"How terrible—to see the truth when the truth is only pain to him who sees!"
- Oedipus' Rex, Sophocles.
Chapter 27: Oedipus' eyes
A moment of expectant silence shadowed the question of the judge, until it was cut by a mild quiet, monotone voice.
The prosecutor made a disapproving expression that was subtle and brief enough to become unnoticed for most of the attendants. The short look was supported by the quiet babble before the judge continued to give the date and details about the upcoming trial. It seemed that after they've showed the evidence, it had been implied that Joe would plead guilty. Darren noticed, and it upset him tremendously. What did they know?
The only evidence they had was Michael's gun, which provided fingertips of its owner, Joe and Darren. It did prove that something happened that night, but what kind of deliberated murdered shows up without their own gun? At least they'd be blameless from that accusation. Though Darren still sort of wanted to punch Joe for leaving the gun there in Perkins' house after doing… what he did. He supposed that he was utterly frightened and bewildered only three seconds after pulling the trigger, which blinded him enough for such an oblivious action.
The preliminary hearing finished within the next twenty minutes.
"Do you really think we can do this?" Joe asked, nervous to the core. He had been reluctant about pleading not guilty ever since the option was proposed.
The lawyer met them for the first time the morning after Darren's visit. Darren had given five turns around the block while trying to get himself to call his parents before actually doing it. It was his lowest point since he had moved back to Los Angeles in his freshman year. He had to stand it through his own voice repeating an apology over and over (not that it wasn't honest, but it's just that he hated it because he'd never be able to apologize enough), his mother's crying and ranting over the phone and I know I should've called… it's been months, yeah… I'm sorry, I'm a terrible son, I know; before letting the bomb drop –I need help with something over here.
The caring, loving but not disappointed nor surprised tone of his mother sickened him to the guts, and he remembered why he had decided to never call them again. Oh, my dear. What did you do this time?
So Elisa Hawkins, a 30-something brunette long-haired woman wearing a suit and bordeaux lipstick showed up three hours later with a cup of coffee and a severe this-is-not-my-usual-work-time expression. She informed them after digesting the story that they had two options: Take the blame and try to go for the shortest conviction using the card of self-defense, or playing it hard and plead not guilty, knowing it'd imply to lie to the court and make up a story that didn't exist, whereas disparaging Michael's version. Joe was diffident but Darren didn't hesitate to speak for his friend. He was not going to prison, period.
The bail was not a cheap one, but Darren's parents have provided him with a shitload of money in his bank account after his ten minute long apology. Solve all your problems, they said, which should be a hopeful statement. He still felt sick since he put a foot inside of the bank, but it needed to be done, so he did.
They went to Joe's place after the preliminary hearing. Jim cooked lunch for them as they shared a restless silence, sitting across each other on the table. Jim finished his dinner quickly and announced he was going to take a nap before heading to his classes; acting like if this was just another day in their lives. Darren had almost forgot that there were any classes going on that day, but his mind wasn't in any place to deal with it nevertheless.
Joe pushed his half-empty plate away from him, placed his elbows on the table and his hands tangled within his hair as eyes became closed. A sigh came out of his throat sounding almost like a quiet sob. Darren didn't think he'd have any more strength to cry; he looked intensely exhausted.
But he waited a long moment before asking it quietly.
"How did this happen, Joe?"
Joe opened his eyes and looked at him. Darren's tone wasn't reprehensible, but rather tender.
"Don't tell me that you've fucked it up, because we've established that already. You can tell me what happened. Let it out."
If there was something Darren knew about, was that the only thing worse than having to lie to everyone, was to keep the secret only to yourself. If he didn't let it out, it'd consume him. And Darren didn't care. He'd seen and heard horror at first hand before.
"It's difficult to explain." Joe finally started, lowly, forcing the words all the way out. "It's blurry in my mind, yet I can't seem to push it away. I mean, I sort of considered, in my mind, at times, that if I ever got to pull the trigger, Perkins would be the one at the other side. I'm not going to say it didn't tempt me. But I always thought that if I got the chance, I wouldn't do it." He wet his lips and shook his head. "But that first thought, the one that considered me capable, was also the one that got me so fucking scared of myself, and I guess Perkins saw that, and he took advantage of my instability. I've never been the unwavering one, anyways. He directed me towards Sagner with his words. You know how manipulative he can be. In that moment, it made so much sense; I felt I was finally thinking clear. But it didn't –it didn't make sense, and I stupidly messed everything up."
"We'll get you out of this." Darren announced, and his tone was so convinced that it seemed likely to be true. "I can't meet with you and Margaret tomorrow. Mrs. Riley is giving an exam and I can't miss it this time. But, come over to my place by the evening? Then you'll tell me all about it."
Joe nodded slowly. But there was something behind his eyes, still clinging to that last confession. Darren knew that there are details you can never truly let out. They are the ones that torment you the most, and they belong deeply to yourself.
"But did he do it?" Lauren's voice in the phone sounded somewhat less judgmental than what Darren expected it to be. "God, Darren."
"He's still my friend, and he needs my help."
Something had told her since the start, that the only possible ending for that story was for one of them to step as low as they did. She couldn't help but to feel grateful that it wasn't Darren.
"I'll come over to your house when I finish tutoring. We can talk properly then. All right?"
"That sounds nice." Darren said. Honestly, that day had been long and dreadful, and he couldn't wait until they were lying half-naked on bed and hearing each other's voices fading until falling asleep. "Bring dinner, if you can. I haven't gone grocery shopping yet."
"Okay. I'll see you then." Lauren started whispering as she walked back to the classroom. "Take care."
Lauren couldn't focus adequately in the entire day. There was a low buzzing in the back of her head, and she felt uneasy, at the expectance of something undefined. She tried to shrug it off and remind herself that this was none of her concerns. Tutoring was. She'd take care of the next item as it came.
So when she stepped inside of Darren's apartment, she couldn't help but to feel she was interrupting something. And Joe's words did nothing but to feed that sensation.
"This is the perfect timing." He said calmly, though his expression didn't match his voice. He was sitting down on Darren's couch while he was looking for something in the fridge. "I was just thinking about you."
"Me?" Lauren tried to ask casually, but she couldn't help the anxiety starting to climb up on her. "How come?"
"I had a meeting with my lawyer today. Did you really think nobody would join the dots together?"
Lauren felt breathless, trying to convince herself that this was the paranoia inducing her into seeing things that were inexistent.
"What are you talking about?" Her voice came out so fake and plastic it could've been read off a script.
Joe stood up, confronting her, and she just confirmed it. He wouldn't be so pissed if it was anything else. "Don't play stupid with me, princess. I know. My question is, what did I do for you to hate me this much?"
Of course Caroline would tell him about all those horrible things Lauren had said during their fight, and she didn't need to be a genius to realize that adding it up with what she had done on her own, it was all going to blow up on her face.
Lauren merely shook her head, words unable to come out. Part of her wanted to believe that he'd feel compassion and keep it to himself for one day more.
"I'm assuming you didn't tell Darren about it."
"Joe, don't. Stop it." The words tripped onto each other, and she wanted this moment to just end, whatever was going to happen to just happen, because she couldn't bear to stand through it. It was going to be terrible and she could not do it.
"Hey, what's going on?" Darren had walked near them, and was confused by the way the tension between the two had seemed to arise so quickly.
Joe looked intensely at Darren as he said, "Nothing, except for the fact that your girlfriend framed me."
"What?" Darren laughed, because –honestly? What else was he supposed to do? "That's ridiculous, Joe. It's Lauren we're talking about. She would never do something like that."
But Joe was immersed in his new discovery, how the riddles finally fit and he wanted everyone to see it.
"They were supposed to put you in jail, Darren, remember? But Perkins and, of course –your precious girlfriend's mother, changed their charge only about a few weeks ago, from you to me. It wouldn't normally make sense, right? If only there was a reason someone wanted to save you and sacrifice me in the way…"
Joe glanced at Lauren, and he held that enraged, silent gaze, which made Darren doubtful. "That's completely untrue. You can tell Elisa she got it wrong. Right?" He asked, now looking at her, expecting her to defend herself instantly. Like it was logical to. "Lauren?"
Lauren could've lied, she supposed, but she was so certain that she'd start crying and give the truth away nevertheless, that she only breathed in and out and let the silence be the confession.
"Lauren, tell me that's not true." Darren's tone had stopped being amused, and it became austere instead.
His eyes only looked at her for three seconds before realizing, something in his expression and entire body language turning tense, like if he felt the pinch of a knife on his back. He sighed deeply, running a hand through his forehead as his throat let out an Oh, god that came from various corners of his mind. He did not speak until after a long moment.
"You did this behind my back?"
Lauren let her silence answer again, but Joe's resentment wouldn't let it pass so easily.
"You have nothing to say?" He stepped towards her once more, and Lauren could see the most detailed features of his face.
Lauren knew she should start apologizing, but she didn't feel she could say a word without her inside tearing apart into little pieces, like a hand that's held a glass too tightly for too long.
"It's not my fault if you killed someone."
She shouldn't have said anything. When she finally spoke, her own voice felt like the glasses stirring her skin from inside.
Joe seemed so offended he could've punched her on the face. This time, she couldn't really blame him.
"Yeah, and what a coincidence that Michael had manipulated me into shooting someone with his own gun, to give him the perfect chance to make me fit into this story. I was willing to protect you if I had to when we went to New York, even if I didn't like you, and all along you've been planning to turn this against me. You kept all of this to yourself so sneakily. No wonder you'd want to come with us in the first place. I can't believe I've been so blind to your true intentions."
"Joe, shut up." Darren said steadily.
Joe raised his eyebrows. That he was not expecting. "What?"
"Leave us alone."
Joe didn't seem disposed to. "Have you not heard me? You're not going to buy whatever shit she tells you, aren't you? She betrayed us. She betrayed you."
"Just get out. Please."
Joe sighed and shook his head. He held up his hands, like if he was –once again, turning himself over.
"This is probably my fault, whatsoever. I should've never challenged you for that bet for a start. Then she wouldn't have caused us so many troubles. Hell, she wouldn't even be here right now." Joe grabbed his leather jacket from the top of the couch and headed to the door.
"What is he talking about?" Lauren asked quietly.
"Nothing." Darren rushed to say. "He's just pissed."
"Yeah," Joe added sarcastically from the door, throwing one last severe glance, "I'm just pissed, that's it."
His face got lost behind the door as he finished that phrase. The slam of the wood against the frame could still be heard in the room, when Lauren interrogated Darren with her eyes.
Darren's tone continued to be suspiciously quiet. "It's just a bet we made back when classes started. It doesn't mean anything."
"It obviously means something, or he wouldn't have said it. Tell me."
"Why? Because you've been so fucking honest with me all this time?" Darren spat.
A tense silence sank in again when Darren realized the hostility of his words. He rubbed his eyelids with the tip of his fingers for a moment, and then they slid slowly through his cheeks to finally fall at the sides of his body.
"Fuck," he muttered, looking suddenly drained, but he lastly said it, dragging the words, like if they really didn't want to come out. "Just let me say that this was ages ago, and I didn't know you. You didn't know me. I had no idea I'd feel this way for you when I did it."
He took a deep breath to prepare himself to let the bomb drop, and destroy whatever else could be destroyed. "We made a bet about getting to sleep with you first. I accepted it because I had just came back from Los Angeles, and I liked you, and I was –a dick, to be honest. Things between me and Joe were weird, and –"
"I fell in the way between you two."
"Can't we just forget it? I certainly did. It's not the reason I'm with you. It has never been."
But everything made sense in Lauren's head. The way he stubbornly tried to contact her, and ignored the way she rejected him repeatedly and searched for the right manner to catch her attention. Her first impression hadn't failed her: he only was trying to get her to bed. There was nothing romantic or destined to be about it.
Everything Darren did was so careless of the ones around him. What did that turn her into? Into someone like him?
"But it's just the essence of you, isn't it? Our relationship is based on one of your little games, and that's where I always end up finding myself. This is where I'm finding myself right now."
"Don't make yourself the victim of this situation, Lauren, because there isn't any. I didn't make you do this, and you know well that you had no justifiable reason, to hide behind my back things that involved me and affected me directly."
"I only did it to protect you, Darren!"
"Which I never asked for! You should've told me; you should've consulted me. But you choose to act behind my back, and frame my best friend? This isn't something we laugh about in a bar; he can end up spending the rest of his life in prison. Do you realize how serious that is?" Darren's voice only started to arise as he vent this, and he looked so hurt she couldn't bear it much longer. "And when you made that choice, you were well aware of our relationship. I had no fucking idea."
"It was either you or him. I didn't know what else to do. I can't believe you're comparing that to some stupid, sexist joke you did to toy with me as a welcome-back-gift."
"I'm sorry! Okay? I'm so, so sorry!" This time, his voice had let the temper show bare, breaking the air violently, filling the room as if it was smoke. "What I did was incredibly stupid, and immature, and objectifying and whatever you want! And I should've told you! But lord help me it was just a bet, Lauren. I wouldn't keep a secret like this from you, ever. Fuck, I told you things I've never told anyone else. I trusted you with everything. I got so, so immersed with you in this. How naive to think you'd do the same in return."
Lauren pressed her lips together. She might as well let everything out. There was nothing to lose; not anymore.
"Maybe you shouldn't have."
"You shouldn't have gotten so immersed with me, if you knew the only thing we could do was to hurt each other. That's the main thing we did."
Darren shook his head. The volume of his voice came back to normal, but the pain on it remained the same. "The main thing I did was to love you. In fact, I don't recall doing anything else."
"Which didn't turn out very well, Darren. You dragged me into this!"
"I dragged you?" Darren was losing the track of the conversation. He wasn't sure he knew what they were fighting about anymore; he only knew that he was in severe pain, and that she wouldn't fix it. She wouldn't try to. "I always tried to –You always knew…"
Lauren sighed and told herself there'd be nothing more shameful than starting to cry right then. "Well, I suppose this is how we were meant to end. Pulling the ropes around our necks until they break. Let it be a lesson. You shouldn't have ever been in a relationship because you just don't know how to properly care for someone. I shouldn't have followed you into your world and pretended to look without touch. Let's write that down and be done with it."
Lauren had turned around to leave, when he stood up in front of the door to stop her. The disappointment on his eyes was almost painful.
"I can't believe you. You are obsessed with romance and finding passion in your life, but as soon as things get difficult, you take a step backwards and decide that it's not worth to get involved in. You never fight for people. You don't even fight for you."
Lauren ignored the tear getting cold at the line of her jaw. "I tried to fight this in my way."
"You tried to fight this alone, and against me."
Lauren sort of couldn't believe she hadn't passed out. It was too much. She had never felt so many things at once. It was unbearable. She was hurt by him and she was hurt by the truth she couldn't get herself to face. And this fight had been so long and painful and she knew it could keep going in circles. But she didn't want to hear what he had to say. She wanted it to end.
A corner of her wanted to try to defend herself and say that it was her only chance, that he'd have never let her do it if he knew; she wanted but somehow Darren's reply was already echoing in her head, telling her: You still lied to me. Every day. You looked at me, smiling, and you lied to me. You kissed me and you lied to me. You fucked me and laid the entire night beside me and you lied to me.
Then she asked to herself, it's over, isn't it?
It almost felt like a memory already.
"You still won." She finally let out, looking at him in the eyes.
Darren frowned, confused.
"Huh?" He didn't seem capable of talking coherently anymore.
"The bet. You won it."
Darren gulped and realized he was too exhausted to explain to her that the bet was cancelled months ago, that he hadn't cared about the bet as much as he cared about a single one of her brunette strands of hair, and that the only thing going through his mind the night he first slept with her was that whenever they were over he'd be the one to suffer the most –which, for a brief amount of time, seemed unlikely to happen. He just knew that whatever he told her wouldn't be enough, and that she'd see him however she wanted to see him, regardless the proof against it. And that you can't force someone to fight a battle when they only want to turn to the other side and aim at you.
"I didn't win any fucking thing from all of this."
"Fine, if you say so. Then it will just be the best for both of us."
"Oh, don't play the honor card on me, will you? I could always tell when you're setting it up." He wanted to add that not really always, because hell he had never seen this coming, but he bit his tongue. "Tell me you're breaking up with me because I'm an asshole that made a bet over you in the first week of classes. Then I can't judge you for leaving. But I know that's not it. I can see it in your eyes that you're so scared of taking responsibility of your involvement in things, on your mistakes and the fact that you have genuine feelings for somebody, that you'd just rather ignore all of it. You'll pretend this never happened, that you never fucked anything up and go back to that life that makes you so miserably unhappy that you have to make academic success everything you have for yourself."
Lauren looked at him for a while, partly unable to believe they've told each other this –but they've done it, tying rocks at one another's feet. Then she muttered, almost tenderly, "Goodbye, Darren."
She walked past him, and this time he couldn't attempt to stop her.
Part of Darren wished that the discussion would've lasted even longer and that she'd scream to him until there was no more air in her lungs, because there was something so painfully violent in the silence following the slam of the door. Like if your opponent decides to abandon the battlefield and leave you lying on the floor, bleeding to death.
A/N: I'm so sorry. Please let me know your enraged thoughts and curses.