32 | A United Front
“You got one helluva swing,” I say, making Blythe a peanut butter and jam sandwich. It had taken a bit of coaxing but eventually she let me make her something to eat.
“I’m sorry,” her voice is soft, tired. “I wasn’t thinking properly. I didn’t mean to strike you.”
“After what happened last night I don’t blame you for being on the defense,” I cut the sandwich horizontally and bring it to her. She meets my eyes for a second but there’s a lack of familiarity or fondness. I sit down beside her. She picks up a triangle and takes the first bite. “I didn’t take it personal.”
“Mmm,” she hums, closing her eyes as she chews. “It’s the good peanut butter. The one with the tiny sugar crystals in it. Mom used to buy it when I was younger. It’s been years.”
I let her enjoy it in silence. She’s all nostalgic again. She’s beautiful when she reminisces. But even remembering the good times does not mask just how deeply the bad times have affected her. Last night had not been very kind to her. I want her to hurry and finish eating so I can get the details from her but I know pressure will help no one. I’m already walking on thin ice with her. I already want to kill Terrence and I don’t even know the entirety of what he has done.
When Blythe is done with her plate I put it in the sink for her. She thanks me but I hear the obligation in her tone. I liked to think there was an intimacy between us, a sort of openness, something that never really left any room for awkwardness. But now it’s awkward. She has built a wall against me; one that has cracks I can peek through but one I could never scale. I’ll have to chip away all over again. I return to the chair beside her.
“Blythe, are you ready to tell me what happened with Terrence last night?”
Her jaw clenches, eyes getting glossy. She stares at the glassy countertop of the island, hands sinking to her lap. I expect her to brush me off but she spills everything.
“You were right,” she nods. “He did corner me, by the sink. He pulled my sleeves up since I was vehemently refusing. He dragged me to his bed and I thought that was it. I thought I had driven him over the edge. I thought he was going to kill me in one way or another...”
She swallows the lump in her throat, rubbing her lips together.
“He told me if I kissed him like I meant it then you and I were off the hook. He told me if we have sex again then he will make sure I regret it. I don’t know what he would do but I don’t want to find out. I believe he would make me regret it. I’m sure he’d make you regret it, too,” she shakes her head slowly. “I did kiss him like I meant it. And now I can’t get the image of it out of my head and I hate it. It was...it was gross. I hated it but I didn’t want him to hurt you and I just—I just—"
“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” I place my hand on her cheek. I find myself touched by how she wants to protect me against Terrence even though she has no reason to. She turns to face me, chin wobbling. “You didn’t do anything wrong. I’m sorry he put you in that position. He crossed a line.”
“It’s not like he hasn’t crossed it before,” she pulls away from me and gets off the chair. She starts pacing between the kitchen and living room. “It’s just now the stakes are higher. He knows you were his greatest threat—"
“Were,” I catch. “What do you mean were?”
“I meant what I said when I told you we can’t continue sneaking around. You may not take his threats as seriously as I do but I’ve been on the receiving end of his jealous rages more than once. They’re not very fun to say the least. I cannot afford to keep being reckless with you because I’m the only one paying the price. Even now something has just occurred to me.”
“I keep forgetting you and Lawrence, but especially you, were there the night of the ambush. You helped make my being here possible. And I remember when I snuck out of Terrence’s window the morning after it was you who chased me. It was you who threw me at him when I sought refuge on your stairs that same afternoon,” she stops pacing, watching me. “It just doesn’t make sense that something should be going on between us. When Terrence asked why I said our closeness in age and how we are the disgraced younger siblings. But standing here now, it’s not enough.”
“Well if those are your reasons then I can see why it’s not enough,” I smile at her. She returns my smile but it falters quickly. “Are those really the only things I have going for me?”
“Well then what are your reasons? What do I have going for me?”
Three words come to mind but I know better than to say them right now because she won’t believe me.
“I like you, Blythe, I always have even if it didn’t seem that way. We watched each other grow up for a while and I respect the person you’ve become. You are strong, and smart, and determined. I like the way you feel, the way you smell, the way you never give up. The way you insist on doing everything on your own—"
“You know why I never ask for help?” she asks. I shake my head, diffident. “Because if I cast a line asking for help and one of you bites there is always the chance that my life could still be entwined with all of yours and I don’t want that. I would rather exhaust all avenues by myself. I want the victory to be mine. I don’t want to share it with anyone. I don’t want to feel indebted to anyone for helping me.”
“Is every interaction you have here a transaction to you?”
“Not much of a transaction if no one is gaining anything,” she smiles, sitting on the arm of the sofa. “I get the feeling that I’m getting close. I think I’ll be gone before the first snowfall. Is that too ambitious? I wouldn’t like to think so. Things are already falling apart.”
“What if you didn’t have to ask for help?” I inquire. She gives me a skeptical look. “What if it was offered? What if someone wanted to help you?”
“What if I did?” I make up my mind right then and there. “I can help you, I want to help you. I can get you away from all of this and you would never have to worry. You would never owe me anything. Consider it a friend helping a friend.”
“It would never work,” her expression dims but I don’t miss how she wells up at the offer. “You said it yourself. If you help me Terrence will know. The only way I’m getting to those keys is if you tell me where they are, which I don’t think you will. And on the other hand if you and I go on the run together you said yourself you will not only have Terrence to worry about. I don’t want any rudimentary attempts. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life sleeping with one eye open or always looking over my shoulder.”
“You wouldn’t have to, Blythe. I’m not saying we begin executing this plan today. There are some kinks I would need to work out, obviously. I just...I know it’s no longer safe for you here now. I can’t keep turning a blind eye to all the things that are happening. I can’t continue to be selfish by wanting to keep you here...”
I stand and she sits up straighter but it doesn’t seem like she wants to go anywhere. I start approaching her and her bright eyes follow me until I’m in front of her. I stand between her legs. She stares up at me, lips slightly parted, and I take her face in my hands.
“I will ask one thing of you,” I say. “Let me come with you. I can protect you, Blythe. Terrence is not a concern—it was just an excuse but I’m done making excuses. I can take you wherever you want or need to go. I have enough money saved up to last us years, decades. I can get a job somewhere, under a new name. You can work. We can both start anew. We can be happy. We can be on our own terms. I will treat you good, you know that.”
“I don’t—" she gasps, furrowing her brows. “I don’t know if I want that with you, Spencer. I’m not even sure you want it either. You enjoy what you do, remember? Why would you want away from all of it? Why would you want to give that up? I can’t—I won’t ask you to do that.”
“None of it matters anymore, Blythe, don’t you see?” I can’t keep it in anymore. Lawrence was right. I can either bow out or run away with her. I choose the latter but I know I’ll have to plead my case. “I want to be with you. I don’t want my lifestyle anymore. I just want you but I know I cannot have you here. I’m done pretending to be okay with watching Terrence fawn over you. I’m done trying to compete with him because I already know that he is losing but he will never give up. I’m done with him trying to stand in the way of us. Aren’t you?”
“Spencer, I—I,” she shakes her head. “I’m not sure what to say. I think I’ve misled you...”
“See, but I don’t think you have,” I smooth her eyebags with my thumbs. “We have just never understood one another. You’re still letting me touch you. You’re not afraid of me. You are sitting right here, right now, and hearing me out. That has to say something. I know you’re in denial because you hate what I do and you can’t fathom caring even just a little about me, and that’s okay. No one has to know. We can leave quietly. Just the two of us.”
“You’re not making any sense.”
“I think I’m making too much sense,” I laugh air through my nose.
“No. This does become a transaction. In order for you to help me we have to have a future together. I cannot—I refuse to agree to that. The most I can agree with is us fleeing until we are able to go our separate ways. Other than that I think we’ll just be weighing each other down.”
I bend down and kiss her. Her hands immediately find my wrists, simultaneously warding me off and luring me in. It’s not a matter of changing her mind but guiding her to see what she so adamantly refuses. Her and I have journeyed along this far; what’s the rest of our lives? I don’t want to let her slip through the cracks. I don’t want her wasting all her good years trying to get away from Terrence. I want her to spend them with me. We can make the good times great.
She pulls away, pushing at my chest. She stands as I stumble back.
“I—I—we can’t do this,” her hands are trembling. “Every time I close my eyes and we’re kissing I just—I envision Terrence and his threats echo in the back of my mind and I just can’t. You have to stop trying to persuade me. I’m serious. This has to stop.”
“I’m sorry,” guilt sets in my stomach like a stone. “I didn’t mean to overstep.”
Her chest heaves. She drops her eyes to the floor, wringing her hands nervously in front of her. Her thoughts are meddling with her. Her conflict is a good sign—it means she’s contemplating my offer. What bothers Blythe the most is my sordid affairs and my pride in them. I don’t think she can comprehend how I want to give them up for her. It’s the why would he do it? that gets her the most.
“You have feelings for me,” she says.
“What gave it away?”
She sets her index finger along her top lip, eyeing me. She takes a deep breath like she is about to say something but she stops herself, instead rushing towards me. She takes my face in her hands and she kisses me hard. I’m too stunned to respond to her initiative, chills tingling my spine. It doesn’t deter her. Maybe she’s no longer afraid to admit, whatever way she deems appropriate, that she has feelings for me too.
I grip onto her waist and she starts walking us backwards until we’re tumbling over the arm of the couch. We land on the soft cushions and there’s a moment of laughter and suddenly everything is normal again. She wraps her legs around me, fingers tangling my hair, lips eager and passionate. I have a sense of relief. She’s breaking the rules. Obviously I must harbor the fugitive.
“We can’t let Terrence win,” she states, keeping her hand secure on my nape.
“I helped get you into this mess,” I kiss her forehead. “And I’m going to help get you out of it. I’m going to make up for everything, I promise. I want you to have a second chance at life.”
She kisses me on the lips, a kiss that lingers. My chest palpitates.
“You deserve a second chance, too,” Blythe tells me. “You deserve to live your own life. You deserve to know happiness.”
She doesn’t know that I already do. I’m looking right at her.