Uncanny Valley

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Chapter 26

Liam melted into the shadows, but I could still see his silhouette, since I knew he was there. My heart thumping my chest, I turned around again, facing the pond beyond which the sun had just set.

Please come, I silently begged John Doe. Please still come.

A few minutes later, I saw his tall, sparse form draped with an overcoat flapping at his ankles. When he came into view, I saw the narrowed eyes, and the frown creased upon his pallid face.

“I told you to come alone,” he growled. “You promised you would. You lied to me.”

“I didn’t lie!” I blurted, glancing in the direction where Liam’s shadow lurked. “He came looking for me!”

“If you lied about that,” John Doe continued as if he hadn’t heard me, “why should I believe you didn’t lie about being willing to leave tomorrow after I answer your questions?”

“I couldn’t stop him! I can’t control Liam. No one can, you said so yourself!” There was an edge of desperation in my tone now. In the interest of full disclosure, I whirled toward Liam’s hiding place and waved him over. “Liam!”

He came running. “What is it? What’s wrong?” he demanded once he was in range.

I spun around again, gesturing to Liam to make the necessary introductions. But John Doe was already gone.

“Where did he go? Did you see him? Where did he go?”

“I don’t know, I wasn’t looking at him. I was looking at you!”

I let out a cry of frustration. “He’s gone!” I declared, as if this wasn’t patently obvious. I whirled on Liam again, jabbing my finger in his face. “He didn’t tell me anything because he knew you were there! He told me to come alone!”

“Then why did you wave me over?”

“Because he knew you were there anyway! I was trying to show that I wasn’t hiding anything on purpose!”

“And he didn’t want to stick around with a second witness, huh?” Liam growled. “Sounds like criminal behavior to me.”

I balled my hands into fists. “You just cost me my only chance of finding out the truth!”

He stared back at me, serenely calm. “Between that and the risk that John Doe might have killed you or taken you captive, I can live with that.”

I could have slapped him. But instead, with supreme self-control, I turned on my heels, marching back to the hotel. Liam fell into step beside me and tried to reach for my arm, but I yanked it away the second he touched me. I felt his hand on my lower back instead. When I tried to shake him off, his fingers hooked gently around my waist, keeping me ever at arm’s reach.

I like Liam, Madeline had said. He keeps you safe.

We still didn’t speak once we reached the hotel. He pushed the elevator button, so I darted toward the stairs instead, taking them two at a time. I heard him jog to catch up.

“Stop following me!” I panted.

“I’m in the room next to yours, remember?” he said, even though he stood behind me, like he intended to enter mine.

“I did not invite you in!”

He sighed, and took a step back. “All right.” But before I shut the door in his face, I made the mistake of looking in his eyes. I wanted to stay mad at him, and I was still mad at him, but he looked so hurt. I bit my lip, as if that physical act of restriction would also keep my emotions from softening.

“You’ll never know either!” I whispered. “Don’t you even care?”

“It’s not worth trading the life of another person I love to find out.”

I stared at him for a minute. He means it in the generic sense, I decided. He must.

“Besides,” he added, “I might already know what he was going to tell you.”

I looked back: he hovered on the threshold of my room, a questioning look on his face. I sighed, irritated. He had me and he knew it.

“Fine,” I gestured him inside, and he gave me a quick smile, crossing the threshold and closing the door. I glanced at Madeline meaningfully, spinning my finger around to indicate what I wanted her to do. Just as before, she mimed a zipper across her mouth and spun around to the wall, to give us the semblance of privacy.

“What, then?” I demanded, placing my hands on my hips for emphasis, as if to say, This had better be good.

Liam sat on the twin bed beside the one where I slept. “After we meet Halpert tomorrow, I’ll know for sure. I’ll tell you then.”

I let out an aggravated cry. “Is this the thing Francis wouldn’t tell us earlier? He told you?”

Liam nodded. “And I trust Francis a lot more than John Doe.”

“So why can’t you tell me now, then?”

“Because I don’t want to color your perceptions tomorrow. You’re very observant, Bec. I just want to make sure you’re as objective as possible.”

I scowled at this. “As if you need me for that, when Francis is around!”

“But Francis is also biased. So far, you’re not.” He put out his hand to me. “So come on. Truce?”

I glowered at him, but with less conviction. “You persuaded me to let you in here under false pretenses.”

“No, I implied I would tell you my theory, but I never directly promised to tell you now,” he pointed out, his eyes twinkling just a bit. “I can’t help what you infer.”

“I hate you,” I muttered. But I could feel the beginnings of an involuntary half smile tugging at my lips.

He transferred his seat from the bed opposite mine to right beside me, and I glanced back at him. He raised his eyebrows, giving me a shy, hopeful smile.

“Does that mean you forgive me?”

“How did you get that from ‘I hate you?’”

He turned up his grin a notch. “Wishful thinking?”

I shook my head. “You really are a prison warden, Liam. I can take care of myself, you know.”

He shrugged, bumping my shoulder with his instead. “Don’t I at least get chivalry points for trying to protect you?”

I rolled my eyes. “What exactly do you think you’re going to trade those points in for?” The second the words were out of my mouth, I realized what I’d said, and the color rushed to my cheeks.

Well,” he began meaningfully.

“Don’t answer that,” I interjected and stood up, suddenly very aware of our proximity. I moved toward the door again, knowing he would follow me.

Liam stood too, and did follow. “You know, it could actually be beneficial for both of us…” he teased, “You do need the practice, after all…”

Grabbing his shoulder and shoving him on the other side of the door, I declared, “I have to shower for dinner!”

“Need a cold shower, huh?”

I slammed the door in his face.

A few seconds later, I heard him call through the door, “Does that mean later?”

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