March, 2010: 1 o’ clock a.m.

I got the feeling I had been asleep for a very long time, but felt restless and dazed regardless. The seconds following my return from unconsciousness were the best, because, for that one short moment, I didn’t remember anything, just that I had somehow fallen asleep on the floor. I had not dreamed, but I didn’t think to be grateful for that until after the misery had set back in. Marshall? Dead? It didn’t feel real.

My eyes cracked open lazily, until I remembered the events of this evening, Marshall’s death, the way his mother yelled at me, seeing Cody outside my window, and all I wanted was to shut my eyes and shut out the world with it. It wouldn’t help anything to play dead, but I, childishly, harbored the feeling that if I couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see me. With a long, painful exhale, I opened my eyes to three people standing over me; the most panicked was my mother, then my father, and, lastly, a middle-aged man in a blue police uniform. Relief was plain on their faces when I looked up at them. They looked ready to speak, but I was faster:

“Where is he?”

I think I knew the answer before the officer voiced that he had gotten away. I was fully braced for it, and merely nodded when he affirmed my thoughts. Sage and Pierce pulled me up by my arms and steadied me, but I didn’t want to stand. I drooped back against the couch and slouched over myself. My lungs felt flooded, like they had taken all the tears I still wanted to cry, but wouldn’t come out.

“We’re going to get him.” I had almost forgotten that the officer was still with us, but I masked my surprise. “I called in others, they’re looking for him in the woods right now. We’re going to find him and lock him up for a very long time.”

Oh joy! A long time? I didn’t want him to be locked up for the rest of his life, I wanted revenge. I was thirsty for blood. Rolling my eyes and discreetly stomping one foot, I stood and swept out of the room.

I didn’t mind so much being alone tonight, as I had already determined that I would not be sleeping tonight. I pulled a book from the shelf over my bed and started reading, knowing full well how long a sleepless night could last. I debated calling Clark, but it didn’t seem like a good idea for anyone involved. Poppy liked to sleep at one o’ clock in the morning, unless she was drinking, and taking that chance could mean very bad consequences for me, like a rock to the head.

The doorbell rang downstairs.

“Paige?” my mother called upstairs sounding unsure of whether or not she should have interrupted my silence.

I, myself, was unsure at the moment how I felt about my silence being interrupted, but I hesitantly stood and strode down the stairs. Officer Gale stood in the living room with his arms crossed behind his back, looking at the floor with an expression of pity on his face. I didn’t like, I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. When he heard the unsettling of the wooden floorboards under my weight, he looked up, and his face fell even further.

“What do you want now? Gotta fit me for my house arrest bracelet?” I said bitterly, losing my mocking tone at the end.

“No, I just wanted to tell you that you’ve been cleared. The fingerprints on the knife used to kill Marshall were from only one person, and that person isn’t you,” he explained, keeping that stupid look on his face.

“Oh, what a relief,” I sneered sarcastically. “Why are you looking at me like that?!” I screeched, stepping forward to hit him. He produced a small, satin, immaculately white box from behind his back and offered it to me. I raised an eyebrow warily.

“If you’re proposing to me, Gale, I’ll have to say no,” I added in a hollow voice.

He chuckled darkly but shook his head. He lifted the lid to reveal the very familiar ring. My eyes widened as I remembered exactly where I had seen that ring so many times.

* * *

I squealed as Marshall and I fell into his house for the first time, when I had originally met him. I had been flirting shamelessly, hoping that eventually he would notice how much I liked him. I had little hope at the time of him returning my feelings, but I tried to be his best friend anyway. He laughed when I had him up against the door, had laughed harder when he slid the key into the lock, sending us sprawling over the carpet. He gallantly helped me up and mocked me for my clumsiness.

I laughed along with him, but his words stung

“Well,” he gestured to his living room, “this is it. Home sweet home.”

“It’s very nice,” I said, taking the sight in.

“I guess.”

The sun coming through the window danced on the shelf over the dormant fireplace, illuminating the bright blue urn, photograph, and blue, satin box. My eyes were immediately drawn to the small shrine, and I barely realized the voice was mine when it asked, “What’s that?”

He followed me to the fireplace and stood behind me as he explained, gesturing to the urn, “That’s my grandma’s ashes.”

The photograph propped up on the small box was of a smiling woman with wiry, gray curls. She was obviously very old, but she didn’t look old. Her eyes were the same frozen blue as Marshall’s and his mother’s. “Is this her?” I asked, though I already knew the answer.

“Ya. That was taken a couple weeks before she died.”

“How did she die?” I asked, hoping the simple inquiry wouldn’t offend him, or make him angry with me.

“She was sick; schizophrenia. Towards the end, she was always screaming about voices that none of us could hear. And she always thought there were people around her, talking to her, when no one was there. Finally, it all became too much for her, and she killed herself,” his voice died at the end, and I knew better than to ask anything else in regard to her death.

He picked up the box and studied it while twisting it in his hands.

“What’s in there?”

He gasped a little, as if he had become so engrossed in thought that he had forgotten I was there. A small smile broke out on his face when he opened it, displaying the sparkling, sapphire ring. It was thin and white gold, made up mostly of a web of small, delicate diamonds, and, of course, the unique placement of sapphires. To me, it looked like a rose. The ring was beautiful, it was absolutely awe-inspiring, but I didn’t say that. All I said was:

“Were you two close?”

He bit the inside of his mouth and cast his eyes away, snapping the box closed. His head slowly began to bob up and down and tears pooled in his eyes. It was definitely a different side of Marshall than what I was used to, and I loved it more than the big man on campus front he put up at school.

“I was closer to her than my own mother.”

“It must have been horrible to lose her in such an awful way,” I said, looking down, unable to meet his eyes.

“I was crushed. I still don’t think I’m really over her death, but I like to look at her ring. She told me that when she died, it would belong to me. I’m her oldest grandchild. And she told me to do what I would with it.”

“What do you want to do with it?”

“I’m gonna keep it where nobody can touch it. It’s all I have left of her, and I’m gonna keep it safe for the rest of my life,” he resolved, placing the box back up on the shelf.

“I think that’s a good idea,” I smiled, mulling over how precious this new attitude of his really was.

He smiled back, though it was watery.

* * *

I was broken out of my reverie when Gale asked, “I take it you’re familiar with it, then? We found it in his pocket.”

A low whimper escaped me at the statement. He had eventually confided in me the location he had kept it for all these years; it had always stayed on the shelf across the room from his bed, enclosed in a small, clear vase so he could always see it. As far as I knew, it had never left its place since then. For him to start carrying it around would only mean that he had planned to give it to someone, and he wouldn’t have given it to just anyone.

He was going to give me his prized possession.

My knees buckled and I collapsed against the doorway. Gale and my mother reached out to catch me, but it was useless. Repeatedly beating my head against the wall, I told them to leave under my breath. Neither of them moved, still half bent to catch me, even though I had already sunk to the ground.

“Get out,” I ordered.

Again, they remained stagnant.

“Go away!” I yelled. Their movements were slow, but each of them disappeared down the stairs, out of sight. The ring was as beautiful as ever, but it seemed dull, like the shell of its former self. I had been so sure that Marshall and I had been on a dead-end path, knowing that I cared for him, but that sometimes those feelings weren’t enough, but Gale’s observations struck me with doubt. Obviously, Marshall had thought otherwise, as I was now holding the offering he had awaited giving me. Would he have proposed? Was the ring only a gift?

Kneeling there in the doorway, I began to weep bitterly, barely aware that I was doing so. I knew of one person who would know the answer, and that person didn’t live very far away, and wouldn’t deny me a visit when I was so clearly desperate. Shoving the box into the pocket of my sweatpants, I bounded down the stairs, pulling on my coat and ignoring the group of adults convened in my living room. Unfortunately, they did not ignore me.

“Paige? Where are you going?” my mother asked. I dragged the keys to her car off the table and threw myself out the door. They started following me out, but I was in the car and pulling out before they could reach me. Regardless of the hour, there were still cars on the road, which honked at me in outrage when I cut them off and nearly hit them while I peeled out into the road. The drive should have taken a half hour, but I was doing well over the speed limit, and managed to make it there in fifteen.

The house was squat and square, painted pale pink on his mother’s command. It was only the two of them who lived in the house, his father and left early last year. Neither the inhabitants of this house had ever fully recovered after that crippling loss. The boy blamed himself, as most children did when a parent upped and left without so much as a goodbye, and the mother still cried on the empty side of the bed. My parents invited them over for dinner all the time, if only to help her keep her sanity.

Poppy had been the best thing to happen to Clark since the beginning crack in his parent’s crumbling marriage.

The brakes squealed like human screams as the car skid to stop outside the house. A light flipped on upstairs and the window flew open to reveal Clark’s disheveled head. His black hair was messed up from sleep and hung in his heavy-lidded eyes.

“Would you keep it down!” he yelled angrily; it was a striking contrast to his usually calm, perhaps even emotionless demeanor.

“Clark!” I shrieked. He shook his hair out of his face and looked more clearly at the nutcase screaming in front of his house.

“Paige?” he mumbled drowsily. In response, I slid the ring into my pocket and hurled the empty box at his head. While I waited for him to recover from the blow, I started yelling again:

“What is that? They found it in his pocket! What was it for?”

He rubbed his forehead where I had hit him and mouthed an inaudible, “Ow.” Raising his voice, he called back, “I’ll be right down, wait there.”

Tapping my foot impatiently by the front door, he slowly opened the door. He was still wearing only his wife beater and boxers, but I didn’t waste any time ogling my best friend’s boyfriend. “Well?” I growled, eyeing the ominous, white, satin box in his hand with growing distaste.

“What do you want me to say, Paige?” he murmured, subdued.

“I want you to lie to me and tell me that this ring was for someone else,” I whimpered, trying to keep up my anger but feeling unable to do so.

He just stared at me. “You and I both know that’s not true.”

“That’s the point of lying!”

“There’s no point when you know the truth,” he deduced, causing me to wonder for my own mental health again, since I was waking Clark up for no reason now.

A sob wracked through me. “What was it for?” I demanded quietly, wishing I had never come in the first place. My body braced itself for the words I was sure were to come, the words I didn’t want to hear, the ones that would shatter the illusion of peace I was constructing in my head.

“He was just waiting for the right time to ask you,” he confessed.

I was crying, I knew that, but the tears weren’t coming. I had cried myself dry, and I wanted to go home.