“Who are you?” I demanded, slapping the photo down in front of Marco. Enough was enough. I wasn’t falling for any more stories and I wasn’t leaving without the truth. All of it.
I had driven like a mad woman straight from the mall to the dojo and burst through the door ready for battle. Marco greeted me as usual, all arms and smiles. I stormed past wearing a mask of doom and went straight to his office. Marco had no choice but to chase after me like a lost dog hoping for a handout. Well he wasn’t getting any.
I’m not ashamed to say the look on his face pleased me. I wanted him worried. No, I wanted more than that. I wanted him to feel horrible. I wanted him dripping with remorse for not being honest with me and dreading the consequences now that I knew. I wanted him lower than low, begging and pleading for a second chance. I wanted the truth, but I also wasn’t to know that he was sorry for what he did.
I wanted all that from him because in the darkest part of my mind I was afraid he wouldn’t give any of it.
“Who are you?” I growled again watching Marco scramble to make whatever was pissing me off go away. “And when you’re done explaining that,” I went on, “you can tell me who the hell is this guy!” My finger landed on the package guy’s chest, pinning the photo to the desk top.
Marco looked at my hand and stiffened. His eyes narrowed and all traces of pathetic animal I saw in him evaporated. I couldn’t understand. I had the upper hand but Marco wasn’t acting like it anymore.
“Tell me where you got this.” He ordered, snatching the picture out from under my finger and studying it.
“Oh no. I’m the one driving this train.” I hissed back.
“Violet,” Marco’s eyes didn’t leave the photo. “Where did you get this?” Humility, if he’d been carrying it, was completely erased from his form. He promoted himself from private to general in our little war in two seconds flat.
“Are you deaf?” I snapped. “Shall I add that to your list failings? Can’t hear, can’t tell the truth. How long have you been lying to me Marco?” I was so angry my hands formed fist. I was a coil of spring, razor sharp and ready to snap.
“Violet listen,” He set the photo down and reached out sure he’d take my arm. I stepped back before he could.
Instinctively my fists raised and I spread my feet for balance. I was ready to fight. I glared at my boyfriend through my knuckles and watched his eyes grow wide. I had shocked him. I had shocked myself. I wasn’t just pulling back from the one person I longed to be with I was in a dead sprint running away. My heart ached but I had no intention of turning around.
Marco stared at me and I him, neither of us budging.
This is where it ends. I thought and immediately wanted to cry.
Then Marco shifted. He took his weight off the balls of his feet, relaxing his stance. The corners of his eyes softened and the tension in his forehead released. The sharp edge he wore like a second skin eased, ever so slightly, and moved me. Was the pressure, the emotion I was feeling taking a toll on him too?
Wounded and diffused, my boyfriend looked down at me.
“I can explain,” he said and immediately I knew I was wrong. Marco felt nothing. The changes I notice in him were a lie, every single one. Why was I surprised?
“I’ll bet.” I barked.
“It’s not what you think Vi…” he began but I cut him off.
“No more stories Marco!” I dropped my hands and squeezed my fist so tight my nails cut into the skin. “What is going on?!” I ripped the picture off the desk and shook it in his face. “Who is this man?! I’ve seen him before and I want to know who he is!” Marco stared at me.
“You’ve seen him?” He asked seemingly confused but probably just doing a great job acting the part. “When? Where?”
“At my house!” I shot back. “And don’t tell me he’s nobody. Margaret already tried that. He was at my house and he was armed.” I was close to screaming at him. “He had a gun Marco and did I mention my mother had a bloody nose?” I tossed the photo down in front of him. “Then later I caught him snooping outside our motel room. Now you?” Marco tensed, his edge returning. “Who is this guy? Why were you talking to him? What are you not telling me?”
My boyfriend stared at the paper now resting on the floor between us. He wouldn’t look at my face. He stood so ridged, so far from me. He was a chess piece. He sat across the board calculating his next move. In that instant, I knew. The man, the meeting, they weren’t the only thing Marco had lied about.
My heart broke.
“Nothing…” I struggled to get the word out. My chest felt like a hundred pounds rested on it. I couldn’t get air. “…Nothing has been real, has it?” I trembled. Marco didn’t reply but that was answer enough. He stood four feet away and not moving as I crumbled away right in front of him.
He never fell for me, he didn’t love me. It was all a lie.
“We didn’t meet by accident.” I said and Marco was silent. “You aren’t just a dojo manager are you?” I tried again. Marco didn’t move. “Look at me!” I demanded. “Look me in the face and tell me the truth! Tell me some part of this is not a lie!”
Slowly Marco raised his head. His expression was cold.
Fighting back tears I whispered, “Why?”
“Because they told me to,” he said. “Because it was my job.”
I was paralyzed. Marco would have done less if he’d gutted me left me to be pecked to tiny pieces by crows. I moaned. The pain hit over and over, stabbing me as I replayed his answer in my head.
I was his job.
How stupid I was to think one lie was the worst thing Marco could ever do to me. How stupid to think that after I confronted him today would end. Life would go on.
“Who,” I choked. “Who are you?”
“I work for a special agency, a branch of the government.” He responded flatly.
“Whose government? What agency?”
“Don’t ask me to elaborate,” He said. “I can’t.”
“You mean you won’t.”
“I will tell you that his name is Simon.” Marco continued, nodding towards the photo.
“Simon. Who is he? Does he work for the same agency you work for?”
“Yes. He’s my boss.”
“Your boss? But Margaret…” I stopped short, realizing where the logic would lead. Marcos eyes shifted to me again and the intensity of his stare shaved off sections of my soul. “What is happening?”
“Violet,” Marco said softly. “They know what you can do.”
All at once I was falling. My knees couldn’t support me anymore. They buckled and I landed hard against the desk.
“When? How…?” I couldn’t remember how to breathe, the mechanics of it. I was surrounded by air but unable to draw it in. My heart beat a thousand times faster than it should. I was slipping to the floor then Marco was at my side. With my elbow in his hand he guided me to a chair, the same chair I sat in the day I realized how much I felt for him.
Marco knelt in front of me. He touched my chin and brought my face to his. “Always Violet. We’ve known always.”
“We…” I whispered. Marco nodded. I messed up. I didn’t fall in love with a man I fell in love with a ghost.
“No...” I said, choking on the words.
My boyfriend wasn’t my boyfriend. My mother…what was Margaret? Marco held my hand in his, stroking it with his fingers as my world fell apart. Nothing was real.
Nothing. I was on my own. I ripped my hand away.
“What do you want from me?” I needed to be strong.
“No Vi it isn’t like that.”
“Of course it’s like that. You’ve been watching me, following me, lying to me…” I was sick, but then suddenly, astonished.
“You lied.” I glared at him. “You told me you loved me but it was a lie. How did you do that?” I couldn’t believe it even as I realized it must be true. He had touched me. Marco had held my head and not only had he not mentioned the government tail, he lied about loving me. How was that possible?
“You beat me. How did you beat me?”
“No I didn’t. I swear I didn’t.” he pleaded. I scowled.
“You say you know what I can do, then you know that day you should have told me the truth, only the truth.”
“You know everything about me and I know nothing about you. From the moment you met me you’ve been playing me.” I spat. “You’re job, my ability, pretending to be someone you are not… those are a lot of really big secrets Marco. In my experience big secrets are the first ones spilled. You had a bucket full ready to go but you held them all in and managed to lie! How did you do that? Tell me!”
“Please, let me explain…”
“You owe me the truth!”
“It’s complicated.” He said. “You need to calm down and then…”
“Don’t insult me! How did you beat me?” I started to rise up and Marco put his hands on my arms to hold me down. “Get off me!” I yelled. His hands jumped to my shoulders.
“You don’t understand…”
“Stop that! Just answer the question.” I wiggled under Marco trying to push him away. His hands shifted “How did you beat me!”
“Violet,” suddenly Marco’s eyes popped. He gasped and I realized his fingers had reached the spots on my head and he was holding on. I recognized the look in his face, the shock, the fear. Then he spoke.
“Training” The word rushed out of him. “Training and training and more training. Violet I’ve been in training against you since I was a kid!”
With a sharp breath he released me. He fell back and sank to the floor defeated. I stared at him.
“For years.” He nodded and pressed a hand to his forehead. “Wow that was really something.”
Was he being serious? Was this the truth?
“People are training against me?” I asked. It was hard enough to stomach that there were people in the world who knew what I could do. Now I had to deal with the fact that some of them were actively practicing to overcome my ability.
Marco rubbed his brown and nodded. “When the agency saw the extent of your ability, they knew they had to prepare.” He explained. “That’s how the government works. If someone builds a better gun, then someone else builds better armor.”
“And that’s you? You’re armor?”
“Me and a few others.”
“How? How could you train against me without me to see if it was working?”
Marco’s lips pressed into a thin line across his face. He sat up then slowly rolled up his sleeve and showed me his scar.
“This way.” He said. “They tested my strength using the old methods of getting information.”
“They tortured you?” He nodded. “You willingly work for an agency that would do that?” He shrugged and I shook my head. “And why? For the glorious reward of being able to keep a secret from me? Congratulations. You win.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” He said and then he laughed. “In fact now that I’ve experienced it, the serious part,” Marco pointed to his head. “Now that I’ve had a secret I trained to hide from you released, I’m not so sure there is a way anyone can beat you Violet. Look, at best I can block you. And even then I’m limited. It takes a lot of time building a protective wall around one secret alone. No one can build a wall around everything they know.” He held his palms out in surrender. “As you can see.”
He was telling the truth. Right then he told the truth. I had made him.
“So you blocked your job and that you knew Margaret and this Simon guy,” I said.
“Why? What do they want? Why are you here?”
“They want you safe.”
“Bull shit. What do they want?”
“For you to join us.” Marco sighed, giving in quickly. “It’s the only way to protect you. They thought if we were…together…it would help.”
Disappointment and distress were quickly becoming old friends. When I realized Marco lied about loving me, it destroyed me. But that wasn’t the end of the story. He masqueraded as my lover to trap me into joining the very people ruining my life.
“Your true feeling,” I said, “you covered them up to trick me.”
“No, wait…” he began.
“Stop. I don’t want to hear it.” I couldn’t stand to let him continue. Some lies hurt more than others. Some things are better left unsaid. I covered my eyes to black it out.
“Not everything has changed Violet.” He said. “I’m still me. Look at me, I’m still Marco.”
“Is that supposed to mean something?” I asked pulling my hands away to look at the stranger before me. “Is Marco even your real name?” He watched me carefully. I stared him down, daring him to lie again.
“I don’t believe this is happening…”
“Violet it wasn’t supposed to come out like this. The agency was going to come clean with you. We were just waiting for the right time.”
“That’s your excuse?” I spit out. “Your timing was off?” No doubt Marco thought telling me that would make things better. Instead the rage inside me took on a life of its own. “The agency had no right to keep what they were doing from me at all!”
“No one wanted to hurt you.”
“Do you have any idea how arrogant that sounds?”
“Violet, believe me. No matter how this looks your best interests were always at the core. You’re important. More important than all of this or any of us.”
“I’m important.” I sneered “So far everything you’ve said only makes one point crystal clear,” my resentment swirled, a tornado of hate flew out of my mouth. “It’s not me the agency is worried about preserving, it’s my skill. It’s just their bad luck that they can’t have one without the other.”
“No.” I ground my teeth together. “I don’t belong to you, I don’t belong to the agency, I belong to me. I’m not a weapon and I’m not a freak and I’m done being treated like I am.”
“Violet no one thinks that way.”
“You’ve got to understand,” He pleaded. “You were so young when this started…”
I gasped and immediately Marco stopped. He had stepped too far into the land of truth and he knew it. So young. The agency had been controlling my life since I was a child and my parents? Marco had made a grave mistake telling me that.
“Violet …” He crawled forward, desperate to make me see because, as he said, I was important. How much so? Where would Marco draw the line when it came to keeping me for the government?
He was on his knees and I knew if I let him stand he could take me. I had to act fast. I grabbed the edge of the chair leaned back and kicked Marco in the jaw.
“Stay away from me.” I screamed. Marco was on his back. I stomped on him. Hit him in the gut and when the pain curled him into a ball I snatched the picture off the floor.
“Violet,” he moaned.
I unlocked the back door and looked at my boyfriend writhing in agony on the floor.
“Wait,” he gasped. “You can’t go.”
“No Marco.” I told him. “You’re wrong. I can.”