Guilt At St Joseph’s Academy by MV Ellis

Prologue

Zeph

I’ve been in a haze of booze, blunts, and sex for most of the party, but suddenly my mind is clear and is overtaken by one thought: Aster. I need to find her, stat.

I need to tell her I’m sorry.

I stumble down the stairs, barely able to make out what’s going on around me, through the drink and drug haze, and the heaving sea of writhing bodies. I nearly lose my footing several times, since I can’t quite focus well enough to see the stairs beneath my feet.

I make it down in one piece, then stumble from room to room looking for my kid sister. Sometimes I call her name, or at least, I try to, but the sounds don’t always make it past my lips.

I keep going, peering blankly into the sea of faces that all seem to converge into one indistinct mass. I may not be able to see them well, but I can make out enough to know that none of them are Aster.

My sister is nowhere to be seen, but I’m not about to give up trying. I push on, opening every door I can find—bedrooms, closets, the laundry. Sometimes I’m met with the outraged screams of the half-naked bodies writhing against each other in the semi-darkness, just like I was two minutes earlier. I don’t give a fuck who they are or what they say, it’s not going to stop me from searching.

I don’t care if I have to tear the place apart with my bare hands, I won’t give up on Aster this time. Not again. But as I wander the crowded spaces searching, it’s starting to feel like looking for a precious golden needle in a sea of heaving, sweaty bodies.

I don’t know what draws me to the pool, but suddenly through the smoke dappled air, I see clearly that it’s where I need to be.

I shove my way through the hedonistic mass, not caring who I trample and jostle to get through. I let their shouts and complaints wash over me. Wild horses couldn’t keep me from getting to her. Hell, not even a bullet could. I’d use every ounce of strength I had left to reach her, no matter what.

I fight my way through to the backyard, and the pool comes into focus, confirming all my fears.

“Aster! Aster! What the fuck?”

I tear across the deck and sprint toward her, stopping only briefly to kick off my shoes.

“Aster! Can you hear me? Aster!”

She’s face down in the pool, and nothing is moving. Not her, nor the sparkling water surrounding her—meaning she hasn’t moved for some time.

“Help! Somebody help us! We need help over here!” I yell the words as I dive into the pool. In a normal situation, the cool, glittering water would be refreshing after the suffocating heat of the party. Right now, it’s not even a consideration. The only thing that matters as I plow to the deep end is making sure that my sister is okay.

When I reach her, I tread water while I turn her over so that her face is facing the sky.

“Aster! It’s me. Aster!”

I’m filled with panic as her face swims into view. Her eyes are half-closed, revealing only the whites. Her skin is tinged a lifeless gray, and her lips are blue.

“Aster! C’mon!” I know she’s not going to suddenly wake up, but I can’t help coaxing her anyway. I hook one arm under her neck and use the other arm to swim to the ladder.

“Help! Someone help!”

I’m already yelling by the time I realize that Tyce is sprinting across the deck toward us. He reaches the edge of the pool at the same time I do, and immediately reaches down to help pull us out. It’s a struggle, with my wet clothes, and Aster floppy and heavy—but we manage.

As soon as she’s on the ground, I lean over her and put my ear to her mouth.

“She’s not breathing!” I yell wildly, frantic with worry.

“Shit!” Tyce’s eyes are wild, too. “I know CPR, move over, let me—”

“No!” I boom the word, not in anger, but in panic. “Tell me what I need to do, and I’ll do it.”

Tyce looks confused but doesn’t argue with me. Instead, he quickly talks me through the process, then stands aside to call 911.

I carry on with CPR as a crowd gathers around us while we wait for the ambulance. I want to tell them to fuck off, to let us have our private moment, that this is none of their business. I want to scream and yell, but I don’t. I focus on doing what I need to do to keep my little sister alive.

“Aster! Aster! Don’t go! Please, don’t go! I got you. Don’t slip away from me… Please… No… I love you.”

The longer the situation draws out, the more hopeless I feel, but there’s no way I’m giving up on her.

When the paramedics finally arrive, they hit me with a barrage of questions—what Aster has ingested, how she ended up in the pool, how long she’s been unconscious for, how long I’ve been giving her CPR—most of which I don’t know the answers to.

As the paramedics move around me in a flurry of frenetic activity and medical terminology, I don’t want to let go. In the end, Tyce is the one to pull me away.

“Come on. Let them do their thing. They know what they’re doing way more than we do. Let them help her. They’re her best chance right now.

He drags me by the armpits, and as much as I desperately want to rail against him and punch him, I know that he’s right. Instead of taking my anger and frustration out on him, I turn to the crowd of gawking onlookers, instead.

“What the fuck are you staring at? Go away!” I roar so loudly that the sound tears at the back of my throat, leaving the metallic taste of blood in my mouth. People scatter, and I don’t blame them—I’m ready to tear someone apart with my bare hands.

As the EMTs strap Aster’s lifeless body onto a gurney and fit her with a breathing bag, ready to leave, Tyce turns to me.”

“Keys.” He snaps his fingers.

“What? No, I’ll dri—”

“Give me your motherfucking keys. After everything you’ve swallowed, smoked, snorted, and slammed tonight, there’s no fucking way I’m letting you drive.”

“I’m fine.” The fact is, I might have been more lit than a Christmas tree before this happened, but now I’m sober as a fucking judge.

“I’m not letting you drive. End of story. The last thing I need is both of you in the hospital. Stop wasting time, and give me the damned keys.”

“Aster! Stay, please. Stay with me. Don’t leave me. I’m sorry. I love you.” I yell the words as I lurch toward the gurney as they wheel it past, but Tyce pulls me back again.

“Come on! I heard them say they’re taking her to Central. If we hurry, we can get there at the same time.”

As Tyce drives us through the city streets, I dare to voice the words that have been burning a hole in my brain since I saw Aster floating in the pool.

“She’s gone, and I never told her I love her.”