I scour the apartment for cleaning supplies but all of the cupboards are bare. Exploring every room takes only minutes; there is a tiny bathroom with a shower stall but no tub, a bedroom with a single bed, a narrow living room, and galley kitchen. A window encompasses the majority of the living room wall. I open it despite the chill outside, hoping it will help alleviate the mustiness pervading the air. Hunter’s jacket is still on the couch so I pick it up and wrap it around me.
I lie on the scuffed hardwood floors and stare at the yellowed stucco ceiling. I think about everything I’ve lost: my singing, my family, my job, Mr. Harris, Jagher, my home. My chest tightens and I feel a familiar tension between my shoulder blades. I begin mentally listing all of the things I’ve done wrong – everything possible reason that I deserve this. The tension builds until I can’t even think straight anymore, my thoughts and memories obscured by a sleepy haze.
I sleep for some indeterminate amount of time until I am awoken by a knock at the door. Once I struggle through the post-nap fog, slowly recalling where I am and why, I shuffle to the door and peer out of the peep hole. Grant stands outside, a couple of grocery bags in each hand. I rush to unlock the deadbolt, fumbling with it for a moment before finally letting him inside.
“Brought you some groceries and some clothes,” he says, setting the bags down on the ground. He struggles with his prosthetic arm for a moment before releasing the handles. I notice his skin is darkly tanned.
“When did you get back?” I ask, moving the bags to the kitchen counter and rifling through them.
“This morning.” He yawns and rubs his eyes. “I got a message from Hunter when we were leaving the airport.”
“I’m sorry,” I say as I sort through food, cleaning supplies, and toiletries.
He shrugs, looking over the apartment and examining the empty cupboards.
“So, Brie knows? About your friendship with Hunter? About how Yagher used you to watch me?”
“We talked everything over in Barbados. She was a bit freaked out that I was hiding things from her, but she came around,” he says distractedly, wiping a finger over the grimy countertop, “You’re gonna need some plates, glasses, and stuff. And a vacuum cleaner. Your friend is moving out anyway, right? Maybe we can sneak some of your stuff out then.”
I pretend to be focused on the bag of clothes and not completely overwhelmed with loneliness and terror.
“Oh here,” Grant thrusts a cell phone in front of me, clearly used but still a newer model, “Brie had her old phone lying around so we set it up for you. She’s going to stop by later, once she has a nap. Believe me, you would not have wanted her to come before that.”
I fail to resist the urge to smile. I know from countless sleepovers how cranky she can get when she’s tired. “Thank you,” I say, “For everything.”
He pulls me into a tight embrace. “You saved our lives, remember? Everything is going to be okay. Let us know if you need anything.”
I nod into his shoulder, the tightness in my throat preventing me from speaking.
He pulls away and heads to the door, preparing to leave. He grins suddenly and says, “By the way, I’ve never seen Hunter touch anyone before. He was really worried about you.”
“Oh yeah?” I aim for nonchalance, faking ignorance at his insinuation. At the nervous pounding of my own heart.
“I’ve never seen anyone throw him off balance before either. I wonder what that’s about?”
“Brie’s starting to rub off on you,” I tell him, “Go home and tell that grouchy bitch to hurry up and keep me company.”
He throws his hands up in mock surrender and leaves. Reluctantly, I begin the arduous task of cleaning my new home.
Brie visits later that evening and almost every day afterwards. She brings me things for the apartment and together we manage to make it functional, if not quite comfortable. Over the next two weeks we amuse ourselves as best we can by talking, playing cards, and even trying online cooking lessons. We relate to each other’s idleness, though I’m jealous of her ability to roam freely while I hide away in my dingy prison. The furthest I’ve gone since Hunter brought me here is to the laundry room in the basement, and even then I felt incredibly vulnerable and exposed.
When Brie leaves I do nothing. She’s brought me a television, some books and comics, but I don’t use them. Occasionally I’ll flick through the movie service on the television, never deciding on anything to watch. I’ll walk past stack of books on the floor, reading the titles and the synopses over and over without settling on one. I’ll lay on the bed or the couch or the floor for the rest of the day thinking about all the things I could do and finding excuses to avoid every one. Sometimes I find myself crying and other times I’m completely apathetic — feeling nothing but a desperate inclination that time is running out. That every second ticking by is another second I’ve spent being useless. Still, I do nothing.
Hunter’s occasional visits become the only thing I look forward to. He always texts me an hour or so before he stops in, as if I might actually have something more important to do than see him. I spend that hour anxiously waiting for time to pass, making it move even more slowly than its usual crawl. I find excuses to walk by the mirror a hundred times, focusing on every little flaw. I obsess over how little I have to talk about, how pointless my life has become.
The tension dissipates when he arrives. We talk for hours — about our lives, our childhoods, our interests. He gives me updates when he can.
“Have you heard anything about Mr. Harris? Do you know what they’ve done with him?” I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about the old man. I wonder where they’ve taken him, if they’ve hurt him… if he still hates me for destroying his life.
“Grant’s pretty sure they’ve set him up in a safehouse somewhere to keep an eye on him. Sounds like they might be trying to learn more about the way he uses his magic, but he’s alright. They won’t hurt him,” Hunter’s voice is confident and reassuring. I breathe a sigh of relief.
“How’s Mirena doing?”
“She’s staying with Victor,” he sounds irritated and I can tell their alliance remains an uneasy one, “We haven’t even told her immediate family where she is. The less people who are involved the better. She says she’s going to try to convince him to hear me out.”
“You don’t believe her?”
“I don’t know. I’m going to meet with them in a couple of days and we’ll see what happens,” he cringes a little, like he’s about to confess a sin, “I know I promised you could come, but I don’t think it’s a good idea anymore.”
I bite my lip, trying to contain my frustration. Yet another thing swept out from under my feet. “Why? Because Yagher might find me? It could be a trap for you too you know.”
“It could be, but that’s not it. Mirena knows Yagher’s life relies on you and we have to assume that she’s told Victor. Victor isn’t like me, he’ll use any advantage to get his way and you’re the perfect bargaining chip. I’m sorry,” he looks down at his hands resting on the small bar table we’ve managed to squeeze in beside the kitchen.
“Don’t worry about it,” I stand up from my square stool and walk to the kettle to make another tea. His remains silent, sitting with his back to me, and I know I’ve failed to hide the disappointment in my voice.
“Have you seen Caelen?” I ask to change the topic. I stand at the counter, forcing him to turn around to talk to me.
“Not much. He’s been spending some time with Mirena. I don’t know where he disappears to the rest of the time,” he casts a glance out the large window, and I wonder if he misses him.
“Does it bother you? That he’s getting along with her?”
“Not really,” he’s looking at the floor, but when he raises his eyes to mine all I can see is pain, “It bothers me that I can’t. That it’s so easy for her to get under my skin. And she does love to get under my skin.”
“Even now?” I ask, but I’m hardly surprised.
“Ever the sadist,” he says dryly as I sit across from him again. I breathe in the warm, fragrant steam from my tea; it reminds me of home and gives me strength, if only temporarily.
“You know… I meant what I said that day. If you need to talk about it or whatever, I’m here.”
His expression is grim as he stares at my face. He drops his gaze and his hands fidget on the tabletop, “I couldn’t put you through that.”
“I’m here anyway,” I blow the steam from the top of my mug and take a cautious sip. I want him to see that I’m unfazed by his concern, that I’m confident in my decision, “I know what it’s like to wish someone could understand what you are going through. Actually understand. To not be so alone with your thoughts and feelings, even if for a moment.”
“I can’t ask that of you,” he says, but I see his hand twitch slightly – the eagerness to reach out nearly uncontainable.
“You don’t have to,” I say. I make sure my tea is carefully pushed against the wall before reaching my hand the short distance to his. I stop before touching him, “I’m right here.”
The visions he shows me are vivid and painful. Mirena having Johannes beat him bloody. Mirena making him relive the moment he learned of his parents death over and over again, her own eyes wet with the pain of Hunter’s grief. The times she tracked down criminals, those with hideous pasts – abusers, paedophiles, and often victims themselves – making him relive their crimes. He spares me the actual memories of these men and women, beginning the experience from the moment he surfaces from their consciousness. I am overcome with his emotions – the intense disgust and hatred he feels for these people, for Mirena, and for himself. I am there as he withdraws from everyone around him and as his anger shifts towards Yagher, whose very existence had led to this torture.
The more memories we share, the easier they are to transition into and out of and the clearer they become. Sometimes it takes several minutes to separate my own feelings from the ones I’ve experienced through Hunter. Every time I surface, he worriedly asks if I’m okay. He talks me through what I’ve seen and I can see the light in his eyes when I am able to talk to him on equal terms, as someone who can truly understand what he’s been through.
I avoid talking about my own past or showing him more than a handful of depressive episodes and doctor’s appointments. I’m still not ready to let him in there yet, certain he’ll resent me for not telling him the whole truth. Terrified he’ll lay the blame at my feet. Take back everything he’s said.
Whenever Hunter leaves for the day, sometimes hugging me close before closing the door behind him, I return to feeling empty. I am entirely lost and useless. I know what these feelings mean and what I should do, but I’m trapped. I tell myself that if I’m really strong, I can fight off this depression on my own. Then when I fail, inevitably falling into its dark grip, I am all the more convinced of my inescapable weakness.