I don’t remember when things first went wrong. I don’t even know if there’s one thing I could point to and say “That’s where everything went to hell.” But I do remember the moment I chose to go down this path, where turning back was no longer an option.
How could I forget…? The stuffy heat of the visitation room, the buzz of fluorescent lights, my clammy hands gripping the hard plastic of the receiver, the look on her face, pleading, begging me to give up on her. But I couldn’t, I refused to believe it. I knew her better than anyone else. That’s why I couldn’t lose hope.
“Shoe….” How she said my nickname, the one she gave me so long ago, it tore out my heart. “It’s okay. I’ve accepted it.”
“How can you…? You’re innocent, you could never….” I didn’t even want to say it. Hearing the prosecutor, the detectives, every vulture of a news outlet repeating it for months on end made me even more adamant that they were all wrong. They had to be.
She smiled, soft, sad. “I knew you would always be on my side…but you have to stop. It’s over.” And for the first time I could see just how tired she was. The bright-orange jumpsuit hanging off her thin shoulders was the only color left on her. That spark in her eyes was gone. The reality of the injustice that had sentenced her to this prison had taken any life and light left in her.
And even after a lifetime of knowing each other, she still kept her pain to herself. That’s just how Kay was, she didn’t want to bother anyone else with her problems. Which is why a person like that could never….
“You can’t escape the past,” she said. “You can’t change it. The things you’ve done will catch up with you. I was an idiot for thinking it could end any other way.” She averted her eyes. Again there was that pain, even if there weren’t the physical barrier between us, her heart might as well have been imprisoned, too.
I wanted to say something, anything to help her, but if the best lawyers money could buy couldn’t save her from the death penalty, what hope did I have…? “But you were never that person,” I offered, as if I could convince her otherwise.
“You saw all the evidence, Shoe. It’s the only explanation.”
Of course I had, everyone had. It was discussed, dissected by every corner of the Internet, every subject expert, every talking head. Even without eyewitness accounts, there was security footage, card transactions, red light cams, fingerprints, DNA…no human eyes ever saw Kay with the victims, at the scenes, arranging the bodies into lurid, florid forms…but no one saw her anywhere else, either. Her alibis were only her word, which meant nothing against the mountain of evidence in the court of public opinion.
But there was still doubt, reasonable or otherwise. I still had hope that this was all coincidence, one that was just as likely as the universe existing as it is, of all the possible realities and failures. Anything, no matter how astronomically unlikely, was possible. Maybe others felt the same way. But only I voiced it. Everyone else had abandoned her.
“They’re wrong. They’re all wrong!” I stood, slammed my hand on the table. She jumped, I felt all eyes on me. I spoke as if possessed. I—we—were running out of time. “There has to be something! Just one piece of evidence that will clear your name, turn everything around. You’re innocent, it has to exist, and I’ll find it! I’ll save you, Kay, then—” But I was never able to finish that thought, I was dragged away by the guards.
And I was never able to save her. In some sort of cosmic joke, the governor dropped dead from a heart attack, the lieutenant governor took power, and her first action was to make Kay’s execution happen immediately. She had been the mother of one of the victims, and Kay didn’t fight it, and I couldn’t be there for her. In the span of a few short days, when I was out of the country to see family, it all happened. I only found out when I returned.
Even now, years later, I never forgot my promise. I know I can’t change the past, I can’t bring her back to life, but I can still clear her name. I can still show the world my best friend wasn’t a murderer.