Chapter Thirty One
I stalked across the yard toward the stable, my eyes locked on Carter’s arrogant form leaning against the walls of the wooden structure. He had changed out of his suit and dress shoes into his typical off-white shirt and dirty boots. He looked much more at ease with his sword strapped around his waist than he ever had in his proper attire.
I had switched out my gown for the loose white shirt and black pants that had been waiting for me on my bed back in my room. I wasn’t sure how he had managed to have everything ready in the five minutes it had taken for me to go to my room from the Room of Fire and Grass, but I hadn’t cared.
It was dark outside, the only light coming from the moon above and the torches Carter had stabbed into the ground around us, creating a makeshift ring.
He rested his hand atop his sword at his side. “You are angry,” he stated.
I stopped several feet away, crossing my arms over my chest. “It’s hard to believe you wasted such wisdom on a life of crime,” I responded sarcastically.
He didn’t react. “Hold on to that anger. Use it to fuel you.”
“Oh, I’m fueled, alright.” I nodded at the blade at his side. “Where’s mine?”
“You will not learn sword fighting this night.”
I raised my eyebrows. “You’ve taught me how to use a sword before—"
“And you were awful.” He didn’t voice his surprise at hearing me refer to something that had happened to Elizabeth Gallagher and not myself, but I could see it in his face by the way the corners of his mouth tensed.
I scowled at him. “I was, what?”
“But you’re inability to use a sword is beside the point.”
I could feel my teeth ground tightly together and my nostrils flare, and I was certain that—if it was humanly possible—I could’ve breathed fire at that moment.
He paced closer, undoing his sword belt and chucking it behind him. He stopped an arms length away. “You need to hit something.”
I almost laughed. “Are you giving me permission to hit you?”
A corner of his lips turned up in a smug grin. “You can try.”
Raising an eyebrow, I raised my hand to slap him and wipe off that infuriating expression. He moved faster, catching my wrist in his fist. He cocked his head to the side. “I’d no idea you were so weak.”
Growling, I brought up my leg, aiming for his stomach—or possibly lower—but his palm smacked against my knee, impossibly hard, knocking it back down. “Ow!” I yelped.
“This must be quite embarrassing.”
“Shut up!” This time, I aimed my fist at his face, swinging with all my might.
He easily spun out of my way. “Your stance is all wrong.” I swiped at him again, and he dodged it just as easily. “You lack conviction.”
“What does that even mean?” I demanded, grunting as I tried again.
“You do not want to hurt me.” He deflected my fist, spinning around, pulling my arm behind my back, straining that muscle painfully, before shoving me forward.
I stumbled, turning to face him again. “Believe me, I do.”
His leg swung out, tripping me, and my back slammed into the earth. “Then do it.”
“Is this what you think training is?” I asked as I stood upright, my furious pulse echoing in my ears. “Just attacking me until I get it right?”
“Hit me,” he said as he followed his own command and slammed his palm to my chest, knocking the air right out of my lungs.
I gasped, glaring. “That’s what I—"
“Hit me.” He tossed my incoming arm to the side. “Your father died. Your mother would rather focus on Lydia than you. Robert’s killer is free—"
“Shut up!” I screeched as I kicked out at him.
He caught my foot and then chucked it to the side. I staggered, but he didn’t let me get my bearings before he advanced on me, throwing punch after punch. My eyes widened as I tried to dodge them. But the hits started coming faster and faster—
I couldn’t even find the strength to reply, my entire concentration centered on not getting socked in the face. I backed up rapidly as he came closer and closer.
“Do not run,” he instructed. “Face me. Hit me.”
“I said, hit me!”
I let out an enraged roar as I side stepped another one of his blows, my own fist shooting out. I wasn’t exactly sure what had happened when Carter’s head whipped back and pain exploded from my hand, up my arm. I stared, stunned.
Carter reached up to rub his jaw, his eyes gleaming and a small smile stretching across his face. “Again.”
I couldn’t move. “Did I hurt—"
He straightened, not doing anything to block himself or attack me again. “Again, Elizabeth.”
“No, Carter, I—"
It was like my hand had a mind of its own, swinging out and slapping him across the face, the sound ringing loudly in the silent night. But he just nodded. “Again.”
This time I sent my fist into his chest, then his shoulder, then his stomach, each hit punctuated by a command of “Again.” Slowly, he began to put up a fight, but a very weak one, really only making sure I didn’t catch him in the jaw again.
Each hit seemed to remove me further and further from the present, and all I could see was the corpse of my father, hanging above me, his eyes wide and glassy. His last request rang in my ears, and I struck Carter again, tears welling up in my eyes.
It all just became too much. Dad, dead. Mom, uncaring. Me, alone. Always, always alone.
Punch, punch, smack!
I hit and hit and hit and hit, the same spot on his chest, over and over, every emotion seeming to pour out of me at the same time, overwhelming.
My hands began to slow and I just broke down, dropping my fists to my side, the tears running free.
Very gently—surprisingly gently—Carter took my hand in his, curling my fingers back into a fist and placing it against his chest. He locked his gaze with mine, nodding. “Again.” His voice was just as soft as his touch.
I shook my head, hardly able to speak past the lump in my throat. “I don’t want to.”
“You need to.”
Biting my lip, I clenched both hands, staring where he held my right hand to his sternum. “Gone.” I punctuated the word with a hit. “I’ve lost him again.” Hit.
Carter didn’t even flinch. “Good,” he said. “Keep going.”
I let the tears blur my vision, as I continued, “And Mom doesn’t even care.” Punch. “She never cares about the people left behind.” Slap. “She never cares about me.” Punch, slap. “Get out, she said.”
Carter, again, very subtly started to fight back, blocking a punch and throwing his own.
I ducked. “Leave, she said.” I kicked out, my foot landing in his gut.
He grunted slightly, spinning and catching me in the back of the knee.
I tripped, landing on one knee, but sending my elbow behind me and nailing him yet again in the stomach. I quickly got back to my feet just in time to get slammed in the chest by his well timed fist.
I barely felt it. “I don’t want to talk, she said. She never wants to talk. She doesn’t care that I needed to talk to her, to tell her what Dad had said. That doesn’t matter to her. It will never matter to her. I will never matter to her.” I hit and punched and kicked and slapped, and Carter dodged each one, making me more outraged, more tears burning as they spilled out. “I need her, but she doesn’t care. She doesn’t care. She doesn’t care!”
His leg swung out, low to the ground, once again sending me collapsing to the ground. My own leg shot out, locking around his knee, and pulling him down with me. I rolled on top of him, raining blow after blow.
But he didn’t allow me the advantage for long, hooking his knee around my waist and wrestling me to my back. I still desperately swat at him. “She doesn’t care, she doesn’t care,” I repeated over and over.
He grabbed my wrists, pinning them to the ground by my shoulders. I couldn’t find the strength to fight against him as the tears came faster, searing my eyes and cheeks as they fell. My voice was almost slurred from how hard I tried to stop myself from outright sobbing as I continued to murmur, “She doesn’t care, she doesn’t care, she doesn’t care…” That was the only thought that ran through my mind on a tortuous endless cycle.
My vision was blurred and I could hardly make out Carter’s face above me. But I felt him holding me still as I cried, just endless buckets of tears gushing from my lids, the same phrase bubbling from my lips, the unmistakeable truth that I had known for four years; she doesn’t care.
I could feel Carter staring down at me, and slowly, embarrassment forced the faucets of my eyes to shut. I blinked several times, the last of the tears sliding down the sides of my face until I could just make out the hazel eyes hovering above me.
My voice was hoarse—from both the near-hanging Lawrence had almost delivered and all the crying I’d just done—as I whispered, “He’s gone, Carter. And so is she. I’ve lost them both.”
He released one of my wrists to reach up and wipe away the wetness on my cheek with his thumb. “She is hurting, same as you,” he told me. “She will come around.”
“She won’t. She never has.” If I thought about Mom for much longer, I would start crying again and my head was already starting to ache from how much I had already.
His cool thumb rubbed absently at my burning cheek, allowing me that distraction I needed. “Whatever happens between you and your mother,” he said, “you must know that you are never alone.”
My brows furrowed as I stared up at his open expression. There weren’t many times I could say that about Carter, but just then not a single thing was hidden in his eyes as he gazed down at me. I swallowed past the dryness in my throat. “Carter,” I said softly, “why do have that journal?”
His jaw clenched but he didn’t reply immediately. He blew out a deep sigh, his breath washing over me like a warm stream on frozen night. “I cannot…that is, if you knew—" He cut himself off.
“Knew what?” When he didn’t say anything, I continued, “You wanted me to find that journal for a certain reason. You have treated me cruelly for a certain reason. I have tried to hate you. Believe me, I’ve tried. And yet…I find myself willingly following you into the darkest parts of this backyard simply because you asked. I let you throw blow after blow at me simply because you said it would help. Despite everything I know, everything I’ve been taught, every warning I’ve ever had, I trust you.”
He squeezed his eyes shut as if in pain, his whole body tensing above me.
Cautiously, I lifted my hands, cradling his face in my palms. He eyes squeezed tighter but he turned his cheek into my touch. “I trust you,” I repeated. "If nothing else, I deserve the same from you.”
“Liz,” he started, “the names in that journal—"
“I am aware of what you’ve done. But I have to believe there was some sort of logic behind it other than what you would have me think.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he argued, his eyes still shut. “I killed all those people, and every day there will be more names added to that list.”
“Why write them down?”
His eyes popped open. “What?”
“You kill these people for no reason, right? That’s what you want me to think? Well, then, why go through the trouble of catching their names before you…you know, before?”
“Liz, do you realize you are trying to justify the murder of—"
“You aren’t a murderer.” I held his face tighter, forcing his eyes to stay locked with mine. “You aren’t. I know it. You do not kill for sport. You do not kill for the simple enjoyment of it because you don’t enjoy it.”
He began to shake his head but I spoke before he could say anything.
“Why is your name on that list, Carter?”
He stilled, his gaze burning into mine and I swallowed past the sudden dryness in my throat. “I have a theory,” I said. “And tell me if I’m wrong.” He tried to get up, to walk away from the conversation, but I tightened my grip, refusing to let him go. “You keep those names,” I said, my voice very soft, “to remind yourself what you’ve done. Looking at those names is your penance, isn’t it?”
The muscle in his jaw jumped and his eyes trailed away from mine as he whispered, “I have tried to tell you, over and over, the reason behind their murders does not matter. It is still murder. I am still a murderer.”
“Look at me, Carter. Look at me.” I shook his face slightly to force his gaze back to mine. With great deliberateness, I stressed, “I trust you.”
All the air seemed to go out of him and he sagged against me, the warmth of his body pressing me deeper into the ground. His voice was barely even a breath as he whispered, “You can’t.” He stared a beat longer and he must’ve seen something in my eyes he wasn’t prepared for because his hazel eyes closed again in that same unspoken pain and he rested his forehead against mine, every spot our skin touched lighting little firecrackers in my blood.
“Carter,” I whispered, “he told me to find her.”
He opened his eyes and leaned back, brows furrowed.
“My father. He made me promise to find Sarah.”
“For a way out.” His jaw clenched and his eyes darkened.
“That was the last thing he said to me. He told me to find her.”
He nodded, that same unemotional wall that usually blocked his face slamming down over his expression again. He quickly got to his feet, the cold of the night slamming into me in the absence of his warmth. He reached a hand out to help me up, his hard gaze locked with mine as he stated, “Then we shall.” Spinning around, he made his way around the circle of torches. “I will douse the flames. You may return to the house. We shall talk about this in greater detail in the morning. Good night, Elizabeth.”
Crossing my arms tightly over my chest, I bit my lip and began the trek back to my room.