29 | None the Wiser
When I leave the bathroom I find Blythe under the covers watching the bedroom door. When she hears me exit she turns to look at me, sitting up, keeping the covers around her. The light from the lamps are not flattering on her. They emphasize the stress from a battle she was almost guaranteed to lose.
“You took seven minutes,” she comments lightheartedly.
I don’t say anything, making my way over to the bed, sitting on the edge opposite to Blythe, setting my phone on the nightstand. She stares at the front of the room, unwavering in her focus, her arms tight around her shins. She’s in a faraway place. Disheveled. Suddenly I feel terrible about what took place before the whole ordeal. If I had known what would have happened to Blythe afterwards I would never have forced her to kiss me. She’s taking on too much.
“How did they get in?” she asks.
“This place isn’t built like Fort Knox,” I answer honestly. “Chances are one of them was able to pick the lock and come in undetected. It won’t happen again. I will deal with this tomorrow once Lawrence and Spencer are back. I text Lawrence but chances are he won’t see it until they’re done working.”
“What did you do with the bodies? Where are they?” she shakes her head. “How are you so calm? Have you done this before?”
“Blythe, I did what I had to do,” I say pointedly. “It was either they kill you or I kill them. It doesn’t matter what I did with the bodies. You don’t need to know all the gory details. I know it’s hard to comprehend what has just happened but I promise you’re safe. They can’t hurt you anymore.”
Her eyes begin watering and her lips purse. She traces the marbled bedding with her hands. She’s envisioning it splattered red with her blood—I know because of how quickly she stops. She touches a finger to her throat where she got nicked and I fully sit on the bed, prompting her to look at me with wide, alert eyes. Whatever sense of security she had is gone. I’m not sure it will ever come back in it’s entirety. She’s in a quandary.
“Let me see,” I prompt gently, taking her chin in my hand and tilting her head back.
It looks like a cat scratch—long, thin, nothing that will leave much of a physical scar. I trace over it with the pad of my free index finger, hovering almost, but she still sucks in an impulsive breath which tells me I’ve overstepped. I scour her face, noticing how one side is more red and swollen than the other. I furrow my brows, blood boiling.
“Did he hit you?” I ask brusquely.
“How many times?”
“Just once,” she swallows nervously. “With the back of his hand.”
“Why did he hit you?” I growl, feeling territorial even though he is already dead as dead can be. She doesn’t respond right away so I ask, although more compassionately, “Why did he hit you?”
“I—I keep my book under my pillow and when he came into the room he was motioning at me to come toward him with his knife and I just—I just couldn’t,” her bottom lip begins wobbling so she bites it. “I was taking too long so he threw the covers away and grabbed my ankle to drag me. I knew my only chance of surviving was to wake you but I couldn’t scream or call out so I knocked my book onto the floor. He smacked me as a result, warned me against repeating something similar.”
“That was the thud that woke me up,” it comes out like a confession. The hair on the back of my neck stands up. If it hadn’t been for Blythe doing that she wouldn’t be here right now. I feel like a failure. A fuck-up. Emasculated. I can’t even protect the person I cherish the most in this life. “Blythe, that was the smartest thing you could have done. I am so grateful you did that. I can’t—I can’t even imagine if you hadn’t.”
“How did you know to come out with the gun?”
“When I heard the thud I peeked out from my room just enough to see someone standing in the threshold. I knew the thud hadn’t come from him so that meant it had to have come from your room,” I release her chin and cup her cheek. She leans into it, emotional, craving any affection she can get no matter who it’s from. Her eyes close. “He was the watchdog. I knew there had to be one more. And I knew they were here for you.”
“And you know why but you won’t tell me,” she rubs her lips together. “But I think I know. A retaliation of some sort. An eye for an eye. I was the unlucky candidate.”
“It’s not anything like that—"
“Hmmm,” she hums. “Don’t play dumb with me, Terrence. They were vengeful, calculated, deliberate. They weren’t here to steal anything. They were here to kill me—not you, me. And they almost did.”
She clenches her eyes and relaxes them. Tears spill down her cheeks and she smiles, almost blissfully, but I know better. She’s cracking up. It’s only downhill from here. She will begin deteriorating. It might be the push she needs to see that she is safe with me; that as long as she allows me I can take care of her and make sure that no outsider will get so close to her again. But I cannot take care of her if she wishes to maintain her distance.
“What did you do to prompt this?” her eyebrows furrow. She’s not playing around. She’s done beating around the bush. “You must have gotten to them first. What did you do?”
“Why do you assume this was my fault?” I ask, careful to not raise my voice. She doesn’t deserve to be hushed. “Why can’t it be Lawrence’s? Or Spencer’s? Why do you assume it’s mine?”
“Because if this was an attack on Lawrence or Spencer I wouldn’t have been the target,” she licks her lips, opening her eyes. They’re cold and hard as ice. Accusing. “They must do whatever it is you do or something along the lines of it. I never thought it possible to see you meet your match but it happened.”
Her eyes widen, lightbulb going off. She removes her cheek from my palm and leans back before stepping onto the floor. Her hands shake as she brings them to her mouth. Her face depicts a look of horror but, even greater than that, a look of certainty. She’s more afraid of me in this moment than she had been with those two men. She’s put a picture together.
“I know—" her voice cracks. She takes more steps away from the bed, pointing a finger at me. “I know what you are. I know what your brothers are. I know what those two men were.”
I quirk a brow, unconvinced. She’s going to say something silly, something way off mark—
I blink at her a few times, shocked. My reaction is all she needs to verify that she has guessed our careers correctly. Blythe stands frozen, unsure of what to do, where to go. Now that she’s put her asseveration out there she can’t take it back and judging by the expression on her face that’s all she wants to do. Suspicion is different from certitude. Now I am just as evil as the two men sent to kill her.
“I’m right,” she laughs in disbelief. “You guys are hitmen. You kill people for a living. You take lives for a living.”
“What makes you so certain?” I don’t move, knowing that doing so will spook her beyond recovery.
“It just makes sense,” she cries. She looks skeletal with the pale lighting on her face—hollowed. “The way you ambushed Beth and I...the silencers attached to your guns, the skill in which you subdued us, the attire. It hadn’t even occurred to me that you guys could be contract killers...everything under the sun occurred to me except for that. I thought hitmen were fictitious but it’s the only thing that can apply. The men sent for me were contract killers, too. The hours you work...the elusiveness...while still being able to afford a nice, big home. Who do you work for? You must work for a mob, some kind of crime family.”
“Blythe, I think that’s enough—"
“How do you do it?” she’s near hysterical. Her back hits the wall, knees trembling. “How are you able to kill for a living? Who do you kill? Men? Women? Children? What do you kill them for—do you kill good people or bad people? Or both? Why do you do it? Has anyone ever put a hit on you? Have you ever been on the receiving end of a hitman? How do you live with yourself knowing every time you step out of the door to work you have to kill?”
“I do not kill women and children,” I start off saying. “I’m sent to men who are a threat to my boss. That is part of my contract. I do not kill women or children—nor do my brothers. My boss is a powerful, powerful man. He has many enemies and if they hurt him, they hurt everyone around him. I was born into this life. My father did the same thing. I don’t know any different nor do I have any desire to. The men I kill do not deserve to live. The men I kill have no issue harming women or children—the innocents like you.”
“And Beth knew about this,” she comments to herself. She wobbles like she’s going to faint again but then becomes sturdier than ever. I rise to my feet. “She hired you to kill someone. Who was it? Why did she do it? Why was she okay with what you do? She even embraced it. Oh my God...does mom know?”
“Beth enjoyed my money,” I say honestly, then I lie. “No, your mom has and had no idea.”
“Do the men you kill have wives and children at home?”
“Some do, yes. But you risk abandoning your family when you live a life of crime. I take the same risk every time I step out the door for work. So does Spencer. So does Lawrence. This life picks no favorites. I just happen to be better at what I do than the people I kill who do the same thing. You sleep with one eye open or you grow a pair on the back of your head.”
“That is...that is horrible,” she sobs. “And Beth knew but she didn’t care because of greed. I have never known Beth to be greedy or materialistic. I know love wouldn’t have been enough to make her stay. She loved what you could offer her more than she ever loved you. You two ever meeting in the first place was a mistake. You’ve brought out the worst in each other.”
“You are right,” and she is. “Beth knew she would never be broke a day in her life if she stayed with me. She knew she could achieve great things with my support. To you she was a hairdresser living paycheck to paycheck but there is more to her than that. She knew she had found a goldmine with me. But I’ll tell you this: if it hadn’t been for you, Beth and I would never have divorced. Beth has never been good. It took you growing up for me to see that.”
“You are not good either,” she shakes her head incredulously. “You are a hypocrite. I know that no matter what Beth has done she will never be as bad as you. You were rotten before you met my sister. She still had a chance before you but now everything is irreparable. You may have destroyed our family, but she let it happen after you were supposed to be out of the picture. And for what? What led up to her making the decision to give me to you?”
“I can’t—" I sigh, stepping around the side of the bed. Blythe holds her arms in front of her. She’s as fragile as a string of pearls. “I don’t want to tell you. You’ve figured out enough for tonight.”
“What’s a little more?” she guffaws. I cringe. Blythe doesn’t sound like Blythe anymore. “You seriously think I can’t handle it? In my opinion it would be better to get all of the bad news out of the way now as opposed to later but that’s just me. I think it’s in your best interest if you tell me now.”
I take a few more steps towards her but she shouts at me to stop so I do. She turns her head to the side, only able to glance at me from the corner of her eye. She’s taking on entirely too much. She wants to be strong, to know all the answers, but she’s barely able to continue treading. She’s scared. Frustrated. Confused. Forlorn. Especially forlorn. She doesn’t know what to do with herself.
“Beth hired you to kill someone,” she breathes. “But who? Why? How could she be so reckless?”
“He threatened to take everything she had built for herself and shatter it,” I take a few more steps towards Blythe and stop again. She doesn’t protest. “Without me Beth lives in a glass house. When he threatened to cast stones I became very valuable to her. But that’s not to say that Beth wanted it to end this way. If she was able to pull it off, you would be none the wiser to her schemes.”
“Yet you still consider her loss a victory,” Blythe clutches her arms to her chest. “Did the thought of her being able to give you the money in full ever worry you? The thought of you losing?”
“Beth got ahead of herself, bit off a bigger bite than she could chew. You threatened her, she felt inadequate compared to you. Now that you’re here there’s no one she can compare herself to. The spotlight is on her...she’s finally the main character, you’re the character everyone speaks of but never actually makes her appearance. She has more money than ever and no competition,” I lick my lips. “But right from the beginning I knew Beth and I would tie. I knew I wouldn’t lose.”
Blythe presses a hand to her forehead.
“And what happens if you get bored of me? What happens if you get tired of waiting? Do you make an exception and kill me too? Do you let me go? How does this end? Any slim chance of me returning how you feel for me has just been eradicated and you have to know that...I know you saved my life but you have also taken many others and that is just—it’s disturbing. I want no part of it.”
“I would never harm you,” it comes out like a growl. What she says isn’t unreasonable yet it stings like it is. “I will love you forever, Blythe, until the day I die. This is not how I wanted you to find out what I do and I’m sorry it had to be this way. One day you will realize I am not this holy terror you have created in your mind. My living may not be honest but I remove pollution from the streets which is more than what others can say.”
I erase the space between us, grabbing Blythe and wrapping my arms around her. She doesn’t respond right away, stiffening, then I feel her fists beating at my chest as she tries to push me off of her. I allow her to unleash her torrent of rage and anguish on me, taking all of it in silence. She calls me a killer, a monster, the devil.
“That’s the thing about you,” she sneers, slowing down her rage. “At first you seem kind, humble, down-to-earth. But beneath the exterior lurks this vileness, this propensity for violence. You are a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You massacred my family. You. Not you and your brothers. Just you.”
“I hope one day you can forgive me for this,” is all I can think to say.
Blythe sobs, throwing her arms around me as she buries her face in my neck. She’s devastated. She forgets who I am because she craves the intimacy of another person. She’s regressing, repeating how she wants her mom like it’s a precious mantra—as if by saying it enough times she can summon her mom out of thin air. She reminds me of a child separated from their parent in the store: lost, begging for help, unsure of a reunion. My eyes water. Wow. Blythe really knows how to tug on the heartstrings.
“I want my mom,” she pleads. “I just want my mom.”
“I know you can’t take me to see her,” she acknowledges weakly. ” But I don’t want to be alone tonight.”
“You don’t have to be alone tonight,” I remind her.
“I know,” she nods against me. “I will never forgive you for anything, Terrence, so don’t think what I’m about to ask next is any sort of reconciliation because it isn’t.”
“Can you please hold me tonight? Just for tonight. I—I just—"
“Absolutely, Blythe,” I thought you’d never ask.
We release each other, making our way back to my bed. She sits down on the side reserved for her and I lay on my side, getting under the covers. We both tap the lamps to turn them off and we’re back to black. I stare up at her but don’t speak a word. She’s coming to terms with what she has just asked of me. She is sharing a bed with the enemy but it’s the only way she’ll be able to feel secure enough to sleep. I know she’s exhausted yet, even greater than that, she is perturbed and fretful. She knows nothing can touch her with me acting as her shield.
“Terrence,” she says.
“Will the fear ever go away? Am I always going to be paranoid when nighttime comes that this will happen again?”
“It won’t go away right away,” I tell her honestly. “But it will subside over time.”
She nods then meets my eyes. They’re glossy.
“I am relieved that you came out when you did,” she admits. “I would be dead if you didn’t. That is something to be thankful for.”
She can’t bring herself to say thank you since it was me who put her in that position in the first place.
She begins lowering herself and I open my arms for her. Her head is on my chest. I set a hand in her hair, another around her waist. I feel her fingers taunting the fabric of my shirt. Then I feel warmth. She’s crying, softly at first. She tries wiping her tears away but it only compels more to come. She starts bawling, curling into me. She’s incoherent. I try to comfort her as best as I can, tightening my hold on her. She’s fisting my shirt, burying her nose in my sternum. She’s betrayed herself by requesting this of me. The way she rattles resembles sorrow and humiliation.
She must cry for over half an hour until it puts her to sleep. Suddenly she is still, breathing shallow, all her weight on me. Neither of us rest easy. Every little sound wakes her up and sends her shooting up as fast as a rocket which, in turn, wakes me up with her. It takes heavy reassurance to convince her that there aren’t any more men who want to hurt her. Everything is out to get her.
This will ruin her.
This will, without a doubt, drive a wedge between her and Spencer. She now knows he is no better than me. There is no fairytale fantasy with him anymore.
She’s learning. She will learn. The hard way, as per usual.