To all the teachers who bored me to death and to the very few teachers who actually motivated me to become something: thank you.
CHAPTER 1: Something Completely Different
The hallways were filled with the boisterous sounds of students trying to scramble into Esceip City Memorial High School's many classrooms. Hollow metal sounds of lockers opening and shutting echoed above the sneakers that squeaked across the tiles. Teachers shuffled and yelled at students to hurry to their next classes. These jovial sounds even penetrated these thick brick walls, resonating in the stairwells; the one stairwell I had just entered was no exception. It was impossible to escape these monotonous noises, which was why I decided to ditch this horrid prison called school.
Same old, same old.
On the other side of the door, I heard something crash into metal followed by the sound of glass breaking. I slowly opened the door and stepped outside, though I wasn't expecting to see a black blur crash into the top the car in front of me. The metal of the hood had crumpled inward, and deep cracks had zigzagged across the windshield. Blood from the nose and gash in the head smeared on the car as the body suddenly rolled onto the hot blacktop. When the door behind me shut, the loud echo made my body jolt. It took a ridiculous amount of willpower to force myself to approach the body. My sneakers crunched tiny shards of glass despite my light footsteps.
A dead adult man in a black suit?
His hazel eyes were stuck open. I took a step back and searched for my phone in my bag, fumbling to dial the police which was a quick call. I was blubbering and spewing incoherent sentences as if I suddenly didn't know what English syntax was. But despite the stammering and stuttering, they managed to translate my gibberish. My hands were trembling so violently that I was smacking my ear with my phone. A shiver kept running up and down my spine even though it was a warm September morning. My eyes must have wanted to give me nightmares for the rest of my life. I couldn't look away from the blood trickling from the corners of his mouth into his longish brown hair. I couldn't help but stare at his face because this man looked familiar.
The sounds of sirens becoming louder and louder brought me back to the situation at hand. The acid in my stomach began to churn and burn everything inside me, but it settled down when I saw that a teacher was yelling from a window on the second floor for me to come back inside. I glanced behind me and saw dozens of faces plastered to the windows on both floors. Two cars screeched to a halt across the parking lot, and three more followed suit within the next few minutes. Uniformed officers set up barricades and used yellow tape as cordon around the entire parking lot. A few students wandered outside to witness this crime scene, and their speculation filled the air. I could hear the students and teachers inside from the windows, too.
Then it hit me: who cared if I knew this person? What if the police thought I did this? I was alone when this happened, right? I looked around and wondered if anyone saw this occur. Could any of them have vouched for me?
"Who did this?"
"Is it safe to be in school now?"
"Was it a teacher?"
"Who is this?"
"Maybe it was an angry student or a jealous wife who caught him with his mistress!"
"Hey, there's that student here before any of us!"
"I doubt it was her."
"How do you know?"
"It might have been suicide."
This was a bad day to cut class. I knew I should have gone to read in the gym during first period when there were no classes there. Why didn't I listen to my gut earlier this morning?
I noticed an officer allowing a navy-blue car to park inside the area, and my mother slowly got out of the front passenger side. Her wavy dark-brown hair bounced off the sides of her rectangular face and broad shoulders as she advanced to me. Mom wore a short-sleeve blouse that didn't hide the bulky muscles on her arms and a skirt that showed off her toned calves. She removed her sunglasses to reveal her dull hazel eyes and glanced around before fixating her gaze onto me. Looking at her now, that vibrant smile I sometimes saw at home seemed like it had never existed; her face was that solemn, that stern in seriousness, almost callous, and completely unemotional.
I swallowed hard and muttered some sounds that she didn't seem to hear. The coldness she emanated almost knocked me off my feet as she passed me without a word. All Mom did was walk around, examining both the body and the car. Her steel composure never once allowed her to blink or look away in horror. She wasn't shaking or as nauseous as I was.
Mom kneeled down. She examined the body one more time to meticulously rummage through his pockets. "Okay, Lindsay, let's take it from the top.
I blinked a few times before answering. I must have sounded stupid when I asked, "Take what from the top?"
Mom gave a disgruntled sigh and began to question me. I told her everything: I saw absolutely nothing and no one. I didn't see anything of suspicion. I didn't see if there was anyone who pushed this man out a window or off the roof. Odd, though, that Mom didn't strangle me when I told her I was ditching school again. She must have been in Super Duper Police Chief mode.
I took one more look at this man. He might have been pushed off the roof. I didn't hear any footsteps or struggles while leaving. Maybe it was suicide? Possible. Something told me no, yet there was nothing to exclude that possibility. At any rate, it wasn't my problem. I was just a fifteen-year-old with a lot of textbooks to cover with paper bags. I didn't really want to play detective, anyway.
Mom tied her hair back and turned her eyes away from me. "Lindsay, what do you think about this? What do you think happened here?"
"What?" I must have sounded even dumber when I uttered that.
"What do you think happened? I'm asking your opinion about this."
I swallowed hard, scratched the tip of my nose, and told her my theory.
She finally cracked a sparse smile and placed her hand on her hip. "Okay. Thank you for your insight, Linds."
Mystified, I asked, "Why? What would my opinion do?"
"Thank you for your insight, Lindsay. You're free to go for now."
Weird. What was that about? I was just a fifteen-year-old in her second year of high school; I wasn't a homicide detective. Anyway, it was probably for the best to not press her.
Mom gathered a few officers and went inside the school. Meanwhile, another officer had informed me I was free to leave but that I'd be contacted if they needed information again. I stepped over the tape and wooden barriers and pushed myself through this thick crowd of inquisitive students. Almost everyone wanted to talk to me and shouted questions at me, but I ignored them all. As my stomach roared, I immediately went back inside the school to the nearest bathroom. I wasn't even sure if I was in the girls' room, but a toilet was a toilet regardless of sex.
In between hurls, I heard two voices from outside the hallway. One was a smooth and soothing adult male voice that must have made every woman within a ten-mile radius swoon. The other was a teenage girl with a low gruff voice.
The guy said, "You caught me in a good mood. I'm suddenly feeling talkative. In fact, I'm in a kind of mood where I can honestly talk about my feelings and motives for days on end."
"Your sarcasm is easily your worst feature."
"More than me killing you guys?"
"I'd rather death than your shitty facetious answers."
"That hurt. Suddenly, I only feel like talking about my feelings and motives for a few minutes. You better start talking fast now, Meg, before I stop caring."
"Is she one of us?"
"So then she'll be opposing you?"
"Well, you could be making an ass out of you more than of me with that one."
"Cut the crap and give me a straightforward answer!"
"On the list of things I don't want to do, giving you a straightforward answer is not only the number one item on that list but also the first seven items on that list. Besides, I can't give you any answer because you're all capable of making autonomous decisions. Trust me when I say I wish I could give you a straightforward answer on that. If you guys were a hive mentality, that'd make my life easier."
"So what now?"
"It'll be the same routine as with all the others I've met. I'm sure you've heard of that. Otherwise, you wouldn't be here."
"Why are you doing all of this?"
"Probably childhood trauma."
"Will you ever give me a legit straightforward answer?"
"I doubt it. I normally pretend that my feelings don't exist. You should be honored that I'm speaking to you so comparatively frankly right now."
"You're an asshole. I hope I get to kill you."
"You're not the first woman in my life to tell me exactly that, and you won't be the last."
"I really hope I get to kill you. But they say that if wishes were horses, beggars would ride."
"You might want to consider a career as a horse jockey then."
She grunted. Two sets of feet walked away in opposite direction from this bathroom and faded. After throwing up whatever I had to eat for the past two weeks, I decided to ditch the rest of this school day. The walk home was a giant blur despite taking the same route home for the past year. I didn't notice anyone or any building I had passed. Too many thoughts raced in my head at the speed of light. I stumbled all the way because my legs were still shaking. At some point, I wasn't even sure if I was walking in the right direction. I somehow managed to make it up six flights of stairs even though my legs were as firm as jelly and my heart was still ramming itself against my chest.
When I arrived home, I noticed the door was unlocked. I let my book bag slide down my arm and onto the floor, and I cautiously proceeded inside on my tiptoes. It felt like an iceberg was sliding down my throat into my stomach. Although my legs still felt weak, I had my hands clenched in fists just in case I needed to throw a punch or two. Not like I had the physical ability to be intimidating with my scrawny build, probably shouldn't have entered to begin with or to not immediately call the police of building security, but it was the thought that counted.
He sat at the kitchen table humming an upbeat, fast-paced tune while breading chicken cutlets with his back facing the door. He was reading the newspaper while preparing dinner. A ponytail of golden blond and gray hair tickled his small shoulders as he moved too quickly. When he turned around as I closed the door, I saw the bluest eyes I ever saw in my life. I was stunned because they were so beautiful even behind the ugly thick-rimmed reading glasses he wore.
It took me a while to put the pieces together. I had never once seen my father in person until now, although I had some vague idea of what he looked like from family pictures and the pictures he sent from his travels over the past fifteen years.
Ian Doyle had a gentle and kind oval face. He was maybe about six feet, skinny, lean, and a permanent slouch. The beard growing on his square jaw was as his hair. In other words, he was the antithesis of law enforcement physique. Ian quickly ran to the sink to thoroughly wash his hands and then approached me. My hands flopped to my sides as he sauntered across the room. He removed his nerdy glasses and showed me a charming smile. I had only spoken to him a handful of times on the phone over the past fifteen years. His voice on the phone was soothing, and his voice in person was unexpectedly melodic.
Ian said, "It's nice to finally meet you. Sorry I'm a little late!"
Late by fifteen years. Not exactly a little.
Flatly, I said, "You can't be my dad. I want to see proof."
I was only joking, so I was surprised when Ian actually reached into his shirt pocket and retrieved a black wallet. He unfolded it and showed me his F.B.I. badge. The look on my face must have been stupid because Ian started laughing. My mouth was wide open, and my brain failed to produce words. He had a loud but jovial laugh, almost melodic somehow.
Ian chuckled lightly, almost like a ditzy girl being flattered with compliments. "Well, I'm not much, am I? I guess it'd be odd if you instantly accept me as your dad. Are you disappointed?"
"Are you disappointed in your daughter's piss-poor demeanor and consistent academic misconduct?"
"I'm not supportive of your delinquency or your lack of effort, but I am certainly not disappointed with you. I'm sure you have your reasons."
I scratched the tip of my nose. "Well, there you go. I'm sure you have your reasons. Look, I get it. I'm not mad or anything. It's just the way things are."
"Why do you sound so sad, then?"
"I'm really not sad. I just naturally have a deadpan and husky voice."
"Lindsay, my job requires interacting with a variety of people and personalities. No one with the level of self-deprecation that you have is a happy person. You can always talk to me."
"I could, but that would require open and honest communication."
Ian sighed. Before I knew it, my father and I ate the most delicious breaded chicken and steamed broccoli that didn't taste like the rubber Mom almost always cooked. He had also made a cake from scratch. It was lemon-flavored that had lime gelatin mixed into it with sweet icing that Ian had made himself. We ate in silence, though, yet it wasn't awkward for me even though it should have been.
I sighed. "Hey, Ian. Do you love me?"
He didn't hesitate. "Of course."
"Even after all the Mom reports on me?"
"They're not flattering for you, but you're still my daughter. No matter what you've done, you always have the opportunities to redeem yourself."
There was something boiling in my heart just now. It was the weird emptiness of knowing that I was loved but no feeling I was loved.
"Is that true?" I asked. "You're a real nice guy, Ian."
"Lindsay, just be the best possible person you can be. That's all I'll ever ask of you."
I was worried, though, that I wasn't excited to finally see my father after fifteen years. I wasn't angry either that he had abandoned me and Mom for fifteen years. I wasn't even sure if I could call this indifference. Was I broken? Did I have something I shouldn't have had? Did I lack something I should have had? This was just something completely different.