. I was minding my own business, trying to build the world’s biggest sand castle when Baxter walked right up to me and kicked my castle over and sent sand into my eyes.
“Why did you do that?” I screamed at him while I rubbed the sand out of my eyes. I was madder than a hornet.
“Because I can!” Baxter shouted matter-of-factly and ran away. Once I could see, I went to find my teacher, Ms. Carrigan, and told her what happened. After spilling my little heart and soul out to her, she told me that boys just do that when they like you. I walked away feeling hurt and ashamed for saying anything at all. From that day, I’ve been trying to figure out why anyone would hurt someone just because they like them. It didn’t make any sense to me. Anyways, that started my great dislike of Baxter James. Even as kid, he could get away with being a little shit.
When we were much older, Henry and I went to one of Baxter’s parties together. We were probably about 14. Everyone in our grade was there. Baxter had broken into his parents’ liquor cabinet and everything smelled like vodka and vomit. I remember wanting to leave immediately because my nose was ready to jump and run right off my face at the smell of it all. Henry ended up going home early, his sensitive stomach churning at all the nasty smells. As the night went on, the most popular game to play was Seven Minutes in Heaven. Not wanting to be a party pooper, I played along and spun the bottle, praying to God that it landed on someone decent. I guess God wasn’t listening that night. Just my luck, it landed on Baxter. My face went red hot and that asshole probably thought it was because I was blushing at the thought of me and him mushed together in a dark closet. But really, I was mad as a hornet’s nest. I went in the closet anyways because society has taught me and millions of other young ladies that it’s not polite to keep a man waiting or to disappoint. I wish I knew then what I know now. Maybe I wouldn’t have what doctors call PTSD.
I’m not going to go into detail about what happened in that closet. All you need to know is Baxter touched me without my consent. For days, I was in a fog, trying to make sense of what happened to me. I felt helpless and disgusted with myself because I could still feel him on me, no matter how hard I scrubbed. It was like I was trapped in a glass room, trying to break the walls with balls of paper. After about a week, I found myself spilling my guts to Henry one night while we were eating burgers at Jack’s. The words had been bubbling up inside me until they just tumbled right out of me. I’ve never seen Henry so mad. I thought his head was going to explode. And Henry being Henry, a lover, not a fighter, encouraged me to tell an adult. My mom, our guidance counselor, our principal, etc. He said it was the proper way to handle things, that going after Baxter directly was a bad idea. I didn’t want to tell my mom. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t want to see her face when I told her, so I crossed her off the list. But that next Monday morning, Henry walked me to our principal’s office and gave me a pep talk before I went inside. I remember sitting in that squeaky leather chair and my heart slamming against my rib cage like a moth to a light bulb. I told Principal Smithers everything that happened. And to do you know what they motherfucker said to me?
“Well, it just sounds like a normal teenage party to me. Besides, we don’t want to drag the coach into this. It could bench Baxter for the rest of the season and we’re this close to the playoffs.”
I didn’t say anything else to him. Clearly, he wasn’t worth my breath since he just wasn’t going to listen. I told you no one ever believed me about Baxter. They’d see the error of their ways one day. I got up and left, Henry following me out the front door of the school and all the way to his house, where I finally let all the emotions of what happened to me come out. Henry laid with me and held my hand while I cried and screamed, cursing Baxter, Principal Smithers, Ms. Carrigan, and every other piece of shit that let me down, that let me think what happened to me was normal or that I was being a bother or dramatic for wanting to tell someone what happened to me, for wanting someone to punish Baxter. That asshole deserved everything that happened to him. I hope he rots. Henry didn’t ask questions or pester me about what happened in the principal’s office. He understood. He knew the kind of evil men can be to women. Thank God, Henry is not like all men.
For the next few years, Henry listened to me whenever I needed it. He was even there and walked me through my first panic attacks. Man, those are son of a bitch. He helped me turn my pain into action, slowly, but surely. He went with me to the free self-defense classes at the library. He shielded me from Baxter on multiple occasions until the sight of him didn’t make me want to throw up or send me into a panic. He showed me articles of other women like me and how they fought back against their attackers. He showed me how to find my strength again. Henry did so much to get to where I am today. Don’t get me wrong, I still have days where it’s hard to forget what happened and I feel helpless all over again. But Henry helps make those days a little less terrible. And now he had come up with a perfect plan for us to finally catch Baxter doing something he might actually get punished for. Because if there is one thing I knew for sure, if Baxter did it to me, he was doing it to other girls too. And I didn’t take too kindly to that. It was time that justice got served.
Henry and I arrived at Baxter’s house right after the game. We’d defeated the other team 56-7. Not too shabby at all. Baxter’s parents’ house is huge, like something out of one of those Hollywood neighborhoods. I guess it’s not enough to think you’re better than everyone else, but you gotta show them that too. The house was full of tons of kids from school, from freshman to seniors. Everyone had one of those red cups in their hands and was either swaying to the thumping music or screaming at one another over the music. Henry and I looked at each other, feeling a little out of place and a whole bunch awkward, but we nodded at each other to proceed with the plan. We grabbed cups full of beer that smelled like piss and split up.
I made my way downstairs knowing that would be where Baxter and Nellie Richards would be holding court. This past summer, Baxter and Nellie had started dating. I guess evil attracts evil. Nellie is a lying bitch and will do anything to get what she wants, no matter who she hurts in the process. And she lies just to have something to do. Nellie, if you’re somehow reading this, get a hobby. I hear knitting is nice. That is if they allow you to have knitting needles where you are. If they do, please kindly take one of those long needles and shove it your eye, you ugly swamp monster.
Anyways, at that moment all Nellie wanted was Baxter. Only Lord knows why. Low and behold, Baxter and Nellie were sitting on the couch like a king and queen while their posse chatted and looked at them in awe. I drifted around the edges to see if I could hear Baxter say anything about what had happened earlier.
“Babe, ugh, why aren’t you paying attention to me?” Nellie nagged at Baxter, poking out her bottom lip like she was five years old. I tried not to gag.
“I just have a lot on my mind is all,” Baxter responded coolly, his eyes not meeting hers. which only made Nellie madder. I could smell the alcohol rolling off Baxter in noxious waves.
“Are you thinking about Kara Reynolds? You’re cheating on me, I can tell.” Nellie accused. I rolled my eyes so hard I thought they would get stuck that way.
For the record, Nellie always did shit like this. She didn’t get what she wanted so she started telling lies to get her way. I promise you, Baxter may be an actual dick from Hades, but I doubt he was cheating on Nellie with Kara Reynolds. I only think this because Kara Reynolds was 14 with a flat chest and an overbite bigger than Buggs Bunny. Not exactly Baxter’s type. But Nellie didn’t care whether Baxter was cheating on her or not. She just wanted his attention. Never mind the rumors that would start for poor little Kara. Nellie only ever thought of herself.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Baxter half snapped. I had to give it to Nellie, she knew how to press a person’s buttons. She was getting what she wanted, Baxter’s attention and a scene. Because now everyone within a 30-foot radius was looking at the two of them.
“You’re cheating on me! I know you are, don’t lie to me!” Nellie stood and screamed in Baxter’s face. I took my phone out of my pocket and pulled up the camera to record. This was about to get interesting.
“What in the fucking hell are you talking about? I wouldn’t cheat on you! I’m so sick and tired of you making up these lies!” Baxter screamed, his whole face was turning as red as plum ripe tomato. Nellie looked hurt, but only for a second. She smiled like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. I don’t think anyone else saw that but me.
“I know you’re cheating on me! I know all your secrets, like how you’re—” Nellie was cut off by Baxter’s large hands wrapping around her arms and shaking her. He shook Nellie like she was a piggy bank and all he wanted was for the coins to fall out. I don’t think Nellie was expecting that.
“Don’t you EVER say a word about that! If you do, I’ll…” Baxter’s eyes were filled with rage, like something else had taken over his body altogether. His face was red, a vein in his forehead was throbbing, and spit was flying from his mouth. I’ve never seen a person that angry. But at that same moment, Baxter also took notice of the 15 people around him that had their phones out and were recording him. He stopped shaking Nellie, his soul seemed to return to his body, and he let her go with a little shove. Nellie actually looked like a human in that moment. But my Mama always said that people show who they are in moments, not years, so pay attention. I hope you’re reading this, Mama.
“Stay away from me. This is done.” Baxter angrily whispered to Nellie and stormed off upstairs. Nellie squealed like an armadillo hit by a car and collapsed into her posse’s arms more heartbroken over her break up than the assault.
I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. The whole thing was like a car crash that I just couldn’t look away from. Thank Heavens above I got it all on video. I could’ve screamed from sheer happiness. Baxter had finally been caught. And he had been caught assaulting Nellie. Maybe with my video and the dozen others, Baxter would finally get punished for being a bastard. Maybe my story would finally be believed. Little did I know, a scream would come later that night, but it wouldn’t be from happiness.
I didn’t go find Henry right away. That was a mistake. I realize that now. Instead, I sipped from my cup. I coughed most of it up after the first sip, but once I could breathe again, I kept sipping. The more I sipped, the happier I felt. I danced to the music. I laughed. I was enjoying myself for the first time in a long time. I didn’t take notice of the things happening around me. Detective Brooks is always saying to pay attention to your surroundings because clues are always right in front of you. It was all in front of me and I didn’t notice because I was mostly drunk and high on the feeling of knowing come tomorrow, Baxter would be in handcuffs. That was until I heard a scream so loud, it knocked me right out of dance. Hearing that scream felt it does when someone slaps on your back because you’re choking. I followed the rush of the crowd up the 3 flights of stairs to the top floor of the house. In all the panic, I didn’t notice just how bad my legs hurt from all the running and stairs. Everyone was shoved into a bedroom and I remember the room feeling cold as a Christmas morning in the North Pole because the doors to the terrace were open, letting all the cold in. Henry tugged on my arm and pulled me through the crowd until we were just a few people behind the terrace doors.
“Henry, what’s going on?” I asked, my speech slurring just a bit.
“Are you drunk?” Henry looked at me as if I was a stranger.
“Not the point. Maybe. What happened?” I asked again, hiding my face in embarrassment at my drunken state.
“They’re saying someone fell from the terrace.” Henry whispered.
“Who?” The panic coated my voice like chocolate on a strawberry.
“They’re saying it’s Kara. Kara Reynolds.” A girl standing next to me answered my question. I can’t remember her face. But I do remember seeing a boy wearing a black hoodie with red sneakers. I started to point him out to Henry when the boy turned around and I finally saw who it was. My heart was in my throat at the sight of him. It was Kara’s brother. The person who was going to turn Baxter in was Noah Thomas. And just maybe Baxter had just murdered his sister.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Alice, Baxter didn’t murder anyone.” But no one knew that at the time. I remember the police came a little bit after that. They questioned everyone there while Kara’s small body was put on a stretcher and carried away. It was hours later that Henry and I finally made it back to his house. We were both getting ready for bed in silence, the weirdness of the night settling over us like those heavy quilts Grandma use to make. And yes, Henry and I often spent the night with each other. Again, we were not romantically inclined, so mind your business and pay attention.
I was sitting on Henry’s bed when he came back in the room with his face all screwed up like he was thinking too hard.
“Henry, are you okay?” I whispered, the lateness of the night making my voice more quiet than usual.
“No. We were just at a party where someone died. I feel weird all over like nothing about tonight is real.” Henry sat down next to me, making the bed sink down.
“I need to tell you about what I saw. I think Baxter killed Kara,” I told him and explained everything I saw in the basement between Baxter and Nellie. I showed him the video too. Henry was quiet for a long time.
“Say something,” I begged when the silence was too much.
“When we wake up in the morning, we’re going to the police. We’re going to show them this. And Baxter is finally going to be punished for something,” Henry said firmly as he crawled into his bed and closed his eyes. I sat there for a minute, letting his words wash over me, letting the idea of Baxter being punished sink into me again. A small smile twitched at my lips. And then I got into bed next to Henry and went to sleep peacefully.
The next morning, we found ourselves at the Waterwood police station. Inside was chaotic, people going from place to place in a rush. Phones were ringing loudly. People were talking quickly and in shouts. The whole place was a nervous hive, pulsing with life. We went to the front desk and let them know we had information on the murder of Kara Thomas and wanted to speak with an officer as soon as possible. The old, crinkly woman sitting behind the desk waved us toward the waiting room. There we waited and then waited some more. Finally, a stout officer with a creased forehead came over to us and lead us back to his desk.
“Alright, what’s going on kids?” he asked once we were seated at his desk. His words came out like air out of balloon, like his body was exhaling his words instead of speaking them.
“We have information regarding the murder of Kara Thomas. We know who killed her. It was Baxter James,” I said, reaching for my phone to show him the video on my phone.
“Is that so?” He kind of chuckled.
“Is something funny, sir?” Henry asked defensively.
“Yeah, there is. Because a Miss Nellie Richards turned herself in this morning. Said she pushed Kara off the balcony,” he answered, reading from a report on his desk.
I swear in that moment, I couldn’t breathe. Nellie did it? Not Baxter? Something wasn’t adding up. None of this made sense. Mama always said if things aren’t adding up right, you should dust yourself off and try again. I tried again Mama, and I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.
“Is there anything else you kids need?” the officer asked, his arms crossed over his round belly.
“No, sir. Thank you for your time,” Henry said as he pulled me up from my chair and lead me away from the station. I was in such a state of shock. I could barely function. Thank God, for Henry.
“He didn’t do it,” was all I could manage to say as Henry put me in his car and buckled me in.
“Apparently.” Henry mumbled bitterly.
“What are we going to do?” I asked, hopeful that he had some answers.
“We’re going to talk to Noah Thomas and he’s going to help us get Baxter, once and for all,” Henry said as he pressed his foot to the gas and we speed away.
Part 2 coming in November!