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.”
It’s a dingy room with a single oak table and a set of stools surrounding it. A patched up burgundy sofa lies pushed up against the wall. The room is barely lit, as the only window, with a yellow, peeling frame and curtains drawn shut, sits high up against a wall. The whole room has a musty feeling to it. Clearly, it hasn’t seen the light of day in a long time. My eyes fall on Jarrah, who reclines in a wooden chair at the back of the room, head tilting back and eyes closed.
“Men. They’re much easier to handle when they’re asleep, I think,” giggles Lewis, “kind of like a child.”
“Women. They’re never easy to handle,” retorts Jarrah, eyes still shut but clearly awake.
“I should’ve never let you in here, Whitley,” she grumbles.
Jarrah opens his eyes, crinkled from smiling, to respond when they fall upon me. He immediately gets up from his seat and makes his way over to help me stand.
“I, er, didn’t mean that thing I said about women,” he mumbles awkwardly.
“I mean what I say when I say it, Whitley. I’m telling you Alice, he’s a bad, untrustworthy apple,” she giggles.
“Are you alright?” he asks me, ignoring her.
Lewis looks at us strangely. “I’m going into town now, alright? Don’t leave the port open when you come back.”
“I won’t,” I say.
She pulls the handle inward, the wall disappearing from view and a bookcase in its place.
“Take care of yourself while I’m gone,” she says, leaving the room.
Jarrah walks me over to the sofa, which I gladly rest in. We sit an awkward distance from one another, the tension so thick you could slice it with a knife.
“Food?” he asks.
“Do you want it? Food. Like breakfast. I meant breakfast. You know, breaking your fast? Cause you haven’t eaten all night--unless you went to get food during the night, which would be weird for me not to notice cause I was here and all, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t do that since you can’t really walk and all, and I was with you last night and you weren’t eating so actually I guess it would be pretty logical for you to not have eaten last night,” he rambles.
I quirk my eyebrow.
“What I mean to say is, do you want food?”
“Yes. And what I mean by that is, yes.”
“Great. Excellent. I’ll go make that, and you just hang tight. How do you feel about oatmeal?”
“Jail food? My favourite.”
He leaves the room, my eyes trailing his back curiously. He comes back a few moments later with a steaming bowl.
“There really aren’t many options here, sorry if you’re not up to it. I would go out and get you something else, but I mean I can’t really leave either. Plus, I don’t have money and stealing is out of the question.”
He stares at the ceiling for a second, probably to catch his breath before continuing.
“I just feel bad for getting you all riled up and leaving you alone last night. I shouldn’t have left you in that state--or kissed you. That was a little inappropriate. And then I said see you around? Really? God, I’m such an idiot. I’m sorry. I just wanted to make it up to you. I’m sorry--”
"Jarrah. You’re great and all, but shut up for the love of God. It’s fine. It doesn’t matter now. I had to rest anyway.”
“It never matters for you any more, and I feel like I’m causing it.”
“You aren’t the reason for every bad thing that happens to me. Now man up and get me a spoon please.”
He grins, leaving for the other room and coming back a moment later.
“Thank you,” I say, my spoon digging into the bowl of mush in front of me.
“So I was thinking--” he begins again.
“At this rate, I’m gonna need a knife too, Jarrah.”
“How are you feeling? It’s been over two weeks since the incident, and you should be able to walk fairly well without support by now,” says Arnie, my physician. He sits in an oak wooden stool at the side of my bed. Jarrah hovers warily over him, reading his notes with a worried expression.
“Er...I can walk if someone hangs onto me, but I can’t do it alone because I feel like I’m going to faint every time I put pressure on my side.”
Arnie furrows his brows.
“Tell me, does it feel any better than it did before? Worse? Help me understand.”
“It, er, sucks...?”
Jarrah looks at me seriously with pleading eyes, not even cracking a grin.
To try and reassure him, I take a deep breath and explain in more detail.
“The pain’s different from when I got stabbed. I didn’t realize, until I saw the knife go through Isaac and watched him fall to the floor, that anything was seriously wrong with me. It was completely numb. I couldn’t even believe the blood on my hands was mine. I guess I was in shock. But as time passed, it turned into a throbbing pain. Eventually it was like hundreds--and then thousands-- of little needles dancing along my body. I felt like I was on fire, and every time I moved I was adding fuel to the flames.”
He nods. “It’s common to experience numbness immediately after a stabbing.”
“I don’t remember what happened after. I was just really angry. I tried to go after the monster that stabbed him, but he ran away. I tried to avenge him--I’m sorry.”
Arnie looks at me sadly. “I can’t help you with mental pain. Only you can get through that. Please, go on.”
“Well, now the pain is more of a constant throbbing. It gives me really strong headaches and I can’t look at the light too long. I feel really tired, all the time. And for some reason, everything I eat tastes bland and mouldy.”
Jarrah chuckles. “Bland and mouldy, eh? That’s not just you, love.”
Arnie glares at him. “Find another safe house if you don’t like the food.”
He turns back to me, a forced smile on his lips. “You should be able to move around in about a week at the rate you’re going. But you’ll never have full mobility or be able to exert yourself the way you used to.”
I nod. “Guess the plantation life just isn’t for me any more.”
He smiles. “It was never for you. Or for anyone. If that’s all, there isn’t much I can do for you except recommend rest and a less annoying boyfriend.”
I smile at Arnie as he gets up to leave. “Thanks for your help.”
“I’m sorry I can’t do more. But your survival rate was pretty low, and the best thing for you to do is keep your chin up. You can only get better if you believe you can. You, my dear, are living proof of that. It’s amazing you’re still alive. Goodbye, Alice.”
“Arnie. A word?” says Jarrah, walking towards him. He whispers something in his ear, and Arnie responds to him, looking at me quizzically and nodding. I catch his eye and he smiles weakly in an attempt to reassure me.
“No, Jarrah, we can’t take oatmeal off the menu,” sighs Arnie loudly, closing the door behind him.
“What was that all about?” I ask him.
“You heard him. Oatmeal. I tried to save you, but he won’t listen to me. I told him it’s for your health.”
“Jarrah, you are an awful liar. Do you really think I can’t tell by now when you aren’t telling me something?”
“Clearly you can’t, because it really was about oatmeal. I mean, the word meal shouldn’t even be in oatmeal. It’s disgusting and entirely misleading.”
"Jarrah." I say sternly, emphasizing every letter of his name.
He sighs, sitting on the edge of my bed.
“Okay. I asked him about your...er...temperament. You’ve been worrying me lately with all your mood swinging and I asked him if that had anything to do with your wound.”
“Mood swinging?” I hiss. “I’m a girl, you idiot.”
“No, no, more than usual. And I was right. I mean, you threw a vase at me last week for waking you up too early.”
“Oh,” I mumble, “sorry about that.”
“Anyway, Arnie told me that there were other interesting...side effects to your stabbing. He said because the pain never goes away fully, you may find yourself turning on people who care about you. Finding reasons to be angry at the smallest things, or bitter. You might relive past experiences that hurt you deeply. You’ll never be free from the wound. Isaac’s death adds to your stress, and some of your pain is psychological. When you feel pain from the wound...some of that isn’t even real. It’s just a reminder of his death. ”
“Oh,” is all I can say again, afraid of my own voice and thoughts.
He squeezes my hand. “But you’ll get through this, because you’re Alice and you’re a lot stronger than you think you are. This will only make you better.”
“Is turning into a psycho considered better?” I ask shakily.
“Get some rest, princess,” he smiles weakly, kissing my forehead.
******One week later******
“Look! I’m standing!” I giggle, balancing myself in the centre of my room.
“That you are, Alice,” smiles Lewis proudly.
“We should celebrate,” laughs Jim, “with a bowl of oatmeal for each of us.”
Jarrah looks at him warily, but smiles.
I get tired after a few moments, and make my way back to the bed to rest.
“Alice? A word?” asks Jim after Lewis and Jarrah leave the room.
“Of course,” I say with a smile.
“I’ve been thinking...at the rate you’ve been recovering, you should be able to move around in about a week or two, correct?”
“That’s what Arnie says, though I won’t be able to fully function.”
“What are your plans after you recover? Are you and Jarrah planning on going to Canada?”
“I don’t know,” I say honestly, “I wanted to go to Canada years ago, but the situation’s changed. I’ve lost everyone I escaped with, and Jarrah’s plans are different.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” says Jim, smiling broadly.
My brows furrow. “You are? It’s not exactly great news. ”
“It is for me. You see, I have a proposition.”
I nod, waiting for him to continue.
“How would you like to stay here and help out our organization?”
My eyes widen. “I would be honoured...really. But I don’t think I’m what you’re looking for.
“How so? You have demonstrated more than enough of the qualities we require.”
“Stupidly running into a crowd of armed people is a quality?” I laugh.
“Whether it was stupid or not, you were willing to sacrifice yourself to save someone. You have demonstrated bravery, loyalty, and resilience. The world, and more importantly this country, needs people like you to get us out of these dark times. Our people think quickly, act quickly, and are passionate about helping those in misfortune. I think you would quite like it here.”
“I don’t know. I’m wanted in...er...a lot of places. I’d probably just bring trouble to your doorstep, you know?”
“We are masters of disguise. I’m sure we could work around that. Besides, we’ve made our way out of numerous problems. In fact, we voluntarily bring trouble through our door. Take yourself for example,” he smiles broadly.
“I guess,” I say, “but I’m not sure Jarrah wants to stay here.”
“If it’s the oatmeal, that problem can be solved.”
I giggle. “No, but he doesn’t like to stay in one place too long. He wants to leave. He’s only here because of me.”
“Maybe. But some decisions, you need to make on your own. You had a life before him, and you can make one after him.”
I look at him curiously. “I’ll think about it.”