~Link to the first trailer of the short film up at the top!~
Steph always told us that she would be dead before she reached her twenty-first birthday. I guess we always just shrugged the statement off; we'd laugh and tell her that was just crazy talk. We never imagined she'd be found on the floor of her apartment two days before her twenty-first birthday, bruises lining her throat and an empty bottle rolled underneath the couch.
It was her Polish neighbor who found her. Apparently, Steph had promised to come over that morning to take the woman's kids to school on her way to work but never did. The woman- her name was Claire- explained that she was struck down by the flu quite suddenly and Steph had been so kind to help her out. When Steph didn't show up, she worried. That worrying is what lead her down the hall in raggedy t-shirt and sweatpants; what lead her to open the unlocked door and enter the apartment; what lead her to check inside Steph's freezing cold bedroom.
Her cause of death was obvious, but the police didn't listen to us. They explained they had to keep an open mind and we accepted that. Somewhat.
"It was him," snarled Jacoby, my brother and Steph's best friend since the second grade. He had his arms crossed over his chest and was glaring down at his hot chocolate with such a ferocity it almost scared me. "That boyfriend of hers... What's his name?"
"Oh, you know his name," I groaned, unable to believe that Jacoby would play the What's His Name Again game while Steph was dead. She wasn't just in the hospital this time or dealing with a bloody nose. Steph was dead, as in she would never be coming back. Her world had come to an end.
Blake sat beside Jacoby and patted him on the back. "I talked to Detective Poirot over at the station," he huffed, gesturing behind him to nothing in particular. The station was in the opposite direction. "He isn't even sure if there's a reason to look for Taren. They're pretty sure the death wasn't a homicide."
"Shouldn't they at least be certain?" Jacoby would have been yelling were we not in the middle of a very crowded coffee shop. Steph's favorite coffee shop. Little Beans. "Why won't they at least entertain the idea the death was caused by an outside force? What do they have to lose?"
"Time," I responded, eyes closed. From what I knew, people would do almost anything to cut corners. To save themselves some effort, they were willing to do just about anything. Whether or not this really was a murder, they weren't in the mood to concern themselves with it. Maybe they didn't have a large enough staff to pursue the simple possibility of a murder. Our town wasn't that big, and I doubted our force was any larger than one of our classes at the college.
Blake nodded, seeing my reasoning, though Jacoby wasn't the least bit amused. If anything, he seemed more enraged. This was his best friend, after all. Unlike the rest of us, he wasn't willing to just let things lie. "No! I won't accept that!" he stated. "Steph wouldn't let one of our murders go unsolved. Why on earth would we allow the same thing to be done to her?"
Quiet in Little Beans was uncommon. Although it never seemed to have a sizeable crowd buzzing around inside, it managed to keep up a relatively lively atmosphere. There was the typical smooth coffee-house music playing over the speakers- today, it was the soundtrack for the newest remake of A Star is Born- and the girls at the counter were gossiping about the newest hires who would be working the night-shift. A few tables over, two high schoolers were discussing proper pronoun usage while an elderly man read the paper beside the fireplace.
Oh, did I mention there was a fireplace? This was the same fireplace that Steph used to sit beside, in the very chair that man now inhabits, and simply stare into the flames for hours on end. She went missing for a solid ten hours one time, and Jacoby eventually found her curled up here, just staring. The baristas on staff said she'd been there since the store had opened.