26 | Tricks Up Her Sleeves
Blythe doesn’t leave her room for the whole day, not even for dinner.
I can’t imagine she spent every second of every minute of every hour reading her novel. I know she will have to come out eventually. I expected to see her at least once before I left but my expectations were held in vain. My journey with Lawrence begins in silence, a refusal on both sides to speak or turn the radio on.
I stare out the window, gun in my lap. It’s going to be a long shift and my mind won’t stop wandering back to how Blythe is for the first time officially alone with Terrence overnight. It makes me nervous to think what might happen between them. Her wrists are evidence that I hope he doesn’t tamper with. It doesn’t scare me knowing what he could do to me, but it does scare me knowing what he could do to her.
Lawrence breaks the silence.
“You have to stay away from Blythe,” he says. “You can get her in some serious trouble with Terrence. You’re playing a dangerous game but do not forget that there are consequences to such actions for everyone involved.”
“I’m not playing games,” I snap. “It’s nothing like that. You’re missing the mark.”
“Alright, then. Do you love her?”
“Well, I, well it’s—well,” I sputter like a kettle. “It’s nothing like that. It’s not black and white. I care about her, I know that much, but I’m not going to call it love.”
“So, if I’m understanding correctly,” Lawrence ponders out loud. “You don’t love her, but you care about her enough to spend the night together knowing the risks of what would happen if Terrence found out? Either you’re thinking with your heart or thinking with your dick and you gotta’ stop. I know Blythe is pretty and currently at your disposal, but do not lose sight of why she is there. She isn’t there for you.”
“Well, she doesn’t want to be there for the reasons she is either. If I’m to be honest I think our weird, bizarre friendship is the only thing keeping her going. I’m not trying to distract her from her goals. I’m not thinking with my heart but I’m not thinking with my dick, either. It’s different with Blythe. I don’t need you to understand.”
“I don’t doubt that she means something to you. But does she mean something to you for the right reasons? Do you care only out of spite? Are you plotting to help her escape? What’s your angle here?”
“I’m not plotting to help her escape, but I’m not going to prevent it from happening either. She already made it abundantly clear that she doesn’t want my help and she wouldn’t want to run away together. She sees no future with me and I cannot blame her for that,” I shake my head. “Yeah, at first it was fun getting close to her because it was about Terrence. But it isn’t about him anymore. It’s about her. I can relax around her and it’s nice. I don’t take her for granted. I know once she escapes, because I have faith that she will, I will never see her again and yes, Lawrence, that does upset me.”
“Why would she see a future with you? Do you see one with her?”
“It’s hard to see one without her after getting to know her the way that I have. She wants kids, a good husband. I would not be a good husband. Look at my life! I kill people for a living and I enjoy it. I’m already a certified psychopath as soon as she hears that. The money doesn’t matter to her. I can’t love her because she never will, and never could, love me. So there you go. Happy?”
“She says she doesn’t want your help but chances are if you offered she would not refuse. What is the only thing holding her back from escaping? The keys? You know where they are, how to access them. You just have to give her three numbers. Hell, she would know the numbers before I do.”
I don’t bother mentioning how close she had gotten to discovering the safe built into the closet wall behind all the jackets.
“It’s just...it’s not that simple. I can’t just offer her the code for the safe. Terrence will know that I either gave her the code or got the keys for her myself. And then what happens? I’d have to go on the run too. Who would Terrence go after first, me or her? Her. But I’d have other people in pursuit of me, she would only have him. If I keep my nose out of it, I can guarantee he won’t ever find her again.”
“You’re delusional. You know Blythe would never figure out the code unless through word of mouth. You’ve been banking on that all along. You don’t want her escaping at all. You are taking advantage of her, giving her false hope. You don’t have faith that she will escape without your aid, you just say you do because it makes you feel better about watching her walk down a dead-end. You can bend the narrative all you want, but a bystander who does nothing is just as guilty as the perpetrator.”
“Oh yeah? And what are you doing, great valiant one?”
“Tell me the three numbers for the safe and I’ll relay them back to Blythe as soon as possible.”
I clench my jaw and don’t respond. He’s called my bluff successfully. It’s different with Lawrence. He doesn’t want to be involved in this, doesn’t want to go behind Terrence’s back. Blood is thicker than water with him. He’ll do what he can to entertain Blythe, to pass the time, to make her as comfortable in Terrence’s place as he can. He loves her like a little sister but because she isn’t blood it only carries so much weight. He doesn’t want to betray Terrence.
Since Lawrence is older he thinks he’s wiser, and maybe he is. I don’t know. He makes it sound like it’s so easy to help her escape, and maybe it is. Again, I don’t know. I just can’t bring myself to offer her help. I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place. It would be easy to give Lawrence the numbers to give to Blythe but I just...can’t even though I know it is the right thing to do.
“You do love her,” Lawrence exclaims. “You love her enough to make her stay but not enough to let her go. It will destroy the both of you. The way you love her will eat her alive. You have to stop.”
“I don’t think love comes with a power-off button.”
“What I mean is you have to stop letting your emotions blind you. It’s the blind leading the blind. Bow out completely, wash your hands clean of this; or help her escape and spend the rest of your life running for the hills like her. Those are your two options. There is no grey area here. Do not keep being a dumbass. I trust that you know I prefer you choose the former. You are my immediate concern, not Blythe. Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” I grind my teeth together. “I understand.”
But that doesn’t mean I will listen. I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. That is all that matters as far as I’m concerned.
Blythe spends the day in hiding.
By around 11pm I decide to test a theory—carry out an experiment to verify my hypothesis, if you will. I walk to my bedroom and sit for a few minutes then make my way to the front door, going outside. I know Blythe hears my movements. Chances are she thinks I’ve rolled a joint and wanted to smoke in privacy.
I lean against the rail across from the front window. I haven’t turned the outdoor lights on so even though I can see into the house, if Blythe exits her room she won’t be able to see me. I cross my arms over my chest, waiting. It’s drizzling, the air cool, humid, thick; sky almost black.
I don’t have to wait for long. I watch as Blythe’s head peeks around the corner of the hallway wall. She glances about, making sure she is alone before stepping into the kitchen. She rolls her sleeves up as she opens the fridge door, finding the plate I had left in saran-wrap for her. She does another once-over of the place, feeling watched but not knowing where she is being watched from, and scrunches her expression as she removes the wrap and puts the plate in the microwave. Shuddering she jumps and sits on the counter, staring right at me without seeing me. Still, I do not move.
She kicks her feet in the air, wearing pajama shorts. She inspects her wrists before setting her palms on the counter, tapping the edge with her fingers. It looks like she’s in a hurry which is silly since she has nowhere to be. All she wants is for the food to be hot before I come back inside so she can dine in her room. I already know exactly how this will all play out. She is not getting away so easily.
When the food is finished Blythe leaps off the counter and retrieves it. The moment she starts walking back to her room is the moment I come back inside. She gasps, not expecting my arrival, and fidgets with the sleeves of her sweater as best as she can while holding a plate. I find her scrambling odd. Very odd.
“Hey, Sunshine,” I say, making my way towards her. “I haven’t seen you all day. I’ll join you at the island, keep you company.”
“Oh, no,” she shakes her head dismissively once her sleeves are down. “I was just going to—"
“I insist,” my tone is without clemency. She knows better than to argue.
She scrutinizes me as she takes a seat at the island. She’s cautious, leery, but the moment I join her she stares at her food. I made her favorite: butter chicken with rice. I wait for her to roll her sleeves up, something she always does while she eats, but she doesn’t. I noticed she hadn’t rolled them up for breakfast either. I talk to her as she devours her meal, conversation that only requires her to nod or shake her head. She’s being more polite and smiley than usual. She can’t wait to leave.
She finishes eating in record time and stands. Mousy. Very mousy. Something is bothering her. The more she tries to cache it the more apparent it becomes. Blythe compliments a meal I made for the first time and I grin in response. After setting the plate in the sink she looks at me, blinking a few times.
“Well, I’m just going to get ready for bed and such,” she rubs her lips together. “Goodnight, Terrence—"
“Aren’t you going to wash your dishes?”
She furrows her brows, unable to tell if I’m joking or not. I’ve never made her wash dishes before, nor have I asked, so I know my inquiry seems outrageous—condescending. Blythe smiles tremulously but it falters when she realizes I am not trying to be funny. Her head jerks back.
“Do you...do you want me to?” she stammers.
She nods slowly, eyes darting around before she gives me her back. I can see into the sink from where I am, which she notices, and she tries to block my view with her body. She folds the sleeves of her sweater back but does not pull them up to her elbows. Something is circulating. She has done something she does not want me to figure out. I have a sneaky suspicion that Spencer is involved.
Once finished washing dishes Blythe turns to me, snarky, and asks, “do you want me to dry them too?”
“If you wouldn’t mind.”
“No, not at all,” she mumbles under her breath. This is not the quick in n’ out she had planned. She’s irritated.
She dries the dishes, struggling to put the plate in its spot; it’s too high for her in the cupboard and I take the opportunity to come up behind her. I grab the plate from her and put it away, prompting her to pivot and face me. I cage her in with my arms and she turns white as a sheet.
“Why so mysterious, Sunshine? Hiding any...tricks up your sleeves?” I smirk.
“I want...I want to go,” she pleads, attempting to duck under my arm. I grip her bicep and pull her back in front of me. She rips herself free, eyes wide but aggressive. “Back. Off.”
“Roll up your sleeves,” I order.
“Because I asked you to,” I dip my chin at her. “Either you do what I ask or I’ll do it for you. I’m not fucking around here, Blythe.”
“What is your problem?” she barks, lacing her hands behind her back. “I don’t have to roll up anything. Now let me pass.”
I don’t know what exactly I’m searching for but I have a vague idea. There is something on her that she doesn’t what me to see and I know it’s for a reason: she dreads my reaction. It’s hard to fathom that she has done something so shady without my knowing but I saw the way she looked this morning when Lawrence said him and Spencer were working. She hadn’t just been anxious, she had been knocked sideways. The fact that Spencer had no idea he worked either just...yikes.
She can’t say I didn’t warn her. I grip her wrist from behind her and instantly she’s on the defense trying to grapple me off. Oh, this can’t be good. She’s fighting me tooth and nail, shouting my name, trying to keep her secret from being exposed. There’s a hand that nearly strikes me across the cheek but I catch it just in time. I spin Blythe around and bend her upper half over the counter, pressing myself behind her, keeping her hands behind her back. She’s screaming bloody murder.
I roll up her sleeves and I don’t see it right away but when I do its worse than I thought. Bruises in the shape of fingerprints on the inside of both of her wrists. Shades of plum, green, mustard yellow. She’s sobbing with her hands restrained, honey curls all over the counter, begging me to let her go, trying to convince me it isn’t what it looks like and that she is sorry.
I know these are not self-inflicted. I smirk, laughing without humor, covering the bruises with my own fingers. The glass slipper fits. The marks almost could have been made with my own hands except I haven’t touched Blythe in weeks since I know she is repulsed by me. She is clearly not as repulsed by Spencer. I want to rip her fucking arms off. Apparently saying I would kill him isn’t enough for her. She took a gamble anyway.
“So you like it rough, hey?” I sneer, tightening my hold on her.
Blythe’s sobs turn to howls, low and wounded, her terror so palpable I can almost taste it.