“I was insanely jealous,” Caleb offered in supplication.
Livvie squeezed him for a moment then loosened her hold, “I know. It should make me happy, but it doesn’t.” She sighed.
“Why,” Caleb asked softly into her warm, wet neck.
“I’d rather make you happy, Caleb. I’d rather see you smile. Sometimes, you smile and I…” she paused, overwhelmed, “I forget about everything that’s wrong with you.”
Caleb wasn’t sure what to say, so he simply told her the truth, “I’d rather see you smile, too. In the beginning, when I didn’t know you…you seemed so sad. I watched you cry one day and I thought, ‘I want to taste her tears’. I have a thing about them. I confess I’ve made you cry just to see your tears. I’ve gotten off on your suffering.” He swallowed.
“But now,” Caleb said, “I never want to see you cry again. I wish I could go back to the day on the street, the day you thought I’d saved you from the guy in the car, and just…let you believe I was your hero. You smiled at me, so sweetly. You thanked me. I wish I’d just let it be.”
Caleb could feel Livvie taking deep breaths.
“I know it’s what I should want, too,” she said, “but I don’t. I accuse you of being fucked in the head, Caleb. The truth is… I wonder if I’m not fucked up, too. I should hate you, Caleb. Now I’ve decided what my fate will be, I should want to kill you. I don’t. I can’t imagine never having known you.”
“Maybe it’s fate,” Livvie said, “if you believe in that sort of thing. Maybe you were supposed to meet me that day. You asked me once if I’d choose some other girl to take my place. I wanted to say yes.”
“You said, no,” Caleb whispered. He thought about how it might have worked out with another girl – if he’d have the feelings he had for Livvie for someone else. He’d been conflicted from the start. He’d been ready to leave his life as Rafiq’s right hand behind until Vladek had resurfaced unexpectedly. Perhaps his emotions had less to do with Livvie and more with his desire to move on from his past. Nonetheless, he doubted it. Livvie was unique to him. Irreplaceable.
“I did, but I wanted to say yes, Caleb. If I had believed for a second you’d let some other girl suffer in my place… I think I might have said yes,” she said dully. “I’m fucked in the head, too. Even before I met you.”
Caleb let her words sink in for a moment. He didn’t believe they were true. Livvie was far from fucked up, especially while he was the standard. However, if Livvie chose to see some greater purpose behind their relationship and therefore not hate him, he was too weak not to let her believe it.
As the silence stretched on between them, Caleb became more aware of Livvie and her nudity. He ached to touch her, to make love to her, but there were more things he had to say first.
“I can’t erase my debt to Rafiq,” he said. Livvie tensed, but Caleb hurried his words along, “It’s not something I expect you to understand, but I can’t just leave.”
“What do you mean, Caleb? What does it mean, for us?” Her words were said without emotion, but Caleb knew how much she held in check.
“It means I have to make him understand. We’ll have to find another way, maybe another girl…” he began.
Livvie pushed at his shoulder and sat up, “Are you fucking kidding me, Caleb? Another girl? How could I live with myself?!?”
Caleb’s anger was returning, “You just finished saying….”
“That was before!” Livvie shouted, “I could never put someone through this. Never! Please, Caleb, see reason. Let me get dressed and let’s get the fuck out of here and never look back.” She reached out with both hands and held Caleb’s face in a vise-like grip. “Please, Caleb. Please.”
Caleb stared into Livvie’s pleading eyes and for a moment he thought he might open his mouth and say yes.
“I expect obedience, Caleb. I expect your loyalty. Anyone who betrays me will only do it once. Do you understand?” Rafiq had said ominously.
“Yes, Rafiq, I understand,” Caleb had replied.
“I want to, Livvie,” Caleb whispered, “Aside from my revenge, I can honestly tell you, there is nothing I desire more than to take you away and find out what this thing between us is all about.” He reached for her hands and placed them in her lap before he stroked her hair affectionately.
“But, this is who I am. I repay my debts. Nothing comes before family, loyalty, duty, and honor. Rafiq is as close to family as I can remember, and I owe him. If you’re asking me to betray him…you can never accept who I am.”
Livvie shut her eyes tightly, seemingly processing the pain Caleb’s words had caused. He felt stupid and naïve. He should have known Livvie would be incapable of understanding him or his motives. Livvie was no monster and she wouldn’t become one simply because Caleb was.
“Why does this guy need to die so badly, Caleb? What did he do? What is so horrible, you’d dedicate your life, and sacrifice your happiness to kill him? Help me understand, Caleb,” Livvie whispered.
Caleb looked at Livvie, and had he seen any trace of condescension, he would have told her to go to hell, but the only thing expressed in Livvie’s eyes was concern. He was surprised he even recognized it. Rafiq had never really been concerned for Caleb.
Rafiq had been Caleb’s salvation, his tutor, mentor, and sometimes friend. He’d clothed him, provided shelter, and food. He’d nursed him from a traumatized whore into a dangerous man. Yet, Rafiq had always demanded his due. At the slightest hint of uncertainty on Caleb’s part, Rafiq never hesitated to remind him of his place. Caleb’s life had always been conditional. Rafiq’s favor had always been conditional.
Caleb had never questioned Rafiq’s methods or his authority. It had never mattered to him that Rafiq demanded blind obedience. He had always believed he was lucky to be alive and been grateful for Rafiq. Caleb was still grateful and always would be, but until Livvie, Caleb had never known how it felt to have someone care, truly care, for him.
“I think…,” Caleb’s heart hammered hard in his chest, “I think he…sold me.” His flesh felt like it was on fire, like it would burn, crackle, and molt right off his bones.
“Sold? As…as, in…?” Livvie seemed at a loss for words.
Caleb looked her dead in the eyes and steeled himself, “It didn’t happen last week, alright!” He said angrily. “I was young. I don’t even remember how young I was. I have no memories of my life before Narweh. Sometimes, I think I remember something, but I can’t be sure. Even my early years with Narweh get mixed up. I wasn’t born a monster, Livvie.”
Livvie’s face crumpled and she seemed to explode with tears. She wrapped her arms around Caleb’s neck, squeezing him with all her strength, “Oh, god! Oh, Caleb. I’m so sorry I called you that. I’m so sorry.”
Caleb’s emotions were everywhere. He didn’t want her pity. He never wanted pity. Still, he seemed to need Livvie’s arms. He didn’t have it in him to push her away.
“I wasn’t alone. There were six of us,” Caleb said. He held Livvie tight to his chest. “I don’t remember being sold. There wasn’t an auction or anything. I think I came in a box. To this day, I can’t stand cramped spaces – or boats – I hate boats.”
“Things…,” Caleb struggled, “happened to me. Narweh liked to beat me…among other things.” Caleb felt Livvie’s arms tighten around him.
“I was getting too old, I think. I was tall compared to the others. I had hair on my balls and under my arms. The men who....” Caleb swallowed hard, “They wanted boys, not men. I think Narweh meant to kill me.”
“Stop,” Livvie sobbed into Caleb’s neck, “I can’t listen anymore.”
Caleb felt something slide loose inside him: shame. Pure, uncut, shame rolled through him. “Don’t love me now you know I used to be a whore?”
He pushed Livvie away and she flopped backward onto the bed. Her red, puffy eyes fixed on Caleb with disdain. “You’re an idiot!” she said and sat up. “I can’t listen anymore because I can’t stand the thought of you being hurt!” She crawled toward Caleb slowly, wary.
Caleb wanted to run, but he remained immobile as Livvie’s words tried to settle into his mind. “It was a long time ago. I made him pay.” Caleb met Livvie’s eyes and saw a flicker of realization light her features.
“The bikers,” she whispered.
“Yes,” Caleb said. He cleared his throat, trying to keep calm when all he wanted was to destroy something in a fit of murderous rage.
Livvie nodded, “Those men deserved to die.” Caleb reared back, incredulous. Livvie continued, “Narweh deserved to die, too. And I…I get why you can’t let this go.”
“You do?” Caleb’s heart thudded in his ears.
Livvie smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes, “Yes, Caleb.”
“But…?” Caleb prodded.
Livvie’s mouth turned down in the corners, “I can’t let you replace me. I couldn’t live with myself, Caleb. I couldn’t live…with you.”
“Maybe it’s not up to you!” Caleb snapped.
Livvie held up her hand, her fingers curled under as she reached for Caleb. She approached him slowly, as one would a wild animal.
Caleb had the desire to push her hand away, but the sorrow on Livvie’s face gave him pause. He let her touch his face and he marveled at how much affection he could feel in her simple, yet complex touch. He closed his eyes and let himself feel loved, just for a few seconds to commit it to memory. It hurt to think it might be the first and last time anyone ever touched him in such a way.
“I can’t wait two years for you to come get me, Caleb. I’m done being the damsel in distress. I don’t need anyone to save me,” she said. Her voice was calm, resolute.
“Livvie…” Caleb began, but she put her fingers to his lips.
“I’ll do it, Caleb. I’ll go to the auction and I’ll be perfect. I’ll make the son of a bitch want me,” her breath shuddered, “and when we’re alone…I’ll kill him for you.”
Caleb’s eyes flew open and he shook his head, “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“You want him dead, right?” Livvie said, “What does it matter who kills him or when? I could poison him or something.”
Caleb couldn’t help but smile, even as he knew he would never let her do such a thing. The fact she would even offer….
“I thought you weren’t interested in revenge?” Caleb teased.
“I’m not interested in my revenge, Caleb. But for you….” Livvie whispered, and her eyes said the rest.
Caleb lunged toward Livvie, toppling her backward onto the bed. When Livvie gasped in surprise, he took the opportunity to kiss her. He wished he couldn’t taste Kid in her mouth, but he refused to let it stop him. He needed this. He needed Livvie and her love. His heart had never felt so flooded. He felt he could burst open with the strength and force of it, nothing but need and desire would come pouring out of him.
He put everything he felt, but couldn’t put into words, into his kiss. His hands held on to Livvie, pressing her closer, deeper into his body. His inability to touch every part of her at one time seemed a great injustice.
He broke away from the kiss, only because he needed her permission. He was done taking anything from her she wasn’t willing to give. “Can I….” Fuck you? Didn’t seem right. Make love to you? So, fucking cheesy.