Page 20

Author: C.J. Roberts


My feelings toward her were on the tip of my tongue. I’d been holding the words in since the moment I had watched her walk out of my life, and if she’d turned around and looked at me for even a second, I wouldn’t have been able to resist telling her then.


I love you.


I couldn’t say it in Mexico. I had lost too much that day. I had lost my reality. What could I possibly understand about love when the only person I was sure I did love had lied to me for twelve years? Livvie had said she was mine. How could I be sure? Worse, what if it were true? What if she loved me and all I had to offer was a husk of a heart to love her with? How can anyone understand what love is without experiencing it? It would be like trying to describe color to a blind man. Some things you have to see for yourself. To understand love, you have to feel it for yourself.


It wasn’t until Livvie walked away and I was truly alone in the world that I began to feel what love could be. It didn’t come to me as it came to others; I had to find love as I had found everything else that defined me: through my suffering. The chasm Livvie’s absence opened in me was a hungry void. It was alive, the void, and it would not be filled with vengeance. It was not soothed by my attempts to right my wrongs. It was not pleased by random women. It did not sleep, despite the amount of drink I imbibed to dull my senses.


There was only one thing the void wanted. Greedily tearing me apart, it asked for Livvie. It wanted my hopes, my dreams. It wanted my memories of her face. It wanted the laughter we had shared. “Mine,” the void had decreed. Only Livvie could make me whole, and as soon as I had realized it, I couldn’t stop looking for her. I’d become obsessed with knowing if she really loved me.


The first touch of Livvie’s hand on my shoulder had me sobbing again. Love made me weak. I wished it would go away. Instead, it crushed me under its heel. I let Livvie push me back onto the bed. And when I heard her turn away, love made me beg.


“Please don’t go. Don’t leave me.”


I felt her fingers running through my hair.


“I would never leave you, Caleb. I just wanted to get you some water.”


“I don’t want water.”


“Scotch? Whiskey?”


“Just you.”


There was a long pause.


“Okay.”


I heard her undress before she slipped in behind me. She smelled like smoke. She hadn’t had a cigarette since the first night I’d come to her apartment. I didn’t say anything about it. She had her vises and I had mine. All that mattered to me was that Livvie was warm. And soft. Livvie was always warm and soft. She spoke softly in my ear.


“I’m scared too. You didn’t come to the door and I thought: He left me again. Caleb, you can’t do that to me.”


Livvie kissed my shoulder, but I could feel her vibrating with anger.


“You’re mad at me.”


“Yes,” she said. “But I guess… maybe I can’t blame you. In the grand scheme of things, it’s ridiculous to assume you wouldn’t break into my laptop. To use your words: I know who you are and I know what you do.” Livvie let out a short burst of laughter that quickly became a thoughtful sigh. “It must be hard on you, not having anyone to talk to about… him. I certainly don’t care he’s dead—he can rot in hell for all I care—but I never guessed how much you…” Livvie sighed and went silent.


“I don’t expect you to care. I don’t regret what I did. I just wanted you to know why I couldn’t let you come with me. To be honest, I don’t regret leaving you behind.”


She tensed.


“Sorry you came back?”


I turned and pulled her into my arms. It wasn’t her place to comfort me.


“No. I could never regret any amount of time with you. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened in my life. I just wish I could… be that for you.” Her silence was nearly deafening. It was a confirmation.


“I… fuck. I’m so goddamn angry, Caleb. I don’t know how to process everything sometimes. There’s so much living inside me. That’s what the writing is for, it helps me lay shit out and filter through my thoughts.” She propped herself up on her elbow and met my eyes. Her expression was pained. “You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me, Caleb. You’re also the worst. I’m trying to reconcile those two things. Help me?”


“How am I supposed to help you?” I asked.


“Tell me your side of things. I want to hear the good and the bad. I have so many questions, so many moments in my life where I only know half the information. You read my side of it. I want your side. Help me understand how I managed to…” Her eyes finished her sentence: fall in love with you. “Help me explain it to the rest of the world.”


Her words left me reeling. I didn’t want the world to know. I didn’t want to know. In fact, I’d been doing everything within my power to make us both forget where we started. How was this supposed to help?


“It’s not for the rest of the world to know, Livvie. I don’t understand.”


“You wouldn’t, but I do. I wouldn’t betray your trust. I’d tell it the way it’s meant to be told. I’d make them see that some stories aren’t black and white. I’d make them feel this, us. And then I’d feel better. I wouldn’t feel like you got one over on me. I’d feel right about everything between us and I’d defend it. I’ll always defend it.”


What justification did I have against that? I had what I wanted: assurance that Livvie had no desire to leave me. I’d even managed to sidestep the argument over having broken into her laptop. Most importantly, she’d given me a glimpse of the love she’d once professed to have for me. I was determined to nurture that emotion.


“What do you want to know? For example?” I edged. She leaned toward me and placed a soft kiss on my mouth.


“I hate seeing you like this. If anyone is going to fuck up your face, it should be me.” She smiled.


“Think you could take me?” I worked hard not to grin so I wouldn’t split my lip open again.


“I think you’d let me.”


“Well, you’ve got me there. I don’t think anyone has ever slapped me so many times and walked away without having to look over their shoulder forever.” I let my fingers caress her face. I’d slapped her once. “I felt horrible… that one time. I’ll never—”


“I know,” she interrupted. “I’m sorry I asked about the... you know. I know you’re trying to be different and you’ve changed so much. That wasn’t fair.”


“You had a right to ask. I’m trying to change, but it doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with who I used to be. I’ve had blood on my hands.” I silently reflected on my year away from Livvie.


“You’re different now,” Livvie said softly.


I saw the faces of the women I’d once enslaved and then set free. I thought about the ones I’d been too late to save. They would haunt me forever and it was scarcely penance enough. Yet, fate had brought me to Livvie .


“I don’t know that I’m all that different. I’ll never stop looking over my shoulder—or yours. I think part of me will always be someone’s loyal disciple. It’s who I am.” I stroked Livvie’s hair. “I’d kill for you, Livvie. I’d die for you.”


“Caleb. Don’t. You’re no one’s disciple. You’re free, and all that shit is behind you.” Her arm squeezed my waist.


“I hope you’re right, Kitten, but I’d still do anything to protect what’s important to me. I just hope it never comes to violence again. From now on, it’s just fighting in the gym.”


Livvie laughed.


“You mean you did this on purpose? Oh, Caleb,” she sighed, “you’re such a fucking man sometimes.” She kissed me again.


“I’m always a man. Don’t you forget it.” I winked. “Ask your questions, Kitten. I can’t promise I’ll always be this agreeable.” I skimmed her lower back with my fingers.


Livvie’s smile faded a bit, but I could sense her determination nonetheless.


“Why me, Caleb? Why’d you choose me?”


I was sorry I invited her questions. I could think of at least ten other things I would rather suffer than formulate words to loaded questions like those. However, why is always important to people. It had been important to me. I’d wanted to know why I’d been taken. I’d wanted to know why Rafiq showed me genuine affection when I was a boy. My entire life had been about why. I owed Livvie answers.


I cleared my throat.


“You made me curious.” I could practically feel the intensity of Livvie’s stare. “I watched you for weeks before I decided. Every time I saw you… I wanted to know more about you.”


“But why?” She pressed into my side. I let out a huff of air.


“Fuck, I don’t know. I guess… you looked kind of sad.” I raised my free hand and traced her confused brow. “You liked to stare at the ground and it used to make me angry because I couldn’t see your face, your eyes. I wanted to know why you were sad.” Listening to my words aloud and staring into those same eyes, I wondered what the hell had ever possessed me to hurt someone so innocent, so beautiful.


“You told me about your mom, about how she treated you, but I didn’t know that in the beginning. I saw you in your baggy pants and oversized sweaters and it didn’t make any sense to me why such a beautiful girl would hide.” I knew she had been hiding from someone like me. I thought, life is cruel.


“And then I fucking met you. You ran right into my arms and I…” I almost couldn’t say it. “I had to have you. I’m sorry, Livvie. I’m so very sorry.”


Livvie shook her head.


“I don’t need you to apologize anymore. We’re together and I don’t need you feeling bad about it. I just want you to stop pushing me.” She gripped my shoulder and shook me playfully. “I need to know how we arrived here, but it doesn’t mean I’m not happy to be where I am. I’m here, with you. That’s nothing either of us should be sorry about.”


“It doesn’t seem that way sometimes. You care about me, Livvie. I know you do. Except you won’t say it because you’re punishing me for what I did. I know I deserve it, but stop pretending you’ve forgiven me. If you want the truth from me, start being honest.” I felt the shift in power between us. Livvie had me where she wanted me, but I had her too. We had each other, and I liked knowing it wasn’t something either of us could surrender easily.


She put her head down on my chest in supplication. She could ply me so easily sometimes. If I had anything to do with her ability to wield power through submission, then I’d done my best work in Livvie. However, I doubted that was the case. She’d been playing me since the day we met in one fashion or another.


“I forgive you, Caleb. I’m just… angry. You’re angry too. I don’t like how easily you can hurt me.”


“It’s not easy, Livvie. I don’t like hurting you. That’s not fair.”


She made a growling sound. I almost laughed but managed to hold it in.


“I didn’t mean it like that,” she said. “I mean… you left. You could leave again. You think about leaving and going back to that life. How is that supposed to make me feel?”


I wanted to get up and throw things around the room. Livvie could be so infuriating.


“The only reason I said that is because you do the same to me. One minute you can’t live without me and you want me to treat you rough. The next minute you ask me if I’ve killed someone. Casually! As if I ever killed anyone on a whim. Am I supposed to believe you want to spend the rest of your life with someone you think is capable of those things? If so… you’re definitely not the person I remember.”

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