After finishing another study session with Hunter at the library, I returned to Floyd Hall and decided to check my student mailbox before dinner. Most of the mail I got was from the college, but sometimes my aunt and uncle would send a care package.
Although there had been incidents of drama here and there—particularly with Hunter—I couldn’t imagine the semester going much better than it was. My relationship with Hunter was amazing; I felt more alive with him than I ever had since the trial. The sex was even more amazing. I’d been worried he would destabilize me, but instead he made me feel safe and secure. Hunter was my anchor.
Being so happy with Hunter, I didn’t care that I was doing bad in a few of my classes. In the three days since the party, I’d tried to study but always got distracted thinking about Hunter. It was always a welcome distraction though. Spending so much time with him at his place, I had time to work on art pieces for the portfolio competition. The pieces I was doing on the kittens were coming together nicely.
The kittens had finally graduated from being bottle fed to eating hard kitten food, which was a relief. That meant Hunter and I could just feed them once a day rather than having to give them a meal every few hours.
Smiling from musing on the positive developments in my life, I opened my mailbox, grabbed the stack of mail, and took the stairs up to my floor. When I got to my room, I began flipping through the envelopes. Most were from the college as usual, but when I saw the last piece I nearly dropped everything.
It was from the Cook County Penal System.
Possibilities raced through my head. My heart began to pound and my skin started breaking out in a cold sweat. What the hell was going on? Was he really trying to contact me?
Sitting down on my bed with my fingers shaking, I tore the envelope open and pulled out the contents. The name on the cover sheet sent a fresh wave of queasiness to my stomach. I had to look away to avoid throwing up.
Marco Peralta. The man who murdered my mom and threw my dad into such a depression he took his own life.
My entire body went numb. My brain felt frozen. I looked up and stared at the wall for a while, unable to move a muscle. My breath was shallow, but it was still coming. I was still breathing—I was still alive. Just me.
Finally, I pulled out the letter Marco had written and began to read.
I am very sorry for the pain of you and your family. Kelsey’s death is something I regret every moment. It hurts me to think about you and how much your mother’s death has hurt you. I hope you are recovering well.
I’m sure you are very angry with me, but I hope that you can eventually find it in your heart to forgive me. If you could write me a letter back, I would be very grateful, even if it is angry.
With much love,
Finishing reading the last two lines—With much love, Marco—I looked up and found the room spinning. Tilting precariously on the edge of my bed, I gripped the mattress to steady my balance. The queasiness in my stomach suddenly became severe nausea. For a second I thought the letter could’ve been written by someone else, but the awkward English made me certain the words had come from Marco. Maybe I’ll wake up, I thought. Maybe this hadn’t happened in real life; it felt like a nightmare where every bit of my good mood was being devoured by a ravenous monster who, unsatiated from killing my parents, was now coming after me.
I rolled onto my side and curled my legs into my chest to protect myself, dropping the letter to the floor.
Despite my best efforts, the past came rushing to the present with disturbing clarity. Marco had blindsided everyone. Growing up with Marco had been as normal as living with a stepfather could be. He treated my mom well and they seemed to love each other. Unlike my dad, Marco hadn’t even had much of a liking for alcohol. He would be the hundredth person you would pick out of a hundred to commit a grisly murder.
But that was what had happened. The forensics experts said there were no signs of resistance. It looked like Marco had come home one night, stabbed my mom to death—maybe in her sleep—and left early for a business trip scheduled to start the next morning. It took them days to find the body. When they found it and notified Marco, he was still in Iowa for business and pleaded ignorance.
It was summer after freshman year when it had happened and I’d been staying with my dad in Chicago. My dad was never the same from the moment he got the call from the police notifying him of his ex-wife’s death. He had never stopped loving Mom, even after the divorce. Dad had always enjoyed having a beer or two after work, but after he heard about my mom’s death, two became six or more. At first, neither of us could believe the murder had actually happened. If it were an accident, or Marco had been drunk, or even if he were trying to steal money, anything at all, it would have been easier to accept. But there was no motive.
"Why?" That was a question I—no, all of us—asked ourselves afterwards. We just couldn't understand why. Was Marco mentally ill? That was the only thing that could even somewhat make sense. He had shown no signs of violent tendencies before, no drug abuse or alcohol abuse. He and my mother hardly ever argued. So why?
But that was a question that I stopped asking myself long ago. It was only a slow poison that ate me up inside. Maybe it was even worse than the loss of my mom—not understanding why something like this could happen.
The lack of motive had not only made it difficult for the prosecution to proceed in the trial, it also made the trial interesting for the media. I shuddered in my bed as I thought about the frenzy of cameras that surrounded the court room. The trial was so public and dragged on for so long that I had no choice but to take time off from school. That was the first of three semesters away from Arrowhart.
Finally, the verdict came in. The forensic evidence was enough: Marco was found guilty of first degree murder. Cameras flashed in my face as the words were delivered—the journalists were probably expecting tears and smiles at justice being delivered but they got none of that.
All they got was the numb expression of a girl who had stopped feeling. From the pictures, you might have thought I’d been the one convicted. Even after the sentence of life in prison was delivered and everything was finally over, I felt nothing. My life had been damaged by an act so senseless lawyers couldn’t even come up with a bad reason for why the murderer did it. All I could do was stare into space.
And sit. After the verdict I did a lot of sitting and staring into space. When the anguish became too much, I’d curl into a ball on my bed and lay there for hours until I fell asleep from exhaustion.