I woke up with the with the feeling I need to talk to Kiera. The last two months have been extremely hard for me. Between Kiera leaving me with the kids and disappearing off the face of the earth and my PTSD episodes happening more frequently, I've become rather tired.
I took a small leave of absence from work to ensure the kids were taken care of correctly. Even with Jonah being three months old, I needed to make sure that him and Kelia know that she's coming back. That she's away on some retreat to help her come back to herself.
My episodes haven't been about when I was on the run from The Military Butcher. They've been about Kelia getting kidnapped and Kiera walking out on us after she saved her daughters life.
Waking up in a cold sweat, my chest rising in a panic, and sometimes I even wake up screaming. I blame myself for Kelia being kidnapped by that fuck. I was the one who was supposed to be watching her. I was the one who was sleeping while she was walking with a random guy who claimed to be her uncle. I was the one who was supposed to protect her and I didn't. I failed.
Kelia is back to her old self. Laughing at my dad jokes. Smiling while she got riding lessons from Kiera's parents. Kissing me goodnight. And even sleeping in her own bed. She was traumatized when I explained what happened to her. But I only felt it right for her to know so it can never happen again.
She wouldn't leave my side. Begged to be brought to work with me. Crying for her mother in our bed because she was too terrified to sleep in her room. She would even sit in the bathroom with me while I hopped in the shower quickly. She was stuck to my side like glue up until two weeks ago.
Everything seems to be getting back to normal. Almost everything. If only Kiera were back home and happy to be, then we'd be back to normal. We'd go back to planning our wedding and helping Selena and Trey build the venue.
But she couldn't even hold our child. Before everything happened, we agreed upon naming our son Matteo Jonah Santiago Junior. She was able to sign the papers she needed to in order for us to leave the hospital, but she didn't hold our son once before she left us.
At first I was angry. Oh, I was livid that she couldn't put her feelings aside and care for our son at least once. I was livid that she couldn't talk to me. Even though I knew that when something bad happens to her, she shuts everyone and everything out and ignores the world around her.
After a month of being angry and feeling betrayed, I started to feel sad. Not only did my wife or the mother of my children walk out on me, but my best friend broke up with me, too. I lost all three in the same day when that fuck ruined everything.
We were perfect. We still are perfect. I know she's locked up in some hotel room and drinking her life away. I know that she won't leave the room. I know that she won't do anything to put herself in harms way. I know that's why she dropped off the internet.
No one and I mean no one has seen or heard from her since she left. But I know she's somewhere in LA, hiding and trying to forget about what happened. If I felt she would actually leave this world and leave her kids motherless, then it'd be a different story.
Now, I'm determined. I'm determined to get her back to who she was. I want to help her see the truly brave and magnificent mother that she really is. I want to show her that she's the best wife any man could ever ask for and she was a gift from God himself.
I'm determined to find out where she is and if I have to abuse my authority with the connections I have in the FBI then I will. I have to. I have to bring my children's mother home. I have to prove to them she didn't walk out on them.
I prepared breakfast and texted the boys to come through in an hour. The last sighting of Kiera was by the Hollywood Stars, walking with her duffel bag and pulling her hoodie over her head to cover her hair. After that she's completely lost and off the grid.
After I drop the kids off at their grandparents, I'll meet with the boys at the house and set out a plan to find her. I am determined and focused on spending the weekend scouting to find her.
Even if she weren't to come home today, I still want to know she's alive and not drinking herself down a drain before making an rash decisions. I want to make sure that she knows she is always welcome back to the house she bought and we will always be there for her. She needs to know she isn't alone.
I quickly packed the kids bags, making sure to put all of Kelia's chargers so there were no small disturbances this weekend. I dropped them off at Kiera's parents house, driving five over the limit to get back home and pull out the chilled beers.
Justin. Ricky. Jarrett. Trey. Sammy. And Cody. They all showed up accordingly. With their night bags packed and ready to be set up in their rooms, I grabbed them all a beer and met in the theatre.
"What's the moves this weekend? Are we hitting Boa?" Justin asked, plopping his legs over the chair beside him.
"Saddle Ranch has way more action." Jarrett claimed.
"I hate to break this to you boys," I don't have a single thing of remorse, "But we're hunting this weekend."
"Hunting?" Sammy asked.
I pulled out the poster board I made the night before. Each with their names in different sections and their tasks at hand to find Kiera.
I just need to talk to her. I just need to hear her voice.
"I don't hunt, Matty." Cody glared. "How about we go camping? Everyone loves the smell of fresh wood and a cold beer in the morning."
"We're going to find Kiera this weekend." Everyone stood still. Everyone except Justin. His foot twitched as he sat up straight, placing his feet on the ground and resting his elbows on his knees.
"Find Kiera...how are we going to do that?" Justin asked.
"She was last seen walking down Hollywood Stars. Each of you have a task this weekend—"
"No wait." Justin interrupted me. He looks as if he saw a ghost and lost all color in his face. He began cracking his fingers. "Nah, we shouldn't do this."
"Nah, we shouldn't do this? You're fucking joking, right bro?" he cannot be serious. He might want to think about what he says next. Or he might find me fumbling on top of him.
"Nah, I'm not." He sighed, rubbing the heels of his hands against his eye sockets.
"Give us a few. Help yourselves to the fridge." I ordered everyone except Justin.
He knows something that he isn't telling me. And I know it has to do with Kiera.
"Whats up?" he asked nonchalantly. Taking a sip of his beer.
"Is there something you'd like to tell me?" I crossed my arms over my chest, shaking my leg as I sat beside him.
"Can't think of anything, no." He grabbed his phone out of his pocket. Avoided eye contact. Oh there is definitely something he wants to tell me.
"Did you know it takes 2.7 seconds to draw a gun and shoot it?"
He chuckled, staring at his phone. "What are you going to do, shoot me because you think I have something to tell you? That'd make the headlines. Something like 'best friend shoots Justin Bieber in the leg'. Hilarious."
"I wouldn't say I'd shoot you," I reasoned with myself. "But imagine how fast my hands could move if I found out that you knew something about my wife and didn't tell me." I cracked my knuckles and started shaking my right hand to make it heavy.
He sighed, turning his phone off and dropping it on his chest. "You're going to be really pissed at me. You might even hit me. All I ask if that you don't go for my face or for my arms. They're my work."
"If you tell me now, I won't hit you."
"On God?" He raised an eyebrow at me. Unconvinced by my intentions.
"On God I'm not going to hit you." I stopped shaking my hand and crossed my arms over my chest again.
He laughed. "We're on Tik Tok way too much."
Any other time I would laugh because we all are on Tik Tok too much. Sometimes Kiera and I would spend hours just laying in bed watching Tik Tok's and duetting videos.
But now is not the time for jokes.
"Justin." I tilted my head, egging him to move on with what he has to tell me.
Maybe he had good reasoning for not telling me. Maybe he had good intentions and just didn't want to hurt either Kiera and myself. Justin has always had a plan when he does something in secret. Everything he does happens for a reason.
He stood up from his seat and walked up the stage, "Right. I'm going to stand here in case you do choose to hit me."
I'm waiting, damn it.
"I know where Kiera is."
I knew a boy once when I was small. I don’t remember his name. I only remember what he looked like. I must’ve forced myself to forget his name.
He had brown shabby hair that covered his ears. His eyes were a cold brown that could be easily mistaken for black. He wore long sleeves and sweatshirts every day. Jeans even on the hottest days in Florida.
He was labeled as the freak of school—the weirdo. But I never joined that bandwagon. I knew the boy’s story. He told me everything that his father did to him since he could remember.
He beat him. Molested him. Even allowed his friends to beat on the kid if he messed up a beer order.
Somehow, the boy trusted me with his life. Every Tuesday we would meet at the basketball court where we’d shoot baskets and run around playing touch football.
We would meet every Tuesday without even making the plans and he’d talk to me. He’d tell me everything his father did to him for the week. All the beatings and burns from cigarettes. The touching and screaming.
We would meet every Tuesday until one day he just never showed up and never showed his face outside again.
I begged the kid to let me tell my parents. I begged him to let me help him. I even offered to let him stay at my house and become my brother. But he died staying in that house for his mother.
I...I don’t actually know that he’s dead. His body has never been found and they spent two years searching for him. But somehow, I do know that he’s dead. Something inside me tells me that his father killed him and rid of his body before anyone would know his disappearance.
That was fifteen years ago. Fifteen years ago to the day and hour. It was only two months after his disappearance that mom and papi decided to leave town and move to Texas.
Whether it be suicide or murder, he’s dead and they will probably never be found. He swore me to secrecy I couldn’t tell a soul. And I never did. I never walked into the police station and tell them that the missing boy was being abused.
But there’s just too much to handle anymore today. With the date of his disappearance being today and everything going on with Kiera is all just too much for me.
I’ve barely slept. I either have nightmares all night from when I was in the military or I’m up all night replaying the desperation of my marriage in my head.
I glared at the hotel as Justin and I walked up the staircase to the entrance. Kiera may be off the rails right now but she would never drop her taste in living situations.
“You coming in?” He waited for me at the top step looking down at me.
I huffed, stepping down and sitting on a bench near the sidewalk. No. I’m not fucking going in.
“Alright,” Justin sat beside me, slapping his hands against his thighs, “Why are you being a pussy?”
“Dude I’m really pissed off at you right now.” I chuckled harshly. “How did you find her?”
“I have the best PI in the country. She could find anyone and anything.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
He leaned forward, pressing his elbow into his knees and pulling his hood over his head. “It wasn’t about you. It was about helping Kiera remember who she is so she can go home. If keeping that a secret from my best friend and wife was what I needed to do in order to gain her trust, then that’s what I had to do. She’s lost and just needs help finding her way back.”
“I can help her!” I yelled out dramatically with my arms flying.
Justin shook his head, “You can’t. It doesn’t work like that.”
“And you would know?” I scoffed at him.
“I do—you’re her husband. You think that showing her love and affection and prying on her to be herself. It doesn’t, at least it didn’t with me.”
I forgot Justin had a last of his own that he’ll never be able to forget. I forgot that Justin was once in a dark place too. His guards checking his pulse at night. Street racing. Ex-girlfriends. It all happened when he was in the same dark place as Kiera. A place I’ll never be familiar with because I’m not in the starlight like her and Justin.
“You’re good.” He patted the back of my shoulder. “You’re good, bro. It happened and I think I can help her come back. You just have to give me more time.”
“Does that mean I can’t go up there and talk to her?”
“That depends, what is it you intend to talk about?” he stood up from the bench and waited for me to join him.
“I just want to see her. We don’t even have to talk.” Even if I want to tell her about the boy with no name. Even if I want to yell at her for leaving us.
“You’ve got yourself a deal.” We started up the stairs.
When we got to the door, the doormen greeted us with a genuine nod and smile. “Evening, Mister Bieber. Wasn’t expecting to see you until Tuesday!”
“Thought I’d make another quick drop by today.” Justin slipped him a fifty-dollar bill and we snuck inside.
We entered the elevator and we stuff in silence while we listened to the smooth jazz and the dinging from each floor we passed. When we reached the eighteenth floor, the doors flew open and Justin led the way down the long and wide hallway decorated in red and gold.
We approached room 182 and Justin knocked on the door three times aggressively. “Yo, Kiera!” He stepped aside and pulled me in front of the door before he ran off down the hallway. “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes, I’ve got to go chase the paps around to take their attention away from the hotel!” he yelled before entering the elevator.
Just as I was about to object, her door has swung open and she stood in a bathrobe surprised to see me here and not Justin. Her jaw barely opened before she bit the corner of her lip and looked at her feet.
“What are you doing here?” she asked softly.
I thought I’d waltz in here and demand her to talk to me. I thought I’d want to yell at her. Scream. Tell her how much I resent her for leaving our children only days after our son was born. But all I want to do is hug her and hold her while she sleeps.
Her eyes are bloodshot red—I don’t know if it’s because she’s been crying or smoking marijuana. Her hair was shaved into a military fade and back to her original brown hair color. The bags of her eyes were puffier than usual.
She looked sad. And it broke my heart.
“I—I—” speak, damn it. “I wanted to see you.” I took a deep breath in and exhaled. “I needed to see you.”
She started thinking. And I know exactly what she was thinking about. She doesn’t know if she should invite me in. She doesn’t know what my intentions are. But it’s okay. I’m going to do exactly what Justin said to do—just sit with her.
She stepped aside and held the door open for me. As I entered, I saw that she was in the middle of cleaning. She had garbage three garbage bags that were halfway filled sitting throughout the suite. Piles of clothes laid on the floor. Her bed was barely made and the comforter was all wrinkled.
Empty bottles of liquor covered the counters. A capless half-full bottle of whiskey was sitting on the counter. She’s probably drinking from the moment she wakes up to the moment she goes to sleep.
The air wreaked of marijuana. I’m in no way judging her. I smoke weed every few days when I feel overwhelmed or have a PTSD episode. But it smells as though she’s smoking every second of every day. I just want her to be safe and smart about it.
She straightened the throw pillows on her bed, sitting on the edge of the bed and fidgeting with her wrists. “How—how are you?” she stuttered.
I sat at her kitchen island in one of the barstools and watched her. “I’m fine. How have you been?” I hate this formality shit. We are married and have children.
“I’m fine,” she said so plain and emotionless. I wonder how long it’s been since she just laid down and went to sleep happy. She looks absolutely miserable. “I assume Justin told you everything.”
“He told me absolutely nothing. I forced him to bring me here when I heard that he knew of your whereabouts.”
She started chewing on her cheek, slowly nodding and as she looked down at her hands. “I’m so sorry, but I have to ask.” Her eyes met mine, this time they were filled with tears and the corner of her lips fell. “Can I hug you?”
She very slowly nodded and wiped the single tears that created a stain on her cheek when they fell. I stood up from the chair and walked faster than normal speed to wrap my arms around her. I might even suffocate her because of how bad I just want to hold her.
I only see this as progress. Before she left, she wouldn’t let me touch her. She even slept with her own blanket and kept a distance from our children.
She stood still with her hands cupped in front of her flat stomach as I wrapped my arms tightly around her shoulders, resting my head in the crease of her neck. Her head pressed gently against my chest.
She didn’t hug back. At least not right away. At first, she kept her hands by her sides. I almost didn’t think she would be capable to hug me back. But my heart jumped out of my chest when I felt her arms flinch with every movement as she locked her hands together on the small of my back.
My heart hurt. Fuck, it hurt. But I hurt that she’s hurting. I hurt because she thinks of herself as some monster. It pains me to see her so...dead about life.
Her smile would literally light up any room. Her teeth were perfect and pearly white. She always dressed to impress even if we go are just chilling in the house for the day. And her laugh was elegent. You can be in the worst mood and having the worst day in the history of worst days and just a simple laugh could lighten up the mood.
I just wish she knew how powerful of a woman she is. I wish she knew that she wasn’t a monster or a killer or whatever she portrays herself to be in her head.
I know what it’s like to take someone’s life for the first time. When I saw the Military Butcher’s eyes roll to the back of his head and his hand slowly fall to the ground after trying to fight me, I thought I’d be happy. Enlightened that I finally put an end to it all. Thrilled that it was over and I could return to my family safely.
But I was petrified. When I stabbed the knife into his chest...I’ll just stop there. I’m here to visit Kiera and sit with her in silence, not cry or get outraged from my past. The point is, I know what it’s like to take someone’s life for the first time. Whether it’s justified or not, it’s traumatizing.
But I didn’t walk out on my family. I returned.
Her skin smelled of liquor and roses. Her normal strawberry smell that lingers everywhere she goes wasn’t here. The sweet smell of strawberry lotion that she buys from the farmer's market in bulk. The strawberry shortcake perfume that she buys in Bath & Body Works whenever they’re having a buy three-get two free.
Just whiskey and roses. Which I find it so odd that I’m not even disappointed in her. I had my own way of coping and she has her own way. It’s never my business to judge her for her actions unless she’s putting herself at harm.
“Justin’s been visiting every Tuesday. Making sure I’m not dead or doing anything I shouldn’t be doing.” She whispered into my chest.
I brushed my hand through her hair and massaged the back of her head, pulling her in tighter to my chest. Fuck, I never want to let her go. “You don’t have to tell me anything until you’re ready, baby.” I kissed the top of her head, “I owe you my life and so much more. You don’t have to talk to me until you’re ready.”
“I-I I can’t come home.” She cried into my chest. “Not yet.”
Not yet. There’s hope.
“Take all the time you need. I just needed to make sure that you’re alive, mi amor.” I kissed the top of her head again. Her hair smells like strawberries. I knew she was in there somewhere. Deep inside, she’s trying to dig herself out. Whatever Justin is doing, he has to keep it up.
She pouted and cried into my chest. I picked her up from the crease of her knees and sat her on my lap on her bed. I rubbed her hair and I held her tight while she cried into my chest. I won’t let her go again. Even if I have to love her from the sidelines, I’ll be here for her. Whatever she needs, I’ll go hell and back as many times as I need until I give her it.
We sat there for what felt like hours. After crying for some time, she fell asleep on my chest. With her being lighter than her usual weight, it was easy to maneuver my back against the bed frame. Soon after she fell asleep, I found myself dozing off with TikTok playing on my phone and my airpods playing.
I had expected to walk in here, angry and ready to grab her by her arm and drag her home. But I wasn’t. I was relieved to see her still alive. I was excited that maybe she’d let me touch her. And she did. She did everything she could to tell me she’s trying. She’s the strongest and smartest woman I know.
I woke up to Kiera grabbing onto my shirt and moaning in her sleep from a nightmare. She was covered in sweat and she was wiggling in my arms but refused to let go of my shirt. I rocked her back and forth, slowly waking her up so she doesn’t freak out or hurt herself.
She must not sleep much. Being here all alone without anyone to hold her when she has nightmares isn’t good for her. She needs someone in bed with her to hug her tightly when she’s screaming in her sleep. She needs me in bed with her.
She clutched to my chest as her eyes fluttered open, surprised to still see me here. She’s so fucking pretty even when she feels she’s at her worst. “How long was I out?” she whispered.
I pressed the screen of my phone, “It’s dinner time.”
“I suppose you should be heading home to care for the kids.” She tried getting up from my lap but I wasn’t ready to let go yet. I’m not ready to leave. I dont know when I’ll see her again.
“The kids are at your parents house for the weekend. It was supposed to be a guys weekend.” She didn’t even try to fight to get out of my grasp. She just hugged me and snuggled her head back into my chest. “Can I-Can I cook for you?”
I can only imagine when the last time she ate a home cooked meal.
“You’ll stay?” she questioned me in surprise.
“I’ll stay as long as you let me,” I whispered to her.
“Okay.” She nodded against my chest. “Okay.”
I find it alarming that she hasn’t asked about Jonah or Kelia. She has a right to be care-free about whether they are being taken care of. She knows I’ll take care of them and go above and beyond for them. But she could at least acknowledge them.
“Stay here, baby. I’ll go order some groceries.” I kissed the top of her head and placed her lightly on the bed. I quickly grabbed my phone and walked up the two marble steps to enter the kitchen.
Yo. I’m cooking dinner for Kiera. You think you could pick up some groceries for me?
I locked my phone and set it on the counter, grabbing the pots and pans for rice and corn beef that were supplied with the suite room. I filled the rice pot with water, putting it on low heat to allow Justin time to grab the groceries.
Goya corned beef
Organic canned corn
I quickly returned to find Kiera looking through my phone with her chin resting on her knee that was hugging her chest. I thought I saw a small smile on her face as she swiped right on the screen. But I don’t know if I’m just seeing things.
When I stepped down from the two stairs and sat on the bed, her head shot up and she dropped the phone on her bed and reached over to her nightstand.
I glanced down at the screen while she was turned around and I saw her looking at my Instagram page with a picture of me and the kids on Justin’s yacht for Kelia’s birthday. She turned back around and offered me a rolled Backwood and a pink torch lighter then picked up my phone, scrolling down on my pictures.
“How’s Hailey and all of the kids?” she asked without breaking her gaze from my phone.
“They’re great. Hailey has been taking the kids to the studio a lot more since Justin is coming out with a new album. Kelia’s been—” Shit. I fucked up.
“It’s okay to talk about them, hon-ey.” She hesitated on the last word. Honey. I miss her so fucking much. I miss her calling me bub or buttercup or love. They make my chest hot and my pants hotter.
“Kelia’s been joining them, she says she’s over the actress life and wants to be a singer like Justin. Jonah is starting to smile. He has a beautiful smile and I want to show him to the world. But Hailey and I agreed that we’ll let you post him first to show to the world.” I found myself smiling when I have nothing to really smile about. Fuck that. She called me honey and told me that I can speak about our kids.
I sparked the blunt even though the voice in my head was telling me it was a bad idea and I passed it to her after I took a large puff.
“Any good cases?” she was still looking at the pictures.
“I, uh, have taken a leave of absence.”
That caught her attention. “Why would you do that?”
“Family is everything, babygirl.” I smirked at her. “My vow to our marriage meant everything to me. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health. I’ll always be here.”
The corner of her mouth twitched, trying to form a smile. She went back to scrolling on my phone. “So...” I carried that word out for too long. She probably thinks I’m trying to trap her. “The main reason I was trying to find you this weekend is because there’s been something weighing on my shoulders and I don’t know anyone else to trust with this information.”
I heard my phone lock and she dropped it on the bed with a black screen. She sat up straight with both of her legs hugged to her chest now and put on her listening face. “You trust me after I left you guys?”
“You did not leave us.” I accidentally said a bit harshly. “You’re coping. You know where home is and you know that the door will always be open when you’re okay.”
She sighed in relief, “I-I believe you. I promise I won’t say a word to anyone.” Not that she could say anything to anyone. She’s had her phone shut off and hasn’t logged into any of her social media since she left.
“Have I ever told you why I moved to Texas?”
She shook her head gently.
“I was ten or eleven when I moved here. There was a disappearance of a boy my age. And I—and I...I think I could’ve prevented it.”
Her back stiffened and her shoulders tensed. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t—”
“Talk to me.” She interrupted me.
I cleared my throat. “He was nice. No one liked him because he wore thick glasses and vests for shirts. But I liked him. He’d get picked on...so much, and I did nothing to stop it. He wouldn’t let me do anything to stop it. The only thing he ever wanted to do was go to the park to play flag football or basketball every Tuesday.”
“Why didn’t he let you stick up for him?”
“He acted as though he was embarrassed to call me his friend. I always ignored the signs, Kiera.” My voice cracked. “I ignored the bruises and bloody lips until I couldn’t anymore. And when he...when he...” I was choking up and I could feel the tears spawning.
She moved closer and placed her hand on my knee for comfort. “Tell me, honey.”
“He told me his dad beat him and molested him.” Her jaw dropped open before it quickly picked itself back up. “He made me swear, Kiera. You have to believe me when I say that I made myself forget the kids name so I don’t tell a soul. I offered him safety...but he wouldn’t take it. He refused it.”
“Wh-what happened to him?”
“He’d miss school sometimes. What child didn’t miss school sometimes whether it be sickness or simply skipping? It didn’t matter what happened Tuesday before we met up at the park—he always showed up. Always. Until he didn’t.”
“Did you ever find him?”
My eye sockets were burning and my lips were swelling. It felt as though a knife was stuck in my throat. “He was declared missing and the father skipped town.”
“Matty.” She said softly, moving beside me and wiping the tears from my eyes that were threatening to fall. “There’s one thing I’ve always loved about you, and it’s that you always keep your word no matter how difficult it is.”
“But?” I felt a but coming after that sentence.
She picked my head up and forced me to look at her face. “You’re a special agent in the FBI and your people respect you. If you ever need help, you should never be scared to ask for it. What is it you used to always say?” she pretended to think with her eyes looking at the ceiling. “Ah, teamwork makes the dream work.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at her. I hate when she quotes me but I love it so damn much. “You kept your word, one thing you know you’re capable of doing until the day you die. But you owe him justice. If you want to protect him, then help bring his death justice. You’ve finished the job of keeping your word. Now it’s time to do your work job and bring him justice.”
“You think after fifteen years they’d be able to bring him justice? They haven’t even been able to find JonBenét’s or the boy in the box’s killers. Why would it be any different now?”
She started panicking before she planted a kiss on my cheek. She was surprised by what she did, but not as surprised as me. All in one day she’s allowed me to hug her. Hold her while she sleeps on my chest. Cook her dinner. And call me honey. Now she’s kissing me on the cheek? Coming here today was clearly the best choice of action.
“Because the justice department has you on their team.”
I want to ask her if we’re still a team. I want to know if she still loves me and the kids. I want to know if she’s going to return to us soon. I dont think she realizes how much all of us need her. All of us.
I have to know. I need to know. “Are we still a team?” I regret it. Retreat, fucker. Change the subject.
She sighed, opening her mouth but Justin opened the room door and interrupted her before she could tell me. “Ayo!” he hollered at the top of his lungs. “Smells like drugs in here.”
I forgot we were even smoking. I took one puff of the blunt and after I started talking, Kiera must’ve put it out so she can pay attention.
Justin set bags of groceries on the ground and plopped himself on the bed beside us. “What are you doing, screwing?” His eyebrows did a perfect wave as he quoted the TikTok sound.
“Just talking. Would you like to stay for dinner?” I offered, hoping he’d say no and get the message.
“Nah, I have the kids downstairs in the van. We’re going to the drive-in movie theatre if you two want to join.”
I glanced at Kiera and we both looked at Justin, shaking our heads no in sync. “We’re going to stay in tonight. You understand?” Kiera answered.
“Don’t let me stop you from your evening.” Justin stood up from the bed and I walked into the kitchen to give them some privacy.
I poured the rice into the boiling water and brought it to a rolling boil. I popped open the can of the corned beef and smashed it into the pot, adding the organ canned corn to the beef and covering it.
I glanced every now and then to look at Justin and Kiera. Whatever has happened since Kiera left, they’ve become super close. Not that I have a worry in the world that they’d do something together, it bothered me that she was closer with him than she was with me. That he was more of a safety post for him than I ever will be.
What can I say, though? He’s Justin fucking Bieber. An icon himself.
I overheard Justin tell her that if she needed anything to just shoot him a text and he’ll be right over. He hugged her, rocking back and forth playfully and left us alone for the night. I hope she doesn’t make me leave tonight. I hope that I can stay all night.
I began making the salad and cutting up the avocado. Kiera sat in a barstool and watched me with my phone in her hand. “You should call Boss and tell him you have information about an old case.” she held out my phone for me to take it.
Boss’s contact was pulled up on the screen and she pressed the call icon. When I saw the screen turn black, it felt real for the first time. I grabbed the phone, smiling and cheesing at her as I brought it up to my ear.
“Boss,” he answered on the third ring.
“Hey, are you busy?” I held the phone to my ear with my shoulder and finished dicing the avocado and threw it into a crystal glass salad bowl.
“Tell me what you need, Santiago. You’re on leave and wouldn’t be calling if it weren’t important.”
“Alright,” straight to the point, I see. “Fifteen years ago today there was a disappearance of a little boy in Kissimmee, Florida. I was just wondering, I don’t know...maybe you can have Daph review the case—see if there’s anything of interest?”
“What’s his name?” I heard his computer unlock in the background.
It was cruel of my mind to force me to forget the kids name. “I—I don’t know, sir.”
“You said he disappeared fifteen years ago today in Kissimmee?”
“Yes, sir.” I cleared my throat, cutting the onion in half.
“Does the names Aleksander Ramirez or Jackson Howard sound familiar? We have two results, eleven year old Hispanic male and an eight year old caucasion.”
“Does one of them have a scar above his eyebrow?” I only remember his scars and bruises.
“Aleksander Ramirez. Disappeared fifteen years ago. He was last seen walking home from a basketball court after playing with another child and that was the last that they’d seen of him. Born and raised in Kissimmee, Florida. His mother...” I heard him typing on the computer, “Incarcerated eight years ago for drug trafficking and prostitution charges and is being held at Elkton correctional facility. His father is...” I heard him typing again. “Wanted for evading police during questioning for his sons disappearance.”
“That little boy was me.” Fuck, I fucked up so bad. I know I should’ve spoken up. They probably could’ve arrested his father. “Can we meet with the team tomorrow to go over...a few things that should be brought to light?” I finished dicing the onions and threw them on top of the avocado.
“Of course. I’ll study the case tonight and I’ll speak with the director tonight. I’ll have everyone prepped and ready for departure tomorrow. Anything else, Santiago?”
“No, sir. Th-thank you. I-I—”
“Goodnight, Santiago.” He hung up the phone after interrupting me politely.
I set the phone back on the counter. I walked around the corner of the island and I wrapped my hands around Kiera’s cheeks, kissing her on the lips. The complete asshole that I am, I forgot that Kiera hasn’t let me kiss her since Kelia was kidnapped.
I pulled away, “I’m so sorry.” She stared at me. “I’m so, so sorry. I acted out of emotions.”
She grabbed my shirt and pulled me in close to her, pressing her lips to mine. “We’re still a team. I just need time.”
I nodded, unable to control my smiling and I kissed her once more before I walked back around the island to finish cooking my wife her dinner. My wife. Fuck. I love the way that sounds. Cooking my wife dinner.
She’ll return to me. She’ll return to me sooner than I’d thought and we’ll go back to our lives. It may not be just like before. And we might never get back to like how it was before. But I know that I’ll never give up on us. I’ll never give up on her.
She’s the love of my life and more. There isn’t a title for what she is to me.
She’s just...she’s mine.