As I step onto the escalator, the guard follows me, pressing on my arm lightly. It’s a warning, nothing more, but I am aware of the power his touch conceals. The world is against me. I am a criminal, a murderer, a label. Good people mutter behind closed doors as their televisions and radios blare my name. But they are right to fear me. Even I fear myself, sometimes. I no longer know my own strength. My limits. My life has become a nightmare. Even my voice damns my soul.

Pleasantries are exchanged behind me. The two new guards begin to complain about the pumpkin frappuccinos from the Starbucks across the street. A sliver of normality in a shadow of fear. Thoughts dart across my mind: how does a “frappuccino” even taste? Would I ever find out?

An unseen hand swings the courtroom doors open, and I walk in. I am pushed towards a table on the left. The room is full of people, but they are strangers. Most are dressed in sombre colours, as if this were a funeral.

What am I thinking? Of course they would see this scene, this courtroom, as a funeral. But not mine.

No, my funeral was weeks ago. At a Christmas party. The twenty-second of December. Someone had spiked the punch. I realised after three glasses, but, by then, it was too late. The dizziness, the rush…

But I wasn’t worried. I knew the rules; I liked to think I was a responsible person. I had head the horror stories; even little Carly Rose down the street…

I would call a cab. Use a friend. The options were open. I could have fun.

But then the phone rang. And the nightmare began.

It was my neighbour. The one who had lost a daughter. “There’s been an accident,” she said. My parents were in the hospital. Critical condition. Fading fast. I’d have to be quick if I wanted to say goodbye.

“What about Phil? Where is he?”

“He was in the back. Oh, darling, he didn’t make it…”

The words continued, but my heart had stopped. I couldn’t hear any more. I didn’t want to hear it.

But the words continued. I had to come quickly, or they’d slip away. Only one more chance to tell them I loved them. How much they meant to me.

Could I make it? To see them, one last time…

My body jerked itself into action. I grabbed my keys and ran to the door, pushing bodies and balloons out of the way.

It was raining too heavily. The pounding on the car matched the pounding in my head. My headlights and the windshield wipers barely made a difference.

I backed out of the driveway, wincing as I heard a crash. Someone’s bins. I hoped.

I don’t remember much of the drive. I never found out how far I had gotten, or how long it took. All I know is that I awoke in a prison hospital with an armed guard reading a list of rights. My hands were handcuffed, as if I were a dangerous maniac.

I never spoke to my lawyer. I never spoke to anyone after that night. They told me the names. Phoebe Kimbrell. Noah Perez. Eve Powers. Edgar Oliver. Four lights blown out in a single second. It was my fault. I was selfish. Irresponsible. Stupid.

I didn’t deserve to live.

I don’t deserve to live.

When the judge enters the courtroom, I am pulled to my feet. But I refuse to look at him. Not because I am afraid or rebellious. But because I am remembering. And, right now, I can only remember one thing.

I never got to say goodbye.

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