Tick-tock – I can’t hide behind my silence forever. There are some pretty serious charges against me. I guess one does not simply walk into the U.S. from Mexico. I know I should cooperate, tell him the story and get him on my side, but I just can’t do it. If I break my silence, I will never be able to leave this behind. My entire life will forever be overshadowed by the last four months. More than that, I don’t know what the fuck to say! What can I say? For the hundredth time today, I miss, Caleb.
Something drips onto my neck and I realize I’m crying. I wonder how long Agent Reed has been watching me, waiting for me to break down and give in. I feel lost and his flicker of concern suddenly seems like a lifeline. It’s hard not to see Caleb, in his stead.
“Yes,” I stammered, “I’m hungry.”
It is a few long, tense, seconds before he breaks the unending silence. “You may not believe me, but I have your best interests in mind. If you won’t try to help us, help you, things will get out of your control. And quickly.” He pauses. “I need information. If you’re afraid, we can protect you, but you have to give us a sign of good faith. Every day you say nothing, your window of opportunity shrinks.” He stares at me, and I can feel him willing me with his powerful, dark eyes, to give him the answers he is looking for. For a moment, I want to believe he really does want to help me. Could I afford to trust a stranger?
What did he want from me that he couldn’t just take?
My mouth opens, words are crouched on the tip of my tongue. He’ll hurt him if you tell. My mouth slams shut.
Agent Reed looks frustrated. As well he should be, I suppose. He takes another deep breath and delivers me a look that says, ‘Okay, you asked for it.’ He reaches down and grabs one of the brown folders he was looking at earlier. He opens it, stares at it, then at me.
He leaned forward and held the delicious smelling morsel to my lips.
For a moment he looks unsure, but then determined. He removes a sheet from the file and walks toward me, the paper held loosely in one hand. I almost don’t want to see what it is, but I can’t help it. I have to see. My heart lurches! Every fiber of my being is suddenly singing. Tears sting my eyes and a sound mimicking both sorrow and joy bubbles out my mouth before I can keep it in check.
It’s a picture of Caleb! It’s a picture of his beautiful, scolding face. I want it so badly I reach for it, fingers stretching to get closer to his image.
With an almost unabashed relief I opened my mouth, but he snatched it away.
“You know this man?” Agent Reed says, but his tone makes it obvious he knows I do. This is his game. It’s a good one. Through choked sobs, I reach for the photo again. Agent Reed keeps the photo just out of my reach.
“You son of a bitch,” I whisper hoarsely, staring at that one piece of paper. If I blink, would it disappear?
He offered again.
I don’t reach for the photo again, but I can’t keep from looking at it. Caleb is younger in the photo, but not by much. He’s still my Caleb. His blond hair is being blown up in the back and his Caribbean-blue eyes are glorious as they scowl at the camera. His mouth, so full and perfect for kissing is set in an annoyed line across his perfect face. He wears a buttoned up shirt, in white, the obviously billowing wind offers tantalizing glimpses of his sun-kissed throat. It’s my Caleb. I want my Caleb. I glare at Agent Reed. With my rage in every syllable, I break my vow of silence. “Give. Me. That.”
Agent Reed’s eyes go wide for a fraction of a second. Smug satisfaction is there, then gone. . Round one goes to the Agent. “So you do know him?” he mocks.
I glare at him.
He steps closer, picture held out.
I go for it and he pulls it back.
Each time I crawled closer and closer, until I was pressed between his legs, my hands on either side of his body.
Caleb taught me a few things about starting fights I can’t win. He would want me to use my head and exploit anything I have to offer to get what I want. I force myself to portray calmness and sorrow. The sadness comes easy.
“I…I knew him.” I purposely stare at my lap and let my tears fall.
“Knew him?” Agent Reed says curiously. I nod and let sobs fill the room.
“What happened to him?” he asks. I want him curious.
“Give me the picture,” I whisper.
“Tell me what I want to know,” he counters. I know I have him where I want him.
“He….” I am overcome by grief. I don’t have to manufacture my pain…I am my pain. “He died in my fucking arms.” My mind immediately recalls seeing Caleb, expression blank, his body covered in dirt, and blood. It was the moment I lost him. Only hours before, he’d held me in his arms and I had thought everything was finally going to be okay. One knock on the door…and everything changed.
Agent Reed takes a tentative step forward, “This isn’t easy for you, I can tell, but I need to know how, Miss Ruiz.”
“Give me the picture,” I sob. He takes another step.
“Tell me how,” he whispers. He’s played this game before.
I look up and glower at him from under my tear-soaked lashes, “Protecting me.”
“From what?” He steps closer, so close, and so eager.
Without another word, Agent Reed turns away to remove another photo from the file and turns it toward me, “This man?”
I hiss. Actually, fucking hiss. We’re both shocked by my reaction. I never knew I could be so feral. I rather like it. I feel capable of anything.
Suddenly I threw my arms up around his hand, wrapped my mouth around his fingers to get the food away from him. Oh my god, so good.
Agent Reed is close and he isn’t prepared when I grab him by the collar of his suit and crush his fucking mouth with mine. He drops the folder.
Despite his shock, Agent Reed is able to wrestle me onto the bed. He snaps his cuffs on my wrist and secures me to the bed. Before I can reach for the folder, he snaps it away.
He moved quickly, his fingers found my tongue and pinched viciously while his other hand dug into the sides of my neck.
Confusion and anger twist his features. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he whispers and wipes his lips slowly, looking at his fingers as though the answer is somehow written across them.
The food fell from between my lips to the floor and I howled around his fingers at the loss.
When I try to speak, instead, I scream my frustration, tears of anger filling my eyes.
“You’re very proud and very spoiled and I’m going to beat it out of you twice.”
When the nurse scrambles in, bewildered and a hand to her heart, Agent Reed politely tells her to get lost.
“Better?” he asks me, raising a brow.
I stare at my cuffed hands. “Not even close…”
Vivisected. On-off-buzz-buzz-on-off. Caleb, I miss you.
“Help me catch him, Olivia.” He pauses; his expression is calculated but he needs something too. “I know I’m not a nice guy, but maybe you need someone like me in your corner.”
Go away, go away, go away.
My heart aches. “Please…give me the picture,” I plead.
Agent Reed steps within my line of sight, but I only stare at his tie. “If I give you the picture, will you tell me what happened? Will you answer my questions?”
I suck my bottom lip, running my tongue across it as I hold it between my teeth. It’s now or never and never isn’t truly an option. The inevitable is upon me. “Uncuff me.”
The agent’s eyes flicker over me. I know his mind must be racing with ideas on how to make me talk. Trust is a two way street. Show me yours, and I’ll show you mine. He steps toward me, slowly, and cautiously removes the cuff from my wrist. “Well?” he says.
“I’ll tell you. Only, you. In exchange, you’ll give me any pictures you have of him and get me out of here.” My heart is beating a frantic tattoo in my chest, but I gather my courage. I’m a survivor. I hold my hand out. “Give me the picture.”
Agent Reed’s mouth twists with disappointment at the knowledge he cannot win this point from me. Reluctantly, he gathers his folder and hands me the photo of Caleb. “You’ll have to tell me what you know first, and then I can talk to my superiors and make a deal. I promise I’ll do whatever I can to protect you, but you have to start talking. You have to tell me why it looks like you’re more involved in this than any eighteen-year-old-girl has any right to be.”
No one else exists as I stare at Caleb’s face. I sob and trace the familiar lines of his face. I love you, Caleb.
“I’m gonna go get some coffee,” says Agent Reed, his voice resigned but still determined, “but when I come back, I expect answers.” I don’t notice when he leaves, or care. But I know he’s giving me time to grieve in peace.
He walked out of the room and shut the door. This time I heard the lock.
For the first time in five days, I am left alone. I suspect it will be the last time, for a while, Caleb and I will have to spend together. With trembling lips, I kiss him.
It seemed to Caleb, the nature of human beings revolved around one empirical truth: we want what we cannot have. For Eve, it was the fruit of the forbidden tree. For Caleb, it was Livvie.
The night had been a fitful one. Livvie whimpered and trembled in her sleep and Caleb’s chest seemed to contract with every sound. He had given her more morphine and after some time, her body seemed to quiet down though there still seemed to be frenzied movement behind her eyelids. Nightmares, he assumed. Without fear of awkwardness or reproach, he felt a compulsion to touch her. He held her close and comforted them both, but he could not get Rafiq’s text out of his mind:
How soon would he land in Mexico?
How would he react to Livvie and her broken condition?
How long did he have with Livvie before she was taken away from him?
Taken. Away. Strange, horrible, and foreign words. He closed his eyes and set his mind to reality. You’re giving her away. He opened his eyes. And the sooner, the better.
He couldn’t argue with logic. It had kept him alive for longer than he could remember. He was cold and efficient. He did not dally with questions of morality. Still, he wanted to argue with logic. He wanted to find reason in what he felt to pacify the hardened man inside his head. But he couldn’t. The truth was – he wanted her. The truth was also, it was never meant to be. He pulled Livvie even closer, careful not to crush her ribs or injured shoulder and buried his nose in her long hair, trying to smell her scent.
He had told her he wasn’t her Prince Charming, but what he hadn’t said, was he wished he could be. Once upon a time, he may have been…normal. Before he had been stolen, before the beatings and the rapes and the killing – he could have been something different than what he was. He had never thought like this, never wondered about the roads taken or not taken. His life was lived in the present and without the angst of fantasies. But he fantasized now. He fantasized about being the sort of man who could give, Livvie, all she ever wanted. The kind of man she could….
But you’re not that man, are you?
Caleb sighed, knowing the answer. The fantasies of others had never confused him, but his own, left him dissatisfied with the life he’d accepted and even enjoyed from time to time. He wanted it to go away, the longing, and the feelings of regret. He wanted to live for the hunt and kill – it had been the only thing to make sense to him for so very long. Even in those moments of darkness, when his drive had flagged and he questioned the possibility of ever finding Vladek – he had never thought to be anything other than what he was.
Yet, in just three and a half weeks with Livvie, most of which, she spent locked in a dark room, it all seemed to be evaporating. It was stupid, naïve, and dangerous. A person was incapable of changing fundamentally in such a short period of time. He wasn’t different. And yet, he felt different and not even logic could alter that. If it hadn’t been for the memories, those awful, fucking memories of Narweh, beating and raping him. If he hadn’t seen Livvie, covered in blood, bruised and shuddering in that biker’s arms – he wouldn’t feel like his entire world was caving in on him.