Chapter 7: Truths and Lies
Liam came back a couple hours later to find my food still untouched. He sighed, exasperated, then carefully crossed the room, and sat a couple of feet away from me in the chair by the window. I was, once again, sitting with my knees pulled tightly to my chest.
Peeking at the plate with three pieces of pizza and a green salad, I could only remember the one time I was offered such a nice meal. I had eaten it ravenously, and was soon met with life altering consequences.
I shuddered, squeezing my eyes shut, and fought to block the face that most haunted me.
“Why won’t you eat?” he asked, sounding more concerned than he probably intended. He searched my face for any silent answers, eyebrows furrowed as he focused.
I felt my jaw clench, my cheeks burning. I was sure he was just acting the part, trying to convince me to trust him before he, too, took advantage.
I didn’t trust him. I didn’t trust anyone, but maybe…
“Take a bite first,” I demanded. fighting to make my voice calm.
He sighed, vexed, before responding, “just tell me why and I will.”
Liam paused while he waited for me to satisfy his request. After a few seconds, he tossed his arms up in frustration. “Or at least answer this. Why would I save you just to hurt you? It’s illogical.”
I couldn’t contain my frustration anymore. All of the pain, anger, and anxiety had built for years. With everything lately, there wasn’t any room for anything else to bottle up.
“I’m no fun dead. You honestly can’t imagine what it’s like to wake up, tied down, and so sore you can’t move with someone...” my voice broke into a choked sob. “I would rather starve than risk that again.”
Liam’s face suddenly burned with rage. Tears filled my eyes as memories suddenly flooded my mind. Blue. So much blue. It was enough to leave me gasping. I bit my lip in an attempt to stop the emotions flooding out. My eyes squeezed shut before my face buried into my knees.
Then another thought hit me. What if he realized I’m damaged goods, worthless? What would happen to me then? I couldn’t breathe. Dizziness washed over me. Could a person drown with no water?
As if a cry for land sounded, I felt a weight on my knee. In my current state of mind, I couldn’t tell what that meant. Except, it was an anchor pulling me back from the past. With holding on to that life line, I was able to remember how to breathe again.
I wasn’t sure what to do. Part of me wanted to comfort her but I could hear David’s voice, “I know you, Liam. You are not your father. You are weak.”
My jaw tightened as his ghostly memory haunted me. I couldn’t be anything less than strong. I had too many people counting on me to be their leader.
“Well, you are safe here. So, eat.” I pulled my hand away, picked up a slice of the cold pizza, ate a quick bite before dropping it back on the plate.
“I want that plate empty in an hour.” I ordered, ignoring her confused expression as I walked out of the room.
After the door clicked shut behind me, I leaned back against the hard wood with an exasperated sigh. Why had I reached out to her? I felt totally out of control around her. And anytime I took control, I felt like a total asshole.
That hadn’t been the first time I had caught myself reaching out to help her. It’s not my job to help anyone. I will not be weak. I pushed off the door, walked down the hall, then the stairs to the security room.
“It’s pointless so why try?” Jessica sounded bored and annoyed.
I entered the doorway and paused. My presence hadn’t been noticed. Jessica was leaning back against the computer desk, her back to the doorway. A wall of monitors with security camera footage playing in front of her. Though, her focus was better spent on examining her nails.
“Well, because we respect Liam. As the boss, and because he asked us to. Also, for the safety of everyone here. It’s our job to find the leak.” Natalie snapped. Her eyes never left her computer and her hands continued to type angrily.
Natalie very rarely got frustrated. She normally embodied a calm, quiet soul. Leave it to Jessica to be able to piss even the gentle presences off.
“Come on-” Jessica sighed.
“No!” Natalie snapped, looking at her. Natalie’s eyes met mine for half a second before she turned back to glare at Jessica. Even in her annoyance, she allowed me to remain a fly on the wall.
“You, come on. You haven’t touched a computer since we got this assignment.” Natalie bit back, exposing Jessica’s neglect on their mission.
“The only one Liam wants to protect is Scarlet; worthless, spoiled bitch.” Jessica glowered.
“Oh, really?” I snarled, my voice an octave lower in my sudden burning fury. I normally wouldn’t hit a female but I could feel my fingers balling into tight fists.
“Want to say that to my face?” I challenged, awaiting any witty responses she might feel brave enough to say.
“Oh!” Jessica jumped to her feet, turning to face me. Shock written all over her face.
“Hey, babe,” she smiled falsely, “Are you looking for me?” She bit her lip, eying me flirtatiously.
“Why aren’t you helping, Jess? Between this and being upset that David’s gone, I’m beginning to wonder where your loyalties really lie.” I said coolly, ignoring her flirting.
I hadn’t slept with her in weeks. Even then, it was a mutual agreement that it meant nothing. I had cut it off when it had become apparent she wanted more than I was willing to give.
“Oh, come on, babe. I think you are just tense. Why don’t you let me help you loosen up?” she said, sauntering over to the doorway. Once Jessica approached me, her hands slithered down my torso before she pressed her body against mine.
Natalie shook her head, disgusted, before going back to typing angrily.
I sighed, shaking her hand off as she tried to touch my face.
“No, Jess,” I said firmly, ignoring the involuntary excitement. She sighed, looking frustrated for a second.
“Well, I will be waiting for you to change your mind. I’ll be in our normal room,” she added before waltzing past me.
I sighed, dragging my hand over my face once she was gone. I rolled my shoulders and neck, trying to release the tension.
“Remind me again why you were ever with her in the first place,” Natalie’s irked tone pressed, her milk chocolate eyes not looking up. She seemed comfortable in her environment, in her denim jeans and black leather jacket. Her long, black hair pulled into a tight side braid.
I stepped around the large desk, careful not to disturb the papers nearing the edge of the dark wood surface. I found the empty roller chair Jessica left next to Natalie and fell into it, a loud exhale escaping me. I looked up at the security camera live footage while Natalie’s eyes scoured her computer screen for answers.
“Easy access. And frankly, as long as we aren’t talking, she’s not too bad.”
“As your friend, I can honestly say you’re disgusting. But, I hope whoever you end up with can accept that,” she bluntly admitted as her eyes rolled. Her concentration never left her monitor.
Natalie was a complete computer wizz, but if you wanted to converse with her, tolerating partial attention was necessary. Even when she wasn’t on a computer, she always had headphones in.
“I’m not going to end up with anyone,” I mumbled insistently, rolling my eyes, “How’s it going with Mason?”
She frowned, and with a sad sigh, closed her eyes with a clenched jaw. The worst sign of all, her typing paused for a moment at the mention of her long term boyfriend. I wondered, absently, if he was cheating on her again when she didn’t respond.
“You deserve better than that, Nat.” I said, making a mental note to talk to Mason again. She just shrugged, looking awkward and uncomfortable, as she stared at the keyboard. I continued, “Have you found anything?”
She perked up a little at the change in subject.
“Well, Damian was in on it, for sure. But as you know, he died last month. I have been looking into who took his place, but I hadn’t looked into Jess. I will do that next, if you would like.”
“Sounds like a plan,” I said, smiling, nodding at her.
I rose out of the seat and headed out, intending to look for Mason. I was fed up with his bullshit. James may think he is being considerate by taking a talk-it-out approach but I was done.
I may not be her brother, but Natalie had been Scarlet’s best friend since they were nine-years-old. She had become like a sister to me, in a sense.
Ian’s booming laugh echoing up the stairs snapped me out of my thoughts as I descended into the rec room. There was an empty bar to the left of the entrance. The mounted television on the far wall was playing a NFL game on CNN to my right above a large black leather couch. A billiard and poker table took up most of the center space in the room.
The entertainment room was well lit with crisp, fluorescent lights. The space smelled fresh and clean due to the long, thin windows slanting inward, levelled with the fresh cut green grass outside. A fresh breeze blew inward, filling my lungs with a scent of pine and wild flowers.
“Want a drink, boss?” Mason called. His normally pale complexion was flushed as red as his vibrant hair.
Great. There was no sense in talking to him this way; he wouldn’t even remember it.
“Ian, are you letting him drink too much again? You know he can’t hold his liquor worth shit,” I reprimanded, grinning as amusement built in me. At least he would feel just as shitty tomorrow as Natalie feels today.
Mason stumbled over to the bar, shakily, pouring two shots, then attempted to bring the glasses to me. He didn’t seem to notice that about half of the whiskey splattered onto his white v-neck shirt.
“You’re no fun,” Ian complained as he shook his head, laughing at Mason’s idiocy.
I accepted one, throwing my head back as the smooth, warm liquor ran down my throat. I walked to the bar to pour another, but instead brought the bottle to my lips, taking a few mouthfuls.
“You doing okay, boss?” Ian asked, sitting next to me.
“Fine, why?” I responded, taking another swig. By now, the warmth flooded my cheeks, painting my skin a faint crimson. My problems, while still present, seemed out of reach.
“You never drink this early,” he snickered, “It’s not even eight, yet.”
I shrugged this statement away, “You know he’s going to be useless tomorrow, right?” motioning to Mason staring at the television with his mouth gaping open. He found amusement in a referee prying player's apart.
“He likes it,” Ian excused, grinning, thoroughly distracted. Mason suddenly stood stiff, and his eyes grew the size of saucers.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Mason stammered before bolting towards the bathroom.
Ian doubled over, laughing boisterously. I shook my head, grinning, and looked out the window. For a second, I thought I was seeing things, but no. With a closer look, I saw there was, in fact, a small woman with auburn hair running across the yard. She was heading towards the tree line behind the house. I swore under my breath; this woman would be the death of me.