Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and mature content.
It started with a phone call. Three minutes and all her resolve vanished. Lilah shook her head. It was pointless to fuss about that now. She had made up her mind, so she was going. She huddled tighter in her sweater. The island usually never got this cold, but the chill seemed to match the mood.
She stopped at the end of the block. Turn right, and she would have to walk through Foxe Street. Turn left, and she would have to go through the main street.
In the day, the answer would have been obvious. She would never cross Foxe Street alone. But it had tons of parks and allies she could cut through. Less chances of getting arrested that way than walking out in the open.
There was an argument to be made for the other side. The Police cruised regularly through Foxe Street. They weren’t dumb, either.
She kept her head low and turned right. She was still in one of the nicer neighborhoods. Tons of families with bikes laying across their driveways. If one of them saw her, they would report her. Anyone walking alone this late after curfew was up to no good.
She hurried her pace and sighed when she walked into the part of town with less space between houses and brown, unkempt grass. The buildings were covered in ANN’s graffiti. She hated it. This made them look less like the activist group they were, and more like the scoundrels the government had pegged them as.
The police would get anyone who even looked at them for too long. She kept her head low and a tight grip over her stomach. If she could only explain, they would probably be more forgiving.Heneeded her right now. God knew that he could do almost anything that drunk. Prone to stupidity. But he had decided to call her—crying—and letherdo something stupid instead.
No.She shouldn’t think like that. Heneededher, so she would take care of him until he was able to think clearly again. After that…
After that whatever that was bound to happen would happen. Would she ignore his cry for help only because in the morning he might not want her? She couldn’t bethatselfish. A little pain on her part was worth keeping him safe.
He could wander out to the street. In the state he was, he would definitely get caught. She paused. A dog started barking furiously. A guttural yelp that demanded attention. She twisted her head to the left and saw a brown dog that was as tall as her hip. When she didn’t move, he jumped and tried to fit its snout through the chain-link fence.
A light went on in the owner’s house, and she ran. Sprinted forward without even having the conscious thought to do so. Her worn sneakers pounded against the ground and the wind blew through her thin hair.
She skidded to a stop when she saw Blossom’s Park. She placed her hands in her knees and panted.
Damn it. Why did he have to call her? If he hadn’t she would feel responsible for him. Then she thought about him getting caught. They would throw his sorry ass into jail for the night, which would happen to her too. But he was drunk. They wouldn’t letthatgo. He would be sent to prison with a joke of a trial.
If she had known he was descending towards depression again, she would have come sooner. Forced her way in if he didn’t want to speak with her. And where had he gotten alcohol, anyway?
Who would be so dumb as to sell it? Who would be so dumb as to buy it? He would.
Cutting directly through the park would leave her in front of his apartment. Cutting directly through it would mean encountering prostitutes and drug dealers.
She took her hand to her mouth and chewed on her nails.Notdoing it, though, meant she could run into the police. She locked her jaw and walked into the park. The prostitutes had no reason to hurt her, but the police did.
Blossom’s Park used to be beautiful. Since the drought, though, nothing grew in here—not even grass. The ground was only dirt with cracks like scars. The pond was shallow and reeked of dead fish.
Trees were the only thing that resembled life in here. So old and tall that it seemed unlikely that an insignificant drought would take them. But leaves barely grew anymore. The colors were dulled out and the ground crunched with their dead remains. Like fall in a tropical country.
She heard a choking sound and gasped. Her heart doubled its speed. She whipped her head around and found the source.
A hobo. Just a guy snoring on a bench. He had his arm draped across he eyes and was wearing decent clothing. It made sense. He wouldn’t live in the streets long enough for his clothes to get ruined.Somethingwould take him.
She tried to make her step light as she walked in front of him. Always keeping her eyes focused like he might suddenly spring. Ugh, he was so loud it seemed like a beacon.I am here! Completely defenseless while I sleep.It would attract attention, and she didn’t want attention anywhere near her.
She was some good twenty meters away from him already, but she turned to look back. She was being followed. The tale-tell sign on the nape of her neck was an instinct you developed when you lived like her. She scanned and nothing. The guy was still snoring.
She was losing her head. She was only one person and there must have been hundreds of criminals out right now. Why would the police catchher?
She righted her head. When she did, she saw someone. She took a step back, but then her eyes focused. It was him. He was scrawnier than the last time she had seen him, but his shoulders, the back of his head, his hair...it was definitely him.
“Jacob!” she called out in a loud hiss. Her fears seemed to have manifested themselves, but she wasn’t too late. She would just walk him back into the apartment and they would be okay. Everything would be fine.
He turned around and spread his lips into a smile. “Hi.” His eyes were red and watery, his shoulders hunched.
She hurried and when she had him in front of her, she wrapped him into a bear hug. “Everything is all right now.” She kissed his cheek.
“I’m so sorry.” They released each other, but he had a tight grip in her upper arms.
“Don’t be.” She searched his eyes, but his gaze wasn’t focused on her. Instead he kept it up, seeming incapable of meeting her eye.
“I did what I had todo.” His last word was sob and his shoulders shook.
“What are you talking about?”
He dropped his head and started shaking it. “I relapsed, Lilah. I—Ineededit. But I had no money, so—”
“Shh, shh.” She tried to hug him again, but his hands had become restrains.
He finally looked down at her and tears flooded his eyes. “I am sorry.”
She frowned, opened her mouth to say something, but the world went dark. Somehow a corn sack had gotten over her head and Jacobs hands weren’t the only ones touching her. Blood started pounding in her ears and she screamed. A high, shrill sound that was bound to wake the hobo, at the very least.
She registered being hit in the temple with a long rounded stick. Then she was out.
“You need to stop.” Jack spoke and Carina looked at him through the mirror. He was standing in the entrance of the room, and by his expression, you’d think he had seen the most horrifying tragedy. He closed the door and carefully locked it. It seemed like he didn’t want anyone else coming back in. He didn’t need to worry, though. Stella had left the building a while ago.
“Why?” She took the brush from her vanity table and started brushing out the tangles in her dark, thick hair.
He stalked forward but halted in his tracks half a meter away from her. He raked his fingers though his hair, shoulders tight and high. “You are my wife.” His gaze moved to her hand. Her smooth, tan, and—most importantly—ringlesshand. “You are my wife,” he repeated. She grimaced and put her hand on her lap. It just felt odd wearing the ring in private.
“I know. I was there at the wedding.”
“Then why don’t youactlike my wife?” He walked the remaining fifty centimeters and placed his hands on the vanity table—one arm on either side of her. “Don’t you love me?”
His face was next to her. In the mirror, she could see what people meant. They were a striking couple. She had a constellation of dark freckles in her cheeks and nose, and her eyes were bright green—the contrast with her skin made them seem even brighter. Her lips were still swollen, her cheeks and chest flushed. AndJack.He was the best kind of rugged—he reminded her of a wolf. She couldappreciate his beauty—you had to be blind not to. Big, gold eyes, sharp nose, and a squared jaw hidden by stubble. His wavy hair passed his chin and was now tickling her shoulder.
“I do love you.”
He tilted his head and started pressing kisses in her neck. She took a moment to look at both of them. He moved his hand from the table and touched her. It was innocent. Just a hand pressed flat against her abdomen. But then he started untying her robe and his hand went north. Images sped through her mind. They dance in front in her vision, showing her a scene where Stella took his place.
She pressed her lips into a line before speaking. “I love you; I don’twantyou.”
She could feel his determination falter. He sighed—unpuffing his chest in the process—and stopped the trail of kisses. Jack stayed in place for another moment before moving away. Without looking at her, he went to sit on the edge of the bed. He put his hands over his eyes and rubbed them.
She refused to believe that her rejection had stung him. Heknewbetter. She fixed her robe again and walked away from the mirror to sit next to him. Normally, she would put an arm across his shoulders to comfort him, but today she decided to leave her hands folded in her lap. This way he wouldn’t misconstrue anything.
“Talk to me,” she ordered. “What happened?”
“They know, Carina. Theyknow.” He glared at the floor and balled his fists.
She worked to keep her composure as her gut tangled itself into knots. “Who’sthey?”
He turned his head to look at her and narrowed his eyes. “Everyone.” She kept quiet and waited for him to give her a better answer. “I heard some men in the guard joking about it.” He had a hard set on his jaw. “More me than you, actually. Your activities make them question my…virility.”
Before she could catch herself, she reached out a hand to comfort him. It stayed hovering above his shoulder for a moment. She sighed and went ahead. He probably didn’t actually want her either. She rubbed his shoulder and combed back his hair. “I’m sorry that it embarrasses you.”
“It is notthat.” He shoved her arm away from him and stood up. “He knows.He.David. If they know, heknows.”
Her muscles became taut as she looked up at him. “He’s my brother,” she said between her teeth.
“So? You think you’d receive a different treatment because of that?”
She cringed, but then squared her shoulders again. “Yes. Idothink that.”
He shook his head and flung his arms in the air. “Then you are stupid.”
She sprang to her feet and leaned forward. “I amnotstupid. This is crazy, anyway. What century are we living in?”
“It is not the century. Like that matters? It is the situation, andthisis the situation we are living in.” He matched her stance. They were nose to nose now.
“He is not cruel. He will snap off this phase. He’d die before hurting me.” She fisted her hand—nails cutting into her palms.
“When exactly is he going to? Tomorrow? A year from now? We are all waiting and meanwhile he has a whole army under his control. Like he is now—no. Like heis, he won’t hesitate to hurt you if you embarrass him. If youinsulthis belovedgod.”
“You don’tknow what—”
Both of their heads snapped to the door when they heard the doorbell.
Lilah’s brain was foggy, her limbs languid. She wanted to move but some sort of heaviness held her down. She tried to make sense of the situation, but thinking hurt. Everything hurt.
She opened her eyes, but light blinded her. She closed them again, but the reaction was painfully slow.
It was awful being like this. But she was lucky. All she had to do was stop thinking. Then she drifted into a corner of her mind where darkness cradled her.
Elise had an office. She thought it was silly, but David had insisted on it.You are very important to this country. Least you can have is an office.She wanted to snort. All she ever did was sign checks for charities she didn’t support. Why would a kid need one more bible? Would teens even listen to their chastity courses?
It was more for the image than anything else.Everythingwas about the image now. Someone had told David that looking strong was important for the voters.
Nobody had ever elected him for anything yet, and that worried him. He had just stepped to power when his dad died by some convoluted legal proceedings. She hadn’t bother trying to wrap her head around those—they were sketchy, anyway. A year from now, the elections would take place. David liked to pretend they weren’t rigged, so he made the effort.
She sat on her desk and lifted the first manila folder that Wyatt had left for her. He was one of the family lawyers. She guessed he had to be a particularly annoying one, but she didn’t interact with the rest to actually know. When she moved them, something white peeked at the top. She lifted the small stack and found an envelope.
She tossed the folders aside and took it in her hands. The messy handwriting was painfully recognizable. She flipped and read it. Flipped it, read. Flipped it, read. Once again, and once again until she was sure this was not a figment of her imagination.Why would anyone put a return address? She glared at it, willing it to disappear. It remained in place—completely apathetic to her wishes.
When reality settled, she sunk in her chair. She gripped the envelope so tight the letter inside might be ruined. But who cared about the letter? They didn’t need that. Only the return address.
She thought about the manila folders deliberately placed on top of it. He had definitely seen it. Right? There was no other option. He might have even read it and sealed the envelope back.
Or, maybe—just maybe—he hadn’t made the connection. The handwriting was recognizable forher, and she got letters all the time. (Okay, shesometimesgot letters.) Maybe he was thinking about something else and just left them there without seeing anything.
She had to talk to him. She knew that, but she couldn’t make her fingers relax. Shehadto talk to him, but she didn’t want to. But shehadto, so she took a deep breath and extended her hand to the phone.
She dialed her assistant number. As soon as she picked up, Elise started speaking. “Hey, can you get me Wyatt Spencer’s home phone?” Her voice high and uneven. She cringed.
“Now?” Her voice danced the line between confused and disrespectful. She was probably annoyed because Elise had called so late after hours.
Elise could hear her chewing gum. “I am sorry. He is at Mr. Jack Walker’s house, so you wouldn’t be able to reach him, anyway.”
“Why would he be there?”
Only this one text could make Jack leave Carina alone now. Wyatt Spencer of all people had knocked on his door. He needed to speak to her—alone. Quite a mouthy thing to say to a general and her husband. But because Wyatt looked at him square in the eye while he spoke, the words frightened him. It conveyed a level of seriousness that Jack wasn’t prepared for.
But they had to pretend they didn’t have anything to worry about. She gave him a small look; he got the text. Then Carina and Wyatt headed to the study and Jack was nearly running to the garage.
Maybe it wasn’t as bad as he was making it. Wyatt came alone, after all.
He opened the door and found Mathew getting out of his van.
“What are you doing here? How did you get in?” He eyed the garage door that was all the way to the top.
In a fluid motion Mathew tossed the remote control in Jack’s way and walked to the back of the vehicle. “Some people start with ‘how have you been’ and all that good stuff.”
“Mathew.” He said walking after him and placing a hand on his shoulder.
Mathew didn’t turn, instead he opened the doors wide. “Brought you something!”
Jack gaped when he was able to see. Four girls knocked out with drugs lay in the floor of the van. All of them sickly pale and skinny to the point where he wanted to feed them.
“Don’t be like that, Jack.” Mathew finally took a break from his upbeat tone and looked at him. “You liked the other girls well enough.”
“Those girls were nothing like, like this.” The other had been voluptuous and bubbly. They seemed so happy to be with him, and that madehimhappy in return. But that was all shades of illegal now.
Mathew shrugged flippantly. “We gotta do what we gotta do.”
“This is something different.” Jack turned on his heels and headed out. “You are better than this.”
“Sure, Iwas.” Mathew’s footsteps followed him.
“I can’t have you here now. Just take them and leave, please.” He took a right in the hallway. He had no particular destination in mind, but he wanted to get as far away fromthat as possible.
“Can’t do. Your house is like my safe haven right now. I have some people who want to, uh, speak to me, but they won’t get anywhere near here.”
Jack turned, hands already clenched into fists. “If they are following you, why did you come to my house?”
“I already told you.” His voice was exasperate. “They will keep a five kilometer radius off this place—at least.”
So five kilometers away there were people who wanted to hurt Mathew? Jack might just toss him at them. “You have better chances with them than those you have here.”
“What isthatsupposed to mean?”
Mathew was about to explain exactly what it meant. But a scream tore through the house. “Freeze, dyke.”
Carina. He started running in the direction of the voice. So that swine had brought reinforcements? He wanted to hurt him.
A few hazy memories later, and Lilah was furious. How had that bastard dared? Depression, alcoholism, none of that was an excuse for this. Was anything? And what wasthisexactly? She hadn’t opened her eyes yet, but she felt the rumbling of the motor beneath her. She was also bouncing, so they were probably off road.
Another bump—a hard and final one—and something landed in her leg. Soft and humid. She opened her eyes at last and peered down to inspect. It was another girl, but this one seemed to be out cold. Lilah felt drool dribbling out of the girl’s mouth. She shook her leg so that her head would land elsewhere. When it did, knocking against the floor of the van, she didn’t even stir.
Her gaze wondered around, and she realized that it was crowdier in here than she had first thought. It was her, the drooling girl, and two others sprawled languidly in the confined space. Four girls, all young, in the back of a van. It didn’t take a genius to do the math.
They drove through something halfway smooth, and then the motor came to a shuddering halt. A door opened and someone banged it close. She heard a pair of voices. Loud, excited.
The back doors of the van opened without any sort of warning. She snapped her eyes shot—pretended to be as passed out as the rest of the girl. But it was too late, she was sure of it.
She had seen them. Both of them tall and with a striking resemblance. If she had seen them, they had had to see her. Regardless, she stayed motionless. “Brought you something!” The first one said—the driver, probably. “Don’t be like that, Jack. You liked the other girls well enough.” Everything seemed to come out in the same breath, but she knew she had missed some soundless reaction.
“Those girls were nothing like, like these.”
Senseless hurt filled her chest. She had been kidnapped forprostitutionand she didn’t make the cut for this guy. Piss off. But now what? They were going to drive her back home and leave her at her doorstep?It was all a joke, silly girl!Yeah, right.
If she wasn’t good enough for them, thissilly girlwould probably be disposed of.
“We gotta do what we gotta do.”
One set of footsteps started heading out. “This is something different.” It was the second guy—the one that seemed to be upset about everything. “You are better than this.”
The other guy followed. “Sure, I was.”
The conversation continued, but couldn’t hear it anymore. They were moving to some other part of the building.
Her eyes flew open before she could think twice about it. The doors of the van were still wide and inviting. Light streamed in, but her vision adjusted in no time. It seemed like a garage, a benign, simple garage.
She held still for an eternity or two. Tried to breathe in synchrony with the rest of the girls, but time went on and she didn’t hear them anymore. She sat up slowly, carefully. Keeping quiet and away from the girls.
She took a moment and tilted her head to one side. When she was positive the place was quiet, she crawled to the end. Then she placed her feet in the ground and stood out of that damn vehicle.
The van lifted. Seemed to bounce when her weight was removed. One girl, moaned. Lilah could even hear her stir, and it was like all her muscles were doused with ice-cold water.
She couldn’t look back. Didn’t even want to. What if the other girls where waking up too? It made sense, working on the presumption that they had all received the same stuff.
This was already a long shot. But having to find her way out with three other girls tailing her? The hushed voices. The excessive amount of footsteps. The collective panic. No, no, no. It would be impossible.
Either she left alone, or all of them stayed in the same situation.
The girl didn’t make another sound. Lilah didn’t know if this meant that she was still passed out, or that she was too frightened to acknowledge her. Did it matter which it was? Not to Lilah. Not now.
She stepped out the garage. That door had been left open, too. It lead to a long hallway framed with doors. It ended on a “T”, but at the end there was a window. Easy enough to break if she wasn’t able to open it. And she was on the first floor.
She hurried her steps, and soon after that, broke into a run. It felt exhilarating. Almost like Karma. She didn’t deserve this, so God was giving her an easy way out.
“That must be her!” A scream came from the right just when she was about to reach the window.
She whipped her head to the sound. She expected to see one of the man from the garage. Someone like them, at least. But a guy with an army uniform was running towards her. Two others flanked him.
She looked longingly at the window for a fraction of a second. No time for that now. Then, she turned on her heels and kept running. She could make sense of the situation when she was safe.
Elise wanted to pierce David with her glare. She couldn’t even stand the thought of getting any closer, so she held her place near the door. He held her gaze, but his eyes didn’t let on any emotion.
“If you didn’t apply the law to yourselves, what would that make you?” The priest spoke, effectively breaking the energy sizzling out of her. She wanted to answer, to snap at him. To let go of all the guilt she was filling. Send the blame in his direction where it belonged. Where itshouldbelong.
David nodded—calm and collected. He looked like the quintessence of everything she wasn’t feeling. Her eyes stung, and she blinked rapidly, to chase away any moisture. “It is awful what just came to light. YouknowI want it to be any other way, but she did what she did.”
She scoffed. “Oh. So it is going to be like that? You are going to pretend that you didn’t know about this until now? She is your sister—goddammit—and if that doesn’t matter, she was—is—myfriend. Do you even care? Carina’s wonderful, and you are sending her to prison ‘cause you are too pigheaded to admit you are wrong.”
She felt like a volcano. So much energy building in her core, and thenbam. She exploded and now she braced herself for retaliation. He was going to scream—he might even cry! She brought her hand to her neck and felt how ridiculously fast her breathing was.
One second—then another. He remained silent. She studied him to realize his gaze was not even pointed in her direction. He did look troubled for the first time since she came in, but he was carefully examining the priest.
And he? He was looking at her with eyebrows raised. They were white with long, wispy hairs. Too long—it didn’t seem natural. His forehead—that was already a wrinkly mess—scrunched up even further. “You should be saying that sort of thing, Elise.”
“And you should be doing tons of things you are doing. But who’s stopping you?”
She started speaking fast. Shooting out the words in rapid fire. But towards the middle she slowed down. She realized what she was saying, but it was much too late to stop the stream of words.
She looked at the priest—he looked pleasantly surprised, if you could believe it—but her gaze skipped quickly to her husband. Shock marred David’s features. His mouth was agape and his adam’s apple bobbed once.
He didn’t look at her long. He turned and addressed Jim—a guard that hovered everywhere they went. “Take her to our room.”
She was too shocked to speak, but her body reacted. Heat shot up her face and burned her gut. Jim walked towards her, and she wanted to resent him. How could she, though? She had heard David. It was a short, blunt, direct order.
Jim’s eyes were soft and his palms were opened towards her. She took a deep breath and counted back from ten while he approached. He wouldn’t drag her while she trashed and scream. She had more dignity than that.
She pulled back her shoulders, raised her forehead, and walked to the room. Jim followed—an annoying shadow that reminded her that she was not in control.
Carina was in the back of the car and saw as the tress flew by the window. They were taking her to jail. (To jail, really?) It had been quite surprising. It still was quite surprising. Every time the thought crossed her mind, she had to stop and question that statement. (Her? Jail? Seriously?)
The exchange had been so confusing. Wyatt had strutted into her house like he owned the place, even if she—the actual owner—often forgot his name. He dabbed his forehead with his handkerchief and told her the most unfathomable story.
The state was suing her for immoral sexual acts, and David had sent Wyatt to represent her. If this wasn’t conflict of interest, she didn’t know what was. Wyatt told her that it was better to head to jail straight away—there was just too much evidence against her. This way she would at least seem cooperative.
Funny thing was the police was already there—outside and waiting patiently—to escort her to jail. Jail. Yes, jail. The thought sunk in when the police station came into view. Jail now, and after that it would be prison. She couldn’t even begin to wonder how she could avoid that.
Someone came around the car and opened the door for her. She was startled because she hadn’t even realized the car had stopped. She stepped out and found Wyatt standing just a few feet away from her. He had his hands behind his back and had to lift his chin to meet her eyes. He was also snickering. “Follow me.”
He led them up the stairs and held the door open for her. She walked in first without giving it much thought. It was a common curtsy she was used to. But as soon as she entered the room, there was a visible shift in the environment.
Everyone became quiet, and all heads turned to look at her. They didn’t eventryto hide it. She felt as out of place as a monkey in the middle of a metropolis. And they sure hell were treating her as one.
“Carina,” Wyatt said reminding her he was still standing behind her.Carina. The name was wrong in his lips. No title before it, not even the slightest intonation of respect.Carina. Short, dry and hinting that he was equal to her.
“Yes?” As she spoke she studied the people in the room. Most of them were in blue and black uniforms. The few regular citizens were clad in neutral, earthy colors. Carina, instead, was wearing a bright red shirt. She lifted her chin and met their eyes till they shied away. Some of them didn’t.
She turned to look at him, but he was already walking in another direction. She huffed and hurried behind him. “What?”
“We just need you to identify someone.” He halted in front of a cell. The rest were crammed with scary looking people. This one had a girl sitting in the middle, head tucked down and was fiddling with her own hands. Hands that were restrained by handcuffs.
“So is this your lady friend?” His voice was almost sing-song and he drifted into a chuckle at the end. Carina had never seen this girl before. She was scrawny, and dry hair fell to her shoulders. She lifted her gaze, and when she found Carina, she gave her a piercing glare. The girl’s eyes were puffy and red, like she’d had a good cry. How had she gotten into this? “Remember what I told you about being cooperative?”
“Yes, this is she.”
Elise stopped pacing when she heard the door open. David closed it gingerly behind him. His face was smooth. Both of his eyebrows slanted softly at the end, and the corners of his lips were turned up.
She frowned and closed her sweater over her stomach. “What’s happening?”
He gave another step and he was directly in front of her. She could feel his warmth radiating to her, and she wanted to shy away from it. He lifted her hands and cupped her cheeks. The action startled her to the point where she froze. Her muscles becoming tout from stress.
“You don’t have to worry about anything.” His breath reeked of fish. He bent down and pressed wet kiss on her forehead.
She wanted to wipe the saliva away, but instinct held her down—a moist face was better than what she had been expecting. “What do you mean?”
“I talked to him. He understands you have been under a lot of stress—that you didn’t mean what you said before. He is willing to ignore it if you go to confession tomorrow.”
She looked up to his eyes and searched for a sign that he was there,somewhere. But all she could find was compassion for her brief lack of judgment. Heat rode up to her face, probably splotching it with ugly red. Water welled up in her eyes and he scrutinized her with his gaze. How could he be confused? Her feelings and motivations were as plain as day.
People blamed the death of his dad for this. They said he was still grief-stricken. That maybe he had always been crazy but his old man had stopped him from acting on it. But she cursed his mom for being gone. Her disappearance was the true catalyst that set all of this into motion.
His eyebrows pressed down into a frown, and she tried to smile for him. “Of course I will. I’m sorry.” And then he gathered her in his arms.
Jack and David were drinking unfermented wine. Jack took a measured sip and hated the sugary flavor that lingered on his mouth.
“You must be devastated,” David said from the other end of the table.
“I am.” Jack glared down at his plate. His knuckled were bruised. He had tried to fight the policemen that lingered after Carina had left.
“When I think about what my sister was doing to you…disgusting.” David’s mouth pulled down into a scowl. “But you don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
Jack wanted to scream. To tighten his hold on the glass till it exploded. To throw it across the room so that the goddamn grape juice would stain the curtains. Where is she? The phrase ricocheted in the walls of his mind, and it was bound to drive him insane.
She was his wife. Even if their marriage wasn’t conventional, she was his partner. He had to help her.
To think she was somewhere cold, hungry maybe even getting raped in prison… He had seen what went in there first handed—it was part of his job—and Carina didn’t deserve that. He wanted to beat some sense into David. Or beat him senseless. Jack would be happy with either.
But it wouldn’t work—he knew that. As soon as David utter the smallest cry for help, guards would burst through the doors. He’d be dragged out, sent to prison. Then they would both be in the same hopeless situation.
“If it is any help,” David spoke again, taking him back to the present. “I have found solace in God. I can send the priest to talk to you.”
Jack took his gaze away from the red and beige curtain and moved it to David. His eyes were peaceful and his expression was relaxed to a fault. Maybe he did care Jack was in pain. What a joke! “I would love that.”
Prison was nothing like Lilah had imagined. Nothing. They didn’t give her an orange jumpsuit, for starters. And she wasn’t the only person lacking one. Everyone—except for the police—was wearing average clothes. Dirty, stinky, average clothes.
She hadn’t changed in three days, and her shirt clung to her skin. She often pulled at it, half afraid sweat would make it fuse with her skin.
The other thing she had expected was some sort of explanation. Someone to come and lay all the facts out. This, this, and this happened. That’s why you are in here. At first she thought it was about being out after curfew. Then she thought twice about it and decided that probably not.
They had just set her loose in here, and since then nobody had glanced at her twice.
That’s the other thing that surprised her. All of the women were free to roam day and night. There were bunk beds, sure, but there weren’t enough for half the people in here. Lilah was in the corner of the garden right now. Dry grass made her legs itchy and bugs ate at her, but it was better than the alternative. The women inside were basically piled one on top of the other and snoring in symphony.
A sound caught her attention. Heavy footsteps came her way. She held herself closer to the wall. But when she squinted her eyes and saw that it was in the other side of the fence, she relaxed. The men, whatever their issue was, wouldn’t be able to get to her side.
Two of them were ganging up on a third one. He had his back pressed against the fence and all of them had their faces real close. She wasn’t surprised—not really. Fights broke in there side so often she had lost count. Who could blame them? When you were packed so closely together friction was bound to emerge.
But this one was different. There were no crowds cussing at the top of their lungs. No policemen trying to break it apart. This time there were only three guys standing close together and whisper-screaming.
The one that had his back pressed against the fence suddenly became still. She couldn’t make the shapes out, but she guessed one was holding him by the shirt. Without a warning, the two other guys ran in the opposite direction, and his body slumped to the ground. Just beside the fence. He rolled to one side and she was sure she saw something.
She sprang to her feet and walked towards him, keeping her pace fast but stealthy. She got to him and tried to be as methodical as possible. The guy was dead. It happened. She wouldn’t panic.
She crouched by his side. She was right. The guy did have a knife jammed into his stomach. It wasn’t big, but it was a weapon. She worked her hand through the chain link fence. It was just big enough for her to squish her hand through.
She took the knife and pulled, but it was stuck. Why would it go in but not out? Where’s the logic? She lowered her hand to where the blade met her stomach. Her hand became warm and wet. She held her breath for a second, but it was the only one she had to spare.
She pulled, and it slid out of his abdomen. She smiled, but then she wasn’t able to get her hand back out to her side of the fence. She panicked. She tried to jerk it out. Repeating the pulling movement many times before she was able to break free.
It burned and would probably leave marks on her wrist and hand, but there was no one here to care.
She gingerly placed the knife in the back of her shorts and covered the handle with her shirt. She went to the bathroom. The knife needed a good wash. Where would she keep it? Its current place wouldn’t work in the long run.
“You have blood.” She heard the voice as soon as she entered the bathroom. She froze. All her muscles tensed. Would Lilah be able to defend herself if she tried to take the knife? She turned and saw a woman who smiled at her. “Here you go.” She tossed something at her and Lilah caught it. A tampon.
Elise stretched on the lumpy bed. Curved her back and cracked her toes as she felt her body loosen up. She looked at the curtain blowing. The window was probably not set correctly, because it was closed. But her focus didn’t linger on that.
Just a peek, and she could tell it was later than she had guessed. The yellow glow of the lamp and the thick curtains had stopped her from noticing. “I have to leave.” As she spoke, her gaze followed a gnat that buzzed around the uncovered light bulb.
Dereck placed an arm across her stomach and drew her closer. “Don’t.”
Unconsciously, she traced the freckles in his arms. They were brown and came in thousands. All of the scattered throughout his body. “He will send people looking for me if I don’t come back soon.”
“Call David and tell him your reading club dragged.”
She flinched at the sound of his name, but started speaking before he could comment on it. “Dragged for hours? And what if he calls my friends and discovers we don’t actually meet every three days?”
That had been the smart part of the plan. (The stupid being the gigantic bribe she had to give to her driver.) There was a reading club—a reading club that met every two weeks. Each time she went, she was sure to pick enough details to make up for plenty of conversations. He was always interested in how her day had gone.
“Then let him come. I would like to see who would win—fist to fist.” He pressed his lips against her cheek and gave her a loud wet kiss.
“My knight in shining armor.” She laughed for him. But honestly, David would win. She knew that, Dereck knew that, and it didn’t take much of a brain to know that. Dereck was just soft. Not fat—who had the luxury to be fat?—but soft around the edges. “But seriously,” she said shoving at his arm. “Let me go.”
“I—I won’t let you go.” Dereck said, but the stuttered ruined his chance at sounding tough.
She sat up immediately and turned to face him. “What are you not telling me?”
“Today, uh, Ann’s planning an attack on Scott Penitentiary.”
She closed her eyes and her first instinct was to raise her hand and tell him she didn’t need to hear this. If she had the information, she might spill it. It would be like her to ruin everything. Be a little too weak, a little too sentimental. All they had worked for would just be gone.
But she had never guessed they would do anything like this. “An attack?”
“I didn’t hear much.” He squinted through his glasses—they needed a readjustment. “They are not calling it that, of course. They are saying they will liberate his sister.” He spoke slowly, gingerly. He probably knew that what was a name to him, was a person to Elise. “They are all railed up about that. Don’t ask me why, though. A week ago half of them didn’t know her name.”
It seemed like he would continue, and with each word his tempo grew faster and faster. She raised a hand to stop him. “They are saying? Meaning they have an anterior motive?”
He seemed to shrink back. “A couple of week ago they arrested the guy who smuggles and sells alcohol for ANN. Nobody is saying anything, but I think they want to pick him up in their way out.”
She placed the heels of her hands in her eyes and rubbed. She told David—she told him—that making it illegal was not a good idea. People would still drink it. And now all the money was going to the people he was against.
But this is something good. She reminded herself. They are getting money. If he listened to what she had to say about most things, though, ANN wouldn’t feel the need to do all the things they did. She might not have studied law and wasn’t an expert in politics, but she had common sense. Her husband was deficient in that area.
“Okay. I still need to go. They are attacking the prison, the mansion should be safe.” She exhaled and turned back to look at him. “Right?”
He did a weird nod that morphed into a head shake. “That is not what I mean. You could just disappear today. He knows you are out, so he will assumed they kidnapped you.”
Her mouth became agape. “Look how that worked out the last time.”
“But we don’t have his mother.” He sat up too, so that he was leveled with her. “I would tell you if we had Olivia. You loved her. I wouldn’t keep that from you.”
“I know you don’t have her.” She said, but suddenly she felt exhausted. Fighting was not the point of coming here.
“Thank you for believing me.”
“I still have to go.” She fled before he could hold her again.
Three men entered Jack’s office. Two of them were dragging the third who looked as pale as a corpse. “We found a snitch. Thomas Erickson. He was copying private files into his personal flash drive.”
Jack sighed. He didn’t care if the men heard him. He had no energy for this. His thoughts were a merry-go-round. No matter what he thought, his mind would always return to Carina. He already knew where she was—David hadn’t bother hiding her. Scott Penitentiary, west wing, cell B-8. But how would he get her out? “Leave him there.” Jack pointed to the couch.
They shared a look. It seemed like they were waiting for someone to confirm Jack’s order. This had taken a serious swing at his credibility. Everybody was discussing his life know. They knew what had happened and why it happened. For all they knew, Jack might be the next headed to prison.
“Are you sure you don’t want to take him to the interrogation room, sir?” The one in the right spoke and Jack gave him a look. “At least one of us should stay with you.” Not even a question.
“You frisked him—didn’t you? Are you insinuating he could overpower me, hand to hand?” He shifted his gaze to the snitch. It looked like he needed more protein in his diet.
“No, of course not, sir, but—”
“Just wait outside.”
It was easy to interrogate a guy with a family, and Jack couldn’t be more elated about what he had learned. A distraction. Suck a massive distraction.
He opened the door, and the two men were jolted into alertness. He made his voice loud so that Erickson would hear. “You,” he jerked his chin at the one who had been more outspoken in his office. “Throw this moron into prison. I will figure out exactly what I will do with him tomorrow.” This was Jack’s way of saying thank you.
“Yes, sir.” He nodded and came into the room to haul Thomas away.
“Now, you.” He made a come hither motion to the other guy. “Send to reinforce security in Woodford Correctional Center.”
“But we are short on staff, sir.”
“Then pull people from Scott Penitentiary. Just make it happen.” He pronounced each syllable slowly and kept a serious face. Could he tell Jack was up to something?
He didn’t show signs of it. The he left to execute Jack’s orders.
Carina wanted to go back to her dream. She draped a hand over her eyes and tried to grasp at it while it lingered. It seemed like a memory of her childhood, but it could have been a figment of her imagination, though. Her and her mom dressing dolls in pretty clothes.
It was painful to think about it, but that dream was the most interesting thing that had happened around here—in isolation. Four grey walls, a high ceiling stained with humidity, a lidless toilet, and a cot in the floor for her to sleep in.
It was harsh, but she took it for the favor that it was. She wouldn’t survive out there. It made her feel warm inside. David was still looking out for her. This would sort itself out.
The door opened and Sean came in with a grey trey. He hadn’t told her his name, but she had heard it from the other side of the door. She liked seeing him. It was a way to mark time. Ten Sean’s ago they had thrown her in here.
But she was lucky too. He could have stayed quiet. Just hand her the food. Instead he always said something. Sometimes he even called her doll face. She was half sure it was mocking, but that was the point. He gave her something to think about. That was something she was grateful for because boredom was bound to drive her mad at some point.
He crouched and left the trey next to her. “I asked the chef to fetch you something special today.” Sean winked at her.
She looked at it. A glass of water, a piece of bread, and bawl full of sweat peas. She laughed. Maybe this way he would be encouraged to make jokes more often.
As soon as he left, she grabbed the bowl and got it close to her. She swallowed a spoonful and tried to decipher if it actually tasted better or she was just getting used to flavor. While she pondered, her eyes wondered down, and she saw it.
She set the sweat peas aside and unfolded the piece of paper. It was damp so the ink was runny. Still, the message was completely legible.
She took her time to read it. She even read it twice because she felt the message was insubstantial. It was Jack telling her he would come for her. That she should be ready.
She was not even sure it was it was actually him. The handwriting was blurry and she probably wouldn’t have recognized it in the first place. And how was she supposed to get ready? She could only wait for something to happen.
All she really wanted to know was what had happened with Stella. Why couldn’t he tell her that? It would certainly fit in the piece of paper. She sighed, folded it, and tucked it in her bra. It would be safe there, and this was something she could reread later when boredom struck.
Lilah froze as chaos broke out. What’s going on? She moved her head from side to side. People seemed to be flooding into the prison. Tons of men and women surrounded her. She could hear screams and fights and even greetings.
She reached for the knife in the side of her pants. But who would she point it at? Nobody was approaching her. This happened around her, not to her. She had more chances of getting attacked if he looked like a threat.
From her peripheral vision she detected a shoe flying in her direction. She ducked just before it made contact with her head. She had to get out of here.
In the moment she took to decide, she noticed an exodus of people migrating to her right. Before it could get any bigger and people would start stampeding over her, she headed to the opposite direction.
She was still unfamiliar to the prison, but she knew where she was going now. It was the place that everyone avoided: isolation. People weren’t allowed near it—not that they wanted to go, anyway—but she didn’t see any guards that would enforce the rule. Where were they?
Just a she thought this, one of them whizzed in front of her. He was speaking through a walkie-talkie and running towards the pandemonium. She scurried back when she saw him. She got into another hallway, and saw another man. She became quiet, afraid that if she moved, he might hear.
He was dressed as a general of some sort and was fiddling with the lock of a cell. Why would he be struggling? Wouldn’t he just have the right key?
He twisted his head to the side, and she recognized him. She had only seen him once and very briefly, but she was certain it was him. One of the two guys from the van. He was a general?
He saw her too, and his hands froze. “This is not what it seems.” She frowned and gave a step back. She reached for her knife and was ready to pull it out.
What did he think it seemed like? What confused her more than that, was that he was trying to apace her. Her, and he was the general. She was used to being tossed around by people in fancy uniforms like him. He walked in her direction, patting the air like he was trying to calm her down. “Just go the other way. The doors are open, as far as I know.”
So that is what happened? A massive prison break out. She gave a step forward. “You don’t recognize me.”
He narrowed his eyes, and she could tell she was right. He didn’t have a clue of who she was! He had screwed up her life left and right, and he didn’t have the decency to recognize her.
Rage build up in her core and she pounced.
David saw the priest close the blinds. It was theatrical. There wasn’t an angry mob outside—yet.
“Have they found Elise?”
“No.” The priest came to sit in the loveseat next to the couch.
“Why not?” He stood up from the couch, too antsy to stay put. “Who left her out of sight?” His staff should know better—he hired them to know better. If it was up to him, Elise would leave the premises of the house as little as possible. He didn’t want to retrain her—she could hold the meetings here. But it sounded a little too obsessive. Too overprotective. He didn’t want her to feel caged. And now, because of his lack of foresight, she had probably been dragged to the same place as his mother.
“I could check but nobody has reported back in.”
If they were smart, they would stay away from him. Disappear. God knew it would be easy. The streets tomorrow would be swarmed with criminals and he could not even start to think how he would get them all back into prison.
“We also received a letter from ANN. It seems like their main motive today was to liberate your unjustly imprisoned sister.” His eyes were called, and his tone sardonic
If David could roll back time, he would make things differently. Just warn her sister. Give her a small slap on the wrist instead of this. She didn’t know any better. What she needed was guidance. Even as he thought this, he knew it wasn’t true. Carina had sinned—and one of the most repulsive sins at that. He couldn’t just ignore it.
The priest harrumphed, and David halted in his tracks. He was in his third loop from the couch to the door. “What?”
“There is one more thing.” The priest looked own at his veiny hands while he spoke. David didn’t answer, annoyed by the theatrical stalling. “The hospital called. They have Jack Walker.”
This time David did bite. “What happened to him?”
“He was stabbed.”
David supported his arms in the armrest of the couch, bowed his head, and closed his eyes. “He was stabbed?” He dragged out slowly, sounding out the words because they didn’t feel real. “Today? How? Why?”
“He was at the prison when this started. The cameras caught him trying to open Carina’s cell. An inmate was there. From what it looked like he was trying to calm her down, and she attacked him.”
For a moment David felt like he could read the priest’s thoughts. If Jack had been caught doing this—this, what ANN had intended to—did it mean that he was related in some way or another? If ANN wanted to get Carina out, did she ever work for them?
The train of thought seemed too natural, too obvious. He spoke, trying to distract them both from the awful conclusion.
“Is he going to be alright?”
“We still don’t know.” He smoothed his failing hair to one side. “She didn’t puncture any major organs, but there was heavy blood loss. Right now they are more afraid of an infection than anything else.”
“What about her?” He raised his head to meet the priest’s eyes.
“She was shot. On self-defense, of course. She had a disturbed little soul.”
David flinched. He walked around and sat on the couch. He placed his elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands. “What am I supposed to do now?”
“We still have Carina.”
“What does that mean?” David was desperate for the answer. He clung to the hope that he could get them back somehow. If it was too late for his mother—he flinched when he thought that—at least Elise. He needed her back.
“Use her as an example.” The priest paused, letting the meaning sink in. “Show people that nobody can get in your—in God’s—way.”
To think Elise had been so mad about the return address. Now it was the only thing giving her hope. She stepped closer to the door hoping that the overhang would shield her from the rain.
She wasn’t used to this. Her flats had sunk in mud, so now her feet were dirty and her toes pruny. Humidity made her skin sticky. And the back of her head and her cheap new dress got drenched while she waited for Olivia to open the door.
But she liked the sound of the storm and the rolling thunder. She liked the splash, splash, splash of the raindrops when they hit the ground, and the smell of wet dirt. Above all, she liked the plants. They were so green and vibrant—so alive—it seemed like they would uproot themselves and walk.
The door swung open and she found Olivia smiling in the other side. Her hair hung to her waist, and it had greys from roots to tips mixing in with her remaining black strands. The Olivia Elise knew would never go so long without a dye or trim, but this Olivia looked happier.
She got wrinkles around her eyes when she saw Elise. She opened her arms and held her in a hug before either of them had said anything. “Dear! What are you doing here?”
“It is a long story.” Elise looked back at the rain.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Come in, come in.” Olivia took her hand and led her into the house. It was made entirely of wood and had mildew growing in the corners. She stopped in the living room that had no division between the kitchen and the dining room. The only difference was the furniture.
They both sat down in the dingy orange couch, and Elise swore it was moist like everything else in this place. Olivia stood up almost as soon as she had sat, and walked over to the kitchen.
“Now tell me. How did you get in here?” Olivia fumbled around the cabinets as she spoke.
“Your letter had the return address.”
Olivia froze and turned to look at her. “Was it? I am losing my head these days.” She cracked a laugh, and Elise cringed.
That was not the appropriate reaction to what she just had told her. Sure, no one had seen it—and she made damn sure to burn it so no one would—but it could have happened. Yet, he wouldn’t get into an arguments with Olivia. She continues speaking.
“I was able to contact the guy who brought you here—he gave me a boat ride.” Elise jerked her thumb back, like he was right behind her, but they were two kilometers off the coast.
Olivia nodded and turned back to looking haphazardly through the cabinets. “He is a nice fella.” She stopped seeming to find whatever she was looking for. She stretched to her tiptoes to be able to reach, and took out two wine glasses before setting them on the island.
“Olivia you need to come back.”
He face fell, and it seemed like she had aged twenty years in a second. “No,” she said with a stubborn set of her lips.
“What?” Elise was stupefied. “No, wait. You don’t get it. David has been acting crazy since you left. He even has Carina imprisoned.” She stood up and walked closer to her. “Carina, your daughter.”
Olivia shook her head quickly. “Those two.” She turned back and opened the fridge and crouched. “They always get into silly arguments. But everything is going to be alright. They love each other.”
“This is not a silly argument.” Elise enunciated carefully, making every word sound like a punch.
Olivia sprang upright, wine bottle in hand. “I can’t keep mothering after them! It is not my job anymore to swat their butt and send them to their room when they misbehave. They are supposed to be adults.”
Elise shrank back at the intensity of her reaction. She wasn’t afraid Olivia would swing at her with the bottle or nothing aggressive like that. What bothered Elise was how sad she looked. How desperate to stay in her little house with its abundance of rain.
“What do you suppose I do?” Elise said, beginning to stagger. “I can’t go back—not if everything will stay the same.”
Olivia took a knife and worked out the cork. It made a plup as it came out. “Well.” She filled the two lasses all the way to the top. “You could stay here.” She lifted the glasses and offered one to Elise.
She was dumbfounded by the proposition. It was simple, easy, possible. All she had to do was stay right where she was. If no one was going to help, it wasn’t Elise’s responsibility to bend over backwards to fix a country.
She stayed still for a moment while she examined Olivia’s house. The orange couch she had seen as shabby and disgustingly humid started looking cozy and inviting. The wooden walls gave her the sense that she was being protected, and the pitter-patter of the rain against the roof soothed her mind.
She turned back to look at Olivia that was still extending the glass towards her. “Thanks.” She took the wine and pulled a long zip. She had missed the flavor.