“Sit still! I can’t do my job if you keep shaking,” I said, generously applying the first layer of silicon adhesive on her chest, framing the perfect stab wounds.
May whined again, after she refused to tie her hair back even though it would’ve made this way easier for me to do. She said I was going to ruin hours of blow-drying her fiery red locks. I rolled my eyes at her, and I called her out for being a drama queen.
“Well, you’re the horror queen. I can’t believe you watch horror movies to fall asleep. You’re weird.”
“No, you’re soft and boring! Horror movies are poorly directed most of the time, and I already know what they’re portraying isn’t real. Am I supposed to act surprised right after they literally prepare me for the scare by playing suspenseful music?” I grumbled, satirically.
“You called The Conjuring, ‘a flop for being a haunted house tour with knockoff jump scares from the Ellen show.’”
I laughed at perhaps my best burst of humor. “Where’s the lie? It’s unoriginal, which makes it not scary. Scary is unprecedented—never-before-seen terror. I would’ve done a better job directing it than that dweeb, and I don’t know the first thing about filmmaking.”
“Yeah, okay, Taylor. Regardless, please make this the best costume you’ve ever made! I’m going to be so dead that they’ll never forget my costume!”
Nobody ever did, but for all the wrong reasons.
May West inhaled competition and exhaled victory. She competed in everything against everyone, ranging from decathlons to the National Merit Scholarship, and of course, the yearly best costume vote at her brother’s frat party.
May’s older brother Avan is a junior in college and one of the organizers of his frat’s Halloween bash, so he managed to squeeze us in.
Last Halloween, she wore Katniss Everdeen’s dress from Catching Fire, with hand-embroidered orange and red LED lights.
“You cannot move, or else your favorite shirt’s not going to make it. I have to apply liquid makeup and the coagulated blood on your chest and back to make this work.”
“But why?” She stretched the why longer than I expected, whining like an impatient kindergartener.
“Well, I don’t know, you usually bleed when you get stabbed.” I replied deadpan, sarcasm crawling back into my speech, settling comfortably on the tip of my tongue where it belongs. It baffled me, how, at times, she didn’t act so sharp for such a smart girl. “I promise not to mess up your shirt if you promise not to mess up my focus!”
Halloween’s about stepping out of your comfort zone and making your insulin levels skyrocket—which is why I dressed up as a hippie—the most cliché costume in the history of Halloween costumes, mainly because I didn’t care about dressing up to impress other people like she did.
The stench of cheap beer and amateur remixes ricocheted off the paper-thin walls. May was flirting with one of the brothers, and I was awkwardly dancing behind her until she asked me to come up with her to the bathroom to fix her knives’ placement before they announce the winner. I happily complied, keeping extra spirit gum in my purse like one of final three on FX’s Face Off. I trailed behind her like a bride’s veil, ready to put my skills to use.
“Enjoying the party?”
“I could think of better ways to spend my Saturday night, but it’s okay so far.”
“You should go out more! Putting makeup on your old Bratz dolls and having a can of whipped cream for dinner is not healthy!” I playfully flicked her cheek with the tip of the makeup brush I used to apply her foundation.
“Neither is drinking four glasses of beer, but you’re doing it anyway!”
“Touché, Reef, touché.”
I put the knives in, slowly, making sure to apply makeup over them and put tape around the edges for safety measures. I remembered her sitting still without a single complaint or haste movement. It was a satisfying feeling.
Never in a million years did I think that calling out my best friend for drinking too much would be the last thing I ever said to her—my best friend that I shared every moment with since pre-k. The best part was, I was blamed for what followed next…
“I want to get some fresh air! Call me when they’re starting to announce the winner. Ugh, no, who am I kidding? I’m going to be outside with Owen. Don’t follow me,” she winked and left the bathroom.
I rubbed the makeup off my hands on my legs and jumped to the hard-hitting club favorites once I returned to the dance floor. I pretended to enjoy the company of drunk guys and girls in their early twenties in a smelly basement until Avan’s friend grabbed the mic and started to announce the three best costumes. The prizes were green t-shirts with the fraternity’s name on them. May won, as I expected after orchestrating her win in the first place for days. She would’ve given me her t-shirt and enjoyed the attention by itself, but she didn’t. She never got that chance.
I kept calling her until my phone app froze. I went outside to look for her, scouring the dry bushes, going through the crowd around the backyard inflatable pool, and looking for Avan to help me find her. I had no luck.
I went back into the house, my head swirling from playing a partygoer for a night, so I headed upstairs and locked myself in the same bathroom I was in. I wanted to wait for May until she called me back. My wait for answers didn’t last much longer.
She was in the tub, in the costume I made her, eyes closed and shoes on.
“Great. I’m going to have to drag you back home this time too,” I puffed, irritated, shaking her hand and lightly tapping her face with both my hands. She didn’t respond.
“May, I swear to God, if this is one of your sick pranks, I’m going to leave you here.”
I turned her over, feeling her body weight limply take a toll on my arms. I pulled my hand out from under her back to see my skin sporting a crimson, viscous substance.
The last time she passed out at a party, Rachel Kearn and I had to carry her to a cab, and she threw up on Rachel’s Hawaiian dress.
I saw Rachel at the party that night. She and May had been inseparable until May started ditching her to hang out with me.
“You really put a lot of effort into this. Bravo, you saw me bring a spare bottle of fake blood with me in the car. Happy Halloween, West. Now, can you please pull yourself together so we can leave?! You won the contest! We can go now!” I snapped at her for making me handle her hangovers again. She had always acted like an arrogant brat when she wanted to get her way. She put my Bratz dolls to shame when she was under the influence. I was sick and tired her antics dragging me to parties and strange places on a whim, having me clean up her mess so she could be her parents’ trophy girl.
I called Avan directly out of worry, but he wouldn’t pick up. Her entire family had a genetic aversion to answering phone calls.
Then, her prank’s palpability dwindled away into thin air like the smell of alcohol and weed escaping through the bathroom window, mixing with the cold air outside.
Just like that, she started bleeding, for real. Actual blood was coming out of the fake stab wound I installed with my own hands, permanently marking me with death.
The police came as soon as an overzealous sophomore couple barged into the bathroom and saw me trembling over her. They called the cops on me, and I was already at the station before the party ended.
It all happened so fast. All I remember was going to court groggy and nauseous from the flashbacks and pleading ‘not guilty’ when the prosecution badgered me with false claims, with shackles on my hands and barbed wires in my mind. They said that I was on a hallucinogen from an edible I found at the party, and I unintentionally put in real knives from their kitchen instead of fake ones. They said there was never an ‘Owen’ at the party. I looked around the courtroom, past my parents wallowing behind me and May’s parents pretending they’d never met me before with disgusted stares. Rachel Kearns held a smug smile, and an older man seated three rows behind her seemed unbothered by the entire trial, sending a text on his flip phone at the end of the trial.
The shorter, more aggressive lawyer, said that I called Avan using May’s phone. His less savvy partner handed the judge Rachel Kearn’s alibi after I told them I was certain she was framing me, trying to get back at me for stealing her best friend. My lawyer ended up dropping the whole wrongfully accused skit after the prosecution introduced more evidence, and that’s how I ended up taking the plea deal.
A lawyer showed me a still while I was called to the stand. It was taken from one of the brothers’ Instagram Live showing me and May heading upstairs, and I had two visibly sharp kitchen knives hanging out of my clutch.
They said a lot of things that didn’t make sense to me. They said I was, ‘disoriented’, under heavy drug-induced influence, and I had ulterior motives for agreeing to go with her to this party and doing her costume after we had a fallout last Halloween.
I don’t think calling May ‘self-absorbed’ for investing hundreds of dollars on a Halloween costume counts as a fallout. The prosecution stoned me in front of my parents and hers, expecting me to agree to their school girl lies. My brain thudded from having to prove my innocence, alone. My parents left mid-trial, overwhelmed by having incriminating evidence thrown in their faces and hearing audible gasps from the jury every ten minutes.
May was my best friend. I’m going to be in an orange jumpsuit for eternity because I wanted to help her win a silly competition. I wouldn’t have planned Halloween night with her so far in advance if I had other plans in mind. I don’t think I did, anyway. My memory of that night is blurred yet peaceful. I don’t remember being angry or her resisting my help. But that’s just memory. What good is memory if it’s one-sided? What good is memory if there are people around you showing you something entirely contradictory to your self-awareness, your consciousness, and your instincts?
What I remembered no longer mattered, not even to me.
Maybe I was a pawn in a thirsty revenge plot Rachel Kearns managed to cook up, or maybe I was the center of a town conspiracy I never asked to be a part of. Or maybe I had reached a breaking point where some sort of jealousy I harbored over the years threw me into a moment of weakness, and I reacted accordingly.
I wished so many times for a third party to come forward and tell me something that validated my gut feeling, but that never happened. Maybe it will, in five or ten years, when some TV program shows interest in investigating my case for higher ratings, and they might come across my long lost overturned conviction.
Most of all, I wished for my memory. I wished for the missing pieces in the puzzle, for the time where I reached out and grabbed an edible, for the time I picked up real knives instead of fake ones, for the time I committed the crime...
What I truly wanted was my memory, not my innocence. I wanted to have a clear-cut answer when I asked myself in that courtroom: “Did I kill my best friend?”
I’d like to remember that I didn’t, but I don’t.
What good is memory when it’s replaced by evidence and arguments telling you what happened, but feelings within you arise telling you otherwise?
A conviction isn’t closure. Memory is.
Memory is truth. It is real and tangible and heartfelt, and it’s the only parameter capable of setting me free.
But it’s missing, and as long as I don’t have it, I will never be free from asking myself that question and feeling entirely powerless within the bounds of my consciousness when I do.