This story is by Sandor Novak and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
I won’t judge what she did. Nothing could change the consequences. We all failed. We questioned, confronted or ignored that failure alone. Me? I hunted answers. Finding them, I went to the liquor store rather than tell Mr. and Mrs. Egerton what I knew.
Alastair and Hayden Egerton roomed together at the frat house the way they had at home. The frat house is not the multi-cultural place you might expect at Harvard, but they let me, Kavi Singh, join. Alastair was a senior, his baby brother a sophomore. We were sitting on the rear patio on a warm spring day. The sun turned snow piles to trickles seeking their lowest level on journeys down the storm sewer.
“The cherry blossoms are lovely,” Hayden said in fresh shadows of growing clouds. “One’s had its life cut short, fallen, and floating away. Mum would enjoy them.”
Alastair snickered. “Would she enjoy the cherry blossom you had at last night’s party? Did you take her upstairs and give her the Egerton wood?”
“She’s not that kind of girl,” I said. “I know her.”
“We had a good time, didn’t get drunk like you and Patti-with-an-I,” Hayden added.
I knew Patti-with-an-I, too. That’s how she introduced herself. Once at a party, I called her that. It stuck.
“That’s about all Patti-with-an-I is good for, gettin’ drunk and gettin’ laid. We could have had a great foursome.”
Hayden stiffened at Alastair’s decadence. “If you weren’t my brother, we wouldn’t be friends.”
“That’s sick,” I added. “Some might say depraved.”
“Just showing my little brother the way. What’s her name?”
Hayden relaxed and smiled. “JJ. She’s pre-med, sophomore like me.”
“You soft on this sophomore?”
Lucy took the introductory physics class I taught as a grad assistant. I knew she roomed with JJ. Lucy had just missed the cut to play basketball at U Mass. It was a disappointment, but she excelled in a high school where most in-class contributions were smartphone drug deals, who was shot last night and new pregnancies. She didn’t complain about a minority scholarship to Harvard. I knocked on their dorm door to return a notebook Lucy had left in class.
JJ answered the door. “Hey, Kavi. C’mon in.”
I showed the notebook to Lucy. She sat on her bed leaning against the wall wearing a Tee and thong. One long brown leg stretched to a chair while the other was pulled up, supporting her arm. She pointed at JJ.
“Kavi, you ever see such a shit-eatin’ grin?” Looking at JJ, she said, “What’s with you, sugar?”
“Thinking of Hayden.”
“How long the two of you an item?”
“Going on eleven weeks.”
I wondered if I should leave, but they kept on. I fantasized about Lucy.
“I’m not ready yet.”
“How long’s it been since you’s raped, JJ?”
I knew about this from JJ but said, “I can come another time.” Both gave me faces that said, “Don’t be stupid.”
“A year, seven months and fourteen days tonight at nine.”
“But who’s counting? Get over it,” Lucy snorted.
“I am. I welcome his touch now, feel cared for, safe in his arms. We do everything else. I don’t freak with him lying on top of me.”
“Be careful of that boy.”
“You know who they be and who you be. I been with his brother a few times. Patti-with-an-I has, too. We talk.”
Should I mention this to Hayden? Where’s my allegiance? The girls shouted when I walked out with the notebook.
Hayden had left his door open. I waited. We were going to dinner. When he turned around, Alastair grabbed him and spun him against the closet hard enough that his head bounced.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Alastair hissed.
Hayden doubled over from a stomach punch. “JJ. Juana Jimenez, a spic, from Roxbury. On a minority scholarship. And you should be pumping her like a cross-country biker.”
“She was raped for God’s sake!”
“That’s what I mean. They all want it, then cry rape. Did you know she got a big payout from Roland’s old man?”
“Yeah. Roland left some DNA. Lawyers settled out of court. Like I said, shoulda been a foursome.”
I snuck away.
I was playing tutor helping Hayden study for finals when JJ called.
“Where are you?” Hayden said. “Did you call the police?”
Putting on his sneakers, Hayden said JJ was near the dock on Do Right’s, shorthand for the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path along the Charles River. She thought someone was following her but wouldn’t call the police because it was just a feeling. JJ had told him this had happened once before. The police didn’t come and she was glad they didn’t. She was wrong about her feelings.
Over the summer I pieced together the rest. Hayden told me he heard noises under the trees. He saw two people squirming. The man pushed up to his knees and slapped the woman hard knocking her unconscious. Hayden looked at JJ, then kicked hard at the man’s ribs. He pulled the ski mask from the man’s head.
“I need an alibi bro.” All that Alastair did was pull up his pants, Hayden said, not a word of remorse.
A lack of information stymied the missing person search cum murder investigation. Egerton lawyers managed damage control. After a few days, a boater found JJ’s body floating in the river. Police found her cell phone along the bike path, followed up with Hayden about the last call. He said she called from an overreaction to being alone at night, declined his offer to come and get her, said she’d been through this before. No suspects were apprehended.
Maria, JJ’s mother, crumbled. She had worked hard as the family breadwinner and ensured JJ excelled in school. She was proud of JJ’s Harvard scholarship and her quest for med school. Maria, spiraled down, drank, quit nursing. She wouldn’t talk to me. JJ’s father had never worked and returned to Puerto Rico.
I ran into Lucy twice in late August. She said, “I saw Hayden yesterday, looked like the shit he is.” Anger darkened her face.
“That’s harsh isn’t it?”
“Know what he said? He’s joining the Peace Corps. Seemed jittery.”
“It’s been hard on him, too.” Was I defending Hayden or myself for not talking?
She snorted then said, “I told Hayden that during my interview, police told me JJ had strangulation marks on her neck. It was kind of Alastair’s signature, that he did that to me and Patti-with-an-I.”
“Deviant tastes,” I acknowledged. “Made a cherry blossom fall.”
“Nothing. Something Hayden said.”
“Anyway, Hayden wouldn’t say shit, or look at me, got antsy like he had to pee. From what you told me about the attack and Hayden twisting JJ’s phone call, I connected the dots. I kicked that mothafucka, hard in the balls and spit on him. Made sense why them lawyers would get us kicked outta school if we talked.”
“Is a Harvard degree worth it?” I wondered out loud.
“Not just Harvard, anywhere!”
Lucy, also from Roxbury, searched the Latin hoods until she found the wrong kind of guys who knew of JJ. She asked them if they were interested in making some big money. She promised Alastair a great evening. Took some coke with her, and said this is how it went.
“You like this powder?” He nodded. “How’d you like to get better stuff at half the price?”
“You need to buy quantity. About a year’s tuition. Whether you pay it all or with friends, don’t matter. Call this number. Say you got it from Black Swish.”
The police said it was drug related. It was front-page news and in the obits. Lasted a few days longer on the society pages. The funerals were closed casket. The deal was on a boat at the Chelsea Yacht Club. Lucy said there were to be three on each side. Rumor had it that Alastair had backup in the parking lot who would sneak down to the slip after the spics arrived. They came by boat bypassing the car park with no two if by sea. Alastair showed the money; the dealers showed the coke. Alastair and friends snorted samples, the spics cut them up, took the money and coke.
Ethical? I said I wouldn’t judge. Alastair’s attorneys bought our silence. Lucy had Alastair buy self-directed vigilante justice. Like melting snow, I trickled down the sewer.
I never told anyone about Hayden. I wanted to tell his parents, but the path to the liquor store was easier. Some said he was mauled by a lion in Kenya, others, lost at sea while sailing. A friend teaching there met a safari guide who said Hayden tried to rescue some girls from Boko Haram. Along with the letter, he sent a pic of Hayden’s head on a stake.