I didn't say anything to Jacob for the remainder of the meal, nor did he say anything to me. My anger and frustration was begging to push through the sealed surface of my makeup, but I wouldn't let it. We all sat in burdened silence, as though we were all prisoners awaiting our execution. For all I knew, that could've been what we were. I had no idea what awaited me in the study, I only knew that it was imminent. Zach, Scarlett's date, rose from his chair and calmly said to her, "Please come with me." Without any objection she complied and followed Zach into the hallway. Once they had left the dining room, they started arguing with each other. The rest of us could hear their voices escalate into angry yells. I saw no point in doing the same with Jacob. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't even concerned about him at that point. I was just plotting my escape, trying to conjure any way to get out of the mansion alive. The screaming from the hallway ceased, and shortly after, everyone started silently filing out of the dining room and heading to the study. It wasn't long before I was the only one left in the dining room. I wanted to scream out my frustration, I wanted to cry, I wanted to be anywhere but there. It didn't matter how many times I closed my eyes, I would still open them to this nightmare.
"It's not wise to keep Obasi waiting." I looked to my left and saw the round cook standing by the kitchen door with a gleaming knife in her hand. The look in her eyes startled me. It was the look of a hunter staring down his prey, waiting to strike. I jumped up from my chair, tripping over its leg in the process, and then darted out of the dining room, and through the study's doors. Even though the door slammed against the wall, no one dared to look at me. They were all too nervous to move an inch.
There were two couches, perpendicular to each other, in the middle of the study. On one couch, James, Timothy, and Jacob all sat next to each other, and on the other couch, Scarlett sat in the middle spot with Zach sitting on her right side and an open section on her left. To be completely honest, I had no inclination to sit beside Jacob at that point, so I was somewhat happy there as an empty seat next to Scarlett. She didn't say anything, nor did I say a word to her; everyone sat in silence. Obasi was sitting at a large executive desk in the corner of the room, next to the warmth of a whipping fire. He opened a thin folder and retrieved a small stack of papers.
Obasi rose from his desk and said, "Now that we have all arrived, we can begin." His words drained the life out of the room, much like a wintry night strips the warmth from a body. He continued talking as he walked around the room, "In my hands, I have secrets of three individuals, secrets that were thought to be held hidden from view. I'm about to read the evidence to you, the proof of the secrets that these three individuals to you."
I looked over to Jacob and his eyes were as round as tennis balls. What could he possibly have to hide? What has he kept secret from me for all these years? I thought silently.
"Please," Scarlett pleaded, tinkering on the verge of tears. "I can't bear this humiliation."
Obasi ignored her futile request and read from the first document, "Timothy Oswell. You're a high school mathematics teacher in the state of Kansas, a highly decorated one at that. You've been honored, on several different occasions, for your students superb performances on the standardized tests and your continuous innovation in the classroom. Your downfall, however, is your inability to separate work from pleasure. You see, Timothy has slept with nearly every female teacher on the school's staff."
James immediately shot off the couch and shouted, "Timothy! How could you? You've been living a lie?" It was at this moment that it finally hit me; I had discovered why Timothy and James came to the party together. They were lovers. Timothy didn't defend himself, he didn't argue, he didn't even try to convince James that he was actually gay, he just sat in shameful silence. With tears in his eyes, James sat back down, partially disgusted that he still had to sit by the man who was lying to him. A part of me wanted to offer a trade of seats, but I decided to keep my mouth shut.
Obasi calmly proceeded to the next page and said, "Scarlett is a very ambitious entrepreneur for her young age. You profited heavily from a number of different products, but you've also found a way of profiting that's frowned upon by most. She's been stealing money from the charities that her own corporation started."
"You watch your mouth!" Scarlett blurted out, offended that he was criminalizing her. "If it wasn't for me, those charities wouldn't even exist." Despite that fact, we all looked at her with disgust, especially Zach. It was inhuman to steal from a charity, to take from those who need it the most.
"That just leaves Jacob," Obasi said without acknowledging Scarlett's defense. Jacob's eyes were glazed with tears; whether they stemmed from fear or shame, I could not tell. Obasi turned to the rest of the room and said, "There's a reason I saved Jacob's secret for last and it's because the person who leaves this mansion tonight will have to do what Jacob did. One of you will have to kill all the other guests in order to escape with our life."
I couldn't believe my ears. The boy who had been my friend all throughout our childhood was a murderer. An avalanche of questions poured into my mind. Who did Jacob kill? Why did he kill this person? When did he become a murderer? Had he been a murderer for the entire time that I knew him? He was too ashamed to look at me, too embarrassed to look up from the floor.
"Why are you doing this to us?" Jacob asked with a shaken voice, not removing his eyes from his feet.
"You'll soon find out, but not before a toast," Obasi said with a smile. We were all taken back by his offer. A murderer was in our presence and Obasi was simply going to offer us a drink? He walked over to a nightstand that had six shimmering glasses and a radiant bottle of expensive vodka. As he poured into each of the glasses, he waved his hands, motioning for us to come to the table. At first, none of us moved, but then I decided that some liquid courage could be exactly what I needed. I strode to the table and shortly after, everyone followed me. We all took a glass and then Obasi said, "I propose a toast to the clearing of conscience. Revealing our darkest memories can be a powerful antidote for the mind."
We all clinked our glasses together and then downed our drinks. It was bitter alcohol that burned my throat, but I didn't show any weakness. My father didn't raise a sissy girl. Even so, the vodka hit me harder than I had anticipated. My vision blurred and the room around me started to spin. My body wobbled back and forth until I lost my footing and fell onto my back. The lights all around me dimmed and I faded into darkness.