“And you’re mine, only mine.” The void fed on the memory.
“Good to know. But it won’t be that easy. When you offered to take me home, did you mean my house?” Her tone hinted at her unease.
I suddenly knew where this conversation was going to go. However, I’d promised to answer her honestly. I always kept my promises. All, except one. I pushed the thought away.
“You didn’t want to go to mine, so I thought yours might be better.”
“Do you know where I live?” she accused.
I rolled my eyes.
She was quiet for a while, but I couldn’t really gauge her thoughts because I had to focus on the narrow, disjointed streets.
“Okay,” she said resolutely. “It makes sense you’d know where I live. I’m sure it took you a while to find me.”
“It did.” I smiled again, but I can’t be sure it was genuine. I don’t like answering questions, especially ones that sound like a trap.
“How long have you known where I am?” The tone of her voice was less than friendly.
“Caleb. You promised.”
I gritted my teeth.
“I’ve known for a few weeks.” I slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting a group of drunken idiots crossing the street. Fucking teenagers, they thought they owned the world. I rolled down my window without thinking and yelled at them. “Get the fuck out of the road!” One of them gave me the finger and called me a fag in Spanish. “I’ll show you a fag, you little bitch. I’ll fuck-start your head!”
“Caleb!” Livvie cried out and gripped my arm. I snapped my head toward her and I could see she was more than a little frightened. It irritated me more than I understood at the time. I watched as the group of soccer idiots kept walking down the street. They were still laughing and shouting at me. I wanted to shoot each of them in the kneecaps.
A horn blared behind me. I stepped on the gas and propelled us into a roundabout a bit too quickly.
“This isn’t going the way I hoped, Livvie. You’re obviously scared of me and I’m just getting irritated. Maybe I should take you home.” I felt a pang in my chest as I spoke. I didn’t want to take her home, at least not to drop her off. But I couldn’t take much more cat and mouse. It’s just not who I am.
“If that’s what you want, then I think you better.” She was definitely angry.
“No. It’s not what I want. I wouldn’t have gone through all the damn trouble to find you if that’s what I wanted. Please be rational.”
“You be rational, Caleb. You show up out of the fucking blue and just expect me to fall on my back and throw my legs open for you? No! Not until I know what the hell you’ve been up to for the last year. Not until I know why you’re back in my life and what you expect from me.”
Okay, that made sense. I knew it did. I didn’t have to like it. My entire life had changed. I’d given up everything I knew and the last thing I wanted to do was talk about it. Why do women have to do so much talking? If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re thirsty, drink. If you want somebody to fuck the guts out of you, just say so!
Of course, I knew I couldn’t say any of those things without proverbially shooting myself in the foot. I’d come to grovel. I’d fucking grovel. I took a deep breath and slowed down. The car could practically idle and do 40kph.
“I don’t expect you to fall on your back and throw your legs open.” I spoke calmly. “But it would be nice.” I glanced in her direction and gave her my most suggestive smile. She glared at me.
“I don’t know what I expected, Pet. I’ve been thinking about you for a long time. I guess I just want to say I’m sorry. I know I can’t erase our past. I can’t promise you I’m a completely different person. I’m messed up in ways most people can’t possibly understand, but I care about you. I had to find you and tell you you’re the only thing I care about anymore.” I kept my eyes on the road and swallowed hard. My pride is thick and I may have had to swallow more than once to force it down.
“I… care about you too, Caleb. The past year hasn’t been easy for me. It’s not just moving, or letting go of my family and friends….” She was silent for a minute. When she spoke, there were tears in her voice. “You betrayed me.”
She may as well have slapped me again. Maybe punched me in the stomach for good measure. She knew how much the word “betrayed” would get to me.
“How?” I asked the question as smoothly as I could.
“I was ready to go with you. After everything you’d done. And you just… left me. You have no idea what I had to go through. How hard I had to work to become… human.” She whispered the words. She looked out the window and watched the same streets pass her.
I’m not sure where I went mentally. I kept circling the same large block. I remembered that day. I had replayed it in my mind a million times in the past year. What could I say to her? The truth was awful. I’d killed Rafiq the day before. I’d buried the only family I had ever known, and I was reeling with the discovery he had been the cause of every horrible thing that had happened to me. I loved him. I killed him. I couldn’t look at Livvie without comparing myself to Rafiq. I had kidnapped her, tortured her, raped her, and taken her away from everything she knew. And she said she loved me. That had been the worst part.
“I wanted you to be sure.” My words sounded alien, wooden. I felt Livvie’s hand on my arm. It startled me and brought me back from the place I’d been. I took a few seconds to just look at her. She was so damn beautiful—not only on the outside, but on the inside as well. She was stronger than me. She was braver. She didn’t want vengeance.
“I know why you made me get out. It took me a long time to accept it, but I understand. I know it was your way of being selfless, your way of sacrificing. But you made me sacrifice too. I almost went bat-shit crazy.” She smiled genuinely and I couldn’t help but follow suit.
“You are crazy, Livvie. But I wouldn’t have you any other way.” I turned my hand over and she moved her hand into mine. It’s stupid how happy it made me. “In case you haven’t noticed, I am not the poster child for mental health.”
“Oh, I noticed.”
“Bitch.” I feigned insult.
“I missed you,” I said.
She squeezed my hand.
“Take me to a hotel, Caleb.”
I visibly straightened. There was a fleeting moment of internal struggle while I contemplated giving her answers to questions she didn’t ask, but in the end I just had to be me. I am the master of half-truths.
“I know just the place.”
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I put the keycard into the door. I knew what the room would look like. I knew Livvie would think it was beautiful. I knew there was an enormous bed waiting to be soiled. What I didn’t know was if I’d get the chance to use it the way I wished.
“Wow, Caleb.” Livvie stepped inside and put her purse on the coffee table. “You certainly know how to make an impression. First the car, now the room.”
I shrugged from the foyer.
“The car’s rented. Technically, so is the room. I have good taste though; no one can deny me that.”
“No, I guess they can’t.” She wandered to the curtains and pulled them back. It seemed to be a clear indication she didn’t trust me.
I took the insult as best I could. How insulted did I really have a right to be? I knew she believed the hotel to be a secure place to meet. All she’d have to do was scream and someone would probably hear us. Of course, the key word there was probably. I was tempted to remind her that if I were so inclined, she wouldn’t even get to scream. However, I figured it wasn’t in my best interest to point such things out to her.
I walked into the living area and made myself comfortable on the sofa. I wanted to get the preliminaries out of the way as soon as possible and get back to more pleasurable pursuits. In the meantime, I watched Livvie. Always inquisitive, my Livvie, a curious little kitten. I eyed her from my seat as she ran her long fingers along the furniture, the drapes, and the Tiffany lamp on the desk.
“Livvie.” She focused on me. Her nerves were obvious. “Come sit with me.”
She shook her head slightly.
“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.”
I rested my head on my fist. I stared. On this point there would be no discussion. I’d made my request clear and I expected her to acquiesce. I wasn’t going to argue moot points. I took great pleasure in exerting my dominance. It was fun watching her squirm.
Taking my bait, Livvie filled the silence.
“Caleb… come on. You know the second I go over there you’re just going to pounce on me.” She was biting her lip again, her fingers nervously tugging on it. “Caleb? Are you even going to say anything? Oh, okay, so you’re just going to sit over there, looking all ‘you know you want me’? I’m not scared of you, Caleb.” She crossed her arms over her chest and tried her best to look intimidating. “I have pepper spray in my purse!”
I couldn’t help it. I burst into laughter.
“Oh my god, you’re such a jerk,” she said. She walked toward me and unceremoniously plopped onto the sofa. “Fine! I’m here.”
I was still holding my stomach when my laughter finally subsided and I could make eye contact without starting up again.
“I’m sorry, Livvie, I really am. You kill me. Pepper spray? I’ve tracked you all over the world and that’s what’s going to stop me—pepper spray.”
Livvie’s wide grin was my reward for all the slaps and insults she’d thrown my way during the course of the evening.
“Well, maybe it wouldn’t stop you. It would still be fun to watch you roll around on the ground crying for a while.” She shrugged. “It might still be fun.”
We laughed for little while, diffusing all the tension. I felt completely at ease by the time we were done laughing and I knew Livvie did too. Her shoulders had dropped. Her fingers had stopped fidgeting.
“I missed you, Caleb.”
“I missed you, Livvie.”
Livvie took off her heels and set them beside the sofa. As she pressed her toes into the carpet and grabbed at the thick fibers, she smiled at me. She sat up straight, bending her knees so she could sit on her feet. It was a relaxed and casual pose. It was a good sign for things to come.
“All over the world, eh? Tell me about that.”
I stared at her for a second, but I relented. It was best to get it out of the way. I took off my shoes and adopted a more comfortable pose as well. There is nothing more unattractive than having to stop getting naked to remove one’s shoes. I like to think ahead.
“Yes. I looked for you everywhere and anywhere I could think of. If you really wanted me to find you, you could have left me a note in Mexico. It was the first place I looked.” I reached out with my right hand and stroked Livvie’s cheek. I loved that she let me.
“I didn’t think it was a good idea. The FBI knew you’d left me the money. I was afraid if I left you a note they’d know you were alive. I couldn’t risk it.” She smiled, though it didn’t quite reach her eyes.
I felt many things upon hearing her words. I was touched. I was angry. I was sad.
“I’m sorry you had to go through that. They made you change your name.” I hadn’t counted on Livvie. I’d been too sick about Rafiq to believe she’d ever try to protect me.
“I like my new one.” She reached for my hand and held it on her knee. “I’d do it again, Caleb—in a heartbeat. I don’t know how you feel about it, but I want you to know I’m happy. I have a great life.”
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