Framed For Murder đź”—

I would have to agree to a plea deal. According to the hotshot lawyer that sat across the silver table I was handcuffed to, I had no better option. The evidence was pretty damning—The CCTV footage revealed me as the last person to visit the murdered, my prints were strewn over the murder weapon, and to top it off, I had an altercation with him the afternoon during lunch in school before he died. (Plenty of witnesses. Just what I needed).

Dad caught my eye for a moment, his face hard and awash with disappointment as if he had raised a demon from the seventh circle of Dante's inferno that now needed vanquishing. Mom's red and puffy eyes were glued wistfully to the lawyer's face as he rambled on about law, my non-existent options, and blah-blah. She rubbed her quivering arm with her other pale hand. Uneasy, I shifted my gaze to the white wall that loomed coldly behind them. Upset, I zoned out, the conversation becoming muffled.

How was it possible to feel so stricken with guilt for a crime I didn't commit? And yes! I despised Jake, but I wasn't an idiot. I wouldn't think of ruining my life by stabbing his haughty chest. And even if I wanted to, I'd seen enough police procedures to not be that sloppy(Not that I did do it or anything). Weirdly, crippling sadness clutched my heart at his death.

We'd been friends up until a junior year. He started hanging out with some seniors who claimed they were 'The Guanos' (a Genius name, if you ask me). With their stupid perfect slicked-back hair, they looked like total turds and were the most infuriating, arrogant, self-serving, and entitled morons in school. (The secret ingredient in their hair product was probably bird poop). Soon enough, he started acting like a guano. He picked on scraggly Hoffsen—the nerdy exchange student from Germany—and I'd foiled him on multiple occasions. I guess you really are the company you keep.

One time, during football training, he tackled me so hard that he broke my leg. "Oops, my bad," he had shrugged. I lost my opportunity to play quarterback under the survey of one of the greatest scouts in NFL history, Harry J. Trover. Those three words echoed in my head for three months as I nursed my fractured leg back to health. Coach gave him my spot, and I was demoted to being a bench player.

Hey! At least I still got my rep as the highest CGPA holder in the class. Or so I thought. You'd think his decay in manners would affect his intellect, but he managed to wipe the floor with me in the 2nd-semester exams. Like ravenous cancer, he just kept expanding and growing, choking up any sense of victory and identity I had. And, of course, it would be uncharacteristic of him not to gloat about it and belittle my past record of being the best.

The semester started. I was resolute and determined. I wouldn't let Jake stay on top of me. I would squash him like a bug and spill his guts in my palms. I would study harder than I ever did. I would outdo my last GPA. I would push myself and show the coach I had what it took to play quarterback again.

Three weeks later, after rigorous training on the football field, I hopped into the locker room, with burning legs, to get changed. What I saw would traumatize me forever. Jake pushed his arm against one of the lockers, and the other arm he placed on my girlfriend's chin as he ate her lips.

"Ayesha?!" I shouted, disappointment soaking my voice. She shuffled away from Jake, and her eyes locked with mine. I wanted an explanation, a denial, anything! She said nothing. "Come on, Ayesha, don't go," Jake smirked. "I'm sorry, Trent," Ayesha clasped her fingers in Jake's, "I'm with him now."

My hands quivered, and my training bag thunked to the ground. I wanted to speak, but I croaked instead. Jake still wore a mask of self-satisfaction as he and Ayesha meandered past my form at the entrance. I wanted to bash his face in. Ayesha broke up with me in a Judas fashion. She knew what she wanted. A brawl with Jake wouldn't change that. Instead, I ran, in the opposite direction, my heart threatening to burst into a pulp in my chest. So you see, my loathing for Jake grew. Naturally. I wonder if he thought, ''Oh, I haven't destroyed Trent enough. What else makes him happy? Oula! I know. His girlfriend. Lemme swipe her away." Bastard! I didn't want to go to school the next day, but my strict parents would not condone any hint of truancy. They wanted me to have perfect attendance. They were already disappointed with my 'low' GPA, as it were. I waded through students in the school hallway; I could hear the whispers swirling around as they shot me glances that burnt holes in my shirt. "...broke up with him and went for Jake'" "...ran away like a baby," "...scared to pick a fight with a beast like Jake," "...such a loser," "...Ayesha has better tastes now."

Apparently, everyone now knew about my situation. I wondered how that got out. I bet Jake himself had spread the gossip to make me appear incompetent and weak. Throughout the morning classes, the pitiful stares and the whispers didn't stop. It made my blood boil. During lunch, I scooped my rations into the tray and settled for an empty table at the corner of the cafeteria, away from everyone—even my friends. My friends came anyway, obviously not taking the hint, clattering their food trays on the metal table. Brady asked for the specifics, and the others—Taylor and Hoffsen, perked up in anticipation. My sullen look probably gave them all the answers they needed. "I don't want to talk about it." I poked at my apple. "Maybe later." Finally, they understood, and we nibbled on our food in silence.

Moments later, Jake sauntered in, arms locked in Ayesha's. They chattered and laughed as they filled their tray with lunch. Suddenly, my heart weighed a thousand more tonnes in my chest. I was curious about what Jake said that made Ayi laugh. The dude had no sense of humor. He only enjoyed making snide remarks. And if she laughed at those, well... I just never thought her to be so shallow. I guess I was wrong. Trent motioned to the empty table beside ours. Ayi shifted uncomfortably, glancing at me. Guilt wracked her face.

"Don't worry," Jake flashed a grin. "Trent understands you like me now. He won't do anything brash." Ayesha winced, still frozen a few feet from me, obviously put off by Jake's statement. She might not be as shallow after all. "He isn't dumb," Jake locked eyes with me, " Right, Trent?!" He said the last part loud enough for everyone in my section of the cafeteria to hear. I snapped. I rose abruptly with clenched white knuckles. "Trent?" Brady called nervously, "Don't do—" I sprang towards Jake. I punched him square in the jaw, wiping that smirk off his face. He stumbled to the floor, clutching his chin.

I know. I know. I said earlier a brawl with Jake wasn't worth it, but in retrospect, I had been dazed and heartbroken, disillusioned. I still was. Now, well, I was angry. Understatement. I was furious! My blood boiled in my veins, and my eardrums felt like they were going to pop. All day, I had been bottling my rage behind a dam bricked by logic and reason. Every hurtful whisper of people who didn't know me but made awful assumptions, compounded with their pitiful and above-it-all stares, added pressure to the turbulent river of rage I was trying to suppress, weakening that dam extremely. I'd been afraid any slight mishap would finally wreck it down.

Well, Mishap, thank you for wrecking it down. The whole cafeteria fell silent, and almost everyone glanced in our direction. "You punch like my grandma." Trent jeered, trying to save face. He wiped the blood trickling from his nose and quivering lower lip down to his chin. I wanted to have another go at him, but I was pulled back by Hoffsen and Brady. Taylor was bewildered, covering her open mouth with her hands. "You must have a really strong grandma, or maybe you're just a punny sucker." I spat. Satisfied with my response, my anger finally dissipated. I was glad the other Guanos weren't in the room yet; else, I might have been pummeled.

Ayesha wore a horrified but mostly disappointed look. I should have been angry. Who was she to judge me? In return, I shot her daggers with my stares. Before we knew it, teachers rolled in like the SWAT team, and we both got detention.

After closing hours, we were assigned separate detention classrooms for obvious reasons. Mrs. Pirshley, the teacher, tossed in with me, slept fitfully, head back to her chair, drooling. I was bored out of my mind. I sat, staring at the ceiling, daydreaming, with Mrs. Pirshley's snoring occasionally interrupting me. I fiddled with the last button of my shirt, waiting for 6 pm, but the arms of the clock felt like they were ticking through chocolate syrup. I resorted to making sketches to keep my mind off today's events. As I assessed my sketches, I twirled my pen between my fingers, and it clanked to the floor. Mrs. Pirshley jerked forward.

"Jared, turn the music down!" she shouted suddenly, eyes still shut. "Bacon...butter...tequila," she mumbled, half-asleep. She smacked her lips, and her head resumed its previous position. After what felt like days, it was finally 6 pm. But I had to avoid Jake. I waited a few more minutes, and yes, waiting was painful. By 6:15 pm, I woke up Mrs. Pirshley and made for the door. As I pulled the door open, the opposite door, mine swung open, and Jake's form stood beside it, holding the handle. His lips were purply and swollen. My plan of avoidance failed. "What are you looking at?" He sneered, then walked away down the hall, and I watched. Instead of feeling satisfied, my stomach grumbled. I had resorted to being as bad as him.

I got home by 7 pm. Unfortunately, my parents had heard about my detention. They didn't mince words in voicing their utter, unadulterated (and all those other fancy words) disappointment in me. They associated my GPA drop with recent events. (which, again, were not related in any way.) Seriously, these people wouldn't let me off the hook because my GPA dropped by 0.1. Exhausted to even argue, I took the brunt of their hurtful words. They ended their speech with something along the lines of "...We don't even know you anymore."

By 8 pm, I crashed into my bed, allowing it to drown me in its fluffiness. I sighed in frustration. I was feeling as blue as my room, sad about everything. I stared at stars rotating along the walls of my room gently from the night light, wishing I could teleport into an unventured galaxy far away from my parents, Ayesha, Jake, school, and this town. Yup, basically everyone. I embarrassed Jake. I punched him in front of the whole school. Did he deserve it? Sure. After all, he did, definitely. But it wasn't what I stood for. I wasn't a bully. I didn't need to resort to violence to express myself. And he had once been one of my closest friends. How didn't I see the warning signs? His switch to the dark side had been so abrupt. I remembered his purply swollen lips, and I was disappointed in myself. And so, I resolved to do the unexpected—I would apologize to Jake. Stupid idea, yeah. But at the time, it felt almost...chivalrous. I set out earlier than I would normally so I could meet up with Jake in his apartment to do the thing (I don't want to say 'apologies' twice. It felt foul enough in my mouth the first time around. Bleh!) and also escape my parents' dissatisfied scowl. That would ruin my day before it even began.

I got to his apartment—more like a condo—around 6:25 am. His parents were loaded but were barely around. They got him the condo because it was closer to a school than their mansion. I guess a condo is less lonely and less echoey than a ten-acre mansion. I rang the doorbell. Moments later, the door swung open to reveal someone with swollen cheeks, a black eye, and a sickly purply lip. He rested his arm on the topmost edge of the door and held his sides with the other. He winced slightly. "Jake?" I asked, properly perplexed. "Yeah," His face was a circle of pain. "What do you want, Trent?" Jake dryly said, his voice laced with hurt. "Woah," I said, "I know I punched your lips, but did it lead to all this?!" "Have you come to gloat?" He cocked his eyebrows. "No, bro," I raised my palms and waved nervously, trying to pacify him. "I would never." Awkward silence permeated the corridor. "I don't have time for this," Jake said, now swinging the door to a close. "Wait!" I said. "I-I, um, wanted to..." "Out with it!" He was already losing patience. "I wanted to apologize," I finally spat. "I'm sorry for punching you. It was very stupid of me." "Whatever. What's done is done." He frowned.

Here I was, trying to apologize, and he was still acting like a jerk. It miffed me slightly. Okay, a lot. He wanted to slam the door again, but I stopped it halfway. "Dude," I began, "deep down, I know you aren't a jerk. You are acting like one for some insane reason I can't wrap my head around, and it's starting to hurt a lot of people asides from me." "You don't know me. Not anymore. In fact, you never did," He spewed, then looked down before catching my eyes again. I was hurt by his words. Maybe he was right. Maybe I never did know him, but I could have sworn I saw a flash of guilt on his face as he finished the last bit. "Let me in, for old time's sake," I said defiantly, palm still against the door. We glared at each other. There was that awkward silence again. "Come in," he finally said. "You have five minutes. I still have to prep for class."

He shut the door. I stood awkwardly at the entrance. "So..." I said, breaking the ice. "So?" Jake walked towards his dining table, picking up an apple. "Who beat you up?" I said bluntly. "It's none of your concern." He picked up a dining chair and sat on it the wrong way, chest to the inside back of the chair, still clutching his side. His breathing was ragged. "It is my concern," I countered. "You stay up here in this large room—" "So my Condo is your problem?" I winced. His face was still hard to look at. I moved to the plush red sofa just across the dining area and perched on the top edge of its back, arms and leg folded. "No, of course not," I said. "You just seem so...lonely." "I'm not lonely, T. You are the lonely one. You no longer have a girlfriend," That stung. He tilted his seat forward a bit. "and I've got a bunch of friends. We're are a gang. We stick to each other. We're all practically brothers."

He called me T. That was his nickname for me back in the day. He thought it sounded gangsta. I did not. There might be hope yet. "Who? The guanos?!" I raised my voice a bit, despite myself. He flinched. "You got beat up, yet where are they? Oh yeah. Your Guano brothers are a no-show." He flinched again. Back then, I thought he was cringing at my raised voice but now, reassessing the situation; I guess he shook every time I mentioned 'guano.' "You should be glad they aren't here, Trent." Jake jeered, but I could see hints of worry on his face. "You should be too. They don't care about you."

Jake snorted. "Your 5 minutes are up." Face turned away from me; he said, "Go." I rose, walking towards the entrance. "Just you know," I felt his stare at my back as he continued. "the world won't fall apart just because we ended our friendship." He was wrong. My world already had. He took everything from me. I was walking a thin line. I had no idea things would get worse. I pulled the door open, then halted momentarily. "Whatever this is, just don't bring Ayesha into it." "Don't worry, I'll protect her and you," Jake said, unsure of himself. "Now go and never visit me again, you wannabe idiot!" Then, Jake broke into a fit of laughter.

Ah, there it was. He was beyond redemption. I would stop trying. I slammed the door and stormed off to school. I didn't catch any hint of Jake in school afterward. During lunch, I slurped milk slowly from a straw. My mood was fouled up by my chat with Trent. Brady and Hoffsen argued about the soccer match yesterday, which I missed. Thankfully, I couldn't butt in. It gave me time with my wandering thoughts. "Don't worry; I'll protect you and Ayesha." What did he mean by that? We weren't in any trouble. He'd probably just said anything that'd make me leave him alone. Still sipping milk, cops busted in, asking for me. They spotted me and advanced toward me. My heart throbbed. What did I do now? It was probably nothing. This would fly away in the wind easily. "Trent Girther?" The portly officer asked. His bald partner behind him stared at me apprehensively. "Yes, officer," I rose, trying to appear calm. Internally, I was freaking out, "Can I help—"

He grabbed my arms, twirled me, and slipped cold silvery cuffs onto my wrists. "Hey!" Hoffsen protested. "Trent Girther. You are under arrest for the murder of Jake Archer," He recited. My mind reeled in shock. Jake was dead?! "You have the right to remain..." My head blanked, and my ears rang, the voices of students around me becoming indistinct. "I didn't do this," I whispered, "I didn't..." "Well, kid, we'll hash it out at the precinct." "I didn't do this. I didn't..." I continued to mumble, still perplexed, as I was led away down the school hallway. Students and teachers pooled in from the cafeteria and the classrooms. They pushed me through the crowd that came to see the sights—one of theirs in handcuffs. I was drowned in lingering stares, withering glares, frowns, and accusatory whispers—which I loathed—as I was dragged out of my school, a criminal. Now, you are all caught up.

Poeian.

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