WARNING: Graphic violence, blood scenes.
After I'd discovered that girl, the whole night moved at its own speed as if I was a bystander watching the whole thing. Without thinking, I bolted from that dead body, forgetting all about Kiera and my friends. Somehow, I found a security guard and told her about what happened. Next thing I knew, I watched helplessly as an ambulance flew into the park all the while loudspeakers ordered everyone off the premises.
I had no clue how I got home. I was in total shock, I guessed, because the next thing I remembered, I was standing near my parents on the couch and watching the horrific event reported on the ten o'clock news.
"Oh, hi, sweetie, you're home," Mom said. "You're early. Did you have fun?"
"I'm sure he did," Dad added. "What's not to like at the circus?"
I couldn't say anything. I just watched as the girl's picture flashed on tv.
"Harley Gin, a 22 year old exotic dancer at a local bar, The Popsicle Stick, was found brutally murdered at The Three Ring Circus at approximately 8 pm tonight. Gin suffered multiple stab wounds to her neck and torso. Authorities found the murder weapon--a nine inch butcher knife--tossed into one of the bushes next to Gin's bloodied body. Police are baffled as to the motive behind the killing. If you have any information concerning this case, there is a $10,000 reward placed by the owner of the club where the woman had been employed for the past two years."
"Hey, August, is that why you're home early?" Mom asked. "What an awful thing."
"Yeah," I said as if someone else was moving my mouth.
"The blood covered woman was found by a helpful teenager right behind the big top tent. What had started out as a family event turned horrific as fun seekers were asked to leave the premises as police tried to uncover evidence..."
Images of the girl filled me as my stomach lurched. I had to get out of there. I didn't want to hear any more of the news report.
"What's wrong, son?" my dad asked.
I really didn't want to go into what had happened that night. I just wanted to forget it. "Nothing. I'm going to play for a little bit."
"Okay. Just don't be too loud. Darius is about to go to bed." My dad's voice was uneasy. He knew me too well. I just wanted to get away and hide, hoping that woman's blood stained face would drift away from me somehow. My mind kept bringing it up over and over again.
Playing my keyboard had to help, I thought. Whenever I felt sad or something embarrassing or troubling happened to me, I always played one of my instruments. Tonight, I wanted the electronic music to drown out that awful scene. The blood, seeping out of her. Her dead, unmoving face. That pale white skin. Her panicked scream.
I chose an upbeat, rock song--Miracle--the song my grandfather wrote for his wedding, but it did nothing to erase what I'd seen that night.
Over the next few weeks, I was tortured by that girl. Over and over again, the same nighmare visited me, driving me crazy.
It always started out the same. Breathing hard and in a cold sweat, I'd turn the corner of the big top at that damned circus and would see her body. My eyes were drawn to the blood spilling out, turning the straw-like grass into a red pond.
Quickly, I rushed to her, hoping somehow things would be different. That I could get her to safety. And then I'd notice the familiar blue beaded bracelet Briar always wore on the woman's wrist. I'd given her that bracelet when we were kids and for an instant, I'd be filled with pride that she still wore it.
Until the horror hit me. Turning her over, I realized that the woman was not some unknown girl.
It was Briar.
Not believing this was real, I panicked and said, "No, no, no. This can't be happening. This isn't real. You're not dead.."
But it was Briar.
Briar was dead. I knew it. She'd died and I did nothing to save her.
I'd instantly scream so loud, I felt like the ocean itself would dry up in response to my anguish.
And then I'd wake up, heart beating so hard, I thought it'd burst out of my chest.
Something was definitely wrong with August. And I knew why. He was the one who found that girl's body a month ago when we were all at the circus. And ever since then, he'd been obsessed with unearthing more about her. I didn't care about this crazy infatuation he had with her. I figured he'd get over it sooner or later. So it didn't bother me when he'd talk to me about her, clues he'd find out, frustration with how apathetic the police seemed to be.
Ethan and I were spending the night at his house playing video games when August shouted, "I did it! I found her real name. The police will have to pay attention to this at least."
"She's not Harley Gin. She was born Giorgia Romano, and she's originally from Monte Vista. Wow. Isn't that where Etoile's father lived?"
"I think so," I said.
"Who the hell cares, August?" Ethan's irritated voice rose above our game's revved up car chase sounds. "Give it a rest already."
"He's not doing anything wrong, dude," I said. "Chill."
Ethan had been on edge all week. Normally, he was the calmest person I knew. Always giving advice, ever seeking out information on the latest news around school, and counseling us if things went wrong. But it was as if a demon had invaded his mind. In the past two days, his demeanor had become cold and standoffish. I was actually surprised he'd agreed to come over to August's tonight.
"Yeah? Well, he's been obsessing over that dead chick for like weeks. I'm sick of hearing about it."
"What's wrong with you lately?" I asked him, glaring. "You're acting weird."
"Nothing's wrong, dude. It's just why the hell does he give a fuck about some whore?"
August marched over and hissed, "She's a person, Ethan. She's somebodies' daughter or friend. Maybe even someone's sister. What if she was your sister, huh? Would you want the police to stop trying to solve her murder because she was...what did you call her? Some whore?"
"That's just it," Ethan countered. "The police are investigating. Why do you think you, a dumb teenager, can solve this case? It's so lame."
August sat down slowly, looking dejected. My heart ached for him. I knew he'd been tormented by dreams about her--that's why he couldn't let it go. But I didn't want this to turn into a fight, so I tried to reason with Ethan. "What's the harm in him seeking more information? I'd think the police would welcome it."
"Well, I'm sick of hearing about it. Why doesn't he do his investigating without giving us a blow by blow every time we see him?"
"You're really being insensitive," I said, then mouthed about the dreams which Ethan knew full well he was having. "Have a heart, dude."
"I'm not. He's the one being insensitive."
Turning his head slowly, August shot a scary look at Ethan. "How the hell am I being insensitive?"
Springing to his feet, Ethan answered, "Because you act like you're the detective on this bitch's case. She's a whore, August. A fucking hooker who chose that profession. She's lucky she lived this long."
August jerked up, clenching his fists. "You take that back, you fucking bastard or so help me..."
I got in between them and said, "Dial it down, bros. It's not worth it."
Ethan pointed, "You've got no right digging into this girls' life. You haven't got a clue what she was like or how nasty she was. How do you know someone didn't save someone else by killing her? Did you ever think of that? No. You just think you're some freaking big shot detective working on a damsel in distress case. Well, I'm here to tell you the real world isn't like that. It's dirty and disgusting and it'd eat you up alive if you ever uncovered anything that remotely looked like the truth!"
August put his hands to his face and I heard him break down. Anger seething in me, I pushed Ethan backward and said, "What the fuck are you talking about, Ethan? Get the hell out of here!"
"Gladly." Ethan launched himself away from me and stalked out of the room.
Seemingly crushed, August dropped onto the couch. He didn't say anything for a while. I could tell he was trying to recover, not showing me his tears. "I'm...um...sorry."
Rubbing his back, I said, "Why are you saying that? It's Ethan's problem. You've done nothing wrong."
He shook his head. "Ethan's right. I'm trying to act like I'm on this girls' case and I really don't know anything. And I can't even begin to look into it. I think I don't want to know the real truth. I'm just...scared. I keep thinking, what if this girl was someone we knew and the police didn't give a shit about it? It just sucks."
"Yeah," I said, not knowing what else to say.
"But she's not someone we know. He's right."
"Come here," I said, wrapping my arms around him. He let out his suffering, quietly crying on my shoulder. I hugged him for a while and he clung to me. I wished I could get rid of the demons that visited him over that dead girl. But what worried me more was Ethan's behavior. Something was wrong with him. He never talked about his homelife. Never allowed us to go to his house. I knew he lived with his mom and he never knew his dad. His older brother, Jensen, joined the army a few years ago. He hated him. I knew that much. Maybe he was back in town? That would put him on edge.
But it sounded like Ethan held a grudge against hookers for some reason. I wondered what had happened to him to make him feel like this.
After August got us some drinks, we settled down to watch a movie. He put his head on my shoulder and said, "Do you think Ethan will forgive me?"
I was still mad at Ethan and it made me angrier hearing August feeling bad about what happened. But there was something behind how Ethan acted, so maybe I shouldn't hold it against him. Sighing, I said, "I'll talk to him. Don't worry about it anymore. Okay?"
August nodded and we watched Zombie Twins until we both fell asleep.