Jaden by Tijan



The day they arrested me everything happened in slow motion. They came for me outside of my classroom. It was the last day I had Miss Connors as my professor, and she had given me a hug. I stepped through the doorway, and two plainclothes detectives were there. Another uniformed officer stood beside them, and I saw the handcuffs next. Their eyes were dead. They didn’t care who I was, who I loved, or as I looked over my shoulder at an old mentor—who I disappointed.

Miss Connors had a hand to her mouth, but there wasn’t shock in her eyes. That’s what stopped me. She wasn’t surprised. She had counseled me after Marcus tried to kill me and when I had killed him instead. She’d given me advice and listened to my smart-ass comments.

She broke through my wall. Not many did that.

When they recited my Miranda rights, my head was bent. I knew the rest of my classroom had stopped to watch. I heard Carolina’s voice in the distance, but it was faint. A buzzing sounded in my ear, and I couldn’t shake it away. Then they pushed me forward. The uniformed cop took hold of my elbow, and I was led through the courtyard of the campus.


I heard Corrigan’s shout, and my heart skipped for a moment. There was disbelief in his voice.

He still believed.

As they drove me to the station, I concentrated on my breaths. One. Two. They were so shallow, but I kept going. My heart was racing, and I frowned at my lap. I didn’t want to have a heart attack. Could a twenty-one year old have one? I couldn’t stop a sadistic laugh breaking free as I thought about my life. If anyone would have one, it’d be me.

When I was brought through the station, I felt a burning in my stomach, and I lifted my head. Officer Patterson was in front of her desk. Her dirty blond hair was messed up, but when wasn’t it? A cup of coffee was in her hand, and I wondered if that was her twentieth. She drank too many of those. I never cared before, but now I wondered if I should voice my concern.

Then I was in an interview room, and my handcuffs were clasped through a peg in the table.

They thought I was going to run. They couldn’t have thought I was dangerous.

Another burst of laughter threatened to bubble up. They did think I was dangerous. Who was I? Not a spy. I was a college student. I had two friends, well—Denton had promised only friendship. So, I had three friends.

A file slammed on the table, and I jumped from the sound. Then a low baritone chuckle sounded out of a burly guy dressed in a blue-collared shirt and dress pants. His shirt had been loosened, and from the amount of wrinkles, it had been pulled out a long time ago.

“She jumps.” He sat across from me and threw a leg up to rest on the opposite knee. He was the epitome of carefree.

I wanted to snarl at him. I wanted to frighten him back, but I didn’t. He wanted that. Already I knew their game; it was what I’d do.

He flipped the file open and yawned.

My eye twitched. The ass yawned. This was my life and he yawned, but I closed my eyes and counted my breaths again. One. Two. Three—

“How’d you know Grace Barton?”

My arm jerked, and I drew in a breath. He sounded bored. He asked about my friend, and it sounded like he’d rather be taking a dump. He probably did.

“Hey. I’m talking to you.” He leaned forward and snapped his fingers near my face.

I wanted to bite them off.

“Jeezus.” He turned when the door opened. “She ain’t talking.”

A feminine voice spoke, “Yet.”

She sounded arrogant.

I wanted to sink my teeth into both of them.

“She will.” Laughter was evident in her voice as I heard another chair scrape against the floor. It squeaked under her weight. I wondered if she threw her leg up as well. They would’ve been a pair.

Then she leaned forward, and the amusement dropped. “Your purse was found in her car.”

My heart pounded in my ears again. It was starting to thump so hard that my chest grew painful.

Breathe, Sheldon. One. Two. Three.

“She poured two glasses of wine. We know it was someone she knew. There was no forced entry. She had a movie playing on the television.” The woman detective drew in a deep breath, and she gentled her tone, “Did you watch chick flicks together? Maybe the latest vampire teen movie, you know the one that’s been so popular for a long time? A goddamn apple’s on the cover of it. You know the one.”

I drew in a shuddering breath. Grace had loved that movie. I loathed it after the one time she got me to watch it. I left after thirty minutes when Bryce called.

Pain stabbed me from regret. We’d been good friends then, and I had ditched her. Sex with my boyfriend seemed like a better way to spend the afternoon.

So much had changed.

And I swallowed again. Grace was dead.

“A lot of people are scared of you, Sheldon.”

The urge to snicker threw me to the side. Why would I want to laugh at that? Then it clicked. Officer Patterson had told me one time, ‘Use their first name. It starts to establish a connection. When they want to pee their pants and you’re offering the one bit of sympathy their way, they’ll start blabbering like you’re best friends. We use it in interrogation tactics.’

The woman detective had started to tap a pen against the table, but she stopped now. And waited.

They would wait forever.

Then she sighed in disgust. “Come on, Sheldon! We’re not the enemy. We just want to know what happened. We know you were there that night. We’ve got your purse, and there’s some of your hair on the couch. We have your DNA. One of the wineglasses had a thumbprint, too. You were there, Sheldon!” She smacked a hand on the table. “Tell us what happened.”


“What?” she snapped at him. Then, a moment later, she started again in a calmer voice. “You guys had been friends since high school, right? We have her confession on tape about what she did to you. That must’ve made you mad, huh? She was your friend. From what we’ve been told, you don’t have a lot of friends, but that’s because you intimidate people. Don’t you, Sheldon? You scare them away before they can hurt you. Isn’t that right? Or maybe I have it all wrong. You tell me.”

My eyes were still clasped shut, but I envisioned her. She said her piece, threw her arms in the air, and folded them behind her head as she leaned back. She was in control again.

Something died in me.

They sounded so sure of whatever their accusation was. I tried to remember back to the classroom and what they had said when they put the handcuffs on . . . “Sheldon Jeneve, you are under arrest for the murder of Grace Barton . . .”

The rest faded from memory. It happened twenty minutes ago.

“Look . . .”

The guy detective must’ve gotten bored. A tone of impatience was clear.

He continued, “Let’s cut the bullshit, okay? You and Grace were friends. We know that. You had a falling out. We know that, too. Then the night she admitted that she was the one who pushed you into a glass table, we found her dead. She died in her home, but I bet you knew that. Right? She was there because we think she was scared of her sorority, the sorority that wanted you to pledge. They wanted you, you bartered for her too, and then you backed out. They were stuck with her. They wanted you, not her. Grace knew that. She was trying to fit in with them. She was desperate for friends—”

My voice cracked as I choked out, “How do you know that?”

He stopped for a second and then leaned forward. His voice was excited. “How do we know that she wanted friends? Or—”

“How do you know she was desperate?”

“She told us in her statement when she confessed about the hazing.”

“Oh.” And then I felt foolish. I knew that. I’d always known that.

“Witnesses told us that you had a confrontation with her. A sorority you were friendly with was caught pranking her sorority?”

His partner added, “Denton Steele was a witness as well.” She sighed. “I’d like to get his witness testimony.”

He chuckled. “Yeah, right. I’m sure his lawyers will open their doors for us.”

I held my breath as they fell silent. I knew what they were doing. I was in a vulnerable state. They attacked me and gave me an olive branch. They gave me something I thought they wanted or I could provide for them. I was supposed to jump on that. I was supposed to look up, eager, and tell them that I could call Denton. He’d give his account of that night. I was supposed to think he’d come in with support for me, but they’d use that to question him about my relationship with him.

Denton was a celebrity. He used to be my neighbor. Our parents were best friends, and once upon a time, we’d had sex, twice. One of those times was when I cheated on Bryce. Not a stellar reputation for me, but they knew that. What they didn’t know was that I wasn’t stupid.

I knew how to play the game. I’d been doing it since I was a child.

People feared me, but it was because I spoke the truth, and I went for the jugular. I knew how to take anyone down, except for friends . . . well . . . I took Grace down that night. I lashed out at her and humiliated her in front of her sorority friends. I enjoyed it, and I had plans to do it again, but then she shook me. She apologized and seemed to mean it. Not many did that. It was always fake. Everyone lied to cover their bases, but no one really changed.

That night, I thought Grace had changed.

Why would I want to harm someone for that?

They were wrong. It was a matter of time before they found the real killer. I had to believe that. I had to hope for that, otherwise—I drew in another shuddering breath—what else could I hope for?

An awkward silence filled the room, and I waited until the lady detective started to tap her pen again. It would happen—and then it did.

Tap, tap.

It was more urgent this time. She was growing impatient. And I could sense the anger in her. I hadn’t fallen into their trap. I held my breath and waited again. What was the next move?

“Okay, fine.” She shoved forward, and I heard her voice grow in volume. She was closer to me now. “You’re not stupid. We got it, but facts are facts. You were in Grace’s house the night she was murdered. If you didn’t do it, you saw who did. We both know you were there. We have video footage from the street.”

I looked up now and held her gaze. I didn’t blink.

She stopped for a second. She had brown eyes with bags underneath them. Her mascara was smudged. It looked like that had happened hours ago. And the tan complexion on her skin looked washed out. I asked in a quiet voice, “When’d you last sleep?”

She blinked.

“You look like you’ve been up for a couple of days now.”

A startled expression flashed over her, but she blinked again and shook it away. Her jaw hardened when she clipped out, “You want to psychoanalyze me? I’ve been up for thirty-six hours now because I’ve got a dead girl that shouldn’t be dead. And you know what really pisses me off? I’m pretty sure the girl who killed her did it out of spite and because her daddy is rich enough to get her off. This girl has some high-powered friends with lawyers that are already pounding our doors down. And I’m wondering which one of your rich boyfriends is paying their salary. So yeah, I’ve lost some sleep. Grace Barton was an innocent little girl who got caught up with the wrong, deadly group. She was playing a game with high stakes that she should’ve never been a part of, and I feel bad for her. I feel bad she ever considered you a friend.”

She shot out of her chair and leaned across the table. Her face was against mine. Her breath was hot on my skin as she snapped, “So cut the bullshit and tell us what happened.”

“I’ve got lawyers asking to see me?”

Her face twitched and her partner let loose curses under his breath.

“I want a lawyer,” I said it so calmly, as if I always sat in that chair, on that side of the table, with my life held in question. I knew my eyes were flat. They always went flat when I was on the attack, but my insides were churning.

Someone killed Grace, and they thought it was me.

Everything happened after that in a blur. They shot out of there with stiff shoulders and anger in their eyes. Three lawyers entered after that, and I thought Denton had sent them. They never questioned me, but they instructed me. I wasn’t supposed to say a word. I would be taken into holding, and I’d have to wait until bail was set. No matter the amount, I was reassured it would get paid.

I didn’t care.

Denton. Bryce. They both had money. So did I. My father made sure my inheritance was substantial before he disappeared years ago.

Then the lawyers told me that my mother was at the police station. She wanted to see me, but I shook my head. I didn’t want to deal with her. I hadn’t for the last few years, why start now? The two, now three, people that I did want to see were advised against coming. Their names needed to be clear from this media frenzy.

My head popped up when they said that, and a lawyer told me as if he were a robot and I were a rock, that paparazzi were already outside. Grace Barton’s death was linked back to Marcus’ and since Bryce was connected, along with Denton, it was going to spread all over the country. A movie star and soccer’s newest star, both in love with the same girl—I couldn’t stop the cringe when I heard that—was gold for social media.

Everyone would know my name.

That was when I stopped listening. I didn’t want anyone to know.

Corrigan’s shout from earlier ripped through me. I never looked at him. I didn’t dare. I would’ve bolted for him, and he would’ve fought for me. And then what would’ve happened? We would’ve both been in police custody. But then again, a small chuckle slipped out, it would’ve been like the old days. Except Corrigan was the one that always seemed to be calling us from the police station, and Bryce and I would come down to post his bail.

The humor left me then. It was me this time, but I wasn’t in for a high school prank.

As I was led through booking and had my prints and my mugshot taken and then was told to wait in an overcrowded cell, I wanted to wake up. I wanted all this to be a dream, a nightmare, but then I found a corner in the back and sat down against the cold wall. I shivered and refrained from hugging myself.

A few girls were already sizing me up.

I wasn’t weak. I wasn’t about to start acting like it now.

I lifted my chin and gazed back. Everything in me was numb now.

I was being charged with Grace’s murder. What worse could happen?