He knew what he’d done to me. He listened to me recount the way Narweh used to rape me. He’d held me when I cried.
Caleb screamed toward the ground.
I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you for what you’ve done.
“How could you?” he said aloud.
He must laugh at me.
An image of Rafiq and Jair popped into his mind. Their entire relationship had been suspect until that moment. If Rafiq was concerned about Caleb learning the truth, it made sense to have someone around to watch Caleb. He wondered if Jair knew the truth and bile crept into his throat.
Kill them both.
Slowly, Caleb stood from his balled position on the floor. He looked around him and picked up his knife. As he held it in his hand, he shook with rage. Things would end tonight.
He trudged up the stairs, his bare feet slapping against the wood steps. His heart felt both fast and shallow. He had hungered for vengeance for so many years, never knowing the source of all his suffering had held his hand and pointed him toward his own father.
Vladek was not without guilt. He’d known what Rafiq did to him and still had not come for him. He had sacrificed his own flesh and blood for the sake of what? Money? Power? Cowardice?
Caleb had been a pawn since he was a child. Nothing he knew could be trusted, even his memories manipulated him. There was no such thing as truth. The truth relied heavily on perception and Caleb’s had been fucked with since the beginning.
The door was open at the top of the stairs. Caleb didn’t hear any sounds within the house. He suspected Felipe and Celia were long gone. He wondered if they had taken Livvie.
Caleb shut his eyes tight and forced her from his thoughts. He couldn’t think about her. If he went upstairs and found her missing, he would lose any composure he had left. If he found her waiting for him with Felipe and Celia, he risked showing a side of himself he didn’t want her to see. And if he found her hurt…or worse…he would simply turn the knife on himself and Rafiq would live. It was best he didn’t know. Not yet.
Felipe’s home was enormous, filled with many rooms and hiding spaces. He walked slowly, testing each door as quietly as possible. As he walked, his memories wreaked havoc on his soul.
“Why me, Rafiq? I’m no one. I don’t even know who Vladek is,” Caleb said. He sat on the floor with his legs pulled up toward his chest. It was almost time for bed, but he didn’t want to go. He didn’t want to risk having another nightmare.
Lately, he’d been dreaming about the night he killed Narweh. Caleb had shot him and his face was half gone, but Narweh didn’t die. He sat up and jumped on top of Caleb, his open face dripping a river of blood onto Caleb’s.
He could never go back to sleep after that.
Rafiq sat at his desk, writing. “Men like Vladek have no reason for their callousness, Caleb. They see something, or someone, they like and they take it. A’noud was beautiful.” Rafiq paused and smiled. “She was sweet. She used to wrap her arms around me and refuse to let go unless I spun her around. My mother used to complain she’d never find a husband because she’d never want to be away from me.” Rafiq’s gaze was distant, as though he were reliving a fond memory.
Caleb looked toward the imaginary spot containing Rafiq’s memory of his sister and he wished he had one of his own.
“Do you miss her?” Caleb asked in a whisper.
Rafiq’s expression turned grim and he returned to his papers, “Much of the time. My hope is that once Vladek is dead, I can give my sister and mother some peace.”
Caleb nodded. “Do you think…? Nevermind.” Caleb pulled at the rug with his fingernails, at a loss for what to say.
“Ask, Caleb. There is no room for secrets between you and I. We are in this together,” Rafiq said. He smiled at Caleb warmly.
“I wouldn’t keep secrets from you. I promise. You saved my life and I owe you everything. It’s just…do you think…I have a family? I mean, I must have had one…before.” Caleb’s face felt hot.
Rafiq sighed, “I don’t know, Caleb. I’m sorry.”
Caleb shrugged and picked at the carpet some more. “It doesn’t matter. You’re the only one who came looking for me. If I have a family, they must not care very much.”
Rafiq stood from his desk and got down on one knee in front of Caleb and lifted his chin. “We are orphans, Caleb. We make our own families.”
Caleb’s chest swelled with emotions he didn’t understand. He pressed his lips together and nodded. He felt relieved when Rafiq let him go and ruffled his hair. Caleb didn’t want to cry in front of Rafiq. He wanted to make him proud.
“Let us see what sweets are in the kitchen, Caleb.”
Caleb smiled brightly and jumped up from the floor, trailing behind Rafiq.
His first impulse was to throw open the door and start stabbing anything within arm’s reach, but he’d made enough mistakes to last him a lifetime. He was determined to get it right this time.
“Hold the gun steady, Caleb. It’s very powerful,” Rafiq said. He smiled and lifted Caleb’s arms parallel to the ground.
“I can do it!” Caleb whined. He tried to shrug Rafiq away.
“I’m trying to teach you, Caleb. Listen.”
“You’ve been talking forever. I just want to shoot.”
“Patience,” Rafiq said. “Widen your stance and try to pace your breathing.”
Caleb scowled. He was tired of talking. He pointed the gun toward the tin can in the distance and squeezed the trigger. The force of the gun bent his elbows and the gun cracked him in the forehead and threw him toward the ground.
“Ahhh! Damn it!” Caleb rolled on the ground while holding his head. He kicked with his feet as he tried to assuage the pain. He could hear Rafiq laughing uproariously.
“I told you! You silly boy!” Rafiq stomped his foot as he laughed.
Caleb shut his eyes again and tried to breathe through the pain. He would give anything to return to the moment Felipe had offered him the truth and deny he wanted to hear it.
You knew it could come to this, Caleb. Only now, you don’t have to feel guilt. It’s a gift.
Caleb shook his head, but gripped the knife tighter. He couldn’t lie to himself. He had known it might come to this. He had hoped to sacrifice his own life, but in the back of his mind, he knew the survivor in him would fight to the bitter end. Rafiq had to die.
He took a deep, steadying breath and knocked on the door.
The beating of his heart swayed his body by the barest of degrees, building his adrenaline and his anxiety.
Caleb heard cursing, followed by rapid steps toward the door. He braced himself and a shiver ran down his spine.
The door opened and Jair stood in the doorway naked. His swarthy chest was slick with sweat.
“What do you want?” Jair sneered.
Caleb tried to remain calm, but all he heard in his head was: Kill.
“Where’s Rafiq?” Caleb said urgently.
Jair registered Caleb’s demeanor, his gaze focused on the blood on Caleb’s forehead. “What happened?”
Caleb swallowed. “Felipe attacked me. I have him tied up downstairs in the shower room.”
“Does everyone hate you?” Jair turned into his room with a sneer in Caleb’s direction.
Caleb spoke in Arabic. “He was planning to kill Rafiq. He wanted me to help him.”
Jair turned his head toward Caleb as he pulled on a pair of pants and replied in the same language. “Why would he ask for your help?”
“He thought he had something to offer me. Obviously, he doesn’t know how deep my loyalty runs. Where is Rafiq?” Caleb asked, again. He was having a difficult time restraining himself. Nancy was tied face down on the bed. He could see her shaking and had no clue how he felt about her plight.
“Everyone seems to question your loyalty, Caleb. Perhaps there is something to question,” Jair put his arms through a shirt.
“Fuck you, swine. Where is Rafiq? I won’t ask again.”
“Fuck you, Caleb. You and your little whore.” Jair turned to retrieve his shoes and Caleb could no longer hold himself back.
As soon as Jair’s back was turned, Caleb kicked the back of his knee and threw his weight onto Jair’s back. He pushed his knife between Jair’s ribs and into one of his lungs.
Jair bucked wildly, shock and adrenaline making him strong as an ox. Caleb wrapped his left arm around Jair’s throat and held onto the knife in Jair’s side as he was flung to the left and right with incredible force. Caleb didn’t dare do anything but use his strength to stay on Jair. He could hear Nancy whimpering, but she had yet to scream.
Jair crawled, staggering across the room on his hands and knees while his blood soaked his shirt and Caleb’s hand.
“No!” Jair gurgled. “No!” His arm reached back for Caleb, trying to drag him off.
Caleb shifted the knife in Jair’s side, his body sliding against Jair’s sweat and blood. He shut his eyes and listened to Jair’s death rattles until he fell forward onto the floor. Caleb held on for a minute…waiting. There was nothing. He loosened his arm around Jair’s throat and one last whisper of breath escaped him. Jair was dead.
Caleb shifted, straddling Jair’s limp body and pulled out his knife. He could hear Nancy crying into the bed and trying to quiet her panic.
“I’m not here for you,” Caleb whispered. Nancy wept harder. Caleb lifted the knife and looked down at Jair’s lifeless body. He stabbed him twice more to be sure.
Slowly, he stood and approached Nancy. She flinched, her chest rising and falling to the rhythm of her panic.
“Please!” she cried. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry for what I did. Please, don’t hurt me. No more. Please, God, no more.” She sobbed and shook her head.
Caleb sat on the edge of the bed. “Are you sure you want to live?” His voice was wooden and detached. He felt so many things, but they were distant. This was not bloodlust. There was no satisfaction in what he’d done, or what he was about to do. “You won’t forget,” he continued. “Every time you close your eyes…it will be waiting there. Every time a man touches you, you’ll struggle not to cry out. Are you sure that’s what you want?”
Nancy wouldn’t stop sobbing.
“I can make it fast. No pain. I promise.”
“Please,” she pleaded, “let me go.”
“Do you know where Rafiq is?” he asked, his tone cold and far away.
“L-l-ast time, we…” Nancy sobbed, but kept going, “we stayed in this guest house out by the pool. He…he didn’t want anyone to hear me SCREAMING!” Nancy wailed into the mattress and pulled on the restraints holding her down.
Caleb couldn’t stand to listen to her misery. He felt responsible for it. He had brought her into his world. No matter what she’d done, she didn’t deserve the price she’d paid. He leaned over her body, wincing at the way she screamed in horror. He cut her loose.
Nancy didn’t move, she simply continued to scream and cry on the bed.
“Good luck,” he whispered. He stood and searched Jair’s things and found his knife and gun. He picked them both up and walked out of the room.
It was warm outside, even in the dead of night. Caleb walked toward the guest house with a high level of trepidation, but an even greater sense of determination.
Part of him wanted to simply go inside and kill Rafiq as he slept. It would be over quickly. Caleb would never have to confront Rafiq’s betrayal. He would never have to face the man he had thought of as a father, brother, and friend, and ask him what had been real between them and what had been a ploy. He would never have to see Rafiq’s eyes lose the spark that meant he was alive.
Still, Caleb knew he had come too far not to learn the full truth. He needed to know for certain. He needed to hear it from Rafiq’s lips and see it in his eyes. A part of Caleb ached to learn it had all been a lie from Felipe.
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