When I found out my brother was a murderer, I don’t quite remember what I did. Maybe I poured myself a mug of coffee. A pack of creamer, two sugars. So hot it singed the tip of my tongue. Probably shocked my coworker half to death, too, as he waited for me to cry or freak or faint, then realized I would do none of those. Just drank my coffee, as I did every morning. Didn’t even say a word.
The others in my office had one of two reactions. Either they avoided me like I was some ebola-infested rapist (I appreciated the space, to be frank) or they doused me with words of comfort and encouragement. That I’d “get over this”. That I, unlike Kennedy Briant whose angriest pictures plastered TV screens and online news sites, was a good person (which I was not).
I informed my boss that I was going take the rest of the day off. He seemed relieved, almost. A “normal” person would have done the same- gone home, cried for a long time, wondered why someone of their own flesh and blood would commit such an atrocity. I just needed to get away from the incessant office pity.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I felt some semblance of sympathy towards the students, those who had to experience such a traumatic event. Towards the families of the fourteen lost. A highschool shook to pieces on a sunny day, prom preparation replaced with bullets inside fellow classmates. They would never be the same again, that much was obvious.
Online, rumors circulated. Kennedy Briant had ties with the KGB? Outlandish. School shooter bullied as middle-schooler. Arguably true. Then, Former neighbor claims Briant “always seemed a bit psychopathic”. The interview was followed by a smiling shot of the freckled girl who used to play with us as children. Did the glare of the camera lens equate ‘psychopathic’ to ‘shy’? Was she still bitter about the one time we abandoned her mid-game of hide-and-seek?
Funny how things worked like that. People that seemed friendly could be the same people who slit your throat at night. People that were supposed to protect you ended up being the people you tried so hard to escape. Yes, it was caught on the cameras in the hallway, caught in the frozen eyes of the school- but, maybe. Maybe it wasn’t Kennedy’s fault. Maybe he had only seemed like the perpetrator. Maybe he was the real victim.
My Internet perusing was interrupted by strong knocking upon the front door. A gang of federal officials had arrived at my house, where they interrogated me, then, finding no evidence of my involvement, offered me legal protection. I declined. They told me that they had already interviewed my parents, and that Mom and Dad were hiding inside a state safehouse, surprised by the situation but “doing alright”. I laughed at this.
“You seem unfazed by this horror of an act,” one of the men told me, displeased by the lightness of my laughter. The hidden accusation did not lay unnoticed.
“I do not consider this a surprising development,” I replied.
He blinked, twice, then whispered something to one of his assistants. The assistant, a gawky intern with large specs and belligerent hair almost as tumbled as a certain other’s had been, eyed me cautiously and scribbled down a note.
“My heart goes out to all the victims,” I suddenly found myself saying, eyelashes fluttering away tears that had magically sprung up in my eyes. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through.”
The assistant paused, pen stuck mid-letter. He appeared almost compassionate behind those dusty lens. I managed a sniffle. Then, despite my innocence, a sense of victory washed over me.
“But Kennedy was always an odd one, you know?” I continued. “Liked to hurt animals and such. Never quite understood him.”
The elder officer looked a bit more relieved, the way my boss had earlier in the day. I wiped my face. Gave him a sad smile.
The officers left, reminding me one last time that I was always welcome to their protection if I ever needed it. Then they slid down the driveway in their long, black cars, tinted windows hiding them from the world outside. Maybe they would be back. Maybe they wouldn’t.
I felt a little sick in my stomach, a little shaky from my manipulative words. It’s not that I feared the truth. It was only that no one would understand it. To me, amidst the bloodsplattered hallways and brokenhearted parents and cries of political figures taking advantage of the situation, there was no surprise. Nor was there any confusion.
I boiled up a fresh pot of coffee, drank another mug of it. A pack of creamer, two sugars. Scalded the tip of my newly-healing tongue, but I barely felt anything. I sat down, thought of my parents hidden away in the safehouse and of the games of hide-and-seek that I used to play with Kennedy. He was such a bright boy. Used to be so happy, too.
I finished my coffee, soaked the mug in the sink, a final plea for my restless mind. Kennedy’s final plea to right a wrong had crumbled into a deplorable attempt of justice. I supposed I was just as deplorable- patching plastic pieces into a stony affect, fleeing from a childhood of deceit, not giving a thought to the brother running beside me, behind me- the brother now gone. Only caring if my sneakers were sturdy enough. If my feet could carry me far enough. Kennedy was a fighter. I, on the other hand, had fled.
Then, there it was. A rush of pale bitterness in my head, a buzz in my eyelids. Caffeine flooded through my veins, and I felt nothing again. Not even guilt for my guiltlessness. The same empty feeling I had ever since I was sixteen, when Kennedy’s room started to smell heavily of air freshener, when he became infatuated with those long-sleeve shirts that hung around his fingertips. I laid down on the couch, wondered why my brother had to go out like this. They said he left by his own accord, right after he stole the light from fourteen others. I thought of a safehouse and said nothing.
I wrote this on a whim a month(?) ago and have decided to post it. Hope it makes you think- I’d love to hear your interpretation of the story in the comments section below! (Also, constructive criticism. That stuff is helpful.) The art does not belong to me.