This story is by SD Reid and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Why am I here?”
The door hadn’t even finished closing as Todd grunted the question. Marcus attempted to stand, but the chains running between his hands and feet limited his movement.
“I’m glad you came,” Marcus said, motioning for Todd to take the chair across the table from him. Todd merely scowled.
“Why did you want to see me?”
“I was hoping I could talk to you before… well, before this evening.”
“What could you possibly have to say to me?”
This was going exactly as Marcus had expected it would. The other guys on death row, the guards, and even the warden had all tried to talk him out of this, but he had felt it was something he needed to do. Only the prison chaplain had thought it was a good idea, but he’d warned him this gesture might not be well received.
“Well, you know what’s happening tonight…”
“Yeah, that’s why I’m here in this building. To see justice finally served. But why am I here in this room?”
Marcus swallowed hard. He’d been preparing himself for this conversation for months, but now that it was here, he didn’t know where to begin.
“I asked Father Anderson to bring you here. I wanted to speak to you.”
“Yeah, he caught me as I was checking in.”
Todd was pacing the floor now, looking like a caged tiger. Marcus was unsure if he would attack or flee. He wasn’t sure if Todd knew either. The look on the guard’s face said the feeling was the same there as well. Todd’s slight build and thin frame wouldn’t normally concern a man as large as Marcus, but Marcus wasn’t normally in chains.
“I thought,” Marcus began, drawing up all the courage he could, “that I should talk with you. About what happened that night. And about what it’s been like since.”
Todd scoffed. “Did you ask me here, hoping for some sort of absolution? That I’d forgive you and make a quick call to the governor?”
“No. I know what’s going to happen this evening. I’m not expecting any last minute stay.”
“Good. Because nothing you could say will make me do that.”
“I understand that. But I still want to talk with you.”
Todd put his hands in his pockets and shifted his weight onto his left leg. It may have been six years later, but he still favored his right leg.
Marcus took a deep breath, and then he began. “That night, I’d been drinking. A lot. I was out with my buddies. We’d been watching the fights. We were all shitfaced.”
“I heard all this in court. Why am I here?” Todd’s patience was wearing thin.
“I’m trying to explain why I did what I did.”
“You did it because you’re a homophobic asshole, and you saw two easy targets.”
“No. Well… yes. Not exactly.” This was going even worse that Marcus had feared. “That night, my buddy, Jimmy, kept calling me a faggot. I told him to stop, but he wouldn’t. He just kept at it and kept at it. He was goading me all night. He’d go to the bar and get everyone else a beer, and he’d bring me a cosmopolitan. I’d get up to go to the john, and he’d ask if I was going to the lady’s room to powder my nose.”
“Ok, I get it. Getting called a faggot was the worst thing that ever happened to you, so you took it out on us,” Todd said. The brittleness in his voice could be felt in the air.
“I didn’t mean to. It was stupid shit. He didn’t mean anything by it, but it was pissing me off. After a while, I’d had enough. I grabbed him by the front of the shirt and told him if he didn’t stop, I was going to bash his fucking teeth in. He laid off for a while, but as we were getting ready to leave, he patted me on the ass and said, ‘Goodnight, princess.’ I lost it. It took four of the other guys to keep me off him. They shoved him into a taxi and pushed me toward my car.”
“So now it’s all your buddy’s fault. He made you do it.”
“No. I was just so worked up. When I saw the two of you walking there, holding hands, it made my blood boil. Then you kissed, right there on the street…”
“If you’re planning to go to the judge with a last minute ‘gay panic’ defense, don’t waste your time. Judges and juries aren’t buying that shit anymore. They’re even outlawed in some places. Also, to even have a prayer with that in the reddest of states, we’d have had to come on to you. Which we didn’t.”
“I know you didn’t. The two of you did nothing wrong. I know that. It was just the beer, and Jimmy, and my temper, and that kiss just set me off, and I…”
“Ran across the street, punched Brett in the face, kicked me in the knee, and kept kicking until you shattered my kneecap with your steel-toed boots.”
Marcus’ voice caught in his throat. “Yes,” he said softly.
“And then, you turned back to Brett, and you hit him again and again until he was on the ground. Then you kicked him in head until you broke his skull. You drove a piece of it into his brain.” Tears were pouring down Todd’s cheeks as he spoke. “He died that night because Jimmy called you a faggot. That’s what you brought me here to say?” His voice quivered as his body shook with rage.
Tears also ran down from Marcus’s eyes. “I asked you here tonight to tell you how sorry I am. I’ve spent the last six years regretting what I did. I’ve lost my friends and family. No one comes to see me.”
“I lost the man I loved. Do you think I care that your mommy doesn’t bake you Christmas cookies anymore?”
“No, I was going to say that all the people I’ve lost must be nothing compared to what you lost.”
“Not what I lost. WHAT YOU TOOK FROM ME!”
The guard sprinted across the room as Todd jumped onto the table separating him and Marcus. “You need to calm down, sir,” he said in a voice that Todd could barely hear. “I know you’re upset, but this isn’t the way to handle it.”
Todd straightened himself up and nodded to the guard. “Sorry,” he said quietly. “It won’t happen again.”
The guard patted Todd on the shoulder and moved back to his post beside the door, cutting a look to Marcus as if to say, “You’re on thin ice here, buddy.”
“You’re right. What I took from you,” Marcus said, trying to look Todd in the face. “I caused all of this. I caused my death as much as I caused Mr. Harrison’s. I deserve what’s coming tonight. But not just because of what I did to him. But because of what I did to you.”
“My knee has healed just fine. Don’t you worry about that.”
“I didn’t mean your knee,” he said, softly. “Bones heal, but taking someone you loved away from you is so much worse. A doctor can’t fix that.”
Todd stared at him, unable to speak.
“I asked you to come here tonight because my lawyer wants to get the verdict thrown out. Apparently one of your lawyer’s aides talked to someone on jury the day before trial came to a close.”
“You’re fucking kidding me. They’re going to let you go on a fucking technicality?”
“It’s not a technicality. My lawyer says it’s jury tampering.”
“You killed Brett, and you’re going to skate free. I can’t believe this.” Todd grabbed the door handle and started to leave.
“I told him not to.”
“What?” Todd said, turning around.
“I told him not to file the paperwork. Not to get the verdict overturned.”
Todd stared at the man across the table, as if seeing him for the first time.
“Why? Why did you tell me this?”
“Because you’re right. I took him from you. He didn’t deserve that. And neither did you.”
“But why aren’t you trying to save your own life?”
“I’ve spent the last six years trying to think of what I could do to make up for what I did. How I could apologize. How I could make amends. If I could find some way to make it up to you and to the rest of Mr. Harrison’s family. And there’s nothing I can do. I’m the only reason he’s not with you. I can’t live with that. I can’t live with the fact that I took your boyfriend from you.”
“Fiancé.” Todd said quietly.
“He was my fiancé. He had just proposed to me. That’s why we kissed.”
Todd pulled the door open. He could hear Marcus’ sobs as the door closed behind him.