Kenly walks me all the way to my quarters without a word. That’s okay; I have no words. I had none when he dragged me back on the plane and none still during the eleven-hour flight. “I’m sorry” may just be the last words I ever utter.
Even with the exhaustion, mental and physical, I never allowed sleep to find me during the flight. I knew her face would be there, slightly contorted in pain when I poked her with the dart. My brain would’ve probably given me a nice slideshow of the last ninety-nine people I poisoned. I’m not too thrilled to experience that.
A shower is a necessity. I don’t care whether there are cameras in my quarters; I need to wash for days. The door slides open to my empty cell. I almost expect Helquest to be here to gloat, to rub his success in my face. The lack of his presence, of everyone’s but Kenly’s, makes my stomach churn, but I shove it aside.
“You did good today,” Kenly states, snapping me from my thoughts. Good. Huh. There wasn’t anything good in my actions. “I believe Mr. Helquest will be granting you a few days off. You may have your meals in here, if you’d like the privacy.”
A proper “thank you” is impossible, so I nod, hoping he sees the gratitude in it. With a dip of his chin, he leaves me, the door sealing behind him. My clothes hit the floor as I make a beeline for the shower. The burning water beats down on me, not doing a thing to the blood staining my soul, but I pretend it’s a cleansing rain, washing away my transgressions. One of those dumping rains that happens in Death Valley and washes everything away. I imagine it washing me away, letting me become part of the soil rather than expecting me to get up and keep going.
But what’s done is done. Nothing can wash that away.
When I get out, there are fresh clothes sitting just inside my door, which I’m grateful for. I would prefer nudity to the clothes from that horrid trip. Once dressed, I curl in a ball on my bed with my arms wrapped around myself, trying my damnedest to stave off sleep.
But it’s inevitable.
My door sliding open wakes me from the nightmare. I gasp for breath, trying to comprehend where I am. Jaxson standing at the threshold, holding something in his hand, takes a minute to register. He’s in one piece. He isn’t hurt. He’s just… here.
Before realizing what I’m doing, I’m running to him and throwing myself in his welcoming arms. His firm arms wrap around me and he runs a hand up and down my back, soothing me. He’s here, solid—he’s what I need right now. With his arms still around me, he maneuvers us to the bed and lets go so we can sit next to each other. He doesn’t have food, thank God, but he does set a can of Coke in front of me. And that somehow breaks down my walls and lets loose the dam. Horrible, loud sobs rack through me and I’m back in his arms, being rocked.
He tells me I’ll be okay while I mourn the life I took and the seventy-four I helped take. Sleep overtakes me but he never moves, never leaves. I want to ask if he’ll get in trouble, but I can’t say words.
He’s still there when I wake and sits next to me while I sip the Coke. It tastes horrible, but it’s better than Dr. Pepper would’ve been. And he knew that. He understood what that “last meal” did to me.
“Yesterday was my eighteenth birthday,” I blurt, not knowing why. Maybe so someone here knows, realizes what was taken from me.
“Shit,” he breathes, and is thoughtful for a moment. “That’s why you ran, when I told you the date,” he states, but I still nod. “And he knew. That dick knew what he was making you do on your birthday.”
“Shit, Payton. I can’t… I can’t apologize deeply enough for what he’s done to you.”
“And you don’t need to. It shouldn’t come from you.”
“But he’s my uncle. He’s my blood.”
“And having been adopted, I can assure you of how very little that means.” I shake my head when he grunts his disagreement. “My real mom was horrid. She’s the reason I ended up here. She handed me over to them so she could get off the hook. And I like to think that I’m nothing like her but more like my adopted father, an amazing man despite everything he’s taught me.”
He listens while I talk about Cadmar and the girls, about our life. I keep going because I’m looking for some piece of me that survived this most recent kill, that isn’t withered. They’re it. They’re the only part of me that isn’t ruined. But it’s still hard to talk about them because I don’t know for certain if they’re all well.
He begins to tell me a small bit about how his dad ended up in prison, but the door slides open, interrupting us. My stomach clenches, my hands sweating. Kenly pokes his head in and for a short second I’m terrified for Jaxson. “He’ll be returning within the hour,” he tells Jaxson. “You should get back to your quarters.”
“Out in a sec,” Jaxson tells him.
Kenly nods and steps back from the door. Understanding dawns on me. My big bodyguard let Jaxson in here because he isn’t so bad. He isn’t the worst of the monsters here.
Jaxson slides off the bed to stand in front of me. I almost want to beg him to stay; sleep will soon come and I’ll be alone.
“Helquest, he did something he thinks was smart,” he tells me, gaze holding mine. Something about his words has the hairs on my neck standing. “I think it’ll be the end of him. I think I can get us out of here. Just give me a couple days to work something out. In the meantime, I’m only three doors to the right of you. If you need something and my uncle isn’t here, Kenly will bring you over.”
I nod, since I don’t know what else to do. He leaves with Kenly, sealing me in again. This boy will always be a mystery, probably no matter how long I know him. If he somehow found a way to get us out…. I can’t even think on it, can’t even hope for better, for anything other than this. The hole in my chest gapes, every breath I take scraping against it, reminding me that it will always be there. It will never be filled.
I don’t get peace, not for long. My door slides open and Helquest steps inside, accompanied by Kenly. My stomach churns when he beams at me. The need to break his neck after taking my sweet time scooping his eyes out is overwhelming. Would Kenly stop me?
“Payton!” he exclaims. “I hope your trip was well! The whole mission went without a hitch. You have no idea what that means for this facility. We may actually get an upgrade.” He winks and my skin crawls. Is this guy for real? Am I supposed to know what the hell he’s talking about? “In fact, it went so well, I’m very much looking forward to your upcoming assignments.”
Upcoming assignments. Of course, it wasn’t just the one. He didn’t want just one part of my soul, but the whole freaking thing. I have to hope Jaxson might just be able to get us out. I have to let myself hope just a little so I don’t end up killing myself.
“Now I know you were occupied during your birthday, so I had this made up for a late celebration.” He gestures toward the door and a woman comes in holding a giant chocolate cake.
Helquest beams some more, eyes twinkling with delight. The woman brings the cake right to me, holding it out until I take it robotically and she hurries from the room. I stare at Helquest, then at the cake, my blood boiling and boiling, my heart racing. This man. How could one human being be so horrible? So unbelievably heartless? I glance back at Helquest and Kenly—who stares at the ground with his brow drawn together—and bare my teeth, a snarl ripping from my throat as if I’m a wild beast.
“Payton,” Helquest chides. My eyes grow wide. “I expect gratitude from you when I present you with a gift.”
A wild screech tears from me just as the cake flies at the wall, splattering to the ground. The ridiculous smile falls from his face. Did he actually think I would want it? That I would be happy? I stand there, shoulders hunched, heaving in each breath.
“That was impolite.” He shakes his head. Kenly shifts his feet. “A night without dinner, then. I’ll see you in two days to brief you on your next assignment.”
He turns and leaves. Kenly gives me an apologetic look before following Helquest. This circus show, that clown of a man—this is my life.
I curl in a ball in the middle of the floor and stare at the frosting on the wall, wishing I were anywhere else.