Franklin had listened to Crystal, how she wanted so much for herself, but had become afraid of the boy who told her he loved her. She’d made the mistake of being more than his friend, and now there was no way out. That was how Crystal described her relationship with Stephen. A mistake. Mistakes were something Franklin understood.
Crystal had found him one night after rehearsal, buried in work that he didn’t enjoy. Technology Applications was an important sounding name for what he’d learned in computer science class no so long ago. Was he really that old? Sometimes he thought the best years of his life were wasted on a battlefield. And the kids he spent his days with couldn’t possibly understand a man who had sacrificed so much and gained so little for it. But Crystal listened, and he thought maybe she was different.
It was dangerous, opening up to her. But as she shared her fears with him, he began to tell her stories. About the man he’d wanted to be, and the man he’d actually become. And when she found him that night, he was thinking about her again, the girl in Kunar, the girl who he’d killed.
Crystal had asked him why he was crying. He didn’t see her come in, she just appeared at his desk, her eyes frightened. He told her that he was sorry for what he’d done. She’d sat and listened to him talk about it – God, he couldn’t even tell Berta. His company was sent to Asmar, a small village north of Asadabad, where they’d patrolled in the day and took fire in the night. They’d been ambushed, and he somehow became separated from his platoon, lost in the mountains. He saw a light down in a pass, and headed there, not knowing if he was walking to rescue or to his death. He was delirious, thirsty, and lost. He woken up in the stables, a frightened girl staring at him with a bucket of chicken feed in her hands, the seeds spilling onto the ground.
Her family had taken him in. They called it Pashtunwali, an honor system that protected strangers, even if they were your enemy. The Army had negotiated his release, but by that time he’d fallen in love with the girl. She came to him at night, and although they’d never spoken, she’d brought him food and milk, and had smiled at him.
He’d showed Crystal the ring she’d given him, just a small plastic thing that would only fit on the second knuckle of his little finger. Crystal listened to the story, and when Franklin began to cry, really cry, she’d held him. And then something unexpected happened. She took his face in her hands and kissed him. He didn’t know what to do. He told her that he appreciated her being there for him, but God, what had he done? That was the night that Crystal told him Stephen had said he was going to kill her.
And now, here she was again.
She said that there were fourteen missed calls on her phone, all from Stephen, and all within the last two hours while she and Franklin had been at rehearsal. Franklin gathered his things and asked if she was walking home. It was late, maybe 8 o’clock. Too late to walk home, given the circumstances. He said he’d take her home, just his once, and they left the school and walked to the parking lot, toward Franklin’s car where Stephen hid in the back seat with his knife.