I am starving but there is no way I can take my eyes away from Tamie as she bites into a juicy piece of steak with her pearly teeth. Simply following her every move is mesmerizing and eating can fucking wait.
“You don’t like it?” Tamie looks at me, pointing at my half-eaten food.
“I do. You?”
Tamie says nothing, just points at her almost empty plate. I wave to get her some more Coke that she seems to love and I cut a piece of my steak too, pretending I do not feel her study me.
“Talk to me about Iris,” she asks.
I stiffen. Iris. Her thought, her name even makes my stomach churn even after all this time. But now, just now, I don’t feel that ache, that pain of a dull knife plunged in my chest, just the distant memory of that pain. I look up to Tamie and lose myself in those big, blue-grey eyes.
“What do you want to know? You will meet her soon enough.”
“He is...Well, he is her husband.”
Tamie drops the knife and fork and her jaw as well. I can see the surprise on her face. Rage is not exactly husband material or any other form of human interaction material but for Iris he became that and more. I fucking need to accept that and finally move on. Looking at Tamie seems to fucking help.
“Iris? My Iris is married?”
“She is,” I say and I am surprised that I hear a hint of happiness in my voice.
Tamie looks down at her lap and she takes a few deep breaths. She is retreating to herself so often, thinking things without a hint of what really goes on in that pretty head of hers. She had only herself for so long.
When she is done thinking about my announcement, she picks her fork and picks around her plate.
“Does he...?” Tamie asks seemingly indifferently but I hear the tension in her voice.
She is a survivor that one. She had to be. It was either that or going catatonic and tie a noose around a goddamn lamp. The thought gives me shivers but I push it away and focus on Tamie. I know what she is asking. Anyone seeing Rage carve a man to pieces would ask the same thing. But she doesn’t want to insult him or me for the sake of her safety and Iris’s. Clever girl.
“Never. He loves her more than his own life.”
The fork drops on the plate again and Tamie let’s out a deep sigh of relief. For some reason, she believes me. Tears well up in her eyes and I panic. I can’t bear to see her cry and I fidget on my seat. As her grey-blue eyes get even bluer veiled by tears and her lips are shaking slightly, I get up and slide into her side of the booth.
Asshole, I acted without thinking and now I am too close, too abruptly. She is a scared girl that asks me timidly for every little thing. Last thing she needs is a motherfucker all over her.
I am ready to move away but Tamie grabs my t-shirt, buries her face in my chest and sobs lightly. I freeze for a moment but then I wrap my arms around her shoulders and let her cry. I want to squeeze her to me, to run my fingers through her hair, caress her back, to fucking comfort her but I am unable to move. I am scared to move.
When she is done, she sighs deeply and pushes lightly away from me. I look down at her and I gasp. Her eyes are red and puffed and tears are down her cheeks. I wipe them off with my thumb never looking away from that deep, relieved look of hers. She is so close, her breath warms my face and her body has moved closer to mine.
“It’s OK, Tamie. It’s all OK.”
“My Iris. My Iris is happy,” she is still sobbing. “That’s all I wanted. That’s all I ever wanted. I was a good girl and Iris is safe. I was good, wasn’t I?”
My jaw drops at her desperate question and a piece of my heart breaks for that girl in my arms. That’s what kept her going. Her love for her sister, the hope that if she does as she is told, Iris would be OK.
My fists tighten behind her back and I regret letting Rage do all the killing back in that sex prison. I would gladly rip the throats of all that made her feel like that with my bare hands.
“She is happy. And so will you.”
The look she gives me burns me down to my very soul. Hope mixed with disbelief, pain mixed with relief, guilt mixed with surprise. Tamie will be happy, has to be happy. She will find herself again and dream and laugh and smile. She will have a man by her side to love and protect her. And that won’t be me.
That last thought kills me. I just met that woman but I have been obsessing over her for a while. And now that I got to know her, she is more than what my imagination formed. She is fucking perfect. But she is bruised and hurt and scared and I am not the man to make her feel good. She needs a nice guy, a sweet man. She deserves that. She deserves more than me.
“Let’s eat,” I move away from her and take my seat on the other side of the table. “And have some dessert after, right?”
Bastard. Sick, fucking bastard! I scream in my head and I am this close to throwing our table out the window. This is what I have come down to? To this sicko? Drooling over a girl that just got out from being a sex slave all her life? To Iris’s sister? Is it because she reminds me of Iris so much? Am I that gone, ready to use that tortured woman as a replacement for my heartache?
I don’t raise my eyes to her, I just pretend to eat. But I feel her gaze on me, the flood of questions.
“Yeah?” I look over her shoulder.
“Can I get dessert now?”
I look down and let out a laugh. Then I gather my courage and face her. No, I know instantly. It's not because she reminds me of Iris. Iris was bright as the sun, too bright perhaps. But Tamie... Tamie is a clear, night sky with bright stars. And she is so goddamn beautiful.
“Yes, Tamie. You can eat whatever the fuck you want.”
“I’ll have the triple chocolate cake. I haven’t had chocolate for-”
Her voice breaks as she gets lost in her past. She grinds her teeth and swallows hard, trying to hold back a new dam of tears. So much pain in that body, so much suffering in those eyes. No, Tamie deserves the best and she will get it.
“I think I’ll stick with the cherry pie,” I try to dispel the heavy atmosphere. “Looks good,” I beckon at the stand that has the sweets.
She looks over her shoulder and I see her body relax. When she turns to me, she has a soft smile on her face.
“Are you telling me the truth?”
That’s the second time she asks me that question. Me and her, we got the opposite problem. She has been through so much shit that she trusts no one but herself. Me? It’s myself I trust the least. That motherfucker has let me down and all those around me and I am on the edge, waiting to see when I will betray the trust of those that place their faith in me.
“I am, Tamie. Tomorrow you will see Iris.”
Tamie nods repeatedly then looks up to me.
“Can I see that picture one more time?”
I unlock my phone and I find photos from Vik’s and Lysa’s wedding. Iris was so happy, so radiant that day. I am not one to take photos and selfies and shit but Stig has a shared file for all of us and that motherfucker can’t stop shooting. I find one where all the Valkyries are together, in a group hug, smiling. I glance up to her. Tamie will fit right in with them.
“There you are,” I hand her the phone. “Slide left to see more.”
She takes my phone and frowns. I lean over and grab her hand, put her finger on the screen and show her. Then I sit back and watch the expressions on her face as she takes the photos in. Amazement, happiness, surprise. She smiles and she looks ready to cry all over again at the same time.
I like so much that innocent, inquisitive look on her face. She is not afraid to show when she doesn’t know something.
“The Valkyries are...” I start.
“Are figures in Norse mythology that choose who gets to live and who gets to die.”
I raise an eyebrow at her.
“I read a lot before.”
I chuckle and she frowns a little thinking that I am making fun of her. But she goes back to her mild face in an instant. Years of conditioning made her reluctant to speak up, to displease a male. And it’s a pity. It seems that brilliance runs in the genes. Iris is an excellent mechanic and Tamie seems to be a bookworm.
“Well, the Valkyries for us is a completely different thing. Though, they are a matter of life and death now that I come to think of it.”
A spark of interest passes through her eyes. She puts her elbows on the table and leans to me waiting. To have her look at me like that, I could be talking for hours. So, I explain and see her take everything in.
“Do you... Do you have a Valkyrie?”
My look darkens. I thought once of claiming a Valkyrie. Iris. But she chose Rage and she did right because that man loves her more than his own life. They are good together. I was not. I am not good for anyone.
“No,” I answer her question.
I look up to her and she looks at me with an appreciating look, enough to make me ready to blush for the first time in my life. I knew I looked good ever since high school when girls started to literally throw themselves at me. After the war... It was so dark and rotten inside that I never paused to think about how I looked on the outside.
But having this girl look at me with her lips half-opened, regarding me as if I am some work of art... That makes me shift on my seat and stir in my jeans.
“Don’t you want to have a Valkyrie?” She blushes as she asks.
“I am better off alone,” I almost bark.
“You are... You are handsome and nice. I am sure-”
“Eat up! We need to go soon,” I stop her abruptly and she gasps.
She says nothing, just eats her food and steals glances my way. I didn’t lie. I am better off alone, it’s better this way, easier. I can’t let a woman get close to the shit I have inside. Especially a girl like Tamie.