Gunpowder infiltrates my sense of smell. The color red smears everywhere. Everything I see is a blur. Where am I? What just happened? I hear distant shouting. It grows closer, still closer, until it is pounding at my eardrums. Someone is telling me to run. "Go, Candice, go! Get out of here!" Someone wraps their arms around my body and hauls me to another location. The distant mumblings and screams sustain for what seems like eternity.
Sleep is losing its grip on my bodyI snap awake. The nightmare and clouded memory fades away. I expect to wake to a shining sun, a warm, fluffy bed, pale blue walls, and the comfort of my four-legged friend, but something else is fighting for my attention. A grim shadow, perhaps. It slowly deteriorates the sweetness of my dreams, the happiness in life, until I am left in a cold white cell with no memory of how I got there.
"EEEEEEEEEE," rings my brain, as this dark shadow grows closer, as I begin to wake. The pounding on my skull will not stop. I jerk my eyes open, observing my new environment with increasing alarm. I wait. I wait for this nightmare to be over., I wait for the sun to come back and win the battle., I wait for the shadow to diminish, but it never does. I am lost in a plain white room with nowhere to go. No memory to rely on, no emotions to keep me company. This is the reality in which I wake.
I soon find out I am in prison. Confused and terrified, I ask a security guard what happened. He simply says, "Your name is Candice Goodwin. I suppose we should start with that.
Tell me, what you last remember," the officer states. "Do you remember killing that man, watching the life drain out of him? Do you remember the trial where the judge announced you guilty,?"
"The last thing I remember is going out to dinner on my eighteenth birthday. I went with my brother and a family friend."
"Isn't that interesting? Your brother and one of his friends were at your trial. Your brother testified for you, claimed you had an alibi. His friend, however, is the reason you're in here."
"Trial? How is it possible that one witness has the power to send me to prison, especially when I have someone testifying for me?."
"Look, you know I'm breaking procedure by even talking to you, just so we're clear. I'm doing you a favor with this. Real quick: A man was killed on your eighteenth birthday. He was shot. Your brother and friend were with you that night and they both showed up in court to testify. Your brother pleaded you innocent, your friend pleaded you guilty. Simple as that. Your prints were found at the crime scene and you didn't help yourself much at the trial. You were appointed a crappy old judge who believed the kid who said you were guilty. He sentenced you to ninety days in prison until further investigation could be done. You've got eighty-nine more to go. Good luck." At this the brusque officer walks away as if he never had this conversation.
I am sitting in my white cell contemplating my newly found knowledge. I am trying to picture athe scene. I am in my silky blue dress, my brother in his typical khakis and polo. We are, wandering the streets of our little green, rainy hometown looking through all of the store windows. I pick up a gun and shoot a guy. There is a trial where my friend swears that he saw me pull the trigger while my brother protests for my innocence. What a scene it is. I am left to my thoughts for a long while…
I am still sitting on my white cot when I hear "Candice Goodwin to the telephone room!" So that is how they bum prisoners around, I think to myself. Call out their names for everyone one else in this hellhole to hear.
Upon arrival to the booth-filled room, I see fifteen wooden sets of two-lined telephones, each with a thick sheet of glass separating its two halves. An officer shows me to booth twelve, where two men are waiting. I sit down and the officer walks away. I pick up the receiving line.
A familiar voice floods me with questions. "Candice! How are you? You look awful. Where are they keeping you?" It is my brother's voice. There is a familiar comfort in it, strong yet quivering, intelligent yet anxious. The other man in the booth, sitting next to my brother, seems much more grim, as if he wants anything but to be here.
"Um, whato are you?" I ask. My head aches with every question that I do not know the answer to.
"Wait, that's right!" says the grim face in a mocking tone. "She doesn't remember anything from the past month or so! She must be terrified!"
"Shut it, Rob!" my brother says. "You just sit and be quiet! That's all you're good for, after all, considering what you've done." I finally recognize the grim face as my best friend, Robert. He settles back and shuts his mouth.
"Look Candice, we really don't have a lot of time," my brother says.. "I know you don't remember what happened; I'll explain it all later. But for now, just know something. Know that I will make it right. I won't give up on you, I promise!"
"Dude, you know I can't let that happen!" Rob interjects. "Jake, as her brother, I know you want to help her. But I can't let you--I won't let you. Goodbye, Candice."
At this both of the men walk away, clearly irritated at each other. What a weird conversation. My brother and his friend are hiding something, something of obvious importance, but I've heard squirrel's conversations flow more smoothly than that. They must both be wound up pretty tight over this. I wonder what they are hiding.
After the meeting with my brother and his friend yesterday, all I am is more confused. I think that Rob may be the guy that protested against me. It makes sense, after all, he seemed like he was going to try to keep me in here. What intrigues me, however, is what my brother said about how he should sit there and be quiet "after what he had done." I wonder what his role is in all of this. Maybe he knows who really killed that guy.
A trial is going to be held in a few weeks to decide where to put me. The faulty charges I am in here on are beginning to show, and a new judge has been appointed to this case. I hope he sees the lack of evidence and lets me go.
"Will the defendant please rise?"
I stand, facing my judge, terrified. This trial will dictate everything that is to come next. Will I be placed back into a prison cell? Will I be released based on lack of evidence? Will I be placed on parole? I am about to find out.
"Here, sir. Candice Goodwin."
"Thank you. Can you tell me where you were on the night of August the fourth, the night you were claimed to have committed murder?" The judge asks.
"That's the problem, sir. I have no memory of anything. I cannot defend myself against my charges."
A gasp in the jury stuns the room into silence.
"Will the defendant's attorney please step forward?"
A muster of mumbling gives the judge time to realize I have not been appointed an attorney.
"Do you have any witnesses or prosecutors here, Miss Goodwin?"
"No, sir. They allowed for the trial to take place with no prosecutors, witnesses, or attorneys. The law just needs a place to put me." I reply. I hang my head in embarrassment.
"Then what the hell are we doing here? Do you have anything to say for yourself?"
"Well then, I have no choice but to keep you in prison. Officer, again, let me know when we can have a proper trial. Until then, Miss Goodwin."
At this we all rise and proceed to exit. I'm stuck until something happens. At least I'm safe, I suppose. But now I have no choice but to do something, if I ever want to get out of here.
I sit in my cell thinking. My brother is coming to visit me today and I hope he has more information to give me. He is hiding something; I just know it. This story is more complex than it seems.
"Candice Goodwin to the telephone room," the announcer calls. Security guards come to escort me. When I enter, I see my brother sitting at booth six. A guard allows me to sit down and pick up the receiving line.
"Hey," Jake replies.
"Got any news?"
"Yeah," He pauses for a moment before saying, "I have something to tell you." Another long pause makes my heart grow heavy. "I know who the killer is. I was there when it happened, and so were you. That's why it was so easy for him to blame you."
The news appalls me. I sit there dumbfounded before asking, "Who was it?"
"That's the problem," Jake says, "I can't tell you." His eyes sink down in shame.
"Why the hell not?" I snap. My voice clearly shows my frustration. "Do you want me to rot in some prison cell?"
"Of course not. It's just…"
"Just what?" I push, craving answers. "Are you protecting him?"
Silence. No eye contact, no heavy breathing, just silence. The idea that my brother is protecting a murderer over his innocent sister astounds me, and I am finished talking to him.
"Guards, we're done here," I say. I watch Jake stand there for a moment. He knows his motives are flawed.
What am I supposed to do now? Talking to Jake today was my only shot at getting an idea on how to clear my name. With no connection to the outside world, how am I supposed to do this? How could I possibly convince my brother, who probably will not come visit again, to tell me who the real killer is, nonetheless be able to prove it, put him on trial, and wait for the judge to sign off on me? It seems so impossible.
Long, excruciating hours are passed in my cell. I cannot believe my brother. Intentionally protecting some friend while his innocent little sister rots in prison for a murder she did not commit. Impatience and stress overwhelm me as I begin contemplating a plan. No connection to the outside world, a brother who is pissed at me, an important friend pissed at him, no contact with my parents, and a prison filled with dangerous criminals. All I can do is wait and hope that someone will come to visit me soon to give me more information.
I sprint to the telephone room just after being called. I cannot wait to hear the news someone has to tell me. Upon arrival, I see my brother and Rob fighting. Jake, my brother, must not have anticipated me getting here so fast. This is exactly what I see:
"Jake, man, come on! You know why we can't do that! She's a threat!"
"She's my sister, and if you're too self-centered to understand that then it's your problem, Rob."
"Man, you know I would do anything to protect her, as she would have for me, but its too late now. She's in for it and there's nothing we can do."
"The law will eventually demand an answer, Rob. You know we can't just shut up about this. The truth will come out."
"So then it's our job to make sure it doesn't."
"Screw you, man. You know we gotta spill it. If we don't it will eat at us both until we're in worse shape than Candice is. Rob, come on!"
"No! Maybe we can find a way to clear her name, but we can't tell them who it really was."
"Rob, you selfish son-of-a…" At this point my brother sighs. Realizing he cannot win, he begins to walk away. "I have to tell her. It's her right to know."
"You do and I'll go to my grave swearing it was her, pulling out everything I got to ensure you never win. Even with the best lawyer in the world you know she doesn't stand a chance without her memory."
"Yeah, I know. I still have to try. She's worth it," says Jake nodding, reassuring himself that it is worth it, that I am worth it.
"Screw you," is all Rob has to say before he walks away. Anger steams out of all the pores in his body. He reeks with thoughts of revenge.
After the argument, Jake sits down in booth four. I pick up the receiving end and notice a simultaneous rage, pain, and terror in my brother's face.
"Is everything okay?" I ask.
"Yeah, everything's fine. Why?"
"Because your voice is a little shaky and you seem nervous."
"No, everything's fine, but I have something to tell you. I know the last time I said that it ended a little badly, but…"
"A little!" I interject. "Bro, you had me cursing you for two weeks, with nothing to do all day but sit in a tiny cell thinking about it."
"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry. I want to make it right. You need to know this. It should be good news for you."
"Alright," I sigh. "What is it?"
"I know who the killer is, and I can prove it."
Silence. I am stunned. I already figured Jake knews who the killer was, but don't see how he will be able to prove it.
"How can you prove it, wise guy? Aren't I gonna stand in your way, with my memory issue and all?"
"No, that shouldn't be a problem. I have an idea. Don't worry. All I need to do is talk to my friend Rob and arrange all the details."
"Rob, you mean the friend you just pissed off?"
"Wait, you saw that?"
"Crap, yeah. Sorry, I got here really fast and heard the tail end of your conversation. How are you gonna get that guy to agree to your oh-so-mighty plan?"
"Trust me, he doesn't stay mad for long. I'll break him soon."
"Ok," I say tentatively. "I guess I'll see you both in court, then."
"You bet, kid. I'll find you a good attorney. I'll brief him on all that happened that night and give him the details that I know will prove your innocence. Trust me on this one."
"You know I trust you, big bro."
At that we both smile and hang up. Jake has work to do and I have a brick wall to stare at.
The next day, I get called back into the telephone room. The obvious problem turns me into a statue as Jake tells me.
"He's gone," my brother says. "Rob has fled the country. No one has any idea where he is and without him, the plan won't work. What's a murder prosecution trial without the murderer?"
Long days pass in waiting for Rob to be accused and put on trial. My heart still sinks every time I think about him pulling the trigger. Although my memory is still faded, I am beginning to recall glimpses of the time that was wiped out. I know that Rob is a great guy. Something must have made him snap that night. In a way I feel bad for him, yet in another I despise him. We have been best friends for so long and all of a sudden he accuses me of a murder I watched him do, and then somehow finds a way to drug me to forget it? The conflicting thoughts battle within me until I finally hear news of a change happening in my solitary life.
Today I am getting a cellmate. Apparently the judge said that having me in solitary confinement while trying to prove my innocence "looks bad." I am not sure what to think, but I suppose I can trust him.
"This will only be until your trial," One of the guards explains. "After that, you will either be placed back into solitary confinement or released."
When we arrive, I get a quick glance at my cellmate just before being called to the telephone room. As I am taken there, I contemplate my new roommate. She has a very large build and a grim face, as if she is mad at me. I wonder how this will work out.
In the telephone room, I am greeted by my frantic brother.
"What's wrong?" I ask.
"Have they taken you to your new cell yet?"
"How did you know about that? And yeah, I had just gotten there when I was called here. Why?"
"Oh thank God! Have you met your cellmate yet?"
"Yeah, I got a quick glance at her. You're scaring
me, Jake. What's wrong?"
"She's an assassin sent to kill you," he replies. My immediate response is to start laughing, but the serious tone of my brother's voice tells me otherwise. "Before Rob fled the country," Jake continues, "he set up a plan to kill you. He got hold of a woman he knew that was going on trial for murder, and offered her a deal. In return for promising to kill you, she would be given an extraordinary attorney and a false witness protesting for her. Strings were pulled within the department and she was arranged as your cellmate. You have to get out of there."
A long string of shock runs through me right as terror sets in. "Guards!" I shriek.
I explain the whole story with Jake sitting there, confirming everything I say. The police go to the computer room to run a background check on my cellmate. They find that she has indeed had associations with Rob in the past month. For safety's sake, they decide to place me back into solitary confinement. For the first time in the three hours it took to run the background, I feel like I can breathe.
"There's big news, huge news. You're never gonna believe this!" exclaims my brother. It has been two weeks since the cellmate incident and the case seemed to have gone cold, but now something has happened. I can see the excitement in Jake's face.
"What is it?" I say. Fear and excitement fight for domination within me.
"The police finally got a warrant to search Rob's house."
"You'll never believe what they found."
"Ok, well why the hell are you making me wait? Just tell me!"
"The murder weapon. They matched it to the bullet found in the victim's body. They also found a box of letters and poems that talked about guilt and how sorry Rob felt for 'shedding an innocent man's blood' and 'tipping the justice scale.'"
A long moment of silence sweeps over our conversation. Confusion and terror now battle within me, along with the previous excitement. Jake told me that Rob was the killer, but I honestly thought he was joking. I never would have guessed he could be been stupid enough to leave so much blatant evidence behind.
"So does that mean that I can get outta here? Not that solitary confinement isn't fun, but…"
Jake chuckles. "Yes, you will be able to come home, but not for a little bit longer. First the police have to track down Rob, which will be a problem. We also have to go on trial, which means I'm testifying against my best friend about a murder he is distraught with guilt about. This isn't over yet."
"Ok. I trust you. Be safe out there. Come back when something new comes up and keep me posted." I pause for a second before adding, "I love you."
"I love you too, sis. I promise I'll get you outta here. In the mean time, I think it's your safety we should be more worried about."
At this, we both hang up and I leave the comfortable telephone room and go back to my cave. After all, I still haven't finished counting all of the crevices in the brick wall, yet. One thing is for sure, however. Now that we can prove who the real killer is, there is no going back. Rob must be persecuted and Jake and I both know it.
I go back to my cell right after this conversation. I desperately need to think through everything that has happened. To my surprise, a police officer is waiting for me at my cell. "Hello Candice," he says. He seems very charismatic. "Will you come with me, please?"
"Where are we going?" I ask.
"You are aware who the real killer was, correct?"
"We have found Rob's location. He is staying in a house just on the outskirts of Seaside. About thirty minutes from the prison. We are headed over there now to arrest him and take him to trial. We have a warrant and a judge is standing by at a courthouse."
"Wait, didn't you just find the murder weapon? How are you already ready to arrest him?"
"Just coming back from talking to your brother, Miss Goodwin?"
"He gave you outdated information. Yes we have the weapon, along with a lot more. We are ready to convict him. You and your brother are coming with us. We have a plan to safely lure Rob out of his house by sending your brother in first. We need you to be there so we can take you directly to court afterwards. Let's go."
"Um, ok. After you, sir."
As I look out the window of the squad car, I see leafy green trees for the first time in months. I just hope Rob does not try to run again--I am enjoying the scent of fresh air far too much.
When we arrive, the police tell Jake that he will go in first to draw Rob out of the house. He will be closely followed by an officer, but I am still nervous.
I watch as my brother timidly opens the front door and proceeds into the house. About thirty seconds later, a familiar voice shouts, "Drop your weapon!" It is the officer that went in behind my brother.
My heart starts racing as three more officers burst into the house. Just as the door opens, two guns go off. I watch the flashes of light illuminate from an upstairs window. I hear an excruciating moan followed by a loud thump. What did Rob do? Driven by adrenaline, I burst into the house and dash up the stairs. The sight of an officer on the floor stops me. His leg is gushing more blood than I knew was in the human body.
"Get her our of here!" He cries, glancing at me. All the attention in the room turns on me in the split instant it takes for Rob to fire his gun again. Another officer steps directly in front of me, catching the bullet in his vest. Firing back at Rob, another shriek of pain cries through the air. Rob drops his gun. Two officers are immediately on top of him as Jake runs towards me and carries me out of the house. The officer who protected me squats down to his wounded friend just as Jake picks me up. The last thing I see is the two of them gripping each other's hands in agony.
"What the hell was that!" Jake shouts at me. "You were given direct orders to stay outside! You were almost killed, Candice! Do you realize--"
"I'm sorry!" I reply. "I didn't mean to. I just ran in when I heard the shots." My throat swells. Tears fill my eyes and my brother pulls me into a hug.
"It's ok," he says. "We got him."
"Yes, sir. Thank you. I am so sorry. Yes, yes, I know…" Jake is talking on the phone with an officer who is reporting the death of his friend, the one that Rob shot in the thigh. "Who knew that a leg injury could be so… fatal," my brother continues. "I am so sorry. If there's anything we can do for you, sir, just let us know. You're welcome."
I embrace my brother in a hug before I have to watch his eyes fill with tears.
"My best friend," he mumbles, "killed an innocent man and a cop who was just trying to protect me! Why did this have to happen, Candice? Why did Rob have to pull that damn trigger?"
"I don't know. I wish I did. I don't have any answers big bro. I'm so sorry."
It has been a month since my brother's breakdown and we are beginning to heal. With the comfort of hot chocolate, I think back on the past year. I hit the town for my eighteenth birthday with Jake and Rob, watched Rob kill a man for no reason other than anger, was blamed for the murder right after Rob drugged me to erase my memory, and then spent nearly five months in prison over this crime I could not remember. I watched Jake betray his best friend for me, nearly puked at the sight of an officer being shot right in front of me, and played an innocent Scout Finch in Rob's trial. I know Rob felt sorry for all that he did to me. He was a great guy, deep down. All this was a result of him acting out one night, a decision that cost him his life. He certainly did not deserve the death penalty.
"How are you doing?" my brother asks as he comes into my room.
"I'm hangin' in there," I reply. "How are you holding up?"
"About the same, I guess." He sits himself on my bed and begins to cry. "I loved him so much, even though I feel terrible for saying it. He was my best friend. I can't believe I abandoned him like that. Yes it was worth it, yes you're safe, but I can't stop feeling like I could have stopped him from being executed." My brother is sobbing now, an act I rarely seen him do. I reply to him my biting my lower lip, slightly tilting my head down, and looking him straight in the eyes.
Reaching for his hand I say, "Me, too."
Those two words make up one of the most powerful phrases that people can say to each other. It gives the other person a sense of camaraderie, like they are not alone and that someone else is bearing through all of their pain with them. This message, being that I love him and feel the same pain he does, is exactly what is communicated to my brother. He tells me this by leaning on my shoulder and crying with me. This continues for the rest of our lives, as neither of us will ever be the same after witnessing what we have. We are closer, stronger, and more patient with the world. All is not perfect, but all is well.