“You Are Free” by Jimmy Eat World from Integrity Blues
Listen to it here
(CW: For implied and described violence)
She dropped backwards, the concrete hard and cold. Her funny bone struck just right and the sizzle of neural electricity seized her arm. A part of her brain registered it with grim humor. “Yep, still hurts like hell even in the middle of a beating.”
She remembered that night. Calling Crystal, inviting her over, telling her the past was in the past. Did she really believe that? Maybe she did? That part, oddly, was hard to remember. Did she always mean for that night to end like it did? Certainly not. Right?
The object whistled through the air before striking her ribs. Turns out, for a kid, that girl had quite the swing. The noise and the agony reassured her. Definitely broken. Shattered, more accurately.
The noise. It took her awhile to realize it was herself shrieking. Crystal was silent. Never to speak again silent. She could see that right away. She looked at the clock. An hour?! God…that long? Her hands throbbed. Her lungs burned. She felt triumphant. She knew that was hideous but there was no denying it. Crystal was going to derail her future, going to tell everyone about the stealing, about the cheating, about all of it. What right did Crtystal have to do all that?! None. So she did what she had to. Not pleasant, but justified. She knew others wouldn’t get that though so she had to think of something else.
Gasping, groaning, she tried to make eye contact with one of them. Any of them. Surely if she could just look them in the eyes they’d stop. They’d see her humanity and stop.
Staging the scene was a disaster. She was smart but it required a whole different kind of smart that she evidently didn’t have. She doubled down on the alibi, on the three masked men, on the Russian accents, on the Crystal’s last words, but none of it convinced anyone. By the end, even her brother couldn’t buy into the denials. The jury was gone for only 18 minutes. Yet, she had to admit, even as the foreman started to read the jury decision, she was sure she had gotten away with it.
She struggled to her hands and knees. She was adrenalized. It was spiking through her in a consistent triple beat rhythm. But her body…it seemed unable to respond the same she wanted to. She tried to speak and she could only manage a sort of scratchy wheeze. She tried to wipe her vision clean but there was just so much…her in the way.
After her third appeal, he had arrived. Impressively coiffed, handsome, a bit older. Exactly the kind of man she spent time with before. And he seemed to…well…maybe like her? He flirted. Not blatantly, but slyly. The kind of flirting that gives you that tremble of “is this what I think it is?” The kind of flirting that made life fun. But he didn’t tell her right away why he was really there. Just that he would get her free. She thought maybe he was one of those high priced lawyers who suddenly got a conscience pop culture had taught her existed.
Someone shouted at her. Maybe Crystal’s dad. Something about damning her for making them do this. Something about the stupid state and their stupid refusal to execute criminals. She smiled. She didn’t mean to, but she did. She signed a petition once to stop the death penalty in the state and eventually, the legislature did. It was sort of cosmically funny if you thought about it.
It was the fourth visit. The fifth? No, the fourth. That’s when he showed her his notepad. Gestured to the walls and mouthed “bugged.” So she read. He laid it all out. There was no legal way she’d ever live outside of prison again. But an illegal way? He could help her with that. Her family had hired him and he had figured it out. How she could escape the prison, how he could set her up with a new life far away. How she’d never need to do anything but live a simple comfortable life. She always thought she deserved more than simple comfort but she could accept that trade off. To be free.
The sting of the steel in her skin. Oh right, she had stabbed Crystal. She forgot that.
The escape went off without a hitch. She couldn’t believe how easy. And the man picked her up right by the back gate like he said, a brand new outfit sitting on the seat. She was feeling cheeky so she gave him a show. Why not truly enjoy being free. He drove 3 hours and put her up in a nice apartment, just as promised. Two days there and then it was onto the boat to South America and a flight to Europe. New life. New identity. Freedom.
She barely registered the loud snap of a cocked gun. Barely but did. Wait, she tried to exclaim, wait, I never used a gun. But if she voiced the objection, no one seemed to care.
The morning she was supposed to leave, there was a knock at the door. She practically bounced to it. Maybe the man would come with her? Just for a bit? For fun? But it wasn’t him at the door. It was Crystal’s uncle. She recognized him from the trial. Then she felt the needle in her arm. Then, nothing.
She rolled over onto her back, looked to the non-descript ceiling. Maybe they changed their mind, she wondered, when no gunshot came.
She knew the moment she came out of the stupor what had happened. The man hadn’t help her escape prison. He had helped Crystal’s family trap her. And from the array of objects laid out on the table, she knew their intention. She made a break for the door, but she only made it a step before someone kicked her knee, making her buckle. Just like Crystal.
Someone announced, “More mercy than you deserve.” They said more, but she couldn’t focus on the rest. Her head was floating. Spinning. Not processing information right. Then a bang. Then, nothing.