My room looked as if a tornado had hit in my tiny quarters. In the middle of the room, the calm eye of the tornado, I found comfort in the only refuge I had left; the acoustic guitar. The sunburst colored guitar held memories from when Grandpa used to strum it. It broke my heart thinking about those stubby, arthritis-plagued fingers that used to strum so beautifully on the strings.
"Grandpa," I begged him forcing a smile. In that day and age, I still idolized him and had wanted to please him as long as I lived. "Can you play a new song? I'm tired of listening to the same old thing."
He shook his head at me. I observed him as his hand scratched his scruffy chin. He'd always wear a blue, long-sleeved, button-up shirt. Each shirt was identical, and he seemed to wear it every day even in the summer heat waves. "Sometimes the same old thing isn't that bad," he spoke with mellow and a tender voice.
"Not at my house," I frowned, furrowing my eyebrows together, "Since Brooke's birth it feels like my parents realized they were tired of 'the same old thing'."
"They're just excited. It will blow over."
I brought myself out of that ridiculous memory and snorted, Thanks Grandpa, I thought sarcastically. Stalking off towards the living room, I had to face my parents; but they didn't turn to look at me. They sat in the middle of the homely den and praised their sole possession. It had been six years and nothing had blown over; but I gave up hope long ago.
Instead of fighting to get their attention, I go to school every day and prepare to face the real world, the world where I don't have to worry about pleasing my parents. I just pray that the day comes soon, but until that day comes I wait in boredom for my life to finally begin.
U.S. History, the only history class that could actually keep my attention, took a dull turn this morning. Mr. Smatz was out of class today, and the worst substitute teacher took his place. Mr. Wheaton and I are sworn enemies and he doesn't have to say anything for me to understand that he doesn't take any liking to me. Let's just say, I fell asleep in every single class he's ever taught me.
Feedback from the intercom sounded, shaking me awake from Wheaton's boring lecture. However, the message was unclear. I could only make out: "Julie Taylor. Office. Immediately." My heart stopped as the feedback discontinued and the voice over the intercom repeated, "Julie Taylor please report to the Principal's office immediately." The class turned around to look at me and their eyes gave off the emotion of utter shock.
Each step I took towards the office, I gained a pair of shocked eyes in complete disarray. Everyone knew that today was the surprise [non-surprise] monthly drug test. No, the police don't come barging in forcing drug tests on us but the police search our lockers, and if they find anything, then we are called into the office. I've never done drugs, so I have nothing to worry about, but the people around me already have rumors stirred up inside them, begging to come out.
"Ms. Taylor," the elderly and overly masculine principal called me in as I approached the door. Inside his neatly kept office stood two police officers, dressed accordingly, and my guidance counselor with that disappointed frown plastered on her face. "Would you like to explain yourself?"
I tried to bite my tongue and stop the sarcasm from coming out but the nerve-wracking situation gripped my stomach and forced it out of me. I smacked my lips and uttered nonchalantly, "Oh no, you found me! I confess I pushed that girl yesterday, but only because I caught her staring at my boyfriend."
Mrs. Maxwell adjusted her postured and furrowed her eyebrows in anger, "This is not a laughing matter Julie. The officers have found cocaine in your locker."
"What," I raised my eyes brows holding back the chance to roll my eyes. "Well, it's not mine!"
"Then what was it doing in your locker," Mr. Newton asked sternly. His blue eyes like piercing daggers bore into me. If I was going to convince anyone that those drugs weren't mine, it was certainly not him. "Ms. Maxwell, does she have motives for doing drugs?"
I offered a hopeful look, but she ignored my desperate plea and looked straight into her boss's eyes, "Her family is dysfunctional."
They didn't even give me a chance to respond when the two police officers approached me and began reading my rights and placing me in handcuffs. "Julie, I'll make sure your parent's are there to pick you up at the station," Mrs. Maxwell smiled. Great, I thought to myself sarcastically, not daring to break my code of silence.
I kept that code of silence for as long as I could. I kept it when mom and dad saw me at the station and in the car ride back. I even kept it when they lectured me about how disappointed they were. Because if I had broken that code, they would have heard me; but they wouldn't have listened to me. They never listen to me; but after I listened for hours, Mom ordered me to get the mail and go off to bed. We would have to finish our "little talk" in the morning. I could tell she was exhausted which is why she went off to bed herself after ordering me like a child.
I stood on the front porch going through the mail. Tossing every junk mail on the ground along with the letters addressed to Mom, I grumbled over and over just trying to forget that this day ever happened. That is…until I read the letter addressed to me: Julie Rae Taylor. There was no returning address available which only provoked my curiosity. I ran to my room and ripped open the envelope to find a check that was written by grandfather. All the while, flashes of my future bounced around in my head. I'd have the chance to finally prove to my parents that I didn't need their discipline to make it in the future; then, they would know that I did it on my own."I'll leave noon tomorrow," I confirmed in a whisper.
Three days later, I realized how stupid I truly was. The money was so tempting. As soon as the check touched my fingertips, the difference between right and wrong had become a blur. But as I was watching the news anchor on the TV with my picture in the corner, I couldn't help but feel guilty. "Julie Taylor, daughter of Dr. Richard Taylor and Maria Taylor is believed to have fallen victim in the string of murders that have unraveled over the course of the past three months," the broadcaster said, "The LAPD have identified him as the trophy killer because he kills young Caucasian women around the age of sixteen and in two weeks their body would be dumped on the street with a part of their body chopped off because the killer kept the body part as a trophy. Taylor has been reported missing since the evening of the twenty fifth. Police are still unsure about the serial killer's involvement. As for the family, we'll know in two weeks."
I forced myself to walk away from the television because I couldn't bear to watch the rest of it. It had only been three days and I swore I hadn't t even travelled that far. I must have been three towns over in Brea. If they were really looking for me, they'd find me. "But they think I'm dead," the words rolled around in my head. With nowhere else to go, I realized I had absolutely nothing. The cold hair was burning my skin, and I couldn't find warmth. Crawling onto the closest bench I could find, by Craig Park, my eyes closed shut in the horror that was slowly unfolding. Three days of being completely and utterly alone with no home and no shelter finally dawned on me. I remember thinking, if I don't change soon, they wouldn't have to think I'm dead. I'll probably be dead.
My stomach purred, gnawing at my insides for some sort of nutrition. I tried to think of the last time I had a meal, but it only left me with heartbreaking memories of my mom. The kind, loving mom that provided me with a great home cooked meal every day. She took care of me and I took it for granted.
I tried not to pay attention to the real world as I lulled myself to a sleep.
The concrete was so warm; it felt like my body was being cooked on a stove. The sun was draining me and I barely had the energy to strum my guitar into a pleasant melody. The sun, it burnt my skin, and all I had to shade myself was this stupid black cowboy hat that I found in a dumpster. It smelt like burnt cheese and spoiled sweet potato fries; it was great for weakening my appetite.
I had lost count of the months. It's been three? No. Four months I believe. School should have started already; I'd be a senior this year.
Thud. The door of the restaurant swung open and the doorknob hit the wall interrupting my thoughts. Out came two men: a clean cut chef and his arrogant, muddy son. "You're the reason why business is slow! Get out of here!" The angry chef charged at me. My fingers stopped strumming as I sat like a statue and staring lifelessly at the man. I felt nothing towards his anger. He didn't frighten me. "Shoo!" he brushed me off like a fly but I refused to move.
He grumbled, storming back towards his five-star restaurant and ordering his son to get rid of me; I assume, because the next thing he did was walk straight over to me. He bent down to level with me, but instead of staring into his gorgeous blue eyes, I focused on my guitar and began to strum again. "Sorry," He tenderly apologized; however, I wasn't a fool for tender voices. "Dad can be a little cranky when he doesn't exceed the fire department hazards capacity limit - which in theory is quite dangerous."
I ignored him, which probably didn't take to well to his ego.
"He can also get a little cranky when untalented musicians play outside the restaurant and scare away our valuable customers."
Smacking my lips, my head shot up at him. "Maybe if your restaurant didn't have over priced food, your valuable customers would actually exist." The boy smiled. That smile and his spiked, gravy-colored hair didn't sit well with his attitude.
"Note to self," he winked. "Girl's weakness is that everyone has to like her music."
"What do you want," I rolled my eyes out of habit and proceeded to lightly strum. "Daddy told you to play the good cop."
"No, he told me to knock some sense into you before he got to call the real cops."
"Can't call a cop on a dead girl," I thought to myself cleverly and wanted desperately to make that comeback but what would be the use. "You always do what Daddy tells you, good cop."
"What makes you so sure I'm the good cop?"
"Because you're still doing what Daddy tells you."
"I like you," he nodded his head with that still-cold smirk plastered on his face. "Always have got a quick wit, don't you?'
He held out his hand for me to shake, "I'm Derek."
I looked at it but withheld from taking it before looking back at his eyes, bit my lip, and lied through my teeth, "I'm Joanna."
"You're lying," He glared at me. "That's not your real name."
"No," I shrugged. "But that's what you're going to call me."
"Well, Joanna," he hesitated before looking into my guitar case to see the money I had collected for the day, "you are going to need a better job." He got up and walked inside the restaurant expecting me to follow.
At first, I didn't. I looked into the case and found my short comings. I earned a bus coin, three nickels, and six pennies. I shut my eyes banging my head backwards as it dawned on me; he was right. I needed a job.
Sucking up my pride, I climbed back onto my feet and followed him to request a job. I'd take anything at this point: a busboy, a waitress, or even a chair. I'm desperate for cash. So I begged for an interview from Derek's father, and I told him that I'd do anything he wanted me to do.
Derek went to consult with his father. They fought in the kitchen leaving me in distress. It took about ten minutes for Derek to finally come out. "Come on," he smiled, "We have to get you a makeover."
"Because Miss Runaway," he emphasized runaway as much as he could, "you've been all over the news and we can't have our customers taking away our new employee."
"What?" I gasped, rejoicing thankfully.
"Congrats," He offered a reassuring, comforting hug. "You're the new entertainment. How do you feel about red-dyed hair with a boy's cut?"
The lights were blinding my sight on stage, so I closed my eyes and just sang to the audience for the fourth time that week. I wasn't going to lie; I thoroughly enjoyed performing in front of everyone. The thrill. The adrenaline. It all felt so amazing, while I was playing. The audience seemed to enjoy my playing as well, and I was getting paid twelve bucks an hour. At that rate, I would make 120 dollars a week. It wasn't a lot for someone living on their own, but I mean it's definitely a start. It felt like everything was finally coming together and maybe I'd get that chance to prove that I'm definitely ready for this world.
As the restaurant reached closing time, Derek came out and handed me my pay check. "Not bad for the month," he joked. I think it was my third month working. I was getting comfortable here and that alone scared me. "Dad may give you a raise of allowance."
"Whatever," I clipped my guitar case closed and prepared to leave for the night.
"Don't you dare leave," Chef Manual charged out of kitchen and got ready to grab me but I easily defended myself by hiding behind Derek. "She stole from the jewelry store down the street," he accused.
"What?" I screamed. "That's insane!"
"A teen homeless girl with your description just made the news," the Chef tried to grab at me but Derek held him back.
"Dad those sketches are not always accurate," he defended me thankfully.
"Well the sketch on that TV looked too close to-" his voice became too distant because by the time he finished it I was out the door running away for the second time this year.
My feet started hurting, but I kept running because someone was following me. I took an adventure in this dark alley, hoping it would be a shortcut, but I was cut off by an iron fence. Dropping to my knees, I couldn't help but feel the need to end this fight all together. My legs had given up, why couldn't I?
"Joanna," Derek wrapped his arms around me and I didn't realize how cold I was until I felt his warm arms. He tried to balance my uneven breathing, but I was so exhausted from the run and the guitar was just such a heavy load. I was growing sick of it. "It's okay."
"Do you have a match," I ignored his reassurance. He looked at me distastefully but handed over a lighter anyway. Pressing it up against the wood, I watched it burn. My whole life was surrounded by that guitar for so long; it just couldn't be my life anymore. Looking around the alley, the only color I saw was the fire. "Welcome Home, Derek." I managed to sniffle through my tears.
His hands reached down to my cheeks and he brushed his lips against mine; lingering for just a moment. It was a kiss of comfort more than love; but I didn't fight him off. I just kept on crying.
After hours of crying into his shoulder, he pulled out a joint and held it out for me to take but I pushed his hand away from me. Furrowing my eyebrows, I screamed at him, "Are you insane? Get that away from me!"
"It's just weed," he put up his hands in astonishment. "Don't freak out."
"I left because I was accused of doing drugs when I wasn't. Why would I start now?"
"That's a pretty stupid reason to leave," He said before beginning to smoke a joint. The smell of it sickened my stomach and I constantly found myself gagging at the thought of smoking it myself. He smoked it without a care in the world. "Then again, you are a very stupid person."
"Shut up Derek," I barked at him pushing him off my shoulders. He was the most arrogant and selfish jerk I knew. At times, he could be your best friend and then he'd take a 180 and be the most repulsive person there lived. There was something about him that wouldn't let me push him away. Maybe it was the fact that he's the only one that might run with me. By the definition of a friend and family - I have none; he was the closest thing I had. "You have no idea what I've been through. You have no idea where I've been and how it's gotten me here."
"So, tell me."
I looked back at the opening of the alley and back at the dead end fence making sure no one was listening. "I stole my inheritance check from my parents. They trusted me enough to give it to me, but when they heard about the drugs they took it away from me."
"Bringing pain to your family for so many stupid reasons," he scoffed; eager to judge.
"You're one to judge," I chuckled bitterly. "You ran out on your dad in a heartbeat when he threw me out of the restaurant."
"That's different, I'm an adult."
"You're eighteen tops."
"Try twenty six."
My heart stopped. Twenty six. He's twenty-six and I'm only seventeen. He kissed me. Isn't that illegal? "T-then why did you come with me?" Gulp. "Why are you-" Gulp. I tried to finish my questions but my nerves were wracking my brain around and I was freaking out.
"Because I know you didn't rob the jewelry store." He pulled a purple velvet sack from his jacket pocket and money from his other one and said. "I did and framed you for it."
"What?" I jumped in astonishment and fought the urge to kick him in the face. "Why would you do that?"
"Because we're in it together now," The disaster of it all piled on top of me and I felt the weight of the world crashing on my shoulders. My parent's disappointment, my pride and guilt, the insane accusations, and my life just taunted me. Trying to suppress the pain, I grabbed the joint out of his hands and took a drag before coughing up in disgust.
He laughed at me before continuing, "You'll get used to it." The next few minutes were filled with a comfortable silence. I didn't care about my silence, but he mirrored the silence with awkwardness. "You have to see your parents, just for the sake of your own mind. Meet with them as a completely different person, and if you don't change your mind, the alley will be right here waiting for you."
"Fine," I hesitated, "But in a year or two."
"How about in a month?"
"Sure, why not?" I rolled my eyes. It's not like either of us would remember that, I naively thought to myself.
But without me knowing, he set up an appointment for me to see them.
Since they had seen me, I dyed and cut my hair and lost the glasses getting colored contacts. They couldn't recognize me even if they tried. I couldn't even recognize me. I entered the station where they were waiting in the lobby. They were waiting to see their daughter. They were waiting to see me, but they didn't know it.
As I made my way across the lobby to sit in the one seat beside them, the words went in through my head. "I'm Julie. I'm your daughter. I'm sorry." The list went on of what I could say. As I sat down, it turned out; I didn't have to say much.
"I love your hair," Brooke said to me. "Mom can I have her hair?"
"Brooklyn, sit down and stop bothering the girl."
"She's not bothering me," I bit my lip and tried to relax. "Thank you."
"Why can't you be nice
to me," Brooke turned to mom. "She's nice to me."
"Hey now," I smiled. "Don't be mean to your mom. She's the only one you have." I added this sentence just to see her reaction. "And you're the only little girl she has."
"Yeah," Brooklyn glanced at the floor glumly. "I guess." Mom and Dad were waiting impatiently now acting frantic. My sister must have seen some sort of hint on my face because she said, "They're waiting to meet with the police. They're going to tell us about my sister.
"What about your sister?"
"That's none of your business, Miss-"my mom over heard and waited patiently for me to reply.
Miss Taylor. Julie Taylor, I thought to myself. I wanted desperately to say it but all that came out when I opened my mouth was. "Beverly. Joanne Beverly."
Mother had encouraged me, unknowingly, to try and make myself someone to be proud of. I went back to the alley to tell Derek that I was moving on from here and that I was going to be a better person; but the minute he saw me he screamed. "Are you kidding me? Joanne, look at me," he yelled frantically pacing back and forth. "I really thought you were going to be different. I really cared about you and thought you were special. Every time I thought I knew someone," he cried shaking his head, "I was wrong. I was hoping you were different."
My eyes grew wide as he came closer to me. "Derek, you're scaring me. What's going on?" He didn't answer me; he took the side of his forearm and choked me by the neck up against the wall. Sliding out his phone, he shook his head at me.
"Look at these girls," he showed my girls with desperate pleas on their faces. I recognized every single one of them as the victims of the trophy killer. I failed to suppress a shriek in fear which made him push harder against my throat. These pictures were taken right before they died, I assumed. Trying to squirm away from him, his grip tightened. He turned his flip camera phone to face me and a shutter sounded as he took the picture. "Now, you are one of them. It's too bad, because I love you."
Derek pulled out a knife and pressed it up against my skin. He had this hold on me that I could not shake and that had to be my deepest fear. This experience was slowly making me realize that I had been a slave for too long. I needed to be free from who I made myself to be.
The knife felt like fire against my cheek. It burnt my skin with a scar that will always remind me of this day. The day that my life truly began, because it's the day I started fighting again. As soon as the knife sliced against my cheek, I found the strength to punch him as hard as I could against his jaw and it held him back long enough for me to run out in the open.
No one stopped to look at the girl holding her bleeding cheek; so I kept running. I tried my hardest to run away from it all and not get caught by him. He was a monster. The media thought that the trophy killer kidnapped these girls but he really sought to find those girls who had left their family. He took pictures on his phone of how desperate they were to go home.
He grabbed onto my wrist and trying not to catch the attention of the people around us he pulled me into an externally loving hug. Internally, it was my own destruction. He had this eternal hold on me that I'll never be able to let go of. "They killed themselves," his muttered into my ear.
"No," I cried trying to fight his grip. Although the streets weren't crowded, you'd think there'd be one decent person that would see a girl in trouble. "You did."
"They're the ones that left."
"But you killed them," I shook my head. "If I'm your next victim why is it taking you so long to kill me?"
"Because you remind me of her," he smiled grievingly. His fingertips grazed the other side of my face away from the scar cutting my breath into slow hitched breaths. I was terrified of him. I had never been so terrified of anyone in my entire life.
It took everything in me to distract him enough where I could plunge the knife in his chest. He cringed for a moment, crying out in pain, but ultimately losing his life. I dropped the knife in pure shock and I backed away from him slowly before falling on the floor. Tears wouldn't stop falling from my face and for the first time, I wailed about my life for the past year.
An older man came to the dead man's side and I braced myself for the worst judgment, but all he asked was "what happened?"
"H-he's the trophy killer." The man tried to calm me down but when he realized he couldn't; he listened to me my frantic crying. "Call the police; I want to go home."
It took hours until they swept me away from the crime scene into station. A detective who had been working the trophy killer case from the beginning escorted me through the lobby where the press was already in tow. Through the crowd, I caught a glimpse of my family and my heart sunk to the bottom of my stomach. Mother looked more rested but still in distress and Dad looked overwhelmed. Brooke wasn't here this time, and that I was thankful for because there was no telling what would become of this; what would become of me.
Thankfully, they didn't see me and so as quickly as I could, I followed the detective into a compact and condensed room. It was an interrogation room. At least that what it looked like from the movies and cop shows I used to watch. The room was dark and I felt confined in those four walls sitting behind the desk as the detective's eyes trailed me. I feared him at first, but there was a feeling he gave off from his blank stare that eased me into it. Perhaps it was comfort; something, I haven't felt in awhile.
"It's been awhile since you've seen your parents, Julie. I can have them brought in here, but we need to ask you a few questions first. We can't ask you this with them in here because people have a tendency to cover up important details to spare their loved ones the pain. I don't want you to hold anything back."
My hair fell to my sides to cover my completely shame and fear. "Please," I begged tearfully, "Don't bring them in here."
"What," he was taken aback and I can understand his astonishment, but at the same time I can't given to it. "I don't understa-"
"I can't let them see me like this," I stirred up the strength to look him in the eyes. "Look at me. I don't want them in here. I don't want to see them," I begged for him to take my side on this. After I was rambling on and on saying please about fifteen times, he finally had the gull to shut me up.
"You've been a victim of a kidnapping, I'm sure they'll unde-"
"No, I wasn't kidnapped!" I shouted exasperated and frustrated. He stared at me helplessly confused before I continued to explain, "The killer's victims are all runaways. I ran away from home and ran into him, not knowing exactly who he was." He started flipping through his file, but I interrupted him: "I wouldn't look through that if I were you, because I guarantee you that nothing in there is the truth."
He groaned inwardly and held the bridge of his nose. A long time's work just went down the drain and everything he thought he knew was wrong. "Then, why don't you tell me what you know?"
"He started seeking out women that have run away because he has some twisted past with his fiancée. She died in the streets after running away from her parent's home. He never let that go, and so each woman he has found he lured them in with his arrogant charm and somehow got them to trust him. But with me, it was different. He made me stick with him because of that robbery. He had robbed the place and framed me for it. He said that we were in it together now. He just made it seem that we had to rely on one another. I didn't know it at the time but he had set up a meeting between me and my parents. When I told him what happened he was angry that I didn't go with them and I just didn't understand why at the time. It was like he was giving me a chance to live."
"The thing I don't understand is why did he keep you longer than his other victims?"
I thought deeply before answering, "He told me he loved me but I think he was living his fantasy life with his fiancé through me."
"Well, that's all I need for now," he stopped me, obviously in distress, grabbing the file and walking towards the door he continued, "I'll go get your family."
I quickly got up and followed him, "You can't! Please you just can't."
"They want to see you," he encouraged.
"Don't you think I want to see them? My voice broke under pressure, "But I can't."
"I'm sorry bu-"
Out of panic, I confessed everything. "Arrest me!"
"What," I he looked at me in utter amazement. "I can't arrest the victim."
"The jewelry store," I paused to try and collect my thoughts. "He took the jewelry and confessed to me soon after. I didn't come forward. Instead we spent all the money and used the jewelry for our own gain." Breathing deeply, my heart was racing uncontrollably as my words slurred together, "That's accessory after the fact, right?"
He didn't confirm or deny; he just answered with "I don't have enough evidence to arrest you."
"Yes you do," I pulled off my ring and handed it to him. "That's from the store." I then proceeded to take off my necklace. "I bought this with the money he took from the store." He stared at the ring and necklace and I could see the frustration on his face. He didn't want to arrest me, and I didn't even want to be arrested; however, I needed to be arrested. "Arrest me, please. Put me in prison rehab or whatever it's called and then in a month or two they could come visit me. I just need that chance to show my parents I'm not a complete failure."
He didn't say anything more though; he just walked out of the room leaving me there to cry alone. I couldn't face them as me; at least, not yet. Walking back and forth in the small space, I waited for my mom and dad to burst through the doors and scream at me, but that never came. After what felt like hours, the door opened again but it wasn't my parents. Instead, it was two uniform police officers - the same from the day this all started.
"Julie Taylor, get up against the wall," the older one said. He gestured towards the wall with the tinted fiberglass window. Quickly and tearfully, I obeyed with a sigh of relief. The younger police officer then began to pat me down for weapons as the older one continued by reading my rights. "You are under arrest for accessory to robbery after the fact…"
Through the window, I saw that the detective had approached my parents. He stood above their level and began to explain that their daughter had just turned herself in. Words were being exchanged and then I saw my mom crumble into my father's arms. They embraced; clinging on to each other for some sort of comfort. Detective Charles Baker slowly began to walk away. He looked at me through the window and although he couldn't see me - he knew I was watching. He gave me a nod before disappearing out of the station.
As I was inaudibly listening to my rights, I felt this burning sensation within me which told me I was doing the right thing. I fought the urge to run towards them as they sat there in a tearful shock. When they got the strength to walk out of the building, I restrained myself from calling out to them. Instead, I watched them throughout the entire scene. Once again, I could see them; but they couldn't see me.