I laugh at nothing at all, studying the details on his face.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
I sit there for a moment, debating on how utterly useless the word sorry is. It means nothing--only making the past a source of grief and giving the future a terrifying outlook that things can never get better.
I’m sorry for getting caught when we were being kidnapped from home. I’m sorry for ever leaving Jackson Plantation. I’m sorry for leaving Tom. I’m sorry for landing myself at Whitley Plantation. I’m sorry for letting Isaac die. I’m sorry that he was killed trying to protect me when I was supposed to be protecting him. Sometimes...I’m even sorry for meeting Jarrah. Maybe we’d all be alive if I hadn’t.
Worst of all? I’m sorry for being who I am. A hot-tempered asshole who has a habit of hurting the people who care about her and whose emotions make her reckless and dangerous.
I’m so sorry.
So when he says that he’s sorry, I’m left to wonder about what.
“I am too, Jarrah,” I sigh, pulling away from him, “sorry for a lot of things.”
“I never should have gotten separated from you. That’s what started all this,” he sighs.
“This started a long time ago and it was waiting to happen,” I say bitterly.
“How did he die?” he asks me quietly, nervous for a response.
“Stabbed in the back, literally and figuratively.”
He waits for further explanation.
“I killed him,” I say bluntly. I close my eyes, unable to watch his reaction, but I feel his body go tense.
“No, you didn’t,” he says in an instant.
“Don’t act like you care anyway, I know you never liked him,” I laugh bitterly, “and he died trying to save you.”
“You didn’t kill him, Alice,” he insists.
“No, you’re right, I didn’t. It was you. You selfish, ungrateful, cocky bastard. You killed him! If you hadn’t gotten yourself arrested, I would never have had to go back there and Isaac would be alive instead of you. Happy?”
“Don’t talk like that, Alice. There was nothing we could’ve done for him.”
“It doesn’t matter how I talk because it happened, so stop shoving my feelings down my throat as if I’ll forget the truth.”
“There’s nothing we can do for him now, either. Don’t let his death destroy you.”
“What do you know about death?” I shout, “I’ve lost my entire family, but for some reason I never seem to die. I hate it. I hate this running and hiding, and I’m bloody sick of--.”
The door creaks open to reveal Jim.
“Out, Jarrah. This is why I didn’t want you to see her.”
He hesitates for a moment, before making his way towards the door.
“I’ll be around princess,” he says, grasping the wooden frame for a moment before shutting the door behind him.
I wake up bitter and restless. Unable to lie in bed any longer, I call Lewis for help.
The door swings open a moment later.
“Depends on your definition of alright,” I sigh.
“Well, you’re not bleeding and your limbs are intact. I’d say you’re doing pretty good.”
“Oh? Is that the standard for being alright?”
“It is when you were flirting with death a week ago.”
She sits on the edge of my bed, smiling gently.
“It’s going to be alright. Really, though. I know you’re grieving right now and there’s a lot on your mind. I wasn’t always the loving, caring angel you know today.”
I roll my eyes, realizing she isn’t the life coach I need right now and looking away.
Her tone becomes softer when she sees my face, losing its sarcastic edge. “Lord, Al. I went through hell and back to get where I am, but I’m okay and you will be too. You’ll get through it, I promise.”
“Lewis?” I ask gingerly after a moment’s pause.
“How do you get through it?”
“You never do, really. You can’t pick up the pieces and rebuild your life the way it was before. But that’s okay. You can rearrange what you have left, and build something even bigger and better.”
“How was your life? Before you were here, I mean.”
She laughs bitterly.“Typical sob story. You don’t wanna hear it.”
I nod eagerly. “Please, I need to. To know I’m not alone.”
She casts her eyes away from mine, as if drawing memories long tucked away from her mind.
“Years ago,” she begins, “I was stealing for a living. Anything I could get my hands on ended up out of someone else’s pocket and into mine. Food, money, jewellery from the market...it was enough to live off, but the guilt got to me the more I did it.”
“What made you stop?”
She laughs softly. “I never really stopped, but you could say I changed my purpose. See, I never cared much about the people around me. I usually didn’t even share what I stole with my family. I kept it for myself because I thought I deserved since I earned it, right? Some days, I let them starve for that extra bite of bread. I was a horrible person. The worst part, I think, is that I didn’t even know it. But one day, when I was about 15, I bumped into Jim. I used the chance and nabbed some money from his pocket per instinct. He grabbed my wrist, though, and I thought for sure I was going to jail. Finally, someone had caught me. I freaked out. You know what happened instead though?”
I shake my head.
“He let me take it. That was a lot for me to understand, since I usually assumed white skin meant evil. He said to keep it if I could do just one favour for him.”
“What favour was that?”
“He told me there was a starving slave that could use a loaf of bread from the market. He asked me to bring it to this very house, and if I did so I could keep the rest of his change. I wasn’t sure if I should trust him at first, but something about him made me do so. I guess the faith he had in me.”
“And then what happened?”
“He invited me in. That’s when I met the slave. Gaunt, fear-stricken, and alone. He was my age. You should have seen his eyes when they fall upon the bread in my hand, or the smile that crinkled his eyes when he bit into it. Genuine gratefulness. That moment changed me.”
Lewis fiddles with the blanket on my bed absent-mindedly, smiling to herself.
“Then, Jim told me to explain myself. He asked me how he could help me. Imagine that! Someone actually cared. I told him about my family, how we all needed money and food, and he told me I could earn it for them the right way. All I needed to do was help him out with the slaves. And I did it, but not just for the money. Something sparked inside me. I guess I wanted to see the grateful smile on that boy’s face every day from then on. Jim was my way out of hell.”
She looks at me curiously. “You would like it, you know. Helping others find their freedom. It might even help you find your own.”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
She sighs, getting up from the bed.
“I need to go outside in a bit, but I’ll check up on you later. And Alice? Don’t stress yourself too much. The farther you fall, the higher you’ll jump back up. Trust me,” she smiles warmly, making her way to the door.
“Lew? Can I go outside too?” I ask her, feeling a headache coming.
She laughs. “Outside? Love, half the county is out looking for the jail escapees. While I can pull off a costume, you can’t leave this place without being strung up by your feet and beaten two feet from the door.”
I groan. “I’m really sick of this plain, white room.”
“The parlour room is a delightful beige color if that suits your fancy?”
“Hilarious. Can you take me?”
I roll my eyes. “Is half the county looking for me in there, too?”
“No, but your ass of a boyfriend is and I prefer not to share the same space as you two after a fight.”
“Just take me,” I sigh.
“This is why I stay single, you know,” she says as she wraps her arms around mine and helps me up.
I limp to the door frame, for the first time actually able to see where I’ve been living for the past week. No one tells me the location, and since I was knocked out when they brought me here, I really have no idea where I am. My room has no windows, and I haven’t exactly been able to walk around without help.
We walk through a surprisingly narrow corridor, passing by a series of small doors like mine along the way. The entire hallway seems to be slanting upward, so I conclude that we must be at least marginally underground. When we reach the end of the corridor, there’s a wall.
“Go on in,” she says.
“You want me to go in, how?”
She smiles. “This here, this magical invention is a door. Push on it and it swings open.”
“I know what a door is, but where is it?”
Lewis rolls her eyes and runs her hand over the wall. At the top left corner, she grabs onto a small latch and flips it open. She pushes hard against the wall, and it swings open.
My eyes widen.
“What can I say? We put the safe in safe house. No one will find you here, Alice, I can promise you that. Go on in.”