“If happy tears taste the same as the sad ones,” he says.
His words make me cry even harder. I can’t control them. I’m just so overwhelmed with everything. “And?” I manage.
“I think they’re sweeter,” he says and kisses me, “but it could just be your face.” We dissolve into peals of laughter.
I hear voices.
I bolt up in bed. For a few seconds I have no idea where I am. The room is small. There are grates on the windows. The bed isn’t Caleb’s.
“I can’t come back in three hours. I need to speak with her now,” a man says. The voice is familiar, but I don’t know why. I’m having trouble placing it.
It’s Reed. Caleb’s not here, remember?
I feel tears rolling down my cheeks and clogging my throat. I’m awake now. I remember where I am. I’m in the hospital. Caleb is gone. I’m alone in the dark again.
Only a few seconds ago, I held Caleb in my arms. I touched him. I smelled him. I tasted his flesh in my mouth. And now, he was gone. I’d forgotten.
The pain of remembering knocks the wind out of me and I take a deep breath. When I exhale, the sound coming out of me is pure grief. He was just here. He was just in my arms and I lost him.
“Help me! Please!” I beg. I’m not sure whom I’m begging. Maybe it’s God. Maybe it’s the devil. I just want the pain to go away.
The door to my room bursts open.
“Olivia?!?” Reed yells.
I don’t acknowledge him. I’m on my knees with my head pressed into the bed and I’m sobbing. I shut my eyes tightly, willing myself to go back to sleep. I want to go back to my dream, back to Caleb. I can’t fucking breathe! I can’t breathe without him. I don’t want to.
“What’s wrong?” Reed says urgently, “Are you hurt? Talk to me!”
Go away, go away, go away.
“This is a hospital, Agent Reed! Please, put away the gun!” a woman says.
“I love you, Caleb. I love you! If you care for me at all…please, don’t do this! Please, don’t leave me. I don’t know how to live without you. Don’t make me go back to trying to be someone I don’t know how to be anymore.”
I scream in my sorrow. I can’t help it. I would if I could. I know they’re watching me. I can feel their hot stares against my back. They don’t get it. No one does. I’m all alone and it’s Caleb’s fault.
“Please,” I beg. “Please make it stop.”
“Miss Ruiz?” Reed says cautiously, “Livvie?”
“Step back, Agent Reed. She’s having some sort of break right now and she could hurt you if you get too close. Wait for the orderlies,” says the woman.
“She’s not going to hurt anyone. I’ll take my chances,” Reed says.
“She’s a witness in a federal investigation and I need to talk to her right the fuck now. I don’t want her doped up. Get out!” Reed yells and his presence is beginning to penetrate the fog of my grief.
I keep telling myself to breathe. I keep reminding myself I’ve been here for days. Caleb has been gone for days. He wasn’t here. I never touched him. I never held him.
“Live for me, Kitten. Be all those things you’d never be with me. Go to school. Meet a normal boy and fall in love. Forget me.”
“I can’t!” I yell into the void.
I hear the door open and shut. I wonder if I’m alone, but I can’t will myself to look up. A tentative hand touches my back and I sob.
“Livvie?” says Reed.
“Go away,” I sob.
“I…can’t leave you like this,” he says. He sounds uncomfortable.
“I’m fine. Please, go.”
“You’re not fine. You’re a wreck,” he says angrily.
“Why are you here?” I whisper. Talking to Reed is pulling me further away from my dream, my grief. I’m not sure I’m ready. I’m too raw and I can’t face him.
“There’s been movement on my case. It’s all happening fast.”
“What does that mean, Reed?” I say, exhausted.
He sighs heavily, as if he’s struggling under a tremendous weight. It makes me curious, despite myself. “I came…to hear the rest of your story.”
My heart starts to race. Movement on the case, he’d said. I know Reed is lying, but about what?
I sit up fast, dizzy for a moment and Reed steadies me. I grab his suit jacket and pull him close. I’m frantic. Reed’s hands grab my shoulders and he pushes me. Hard. As I’m falling backward he reaches for my forearm and quickly jerks me onto the bed. I rail against him, slapping and kicking, but before I know it, he’s pinned my arms to my chest and sat on my legs.
“Get off me!”
I look at Reed for the first time since he’s come in. He’s panting hard and his dark hair is a disheveled mess that mirrors the state of his shirt and jacket.
“Did you find his body?” I whisper. I don’t know what I’ll do if he says yes.
“What? No. No!” Reed says. His expression has gone from anger to pity.
The news is a relief, but I can’t stop crying. Reed slowly lets me go and I roll onto my side with my back to him. Reed rubs my back, but then seems to realize what he is doing and he walks away. I hear him sit in the chair.
“What’s wrong?” he asks after a few minutes.
My sobbing has died away and I answer, “Bad dream. Well, not really. The only bad part was waking up and realizing….” I couldn’t continue.
Reed is quiet for a while. I’m quiet too. It’s the middle of the night and his presence is a dark omen. Something has happened and as much as I want to know – I don’t want to know.
Finally, Reed clears his throat, “If it be thus to dream, still let me sleep,” he whispers. I’m not surprised he knows Shakespeare. Reed is a very smart man.
I smile in spite of the sorrow I feel, “Twelfth Night, Sebastian says those words to Olivia.”
“I know. I attended the eleventh grade,” he says. His smile is wry.
“Wasn’t that like a million years ago? I’m surprised you remember it,” I whisper. My face feels crusty with dried tears and I’m sure my face is a mess, but I’m finally starting to feel a little better. My thoughts and memories of the last several days are organizing themselves in my head and clarity is returning. I’ve heard it said, time heals all wounds, but if a dream can pull you so deeply into your past you can’t remember the present, I’m not sure my wounds will ever heal. Caleb lives in my dreams.
“I remember it just barely, Miss Ruiz,” says Reed.
I roll onto my back and stare at the ceiling. My flickering bulb has long been replaced, but I can still hear the hum and follow along: on-off-on-off-buzz-on. “Why are you here, Reed?” I whisper. I stay focused on the ceiling, focused on my breathing, and try to prepare for what I’m about to hear.
“I told you, to hear the rest of your story,” he says rather seriously.
“It’s not the only reason though, is it?”
“No. It isn’t.” He clears his throat again, “Does the name, James Cole, mean anything to you?”
I’m confused. “No. Why?”
“It came up and I needed to know; that’s all,” Reed says. “Never mind. I guess it’s not important.”
“You wouldn’t ask if it weren’t important, Reed.” He’s piqued my interest and I struggle into a sitting position so I can see his face and gage him better. He looks like he hasn’t slept in days.
Reed leans forward with his arms rested on his knees. “I came to tell you the charges against you are being dropped.” He says it in a rush, flat but full of something else. “Once you’re cleared by your doctor, I’ve been instructed to debrief you. Sign some paperwork and you should be able to leave today.”
“What!?!” I exclaim, my mind reeling. The news is a shock to my system. I’m not ready to go. I’m not ready to start over. I’m not ready to accept Caleb is gone and I have to face the world alone.
“We know where the auction is being held and we know some of the persons attending,” he says. “I wish I could tell you more, but I’ve been instructed to keep it in house. All I can say, is that it’s over, Livvie. You’re free. And you’re safe. You get to have your life back, and so do the other victims.”
My heartbeat feels erratic. I can’t let Reed leave without knowing everything. I need him to understand. My information, my testimony, was my only bargaining chip. Without his need for it, I’m at a loss. “H-how do you know where the auction is?” I ask frantically.
Reed looks at me, “Why do you say it like that?” he demanded, eyes narrowing, “What is it you’re not telling me?”
“Please, Reed. You have to tell me what you know. I’ve been spilling my guts to you for over a damn week. Please don’t keep me in the dark. I deserve to know!” I’m begging him, but I don’t feel ashamed.
“This case is more complicated than anyone could have expected, Miss Ruiz. It’s out of my hands at this point. The Federal Investigation Agency in Pakistan has agreed to lead a joint task force.” Reeds face becomes sour, “Oh, but I’ve been assured my involvement will be mentioned in the report!” Reed stands up and starts to pace. His anger and frustration is plain, but I don’t understand where it’s coming from.
“What does that mean, Reed? What happens once they arrest everyone?” I want to get off the bed and follow Reed as he paces the small room, but I know it will only annoy him and he might not tell me anything.
“It depends,” he says through gritted teeth. He stands still for a moment, thinking something over. When he returns from his thoughts he looks at me and I see regret in his eyes. My heart almost stops.
“There isn’t going to be a trial,” Reed says. He starts pacing again, a fist at the nape of his neck. “I knew it could go down this way. I didn’t want to believe it, but I knew. I’ve been arguing with my boss for the last few hours. There’s just….” Reed seems at a loss. “There’ll be plenty of arrests, I’m sure. The people meant to be auctioned will undoubtedly be given sanctuary, but…there won’t be any justice. Not the kind those victims deserve.”
“How can that be?” I sob. “How can you let that happen?”
“Rafiq is a high level military officer in the Pakistan Army, Livvie. His government isn’t going to allow a scandal to get out. They’ve agreed to let our government be a part of the raid in exchange for keeping their people out of it. When the dust settles, they’re the ones to decide who was there and who wasn’t, that’s how international politics work.”
I feel like someone has hit me in the chest with a battering ram. For the second time in my life, I understand Caleb’s thirst for vengeance. I could kill. I’ve done it before and I don’t feel bad about it. Some people deserve to die.
Tears are running from my eyes without ceasing, I’m soaked through with them. I’m not sad, though. I’m filled with rage and I have no way to let it out. There’s no one to kill, nothing to hit, and nowhere to go.
“Reed,” I sob, “I have to tell you something. Please, please try to understand. I need your help.” My hands are clasped together and I’m holding them so tightly to my chest I can feel my thumb leaving a bruise.