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The secret to my success was simple: the farthest anyone could fall, I had fallen. When I started the website, I understood the degenerate, the addict, and the villain.

I never started the site for success. I started it to survive. As I stared at the blood on my hands and listened to the heavy thrum of my pulse, I realized my survival was, once again, in question.

My best friend since high school and my partner in business, Manzo, lay dead on the ground. I blinked at his still form, as if I could somehow change what I was seeing. My legs like Jell-O, I stood and pulled the phone out of my back pocket and dialed 911.

We met every week on Thursday nights to talk about The God Forsaken. Mostly we just hung out and ate Manzo’s favorite, Chinese food. He would joke about it since he was Japanese.

Manzo liked his junk food. I caught a bag of open, half-eaten cheese curls and envisioned him wiping the crumbs off on his shirt while we FaceTimed. I would roll my eyes and he would shrug.

I swallowed the intense burning knot and informed the operator I was staring at a dead body. My voice was distant and aloof.

In the back of my mind I realized I was not going to survive this. Manzo was the better part of our operation. I was the one that came up with the idea for TheGodForsaken but he was the face for it. I dared to look at him again; his large, friendly face, expressionless. A thousand questions burned in the back of my mind.

I had arrived a few moments ago to his small home in Troy. I lived in a shitty flat in downtown Detroit. If anyone was going to be found dead on the floor, stabbed, I was the likelier candidate. Statistics 101.

I started after my accident and never imagined the success it would have. It was a way to care for all those in the city that others didn’t want to care for: the degenerates and backsliders, the forgotten and forsaken. The site offered a chat room for those wrestling with suicide and dark thoughts as well as aid for those with mental illness or addiction.

God Forsaken funded over half the shelters and addiction centers in Detroit now.

I ran the site and interacted with folks on the street but Manzo was the marketing genius that kept us funded. He went out into corporate America and got rich benefactors to funnel money into our nonprofit. I always teased him on parting with his beloved cheese curls long enough to attend these meetings.

I wear a suit. I tie my hair back and everything.

His black hair plastered across his face in sticky chunks and I thoughtlessly clutched my stomach. Manzo. What happened?

Sirens and lights flashed outside and I stiffened at the loud announcement. The 911 operator released me from the call as cops poured into my friend’s apartment, turning the crime scene into a restricted area. I wiped my hands across my face as they led me outside, forgetting about the blood still drying on them.

Would I be questioned? Was I a suspect now?

I didn’t care. I was not a particularly warm person. I was an introvert and kind of a mean one. My interactions were limited to my computer screen and folks that were as messed up as me.

The rest of the time everything about me screamed unapproachable. I had tattoos covering more than half my body and a piercing in my eyebrow and nose. I had pink highlights in my blonde hair and my wardrobe consisted of generic black and white T-shirts with ripped jeans. If I had a mother she would probably scold me for not wearing something to bring out the blue in my eyes. Instead I applied heavy charcoal and called it a day.

People were scared of me and I liked that.

In this way, they never realized the truth: that I was scared of them.

The police handed me a scratchy gray blanket and escorted me to a car. I was asked several questions while everything turned to a blur.

Was he breathing when you arrived? How long before you called? Did Manzo have any enemies? I think I laughed at this question. The female officer jerked her chin back and noted this.

I was eventually escorted to the station. Swabs and samples of his blood were taken off my body. Someone else seemed concerned about signs of shock and ran a few tests, asking me benign questions while flashing a light in my eyes.

I was placed in a quiet room with a cup of coffee. Had I asked for one? I stared at it and wondered what time it was. Would they release me or was I officially a suspect? My head was beginning to blossom with unbearable pain and I glanced over at the light switch, considering flipping it off.

My migraines had been getting worse the past couple weeks and staying up all night dealing with my best friend’s murder didn’t help. I moaned beneath my breath, pulled my hoodie up, and channeled into darkness.

There was a brief rap on the door and another officer entered. “Detective Coal Moore.” He sat down across from me and folded his hands on the table.

I met his gaze, unblinking, not bothering to return his greeting. I had spun layers of a trance-like coma around me. The detective was attractive with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a tall, muscular form. His eyes were icy, pale blue and my match at unblinking.

I lifted an eyebrow, a trick of mine, to silently indicate I was waiting. He showed no physical sign of discomfort. Damn him. I remained still, reminding myself I was covered in tattoos and piercings for moments like these. He couldn’t touch me. The real me was buried too deep to ever find.

After another moment of silence, he spoke. “Ms. Clark, we know you had nothing to do with your friend’s murder. Forensics placed his time of death several minutes before your arrival, which was collaborated by neighbors.”

I resisted the urge to shudder at “several minutes.” Where were these neighbors when he was getting stabbed to death?

“Forensics also found another’s DNA on his body.”

I straightened in my chair, forgetting my carefully assembled guise. “Who?”

The detective’s lip twitched. “Miss Clark, even if I was at liberty to give out that type of information, we don’t have the individual’s identity. They’re not in any of our systems.”

I slumped back in the chair again. “So now what?”

“Now you’re released. But we may need to contact you with questions.”

I rubbed an errant hand across my face and slowly stood. “So how do I get home?”

He gestured at his chest and opened the door, waving a hand through the exit. Great.

I followed him out to his vehicle, a 2008 black Honda Accord, and climbed inside. The interior smelled like he had a problematic Altoid addiction.

The detective slid his long legs into the driver’s seat beside me. I looked out the window to ignore his Viking-like profile.

“Your vehicle has been returned to your flat.” His voice was low and coarse. This I also decided to ignore.

“I’m sorry about the loss of your friend.”

Ignore, ignore, ignore.

“You don’t live in the safest area,” he mumbled.

I looked over at him. “I’m fine.”

His lip twitched again. He had what I decided was typical man scruff lining his mouth, darker than his blonde hair.

He also had a gorgeous head of hair, the kind his girlfriend probably ran her fingers through when they were alone together. Ignoring. My head was in debilitating pain and I was desperate to get home.

I clenched my fists and forced my mind in another direction. With Manzo gone, would suffer. He was the warm face, the one to woo big businesses into donating their funds.

I never had the stomach for it.

Furthermore he was the marketing genius, getting us ranked on search engines. Manzo posted regular testimonies and photos all over social networks. The pain in my head intensified and I toyed with a loose strand of my ripped jeans.

I was in chronic pain from migraines but I was high functioning. I had learned to disguise my pain like everything else. Regardless, the emotional trauma of the night was intensifying this particular episode. I would vomit as soon as I got home.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

I made a spitting noise – as if I’d talk to him about it – but caught it short. “No.”

“Very well.” He nodded in thought. “I am having an officer dispatched to your home for the next couple nights.”

I sat up straighter in my seat. “What. Why?”

“Until we solve your friend’s murder, I’m not certain you’re safe.” He cast his baby blues over at me while turning the corner.

I rolled my eyes in irritation but my pulse picked up a notch. Was I in danger?

“How about your migraine?” I returned my gaze to him as he continued. “Can I offer you something for it?”

How did he know?

I slowly shook my head as he pulled down my street. It had been the longest drive home ever. As promised, a cop car was lingering near the curb outside.

That was a first for the Boston Edison district. I smirked and pulled my gray hoodie tighter around my small frame.

“We’ll be in touch, Wren.”

Can hardly wait. I nodded and caught his icy blue gaze one last time. It wasn’t until I stepped out of the car that I realized how cold it had been inside his vehicle. That was quite the feat given we lived in Michigan and it was already late November.

I watched “Detective Wintergreen” drive away while warming up in the forty-degree air. I moved toward my door and decided the nickname was a winner. He smelled like wintergreen mints and kept his vehicle colder than Antarctica.

He was a bizarre man. I entered my flat and scrambled into the bathroom.

Manzo was gone. I was truly alone. I vomited violently while my head throbbed with unbearable pain.

I went to my freezer and grabbed an icepack and swallowed a prescription pill. Collapsing in bed, my chest tightened and my throat burned. I couldn’t cry. Not now. Not like this.

My mind mentally scanned the pages of Romeo and Juliet. I knew the thing by heart. It was my favorite story, always had been.

Well, girl, thou weep’st not so much for his death, as that the villain lives which slaughter’d him.

Comforted by the familiar cadence of words, I let sleep claim me.


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