Author: C.J. Roberts

Matthew was thirteen and he went to live with Mrs. Kavanaugh’s daughter, Margaret, and her husband, Richard Reed. Greg committed suicide in lieu of going to jail for murder, and Matthew had never gotten over the injustice of it, despite the fact his life had improved drastically after that. Margaret and Richard were his real mother and father as far as he was concerned. He tried not to think of those other people.

“Horrible things happen to a lot of people, Miss Ruiz. Not everyone becomes a monster,” he said.

“No, but the world is full of people who do. It’s like those kids in Africa that get taught how to use machine guns and kill. Some of them can barely lift the guns, but they’re killers. What about them, Reed? Do you hold them responsible? Would you lock them away or put them down?” She wiped her eyes.

“That’s different, and you know it. The entire continent is rife with civil unrest and it’s people like Muhammad Rafiq, Felipe Villanueva, and yes, even Caleb, that get those kids hooked on cocaine and then teach them how to kill. I hold those people responsible.”

“What about the one’s that grow up? What about the one’s that survive long enough to become adults? Can you blame them for doing the only thing they know how?” She had to stop and breathe, her anger making her shake. He could see it on her face. She wanted to hit him. “Do you think that ten or twenty years from now, I’m going to feel normal or be normal or have a normal life, like you?”

Matthew let out an exasperated sigh, “I don’t know, Miss Ruiz. I don’t have those kinds of answers for you. It’s wrong, what happens to those kids, but it doesn’t give them free license as adults to rape and murder just because they’ve been doing it since they were young. Nor does it justify their actions because they had a fucked up childhood.”

“So…what? Fuck ‘em?” she challenged, her eyes wild. “Is that the best you can do?”

Matthew shrugged, “I don’t see the comparison, Miss Ruiz. Even if I did, are you telling me if one of those kids pointed a gun at you, if one of them raped you, you’d be willing to forgive them? Because I don’t think I have that much compassion. Anyone who points a weapon at me is going to get brought down. I don’t care if it’s a fucking Girl Scout.”

Olivia laughed without humor, “You’re fucking wrong, Reed. That’s exactly what Caleb would say.” She regarded him for a moment. “You are different from Sloan; she would never say anything like that.”

Matthew shrugged, trying to find his calm. The conversation had gotten out of control, and really, it just wasn’t necessary. “I tell it like it is and believe me, you’re not the first person to find it annoying.”

“Speaking of…why would you tell Sloan I kissed you?”

“Because you did. Dr. Sloan would have asked and it’s irrelevant to me but important for her to know.”

She rolled her eyes again, “I just wanted to distract you. You wouldn’t give me Caleb’s fucking picture and I wanted it. Now, Sloan thinks I’m some kind of sexual deviant who tries to seduce asshole FBI agents that want to shoot Girl Scouts.”

Matthew smiled in spite of himself, “Well, aren’t you?”

“Tell me, you’re joking.” She stared at him, a startled, even comical expression on her face. “No one is that self-absorbed.”

“I’m joking. And I am that self-absorbed.” They both laughed amiably, but the conversation was far from over and it was up to Matthew to bring it back around, but he wanted to give Livvie the time to get there. “You still haven’t answered the question: Why do you care so much about Caleb?”

She sighed at that, her focus seemingly far away. When she spoke, her tone was soft and somewhat wistful. “He used to talk to me at night. It was almost like the dark gave us permission to be ourselves, to put aside the fact he was my kidnapper, and the man responsible for all the terrible things that happened to me during the day. But you have to understand, for all the bad Caleb did, he protected me too, in his own ways. It could have been so much worse for me without Caleb.”

“That night, after Celia had whipped Kid in front of everyone, Rafiq had tried to separate us. He wanted me to stay in his room and I was terrified Caleb would let it happen. I’d seen what Rafiq had done to Nancy. I could still hear her screams in my ears and feel her hands grabbing for me. I didn’t want to end up like her.

“Caleb refused. He said I would scream for hours on end if I were separated from him. He said I was a danger to myself and Rafiq didn’t know me well enough to know what I needed. He’d said it all in English and the moment Rafiq reached for me I started screaming bloody murder until Caleb lifted me into his arms. I even threw in some feverish gibberish, clutching at him and begging him not to let me go. I didn’t have to work hard to be panicked. I was panicked.

“Caleb stroked my hair and I slowly relaxed into his arms, going so far as to ‘faint’. Maybe it was a little over the top, but it worked. Felipe had begged Caleb’s forgiveness for not offering to have him shown to his room sooner and called the butler over to take us to Caleb’s room.” Livvie chuckled softly as she recounted the story and Matthew had to wonder if her sense of humor had always been so dark or if it was an aftereffect of her time spent in ruthless company.

“Oh!” Olivia suddenly exclaimed, “I remember something. Felipe told Rafiq the boat would be arriving in four days and he asked if Rafiq would be leaving to meet it, or if he planned to stay and have someone else handle it.”

Matthew leaned forward, pen poised over his notepad, “He said this in front of you?”

“He thought I was passed out. I don’t know if it’s important. It was months ago, so the boat has obviously already come and gone, but I do remember it because I wondered if we were near water and if I was going to be on that fucking boat.”

“Obviously, that didn’t happen,” Matthew said, stating the obvious.

“No, but you didn’t ask me if it happened. You told me to tell you everything I remember,” she said.

“So what happened?”

“I don’t know, but Rafiq was gone a few days later, so I assume he went to meet the boat and whoever or whatever was on it.”

Probably drugs, Matthew thought, and he made a note to look into locations near water and cross-reference them with his list of military installations in Pakistan. He would also have to call the Federal Investigation Agency in Pakistan. The FIA likely knew something; it was getting them to admit it and tell him. “Anything else that might be useful?” he asked.

“Not that I can think of right now. Besides, I was telling you about me and Caleb.”

Matthew rolled his eyes. “Fine. It seems to be helping you remember things, but please, try to keep the sex stuff to a minimum. I really don’t need to hear the blow-by-blow.”

Olivia smiled, “Was that a pun, Reed?”

“Hardly, just a poor choice of words,” he acknowledged. The image he’d manufactured of Celia thrusting that dildo into Kid’s mouth once again assaulted him. He shook his head and it dissipated. He wished he’d never heard that story. It wasn’t the act he guiltily found intriguing, but the authority behind it. Matthew didn’t care for weak women, but he certainly had a thing for domineering ones. And in the darkest recesses of Matthew’s mind, he knew why.

“Are you really going to listen? Will you at least try to see things the way I do?” she requested earnestly.

Matthew’s stomach did a strange flip-like thing at the sound of her begging tone. This was always the part of the job he hated. He liked solving the puzzle, putting the case facts together and tracking down the criminals, but this part, dealing with the victims and their myriad personalities and experiences, most of them tragic, he couldn’t stand. He could stand Olivia more than some other people he’d interviewed. Now that she wasn’t so much of a basket case, she seemed made of much stronger stuff, but she was still in a strange limbo of victim and suspect.

Still. “I don’t know if that’s a promise I can make, Miss Ruiz. I can promise I’ll listen. I can promise I’ll do my job. I can even promise to help you as much as I am able. But I can’t promise you I’ll ever see things the way you do.”

His refusal really seemed to upset her. Olivia’s shoulders slumped but she nodded for far longer than she needed to, lost in space again. When she spoke, she seemed to be talking to the room with Matthew as a set piece. Her words weren’t for him and they both knew that. “I figured you might say that. It makes sense I guess. It’s just…. I don’t think anyone is ever going to see it the way I do, Reed. No one is ever going to understand. If it ever comes out, everyone’s just going to think I’m crazy. That I’m young and I don’t know what I’m talking about. That I’m a victim and my feelings are all a result of my trauma. I think that’s what hurts the most

“I lived through all of it. I saw and felt and experienced more in one Summer than I think most people experience their entire lives, but in the end? I’m just a girl who no one will ever understand. There’s so much about me that will never be the same.

“You don’t want to hear about the sex stuff. I know that. I know how inappropriate it is to sit here and tell a complete stranger about people getting tied up and whipped, even fucked in front of me. But…I have to tell someone. Someone who won’t make me feel like a freak. Someone who won’t analyze me like Sloan does.

“She doesn’t mean to make me feel like a freak, not on purpose. It’s when she says I’m drawn to you, because you’re a strong man, like Caleb. When she says I kissed you because sex is the way I’ve been conditioned to get my way, that it’s all psychological, and it’s all because Caleb fucked with my head. I can’t stand it. I can’t have everything I feel, reduced to a textbook description that fits me, and millions of other broken idiots. More than that, I can’t stand thinking that maybe…she’s right.

“Maybe I don’t really love Caleb, maybe my brain made it up so I wouldn’t kill myself or feel so scared and alone. Maybe I’ll accept that one day and I won’t be able to stop having nightmares. Maybe I’ll never trust another emotion I ever have again. Who’s going to love a girl like that, Reed? Who’s ever going to love a freak like me?” She collapsed onto her bed and rolled into a ball, crying and rocking.

Matthew’s heart beat a frantic tattoo in his chest. He didn’t know what to do to make her stop crying. He didn’t want to touch her, that felt like the wrong thing. A hug? Not him either. He wished Sloan were here. She was the social worker. It was her job to deal with all the mushy shit. He remembered Olivia didn’t care for mushy.

“Someone will love you, Miss Ruiz. Even if you’re a jerk.”

“Fuck you, Reed,” she sobbed.

He laughed, “And you’re so charming, too.”

“You’re an asshole, you know that?”

“Yes,” he said as a matter of fact.

“God! Why are you so messed up?!?” She sat up and glared.

“Everybody is fucked up and we’re all freaks in our own ways.”

“How would you know?” she shot back, sniffling and glaring at him. “You probably had a charmed life in suburbia. No cares. No worries. A perfect life.”

He gave her a deadpan look. “I was abused as a child. African militants forced me to snort gun powder and cocaine and plow villages with my Uzi. Feel sorry for me and stop whining about how no one will love you,” he suggested calmly. Her shocked expression was priceless. He gave her a leveling look and softened his voice. “You’re young, strong and you’re an asshole to boot. With your smarts, you’re going to be just fine. Don’t let anyone ever tell you different. Not even you.”