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“Tell me, Jenny. You can trust me.”
I look up, right into the penetrating eyes of Dr. Jim Frank. He had bright, bright blue eyes, hair that he constantly flicked off of his face, and a pointed chin. Jim is young for his job; only about seven years older than I, and in his early twenties. My mom said that because of the traumatizing experience (or so my mother calls it), it would not be easy to open up to an older doctor. With Dr. Frank— just the way he moved, those too-gentle eyes—he made me uncomfortable.
“Jenny, I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me.”
He is right. Moreover, I don’t want his help. Hence me not talking.
“Perhaps you didn’t hear me, Jenny.” Oh, I did. But I didn’t want to. I don’t even want to think. “I want you to close your eyes and remember what happened that night. Believe me, it will loosen you and make it easier for you to handle this.”
I blink at him. Dr. Frank sighs.
“Jenny, I only want to help.”
“I don’t want help.” The words come out as a hoarse whisper. He tilts his head and peers at me.
“Ah, at last—she speaks!” He smiles, as if this is a funny joke. “Now, honey, I don’t really want to call your mother. She seemed to be very irritated this morning, and I don’t want to drag her in here just because you aren’t cooperating. I’m sure you don’t want that, either.” He settles in his chair with a revolting satisfaction. “All you need to do is close your eyes and think. Go on.”
I hesitate. I don’t like losing my guard around Dr. Frank—I consider him not trustworthy at all, no matter how many people he “helps” per day. After battling with myself for a few moments, I force my eyes shut and lean back on the couch.
“Now, sweetheart. What did you do after school?”
“I went to the grocery store.”
I bought eggs—a dozen eggs in a cloudy grey carton and a blue Gatorade for later. The grocer bagged my purchases in plastic. She had a kind face, I noted as I reviewed my plans for the afternoon. First, I would make a couple batches of chocolate peanut butter chip cookies. I would feed them to Nathan for his accomplishments in sports. My brother had just won an “honorable mention” from his football coach, and I wanted to treat him.
I started home at four. My house was close enough to walk, but it was pouring down rain and I waved down a taxi and persuaded him to give me a free ride. He grunted as I climbed out into the now sunny weather. That was Oregon for you—never can make up its mind. Nathan opened the door and grinned at me.
“Jiffer,” he began excitedly. It was the name he always called me when I was alone. We had had a secret language as children, and it was the only thing that lasted. Now, people only called me Jenny or Jennifer. I didn’t let anybody else call me Jiffer. “I started a new painting. Would you like to see it?”
I stuck the grocery bag into the fridge and followed him into the sunroom. One of my favorite places to be was there—the sunlight poured in from every wall, and the room was cluttered with art supplies, books, and all of Nathan’s other things. What little wall was available was covered in his artwork.
“So you were jealous, Jenny,” Dr. Frank says, but I ignore him and push deeper into my memories.
The painting was of me in the kitchen, standing in front of the oven and baking something. Nathan was on the floor, grinning up at me and trying to grab my foot. The shading, lighting, highlights—it looked so real that I wanted to just walk into the picture and live it.
“Do you like it?” He was watching me with an amused expression. It would have been funny to see my face when I saw his work—Nathan obviously enjoyed it.
I smiled at him. “I love it, Nate.”
“Do you?” He looked happy; exuberant, even. I loved it when he was like this; painting and writing always calmed him down. “I just need to make a few more final touches before I’m finished. Do you think I made your hair to messy?”
I studied the picture. In the painting, my hair was much like it was now: pulled back into a messy ponytail, yet still managing to look glossy. “No,” I told my brother, “It looks great. I’ll be in the kitchen making cookies, if you need me.”
He looked at me suspiciously. “Are you trying to butter me up for a reason?”
“No, Nathan,” I answered him, laughing; “I just want to spoil you, is all.” I gave him a quick hug, which he shrugged off, and went into the kitchen.
For once, it was clean—well, cleaner. The counter had been cleared off for the most part, only a few dishes resided in the sink, and someone had dragged a broom across the floor. Brushing crumbs off of the counter, I set to taking out all of the important ingredients. Once they were mixed, I added my special touches: vanilla, brown sugar, and then peanut butter chips. After rolling them into balls and eating at least two handfuls of chocolate chips, I popped them in the oven and leaned against the stove to wait.
Ten minutes later, the timer went off. As I checked on the cookies, I heard a noise, and then something touched my foot. I looked down and saw Nathan.
“Trying to make our afternoon painting-perfect?” I joked, thinking of his painting. Nathan opened his mouth and made a strange rasping noise. “Nate?” I knelt down and shrieked. Pooling from his stomach was about a gallon of blood that was growing by the second.
“Oh my gosh, Nate,” I whispered, horrified. “Don’t move. Hold this against your stomach.” I ripped off the outer layer of my shirt and gave it to him. “I’m going to call the police—wait here…” Before I got up, Nathan’s too-white hand reached up and grasped my arm.
“Not—going—to—make—it—,” He gasped hoarsely, “I love you, Jiffer.”
“Don’t say that, Nate. You are. You are,” I cried, my tears falling onto his cheek. He smiled weakly, then fell limp in my arms. “Nate!” I screamed, “Nathan! Don’t do this to me, you bastard! Don’t leave me!” I pounded my fists against his chest and collapsed, sobbing.
“Did you call the police, then?” Dr. Frank asks.
“Yes. I got up and I looked for a phone.”
I found Nathan’s cell on the loveseat in the sunroom. I dialed in the three numbers and held the phone to my ear.
“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?”
“My brother,” I whispered into the phone, “He’s dead.” I choked back a sob and my eyes went to the painting; Nathan’s last piece of work.
My hand dropped to my side.
The painting had changed. Nathan’s figure, which used to be grinning, was pale and grimacing. The person representing me looked to be in a state of shock; hand over mouth, staring down at Nathan.
As always, picture perfect.
Trembling, I brought the phone back to my ear. But it wasn’t a phone anymore—it was a knife. A bloody, bloody knife.
“It was Nathan’s blood,” I finish, staring at my hands. Murderer’s hands? Hands that killed my own brother?
“Oh, hon,” Dr. Frank says sympathetically, “You think you killed him?”
I stare at him with wide eyes. ‘It isn’t possible,’ I thought at him desperately.
“Oh, sweetheart, you didn’t kill him,” Dr. Frank soothes.
I sniffle. “What?”
“Jenny, I went to your house that day. Do you remember?”
It is coming back to me. He was sitting in the corner of the sunroom amidst all of the clutter, and he smiled at me as I came in. “Yes,” I say, “You were in the sunroom next to the painting.”
“That’s right. Nathan called me that afternoon to talk. He was stressed, and he needed help.”
It takes a moment to understand what he said. “No,” I object, “Nathan wasn’t suicidal. Whatever he was, he wasn’t suicidal. Besides, what could he possibly be stressed about.”
“Everything,” Dr. Frank says grimly, “Too much pressure, too many girl problems…All in all, your brother was a very troubled boy.”
I am gripping the couch so tightly that my knuckles grow white. “No,” I say again, “Nathan told me everything. He told me everything.”
Dr. Frank pats my knee in a way that is supposed to be comforting.
“Why did I kill him?” I ask helplessly, “He was my best friend and my blood. Why did I kill him?”
“Jenny, sweetheart. Didn’t I say you didn’t kill him?” He smiled. “I only put the knife there to cover my fingerprints.”
“What?” I tried to process his words. Dr. Frank’s smile grew.
“Don’t looks so surprised, honey. I was the one who killed your brother.” He comes towards me.