Episode 10: The Birdie Blues
Kelly lounged against Jagger’s bed, sitting on the floor with his legs draped over a body pillow. A game controller in his hand, he leaned over, snagging a swig of soda from Jagger’s straw. Kelly’s eyes never left the screen. He’d never made it to this level and knew another zombie was coming for him at any moment.
“Dude, you have your own drink.” Jagger shouldered Kelly away.
“Yeah but yours is closer. You should top that off, bro. Your Dew is going flat.”
“Thanks for the warning, mooch.” Jagger tasted his drink. He groused, “It is flat.”
“Told you.” Kelly leaned forward, blowing up zombies until the television screen filled with bloody, brick walls and monster guts. A ping sounded. He gained some more ammo and a new weapon. “Fuck yes.”
“De Angelo, I thought we were supposed to be talking about tonight here?” Jagger glanced at Shay in the corner. The kid was way too engrossed in his pizza. So much so, he was almost cross eyed from trying to avoid interacting with them.
“Shush! I’m going into their lair. It’s a boss level. Don’t mess me up.” Kelly stuck his tongue out a little between his lips, concentrating.
“If you don’t pause that shit I think Shay is going to go fully comatose over there. Unless they put a sedative in his pizza…” Jagger eyed Shay. “Are you still among us over there?”
Shay blotted his mouth with a paper towel, drawn out of his reverie. He nodded, eyes nervously roaming around. “I’m good.”
“Then start talking before the zombie annihilator loses interest.”
Shay put his plate down and brought his knees to his chest. “Why do you talk to me like that?”
Jagger rolled his eyes. His patience wearing thin, he flicked Shay off. “Ugh. Just don’t. Seriously. You know why. I know everyone around here wants to wrap you in a fluffy blanket and rock you to sleep, but if you plan on rooming with me you’re going to get the truth. I’m not going to baby you. You’re a grown ass man. It’s shitty what happened to you. I’m not denying that. But River dumped me for you. I loved him. What the fuck?” Jagger whipped his paper plate to the floor. “Am I just supposed to forget that and braid your hair and paint your nails? Not gonna happen. Get over it.”
The blond flicked his eyes up, all innocent. His boyish stare was fuel to Jagger’s fire, but nowhere close to what he said then. “Loved him or love him? Because I love him. Not just as my friend, either.”
“Is that why you let Owen beat the shit out of him?” Jagger growled.
Shay paled, putting a hand to his mouth. He betrayed himself. He didn’t have to say yes or hang a guilty sign around his neck. His involvement was pretty obvious.
“I knew it! You were with those fuckers that night. After the scene during assembly I knew you set that up. God! And you’re just sitting there all woes me and shit? Fuck you! Get out. Don’t tell me I don’t love River! I would never have stood by. I would have beat the living shit out of them all.” Jagger stood, ripping off his jacket. “You know what, Foster? I think it’s time you got a little taste of your own medicine.”
Kelly’s controller hit the wall. He was between Shay and Jagger in a flash. His hands met Jagger’s heaving chest. “Don’t do this, Jagger.”
“Give me one good reason not to wreck his face.” Jagger leaned to the side, targeting Shay.
“I overheard Jackie talking with dad. Shay told her it was Owen that put River in the ER. And,” Kelly looked at Shay before pushing onto his tiptoes, his lips up against Jagger’s ear, “they brought him to the hospital that night because he tried to kill himself over it. Only my dad and Jackie know.”
“Just stop it! I’m right here.” Shay got to his feet. “Fuck it. You don’t have to be my roommate. I don’t need friends or babysitters. That’s what this is, right? My parents probably paid you to make the offer. Because no one in their right mind would want to be around me willingly…the poor little raped guy; the homewrecking bystander to the love of his life’s almost death. Yeah, I get it, Jagger. Fuck me. Fuck the world. Fuck everything, right? I’m the one whose guilty here.” Shay grabbed his backpack. “You can tell my parents to give you the money. God knows they’ve wasted enough on me already. What’s a few more dollars?”
“You really tried to kill yourself?” Jagger didn’t know what to think. Pity rose like imaginary bile in his throat. His stomach clenched at the horrific shame on Shay’s face; a twisted agony that consumed every one of Shay’s features. It was as if someone had reached inside him and squished his heart in his chest.
Shay’s jaw ticked. He threw his backpack across the room. “Finish it, Jagger. Just do it. Get it out. Punch me. Slap me. Fucking kill me. What the hell do I need to keep breathing for? I’m a waste of space according to everyone that can talk. I can’t be normal. There is no normal anymore for me.” His derisive laugh signified Shay losing his sanity. “Just do it,” he whispered. “I don’t want to be a part of this anymore and I don’t need you to remind me.”
“River needs you. You can’t leave him like that.” Jagger couldn’t believe he thought it much less said it.
“What?” Shay calmed. “What did you say?”
Jagger walked to the window, rubbing his hands up and down his ratty t-shirt because he couldn’t stay still. His thoughts had deceived him and formed words to be set free. All along he’d known River wanted Shay. Yeah. River had loved Jagger, too, but never like Shay. In the last year they were together, Shay was all River had talked about in between dealing with Jagger’s constant meltdowns and changes. Shay was that cool guy that always found a way into their alone time or he was the pretty face that popped up on River’s phone just when things were calm and intimate.
In the back of his mind Jagger had known he and River’s relationship was coming to an end. He’d tried his best to cause a scene and keep River around, if only out of pity. But River was exhausted with him. It wasn’t love anymore. It was sometimes sex and a cigarette on the back porch. It was the occasional gift given with emptiness. It was a yearning for something else with River. And finally, after months of contemplation and heartache, Jagger knew he had to set River free.
Although he was bitter, it had been Jagger’s choice. Knowing he’d chosen an end to them, he couldn’t get past the hurt and anger. Why couldn’t he be River’s one and only? Why couldn’t anyone take notice of Jagger because he was just Jagger and no one else? Why couldn’t he have what Shay had?
Jagger inhaled, forehead against the window. “He was all I had left. He was the only one who would listen and put up with my shit. I made him miserable because I needed him. I didn’t have anyone else…”
Shay closed his eyes and pushed his hair away from his face. When he finally opened his eyes to see the pain in Jagger’s profile, he knew what he had to say. “You didn’t make him miserable. He said you were the best first love he could’ve ever had, but you changed and so did he. I never asked him to break up with you. I never hinted for him to change things. I was happy being his friend. But I won’t lie and say the day he told me he wanted me I wasn’t happy about it. I wanted him, too. I’ve always wanted him.”
“Want isn’t love, you asshole.” Jagger whirled around, facing Shay.
Clear blue eyes stared back at him. Shay shifted, finding Jagger’s desk chair to sit before he collapsed. “Neither is forcing someone to stay in a relationship because you’re too scared to let anyone else in. Every day I’m scared. I’m scared to go out there and see the looks on their faces. I’m scared to tell anyone how I feel because I’m sick of being judged. I’m scared that if they get too close to me, they’ll run away when they find out how fucked up I am. Just like you.”
“Should I get out the camera so we can scrapbook this moment later?” Kelly blinked.
“Shut up,” Shay and Jagger yelled at him. The two glanced back at each other. A moment of silence gave them time to study one another’s face and the similarities they shared in those two words.
Jagger was the first to look away. “I’m not happy about this. I don’t think I’ll ever be happy about you and him.”
“And I’ll always feel guilty. I don’t even know if he still wants me. I know I don’t deserve him.” Shay distracted himself with his hands.
“That may be but you can’t just off yourself. When he wakes up and needs someone, you’re going to be there whether it’s uncomfortable or not. I think you know what it’s like to wake up somewhere unfamiliar without the person you need the most. Then again that was your own fault from my understanding. You made him an outcast.”
“Come on, Jagger. Cut it out. He’s sorry, okay?” Kelly shook out his hair, flipping his hoodie back. In a dramatic fall to the floor against his pillow, he sighed. “I think I should mediate from here on out. Shay? Do you promise not to choose the easy way out, kill yourself, and abandon River even if he ends up hating you?”
Shay’s mouth opened. He looked ready to sprint out of the room, but he nodded. “Yes.”
Jagger groaned. “Kelly, just stop.”
“No way. You’re being an asshole. Jagger, do you promise to stop cutting Shay down even though you think you hate him?” He held up a hand to stifle Jagger’s reply momentarily. “Do you promise to try and room with Shay because he’s a human being and he needs a friend just like you do? I know I’m awesome and what not, but two friends are better than one. And I think we could all work together…” Kelly gave Jagger a sly look, trying to get him to continue.
Jagger was a man on the edge of the fence. He walked a few small circles over the rug. His bare feet doing this twisted dance, then his toes curled around the edge of the material when he stopped to ponder. Finally ending up in front of Shay, Jagger stuck out his hand.
“You’re not my favorite person. Got it? I have a best friend already. But you have information I need. And if you so much as think of fucking River over again I’ll cut off your dick, turn it inside out, and make a Christmas ornament of it.”
Wrinkles appeared at the top of Shay’s nose. His nostrils flared up. His extreme offense to Jagger’s imagery left Kelly in a fit of giggles. “A Christmas ornament.” Kelly bent over, sucking in air before another giggle left him breathless. “You kill me, Winegarten.”
Like everything about Kelly’s personality, his laughter was also infectious. Shay and Jagger stared at him, withdrawn from the serious understanding they were coming to. Jagger bit his lip, snuffling air out it nose. Dimples pricked Shay’s cheeks.
“Is he always like that?” Shay asked, curling into the chair as much as his six foot two frame would allow.
“Immature? Oh yeah.” Jagger pushed Kelly over with his foot. “Knock it off, pigmy.”
“Guess that means my dick is too small to hang on your tree.” Kelly laughed out loud, shoving the pillow over his face.
This time Shay laughed with him. He tried to hide it behind his hand, but lost the fight. His legs unfurled. His feet hit the floor. His chest bounced as his deep laugh filled the room. The sound was rich and exotic, and shocking to Kelly and Jagger. They examined Shay enjoying himself in what was probably the first time in a long time.
Kelly pulled the pizza box into the middle of the room. He shoved a mound of stuff out of the way and patted the space next to him. “Hey, Shay, come over here.”
“Yeah, we need to call to order the first official meeting of the He Man Woman Hater’s Club.” Jagger’s dark eyes sparkled. Remnants of humor still lingered.
“I don’t hate women,” Kelly said pointedly. His brows relaxed when he sniggered. “I just wouldn’t fuck them.”
“I get the feeling you haven’t fucked anything. You seem more like a bottom boy to me.” Jagger barked laughter, fighting Kelly’s hands away.
Shay took a seat on the rug, reaching for a piece of pizza. “You’re a virgin?”
“Is it such a crime, people?” Red cheeked, Kelly pulled his hood up again. “Sorry I haven’t been fucked then ways from Sunday like you two.”
Shay crumpled outwardly, eating his pizza with purpose to save himself embarrassment. His lids lowered a bit, hiding his eyes behind his lashes. Kelly slapped a hand to his forehead. “I’m sorry, Shay. I didn’t mean anything by it. Let’s change the subject.”
Jagger tilted his head, watching Shay eat faster than he could swallow. “Shay, you okay?”
“Fine,” Shay gasped and reached for the two liter in the middle of the rug. He twisted off the cap and chugged straight from the bottle.
“Bad form, man!” Kelly swiped the bottle up. He rubbed the open end on his sweatshirt. “Not from the bottle. No.” He shook his finger at Shay.
Suddenly Shay grabbed onto Kelly’s finger. “I was a virgin before that night. I was waiting until the next week. I was going to let Riv…” His eyes wavered. “He took that from me. That man, whoever he is, ruined my life. I want my life back. I’ll do whatever I have to.”
Jagger detached Shay’s hand from a very shocked Kelly. “We’re gonna try, man. But first we need to know everything you know. They’re hiding stuff from us and I don’t know why. Why would our parents protect the killer if they know who he is?”
“Why do you think they know that? Don’t you think Mr. Foster would’ve ripped the head off of the guy who violated his kid?” Kelly hitched a thumb at Shay then winced. “Sorry.”
“No, you’re right. My dad would’ve gone apeshit.” Shay drummed his fingers on his knee, taking a few deep breaths before his head spun from emotional whiplash he couldn’t control. “Maybe they suspect who it is but aren’t sure. Maybe they’re scared if they pin the guy they’ll be in danger…or more people will die like Paul Fromme.”
Kelly’s brows ticked up. “Paul Fromme? Isn’t that Garrett’s last name?”
Shay nodded. “Tonight when that lady from the Garden Society gave me those flowers, she said they were in memory of Paul Fromme, the best water polo player to ever attend Hedgewater. They thought I was as good as him or something. How fucked up is that?”
“Very,” Jagger granted. He got up from the floor, and fetched his laptop from the desk. “Paul you said?”
“Yes.” Shay made room for Jagger to squeeze in the middle.
The punky brunette pulled up a search engine and typed in the name. Shay and Kelly leaned in towards the computer. Jagger clicked the first link. It was some kind of news article relating to Paul’s death.
He cleared his throat. “Hedgewater College freshman, Paul Fromme, age eighteen, was found dead late Friday night, January 14, 1995, at Docker’s Landing. Paul and some friends were reported to have been staying at the cabins over mid-winter break. The cause of death was strangulation and the police have confirmed Paul was sexually assaulted prior to his passing. Suspects are in custody, including those individuals present at Docker’s Landing who have yet to be cleared. Police have also confirmed the death was not a result of accidental erotic asphyxiation. Hedgewater Police Department is officially treating Paul’s death as a murder.
Paul Fromme was a member of the Hedgewater College Water Polo team. He is survived by his twin brother Bruce Fromme, and his parents Estelle and Jared Fromme. A candlelight vigil will be held for Paul at the Hedgewater College Pool in his memory on Saturday, January 20. Counseling for those left to mourn his loss will be provided at the request of the new college Dean, Leonard Michaelson.
“We are devastated over his loss. He was an upstanding young man who had a bright future ahead of him. The world will be a little darker without his light. Paul Fromme will be dearly missed by the student body, the staff, and by anyone who was touched by his heart of gold,” said Dean Michaelson.
The family wishes to express the need for their privacy during this time and funeral services will be closed to family and loved ones only. In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family requests that all donations be made to the P.F. Hedgewater Scholarship Fund in Paul’s memory.
Paul would have been nineteen on Saturday.
~Hannah Calder, Hedgewater Holmes Editor in Chief
Shay and Jagger looked to Kelly. Jagger’s hand shook on his laptop. “Didn’t you come here on a scholarship?”
Kelly nodded, slightly horrified. “They sent me an alumni packet. I thought it was for my dad at first, but when I saw the student orientation stuff I knew it was for me. The P.F. Scholarship form was in there. I sent it out the next week and got a response no more than two weeks after that.”
“Shay,” Jagger pointed, “find us some paper and grab a pen off the desk. There’s something about this all that I need to see in front of me. There are too many little things that don’t make sense by themselves.”
“Wait. You think I was sent that packet on purpose…not because my dad was a former student and they thought it’d be nice?” Kelly leaned back, breathing heavily. “Someone wanted me here? Someone like the killer?”
“Your dad made it clear he didn’t want you here, Kelly. He said it himself. He wouldn’t pay the tuition willingly. He was running from something. That something is what they’re covering up.” Jagger tapped the screen. “I think this is it. I think Paul Fromme was their friend and they were there that night. My dad has pictures with Bruce Fromme and all of our parents. The only one I’ve never seen is this kid. I never heard of Paul before.”
“Me neither.” Shay joined them back on the floor. A notebook on his lap, he clicked open the pen. “But I have heard of Hannah Calder and we’ve all heard of Hedgewater Holmes. I had no idea it was a paper before it was a criminal.”
“Who’s Hannah?” Kelly shoved his hands in his hoodie, scooting closer to Jagger.
An angry look to him, Shay gripped the notebook. “My mom used to have a friend Hannah Calder at Harvard. They don’t talk anymore because her husband is an asshole. And she’s not a Calder anymore. She’s an Ozella. Hannah Calder, the original Hedgewater Holmes is Francis’s mom. She was there at orientation to check out the new water polo team.”
“You don’t think…” Kelly started to hyperventilate. He clung to Jagger. “You think Francis is…”
“Could be or her writing this article could just be a coincidence. We don’t know yet. Whatever we suspect we keep to ourselves until we can prove it. Got it?” Jagger made sure he had a commitment by looking from Shay to Kelly. “Good. Write this all down, Shay.”
“Got it.” Foster began scribbling down what they had so far.
“While we’re playing Sherlock Holmes, Jagger, can I ask you something?” Kelly dipped his head, unsure if he could look Jagger in the eye.
Already friendly enough with Kelly to want to comfort him, Jagger rubbed Kelly’s back. “What’s wrong, bro?”
“Why does your dad have a rose tattoo? Like a roses are red kind of tattoo?”
“He doesn’t.” Jagger pulled his hand back. “What are you talking about?”
“Yes he does. I saw it under his collar, near his neck. He dropped something in the hospital bathroom. I was so scared when I saw it. It was the first thing I thought of. That message on your chest. The message in the woods. Jagger, what if our parents aren’t the good guys? What if they—”
“My dad might be a jerk sometimes but he didn’t kill anyone. He would never do that.” Jagger separated himself from Kelly like his friend had told him he was an alien. Fear struck deep. Jagger refused to belief it, even if it was nothing more than a simple hypothesis that could easily be cast aside.
Shay laid a hand on Jagger’s shoulder. His fingers trembled. “What if they did? Kelly isn’t crazy. I saw a tattoo also, one with a violet.”
“You guys are nuts. Stop trying to put our parents in jail.”
Kelly slammed the laptop shut. His silver eyes darkened, burning for answers. He was scared. Both boys could see it. “No. Jagger, listen to him. Who had the tattoo, Shay?”
Messing up his hair, Jagger ground his teeth. He shook his head. “We’re so fucked. This is all so fucked up!”
“And they gave me pink peonies tonight. Roses are red. Violets are blue. Peonies are pink.” Shay’s arm hair stood on end. He rubbed his forearms, falling victim to the creepy crawlies. “I bet they all have tattoos. One for every flower for every player. Our dads were all on the water polo team. They were Paul’s friends and someone wants revenge for his death.”
Jagger covered his face with his hands. “Why us, though? Why their kids and not them? If it’s true that is.”
Kelly squinted, forming an idea in his head that he couldn’t quite grasp but went for anyway. “What if the person you loved more than anyone in the world was taken away from you by someone you knew? Wouldn’t you also want to take away the person they loved most? Wouldn’t you want to make them feel your pain?”
“You think Paul had a lover?” Shay shivered, wrapping his arms around him torso.
Kelly shrugged. It was all he could muster. “I’m not sure, but we need answers and we’re not getting them from our parents. They’re scared right now. I think if it came to blows and one of us was in trouble they’d do anything in their power to protect us, but they aren’t going to fess up if they don’t have to because I don’t think they even know what’s really happening.”
Kelly rested his head on Jagger’s shoulder and held his hand. They needed the touch, and Kelly, being without a friend’s affection for much of his life made him needy. Hell, they were all needy right now. “All I know is that we have a serious connection here and it all starts with the Hedgewater Garden Society. I saw that tattoo, Jagger. I don’t know exactly what it means or if your dad is an evil villain, but it was there. I need to know why. I need to know who brought me here and if I’m next. I need to know how to protect us and who to protect us from.”
“I’m in,” Shay whispered. “I’ll do whatever it takes. I can’t let River go through that again. I don’t want him to know what it’s like…” He wiped his eyes. “The Garden Society is where we start.”
Jagger took Shay’s hand and squeezed it. Even his inner jackass couldn’t refute Shay’s need to be a part of their circle. Jagger hated to admit Shay was partly innocent in this mess. He hated even more that he needed to take care of Shay because the guy just couldn’t hold it together alone. “Yeah, tomorrow we start by moving you in. We can’t protect you if you’re by yourself. And Kelly, you’re staying here until River comes back. The fuck you’ll stay in that room alone.”
“We protect each other from here on out. No secrets. No lies. Only the truth.” Kelly reached out with his other hand for Shay. “Agreed?”
They all nodded. “Agreed.”
Luca’s room was situated next to Jagger’s. Along the wall separating their suites, Luca sat at his computer desk. His monitor displayed a split screen, live video feed. On the left, Rogan and Anya sat watching the same feed as Luca. On the right, Jagger, Shay, and Kelly huddled on the floor. The agents could hear every word said from Jagger’s room.
“You can’t let them dig into Francis. We need Ozella’s connection with the killer.” Rogan loosened his tie. Exhaustion shadowed his face.
“I second that. Turn Kelly around on that, Luca. We can’t have this blowing up in our faces.” Anya continued to comb through the journal. “And Paul wasn’t her lover. It mentions a female sexual partner in here. The author calls her Birdie.”
“Maybe Birdie was an experiment. It’s not uncommon for college students to dabble and test the waters with the opposite sex,” Luca offered. “There has to be something there. From what we know, from black and white witness statements, Paul was single for almost a year after he broke up with his high school girlfriend. So if he wasn’t with this girl, the author, then maybe he was dabbling too.”
“You think it was one of his buddies? It had to be a man. The shoes prints found at the scene were men’s boots.” Rogan scratched his chin. “They were all pretty tight. Then again they’re all married, or divorced, or have kids…”
“Gay men have children, too. Maybe they’re hiding something more than murder. Maybe one of them is hiding their sexuality.” Anya flipped a page. “There’s nothing here about the flower symbolism. The boys are definitely onto something with the tattoos, though. Pretty spot on when you put the pieces together. We need to start matching them up.”
“Pink peonies, he’s the missing link,” Rogan repeated for the umpteenth time that night. “Paul Fromme is the peony. He’s the one connecting them all. And Kelly tagged Jude as the rose. Then Shay said Trusou was the violet…”
“Wait.” Anya held up a finger. She flipped another page, hunching over the journal. Rogan leaned over her shoulder. His eyes brightened and Anya smiled. “Birdie helped me get ready for the cotillion. I didn’t want to go without her, but it was closed to society members, family, and benefactors only. I didn’t belong there. I felt guilty leaving her behind for him. But she never once complained. She knew it was mandatory and I’d gain connections for the future. She even dressed up just for me. She was so beautiful in blue. Her eyes matched her dress. I could have stared at her forever.
“We shared a dance in her bedroom. I didn’t want to let go. But she put his lily in my hair, kissed me softly, and gave me over to him when it was time to go. I didn’t cry. If I started crying she would have too. He was so kind to me. He never brought up Birdie or mentioned how much he knew I wanted her to be there once that night. He didn’t want me to be sad. I knew he was sad, though. I knew how much he loved me, even though he never said it. Sometimes I wish I loved him back because I hate to see that look on his face, but I will always love Birdie. She’s my girl.”
“Sound like dabbling to you?” Rogan held up the journal to the camera. Little lilies were doodled around the page border.
“Who’s our lily is the question.” Anya pulled the book down. “Luca, track down all records of the cotillion that year—pictures, articles, dress orders. Whatever you can find would be useful. I’ve never come across the event in the college social calendar.”
“That’s because she said society, as in Hedgewater Garden Society.” Luca determination controlled his fingers. He brought up his database search engine. “You two keep an eye on the boys. I want to know more about this sign in the woods.”
“Got it.” Rogan saluted his colleague with a cup of coffee and settled in for a long night of investigative sleepover chit chat.TO BE CONTINUED...
MUSIC FROM THIS EPISODE
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