Sadie Hawkins & the Girl in Question: Chapter 5

Chapter 5:

Sadie awoke with a jolt. She’d been dreaming, fast sleep on the living room couch in her father’s home. She was a bit surprised, as this fact became clearer in her mind, and the images before her began to register. There was a painting that she’d done in college and the photographs of herself, Leo, her brother Francesco, and her mother Valeria. The feeling of rest that permeated the entire place, that always had, leeched into her then, the feeling of distress fading as quickly as it had come. Here was home; here was something that did not change. Here was life at its purest.

In the dream she’d just escaped, it had been the zombie apocalypse. This was a recurring dream for Sadie, one that had been plaguing her sleeping hours for the last two years. In it, she inevitably found herself in a field at night with strange, shadowy figures rushing past her. Sometimes, she would find her way to her father’s house, other times to her old school or one of her various, past apartments. There, she would find herself trying to keep them out, only to be forced out of her safe house and back into the night. She always remained calm throughout, but the dream would inevitably end the same, with her confronting a zombie and telling it, “I’m not here. I can’t deal with this right now.” Then, she would wake up terrified, all the emotions of the nightmare concentrated into one, still moment of terror.

But now, as the dream faded, Sadie felt only calm. Her mother smiled down from the family portrait that they’d had taken in her freshman year. Sadie winced at her high school, layered haircut in the picture, and at the way that she smiled at the camera, one eyebrow raised. She’d had such confidence then, enough to make the ridiculous, poofy haircut work, which was quite an accomplishment. She wished that she had even an ounce of that spunkiness now.

Just a few moments into the day, a few breaths of awareness, and she was already plummeting into anxiety over her life. She hated herself for it, for worrying too much, for letting the fear take over. Sadie lay still on the couch, the sounds of the song birds and the bright gold warmth of the day washing over her. If she focused on this one moment, the rest faded away. If she held her breath, Sadie Hawkins was calm and clear-headed; life could make sense.

“Good morning dear-heart,” Leo Hawkins said, rushing into the living room. He was fully dressed in a blue oxford and black slacks, even though the time on the clock above the TV read only 7 AM. As he began organizing the papers that he’d left on the couch the night before, Sadie remembered now that she had been watching a noir film with her father the night before, a way for the two of them to re-bond and chill out together. It had been on one of the digital channels that showed movies all the time, and the story had been something to do with Lucille Ball helping an ex-con detective confront his inner demons. Sadie had liked it well enough, but she’d been troubled by worries about the future, about going back to Bloomington in 2 and a half weeks especially. Still, the move had helped her forget her life and zone out enough that she’d practically passed out on the couch.

“Are you a sleeping beauty or a hibernating bear this lovely morning?” her father asked as he turned away from picking up his now-packed bag in the living room and walked into the kitchen. Sadie could hear him in there, rustling through the cereal and granola bar cupboard, pouring his chosen breakfast into a glass bowl, followed by milk from the fridge. She could even hear it when he poured his coffee into a mug, a big one by the sound of it.

“Neither,” she replied, though she wasn’t sure if she had said it loud enough for her father to hear her in the kitchen. Sadie was considering staying on the couch despite a day she hoped would be both relaxing and productive, fun and valuable. The problem was less that the couch was a great alternative to a bed, and more that she just didn’t want to get up. She could feel the kinks that had already formed in her back, muscles knotted from the lack of a mattress, but she didn’t want to bother with life. “Hang on,” she said, pushing herself out of that moment and into the next one, reminding herself that she was supposed to be taking things slowly, but taking them all the same. “Can I have some coffee, too?”

“Sure,” Leo said as she stepped into the kitchen in her pajamas, an old t-shirt and flannel pants. “Do you prefer soy creamer or hazelnut regular?” He was standing in front of the coffee maker on the counter, a full mug on the counter and an empty, blue one in his hand. A cat was painted on the empty mug, clinging to a tree, the ever-familiar and still ever-comforting ‘Hang in There’ somehow better than a hug. Sadie smiled, creasing her brow in frustration that she was so easily read. Leo added, before she could say anything, “Oh come on, Sade. I’m your dad; of course I know how to cheer grumpy-you up!”

“Jerk,” Sadie said, even as her dad poured coffee into the mug, “I didn’t know you liked soy creamer.” She walked to the fridge and took out both a regular and a soy creamer container, noting the presence of all her favorite groceries as she did so: organic strawberries, spinach, and tomatoes, bread from a local bakery, the Hawkins family recipe sun tea, and a container of goat cheese. Sadie turned to her dad, more suspicious than ever.

“What?” Leo Hawkins asked, holding one mug to his daughter even as he sipped at his own coffee. “Can’t a father take care of his all-growed-up daughter just a little bit? I mean, if I can’t even buy you your favorite groceries, I don’t know what I’m good for.” Sadie smiled and took the mug, sipping the overly strong drink. Her father was a caffeine addict if ever she had known one, but that was only a bad thing on the rare occasion that they were on a road trip and could not find a coffee shop. This morning, his affinity for delicious coffee first thing in the morning was a wonder.

“Sadie,” Leo said, his voice serious despite the jovial tone he’d spoken with a moment before. She looked up at her father. He was dressed well because his beard was more carefully trimmed than normal. Usually, there were a few spots that would be just slightly poofier than others; he had never had great eye sight, and the older he got, the more often he seemed to not get his beard trimming perfectly even. Sadie loved the imperfection, the little quirk, the sign that he was her dad. The spic-and-span-ness of him this morning almost felt alien, and for that reason alone, she almost didn’t respond to her father’s unspoken question. But then he spoke it.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. Two words, and Sadie could feel tears burning in her eyes. One question was all it took to completely disarm her these days, and she hated it more than she could express. Still, because it was her dad asking, she pushed the tears back enough to look him in the eye.

“Life’s just a lot messy, dad. I don’t have a job. I dunno what I’m doing with my life,” Sadie said, even as she reached out for the creamer, which had not been opened yet. As she pulled the tab on the top, after untwisting the cap, she pulled the wrong direction and a bit of cream splashed onto her shirt, “I don’t know how to open this cream. Mornings don’t like me.” Sadie shook her head, grabbed a towel off of the front of the stove and, feeling like she might cry, decided to change the topic. “So how bout that local sports team – say, the Tigers?”

“Oh, no you don’t, though they are doing really well,” her dad said, looking at her disapprovingly. “I know the classic Hawkins diversionary humor. I invented the Hawkins diversionary humor, sweetie.” He sighed and looked down at his feet while Sadie stepped over to the sink, set down her coffee after pouring a bit of the creamer in, and washed the remnants of spilt milk from her hands. He spoke from behind her, his voice as deep and warm as ever, “I know life is hard right now. I know that it can feel like it will last forever, but it won’t.”

“Sure,” Sadie replied, “That’s easy to say, and –” she started, but felt a sob catch in her throat. She was crying before she could do anything else, and Sadie felt ridiculous, her hands on the edge of the sink as she was wracked with the rush of despair. It was like a drug, this living with uncertainty. She had no idea what she would do, where she would go, whether she would try to stay in Denver or move here, where things were a little bit brighter, just a shade lighter to bear. The lack of definition to the shades that lay before her, on this road, this life, was overwhelming. And a part of her just wanted to drown in the grey shadows.

“Let it out,” Leo said, coming up behind her and holding Sadie in a hug as she turned into his arms. She cried for a few minutes, her father holding her in the warm sunlight. It felt a little wrong, but the comfort of an embrace, especially from a person she trusted inherently, was worth the discomfort. She didn’t need to be an adult in this moment; she could just be sad. Sadie let herself feel the darkness welling up inside of her, and it was good.

“Better, thanks,” Sadie whispered as she pulled away. She smiled a little, standing back, leaning against the sink and wiping the tears from her eyes. Crying was always such a strange thing. No matter how old she got, Sadie always found the bare emotion of it to be odd, uncomfortable, a bit like realizing that you’re naked in a dream. But it’s real. “You have to go, dad! You’re going to be late for your meetings or whatever, and I can take care of myself.”

SHGQ Ch5a

          “No question! But family takes care of each other. I am always here for a good cry,” Leo said, stepping back, grabbing his cup of coffee and downing half of it in one big gulp. “Besides, I know you’re trying to work things out right now – whatever you’re working out is fine with me!” he said, adding the last part in a rush as Sadie started to interrupt him. She didn’t want her father to worry about her, especially not now that she was in her 30’s, but he had always been able to read her like a book. She had never been able to keep a secret from him, not even when it had really counted, like with Nick.

“Thanks, dad. Serioulsy, I -“ Sadie said, picking up her mug as her father walked towards the door, “I don’t know where I would be right now, literally, if it were not for your love and support.” She looked up as he opened the door.

“Awww,” Leo Hawkins leaned against the front door, smiling, “All this love makes me want to stay home from work. But, alas, meetings and hours of trying to stay awake over inane conversation await! Have a good day, dear-heart, and if I don’t see you before you go over to Ron’s, see you in the morning.” He waved goodbye and then shut the door, leaving a silence and solitude in his wake that was not unpleasant.

Sadie smiled and stood in the kitchen, sipping her coffee. She’d like for the day to stay right here, in this moment, and not move on to any potential awkwardness. But she would have to make food, which she was fairly likely to burn a little bit, and then the world would call Sadie Hawkins from out of her shell of a house.

‘Besides,’ she thought, ‘it’s a beautiful day, and I get to hang out with one of my favorite people this evening.’ Sadie was not entirely looking forward to catching up with Ron – he would probably be most interested in talking about his new relationship. Whenever Ron started dating someone new, he tended to just gush about it nonstop, as if his was the first relationship ever discovered in the universe. It annoyed her sometimes, but Sadie had grown to appreciate his quirks, possibly even find them a bit cute. Still, she was glad they were only friends; his happiness on their first few dates way back when had verged on obsessiveness, and she would not have been able to stand it in the long run.

Sadie found herself staring out the kitchen window and into the side yard of their house. She watched birds come and feed at her father’s bird feeders, including several finches and one, large robin that got rather aggressive with several other birds. A blue jay came around, and even though he was a beautiful sight, he was equally mean to the smaller birds. The sight of them in the sun and the green of trees and grass made her want to be outside. So, Sadie quickly retreated to her room, removed her pajamas, pulled on a Rilo Kiley t-shirt, jeans, and sandals, and rushed outside.

She had only intended to walk around the yard once or twice, then retreat indoors for food and more coffee and some internet surfing. But the sun and the blue spring sky, a wind gentle but strong enough to stir the branches of trees high above, charmed her away from her plans. She found herself outside, sitting underneath her favorite poplar, a good half hour later, just enjoying the day and watching the birds playing and fighting at the feeder.

Sadie had once read an article about how just touching the grass with our bare feet can have positive health effects on us, charge us up and stimulate the production of happy hormones. She was not entirely sure that was a well-tested scientific truth, but she liked the idea of it. Sadie had always felt like nature grounded her, with roots and stone and soil and wind. Lately, she’d been spending less and less time in nature, whereas her college years were a blur of picnics, doing work outside, and growing her own veggies. She’d even volunteered at a community garden for a while – but for the past several years, she had been too busy with articles and research and writing to go for what had once been her daily walks. She could not remember the last time that she had just sat outside, watching animals, or guessing at the shapes of clouds in the sky. She did try to look at the stars from time to time, and she’d had several pots of tomato plants last summer, but it wasn’t the same. In general, she just felt cut off. She had even let her houseplants die, plants that she had kept for a decade or more starting in high school.

‘So maybe now,’ she thought, ‘is my chance. I need changes in my life – why can’t they be the ones I’ve been longing for?’ Even as she pondered the nature of the new life-stage she was currently half-planning, half-dreading, and half-putting off, a silver Prius slowed as it neared her father’s house and pulled into the driveway. Sadie sat up straighter as it came closer, moving down the unpaved driveway to stop at the front of the patio and the house. She stood and walked towards the visitor, who was standing and getting up out of the car at the same time. For a minute, she did not recognize him, as she was coming around from the side, looking at him from as he began to walk towards the front door.

“Z?” Sadie asked, almost incredulous. He turned to the sound of his name and smiled a wide, goofy grin. Joseph Zielinski was practically a different person – but so was she, after 10 years.

SHGQ Ch5b

They had not seen each other since that fateful day when they’d both graduated, and he had taken off his graduation robe in front of the entire school to reveal the bare speedo he’d worn underneath. True to form, Z had accepted his diploma, only to have it be revoked. The only way he’d been able to graduate on time was through a generous donation from his family, and a summer of serving suspensions alone in the high school.

“Sadie? Hi, whoa, blast from the past!” Z said, seeming friendly for the first time in Sadie’s experience. He had a full black beard to match his mop of unruly black hair, which was combed to resemble something between a retro 1940’s haircut and a pompadour.  Z was wearing a grey windbreaker with a blue shirt and a brown tie, with brown slacks to match, too. He looked like the lead in a romantic comedy, standing in the sunlight and seeming utterly fit and perfect – 10 years later and her class asshole seemed like a normal person – a hot, friendly one even. He continued, having paused a beat to look her over while she did the same to him, “Actually, it’s Joe now. But you look really great – I love Rilo Kiley.”

“Thanks,” she replied, and Sadie felt bad. She’d meant to sound actively grateful, but her awe at seeing someone who had tortured her through high school as anything but a cartoonish stereotype of jackass-ery had caused her ‘thanks’ to come out with a sarcastic lilt. “I mean, thank you, really. But my dad just left for work about a half hour ago. Do you two teach together?”

“Oh, no,” Z replied, seeming a bit too quick to reject the concept. Sadie felt silly for asking, but all that she knew was that her dad had gotten to know Z better through a few courses he’d taught on law. Z had been his student and had wound up getting some kind of degree, quickly followed by a job working for his father. “I’m working at my dad’s law firm right now. But me and Leo were supposed to talk over lunch today, and I have to cancel. I was just driving by on the way to work, and I thought I’d stop by, see if I could catch him before he left.”

“Well, shoot. You just missed him,” Sadie replied, smiling a little too broadly. She awkwardly tried to temper it, but mostly just felt surreal about running into Z. He smiled awkwardly, too, and started to back toward his still-open car door. But then he stopped and turned back to her, looking suddenly confused.

“So why are you back in town, if you don’t mind me asking? Did Leo tell you about my problem?” Z said, a shade of his former overly suspicious high school self appearing out of nowhere. Sadie was immediately suspicious in kind; whatever Z and her dad were meeting about, it was definitely something he did not want Sadie involved in. Which made her want to get involved in a big way.

“No, what problem, if you don’t mind ME asking?” Sadie said, immediately regretting it. She now realized what had happened to that teen girl detective – she’d been left behind. After years of dealing with other people’s problems, Dr. Sadie Hawkins did not want to get involved in the drama of other peoples’ lives. It was exhausting and messy and difficult to navigate, at best – and investigating mysteries meant getting right into the center of all that chaos. Right now, Sadie just wanted more coffee, maybe a nap.

“Yeah, I do, actually. Same old Sadie, poking around other peoples’ lives,” Z said, his smile fading and a pained look appearing instead. It was like they were playing roles on a TV show; she was the plucky heroine and he was the sardonic villain. If they weren’t careful, they’d soon be exchanging barbs with an undertone of sexual tension. “Sorry, I don’t mean that. I just had a bad night, couldn’t sleep. You know?”

“Yeah, I’m – not sleeping so well myself, these days. Trying to figure out if I’m gonna move to one of several places, where might be best for jobs, what to DO with my life,” Sadie said, the words flowing more easily than she liked. She had to stop herself from telling this former enemy turned normal human stranger everything about her life. But the sharing seemed to make Z feel more at ease, and he smiled a gentle smile. Sharing helped her, too; she felt lighter just having a non-family member to talk with about her problems.

“That’s really rough. I had a period like that – it feels like it will never end. And then, after shitloads of working and half-killing yourself to try to get ahead, you don’t even notice it did end. Because you’re too busy staying afloat!” Z said, laughing good-naturedly. Sadie smiled, shocked at just how much time had changed the boy who had been Joseph Zielinski. “You keep in touch with anyone from high school? How’s Video doing these days?”

Everyone in town knew that Video and Sadie had stayed best friends long after high school was over. Every year, Sadie, Video, and their parents would get together for the holidays – they would always go out to The Argo in downtown Calydon for a Christmas Eve dinner. Neither family wanted to cook, and both enjoyed the company of the other, so it was a happy compromise between family holidays and knowing that too much time alone with each other would drive them all crazy. But so many people were there the day before Christmas that it was hard to keep their doing so a secret. It didn’t help that the owner, Jason Magnus, was something of a town gossip.

“Yeah, she’s good,” Sadie replied, knowing that Vid preferred everyone in Calydon to think she had fallen down a hole and died. After she had moved to New York, especially, Video had become more and more annoyed by the very existence of her hometown. It worried Sadie. But something came to her – a memory of a memory, sudden and unbidden.  “Hey, can I ask you a weird question?” she asked Z.

“Sure,” he said, smiling again. “Did you ever – get involved – with Tina Johnson?” Even as she asked the question, Sadie could not have predicted what she was going to ask. It was a memory of a memory of a suspicion, the barest of things. Once she said it, Sadie wished she had not – not least because Z suddenly seemed terrified.

“Um, why do you ask? I mean, no way, but that’s kind of a weird question. The last time I even thought about Tina was before graduation,” Z said, and the old Sadie decided that he knew something, that he was hiding something. Sadie the adult felt bad – he was clearly freaked out by the question, although she could not have said why. Tina, Z, and Sadie had all wound up running in different circles in high school – although Z’s ex Lacey had briefly been Tina’s best friend. Apropos of nothing, “didn’t she get raped or something? I mean – shit, that’s really insensitive. Pardon my insensitivity.”

Sadie felt herself make an amused and slightly offended face. But she did not stop herself. She just looked at Z for a few awkward moments as he stared, wide-eyed and purse-lipped back at her. He clearly expected her to say something, but what was she supposed to say. ‘Congrats on your having clear and present issues with sexuality and/or women,’ she thought instead, thinking of what to say next. She had only a few moments, though, as Z soon continued.

“But you know, honestly, I think she and other people like her could really learn a lot if they just took it as a formative experience.” Joseph had said it in a rush, his eyes closed as if he were merely blinking for a long time. But that, along with his crossed arms, tensed shoulders, and the grimace on his face seemed to say that he did not really believe what he was saying. Still, that did not help that he had said it.

“Rape is never okay,” Sadie said in reply. She did not even think about it – the words simply flowed from her. “It’s not a formative experience, it’s not an accident, it’s not a matter of someone asking for it. It. Is. A. Crime. So don’t talk to me about how she should have gotten over it or that she somehow deserved it or whatever. No one deserves to be raped. No one. Not ever.”

As she finished, she watched Z’s face for his reaction. But there was nothing. Even the grimace had disappeared – leaving only a mask of calm. Whatever reason he’d had for commenting on what had happened to Tina the summer before sophomore year, Joseph Zielinski would not be revealing them, by word or body language.

“I’m sorry, Vi. I didn’t realize that you had personal experience with it,” he responded, his face still a cold question mark. Sadie tried not to react herself, even though she felt her chest tighten, her heart speed up, and the blood rush into her face. She stared at the man before her, seeing only the insecure boy that she’d thought, for a moment, was long gone. More than anything, she just wanted to punch him in the face.

“Get off my property,” she replied. Something burning rose up in Sadie, from the deepest part of her. She felt more aware of herself and her surroundings than she had in a long while, and in the back of her mind, she realized that her fight or flight response must be kicking in. At the same time, her thoughts became more precise, her words well-honed. The world felt as if it were coming into focus through this moment of harassment by a fool.

“It’s your dad’s –” Z began, but Sadie put her hand up to stop him.

“Get off my property, or I will call the cops,” she stated slowly, interrupting Z. He looked at her with his mouth open, but she could see something strange come over him. It was as if he felt badly about the way he’d spoken, as if he’d wanted to get a rise out of her so that he could leave with them on the same footing as they’d had in high school. Standing in her father’s driveway, the birds still calling back and forth in the trees, the wind still gently blowing through her hair, she knew that Joseph was trying to distract her from something. She just had no idea what, if not his base ignorance.

“You know I’m engaged to Lacey?” Z said with a boisterous laugh. “And I’m running for office against Trevon. Now, Sadie fuckin’ Hawkins is standing in her father’s driveway, telling me to get off her property. Here, I thought I’d left high school behind.” He smiled now, but it did not seem like a genuine smile. It was the kind of look a gazelle might get in telling a lion a joke, even as it pounced. Z’s strange behavior was a mystery, perhaps even one that Sadie would like to solve. But she set it aside, like an old novel that one’s read too many times. She did not want to solve any more people – not now, maybe not ever.

“You’re welcome to leave,” Sadie said in reply. She wanted to tell this stranger that he was also welcome to grow up, to learn to respect the women in his life, to learn to respect himself as the smart and talented person that he likely was. That discrimination helped no one. That we all suffer when we hurt each other. But instead, she just stared at him. These kinds of conversations never ended well, so she simply chose not to participate.

“Sadie Hawkins telling me what to do, after so long. Feels just like old times,” he said, and then turned to walk back to his car. “What a fuckin’ life, eh?” he said, his back to Sadie. Z got in his car and began to turn it around in the drive. He stopped for a moment and looked back at her, but then her once-high-school-nemesis turned his car around and was gone. All the while, Sadie stood in the driveway, her arms wrapped around herself. She’d been glad to see him, she realized. To know someone, maybe make a new friend from an old acquaintance. Or enemy.

But even in the deepest depression, Sadie Hawkins would never let someone perpetuate injustice. She walked over to her favorite tree in her parent’s yard and sat down beside it, allowing her thoughts to rush over her. After she’d investigated Tina’s blackmail case, Sadie had never been afraid of talking about rape. It needed to be talked about – there was too much fear, too much silence, too much taboo shit about it. For a moment, she wished that she had talked Z through his thoughts, his statements. Made him think it out until he realized how twisted it was to say that rape should be a formative experience.

Still, in the dappled sunlight of this strange spring day in Michigan, for the first time in months, she’d made a choice without questioning herself. It had taken someone being an entirely clueless ass, but Z had reminded her of herself. That she did not tolerate idiocy and injustice. That she would always stand up for what she believed was right. Somehow, being in graduate school had made her forget that, had distanced her too much from issues of everyday life, of just talking to people. From having to talk to total ass-hats who don’t have theorists or books to hold up as shields and armor. The other thing that Z had reminded her was that Von was back in town. Trevon Walker had been the bad boy of Sadie’s high school years, one that she had gone on to date in college. He’d transformed so easily from Calydon’s most devious hooligan to a hip and friendly Ann Arbonite. If she was honest, his ability to become someone new had always astonished her. And now he had moved back to Calydon from Nashville, Tennessee, where he’d been doing software design work.  She should track him down.

She would of course have to ask him about what Z had said, and what exactly they were running for. Even though the sun was starting to bother her, Sadie continued pondering this. Whatever it was, the whole situation seemed a bit mysterious and melodramatic, but that was politics. And Trevon had always been a bit of a mysterious person – they’d only even met when a classmate had pointed Sadie in his direction while she’d been investigating who was blackmailing Tina way back when. Thinking back, she could remember how serious he’d seemed, how like a trickster. He’d admitted to being at the party but kept any details secret. So of course she’d suspected him; in fact, that one moment had led to years of enmity between them. It had only been when they’d both moved to Ann Arbor that she’d learned to trust him.

But she had always felt like there was something about that party that he had not been able to tell her. ‘Maybe I should just call him,’ she thought, standing up and brushing the grass off of her jeans. She had his cell phone number, which she was rather certain had not changed in the last few years, pinned on the bulletin board in her bedroom. Sadie was sad to leave the outdoors and walk back inside, but she wanted to do more today than simply zone out on the lawn. So, she went from the kitchen to the den and then into her bedroom, where she picked up her phone and dialed a number.

“Hiya,” Ron said. Sadie had planned to call Von all the way up to the moment where she’d dialed her best friend’s number instead. “What are you up to on this lovely Friday day?”

“Nothing much, just dealing with an angry Z on my lawn,” she replied, sarcastic already despite the early hour. “Do you know what’s up with him? He said he was running against Trevon for something?”

“Yeah, they’re running for County Treasurer, though neither of them has a ton of experience. I guess that Z’s dad wants him to get into politics, move up the ladder. Least that’s what he said when I saw him last month at the The Boar’s,” Ron said, sounding uncertain across the electronic connection. Sadie could feel the heat of the cellphone in her hands and silently wished that the world were the place it had been when she was young. When phones had been somehow more essential, but less portable and ever-present. “And Trevon was already running as a Democrat when Z decided to run.”

“What? How does Von think he’s going to get enough votes? I mean, this might be a terrible thought, but he grew up here. He knows what Calydonians are like, how racist they can be,” Sadie replied, astonished. She could not reconcile the smart, creative, and culturally aware young man she’d befriended and sometime dated in college with Calydonian politics. Everyone in the city knew the system was inherently corrupt – local, wealthy, white lawyers regularly bought off judges and politicians. The thought of an intelligent African American man among them was probably enough to cause mob rule. “I just don’t – I just don’t know see how it’s gonna work.”

“You know, I brought that up with some friends, but everyone seems a lot more open-minded than you make them out to be. I mean, in Calydon. The rest of the world, sure – I think you’ve probably got a fairly reasonable estimation of how craptacular the world can be,” Ron said, at which Sadie winced. She had yet to describe her current set of problems to Ron, much less the oppressive sadness she felt so regularly and the sense of the world as little more than a tepid ocean of broken dreams. Sure, it was melodramatic, but hearing Ron affirm her view, even if he was referencing a more practical, ordinary estimation of hers, hurt.

“Are you still there?”

“Um, yeah, sorry. Just zoned out for a minute,” Sadie replied. “So like I was saying, Von actually had a pretty good chance. At least he did before this rape stuff got out – you’ve seen the newspapers, right? The article about how he was implicated in a sex crime when you all were in high school? I don’t think the girl came forward, but someone reported him as a likely suspect or something,” Ron continued, and Sadie winced. She had reported Von once, when she’d thought she’d had enough information to do so. When she’d thought she was the only one who could possibly save Tina Johnson from a life of guilt and shame. But her mother had gone with her, had made the reporting officer promise not to do anything without checking all her information.

Apparently, that had been a bit far from the way things had turned out.

“Shit,” Sadie said, talking over something that Ron was saying about their hanging out tonight. He seemed uninterested in talking about local politics further – something Sadie should have known. Ron was probably her least political friend, not that she minded. He could be a safe haven in a storm because of his general neutrality, but, right now, Sadie needed more information. She would not be responsible for her friend and former lover being eliminated from the running by the pompous ass that Joseph Zielinski had become.

“Um, Sadie, are you okay?” Ron asked. “We can hang out a different night, if you want.”

“No, it’s fine – I just need to call my dad and get the down-low on this whole Z v. Von situation,” Sadie said, regretting her shortening of words immediately. The abbreviation sounded like some strange audio file format that had been popular for as long as it took to say the name. “Sorry, that was a silly thing to say. I just want to make sure there’s not anything I can do to help.”

“Do you remember when you swore never to do detective-y shit again? Not that I think you shouldn’t – but you made me pinky swear, granted, drunkenly, to stop her should the situation arise. And here it be,” Ron said, amused. Sadie sighed and smiled at the same time. He was right, of course, but nothing was going to stop her from helping a friend in need. Stopping injustice and all that.

“I remember. I swore on oath on Pancreas Rock in the Strange Woods,” Sadie said. It had been back when she and Ron had still been dating. They’d gone camping in the woods on the west side of town, an area known for ghosts and monsters and disappearances. And they’d camped by an infamous landmark called Pancreas Rock, supposedly named after the mutilation of a young woman in the town’s early days, but actually named after its shape. Sadie thought about that night and felt warm inside – the cold calm of staring at stars had been a strong comfort. She continued, “But I think you know that I need a break from my life right now. And while coming home has helped, solving a little, tiny mystery, or more accurately, sorting out this shady business, is just what the doctor ordered.”

“Well, sure,” Ron replied, “because you ordered it.” They said their goodbyes, agreed on the time, and then they both hung up. Sadie looked up at the window in her room, where a robin was perched, poking at a bug on the screen. It flew away when she caught its eye, and Sadie’s heart fluttered. She knew she should call her dad, work out what was happening and what he knew about Z and Von, but especially whether he knew why Z would say such horrible, closed-minded things to her. Whether there was a reason.

Instead, she picked up her phone, dialed Trevon Walker’s number, and held it to her ear.

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